February 26, 2008

Soulja Boy

I'm not quite sure how it all started, but somehow Joseph ended up in a boy's hip-hop dance group with 2 of his cousins and one of his close friends. Joey took to it quickly and soon became one of the top boys in the group. He really likes it and is actually pretty talented. How that ties with his piano training we haven't figured out yet. Maybe Soulja Boy has a piano sheetbook?

Below is Joey's recent performance at the halftime of the UVSC basketball game.

February 25, 2008

Benjamin Harrison

Every year the 5th graders at the school put on an assembly called "Meet the Presidents." Each of the children studies a specific President of the United States, writes a narritive about that person's life and then memorizes and gives that narrative to the rest of the school. Last year Maddy did Andrew Polk. This year Joey did Benjamin Harrison and the video is attached. Great job Joseph!

February 23, 2008

Daddy Daughter Dinner

Our ward's Young Women's program hosted a Daddy Daughter Dinner this last week. We ate spaghetti, Olive Garden breadsticks and alfredo sauce, salad and a key-lime pie for dessert. As part of the fun, the dad's had to braid our daughters' hair and also see if we could pick out our daughters' feet in a line-up. Can you tell which pair belongs to Maddy?

Answer: The ones on the far left. Good job everyone!

February 18, 2008

Sketch in E Flat

I took piano lessons for nearly 10 years using the Suzuki method thanks to my Mom's "encouragement." Though I joke about it now, I did not joke about it then. I hated lessons. In fact, the main highlight for me was the trip to Dairy Queen for fries before the lesson and the trip to the drug store to look at comic books after. My mom, trying to be encouraging, even got me a piano book titled "I Want to Quit Piano but My Parents Won't Let Me," full of songs about quitting piano. That's some pretty creative reverse psychology if you ask me! My mom finally conceded and allowed me to stop taking lessons when I started high school.

Busy with sports and other high-school activities, I didn't spend much time playing the piano again until I started college. It was around that time that I was introduced to George Winston's "December." I had been so used to the classics; I had never heard the piano played like that before and, no pun intended, it struck a chord with me. I soon found others - David Lanz, Suzanne Ciani and Wayne Gratz to name a few. During all of this I became very grateful for my earlier lessons, for two main reasons. First, I had learned to hear songs and pick them out on the piano, which came in handy as George Winston's sheet music was only available in Japan! Second, I had learned to memorize songs versus only being able to play with music in front of me. I say all of this to set the stage for a great story, 15 years in the making.

While serving as a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Virginia in 1993, I found in an apartment desk a cassette tape that had no title. On that tape I found about 15 or so songs seemingly pieced together from other tapes like we used to do when we made "Best of ..." tapes back in the days before CD's. All of the songs except one were instrumentals of one kind or another, and one of these was a piano solo that immediately made a deep impression on me. Its hard to describe the emotion when you hear that "perfect" song. Its like time stands still and you feel connected in some way with something higher than yourself. As the tape had no name, I had no idea who it was by and nobody seemed to know who it belonged to. I listened to the tape regularly for the remainder of my mission and vowed that when I returned home I would figure out the composer and get the sheet music so that I could play it for myself.

Well, finding the name and composer of a song without words from a tape that had no writing on it proved to be next to impossible! I was at a complete loss for what to do. Every time I went to a music store, I browsed through the New Age section but since I didn't know what I was looking for it was very hard and very frustrating. And to further complicate matters, during one of our moves, I lost the tape and with it any hope I had to one day be able to play the song. I was left in that situation for the good part of 5 years and then as we were unpacking, having just moved to Houston, the tape resurfaced. Hearing the song again (even though the sound was starting to fail on the old tape) reignited my desire to find out the composer once and for all. This was about 2 years ago.

I don't remember exactly when or where it happened, but one day inspiration struck. I mentioned earlier that there was one song on the tape that did have words. Why it had never crossed my mind before I don't know, but the thought came that whoever wrote that song may have also written my mystery song. I scoured the internet looking for the words to that song and found several versions, the most popular sung by John Denver called "The Flower that Shattered the Stone." Not knowing Mr. Denver to be a piano soloist I kept looking and stumbled onto a CD entitled "Whatever Works" by a John Barlow Jarvis. Unfortunately, it was an older CD and no previews were available of any of the tracks so I couldn't tell if it had the song on there. Not knowing what else to do, I found John's website and sent him an e-mail, briefly summarizing my struggle. He was very kind and we traded a few e-mails back and forth but I still wasn't able to describe the song well enough to him to have him tell me for sure if it was the right one. So, I found a copy of his CD on E-bay, made the purchase and crossed my fingers.

As soon as the CD arrived, I couldn't wait to open it. I raced through the tracks, and then suddenly there it was. The name of the song that had eluded me all these years was "Sketch in E Flat." I e-mailed John back, thanked him for his help, and asked if he would be kind enough to lead me now to the sheet music as I was now even more excited to play the song myself! When he replied that no such sheet music existed nor were there plans to create it, I was disappointed but realized that the only thing left to do was to write the sheet music myself.

I mentioned earlier that I had learned how to pick out notes so I purchased the computer program "Finale," synched up my keyboard and went to work. It took just over a year to get it all down in the computer and several more months to then learn and memorize it. Despite my best efforts, I knew it wasn't perfect and that it was missing some of the depth from the original. Since John had been so kind before, I hoped he might be willing to review my work and make the needed corrections. So, not wanting to irritate him any more than I was sure I already had, I e-mailed John to let him know that I had arranged the song and asked if he would be willing to take a quick look at it for me and fill in the gaps. Thankfully, he said he would be happy to and lo and behold, just this week he sent me my arrangement back, revised and enhanced and perfect!

Now keep in mind that Mr. Jarvis is not just your average musician. He is a two-time Grammy winning songwriter, both for song of the year, wrote the song for the closing of the 1996 Olympic Games, has played with Ringo Starr, Diana Ross, John Mellencamp, Art Garfunkel and Rod Stewart, and has written songs recorded by John Denver, Stevie Nicks, Vince Gill, Trisha Yearwood, Amy Grant, Alabama, and the list goes on. His website will give you much more information about his accomplishments than this short blog can do justice.

That John would be so kind over the last few years to correspond with me regularly and to help fulfill this dream of mine is nothing short of amazing. Its evidence to me that there are still some really good people in the world that enjoy helping others without any regard of what's in it for them. Not once did he ever ask for compensation for his time (though I offered) and he was always kind and always encouraging.

With John's permission, I'm attaching his original recording of "Sketch in E Flat" from his CD "Whatever Works" to this post. I hope you enjoy it as much as I have over this 15 year journey!

February 17, 2008


To say that our family loves playing games is an understatement. Mix Jeni's desire to have quality family time with my competitive nature and you end up with Saturday night game night! Family favorites include UNO attack, Apples to Apples, Who What Where, Beyond Balderdash, General Knowledge, Malarky, and Mormon Mouthful to name a few.

One of the fun new games we stumbled onto was "LOOT," a pirate card game for up to 4 players or 4 teams. It has quickly become one of our favorites.

"Yo-Ho-Ho and a Barrel of Fun! Set sail for an exciting adventure of strategy and skullduggery in this captivating card game. Storm your opponents' merchant ships and seize valuable treasure. But watch your back, matey! Plundering pirates are out to capture your ships as well! The player with the most loot rules the high seas."

If you get a chance, definitely pick up a set. The lowest price we've found is on Amazon for under $10.

Disclaimer - no Shearers will profit from the sale of any Loot sets. However, buying a set and playing it WILL prepare you for battle the next time we meet!
Metal Mouth

A sure sign that Jeni and I are becoming old fuddy-duddies occurred a few weeks ago. Maddy got braces. Jeni also had them when she was 12 and had to wear them for nearly 4 years, complete with every gadget and attachment except the dreaded headgear. Technology has improved as they're thinking Maddy will only need them for just over a year and with no other gizmos required. And, lucky for us, about the time she'll be done, it will be Joey's turn!

February 13, 2008

Chef Joseph

This week for Joey's annual Blue and Gold scouting banquet, all of the boys and their Dads were asked to make a cake for a competition as part of the evening's activities. There was really only one rule - no Moms allowed to help. Joey decided he wanted to make a chocolate torte, something he'd seen us make from time to time, and he was very clear that he wanted to make it with NO help. And that is exactly what he did.

It took a few hours but he followed the recipe and made a torte from scratch, combining the butter, the baker's chocolate, chocolate chips, light corn syrup, dark corn syrup, flour, etc. in just the right amounts. He even made the gnache frosting! We were so proud of him as he ended up winning the "Best Tasting" prize out of about 20+ cakes. Watch out Emeril and Take Home Chef!

Unfortunately I didn't take a picture of the finished product but it looked very similar to the picture below, minus the walnuts.

February 11, 2008

C.S. Lewis

I have always been a C.S. Lewis fan, having read the Chronicles of Narnia many years ago. Having become more familiar in recent years with his religious writings, I am even more so. Though he has been quoted many times by the General Authorities of the Church and I've heard him referenced somewhat in jest as "The Thirteenth Apostle", its only been recently that I've begun reading his writings for myself.

I am fascinated by the ease at which he turns Christian principles and doctrines into practical, every-day teachings that can be understood and then applied. Elder Neal A. Maxwell, one of my favorite Apostles (if you're allowed to have favorites), quoted from him regularly and was a devoted Lewis reader. Elder Dallin H. Oaks once shared that the most significant talks he heard during his service at BYU had one major characteristic. "Instead of providing new facts or advocating a particular position, as many lectures do, the most significant talks changed the listeners’ way of thinking about an important subject." (Timing, BYU Devotional, 01/29/02). To me, that is exactly what C.S. Lewis does time and time again.

This Christmas, Jeni surprised me with some new compliations of C.S. Lewis' writings which I have so enjoyed. I thought it might be fun to add a section to this blog highlighting some of my favorite quotes so you'll see that new section soon. I'll probably update the thoughts every few weeks or so. I hope you'll enjoy them as much as I have.

February 09, 2008

The Zoo

Ever since we can remember, Maddy has been asking for a pet of her own. Our first dog, Gizmo, technically was a gift for her but it soon became all of ours. Our current dog, Baxter, was a gift for Jeni but now he is all of ours as well. By all of ours, I mean to say that we all have responsibility for taking him out, feeding, bathing, etc. Needless to say, Maddy's requests for a pet of her own have continued. It didn't help matters that recently one of her friends got a guinea pig and couldn't stop talking about it. So, Jeni and I agreed that maybe it was time.

We headed to PetSmart to check things out and came very close to buying a pet rat. Supposedly they are very smart, need very little care, and can whip up a gourmet French dish in seconds flat. Eventually Maddy decided on a guinea pig and found an adorable little guy that she named Rocky because he looks like he has a big black eye. I was rooting for the rat because I needed some advice on how to perfect my foie gras. I lost.

Then, feeling a little bit left out, Joey petitioned successfully for a pet of his own and we ended up with a tank full of fish. Joey named them Larry, Curly and Moe and he soon added a few more as well as a mini frog. He set up the aquarium by himself, design and all. He even built the bookcase that the aquarium sits on.

So in the space of one year we have grown from a family of 4 to a family 12. Help!

February 02, 2008

Soda and Mentos

Joey and his friend Colton put together a fun experiment for his 5th Grade Science Project. Somehow they learned that if you add a roll of Mentos to a 2 liter of soda, a reaction occurs that causes the soda to rocket out of the bottle. We don't have a video of the experiment itself, but here's an overview and video of how it works.

Below are 3 additional videos. The first is of the project itself. The second is Joey explaining the project to us, and the third is Joey and Colton explaining the project to one of the judges. Though you can't hear much on the third video, we thought watching Joey's interaction with his friend and the judge was pretty impressive.