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."


Remembering Reagan

Roughly a decade ago and a half ago, I was tied up in a conversation which left me feeling older than anyone under the age of thirty should ever feel. It was halfway through George W Bush's presidency, shortly after he won re-election, and a group of coworkers were discussing politics in the breakroom. One girl, who was in her younger twenties at the time, was complaining of rumored changes working their way through congress.

"Did you know they're trying to pass a law so people not born in the US can become president?"

I didn't know that because it wasn't happening. Even if congress was debating such changes, it would require a constitutional amendment. Such a drastic change was unlikely then and would be practically impossible now.

Then she continued with her reasoning. "It's because Arnold Schwarzenegger wants to be president, but he can't because he was born in Germany or somewhere like that. So, congress is trying to help him out."

One of the other coworkers at the table asked, "What's wrong with that?"

"Because," she answered, "he's an actor. Actors shouldn't be allowed to be president."

"We've already had an actor become president." I objected to her reasoning.

"We have?"

"Yes." I spoke, but there were a few heads nodding in confirmation.


"Ronald Reagan." I said.

"Who's Ronald Reagan?" She asked.

Who's Ronald Reagan?!? Really? I did some quick math. Ronald Reagan would have been in office when this girl was born. How do you reach legal drinking age without knowing who was president in the year of your birth? For someone to be so ignorant of such recent history … It made me feel ancient. I had to walk away.

image courtesy of Chicago Tribune

I remember Reagan. Granted, he led our nation through a significant part of my childhood. I remember Farm Aid. I remember the speech when he said, "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall." I remember the First Lady's "Just Say No" campaign. I remember the revelation of Iran-Contra details and Reagan accepting responsibility. And I remember his farewell address.

The current trend for Republicans is bracing Reagan as a sacred American icon. However, what stands out most in my memories of Reagan places him at odd with the modern GOP. He was philosophically consistent from the beginning of his administration to the end, yet he was willing to compromise with those who disagreed with him. He admitted his faults and failures. He valued intelligence and pragmatism. He promoted civility and respect. Whether he succeeded or not, he aimed to meet the needs of the average American and he adjusted his policies as culture and situations changed. Even among those who disagreed with his politics he was generally well liked, and he carried a dignity that elevated the office of President.

As for those policies? Well, they are not the kind the GOP would approve of today. He supported waiting periods for purchasing guns. He supported a climate treaty which eliminated the use of a few chemical compounds. His immigration stances were far more liberal than the current “build a wall” rhetoric, and he supported the amnesty immigration bill introduced by Teddy Kennedy - a Democrat. He was adamantly critical of the Russians, calling the USSR "evil." His foreign policy was less isolationist and more interventionist. Despite making major tax cuts at the beginning of his presidency, Reagan raised taxes eleven times during his two terms. His frequent increases explain why his successor campaigned on the promise, "Read my lips: no new taxes."

Looking back, the 80s was an odd decade. Horrendous fashion but fabulous music. The movies were either gloriously awesome or embarrassingly terrible. It was a difficult time to be a geek, but a great era for those who loved cocaine. At least we had an honorable President. Someone we could respect. Someone who inspired. Someone who is remembered fondly. On days like today, I kind of miss Reagan.


Ode to Mullets

It's the Kentucky waterfall, the neckwarmer, or the Camero cut. The official hairdo of NASCAR, ice hockey, country music, butt-rock, meth addicts, and our worst memories of the 80s. If you have one, I'll assume you drive an El Camino and listen to Nickelback. It's even a movie trope. When you see a kid with a mullet in the theater, you know he's a bully. Or a redneck. Or both.

image courtesy of New Line Cinema and Warner Bros Pictures

In the early days of Bush Jr's presidency, my friend Steve and I spent a couple afternoons mullet hunting. We'd hang out at Boise Towne Square or drive through Garden City looking for people with the regrettable hairstyle so we could take a photograph of them. Somewhere on the internet, in the days before social media, there was a website full of hilarious pictures of mullet-topped citizens. It even had them sorted by classifications, coiffured subspecies. There was the frullet (part afro, part mullet), or the skullet (bald on top, long and flowy in back). The website was completely driven by user submissions and Steve's goal was for them to use a picture he submitted.

We never got a picture good enough to be sent to the web collection of epic mullets. But a juvenile with a kidlet (kid with a mullet) flipped us off, and we were chased through the mall by a body builder unironically dressed like a member of The Power Team.

image courtesy of The Power Team

There are times I wish I had a camera with me to sneak a photo of some creative mullets. At a birthday party for a friend of a friend several years ago, there was a mullet of preposterous proportions worn by the birthday boy's mother's girlfriend. It started with mall-bangs up front (like Tiffany in I Think We’re Alone Now), Farrah Fawcett feathering on top, buzzed in racing lines on the side, and the mullet sprouting down the back. But it was no ordinary mullet, it was divided in half. The left side was cut a few inches shorter than the right side and neither half was trimmed straight; the two sides were cut at odd angles - one of which was sharper than the other. Finally, out from underneath the staggered mullet, like Obi Wan in Episode 1, a thin Padawan braid pony tail hung down to her waistline. It's like her hairstylist asked her what she wanted and she replied, "Give me one of everything."

It's been a good long while since I've witnessed one in public, until this week. It was a mullet that was trying not to be a mullet but clearly was still a mullet.

Between his build and facial features, he looked like Milton from Office Space. His fashion choices were similar too, only substitute current geek-chic glasses for the oversized wire frames and add a minimalist tribal tattoo sleeve.

image courtesy of 20th Century Fox

As for the hair? It was that weird moldy blonde, similar in color and texture as Donald Trump, and slicked back the way Trump’s sons do. Then in back it went down further than you’d expect, ending in a peculiar pointy shape - as if it was once a rat tail cut off while he slept by a prankster sibling.

Mullets have often been referred to as business up front and party in the back. This hair cut was New Yorker up front and homeschooled from Athol in the back. Never have I been more confused by someone else’s haircut.

Thankfully, the mullet has faded from use. Billy Ray Cyrus abandoned it years ago and it's been shunned by most everyone in the public spotlight from politicians to race car drivers to aging metalheads. The mullet is known as a cultural embarrassment and I hope it remains stigmatized for years to come.


Terminating Apartment Life

Tomorrow is the last day in my apartment lease. For the first time since I moved there in September of 2013, I am not renewing. It was a great place to live when I moved in, but a change of ownership a few years back changed things for the worse. This move is the beginning of a new chapter in my life, and it's also a farewell to a residence I am relieved to leave behind. In honor of my final day at Treetop Apartments, here are three things I will not miss about living there, plus two things I will.

I won't miss constant rent increases. With the original owners, my rent didn't change the first time I renewed my lease. Then the new owners came n and rent has increased every renewal since then. The amount I paid with my last rent check is nearly $200 dollars more than what I paid four and a half years ago. When I first moved there, two car garages were included with the lease a their two-bedroom apartments, but under the new owners garages cost extra on top of the lease of a two bedroom unit. Water, sewer, and garbage was originally included in the rent, but those services became an additional charge added to the rent after the new owners took over. And about a year ago, all residents were given notice we were required to carry renter’s insurance effective immediately - increasing the cost to live there and changing the terms of the lease with short notice.

I won't miss parking spaces hard to find. When you pull into the parking lot, there are signs posted warning parking is for residents only. Those signs used to mean something. The original owners had a contract with a local ma & pa towing company. The husband and wife team drove through the lot at random intervals throughout the day and night. They inspected all cars parked in the apartment lots for a parking pass. If they found a car without a pass, they'd tow it. When I moved in, a coworker told me he once had his car towed from that lot after he'd been parked there for less than five minutes. Things changed with the new owners. They terminated the contract with the small towing operation and signed a new contract with a bigger company. The new towers only come to take a vehicle if the property owners request it. Surprise, they never make such requests. The result is a parking lot that is always full and mostly filled with cars lacking a parking pass.

I won't miss dog poop everywhere. There are signs posted advising residents to pick up after their pets. But my neighbors are lazy. Often, there are doggy landmines scattered in every greenspace at the complex and squat-dropped into the grass between the side walk and street. I've witnessed the phenomenon myself, stood on my balcony and watched a neighbor bring out his German Shepherd. It assumed position in the grass at the bottom of the steps to my apartment, dropped its effluence, and the pair walked back to their building. The human never returned to collect his dog's waste. The first summer we lived there, I discovered (in an ironic twist) a pile of poo directly in front of one of the "no pooping" signs. This might seem like an odd complaint considering my new residence. We have two dogs, two cats, five horses, four goats, a rabbit, and a large mixed flock of chickens, ducks, geese and turkeys at the farm. When we do barn chores, it's nearly impossible to not step in it. Everybody poops, including the animals. But there's a difference. If your dog poops in your yard, it's not a big deal. But if your neighbor's dog poops in your yard, you raise a ruckus. I also expect to step in scat when walking through the horse pasture and goat pen. I don't expect it when walking to the manager's office or the mailbox. Some people have no respect and I'm glad they're not my problem any more.

I will miss not having to do yard work. This is by far the greatest perk of apartment life. They employ a maintenance staff to mow the lawn and trim the trees. Or they hire a landscaping company to do it all. As a person who loathes yard work, I was grateful to never worry about the grass growing too tall or weeds that need pulled. It was always someone else's circus, someone else's monkeys. With this move, lawn care is my responsibility once again. The first time we mowed this spring, it took three days. My goal this summer is to teach the kids to do it. Then all I'll have to do is supervise.

Finally, I will miss the sounds of baseball. The sliding glass door to the balcony of my apartment faced Ramsey Park. Walk out the front door, down the stairs, across the driveway, then through a gate in the chain link fence and you'll find yourself on the Prairie Trail next to the Ramsey Ballfields. Staring every spring and lasting late into the fall, evenings became game time with field lights lit up well past sunset. Baseball and softball games frequently lasted until 10pm or later. Even though I am not a huge baseball fan, I still find the sounds of the sport comforting. It reminds me of my childhood listening to Dave Niehaus on KJR and attending Mariners games at the Kingdome. The crack of the bat, crowds cheering, occasional "steeerike!" shout from an umpire, snippets of stadium anthems over the loudspeakers. It's the perfect ambient noise, the soundtrack to a relaxing summer night. I long ago lost count of how many times those sounds lulled me to slumber over the last four and a half years. Sure, I can and will still attend Spokane Indians games, JJ still has a few years left in little league, and I hope to see the M's a few more times at Safeco Field. Yet nothing will replace hearing it played live, right outside the bedroom window, night after night.

As for the farm life, we’re all excited. Christian told me he had always dreamed of living in the country. Some dreams do come true. And the sunsets here are hard to beat.


Civility isn't Civil

In 1993, XL & Death Before Dishonor released a tragically underrated album - Sodom and America. Deep metal grooves with insightful and sometimes subversive hip-hop lyrics akin to Rage Against the Machine. One line from the song ‘Fatal Blow’ has stayed with me through the years: "I don't give none, but I demand respect." 1993 is also the year I endured the worst harassment at school. My experiences repeatedly proved XL's statement to be true. The biggest bullies on campus demanded everyone show them respect, often violently. Yet they refused to show others any level of respect.

Twenty-five years later, bullies haven’t changed, and ‘Fatal Blow’ sounds prophetic. Those who most often desire respect rarely treat others with courtesy. Those who virulently demand freedom of speech for their own beliefs or political stances tend to support suppression and censorship of other beliefs or political stances. Those who campaigned hardest for fiscal responsibility are also financially irresponsible. Those who most ardently expect transparency in others possess many secrets to hide. We have a President who values loyalty above all other qualities, yet he is loyal to no one except himself. And now those who act uncivilized are asking other people to act more civilly.

All because Sarah Huckabee-Sanders was politely asked to leave a restaurant. Suddenly, there's an outcry for civility. I don't want to discuss whether the Red Hen in Lexington made the correct decision. I don't care if doing so was or wasn't within their rights. My concern is with this concept of civility. Because I do not think it means what they think it means. Either that or civility isn't civil.

It's interesting how the people complaining loudest about a lack of civility were the same individuals who once wore t-shits with vulgar names to describe Hilary Clinton and joined the crowd shouting "LOCK HER UP." These are the people who cheered when Trump offered to pay the legal fees of any supporter who beat up a protester. When Trump bragged about sexually assaulting women, these people dismissed it as "locker room talk."

Now, according to these moral police, the Red Hen in Lexington needs a lesson in civility. So far, this is how these lessons have been presented:
  • By waving a confederate flag in front of Red Hen.
  • Throwing piles of animal feces toward the Red Hen while shouting "Make America Great Again."
  • Writing zero-star reviews on Yelp to lower their average score.
  • Writing zero-star reviews on Yelp for other Red Hen restaurants, even though those other establishments are not affiliated with the location in Lexington.
  • Sending death threats to the Red Hen both in Lexington and other locations.
Let's be clear, if you must send death threats to those you perceive as offensive, you've already lost the argument.

photo courtesy of Washington Post

Maybe this is you. Perhaps you're concerned about a senior member of Trump's team being asked to forfeit her accommodations because of who she is and where she works. It's possible you might be thinking this flap at Red Hen highlights how much the civility of public discourse has eroded. If that is you, if you're now asking our society to become more polite and civilized, allow me to ask you a few questions.

Where were your calls for civility when Trump mocked a disabled reporter?
Where were your calls for civility when Trump called NFL players sons of bitches?
Where were your calls for civility when multiple women came forward with credible allegations they had been sexually harassed or assaulted by Trump?
Where were your calls for civility every time Trump insulted a political opponent?
Where were your calls for civility when Trump said the press was the "enemy of the American people" or when Secretary Sanders accused the press of intentionally deceiving American citizens?
Where were your calls for civility when neo-Nazis and white nationalists started marching in the streets with tiki torches? Or when one of those racists ran over and killed a protester? Or when Trump said some of those white supremacists were very fine people?
Where were your calls for civility when Trump used the term "shit holes" to describe a group of mostly African nations?
Where were your calls for civility when Trump backed a senate candidate who was facing several accusations of inappropriate sexual conduct with girls as young as 14?
Where were your calls for civility when you found out Trump's lawyer paid off a porn star to silence her claims of an affair?
Where were your calls for civility when Sarah Sanders claimed it was biblical to separate children from their parents? Or when she refused to answer legitimate questions? Or when she shut down a reporter because she thought he only wanted more TV time?
Where were your calls for civility when Trump and Sanders both blamed the Democrats for creating a law that doesn't exist?

The list of offensive things Trump has said, done, or tweeted is longer than the Appalachian Trail. His propensity to lie is staggering. The second-place competitor for the most frequent liar is Sarah Huckabee-Sanders. Whatever they're doing is the opposite of civility.

We have a misunderstanding of what civility means. Judged on recent cries for decency, it seems the current request is for people to be nice. If being civil means being nice, we need some history lessons. The Civil War wasn't civil. The Civil Rights movement wasn't civil. Civil disobedience is never civil. While the text book definition of civility hints at formalities of politeness and courtesy, the word's origin stems from being a good citizen. When a government grows corrupt or tyrannical, when institutional treatment of at-risk populations becomes inhumane or unbearable, when those in power abandon the norms of decency and civility, the most civilized thing for a citizen is to raise a little hell.

Former President, Franklin D Roosevelt, once quoted a Bulgarian proverb, "It is permitted in time of grave danger to walk with the devil until you have crossed the bridge." While there are many who would disagree with me, I believe we are living in an era of grave danger and we have some bridges to cross. The recent calls for civility from Trump supporters is like terrorists asking us to build bridges while they set explosive changes on the support beams. Some men just want to watch the world burn, so if we are to get to the other side of this bridge, we may need to walk with the devil. Or, as Jack Nicholson said while playing the Joker, "Have you ever danced with the devil in the pale moonlight?" Well, I feel like dancing.

I will practice civility, but I won't be civil. If XL & DBD's song ‘Fatal Blow’ was prophetic, so was another tune from a completely different genre. A dozen years ago, Dixie Chicks released ‘Not Ready to Make Nice.’ What seemed so rebellious in 2006 is now an anthem in my summer playlist for 2018. Because, like the ladies from Dallas sang, I'm not ready to make nice or back down either. I'm mad as hell and don't have time to go round and round and round. I'll be civil, but I'm done playing nice.

You're concerned, I'm sure. You see my combative and defiant language here and suggestions about walking or dancing with the devil; you fear the worst. I can hear your voice asking, "But nic, what would Jesus do?" The Jesus I know told his disciples to be as shrewd as serpents and as innocent as doves. It's time to be a little shrewder. And if all else fails, flipping tables is still an option. So, you can take your hypocritical request for civility and shove it up somewhere uncivilized.


Who loves the little children?

There was a simple song I learned in church when I was a kid. If you were a preschooler from a Christian family in the 80s, you probably learned it too. We sang it often in my childhood church: Jesus Loves the Little Children. You know the words, “Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world. Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight. Jesus loves the little children of the world.

It was a comforting concept for us kids under the age of six. If Jesus loves children, and I am a child, logical deduction means Jesus loves me. They gave us coloring sheets of Jesus, drawn to look like a surfer dude in a bathrobe, surrounded by kids our age. Jesus and the kids were always smiling in these pictures, images of love and hope even if it was a smidge myopic. We were told Bible stories of how the disciples tried to keep kids away from Jesus, but he scolded them and insisted on playing with the youngsters. These stories told us of a Jesus who said the kingdom of God belongs to children, and how grownups need the faith of a child if they want salvation.

image courtesy Catholic Sistas

Innocence of childhood was foundational. Jesus loved us, and adults should seek to discover our pure faith. As I grew up, the churches I attended continued to elevate school aged children as our most prized populations. They were the next generation. They were our future. And Jesus loved them.

My personal faith has matured over the years. I struggle to see the world with child-like wonder, yet I still believe kids are precious and should always be protected. I believe in a Jesus who said it would be better for a person to be drowned in the sea with a millstone hung around their neck than to bring harm to a child.

While watching and reading news stories over the last week, I kept singing this song in my head. Jesus loves the little children. Jesus loves these immigrant children. Jesus loves kids brought into America by parents illegally crossing the border. Jesus loves kids torn away from parents seeking asylum. Jesus loves these kids who were endangered in their homelands. Jesus loves all the children now sleeping on concrete floors, caged in by chain link fencing. Jesus loves the children held in overcrowded tent cities somewhere in the Texan desert. Jesus loves the little children of the world, including those from Mexico, Guatemala, and Honduras. Jesus loves them, even if we don't.

I'm beginning to wonder if the elders and Sunday School teachers who taught me this song really believe what it says. Maybe they don't. Maybe it's a sham. Looking at the evangelical community now, a more accurate title would be "Jesus loves the little children, but not these children." I remember the lyrics and the colors listed: red, yellow, black, white. I recognize brown was not included and think perhaps that was intentional. I am stupefied how the people who once told me stories of Jesus saying, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these," now have no issues seeing Latino kids detained and in tears because it's a necessary deterrent.

This is cognitive dissonance. One cannot profess faith in a God who cherishes and defends children while approving of an inhumane policy that needlessly separates children from their families, cruelly housing them in emotionally (and possibly physically) abusive environments. You cannot simultaneously teach of a God who loves all the children of the world and harbor disgust for immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers. Belief in a God who calls you to love and care for orphans is incompatible with supporting a government who creates instant orphans and uses them as a bargaining chip.

I shouldn't be surprised though. The church leaders who once warned me that gambling was a sin voted for a man who owned multiple casinos. They told me to stay away from strip clubs, but you can find strip clubs inside buildings emblazoned with the name of their anointed one. They urged me to never look at or watch pornography, yet they've embraced a man who has appeared on the cover of Playboy and married a woman who worked as a nude model. They taught me about the depravities of porn and prostitution, but the rumors of their president having affairs with porn stars and Russian prostitutes don’t matter to them. They preached about the sanctity of marriage yet approve of this man who went through multiple divorces, has had several documented affairs, and often boasted about having sex with women married to other men. Their lessons on pride are overshadowed by their infatuation with the most arrogant president of modern times. They once valued truth, now they celebrate a man who has (on average) lied 6.5 times every day since taking office.

If this is you I'm talking about, I won't denigrate you. But I can't take you seriously either. You follow tenets of faith that value fidelity, humility, honesty, and compassion. You also wholly approve of a president who does not display any of those traits. You're free to support Trump, yet I fear by doing so you walked through the wide gate and are now walking the wide road to destruction. I hope you enjoy the world you exchanged for your soul. While border patrol is herding kids into tents and cages, I eagerly await the end of this chapter of American history. In the meantime, I still believe Jesus loves these little children, even if you don't.