Saturday, March 31, 2012

Villa Lobos, Mozart & Fauré requiem at the San Diego Symphony

It's been a while since I went to a San Diego Symphony concert, but this weekend's program of Villa Lobos' Bachianas brasileiras No. 5, Mozart's E-flat sinfonia concertante, and Fauré's Requiem was too inviting to stay away. To add to that, one of my buddies also agreed to go with me on very short notice, so the evening was looking quite on the up!

The show started on a bit of a down note, however. Nicole Cabell, the featured soprano who enchanted Copley Hall audiences when she sang Solveig's Song here during the run of selections from Grieg's Peer Gynt a few years ago had called in sick for the entire run. On Friday night she was replaced by Alice Teyssier, an obscure music specialist and flautist who is in town working on her doctorate degree at UCSD (Saturday and Sunday performances will feature Jessica Rivera instead). I doubt that she was given much rehearsal time, but she did a credible job interpreting and enlivening Brazilian passion in the Villa Lobos, and displayed beautiful musicianship with her phrasing. The voice itself was quite beautiful and light, if not quite full-bodied (come to think of it, she sort of sounded like her instrument, the flute), and she underprojected when singing softer than mezzo-forte in both the Villa Lobos and the famous soprano solo 'Pie Jesu' in the Fauré requiem - both very lightly accompanied numbers.

I would have preferred a slower tempo for the  Aria (cantilena) section of the Bachianas Brasileiras, but both the soloist and the cellos coped nicely with its speedy briskiness. A slower tempo would have provided a better contrast with the fieriness of the following Dansa, however. I also thought Maestro Ling could have helped keeping the cellos volume down to avoid covering the soprano's voice. I guess the lack of rehearsal time was the major factor (I mean... she was also covered during the very soft passages of the Pie Jesu, and the accompanying instruments really couldn't have played much softer than they did).

Mozart's concertante for oboe, clarinet, bassoon and French horn soloists was, I thought, the highlight of the evening. The San Diego Symphony is a really well endowed group when it comes to its principal instrumentalists! Sarah Skuster (oboe), Sheryl Renk (clarinet), Valentin Martchev (bassoon) and Benjamin Jaber (horn) were all flawlessly inspiring in their virtuosity, yet they cooperated so well that one would think that they could all finish each others' sentences. The orchestra under Maestro Ling was wonderfully supportive. Everyone was so in sync with everyone else that they actually sounded like they were all enjoying the piece, and their enthusiasm infected the audiences, which clapped the musicians out for three curtain calls before giving way to the intermission.

Fauré Requiem took up the second half of the concert and it was quite splendid for the most part. Joining the symphony on the stage were the two soloists; Alice Teyssier and baritone Quinn Kelsey, along with the utterly reliable San Diego Master Chorale. Both the chorus and the orchestra were impeccable. As to the soloists, if my ears had to strain to hear Ms Teyssier, Mr Kelsey effortlessly delivered his beautifully controlled and stately baritone right through them. With his tone as reassuring as Fauré anxiety-free music was, their combination really rendered peace to the hushed auditorium in the Libera me section. A really classy performance for an upcoming operatic baritone to look out for!

There are two further performances of this show at the San Diego Symphony this weekend. I wish I could go, but I had spent all of yesterday goofing off (went on a long bike ride to Mission Trails Regional Park and back before going to the symphony) and am now condemned to spend today and tomorrow catching up on work. If you are in town and don't know what to do with yourself, however, there is hardly a better show to catch this weekend!

Thursday, March 29, 2012

A morbid thought while walking the dog

I was walking the roommate's new dog around the neighborhood yesterday. It was a good break from hours of proof-checking a bunch of geometry. 

Everything was blooming! My eyes loved the sight of colorful flowers and fresh green leaves, but all the flying pollen proved unsettling for my nose, which tried its darnest to run off to angiosperm-free pasture. We hobbled by a church about a mile away that was looking a bit more circus-y than usual. 

When prayers can't expel bugs, call Terminix...
You know, Noah shoulda gotten rid of the bugs when he had the chance... Surely bed bugs and other land-based pest couldn't have survived the supposed global flood if they were refused ark space, could they? 
Cross on top of a Christian church steeple
But, at any rate, looking at the weirdly humorous temporary look of the church a thought came to me that I ought to be grateful that the Romans used crucifixion on Jesus. I mean, what if they had decided to hang him instead? Can you imagine looking at churches with a noosed gallow on top of them instead of a cross? 
Moroni statue on top of the San Diego LDS Temple
At least the Mormons have the good sense to put a shiny golden trumpeting angel on top of their temples... though they sort of ruined it by naming the dude Moroni (imagine having to live through high school with a name like that!)... 

Somebody asked me about the temple-top statues once; I think they all face toward Jackson County, Missouri, where the Latter Day Saints believe is the location of the original Garden of Eden. I know that's not what the Bible or any other non-Mormon legends say, but it is quite ingenious, really. If only I could have used 'divine revelation' as excuse for making things up while answering my history and geography tests during my school years I would have aced everything (and cried 'religious bigotry!' if the answers were marked wrong)... Alas, I'm not religious. My professors would have flunked my atheist butt right out of school.   

Right. Back to work I go....

Sunday, March 18, 2012

The First Week of March: Don Pasquale and Other Stuff

Another week passed by like a bullet train! First off, I went to the 2nd performance of Donizetti's Don Pasquale at the San Diego Opera last Tuesday. Alas, it was the end of a very long day for me and I kept dozing off in the middle of it and left at the 2nd intermission.

It was a fun show (well, at least the 2/3 of it that I saw)! I especially enjoyed John Del Carlo in the title role. His voice was commanding and very adept at florid singing, and his acting convincing in every which way. Danielle DeNiese was a physically fetching Norina, and every bit as good a physical comic actress as I expected. Her voice was surprisingly strong, though her high notes tended to spread and her coloratura work a bit smudgy, not that the majority of the audience minded. I was surprised that Charles Castronovo's Ernesto sounded as if he was singing from the far side of the trolley tracks all night, though. He didn't sound like that when he was riveting the house a few years ago as Nadir in Bizet's The Pearl Fishers. Aside from that, a beautiful tenor indeed, in every sense of the word, and a good actor. Jeff Mattsey was his dependable self as Dr. Malatesta...

The San Diego Symphony under Marco Guidarini was fine. I wondered if Maestro Guidarini could have reined the orchestra in a bit more when Castronovo was singing (perhaps he was having an off night and wasn't projecting his voice very well). Director David Gately staged this thing as a spaghetti western opera, which worked. I mean, you go to a bel canto comic opera to be entertained rather than to be profound, and this production plays up the fun very well.

Don Pasquale intermission from San Diego Civic Theater's upper balcony
It was a busy week with real work and house work, though I did manage to roam around the internet a bit and found many wonderful reads. The Earworm out in Baltimore did more insightful analysis of operas, this past week she did a series on one of my all time favorite opera DVD, the 2003 Salzburg Festival recording of La Clemenza di Tito. It is one of the Regietheater stagings that actually works well in highlighting all the right dramatic and emotional contents of the story... if you can manage to ignore a few weird oddities that it seems everyone puzzles about (really, what's with those boys in whities on the dinner tables? Anyone solved that yet???).

By the way, at one of my writing hang-outs (I occasionally write articles for AC/Yahoo) an ex-Mormon posted a very interesting article last week about what exactly Mitt Romney must have promised to do during his Mormon temple ceremonies. It is quite an eye-opener. I wouldn't want to hold someone's religion against them when it comes to political elections, but the pre-1990 Mormon temple oath does seem to present some conflicts of interest to anyone running for government office. I mean, yeah, you can take a lot of Bible verses seriously and find things that conflict with government, too, but at least the Christians don't have to swear to any of them under the penalty of death by very gruesome means, you know?

A work in progress
It was a good thing my roommate and I managed to get much of our outdoor yard works done last week, since this weekend has been wonderfully stormy. It rained all day Saturday and much of last night. This morning saw sporadic rain in between blowy wind gusts... I thought we had a good dry window just before noon and took Georgie the 14 yrs old dog out for a stroll...

Hailing on my parade...
...only to be caught by a little hail cloud half way around the block. It was a nasty little cloud! I was grateful that we are in Southern California, though. When it gets windy and rainy and then hail-y this time of year back in Missouri, that's when you jump into the basement and lock the door hatch... It usually hails before the tornado comes.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Surrendipity: Treasure found in thrift store

There is a good thrift store near my current abode that has an overstocked books section. The place has the same effect on me that cigarette smoke has on smokers, I think. I can hardly walk by it without straying in to browse through its cluttered shelves.

There are loads of good books and many icky religious ones. It is almost fun sometimes looking through boxes of freshly donated books and magazines wondering about their previous owners. A week ago there were boxes of books and journals on the floor... as if some heirs had just dumped off their dead uncle's stuff without even first peeking a look inside. There was a bunch of personal documents in the box that has names and street addresses and other info you really wouldn't want ID thieves to get a hold of in there (and not just those of the stuff's previous owners either). 

Some of the books I picked up from the thrift shop this year for $1 each.
So, a note to would be book donors, check for and destroy those info before you dump them off, please. It'd be too operatically tragic if your good karma comes back to you via bank notification of unauthorized transactions. It's only a little trouble to prevent much bigger ones from happening. 

Anyhow... I had another browse through the books section's dusty shelves again yesterday and what did I find tucked in a little perused corner of it? Why, the 2000 booklet from the Salzburg Summer Festival's production of Mozart's Cosi fan tutte!

What's so exciting about that? That was the production that starred Vesselina Kasarova as the spunky Dorabella and the amazing Karita Mattila as her high-strung sister Fiordiligi! 

Vesselina Kasarova, & Karita Mattila in Cosi fan tutte at Salzburg Festival 2000. (Foto: Matthias Horn)
It's in German, of course, though that's not a minus since I need to brush up on that language in preparation for the release of my favorite diva's memoir, Ich Singe Mit Leib und Seele, this upcoming week!

How lucky is that??? San Diego isn't exactly opera town (though the San Diego Opera is doing well and is doing Donizetti's Don Pasquale at the Civic Theater this month. Tonight is the first performance! I bet there are rush tickets available. I'm going on Tuesday). And my neighborhood isn't exactly upscale or very affluent, though we do have a healthy gay (read opera-loving) population... But a booklet from the Salzburg Festival? It's like finding finding a book about the Burning Man Festival in a bookshop in Berlin. 

Needless to say, I'm a happy smorg this weekend.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Valentine Ride Around Town 3: Sunset Cliffs onto Cabrillo!

Part 1: Through Mission Hills to the River
Part 2: Ocean Beach via OB Bike Path
Part 3: Sunset Cliffs to Cabrillo

Ocean Beach is truly the hippiest part of San Diego, and I do mean that both figuratively and literally! Much of the place seems stuck in the free-loving flowery 60's. Bungalow houses with surf boards stored on their balconies, street cafes patronized by laid back sun bronzed locals, cheeky paraphernalia shops, and a healthy population of resident homeless hippies singing protest tunes on their guitars at street corners. You can say that the place is sort of stuck in the Woodstock Era. Riding around town you smell sea salt when facing west and smoky weed when facing east... well, sort of.
They aren't shy here in Ocean Beach!
I love Crosby, Stills and Nash, James Taylor, Carole King, Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, etc, but the city streets and scenes don't attract me the way simple nature does. I went walking around the river mouth a bit, said a few hellos to the beach evening primroses (one of my favorite flowers. They're so friendly!) and made a few unsuccessfully attempts at ambushing a rock gopher. Pulled out a granola and started to refuel when a couple of sea gulls shoved by and landed on a lamp post a few feet away plotting for ways of finishing the sweetened bar of health for me. Luckily a toddler on a bench nearby dropped his hot dog bun on the ground trying to prevent his mom from spoiling it with pickles (moms... they're always trying to sneak the green stuff into your food!). The gulls went battling after it instead and I got to finish my snack off in peace before heading off for a mandatory look over the landmark fishing pier and making my way toward Sunset Cliffs Blvd, the region's main coast-side thoroughfare.

The inland section of Sunset Cliffs Blvd isn't all that bicycle-friendly, I'm afraid. The road is narrow, and there are always cars parallel-parked on the streets. Once I turned the corner south and gain the Pacific Ocean on my right flank, however, the traffic eased off and the ride became much more easy-going. It was tempting to go off road onto that dirt trail that people walk on between the road and the cliffs, but that would be pretty hazardous with a clumsy mountain bike to take care of. You never know where the cliffs drop off... It gets pretty unstable close to the edge. You can actually see cemented posts sticking out of crumbled sections of the cliffs that used to be where the paved boardwalk and other things were.

The corroded shoreline is a geologist's nirvana, I imagine. Looking at the cliff face you can actually see where the seafloor used to be about 120,000 years ago from the line, about 20 feet above the sea level, where the orange-ish soft sandstone 'Bay Point Formation' layer (it glows magnificently just before sunset) meets the dark old shale of the 'Pt. Loma Formation' bed rock. If you are lucky you might even run into a fossil or two (though this being a part of a nature reserve, collection of fossil - or anything else, for that matter - is NOT allowed! Leave it for others to enjoy, too!).

Crumbly Sunset Cliffs
Toward the southern end of the road are two 'landmarks', so to speak; the arch and the hole. I'm afraid you'll have to dismount and walk onto the cliffs a bit to see them. The latter is easy to find now that the city had put chain-linked fence around it. It sort of ruined the view, though I can't argue with the rationale. With such spectacular view around you it would be easy for people to step right into the huge sink hole and become part of the scene rather than just its admirer. I mean, it would be quite bad enough to fall into an open manhole while walking downtown. If you fall down this particular hole on the cliffs you might just get washed off all the way to China on an extra-strong rip current... or something like that.

At the end of Sunset Cliffs Blvd I had some not very nice options to make; retrace to Hill St and ride up that murderous slope to Catalina Blvd that runs along the crest of the Pt. Loma Peninsula, or drag my mountain bike up this short but pretty steep hill along the dirt path to the Nazarene University in the distance. Being averse to retracing (and uphill riding, when it comes to that) I went for the latter and scrambled my way up the hiking trail.
Sunset Cliffs Park and its many trails
A nearly regrettable decision, as it turned out. The hill was way steeper than it looked from below, and the bike was a most uncooperative partner in crime ever! And when we finally got to the parking lot at the end of it, there was still this quad-busting wiggly hilly pre-crested part of Lomaland Drive to pedal up. A college dude walking down the hill to collect his car gave me a smirk and urged me to ride faster. I would run him over, but didn't want to have to pedal back up the ground I had already lost my breath laboring over. So here I'll let a smiley do it for me by proxy...Bicycle Smiley

The Cross and the Theosophy style building at Nazarene University and southbound on Catalina Blvd.
The Nazarene University is really a beautiful campus! It used to be the hotbed of the theosophy movement in the early 1900's. The Theosophical Society of America had its headquarters here before its leader, Madame Katherine Tingley, crashed out from a car accident and the society migrated north to base in Los Angeles instead. Alas, the unique Theosophist Hotel and the Temple of Peace were not preserved. Where the temple used to sit now stands the Church of the Nazarene... From Palestine to the Lomaland, people really like to build their churches/mosques/temples on top of the others'!

After spending a few minutes catching my breath by the ocean-overlooking cross, I cruised down the hill to pick up Catalina Blvd and headed south to the biggest attraction on my cycling hit list: Cabrillo National Monument. Most of the tip of Pt. Loma peninsula belongs to the navy. After passing SPAWAR and the barracks the road is flanked by the white-specked green lawns that make up Ft. Rosecrans National Cemetery. It's been the final resting place of America's fallen soldiers since the battle of San Pasqual in our 1846 war to claim California from Mexico.

Ft. Rosecrans National Cemetery
On a clear day here you could see almost forever in many dimensions. There is hardly a better spot in town to sit in the view and reflect... and when you get bored you can always walk around checking out the headstones and their markings. The Christian interns have got a cross on theirs, and the Jews the star of David. There are a few other markings for those who didn't belong to either, though. There was even one that had a flower carving on it... I wondered if that was a Pagan?

But I loitered and the afternoon wore on! Back on the road into Cabrillo National Monument. It costs $5 to go through in a car nowadays, and $3 for each cyclist and hiker. The ticket is good for multiple entrances for the next 7 days, though. A great deal for a whole lot of history and marvelous views!

I had already visited the Cabrillo Monument many times, so I went straight down the hill to the famous Cabrillo tide-pools instead (I used to come up here by bus, which made tide-pooling here very inconvenient. It's a long downhill walk to the shoreline and the hike back up to the top is hideous!). Winter is the best time to tide-pool around here since low-tide tends to occur in the early afternoon instead of at night like it does during the summer months. Want a sneak peak at the tide-pools? Check out the park's webcams!

Downtown San Diego from Shelter Island
I huffed and puffed my way back up to Cabrillo Monument at 4PM, an hour before the park closed. Huffed and puffed some more up the more manageable hill back north on Catalina Blvd. Luckily, once you've crested just a bit north of Ft. Rosecrans Cemetery it is all downhill from there... A really rewarding cruise down twisty Canon Rd down to Rosecrans Blvd, and a scenic little side trip onto Shelter (not-an-island) Island for a beautiful view of Downtown San Diego, then a leisurely ride along the Embarcadero bike/hike way into Downtown rid me of the remainder of those tummy-friendly chocolate bars (there are always tons of homeless lazing around the waterfront during the day). 

My sporty readers will forgive me for being such a wimp after 28 miles on the bike. I caught a bus the rest of the way home once I got back to Downtown proper... Gotta preserve some chubby pudginess to my physique else I'd have to adopt a sleeker moniker to live up to, you understand.

Part 1: Through Mission Hills to the River
Part 2: Ocean Beach via OB Bike Path
Part 3: Sunset Cliffs to Cabrillo

Monday, March 5, 2012

Mormon Encounters: Part 8 - To Those Investigating the LDS Church/ Mormonism

Entire Mormon Encounters series:
Part 1: First meeting Aside 1, Aside 2
Part 2: Reading the Book of Mormon
Part 3: Going to Mormon Church
Part 4: Mormon Battalion & General Conference
Part 5: The Missionary Sisters
Part 6: A Talk Among Friends
Part 7: Adam and Free Agency
Part 8: To the Investigators
Part 9: To the Missionaries

So you were approached/contacted by a pair of charming young missionaries from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS or Mormon) and have agreed to have a discussion with them. Good for you! No, really. It is always wise to listen fairly to something before accepting or rejecting (or remaining undecided about) it. The trick, though, is to be sure do your own research, too, and to not limit yourselves to a single source of information.

The nice (and perhaps even cute) missionaries will likely have warned you against reading about Mormonism from non-church-approved sources online, using the rationale that 'no one knows about Mormonism better than Mormons'. At the same time, they will also have warned you against reading about their church from blog posts and articles by apostates, people who used to be Mormons but have renounced the religion, and by those Mormons who belong to other branches of Mormonism other than the big Salt Lake City-based LDS church... because none of those people are considered by the big Mormon church to be 'Mormons'. To this I say, there are always at least two sides to any human story, and anyone who would counsel you to only consider things from their singular point of view is more interested in controlling your thoughts than they are in  helping you find 'the truth'.

LDS Temple in San Diego, California.
I am not a Mormon, though I 'investigated' - to use the Mormons' own term - the church for a few months in 2011, and am still keeping in touch with some of the missionaries that I talked to. My missionary friends know about my blog and that I write about our encounters and discussions, though they are forbidden by mission rules to check it (or any other non-church-based websites) out until they are done with their mission. The fact that I mention them -though all names were changed to protect their identity- does not in any way imply their approval of anything I say. This is my blog, and I write things as I see it. I try to be as fair as possible, though that doesn't mean that BS should weigh as much as Angus sirloin steak should... you know what I mean.

First off, though, please be kind to the missionaries. The young Mormon boys are all expected to serve this two years missionary sentence when they turn 19, so many of these guys were pressured into it (not serving or finishing a mission is a pretty big stigma in their community, and a big impetus to their future dating scene since Mormon girls are strongly encouraged to date only returned missionaries). The young ladies (usually age 21-26) are true believers who really volunteered for the gig even without outside pressure, and they really think that they are doing us non-Mormons a huge favor in trying to educate us about 'the one and only true church'. They may get a bit pesky at times (try to live 18-24 months on their schedule and regulations and see if you wouldn't yourselves), but most of them sincerely mean well. That doesn't make what they do or say right, but good will is worth a bit of returned kindness, I think.

As someone investigating the Mormon church with the missionaries, there are a few things you need to look out for.

1. Always double check what your missionaries tell you by your own research. Most of the missionaries are good young men and women who wouldn't lie to you outright. Unfortunately they tend to have much less qualms about withholding vital information because they have been trained to give 'milk before meat' (meaning that they shouldn't tell you about the parts of their belief that might freak you out or cause you to doubt the truthfulness of their religion). If you are a Christian, know that when Mormons use a Christian-sounding word or refer to a Christian-sounding doctrine, they really mean something quite different with it than the mainstream Christians do. Even basic things like 'god' or 'plan of salvation' means quite a different thing to the Mormons than to just about any Christians. (I'm an atheist, tho I used to be a Christian. Thought I'd mention that because I do think a lot of Christians convert to Mormonism and quickly apostatize because they didn't realize how different the LDS dogma really is to the Christian dogma before joining the LDS church).

If you don't do your own independent research into the LDS church and its history and doctrines, you will miss out on some really fascinating Mormony things that the missionaries conveniently think unnecessary for you to know before you have been baptized and became a good tithe-paying member of their church.

As a side note, the missionaries I talked to had this strange notion that 'reading the Book of Mormon and then praying about it' constitutes all the 'research' needed to determine if the BoM is true (and therefore all the other religious dogmas false) or not. How can anyone humbly know that the other dogmas are false even though s/he had never studied any alternative in the first place? How can a person know if a song is the best song ever written if it is the only song they have ever heard? Is claiming to know what one can't possibly know really a sign of humility? Which is your priority; to be able to keep thinking that you know the truth or to actually find out if you know the truth or not?

2. Be aware that the LDS church has a long standing policy of discouraging its members from seeking outside information on the church's history and its own doctrines. Mormons who were 'born in covenant (BIC)' likely haven't heard of many weird Mormon practices and beliefs that seem almost common knowledge to those outside the church... because they were only ever exposed to the church's official version of its own histories, and were told that any contrary version that they may find from non-church sources are 'anti-' materials that Satan/the Opposition may try to use to seduce them away from the only true church. 

When 'god' doesn't look after his supposed prophets...
So if you ask them about things like the Adam-God Theory or the multiple versions of Joseph Smith's first vision story, or his 33 + polygamous and polyandrous (and quite a few underage) wives, or how he 'translated' a papyrus of the Egyptian funeral texts into the Book of Abraham (included in the Pearl of Great Price as one of the Mormon scriptures), or the lost 116 pages of the Book of Mormon, or the Kinderhook Plates hoax, or the Mountain Meadow Massacre, or the Mark Hoffmann and the Salamander Letter affair and bombings, or Blood Atonement, etc, etc, etc and don't get any real answer, don't take it too personally. Chances are that the kids have no idea about them themselves (though that won't stop many of them from attempting to defend the church regardless of their own ignorance of the issues), and their mission rules prohibits them from being able to research such problems for you.

No, I'm really not being paranoid. Look up and read the many blog posts by active missionaries online and see for yourselves how proselytizing Mormons think!

3. Never let yourself be pressured/nagged/pleaded/etc into making any commitment that you aren't ready to make. A wise man would never buy a car until he has had it checked with independent mechanics, had good looks under the hood as well as taken it out for a test spin, you shouldn't agree to bind yourself to anything (especially a church that would presume to lay a claim on you not only for the remainder of this life but in the next as well) before you have thoroughly checked it out either. 

As nice, pleasant, caring, etc, as the young men and women missionaries are to you now, be aware that they define 'friendship', among many other things, differently than most non-Mormons would. The way you are being pampered/treated right now is not going to continue once you have baptized into their church or have made it clear that you will not convert to their religion (in the latter case, prepare yourself for the infamous Mormon shunning). In fact, if you have walked into a car dealership to browse their inventory, then you probably have experienced something very similar to your missionary discussions: the salesmen love you too much too soon, and don't waste any time at all before assuming that you will buy their car... now... today! The tactics are very much the same, though the difference is that the car salesmen won't take it personally if you say no.

Missionaries get moved around every few months, so your missionary 'friends' will soon be transferred elsewhere to recommence their love-bombing on other investigators/church-prospects. Don't get attached! Everything they say to you today, they say to others, too. Once the missionaries had been transferred elsewhere they either can't or won't keep in touch with you, at least until they are done with their mission (they are only allowed to write snail mail to 'friends' one day a week. And their one relatively free day each week is quickly spent cleaning and grocery shopping and doing other things. Emails are only reserved for immediate family members and other missionaries. And they are only allowed to call home twice a year on Mother's Day and Christmas). 

If, in this pre-honeymoon investigating period the nice misshies and church members are already imposing demands on you (no matter how nicely they put them) like pressing you to say a prayer or to make commitment to live the 'Words of Wisdom' or the 'Law of Chastity' or to make baptism date before you are ready (like, you know, after having only had 2 discussions with you), imagine how much worse it will get for you once you are 'one of them' (for your own sanity, learn to say no before all those endless church callings and activities start coming your way!). Read what the ex-Mormons have to say online. There's got to be a reason why the LDS church has such an abysmal membership-retention rate. It might seem sensible that the car salesmen would 'know best' about the cars they're selling, but would you really buy a car without first checking out what the independent consumers' report or the customers reviews say first? Why should it be any different when it comes to religion?

4. Privacy isn't something Mormon missionaries are familiar with, especially if they were born and raised Mormons. What notion of privacy they had, their Missionary Training Center (MTC) had bleached it out of them by the time they got to your door. So don't share private information that you don't want anyone not in the room to know. The missionaries are keeping log of all their contacts with you along with noting information you shared and how they think you are progressing. They report this to their Mission President (MP) and their Zone Leader every week, and the log book with your info/stat in it is kept at the local ward since your missionary pairings get shuffled every 6 weeks or so... So what you think you are only sharing with the two you are meeting with is fair game to their successors, their mission president(s), and to the ward bishop and others, too.

Also, if you keep in touch with them via snail or email... those aren't safe either. Missionaries are trained to share everything with their companion (and even to confess to their MP during interviews). If you want to share private thoughts with them, better hang on to them until after they have been released from their mission. True friendships surely can wait at least that long.

While we're talking privacy; if you live in a gated apartment or housing complex that requires entry code, please do not give the code to the missionaries! I know it is a bit inconvenient to have to go out and get them in every time they come to visit, but it'll really save your innocent neighbors a lot of unwanted solicitation. Remember, what information you give the particularly nice and seemingly courteous pair of missionaries you are currently talking to does not just stay with them. The missionaries rarely get to stay in one area for longer than a couple of months, and their replacements may or may not live up to the current ones' ethical standard.

5. What to read: I know, the missionaries wants you to only read the Book of Mormon and the various LDS-approved pamphlets they give you. But if the stories the Mormons tell are true, then they shouldn't be vulnerable to critical research, should they? People who have nothing to hide don't mind background check. It's those who have icky skeletons in their closets that do. Aside from the Mormon scriptures (which are all available for free online at, there are some really instructive and informative books about Mormonism and its founder - Joseph Smith - that you should really check out. I'd recommend Fawn M Brodie's No Man Knows My History for a starter. It is the closest thing to the definitive biography of Joseph Smith and Mormonism there is. Mormonthink website also contains well-balanced discussion of Mormonism's problematic theology and history.
Thinking makes my head hurt, but I like the alternative worse.
Truth is truth regardless of how one feels about it, and the same goes for untruths. There are true things in life that don't make you feel nice and comfy, and there are untrue things that do. If feelings and/or emotions are good judging instrument of truth, then what's with all the broken romances and friendships everyone experience (hopefully) multiple times in our lives? Aside from all the historical and doctrinal issues, there are a few fundamental questions you should ask yourselves while considering joining any religion and/or belief system:

1. What would you define as 'god', and how can you tell if this god exist?
2. If god exist, does it necessarily validate any one church’s position or claim to its authority?
3. If god exists but is immoral (it commands immoral actions like deception, misdirection, theft, murder, etc, etc, etc from its believers), would I still worship it? In other words, do I worship a god because I fear what it can and will do to me if I resist, or do I worship a god because I deem it worthy of my admiration?

You are the only person who can answer these questions. Beware of anyone who would presume to answer them for you.