Category Archives: PEOPLE

2016 – AN ADLIB REVIEW

We rang in the 2016 New Year with a fireworks show that rivals any I’ve seen in Alaska.  Lacey’s sister Michelle and her husband Rob lit off a pallet of grand finale firework-cakes and had a bonfire and drinks and it was wonderful.  I as I write this, I am looking forward to a similar bash in 11 days.

The 2016 New Year celebration was respite much-needed, being still shy of mid-way through the expensive and painful lesson each do-it-yourself oriented newlywed couple learns for themselves when they decide to high five each other and build their own house.  I write this from the cozy nook Lacey calls the loffice, taking its name from the merging of one small corner of living room into office.  Though I could, and likely should, take the time to write a book for foolish newlyweds entertaining the insanity of home-building, with Chapters I might name There is no such thing as an honest plumber,  An inspector’s life is to ruin yours, Time and materials mean bend over, Cheap lumber is seldom less expensive, and Why bamboo hates Alaska, I likely will not find the time.

As a kindness, luck found its way to our inbox in early Spring, right as we were at the end of our frayed emotional ropes and desperately needing some hope.  We finally caught an unexpected break and were able to purchase upgraded airline and Celebrity Cruise tickets for a 10-day Mediterranean sojourn in early June for about 1/3rd the normal price.  God bless Costco Travel.  It was the promise of a real vacation that kept us going and we finally finished our financing and moved into our homestead home on Lacey’s birthday, April 1st, having passed the most grueling marital stress-test any couple can endure.  Lacey immediately went to work unpacking and turning this giant rectangle into a cozy sanctuary from the stresses of the world.  I am so lucky to have a wife who takes pride in the presentation of her home, instead of seeing cleaning and decorating as some kind of Sisyphean torture.  Having survived the building process, and the moving-in, and though I am embarrassed to admit it, the continued uncertainty I feel when reaching for one switch in a bank of four, I realize now how well suited to one another Lacey and I really are.  We speak the same love language and spend most of our time belly-laughing at each other and the world around us, or doing trivia, or playing cards.

The one upside to doing almost all the work but saving no money is that the house is filled with special touches most contractors would never care enough to bother about, and it is in those we find much joy.  There is a custom sliding track door carefully built into the half wall at the top of the stairs as a built-in baby gate.  Our bathroom has extra loops of in-floor heat to keep toes cozy when on the throne.  Our kitchen has room to spare in the refrigerator and freezer.  There’s a special nook for my piano.  The pantry makes storing and later finding food a breeze.  We are pretty blessed, and people have been generous with their compliments.

After just enough time to feel moved in we embarked on Lacey’s third and my first trip to Europe.  You have not flown unless you have flown Condor and been courtesy upgraded.  That airline still wants you to look forward to flying, and for good reason.  When we sat down in our courtesy upgrade, we each found a goodie bag with blanket and toothbrush, eye pillow, cotton slippers, magazines, a bathrobe, a mattress and an iPad.  Those last three may be fiction, I’m not sure…  I did enjoy several airport scotches before I sauntered onboard.  After a thorough inspection of my eyelids we arrived in Rome.  What no one tells you when you arrive is that you may be exiting the subway in the shadow of the Colosseum and Roman Forum.  Literally.  I’m no Nolan Rylan but even I could have thrown a baseball through the 4th story arches from within the shadows of the subway exit.  I felt like I entered Rome through the Colosseum, the size of which can only be appreciated in person, much like Michelangelo’s David, or the inside of the Duomo in Florence.  Though I missed the cattle-call that has become the Sistine Chapel, I did see enough astonishing relics of ancient history by the end of the trip to marvel at my own indifference to them.

We ran the same starting lap as the Olympic Torch carriers in the Panathenaic Stadium.  We climbed the acropolis of Athens and walked up through the Propilini to the Parthenon and the Erectheon with its floors still standing on the backs of seven stone and vestal Virgins.   We climbed the stairs and stood on Mars hill where Paul called out idolatry and other sin.  We stood also in the Ephesian Theater, on the very same sounding stone as Paul when he was run out on a rail to the deafening chants of “Great is the Goddess Diana of the Ephesians!”  We learned how the great marble blocks used to build ancient Europe were carved and quarried with nothing more than silk and olive oil.  Fascinating that, as well as how they spin the silk.  German airport employees and their waggling of assault rifles, groping inside my underwear and lost luggage notwithstanding, the kind and genial nature of people is my favorite part of travel. While we missed the bombing of Istanbul by only a handful of days, we spent our time impressed with the hospitality of Turks, Greeks, and Italians alike.

The highlight of the trip is my memory of our time in Naples, good ol’ Napoli, and a short road trip that is forever seared into the marble slabs of my memory in a way neither bottle in front of me nor frontal lobotomy could ever erase.  Where to begin…

For as long as I can remember, I have been prone to motion sickness.  If I am at the helm or wheel, it seldom rears its ugly head through the scenery and consumes me, and the view from the seat directly behind the driver of a massive Class A tour bus is both panoramic and preventative medicine for people like me.  But, by the time I arrived in Naples, the last stop of our voyage, I had relaxed my militant vigor and exertions to be first in line to the bus so that I could pick the safety seat.  It is easy to take things for granted.  Every tour before this had been a half an hour through the wineries of Santorini, or the back streets of Mykonos or Crete.  What harm could be done?  Let someone else have the good seat in the massive… wait, is that van our tour bus?  Babe, we have to hurry!  Too late.  Fifth in line. Fifth couple that is.

Where once we enjoyed large seats, air conditioning, and panorama, now I enjoyed a window the size of a matchbox, and tinted to keep the upholstery from fading in the scorching Vesuvian sun.  It’ll be okay though, how far away can it be?

The first words of our tour guide were “Welcome to the Amalfi Coast driving tour, you are about to see breathtaking views of the Italian coast on the most serpentine and labyrinthine road in the world.” An hour in, I had a fever of 103, and it was 90 degrees outside so I’m proud to say I made it all the way to the Hotel of St. Peter, $5000 euro a night, before the tiny person that lives in the glands of my mouth began pumping saliva and shouting wildly into my mind “Abandon ship, save yourself!”  It took 17 hours to reach Amalfi, Lacey says only 2 but I know better.  The return trip, roundabout through the winding Milky Mountains took another three days, and I somehow survived to tell the tale.  Somehow.

What I now know, but didn’t at the time, is the importance of certain food safety.  The dining on a Celebrity Cruise is on a level not exceeded by any restaurant I’ve had the pleasure to enjoy, so it’s easy to forgive myself the assumption that the clean and fresh looking fruit in our stateroom was exactly that, clean and fresh.  The ship had picked up fruit in Turkey, and I like my father before me, consider it a point of manly pride to eat kiwis skin, hair and all.  So the day before our arrival in Naples, I had eaten the one thing that would later prevent me from seeing the City of Pompei at the end of the most interminable day of my life.  Instead, I literally sat in the street gutter of a taxi cab roundabout in front of the entrance to Pompei, dry heaving Ecoli and praying Jesus would take pity on me and send a meteorite to crush my skull and call me home.  Lacey didn’t get to see Pompei either, so worried was she for my awful state, as I sat like a beggar and prayed for death to take me.   I have promised we’ll go back someday.

After the cruise we spent a glorious two days hiking the colorful vineyard trails of Cinque Terre.adlib-cinque-terre
We both leapt from cliffs into the cerulean waters of the Med.  We ate at a restaurant in Rio Maggiore that WILL boast a second Michelin Star before too long.  And we ended our trip with another two days becoming numb to the splendor of Florence’s utterly endless antiquity.  Lacey’s Aunt Jackie, a lighthearted firecracker, lives in Florence and arranged dinner with friends in a house built in 1200AD, as well as a private tour with a talented tour guide.  Jackie was instrumental to our enjoyment of Florence.  It’s one thing to see the statue of Perseus holding the head of Medusa in the Piazza adjacent to the Medici Palace.  It’s another thing to see it with someone who explains the entire bronzing, sword and all, was done in one revolutionary casting and if you’ll look closely at the back of his head, you’ll see the face of the sculptor who had brazenly left his own visage as an artist’s signature.  A face carefully woven into the locks of Perseus’ curly hair in a way that was clearly a beard and moustache, but only if you happened to notice the eyes peeking out from behind the wings of his Helmet.  There were endless details we would have surely missed without Jackie’s gift.  Lacey’s knee held up splendidly to the hiking and walking, I kept pebbles from the walkways of my favorite ancient monuments, and we came back with memories and pictures to sustain us for years.

The summer and fall have been busy for our business, we were able to take a trip to see my father in late July for a few short days and capture footage of his amazing house in the Wyoming Bighorns.  Lilly and Alera are doing well in school.  Lilly ran Cross Country in the fall and will likely run track in the spring.  Alera will be doing dance all school year as well as Volleyball in the spring.  She has even begun parking and driving my truck around the homestead, and I am encouraged at how mature she is when behind the wheel.

Lacey has our house decorated in the most Christmas-y fashion and each day coming home feels especially magical.  We are all well, and for the most part, thriving.  We hope this letter finds you well and in good spirits.

We wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

REGARDING WISDOM

Recently, I overheard two co-workers discussing whether our western philosophy of thought and logic has set-up a framework for us westerners that inherently arms us with the ability to “think outside the box.”  As a man with THBXNK for a license plate, the gravitational pull of this banter was understandably strong.  The basic point from person A, we’ll call him Phil, was that the ability to think critically is a social inheritance of our culture.  Meaning; there are groups of people, or even whole societies that do not have this thinking ability taught or otherwise handed down to them.  They are simply stuck in their cultural rut, and can never escape.

Phil believes, to paraphrase in my own words, they simply have no way of imagining their circumstances vastly different, and insodoing, begin to undertake the laborious process of affecting sweeping change that will improve their station in life or lift the tide that will raise all the ships in their cultural harbor.

The counter point to this view was held by person B, we’ll call him Tom.  Tom asserted that it’s very dangerous territory to start rationalizing what a group of people are, or are not, capable of doing.  Phil thinks that society is either oppressing people actively OR passively oppressing through the lens of history by passing down dated methods of thought, whereas Tom thinks that no matter the society or its chains each person has it in them to make the choices necessary to radically transform their situation.  The fact that most choose not to do this is simply a choice, whereas the original point by Phil was that they (except in extreme exceptions) simply cannot, they are in a prison of heritage.

When I pressed Phil with the all-important question, “so what are we to take from your point?” he became defensive and said I was trying to paint him into a corner when really, I was just trying to take something meaningful from his point of view.  In my opinion observations are meaningless without conclusions.  To that end, and after an apology, he finally offered up the conclusion that he believed society ought not be so seemingly quick to denigrate a people in a certain situation, because the critic would have behaved differently.  His example was a study he cited that many people who drowned in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina did so because they stayed in their homes.  He said the study asserted that they did so because the welfare culture had literally trained these people to stay put with their hand out, and they were psychologically unable to help themselves.

His very valid point being, instead of saying “Those idiots, how stupid were those people” to instead look at the policy that has trained them into such a prison of thought with the ire that he believed many people in America direct at the person.

As a Christian, we say, hate the sin, love the sinner.  Or at least we are supposed to say this, and do this.

As an aside, Phil also said that the differences in thought were evidence that what is true for you may not be true for me.  Phil believes truth is relative to your ability to understand and relate to it.

After the longest foreword in blog history, on to the point of this essay.

I think a great discipline has been lost in our American culture.  Namely, the question to ask of our own thoughts and actions, as well as of our laws, “Is this wise?”

Truth and wisdom are closely aligned, and neither are acceptable in Academe.  I actually thank God almighty that when my mind was young and mushy, it was never poisoned by the circular and largely emotional arguments of leftist, and wholeheartedly socialist professors. I dodged that intellectual bullet by joining the military and learning the old-fashioned way, by reading and thinking, and reading some more.

While I will concede there are certainly relative truths, but there is no room in Academia for absolute truth.  There is no room for Good or Evil, nor Right or Wrong.  Never was higher education built upon such a shaky, sand foundation than that which leaves no room to ask the most important question of our age “Is this wise?”

For to ask “Is this wise?” implies that the answer must be measured against a standard of Wisdom, which derives its very meaning as “the knowledge of what is proper or reasonable.”  Put much more simply, the knowledge of what is right and what is wrong.

As a Christian, I am a fan of practical facts.  Since we are on the subject of right and wrong, take sin.  Begging Chesterton’s pardon, whether or not a man could be washed in miraculous waters, there is no doubt that he wanted washing.  A century ago religious leaders disputed the highly disputable miraculous waters, but today Academia disputes the obvious dirt.  Where once philosophers admitted a man was divinely sinless, which they could not have imagined even in their dreams, now College Professors deny sin itself, which they can see in the street.

The standard of right and wrong is clear as a bell to me, and to those who have their copy of the best handbook for life on earth, namely, the Bible.  The bible lays out truth in the most marvelous way, by first telling a story, and then stating a truth.  The bible looks back through history and tells of Herod the Great and the Slaughter of Innocent Children, and then looks forward and commands us not to murder.  It teaches us history, and lays bare the truth in our hearts.   It teaches us that real truth does not come from man, and therefore, man cannot take it away.  Such wisdom that.

College Institutions today flood the empty corridors of young minds with a kind of intoxicating secular sophistry, and the collegiate are drunk on those fallacies.  They make arguments against the existence of right and wrong, of absolute truth, and a personal God, with fallacies that young minds are neither practiced, equipped nor allowed to defend.  No, if you argue with a secular professor in America today, you can kiss any chance of a decent grade goodbye.  College has become a refuge for the lack of thought, not the instigator thereof.

At the University of California at Berkeley, black students now march to self-segregate where their ideas will never be challenged and their minds will never be expanded, in all-black dormitories.  I believe Martin Luther King would weep to see such a vacuum of wisdom on display at any time, much less at the end of 8 years of America being led by our first black president.   Merry Christmas is now a micro-aggression, and everyone gets to pick their own gender pronoun.  We have become a nation of imbeciles.

The internet has exacerbated this problem.  No, the irony of my current medium is not lost on me.  It was asked long ago, “What wisdom have we lost for want of knowledge?” and it is rightly asked now, “What knowledge have we lost for want of information?”  We are today twice removed from sound judgement and the ability to actually think clearly.

Where our worlds used to be a lot smaller and a lot simpler, now, we are daily assaulted by every injustice the collectively great world can tweet at us, never asking if the actual numbers of such injustices are actually worse, or whether the tragedy is simply our new perception of their apparent frequency.

I had a lieutenant in the Navy who’s favorite shirt read:

STOP

American educational culture today strives to convince young people to simply get angry about some injustice, if they will pick up a banner and join SOME fight, Academe will cover the backside of that banner with fallacy after fallacy and most will never read the fine print.  They will never ask “Is this wise?”

My belief is that God, yes I just invoked what I believe to be our great cosmic and very personal Creator, has given each of us the power of discernment, and transformational free will.  I do not believe that certain cultures, or sub-cultures, or ethnicities are unable to imagine a better life; a wiser way.  I do not believe that traditions and environments are inescapable prisons except for the one-in-a-million gifted at picking ideological locks.  I neither resent the success of others, nor greatly pity abysmal failure.

I believe that until we radically transform the way we approach and instruct truth and wisdom, we can never produce a generation who will leave America better than the one they inherited.

I agree with Tom.

TEARS IN THE FABRIC

Last night, as I stretched out in bed to get comfortable between my oldest and favorite sheets, my big toe clawed a gash down the middle of the top sheet.  These sheets were a splurge when I was a single man renting his first apartment back in the year 2001 when I had just finished my 6 year tour in the US Navy and had no real savings on which to depend.  Now, after over a decade of married years, we’ve had lots and lots of sheet sets, all kinds of fabric ranging from flannel to that awful sateen that makes me feel like I’m sleeping in someone else’s sweat suit.  These have always been the best, and I destroyed them with my velociraptor toenails.

More aptly, I discovered the fabric has been washed that unknowable number of times and is now disintegrating, a fact learned only after poking more holes in it with my finger while mumbling a string of curses alternating between remorse and disbelief. It sounds weird to say that it would make my heart heavy to lose something so benign and ubiquitous as a set of sheets, but it does.  I couldn’t bear to strip the bed that very night, being so enamored of them for so long and so I slept one last time in that embrace that was always the perfect blend of insulation and ventilation, and I dreamt.

Happy moments, distant friends, leaping through fields, my daughters running and laughing…

When I woke, I lay still for a moment, relishing that idyllic sheet sandwich, and then swung my foot out of bed to rise for another exciting day of life.  As I did so, I caught that hole again expanding it three fold, and the sound of tearing fabric has been with me ever since.

I see a tear in the very fabric of our society.  I love what America once represented, and I am a lover of liberty.  Where once we took pride providing for our family, many leave that honor to the state entirely.  Where once we took pride in attention to detail and effort and diligence, now we seek to get the most for the least, and take pride in how cheaply we gather more possessions.  Where debt was once an abhorrence, now it is a prescription written to almost all by society as we enter adulthood.  Where family values once came from the family, morals now come from Must See TV.

Everywhere I look I see tears in the fabric and I can’t help but wonder, are we the sheets, held together only by the strongest of threads but ultimately doomed to fall apart?  Has our worth been laundered that unknowable number of times?  Have our traditions been scrubbed out of the zeitgeist and left us such a fragile weaving that any pressure at all means collapse?

How do you convince a generation raised to mock the worshipers of God, that they too worship, only at the much darker altar of the alimighty self?  When you are taught from birth that what feels good to you is good for you, how then will you ever arrive willingly at the necessary place of personal growth that can only be found on the other side of painful self-examination?

Christians call this the spiritual walk: realizing how rotten and sinful you are to the core, repenting, and living for eternity’s sake.   Chesterton once wrote “you know you’re at your worst, when you’re convinced deep down you really are a good person.” Again I posit, when your sake is the only sake, and vast swaths of societal fabric live only for their own sake, how can the unraveling of society be anything but certain?

We are a people in dire need of weavers.  We have always had the thread of absolute truth, but we have forgotten how to weave.

I miss my sheets already.

FUN IN THE MEXICAN SUN

When traveling around the world, I find half of the experience can be found in the local cuisine, the other half in the culture. There’s nothing more ridiculous than going halfway around the world only to dine at Subway or McDonald’s or some other recognizable chain. Don’t get me wrong, if you want to limit yourself, be my guest… I just think it’s ridiculous.

Never was it more true than with the ceviche de pescado in Barra de Navidad, Mexico.

This little fishing village is quaint, quiet, polite and boasts mind-blowingly good food.

If you’ve never had ceviche (se-VEE-chay) you’re in for a treat. I was watching the man who caught my lunch as I ate my lunch while he caught someone else’s dinner. The kind of fish they use here in Barra (for ceviche) is called Sierra and they grind up the meat and let it sit in fresh lime juice until the acidity in the lime literally cooks the meat – as well as imparts a rather glorious flavor. No fishy smell, no fishy aftertaste, just fresh tomatoes, diced like pico de gallo with onions and fresh jalapenos. That’s it, a little of mamasita’s secret spices and buckle up for one tasty meal. I’ve had ceviche made from halibut in Alaska, salmon in Washington, limpia in Thailand, wahu in Guam, and tuna in Japan, but this meal sets the global bar in my opinion, and sets it rather high.

One disclaimer for a few readers who I know will be thinking ‘if you don’t like a fishy taste, then you don’t like fish’: a ‘fishy taste’ is not simply the taste of fish, it is the taste of the smell of rotten fish, when I use the word fishy. Salmon ‘should’ taste like salmon, and cod ‘should’ taste like cod, and so on… but good fish doesn’t need to smell like hockey socks in order to be good authentic fish… moving on.

The other thing that is key to a fine meal abroad is to engage the locals the way YOU would want to be engaged back home where you live. Guys, this blog is about you: American notions of feminism aren’t nearly as widespread as your resident feminist friend would have you believe. The waiter will almost always look to you to order, so try and make a great first impression. Learn a little of their language, and speak what little you know the way ‘they’ speak it, not in your American accent. If you can hear your American accent in your Spanish, try harder. The worst thing you can do is expect them to speak English and understand exactly what you want.

Picture it, you’re a waiter at the Glacier Brewhouse in Anchorage, Alaska… a Japanese couple walks in and starts speaking Japanese to you. You don’t understand Japanese, so you try and tell them so, and instead of being understanding or patient, they get irritated and loud until the one person on your restaurant staff who speaks a little Japanese rushes over to help out. What a couple of assholes… right?

It astonishes me how many Americans (and Canadians) do this exact thing in Mexico, or Thailand, or Japan, or Bahrain, or wherever. Now I do speak a little Spanish, enough to crack jokes with the locals and chat it up, and I tip well, and because of it my wife and I are remembered by name, we are hugged when we return literally two years later, our favorite meal AND drinks are remembered and ordered without asking, and we get invited to parties with the locals – which is the OTHER best way to experience culture abroad: befriend your waiters, waitresses, and restauranteurs because they know where the real culture happens, and if you’re cool… they’ll invite you along.

So the next time you are in the neighborhood, learn a little Spanish, try to sound Spanish when you speak it, and if you are in Barra, order the ceviche… it’ll blow your mind.

Silverback Thumbnail

THE SILVERBACK SYNDROME

So often as a married man, I am exposed to the emotions of my darling wife. Women either know and disregard, or have no idea just how impactful their ups and downs can be. On one such instance, my wife called me at the office and proceeded to tell me how one of our dearest friends had decided to end their friendship over a religious disagreement. Now I recently heard on the radio, and laughed at the absurd notion that scientists needed a study to confirm this, that when women cry, there is a measurable, repeatable, and verifiable negative reaction in men. A man’s mood is depressed, his happy hormones (dopamine) have decreased production – basically everything in your life sucks whenever your wife is crying.

[hear the men of the world uttering a collective “duuuh”]

So when my wife called me with the astonishing news that one of our dearest friends no longer wanted to be our friend because she had a truly minor umbrage with my wife’s religious views, I was angry and defensive on her behalf. I’m calling this the Silverback Syndrome. You know how it feels, your wife is driving and someone rudely cuts you off… or your waiter talks down to her… (always something fairly trivial in my experience) and your hackles go up in a massively disproportionate way. You fantastize about running the guy off the road and then going back to make sure he was hurt so you could laugh and drive away – that kind of thing. Usually these angry notions never make it past the notion stage. You have them, dismiss them as crazy talk, and then move on with your day.

I cannot stress enough how important it is to police yourself when crazy talk moves on to stage two.

Back to the story… after being regaled between sobs how terrible a thing had been done by our very close friend, I was angry that my wife had to have her heart broken over something utterly trivial (or at all) and since it appeared that the bridge of our friendship had been burned, I decided to write a letter that was for all intents and purposes a giant sign reading “kiss my ass” which I then e-mailed thereby waving from our side of the canyon that now separated us as couples. Or so I understood at the time.

My reasoning: wife was devastated… friendship was over… I was offended as well because I very much liked these friends… therefore notions of defending wife’s honor made it past the crazy talk stage.

It all happens very fast… this kind of thing.

With the hopes that our newly ex-friend would realize how horrible it was to have done such a thing, I composed an e-mail designed to utterly crush any shred of self-worth in said ex-friend and sent it. This was where I passed an opportunity, the importance of which I can’t impress enough when writing angry e-mails, to click ‘discard.’ Rationally, we all know the catharsis comes from actually writing out what we want to say, but rarely do these kinds of decisions end well. As you might expect, this was no exception. You see, the ex-friend responded that they were devastated I would say such things, and that my wife had misunderstood the e-mail… and as it turns out, indeed she had. In one of those incredibly rare instances where the meaning of a paragraph can be transformed by the omission of a single word, my wife’s eyes had repeatedly missed the imperative and operative transforming word and thus began the domino effect of the Silverback Syndrome.

So here it is men: unless your wife is physically threatened, in that case I recommend guns, knives, bats or anything else you can find, beware the Silverback within you. While quite strong, and capable of much destruction, the Silverback Gorilla is not known for its particularly large brain.

Beware the Silverback. I don’t know of a single person who ever made a decision having exercised intelligence, patience, and restraint, who later regretted their decision.