Sunday, October 26, 2008

Lane Courtesy: Pass it On!

I have to preface this post by saying that I love Utah. I really do. I consider Utah home now and enjoy just about everything about it: the hot, dry summers, the beautiful landscapes, the good people. But as Robyn can attest, there is one thing that instantly brings my blood to a boil: drivers that do not respect the sanctity of the fast lane. The National Motorist Association calls it lane courtesy. Nearly all states have so-called "keep right" laws. You can access a brief, summarized list of all the states that have such laws here. You may be surprised that Utah has such a law on the books.

Those of you from Utah are undoubtedly furrowing your brow with your head cocked to the side, no idea what I'm talking about. I've posted a brief video clip from our visit to Pennsylvania to show you how to properly conduct yourself while in the fast lane. I hope you find it instructive. Also, please ignore the tailgating, as I had to delicately bait my subject into doing what I wanted him to do.


video

I hope that this video has been enlightening. I further hope that I haven't offended anyone with my matter-of-fact presentation of this state-wide epidemic. Lastly, I sincerely hope you will forward a link of this post to every Utahan you know. Together we can end lane discourtesy! This concludes the Keystone State Edition of the Steeners' blog. We hope you've enjoyed it.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Now for a less complimentary review of New York . . .


A special thanks to Robyn for that uplifting recount of Palmyra, whose quiet, country charm captures the heart of every visitor. Since Robyn blogged on Palmyra, (a place she had never visited), it seems appropriate that I should share the experience of my first visit to New York City, widely known as the Big Apple, The City that Never Sleeps, or as I call it, the Big stopped-up, festering toilet. It wasn't that bad, but New York is an overcrowded, dirty, loud city made up largely of outdated, rundown tenement-style buildings.


We weren't able to see most of the usual New York sights: the Statue of Liberty, a mugging, or unrepentant public urination. Instead, we went for that most sacred of all rites of passage on every male's journey to becoming a man: to see a broadway show. We saw Wicked, which Robyn had already seen. It's one of the few well known shows I hadn't seen yet. It was really good. Musicals generally tend to be a little long for my taste. I've enjoyed every show I've seen so far, but I still think they're a little long. If not for the play, New York would've been very disappointing. I just don't see what people like about the place.

This concludes the Keystone Edition to the Steeners' blog, but for one last post tomorrow. It'll be a very short post, but it could be the most important post the Steeners will ever make. And, if you'll forgive a bit of hyperbole, it could be the most important blog post ever, especially for the good citizens of the state of Utah. Check back tomorrow for a very special public service announcement!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Palmyra

181 years and one day after Joseph Smith received the plates from the angel Moroni, Matt and I visited the Hill Cumorah in Palmyra, New York. We had originally planned to visit on September 22nd (the day before we actually went), but changed plans so we could hang out with Matt's sister, Mary, who had the day off from work. We didn't even realize we were there a day after the anniversary of Joseph receiving the plates until a sister missionary mentioned it to us in the visitor's center. Pretty good timing! The Hill Cumorah was nothing I imagined it to be. We wondered if the church had cleared all of the trees to make the hill more visible to visitors, but later found out that the church actually planted hundreds of trees once it bought the land.
Matt will always take advantage of any opportunity to get a bit of sun! He is more concerned about his tan than I am. I gave up long ago, but he was really disappointed that he wasn't able to spend more time outdoors this summer and at the pool to get his tan on! Welcome to reality, babe!
This is the view from the Smith Home and you can see the Palmyra temple in the background. It has beautiful stained glass windows depicting the trees of the sacred grove.
This is Matt walking into the sacred grove. It is absolutely beautiful the way the light shows through the trees. Having lived in Utah since I was 9 years old, I have grown used to seeing LDS churches every few blocks. As I drove around Pennsylvania for this week and saw only one LDS church building and a million other denominational buildings, I started to feel very alone. The ward building we went to on Sunday was about 20 minutes from Matt's Mom's home in Columbia. I started thinking how visiting teaching could easily become a whole day's project with boundaries like that. In Palymra, there is a corner, often referred to as "confusion corner" because there are four churches, one on each corner, and each belonging to a different christian denomination. It became very apparent to me how confused Joseph Smith must have felt as he considered which church to join and which was true. Joseph expressed these feelings in his own words: “So great were the confusion and strife among the different denominations, that it was impossible for a person young as I was . . . to come to any certain conclusion who was right and who was wrong. . . . In the midst of this war of words and tumult of opinions, I often said to myself: What is to be done? Who of all these parties are right; or, are they all wrong together? If any one of them be right, which is it, and how shall I know it?” ( Joseph Smith—History 1:8, 10).
After reading James 1:5, “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him,” Joseph decided to go into this grove of trees near his home and ask God which church was true. He described his experience: “I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head, above the brightness of the sun, which descended gradually until it fell upon me. . . . When the light rested upon me I saw two Personages, whose brightness and glory defy all description, standing above me in the air. One of them spake unto me, calling me by name and said, pointing to the other—This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!” ( Joseph Smith—History 1:16–17).
It was so peaceful here. I remember thinking that the peace and spirit I felt here was comparable to that I've felt in the temple. The spirit reaffirmed to me that Joseph Smith did indeed see God the Father and His Son. I am so grateful for the faith Joseph had to ask God for himself which church was true and for his courage in restoring the church.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Good Grub

Most of the things I was looking forward to on our trip back to Lancaster were edible. Sadly, many people have never been to Pennsylvania and have never sampled these culinary delights, and therefore have never experienced a fullness of joy.

Reubens: Though they do not originate in Pennsylvania, they're very popular there. Lancastrians love their sauerkraut, and the Reuben fills that need admirably. Also contributing to this tangy, flavorful creation are corned beef, thousand island dressing, and rye bread.
When in Lancaster, a good place to get a reuben
is Isaac's restaurant, our version of Kneaders. Their red potato, skin-on potato salad alone is worth the trip.



Shoo-fly Pie:
Shoo fly pie is less a pie than a thick, moist, cake-like dessert. It's main ingredients are molasses and egg whites. So tied to Lancaster have these treats become, that the state's official bumper sticker is "I break for shoo-fly pie." Which is ridiculous on a couple of levels, not least of which is that Pennsylvania feels the need to have a state bumper sticker. The best place to buy one is arguably the Bird-in-Hand Bakery.

Silver Queen Sweet Corn:
It probably looks like any other corn, but Silver Queen is, as her name suggests, the reigning monarch of sweet corn, and all other varieties are weevil-ridden peasants.



Friendly's:

This was very high up on my list of must-visits. Friendly's has the best ice cream I've ever had. Also, they have drinkable milkshakes, as opposed to the soft serve ice cream with a spoon in it that passes for milk shakes in Utah.





Cheesesteaks:

First, a note about this picture. You'll notice that I have a weird look on my face and Robyn is laughing. That's because, as expected, my mom turned something as easy as taking a picture into nuclear physics. She finally managed to snap it, and this unintentionally candid shot is the result. There's a place near my mom's house, ironically enough, manned by some manner of middle eastern or mediterranean men, that makes the best cheesesteaks. The cheese and sauce are all mixed together in a delicious, savory amalgam of artery-clogging goodness. In Provo, I once ordered a cheesesteak. It came with cream cheese on it.




Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The Matt Steen Reality Tour!

Though I grew up in several states (Virginia, Georgia, Texas, Iowa), my formative years were spent in Pennsylvania, and it's where I call home even today, despite having spent the better part of 10 years in Utah. While back east, we were able to get a few pictures of some of my old childhood haunts. In no particular order, here are some of the more important sites from Lancaster that I frequented as a misguided youth.
Central Market: downtown Lancaster. The country's oldest Farmer's market, it houses over 60 different vendors that sell everything from fresh produce to candy to souvenirs. It really is a great place to visit. I would've taken pictures from the inside, but it's crawling with Amish and I didn't want to risk getting stuck with a pitchfork. The Central Market sits right in the heart of downtown Lancaster.


The Fulton Opera House. The Fulton Opera House sits just a stone's throw from the Central Market. It is one of only 3 theaters recognized as National Historic Landmarks. It is also the oldest continually operating theater in America. I saw a play there when I was 17. I forget the name of it now.

Trinity Lutheran Church. The oldest church in Lancaster, it was built in 1766. I've never set foot in this church, but it's cool looking.


John Piersol McCaskey High School. Built in 1939 as a WPA project, "JPM" as it's called was the center of a mild controversy due to its $1 million dollar price tag. JPM has always had a really bad reputation among other schools in the school district of Lancaster. It's right in the inner city. Most of the students who go there are pretty poor. There is also a fair amount of violence at the school. I had a fine time there. Of course, it's now been 13 years since my graduation. Graduating from McCaskey is instant street cred in Lancaster.

The Steak Out. Right behind my house on Queen street, for a long time the best cheese steaks to be had could be found here. At some point the place was bought by someone else and the steaks seemed to go down hill from there. I also used to bug my mom for quarters because there was a video game there I really liked.
528 North Duke street. In this humble row home, partially obscured by some wanna-be gang banger's Ford Explorer, My mom, Jackie, and I lived (and sometimes fought like cats and dogs). This little house witnessed epic throw downs between Jackie and me, most of which I won in brutal fashion. I also used to torture cats here, make prank phone calls that are still the stuff of legend, and play hours of video games. Right across the street where Robyn was taking this picture is the sprawling megalopolis that is Lancaster General Hospital where my mom used to work.

The place wasn't occupied when we were there so we stopped inside and took a few pictures, and I marveled at how small it looked now.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Murder (Mystery) Most Foul!

One of the highlights of our trip back to beloved Pennsy was a murder mystery dinner at the historic Accomac Inn in Wrightsville. The Accomac Inn sits on the banks of the Susquehanna river and is a gorgeous monument to old colonial charm. In fact, I just read a feature on MSN.com that said the place is supposedly haunted!

On the night of our visit, however, the only ghouls roaming the old Inn were the hacks passing as actors. Seriously, the acting was horrible: no expression, long pauses, fumbled lines, etc. But it was still fun to be with my sister Mary, her husband Mark, and my mom.
Robyn was even asked to participate in the festivities! She presented the guy to her left with some award for something or other. To be perfectly honest, Robyn's presentation of the "award" was the most natural acting there was all night. But the food was excellent.


A big thanks to Mom, Mary and Mark for a lovely evening!

Monday, October 6, 2008

The Amish: A Peculiar People



The Amish are indeed a strange, peculiar, and fuel efficient people. But first a brief, unresearched history of the Amish is in order. The Amish order was founded in the German part of Switzerland in the 1600s. At the crux of their far out beliefs, the Amish embraced old world, rustic practices and eschewed modern conveniences. For the first 300 years of their existence, the Amish garnered little attention because everyone dressed weird and had excessive facial hair. As one can imagine, an Amish person's declaration of contempt for modern day vanity wouldn't draw much attention when even the richest person went to the bathroom in a wooden shack over a crudely dug hole. As the years passed, however, hairstyles evolved, clothes became more colorful, horses were replaced with combustible engines, and candle power was supplanted by electricity. It was around the beginning of the 20th century that the Amish began to attract second glances, and their refusal to bow down at the alter of convenience and modern deodorant made them the butt of cruel jokes.

Despite their peculiarity, the Amish are hard working, godly people who provide Lancaster County with an incomparable charm and endearing spotlessness from worldly guile. Robyn was very taken with the Amish. I was happy to see them again after many years away. Though I don't think I've ever spoken a word to them, I have a great deal of respect for the Amish. Amish are extremely offended at gawking tourists taking their picture, but we managed to sneak these pics of them unawares while we were touring the gorgeous Lancaster countryside. You'll notice that the Amish drive their little buggies and farm equipment right on the roads. It's a little charming, sure, but it's rather inconvenient to be caught behind one when you can't see over the hill to pass.


A tobacco barn

Thursday, October 2, 2008

First Stop: Hershey Park!



We arrived at the airport around 1 p.m. As we were waiting for our luggage, the puke smell really started to set in. I made a b-line for the restroom to change as soon as I had my luggage. We decided to head straight to Hershey Park from the airport since it was our only chance to go before the park closed for the season. There was a huge accident on highway I-81 that forced it's closure. This totally threw off our timing as we were trying to find our own way around on back roads. After asking several service stations for directions, we made it there at 6:30, giving us 3 1/2 hours to play before the park closed. They have a discounted rate of $25 if you go after 5 p.m. As we were paying $50 for 3 1/2 hours of fun, a man approached us and asked if we needed tickets and gave us a free ticket, so we got in for $25 for the both of us! We were thrilled. It was a much needed boost to our day! After eating some quality overpriced amusement park food, we headed to our first coaster, the one pictured above - Fahrenheit. We waited an hour and a half to get one this ride which lasts a minute and 25 seconds. I'm not sure it was worth the wait, but I knew I would regret not having gotten to ride it. I love the adrenaline rush that I get from riding roller coasters. This coaster takes you up on a 90 degree angle and then descends at 97 degrees.



This was our favorite roller coaster - Storm Runner. It has a hydraulic launch. So, we started off just sitting there and Matt and I looked at each other and he said, "I wonder if this is going to launch us up." As soon as he said that, we took off and it took my breath away! I could not believe it - we accelerated from 0 to 72 miles per hour in about 2 seconds! They take a picture of you during the acceleration and we wish we would have bought it. Matt's cheeks were blowing back and we both looked scared out of our minds! We ended up riding four roller coasters and all I can say is I am so grateful for that sweet man for giving us the free ticket. After a day of constant movement, I was glad to get home and stay still and sleep! Next up - Amish country!

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Introduction

The Steens recently returned from their much anticipated visit to the Keystone State, Pennsylvania. For some of our readers, Pennsylvania is a place they only think they've heard of but know nothing about. Over the next several installments, we hope to share with you the wonders and delights of our nation's second state and a chronicle of our exciting visit last week.

The journey to Pennsylvania started off well enough. We had a very early flight (6am) to Denver. At Denver International airport we enjoyed a short breakfast and started the second leg of our journey to Baltimore-Washington International airport. That's when things got interesting. I sat in the aisle seat and Robyn in the middle seat. By the window was a lady who seemed as normal as any other. 2 hours into the 3 hour flight, the lady had to go to the bathroom. Shortly after she returned she suddenly announced she had to get up again. Then, without warning she threw up all over Robyn! Yes, dear reader you read correctly! My sainted wife was covered in the regurgitated bile of a complete stranger! And I didn't exactly help matters. After the lady hurled on Robyn, I was half standing, half sitting in a shocked stupor at the spectacle. Robyn looked at me and with justified yet remarkably restrained sternness told me: "Matt, MOVE!" Right when she did a second wave of vomit struck my poor wife.

Both of us hurried to the bathroom (I had a little on my leg). Robyn spent about 20 minutes cleaning up. As far as vomit goes, this stuff was pretty tame. It appeared the lady had only been consuming soda over the previous few hours. The flight attendants did all they could to help rectify the situation. We got new seats and feasted on free snack boxes (how we mustered the appetite is anyone's guess). Robyn was very gracious for someone who had just been barfed on, assuring the lady that it was alright.

Tomorrow, our harrowing trip to Hershey Park!