Wednesday, January 26, 2011

I was wrong about the cracker conspiracy. Whoops.

Faithful readers, you will recall that two weeks ago I posted a scathing exposé about a cracker scandal of epic proportions. Sadly, I must report that I was mistaken. I based my understanding of the cracker situation on a single piece of evidence which I did not verify. Although name-brand cracker prices are ridiculous at $2.25+ per box, the last piece of the puzzle- a jump in generic cracker prices- turns out to be absent. You see, I was in Walmart and saw that one of the pallet-in-the-aisle items was saltine crackers. The accompanying large-letter price sign did in fact read "2.28". However, when I was at Walmart on Tuesday, I spotted this:

Hmm... crackers for $1.28. That blows my whole theory out of the water, doesn't it? Theoretically, the cracker conspiracy could still be true, and just not deployed in its final stage yet- but I'm not going to hold my breath. What I think happened is that Walmart raised the price from $0.88 or $0.98 or whatever to $1.28- and then advertised it as if they were on sale. McDonalds did the same thing for their apple pies years ago. After they established the dollar menu, they didn't put the pies on the dollar menu because they were already much less than a dollar. They sold like stale potatoes. Later, McDonalds put them on the dollar menu- actually an increase in price, and advertised them like crazy, and they sold like hot apple pies. I speculate that Walmart did the same. So these crackers were piled up in the aisle being promoted, with the big flip-chart style price sign. Either employee error of vandal intervention changed the $1.28 to $2.28, hence my confusion. There's nothing stopping anyone from taking the sign down and changing it- in fact, I wouldn't be surprised if my mischievous younger self had done so at some point in history.

I apologize, faithful readers, for my obvious failure to do due diligence in my research before wildly flinging accusations around. I endeavor to produce only accurate and meaningful posts on this blog, and I have failed you in that regard. While crackers may not be the most earth-shattering subject on the planet, it is no small thing to be starting rumors of grand-level wrongdoing- it is tantamount to libel. Once again, I am sorry for my previous post, and I will strive not to repeat this mistake.

Please, accept this picture of me on stilts as a token of my appreciation for your continued readership.

(and no, I can't walk on the stilts. To let go of the wall is to invite death)

Thursday, January 20, 2011

A Thompson Christmas, some cars, and Zach eating a flaming marshmallow

Here's some pics and video from the past month or so that haven't fit into other posts.

I spent Christmas with the Thompson extended family in Phoenix, and took a bunch of pictures.

The second half of that slideshow is where all the cars are- Gareth and I went and checked out a drive-in car show.

We had an all-day staff meeting that someone chose to call a "Staff Retreat" before it happened. I came prepared to make a pie, but that had to wait, as making a pie during a meeting is challenging. Nevertheless, pie happened that evening. It came out pretty well. Here's how it looked:

Last week a mission team from Biola University came to Ephraim. I never know whether I ought to write it as BIOLA- the school started out as the Bible Institute of Los Angeles, hence the name, but has since then changed it to drop the acronym to just be 'Biola University', but it sounds funny to me since Biola isn't a name really, but formerly an acryonym. During their stay, we had an event at the cafe called Scarf your Smores, for which I made this coolio poster:

Please ignore that my attempt to write 'free scarves' in lowercase at the bottom ended up looking like a four year old wrote it.

Here's the full set of pictures from when the Biola team was here, including the event.

During Scarf Your Smores, Zach ate a flaming marshmallow, which is recorded for your enjoyment here:


Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Cholula bandit, I will find you.

Cholula hot sauce is great. I love it. I keep some around, but I use it sparingly because it's not inexpensive. However, my bottle seems to just empty itself. No, it's not a case of failure to realize how I'm using. The stuff just disappears. I noticed it a few months ago and I've been watching. I just went to go use some and got a little bit out of the bottle and suddenly it was empty. I know I had at least a third of a bottle left. I am the only one that uses my kitchen. Cholula bandit: I don't know who you are, where you come from, or why you keep stealing my hot sauce- but I do know that I take this hot sauce business very seriously. While I do appreciate your taste in hot sauce, that will not save you if I ever find you in my kitchen stealing my Cholula. There is no measure for how hard and how fast I will bring this fight to your doorstep.

Cholula Hot Sauce I only got to use like a quarter of

You will be missed.

Monday, January 17, 2011

The ones who walk away from California

Surprise! I just got back from California! Kim (the TGM Assistant Director) and I went out this past weekend. Why, you ask? Well, for the past several years, the Solid Rock ministry has had contact with a young lady I'll call "Peggy". Peggy got into trouble with drugs during high school and ended up dropping out. For a couple years she lived the life of a drug addict, but about two months ago, there was a serious change in her. She decided she didn't want the drugs or the life that she was living anymore, and had a real desire to turn her life around. Before when she was around the college house, she would be manipulative and looking for a handout, she now was seeking support and counsel. It wasn't an overnight transformation from addict to someone who has it all together, but we could tell that her attitude had changed. She was making progress in Alcoholics Anonymous (she had tried before but never completed step 1) and we saw her turning down her old friends' requests to go party.

At the same time, her life got difficult- she lived with her mother (who was not a positive influence in her life) who was about to move far away to a town where she would have no support whatsoever, and where drugs were rampant. Through a connection with a pastor in California, we found out that there was a potential opening at a Teen Challenge program. Teen Challenge is an organization that helps recovering addicts by healing the emotional, mental, and spiritual effects of addiction as well as teaching them practical life skills that they will need to get out on their own. It's a Christian program where God is definitely at work. It has many success stories and a 92% success rate. It's a national organization and my dad knew some people who were graduates of the Teen Challenge program in New England.

Kim has been Peggy's main confidante in our ministry and has been helping her every step of the way (which is not an easy task). Kim offered to take Peggy to California if this opportunity turned into a reality. Peggy still needed to interview by phone with the program's director and the open bed needed to be confirmed. This all developed relatively quickly- it was last Tuesday that we heard about this possibility for the first time, and we left Friday afternoon. For a little while, though, we thought things were off- Peggy had doubts about her ability to succeed in the program, no doubt the enemy attacking her in an attempt to maintain the stranglehold he's had on her life for the past several years. The pastor in California, Tristan, was able to help her, though- he has met her before when he came out to Utah to witness during Manti Pageant. He is also a former drug addict himself. At first glance you wouldn't suspect that he's a pastor, as most pastors are not covered in tattoos and sporting a shaved head with goatee. Despite what outside appearance might suggest to a prejudiced observer, Tristan is a very legit man of God and His vessel in this situation. Tristan talked to Peggy and got her back on the track towards recovery.

Because this all developed so quickly, we didn't actually know for certain that the plan was a go until the car was packed and we were preparing to leave. There was a mission team from Biola University here with the ministry for three days, which made things quite busy as well. The team went up to a Fundamentalist LDS colony near Santaquin, UT to witness, and we went with them because we were going to pick up Peggy from Delta, which is where her mom moved to. We had planned on spending some of the time with the team in Santaquin, but a late start prevented us from doing so.

We picked up Peggy from her mom's house from Delta. This had the potential to be a major battle- Tristan warned us, based on his previous experience, that there would be severe spiritual warfare from the time she decided to go until she got in the car. Kim made a lot of calls and got a lot of people praying during that time, which helped a lot- we had no trouble during the pickup. We set out for California later than one might usually depart on a long road trip; around 3PM.

The drive was about 10 hours, which is less than I usually drive on a road trip, so it wasn't too bad. Kim worked on some graphic design work she had, I drove, and Peggy talked. Kim also sang to me per request of Sarah, so that I would know what it's like to go on a road trip with other people, which I claimed not to have done before. Now, though, I realize that the several mission trips I've gone on definitely count. I was thinking only of all the cross-country drives I've done over the past several years, which were always solo.

We arrived pretty late and were met by Tristan. We caught up and visited for a little while before we hit the hay. We wanted to get some sleep as we'd be leaving early for the hour drive to the Teen Challenge induction center to get Peggy there before 8AM. In the morning, I had the advantage of being a young man who is not particularly particular about his style, requiring pants, a shirt, some shoes, and the Four Items which must always reside in my pockets: keys, wallet, cell phone, and pocket knife. I had the luxury of breakfast before we headed out.

We took Peggy to the induction center, but it wasn't just a quick dropoff, naturally- this was a huge change in her life, deserving of a morning full of orientation, shopping(she had nothing), errand-running, and goodbyes. While she and Kim picked out clothes in the Teen Challenge-operated thrift store, I grabbed some cheap pants for myself and also scored a commercial grade Bunn coffeemaker for Jamie. Her coffeemaker gave up the ghost around Christmas, only one day after she gave away a spare coffeemaker in a white elephant gift exchange.

We got Peggy situated and left her in the capable hands of the Teen Challenge staff. Although this had the potential to be a sad departure, because it was for a whole year, we were glad that this positive change in her life was now in progress and that it marked a significant step in the God's rescue of Peggy from her old life.

Although this trip was serious business, it was also a bit of a vacation for Kim and I. It's California, after all. We could have driven back that afternoon, but we elected to accept Tristan's invitation to stay an extra day, attend his church, and relax. Kim and I planned before we left to visit the beach at any cost. One hiccup is that Kim's computer broke on the trip out, a serious problem for her graphic design work that had to get done. She had the foresight to save all her work on a flash drive, so she was able to continue work on my laptop for the rest of the trip. Tristan had a connection with a computer guy in the area who owns his own shop, and he fixed Kim's PC at no cost to her. If you're ever in Lake Forest, CA and need a computer problem fixed- check out Coronado Computers.

We were glad for the computer fix, but it took a portion of the day we'd been hoping to spend on the beach. We planned instead for Kim to spend the evening on her graphic design work, and we'd hit the beach the next day after church and before returning to Utah. While Kim worked on her stuff, I finished reading Just Do Something, a very good book that Sarah lent to me about discerning the will of God. I'll break for a moment here to plug this book.

Just Do Something is a short book on a much bigger subject, and the introductory sentence states the premise of the book well: "Hyper-spiritual approaches to finding God's will don't work. It's time to try something new: Give up." I had thought before that God's will was a one-track thing, a narrow path through life that I had to be on, otherwise to be sinning. Furthermore, I though that I had to determine what this path was before taking any step forward. I remember vocalizing this on many occasions in the past while deliberating over some decision. The process I went through while deciding whether to stay in Utah or return to school this past fall was a stepping stone towards this understanding.

To sum up the book very briefly, God doesn't necessarily have one track for your life, and he certainly doesn't expect you to discern it before you act. Although God has given miraculous guidance in the past, it was never the rule, and in the example of the apostles, there's no precedent of any of them waiting anxiously for God to give them a sign before they made some major decision. God gave us the ability to make wise decisions and he expects us to use that when we're walking through life. He gave us the Bible for guidance, so that we can know what is good and what is bad. He gave us fellowship for wise counsel, so that others wisdom can be added to our own. He gave us prayer so that we can bring these things before God and ask for wisdom and discernment, but not so that we can expect to get zapped with the sudden knowledge of God's Will every time we have to decide between paper and plastic. God gives us lots of open doors for us to talk through, but that's not license to take every opportunity we see and have that be God's will.

Essentially, God gave us the tools to figure this stuff out. On moral right-and-wrong decisions, God has given us clear guidance in the Bible. On non-moral decisions, though, he's given us the freedom to make choices- and in the times when he does have a certain plan for us, he doesn't expect us to divine that before we take any action, lest we be sinning. This isn't a permit to go do whatever seems right to you- it's a firm entreaty to get off of your hyper-spiritual butt and just do something instead of feeling all holy because you refuse to move forward unless you're absolutely sure that you're in the center of God's will. If you love God, live for Him, obey the scriptures, put others before yourself, and are holy- you are walking in the will of God. God's will is for your sanctification, not for your trepidation at the appearance of  any decision.

Okay, plug over. I finished that book, Kim did her graphics work, we ate Chinese and went to bed. I made a mistake there. I went to bed tired without setting an alarm, and to phrase it as Kim's internal monologue did when she saw me sleeping on the couch 33 minutes before church began: Ruh Roh. I scrambled to get ready and out the door, but there was nothing to be done for my ridiculous bedhead. Like I said above, I'm not particularly particular about my style, but I at least want to be lookin' good at church. Instead, I looked like I had just rolled out of bed, because I had.

After church we hit the beach. The air was about 75°, but the water was 50°. 50° doesn't sound so bad- you can walk around outside when it's 50° and not die. However, water has a much higher density than air, and thus the thermal mass available to convect your body heat away is much greater. 50° is cold water to swim in. Nobody else was in the water except for some kids, and kids will do anything. Kim was content to read on the sunny beach and tan, but I came to the beach to go to the beach, and going to the beach for me means to swim, darn it. I've never swam in the Pacific ocean from the United States side before, but I have swam in it from the Australian side before (interestingly, both of my Pacific-swimming experiences have been in the winter). My brother Jake met a nice Australian girl and married here there in 2007, and I got to go to the wedding. Thanks Jake! (And thanks also to Ian, who funded my ticket!)

We couldn't tarry too long at the beach, though, because the long drive back to Utah beckoned. Here are some pics, though:

After the beach, I tried to find a public shower to wash the salt and sand off, but I was unsuccessful. Shucks. We changed and embarked for Utah. We stopped at a Q'doba (burrito place, one of Kim's faves) and I made some observations about California. Maybe it's just the palm trees, but the place gives off an air of being a utopia. It's got perfect weather 95 days out of 100, wide well-maintained streets, palm trees everywhere, enough Lamborhinis that I saw several during the two days I was there, and seemed to be permeated with the attitude that life is carefree and everything is just great. The other impression I get is that while it's got a great shell, it's rotten at it's core. Last year, the state of California was literally (literally) writing IOUs to state employees instead of paychecks. There seems to be an attitude of 'anything goes' and with my apologies to the many fine people who reside in California, I'd call the place godless- unless the god of California is pleasure.

If you've ever read Ursula K. LeGuin's short story The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas, you'll probably understand why I titled this posts the way I did. In a nutshell, the story is about a perfect city where everyone is happy all the time, everything is great, and living in Omelas is like a permanent vacation. However, deep in one of the city's buildings, there is a child who is the reason why Omelas is the way it is. The child is feral, uncared for, naked, and miserable. It doesn't speak, it's never been held, and it receives its food through a hole in the wall. The child is a scapegoat for the whole city, and the only reason why the utopia can exist outside of that basement is because that one innocent child suffers. Every resident of Omelas has to go to view that child once they come of age, and some people, once they realize the truth about Omelas, choose to walk away. I think of California in the same way. Everything is wonderful outside, but it comes at a cost. You can say that California's own child-in-the-basement scapegoat is any number of things- morality, acceptance of God, the many who live in poverty while the rich prosper, justice. I can't condemn California, a whole state- but I do observe that within its borders there is a unique environment of man-as-god that I haven't seen elsewhere.

On the way back, Kim and I talked for a good while, but then Kim decided to take a nap and proceeded to sleep the entire way back to the Sanpete County line. She must've been tired! It was a good trip and a mini-vacation for Kim and I. We're blessed that we were able to enjoy a few days off and a little bit of beach during a Utah winter. We're furthermore blessed that God chose to use us to bring Peggy into the next chapter of her life, one that will bring healing and progress towards the rest of her life.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Corporate greed at your local grocery store: Saltine price fixing

Okay world, here's your shocking expose. Moms of the world have probably noticed the same thing I've noticed, but as far as I know, I'm the first to blog about it. Prepare yourself, food industry, because I'm about the blow the lid off of your whole mafia-style corporate malfeasance. It used to be that one would go to their local supermarket and buy a box of saltines for, say 79 cents 10 years ago, 98 cents a few years ago- that's fine, that's inflation. One day when I was reaching for my ol' standby Great Value El-Cheapo saltines, I noticed something. The GV saltines were a normal price, but all the name-brand ones were around $2.29. GV is known for saving you a few dimes, maybe 15-20%, which is good money- but not over half. It's not that GV was so much cheaper, it was that all the other saltine brands leapt up in price suddenly. What happened?

Maybe a saltine factory burned down someplace and that created a ripple in the market. Well, no- for that there'd have to be two or three factories churning out ALL the saltines for the non-GV brands for the entire country, because I noticed this trend in Texas, Iowa, and Utah. Hmph. It couldn't be the price of ingredients, because the GV price would have reacted to that too- and it didn't. I watched for a year and more wondering if Zesta sold ANY of their $2.39 crackers when there was a $0.98 cent box of the exact same thing right next to them. (I'm sure they did, P.T. Barnum's Rule) If some real event took place that would legitimately cause prices to explode, GV wouldn't have taken a year and more to catch up.

So... what happened? Allow me to throw a wild accusation out there, based entirely on a single perspective and conjecture. I think that someone out there realized that saltines were too much of a steal. I always kept a box of saltines around to augment my meals because they're cheap and tasty. You can put waaay too much Tony Chachere's Creole Seasoning on something, but tone it down by eating it on a cracker, like chili. It stretches your meal, too. Now, saltines aren't too much of a steal- well, they're not a steal at all. GV saltines at my local walmart just jumped up to $2.28 overnight- and they're advertised in the aisle as being an item of special interest! I agree- but because there's some backdoor saltine-management shadiness going on.

I don't think it's too crazy to think that such a thing might happen. Would this be the first time that prices went up on something because someone wanted to make more money? Of course not. It happened so much in the post-industrial-revolution days that a law was passed to specifically address this problem. It also wouldn't be the first time that corporate bigwigs have thrown the law to the wayside and done what they wanted to do. But crackers? Come on Ned, why would some CEOs meeting in a back alley wearing hats with their collars turns up target crackers as their big money maker? They would do that because it's smart. Crackers are stable, cheap enough to produce that the profit margin is already substantial, and people are not likely to stop buying them- or at least, less likely than if they tried the same thing on LCD TVs- there's competition there and undercutting that wouldn't ever let a scheme like this go over.

Furthermore, crackers are unsuspecting. Who ever links crime with crackers? Barring some weird CSI-esque criminal cases out there, nobody's ever committed a crime with crackers before. (Prove me wrong) Your average person is going to keep grabbing the same color box of crackers whenever he runs out, slide his card at the checkout after making sure the total is the right number of digits, and eat his crackers. All the snack crackers are expensive anyway, so the $2.29 saltines will fit in great with the $2.99 Club crackers and $1.89 Wheat Thins. The buck saltines were an anomaly to begin with.

If someone DID crack the case of the cracker crime ring, who in the world would care enough to actually crack down on these guys under the federal anti-price-fixing statute? Crackers in the media don't sell. It could be true, but they'll probably discover that Michael Jackson recorded a funny-sounding sneeze once and give that all the media coverage while CORPORATE STRATEGISTS ARE TESTING THE LIMITS OF OUR COMPLACENCY BY MESSING WITH CRACKER PRICES. Don't say it couldn't happen. You heard it here first, folks. If the great cracker conspiracy of 2009-2011 blows up soon, you know who to thank for breaking this story.

What do cracker prices look like where you are? Leave it in the comments.

Also, I'm out of crackers and now they're $2.50 a box. Forget you, Nabisco.