Category Archives: Family

Utah Mormons (a revised repost)


A few years back, Peggy Fletcher Stack — religion editor at the Salt Lake Tribune — asked me for some of my thoughts about the various stereotypes of Utah Mormons (vs. Mormons outside of Utah). I wrote them up and sent them to her; she never used them, so some months later I turned them into a post at Mormon Mentality.

Now Sandra and I find ourselves seriously looking at moving back to Utah, something we had never really considered (for various reasons) since leaving 25 years ago. But the house we’ve rented for the past eight years here in Colorado is getting put on the market, and Sandra and I — both now 60 years old — feel it’s time to get a bit closer to kids, grandkids, and other family members. Being in Utah puts us close to several children and grandchildren, as well as most of Sandra’s surviving family members; it also puts us a day closer to kids, grandkids, and family member (on my side) in Nevada and California. So, I thought this was a good time to repost my original thoughts, with a few minor edits.

[start of revised repost]

First, my own background. I joined the Church in 1967 at age 14 in San Diego, only member of my family to join. After graduating from high school, I attended and graduated from  BYU (1971-78, less two years for a mission [Central America]). Upon graduation in 1978, I lived in San Diego (CA) and Houston (TX). I moved back to Utah in 1985, and left again in early 1988. Otherwise, I have lived in California (both San Diego and the Bay Area), Texas (Houston and Dallas), the Washington DC area (Virginia, Maryland, and in the District itself), and Colorado (outside of Denver). Not counting the BYU wards and Central American branches I attended, I have been a member of 16 wards/branches. I’ve been active since joining and have held a variety of callings, including two stints as a counselor in a bishopric. On the other hand, I’ve had a beard most of my adult life (including during both bishopric stints); make of that what you will.

Still, though we haven’t lived in Utah for 25 years, we go back there constantly, particularly since moving to Colorado eight years ago — we’re now just an 8-hour drive away. Sandra has been going there at least 4 times a year, mostly to see her mom (until her mom passed away last fall); I go along about half the time. And, as noted, we have kids and grandkids living there, so we interact with them regularly on the phone and via the ‘net.

As I see it, there are at least three key factors that make the experience of being LDS in Utah different than that of being LDS outside of Utah.

The first is inheritance. I daresay that a plurality — and likely a majority — of Mormons in Utah are Nth-generation Mormons, N >= 2. They were either born into the Church or, less commonly, descend from individuals who left the Church but have on their own joined the Church themselves. They tend to have large family networks. My wife is related to measurable portions of Utah and Idaho; her mom (Sorenson) and dad (Anderson) each came from a family of 12 kids, from rural Utah (Koosharem) and Idaho (Samaria), respectively. Utah Mormons also tend to have large and highly-connected social networks (the old fashioned kind), some of which date back decades or even more than a century.

With that inheritance and inter-connectivity comes a lot of folk and family practices and doctrine. Some of it is a survival (often in distorted or incomplete form) of what were once mainstream (or at least popular) LDS beliefs and practices in the 19th and 20th centuries. Along the same lines, there’s a lot of social behavior that within Utah is associated with being Mormon but really does not stem from the Church and the Gospel; it’s not as pervasive as it was 40 years ago, but it’s still there.

Outside of Utah and especially outside of the United States, the majority of (adult) Mormons are 1st or 2nd generation. They bring into the Church their culture, prior beliefs, family ties, and social networks that existed prior to their conversion. They tend to see LDS doctrine without a lot of the accumulated and outdated cruft (aside from threadjacked discussions or the occasional exclamation in Gospel Doctrine and RS/PH).

The second is concentration. Various words come to mind — “hothouse”, “echo chamber” — but my favorite observation is from a close friend, Bob Trammel, who — adapting a line from “Hello, Dolly” — once said, “Mormons are like manure. Sprinkle them around, and they make things blossom. Heap them up in one place, and they stink.” A Mormon here in Colorado with offbeat ideas will find they don’t spread much — the LDS density isn’t just high enough. Someone in Utah with those same offbeat ideas can easily find kindred spirits within blocks of his (or her) home; heck if he writes them up, he can probably get quite a few high priests groups within the valley to pass them along. I will acknowledge that e-mail and the internet allow some of this to go on outside of Utah’s bounds, but the dense social network is still the best medium for these things (e.g., “Today’s youth were generals in the war in heaven.“) to get passed along . Likewise, there’s a reason why most LDS splinter groups and breakaway churches start in Utah — again, the density elsewhere often just isn’t high enough to sustain such a group.

The concentration inside of Utah also make the “outliers” on either end of the Mormon spectrum (however you care to define that) much more visible. Outside of Utah, it is much easier to be quietly and invisibly unorthodox (in any direction), because you’re surrounded by people who aren’t Mormon and your ward is spread out over many square miles. Inside of Utah, your ward fits into a space of several square blocks, and pretty much all your neighbors (Mormon or not) are aware of just where you fit in (as they suppose).

The density of Mormons within Utah also tends to make wards — which are defined geographically and tend to each cover a very small area within most urban and suburban areas in Utah — very homogeneous in terms of ethnic, financial, and professional background. That, in turn, can lead to a mindset that says, consciously or not, “how the Church is in my ward is how it is or should be everywhere else.”

The third is integration of church and society, which is a consequence of point #2. I’m not talking about political issues of church and state per se (though those are certainly brought up a lot). I’m talking about the tendency to judge someone in her/his secular role based on what we believe about their commitment to and activity in the Church, as well as the tendency to ask for favors (vote for me, invest with me, sign up for my MLM organization, take a quick look at my teeth/car/dog for free, give me a discount on X) based on shared Church membership and/or prominent (local) Church responsibilities. This certainly goes on outside of Utah (cf. the Mormon affinity fraud cases in California and here in Colorado, and the White Horse idiot up in Idaho), but it is so pervasive in Utah as to make it hard to avoid.

Many, many years ago I made it a personal rule not to use someone from my ward (or even my stake) in providing professional services to me (law, medicine, automotive, etc.) — not because I think Mormons are dishonest or sloppy (I don’t), but because if I’m unhappy with them or stop using them, I don’t want that to have awkward consequences within my ward. (Case in point: my dentist here in Colorado happens to be in the bishopric of one of the other wards — which is actually in another stake — that shares our building; I see him almost every Sunday and apologize for not being back in for my regular checkup yet.)

At the same time, status tends to accrue based on callings and associations with Church general leadership. Utah remains the only place where I have heard men (though, fortunately, only a few) talk in all seriousness about their “Church career”, as they try to figure out how to go from bishop to stake president to mission president/area seventy to general authority.  Likewise, for some LDS, it is the peak of status to have a son or daughters (or grandson or granddaughter) marry into the family of a general authority.

Finally, the pervasiveness of the Church in Utah actually creates a problem for the youth growing up there. About a year after Sandra and I married — with nine (9!) kids between the two of us — we decided to leave Utah and move out of state, even though our respective former spouses (and most of Sandra’s family) lived there. Why? Because the natural inclination of youth is to rebel, and in Utah, the main institution to rebel against is the Church, and we began to see signs of that already. Instead, we moved them out to northern California (Santa Cruz), where they were a tiny minority and where even the stake president wore his hair a bit over his ears. 🙂

Let me finish by saying that — aside from the ‘inheritance’ issue I mentioned above — I don’t really buy into the stereotype of the “Utah Mormon”, at least not as applying to the majority of Mormons in Utah. (I am, however, willing to grant that Southern Utah may be an exception, particularly listening to annegb.) I think that the distribution of LDS behaviors and beliefs — however you want to map that — is roughly the same inside and outside of Utah. The difference in Utah, as per the concentration issue, is that there are a lot more people in Utah that outside it who do fit the classic “Utah Mormon” stereotype, and they are often some of the most visible and vocal.

[end of revised repost]

So, if we do end up moving back to Utah, it will be interesting to see if my observations still hold; one way or another, I’ll do a follow-up post at some point in the future.  ..bruce..

A simple tip for husbands young and old

Ask yourself each morning:  what can I do today that will make my wife happy?

For the most part, I’m thinking about items around the house that need to be handled (the proverbial “Honey, do…” list), though it can be other things as well. (When was the last time you bought your wife flowers? I buy my wife flowers every 10-14 days, usually at Costco, where it’s only $15 for a gorgeous mixed bouquet. Been doing that for many, many years. She loves it every time.) It doesn’t have to be anything major or showy, or even anything that she will notice that same day, just something that will bring a smile to her face (or even just a sign of relief).

Then do it.  ..bruce..

Think twice, speak once (if at all)

Our youngest daughter, Salem (almost 24), moved back in with us a few months ago, due to problems with her roommates in the house she shared with others. She’s a delight — low maintenance and fun to have around — so we’ve been happy to have her back. She’s the manager of a nearby Hot Topic store, has a boyfriend and an active social life, so it’s not like we even see her all that often.

Something over a week ago, however, a box of peach-flavored green tea showed up in our pantry. Some of our kids (including Salem) are inactive, and we’ve made it clear that while their choices are their choices, we’d appreciate it if they didn’t bring some of those choices into our home. They’ve been very good about that, so I was surprised to see the box of tea appear.

A few days passed as I debated whether to bring the issue up and, if so, how. I left on a short business trip to New York without having made a decision. I got back very late Friday night and crashed when I got home, dealing with a worsening cough that I picked up on the trip.

Saturday, there were a few critical things I need to pick up at the store, so my wife Sandra and I ran out together. As we were driving along, Sandra was filling me in on the past few days, then said, “You know, I bought what I thought was a box peach tea for myself several days ago, but when I went to make some on Friday, I realized that I had bought peach-flavored green tea. D’oh! So I threw it out.” I chuckled and told her about having spotted it and trying to figure out how to bring it up with Salem.

Then I realized: the tea sat in our pantry for a week. Salem, if she saw it, knows she didn’t buy it and therefore is likely wondering if Sandra and I are drifting a bit ourselves. Great.

So a day or two later, I did talk with Salem — to tell her the funny story of what Mom did. A nicer talk, all the way around.  ..bruce..

Cleanliness is next to Godliness — scientific proof

Via Slashdot comes this report of a study — from (ta-da!) Brigham Young University — that shows that ethical behavior increases in the presence of ‘clean smells’:

People are unconsciously fairer and more generous when they are in clean-smelling environments, according to a soon-to-be published study led by a Brigham Young University professor.

The research found a dramatic improvement in ethical behavior with just a few spritzes of citrus-scented Windex.

Katie Liljenquist, assistant professor of organizational leadership at BYU’s Marriott School of Management, is the lead author on the piece in a forthcoming issue of Psychological Science. Co-authors are Chen-Bo Zhong of the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management and Adam Galinsky of the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University.

The researchers see implications for workplaces, retail stores and other organizations that have relied on traditional surveillance and security measures to enforce rules.

“Companies often employ heavy-handed interventions to regulate conduct, but they can be costly or oppressive,” said Liljenquist, whose office smells quite average. “This is a very simple, unobtrusive way to promote ethical behavior.”

Perhaps the findings could be applied at home, too, Liljenquist said with a smile. “Could be that getting our kids to clean up their rooms might help them clean up their acts, too.”

My wife will be gratified to know — far too late, since our kids are (mostly) gone — that she was right about the need for them to keep their rooms smelling fresh.  ..bruce..

Remembering the Loma Prieta earthquake (1989) [updated]

[adapted and cross-posted from And Still I Persist]

We were just to the left of that star marking the epicenter
We were just to the left of that star marking the epicenter

Yeah, I should have written and posted this yesterday, but I didn’t realize it was the 20th anniversary until today (thanks to this post).

Sandra and I, with seven of our nine kids, had moved to Soquel, California in early 1988. Actually, we were five miles outside of Soquel; we bought a home in the Santa Cruz Mountains, a long ranch-style house on five acres of land covered with redwood trees. Then we hit the Tech Crash of 1988-89 and worked hard to keep things going, while I was continuing to do contract work at Apple and Sun, as well as writing both articles (mostly Macworld) and books (The NeXT Book, Addison-Wesley, 1989).

At 5:04 pm on October 17, 1989, I had just gotten home about an hour or so earlier from a drive up to San Francisco, most likely to the Macworld offices. I was in my home office, using my NeXT cube and a modem to be on-line on BIX (BYTE Information eXchange). Sandra and most of the kids were home, though Jacqui and Heather (both 13) were over at a friend’s house some miles away making poodle skirts for a school ‘sock hop’. The quake started, that in itself not a big surprise; I was a Californian, and we’d lived here in the Bay Area for nearly 2 years, so we were all quite used to minor shakers. But then it got very strong, very fast. I jumped up and braced myself in the doorway that led from my office to the master bedroom. The shaking was very hard and very long, and all I could think about were the very tall redwood trees all around the house, any one of which could fall over and slice the house into two parts.

Sandra, in the meantime, was near the kitchen, in the middle of the house. She grabbed the kids who were home and tried to get them all into a doorway while the quake was going on. At one point during the quake, our daughter Crystal (age 6) looked up at Sandra and said, “I don’t want to live here anymore.”

The quake finally died down, and I went out through the office’s sliding glass door to the outside deck and saw a glorious, once-in-several-lifetimes sight: dozens of giant redwood trees all swaying in unison in big sweeping arcs, while millions of tiny golden redwood leaves drifted down. None of the trees had fallen over, so I ran back into the house to check on everyone and to see what damage had been done to the house.

The home phone rang almost immediately. It was Sandra’s mother, Nora, calling from Orem, Utah. Sandra’s dad, Andy, had been watching the World Series game, and when the earthquake struck, Nora immediately called us to see if we were OK. It was the last incoming phone call we’d get for several days, as attempts by most of the rest of the country to call into the Bay Area would jam up the incoming phone lines. Sandra assured her mom that we were all OK, and then we set about taking inventory. The kids, while a bit terrified, were all unhurt, so we did a quick assessment on the house itself.

The house actually came through the quake very well. There were a few small cracks in one wall, and a few bookshelves had fallen over, but that was about it. We quickly started filling up sinks and tubs with water; we were on a well and had a holding tank (gravity feed), but we didn’t want to take chances. A smart move, as it turned out — the quake cracked the line from the well to the holding tank. Power was out, so the well was no longer pumping water up to the tank; instead, the tank emptied itself through that cracked line over the next several hours.

We had two water heaters, one in the garage and one in the basement. The one in the garage was tucked into a closet and came through the quake just fine. The other one  in the basement was somewhat freestanding and so had “walked around” a bit, snapping one of the water feeds. I shut things down and walked the tank back into place.  (Lesson #1: if you live in earthquake country, always be sure that your water heater is strapped down quite securely.)

By now, the aftershocks had started. Since (as it turned out) we were only 3-4 miles from the epicenter of the quake, we felt all the aftershocks — and there would be literally dozens of them (“Fifty-one aftershocks of magnitude 3.0 and larger occurred during the first day after the main shock, and 16 occurred during the second day. After 3 weeks, 87 magnitude 3.0 and larger aftershocks had occurred.”) We felt all those aftershocks and many smaller ones as well.

While power was out, we did have a battery-powered radio, as well as the car radio in our minivan. However, we could only find a few stations on the air, and most of them were local stations trying to cope with the aftermath of the quake themselves. (We didn’t have great reception of anything where we lived.)

As mentioned, we had two daughters over visiting friends several miles away. I got into the minivan and drove off to get them. The effects of the quake were  quite visible; there were actual landslides in several places, and obvious structural damage to both houses and buildings. When I got to the house where Jacqui and Heather were supposed to be, it turned out that the family there had already left with them (and the other girls who were there) to drive them all home.

If I recall correctly — it has been 20 years after all — I stopped at one small hardware store on the way home. The large front window of the store was completely smashed out, and the owner was selling stuff (batteries, mostly) directly through the window. I bought some batteries and headed home.

The eerie part at this point is that we had no idea what other damage had occurred or how widespread it was. For all we knew, we were on the outskirts of the damage zone, and much of the Bay Area could be in ruins. Even if we had had electricity, we only got one TV station back in the mountains, and that one pretty poorly. As I mentioned, the local radio stations were either off the air (with power problems of their own) or were mostly just coming up to the mike periodically and saying, “There’s been a large earthquake — as soon as we have information, we’ll let you know more.”

Our house ran entirely on electricity (which was gone and would be for about 24 hours), so I fired up the BBQ grill out back to cook dinner. Afterwards, we gathered all the kids in the living room with sleeping bags and pillows, built a fire in the fireplace, and spent the night there. By now, some of the radio stations were back on the air, so Sandra and I used the battery-powered radio, with each using one earpiece of a standard pair. We spent most of the night listening to live reports of the devastation around the Bay Area, including the fires in the Marina district, the damage to the Bay Bridge, and the collapse on the Nimitz Freeway, all while aftershocks were hitting every few minutes. It truly felt apocalyptic.

Chase’s recollection (age 16 at the time of the quake)

It was an afternoon that I did not have much homework, and I took advantage because I was tired from early morning seminary.  I woke to the violent shaking and watching the windows in my bedroom dance back and forth, as they bounced up and down with the tremors.

I quickly got into the doorway and waited for what honestly seemed like an eternity until the calm finally set in.  Rushing to the kitchen, mom was there heading out the back sliding door onto the deck.  The fear from the earthquake was only the first of many fears that crossed my path.  The next was being outside, watching the giant redwood trees swaying in unison with the only sounds made were from the falling debris, and creaking sounds from the trees themselves.  There were always birds making ruckous and just other sounds of nature, but at that moment, the trees were the lords of the dance.

At that moment, one of the many aftershocks hit and I just remember feeling as if I was strapped into a horrible carnival ride that I was not able to see what might be coming around the next turn.

Over the next few hours, there were many assessments made of the interior and exterior of the home.  For me, the sight of cracked walls and topled bookshelves was beyond what I could grasp.  I knew we were in earthquake country, but no one ever explained the feeling of standing in a doorway as the house groaned all around you.  Or, the many aftershocks that made sleeping close to an impossiblity.

As we all gathered in the living room in sleeping bags and flashlights, there was a little bit of chatter, but no topics could outdo the tenseness we all felt.  Unexpectedly, another tremor would hit, some were huge and felt like the original, some were just enough to break your calm all over again.

What is funny is that all these years later, I still remember that the high school was supposed to have a day off on Wednesday, and I was so excited to go to seminary in my pijamas.  To say the least, we did not have seminary the next morning, and we had several days off from school as repairs needed to be made on classrooms and even the swimming pool on campus.

There are moments, even 20 years later that I cringe or my heart skips a beat when I feel the floor shake from someone walking across or sitting on an overpass when a large truck passes.

Crystal’s recollection (age 6 at the time of the quake)

Right after the earthquake had hit and we were all gathering outside on the deck, when you came out and Mom (I think it was mom) freaked out because a bottle of ketchup had spilled on your birkenstocked foot and she thought you’d been injured.

Wes, Jon and I sleeping outside your bedroom door (after you callously told us we could no longer sleep in your bedroom). I remember being woken up by Mom tearing open the door after an aftershock that I had apparently slept through.

Wes refusing to leave the couch against the wall because of the aftershocks. One night the entire family was sitting at the dinner table, trying to persuade him to finally leave the couch, and just as he gets up, another shock hits and he dives back onto the couch.

Heather’s recollection (age 13 at the time of the quake)

Wow, I can’t believe it’s been 20 years! I remember being at the friend’s house (I can’t remember their names, unfortunately) and I believe we were cutting the fabric out for the skirts when the house started shaking. At first I thought that someone was jumping up and down upstairs until I remembered that they didn’t have a second floor. Once we realized what was happening, we all ran to the door that lead to the garage. It seemed like 5 or so of us tried to fit in the door frame together. We could hear stuff falling out of the kitchen cupboards and breaking. It seemed to go on forever. Once the main quake was over, I remember we all went outside. Most of the houses were actually okay, except for the chimneys. Once we got home, I remember all of us staying in the living room together. I didn’t realize how many aftershocks there would be, and how strong many of them would be. I have other random little bits I remember too, mostly visual: the concrete stage broken and partially fallen (I believe it was on the beach at the boardwalk), tree debris (leaves, pinecones, small branches) all over the driveway and road by our house, and some pub in Soquel that had a chimney covering part of one wall that had completely fallen down (we drove by it all the time). And of course, how very easy it was to scare Mom. Even well into our time in San Diego, you’d start shaking the window behind Mom and she’d start to freak out and get mad at you. I’m sure it still works to this day.

Dealing with your spouse’s midlife crisis

I just ran across an outstanding article over at the New York Times written by a woman whose husband wanted to leave her:

Sure, you have your marital issues, but on the whole you feel so self-satisfied about how things have worked out that you would never, in your wildest nightmares, think you would hear these words from your husband one fine summer day: “I don’t love you anymore. I’m not sure I ever did. I’m moving out. The kids will understand. They’ll want me to be happy.”

But wait. This isn’t the divorce story you think it is. Neither is it a begging-him-to-stay story. It’s a story about hearing your husband say “I don’t love you anymore” and deciding not to believe him. And what can happen as a result.

I am profoundly struck by the wisdom and courage of this woman in how she dealt with a painful and risky situation. I think there’s a lot here for LDS couples who have hit a rocky spot in their marriages. Read the whole thing.  ..bruce..

A Lego version of the “Christus” statue

Latter-day Saints tend be very familiar with the “Christus” statue by Bertel Thorvaldsen, because replicas of the statue are found at several LDS temple visitor centers (most notably Salt Lake [see above] and Washington DC) and photos of the statue itself are commonly used in LDS materials.

Well, as it turns out, a church in Sweeden has build a replica of the “Christus” statue using Legos:

While my first impulse is to wince, I think that children would be utterly fascinated by this statue, and that it might give them an entirely different perspective on their own roles as artists and creators with the materials they typically play with.  ..bruce..

I’m in trouble now

My sweet wife Sandra has figured out how to post videos on YouTube.

Here’s her first effort. She works part-time at Curves (a women-only fitness center), and her employer was closing down one Curves center and moving all the equipment to another. My wife got several of the local missionaries to help move the equipment. Afterwards, Sandra’s boss made the missionaries do a full circuit on the workout equipment. They found it was a lot harder than they thought:

This was done using her cell phone, hence the jerky quality. ..bruce..