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January 2006

Praise to the Man
This month was most prominently marked by preparing for the Stake Play. The whole family was involved. Karen was the producer and spent countless hours with the director, Alese Harris, getting the many things done. The play was called, "Praise the Man- from the pen of an American Prophet." Karen was also in charge of the music. The play had 16 different songs! The girls had various supporting roles in the play. Savannah sang a solo for the Entre act. There were 13 or 14 different scenes. I played the role of Joseph from I think the 6th or 7th scene to the end. I also did a lot of the set- building. I don't know what was harder, building all those sets or learning what seemed to be countless lines. The director, Alese, also wrote the play and is what I would call an historical purist. Just about every line that was spoken by Joseph was from historical records. She was not willing to truncate what seemed to be endless dialogue and monologue. I initially tried to persuade her to do otherwise, but am glad she stuck to her guns. The play seemed to go off without a hitch and was enjoyed by all who attended. I had many people comment how much they appreciated the historical accuracy of the whole thing and particularly my lines. What was most enjoyable was being able to become better acquainted with so many people in our stake. I am still called "Brother Joseph" on a regular basis. I guess it's nice to be remembered and thought of in such a context. It makes me extra glad we didn't do the Michael Jackson story. Karen truncated about 10,000 pictures into a small book with a couple dozen shots. I think we still have some DVD's of the play if any of you would like one.

February 2006

Birthdays 79 & 80
We celebrated the birthdays of mine and Karen's dads. My dad turned 80 and Albert turned 79. Yes… that is very old. We had the party at our house. Karen worked frantically to have everything just right. I never knew how the right colored candles in the center of the table could make or break a party. You can see in the photos that it worked. Have you seen those chocolate fountains? You know, when you dip various food items in this beautiful flowing fountain of chocolate? We had one of those. Because I helped to prepare it, I now know how it works. With this knowledge I'll tell you that I'll never eat from one of those again. You melt the chocolate first… normal right? Then you add twenty gallons of vegetable oil to keep it runny when it cools. Everyone liked it. Ever since then, I quiver when I see one at any function or party.

Swann's House in St. George Scenery
We visited our friends Steve and Janice Swann in February. They have a huge home that can accommodate us and some homeless guys we found on the freeway. We spent one of the days going through the "Parade of Homes" of southern Utah. It was lots of fun and we saw all sorts of homes we could never afford.

Rubalcava's Baptism
Some friends of ours were baptized in January and February. Alison, Trevor and Riley Rubalcava show in a couple of photos how they transform from respectable to … well, you can see what I mean. Now you see why I like them so much.

March 2006

Bob Condie
Our good friend Bob Condie took the clan to the beach along with his two sons Ryan and Jared. My daughters dressed as Eskimos and Bob and his sons dressed like hoodlums. Bob & sons made a fire for hot chocolate. It was loads of fun and rain made it even more memorable. Ryan Condie works at the local Yamaha dealership and has been a great source for parts and service for my bike.

No more Haircuts
Brace decided to save money for the family by not getting haircuts for the rest of the year. That is the way I am… always thinking of the welfare of the family.

I turned 40 in April and Karen threw me a surprise party. And in order to really get me off-guard, she threw the party in March (we were to leave town in April). It was to be a normal Friday night. Karen said she had planned a dinner date with Jerry & Sue Ellen hall at Taco Mesa. I was excited to be with the Halls and to go to my favorite Mexican joint. As we walked through the parking lot, I saw our good friends Rick and Leesa Taylor. I said hello, excited that they would coincidentally be there too and Rick said, "Happy Birthday Buddy!" Inside there were many other friends waiting and eating. As the night went on, more showed up. The final count was in excess of 100 people. We managed to get pictures of about half of them. It was a cool party indeed. Friends and family from all over were there. Many of our newer friends whom we met at the Stake play were there, as well as friends from my very early years. Alese made a poster that said "Brace is the Man", because some of the cast mis-heard and thought that was to be the name of the play (Praise to the man). A great party and a great night! Our neighbors the Pedersens weren't able to be there that night so they showed up at the house the next day with a basket of goodies for someone turning 40. The goodies included Geritol, Preparation H, denture cleaners, diapers, etc.

Sasha Super Hero Dance
Ethan's Birthday: Karstin with pink hair.

April 2006

Our Trip to Europe with the ALL the Girls
The Martin Door trip this year wasn't the wonderful and typical Hawaii or Caribbean Cruise, this year Martin paid for a trip to London, England. This was a first for all of us for Europe and decided to extend the trip and hit other spots as well. For three weeks, all five of us trekked through the continent. Karen says we ended up taking well over 1000 pictures. The following, believe it or not, is a condensed photo-log of our trip.

Starting in LAX, we set off on a long, non-stop flight. The seats provided for us were in coach. Until we win the Lottery, that is how it will be. Alas, I've discovered it is impossible to win the Lottery when you never play. I sat next to Karen and had the aisle seat. In front of us were three middle-eastern women. Their husbands sat together a couple rows forward. These women never shut up for all 12 hours of this evening flight. Admittedly, a thought went through my mind when we first saw them about the possibility of them blowing up the plane. I know, that isn't appropriate, but who ever accused me of being appropriate? About eight hours into this flight- all three of their lights on, all three mouths moving at the same time; I wished that they would blow up the plane. We landed in Heathrow and took the "Tube" into London. Lou Ann, Madison, & Mindy landed with us and we found our way to the hotel. Let me say that being Americans in London is not what I expected it to be. Everyone was so nice to us. I spoke with and met a few dozen Brits here and there and found them to be absolutely delightful.

Stratford Upon Avon
This quaint little village is the birthplace of William Shakespeare and the hub of the Royal Shakespearian Theater. We went with our friends Dave and Shauna Moffit and spent a wonderful day there. Karen had literally planned out every day for this trip and did a great job. Only a few things didn't work out as we wanted. The first non-working thing was the "Teddy Bear Museum." It was as stupid as it sounds and I wanted no part of it. I can't believe we fell for that. The rest of Stratford was terrific. It was such a nice village. Our kids enjoyed the sights as much as we did. Dave and Shauna were also very much into the whole Shakespeare experience. Among the highlights was a park bench donated by "The Men of the Trees." Dave and I posed appropriately. That evening we had tickets to Romeo & Juliet. I personally prefer musicals, but this was outstanding. I never realized how good theater could be. The train ride back to London was fun. The cool part is looking down the train's toilet when you flush and you can see the train track! I took a picture but Karen refused to include it- party pooper! The subway or Tube was great, but not intuitive when it comes to understanding the schedule. Only the English could post such memorable signs and messages: "Mind the Gap", "No Fouling", "To Let"(not toilet missing an 'i' but a way of saying "For Lease"). We enjoyed the many gardens. The kids looked like three monkeys. The artwork in the Gardens was nice, except we made a point to cover the penis of one guy. The red phone booths are disappearing, but we still found one and had fun with it.

Windsor Castle & Hampton Court
Very nice, very big, very windy, very cold. Her highness, the Queen wasn't there. Too bad, I had a few good jokes for her. Hampton Court was built by a Cleric and it was nicer than any of the king's palaces. When Henry asked what a man of the cloth was doing with such an extravagant place, the guy mistakenly bluffed and said that he did it to honor the king. To which he answered thank you for my new house; now get out. They had beautiful tapestries (looks like they didn't make it in the book), and many actors in character doing what they do. Penelope got invited to dance with them, and Karstin wanted in too. The grounds of Hampton Court were terrific.

Mary Poppins
In her advance planning, Karen arranged tickets to the theater to see "Chitty Chitty, Bang Bang" in Manchester. I was excited because I love the music and rumor says that the play is great. In London we realized Manchester was not a London suburb and in fact wasn't realistic for us to travel to. So with great sorrow we let those tickets crumble. Others in the Martin Group planned to see "Mama Mia". I didn't have a great desire to see it; and besides, it can be seen various places at home. Well "Mary Poppins" was playing in London. The concierge at the hotel sought tickets for us and we thought he was kidding when he apologetically said that the only tickets left were in the front row. I guess Londoners don't like the front row. We're not Londoners and thought the seats were the greatest. We were able to chat with the musicians in the pit and they were so nice (as was everybody in England). The only thing I didn't like was the food service at halftime. I bought a Diet Coke. It was small, room temperature, and six bucks. I asked for ice in a glass and the bartender looked at me like I was a crack-head; I got a small glass with one piece of ice. The show was outstanding!

Imperial War Museum
A very cool place indeed! They have on display the armaments and weapons the Brits have used for the last 200 years. They allow and encourage touching the stuff and they even have actors in period-costume talking about their time in the foxholes of WWI and so forth. A lady talked about what they did as children during the Battle of Britain and how they were shipped to the countryside to get away from the bombing of London. We all went to lunch together at a pub and there was a black guy who was pickling his liver and never shut up. We had Dave Haslam pose with him in hopes that would get the guy to stop talking for a moment. He stopped for a moment and resumed course.

Tower of London
We went with our friends the Moffits and the Haslams to London Tower. The jewels and weapons were there. Very cool! What is most amazing is the deep, long, and rich history that is everywhere. A tour guide pointed to the guards at their post and told us how they will keep their composure at all times no matter what we do or say. "Don't bother trying, you won't be able to make them laugh," is what he said. I responded, "You wanna bet?"

Well, another tourist tried to make the guard laugh and wasn't successful. He made some stupid comment about guarding Wal-Mart. I promptly followed that by telling him how Michael Jackson was going to be the new spokesman for Wal-Mart. The guard's face showed a hint of curiosity; then I knew I had him. I said that he volunteered when he heard that they have boys' pants half-off. The guard doubled-over laughing. Unfortunately, we can't find the picture of him laughing. We're not sure who took it. But rest assured- there are many who will vouch for me.

Stonehenge was amazing and freezing. Martin Door provided a tour guide who did a great job. Man, what a talker! He went on and on and on. It was good though.

Bath was a Roman settlement. I always knew Rome's empire stretched as far as the Isles, but man, I had no idea of the depth and richness of Bath. When the ruins were discovered in the late 17th century, a very forward thinking Brit got permission to raze the medieval village around it and rebuild a fine city in anticipation of the interest in the ruin. They rebuilt the whole village, which was a simple, disorganized medieval town and made a gorgeous and organized city using a local honey-colored limestone. It was probably the prettiest town I've ever seen- truly breathtaking. The Roman ruin was absolutely incredible. They give you a personal speaker player (like they do at every site, palace, castle, and museum). With it, you can see everything at your own pace and get a professionally planned recorded description of everything you're interested in. The bath pool itself still has warm water running through it and the lead seal at the bottom still works. The tour guide told us of a place to eat in Bath called "Sally Lunn Buns". I guess in the 15th century Sally Lunn had a special bun which gained widespread notoriety. She died in the 16th century and with her death, the recipe died too. In the 18th century, while doing some work on the building that was hers, an old tin was found containing the recipe. We thought the bun was mediocre, but the experience was one of my favorites of the whole trip. Our waitress was a student in her twenties from Bath. She was excited to see people from the States. I asked her name and in the cutest accent, she replied, "Lily." She asked mine, and, wanting to hear a certain thing said, I said, "My name is Governor." She brightly replied, "Oh, -ello Guv'na!" Our group pointed out the day's date, April 13th was my birthday. So the whole bloody restaurant sang "Happy Birthday dear Guv'na…" Dave Moffit and I enjoyed the sign outside that described the kind of oven used. (see Bath link above) No matter how many birthdays I have, I will remain a child. The Abbey at Bath was wonderful. They have for the kids a paper with a series of questions and clues that get them to search all over the Abbey. The Prior was delightful and posed for a photo. Again, these people were so nice and they love Americans. He pointed out a beautiful Steinway Grand Piano. Some choir from America came to sing on some occasion and brought the piano. When they were done, they gifted the Steinway to the Abbey.

Farewell Banquet
The Martin-sponsored portion of the trip drew to a close with a farewell banquet. It's nice to travel with so many people you come to know over so many years. Our friends Abdul Aziz and his wife are always so nice to see, as are the many other Martin Dealers and employees. We were able to express our gratitude to Dave Martin and his wife Virginia for the trip. As the Martin trip ended, our own trip was to begin.

We took a train from London down to Kent. We were met and picked up by life-long friends of Karen's parents. Pat & John Fletcher live in a small village called (I will misspell this) Godmeshen. Their home is large and beautiful and is situated on a few acres. Our time with them was definitely the highlight of the trip. They took such good care of us. They had to use both of their cars to get us around. As you can see from the photos, it is a beautiful place. When walking their land I noticed an inordinate number of rabbits. They were truly making a mess. I asked John why he didn't get the gun to get rid of these things. In his proper English accent he informed me that permits of ownership of such weapons were extremely difficult and expensive to acquire. I told him of an air-pellet rifle I use at home to shoot rabbits. He seemed to be keen on the idea so I mailed him one when I got home. The latest news we hear is that he has been successful at culling the rabbit herd. I guess he takes them into the village market and sells them for two pounds a piece. I'm so glad to hear that. That means if he shoots one rabbit per day and sells them, they'll make up for all the food we ate at their house in about 15 years. We went all over Kent (Southern England) and saw the Battle of Britain Memorial, complete with replica Spitfires and Hurricanes and a list of names of the fallen heroes. It was also fascinating to hear both Pat and John recall their memories of the battle. They were children at the time. We saw where the channel ferries come and go at Dover. The cliffs were remarkable. For so many years I've read and heard of the Cliff of Dover. Seeing them was a real treat. We saw and did so much with the Fletchers. We hope they'll make their way to this side of the pond so that we may try to return the favor of hospitality.

They took us to Canterbury Cathedral. Canterbury is a large and neat city. What was even better was to have John & Pat show us around. Near their home was the local Anglican Church, which was smaller and still very much in use. Pat showed us the 12th Century Saxon portion of its construction (very cool). Also near their home was the estate where Jane Austen lived and wrote some of her novels. I bought a tie at Canterbury Cathedral that copies one of the stained glass windows. Every time I wear that tie, it brings a smile to my face and very fond memories.

To Paris We Go

The Fletchers took us to the train station and we crossed under the channel via the Chunnel. The kids were disappointed that when under the channel, we couldn't see the water and fish. We arrived in Paris literally days after the Muslim-riots in April. The place was still a mess. But it seems France takes whatever conflict in stride. Karen arranged the rest of this trip to be economical. We stayed in youth hostels. The buildings were old and the rooms were small. But they were clean and we felt safe. We walked around Paris near our Hotel, which was by the Sacred Heart Cathedral. Because it was Easter season, the crowds were big and busy at the Cathedral. Some youth minstrels were playing music on the street. We stopped to watch and noticed that the performers would smoke in the middle of their song when their instrument had a break. In fact, all of France smoked everywhere and at all times. I think I saw one baby-stroller occupant that didn't smoke.

Eiffel Tower
Being in Paris, there is no excuse not to go see the tower. I was less than interested for some reason, but played along. It was amazing just how big that thing was! There are stairs to go to the top and an elevator. The elevator is pricey and the line for it was long, so we walked it. They print on the stairs the number of steps taken to get to the top. It was a good distraction for all involved except Karen. She thought going up one-third of the way would have been fine. Brace is just jealous because I wasn't tired. I am the one in the family that exercises every day.

Louvre (Loov)
We trekked to the Louvre with the Haslams and Moffits. We carefully planned in advance where we'd go and what we'd see. We spent all day there and it was still too quick, although Dave Haslam thought we lingered too long in every hall. We knew we would enjoy the paintings, which we did. Karen and I had no idea how awesome the sculptures were. That place went on and on in greatness. It is truly the greatest museum in the world. Notre Dame was beautiful. I pointed out many people who could pass for Quasi Modo. Outside the cathedral we watched two ladies sing opera numbers. Our camera blew chunks that day, so you'll have to take our word for how nice it was.

Musee d'Orsay
Another gem of a museum in Paris. The sculptures were amazing, and they had even more of the impressionists (our favorite). To stand in direct presence of these works was an experience of a lifetime. They included Van Gogh, Monet, Degas, Renoir, Rembrandt, Manet, etc. These two museums make any other collections of art seem trite. Because of the riots in Paris, we tried to reschedule our reservations away from France. It couldn't have worked without major expense. We are so glad cancelling was not an option.

Euro passes allow transit throughout the continent via train. In some ways it seemed a bit slow as we weaved up the Alps. But the train's windows are large and the view looked like postcards because they were so picturesque. Zurich was to be a one-day stop only. Karen purposely didn't plan much because she figured we'd be tired from the train ride. Lake Geneva was beautiful. The people of Zurich were multi-lingual and their English was easier to understand than in some parts of London. The youth hostel we stayed in was newer and very austere. We strolled through Zurich without a plan or a mission. We saw a poster advertising our family's favorite opera, "Turandot" by Puccini. It was playing that night at the Zurich Opera House. It was basically sold out. They lady in the box-office said they only had very undesirable seats left. We hoped undesirable in Zurich was like undesirable in London (remember, front row at Mary Poppins). No such luck. If you were to say these seats sucked, you'd be understating things. But, the music was beautiful and what we could see was amazing. The theatre itself was breathtaking. It was very nice and in pristine condition because it wasn't bombed out in WWII. The Swiss haven't switched to the Euro currency. The Swiss Franc exchange rate was tantamount to rape. Karstin needed toothbrush, toothpaste, and one other sundry item. It cost over twenty dollars! We loved Zurich but are glad it was but one day.

To Austria We Go!
Euro passes were good for one more trip, so we went to Austria. I fondly remember the Austrian military/customs official checking passports as we crossed the border. He went from passenger to passenger speaking each of their languages perfectly. I counted at least four. His English was prim and proper. I asked if we could have our passports stamped. He apologetically said they don't do that any more and went on his way. He returned some minutes later with a stamp and stamped all of our passports. He was the typical model of a person in Austria. Except for a couple taxi drivers, everyone in Austria was as courteous and friendly as that official. Europe is expensive. The US dollar exchange rate sucks. With the exception of being with our friends the Fletchers, I was never really filled at any meal. Portions of food in England, France, and Switzerland were small and costly. Soft drinks were served at room temperature and never refillable without substantial cost. Then, we arrived in Vienna! The hostel was in an older part of Vienna. We arrived and asked the desk in the lobby where we could go to eat. A nice man in the lobby gave us some suggestions. He asked us to be careful because "This is a working-class neighborhood and there are many non-Austrians immigrants here." That friendly caution left Karen a little freaked out. We passed by a neon-lit sex shoppe before we found a place to eat. This restaurant was the only place that was run by an Austrian who couldn't speak English (I think he may have been from Hungary or Poland). With our German translation books, we got through the menu. It was very reasonable. The portions were large. The service was friendly. I figured this place would be our main place for meals for the balance of the trip. I coaxed the kids into trying Schnitzel (breaded veal). I didn't explain what veal was, or actually just lied and said it was chicken. They loved it. Penelope still talks about going back to Vienna for the Schnitzel.

That night, back in our Hostel, Karen was online doing her thing. The next morning she announced that this area was too scary for her. She made reservations at the Crowne Plaza Hotel. Two taxis were called (we don't fit in one), and off we went. The driver was a black African from Nigeria. I told him how my parents served a mission in Nigeria for our church. He asked which church. When I told him, he excitedly held up a copy of the Ensign (a Mormon magazine) and said that we were brothers. He gave me the address of the meetinghouse for the International Ward (English speaking) and meeting times.

House of Music Museum and a Concert
This museum was interactive and fun. They have a virtual-reality feature where you lead the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra. When you blow it (which is inevitable) different musicians in the orchestra complain and berate you. These were the only rude Austrians we encountered. I guess they weren't rude, just programmed to be so. The center of Vienna is called Stephenplatz (everything in Austria is something-platz). The streets in this city-center are permanently closed to automobile traffic. It is a wonderful place to stroll and look at the sights. We purchased tickets to a special concert at the Auesperg Palace. Music, singing, waltz, ballet, and so forth. It was very nice, but solely attended by tourists. Vienna subway system was hands-down the best we have ever seen. The trains were clean… spotless. They were fast and very easy to understand. We could make our way in any direction with great ease. When buying a bottled beverage, you had the choice of "Gas" or "No Gas". I'll refrain from the obvious joke right now; but I wore that joke out in Austria.

Vienna State Opera House
Tours are given throughout the day and are well worth the time and money. I didn't think it would be as interesting as it is. Operas are performed 364 days per year (closed Christmas day). Each opera is different every day. Yes… you read that correctly, a different opera every day. Trucks come and go every day transporting different sets for different operas. It is mind-boggling. The opera's tickets are sold out nearly every time. That evening's opera was going to be "La elegir d'amour", or "The Elixir of Love." To allow the younger generation to attend the opera and afford it, they have standing room available for two Euros ($4). You have to wait in a line for an hour or so and you run the risk of not getting in. Karen, Karstin, & Penelope were too tired that day to give it a try. Savannah and I were game. We met lots of nice people in line and got what were literally the best standing-room seats in the house. They have a velvet covered and padded bar onto which you can lean and a fold-up translator screen with a choice of five languages. It was a great, great experience. We absolutely loved the show.

Schonbrunn Palace
One of the royal palaces was just outside of Vienna. It was a nice visit. We finished the tour rather hungry as usual. What looked like an expensive restaurant on the palace grounds was very reasonable (if you think I'm being too verbose about food and food-cost, you try feeding five people three times per day in a foreign country). The waiter was tuxed and named Wolfgang. It was here that I introduced the family to the legendary German Bratwurst. The hot dog is a foodstuff my wife and children tend to shun. They saw this big weenie on my plate and wrinkled their upper lips. I let them have a taste with the sauerkraut and they were hooked. Between and new love of schnitzel and now, bratwurst, my family has been changed forever. One night, as we finished our long day walking through Stephenplatz, our hungry family noticed all of our eating spots were closed. Vienna is not a 24-hour town. They begin to shut down after 8pm, and they're closed Sundays. The only thing we could find was something that was labeled as a Hot Dog stand. My desperate family had to accept this as our only dinner choice. I knew we were in for another treat. The bratwurst was served in a yummy roll. It was huge, tasty, and cheap. To this day I make a point to go to a local meat market where I buy German Sausage and rolls. My family loves them and the smells and tastes take us right back to Stephenplatz. You can see in the photos the enormous grounds at Schonbrunn with so much to see and do. The countless fountains and bronze statues were fun to see and pose by. We would try to imitate the poses. My wife and kids were unwilling to pose naked like the naked statues… party poopers! When going through the palace, they showed the area where, "An American bomb dropped through." I quickly retorted, "You're darn right it did!" The guide said that it didn't explode; it just put a hole in the ceiling. I said, "It must've been French-made."

We took a train to this cool place and spent the day. We booked a tour of all the Sound of Music spots where it was filmed. I was willing to do it, although it sounded kind of gay to me. Sure enough, the bus was filled with gay tourists. The two guys in front of us were a cute couple. One of them had "wandering eyes". He liked to check out the young boys walking around. Karen tapped him on the shoulder and said, "Oh come now! That one is too young for you." His boyfriend agreed. We all had a good laugh together. I wish I thought of saying that. And you think I'm the one who says inappropriate things?! Salzburg is Mozart's birthplace, and 2006 was his 250th birthday. We went to the relevant spots of his life. It was a very nice place. The picture of Savannah in the tree is one of the trees that the Von Trapp kids were in during an early scene of the movie. The girls are posing by the pond behind the home used in the movie. I guess it is owned by Harvard these days. I guess Harvard felt the need to buy it when they heard Yale bought Colonel Clink's quarters in Stalag 13. The gazebo that whatzerface dances in the movie was moved to a public park. They keep it locked though because some fat American lady tried to do the same dance in it and fell and broke some bones. They took us up to a remote Alpine village (Mozart's mother's birthplace) that had a beautiful lake. Our stop was only for 20 minutes. The water was very cold and crystal clear. You could see the bottom 30-50 feet down. I wished we had more time; I would d a swim. At this village I bought my way cool Austrian hat. I tell Karen that, "Everyone wears these in Austria." She'll point out that the only person she saw wearing one was me. Right after I started wearing it, different people would ask me directions. I'd answer with a German accent, "Jist go ova' zhere." The chapel in this town was very nice. The wood carving that Karstin and I are standing next to is 800 years old. I never got tired of that kind of thing, and there was a lot of it.

Savannah's Personal Progress
Not to be outdone by her sister, Savannah decided to complete her Young Women's Personal Progress by her 13th birthday. If you don't know what it is, I'm not really sure either so I don't know what to tell you. I guess it's as big a deal as Eagle Scout is for the boys. You have to do all sorts of projects and many hours of service and so forth. The Stake makes a big woopteedoo for it, so it was a nice evening. Karen made me wear a suit and tie.

May 2006

Life Drawing Class
This stuff isn't in perfect order, but who cares? Karen and the girls thought it'd be a great idea to take some college art classes so the girls would have a better appreciation and understanding for all the art we'd see in Europe. Their teacher, Julie Kirk, had orange hair and was lots of fun.

Agazarm Family
Our good friends Will and Kali Agazarm had a great April. Will, who is in my Elders' Quorum, has a wife named Kali. Kali is a manager at the Santa Margarita Border's Bookstore. Even before she decided to become a member of the church, she made a point not to stock books in her store that were anti-Mormon in nature. The last name, Agazarm is her name. I guess she's the last in her family to have the proud Armenian name. Her super-cool husband decided to change his name to Agazarm so that it might continue. I love telling that story. How cool is that? And it's not like he had a lame name; it was Huston. It'd be an easy decision to change if your name were Dorque, Hemmroyde, or Phaggot ( I wonder if Karen will notice this and try to edit it out?).

For the June Mancation, we went to our friends the Frazier's in St. George. In attendance: Jim Hope, Mark Wells, Jeff Frazier, Jack McDonald, Kenny Cowles, Mike Hope (Las Vegas cop who pulled out a shot-up and mostly dead Tupac Shakur from a BMW), Jerry Hall (his bike is a four-wheeled Miata), Bob Schiller, Dana, and I. Some Navajo jewelry peddlers were shocked when Jerry spoke Navajo to them. One of the stops, I think it was near the Grand Canyon and called "Ferry's Landing" or something like that, had a body of water that was too good to resist. I put on some shorts and jumped in. The water was very cold- just like I like it. When riding back from St. George to Las Vegas on Saturday, we rode through the hottest weather I've ever ridden through. We'd stop regularly for another cold soda and also to soak our shirts in water. Kenny Cowles coined what became my favorite expression, "I am so hot I think I'm going to explode!"

Penelope's Birthday

Ms. P turned eight and Karen arranged to take the party to a play in Laguna Beach. We saw "Stuart Little." I saw the movie and didn't care for it. The play was 50 times worse! I can't believe I sat through that piece of crap. Everyone (but me) enjoyed it. Penelope got the mother-load of presents. Penelope's Grandpa, Albert Paulus, took her out to Mimi's for her birthday. He was smart and avoided the children's party.

Mother's Day at Riverside National Cemetery
In honor of our dearly departed Jerry (Karen's mother), Karen, the girls, Albert and most of the Perkins went to the cemetery. Karen snapped a shot of the marker for her grandparents (Albert's parents).

Voice Recital
Karen is giving voice lessons and she had a recital in May. She has 18 students now if you count the three girls.

Birthday at the Perkins
In order to celebrate the birthdays of Dominique, Valerie, and David, we get together to do them all at once. If you were to combine the ages of Dominique and Valerie, and multiply it by two, you'd still be short of reaching Karen's brother David's age. And he isn't nearly as pretty as they are; that's why we didn't have him jump out of the cake.

2nd Grade Open House
Penelope is really coming along in her growth. She is driven, competitive, braggy, and confident. My hope is she'll be able to work and support me in a few more years.

Family Shots in May
Savannah Has Braces

June 2006

Abbey Awards
The directors of the play Savannah and I were in, "Annie", invited us to the "Abbey Awards". I guess they do this every year to celebrate the theater's previous season and to give awards. Savannah and I each won awards for our acting. So now when you see us, you may refer to us as "Award-Winning Actors". It was nice to see those whom we befriended during the show.

Angels Game
One of the vendors from work, Adams Steel, gave us some luxury box tickets to the Angel game. I called Jon Love and he brought Cody. I took Penelope. Cody and Penelope played the whole time. Those boxes are nice. The meal service, private restroom, couches, etc. make for a pleasant game experience.

Arlen Ness
We drove up to the Bay Area for Jason Ross' wedding. While on the freeway, I noticed we were going through Dublin. I remembered bike-building legend Arlen Ness has his place of business in Dublin. I don't know if you've ever watched "Biker Build-Off" on the Discovery Channel. Arlen and his son Corey have been on it a couple of times. I scanned off the freeway and saw a sign on a big building and I made a b-line for the exit. His facility was great. The bikes were beautiful. Karen bought me a cool shirt with a flaming skull on it. Then they called Arlen himself to come down and sign it. Very cool!

These are not Kennedy-style headshots.

Desiree's Wedding
Karen's cousin, Lori Knoefler, has three daughters. Daughter #2 is Desiree and she married a guy named Ryan Hardy. It was at an LDS chapel in Victorville. The cultural hall was decorated nicely. It was nice to get together with the extended family. The DJ-guy was something of a smart aleck. As the different Bride's maids and Groom's Maids (or whatever they're called) came in, he'd play some particular pop song. Some milked for the attention, some didn't. When the Bishop came in last, just before the couple, the song the DJ played was that stupid song from the 90's, "I'm too Sexy…" The Bishop was rather embarrassed. I laughed rather hard.

Girls' Camp
Savannah and Karstin went to Stake Girls' Camp. I forget where they went and no one is home right now to tell me, but I'm sure it was extraordinarily special for them. Karstin included photos of the bathroom in the photo journal. It looks like the kids took lots of photos in there. It's nice to know I've got some influence around here.

Jason's Wedding
Karen's sister Linda and her husband Tom have two boys and two girls. The last of those Mohicans just got married in June. It was nice to make a trek up north to be with them. We forgot our camera, so all the shots we have were done with my phone. Isn't it nice how we have that option these days? But I'll tell you, the fact that everyone has these things is proof-positive that there is no such thing as space-aliens. If one were to come, there'd be phone-video and phone-pictures of them everywhere. You can see a picture of the happy couple coming out of the Oakland Temple. Jason is the one in the green dress, his new wife Erin is in the white dress.

San Francisco
While we were up in the Bay Area for this wedding, we went to Frisco one night with the Perkins. We drove down that crooked street and went to fisherman's wharf. The next day we went to church at Lynda and Tom's ward and then headed home.

Pajama Day at School
Beautiful picture of Penelope with curls all done by Karstin.

Jim Hope's New Bike
One of the charter-members of the Mancation group, Jim Hope, just upgraded his bike. His cool 750 Honda Shadow was sold and an 1800 Honda VTX was purchased. Bob Schiller and I went with Jim to pick it up. The guy he bought it from was as queer as a three-dollar bill and proudly showed a leather jacket with red flames on it. It looked very… uh… happy (Karen doesn't like me to say gay). So Bob and I bought it for Jim and tried to establish a rule that he had to wear it. We followed Jim in Bob's truck and managed to keep up with him for 2 blocks…. Zoom! You have to realize why I've had to soup-up my motorcycle. Someone's got to keep up with Jim and Mark… and it's getting harder. Jim went back to the guy the next day and traded the jacket for a taillight assembly. I can imagine how happy the guy must've been to see Jim again as he asked to trade the jacket for some tail…… assembly.

Scripture Chase

At the end of the school year our stake has a big scripture-chase competition. Our stake youth program is huge and they make a big to-do over the whole thing. Our high counselor friend Pete Sanford asked me to emcee the event. I planned some nice, appropriate jokes and did my best to keep the group entertained. I'll tell you, I have never worked a tougher crowd. They are so hyper to be there with all their friends and in the spirit of competition, that it took all I had to get their attention. I made lots of jokes at expense of the "Old Man table". The old men included the stake presidency and a few brave high counselors. I went beyond the Geritol jokes and delved into depends diapers and Efferdent. There were about twelve classes and about 150-200 kids in attendance. The end-result was two classes tied for first. So we had one kid from each class do a showdown. A girl whose name escapes me represented her 12th grade class. Another girl, named Karstin, represented her 9th grade class. They did about five more rounds, tying each time. Finally the other girl edged out Karstin. It couldn't have helped Karstin to have the emcee say that if she loses, she'd have to change her name. She did a great job.

Sewing Projects
Karstin is taking a sewing class and is becoming quite the little maker of stuff. Seamstress is the word, Brace. She doesn't make stuff. She makes beautifully clothing. Look at that costume and you will see it is anything but stuff. She made her Halloween costume and the other things shown.

July 2006

Penelope's Baptism
Penelope turned eight this year and was baptized. Karen wrote a song, called "I am Clean", that she had us all sing for it. Our friends Victoria McDaniel and Jill Zor played piano and violin for it. No one threw tomatoes at us, so it must've been okay. It was beautiful and Penelope did a little solo at the beginning. And every note was on. We were worried but she did a great job!

Family Camp
We went to camp Sierra up by Shaver Lake again this year with the whole famn damily. Karen stayed behind of course because she's too delicate for a rustic mountain cabin. You can be sure that Karen is no bluffer. She said four years ago that she wouldn't go anymore. That was that. The girls are old enough to take care of themselves right now. I just went to the general store at the camp and pre-paid fifty bucks and let the girls spend a portion every day. I spent most of my time on my motorcycle. It was lots of fun.

Horses at Family Camp
While I was on my ride, Don and some other family members went on a horseback ride with the girls. I think right after steak, musical theater, seminary, visiting family in Colorado and Moreno Valley, horseback riding is Savannah's favorite thing.

Lake Days at Family Camp
Tuesdays and Thursdays are lake-days at camp. The lake was full (splashing over the top of the dam), the weather pleasant, and the water chilly (just how I like it). Karstin has a lot of her mother in her. After a few hours on the shore of the lake, she had enough. The shore isn't a sandy beach; it's a dirt-beach. She was offered to go spend the day with Julie and Aaron right after lunch. She took it.

Fourth of July
We went to the ward party at the park in the morning, then to a park in Irvine at night. Jon Love gave us tickets to this event and we went there for the fireworks. Savannah's friend Alison Richins came with us.

Jerry and Sue Ellen Hall invited us to their houseboat again. We were there with them and with the Carroll family. Karen sat this one out because she had a wrecked back and neck. We had to redo her home office seating and so forth. It was lots of fun and the company was very fun. One of the nights, Chris Carroll and I watched a DVD I brought called "Undercover Brother." For the rest of the week we would hold up our fists and say, "Solid!" Jerry's experience on the lake has grown quite a bit since our boat-sinking incident. He found a delightful and private cove where we spent the week.

Karstin's B-Day
She turned 15 and we had a party for her at the pool clubhouse. It was pirate-themed and Karstin-food typed. Healthy food with minimal junk was the menu. We also went to the movies to see "Pirates of the Caribbean II." Music Man Karen, Savannah, & Penelope were in the Music Man at Musical Theater Village. I think if Savannah had her way, she'd be in a musical at all times.

August 2006

Amici the Gecko
Savannah's pet gecko "Amici" is shown here in better days. Not too long after this photo was taken, he gorged himself on crickets and exploded. Now he is in Gecko-heaven.

For Karstin Summertime is a time for "Especially for Youth" at some distant place, usually BYU Provo. Because of a lack of planning (hard to believe with Karen involved), Provo was over-booked. So she went to BYU Idaho. She enjoyed herself, but made it clear she has no plans ever to return to Idaho. I guess when you build in the frozen tundra, you don't install air conditioning. EFY is a summer gig, so… well, you get the idea.

Karstin's Bedroom
Karsen's Utah Trip

The Moffits come to California

Our friends from Utah, the Moffits, with whom we travel the world on the Martin Door trips, came to our neck of the woods. It was nice to have them in town. It reminds us of how much fun we have with them abroad.

Karen thought it'd be a great idea for us to audition for a Tustin-area production of Oklahoma! These plays are old-hat for me these days… I've been in two. I figured I'd do it if I got a lead role. Well, the auditions were quite a bit different than the community-theater things we've seen. The place was full of pros. It is a LimonCarr Production, which is the company of the director and musical director, Ray Limon and Josh Carr. Well, I figured I was a little out of my league for this one. The director called and offered me the part of Ali Hakim, you know, the Persian Peddler-charlatan-womanizer-dude. Well, technically, it isn't a leading role. I thanked him and told him I'd get back to him after speaking to my wife. I told Karen that I probably wouldn't be interested. She said, "Uh… this isn't community theater, this isn't a church play where everybody who applies gets to play. This is the real deal." So, I took it.

From the first practice, we could see this was a different thing. The whole play was ready with just one month of practices. This production has a budget of $80,000. The performances take place in a public park in Tustin. They close it off and set up a huge stage. There was a twenty-something piece orchestra. The dancers were amazing. The lead-actors were incredible. I played alongside Ann Myers who played the role of Ado Annie. She was a gifted actress, singer, dancer, and overall presence. In true sacrifice, I had to take one for the team and kiss her 300 times. They told me not to cut my hair (an order I keep to this day) and to grow a beard. As I glance at the pictures, I am reminded of what a delightful group of people they were. The guy who played "Judd" was Walker Clark. His acting turned the role of a lovesick dummy to a genuine sociopath. Every practice was a treat to watch and see how he would further develop his character. He has since appeared on television in shows like "ER" and "Justice". He is so good. But more than a great talent, he was a delightful man. Other people in the show including Carlos Martin (Will Parker), Tom Short (Pa Carnes), Clark, John, and Joan Neubauer (Aunt Eller) are people that we will always remember with great fondness. The production team was amazing. Josh, Ray, Roberta, and Barbara were terrific. What a great experience! My wife says I should mention more people by name. They were wonderful and they know who they are, so don't feel bad if you're not mentioned.

September 2006

Washington D.C.
Karen took the Karstin and Savannah to Washington DC because they were, and are studying US History. They thoroughly enjoyed it. See her fun pictures at the sites... This commentary is written by me, Karen Lake, because Brace didn't feel the need to say anything about our trip. He didn't go so I guess that is understandable.

Bureau of Engraving
I, Mom, was told that we needed to be there at 6AM to get a good place in line. What I didn't read is that time requirement doesn't apply to off season. So see a fun picture of Savannah and Karstin while entertaining themselves while we waited until they opened at 9AM.

National Air and Space Museum
This was a video game on steroids. The girls got into the simulators and took a ride. It looked like too much for me thank you. I have a great picture of Savannah right before they took off.

Washington Monument
Those girls were going crazy waiting in line so came up with their own game to entertain themselves. Make sure you see page 2 of the Washington Monument book.

Lincoln Memorial & More

I had no idea this was so large. You can see from the pictures how small we are in comparison.

Natural History Museum / Sculpture Garden / Smithsonian Castle
The girls loved the Natural History Museum. They had great fun posing as the different animals. Even at off-season this was crowded! We also had fun posing in the sculpture garden.

Arlington National Cemetery
I have always been told about the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. To see it was a different thing indeed. Quite the dignified choreography. I guess you just have to be there to see it. Quite amazing.

Capitol Building / Library Of Congress
We went on tour with our congressman's aide and had a great time. If you are going to DC, make sure to email your congressman at least 3 weeks before for the best tour. Did I tell you we did this entire trip in four days?


Savannah was in "Seussical the Musical" at Musical Theater Village. She played two different roles on different days. She was a Who-Girl (and surely the prettiest one), and a Bird-Girl (definitely the prettiest one). Our friends the Mauss' had their daughter Courtney in it too. I don't know if you've ever seen this play before, but it is surely worthwhile to watch. I see plays like the Wizard of Oz and the Music Man as a father's obligation to sit through. But this one was genuinely fun to see.

Scarlet Pimpernel
I took a role in a local production of the play, "The Scarlet Pimpernel." I've never heard of it, but those who know musical theater know it well. I played the role of "Dewhurst", who was the Pimpernel's right-hand man. The music was beautiful. What seemed to be running on a wing and a prayer most of the time actually turned out to be a nice production. I did a lot of set building for the show and it really dominated my months of September and October. I don't think I've ever had so many different and extravagant costumes in a show before. It was fun getting to know everyone in this show. The sword fighting was cool too. Our friends BJ and Diane Bjarnson came all the way from Provo to see it. I've come to learn that people in theater have a tradition to screw around for the last show of a production. I thought that was childish and beneath me. But, at the end, when my character bounds and gags the bad guy, I pulled out a filthy sock that was on the dressing room floor. I held it for all to see then stuffed it in Garrett's mouth. That gagging led him to really gag. Sometimes I really crack myself up.

Penelope in Mrs. Franco's 3rd Grade
This is Penelope on her first day with the wonderful Mrs. Franco. She started traditional school and loved it. I ended up pulling her in January because I was tired of doing home schooling during the day and her homework in the after school. I am much happier now that I am home-schooling everyone! (Red text is when Karen is talking)

Swanns in Town
The Swanns are back in town and we went on a field trip to Fashion Island. We are not a big shopping family so going to the mall doesn't happen very often. Karstin was excited.

October 2006

Teenager Halloween Party / Ward Halloween Party Part 1
Ward Halloween Party Part 2 / Ward Halloween Party 3

It's that most wonderful time of the year… no, not Christmas, but Halloween. Our ward has a big bash as usual. Savannah was a ghoul-girl, Karstin was a Gypsy (in an outfit she made herself), and Penelope was a tootsie roll. She wore a sign on her back that said, "Eat Me!" I think that was my favorite part. Karen dressed up like Athena and I dressed up as Steve Erwin. You know, the Crocodile Hunter. I put a bloody spine through the shirt and managed to offend lots of people. Karstin played piano for Savannah who sang a cool Evanescence song. Bishop Carter dressed up like a baby with a big pacifier and baby-bottle. I saw him and said, "Nice nipples!" His wife Suzy, who was dressed the same way didn't get a similar comment, but I told her what I told her husband. She expressed gratitude for the special treatment.

November 2006

T. A. Barron
We took the girls to our favorite bookstore for a book signing of one of their favorite authors, T. A. Barron. To say that he is a nice guy is understating things tremendously. A similar understatement would be to say that Rosy O'Donnell has a slight weight problem.

Jill & John Wedding
Our friends the Zors have a beautiful daughter whom we've watched grow up. She used to baby-sit for us. Her fiancé, John, was baptized a few months earlier. The wedding was very nice and the food was delicious.

Road Shows / Close-ups / More Craziness
Usually, Church Road Shows are hard for me to stomach. This year appeared like it would fulfill my expectations. They were actually, for the most part, quite entertaining. What a surprise! Thanks to Carole Brown, I have pictures! I forgot to bring my camera. The close-ups are absolutely BEAUTIFUL!!

Penelope's Art Class
Her art was showcased in the WINDOW this month! Click on the link to see her Statue of Liberty. She loves her class at Mission Renaissance.

Savannah goes under the knife (pin)
Our biggest chicken of a daughter, Savannah, finally summoned the courage to pierce her ears.

Savannah turns 14

In usual mode around here, we did a rather simple and subdued party for Savannah. We loaded over a dozen people in a couple cars and went to the Los Angeles Temple to do youth baptisms. After that, we trekked over to the La Brea Tar Pits for a museum run. I love Los Angeles and just love negotiating my way through traffic there. I joined in after work and helped with the trek to the museum. Our friend Lisa Feist helped with the massive troop transport.

Thanksgiving at My Parent's Home
Thanksgiving turned out to be something of a family reunion. My mom's siblings and spouses came to Cypress for a few days of fun, football, and food. It was nice to see everybody.

Thanksgiving at the Perkins' Home
I think Brace is tired of writing at this point... One more month to go.


December 2006

Valerie Lake Marries
My niece Valerie got married to a guy named Tony Huffaker. In order to make this day all the more special for him, he had a motorcycle accident just days before that left him with a broken collarbone. Every hug brought tears to his eyes. You can see his right arm hanging down. That arm was as useful as Bob Dole's arm. Welcome to the family Tony. Can I still call you gimp?

Sing Noel
In continuing tradition of a hectic end of the year, Karen led the young women in Sing Noel. She wrote and composed one of the four songs they sang. The first night she had Albert and me play the role of Gestapo. We sat among the girls in the audience to keep them well behaved and quiet. You can imagine what a great job I did of that. The second night I still managed to sit on the front-right, right in front of where the girls sing. I was able to secure seating for my parents, our friends the Agazarms, our friend Amy Hedrick, and our neighbors Bob and Shirley Demmon. The music was terrific. Karen sang a solo, "I Wonder as I Gaze." It was a great song and she did a great job with it. Karen told me to take the camera and take lots of photos. I think I took 5,000. I see she only included less than a dozen. What a rip-off! He took very little pictures and they were all pretty sad.

Santa at the Taylor's
Our friends Rick & Leesa Taylor had a Christmas party and invited Santa Claus. I, Karen, was supposed to bring a gift for each of my girls and I was a lamer and forgot. Leesa saved the day with a gift in the backroom for both Savannah and Penelope.

Babies of 2006
I am sure I missed many babies (remember this is Karen in purple), but I included pictures of babies that were born in 2006 where I received digital pictures. Enjoy. Carter, Dylan, Summer and Trace are included.

Christmas Caroling
On the eve before Christmas Eve we had a big party at our house. Everyone came and brought three friends. It was nice to have so many family members at the house.

Christmas Day

I took a long winter's nap and woke up leisurely. Karen told the girls they couldn't leave their rooms till 8:30am. I think they woke up at four. Karen says they can come down when she's ready with the camera. One of the photos shows Penelope's face when she first sees a bicycle. In what has become a tradition, we invite the missionaries to come over for waffles for breakfast. Last year they didn't come too hungry. This year they did. I had two waffle irons going full-steam-ahead for an hour. As quickly as I'd finish one, Albert would drop it near the ravenous missionaries. Our friends the Stichts (who have since moved, sadly) gave us some Christmas chimes a few years ago. They made them themselves out of electrical conduit, numbered them, and drew out music on large poster board. It entertains large groups very well. Karen's brother David has got to be the worst chime-striker we've ever seen. On that positive note, I'll end this. I feel like I've been writing for two weeks. I can't remember the last time I made a 21-page word doc. We hope you've enjoyed this photo journal of our 2006, if you were offended, get over it.

We truly are blessed to be a family and are blessed to count you among our friends.
May the Lord bless you and yours in 2007.

All our love,

Brace Lake: VP Sales/Marketing at Martin Door, still Elder's Quorum President, wishing he wasn't
Karen Lake Full time mom, Voice Teacher, Home Schooling Teacher for Karstin, Savannah & Penelope
Karstin Lake ("Sharesteen") 15 1/2 years old, Piano Teacher, Tutor, Dehesa Charter, 10th grade
Savannah Lake 14 years old; Babysitter, Dehesa Charter School, 9th grade
Penelope Lake 8 years old, Mommy's baby, as of mid-January, Dehesa Charter, 3rd grade

Brace & Savannah will be appearing in The Secret Garden
at Golden West College May 3-13, 2007
We would love to have you come and see the show.