God Hates Fur

Okay, did that title catch your attention?

It seems that this past Saturday members of the Salt Lake Animal Advocacy Movement (SLAAM) marched with homemade drums and petitioned in Morgan County (the next county over) against the local mink ranchers.  Besides noisemakers, they carried placards as they protested, trailed by sheriff’s deputies, from one farm to the next.  “God hates fur” (Did someone actually interview Him?  Didn’t He create animals with fur?) and “We love farmers” (I assume they represented the farmers’ side.) were two of the slogans on the signs.  One of the march organizers stated: “Our mission is to end fur.”  (Won’t the animals be cold?)

Apparently, Utah is no different from other places where people feel very strongly about the raising of animals specifically for their fur.  However, a big part of Morgan County’s economy is mink ranching and these farmers have been mink ranching for decades; it’s a family business.  This protest was a rare one, but probably won’t be the last.  Most of the time, protesters break into someone’s ranch facilities at night and release–or attempt to–the mink.  Some folks even showed up for the “entertainment value” of seeing angry protesters up against farmers and a SWAT team.  Thankfully, there were no injuries or arrests, just “profanity-filled” shouting, shoving, and some ruffled feathers fur.  

I’m not taking sides in this debate, but the philosophy of raising animals for fur or meat purposes is vastly different out west than it is back east.  Livelihoods are at stake springing from a long tradition of cattle and sheep farming, along with mink and ermine for the garment industry.   People are proud of their cowboy heritage and  Morgan County has the largest concentration of mink ranches in the U.S.  The ranchers don’t appreciate SLAAM messing with their economy.

One of the high ironies in the Sunday newspaper which covered the mink protest was a 5k run in Ogden with participants wearing Santa outfits as part of the fun.  And how were the Santa suits trimmed?  In ermine (faux), of course, but still….

Published in: on November 30, 2009 at 8:49 pm  Comments (1)  


Back east, we’re all used to the obituary style: somewhat formal, dignified and necessarily dry and respectful. If the person who has passed away is well-known to any degree, more information about his/her life may be included in the form of a biography by listing accomplishments. We may also be told about surviving family, education, jobs held or the profession of the deceased, and of course, funeral arrangements.

It’s a little more wide-open, no strike that, a lot more wide open out here and–not being disrespectful in any way–more fun to read. They are often peppered with humor, intentional or unintentional. You really get the sense of who the person was and their personality. And if the person was LDS, wording and information throughout indicate that, either subtly or in a straightforward manner. I’m sure loving family members write them, and sometimes even the deceased has penned the obituary prior to passing on. They are often accompanied by side-by-side photos: one current and one from young adulthood. A sampling of excerpts from the past month:

R.V…. “Returned to Heavenly Father [imbedded LDS code phrase] on Nov. 20…He was a very talented self-taught mechanic, his motto being ‘Anything can get my hands on, I can fix’….He loved drag racing and the smell of nitro and burning rubber, building and flying RC airplanes, and golf (he had a hole-in-one)…He loved ice hockey…the color red and his grandbabies.”

B.S…. “Married L.J.S. for all eternity in the Idaho Falls Temple…He was an active member of the LDS church where he served in numerous callings including Elders Quorum president, bishoprics, and the stake high council. He and his wife served two missions, one in the church history program and the other with LDS family services…an avid fisherman and sports fan.”

C.S…. “Was a family man who loved home teaching of the restored gospel and his country…was sealed to his eternal companion, C.R.F. in the Salt Lake City Temple in 1963…C. was a voracious reader, intellectual, and politico…master of sarcastic whit [sic], quick with a smile, and often had something profound to say. Funeral services will be at the ‘XYZ’ Mortuary, Mountain Air, UT, [date, time].”

W.L. “One Classy Lady”… “Had hobbies of “music, sewing, reading, making chocolates, cooking, writing, traveling, and spending time with family…She was a tremendous example of motherhood and womanhood to all who knew her. She is survived by seven children, twenty-three grandchildren, forty-five great grandchildren, and three great great grandchildren.”

E.M…. “Dad was a wonderful poet and still wrote love notes and poems for Mom. His greatest joys were spending time with his wife, children, and grandchildren and ‘Kinky’ the cat. A special thanks to L. Care Center of Bountiful, UT and V. Care Hospice for their wonderful care and to Dr. T.F. for all his concern and compassion.”

J.A…. “The oldest of eleven children, and as such worked hard on the family fruit and dairy farm and in her mother’s kitchen…she was proud of being descended from early Mormon pioneers who arrived in the valley on the first wagon train led by Brigham Young…active in her calling of temple ordinance [LDS code for baptism of the dead–non-LDS family members–by proxy] and Name Extraction Program [I have no idea what this means].”

And finally…

D.C…. “I was born in 1929 to G. and B.C. My journey ended Nov. _, 2009. I had congestive heart failure and my ticker finally quit ticking. I donated my body to the University of Utah in hopes that it could help others. I am having a party for my friends and family, maybe even a foe or two. I would love to see you all at Weber State University Stewart Football Stadium (Fourth Floor) on Sat. December _ from _ to_pm. In lieu of flowers, donations could be made to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society or the WSU Wildcat Club. Go Wildcats!”

I can’t add much to that!

Published in: on November 24, 2009 at 4:45 pm  Comments (2)  

Tilting at Windmills (aka Dealing with SS)

One of the joys of retirement is applying for and getting one’s first Social Security check. Since I officially from retired from teaching in the late spring of this year, I took a colleague’s advice (he, too, was retiring) and applied for SS so I could get my payments going as soon as possible.   I dutifully went online to the government site, filled out the form and submitted it.  The only active thing I had to do was drive to the local SS Administration office in the bowels of Chester and show them my birth certificate for their files to prove that I was really me. (What a pictureless birth certificate proved, I’m not sure.)

That accomplished, I sat back and waited for my confirmation number and account password to arrive via e-mail as they promised.  Instead, I got a phone call from Jill, an agent, who alerted me to the fact that I had already earned more teaching in the spring semester than I was allowed to if I wished to get my benefits for the rest of 2009 (the magic number is $14,000).  She suggested that I fill out a form that would put my application on hold and in the late fall I could restart it to get payments in January, 2010.   Made sense to me.

About 6 weeks out from 2010, I drove to Ogden Wednesday to the SS office to start my application clock up again.  Out of the elevator and to the SS office.  I was greeted by the vision of about 50 people in the waiting room.  A more motley crew has rarely been assembled; it was as if the dregs of mankind had converged in Ogden.  I heard at least 2 other languages than English; there were several generations of one family there (I guess it was a family outing); the tattooed/pierced element was well represented; parents with kids in tow; teenaged couples holding hands and necking (to use an outdated term); and then there was me.  I had to check in for an appointment on the handy computer and got number 18. Only 2 of the 3 assistance windows were manned by what appeared to be rather dreary, exhausted agents. Taking a seat next to a dull looking woman using a cell phone, I finally asked her what her number was. To my dismay it was 98. I muttered some #@&%! words and calmly got up and headed back towards the elevator.  Surely, there was a better way, since I was already in the system.

So, back at home I phoned an 800 number that was imbedded in my paperwork.   After answering the requisite questions for the automated system, I was told the wait to speak to a real person was about 9 minutes.  That seemed better than what might have been several hours of agony back at the Ogden carnival midway, so I played computer solitare while waiting.  

Tynetta finally ended my wait and asked me the same questions I answered for the automated system.  We also updated my new address and phone number.  This is important to know, as we were suddenly disconnected and I thought surely she would call me back; she didn’t.  So, I called back and started the process and wait all over, this time being warned that the wait was now over 10 minutes.  

Cynthia eventually pulled me out of the phone queue and I told her what happened and made sure she had my new phone number and elicited a promise that if we, too, we cut off, she would call me back.  It was shortly after starting our chat that I discovered NEVER TRUST THE GOVERNMENT!

Cynthia informed me that I had been given bum information and that:

  1. The application pause is only good for 2 months and then all the information gets erased
  2. I had been eligible to start receiving SS benefits in July because they only look at years by 6-month intervals and that I had not been working for that last 4 months, so a quick calculation established that I had missed out on about 4 grand


I gave her my information again, set the application up to start with this month’s check which will come in December (it’s always paid in the next month) and even got my withholding tax set up.

Why would Jill have given out wrong information way back in April?  I am really disheartened and annoyed and this affected what was due me.  This reads like a venting and that’s what it is. So all you folks out there, when you retire, make sure you ask the right questions!!!  

I can only imagine my frustration level had I waited in that waiting room for hours only to find this out….

Published in: on November 19, 2009 at 4:34 pm  Comments (2)  

Dipping My Toes Into the Art Scene

Since I’m still catching up with what has occurred, I’ll share my first forays into the art scene here in my neck of the Utah woods. Back in September, third Friday of the month rolled around and I dressed nicely and headed to downtown SLC for my first gallery open house from 6-9pm. I took the convenient UTA rail system, the FrontRunner.  The first gallery I visited, across from the City Center Trax stop, was the Hope Museum and Gallery–mostly 16th-20th century European Academy paintings (some for sale, ask price, and some just on display). This is also where our neighbor, a wonderful photographer, works. His photographs were on display downstairs upon request to view.  Anyway, lots of $$$ here and hardly any people and no food–guess they didn’t want to risk the paintings…..  

So, with my gallery guide booklet, off to the next stop. A combination gallery/framing shop had a tango quartet playing and some interesting artists: one with lovely use of pastels. Prices were in the $1000 range. The food there was jaw dropping: a room-temp carafe of water with a chunk of lemon forced in and tired-looking salsa and chips stranded on a long, otherwise empty table. I tried speaking with the owner and his nose was so far in the air I worried about altitude sickness on his behalf. Okay, hungry now as I didn’t eat dinner (spoiled by eastern standards) I headed to the next stop, strictly an art gallery. No nibbles here at all and really poor art.

I was way over-dressed for the occasion; most everyone else was wearing whatever they had had on for the day: shorts, dungarees, dirty tee-shirts…. Suddenly, 5 people in white overalls made from what looked like parachute silk rolled by (literally) on the sidewalk; SLC’s version of performance art, I guess.  Final gallery–a no name gallery in an empty storefront (temporary)–had about 30 of the same “limited edition” (signed and numbered) print of some Rastafarian dude taped to the dirty white walls.

So what did I learn? 1. Eat before you go. 2. Dress down. 3. Wear walking shoes (like sneakers) as the galleries are far, far apart. 4. Better yet, go in on a Sat. and take the car. If I had had art-minded friends along with me, we would have had a howl, but by myself it was a let-down. I am undaunted, though, and will try again.  

Fast forward to the first Friday of the month, this time October, and I screwed my courage to the sticking spot and headed up to Ogden (about 10 miles north of me up I-15).  Ogden was built 150 years ago as a train crossroads town for the Union Pacific.  Back then it was full of bars and brothels; really wide-open.  Hence, the streets remind me of Media (not the brothels, but the architecture); they even used to have a trolley system (which there is talk to restore).  Anyway, the place has atmosphere, snuggled as it is along the foot of the Wasatch Mountains.  That night after dark the full moon rose over the recently snow-dusted mountain tops–really picturesque.

     So, after the disappointing SLC experience, I held my breath in Ogden.  WOW!!  What a difference!  Many galleries and a few artists’ studios were open; I ran out of time to visit them all.  The art was much better and there were a lot of people visiting the receptions, which actually had real food: cheese, fruit, cookies, hot appetizers, and wine and coffee (a real miracle in Mormonland).  I was impressed with the gallery spaces I saw and the artists were present to talk to (unlike that first experience).  In one space–the former Union RR Station, now converted to gallery spaces, a restaurant, and a gift shop–was a wonderful artist whose pastels and oil landscapes were yummy.  There was a potter sharing the table space whose work was highly organic and unusual; his pieces looked like bowls being held up by inverted root systems (all one piece).  Really dynamic.  Both artists were engaging and friendly.
     Going in the very first restaurant gallery when I first arrived, I struck up a conversation with another “crawler,” and we paired up for the next two hours.  She’s not a artist, nor does she buy art, but she thought this crawl would be fun and she likes looking at art.  Anyway, it was nice to have company.
     The calendar has advanced to November and first Friday rolled around again, so it was back to Ogden.  I felt more at home as I was on familiar turf now and I visited some of the galleries I had discovered last month.  I had a nice chat with an artist to whom my companion last month introduced me to and I visited what I think is the nicest gallery and gallery space on 25th St., Crowley-Wilkerson to enjoy their small pieces show.  Quite a few artists’ works were hanging and I caved in and made a purchase of a 5×7 oil landscape by Jeff Hepworth, a local Utah artist.  Well,  I’ve shot my art budget for 2009 and probably dipped into the 2010 funds!  Can’t wait for first Friday in December….
Published in: on November 18, 2009 at 11:10 pm  Comments (2)  

Land of Extremes

(Note: Today’s blog includes commentary which may make some readers squeamish.)

Our local top of Utah newspaper–not the Salt Lake Tribune--ran an interesting front page story, complete with color photo, this past Saturday which can serve to underscore the extremes of the societal scale out here in Utah.  Poll any average person on the street back east about how he or she would describe the average person in Utah and the answer would more than likely be: Mormon, conservative, family-oriented, modest, happy, and so on.  I doubt the answer would be radical and counter-culture. However, just as the Mormon, or Latter-Day Saint culture–and it is a culture as well as a religion–exists here on one end of the spectrum of society, so does a more radical and unexpected segment of the population: those rebelling.  I suppose that shouldn’t be surprising in such a heavily conservative area, but it was to me.  And Saturday’s newspaper story really drove it home.

There, in full display, was a 19 year-old man, heavily tattooed and pierced (the article mentioned 43 piercings), including ear gauging (that’s the name for those ear plugs that stretch the earlobe) being suspended in a local nightclub of the mosh-pit variety by 4 large fish hooks piercing the skin of his back.  (The article mentioned, I guess to reassure the reader, that the hooks were inserted by “a professional” and under clean and sterile conditions.  Well, thank heavens for THAT!  It also went on to say that the local county Health Department was involved, but since there were no precedents, it couldn’t invoke a law and stop “the commercial display of fish hook suspension.”) Apparently, a friend of his had overdosed on drugs last winter and his family couldn’t afford a grave marker, so this was a headstone fund-raiser in memory of his friend and to help the family.  I know this can happen anywhere, but the fact that the story even appeared in a newspaper that has a heavy LDS readership was the stunner. (In case you’re wondering, he fell short of his goal by about $1000; he only raised roughly $225.  I guess the crowd wasn’t particularly moved by the stunt or they were short on cash themselves.)

Perhaps the family-values extreme (not said disparagingly) invites or even encourages those not of the majority religion to stand out and be different, as the LDS culture can certainly be tagged as conformist.  In fact, this past summer at a local fair, I noticed more than expected “fringe” people: bikers, those with tattoos, piercings, men sporting unusual and highly creative beards (think Capt. Jack Sparrow), women with really wild hairstyles and colors.  And many were enjoying the day with their kids in tow!

So, I guess Utah is a land of extremes: the greatest snow on earth for skiing and desert moonscapes for hiking and off-roading, housing developments right next to farms and pastures, and conservative families alongside a radical element that rivals anything in any large eastern city.

Published in: on November 16, 2009 at 8:21 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Happiest State

On the world news the other night, it was mentioned in a recent Gallup poll that, based on quality of life criteria, Utah was deemed the happiest state, with the Aloha state, Hawaii, a close second.  West Virginia and Kentucky are dead last.  This doesn’t really surprise me and people do seem contented and friendly to a fault out here.  Sure, there is crime and–shockingly–drug problems.  In downtown Salt Lake City (SLC) recently a 7 foot high marijuana plant was found growing among other tall plants in one of the sidewalk grass plots right near Temple Square!  This was the lead story on the evening news.  Now for those uninitiated, Temple Square is “Ground Zero,” the holiest of holies for the Latter Day Saints Church (LDS) or Mormons. (Members actually prefer LDS.)  Temple Square, the most visited attraction in SLC, is home to the SLC Temple, the tabernacle where the choir sings, and other important LDS buildings, some dating from 1848.  Anyway, for a religion that eschews anything with alcohol, caffeine, hot drinks in general even if they’re decaffeinated (but for some reason in the winter hot chocolate is okay–go figure), and tobacco products, to have a pot plant on sacred ground is unthinkable.  Other pesky social problems include gangs; not black/hispanic ones like the Bloods and Crips as in the east, but Samoan.  Yes, there is roughly a 20% Hispanic population here, but the young hoods from the South Pacific Islands seem to have a corner on the market in gang life.  Why South Pacific Islanders you ask? Well, zealous LDS missionaries left no stone unturned and spread their restored gospel everywhere–still do–and that included places like Samoa and Hawaii.  

But, I digress.  Back to us being the most happy state (maybe for Utah and Hawaii it’s all that “grass”….)

Okay, follow my train of thought here: when you think happy, you think smiles, right?  Well, I’ve truly never seen so many dental offices in a confined geographic area.  Seriously, they are everywhere; one intersection just north of here in West Point has 3 dental offices on 3 of the 4 corners!  There are family practices, pediatric dentists (Lara works for one in Kaysville), whitening specialists, wisdom teeth specialists, oral surgeons, orthodontists, and so on and each is well advertised; you can’t miss them.  Now I understand that Utah has more than its fair share of large families (all those LDS folks with 4-6 kids on average), but it’s really a huge industry.  Everybody wants a nice white smile with great teeth.  That way we all look happy!  

In fact, I am now looking in the Yellow Pages of the Davis County phone book (Salt Lake City is it’s own county) and there are about 30 pages (275-306) of dentists’ ads, some showing the dentist’s family portrait of all their kids, smiling.   The ads are often full page (trust me, that’s a lot of money each month!) and have headlines such as: “Comfortable Dentistry…the Mystery Solved,” “A Beautiful Smile…the Ultimate Accessory,” “The Perfect Smile…We All Want That!,” and my favorite, “When you live in a place that makes you SMILE this much…you need a good dentist!”

I’m not knocking oral care, but it really seems to be part of the culture in the happiest state.  Indulge me, I just went to my new dentist yesterday for a routine check-up, so I guess I had teeth on my mind.  He’s a nice guy and I got lucky just picking an office nearby.  His office was full of–you guessed it!–family photos of the wife and kiddies…all grinning.

Published in: on November 13, 2009 at 5:34 pm  Comments (1)  

Inaugural Blog

Well, now that I’m reinventing myself in retirement from teaching in Pennsylvania at the university level to acclimating myself to western lifestyle in northern Utah, my eastern friends encouraged me to start writing a blog to share experiences.  I hope this will be as addictive as many people contend it is. Perhaps it will take the place of some e-mails sent to many people and it certainly is more public.  (I am on Facebook, but never really interact with it or check it, but perhaps this may be different.) Anyway, here it goes: the launch.

Since logically I should have started this in early July when I moved here after a weekend visit with my brother and his family in Tennessee and a super, but uneventful, cross-country drive of four days—didn’t see one nasty mid-west storm, I’m catching up a bit.  Got my feet on the ground, furniture and belongings finally arrived and became reconnected with daughter, Lara, husband Bob and grandson Ethan (he’s 5).  I settled into the daily/weekly routine and then started discovering how I could carve a life for myself.  Found a church, St. Peter’s Episcopal in a nearby town, got a library card and started exploring the art scene here.  Anyone who knows me, knows I’m into art and have many artistic friends back on the east coast.  So, since I’m slowly catching up, I’ll share in the days to come my experiences on open-house gallery crawls on both Salt Lake City and Ogden that happened last month. (Some of this already appeared in e-mails to friends, so for those folks, forgive the duplication until I get caught up.)   I also have to figure out how to upload photos here.

Okay, enough for the moment, have some projects to do and since I’m now chief chef, must plan for starting dinner a bit later…Shepherd’s Pie and Peach Pan Dowdy tonight.  Yum!


Published in: on November 11, 2009 at 7:09 pm  Comments (3)