This is how we Halloween

On Friday night, the last night we have all of the kids together until Halloween, we had a spooky family night. It began with dinner: toxic mac'n'cheese with cryptic ham-steaks.

The cheese even stained the kids' tongues green.

For dessert: dirt and worms.

Then it was pumpkin carving time. While I was in charge of the big knife, the kids did all of their own carving - except for Joylyn who had a little help.

If you ask me, they did a great job with their jack-o'-lanterns.

Finally, those who were old enough to stay up late watched a scary movie.

Annie and I had so much fun setting up this special night for the kids. We are already making plans for next year.


We Need a Hero

Some of the greatest stories told by humanity have featured corrupt rulers defeated by simple, humble, and righteous people. We've made heroes of figures who speak truth to power. We crave those tales where good triumphs - especially when the odds are never in their favor. When the abusive nature of despots thrives in the real world, we long for reminders that evil's reign is only temporary.

True stories of moral victors find a treasured place in history, like the band of rebels who rejected the tyranny of King George and the British Empire. Names like George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and Alexander Hamilton are American icons, the honorable heroes who won the war against corrupt foreign rulers.

Biblical tradition speaks of Moses, who delivered the nation of Israel from the corruption of Pharaoh’s Egypt. Queen Esther outwitted the corrupt Grand Vizier Haman. Jesus often spoke against the depravity and hypocrisy found among the religious elites, legal scholars, and government officials of first century Palestine. When it came to corruption, chasing people with whips and flipping tables were acceptable options for Jesus.

El Greco's 'Christ Driving the Money Changers from the Temple

In Greek mythology, Nemesis was the goddess of retribution, the avenger of crime whose wrath focused on those guilty of hubris. She, along with Aidos the goddess of modesty and respect were the final good spirits on earth before the corruption of the age of mankind.

Legends of King Arthur tell of the king overcoming Morganna, a powerful sorceress corrupted by evil. Elsewhere in English folklore, Robin Hood is the hero who subverted the illegitimate king, Prince John, and his henchman the Sheriff of Nottingham. And Shakespeare wrote a play about a Danish prince seeking revenge against his uncle the king for murdering his father.

The advent of cinema continued this tradition. Dorothy saved the land of Oz from the corrupt Wicked Witch. A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, the Empire was controlled by the corrupted Emperor Palpatine and his enforcer, Darth Vader until they were defeated by a farm boy, an old wizard, a princess, a smuggler, a Wookie, and a pair of quirky robots. Every Mission: Impossible movie finds Ethan Hunt exposing the corrupt government that betrayed him. A young LAPD officer survived a day with the corrupting influence of a dirty cop named Alonzo Harris in Training Day. And Captain America stood his ground after discovering S.H.I.E.L.D. had been corrupted by sleeper agents of Hydra.

image courtesy of Marvel Studios

When storytellers, novelists, and filmmakers need a villain, they mirror the lives of politicians, law enforcement officers, corporate CEOs, and religious leaders whose lust for power, wealth, and control have led them down darkened paths. Art imitates life.

We long for these heroes. We idolize them. Lionize them. Honor and respect them. And we desperately need them again. We need people who will stand in humility and do the right thing. We need righteous people who will rise and fight against modern tyranny. And you can be that hero.

Election Day approaches. The current president is the most corrupt president to occupy the White House during my lifetime. He has defiled the office. He has abandoned every concept of decency and the decorum expected of a world leader. He is vulgar, reprehensible, dishonest, impetuous, and morally bankrupt. His arrogance is limitless. He is a fear-mongering con-artist. He is adored by white supremacists. And he has somehow wooed the evangelical community while acting completely adversarial to the basic tenets of their faith.

I won't tell you that November 6th might be the last free and fair election or that we're about to witness the death of democracy. I don't believe those statements are true, and those who espouse them have sunk to the same level of scare tactics the president employs. I’m not clairvoyant so can't tell you what will happen after the election. However, I can tell you what is happening right here, right now. We have a president that is using the office to enrich his family. We have a president that is alienating American allies while befriending cruel, murderous, and inhumane dictators. We have a president that is fully indifferent to the rule of law, who blatantly lies, whose disregard for facts only grows more brazen the longer he is in office. We have a president who gathered the most incompetent set of fools to serve on his cabinet, who have in turn indulged in their own corruptions. Finally, we have a Congress who refuses to do a damn thing about it.

This is where you come in. This is your bitten by a radioactive spider moment. This is when you become the hero America deserves. Your vote is your superpower. We have the opportunity to get rid of the gutless Congress and replace them with civil servants who will stand up against the corruption of the Trump administration. When you fill out the ballot, vote for the candidate Trump doesn't want to win. Vote for the candidate most likely to inspire a Trumpian Twitter meltdown. Vote for the candidate with a spine. Vote for the candidate who believes in human dignity. Maybe then, we can actually make America great.


I believed them

My brother and I always wanted a younger sister but our parents didn't want a third child.

the Casey boys

Since a biologically related sister wasn't an option, Aaron and I had to find our own through bonds formed by choice rather than blood. I met my little sister during my junior year of high school. She had just moved to the area and we formed an easy friendship. By the time I graduated high school, she was one of my best friends. We never developed a romantic interest and we were able to confide in each other as if we were siblings. Even today, I still occasionally call her sis.

hello, 1997

in the spring of 1996, she told me about a guy from school who kept calling her phone; if she answered, he'd say something creepy or leave annoying messages if she didn’t answer. He followed her on campus; she often caught him leering at her. While he had not touched her, she always felt unsafe if he was present. A couple weeks later, she joined me and two other guys to post promotional posters for the drama club's production of Neil Simon's Rumors. Mike ran inside the library while she and I sat in the cab of his truck, and Damien sat in the back. We were in the middle of conversation when she froze.

"Oh, my god, it's him."
"Who?" I asked.
"Remember me telling you about that guy who was stalking me? That's him."

The kid was walking toward us along the sidewalk. I started hollering to get his attention. "Hey, hey!"

He walked toward the open passenger window of Mike's truck. "You talking to me?"

I pointed to next to me and asked him if he recognized my friend. He denied it. "Are you sure?" I asked. "I don't believe you." His expression changed from oblivion to annoyance. I continued with instruction. I told him he was to leave her alone, stop calling her, not to speak to her, not to look at her. If I ever heard he was not following those guidelines, he would regret it.

By the time I stopped talking, his bothered look gave way to pure anger. "What are you going to do about it?" he asked.

Honestly, nothing. He was bigger and tougher. I wouldn't be able to hurt him if I tried. Thankfully, Damien was still in the back of the truck. Despite a teddy bear personality, Damien could be intimidating. Damien stood in the bed of the truck, crossed his arms, and said, "Or you'll have to deal with me." The kid's face changed once again, from anger to fear. He took a couple steps backward, confirmed he understood my demands, then turned and walked away as fast as he could. My friend never complained about him again.

During the fall of my senior year, I had a huge crush on a girl named Alexis. She was in an engineering class the same time I was studying architecture. The two classes were taught by the same teacher in a shared classroom. The kid who previously harassed my best friend was enrolled engineering with Alexis. She often came by my desk to talk when there was downtime. I was one of the few guys that was nice to her, most of the others shunned her on the belief that girls didn't belong in in tech classes. One day, while she was at my desk, the kid walked by. He didn't say anything, but Alexis cringed. I asked her what was wrong and she explained how that boy was a creep. He wouldn't leave her alone, frequently made lewd or demeaning comments, failed attempts to flirt with her, and often followed her to her next class. I let her know I would take care of it.

After class, the kid walked out the door next to Alexis and tried talking to her. Before he could follow her further, I ran beside of him, placed my arm around his shoulder, and steered him a different direction. I told him I really liked that girl and gave him the same instruction as before: leave her alone, don't call her, don't talk to her, don't look at her. He took me seriously and the next day in class, he avoided both of us. A week later, Alexis told me she doesn't know what I did but she was grateful.

Months, he showed up at a youth group event, invited by Kay, one of the girls I'd known since kindergarten. It was at church, so I took a softer approach. I let him know I was glad he was there and hoped he would stick around. I said I'd known Kay for a very long time and that I cared about her. I told him it was OK if the two of them dated with one big caveat: "Don't even think about hurting her." That was the last I saw him for a long time.

Two years after high school, I moved to Boise and completely forgot about the kid who made my friends feel violated. In the summer of 2001, I took a road trip with some friends to see the Poor Old Lu reunion concert in Seattle. While back in my home town for a couple days, we stopped by Safeway to pick up snacks. In the chips isle, a stranger walked around the corner. It took me a second before I recognized him. It was that jerk, the creeper, four years older than the last time I had seen him. As soon as he recognized me, he panicked. I saw his bottom lip quiver for a second before he turned around and ran away. He dropped his shopping basket as he left, abandoning whatever he was shopping for.

It was the first time I could remember anyone fearing me. At the time, I wasn't anyone to be afraid of - a short skinny wimp whose friends were all cooler and tougher than me. But this kid was genuinely terrified. Perhaps it wasn't me that frightened him - instead it was what I represented that scared him. I think he was a sketchy dude who knew the way he treated women was wrong and he was petrified I would hold him accountable for his actions. See, guys like him, abusers and assaulters, they don't want to answer for their deeds. Today, in a world where more women are speaking up and speaking out against people who hurt them, these are the men who believe "it's a scary time for young men in America." They believe it because they have reason to be afraid.

I'm glad my little sister spoke up when she did and that Alexis felt safe enough around me to say something. Sure, they disclosed the facts of their assailant to me, but I know they never involved the police or school administration. I have no idea if they ever told their parents about the creepy kid at school who was stalking and harassing them. But they did tell me, and I believed them. If that kid (now in his 30s) ever ran for political office, I'm sure multiple girls from his past would oppose him. They would shine a spotlight on the traumas they experienced because of him. They would do everything they could to prevent him from holding any position to govern others. Unfortunately, I don't think anyone currently leading our nation would believe them.

That makes me sad.


For the XP

Garage sales and yard sales are curious attractions. You walk several miles within a small and contained plot of land. The items you think will sell don't while other items you doubt anyone would ever buy are the first to go. And people show up with odd requests, looking for items completely unrelated to anything visibly available for purchase as if there’s a secret stash somewhere.

We held a yard sale this weekend. Unloaded stuff that had been cluttering the garage for months. Made some money that will help fund a home construction project. We still need to take the unsold items to Goodwill for donations. Our best profits came from the coffee stand the kids staffed. Chickens visited. And Frosty decided to graze his way through the merchandise.

Less stuff and extra money are nice benefits, but even if we didn't sell a single item, we were visited by a party that made the whole yard sale worth having. Early on Saturday afternoon, an SUV pulled into our driveway. An older man, roughly my dad's age, stepped out of the driver's seat and explained their situation.

His elderly mother was sitting in the front passenger seat. He and his wife took her out for a drive, showing her the area. They planned on cruising around Newman Lake before heading up to Greenbluff. They had no intention of stopping at any yard sales, but as they drove by our house they saw the animals and knew they had to stop. The two geese and all five goats were hanging out by the garage, chickens were scattered all over the yard, and Zu was riding one of our horses in the back pasture. The old man explained his mom grew up on a farm. It had been several years since she was near a bunch of barnyard creatures and he wanted to reconnect her with memories of her youth.

I invited them out to walk around, but the man said his mom wasn't very mobile any more. So instead, I picked up Kazoo, one of our goats, and carried her to their car where the mom could see Kazoo up close. We discussed the animals for a while, and I provided driving directions to their remaining destinations. As we talked, it became clear the man's mom was in the twilight of her life; her health was failing and she was non-verbal - communicated through nodding or shaking her head. By the time her son climbed back into the driver's seat, tears began to well in the corners of her eyes and a faint smile lit up her face.

Their visit reminded me of my dad and his mom. Grandma Casey is in a similar stage in her life. These strangers helping their mom navigate old age is like the traveling my dad has done to spend as much time with his mom as he possibly can. I recalled phone conversations with my grandma, each time I wonder if it will be the last time I hear her voice. They reinforced lessons of wisdom older generations have given me since I was a kid: at the end of your life, you will value your memories more than your money. Your experiences will always be of greater worth than the stuff you accumulate.

In video games, you are rewarded with XP or experience points for completing missions, defeating opponents, and performing specific tasks. Gaining more XP increases your character's health, strength, and abilities. Life is much the same. Our experiences affect our health. They can improve our strength and knowledge. They give us wisdom. The things we do and the relationships we build propel us through this world, it is the foundation for the memories we treasure when our lives come to an end.

This summer, Annie and I came to a realization. We have a small house for a family of seven. Storage space is minimal. It's obvious we don't need more stuff, so we decided we're not giving the kids big gifts for birthdays and Christmas. Instead, we're giving them adventures. No more toys and gadgets that will sit unused after the kids play with it once. We're going to take them out for a fun activity, something that will build memories to last a lifetime. It's real world XP. Giving them something that will build better bonds between them as siblings and with us as parents. Giving them a wonderous and exciting life. Giving them stories to tell their friends. Giving them a foundation to build upon as they grow up. Letting them know our time with them is the most important thing in the world.

Our first attempt at the adventure birthday gift was a success. We took the boys to Silverwood and filled the day with thrills and laughter. My oldest son will always remember being braver than Dad after riding Aftershock, the roller coaster that I refused to board. My youngest son will always remember sitting next to me for his first three roller coasters and how I helped him overcome his fear. The expressions on their faces as they watched Nick Norton's magic show are images I will carry with me through the rest of my days. Hearing Christian announce over and over how the trip was the best gift anyone ever got him made every penny worth spending. They both gained XP and leveled up.

As caretakers, whether as parents raising children, or grown adults caring for the parents who raised us, creating these memorable moments are our most important tasks. It could be as elaborate as a day at a theme park or as simple as visiting a farm. The XP we gain in life will become the memories we cherish for years to come. The old lady's smile and tears were enough to convince me: Annie and I made the right choice.



The following post is an entry into a contest hosted by Positive Writer called “You Are Enough.” For more information on the contest or to read entries from other writers, click THIS LINK. For my submission, keep reading.

It is the first blank page in an empty composition notebook, the blinking cursor at the top of the white screen in a new word processing document. Before ink meets paper or fingers push a single keystroke, you hear every imaginable whispering doubt sowing seeds of discontent. This is where you decide if you are capable of transcribing thoughts to prose and if your story is worth telling.

After publication, critique is readily available and often unavoidable. Grammatical mistakes are publicly visible, errors in logic are up for debate. You hope for praising reviews and positive feedback while bracing yourself for disparaging comments. Third party evaluation comes after the work is complete. All those external voices are heard after the most difficult labor has passed. The hardest part of writing transpires before you begin. To overcome the intimidating unstarted project, you must silence your loudest critic: you.

Those negative objections, the inner monologues you have with yourself, staring into space, filled with trepidation. The first word seems lost, a complete sentence is a daunting challenge, and a full page improbable. Instead of seeing outlines you see deadlines. The voice which should be saying "let's go," grumbles "not you, not now."

So you stare at the empty screen, the blank piece of paper in front of you, the notes application on your phone. Your thoughts diverge from your work in progress.

What if this idea isn't any good?
What if my publisher rejects it?
What if it never sells?
What if audiences mock it?
What if no one ever reads it?

What if ...

The hypothetical questions could be paralyzing. Individual doubts feed into bigger doubts, stressing over being stressed. If you are anything like me, you reach a point while gazing into the abyss where you want to expel the internal grump.

If you have had enough then you need to believe you are enough. Waking up this morning was the first word on an empty page for the story you are writing today. A hot shower and fresh cup of coffee were your opening statements. Every heartbeat is an additional keystroke contributing to your headcount goals. Your deadline is bedtime, and tomorrow is a new day with another blank page and blinking cursor waiting to begin a brand new story. You are the only capable scribe because you are enough. Your stories deserve to be told because you exist.

Your ideas are good enough to be shared, to be accepted, to be sold, to be complimented, to be read again and again and again. The world needs your voice, it needs your perspective, it needs your prose, it needs your tomorrow. So write. One word at a time. Even if it needs editing. Even if it needs revision. Even if it needs to be completely re-written. Write. Do it, because only you can compose the stories placed inside you. Do it, because you are enough.


Gone Awhat?

The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry. This variation of a line from a Scottish poem is one we've proven true at our farm. Plans to build fences, gone awry. Stacking hay, gone awry. Purchasing a riding lawn mower, gone awry. Veterinarian bills, a broke down truck, and a never-ending list of building projects. This is our life, we make the best of plans. Where do they go from there?

“But Mouse, you are not alone,
In proving foresight may be in vain:
The best laid schemes of mice and men
Go often askew,
And leave us nothing but grief and pain,
For promised joy!”

We get it. We make plans which don't always work out. We toil, we struggle, we sweat, we ache. Eventually, we get there. It's never easy but it's always worth it. As Annie and I frequently say, it's not perfect but it's ours.

Our best plans for this last weekend were to fix a leaking yard hydrant and get our recently repaired hot tub dropped back into our deck to be ready for use. After a full day of monkey wrenches and quick trips to North 40, Saturday ended with the old pump reinstalled including the old extension rod. We added a new plunger and gasket, but it still leaked and sprayed everywhere.

The hot tub was set in place Saturday evening, filled with water on Sunday, and powered up on Monday. However, the heating element appeared to be caput. From 8:30 Monday morning to 4:30 in the afternoon, the temperature only rose five degrees and was still far too cold to be used.

Our plans went awry. We had a strategy with our handyman to try fixing the hydrant next weekend, and a friend of mine walked me through how to replace the hot tub’s heating element. Our plans would be completed eventually, just not within the timeframe we had hoped. These are the most discouraging moments of the farm life. It can be frustrating for anyone when goals aren’t met, but when you’re hoping to have a pump that won't be a geyser come winter, these lingering failures can be disappointing.

However, I've only told half of the story. Saturday ended with the broken pump reinstalled and still gushing water every time we turned in on. When I went out for the morning chores on Sunday, there was plenty water in the horse troughs and duck pools. Refills weren’t needed so I didn't turn on the hydrant. With it leaking, I didn't want to use it unless necessary. Later in the afternoon, the trough in the main pasture was low so I reconnected the hose to the hydrant and lifted the handle. To my surprise, no spray. I filled up the big trough and still no squirting. So I filled up the other trough and all three kiddie pools we use for the birds and goats. We used it a few times on Monday and still no spray. It leaked on Saturday night, and the next day it was magically fixed. We did nothing. Whatever was wrong corrected itself over night with no human intervention. We now have a fully functional yard hydrant.

Monday evening, I hung up the phone call with my friend feeling defeated. Annie and I were really looking forward to soaking in the hot tub. Even though the fix seemed simple, I knew it would be another week or two before we could get it resolved. I thanked him for his help and went on with the rest of the day. We left the farm to run some errands and go grocery shopping. We were gone for a couple hours. When we returned, I went inside to put groceries away and Annie headed out to feed the horses. When she came back in she had an unexpected update.

"Our hot tub is 85°." I thought she was kidding. She wasn’t.

An hour later, the water temperature was up to 95° and it was at 99° by the end of the evening. It took seven hours to go from 54° to 59°, then it jumped up another 40 degrees in the next few hours. I don't know how it happened. There is no logical explanation. We didn't touch any of the controls or mechanical parts. We only looked at it with our phone-a-friend lifeline. He must have Doctor Stranged it because it magically started working after we disconnected the call. We now have a working hot tub.

This is the way our lives function. Things don't work until they do. Sometimes, we mess up the first try then our second attempt gets the job done. Often, nothing goes the way we planned. Sometimes we figure it out on our own and other times we get by with a little help from our friends. We know when plans go awry, they won't stay derailed forever.

We live a charmed life. It is impossible to deny this fact. I hope you can see it in every word I write, in every picture I post. Annie and I have brilliant, vibrant, and talented kids who constantly challenge and inspire us. We have a farm that isn't perfect but it's ours. And we now have a working hot tub. As I count our blessings, I also know we couldn't do everything we do without a supportive cast of characters - those friends and family members who encourage us, advise us, and cheer us on. And occasionally, all we need is a little magic.


Gone Awry

I often talk of the adventure Annie and I have as first-time farmers. This work is new to both of us. We are learning through trial and error, our mistakes often providing greater lessons and showing us which projects are most urgent on our to-do list.

You might see happy pictures of our affectionate and spirited goats; the flock of chickens, ducks, and geese who follow us around every morning until we feed them; horses and our days at the rodeo; kids playing in the yard or helping us with barn chores; the progress we make building pastures, hutches, pens and other homes for our creatures; the view from our back porch and the beautiful sunsets we enjoy night after night.

These are the happy moments. Glimpses into our lives - especially the parts that make us smile and laugh, fill our hearts with joy, or overwhelm us with gratitude. I am amazed at all Annie and I have accomplished and look forward to where our lives are headed. The times she and I have spent dreaming, scheming, and planning have been my favorite moments. These conversations have helped me envision a day in the future where I can leave the corporate world behind.

We live a charmed life. It is impossible to deny this fact. However, not everything goes according to our best laid plans. For example, the first fence we built was a mess, adequate enough to bring our horses home. Since then, we've had to replace corner posts, remove sections the horses destroyed, and added electric wire. We've abandoned field fencing completely and now use hotwire for all our new pasture fences. We came to peace with the trend of our first attempts at anything being a struggle; we'll figure it out the next time around. This labor has given us a mantra, a statement Annie and I often tell each other: it's not perfect but it's ours.

There are two broken objects we wanted to get fixed this last weekend: our yard hydrant and the hot tub. The latter should be easy. A repair man came out Thursday night to install a new manifold and we scheduled an installer to drop it back into our deck on Saturday at noon. If all went according to plan, we should have been able to use it Saturday night. The hydrant was a different issue.

A frost-free yard hydrant is the water access near the barn, a piece of equipment that supplies all the water for the animals. This is essential equipment for farms because the source is deep enough underground to prevent freezing during winter and water is fed to the surface through insulated pipes. When we moved in, the pump apparatus leaked a bit. When in the ON position, water flowed out the nozzle, but it also sprayed from the pump handle into the air. Through the summer, the spray grew higher and covered a larger ground area. We hired a farm hand with some plumbing experience; together we shut off the water supply, disassembled the pump and attempted to use a repair kit purchased to fix the leak. We started at 9am with the assumption we'd be done in an hour or two.

Only one part from the repair kit worked: the plunger for the bottom of the long pipe to the water supply. Nothing else fit the existing pump. We moved to plan B. Our farm hand replaced the old gaskets with new ones from the repair kit, re-installed the old hydrant and we turned on the water supply. When we tested the hydrant, it still sprayed everywhere. The new gaskets didn't form a good fit with the old extension rod. It had pockmarks and scarring from years of use; those gashes probably contributed to the ineffective seal.

Time for plan C. I returned to North 40, bought an extension rod and a new hydrant. The idea was to either install the new hydrant (should be easy) or use the new extension rod with the old hydrant which would be cheaper but more difficult. After returning to the farm, we began working again and quickly discovered the new hydrant wouldn't work. The internal guts were built differently and required a dissimilar style of extension rod, which was too small to fit the pipe connecting to the underground plunger. Our only available option was to use the new extension rod with the old hydrant and hope for the best. We got everything installed, turned on the water, and returned to the barn. We didn't need to test the hydrant to know the new rod failed: water was gushing from the nozzle while the pump handle was in the OFF position. With a couple adjustments to the extension rod, we were able to stop the water flow, but the screw securing the handle to the rod didn't catch; moving the handle would not turn the water on or off. The new extension rod was too short.

Plan D: we needed a longer extension rod. The one I purchased at North 40 was the longest they had in stock. Our hired help couldn't find the right length when he went to a hardware store. We reinstalled the old hydrant with the old rod and new gasket so we could restore water to the house and have water for the animals when it was time to do our night chores. Sure, the hydrant still sprayed water into the air but we'd be able to refill all the buckets and troughs until the correct part could be acquired. We created plan E to get the longer extension rod or a coupling nut to make the old piping compatible with the new hydrant, then we would reconvene next weekend to finally repair the leaky hydrant. It was nearly 4:30pm by the time we finished and we hadn't accomplished anything.

As for the hot tub, the installers were running late. They sent me a text mid-morning to let me know they'd be there closer to 1pm. At 12:59, he texted me again: "We're running behind could we come out tomorrow?" I let him know we had plans for the weekend and needed it done that day. It would be fine if he was out there closer to 2pm or even 3pm. At 2:47, I asked for an ETA and he said they were on their way. By 3:30 they still had not arrived. We were planning on attending a baseball game and needed to leave at 5pm so their absence was getting worrisome. They rolled in at the last minute, dropped the tub into the deck, and left - just in time for us to depart for the game.

We filled the tub on Sunday, excited to finally be able to use what hasn't worked since we moved in. Annie plugged it in and .... nothing happened. No power. I contacted a buddy of mine who sells hot tubs, asked him if he had any ideas what we were doing wrong, and set a plan to call him on Monday. I promised the kids we'd have a movie night so we abandoned the hot tub.

Monday morning, Annie urged me out side. The hot tub's lights were on and jets were running. She figured out what was wrong with the power supply and corrected it. The water temperature was 54° but an hour later, the temp had only gone up by one degree. My friend informed me normal tubs heat up at a rate of seven or eight degrees an hour. We didn't have time to worry about it then though because our oldest daughter had a 9:30am hair dye appointment. After a couple hours at the salon, we got lunch and drove up to Blanchard to pick up some new goats.

Our hopes for a warmer tub were spoiled when we returned home. By 4pm yesterday, the temperature had only risen to 59°. More texts with my friend, sending pictures of the power supply, display, and internal equipment. Over the phone, we concluded the heating element was damaged. The part should be an easy fix, one Annie and I could do on our own. By 4:30, we were resigned to delaying the hot tub repair just a little bit longer.

Farm life can be rewarding and discouraging. Our best laid plans often go awry. Not everything works the first time. Our lives are blessed, but we're not immune to error and folly. When you see picture of us enjoying our home, you should know we worked hard for those moments of joy.


Sola Scriptura: Training a Child.

The biblical book of Proverbs is a poetic collection of wise sayings, often comparing the difference between prudence and foolishness. Many of these Proverbs are familiar to us regardless of religious background. Inside the church, some Proverbs are more popular than others – picking and choosing applicable verses.

For example, the beginning of chapter 22 addresses finances in one form or another. It begins with the claim a good reputation is better than wealth, then later it says the rich rule over the poor. The chapter describes both the wealthy and destitute as equal creations of God. It promises humility is rewarded with riches and generosity leads to blessings. It warns against sowing injustice (you'll reap calamity) and oppressing the poor for selfish gain (you'll come to poverty).

Christian culture has embraced the sixth verse from this chapter as the prescription for child rearing. "Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it."

If you ask a faithful Christian about how to raise kids, they probably know this verse. It is repeated to new parents in every denomination, read in church parenting classes, and is the advice offered by pastors to parents with rebellious teenagers. But if you ask those same individuals about the rest of the chapter, their knowledge is probably limited to the lone verse about training their child. Rare few people would quote for you verse eleven: "One who loves a pure heart and who speaks with grace will have the king for a friend." Even rarer, you will have an explanation of verse six in contexts of the surrounding passage or ancient cultures and traditions. This is the challenge of reading scripture with Western eyes.

Sola Scriptura is a doctrine common among protestant and evangelical denominations. It proposes that the bible is the one and only trusted source for rules, instruction, and practice. Question anything, the answer is found in scripture. Adherence to sola scriptura takes the bible literally and clings to biblical inerrancy - a teaching of the bible being free of error or fault. This is the culture in which I was raised: the bible is perfect, perceived contradictions is a misunderstanding of the reader, scripture is the only source of wisdom, and every word was literal fact.

As I got older, sola scriptura grew confusing and impractical, which brings me back to Proverbs 22:6. Train up a child in the way he should go. The NIV translation reads, "Start children off on the way they should go," and the NLT says, "Direct your children onto the right path." Train them. Start them. Direct them. All point to the same result: they won't leave it when they're older.

Taken literally, it made sense with my family. My parents were spiritual leaders for my brother and me. They insisted on church attendance. Prayed for us, read us bible stories, and theological issues with us. When we grew up, Aaron and I remained Christians; as adults, we have both been active in ministry. We did not depart from the path.

Statistically speaking, the Casey family is an anomaly. A study from the SBC indicated 70% of teens actively involved in evangelical youth groups quit attending church within two years of graduating high school. Other research shows a shrinking number of adults identifying as Christian and a growth among religiously unaffiliated citizens. Surveys have revealed many young adults abandoning the faith of their youth during or after their freshman year of college. Taking Proverbs 22:6 literally, we must assume their parents didn't train them in the way they should go.

My experience disagrees this interpretation.

It worked with my parents, but the same isn't universally true. Not all the kids I grew up with still believe in God. I remember their parents and what it was like in their homes. They instilled Godly values too. They made every attempt to direct their kids down the correct paths, yet their kids still strayed. Their kids abandoned the road. Their kids left the faith. Their results disprove scripture. They trained up their kids in the way they should go and their kids did not follow the path. Does that mean their parents didn't really train them up in the way they should go? It sure looks like they did. What went wrong that my parents got right? My folks made a lot of mistakes, so how did Aaron and I hold onto a faith so many of our peers abandoned?

What about PKs? Pastors and preachers should be better equipped to lead their offspring into a legacy of Christian belief. Yet the children of clergy can end up running away from faith as adults, and often do. Rebellious pastor’s kids are unfortunately common, raised on a path they refuse to follow.

How many devoted Christians have prayed reverently for the deliverance of their wayward children. Drug addicts, alcoholics, abusers, and apostates who once attended their houses of worship like good little children? How many of these faithful have agonized over where they failed, hopeless over their kid’s eternal fate.

What happens when you train a child and they rebel? That question has plagued me ever since I became a parent. That question led me to doubt sola scriptura doctrine. I mean, we can't possibly take this passage literally if the literal application doesn't work. It presents other issues too, problems beyond contradictory experiential evidence.

It is incompatible with doctrine of free will - the belief that God allows humanity to go our own way. It defies the teaching of Jesus: "Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it." Literal interpretation of Proverbs 22:6 insists the path you follow is not your decision, it is the result of how you were raised. With a literal approach, you’re incapable of choosing to enter the narrow gate unless their parents taught you to do so. Biblical literalism here also removes any opportunity for personal responsibility. After all, one could claim "it's not my fault my life is messed up, my parents didn't train me up in the way I should go."

It is incompatible with doctrine of predestination - the belief that God has already determined the destiny of everything before it ever happens. It defies the letters of Paul who wrote, "For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son" and "He predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ." Literal interpretation of Proverbs 22:6 insists it is parental actions, not God's selection that sets a course for a child's destiny. If we adhere to this, we supplant God's will with our own. If you truly believe in predestination, then it shouldn't matter what a parent does or doesn't do because grown up kids only remain on the path if it is where God ordained them to be.

Here is what I have determined: we (as humans) don't really know what we're doing. Our best option is to do the best we can do with the tools we've been given. I believe that is what my parents did. I also believe that is the choice made by the parents of my friends who did not remain devout. The divine fate between choice and destiny is something I will never fully understand. Looking at scripture alone to find an answer is absurd. If you tell me you interpret the bible literally, I want to know. What happens when you trained a child in the way they should go but they depart from it?

Does this mean I am rejecting or abandoning scripture? Of course not. I still see the bible as holy, sacred, and divinely inspired. However, I am abandoning many of the conservative and fundamentalist teachings about the bible. I am rejecting the idea that the way we've interpreted the bible is perfect.

So, I'll do my best. I will work to be the best dad I can be. I will teach my kids about my faith and lead them to the best of my ability. Then I will hope for the best outcome. Because if God has already determined their path, then what will be will be. And if the path they choose is truly their choice then I cannot be responsible if they decide something different than what I directed.

I might not believe in a literal interpretation of Proverbs 22:6 anymore, but I still take it seriously. It is my duty as a Christian father to lead my kids. Maybe they won't stray from the path. Maybe they will. And perhaps, just maybe, my idea of the path they should follow isn't the way they should go. I'm open to the possibility God has other plans.


Mourning a Maverick

After the death of a celebrity, from athletes to musicians and movie stars, they're instantly remembered for the better parts of their nature. Their sins and errors are quickly forgotten - even if only temporarily, and their post-mortem image in the public consciousness is flattering and uplifting.

The same isn't always true of political giants. Either they go the way of dictators and tyrants, whose ends usually come violently and given unceremonious farewells like Gaddafi or Bin Laden. Others are honored, occasionally elevated to mythical status, a civic sainthood for American heroes. History books remember these figures with kindness and generosity not reserved for normal people. For these legends, temporary amnesia is far more permanent than what is granted for other departed and famous. We forget failures and weaknesses never to discuss them again. In generations to come, text books and memorials will only highlight the good they contributed to our world.

Senator John McCain falls into this latter category, an American icon whose name will be listed among the greats like George Washington, Susan B. Anthony, and Martin Luther King Jr. This isn't to say he was a perfect man, he was fully human. Rather, any dispute or critique is now irrelevant. Instead we're left with an immeasurable legacy. A military man, war hero, POW, and a figure who passionately devoted his life to the care of veterans. A lawmaker steadfast in his convictions yet was willing to work with individuals with opposing political beliefs to achieve shared goals. He was labeled a maverick because he would go his own way even when his party went a different direction. This balance of pragmatism and idealism ruffled a few feathers - especially among extremists.

image courtesy of Minnesota Public Radio

However, his approach created allies out of enemies and forged friends from nemeses. Most people would not handle competition with the grace McCain demonstrated. Instead of walking away bitter after devastating loss, McCain took the high road and celebrated his opponent's victory. He ran for president twice, losing to George W Bush and Barack Obama. These two men will be delivering eulogies at McCain’s funeral, a testament to the bonds McCain fought to build with his colleagues and rivals.

In death, McCain has silenced his critics and won the respect of his foes. While I could list the many ways I disagreed with his political stances or the policies he supported, my petty complaints don't matter. The life he lived was admirable and even in disagreements, I see a man who exemplifies the way I wish to be seen when my time comes. Despite our differences, I never doubted that he wanted what was best for his family, his state, and his nation. He was the last great American conservative and his absence will be felt for years to come. Regardless of political party or ideology, America needs more men and women like him.

Farewell Senator McCain. You lived well. May God rest your Maverick soul.

image courtesy of AP News


Two Towers

On the drive to work this morning, I noticed a cell tower standing in the field north of Cabellas. Actually, I saw two of them in the same empty lot - close enough that you could fly a paper airplane from one to the other. I've passed this plot of land more times than I could count and never recognized the two towers standing there to transmit my LTE signals. I've seen them, but I've never noticed them.

They're there. And they've been there for a long time. Yet I've driven by time and time again completely oblivious to their presence. They have a purpose, fully functional. I can make and receive phone calls because they exist. I'm usually streaming a podcast while I drive that stretch of road, which means my smartphone is accessing the internet carried by one of those cell towers.

I got my first cell phone in 2002. It was a part of a T-Mobile promotion for DirecTV employees. I filled out the application on my lunch break, selected the device and calling plan - voice only, no texts. The only game I could play on it was Snake. In the years since then, as mobile providers expand their coverage and fight with each other to build the most reliable network, the population of cell towers have exploded. They now dot the landscape of every city, town, and village across America. They've become so common they're often overlooked.

Let's be honest though. It's probably best that we ignore the sight of the towers providing our cell reception. They're ugly constructions, not architecturally appealing in any way, shape, or form. They're hideous enough, some people attempt to disguise them as trees like the one near the Daybreak Coffee stand at Prairie and Ramsey in Hayden. However, the nature costume is clearly artificial looking; it's even more garish than the standard cell tower.

Whether incognito or undisguised, cell towers are an eyesore, one we have become so accustomed to seeing they blend into the scenery. On most days, we can pretend they don't exist.

As I turned onto Seltice to cross the Spokane River and continue my morning commute, I observed that which I've repeatedly disregarded. Two cell towers. For the first time since signing my contract with T-Mobile sixteen years ago, I pondered the existence of these towers I've long taken for granted.

It made me think about time travel. What if we jumped in our DeLorean and went backwards thirty years? In 1988, my dad is probably playing a pinball machine in Godfather's Pizza while the jukebox plays Richard Marx's Hold On to the Nights. Cinephiles were in line for tickets to see Young Guns after enjoying Die Hard and Cocktail earlier in the summer. Anyone using satellite service for their television had a twelve-foot diameter dish in their yard. Mark Langston had a great year as a pitcher despite the Mariners finishing last place in their division. A few individuals used cellular phones on a 1G network with bricks that took ten hours to charge and only provided a half hour of talk time. Cell service was a luxury at a cost greater than what most Americans could afford, and cell towers did not dot the countryside.

Could you imagine going back in time and trying to explain a cell tower to a resident of history? Or even attempting to describe one to a younger version of you? Or what if a traveler from the past came to our time and saw these ugly base transceiver stations lurking behind office buildings, attached to billboards, or freestanding in the middle of fields? What would they think? How would we justify their presence? Would they return to their era and convince everyone we need to rethink this cell phone thing?

I am thankful I'm able to carry around one small device in my pocket that replaces a multitude of gadgets my younger self would have never been able to manage. I am grateful my phone is also my camera, video camera, calculator, compass, altimeter, GPS, voice recorder, Walkman, planner, and so much more. I appreciate being able to read the news, listen to the radio, research for my book, watch a movie, take classes, keep in touch with old friends, and go shopping all from the convenience of my iPhone. It's amazing that I can do those things from almost anywhere. However, not all the wonders of our technological advances are beneficial or aesthetically pleasing. Sure, I'm used to seeing mobile phone masts scattered in every community. I've practically become numb to them. However, I sometimes miss seeing unobstructed views of mountains, forests, pastures, and rolling hills. Sometimes, I am disgusted by the towers and monuments of digital progress.

Days like these, I wonder what tomorrow holds. Will the archaeologists of a future society dig up the ruins of our civilization to discover ancient cell towers then describe our people as primitive for using such crude structures to communicate with each other?


The Struggle

By the time I joined the MPHS drama club, casting for Cheaper by the Dozen was complete. It was my sophomore year and I felt like should be playing a sport; instead of auditioning for the fall play, I joined the tennis team. I eventually walked into the auditorium hoping to be a part of whatever happened in there. Mr K, the director and theater teacher told me he didn't believe in understudies so there wasn't a role available for me. However, he allowed me to become the stage manager, a position I held through every drama club production for the rest of my high school career.

Cheaper by the Dozen is a based on a 1948 novel about a family with twelve kids and their father's unorthodox parenting strategy. During one of the dress rehearsals, Mr K stood next to me and pointed to one of the guys on stage whose character was an elementary-aged kid. He said, "It's a shame you didn't audition. If you had, I would have given you his part."

Mr K was pointing to a lanky kid named Daniel. He taller than most, over-sized for his character’s age. On appearance alone, I would have been a better fit. I was short, barely weighed 100 pounds, and looked younger than Daniel.

It's a good thing tennis practice kept me away from the casting call. Daniel was a damn good actor, and he used this role to prove his skill. He was given the lead role in almost every production after that. Harold Hill in The Music Man, Charlie Gordon in Flowers for Algernon, Cyrano in Cyrano de Bergerac. Even in smaller roles, Daniel shined. His father helped build many of our sets including the elaborate stairway and second story balcony for Neil Simon's Rumors.

During our senior year, I began eating lunch in the auditorium, joined by Daniel and a few other students. Drama class immediately followed lunch as we prepared for our spring production of Into the Woods. We had great discussions while we ate, youthful debates on politics and religion.

Observing Daniel for three years on stage, I was impressed. If any of us had the potential to become famous, it was him. Through our interactions as peers and in those lunchtime conversations, I saw him as one of those kids who had it all together. It seemed like the fates were in his favor. The world was his for the taking.

After graduation, we lost contact. Social media didn't exist in 1997 and I only made efforts to keep track of my closest friends. In '99, I moved to Boise and my classmates became strangers and memories. For years, I knew nothing of what happened to Daniel or any of the other kids from Marysville-Pilchuck. Until Facebook.

High school wasn't the happiest era of my history. When I started connecting with former classmates through Facebook, I was (and still am) highly selective. While I do assign great nostalgic value to the music and movies of the 90's, I have zero interest in reliving my teenage years. There is no former glory to go back to, the best years of my life are happening now. The former classmates I've "friended" on Facebook are those who I am genuinely interested in knowing what's happening in their lives today. Daniel is one of those individuals.

When we first reconnected online, I was unsurprised by the kind of man he became. Married, lives in the Seattle area, embraces and celebrates geek culture, works in marketing, and looks like the kid I remembered from years past. Except he's bald now. I was also happy to see he's still acting. Daniel regularly performs in Shakespeare productions, is active in the local theater community, and has received several praising reviews. More than any of our classmates, he appears to be living out his childhood dreams. Over the past few years, I've found greater admiration and respect for him than I ever did when we were kids. Hopefully, someday soon, I can make a trek back to the west side of the state, see one of his shows, and meet him at some hipster bar for drinks to catch up on the lives we've lived for the past 20 years.

Even in Daniel’s charmed existence, despite those things he posts which fits within my preconceived notions of his personality, he occasionally surprises me. Last week, he posted the following message:
"I suffer from depression and anxiety. I've carried around a persistent sadness since as far back as I can remember. I'm not suicidal but these thoughts run through my brain on a near daily basis."
Daniel included a video of notes written by people who have suicidal thoughts while they're not suicidal. Statements like:

"It's having this numbing ache inside you don't know how to mute."
"They're fleeting but frequent thoughts that attack you even when you feel completely fine."
"It's like being trapped in a brain you're unfamiliar with."
"It's not really the thought, 'I want to kill myself,' but more, 'I don't care if I die.'"

image courtesy of The Mighty

At my lowest point, I had similar thoughts crashing inside my mind. I never felt suicidal. I never wanted to end my life. I carried too much Wesleyan guilt and shame to commit any form of self-harm. Yet I felt as if it would be OK if I perished in a tragic accident or as the victim of a random act of violence. The video Daniel shared echoed voices that used to haunt me. I knew I wasn't alone in my thoughts, thousands of Americans struggle with some form of depression. Yet I was surprised to see Daniel admit he was one of us.

I should know better. Artists like us are often prone to melancholy. Our talents are frequently borne from pain, from the darkest recesses of our psyches. Singers, musicians, painters, writers, actors, and other creative types. We all seek to exorcise our demons through our chosen craft. I also know that depression doesn't discriminate against age, race, gender, religion, or financial status. Success doesn't make you immune. Popularity and accolades do not inoculate your mental health. Achieving your dreams cannot protect you from suffering. Anyone could be struggling with anxiety or depression - even those of us who appear to be happy or have it all. Humans are complex creatures and there is more going on inside us than we ever display.

Daniel and I share a goal. It is the reason he posted the video and why I am writing this post. We both want to inspire someone in need of hope. We both believe mental health issues need better representation. We want to end the stigma against mental illness and create productive conversations about it. In my experience, the negative impact of depression lessened the more I talked about it.

When it was worst for me, I got help through counselling and medication. Daniel is in the process of doing the same. Our journeys look very different, yet we share the same message.

You are not alone.
You are valued.
You are important.
You are needed.
You are loved.
You are strong.
You are courageous.

Even if you don't feel like it, those seven statements are still true. Daniel and I stand as proof that there is light in the middle of darkness. Whether it is through a crisis hotline, a professional therapist, or a friendly face like mine or Daniel's, help is available.

If you need someone to talk to, please send me a message on Facebook or Twitter. You can also call the National Suicide prevention hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “HOME” to 741-741.


Does It Matter?

Pick your battles. I've been given this advice over and over and over again. In parenting with rambunctious kids: pick your battles - address the worst behaviors first and worry about the rest later. In politics: pick your battles - there are too many issues to take all of them on at the same time. At work: pick your battles - don't burn out by spreading yourself too thin. In personal conflicts: pick your battles - sometimes the dispute isn't worth the effort.

In theory, this makes sense. I understand the value of the statement and my friends would tell you they have received this piece of advice from me. In practice though? I suck. It is hard for me to let things slide. I don't enjoy sweeping sins under the rug; I'd rather light the rug on fire and deal with everybody's dirt. I want to talk about it. I want to argue over it. I want to wage war. I want it resolved so I never have to see it again. My rational side knows not every battle needs fought while my emotional side says, "LET'S GET READY TO RUMBLE."

This isn't a new perspective. My passions are not unique. In the ninth chapter of the Gospel of Mark, there is a story of the disciples wanting to pick fights. It begins in verse 38 when they complain to Jesus: "We saw someone driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us."

I referee these disputes all the time with my kids. "Dad, I told her to stop singing and she won't stop. Make her stop!" "Dad, he's spinning in circles again and he won't stop. I told him to stop but he won't listen to me." "Dad, he keeps bumping into me and I don't like it."

The disciples didn't want someone else working under the name of Christ. They followed Jesus, traveled with him, dined with him, laughed and cried with him. They felt as if they were the only ones qualified to do what God called them to do. Jesus had a different perspective than his friends. He replied, "Do not stop him. For no one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, for whoever is not against us is for us."

Paul echoed this sentiment in his message to the Philippians. This letter was written while Paul was in prison. In his absence, other believers stepped up to carry on Paul's ministry. The differences in personalities and styles caused some disagreements and Paul wanted to silence those quarrels. He explained how some people preached out of envy, rivalry, selfish ambition, or to cause trouble for Paul, while others did it out of goodwill and love. Paul could have gone on the attack and criticized anyone insincerely joining the ministry or preaching to inflate their own ego. Instead, he picked his battles. He wrote, "But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice."

I wish I was more like Paul and took the high road a little more frequently. However, I don't ask, "Does it matter?" Instead, I tend to take the disciples’ approach. Run into the fray kicking and screaming and sometimes pouting. "But but but ... They're wrong. They need to quit. Oh dear God make them stop ... "

But does it matter? What if I'm wrong? What if they're wrong but it's not causing any harm? What if they're not wrong and I'm not wrong we're just different? What if we're trying to accomplish the same goal from divergent perspectives? We might disagree on a multitude of issues, but do we agree on what is most important? Is it worth the fight?

There are battles that need to be fought and won. Occasionally though, judgement can wait. Sometimes, there are more urgent issues to tackle. Other times, I might need to step back and let someone else throw some punches. In a world where I would prefer being right all the time, I should learn to pick my battles.


Bailing Out

Through geekery alone, my knowledge is significant. I can crack open a book, read, and absorb information; surf the internet and flex my Google-Fu; take classes and attend seminars. The possibilities seem endless. But there are limits. There are things that you cannot fully understand until experienced through hands-on application. I can argue superiority between Star Trek and Star Wars because I've seen all the movies and TV shows; I've played video games and board games related to both franchises. I've experienced both fandoms so my knowledge is equally practical and intellectual.

However ...

There are things where (until recently) I've had no need to learn through visual, auditory, or kinesthetic pursuits. Farming is one of those topics. During 1985’s Farm Aid concert, I knew American growers faced a financial crisis, fighting against political pressures. However, I was only six years old so the technical details and shifting dynamics in our economy were far beyond my grasp. I knew nothing of the changes corporate agriculture had on independent and small family farms. First grade curriculum doesn’t include the concepts of supply and demand, property rights, mass production, or GMOs. Even as I got older and learned about economic principles and American civics, costs and efforts required to harvest food were irrelevant to me. I was a product of the suburbs, completely disinterested in the agrarian lifestyle. I saw the American heartland as endless amber waves of grain, boring scenery between me and Grandma's house. I valued purple mountain majesty and fruited plains, preferred the scent of cedar groves and alpine meadows over dairy air, and would rather hear honking horns than mooing bovine. I was content to keep it that way. If I could go to the grocery store and buy prepackaged delights, then the plight of the farmer was not my concern.

Priorities have shifted over the past several months. Farming is no longer something other people do; it's a part of my daily life. My health improved because of the work it takes to build fencing and stack hay. I appreciate the view from my back porch where I watch the sunset every evening. I love the darkness at night, revealing a vast expanse of stars undiminished from the light pollution plaguing city folk. I also understand how hard you must labor to enjoy this life and how much it costs to maintain it.

We love our horses. Horses eat a lot of hay. Hay can be expensive - especially when the horses eat (roughly) a ton of food each month.

Until now, the financial side of equestrian care was a foreign subject. Money spent on field fencing is staggering for someone who has never investigated those prices. A trip to the theater for the newest Marvel movie (including soda and popcorn) is cheap compared to the price tags on saddles at the tack shop. I've been exposed to the world of rodeos, household repair, and farm maintenance. I now spend time in North 40 and Home Depot the same way a younger version of me once occupied Hastings and GameStop. I’ve become familiar with how expensive it is to maintain a farm with goats, geese, ducks, chickens, horses, and a free-spirited rabbit who does whatever it wants; I also see how hard my neighbors work with their pigs and cattle. We purchased hay from local farms - all of which are grown and harvested by young families or old men wanting to be productive after retiring from the workforce. I’m grateful for how much they spend on equipment and the hard work they do to cut and bale the hay we buy to feed our animals.

When I hear people talk about their motivations behind voting or Trump, it makes sense to me. Vibrancy fades once you get out of urban centers and bedroom communities. Small towns in rural America have been shrinking. I've driven through many dwindling municipalities with boarded up windows, signs announcing store closures, and empty streets on what should have been a busy day filled with people shopping for goods, services, and supplies. Their populations are leaving for better opportunities in bigger cities, costs of running a farm are increasing, profits from selling meat and produce are slimmer. Their way of life is slowly disappearing. Livelihoods of many Americans depend on their land, their crops, their livestock. They see an uncertain future, a possible end to their lifestyle. Justified or not, many of them blame Obama and Democratic policies for these changes. Afraid of losing everything they've ever known, they believe Donald Trump was the only candidate who cared about them. They thought Trump was the one would protect the familiar, he would be a champion of their values and interests.

Economic, social, political, and demographic insecurity. They were unsettled by changes in the populace from gay rights and immigration to lower attendance in their churches every Sunday morning. They saw massive societal shifts and it scared them. People who are anxious of losing their status, power, or influence can act irrationally. Fear makes us stupid. Trump tapped into those fears and exploited them. Now, the farmers who voted for him need rescue from the negative impacts of his administration.

It's sad because it was all entirely predictable. We could see this coming. Trump campaigned on promises of trade wars and tariffs. Democrats raged against his plans. Comedians and late-night talk show hosts mocked him. Conservatives voiced tempered concern. Economists predicted disaster. When Trump threatened trade wars, we all knew it wouldn't end well. We all knew what would happen. Those of us who opposed Trump tried to warn everyone. Yet Trump still won the election. The predictions of doom came true and the people hurt the worst by Trump's tariffs are (or were) his biggest supporters. Trump offered a $12-billion bail out to offset the consequences of harm caused by his trade war.

Money fixes everything.

How do you get a slice of that $12-billion pie? Our farm needs two more pastures fenced in, a new round pen, deer fencing erected so we can start our garden, privacy landscaping planted to shield our pool from view of people driving by, and several trees need to be felled or pruned. A pest control treatment would be nice. Our work truck broke down and needs replaced. When you live on a farm, there are always a list of projects you'll complete if/when you get a little extra cash. Our list is a little longer than most.

Realistically though, my family won't qualify for any funds. Nor will my neighbors, or the ma & pa farms where we purchase hay. Operations like ours are ineligible. The $12-billion will not be going to independent and family farms with small acreage. Instead, large corporate owned farms are getting it. Companies who stock the frozen foods isle at major grocery stores. Ag-industry giants who supply beef and French fries to fast food chains. The bailouts are gifts to big businesses, not to the people who need it most.

Let’s treat those poor farmer-CEOs the way many conservatives malign impoverished Americans. They don't deserve welfare, need a hand up not a hand up. It's time they pull themselves up by the bootstraps. They're just lazy. I don't pay my taxes so these people can have money handed to them – no strings attached. Who do they think funds their free lunch? They better not be buying beer or cigarettes. If they're unable to pay their bills, they should go get a second or third job. They could drive their tractors for Uber or list their farms on Airbnb. Perhaps they should be drug tested before they get a bailout. Why not drug test all their employees? Hopefully none of those employees are undocumented workers; we'd have to deport them.

If all else fails, we can vote differently in November than we did in 2016. We might still be scared; hopefully we're smarter.


The Double Negative

After a disastrous summit in Helsinki, Donald Trump finally did something I never thought I'd see him do: he retracted his comments and admitted a mistake. Perhaps only because of the backlash. Accusations of treason from Democrats, liberals, and constant critics were echoed by supporters like FOX News pundits and GOP stalwarts. So, Trump took a mulligan.

“It's not really treason if I misspoke.” In this instance, "I misspoke" seems equal to "Please don't impeach me."

At the news conference, Trump said, "They said they think it's Russia. Uh, I have uh President Putin. Uh, he just said it's not Russia. I will say this, I don't see any reason why it would be." In other words, "My people said it's Russian, Putin says it wasn't, I believe Putin."

According to Trump, only one word was victim to his faux pas: would. What he meant to say was wouldn't. His (supposedly) intended statement was "I don't see any reason why it wouldn't be." Trump clarified it was "sort of a double negative."

Double negatives are common grammatical errors where two negative words cancel each other out. In mathematics, subtracting a negative number is the same as adding a positive integer or the negative number's absolute value. Language follows similar patterns. The negatives negate each other. When Pink Floyd sang "We don't need no education," the grammatically proper interpretation would assume they do need education. If someone tells you "You don't have to go nowhere," what they're really saying is you do have to go somewhere. Items described as not uncommon really are common.

Double negative trouble is that the speaker usually doesn't mean to contradict their own statement. Pink Floyd is declining a need for education. “Ain't no" is an uneducated method of saying "isn't." Double negatives only function like a true double negative when used to make a point. Like when I say I can't not write, I truly mean it's a thing I cannot not do. In other words, I must write. It's a part of who I am; if I wasn't a writer, I wouldn't be me.

There is reason to doubt Trump intended to use a double negative; no accidental slip of the tongue? It's possible, but I doubt it. I am skeptical for several reasons.

1. Putin was questioned if his regime meddled in the 2016 US elections. His answer didn't mention anything about meddling, only denied collusion. Then Putin offered to help Muller's investigation on the condition allowing Russian authorities to interrogate American intelligence agents. Trump called it "an incredible offer." If Trump genuinely believed Russia meddled, he wouldn't think allowing Russian authorities to help investigate Russian meddling is an incredible offer. If he trusted American intelligence over Putin's denials, Trump wouldn't be impressed by an offer that permits the interrogation of American agents by Russian officers.

2. When asked if he holds Russia accountable for anything, Trump answered, "Yes I do. I hold both countries responsible. I think that the United States has been foolish. We've all been foolish, and I think we're all to blame." This remark is just as offensive as Trump’s response to the carnage caused when neo-Nazis marched through Charlottesville. It puts all parties on the same level when one side clearly is more nefarious. If Trump genuinely believed Russia meddled, he wouldn't assign blame to both sides.

3. The double negative doesn't fit within the context of Trump's full response. Given the opportunity to denounce Putin, Trump said, "My people came to me. Dan Coats came to me. And some others. They said they think it's Russia. Uh, I have uh President Putin. Uh, he just said it's not Russia. I will say this, I don't see any reason why it would be. So I have great confidence in my intelligence people, but, uh, I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today." Let's place his misstated claim into the full statement.
"My people came to me. Dan Coats came to me. And some others. They said they think it's Russia. Uh, I have uh President Putin. Uh, he just said it's not Russia. I will say this, I don't see any reason why it wouldn't be. So I have great confidence in my intelligence people, but, uh, I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today."
Doesn't work. His answer began with opponents: his people versus Vladimir Putin. Then he said Putin denied it in an "extremely strong and powerful" way. Finally, the misstated statement was what Trump described as "the key sentence in my remarks." It was the most urgent thing he said, prefaced by the unnecessary phrase "I will say this," as if to say "this is important, you better be listening." The original makes more sense in context of the full statement than the corrected version Trump acquiesced. Besides, if Trump genuinely believed Russia meddled, it wouldn't matter how extremely strong and powerfully Putin denied the meddling.

4. Even when admitting he believed the US intelligence community, he added a caveat as if to say he might not believe them. In a meeting with GOP lawmakers the day after returning from Helsinki, Trump read a prepared statement: "I accept our intelligents community’s conclusion that Russia's meddling in the 2016 election took place. Could be other people also. Uh, a lot of people out there." (Yes, he said, "intelligents." There was even a pause between intelligent and the s to make it plural. Bygones.) Allegedly, he meant to say he had no reason Russia wouldn't meddle. Yet his statement was completely undone when he floated the idea that it could have been someone other than Russia. If Trump genuinely believed Russia meddled, he would place full confidence in the findings provided from all intelligence agencies without adding the possibility they could be wrong, no inclusion it could be other people or a lot of people. If Trump believed Russia meddled, he would admit it was Russia and only Russia.

5. His posture is one of defiance. The reading of the prepared statement clarifying his statement was super awkward, as evidenced by him saying intellligents instead of intelligence. It also shows the statement wasn't his idea. He was uncomfortable the entire time, sitting with a scowl on his face and his arms crossed in anger, like a petulant child giving a forced apology to an older brother for kicking him in the balls. In fact, the only time he appeared to be comfy in his statement is when he went off script. Then he sounded more assured and smug. Donald only acts like that when he's using his own words. If someone else wrote it, he sounds defeated like an obnoxious child punished for kicking his older brother in the balls. If Trump genuinely believed Russia meddled, he would say so with the same swagger and confidence he uses when speaking at rallies and in ad-libbed statements at press conferences. He wouldn't read it like a hostage under duress.

Trump revealed himself when he sided with Russia. Despite walking back on his comments, it's clear he still believes Putin. Does it matter? Probably not. Many of the Republicans who condemned his Helsinki performance are now acting like it's no big deal. If you believe his mea culpa, Trump's words and actions are irrelevant. He could say, "Yup, Russia did it and I don't care. Thanking him is patriotic." You'd reply, "Spasibo comrade."