Insulting Mr. Grinch

During the autumn of 1957, Dr. Seuss introduced a new character into the pantheon of Christmas icons: the Grinch. Despite his gruff and grumpy personality, this furry green recluse quickly became one of the most recognizable and beloved figures of the holiday season, a third place finisher behind baby Jesus and Santa Clause. His popularity skyrocketed thanks in part to CBS's animated TV special released nine years after the book's first publication.

image courtesy of MGM Television

Rather than granting MGM animation full control, Dr. Seuss went back to work revising his original tale, adapting it to a screenplay. With the script penned by the creative mind who gave life the Whoville universe, CBS hired horror movie legend, Boris Karloff to voice the green monster. The rest is television history.

In addition to the screenplay, Dr. Seuss wrote a song for the TV special. It included lyrics not contained in the original book. The tune, You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch went to great lengths to describe the depravity of the Grinch's demeanor and personality. This song has resonated with audiences for more than 50 years, ever since Thurl Ravenscroft provided his deep bass voice to the cartoon soundtrack. It has been rerecorded by a variety of artists like Cee-Lo Green and Sixpence None the Richer. And Christmas just isn't Christmas in America if I don't hear that song at least once in December.

There's a reason we love that song. The Seussian lyrics employ a series of similes and metaphors so wildly inventive and diabolically clever, the listener is compelled to ponder the meaning of each individual insult. One after another, the next put-down sounding more twisted than the prior. Yet it maintained an innocent wholesomeness throughout. These are the kind of personal digs that makes a person think "I wish I had thought of that." It begins by letting the villain know, "you're a mean one," and it goes downhill from there, a relentless onslaught of jabs and digs somehow both demeaning and delightful.

As a bullied kid, I always wished I had the courage to speak such insults to my bullies - beat them down with the power of the English language and my superior intellect. Now I just smile at the beautiful syntax and listen in awe of the unmatched wit and genius who entered these invectives into our lexicon.

Most of these taunting phrases are easy to understand. After all, these words were written for a television broadcast aimed at an elementary aged demographic. Cuddly as a cactus? Ouch. Those things are pokey; no one wants to cuddle with a cactus. Charming as an eel? Those things are fugly and possibly the least charming of all sea creatures. A bad banana with a greasy black peel? Bananas like that are better suited for the compost pile than for human consumption. We get these slights. We feel them in our bones. They allude to experiences we all share. We don't just hear these insults, we can see them, smell them, taste them, and touch them. You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch is a song that speaks to all five of our senses.

We know people who we would describe as having an empty hole for a heart and a soul full of gunk. There are individuals in our lives who remind us of an appalling dump-heap overflowing with the most disgraceful assortment of deplorable rubbish imaginable, mangled up in tangled up knots. We often describe many of our elected officials with the three words that best describe the Grinch: stink, stank, and stunk. From start to finish, we revel in the abasement of the nasty wasty skunk and the king of sinful sots.

While we would love to see some of these words applied to our least favorite people, we also hope to be better than the Grinch. I wouldn't want anyone to prefer a sea-sick crocodile over my company. Don't tell me my heart is full of unwashed socks, I do my kids' laundry and I know how badly my teenager's unwashed socks reek. I would hate it if my heart was called a dead and moldy tomato, I loathe tomatoes. And I never want to be thought of as the human embodiment of a three decker sauerkraut and toadstool sandwich with arsenic sauce.

image courtesy of MGM Television

However, there is one insult in the entire song that doesn't quite fit. Every time I hear the song, I think to myself, "actually, that sounds kind of appealing." After telling the Grinch his brain is full of spiders, (which is indisputably creepy, gross, and awful) the singer continues to state "You've got garlic in your soul."

Wait, that's it? Garlic in your soul? How is that a bad thing? Garlic is the most essential ingredient in the kitchen. It's used in so many dishes – everything from Italian cuisine to Chinese food. It's found in homesteaders' pantries and five star restaurants. It enhances meats and veggies, cheeses and breads. I worry about people who don't like garlic. I love its flavor and the smell is divine. There is a Mediterranean eatery in Post Falls that uses garlic in abundance and the scent wafts out from their building into the surrounding streets. I smell it every time I drive by and it makes my heart melt in hunger and sweet desire.

My dad once claimed he put too much garlic in a meal he was preparing. I told him his argument was invalid - there's no such thing as too much garlic.

A person with garlic in their soul is a good chef. They are the master of their kitchen and culinary artists. They bring joy to their families and their patrons. I would be honored if someone told me there was garlic in my soul.

Perhaps the garlic in the Grinch's soul was the one sliver of goodness he possessed that allowed his heart to grow three sizes. After all, no one can be pure evil, even someone vile with a termite smile like the Grinch.

image courtesy of MGM Television


On the line between Good & Evil

Fiction authors have a daunting task when telling a believable story. They want their readers to feel connected to their world as if they are observers inside the novel. Actions must adhere to a consistent set of rules either bound by the laws of physics or stretched beyond science in ways obedient to the world the writer created. Motivations need explainable reasons complimenting the plot points and characters’ personalities.

Then there are the characters. Protagonists can’t be too good and antagonists can’t be too evil. A talented scribe finds the delicate balance between these opposed forces of right and wrong which tug at the characters and influences their lives in a way the same forces affect us in the real world. When done correctly, these mixed characters become some of our favorite figures in books and movies: the flawed hero and the sympathetic villain. We love them because we can relate.

We fail to understand the hero who is pure goodness because we do not know any people that saintly in real life. We are unimpressed by pure evil villains because we have never seen someone that wicked in our personal interactions.

The best stories have heroes who make mistakes. They have fatal flaws. Their history is littered with choices they regret. They do not save the day because of their inherent goodness, they do so reluctantly. They become heroes because they made a decision to be better than their past selves.

The best stories have villains whose treachery is born from the nature of their environment, not the depths of their soul. We recognize their behavior is wrong but we empathize with them because we know we might do something similar if thrust into the same predicament. We understand our own potential for selfishness and deceit and how easy it would be to commit to misconduct under less fortunate circumstances.

We know flawed heroes and sympathetic villains in real life. We are friends with people who have inflicted great harm with good intentions. We commend people who demonstrate heroics by being in the right place at the right time. We work with people who do their best to live righteously yet fail, disappointing the people they love the most. And we have family members who followed a destructive path only to find redemption and use their pain to help others going through similar struggles. If heroes and villains exist in real life, they are our parents and siblings, our kids and partners, our colleagues and neighbors.

If we search our hearts, we can find the same qualities inside ourselves. We see our good deeds along with the bad. We are both the hero and the villain in our own stories, sympathetic to our past and flawed in our future. This fragile existence between holy and profane is what makes us human. It gives us great stories to tell at parties and pass along to our grandchildren. It allows us to relate to others and find healing in the two most powerful words in the English language: me too.


Broken Heart, Weary Soul, Busy Mind

Dear God,

There’s a Bible passage that instructs me to how to love you. A religious legal expert asked Jesus to name the greatest commandment, to which he replied, “Love the Lord your god with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” This was the kind of verse all of my childhood Sunday school teachers insisted I commit to memory. While the younger me hated memorizing scripture, those lessons have stuck with me, roaming the halls of my cerebral library, following neurotransmitters between my temporal lobes and prefrontal cortex. Synapses follow a mental Dewey Decimal System and memories open like borrowed books then I recall those words, “Love God with all of my heart, soul, and mind.”

It was such a simple concept when I was younger. Youthfulness tends to throw ourselves into pursuits with reckless abandon. When I was into something, I was all in. Every last drop of my being dedicated to whatever it is I chased. Yet today, as a forty year old man, I’m not sure I understand what this verse means anymore.

How do I love you with my whole heart? It’s been broken and abused so many times I’ve lost my ability to count. A bullied childhood, a geeky outcast, the last one picked, a perennial loser. Ignored by my peers, rejected over and over again by high school crushes. I grew up to work dead end jobs and endured a broken marriage that ended in divorce. Even though you gave me another chance at romance, I occasionally feel unworthy of her love. Yeah, I have a heart but it’s weak and damaged.

How do I love you with all of my soul? I’m so weary watching our world; if humanity has a soul, I don’t even know if it’s worth redeeming. I don’t know why you would make the effort. Greed and corruption permeates every institution from our churches to our governments. The people who claim to love you the most are often least likely to act like Christ. I continually hope for the best, and day after day I see the worst. I’m tired and discouraged. Sure, I have a soul, but it is heavily burdened.

How do I love you with my entire mind? It’s so busy. There are days my brain hurts from too many external stimulants with an abundance of information to be absorbed. On Wednesday, I went to the store to buy ingredients for homemade cranberry sauce. I spent $50 and managed to forget the cranberries, yet somehow I can still remember all of the lyrics to every song on Third Eye Blind’s debut album. I can only learn and retain a finite amount of data and my capacity has been exceeded. The way my brain functions is illogical and I can barely make sense of it. Of course I have a mind, but it’s crowded and dysfunctional.

Jesus said I should love you with all of it. The healthy bits and the sick. The simple and the complex. The parts that work and the damaged parts. Whether I know how or I am clueless.

So I love you. My heart has been shattered but you can have it, all of the broken pieces. My soul is heavy but it’s yours. If there’s anything worth saving, you can take it. My mind is crowded but it is dedicated. Whatever is left belongs to you. I might not know how to love you with my heart, soul, and mind, but I’m going to love you anyways.



Holiday Labor

Actual conversation with the kids about Thanksgiving

Chloe: "Dad, do you work on Thursday?"
Me: "Nope. I have the day off. My office is closed."
Chloe: "Yay!"
Christian: "Of course Dad has the day off. No one works on Thanksgiving."
Me: "That's correct."
Christian: "See."
Me: "Unless you work in a movie theater."
Christian: "Wait, what?"
Me: "Or you're a police officer. Or an ER doctor, a nurse, an ambuance driver, a firefighter, a 911 operator."
Christian: "Um ... "
Me: "Or if you work at Walmart. Or a gas station. Some theme parks are open on Thanksgiving, like Disneyland. So their employees are working. And zookeepers need to feed the animals even if the zoo is closed."
Christian: "Uh ... "
Me: "Deployed military personnel don't get the day off."
Christian: "Eh ... "
Me: "But other than that, you're correct. No one works on Thanksgiving."

Some people cruise through Thanksgiving eating too much food, watching football, and avoiding awkward conversations with their family. Others are earning a paycheck. This post is my way of thanking those who spend their holiday on duty. You keep our society functioning so the rest of us can celebrate.


In This Together

High school, sophomore year, health class. The kid who sat next to me wrote the same date on every assignment our teacher handed to us. May 17, 1965. Over and over. Day after day he scribbled his name and that one singular day across the top of his papers. It confused me because my birthday is on May 17, just 14 years further into the future than his repetitive calendar selection.

By mid October, curiosity overwhelmed me so I asked him the purpose for writing that specific date on all of our worksheets. “Because it’s Trent Reznor’s birthday.” He sounded offended that I wasn’t previously aware, but once he provided the answer, it all made sense.

This kid dressed like no one else at our school. He wore ultra-wide leg black JNCO jeans before that brand was popular. It contained more pockets than any human would conceivably ever need and was adorned with an assortment of straps, chains, and enough metal objects to concern a TSA worker. His leather jacket was threadbare and had the NIN logo printed on cloth and safety pinned to the back. Other less memorable patches haphazardly covered the sleeves and the spaces where you might find a name tag. Spiked hair, fingernails painted black, studded collar. He looked like Hot Topic’s first and biggest fan.

His revelation of Trent Reznor’s birthdate connected my brain to the letters affixed between his shoulders: NIN - Nine Inch Nails. Reznor was the lead vocalist and this kid idolized this band. He dressed to show his fandom and memorialized his devotion on every homework assignment. Their song Closer had been released to radio the spring of our freshman year; by the time we started life on the MPHS campus, it was on regular rotation on MTV and KNDD.

At 15, I wasn’t a fan. The vulgar chorus of Closer scandalized the trying-too-hard teenaged version of me who was still entrenched in conservative evangelical culture. It was the music of heathens that good Christian boys shouldn’t listen to. As I got older, my music tastes matured. A few years later, NIN recorded The Perfect Drug and I was intrigued. When they released The Fragile in ‘99, I was impressed. By the time With Teeth came out six years later, I was hooked.

In the middle of this era, the band released a single called We’re In This Together, an aggressive paean to raw determination and a defiant middle finger held up into the face of discouragement, angry and empowering at the same time. It contained the perfect tempo for exercising at the gym, hard hitting and motivating, enough to keep you moving through pain and exhaustion of an intense workout.

Over the years, the song has taken on new meaning for me. This is the sign of a great songwriter, when they can pen words that mean one thing when you’re 20 and something completely different when you’re 40.

This last year hasn’t been an easy one. It started with a car crash and we’ve been on our toes ever since trying to hold it all together. While we have had cause to celebrate, life has a way skewing toward complicated. Over the last couple months, we discovered mold inside bales from a recent hay delivery, had a truck break down in the middle of nowhere stranding us in darkness while waiting on a tow truck, and put down a pair of horses. School has been a challenge as Christian navigates his first year of high school and we’ve struggled to keep Chloe focused. We’re working to save up money to fund Christmas and a destination wedding, then our washing machine quit working and I received some disappointing news from my attorney. In a phrase coined by a younger generation: adulting is hard.

Thankfully, I have an amazing partner walking through this journey with me. We encounter setbacks and we recover. We hit roadblocks and find a detour. She is raw determination in human form. Every time Annie texts me, “It’ll be OK, we got this,” I hear this song playing in my head. As she does her best to ease my fears, my internal karaoke machine begins to sing Trent’s lyrics. “You and me, we're in this together now. None of them can stop us now. We will make it through somehow. You and me, if the world should break in two. Until the very end of me. Until the very end of you. When all our hope is gone we have to hold on.”

We’re In This Together no longer sounds angry or defiant to me. Instead, it sounds like love, the kind of love that is committed through all of the better and worse that life has to offer. It is a love that endures all things. In heathen music good Christian boys shouldn’t listen to, I’ve found the biblical definition of love.

Though industrial beats, distorted guitars, and strained vocals, I hear echoes of devotion. You and me, we’re in this together now. Because of love, it’s patient and kind. None of them can stop us now. It keeps no record of wrongs. We will make it through somehow. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Until the very end of me. Until the very end of you. Love never fails.

Whatever challenges the future holds for Annie and me, I know it will be OK. We got this because we’re in this together.



Prior to the beginning of the 2018 rodeo season, Joylyn fell off of our Arabian, Roxy. Roxy is the same horse she rode the year prior and we were looking forward to another summer of equestrian competition where Joylyn would learn to ride without someone holding a lead rope walking ahead of her. One day, her foot slipped out of the stirrup; she leaned too far forward and plummeted to the ground. While she was tough enough to get back on the horse, she felt extraordinary pain. A trip to the doctor revealed the reason: Joylyn had a broken arm.

We gave Joylyn time to recuperate, for her limb to heal. When she started riding again, something had changed. The brave girl who once wanted to run with her steed as fast as the wind was suddenly terrified of anything quicker than a leisurely walk. She struggled to hang onto hear reins and grew discouraged every time Roxy bent her head down to nibble on grass. The fun of horse riding was ebbing, replaced by tears and frustration. Joylyn lost her mojo. Something needed to change.

Enter the Shetland pony, a sweet little boy who was just the right size for Joylyn. The first time she saw the new pony, she told us it was exactly what she wanted. She was still a little timid getting back in the saddle, even with a smaller horse. Still, she mounted up, over and over again, growing more confident with each subsequent ride. Joylyn began the rodeo season on a lead rope, taking more control as the summer progressed. By autumn, the lead rope was no longer used and Joylyn was riding on her own.

Sad news came as winter snows melted and spring arrived. Mojo was diagnosed with Cushing’s disease. He was given a prescription and we hoped for the best. Unfortunately, Mojo did not respond to medication. We took him to one final rodeo event where Joylyn took second place. After that, we did all we could to help him live as comfortably as possible.

As this last summer came to an end, it was clear Mojo’s health was deteriorating. It would be cruel to make him endure another winter. We made end of life arrangements and let him out of the pasture to freely graze on fresh grass. On Halloween, we said our final goodbyes and loaded him into the trailer. Annie drove him to a facility to be humanely euthanized.

There is a Shetland sized hole on our farm. Mojo helped Joylyn get her mojo back and now he’s gone. He wasn’t her first horse, but he will always be her favorite. She will ride bigger and faster horses as she gets older, yet Mojo will always have a special place in Joylyn’s heart.


The scariest movies?

‘Tis the season for scary movies. Or it was. Halloween may be over but I’m always in the mood for a frightening tale. Some people might think the Christmas movie season has begun, and if that’s you, I might have some yuletide themed horror films to suggest.

I realize not everyone enjoys the horror genre. Even for those who do, results vary. Joylyn's favorite movie is Jaws (or as she calls it, Jaws the Shark) and she asks if she can watch it at least once a month. However, none of the other kids enjoyed it. The whole family loves The Nightmare Before Christmas and it's a group sing-a-long every time we watch it. When I was younger, I didn't find Blair Witch Project scary at all, but my best friend at the time thought it was the most terrifying movie he'd ever seen.

Point is, art is subjective. One man's fear is another man's thrill. What one person considers nightmare fuel, another might call it boring. Horror is both revered and reviled. It's not for everyone. While I'm a sucker for a good scary movie, I won't judge anyone who doesn't enjoy them.

Halloween has passed, but there’s still time to enjoy a scary movie before everything turns red and green and festive. The following is a list of the ten movies that scared me more than any others. This is not a best-of list, or even a favorites list. These are the movies that instilled in me a lingering sense of dread lasting beyond the closing credits, movies where I left the theater feeling shook, films that kept me awake through the rest of the night after watching. If you're looking for a dose of cinematically induced flood of cortisol and adrenaline, here are my suggestions.

10. Pitch Black: A prison transport vessel crash lands on an alien planet with two suns keeping the world lit for years without nightfall. However, they crew has the worst timing ever as they arrive just before a rare dual eclipse plunges the landscape into darkness. The planet is inhabited by deadly creatures who are scared of light. To survive, the crew must rely on the prisoner who has the ability to see in the dark. While this is more sci-fi thriller than horror, it has a smart plot which provides a few good scares and enough twists to keep you uncertain of each character's fate.
image courtesy of Focus Features

9. The Exorcism of Emily Rose: This is skewed take on the traditional story of a priest's attempt to treat a girl suffering from demonic possession. It is told through the perspective of a courtroom drama as an attorney attempts to determine what is real while she defends the priest who is on trial for murder. At the end, you're left wondering if the possession was an issue of physical and mental ailments needing medical attention or if there was a spiritual element warranting exorcism. The film doesn't provide any solid answers.
image courtesy of Screen Gems

8. Stir of Echoes: Blighted with the unfortunate circumstances of a theatrical release a few months after The Sixth Sense, and both films containing a similar plot (a protagonist sees ghosts and solves a murder), Stir is the creepier of the two. It utilizes familiar ghost story tropes yet maintains a sense of dread in every frame. And there was an uncomfortable scene involving fingernails disturbing enough to stay with me ever since my first viewing 20 years ago.
image courtesy of Artisan Entertainment

7. Event Horizon: A rescue ship is sent into deep space to search for the missing crew of a research vessel abandoned at the event horizon of a black hole. Plenty of jump scares and gruesome imagery. This is the most frightened I've ever felt while walking out of a theater. I sat shaking in my car in the parking lot for twenty minutes before finding the nerve to start the engine and drive away. This movie would have ranked higher on my list except the fear factor seems to be unique to the theater experience. I watched it again at home and didn't feel a single twinge of fright. That might have been because I was viewing it on a 24 inch screen or that I was watching from the comfort of my own couch. Maybe if I saw it now on a bigger TV, it would inspire different results.
image courtesy of Paramount Pictures

6. The Babadook: An Australian film follows a single mom and her son wrestling with the death her husband in a car crash several years earlier. They are haunted by a monster from a storybook the boy likes to read, which may or may not be a physical embodiment of their emotional grief. Also, the creepy kid is creepy which, for me, is the scariest of all movie monsters.
image courtesy of Entertainment One and Umbrella Entertainment

5. The Exorcist: This classic horror film is featured on every "scariest movies of all time" list. Unsettling establishing shots. Claustrophobic setting. Demon possessed creepy kid. Projectile vomit. Levitation. Speaking backwards. Poltergeists. Solemn priests. This is the movie that had people feinting in the theater when it was first released. It is still a frightening movie but age has diminished some of the scariness.
image courtesy of Warner Bros Pictures

4. Alien: Trapped in space with an unstoppable predator built to hunt. The lone survivors are a tough woman and a cat. The men who refused to listen to the woman all die horrible and disturbing deaths. The xenomorphic is, on its own, one of the scariest villains in cinema. In Alien, its presence is made worse with the fear of isolation and helplessness.
image courtesy of 20th Century Fox

3. It: The first part of a remake of a TV movie adapted from a Stephen King novel. A group of outcast kids form the Losers Club and are tormented by a murderous interdimensional demon clown named Pennywise. The Losers must also navigate a world of abusive parents, teenaged bullies, and a town filled with indifferent adults.
image courtesy of Warner Bros Pictures

2. Phantoms: Want to know what I think makes the difference between an average scary movie and an excellent one? Atmosphere. The best films build up an atmosphere that you feel as much as you can see. Phantoms (adapted from a Dean Koontz book) oozes atmosphere. You feel it from the opening credits through the final frame of film. A woman is bringing her younger sister away from the temptations of the big city to live with her in a remote mountain village. When they drive into town, the place is empty. Everything is abandoned as if everyone vanished in an instant. No people, yet there's an ominous and malevolent unseen force preventing them from leaving.
image courtesy of Mirimax

1. The Ring And the winner for the movie that scared me more than any other is the American remake of a Japanese film about a cursed VHS tape whose viewers all die seven days after watching it. A reporter investigates the deaths in hopes to break the curse after she and her son viewed the tape. Bonus points, The Ring is set in the Seattle area and the constant rainy gloom adds a menacing atmosphere to the story.
image courtesy of DreamWorks Pictures

How about you? What is the scariest movie you've ever seen?


A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Parking Lot

The boys spent the day at the carnival. With money they earned working this summer, they purchased wristbands granting them access to unlimited rides. For ten hours (with a brief pizza break for dinner) JJ, Christian, and Annie’s nephew alternated between long lines and thrill rides.

It’s the perfect end to summer: bright lights, circus music, lost equilibrium, feelings of weightlessness, laughter, screaming, fear, excitement, deep fried foods, and cotton candy. The carnival midway is a source of joy and wonder, the freedom of childhood and the gift of nostalgia. After their first week of school, we rewarded them with a day at the fair with as much fun their legs and stomachs could handle. The summer season is complete and fall begins from the top of the world.

Granted, it was only the boys who made an endurance run of the carnival. Annie and I took Steven and our daughters through the animal exhibits then wandered through the commercial and craft vendors and finished our evening at the rodeo. As we left the arena, I texted Christian to let him know we were ready to meet up and head home. He replied with a text and a picture.

“20 minutes? I’m in line for this.”

OK, fine. We agreed this would be their final ride of the night. The rest of us sat down to watch some side stage entertainment and waited for the boys to be done with The Zipper. A half hour later, he sent me another text with another photo.

“So close. We are right under it.”

Thirty minutes later, they were done stepping out of the flipping cart and headed our direction for the walk back to the parking lot.

Before I continue, I should describe the layout of the Spokane Interstate Fair for those who have never attended. There are actually two carnivals. The big one with all of the main attractions is situated on the north end, and a smaller carnival with tamer rides aimed for younger audiences on the south side. A row of buildings (Avista Stadium, the Expo Center, and the Grandstands/rodeo arena) are host to the multitude of performers, artists, food vendors, and merchants and divide the fairgrounds in two. The boys spent their day in the northern carnival, but the exit to the parking lot forced us to walk through the food trucks and marketplace and by the kiddie carnival to return to where we parked our cars.

Once we reached the kiddie rides, the older two of the three boys spotted a harmless attraction nearby and hatched a wild idea: could they make it harmful?

It’s the bear ride: giant metal teddy bears with benches inside. Riders sit on the interior benches, and hold on to a disk in the middle. If you pull on the disk, the bear spins in a circle. Whether you decide to spin it fast, or slow, or not at all, all of the bears sit on a track which pulls all of the bears in a bigger circle. Christian and Annie’s nephew (a freshman and sophomore in high school) took one look at this ride and pondered the possibilities. They asked “How fast do you think we could get that thing to spin.” They begged for one more ride and despite the late time, we relented.

This is where the story gets funny. Immediately after I snapped this picture, a younger boy asked to join them. The carnie took his ticket and let him in, but all the other bears were full. The only available seat for this kid (who looked about six or seven years old) was next to the two teenagers looking to exploit this ride in ways it was never intended. The boys granted permission and this little kid climbed in next to them. Then they started to spin. Faster and faster. The carnival worker hadn’t even started the ride and the boys had already reached maximum rotation speed.

In my mind, I could hear the intimidating words of Willy Wonka: “There's no earthly way of knowing which direction they are going. Is it raining, is it snowing? Is a hurricane a-blowing? Not a speck of light is showing. So the danger must be growing. Are the fires of Hell a-glowing? Is the grisly Reaper mowing? Yes! The danger must be growing and they're certainly not showing any sign that they are slowing!” (sounds of maniacal screaming)

So they spun. By the time the worker pulled the lever to start the actual ride, the little kid who joined the big boys already looked a bit queasy. Their rapidly rotating bear slowly followed the ring track to where Annie and I stood. In the time it took for their bear cart to pass us, they made three full revolutions. With each fleeting passing glimpse, the older boys displayed an unchanging expression of fierce determination. They might have obtained the fastest speed allowed by the laws of physics, but they believed in a perpetual acceleration science cannot explain. Even if they couldn’t go faster, they were not slowing for anything.

Their ride-a-long passenger did not carry the same passion for reaching terminal velocity. His emotional state was rather conflicted. Every time we saw his face, he alternated between a look of unbridled glee and complete terror. He screamed in fright, and he giggled nervously. He screamed again, looked like he was going to vomit, laughed, cried, and squealed a half-hearted cheer.

His vocal expressions were also experiencing an existential crisis. In one passing, we heard him shouting, “Wheeeeeeeeeee!!!!” Then the next time he spun by, we heard him whimper, “I don’t want to do this anymore.” Then “NOOO!” and “Why?” before he was laughing again.

When the ride ended and their cart finally locked into place, the little kid was the first to disembark. He was unsteady on his feet and his smile twitched in and out of existence. He looked confused, like he had just endured electroshock therapy and was trying to decide if it was horrifying or exciting.

After a few staggered steps, Christian walked up beside him to lend a helping hand. “Are you OK kid?”

He stared at Christian in a daze. “Uh-huh.” He feebly replied. He swayed out the gate, up to a parental figure and asked “Can I go again?”

You just know this kid is braver now than he was before. He’s going to go back to school and let his classmates know about the time he joined some teenagers on a carnival ride that spun so fast he could see the future. One day, his kids are going to ask why he’s never sacred, and he’ll answer, “One day, I rode a bear so powerful and dangerous; I could taste what the color purple sounds like. I’ve feared nothing since that day.”


That one time I ruined an Eminem song ...

Do not invite me out to karaoke night. Just don’t. I will probably tell you no. If I do go, it will only be as an observer, not a participant. Why? Simple: I don’t karaoke. For reasons.

In its most basic form, karaoke is designed for people who are terrible at singing but are not aware of their awfulness. I know I am not capable of carrying a tune. As much as I love singing, I’m more of a joyful noise than a pleasant noise. So, I choose to abstain from karaoke. Always.

Well, almost always.

There is a park next to the campgrounds where we camped for the Fourth of July weekend with a bandstand for concerts and other special events. On that Thursday, they hosted a karaoke night; Annie and I took the kids down to enjoy the evening. We told Christian we’d reward him if he sang Katy Perry’s Firework. Lucky for him, the karaoke DJ didn’t have that song. We found an alternative: Missy Elliott’s Work It. He declined. Annie and I offered to pay him $50 to perform it. He still refused. I even said I would sing an equally embarrassing song if he did Work It. Still no.

Then JJ found a song in the DJ’s songbook, and his eyes lit up like fireworks. I made a decision in that moment to defy my normal objections to karaoke. I walked over to the DJ’s booth, wrote my name on a slip of paper with the sing number, returned to our spot in the park and awaited my turn. When my turn came, I stepped on stage, grabbed the microphone, and performed. I even violated rules six and eight of the Rules for Karaoke that are totally made up but actually exist.

Since I am cognizant of my feeble singing skills, I chose a rap song – an Oscar winner. Eminem’s Lose Yourself. And I killed it. Not in a “did an amazing job” kind of way, but more like experiencing a disturbing crime scene from the movie Se7en. Christian told me I ruined the song forever.

So why did I break away from my karaoke-free tradition?

1. JJ really wanted me to do that one song.
2. I wanted to prove to my kids that it’s OK to make a fool of yourself.
3. Christian needed to see me brave enough to do something potentially embarrassing.

Just like that, I participated in karaoke. Just don't ask me to do it again. I'll probably say no. Side note: I didn't hear the cheering. I wasn't aware it happened until I watched the video later.


Where Did the Summer Go? (Summer Vibes)

It’s been a wonderful, terrible, and weird summer. After my last blog post, we went camping for the Fourth of July – it’s our annual summer getaway weekend. A minute, we’re doing back to school shopping and getting the kids ready for another year of teachers, bell schedules, and homework. It’s like I went to bed after the holiday and woke up halfway through August.

I didn’t sleep for a month and a half, yet it almost feels like it. These last few weeks have been a blur, nonstop activity and heartbreak and controlled chaos. Between my day job, farm work, and weekends doing rodeo with the kids, I’ve barely had a moment to slow down and just be.

We’ve also had a rough couple months. Grieving from recent deaths in the family, enduring professional rejection, and helping horses recover from injury while rearranging the budget to accommodate veterinary bills.

Between the flurry of loss and the frenetic pace of maintaining the farm and family, I’ve been in an odd funk. It’s a sensation similar to anxiety but not quite the same thing. I feel precariously balanced between hope and dread. It’s an emotion I can’t define and can barley explain. The closest word I can find to define my emotional state is melancholy, and even that seems underwhelming for the full spectrum of where my heart and mind lingers.

At the same time, I feel this vibe. Like I can’t be broken even when I am broken. Like everything is going to be OK even when it’s not OK. Like the sun still shines bright on the rainiest day.

Music has always provided therapeutic relief for me. The lyrics and melodies and rhythms giving a voice to emotions I'm inadequately prepared to speak for myself. For this season of my life, I’ve compiled a soundtrack to carry me through. These songs are my summer vibe.

123456 by Fitz and The Tantrums

Burn the House Down by AJR

Here With Me by Marshmello and CHVRCHES

Tongues by Joywave and KOPPS

Sticks and Stones by Kings Kaleidoscope

These songs are eager. Determined. Gleeful. Energetic. All traits I don’t possess myself. Or at least without considerable effort. They also radiate an attitude I’m pursuing. A relentless and defiant optimism against discouraging odds. An outlook that breathes deep during moments of failure, tragedy, and misfortune. A drive to persevere when all conventional logic says quit. A head held high even when burdened by an unbearable weight.

Maybe it’s a middle finger to the world. Maybe it’s a belief in love even after being burned by love lost. Maybe it’s the whimsical blend of EDM, pop, and indie/alternative that inspires a wistful smile in the depths of my soul. Whatever it is, these songs lift my spirits whether I’m in tears of joy or tears of grief. You’ll have to excuse me if I indulge when I hear them. If these tunes come on the radio or show up in a Spotify playlist, I’m cranking up the volume and singing along.



In my life, I’ve been told I have a few famous look-alikes. In no particular order, I have been compared to Billy Corgan, an older Mark Hamill, Drew Carey, and the Pillsbury Doughboy.

This week, a coworker discovered another celebrity twin for me. Unfortunately, she couldn’t remember his name.

“I saw your doppelgänger this weekend.” She told me. “He was on TV and I thought, wow, he looks just like Nic Casey, but without a mowhawk.”

Note, I don’t have a mowhawk. It’s a fauxhawk. Semantics.

She confirmed it was an actor on TV, but not any of those I listed above. She couldn’t recall what show he was in, just that he looked like me if I had a normal haircut. So I’m clueless. If you know who it might be, let me know.

“Dad,” it was Chloe. She had a question. “You know the Shawn Mendes song If I Can’t Have You?”
“The line, where he says he can’t drink without thinking about you, how does he know drinking alcohol makes him think of someone if he’s not old enough to drink?”
“Um, because he’s old enough.”
“No he’s not, he’s 20.”
I did a quick Google search to verify Mendes is indeed 20 years old.
“How do you know Shawn Mendez’s age.”
“Because I know things, Dad.”
“Well, he’s old enough to drink in Canada, maybe he’s from Canada.” Another Google search confirmed the singer is from Toronto.

Phew, saved by geography and Canadian law.

Summertime is rodeo season. And baseball season. As a result, we’re a busy household.

The girls competed in two different rodeos this weekend, one in Davenport, and a second in Spokane. We’re hosting a graduation party for Annie’s nephew tomorrow and Josiah’s first baseball game is on Tuesday followed by team pictures on Wednesday.

In addition to all this activity, we both have full time jobs, a farm to maintain, and a house to keep clean. We live at a frenetic pace. While lamenting the hectic schedule ahead of us, Annie asked if we were ever going to get a chance to breathe. I gave her the most accurate answer I could imagine.

Did you know cows can jump? And not just a little hop, but jump over barriers higher than the top of their head?

Yeah, neither did I.

We had a bit of an adventure this morning. A total of five cows escaped from two adjoining properties in the neighborhood. Christian and I were on our way to the store when we encountered a blockade on our street. A few local cowboys in a couple of trucks and at least one quad were blocking driveways and partially obstructing the road while a half dozen men were running around with lassos and ropes. I followed their gaze to the target of their attention; a trio of bulls were running free and causing chaos in the yard a couple properties south of our house.

Then I saw an unimaginable sight, one of the bulls jumped the fence. It wasn’t graceful in any form. It nearly tangled itself in the electric wire. I don’t know if the fencing was hot, if it was the bull didn’t care. He progressed across our neighbor’s yard straight toward our fence line. I parked the van and hopped out in hopes to help contain the beast so the owners could retrieve it. The fence between us and our neighbor is chain link and the fence is taller than the bull, so I thought it was adequately trapped with no way out.

This is him, in the corner of our neighbor’s property, moments before he jumped into our front yard. I didn’t think it was possible. Even after witnessing the bovine acrobatics in person, my brain wants to deny it ever happened – as if it would be more believable for the cow to have phased through solid matter as if the fence didn’t exist, than it would be for the bull to leap over the top like a high jump event in the Cattle Olympics.

I drove into the back pasture with a whip, thinking I could corral it back toward our front gate, onto the road, and into the ropes of his pursuers. Instead, he slipped through the electric wires at the back of our land, a stretch of fencing we just completed a couple months ago. Then it happily pranced away out of view and away from our pasture. While there, I talked to the owner of two of the five escapees. She filled me in on the full story: the location of the three bulls where known, but a heifer and calf where missing. The five animals busted out together but had separated. They had been running loose for about an hour by the time I got involved and I have no idea how much longer before all were contained and returned to their own fields.

On my second attempt at grocery shopping, I pulled along the side of a truck parked in the middle of our road. The driver was an older farmer with an exasperated expression. I asked if he was a part of the crew looking for the cows and he nodded. I wished him luck to which he responded, “It’s not the first time they got out, and it won’t be the last.”


Not the first time? So this has happened before?


The Bugler

Imaging being smart enough to understand the intricacies of the second amendment and self defense laws. Imagine possessing the intelligence required to admit to killing others, covering up their deaths, disposing of evidence, and getting away with murder. Imagine for a moment you’re a prodigious genius patriot superhero of your own domain warding off home invaders and petty thieves who thrive in your crime ridden corner of suburbia.

Then imagine being so brilliant and yet you’re incapable of spelling the word burglar.

found on twitter

Disclaimer: I am not a masterful speller. As a kid, I flunked a majority of my elementary school spelling tests. I was the kid who disqualified himself in the first round of every spelling bee. Spell check exists for people like me.

Throughout my formal education, English classes were my worst subjects. These classes routinely garnered the lowest grade on every report card. My 10th grade American Literature teacher would be horrified to learn I’m a writer today.

I am not a grammar nazi either. The first draft of everything I write is ugly enough to make the most chill member of the grammar police cringe. This is why I submit my work through a couple rounds of revision and editing before it faces public consumption.

While I am rarely one to point out flaws in other individuals’ use of the English language, there are some errors that are too good to ignore. There are misspellings so divinely perfect it satisfies my appreciation of schadenfreude. Bugler is one of those fine examples. Even with my limited mastery of syntax and my fragile ability to spell, I still know the correct spelling is burglar.

But bugler? Sounds like how you would describe someone who is obsessed with insects but lacks any basic understanding of entomology.

Does mocking the individual who designed these decals and used them to decorate the entrance to his home make me a hypocrite? Yes. Does assuming the homeowner in question is a male make me sexist? Probably. Do I care? No. Any would-be burglar thinking of robbing this abode is probably smart enough to see the fool’s error. And they’re probably laughing at his folly too.


Time Traveling Loser

Let’s take a trip through the quantum realm. I have enough Pym particles to make five jumps through time and one test just to make sure it works. Are you ready?

The test run succeeded; I revisited September 15, 2001. Some friends of mine were competing in a garage band contest in McCall that day. I spent the day listening to several different local bands perform. We hung out by the lake, feasted on some of the best pizza I’ve ever devoured, and altered deer crossing signs to make them anatomically correct. It was the perfect way to cope with the tragedy that crashed into our nation a few days prior. Our weekend in McCall is one of my happiest experiences, carefree – surrounded by friends and music. Such memories are rare for me.

Now that I’m back in the present, it’s time to aim for our first destination: the fall of 1990. I had recently started sixth grade and was learning to navigate the halls of my middle school while adjusting to the changing social rules. That kid you see? He’s scrawny, shorter than most of the other kids, uncoordinated, tacky sense of fashion, geeky glasses, and unruly blond hair - that’s me. He desperately wants to be cool but doesn’t know how.

One day, after school, he can’t get to his locker because of the kid who uses the next locker over. The other kid is goofing off with a couple of his friends and young Nic decides to speak when he shouldn’t. He asks the other boys to move. They take one look at the diminutive boy and laugh. Lil’ Nic doesn’t like being laughed at so he replied with a sarcastic remark. This is the first time he ever interacted with school bullies. Two of the boys grab Nic and drag him across the hall, slamming him into lockers on the other side. They restrain him there so he’s unable to escape. The third boy, Shane, approaches. He lets Nic know he’s a loser and should keep his mouth shut. To demonstrate dominance, Shane forms a fist and swings as hard as he can, connecting with Nic’s left temple. The force of the punch knocks Nic’s head back hard enough to dent the locker behind him. Shane’s friends let go and Nic collapses onto the floor in tears while the three bullies run away.

That was my first fight and I lost big. Shane called me a loser that day, a label that stuck with me through most of the rest of my school days.

New destination in time: 1993. I’m now in the ninth grade but I’m not much bigger than the last time you saw me. Ninth grade Nic spends a lot of time at his brother’s house - he lives across the street. The two boys share a love for music and Aaron frequently introduces Nic to new artists or recent albums from some of their favorite bands. Steve Taylor is Nic’s musical hero. As the family prepares for the holiday season, Aaron buys Taylor’s newest record - Squint. They listen to it together for the first time and Nic instantly adored it. From the hook heavy opening track The Lament of Desmond RG Underwood Frederick IV to the odd rock opera closer Cash Cow, every composition sings to him. One song, The Moshing Floor seems to explain his generation, Smug demonstrates the parts of Christian culture that bothers him the most, and The Finish Line is the song he want played at his funeral.

If any song stands out more than the others, it is Jesus is for Losers. This song dug its way into Nic’s heart, put down roots, took shelter there, and provided a shield for his wounded spirit. It’s been three years since Shane’s punch. The remaining years of middle school and junior high were a parade of other bullies calling Nic a loser, sometimes reinforcing the insult with their fists. His few friends were all cooler than me. Better looking, taller, and more athletic. Their parents were wealthier . Even among people who didn’t bully me, he still felt like a loser. This is where you see me in 1993 when I listened to Squint for the first time.

Jesus is for Losers wrecks Nic in the best way possible. “If Jesus is for losers,” he thought, “and I’m a loser, then Jesus is for me.” While most contemporary Christian musicians talked about a Jesus loved Nic because He loves everybody, Steve Taylor sang a song about Jesus loving him because he was Nic. It is a love song for the geeks and nerds. The losers and outcasts. The freaks who didn’t fit in and didn’t belong. The beat up, bullied, and abused.

Just as I am
I am needy and dry
Jesus is for losers
The self-made need not apply

Nothing about ninth grade Nic is self-made. If anything, he’s forged by the taunts of his peers and the crippling violence of assault and harassment condoned by teachers and administrators who look the other way. The song says “Jesus is for losers broken at the foot of the cross,” mirroring the Psalm that tells us “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” If the kids at school insist on labeling Nic a loser, he decides to embrace it and wear the name like a crown. God will meet him in his brokenness because Jesus loves losers.

Another jump through time brings us to August of 2013. If you see the grown up Nic crying, it’s because his wife just told him she wants a legal separation.

There’s a pain inflicted when the person who promised to love you for better or worse tells you your best will never be good enough. Her words tore open old wounds from childhood, years of other kids telling Nic he wasn’t good enough. Telling him he wasn’t athletic enough. Or talented enough. Or rich enough. Or cool enough. Nic was always less than. Dork. Loser. Now, he’s losing his marriage.

Granted, her request is only an official application to their reality. Truth is they have been separated for several months since she made a habit of leaving the house as soon as he got home from work. At first she would return around 11pm or midnight but as the days turned into weeks, she started staying out later and later. Now it’s usually 1am (at least) when she gets home. She even started leaving as soon as she’s out of bed on weekends. This day in 2013 might be the day she told Nic she’s leaving but if everyone is honest, she left him a long time ago.

Nic was raised to believe divorce was a sin. He was taught to believe that wedding vows were meant to be permanent. Our bibles contain the text “So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” Nic intends to keep those vows but the woman he married is out. She gave up. When they exchanged wedding vows, Nic thought that meant forever. Forever?

Those are the thoughts inside my brain as you watch that slightly younger and fatter me sobbing on the couch in my home office. He’s feeling a grief he can’t yet define. There’s a feeling like all he had worked for was falling apart, like all of his efforts were wasted. He is the king of losers losing everything. What he doesn’t know at the moment is this day is the beginning of a season of loss. The next several months will break him down over and over. In November, Grandma Budd - mom’s mom will pass away. On Valentine’s Day, his boss will let him know his position is being eliminated and he’d have to take a pay cut roughly totaling a thousand dollars a month if he wants to remain employed. And by Easter, his wife will file for divorce. He don’t know those events are coming. All he knows is the life he thought he knew is ending. He was, still am, and might always be a loser.

We’re almost done. Our final destination in history is recent, only a couple months ago. That dude sitting in the cab of his truck on the side of the freeway is me. He’s lost some weight, but he’s looking frayed at the edges. It’s a bad day and he don’t fully understand what just happened or what to do next. He texts his fiancée to let her know he was in an accident. Contacts his boss to inform her he’s not going to make it in to work today. Calls 911 and waits for emergency services to arrive.

Nic’s understanding of time is blurry now. A mix of shock and adrenaline are clouding his judgment. He spent a few minutes talking with police officers and paramedics. Or several minutes. It could have been five or fifty, he’s not sure. Today isn’t going according to plan. Instead of a typical day at the office, it is spent talking with insurance companies, ER doctors, and pharmacy technicians. Thankfully, Annie stayed with him for the day. She’s a wonderful woman.

As the sun sets that night, his back is seized in pain and he can’t help but wonder when they’re going to catch a break. Every time it feels like there’s progress, they face a setback. The wreck is one of those setbacks. They live on a farm and a truck is a necessity. They need to be able to pick up and haul fencing supplies, building materials, and hay for their horses. The kids compete in rodeo and they need to tow the horse trailer to events. Now he’s lost the truck. Actually, this is the second truck they lost in the last year - the other had massive engine failure on the freeway while driving home from a rodeo last summer. Nic is burdened with physical pain, which is to be expected when you get hit by a semi. I am also struggling through his emotional response to their situation. The accident wasn’t his fault yet he still feel like a failure. Some days, he wonders if he’s really capable of living the farm life.

Soy un perdedor. I’m a loser.

Almost out of pym particles. We have just enough to get back home. Welcome to the present day. Today is my 40th birthday and I’m very much feeling my age. I’ve come to terms with my life being at least half over and it seems like an appropriate time to evaluate where I’ve been.

Our wandering through my past explored some of the worst days of my life but I needed to get perspective. Our experiences shape us. The good, the bad, the ugly. We are who we are because of these moments and some events stand out more than others. Our days are a series of integers and the people we become is a sum total of every single day. When we look backwards in time, human nature tends to look at the highlight reel. We want to recall the good old days, to relive our warmest and fuzziest memories. It’s healthy to remember the good times, to reminisce. However, it’s dangerous to ignore the days we’d rather forget. It might be easier to look at our mistakes, failures, and tragedies then pretend they never happened. If we do, we lose the ability to learn from them. We can’t dwell on these bad days, but we do need to recognize them for what they are and how they affect to people we are now. I can’t come to terms when the man I am at 40 unless I understand who I was at 11, 14, 34, and 39. Even in my happiest days, there’s a little voice in my head whispering the words Shane told me in sixth grade, that were repeated again and again from school bullies, disgruntled coworkers, and my ex wife: “You’re a loser. You’ll never be good enough.”

Don’t get me wrong, I love my life. I’m happier and healthier now than I have been in years. However, happiness doesn’t come easy for me. It takes a lot of work. My natural baseline is melancholy while joy requires intentional effort.

I still occasionally get Jesus is for Losers stuck in my head. The familiar melody brings me comfort. However, there’s another song about losers I hear often. One of the local radio stations still play it a couple times a week even though it’s 25 years old. And I have it in a playlist I listen to whenever I’m in a nostalgic mood. Like most of Beck’s songs, Loser is filled with absurd and nonsensical lyrics. He asks his audience why they don’t kill him for being a loser, but he also implores them to get crazy with the Cheeze Wiz so we can’t take him too seriously. Beck didn’t intend the lyrics to contain much substance and he never expected it to be a hit. So he raps about shaving with mace and termites choking on a splinter. It’s one of those songs that should make me feel silly when I sing along, but I still do it loudly and with no shame. It might be four minutes of an entertaining yet ultimately meaningless word salad, but there’s still one line that punches me in the gut every time I hear it. It’s a spoken phrase buried in the mix but the sentiment is earnest. At this stage of my life, it might as well be my anthem: “I’m a driver. I’m a winner. Things are gonna change, I can feel it.”

I haven’t always seen hope in my plight as a loser but I do now. I endeavor to be the lovable loser - as a literary archetype, they’re my favorite protagonist.

Perhaps this is you. If you feel like you’re a loser too, then you’re my people. You’re my tribe. I am convinced that Jesus is for people like us. God loves the losers and therefore I have hope. Because of God’s love we’re not consumed. There is new mercy every morning for the freaks and geeks.

As I look back at these four moments in my life, I see hope waiting on the other side of the pain. Every time someone called me a loser, every situation where I felt like a failure, other forces were at work. While there was a devil on one shoulder whispering in my ear “You’re a loser and that’s all you’ll ever be,” there was an angel on my other shoulder gently reminding me, “You’re a driver and a winner. Things are gonna change, I can feel it.”


The Art of Blogging

There are rules. Several rules. Well, maybe not rules, they’re more like suggestions. Enter “blogging tips” into any search engine and you’ll find more helpful lists than you’ll ever have time to read. There are some good suggestions out there.

If I’m honest though, I don’t follow all of the rules. Blogging is an art and sometimes the best artists are those who paint outside the lines.

Most professional bloggers will tell you to maintain a regular posting schedule. I tried it, it’s exhausting, and it hurts my soul. My brain doesn’t properly function under such rigorous demands. So I aim for regular-ish, at least once a week. However, since my car accident, I’ve been lagging behind the more relaxed self-imposed expectation.

Some prominent tips I do attempt to follow, like including pictures in every post. Blog posts with pictures attract more traffic. It's even better if there are words in your pictures. Allegedly.

I also aim to keep the length of my posts within a reasonable word count. Experts tell you if they’re too short, readers skim and move on quickly. But overly long posts risk becoming boring, causing reader to lose interest before they finish. Different writers maintain slightly varied opinions on the correct length of a blog post, and I have my own - no shorter than 800 words, no longer than 1200 words.

That’s my rule and sometimes I break it. I am today by being too short and my next post will be in violation for being too long.

Normally, I don’t pay much attention to word counts when I compose a first draft. My rough drafts are usually composed in a note pad on my computer or the notes app on my phone so that I don’t see the count until I move it into Word. From there, I edit the misspellings and grammar, re-read it for clarity and fix any logical problems, and then I consider length. If it is over the 1200 word limit, I have two choices, cut out extra words or divide the long post into two or more smaller posts.

Usually, I lean toward multi-part posting because I’m hesitant to eliminate content. “I wrote those words for a reason,” is my rationalization. Some ideas also present themselves better in separate yet related posts.

Right now though, this post is only a brief update to where I’ve been and a disclaimer of what’s next.

I got hit by a semi a couple months ago and much of my writing time has been absorbed by physical therapy and recovery. We also have a farm to run and I’ve been working through the pain to make sure our animals remain cared for and fed. Everything I do takes twice as long because I’m moving slower.

Also, just because I haven’t been posting as frequently to the blog, doesn’t mean I’m not writing. I’m working on my book and my fiancée has been incredible through her support and encouragement to hustle creating something tangible to publish and hold in your hands.

Finally, there is a reason I mention the rules, the steps I take conforming to those rules, and how I sometimes ignore the rules. My next post is going to be long. Really long. It might be the longest single post I’ve ever written for this blog. Normally, I would break up pieces of this length into a part 1 / part 2 series but not this time. My biggest challenge is how it’s a continuous narrative and I couldn’t find a natural break in the story where I could comfortably stop one post and begin another.

The story is also deeply personal. I feel it is too important to split into multiple parts. So brace yourself, it’s a doozy. You’ll want to pour yourself a cup of coffee and find a comfy seat before you read it.


Bless this Familiar Premise

It’s been almost a year since Roseanne Barr posted an overtly racist insult mocking the appearance of a former senior advisor of Barack Obama. In quick reaction, ABC canceled her show and figured out a way to rework it without the titular character and lead star. The network president called her tweet, “abhorrent, repugnant and inconsistent with our values.” It took nine original seasons and one revived return to television for a Hollywood executive to finally put words to the reason my parents wouldn’t allow me to watch the show when I was a kid.

My folks were never fond of Roseanne. They considered her to be rude, crass, brash, obnoxious, and generally offensive. Her show was banned in our house. My dad’s distaste for Barr’s brand of humor was solidified in July of 1990 when she belted out a screeching and intentionally off key rendition of the National Anthem before an MLB game. Between the worst performance of the Star Spangled Banner, the off color television show, and Rosanne’s irreverent personal persona, “abhorrent and repugnant” are the two most suitable words to describe what my family thought of Roseanne Barr.

Yet somehow, I understand the show’s popularity. Comedy tends to skew toward liberal perspectives and Roseanne stood in contrast with a blue collar family and conservative politics. It demonstrated a cohesive (even if dysfunctional) family in a world dominated by broken homes. As the faces and themes of prime-time sitcoms grew more diverse, white America felt like they were losing their dominant place in society. ABC saw a hole shaped like low brow, working class, grumpy white dudes and they filled it with Roseanne. After all, pop culture abhors a vacuum. In the fallout of Barr’s tweet and the show’s cancellation, I was inspired. So I took to Roseanne’s favorite medium and pitched my idea for a new show.

My unsolicited pitch linked to a post I wrote about adjusting to life on the farm and how this phase of my life would be fantastic entertainment if turned into a TV show. As a nerd from the Seattle suburbs, my story is a fish out of water tale that is perfect fodder for a sitcom.

I must be a prophet. Nearly a year later, it seems ABC was listening. They followed my advice. A couple weeks ago, they debuted a new show called Bless This Mess. Consider the official synopsis and compare it to my year-old tweet.

Newlyweds Rio and Mike make the decision to change the course of their life together and move from the relentless pace of big city New York to what they think will be a more relaxed existence in rural Nebraska. After dropping everything --including their jobs and an overbearing mother-in-law -- to make the move from skyscrapers to farmhouses, they soon realize that the simpler life isn't as easy as they had planned. Rio and Mike must now learn how to weather the storm as they are faced with unexpected challenges in their new lives as farmers.

Hmmmm. I suggested a liberal nerd be the main character. Rio is a therapist and Mike is a music journalist. I suggested they move into Trump country. Mike and Rio moved from NYC to small-town Nebraska – a state where Trump won 60% of the popular vote. I suggested they start a family farm. Mike and Rio inherited a farm.

image courtesy of ABC Studios

Theft of my intellectual property? Maybe. I pitched the idea several months before the show went into production. Regardless, I’m impressed with the end result. The first episodes had me laughing out loud several times. Sharp and witty writing with situations so familiar to my current circumstances. I can relate to Dax Shepard’s role of Mike. In the series premiere, Mike admits to his wife, “I want to be the man who can fix a roof. I do. But I don’t think I am.” I’m pretty sure I’ve said something similar to Annie over the past year – perhaps about fences or animal shelters. Rio’s response in the show was perfect; she teased Mike’s pronunciation of “roof” just like Annie makes fun of the way I pronounce “root beer.” Bless This Mess is probably the closest I’ll ever be to seeing a famous actor playing me on TV.

Even if show creators Lake Bell and Elizabeth Meriwether didn’t steal the idea from me, it feels as if they studied my life with Annie at our farm as inspiration for their scripts. If ABC wants to send me any royalty money I won’t complain. And if they ever need some advisers to help brainstorm plots for future episodes, I’m available for hire.



Interpretations of God come in many forms. The deities of Islam or Hinduism. The tenets of Buddha or Confucius. Gods found in nature, science, or the cosmos. Or the modern gods of fame, money, and power.

Even in Christian tradition, the way we see the divine is varied. The Santa Claus god who only reserves wonderful gifts for those who are good enough. The genie god who grants wishes whispered in bedtime prayers. The vindictive god poised to punish sinful deeds. The old man in the sky who watches earthlings from afar. The taskmaster who controls every terrestrial event from hurricanes in the Caribbean to traffic lights that miraculously turn green as you approach. The indifferent god who created the whole universe then washed his hands clean of our existence, leaving us to fend for ourselves. The Dr Feelgood god who is ultimately powerless but will sooth your soul and make you feel alright.

There are Christians who believe in and worship one (or some combination) of these versions of God. This smorgasbord of godly variation allows believers to pick and choose a way of seeing the supernatural in a way that makes them most comfortable. The abundance and diversity in how Christians explain the divine also inspires the opposite of faith. Atheists see these descriptions from their Christian friends, coworkers, and neighbors. They are unable to believe in that kind of god so they believe in no God at all.

If my childhood church preached the gospel of Santa or taught me to pray to a genie in a bottle, I probably wouldn’t believe in God. Nor would I continue to follow a religion if I believed our creator was some punishing tyrant waiting to smite me the moment I make a mistake. I would have abandoned any faith community who encouraged me to worship a distant and aloof god.

Instead, the small Nazarene church my family attended taught me about a God who loved me. It was ingrained through preschool praise choruses: ‘Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.’ This sentiment was echoed in sermons, Sunday school classes, and midweek youth group meetings throughout the first nineteen years of my life. My peers at church all knew the words of 1 John 4:8: “God is Love.”

I am thankful for the pastors, teachers, and youth leaders of my younger years from the church in Marysville who imprinted this version of a loving God in my psyche. I still believe in THIS God, perhaps now more than ever. I am grateful they taught me about a God who loved me. However, I wish they had also taught me that it was OK to love myself.

The conservative evangelical community of the 80s and 90s was a weird place. The church was caught in a culture war, mostly in a defensive strategy. They were reactionary, hoping to combat the excesses of brat pack movies; glam metal; new wave pop; and the overt sexuality of artists like Madonna, George Michael, and Prince. They were fighting to overcome the scandals of Bill Clinton; the anger and cynicism of grunge music; and the profanity, drugs, and violence of gansta rap and inner city culture. The Christian church that raised me saw evil and hedonism in every corner of secular society. Their reaction was to condemn and forbid all of it. If any of us were to indulge in watching a R rated movie or attending a school dance, it was thought we had gone astray and needed to repent immediately.

There was a consistent message: anything you liked was bad. Your interests were sinful. Without God, you were a horrible human being. You existed in total depravity. But God was good, and God loved you. It was OK to stumble because God would always forgive you. Even mired in sin, we were God’s beloved.

To avoid falling into Satan’s snare, evangelical culture promoted humility as the most important quality. It was as if a humble spirit was a balm to heal the scars left by our sinful past and the bruises of present temptations. We shouldn’t give credence to Gordon Gekko’s “greed is good” speech or abide by the chorus of Pet Shop Boys’ Opportunity, “I’ve got the brains, you’ve got the looks, let’s make lots of money.” We were told to sit down. Be humble.

image courtesy of Aftermath Entertainment and Interscope Records

Humility, like many of the values in my childhood church, was a biblical concept governed by non-biblical rules. For example, the bible prohibits drunkenness but not drinking alcohol. To prevent drunkenness, my church condemned any consumption of alcohol, even if done in moderation. Pride is biblically immoral, with a scriptural call to humility to be the counterbalance. However, my church took the command to be humble to extremes.

In conservative evangelical culture through the 80s and 90s, humility was achieved through radical rejection of self esteem. Jesus told his followers “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” and church leaders interpreted the denial of self to mean a hatred of self. Asking for stuff you want, saying you needed something, or pleading for help was considered selfish, and therefore sinful. Nothing about it was genuine. It was a self-loathing faux humility, smug and self-righteous. We could have ended arguments by yelling “I’m more humble than you.”

As an adult, these childhood lessons of humility have manifested in my self-deprecating sense of humor and my defeatist coping mechanisms. Even today, I struggle to express my wants and needs. I’m practically incapable of speaking my deepest desires. It’s physically painful to admit when I need help. I can’t explain how completely dysfunctional that makes me feel. In prayer, I still find myself approaching God with that same fake humility a whole generation of pastors and Sunday school teachers taught me to possess. I have no problem praying for other people but struggle to pray for me.

My childhood beliefs are slowly coming undone. I’m unlearning all of those supposedly Christian teachings that had no basis in scripture. I’m deconstructing all the damage done by unhealthy religious dogma. I’m discovering what it means to love myself and be humble at the same time. And I’m clinging to the concept of a God who loves me, even when I mess up the balance between ego and humility.


The Real Hero of NIMH

If I were to ask you to list your favorite films from childhood, could you do it? Not the sit and think about it kind of answer, but an in the moment reply requiring no effort or deliberation. Everyone has those movies that bring them back to a simpler time when they were unburdened with the responsibilities of a grown up world. Given enough time, anyone could name a few titles. But in an instant if I asked you right now?

I could. My collection probably speaks to the era in which I was raised as much as it does my personality. The Goonies. Return of the Jedi. Revenge of the Nerds. Police Academy. The Naked Gun. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Flight of the Navigator. The Neverending Story. Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. The Karate Kid. Back to the Future. Despite their flaws, I consider them to be perfect movies. If they’re playing on a TV in my vicinity, I will stop to watch. They still hold a special place in my heart as the movies that made me fall in love with the magic of cinema.

There is one more not mentioned above - the only animated movie I would include in this list. It was released in 1982, but I didn’t see it until it was available on video cassette. Pretty sure my parents rented it to watch with me for my fourth birthday. A tale of peril and a bunch of smart rodents: The Secret of NIMH. (side note: my parents were fans of Dom DeLuise, who provided voice talent for the crow in NIHM which may or may not have influenced their decision to rent this movie instead of something like Annie, The Last Unicorn, or E.T.)

image courtesy MGM

In NIMH, a mother’s home is about to be destroyed but her son is too sick to get out of bed so she seeks the help of her deceased husband’s friends. If the characters were all human, I’d watch it. But here, the mom was a field mouse and the friends she sought were rats. The rats gained intelligence through experimentation done at the National Institute of Mental Health. I was always fascinated by that plot point – somehow we could create sentient and intelligent creatures through the power of science. Even as a preschooler, my nerd roots were showing.

The character’s captivated me. Mrs. Brisby, the desperate mom who wanted nothing more than to keep her family safe. Jeremy, the clumsy crow who was looking for love in all the wrong places. Mr. Ages, the elderly and curious tinkerer. The terrifying and wise Great Owl. Jenner, the back stabbing rat with a lust for power. Nicodemus, the selfless and noble leader. And Timmy, the little boy sick with pneumonia; I identified with him the most.

I adored The Secret of NIMH. It wasn’t a bright and cheery Disney animated feature. It was dark, grim, and occasionally haunting. It inspired moments of dread not common in family films. It didn’t avoid the topic of death or sugarcoat it. Instead, it treated life with reverence and honor, something to be preserved at great cost. Murder was viewed as the consequence of greed and envy. It was critical of characters who placed selfish ambitions ahead of the good of the community, a topic still socially relevant 37 years later.

image courtesy MGM

Looking back, this was one of the most important movies of my youth, for reasons I didn’t realize until tonight. My son and I were talking about the movie even though the only scene he clearly remembered was when Mrs. Brisby met the Great Owl. He wanted to know why I loved that movie and I explained my above arguments to him. I had a sudden revelation, so I added one more.

Because the hero was a woman.

Realistically, The Secret of NIMH could have relegated Mrs. Brisby into a damsel in distress. The movie even begins with her as a helpless widow initially helped by her friend, then the Rats of NIMH who would have made excellent heroes. They were bigger, smarter, and stronger possessing knowledge of technological gadgetry and could have adequately resolved the plot by rescuing the Brisby family through scientific wizardry. The first half of the film follows this path. Mrs. Brisby looked for help from those most capable of heroics. Halfway through, the story took a detour; Mrs. Brisby could no longer rely on the rats who were so willing to support her. In order to enact their plans, Dragon (the farmer’s cat) needed to be drugged and Mrs. Brisby was the only rodent small enough to sneak into the farmhouse and spike Dragon’s food. While inside, she was caught and held in a cage.

While trapped by the famer’s kids, Mrs. Brisby overheard human plans to exterminate the rats. So she did what any woman would do: she got to work. Mrs. Brisby escaped the cage and farmhouse through her own strength. She made her own way back to her home where the rats were beginning to work. She warned them of their impending doom even though it wasn’t her responsibility. Then she navigated the infighting among the rats, and fought off an attacker. When the rigging designed to lift her home from the mud failed, Mrs. Brisby continued to fight even when all others had given up hope. She demonstrated courage not possessed by any of the rats. Through the power of determination, it was Mrs. Brisby who saved the day. Sure there was a little magic involved, but it was a magic owned by a woman that no man could control.

image courtesy MGM

When a woman needed help, she turned to the world of men. When the men failed, she rolled up her sleeves and helped herself. This was (and still is) an uncommon children’s story. Kids my age rarely saw feminine heroes like this. Most animated features underuse their heroines as a love interest or a princess in need of rescue. Even when women are the main character, they’re infrequently the hero. The little kid version of me needed to see a woman save the world, even if the lady was a mouse. On the foundation of The Secret of NIMH, I’ve always seen my mom as a woman who would storm the gates of hell if it meant saving me. The real hero of NIMH inspired me to admire the girls who were in my classes and social circles. Today, I still see a little bit of Mrs. Brisby in every woman I meet. And I hope to raise my daughter to be one of those feminine warriors who’s not afraid to be the one to save the day.

I don’t have patience for armchair bandits and keyboard commandos complaining about female driven stories from Captain Marvel to Wonder Woman to The Last Jedi. If these pathetic misogynists are so desperately clinging to the patriarchy they feel the need to campaign against the rise of women in cinema, then I only have one suggestion for them. Perhaps they need take a break from trolling Reddit and the YouTube comments section to devote an hour and twenty minutes to watching The Secret of NIMH. It might do them some good.