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Sunday morning was really rough.  Not because it was Mother’s Day.  I really enjoy the chance to show my wife and my mother a little extra recognition and appreciation.  (I mean, seriously, I’ll use any excuse to give presents.)  No, it was rough for purely physical and personal reasons.

The Mormon Tabernacle Choir had just finished a week of recording sessions, and we were exhausted.  We recorded Tuesday through Friday nights.  Each time I go to Choir, it is my habit to leave early from work, go to the Lion House Pantry, eat dinner, and write (e.g., work on my current novel).  This is my “sacred writing time,” and I try very hard to let nothing interfere with this.  However, leaving early means that I have to finish my work-day at home, late at night.  It makes for an exhausting week.

We finished our recording sessions on Friday night, and this allowed me to go to the Renaissance Festival and Fantasy Faire up in Marriott-Slaterville on Saturday.  I am teaching my medieval weapons class each Saturday this month (plus Memorial Day).  Yes, I know I VOLUNTEERED for this madness, but then, I can never resist an opportunity to show off my arsenal, talk weapons, and sell and sign books.

The bottom line is that I was plum-tuckered-out on Sunday (Mother’s Day), and I still had to do the “Music and the Spoken Word” broadcast that morning.  Now, all that singing, recording, weapons-teaching, and book-signing equates to a LOT of standing.  I have a bum knee, and I will have to have it replaced (AFTER I’m done with the Choir in three years and not before, thank you very much).  So, I was taking my prescribed pain meds Tuesday through Saturday.  The problem is that I don’t LIKE taking the meds, because when they wear off, they make me very sick.  So at least once a week, I don’t take any meds to give my body a break, to reset, as it were.  Usually, I do this on Friday night.  But we were recording on Friday night, so Friday wasn’t a viable option.

So, Sunday arrived, and I decided to forgo my heavier meds that morning.  “I can do this,” I thought.  “Yes, I have to go home and bake a German chocolate cake (my wife’s favorite) and make dinner for nine, but I can do this!”

Well, about the time we got to the break between the run-through rehearsal and the actual broadcast, I was hurting pretty badly.  And I was sick.  I mean, I was ready to puke.  (This is a side-effect of the medicine wearing off.)  I didn’t have time to hobble down to the wardrobe room, grab my wallet, stumble to the vending machines in the maintenance break room, purchase a soda from the vending machine, consume it, burp violently (hey, gotta have that detail in here) to settle my stomach, lurch back to the wardrobe room to replace my wallet, then clamber in a most ungainly fashion up the stairs to the Choir loft before the broadcast.  So, I was stuck.  In fact, I was sitting outside the Tabernacle, eyeing one of the bushes as a likely spot to empty the contents of my stomach, fertilize the lucky shrubbery, and gross-out audience members.  I mean, nothing invites the Spirit like watching a member of the Choir lose their—well, I actually hadn’t eaten anything, but…

At that moment, as I was about to bestow upon the bush the gift of stomach acid, one of the Temple Square missionaries, an older sister, walked up to me and handed me a bag of chocolate chip cookies.

She told me it was to thank me for helping her find an old friend in the Choir the week before.  But to me, she was an answer to an unspoken prayer.  Help me, Father, to get through this.  And my regular readers will know my mantra for my service in the Choir—Not for my glory, but for Thy glory.  And so, my Heavenly Father sent me chocolate chip cookies through this kind woman.  I ate two, and they settled my stomach perfectly.  (I shared the rest with some of the other men in the Choir.)

That random (or perhaps, not-so-random) act of kindness saved me that morning.  And I am grateful.  Very, very grateful.

I don’t ask the Lord to make my service easy, I only ask Him to make it possible.  And He does.  Besides, with God, nothing is impossible.

So, find opportunities to bestow random acts of kindness.  Smile at a stranger.  It costs you nothing (in most cities—although, in some cities I’ve visited, it might be dangerous).  Say hello.  Call a friend.  Write an email.  Give your mother a flower.  Tell your wife, your son, your daughter, your brother, your sister, your friend that you love them.  Mow a neighbor’s lawn.  Do something nice and unexpected with no thought of reward.

You may save someone.

And you won’t do your own soul any harm, either.

They may not be just chocolate chip cookies—they just might be a miracle, an answer to prayer.

Recently, I did the unthinkable—I submitted a short story for a romance anthology.  You can stop laughing now.  Seriously.  Listen, if you develop a hernia, don’t blame me.

Of course, my story had a horror twist (which shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone familiar with my work).  And although the story has been accepted and will be published, I was told that I had “broken the rules.”  I was told, “It made me cry,” and “It’s a beautiful epic love story,” but I was also informed, “It’s not romance.”  Apparently, “romance” ends when two people finally come together after some obstacle is overcome.  It ends at the first kiss, the proposal, or the altar.  After that, it’s not “romance.”

I beg to differ.

Last week, we (my wife, my parents, my aunt, and I) watched Walt Disney’s Bon Voyage.  It’s a cute comedy from 1962, starring Fred MacMurray and Jane Wyman (yes, Spock’s original mother, and if you don’t get that reference, you are definitely geek-challenged, you poor, ignorant soul).  The premise of the movie is that after twenty years of marriage, raising three children, Harry and Katie Willard finally get to take a luxury cruise to France.  They had planned to do the cruise early in their marriage, but “life got in the way” (as it so often does).  There are typical (and perhaps predictable) misadventures along the way.  (My favorite concerns Harry, the dad, getting lost in the sewers under Paris while his young son gets to tour the Louvre, which is where Harry wanted to go in the first place, but never gets to go…)  There is also the potential for teen romance for each of the two older children, but ultimately, the story isn’t about the teenagers.  The story is focused on how Harry and Katie (the dad and mom) are still in love.  After twenty years and three kids.  That’s the point of the movie.  It’s about how this middle-aged couple still love each other and are true to each other after all that… life.  In short, it’s about romance.

I love Disney’s The Little Mermaid, and although the direct-to-video sequel, The Little Mermaid 2: Return to the Sea, is largely forgettable, there is a moment at the end that just made the movie for me—the enthusiastic kiss between Ariel and Eric.  A husband and wife who have a teenage daughter, have been married for a decade and a half and still love each other!  What a concept!

Maybe one of the reasons divorce rates are so high is that we expect love, true love, to involve only rushing pulse rates, rapid breathing, and sweaty palms.  (Or to quote one interpretation of Merlin in a fairly terrible movie, “all this hair-pulling and jumping about.”)  But that’s not true love.  True love requires hard work and devotion.  It requires selflessness, not a selfish obsession with how someone else makes you feel.

My parents live with us now, and we are delighted to have them with us.  My father is very active.  He does more physical work around our home than the rest of us combined.  But he is fighting progressive memory loss.  Sometimes, he struggles to remember names and words.  I remember one evening as he lamented how he might soon not be able to remember how to perform a once-simple task.  Tenderly, my mother said, “We’re not there yet, but when that time comes, we’ll figure it out together.”  Now THAT is true love.  Maybe it’s not “romance,” but it is true love.

And in my not-so-humble opinion, true love trumps romance any day of the millennium.

Now having said that, my wife still makes my heart pound, my breath quicken, and my skin tingle.  I miss her when we are apart, and can’t wait to be reunited with her.  And she is still the most beautiful and the sexiest woman to ever grace this Earth.  She’s my lover, my confidant, and my best and truest friend.

And for some unfathomable reason, she likes me too.

A couple of years ago, I reported an encounter with a soprano of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, and… it didn’t go so well.  It started innocently enough, with her asking me “How are you?”  And I answered innocently enough.  A quick conversation ensued that included me mentioning that I had been selling my LDS horror novels at ComicCon.  Her reaction to the very idea that any good latter-day saint would write horror was… interesting.  Let’s just say, she couldn’t get away from me fast enough.

Now fast-forward to last year. I was walking through the underground parking below the Church Headquarters Building and… there she was again.  This sweet soprano was standing in front of a heating grate.  She had her purse sitting on a ledge above the grate and was rummaging around in it.  (Aside note: As a fond and interested observer of the fairer sex, it seems to me that ladies will often spend time rummaging in their purses, searching for some small item or other—searching with the absolute conviction that the elusive mathom MUST be in there.  I, on the other hand, know better than to attempt to find ANYTHING in my wife’s purse.  If the love of my life asks me to get her something from her purse—for example, her keys—I seem to be incapable of finding it.  I have learned it is best to simply hand her purse to her.  You see, I’m terrified that I’ll rearrange something or lose something—like my sanity—in the perplexing kaleidoscopic labyrinth that is my wife’s purse.  Now, after that lengthy non-sequitur, I shall return to my narrative.  But did you notice the cool Tolkienism I worked in there?)  As I approached this charming lady, I did so with both trepidation and amusement. I’m going to ask, “How are you?” I thought.  And hopefully, she won’t snatch up her purse and run away. After all, I’m an LDS horror writer.  That’s as bad as a purse-snatcher, right?  Probably worse. But anyway, here goes…

“Hi,” I said. “How are you?”

She looked up from her purse-questing, turned her head toward me, and did something completely (at least to me) unexpected—she smiled. “I’m fine.  I just love standing here.”

I stopped walking. Not only was she not treating me like a diabolical purse-snatcher, but she was initiating casual conversation.  But as unexpected as that was, I have to admit that I was intrigued by her words.  “You love standing there?  In front of the heating grate?  Because it’s warm?”

She nodded, still smiling pleasantly. “And it smells so good!”

What smells so good? The air coming out of the grate?  That must be it.  “Huh.  I wonder what they’re putting in it?”

She rolled her eyes and let out a dramatic sigh. “Oh, now you’ve gone and ruined it.”  Then she chuckled.

I laughed along with her. “Sorry, but I’m a horror novelist.  It’s part of my job to imagine the sinister in the mundane.  It could make for a good story.”

Her rummagings apparently completed, she turned and walked with me toward the tunnel that leads to the Tabernacle. “A horror novelist?  How very interesting.”

And just like that, I stepped into the Twilight Zone. Don’t you remember the last time we talked? “Actually, I write LDS horror.”

“LDS horror? Wow.  How does that work?”

And we had a very pleasant chat on our way through the mists of the Twilight Zone on our way to rehearsal. And that time, she didn’t run away…

Now, I didn’t actually think there was something sinister coming from the heating grate, not for one second. But my horror-writer’s brain immediately began IMAGINING scenarios.  But that’s all they were.  I didn’t really think there was a terrorist injecting deadly gas into the ventilation system, or that some nefarious, disgruntled church employee was drugging us all with mind-control gas so he could force the leaders of the Church to change the doctrines.  It was just imagination, not reality.  But imagining is a big part of what I do.

Now are there terrorists out there who want to murder people?  Yes, of course.  But I don’t suspect every stranger I meet of being a terrorist.  In fact, unless they DO something or ANNOUNCE their plans to commit mass murder, I don’t suspect anyone of being a terrorist.  Even if they don’t look like me.  I mean, if I were to be afraid of every person with red hair or brown eyes or freckles or pierced ears, I would live in constant fear of imminent, horrifying, and painful death.  But I don’t.

Are there people who would gladly use mind-control gas to force others to their will? Absofraggin’lutely.  But just because I don’t agree with someone or someone believes differently than I do, doesn’t mean I think that person is evil.  I mean, seriously:  I have a beloved son-in-law who thinks Disney World is better than Disney Land, Star Wars is better than Star Trek, and chicken in Mexican food is delicious!  He is so messed up in his head!  Deluded!  And yet, I still love him.  He’s a great guy, and I’m very happy he’s sealed to my daughter.  (Even if he is dead wrong on certain critical, vital issues.)

In Cervantes’ classic novel, Don Quixote tilted at windmills, because they might be giants.  That didn’t mean that the windmills actually were giants.  In fact, as far as can be determined, they were just windmills.  So, other than some slight damage to the windmills and Don Quixote’s own bruises, no damage was done.  (Perhaps the owners of the windmills might take exception to that.)  On the one hand, I applaud Don Quixote’s courage to do what he believed was right, no matter the cost, no matter the ridicule.  “To dream the impossible dream…”  On the other, consider if, instead of windmills, our noble knight of La Mancha had slaughtered human beings, because they might be sorcerers or demons.  Then his noble, glorious quest, no matter his motivations or delusions, would have been evil.  Now, if all he had done was to voice his strong opposition to wizardry and demonic powers, there would have been nothing wrong with that.  People might find it annoying, they might disagree with him, they might argue back—especially if they were innocent of witchcraft and consorting with devils—but Don Quixote’s voicing of his deeply held convictions would not make him evil.  Only an act of evil would do that.

I, like many people, have deeply held convictions.  I am unabashedly LDS.  I oppose gay-marriage, abortion, and the normalization of that which the Lord Himself has condemned.  (I also think that chicken in Mexican food is disgusting, but you’ll have to read “The Sweet Sister” to understand my reasoning on that vital topic.)  I realize that puts me at odds with some people.  However, I have never carried a sign in front of a pro-gay-marriage church, stormed a gay wedding, or stood in front of a Planned Parenthood clinic and shouted, cursed, or thrown blood at the terrified women entering or leaving.  I have boycotted products and companies, but although I may have announced my intentions, I have never attempted to force or shame others into joining me.

In short, all I have done is to express my convictions and tried to live by them.

And in return, I get some variation of the following—often from members of my own faith:

  • “It’s obvious that you hate gays.”
  • “Every time you cringe when a gay person touches you, you show your hatred.”
  • “You hate women.”
  • “You want women to die.”
  • “You hate people of color.”

These charges are beyond ludicrous. People who know me see how I treat my friends and loved ones (some of whom are gay and some of whom are—and I know this is going to shock some folks—women) with the utmost love, respect, and affection.  And since when does the color of a person’s skin, the color or shape of their eyes, the texture of their hair, or any other “racial” distinction make any difference at all?  It certainly doesn’t to me.  After all, my dear wife is of English-extraction, and I don’t hold that against her.  She’s perfect the way she is.  (Besides, she’s part Irish, and that’s almost like Scottish, isn’t it?)

The tactic of equating a difference of opinion with hatred is as despicable and as it is cowardly. And it is all too common.  “You disagree with me, therefore you hate me/gays/Tongans/women/polar bears/trees/clean air and water/puppies/kittens/baby sloths.”

Seriously?

It seems this new gospel of tolerance-above-all only applies to people who agree with the popular dogmas of the day. As Jesus said, “But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.” (Matthew 15:9)

And then there’s this chestnut: “I have friends and family members who are gay/Chinese/fans-of-chicken-in-Mexican-food. Don’t you see how hurtful your words are?”  This may also come as a shock…  Perhaps, you should sit down before you proceed further.  Are you sitting down?  Okay, here goes…

So do I.

And guess what? I LOVE them!  And, hopefully, they love me back!

For me, one of the coolest parts of Don Quixote is the idea that he treats a whore like a lady. He loves her (chastely), even if he doesn’t agree with (or even acknowledge) her lifestyle.  He doesn’t—and never would—condone her lifestyle, but he loves her anyway.  And his love is pure.  And his love eventually makes her want to change.  His love and his unswerving devotion to his principles help to redeem her.

Having an opinion or an idea or a deeply held (and hopefully, abided by) belief doesn’t make someone evil. Only an act of evil does that.

If you pre-judge someone, assuming hatred when none exists, isn’t that—dare I say it—prejudicial? Isn’t that the definition of bigotry?

After all, sometimes a windmill is just a windmill.

But, having said all that, Star Trek is still better than Star Wars, and Babylon 5 is better than both!!!

I Sang!

Let’s get right to the elephant in the room: I sang at the inauguration of the 45th president of the United States of America, and there are people who want to murder me and my fellow Choir members because of it.  In a somewhat less extreme response, there are also people who have vowed to never listen to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir even again—even going so far as to say that when they listen to or watch General Conference, they will mute the sound when the Choir sings.  Seriously?  You’re going to listen to the prophet who told us to go, but not to us?  Good luck explaining that one.

Now to put this all into perspective, during the Music and the Spoken Word broadcast this morning, I sat next to a friend of mine, and my friend’s mother had passed away earlier this week.  Needless to say (but I’m gonna say it anyway), this was an emotional broadcast for him (and to a far lesser degree, for me as well).  But he was there, singing Be Still, My Soul.  And my friend was also there with me in Washington, D.C., just days after losing his mother, singing America the Beautiful.  Why?  It’s very simple—because that is what he was asked to do.

You see, when the Choir president says to go and sing, you go and sing.  And just for the record, the First Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints approved the trip.  That’s right, the prophet of the Lord said to go and sing.  For me, there was no debate, no wringing of hands, no drama.  God asked me to go, and I joyfully, enthusiastically answered the call.

Now, singing at the inauguration was voluntary.  That’s right, nobody was forced to go.  And there are many people, myself included, who have very strong feelings about this past election, the candidates, etc.  I didn’t vote for President Trump (and I didn’t vote for Secretary Clinton either).  I voted for someone else.  But I was one of the first to sign up to go.  Why?  Because God asked me to.  Because I love my country.  Because I revere the principles of the Constitution and the peaceful transition of power.  And because, I love singing in the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

However, the Inaugural Committee asked us to limit the number of Choir members to 215, so a lot of folks who signed up to go did not get to participate.  Selection was random.  (They literally pulled our numbers out of a hat.)  I was very grateful when I was informed that my number had been selected.

Many of those who went (myself included) had to take two days off work (i.e., “vacation”) to go.  Many of us (myself included) went in spite of health issues.  Many of us (like my friend) went in spite of family crises.  It was a great privilege to go, but it was also a sacrifice.

We didn’t sing, Hail to the Chief.  We didn’t praise a man.  We sang, America the Beautiful.  We sang to America.  We sang in praise of the American Dream.  We sang, “America!  America!  God shed His grace on thee.”  We sang, “America!  America!  God mend thine every flaw.”  The American Dream is not the American reality.  We are a flawed nation and a flawed people.  But the dream, the ideal, is what we are fighting (and singing) for.  And we must never cease fighting (and singing) for it.

Okay, the elephant in the room has been acknowledged.  (More like it’s been beaten half to death.  Poor elephant.)

As I alluded to above, threats to the Choir were serious and credible.  My poor wife was so worried, she asked me to find all the life insurance documents.  (Not kidding.)  So we were all asked to say nothing about where, when, or how… or even what we were going to sing.  In fact, we were told virtually nothing.  We were told what to pack and when to show up at the airport.  We didn’t know where we were going to stay.  We were asked to turn off the GPS in our phones and not text or post anything to anyone.  We weren’t even allowed to tell our spouses where we were.

However, now that the cloak of secrecy has been removed…

My carpool left for the airport at 3:00 AM on Thursday.  We boarded a charter flight at 6:00 AM.  I must say that Delta flight attendants are the absolute best!  We were treated like first-class (regardless of where we sat).  The food was excellent.  The service was excellent.  (And the movies were free!)  I watched “Batman: The Killing Joke”.  Not bad!  Then I slept (because I hadn’t slept the night before).

Once we arrived and the airport, we boarded one of five buses and were whisked off to the Capitol.  When I say, “whisked,” I mean to say that we left directly from the airport.  I do not mean to imply that we traveled quickly.  Due to traffic, protests, and threats, we took a somewhat roundabout route.  When we arrived, we unloaded from the buses, lined up, and climbed the risers for rehearsal.  We were allowed to take a few pictures during this time.  And we also got to listen to Senator Chuck Schumer rehearse his speech SEVERAL times.

Then we rehearsed.  We were accompanied by the President’s Own Marine Corps Band.  We’ve performed with them before, and they are amazing!  The big problem was that they were BELOW us.  We couldn’t see them, and they couldn’t see us.  It was a challenge to stay together.  But we worked it out.

The weather was a little chilly, but I was very comfortable in just a long-sleeved shirt.  (Yes, I wore pants too.  That should be implied, for crying out loud.  So get your mind out of the gutter before you make yourself sick.)  Others wore jackets.  And hats.  And scarves.  And gloves.  (Come on, folks, it wasn’t that cold.  As my 8th grade English teacher used to say, “On a day like today, the little school children in Siberia go out to play without their sweaters…”)

Then we boarded our buses and were “whisked” off to one the Marriott hotels in the area.  We were served a delicious buffet dinner.  As we ate, we learned about all the logistical miracles that had occurred to get us there less than 4 weeks after receiving the invitation.  One of those miracles was finding hotel rooms for 225 people (215 Choir members, plus directors and staff) in a city where the hotel rooms have been booked for months.  I can testify that many miracles were performed in our behalf.  (Let the doubters and detractors chew on that.)  40 of us (including yours truly) had to stay at a different Marriott.  So after dinner, the few, the proud, the weary were “whisked” off to our hotel.

After about 4 hours of sleep, I arose at 4:00 AM (after waking at 3:00 AM and not being able to get back to sleep).  We boarded our bus at 5:15.  Then it was breakfast at the other Marriott, announcements, and a bus ride through the dark to the Russell Senate Office Building (next to the Capitol).  We dressed in our nifty white coats, and were processed through security.  We had been told that we would not have access to bathrooms for 4 hours, so we needed to avoid drinking anything prior to going to the Capitol.  Almost immediately after we were reminded to avoid consuming liquids, we were provided with juice and water.

And we waited and waffled between hydration and cautionary bathroom trips.

Then we marched over to the Capitol and took our places on the bleachers.  (We were informed that it took a month to assemble said bleachers.)  And we waited some more.  I was very comfortable in my coat and scarf.  Others wore jackets AND sweaters under the coat.  I guess I’m just hot.  (I didn’t mean it that way!  Try not to barf on your keyboard.)

We had to stand for a very long time while everyone and their escorts (and their dogs) were introduced.  That wasn’t fun, but the members of the President’s Own Marine Corp Band who played trumpets and drums, acting as heralds, stood at attention for hours.  It made my knees ache (well, ache more) just to look at them.

I saw the great men and women of our government as they filed in and sat below us.  I saw Bill and Hillary Clinton.  (Well, I saw their hair, mostly, from up above.)  I saw the justices of the Supreme Court.  I saw the senators and congressmen and congresswomen.  I saw President and First Lady Obama.  And of course, I saw President and First Lady Trump.  And the thing that impressed me the most was how small and ordinary they all looked.  I mean, when it began to rain a little, the men and women of the House and Senate pulled out plastic rain ponchos and put them on.  Just like ordinary folks.  (I bet they even put their pants on one leg at a time just like me.)

They wield great power, but that power comes from us.  They and we need to remember that, and we need to hold them accountable.

To tell the truth, the people who impressed me the most were the two apostles of the Lord Jesus Christ who were in attendance.

During the actual ceremony, we got to hear Senator Schumer’s talk once more.  I was shocked when the crowd booed him.  I realize that the crowd was mostly a Trump crowd and that this is America and we have the right to protest.  I didn’t like parts of the senator’s speech, but it never occurred to me to jeer at him.  To be perfectly honest, this was the low point of the trip for me.  I actually liked parts of what he said and I was saddened to hear my fellow countrymen be, well, rude.

Then the Vice President took the oath of office.  I was impressed with how similar this oath was to the oath which I took when I was commissioned as an officer in the United States Air Force.

Then we sang.  I think we sang well.  I was told by many people that we sang beautifully.  I am humbled and grateful for that experience and opportunity.  We sang in praise of the American Dream and we begged God to shed His grace on us, to mend us, to refine us, and crown us with brotherhood.  I sang not for my glory.  We sang not for our glory.  We sang not for President Trump.  We sang for the glory of God.

And then we listened to the new President as he addressed the nation and the world.  I agreed with many parts of his speech, with the caveat that I sincerely hoped he meant what he said.  There were parts I didn’t agree with.  It never occurred to me to boo.

In the crowd, I observed about eight people who held up a banner saying, “RESIST.”  Resist what?  Constitutional government?

And as far as the size of the crowd, from where I sat, the crowd went all the way back to the Washington Monument.

We didn’t see the violent protests taking place elsewhere in the city.  Protesters broke windows and looted businesses.  Way to make a statement, folks.  You hurt ordinary people.

However, I didn’t see any of that.  I had a great experience, and while we sang, I felt the Spirit of God.  I know that somewhere, someone watching their television wondered, “What is that?  Why does this feel different?”  We sang for them too.

After the ceremony, once the important people (who looked just like ordinary folks from my vantage point) were safely away, we were allowed to descend from the scaffolding and walk back to the Senate Office building.  Shortly after that, we were “whisked” away to the airport.  And once again, we were treated to the fantastic service of Delta flight attendants and pilots.  I watched “Florence Foster Jenkins” on the way home.  I highly recommend the movie.  I arrived home shortly after 10:00 PM.

It was a quick and exhausting trip, and I’m so grateful I was able to take part in it.  And I am very grateful to be home with my lovely Cindy and my mom and dad and my aunt.

America isn’t perfect.  But the American Dream is worth fighting for.  It’s also worth living for.  It’s worth voting for.  I wish our new president well.  I will support him where I can and oppose him where I must, just like I did with the last president.  I will pray for him and for our great, imperfect nation.  I thank my Heavenly Father for the liberty He gives us.  May we cherish that liberty and exercise it wisely.  May we faithfully serve the God of this land, even Jesus Christ.

And may God bless America the beautiful.

My weapons class which I call “Swords and Spears and Axes, Oh My!” or “Medieval Weapons 101” is now available online!  You can’t actually handle the weapons online, but… you can take the class for free!  Go to my unwillingchild.com website and click on the “About the Author” link. (Notice my fiendish plan to get you to visit the website first? Heh-heh-heh!  Actually, don’t notice that.  Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!) Then click on “History of Weapons” to enroll.

Did I mention it’s free?

Enjoy!  (But don’t enjoy so much that you don’t come to my classes at renaissance fairs and writers conferences…  At least there you’ll get to handle the weapons and ask questions.  However, you could always ask questions via email, my blog, and facebook.  Stop that!  You’re telling them too much!)

It’s a ridiculous scenario, really—Mary has just given birth to her first Child and some little twerp wants to beat a drum and wake her sleeping Baby.  I mean, seriously?  Even as a dad (well, foster/stepdad in Joseph’s case), I can’t imagine saying, “Yeah, sure, kid.  Give us a drum solo.”

But I love this song.  In fact, I can’t quite get through it due to all the emotions it stirs in me.

Come, they told me, pa-rum pum pum pum,

Our newborn King to see, pa-rum pum pum pum.

Our finest gifts we bring, pa-rum pum pum pum,

To lay before the King, pa-rum pum pum pum,

Rum pum pum pum, rum pum pum pum.

So to honor Him, pa-rum pum pum pum,

When we come.

 

Little Jesu, pa-rum pum pum pum,

I am a poor boy too, pa-rum pum pum pum.

I have no gift to bring, pa-rum pum pum pum,

That’s fit to give our King, pa-rum pum pum pum,

Rum pum pum pum, rum pum pum pum.

Shall I play for you, pa-rum pum pum pum,

On my drum?

 

Mary nodded, pa-rum pum pum pum.

The ox and ass kept time, pa-rum pum pum pum.

I played my drum for Him, pa-rum pum pum pum.

I played my best for Him, pa-rum pum pum pum,

Rum pum pum pum, rum pum pum pum.

Then He smiled at me, pa-rum pum pum pum,

Me and my drum.

 

But let’s be fair, shall we?  This never really happened.  There was no boy with a drum at the stable, playing at the manger-bed of the newborn King.  The magi or “wise men” from the east didn’t arrive for some time (months to years after the birth of the Son of God) and they didn’t go to the stable; they visited the Child in a “house.”  And so, contrary to what the song says, no “ox and ass” kept time.  And anyone who has held a newborn baby can tell you that the odds of him smiling are astronomically remote.

So, it never really happened.

Or perhaps it has happened countless times.

As a young missionary in South Korea, we had worked with a particular man for several weeks.  We had gone through all the discussions.  He believed, he’d been to church, but he had a weakness for the “night butterflies” (a.k.a. prostitutes).  We realized that he either was going to repent and move forward, or he wasn’t (at least at that time).  So one morning, as my companion and I prayed before we went to see him, we felt the warm assurance of the Spirit.  We hurried over to meet our appointment, feeling great joy that another brother would join us at last.

But when we arrived, our investigator was not at home.  His wife informed us that he was “at the market.”  Since men did not do the shopping, this could only mean one thing.  And his wife knew exactly what that was, and so did we.  Sadly, out friend had made his choice.

My companion and I went about the rest of our day feeling very dejected.  What about the answer we’d received that morning?  The warm assurance of the Spirit?  How could it have turned out that way?

That night, as we knelt in prayer, the answer came.  The words were as clear as if we’d both heard them with our physical ears, though we had not.

“Your offering is accepted.”

Our efforts had been imperfect, and the results were not what we had hoped for.  But as is so often the case in mortal life, what we had placed on the altar was acceptable to the Lord.

That is why I love “Carol of the Drum” and why I can’t quite get through it.  I can imagine myself as a boy, poor, unkempt, dressed in rags, and without a proper gift for the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, even the Son of God.  So I offer Him all that I have—my best, imperfect drum solo—devoid of words, harmony, or even a tune—just an imperfect rhythm—the most inappropriate gift imaginable for a newborn Child.

But then… He smiles at me… me and my drum.

Here is a review by Kayla: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1732589743

I love Disneyland.  I also love Disney World.  But of the two resorts, I think Disneyland by far delivers the better “bang for the buck.”  I have a whole host of reasons for my preference, and if you ask me, I’ll be happy to inundate you with them.  I have a son-in-law who prefers Disney World to Disneyland.  I think the world of him (no pun intended—not really), but I don’t agree with him.  In fact, I strongly disagree with him.  But even though we differ STRONGLY on this extremely VITAL issue, we can discuss it without coming to blows.  (Shooting NERF darts at each other is still perfectly acceptable.  Take that, you silly Disney World preferrer/English kuh-nig-get!)

While on one of my MANY pilgrimages to Disneyland, we rode on the Silly Symphony Swings (ne Orange Zinger) at Disney’s California Adventure.  It’s not a popular attraction.  In fact, on that occasion, we were the ONLY riders.  As soon as we were securely in our swings, a cast member approached me.  I thought he was coming to check on my safety bar—and perhaps that was one of his purposes—but the most important reason surprised me.

“Who is the best captain?”

Now, I am a pretty perceptive guy—stop laughing, Cindy—seriously, quit it—you’ll strain something—but I stared at the cast member as if I were Donald Duck in Mathemagic Land and he were a quadratic equation.  Apparently sensing my incomprehension, he pointed to my t-shirt.  The shirt in question had an image of Mr. Spock making Vulcan salutes with both hands and a caption which read, “Trek yourself before you wreck yourself.”

And understanding unfolded in my mind like Chernobog awaking on Bald Mountain.  (Okay, that image is a little dark, but I’m a horror writer after all, and I’m trying to stick to Disney references… for the moment…)  So I responded, “Kirk.  Although, lately, I am leaning a bit toward Archer.”  (Remember, this was a Star Trek question, not a Disney question.)

He smiled.  “Good answer.”  Then he handed me a fistful of Fastpasses for any ride in either park.

As the ride started up, I thought to myself, Good thing he wasn’t a Picard fan.

However, even if he had been a fan of Captain Jean-Luc Picard from Star Trek: The Next Generation, and I had known him to be so pathetically deluded, I would not have changed my answer—not even for Fastpasses.

Captain James T. Kirk is FAR superior to Picard—for a host of reasons that I won’t go into right now.  And perhaps, Jonathan Archer may be superior to both.  (Benjamin Lafayette Sisko and Kathryn Janeway don’t even RATE in this particular discussion, and if you don’t get those references, you are most definitely geek-challenged, and I pity you.)  Let it suffice to say that I have my reasons, my own deeply held beliefs on this matter.  And if you are of a different (i.e., WRONG) persuasion on this essential point, I will enthusiastically debate with you if you like.  I doubt I will convince you, and you will NOT convince me, but I’m certain there are good points to be made on either side.

Now, if you want to debate on Kirk vs. Archer, there is a possibility of me changing my mind, because my views on this life-altering topic have matured over the decades.  (But you will never turn me to the Picard-side.  Ooh, that almost sounds like a Star Wars reference…) Now, if you want to compare Kirk or Archer to Captain John J. Sheridan, well that is a debate for another time (and Sheridan wins hands-down).

And if we were to get into such a debate, I would not resort to name-calling or accusations of lying or spreading false or misleading information.  I would not call you a traitor or an immoral person.  I wouldn’t call you hateful or bigoted.  I would not accuse you of aiding or even unintentionally abetting the destruction of the universe.  I would recognize that you simply have a different opinion (however delusional it might be), and we can and should still be friends.  Why then, when it comes to politics, do otherwise loving, Christian people, resort to name-calling and nasty accusations?  I have been accused of ALL the above and worse.

Why? Because I have a different opinion?  Please.  If you don’t know my character, who are you to sit in judgement on me?  If you DO know my character, why am I suddenly such an odious villain?  Why do you accuse me of things that should get me kicked out of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and have me tried for my membership in the Church?  (Think I’m being dramatic?  I’m not.  Not all such accusations are made in public.)

Oh, but the question of best starship captain pales in comparison to the future of our country.  I get it.  You have your reasons for supporting your candidate.  SO DO I.  You are passionate about your reasons for supporting your chosen candidate.  SO AM I.  And my reasons are probably very similar to yours in many, many ways.  However, I see a different path to saving our beloved country.

I laid my life on the line many, many times to protect this nation that I love so dearly.  I would die to save her and to protect the Constitutional principles I so passionately espouse.  I believe we stand on a very dangerous precipice and I refuse to go over that cliff with anyone else.   But that is my dearly, strongly, zealously held opinion.  I am as much entitled to my opinion as you are to yours.  I will fight and die for your right to vehemently disagree with me.

So, please, stop with the very personal attacks on my character and on the character of those who disagree with you.  It seems as if some people put on a digital mask of semi-anonymity and allow their personal Mr. Hyde to emerge when they are online, saying things they would never say in church or to my face.  And if you are of the same persuasion as I, be doubly sure you do not return in kind.  Don’t return railing for railing.  Turn the other cheek.  Go with him twain.  Stand firm in your principles, but don’t resort to the very tactics you despise.  As Pogo said, “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”

So just for the record, I am not a liar, a gossip-monger, a traitor, or an immoral person.  I am not hateful.  I am not bigoted.  I seek the preservation of the Constitution and our beloved country as much as you do.  And YOU probably KNOW that already.  Election season (or any debate about any issue) is not an excuse to forget who we are and He whom we are all striving to emulate, each in our own imperfect way.

So even if I disagree with you, I still love you and respect you.

Even if you have gone over to the Picard-side.

And so I say, God bless America, because He is not done with us yet.

There is a great (or at least memorable… well, at least funny… well, maybe you had to have been there…) line from “Monty Python and the Holy Grail”—“And there was much rejoicing.”  (And if you get that reference, I’m happy for you!  If you do not get that reference, you really need to go back and study the classics…)

Well, yesterday morning at 6:35-ish a.m., we had a somewhat parallel scenario unfolding in the men’s wardrobe room of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.  Only instead of “much rejoicing,” there was “much lamenting.”  On top of learning (and in many cases, memorizing) more than twenty pieces of music for General Conference weekend, we had to show up extra, extra early on Sunday morning so that we could tie the dreaded “Trinity Knot.”

I am reasonably certain that there is an extremely cold place in Outer Darkness reserved for the inventor of this sordidly sickening and sadistic malevolent malfeasance of masculine fashion.  I’m certain it was a nefarious part of some dastardly plot to ensure that every single bass and tenor in the Choir arrived extra, extra, extra (did I mention that it was extra, extra?) early on an already extra early Sunday morning, only to then arrive late or almost late to the Conference Center Choir loft because we had to spend extra, extra, extra, extra time tying or repeatedly attempting to tie the terrible trinity knot.

I, however, was wiser than most of the other men.  Yes, I took the tie home with me, so I could tie the fiendishly foul knot while riding to Salt Lake City in our carpool.  That way, I could arrive at Choir ready to simply don the required suit and head over to the loft for a lovely conference experience.  I congratulated myself on my foresight and intelligence.  Ha-ha, suckers! I thought to myself.  Look at how smart I am!  And armed with a sheet of printed, pernicious perfidy, detailing how to tie the treacherous trinity, I sat in the passenger seat of the carpool and tied the knot.  And tied.  And tied.  And retied.

After about four attempts, I at last succeeded.  Victory was mine!  I closed my eyes and happily slept the remainder of the ride to Temple Square.

Then we arrived and I got out of the car.  And I realized, to my horror, that the tie was too long!  And I mean, we’re not talking about a few inches too long.  This was not something that could be covered up with a buttoned coat or by tucking the end of the tie into my trousers.  No, the tie was too long by nearly a foot.

Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch, Batman!  Wisdom wasted!

So, after all my approximately perfect preparations, I tromped off to the wardrobe room and spent the next twenty-five minutes tying and retying the nasty knot.  Sometimes it was too long, sometimes it was too short.  But it took at least fifteen attempts to get it reasonably right.

Other men (although not all—and I suspect most of them were tenors…) were also quietly (or not so quietly) cursing (in a very MORMON way) the ridiculously recalcitrant knot.  “Why, oh, why?” we moaned. “Today of all days?”

Ah, well, after “much whining” and “much moaning,” Robin’s minstrels were finally— Well, you either get the reference or you don’t.  (And if you don’t, I pity you for a culturally unprivileged clod.)

But after conquering the terrible trinity (no theological reference there, please), we sat in the loft.  And we had a glorious conference experience (in spite of the trinity knot).

And if the notorious knot is the price I have to pay to be there, to be a part of that magnificent choir, singing at the feet of the prophet and apostles of the Lord Jesus Christ, I will gladly pay it.  I will pay it every single time.  Maybe someday, it will get easier, but even if it does not, I will still gladly tie terrible trinities to sing in the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.  I know there are many—so many—who would be humbly grateful to have the opportunity to take my place.

So I’m grateful for the chance to tackle the trinity.

Perhaps, there is a parallel to being a part of the Church.  I may not understand everything I’m asked to do, I may even find it difficult and painful, but I will pay that price.  No price is too great to be enfolded in my Savior’s grace.  He paid the price for me.  He didn’t want to pay it.  He asked the Father to take away His cup of suffering.  But He paid that price.  For me.  Personally.

That’s worth tying a Gordian knot or two.  Or twenty.  And if you don’t get that reference…

How’s this for a real-life horror story:

Long ago—sometime after dinosaurs roamed the earth, but not THAT long after—I wanted very badly to watch Rudolf the Red-Nose Reindeer.  Okay, that’s not the scary part.  Here it comes… wait for it… there were no such things as Netflix, on-demand cable, YouTube, Blu-Rays, DVDs, or even… <shudder> VCRs!!!  Are you scared yet?  Wait.  It gets even scarier.  Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, the stop-motion animated classic (which many of your children or even perhaps you, yourself, have never seen) was only broadcast once a year!  And if you didn’t watch it when it was broadcast, you missed it.  There was no DVR, no instant rewind, no way to watch Rudolph once the moment had passed!

Imagine if Star Wars, Episode 7, The Force Awakens were only shown once EVER (or at least only once that year) and if you didn’t see it that very night, you would never see it (at least not that year).

Oh, the horror!

Well, when I was eleven, missing Rudolph was a terrifying prospect.  And one December evening, on the very night when Rudolph, Hermey (the elf who would be a dentist), Yukon Cornelius, and the Abominable Snowman (a.k.a. “Bumble”) were to sing and dance and otherwise cavort on television, my parents had devised the heinous plot to… wait for it… do our laundry!  That’s right, children—instead of listening to the voice talents of (among others) Burl Ives as Sam the Snowman, I had to go to the laundromat with my family and sort and fold clothes.  (Yes, dear readers, it’s true.  Once upon a time, people—or most people, at least—didn’t have washers and dryers in their homes.  Terrifying, but true.)  How could my mom and dad do such a thing?  What a nefarious plot!  What a negligent oversight!  What a crime against children everywhere!  I had, of course, seen Rudolph every year since 1964, but what about—dare I ask—1971?  How could they even dream of depriving me of the Red-Nosed One in 1971???

I was involved in a Christmas play that year (as I recall, I was portraying Balthazar), and I had been to play practice that evening.  But even the play director had the good sense to end practice early so we could get home to watch Rudolph.  (Not kidding.)  So as I walked home, that evening, I realized to my horror that I would arrive home BEFORE my family left for the laundromat.  In other words, I would have to go with them and miss Rudolph!  What was I to do?

Well, there was, of course, only one thing to do.  Being the clever child I was, I concocted a brilliant, foolproof, and devious scheme… As far as my mom and dad knew, I wasn’t going to be home in time for laundry.  So, I decided to hide in the bushes outside our apartment and wait until the family had departed on their Bataan Death March to the Rudolph-less Dread Dungeon of Dryers.  Then I would sneak upstairs, plant myself in front of our twelve-inch, portable, black-and-white television, and revel in the musical splendor of “Silver and Gold” and “The Island of Misfit Toys.”

The only problem with brilliant, foolproof, and devious scheme—well, perhaps not the ONLY problem—was that I was discovered skulking in the bushes.  And needless to say, my parents were very disappointed—not because I had shirked my family duties, but because I had been deceptive.  You see, being one person short while slaving over laundry would have unfairly increased the workload on everyone else, but that was nothing compared to my dishonestly.  Whether I spoke a lie out loud or not, I was lying.

I believe in the Atonement.  I know I have been forgiven for this youthful act of treachery and deception, but (obviously) I still remember it.  I doubt my parents remember it, but I certainly do.  I take great pains to be clear, concise, and honest with everyone.

So perhaps that is why I think there is a special place in Hell for those who unrepentantly “practice to deceive.”

When I receive a phone call from someone (speaking in a barely decipherable accent) claiming to be from Microsoft support or the IRS, I feel like screaming into the phone.  (I did laugh at one woman claiming to be from the IRS, and she promptly hung up the phone.  Imagine that!)  There must be somebody who is taken in by these vultures, otherwise they wouldn’t bother to frighten people into allowing them access to a computer or a bank account.  In fact, it must quite lucrative for some of these cretins.

Then there are the emails.  I receive more than fifty emails per day from vermin claiming to represent MetLife, Burger King, Finger Hut, etc.  I’m not even going to mention the emails that advertise women and other products aimed to ensnare lonely, desperate men and boys.   The effort that goes into bypassing spam and porn filters is mind-boggling.  No, scratch that.  I DO understand it.  There is so much money to be made in bilking the gullible, the fearful, the lonely, and the desperate.

And you can’t really opt out.  Once the rats discover that your email address is viable (because you clicked on an “unsubscribe” link) your email address will be sold and distributed to the thousands of other digital vipers.

A particularly nasty place in Hell…

So, how does this relate to writing?

Have you ever read a novel, get to the end, and realize that the author cheated?  I’m not talking about red herrings—real life is full of red herrings and distractions.  I’m talking deliberate deception, when the author does NOT give you enough clues to solve the mystery—when you, as the reader, get to the “big reveal” and say, “No way.  That can’t be right.  What about the scene where…”  And you, as the reader, turn back and reread the scene in question, and you say, “Nope.  It says right here that…”  And the end result?  The author has broken your trust.  You probably won’t read anything else by that author.

Now, if you say, “No way,” and you go back and reread the scene in question and you recognize the clues the author gave you… Now that is a really cool reading experience.  You’ll finish the book and determine to reread it so you can spot all the clues.

My wife and I recently enjoyed watching all three seasons of “Granite Flats.”  Now that we’ve experienced the “big reveal,” we’re anxious to re-watch it with my parents so we can revel in spotting the clues while my hapless folks miss seeing them.  “Ha-ha!  Isn’t it obvious?” we’ll think, enjoying the same story from a new perspective.

One of the most important pieces of advice that I give to prospective authors is, “Be honest.  And never cheat.”  Your work (and the reader’s experience) will be the richer for it.

An extremely gratifying compliment I received from an anonymous Amazon reviewer for my latest release, “The Sweet Sister,” said, “The twists in the story also gave me food for thought for a few days after I finished it. I probably thought about the book for longer than it took me to read it.”

So, bottom line?  Be honest, and never, never cheat.  Let there be mystery.  Let there be magic and wonder.  But never cheat.  You might sell one book, but you won’t sell two to the same reader.

 

The Sweet Sister has received enough nominations to be named an official nominee for a Whitney Award for 2016!  Thank you to all who sent in nominations!

We do the dance of joy!

And then… we wait.

Finalists will be announced in February.

The-Sweet-Sister-Cover-Art

5.0 out of 5 stars

  Thought-provoking thriller

By Amazon Customer – August 29, 2016

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I’ve never been interested in the horror genre, fearing that I’d encounter ghastly descriptions of blood and gore that would give me nightmares. While there is some bloodshed, it’s described in such a way that conveys the awfulness of the situation or the depravity of the characters without dwelling on every grisly detail.
So much research went into the telling of this story, and it gives it enough depth to be thought-provoking. The twists in the story also gave me food for thought for a few days after I finished it. I probably thought about the book for longer than it took me to read it; I couldn’t put it down.
It is very well-written, and I very highly recommend it.

Something magical materializes when you mix Mormons with Irish drinking songs.

On Friday night, we held a launch party for my latest novel, “The Sweet Sister,” at our home.  We shot my new medieval crossbow at a hapless cardboard box, whacked at each other with Japanese shinai in mock swordfights, ate cake and Mexican food, watched a lady-bard relate the tale of “The Sleeping Beauty,” and sang lots of Irish pub songs.

And a good time was had by all.  (At least, that’s what I’m hearing.  I can tell you for sure that I had lots of fun.)

And when it came to belting out (no pun intended, really—nah, who am I kidding?) old ditties about hogsheads of whiskey, lost loves, sinking of grand sailing ships, ominous mermaids, fist-fighting, highwaymen, and raising a friendly glass in honor of Death, everyone seemed to let loose.  And the strongest drink served was lemonade.  There was not one single drop of alcohol or anything else that might be considered mind- or mood-altering.

Except, of course, for the singing.

And, oh, we sang boisterously.  Even those who’d never heard the tune before joined in and roared along, singing, “Whiskey, you’re the devil.  You’re leading me astray!”

And I’m pretty sure that we were, to a man, woman, and child, devout Mormons.

The next morning, my dear, sweet wife, got up early to serve as a worker in the Provo City Center Temple.  She grumbled, “Argh!  I’ve got, Whiskey, You’re the Devil stuck in my head!  I better listen to some nice Mormon Tabernacle Choir music on the way to the temple, don’t ya think?”  I couldn’t help but grin.

I’m still grinning like a drunken Cheshire Cat.  No, better make that a Limerick leprechaun.

Thank you to all—friends, neighbors, and fans—who came to the launch of “The Sweet Sister” and had a raucous, roaring, rollicking good time!

It was, in a word, magical.

My amazing cover artist, Ben Savage (not the actor, but “the more talented and good-looking one”), wants create the cover for your book.  You can contact him directly via email at savage_illustration@yahoo.com.  You can also check out his online portfolio at www.theotherbensavage.com.

I first met Ben when we worked together at a video game studio that would eventually become Electronic Arts – Salt Lake.  I was an engineer, and Ben was an artist, working on different games, but we eventually came to collaborate on NERF II.  I’m not an artist, so I can’t adequately describe his skills—I just know what I like.

When Ben does one of my covers, I simply describe what the book is about and suggest objects or elements he might use.  Then Ben does his magic, and I am blown away.  He’s very easy to work with, and the results speak for themselves.

Here is his latest cover for my upcoming release, “The Sweet Sister” (coming August 10th):

The-Sweet-Sister-Cover-Art

And here’s my favorite cover for my LDS vampire trilogy, “The Children of Lilith”:

The-Penitent-Cover-Art

So, please consider Ben for your next book cover!  Once again, here’s his email: savage_illustration@yahoo.com and his online portfolio: www.theotherbensavage.com.

This is not the story I intended to tell, at least not at first. The concept for this story started off as a fairly simple one. Then I started to do my research, and my mind was officially blown. There is such a richness and depth to the backdrop for The Sweet Sister—the mythologies, religious practices and rituals, and the actual historical events—that I knew I’d scratch only the surface. If I tried to include all the details I was learning, the book would occupy several volumes (and probably be far too slow-paced for a contemporary horror novel). I’d study and research late into the night, and begrudge the time when I finally forced myself to go to bed. Then I’d count the days until I would next go to the Tabernacle on Temple Square.

You see, I’m a member of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir (at least as of this writing). During rehearsals, I would give myself over to the sacred music. In those moments when I was not singing, I’d gaze out from the Choir loft into the vast expanse of the domed ceiling. And the inspiration would come.

Now, I’m not trying to claim divine revelation for my horror stories, but I definitely received help. As I’d stare out into that sacred space, bits of the tale would crystallize in my mind. This phenomenon has occurred during every rehearsal and performance over the past fifteen months—I would go to Choir—and I’d have an epiphany. After one rehearsal, another Choir member asked me how I was doing. I responded with great enthusiasm, “I’m doing great! I know exactly how to describe that grisly ritual murder now! I can’t wait to get home and write it down!” He gave me a quizzical (and somewhat horrified) look as I bade him good-night and hurried off to my car.

So this tale grew, as all good tales do, in the telling. It blossomed like flowers on a fruit tree. But I’m getting ahead of myself . . .

While I have added fictional details to the historical events described, many of the people and events were very real. History is typically written by the victors, so I had to rely on accounts about the conquered relayed by the conquerors. And in many cases, recent archeology has validated the victors’ accounts. However, I must apologize to Wilhelm the Pious for possibly impugning his character. As far as I know, there is no evidence to support how I depicted him in the story. If I meet him in the next life, I may need to apologize to him in person.

A couple of pronunciation notes: in Welsh, “dd” is pronounced “th,” and in Gaelic, “dh” is pronounced “v.”

Lastly, in Mormon culture, the phrase “sweet sister” is often used to refer to a young (or not so young) woman who is “beautiful on the inside,” but not on the surface. I believe that true beauty starts within. No amount of physical loveliness can mask ugliness within. However, a woman who is beautiful on the inside cannot help but reflect that beauty in her eyes, her smile, and her Christlike compassion for others. “Who can find a virtuous woman? for her price is far above rubies” (Proverbs 31:10). Woman is God’s crowning creation. I am profoundly grateful for the precious women in my life, most especially my dear, sweet, and beautiful eternal companion. She and they inspire me to do better, to be better.

TheSweetSister_BackCover

We’re off to EUROPE with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and the Orchestra at Temple Square for our Central European tour.  For security reasons (read “Islamic terror attacks”), we have been asked to NOT post anything about tour until after we are all safely home.  So, I’m keeping a travelogue of sorts as we go.  Even so, I’m going to be a bit vague on the details of the actual travel.

I’ve never been to Europe before.  Cindy served a mission in Spain.  She took three semesters (or was it three years?) of German at BYU, and then was called to serve a mission in Spain.  (Go figure.)  Now she has forgotten all the German!  As soon as I found out that the Choir and Orchestra were going to Europe, I bought her a German immersion language program for her computer, and she has been diligently preparing.  We’ll see how that goes…

June 27th – June 28th — Travel from SLC to Berlin — We left a little early for the airport so we could meet one of our sons who is traveling to Utah on business.  It’s cool that our schedules overlapped enough that we could spend about half an hour together at the airport.  Before he arrived, we bought sandwiches and fruit at Starbucks.  (Yes, I know—appearance of evil and all that, but it was the only place outside of the security zone.  And if you read my tour posts from 2013, you know that Starbucks was the only viable place to get food in our Chicago hotel as well.  Yep, I’m a rebel.)  We had a nice, but all-too-short visit.

Once we got our boarding passes and got through security, we had to wait for a LONG time.  They started boarding our plane nearly an HOUR before takeoff time.  After we boarded and got settled, it was actually a relatively comfortable flight.  (OK, it was cramped and very long, but not as cramped as it could have been.)  Cindy and I got to sit together, and that should not be all that remarkable, but, well… more on that later.  All the movies were FREE (or at least included in the price of the ticket).  There is no real way to watch a movie together, so we watched separate things.  This worked out, in a way, because I got to watch a horror movie that Cindy wouldn’t have cared for.  “10 Cloverfield Lane” was quite good, by the way.

I discovered that Delta flight attendants are the most COURTEOUS flight attendants on the planet.  They were wonderful.  The food was even good, except for the broccoli stuffed inside my otherwise delicious chicken breast.  Maybe I should take back what I said about Delta flight attendants—it seems they were trying to poison me… with hidden broccoli!  Cindy very graciously scooped out all the green nastiness from inside and consumed it.  I have discovered that my dear wife has an amazing super power—she is immune to broccoli!  (And somehow she can survive living with me.  The woman is amazing!)

We landed in Paris a bit early, but had to wait while another airplane perniciously occupied our gate.  Then we had to visit an Air France ticket counter, get our tickets from Paris to Berlin, go through security, and wait forever to get through the border police station to have our passports checked.  We hurried to make our connecting flight to Berlin and barely boarded before they closed that gate.  Air France thought it would be a good idea to put two other, unrelated Choir members between Cindy and me on the plane.  Not sure why.  Maybe it’s a French thing to assume married couples would prefer to not sit together.

And then we sat.  And sat.  And sat.  After an hour or so, the pilot announced in heavily accented English (and of course French, although the French was properly accented, I assume) that the plane wasn’t airworthy and we would have to board a different aircraft.  So after a delay of a few hours, we were finally on our way to Berlin.

Upon our arrival in Berlin, we boarded chartered busses to travel to the wonderful Berlin Marriott hotel.  In our seats, we each found a bottle of water.  How courteous!  And then we opened it.  The water was CARBONATED.  Strangely, carbonated water wasn’t as refreshing as cool “still” water might have been.  Actually, that’s another thing—Europeans don’t think much of COLD drinks, it seems.  (“Remember: it’s not bad, it’s just different.”)

We really enjoyed the German buffet that awaited us at the hotel.  After dinner, Cindy and I took a stroll around the area near the Marriott.  We found, of all things, a Subway (the sandwich place), an Indian restaurant, and a Häagen-Das with table service!  We, of course, opted for a refreshing Häagen-Das desert over curry.

Then it was time for bed after an exhausting day of travel.

June 29th — Berlin — We went to the Berlin Wall Memorial!  To me, that place is hallowed ground.  I wept as I read of the many who died in pursuit of freedom… and the few who actually made it.  I lit a candle in the Church of Reconciliation.  Freedom is worth dying for.  And it’s worth fighting for.  And we are forgetting that.  So many people are embracing socialism, the evil system that robs human beings of the rights of self-determination, self-reliance, and the responsibility and privilege to care for others.  Taxation and the redistribution of wealth are not charity.

A reporter for the Church News overheard me talking about my role in the Cold War as a B-52 pilot in the USAF in the service of liberty.  He interviewed me and asked about my feelings about freedom and that holy space.

We must never forget the evil that men have done the name of “social justice…” and yet we ARE forgetting and embracing that same seductive evil.

After returning to the hotel, Cindy and I hurried over to the site of Hitler’s Bunker.  On the way, we stopped for lunch at the food court in the Mall of Berlin.  I was looking forward to some good German food.  Unfortunately, we had to settle for Pizza Hut.  Yeah, that’s right: Pizza Hut.  Oh, well.

We hurried over to the Bunker, only to discover it’s nothing more than a parking lot for an apartment building.  There’s a sign marking the spot, but NOTHING else…  We hooked up with a tour group and listened as a man with a delightful IRISH accent—Cindy says it was Australian, but what does she know, huh?—told us about the Bunker as we stood near the apartment building.  I learned some things there that I didn’t know, but there was NOTHING else to see.

Then I had to hurry off the Berlin Symphonie for rehearsal and sound check, while Cindy got to go sightseeing.  She went to Checkpoint Charlie and the Brandenburg Gate.  Ah, well, I’m not here to see the sights—I’m here to sing my heart out for the good people of Berlin.

The concert hall is beautiful inside.  The acoustics are amazing.  But there is no air conditioning.  It was nice and cool OUTSIDE, but inside it was HOT—hotter than… nevermind.

The concert went very well.  We were told Europeans don’t do standing ovations and they don’t cheer when they applaud.  Well… they did give us a standing ovation and they did cheer.  And they did synchronized clapping.  Apparently, this is a sign that they really enjoyed the concert.  And when we sang “The Battle of Jericho” and especially the part about “The walls come a-tumblin’ down,” the Berliners cheered.  Perhaps they related the song to the fall of the Berlin Wall.

But the best part of the concert for me?  When we sang “God Be With You” at the end (in German, of course), and I could see people in the audience singing along with us.  That made me weep (of course—this is ME I’m talking about, after all).

Berlin is an incredible city with nice people, glorious architecture, and a rich heritage, but the thing I will remember the most is seeing Berliners weeping and singing “Gott sei mitt euch bis aufs Wiedersehn” along with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

President Thomas S. Monson said, “The saints in Europe have waited long enough.”

June 30th — Berlin to Munich — LO-O-O-ONG day!  Up early for breakfast, then load on the busses to head to Munich.  We were told that we wouldn’t be able to purchase lunch at our rest stop, so we needed to obtain something else for lunch.  Before breakfast, I ran over to—you guessed it—Starbucks and bought a couple of ham and cheese croissants and some orange juice.  The only problem with this plan was that the croissants had very little ham, no mayonnaise or mustard, and a LOT of goat cheese.  (Goat cheese is not my favorite.  When I was a senior in high school, my parents owned a goat.  I could never successfully milk the goat, but this didn’t stop the wretched creature from peeing in delight every time she saw me coming.  Did I mention that I hate goat cheese?)

After about 4 hours on the bus (with me zonked completely out and poor Cindy unable to catch a wink), we had our one and only break.  We stopped at a Rasthouse (rest house).  This was an elaborate two-story affair with a Burger King, a German fast-food place, and a mini-mart.  (And of course, the ever-popular pay toilets.)  As I chewed through my nasty goat-cheese and sliver-of-ham croissant, I eyed the BK with hungry eyes.  So I bought a milkshake.  It was heavenly.  Did you know that BK in Germany has chicken wings?  I had no idea.  I LIKE this idea!  (The idea about the chicken wings, not the pay-toilets.  Or the goat cheese.)

Then it was off to Munich.  I zonked out again.  An eight hour nap.  That’s the cure for jet-lag, let me tell you.  Once again, poor Cindy managed to barely doze a little.

Remember all those stories about how there’s no speed-limit on the Autobahn?  They’re true, BUT that doesn’t take into account hours-long traffic jams.

We saw many, many fields of thin, tall vines (maybe 20 feet tall).  We finally asked our driver what they were.  Hops.  Apparently, Munich is famous for its beers.  Who knew?  (Other than Europeans, I mean.)

Needless to say, we arrived in Munich later than anticipated.  Our wonderful bus driver, Reiner, dropped us off at Marienplatz in downtown Munich.  Cindy and I dined at a fantastic place called—what else—Ratskeller.  And we had the BEST authentic German food.  Sausages, pork chops, mashed potatoes, sauerkraut, potato dumplings.  Neither of us could finish.  After downing orange juice spritzers, we asked for water.  Just plain, old water.  No, not sparkling water, bitte, just “still” water.  We received a 6.50 euro bottle of water.  Won’t make that mistake again.  Still, the food was GREAT and the service fantastic.

Now, we were told, no tipping in Europe.  Don’t believe this.  No, no, no, no.  Tip.  Tip well.  But here, a good tip is about 10%.

We strolled around Marienplatz after dinner.  Cindy forgot her sweater and wants to buy one here.  (As if sitting next to someone as hot as me isn’t enough…  Please, stop with the retching.  Seriously.  You can stop now.)  However, all the shops closed at 8.  Oh, well.  The architecture, mostly older, with modern shops and restaurants on the first floor, was magnificent, glorious.  We saw a giant clock with figures that moved around, only we couldn’t wait to see it go off at the hour, because we had to meet our bus.  Monuments, statues of every kind were everywhere.  I wish we could have spent a couple more hours there.  I said, “It’s like walking around Disneyland at night, only with beer everywhere.”  Cindy laughed, but it had that kind of feel.  If you know me and Disneyland, you get what I mean.  Atmosphere is what it’s all about.  (Well, that and the Indiana Jones Adventure and Star Tours… and the Fantasy Land Canal Boats.  Yeah, that’s what I’m talkin’ about!)

By the time we arrived at the Marriott Munich, it was pouring rain.  But we escaped the worst of it.

Tomorrow, it’s off to Nuremburg for a concert.  Cindy gets to sightsee.  I get to sing with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square to the saints and the other good people of Nuremburg.  I think I get the better deal.

July 1st — Nuremburg — We loaded busses this morning for Nuremburg.  There was no time for sightseeing for the performers, but the guests (e.g., Cindy) got to visit downtown Nuremburg and the Nuremburg Castle.  Cindy had a fantastic time there.  Apparently, Nuremburg is famous for its gingerbread, and Cindy bought some.  (It was quite good, I can attest.)  Cindy took many pictures at the castle, including shots of the many weapons and armor on display there.  She thought I’d appreciate it, and she was spot-on.

Meanwhile, we prepped for the concert at the magnificent Meistersingerhalle.  Once again, no AC.  It was hotter than blue blazes in there.  (How’s that for a dated expression, huh?)  But the concert went very well.  We got multiple standing ovations again and synchronized clapping.  The hall was sold out as well.

Between the rehearsal and the concert, I had the opportunity to walk around the park nearby, the Luitpoldhain.  This is the massive park where Adolf Hitler conducted those gargantuan Nazi rallies.  I climbed the steps to the spot where Hitler looked out over the thousands and thousands of National Socialist fanatics.  There is a spot there where a large celluloid is mounted, showing one of the rallies in black-and-white.  If you stand in the just the right location, you can see it lined up with the park, just as one of Hitler’s staff would have seen it.  This was a chilling sight.

It made me wonder, how could a whole nation go insane?

And then I thought, it’s not that different from today.  We just want someone to “fix it.”  We just want someone to blame—it’s “them,” “their fault.”  “If we just got rid of those people…”

“And the people cried out for a king.”  (Or queen.)

How did we get to this?  We don’t read history.  We just keep making the same mistakes.

Okay, enough of that.

The German people are so friendly, so helpful, so nice.  I love them.

I have to ask though, why are there Burger King, McDonald’s, and KFC restaurants everywhere?  And I do mean everywhere?  You can often find all three at any Rasthaus (rest house) along the highway.  I mean, come on—German food is so yummy!  Why in the world would you have BK, McD, and KFC when you can have great German sausage??????

July 2nd — Munich — Today was a “recovery” day since we got in so late last night from Nuremburg.  So we slept in.  Then we went down to a late breakfast, then we came back up to our room and slept some more.  We took the subway down to Marienplatz.  Now I must say that the German subway is CLEAN and EFFICIENT.  I don’t a have a lot of experience with subways, but the subway in Munich is fantastic.

I finally got to see the Glockenspiel in action (or at least part of it).  It was very cool.  We visited a beautiful church.  And of course, we ate more fabulous German food.  And we had gelato for the first time.  (I know—go to Germany and eat Italian ice…)

We also visited a local grocery store.  You have to bring your own bags… or buy them there.  In Berlin, I scraped a hole in the surface layer (the black leather layer) of my black shoes.  So I needed to get some black shoe polish to cover the spot.  I looked in the grocery store.  I found ribbons, but no shoe polish.  I spotted a drug store.  It was closed on Saturday.  Then I spotted a shoe repair store.  Problem solved!  But guess what?  Every color of polish EXCEPT black.

Oh, well…  I found a black permanent marker in the grocery store.  Problem solv— I mean, problem covered.  (I’m still gonna have to buy new shoes when I get home.)

Tomorrow, we travel to Vienna for a concert… and then we come back to Munich.  We’re scheduled in at 4 in the morning…

July 3rd – Munich—Vienna—Munich — OK, today was a lo-o-o-ong day.  Got up early and boarded busses for Vienna, Austria.  What a gorgeous place!  So green.  Beautiful rolling hills, farms, small villages—always with a church in the center.  And the mountains!!!  The Alps!!!!

We drove through Salzburg.  I mean, these are the Alps that the Von Trapps climbed to escape the Nazis…

Then we arrived in Vienna.  We unloaded at the Wiener Rathaus, the city hall of Vienna (Wien).  We were treated to lunch in the Rathausskeller (the basement restaurant of city hall).  Then the performers were whisked off to the Musickverein, a 19th century classical music hall.  To many, it is THE classical music hall in Europe.  I have never even dreamed of singing in such a place.  The hall has painted ceilings, gilded and sculpted pillars—basically gold and art EVERYWHERE.  I felt like I had been transported back to a scene from “Amadeus.”

The performance was sold out, including the standing-room-only gallery at the back of the hall.

It was quite a challenge performing there.  The hall wasn’t designed for a choir even half the size of ours.  Virtually all of the baritones, basses, and sopranos were positioned up in the balcony—some right in front of the organ.  We couldn’t hear the rest of the Choir from where we were, and some of us couldn’t even see the conductor.  During the rehearsal and the concert, one of the baritones put his right hand behind his back and attempted to relay Mack and Ryan’s signals.  This allowed some of the baritones to stay in synch with the rest of the Choir.

And of course, it was HOT.  I have come to the conclusion that the REAL reason the Europeans claim that singing in the natural temperature is more healthy is simply due to the fact that they don’t want to alter/damage those glorious music halls.

Johannes Brahms was a conductor in that very hall!!!!  So was Mahler, but that is all the mention we shall make of him…

When we arrived at the Musickverein, I was greeted by a very friendly Austrian woman.  She introduced herself as the organizer for the concert.  She asked to have her picture taken with me.  She hugged me and said, “I cried too.”  After the concert, she waved me over and gave me a bag of Viennese chocolates.

After the rehearsal, we took a short bus ride back to the Rathaus.  There we were rejoined by Cindy and the other guests.  We were fed in the upper hall of the Rathaus.  Once again, this was an incredibly ornate, palatial hall, with tons of gilding and statues everywhere.

Cindy told me about her day.  She visited a cathedral and a presidential palace, as well as a garden.

Then it was back to the Musickverein.  Now, today was the Sabbath, and unlike other Sundays on tour, we were doing a concert.  All the music, except for “Cindy” was sacred in nature.  And we donated the proceeds to a local charity.  So while we may not have kept the Sabbath in a traditional manner, we still manage to devote the day to true worship.

The concert was… well, my whole frame shook with the Spirit.  Yes, it was hot, and difficult, but it was also an experience I would not have missed for the world.  And, yes, I wept.  And yes, so did so very many in the audience.

And they gave us a standing ovation.  More than one, actually.  And in a place where such accolades never happen.  And they cheered.

And when we sang “Gott Sie Mit Euch” at the end, many of them sang along.  In fact, Cindy observed one young woman mouthing all the words to all the songs.  She also observed another young woman transmitting the entire concert on her phone.  Legality aside, that was really cool.

During the intermission, two young sister missionaries came up into the balcony to take pictures with the men of the Choir.  The missionaries wore traditional Austrian dresses called “dirndl.”  One of the sisters was from Texas, the other from St. George, Utah.

Now, I have to give special thanks to one baritone who managed to sneak a battery-powered, silent fan into the balcony.  He shared this bounty with those of us fortunate enough to sit in his blessed vicinity—including me.

After this magnificent and glorious experience (the concert, not the electric fan), we had to change out of our concert attire very quickly and load back on the busses for the long ride back to Munich.  Now I have to tell you that you have not LIVED until you have peeled off a sopping-wet tux shirt that was sopping wet the last time you wore it.  I am very grateful to have a clean tux shirt (clean, except for the fact that it’s hanging right next to the filthy, smelly tux shirt in the wardrobe box) for the next two times we perform in tuxes.

We arrived back at the hotel in Munich after 4 a.m. and staggered straight off to bed after not catching a single wink or snore on the bus ride of five hours.  I was so grateful for our nice, comfy bed in the Munich Marriott…

Shall we stagger to the busses?

The beautiful, the beautiful busses? 

Shall we stagger to the busses

That’ll take us to our nice comfy beds? 

Yes, we shall stagger to the busses

The beautiful, the beautiful busses…

And yes, I actually warbled this as we climbed up from the dressing areas in the basement of the Musickverein.

July 4th — Munich — Another “recovery” day.  After sleeping for a few hours, we dressed hurriedly—and rather haphazardly—and lumbered down to breakfast with the Choir at about 10 a.m.  Then we crawled back to our room and promptly zonked out for another few hours (until about 2:30).

Eventually, we took the subway to Marienplatz.  We ate crepes and smoothies for a very late lunch.   Cindy bought a sweater, because the late night bus rides (and yes, there are more of these scheduled) can be quite cold, despite sitting next to her hot husband.  (I meant temperature wise, so stop laughing… or puking.  As I read this to Cindy, she’s sniggering at me.)  Then I bought a real, very nice, very EXPENSIVE German cuckoo clock.  We had it shipped, so we won’t see it for nearly two months, but… Yes, I now own a real German cuckoo clock!  My parrot will go stark, raving MAD!!!

We visited the Treasury museum and saw many, many cool artifacts, including a reproduction of Trajan’s Column, golden automaton drinking toys, ornate swords, crowns, scepters, sculptures, ornate gilt platters, etc.  Those swords could never be wielded in combat, because of the jewels in the handles.  It actually made me a bit sad to think that this was the height of the swordsmith’s art—a priceless, yet worthless weapon.  There was a golden, wind-up stag with a goddess Diana on the back.  It would roll down the table, and whomever it stopped in front of, that person was required to remove the stag’s head and drink the enormous quantity of liquor inside the body.  An amazing work of art, but I wonder how many people that piece alone could have been used to feed and clothe.

And just as an aside, I learned that Duke Wilhelm the Pious only became “Pious” after a lifetime of riotous living.  When you read “The Sweet Sister,” you will understand the reference.

In spite of our determination to try something a little different for dinner, we went back the Ratskeller.  This is the third time we have eaten there, and it was culinary nirvana.  I had the sauerbraten.  Cindy had the goulash.  And we shared a crème brulè for desert.  (Yes, I know—go to Germany and eat French food.  I gotta tell you, the Germans know how to cook French food!)

We saw a clothing store called Wormland and a jewelry store called Christ.

Oh, and by the way—Happy Independence Day, America!  From Germany, where the German National Football (soccer) Team just beat Italy for the first time in four years and advanced to the semi-finals.  I confirmed this by asking the bell-captain at the hotel about it.  Unfortunately, he is from Italy.  Go figure.  Germany plays France on Thursday.  Go, Deutchland!!!!

July 5th  — Munich—Dachau—Munich — As I walked through the iron gate emblazoned with the lie, “Arbeit Macht Frei” (“Labor Makes Free”), I stumbled and nearly fell to the ground.  I was overcome with a grief that is beyond words.  At the end of our tour, we visited “Barack X.”  This is the name of the second, more efficient crematorium and the gas chamber.  For reasons unknown, the gas chamber at Dachau was never used.  We do know that the commandant was under pressure to reduce the mortality rate among the prisoners, since Dachau was a work camp, as opposed to a death camp.  So he shipped those who could no longer labor to Auschwitz and other death camps to make his numbers would look better.

I stared into the maws of the ovens where tens of thousands of human beings were burned to ash.  Once again, I was overcome with a grief that almost drove me to my knees.

How could sons and daughters of God enact such horrors on other sons and daughters of God, on their own brothers and sisters?  How could an entire nation go mad and call evil good and good evil?

It’s not the first time, and it will not be the last.  I have met the German people.  They are good people!   They are honest!  They are kind.  They are friendly.  But their leaders, the men who stole power in the middle of a crisis, turned the whole nation upside-down.

And it may be happening in our own country.

I had the choice to visit a castle instead of Dachau.  I’m grateful Cindy and I chose to go to one of the most evil places on Earth.  Because, we must NEVER FORGET.  Only by remembering can we hope to avoid the sins of the past.

Dachau, the model for all other Nazi concentration camps, is now a memorial.  There are flowers and stones laid at the memorial wall.  Flowers are a gentile expression of remembrance.  Stones are a Jewish token of remembrance.  I did not place a stone or a flower, but I will never forget the horror and grief I personally experienced at KZ Dachau.

Upon returning from Dachau, I met the Munich Stake President.  His name is Michael.  He is such a nice man!  And he especially wanted to meet me.  So we had arranged a meeting through a mutual friend in the Choir.  We talked in the lobby of the hotel.  (Thankfully, his English is perfect.)  We chatted about music, family, and the gospel.  He talked about his grief at the recent death of a child and how music helped the family through that loss.  He talked about his sure knowledge that he will be reunited with his son in the next life.  I spoke of trials we are experiencing with our own children.  Life has its difficulties, but the grace of Jesus Christ will sustain us and complete us and take us home.

After my meeting with Michael, Cindy and I took the subway to Marienplatz once more.  I was intent on seeing the Glockenspiel in action.  I had only caught the tail end once before, but I wanted to see the whole thing.  There are two knights on horseback who pass each other in a joust.  On the second pass, one of the knights knocks the other backward.  It was so COOL!

We ate dinner at a sidewalk café.  Cindy had a German pizza.  Let me tell you, Germans take their pizza very seriously!  And it was delicious, with a very thin, crispy crust.  I had tomato soup with cream.  As we ate, we saw a man with a very… different haircut.  The sides of his head were shaved and the rest of the hair went straight up for probably 10-12 inches.  It was died two distinct colors—yellow and brown.  On the other side of us sat a man smoking a cigarette.  On the side of the pack of cigarettes was a large sticker that read, “Rauchen ist tödlich.”  (“Smoking is deadly.”)  Go figure.

After dinner, we went down to the subway to return to our hotel, but the subway wasn’t moving.  A garbled announcement was repeated over and over.  Finally, one of our group who spoke German said, “We’re being told to evacuate the station.”  So we exited the underground.  Nobody seemed to be in a hurry to do so.  As it turned out, the subway was shut down because of a fire.  Over 90 fire fighters were dispatched.

So we took a taxi back to the hotel.  There were eight in our group, and the largest taxi we could find could only carry seven.  So two of them elected to take the next taxi.  Ninety minutes after we returned to our hotel, the remaining two people still had not made it back.  I was very worried.  I tried calling, texting, messaging, but we heard nothing.  When they finally made it back, we found out they had been forced to WALK most of the way back.  I felt awful.  At least they made it back safely.  The spouse of one Choir member fell during the visit to Nuremburg and fractured her shoulder.  Now the two of them are returning home tomorrow.  The tour of a lifetime has ended for them.

I’m so very grateful to be here.  Especially with my beloved Cindy.

July 6th — Munich—Zurich—Frankfurt — We traveled through FOUR countries today.  We left Germany this morning, crossed into Austria, then Lichtenstein, then into Switzerland for a concert in Zurich.

As we travelled, we were treated to glorious vistas of the Swiss countryside.  Such a gorgeous country.  Rolling green hills, cows, farms, the Bodensee (a beautiful lake), and of course, the majestic Swiss Alps.

While the Choir rehearsed, Cindy and the other guests visited Lucerne, a beautiful small town with a castle and a famous monument to fallen Swiss Guards.  She had someone take a picture of her standing next to a suit of armor, but she didn’t BUY it for me.  How rude!  I NEED that armor…  I do.  I really, really do.  It would look great in our living room!

The concert tonight was in the Hallenstadion, a sports arena, rather than a concert hall.  We’ve sung in sports arena’s before, but not on this tour, and such a venue poses several challenges.  Our sound engineers are wizards of their craft, but we have to alter the way we sing as opposed to singing in a concert hall.  In other words, it’s not ideal, but we’re grateful to be able to sing to the people of Zurich.  Actually, people traveled great distances to hear the Choir tonight.

We had an extra translator, in addition Sonja, our native German member of the Choir.  French and Italian are also spoken Switzerland, everything Lloyd Newell said was repeated in German and in French.  (The Italian speakers were just out of luck, I guess.)

The concert went well, and the audience was phenomenal, although in that setting, we couldn’t see them.  They gave us standing ovations, cheered, and then gathered outside to thank the Choir as we left the arena.  It’s been a quarter of a century since the Choir was in Zurich, and I was very humbled to be a part of this very welcome return.

Now we are on a long bus ride to Frankfurt.  We are scheduled to check into our hotel at 3 a.m.

July 7th — Frankfurt Am Main — This was a recovery day after our long day yesterday.  And I recovered.  I slept until about 1:30 p.m., then we walked to a farmers’ market, located near an old, medieval-looking tower.  It turns out that the tower is from an old train station.  Almost all of the city was destroyed by Allied bombing, but this tower still stood.  We ate “breakfast” at Subway.  Now, Subway is not exactly the same here.  For one thing, there was only one kind of cheese.  In Germany.  Only one kind of cheese.  Huh.  Anyway, I had the BBQ Rib sandwich (kind of like a foot-long McRib).  I had no idea Subway had such a thing.  Maybe they don’t in the States.  I’ll have to check that out!

As we sat, eating our Subway sandwiches, I noticed on a building across the street three fake (plastic?) crows affixed to ledges and a pole. If they were intended as pigeon-deterrents, they weren’t completely effective.

Then we puttered around, did a little bit of shopping… and went back to the hotel for a nap.  Got up for dinner, then went back to the hotel room.  We’ll sightsee tomorrow.

Germany lost to France yesterday.  Sad times here.

By the way, WE’RE GOING TO A MEDIEVAL CASTLE TOMORROW!!!!  Whoohoo!!!

July 8th — Eltz Castle — Frankfurt — I am in GEEK HEAVEN!  We went to Eltz Castle!  This castle has been around since the 12th century.  There have been auditions up through the 19th century, but it still retains the flavor of medieval architecture.  It looked like something right out of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs!  It’s been in the same family (the Eltz family) for 33 generations.  They still have apartments there.  (It’s a vacation home for them.)  There are old fortifications around the castle.  There was a siege against it in the 14th century.

At the start of the single-lane road leading to the castle, there is a sign that reads, “Spieglein, Spieglein  an der Wand, wer ist die Schönste im ganzen Land?”  (“Mirror, Mirror on the wall, who is the fairest in all the land?”)  Cool, right?  Extremely cool.  Disneyland with beer.

And the armaments!!!!  Swords, maces, halberds, spears, crossbows, a longbow, suits of chain and plate mail.  Geek heaven!  I would point at weapons and say, “I have that one!”  They had firearms.  They even had a few Asian weapons, including a silk-covered shield.  They had functional miniature cannons.  The Count apparently collects them.  These mini-cannons were used anciently by cannon salesmen.  “Buy the full-size model, and get the miniature for free!”

I was so excited, I could hardly breathe!  I kept saying, “We’re in a real-live fairytale castle!  We’re in a castle!  Isn’t this the coolest?”  I was only allowed to take pictures of the outside, but I bought a book with lots of pictures of the inside.  (Only the first picture is of Eltz.  The rest are of pictures along the way.)

Our tour guide was a lovely young woman named Paulina.  She spoke excellent English with just enough of a German accent to be charming, rather than hard to understand.  Although she answered tons of our questions, there were some things she just didn’t know.  It turns out that nobody knows the answers to some of the questions.  But isn’t that the great thing about history and knowledge in general—there are still mysteries and things to speculate about and discover.  And admitting that you don’t know everything is the beginning of wisdom.  (Just don’t tell my kids.)

And the German countryside!  Oh, my!  So many beautiful villages, castles, fortresses, and farms to see along the way.  We saw the Rhine River and the Lorelei (a rock formation in the river with legends about tragic death and a siren).  We saw barges and river-cruise ships and pleasure craft.  We saw churches and old-fashioned resort hotels.  We saw sheep and cows and…  Well, it was just idyllic and beautiful.  The trees are so green, they’re almost black.  We saw vineyards growing up the steep sides of mountains.  That was pretty and amazing, but I personally would hate to have to tend to those grape vines.

On the journey to the castle, our bus driver discovered about halfway up that the planned road was too narrow for the bus to navigate.  He safely and expertly backed down the road, then chose a different route to get us to the castle.  The second road didn’t work either, but the third one did.  The bus drivers for our tour are amazing, especially our driver today, Michael.

Speaking of bus drivers, one of the drivers on our tour is named Günner Müeller.  Fans of my second book will recognize that name… <evil-chuckle>

On the way back, we hit a massive traffic jam.  The source turned out to be a collision of two semis.  One of them had burned down to the chassis, and the other was badly damaged.  I hope no-one was hurt.

That brings up one observation—the semis here have vinyl sides, rather than metal.  I’m not sure why.  Another observation is that there is graffiti everywhere here.  I don’t think much or any of it is vile, but it’s everywhere.

I learned something else today.  The real name of Frankfurt is Frankfurt am Main.  This literally means, “The French ford across the Main.”  Apparently, this was the one spot where the Main River was shallow enough for the Frankish king to be able to cross (ford).

Concert in Frankfurt am Main tomorrow!

Oh, and I bought a CROSSBOW!!!!  It is large and beautiful and FUNCTIONAL!!!!  And I hope I can get it through customs…  If you want to see it, you will have to come to my place or attend one of my classes.

Did I mention I am in geek heaven?

July 9th — Frankfurt — We took the subway to downtown Frankfurt and wandered around a bit.  We found a very medieval-looking tower (with multiple turrets) and a couple of beautiful old churches, but none of them were open.  The tower itself housed a café (with the seating outdoors).  Then we got lost on the subway on our return, but it didn’t delay us much.  However, while we were on the subway, a man seemed surprised to hear us speaking in English.  He asked if we were from England.  When we told him we were from the United States, he said, “Be careful to not let anyone hear you speaking in English.  You might get robbed.  There is a lot of crime in Frankfurt.”

After our subway “adventure,” we walked over to a large shopping mall near the hotel for lunch.  We decided to get Chinese food from a place called Mr. Phung.  The food was quite good, but was a little different from Chinese food we are used to in the States.

While we were waiting for our food to be cooked fresh, a Chinese woman approached the cashier/order-taker at Mr. Phung.  She ordered in English and demanded that her dish be prepared a little differently.  The cashier and then the cook refused to alter the recipe, whereupon an argument ensued in Chinese between the customer and the cook.  It was actually pretty entertaining to watch.

After lunch, we returned to the hotel, and I boarded a bus for tonight’s concert.  The venue was the Jahrhunderthalle (“Hundred Year Hall”).  It’s a dome.  It looks like it could host a rock concert, a circus, or… the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

I was hoping to meet Cindy before the concert, so I waited inside, near the entrance as concert attendees arrived.  At least eight people approached me and said something like, “Are you the one who cried at Conference?  Thank you for sharing your testimony with us.”

The concert itself went extremely well.  Standing ovation and loud synchronized clapping.  However, this was our last concert in German.  That’s bittersweet for me, because the German and German-speaking people have been so very nice, so friendly, so helpful, so wonderful to us.

We only have two more concerts: Brussels and Rotterdam.  Then it’s off to Paris, and after that, home.

I had to say goodbye to my beautiful crossbow.  It’s packed in my large suitcase.  I hope I have no problems getting it through customs…

July 10th — Frankfurt — I love tour sacrament meetings!  They are fantastic, and we always have a member of the Seventy and his wife speak to us.  Today’s meeting was no exception.  But I must point out that I especially enjoyed the talk given by Choir member John Maddox.  I was also privileged to pass the sacrament today.

After more rest, we finally ventured out to Römerplatz, an older part of the city.  Frankfurt was mostly leveled by Allied bombing during the Second World War, but a few isolated spots remained, including an old church and a few towers.  Most of the city has been rebuilt in a very modern style, but Römerplatz was rebuilt in an older style.  It was beautiful.  And yes, I looked like an obvious tourist, taking many pictures.  Römerplatz was originally the site of a Roman settlement on the Main River.

We entered a church and listened to a choir and string quartet rehearing.  They were magnificent.  And the acoustics in that little chapel!  I would’ve liked to have heard more, but we had agreed to meet a fellow Choir member for dinner.  So after successfully (this time) navigating the subway back to the hotel, we met our friend, only to find out he’d already dined with some other ladies in the Choir!  I agree, dining with ladies is always nice, but…

Anyway, Cindy and I had a very nice steak dinner in the hotel bar.  (I know, eating out at a bar on the Sabbath!)  French fries (“pommes”) are very popular in Germany.  You seem to find them served with many, many meals here.  They served the pommes with Heinz tomato ketchup and mayonnaise.  I guess you are supposed to make your own ad hoc fry sauce…

Tomorrow, it’s on to Brussels for a concert, and then a long bus ride to the hotel (for once, not a Marriott) in Amsterdam.

July 11th — Frankfurt—Brussels—Amsterdam — Another long day, but oh, what a wonderful day!  We have left Germany behind, and with it the German language for the rest of the tour.  We were singing four German language pieces.  Now we have only one piece by Bach that we sing in German.

We traveled to Brussels for a concert in the Bozar Center for the Fine Arts.  Now, I have to confess that going to Brussels at this time is a bit scary.  The recent Islamist terror attacks and current intelligence have placed the entire county of Belgium on the highest level of alert.  There are armed soldiers everywhere.  Unfortunately, some members of the Choir and Orchestra have not followed the instructions to avoid posting anything to social media that would indicate our location.  And we are a large, dense, slow moving, very American target.

So the threat is very real.

However, the venue was amazing!  The concert was glorious.  When we sang, “We’ll sing and we’ll shout with the armies of Heaven,” I felt as if that were literally true.  I felt as if the armies of Heaven were singing with us.

Before the concert, I had five people come up to me and ask to take a picture with me.  One group was a family from Brazil.  I saw them sitting in the balcony at the end of the concert.  The wife was weeping.  After the lights came up, they waved at me.

After the concert, we met a man from Ireland.  He had come to Brussels specifically for the concert.  I don’t think he’s a member of the Church, but he is a huge fan of the Choir.  We talked for a couple of minutes, and he asked both Cindy and I to sign his program.  Then two women from France came up to us to greet us and thank us.  I introduced myself and Cindy, and we shook hands with them.  One of the women said, “In France, we do not shake hands.  We kiss.”  Then she hugged and kissed both Cindy and me on the cheek.

These are memories that I will cherish forever.  (And I’m not just talking about getting kissed by lovely French ladies in front of my wife.)

In order to get the entire Choir and Orchestra on stage, most of the basses and sopranos were actually in the balcony.  They were in two levels of the balcony.  Those sitting in the lower balcony level had a difficult time seeing, so the front row actually sat down to sing for most of the concert.  However, on the stage itself, two of the rows of singers were actually sitting on the floor (when not standing).  I was on one such row.  So that was an interesting experience…

During the sound check and rehearsal in the afternoon, Cindy went shopping and sightseeing in Brussels.  She had a wonderful time.

As for the performers, after the sound check and rehearsal, we were fed a five-course meal.  The food was very good.  I at a lamb chop for the first time in my life.  (I’ve had lamb mixed with beef in a gyro many times, but never straight lamb.)  It was delicious, but when I ate it, I wasn’t certain what it was.  I just knew it tasted a little different.  (I found out afterward.)

Anyway, after a wonderful concert where the Spirit was very strong, we boarded busses and traveled to Amsterdam.  I thought the hotel was NOT a Marriott.  It turns out that I was mistaken: it’s a Marriott Renaissance Hotel.  We got in about 1:45 in the morning, so I have only been able to see Amsterdam at night so far.  But even at night…  We were crossing canals almost every other street!  What a city!  I can’t wait to see it tomorrow.

I’m off to bed!

July 12th — Amsterdam — Many years ago, as a scoutmaster, I attended formal BSA leadership training.  This included, of course, campfire songs.  I learned “Three Jolly Fishermen,” which is fun and silly and has a joke at the end.  The song starts out with—

There were three jolly fishermen.

There were three jolly fishermen.

Fisher, fisher, MEN, MEN, MEN!

Fisher, fisher, MEN, MEN, MEN!

There were three jolly fishermen.

There are several verses that follow this pattern.  The final verse starts out with—

They all went down to Amsterdam.

At this point, the scouts slow WAY down and adopt a sly and mischievous look.

They all went down to Am-ster-dam. 

Then they finish with a raucus—

Amster, Amster, SHHH, SHHH, SHHH!

Amster, Amster, SHHH, SHHH, SHHH!

They all went down to Amsterdam! 

The joke is, of course, that you think the boys might swear.  In fact, you are “horrified” that the scouts might swear.  But of course, they don’t.

Sadly, our society has coarsened to the point that if eleven-year-olds were to swear, it probably won’t shock us at all.

Well, after sleeping-in on our recovery day, Cindy and I ventured out to explore the ancient city of Amsterdam.  The mantra on this tour has been “It’s not bad; it’s just different.”  And I thought I was prepared.  I knew about the marijuana shops and the sex shops.  But I was unprepared for the prevalence of the pot and the “erotic” displays EVERYWHERE.  There’s even a Museum of Prostitution.  (I’m not making that up.)  It’s been a long time since I smelled pot smoke, and it’s not a scent I care for at all.

But it was quite common.

So I was a bit taken aback, especially while I was walking hand-in-hand with my eternal companion and there were times when there was NOWHERE safe to look.  My dear wife struggled with this as well.

We walked to one of the many, many canals and boarded a long canal boat for a one-hour tour.  (Queue the Gilligan’s Island music.  A one-hour tour.  A one-hour tour!)  The boat captain announced in a deep and delightfully accented voice, “Welcome aboard!  I hope you enjoy the tour.”  He gave instructions, then concluded with, “If you want to smoke a joint, you are out of luck.  There are no drugs allowed aboard my boat.”

This got me thinking.  These things may be virtually everywhere, but they were NOT aboard that boat.  They were not, in fact, everywhere.  Starting with that boat tour, I began to see beyond the pot and the sexual images.  I began to see so much more.

There is great beauty in this unique city.  There are lovely churches, the royal palace, the canals, and the many, many leaning houses.  That’s right—the houses here were built on sandy, unstable foundations, and many of them are now leaning.  Inside, the floors are sloped.  Each narrow and tall house is unique, but they have many features in common.  Almost all of them have a beam with a hook sticking out at the top of the house so that furniture can be hoisted to the upper floors, rather than taken through the front door and up the narrow stairs.  Most of the houses along the canals are now businesses.  Next to our hotel, there is a house with a fish carving above the door.  One might  expect a fish market.  However, one would be wrong.  The building now houses a music shop.

After dinner (I had the Dutch Pea Soup, which was excellent), we walked down to Dam Square.  Here you will find the royal palace, a beautiful old church, a war memorial… and Madam Tousaud’s Wax Museum, at least TWO McDonald’s, a KFC, a Subway, and, of course, sex shops and marijuana shops.

We saw an old woman feeding the horde of pigeons.  There were definitely too many of them to call them merely a “flock” of pigeons, or even a “kit” (which I’m sure you knew was the proper collective noun for pigeons, because everyone and their pigeon knows that).  It was a horde.  And it was actually kind of cool.  The song from Mary Poppins sprang to mind: “Feed the Birds, Tuppence a Bag…”

We also saw a “grim reaper” who was part of an anti-smoking campaign.  He was gleefully taking pictures with tourists while holding a giant, plastic cigarette to their lips and his scythe to their necks.  (I wonder if that was a tobacco cigarette or pot…?)

Just on a lark, I walked into both McDonald’s restaurants and looked around.  Something struck me right off the bat in both establishments: you place your order at any one of multiple touchscreens.  No person takes your order.  The minimum wage here is so high that it is cheaper to employ machines rather than people.  Something to think about…

Since this was a recovery day, we limited our sightseeing.  However, I must say that the personnel in the hotel were very nice and very helpful.  They each wore a nametag which gave their title as “Navigator.”  I thought this very appropriate, since they were very intent on making sure our “voyage” was successful and enjoyable.

Well, tomorrow, we have a concert in Rotterdam!

July 13th — Amsterdam—Rotterdam—Amsterdam —  We got up early and walked over to the Maritime Museum.  I found it very interesting, but we spent far too much time looking at paintings and figureheads, because I was very rushed when it came to the one thing I really wanted to see: a large 18th century Dutch cargo ship.  I had a mere fifteen minutes to explore.  And there were still other vessels to see!

Oh, well, next time… Oh, wait…  Darn.

Then it was off to Rotterdam for our final concert.  The hall was gorgeous, and the sound was incredible.  The entire Choir was up in the balcony.  The organ was, in the words of Clay Christiansen, “a very nice instrument.”  And the concert went very well, but it was the AUDIENCE that was impressive to me.

The hall was very full.  The applause was thunderous.  They stood.  They cheered.  They yelled, “We love you!” and “Please come back!” and “Come back next year!” and “Bravo!”  And they wept.  (And of course, I wept.  Go figure.)  When we sang “God Be With You” in Dutch, after an initial reaction of shock and delight, they sang along.

And they waited for us after the concert.

As I left the balcony, a man yelled, “Brother Belt!”  I looked over to see him as he waved with unrestrained exuberance and enthusiasm.  I waved back.  (And I thought, Do I know him?)  As we approached each other, I realized from his accent that I must not know him (as I didn’t know any Dutch people on a last or first name basis).  He introduced himself and his wife.  I told him my name, and he said, “I know.  I looked you up!”  (As it turned out, he had found me through my blog and my book website.)  We chatted for a few minutes, then took a couple pictures.

And then there were more.  I met many wonderful people tonight.  Many of them said, “Thank you for your testimony.  Thank you for coming!”

And most touching of all, there were the Dutch saints who said, “Now we are not alone.”  The saints here are under siege.  They feel cut off.  President Monson was right (of course).  They have waited long enough.  They need to know that they are not alone.  I am so profoundly grateful that I could be a part of this.

In spite of my less-than-favorable first impression of Amsterdam, I learned that the Church is true everywhere (of course).  I learned that there are wonderful, great, happy, devout people in the Netherlands.  I am so very grateful that our final concert—and in so many ways, our best concert—was here.  What a fantastic way to wrap up this wonderful tour.

But actually, it’s not quite over.  Although we don’t have a concert there, tomorrow it’s on to Paris!

July 14th — Amsterdam—Paris — We traveled through Belgium and Brussels on our way to the City of Lights.  When we arrived, we got to stand in line for a LONG time to board an elevator to get to our rooms.  Then we hurried down to dinner.

And it was a great dinner—French cuisine, of course.  We heard some remarkable stories from the Choir management and leadership about the lives we have touched.  We learned, “Make it about the music, and everything else will work out.”  In other words, we are here to perform a mission, and everything else is secondary.

It’s Bastille Day, and from our hotel room, we could just barely see a massive fireworks display at the Eiffel Tower.  Actually, the fireworks were mostly hidden behind a tall skyscraper, but the building itself was lit with moving streams of red, white, and blue lights.  It was impressive.

Even though the French Revolution didn’t work out as well as the American Revolution (to put it mildly), they still prize liberty here.  Liberty is still worth fighting and dying for.  We just need to be grounded in faith and in the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Without Him, there can be no true liberty.

July 15th — Paris — We awoke to news of the terror attack in Nice.  A monster murdered at least 84 people and injured scores more while shouting “Alahu Akbar”.  Strangely, as of this writing, the media refuses to link him with Islam.  And stranger still, in a country with extremely strict gun control, he managed to obtain a gun.  Although, he didn’t need a gun to murder and maim most of his victims.

My son texted me.  (That is the only way we are communicating with family back home.)  He asked if we were alright, if we were near the terrorist attack.  He said, “Please text me back, no matter the hour.”  You see, we haven’t even been able to tell our families our exact itinerary.

This was the first we knew of the mass murder.  I looked it up on internet news.  We were horrified.  We were saddened.

And I still had to get up and get dressed and go do my calling.

The Choir and Orchestra boarded busses and headed over for a photo shoot with the Eiffel tower in the background.  The photo was intended as a recreation of a picture the Choir took the last time they were in Paris.  Once that was accomplished, we were bussed over to the construction site of the Paris Temple.  We assembled on the grounds of the unfinished temple and shot a video of the Choir singing, “Come, Come, Ye Saints.”

That was first time we have used a drone to film a video.  While it was cool that we were using new technology, the sun was rising over the temple grounds… and shining directly into our eyes.  Let’s just say that it was a challenge to overcome…  “Everyone close your eyes, then open them on the count of three.  One.  Two.  THREE!”  And we all tried to keep from squinting as the drone came flying out of the sun like an armed attack helicopter on a strafing run.

Then it was back to the hotel to change, meet our guests, and head out for our only day of sightseeing in Paris, in spite of and in defiance of the monsters.

Paris is a beautiful, incredible, and ancient city.  Cindy and I and another couple visited Notre Dame.  (Cindy and I are going to see Disney’s “Hunchback” at Tuacahn!)  Amazing place.  Beautiful.  Stunning.

Then it was off to the Eiffel Tower.  Now, you have to understand that police and soldiers are everywhere here today.  Paris is under its highest alert level.  So we didn’t try to go up in the Tower, but we took a number of pictures.

Then we took a cruise along the Seine River around the center island in Paris.  I THINK I got to see MacLeod’s barge from the Highlander TV series.  This was a must-see for me.  (Seriously.  I’m not kidding.)  Then we took a bus tour of the city.  And I DEFINITELY saw Darius’ church from the Highlander TV series.  Made the whole bus tour with the crappy audio worth it.  (Seriously, 80% of the audio track was garbled.)  I had real French onion soup… in FRANCE!  It was good too.  I also had a steak with real French béarnaise sauce.  The sauce was good (but my sauce is better).  Cindy ate a snail.  I did not feel the need to show my stupi—I mean, bravery in such a fashion…

Well, we are at the end of the tour.  Tomorrow we head home.  (We have to get up at 4:30.  <grumble-grumble>)  But at least we get to fly home on Delta.  Maybe I’ll get to see the end of the latest James Bond movie…  I only had 10 minutes left!!!

Pray for France.  Pray for the victims and their families.  Pray for their leaders and ours—pray that they will call evil by its name and crush it.  Pray for the police and the soldiers on the front lines.  Pray that we as individuals, families, and nations turn back to Jesus Christ.  He is the only One who can deliver us from these latter-day Gadianton Robbers.

July 16th — Paris—home — I’m not going to bore you with details of our travel home.  There were glitches (delayed luggage, delayed flights, ponderously slow passport checks, hurrying to make our connecting flights, and a strange propensity to not put married couples in adjoining seats on long transcontinental flights), but we—or most of us—made it home—and the rest should make it home today.  And we are very grateful to be here.  So I’m not going to bore you with those details (except to say that, yes, I did indeed get to watch the final 10 minutes of James Bond, thank you very much!).  I’m just going to leave you with a few parting thoughts.

Our European bus drivers are incredibly skilled.  They were friendly, courteous, and all-around wonderful.

I love being in the Choir.  These are good people, and the dedication they show in serving the Lord at great personal sacrifice is amazing.  They are, to a man or woman, far more talented than I.  I love serving with them, and I dread the day when I must retire and move on to other callings.

I love serving under the direction of Mack Wilberg and Ryan Murphy.  These men are geniuses in their fields.  They are humble servants of God.  They love the Lord, and it shows.

I think that the Choir staff, especially Barry Anderson, are amazing!  This tour was a monumental effort and it came off extremely well.  You (and I) have no idea of the complexity and the challenges involved.  I am grateful for their efforts.

I am amazed at and humbled by the saints in Europe.  We met wonderful people who are courageous and dedicated in their love for the Lord.  Without exception, the saints I met in Europe were generous, kind, loving people who truly embody the word “saint.”

I am grateful to those who kept the home fires burning (and the cats and parrot fed and the lawn mowed), most notably my son, Jacob, and my daughter and son-in-law, Rachel and Austin Ayleworth.  And a special thank you goes out to my wonderful neighbor, Julian Riley, who repaired a broken sprinkler head while we were away.

I am grateful and humbled to have participated in this tour.  I bring home memories and experiences I will cherish all the rest of my life.

I am grateful to be home (even if I did have to mow the lawn as soon as I got back).  I love this country and the embodiment of freedom she represents.  She is not perfect.  She has her flaws.  But she represents a truth that will not be eradicated by the Gadianton Robbers, whether they be of radical Islam or the political parties.  And we will be free so long as there is a band of faithful Christians to protect that truth: that man has the right and obligation to govern himself, and that no king or queen or political party or alliance or judicial tyrant can take that right from us, so long as we serve the God of this land, even Jesus Christ.

I love my Cindy.  We have been together 24-7 (except for rehearsals and performances) for almost three weeks, and there is no-one else I would rather spend three weeks with in Europe.  Cindy is my fairytale princess and the queen of my heart.  “I wish I was an apple a-hangin’ on a tree…”

I love my Heavenly Father and my Savior.  “O, to grace how great a debtor daily I’m constrained to be.”

And lastly, if you read all the way to the end of this boring travelogue, go read a book or something.  In fact, I can recommend some…

The-Sweet-Sister-Cover-Art.jpg

The cover is by Ben Savage!  (“Not the famous one.  The good-looking and more talented one.”)

The Sweet Sister will be available in ebook and paperback in August!

The Sweet Sister was nothing I was expecting; in fact, I honestly didn’t know what to expect from a genre new to me, LDS Horror. There were scary moments where I wanted to cover my eyes, but couldn’t stop turning pages; sweet moments filled with wonder, hope and romance; and educational moments where I learned so much about our world’s history.  This book keeps you on your toes, jumping from each character’s vantage point, unveiling clue by clue, until the reader has witnessed the full journey alongside the heroine. Well-written and expertly crafted, this book opened my eyes to the wonder of fiction, of escaping into an alternate reality, and somehow finding a sense of normalcy therein.

Staci Meacham – Layton, Utah

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