And what did we see? The Salton Sea

Me and the grandkids on the shores of the Salton Sea. Here we are about 200 feet below sea level.

During a recent visit to the home of my daughter, Shannan, we went to see the Salton  Sea.

Shannan lives in La Quinta, Calif., which is near Palm Springs in the Coachella Valley.  The Salton Sea is also in the Coachella Valley, which made it a convenient stop on the trip.

I had traveled to La Quinta with another daughter, Adrienne, and her three children, ages 5, 3 and 8 months. I know what you are thinking about the prospects of being locked in a car with three darlings for 12 hours traveling over 600 miles in one day. But it wasn’t that bad. Really, it wasn’t. Honest. Thank goodness for portable DVD players.

Anyway, once we got there we were looking for stuff to do that didn’t take a lot of driving (see last paragraph). And since the Salton Sea is only about a half hour from Shannan’s home, and her family had never visited, we packed up the kids — Shannan’s three plus Adrienne’s three, and drove to the Salton Sea State Recreation Area.

The Salton Sea is oddly beautiful, but also unusual in an unnatural way. Until 1905, it was the Salton Sink, the dry, vast remnant of an ancient lake bed that is below sea level. But in the early 1900s some enterprising humans dug canals to bring the water from the Colorado River to the fertile land between the Salton Sink and the Bay of Cortez, where the Colorado empties into the ocean a little south of the US border.

It was a great idea until the floods of 1905, which caused a canal wall to break. For the next 18 months, the Colorado River emptied into the Salton Sink, creating an accidental sea that covers 376 square miles, making it California’s largest lake. It is saltier than the ocean, but not as salty as the Great Salt Lake.

It is a sanctuary to over 400 species of migrating birds and while many different species of fish lived in the lake at one time or another, about the only fish left is a species of tilapia which can tolerate the increasing salinity of the lake better than most fish.

Malia and Max look at one of the hundreds of dead fish we found at the Salton Sea beach.

But not as much as they would probably like, if you were to judge by the carcasses of dead fish we found lining the lake shore when we go there. The kids were a bit put off by the piles of the dead fish and the smell they created. But we looked around anyway.

The reactions to all the dead fish varies. Max thought they were cool, especially the way many of the fish no longer had eyes. He is five, so his fascination is understandable.

Rachel, who just turned 8, was horrified by the fish and the smell and

Rachael reacts to the smell and sights of all those dead fish.

everything.  But she bore it all with good humor, even if she makes the most horrified faces.

We had brought a lunch, so after a visit to the visitors center where we learned about the creation of the Salton Sea, and the town and railroad tracks that were covered up with the water flowed in, we found a better beach for our lunch — one away from the fish.

We saw lots of cool birds, and Rachael and I chased them up a bit so we could watch them fly. A large flock of pelicans flew by, and that was fun.

Nobody took a dip. It was kind of warm, about 70 degrees, but with all those floating fish carcasses, no one wanted to swim, or even wade.

Maybe next time we’ll visit in the summer, when the temperatures are always over 100, and then the Salton Sea won’t look so bad. But I doubt it. Next time, we’ll just make that drive to the ocean.

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The joys of grandparenthood

There are certain benefits to being the grandparent, as was evidenced yesterday during a 12-hour drive with my daughter, Adrienne, and her three adorable children — Max who is 5, Emily who is 3, and Jane, who is 7 months old.

It’s an extraordinary experience to be trapped inside a car with three children under the age of 6 from morn until eve, with infrequent stops along the way for bathroom breaks and meals.

Adrienne and I were driving from Utah to visit my daughter, Shannan, who lives near Palm Springs, Calif., in the hot, dry desert. Adrienne had sheduled the trip for a while, and since I had little else to do, I tagged along as driver so Adrienne could focus on the needs of her children. I thought it would make the trip safer and more pleasant for everyone, with the added benefit that I could spend a week with my two California daughters and their kids.

All in all, it was a pretty good drive, except for that last hour when everyone was out of patience except Max, who was snoozing away despite all the crying and moaning going on around him. His sisters were pretty noisy, too.

I haven’t driven that far with that many young kids in a car for a long time. Here is what I learned:

  • When you  have little kids on the trip, the fewer stops the better. Usually when Sharon and I travel, we stop every couple of hours to break up the monotony, usually for a 5-minute break. But Adrienne and I went as long as we could go between stops because every stop is a major production of unbuckling kids from their car seat, chasing them through public places, not buying them everything they see in the gas station’s convenience store, changing diapers, feeding the baby, etc. Once that seat belt is unbuckled, you’re not back in the car for at least 30 minutes. It’s just better to keep on going.
  •  Portable DVD players are great for kids on long trips. For adults, too. But babies don’t care about them at all.
  • 3-year-olds, however, are immune to the charm of recorded stories without pictures.
  • It’s a long, long way from American Fork to La Quinta, a lot longer than the 671 miles listed on Gooogle Maps.  And every time a 3-year-old goes off, it effectively adds about 20 miles to the mental part of the trip. Emily did great until we were about an hour from our destination, and then she was unhappy. The last hour seemed an eternity.
  • There’s no better way to get to know kids than spend a day in the car with them, and then wake up in the same place the next morning. they get used to you real fast.
  • It’s hard to be away from you loved one when you aren’t used separation. As I headed for the door to begin the drive, it dawned on me that in the 21 years of our marriage, Sharon and I haven’t been separated for longer than two days ever. I missed her before we reached the freeway. I treasure this opportunity to connect with my children, and have grandchildren crawling all over me for a week. It will be delightful.  But I missed my wife before I was out of Utah County. She wrote about her experience in  her blog, too.

Today we are just hanging out. Emily smiled at me. Jane recognizes me, but she is wary. Malia gave me a  high 2, we are working up to 5, and is more friendly than ever before. The trip is a success and we are just starting Day 2.

But that drive was a challenge, and a half.

Ranking movies from zero to ZZZZ

After three days at the LDS Film Festival in Orem, I’ve come up with a new movie ranking system — one based on my personal propensity to doze off at the most inconvenient time.

This is the result of chronic sleep deprivation, the result of  spending half my life as the editor of weekly newspapers and the erratic schedule that accompanies the job.

Put me in a comfortable chair and turn out the lights, and I’m likely to fall asleep. This is one reason I seek uncomfortable chairs during the General Conference Priesthood Session, which is usually held in darkened chapels with a projected image of talking heads. I seek those hard metal folding chairs and take notes during those sessions, and that usually does the trick.

But you can’t do that in the movie theater, where I often finding myself dozing during a film, to Sharon’s dismay and displeasure. The more we spent on movie tickets, the greater her displeasure.

I figure I can’t be the only person who is likely to drop off one he or she is seated in one of those comfortable theater seats surrounded by dark, so why not develop a ranking system for movies based on their to either keep on awake or put on asleep?

As I figure it, the ranking system would be the opposite of the more common star system. The way it works is a movie that keeps me awake would get zero Z’s and a movie that puts me to sleep and keeps me there gets five Z’s.

Under the system, “The King’s Speech,” one of the best films I’ve seen in a long time, would get a Zero — and that’s good. “The Social Network” would get a ZZ rating. It was OK, but I dozed off a couple of times and ended up losing some major plot points.

With that explanation given, here are my reviews of the films we have seen this week at the LDS Film Festival.

Midway to Heaven – Zero Z’s

This film by Michael Flynn was good enough to keep me awake from start to finish. great production values, often-witty dialogue, good acting, and perfect characters. Maybe too perfect — perfect daughter, perfect daughter’s boyfriend, perfect dead wife, perfect love interest. Only the lead, played by Curt Doussett, wasn’t perfect, but Doussett played the part very well. The film only failed because it was so very, very predictable. Still it was warm and fun and would play very well on the Hallmark Channel.

Start with Nothing –  ZZZZZ

Can’t recommend it. Slept clear through it. What little I did see, I didn’t understand what was going, nor did I care. I just wanted to go back to sleep. I’d put in more Z’s, but I limited myself to five, and it’s only an hour long.

The Book of Life – Z

This Italian film by Italian comedian/actor Marco Lui is the first foreign film to play at the the film festival because, well, how many foreign Mormon films are there? The movie is a showcase of Lui’s comedic talents, and they are many, interspersed with Mormon doctrine, although it’s never made clear in the film that the doctrine being espoused in Mormon. Still, it dragged in places and so did I. Couldn’t help myself.

My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend – Zero Z’s

Directed by Daryn Tufts and starring Alyssa Milano, this was one of the highlights of the festival. I enjoyed it from start to finish. Yeah, it’s a chick flick, but it has enough going for it that I found it interesting throughout. And well-acted, too. It was great.

Jonah and the Great Fish – ZZZ

I tried to stay awake through this because I know several of the actors in the film. And I saw the stage play they used as a basis for much of the movie. They put on the play in the SCERA, and shot scenes for the movie during the day while presenting the play at night. I thought the performances were very good, but the production is aimed at 5-year-old girls, with lots of music. I mean, lots and lots of music. I enjoyed what I saw, but I couldn’t keep from dozing off.

Joseph Smith and the Golden Plates – Zero Z’s

Wow! I mean, wow! This is LDS Church history the way it was meant to be told. I was riveted from start to finish. I think Christian Vuissa has created a masterpiece, and did it on a budget that many would consider shoestring — $250,000. The feel is authentic. The costumes are authentic,. The haircuts are authentic (really bad, but in 1820, bad haircuts were the order of the day). And the story is authentic. The films is still a work in progress, although what we saw was a mostly finished product. And it tells the story around the months during the translation and publication of the Book of Mormon with an eye to historical accuracy I’ve never seen before.

So there you have it — the Z-ranking. Look for more as soon I’ll be snoozing at a theater near me.

Three more Utah County weekly newspapers gone forever

In most places, weekly newspapers seem to be holding their own. But not in Utah County, Utah. And it was sad to learn about the demise of three more Utah County weeklies this week.

The Daily Herald, which over the course of nine years has managed the impressive feat of acquiring and obliterating nine weekly papers in a single county, announced it was ceasing publication of the Springville Herald, the Spanish Fork Press and the Nebo Reporter.

The Reporter is a new creation of the Daily Herald meant to compete with the Payson Chronicle, after the owner of that publication became the only holdout in the Daily Herald’s campaign to  acquire the circulation of all the newspapers in the county.

But the other two papers, the Springville Herald and the Spanish Fork Press, trace their history back to 1891 and 1902, respectively. Their sudden demise will leave a hole in the fabric of each community that cannot be filled. In fact, six of the nine papers could trace their history back 100 years or more, and were among the oldest businesses in the communities they represented.

I think that’s a tragic loss.

Wednesday’s announcement hit the Conovers of Springville particularly hard. A Conover had published the Springville Herald since 1940, when Harrison Conover bought it, until the Daily Herald takeover. And even after that, it remained a mostly family-run enterprise. Harrison Conover’s daughter-in-law, Pat Conover, was editor of the newspaper Wednesday when Daily Herald officials, accompanied by security people, dropped by, told them the newspaper was closing, and ordered everyone out of the building with only their persons, purses and cell phones.

Personal property, ranging from family photos to sophisticated computer equipment not owned by the Daily Herald, had to be left behind and still remains under lock and key, including the plaque that was given to the Conover family when Harrison Conover was inducted into the Utah Newspaper Hall of Fame.

His granddaughter, Christi Conover Babbitt, was there as well, working as a part-time paginator. I’ve know Christi for years as a fine reporter who inherited her grandfather’s love of community newspapering. For her, losing the newspaper is like losing a member of the family.

“Who is going write about the junior high school play?” she asked me. “Who is going to do all that personal kind of reporting.”

Nobody. Certainly not a daily newspaper that is losing the battle with the Internet, just like every other newspaper in the country. Although plenty of personal blogs will probably mention the play, and everything else. That’s the future.

Christi and I share a profession that is going the way of the blacksmith and the livery stable, of course. But while newspapers are failing, in most Utah counties, these weeklies have proved more resilient than dailies. But not in Utah County.

Looking back, 2002 was probably not the best year to start investing millions into gobbling up weekly newspapers. But over a period of a few years, the Daily Herald went on a feeding frenzy and ended up owning more weeklies than they knew what to do with.

So they cannibalized them, absorbing the circulation, consolidating the advertising, using what they could and discarding the rest. It took about six years before five of the papers had been picked to bones and were discarded. This is what I wrote about that at the time. Now two years later, the rest are also history.

Now the final three are gone as well, and many who cherished this weekly dose of personal, hometown news are in mourning.

It will be most ironic if it turns out the Daily Herald would have been better off to have killed the Daily Herald and kept the weeklies. But it wouldn’t surprise me.

To read Sharon’s comments on this topic, see her blog.

My new job

Don’t let the headline fool you.

I left the Deseret News on Dec. 31, right on schedule. Their schedule. Actually, that was OK, since it was four months after many of the folks they let go in August were asked to vacate the building.

I was asked to stick around on the copy desk, editing and proofreading stories, writing photo captions and headlines. When people told me they missed seeing my byline in the newspaper (which happened occasionally, but not nearly as often as I would have liked), I told them they were still reading my stuff, just without my names. Since most people read more headlines than stories, I figure I was better read in the last four months than ever before.

It was a great four months. I became a better, more practiced editor. I got to hone headline writing skills that had languished for many years, and I got to know a handful of fellow copy editors, which was a revelation. Since I spent most of my life working as the boss of a small operation, I’ve never gotten to know many of these seasoned people who had dedicated decades of their lives to working behind the scenes. I am glad I got to know them. Last Friday, we basically all moved on as the newspaper basically disbanded the copy desk as we knew it.

I figure between 150 to 200 years of newspaper experience walked out the door that day.

Here’s what I’ve been doing since:

On Monday Sharon and I drove to Spanish Fork for our granddaughter’s birthday. Then we drove to Salt Lake and ferried Sharon’s father to a variety of appointments. His wife was in the hospital after a medical crisis, and he had no way to visit her.

He can’t drive because we won’t let him drive any more. At least that’s  his version. Our version is we won’t let him drive because he shouldn’t drive any more.

So we spent a good part of our day getting him from place to place, eventually leaving him with her in her hospital room while we did some last business with the Deseret News and then picking  him up again. All in all, we were in the car about six hours.

Then Tuesday, while Sharon had meetings and things, I went back to Salt Lake and drove Sharon’s father around some more. To the bank, to the barber, to the grocery store, to the rehabilitation center to visit his wife. And home again.

At night I picked up one grandchild from his gymnastics practice and drove him home. There I picked up another grandchild who was visiting her cousins and drove her home. I was in the car about eight hours.

Wednesday I chauffeured Sharon to an assignment in Midway, which was by far the most pleasant of the three days, but still required some car time.

I’m not sure how the rest of this is going to go, but I’ve figured out my new job:

I’m a 59-year-old soccer mom who spends all day getting other people to where they need to be. The work is satisfying, but the pay is poor.

Living life upside down

I’ve finally earned some empathy for folks who work the swing shift. It’s a tough way to earn a living.

For the last month-and-a-half, and the next month-and-a-half, I’m working on the copy desk of the Deseret News. I’m scheduled to be here until Dec. 31. Which means I’m scheduled to work from 3 to 11:30 p.m. five nights a week, week in and week out. Someone has to write those headlines. Someone has to make sure the folks who get the bylines don’t look like fools because they put an “e” in judgment.

That someone is now me and a crew of others, many of whom made a career of this nighttime madness before someone decreed that it won’t be a career any longer.

There have been rare days when I don’t work an evening shift, and I usually get Thursdays off (because I have to work Saturdays). But for the most part my relaxation and fun time comes in the morning, when everybody else is working. When everybody else is relaxing and having fun, I’m working.

And that’s an upside down life.

That’s how I found myself in the movie theater Saturday morning at 9:40 a.m. watching “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” so I could get out of the movie in time for my afternoon shift.

There’s something eerie about coming out a darkened movie theater just in time for lunch. And while I’ll never turn down popcorn, it just doesn’t taste the same at 10 a.m. as it does at 10 p.m.

Here are a few observations about living life upside down:

It’s tough on relationships: It used to be that, no matter what, Sharon and I could rely on having most of our evening together. We valued that time. Now, at least five days a week, when night comes, I’m at work. Often as not, Sharon goes to Salt Lake to w0rk, and we only see each other at breakfast and at 3 p.m. when she hands me the parking pass so we can both park in the Triad Center parking lot.

Nights out are a thing of the past: No plays, unless it’s your one day off that doesn’t fall on Sunday. No movies, unless you go at 9:40 a.m., ala “HP:DH Pt. 1” (That’s shorthand for “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Pt. 1.” No going out for dinner. No getting together to play games. No grandkids’ activities that take place in the afternoon.

Regular TV watching is a thing of the past: Not a big deal, just an observation, since I don’t live or die by the television. Honest. We don’t have TIVO, which many say would change this, but I still don’t find time to watch the shows Sharon tapes for me. That’s because …

Morning time is different than night time: Really. The very nature of time changes. It  goes faster in the morning. I have anecdotal evidence, which is good enough to get us to go to war with Iraq, so it’s good enough for me. Here it is. When you get home at 6 or 6:30 p.m., the evening stretches out before you with no fixed stopping place. No deadlines. Nobody turns into a pumpkin at midnight. Oh, it would be nice to get to sleep at a certain hour, but it’s not a fixed hour, and that gives the nighttime a sense of informal elasticity that comfortably stretches to meet your needs. It’s relaxing.

When you have to be to work at 2 p.m., the whole morning gets jammed up. Mowing the lawn (or shoveling the walk, depending on the season) seems to take twice as long as you thought it would. By the time you finish the parking strips, it’s time to shower and go to work. If you sit down to watch a little television, instead of potato-couching your way comfortably into the evening, you’ve blown your whole morning. Instead of enjoying the evening, you’re wasting daylight.

It’s hard to work yourself to sleep: When I get home at night — usually after midnight — I’m wired, not tired. I don’t want to go to bed, and when I do, I just lie awake waiting for my feet to get warm. It can take an hour or two to drift off to a fitful sleep. It’s especially hard working Saturday nights because I often have 7 a.m. meetings on Sunday. That lethal combination saw me walking into a 7 a.m. stake meeting at 7:30 a.m., the first time in two years I had been late. I hated that.

So while I’m happy to have the work for the next seven weeks, I’m not so happy with the schedule. And I’ve learned to appreciate the sacrifices of the folks who work the swing shift to provide for their families.

Hey! That’s me and my head is real big!

Sharon and I were in San Diego Saturday night for the premiere screening of “The Kane Files Saturday night at the San Diego Film Festival, along with dozens of other stars. Or at least two.

Apparently no one who mattered knew I was there, because we waited outside in line for TWO HOURS waiting to get a seat because the movie ahead of ours started late. Apparently in some film festivals time is flexible.

Our trip to this point had been fun and flexible. Sharon had, through an act of great serendipity, booked a hotel only five blocks from the theater where the film festival was being held. And since we were able to turn in our Hilton Honors points, the overnight stay was free.

In addition, we were trying an experiment to rely on the Google Maps feature of my Android phone to find us the best mass transit route to and from places. In the end, we were able to get everywhere we needed to be for $10 for both days. That’s $10 total for both of us. We walked, rode buses and the trolley to get to the beach and San Diego’s Old Town for a one-time fee for all day. There was no car rental, no parking hassles, no taxi from the airport — we did everything on mass transit.

But when we arrived at the theater Saturday night for the screening, it all ground to a halt. We had bought our tickets online for the movie — not an all-access pass like some folks. And I had told one of the producers that I was coming, but I’m not sure he believed me.

We read on Facebook that the movie had sold out, so we showed up a full hour ahead of time, just to make sure. When we got to the theater door, we were told that the movie ahead of “The Kane Files” had started half an hour late, so there would be a “slight delay” … and could we wait downstairs (the theater was on the second floor), in the line forming on the sidewalk, please.

So we were like the sixth and seventh people in line. No sweat, we thought.

And we waited. And waited. And waited.

People went in and out. Occasionally someone would come to tell us that things were progressing and this was just the way these film festivals went.

Inside the theater, the “name” actors for the movie assembled, led by William Atherton, who plays the villain, Drew Fuller, who plays the anti-hero, and Ethan Embry, who plays the cop. They were interviewed, and photographed, and Sharon and I stood outside in line. Sharon told me to say something, but I was reticent.

I had met Fuller before, when I did my scene. But I didn’t know anyone else. I probably should have said something, but my part was small and I thought this would all work fine.

And so we waited.

All the “names” inside the theater went up to get their seats. But they assured us there would be seats for us as well. But would they be good seats?

Finally at 8 p.m., after we had been standing on the street watching the Gaslamp Quarter crowd for two hours, they came down and let all the people with all-access passes in line into the theater. When they were done, there were four of us left — a girl who manages a website for Drew Fuller and her friend, and Sharon and me. We were more than a little unhappy. We had spent time and money to get to this move, arrived in more than plenty of time,  and we were going to be the last two people let into the theater.

At this point my long-suffering-but-now-fed-up wife told one of the film festival people that I was actually in the film, and they let us go ahead. We arrived just ahead of the other two, and got suitable seats.

The movie was good for an independent effort. It was supremely hard to sit there and watch my big head on that full-sized screen. But I felt good about what I was and heard, when it was all done. Afterward one of the producers acknowledged me in and audience during the Q&A, which included Atherton, Fuller and William Devane, the other main actor in the film.

And I glad we went. Absolutely. The first film will only premiere once, and I wanted to be there. But when the film debuts in Utah, I will make myself known, and  hope for star treatment.