Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Reformation - standing there looking up

Here we are on New Years Eve. I guess now is when I'm supposed to reminisce on the past year. In this case on 2013. So here goes: 2013 was a lot of fun, but it also pretty nearly destroyed me.

In fact it may actually have destroyed me. Maybe devastated is a better word. Devastated in the sense that quite a number of things I always feared would completely break me if they ever happened did happen. And I did break. At least a couple times and in more than one place. I don't know if I'm comfortable saying that I hit the bottom, but I did hit a bottom in my own life. A lot of things I thought were fundamental parts of who I am turned out to be completely useless. When I realized that, I landed in a place where a number of  other things I'd relied on for strength through realizations like that over the past few years of my as-of-yet pretty brief adult and teenage life couldn't help me at all.

This isn't a completely sad story though (if you can even call the entirely vague and unhelpful generalities I've been speaking in for the last paragraph a story), because while I'd often quite anxiously imagined what it would be like hit that level, I never really imagined what it would be like to stand there looking up.

It turns out, having no option but to completely rebuild yourself almost from scratch is an opportunity. I'd be lying if I said I came to that conclusion all at once, or that I haven't doubted it numerous times over the last few months, but it is true, and it is happening. It's an opportunity to rebuild a version of myself that's strong in the places I was weak before. That's been the last couple months for me, but standing here on the outer rim of this year, I can't help but feel like it's more than that.

I'm changing––or rather being changed––into something in many ways altogether different. Maybe re-tasked is almost more what it feels like. Or reformed, if you'll excuse my using such a loaded word. So many doors getting so resoundingly shut and so many dreams that had been fading for a long time finally completely disappearing this year finally forced me to look at a couple possibilities I'd never even considered as possibilities since I was a little kid. Simply because at some point they started to terrify me. While they still do terrify me though, they've also started to do something I didn't expect: Excite me. In a way I haven't felt in a long time.

So it's not over. In fact it's hardly even begun, and it's kind of unnerving to think how much more I'll probably have to change before it has. I don't know exactly what God has for me in the immediate future, and I may be giving up a lot of things and gaining others before it's through.

It's happening though. I believe something's happening, and for that I'm grateful.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

The Reality of Christmas

It's once again been a long time since I wrote anything. At least on this blog. Unlike my previous excuse, the reason hasn't really been that nothing is happening. The truth is I've had a lot on my mind the past couple months. I'm currently going through several situations––any one of which would normally consume most of my emotional and mental energy––at the same time. But since none of them are really of the nature that I feel comfortable broadcasting on the interwebs, and at the same time are in some way touching almost all of my actions and decisions right now, I've simply ended up saying nothing at all. Or maybe I'm just slowly losing my ability to compartmentalize.

At any rate, it's been a different Christmas season this year. Not a bad one––everything has really been there that I normally think of making a "good" Christmas. I've just had a harder time internally engaging. A lot on my mind, like I said, and it seems like it's hard to grasp at something as ethereal as the emotion or "spirit" surrounding a holiday unless your mind is pretty nearly free.

Maybe feeling that way about Christmas is a little bit of a fallacy though. After all, it's about some people who probably had "a lot on their minds"––if you believe in all that, which I do. I mean, the "Christmas story" is really about people who were going through some pretty serious shit.

Getting pregnant out of wedlock/you're fiancĂ©e getting pregnant of out wedlock (not by you) in a society that wasn't cool with that at all, having to go on a long journey to pay taxes full of complete logistical breakdowns like not having anywhere to stay and giving birth in a stable. Not to even mention getting visited at night by angels with apocalyptic messages, being the target of a minor pogrom, and having to flee to Egypt (a conflict journalist I follow recently wrote something about being evacuated from Syria to Lebanon: "When you're being evacuated to Lebanon, you know you're f––––d." I don't know much about the geopolitical situation in 2 AD, but as a Jew, I wonder if Joseph was like, "wait, we're fleeing to Egypt?"). Basically, a lot of hardship, angst and uncertainty.

Were those people in the Christmas spirit? I doubt it. The point isn't how they felt about it though. It's the reality of what they were a part of, and the fact that based on their faith in that reality they had the determination to keep going and do what they had to to see it through.

So maybe that's more what this Christmas needs to be about for me. I mean, I'm all about evergreen boughs and mistletoe and brandywyne and snow and reindeer and fires other things of questionable religio-historical origin that scratch some primal itch in my foggy northern European cultural memory.  And I'm all about the traditional warm-fuzzy feel good church view of the candle-lit manger scene and baby Jesus smiling at Mary and Joseph.

But maybe it can also be about people who have a lot on their mind. 

Thursday, December 05, 2013

i work out

It's been a ridiculous amount of time since I posted anything. The reason for that is simple: I have not done anything worth wasting your time reading about. For certain, I've tried to do lots of things that, had they worked out, would have been interesting; but none of them have. I tried to kill a deer but I missed. I tried to double my affiliate traffic from YouTube for the holidays, but instead YouTube arbitrarily cut it in half. I tried to join the navy, but they won't answer my messages.

Thus, my days for the past month have been made up primarily of washing other people's dishes for slave wages, writing reports about what the gas industry isn't doing around here, coming home by myself late at night and watching documentaries about far away places––while lying on the couch, and delicious food––while drinking protein shakes. There's a tempting analogy there, but I won't make it.

So I've been somewhat frustrated. Not that it's all anyone's fault but my own really. Frustrated all the same, though, and without much outlet. It's far too cold to run anymore, I'm all alone, and I almost entirely gave up drinking three months ago.

So instead I started weight training.

Countless bench presses, pull-ups, overhead presses, dips and curls to which I've been slowly adding things I'd never heard of before like "weighted V-ups," "skull crushers" and "incline dumbbell flyes." 10 reps per set, 50 seconds between sets for 40 minutes a day, two months and counting.

The only thing about weight training though––and the reason I haven't done this in the past––is I'm never sure if it really does anything for me. It's certainly not the kind of exercise my body is naturally optimized for. Narrow shoulders, small torso and long narrow appendages all spell negative leverage/injuries. What's more, I don't gain weight, which kind of makes it difficult to measure progress.

At least it's impressive to talk about though. Up till now I haven't at all really, but I'm thinking of changing that. After unintentionally hearing some LMFAO the other day, I'm considering adopting "I work out," as my generic response to any compliment I receive––whether or not it applies.

"That sweater fits you nicely, Andrew."
"Thanks, I work out."

"Thanks for filling those orders for me so quickly."
"Well, I work out."

"Thanks for your prayers the other day. It really meant a lot to me."
"Don't mention it. I work out."

"That was a very nice folk rendition of Silent Night you just played for us."
"I work out." 

"I'm so glad you introduced me to Matt and Kim. They're off the hook."
"Yeah, I work out."

"This mulled cider is delicious!"
"I work out."

I may even put it on my resumé. Or mention it in the next voice-mail I leave my recruiter.

Will have my life turned around in no time. 

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

A @#$% Yankee on the left coast

Every now and then, something comes along that organizes a lot of seemingly independent ideas and questions I've had for years into one tangible bloc of sense. It's always an "aha!" moment––and sometimes a "why didn't I think to put it that way all at once myself?"moment.

Tonight, one of those things came along. 

Growing up in northern Pennsylvania and then going to college in south-east Tennessee, you can imagine I became very familiar with the whole north-south divide. I think I was at school for about 48 hours before I was referred to as a damn Yankee for the first time––and have taken it (and worse renditions of it) as a compliment ever since. But while it's fun to parse things up simply like that, I always somehow felt like it was deeply more complicated.

For one thing, it always confused me how in the south, many people tend to claim ownership of rural culture––almost as if everything north of Virginia was just a big suburb of New York City where things like banjos and pickup trucks with balls didn't exist. Growing up at the northern tip of Appalachia though, I can tell you first hand that's not true, and I have neighbors here in Bradford County PA who are just as "redneck" as anyone I ever met in Rhea County TN (even if the general culture wasn't as pervasively oriented that way). So it always seemed to me that a lot of traits we tend to group into either northern or southern were really more "Appalachian mountain" or something like that.

And then even among people who definitely are either northern or southern, it seemed like there were more significant differences. While my dorm mates from Georgia and Tennessee and I may have called each other names, I honestly could relate to them a lot more culturally than I generally can to people from south east Pennsylvania, certain parts of New Jersey or Long Island––even though they are all technically "northern," just like I am.

But that's nothing compared to the divide between different varieties of "southerners," they practically have different languages. There are basically those who speak with a drawl, and those who speak with a twang, and based on which of those speech patterns they have, you can usually accurately guess a lot about them.

This summer I traveled out west for the first time, and while checking a bunch of cities and national parks off my bucket list was the explicit agenda, I'd be lying if I didn't admit I hoped to get an idea of what "westerners" were like. Again though, it was more complicated. At first things were easy: Everyone from Nebraska to about three quarters of the way into Washington, Oregon and California seemed to fit snugly into one category––that is, outgoing, friendly and conservative with a paradoxical mix of individualism and desire to be neighborly. Then we got within 90 miles of the Pacific, and my beautiful little stereotype dissipated like so much pot smoke exhaled into the twilight air above Peugeot Sound.

So, all that to say, for some time I've felt like the real cultural/political divides in this country were way more complicated than the easy north/south east coast/west coast barriers we tend to rely on in conversation. At the same time though, I feel strongly that they do exist.

This evening I stumbled across this on NPR. It was created by journalist Colin Woodard based on voting records and opinion polls dating back 300 years. And according to him, North America is really divided up not into states, not into compass regions, not even into countries, but instead into 11 different nations.

You can look at the map for yourself, but safe to say, it gave a tangible explanation for all of the weird suspicions I've had. Agree with it or not, it paints a very different picture of the divisions within this part of the world than tradition does.

One thing remains unchanged though. I am still––by just one county line––a damn Yankee.

Monday, November 04, 2013

Recipe of the Week: Organic Herb-Crusted Squirrel

Organic Herb Crusted Squirrel
Prep time: 5-7 hours.

Step 1. Go out in the woods for a few hours:

Step 2. Get yourself a mess of squirrels:

Step 3. Clean, skin, rinse thoroughly, (to get rid of all those hairs you probably got all over the meat in your probably amateurish skinning job), baste in extra-virgin olive oil, sprinkle with liberal amount of salt, fresh cracked pepper (make sure the pepper corns are pretty big––it'll be a good cover if anyone bites on a shotgun pellet) and thyme and garnish quartered red onions:

Step 4. Wrap in foil and bake at 375° for 50 minutes. Make sure to pre-heat the oven. There are a number of meats that should be served on the rare side. Squirrel is not one of them.

Step 5. Serve over potatoes (to avoid negative net-caloric gain):

Suggested pairing: A dark beer, preferably cheap, and brewed in Pennsylvania.


In general I was pleasantly surprised. I expected squirrel to be very dry and gamy. In reality (at least with this preparation) it was very delicate in texture and had a taste similar to turkey. (Full disclosure: the gray squirrels were very delicate, the red one was much darker and extremely tough. I didn't actually end up eating that one). If there's any problem with squirrels at all, it's that beside the legs, there isn't a lot of meat on them. I started out using a fork, but quickly ended up eating them like giant chicken wings.

In the end then, the main strength of squirrel as an entree is also its main weakness: You'll wish you had one more.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

There's Still a Pig in My Park

It's been one of the mildest, most beautiful autumns I can ever remember in the north, and if today was an exception, it was only because it was even more exceptionally mild and beautiful. Thus, I felt it was a good opportunity to return to that hallowed piece of land at the intersection of Coryland Road and Coryland Park Road, atop Coryland Hill, whimsically titled: Coryland Park.

This park, made famous in my late spring post, The Pig in the Park, was the site of a horrific crime mystery involving a drawn and quartered porcine that I stumbled upon during a run. At the time, after recovering from the shock of the traumatic discovery, I began to speculate not only about how the unfortunate animal had come to be there, but also how long it would stay. Based on previous observations of the park, I wagered at least six months. 

Over the course of the summer, I continued to see him on successive runs. Each time he was a bit more bedraggled looking than the previous. At one point his legs disappeared. Then around August, his head became separated from his body, and then in September disappeared altogether. Despite the punishment though, he continued to doggedly persist. So since it has now been almost exactly six months, I figured it was high time I returned to the park to make a final assessment and documentation for benefit of the waiting public. 

I am pleased, therefore, to provide you with this photo, taken just hours ago: 

While obviously a bit worse for the wear, I think it's safe to say our friend has become a permanent fixture of the park. That leaves only one question. The original question: 

Who put the pig in the park?

Could it have escaped from the metropolis sized corporately owned pig operation known euphemistically as "Pine Hill Pig Farm" just a mile down the road and been killed (and apparently eaten) after only making it to the top of Coryland Hill? 

Could it be it was brought there with the express purpose of killing, butchering, and cooking on the charcoal barbecue, thus disproving my long held belief that no one ever actually picnics at Coryland Park? 

Could it have been something much more sinister? A pagan rite perhaps? Or even darker, a publicity stunt by some local elected official? That one becomes more plausible the more I contemplate it. 

Whoever put the pig in the park must have known I run past at least twice a week, and it would also be a safe bet that seeing it, I would write a blog post about it. Since one stroke of my keyboard has been known to cause international media firestorms and is believed by some analysts to have largely pre-decided the results of the 2008 presidential election––a phenomenon discussed in hushed tones within the Beltway as "the kingmaker effect," this conniving civil servant may have been hoping to bring public attention to the underutilized taxpayer-funded amenities of Coryland Park, justifying his or her own existence. This person almost certainly had backing from local landowners with detailed plans to profit from the busloads of Asian tourists with Mickey Mouse hats and DSLRs that would descend upon the place.

A textbook example of pork-barrel politics if there ever was one. And that, my friends, was the worst pun in the history of the universe. 

The End.  

Monday, October 07, 2013

So Wake Me Up

This afternoon I was driving home after spending the night at my parents' house. Being at a loss for what music to listen to, I switched on the radio and was greeted by the song "Wake Me Up" by Avicii. I'd heard the song several times before as a friend of mine was really into it for awhile, but I'd never really listened to the lyrics. They go, more or less,
I tried carrying the weight of the world
But I only have two hands
Hope I get a chance to travel the world
But I don't have any plans....
So wake me up when it's all over
When I'm wiser and I'm older
A few weeks ago I confided to a friend that I've really been feeling something like that about my life right now for some time. Basically like there's a hope things can change for the better––but probably not for awhile, and the next two or three years are just something I have to dig in for and try to survive.

Is it at all possible that I'm wrong though? Or that I at least drastically overestimated the time-table?

Last week I was feeling particularly awful, and it caused me to reflect on some things I'd been meaning to do this summer but hadn't had the time or energy for. The biggest one that came to mind was visiting a couple friends of mine from the semester I spent in Italy (what is it, nearly FIVE years ago now?!) and had only seen once since. They live in Brooklyn now where their band is based––which, while for most practical, cultural and aesthetic purposes is like a different country, isn't nearly as far away.

So, I bought a Shortline bus ticket from the coffee shop I order Americano's from everyday I'm in Corning, walked out to the curb, and about seven relatively miserable hours later, emerged blinking from a hole in the sidewalk in East Williamsburg.

The next 48 hours reminded me a bit of some dreamy version The Layover with Anthony Bourdain; stuffing myself with terrific steak, sampling designer prepared coffee, ducking in and out of hipster bars and recording studios pretending like I belong, all climaxing in a prolonged night out––the last four hours of which I really don't remember but my credit statement suggests must have been highly enjoyable. All that was really just the setting though. The ambiance, if you will. What I think I'll really remember from those couple of days is getting reacquainted with some people who were a memorable part of a very different and significant (if short) section of my life.

Looking back at times in my life that were different always gives me a different perspective on the present, but that's nothing compared to the paradigm jog you get from meeting someone who was with you then and looking back at it together––and then where you both are now. It forces you to realize just how much and how fast things can change. That's what it forces me to realize, anyway. Sometimes it can be sad, but other times it can be inspiring. In the case of my friends it was definitely inspiring.

It'd be too complicated––and intrusive––to go into all the details, but the point is: It was encouraging. It took me back to a time that I generally view as a better one, and then brought me forward to the present with a new take on it.

So sitting on the bus home last Saturday going back to my life that I'm tired of, I could, and do feel like the next few years are something that I wish––like the night before––I could just wake up from and not remember. At the same time though, and for the first time in awhile, I had to acknowledge the possibility that maybe they won't be like that.

Maybe, just maybe, the next two or three years could be the best yet.

Or maybe not.

For the first time in awhile though, I feel like there's a maybe. 

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

Leaves of a different color

The first week of October is unequivocally the most beautiful time of year in northern Pennsylvania, and I can still remember the excitement as a little kid the first year that I had my own camera during that time. It was the same story as a teenager when I got my first digital camera. And when I got a DSLR, I remember being excited yet again. 

While I'm always happy to experience this time of year, it's one of those things that I tend to develop "photography fatigue" over. It seems like it's really easy to just end up taking the same shots over and over every year. I hate doing that, yet the prospect of trying to be creative and take different ones is exhausting enough that I'd actually planned on not taking any photos this year at all. 

But then, my brother asked if I'd take some for him and post them since he's not living here anymore, so Isaac, these are for you. And for everyone else, I hope they aren't too stereotypical. 


Sunday, September 29, 2013

Summer of the Unexpected

Since we went kayaking on Keuka Lake early last summer, my friend Alex and I'd been swearing that we'd do it again. And when my parents moved to a flat on Seneca Lake that happened to have a bank next to it perfect for launching kayaks, we'd been swearing we'd do it there. Somehow it made it all the way to the end of September without us having done it, though.

Until yesterday.

I got to my parents' apartment to find the trees around the lake were already starting to turn and the water was a lot colder than last time I'd been there. It was a stunningly beautiful day though. One of those where it looks like fall but feels like summer. One of those that––if you've lived around here for any amount of time––you know just might be part of the last beautiful week of the year. 

So we launched the kayaks and headed for the opposite shore of the lake. 

Wanting to find Hector Falls, we attempted to follow The True Love––a tour schooner that we figured would be heading that way––at an inconspicuous distance. But then we accidentally passed it, which actually seemed kind of awkward at the time. 

It was well worth it for the falls though. With the kayaks we were able to slip up the only inches-deep stream that flows out from the falls to the lake and see it from a perspective you don't really get from the the road or the lake. 

Gliding out we turned south along the mostly uninhabited eastern shore of the lake. From there it's easy to see why it's uninhabited: It's basically a cliff. 

While there may have been no houses or docks, there were lots of little hidden beaches and outcroppings along the base of the cliff. Isolated little spots that are only accessible from the lake, even though they're part of the land. One of them looked interesting enough that we decided to stop on it and explore. 

We found a campfire and some benches improvised out of drift wood. I thought it looked pretty romantic and was probably the planned location of some tryst. Alex though declared that it was obviously intended for occult animal sacrifices––and I decided not to dispute his hypothesis. 

 It was a beautiful day, and a fun adventure I'd been looking forward to for awhile. 

This summer has been full of adventures, but mostly ones that I wasn't looking for. I used to always think that was the best kind. I'm much better at being spontaneous than I am at being intentional, and I guess my life this summer reflected that. Lots of experiences I didn't have the slightest expectation of having just this spring. Of course, some of them weren't entirely pleasant. Others were fantastic, but didn't end how I'd hoped they would end. Well, one in particular. 

Even so, I'm very thankful. When you find things that you weren't looking for, and they're good, I think that's the only response that you can rightfully have. Especially when you tend to approach the world in the way I just mentioned. 

This summer has been much more than I deserved, and much, much more than I was expecting. 

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Wait and see

I'm planning on being gone for the weekend which means that I have to make accommodations not only for the opossum––there's only one now as Crash died in a tragic escape attempt gone horrifically wrong––but also for the insufferable dog and cat to be fed. While attempting to make those accommodations I ended up taking the opportunity to remind my parents of the ever more pressing need to find them a new home. They don't really belong to anyone now and the day they can't stay here anymore because the house leases may come at any time.

I think Bella can sense it. She's been all moody and depressed lately. Slouching about, growling, refusing to eat. Of course, she was like that when I got back from Texas a few weeks ago, but I think that was more just the shock of not having my family around. Now it's more than that. I think on some primal level she can sense the uncertain, transitory nature of her situation.

I've been tempted to be frustrated at the fact that I'm stuck having to be responsible for her––if you hadn't picked up on that from my post last month––but the reality is that, for all my annoyance at her dependence on me and lack of alternative options, the dog and I are in very much the same predicament.

Circumstances have changed, people have moved on, and somehow––whether for lack of volition, motivation, aptitude or luck I'm not sure––we've slipped through the cracks into a place where we're completely dependent on circumstances outside of our control and the only option is to wait and see what happens next.

Will I ever get anything more than an automatically generated rejection letter from a company that I apply to work for––and will the companies I apply to ever stop their slow march away from anything I ever wanted to do?

Will the affiliate business that I've poured hundreds of hours into trying to build even though I don't really like it ever do more than pay my student loans and a tank or two of gas every month? Is it really anything more than a shield from reality?

Will I ever be in a place where I can make a major life decision without having to ask parents and/or relatives if it's okay with them?

Is there a point anytime in the near future where I won't be one car breakdown or unexpected medical bill away from a big flashing "GAME OVER" sign across the screen of my life?

Will I ever get a chance to do anything that has any value besides making me more interesting and enigmatic to people who read this of-late poorly updated blog?

I guess Bella and I will just have to wait and see.

Monday, September 09, 2013

Crash and Eddie - The Orphan Opossums

Disclaimer: Since adopting and caring for a wild animal is illegal in Pennsylvania, the events described in this post are obviously fictitious––the beginnings of a screenplay for an animated motion picture in fact, the photos being nothing more than high-quality illustrations from the preliminary storyboard. 

Or not. 

Late yesterday afternoon I was taking Bella, the dog, for a walk when I noticed something lying in the middle of the road. As we neared, I realized it was an opossum that, rather than playing opossum, was truly and completely dead, its neck broken by the front tire of a large automobile. Since it was in the middle of our road, I picked up a nearby log and pushed the hapless creature off into the ditch. In the process it flopped over on its back and I was horrified to see something moving.

As it turned out, this opossum was a mother, and being a marsupial, was carrying its two pre-adolescent children in its pouch when all the unhappiness with the car occurred. From the looks of things, the accident had happened less than 45 minutes previous, and flies and bees were only beginning to discover the dead animal and its two very much alive young.

While I do kill animals from time to time, I've never been able to stand seeing anything suffer, so, unable to make up my mind about what I should do, I went back to the house, grabbed a 12 gauge shotgun, a pair of gloves and a mask.

Plan A was to turn the group into an unfeeling pink mist. Plan B––well, it turns out I'm still figuring out what plan B is.

Donning mask and gloves and pulling my hood over my head, I approached the odd looking mess in the ditch. After a moment of pondering how one should go about doing something like this, I simply grabbed the babies by their tails and yanked them kicking and squirming from their mother's orifice.

They are currently cuddling on a hot beanbag and eating applesauce in the garage below my room.

I spent an hour or so doing some research and came to the conclusion that these two are around 66 days old - as evidenced by the fact that they're walking about and able to drink from a dish. That was a bit of luck for them as there is no way on earth I was feeding them every two hours, 24/7, from an eye-dropper as the protocol apparently goes for orphan opossums younger than that.

From the moment I pulled them out of their Mom and they started sneezy uncontrollably (till I got them on the beanbag) up to now I haven't been at all optimistic about their chances of survival. I'm still not sure if I'll be able to get them to eat solid food, and since the only thing you're supposed to feed them before they can eat solid food is a special squirrel baby milk replacement formula that I'm not spending money on and probably wouldn't be able to find in time, chances are they'll starve to death soon if I can't get them to down something more than pureed apple in hot water. Or they may die of some disease. Or I may die of some disease. But at any rate, they won't be getting eaten alive by centipedes while clinging to their mother's dead body... and somehow I feel like it's an improvement over that.

Due to my lack of optimism, I wasn't going to name them. However, a friend suggested Crash and Eddie, after the two opossums in Ice Age, and it seemed too perfect to resist. So, for however short a time, I give you Crash, and Eddie:

They actually seem to be doing remarkably well. Climbing all over the place and coming out to drink without me prompting them to every hour or so. So we'll see.

We'll see.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Two and a half years

I originally posted this as a kind of bloated Facebook status on August 28, two days ago, but enough people seemed to get something from it that I've decided to post it here. 

Thinking about the people in Syria today. 

I remember two and a half years ago when my flight plans almost got ruined because the civil war (I don't think they were calling it that yet) had just started. My life has changed so much in the last two and a half years. I've gone some great places, met some wonderful people, graduated college, made some mistakes, had some adventures, etc. 

It's an almost incomprehensible thing to me that in the same two and a half years since I got my passport back from limbo at the Syrian consulate and went on with my plans and my life, most of the people there have known nothing but the same, ever-escalating war. For someone in Syria, the best case scenario is that the last two years have been really boring, and frustrating as you've had to keep your life completely on hold and wait to see what happens. At worst, it's been a prolonged, spiraling nightmare that I've lived a much too sheltered and anesthetized life to justly attempt to describe. 

While I'm thinking of this on what is probably the eve of our country getting sucked into this war (if we haven't already), that's not the main reason I'm thinking of it. It's more just the realization that for the last two and a half years, I've had the luxury of not having to think of it. 

But isn't thinking of it the least we could do? It's not an easy thing to think about. There's no apparent solution. No obvious right or wrong. No single person to neatly blame and be mad at. Only the knowledge that people are being hurt and no matter what action anyone decides to take they are going to get hurt worse. But they're people. Some of them are probably a lot like you or me. So if you have a minute to think today, I think you should think of them. And if thinking of them moves you to pray for them, I think you should do that too.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Hot Fuss

My life the second half of this summer has taken on an interesting pattern. It seems to look something like this: Go on crazy last minute road trip across America for a week or two, come home and spend a week scrambling to catch up on work that I wasn't doing while I was on the road, spend a week relaxing and swearing I'll never do anything or go anywhere again, and then going on another crazy last minute road trip across America. That's what I was doing last week: driving from Corning, New York, to Dallas, Texas.

When I told some very old and dear friends of mine––old as in I've known them for a while; they're relatively young––I'd keep them company on their move to Texas, I was expecting the drive down to be quite an adventure. Indeed, how could driving halfway across the country with four very little children and a moving van be anything but a disaster?

But then it wasn't. Everything went very smoothly. No accidents, no major wrong turns, the children were remarkably––dare I say uncannily––content to sit in the car for several hours between stops. I'd go so far as to say that for the distance, it was one of easiest and best executed family road trips I'd ever participated in. It was, however, the calm before the storm. The deep breath before the plunge. The eerie silence before... well you get the idea.

The second night after arriving found me sitting by myself in a plastic chair on the concrete patio of a deserted house drenched in my own sweat as I took another pull from a tumbler of cheap rum. Through the open door beside me a sleazy Mexican telenovela could be heard playing in the 103° living room which was only slightly less airless than the stifling darkness outside where I watched the large group of Puerto Rican teenagers across the street have a loud and enthusiastic party on their porch and wondered: Is this what it feels like to be a dissipated ex-patriot living in Tijuana, down on his luck and fleeing the demons of the life he left only to be haunted by new ones in the sultry, oppressive nights of this foreign land? Apparently it was very cheap rum.

But rewind.

The day we arrived in Texas was the second hottest they'd had so far this year. 107° Fahrenheit in the shade. Obviously, ideal weather for unloading a truck full of boxes and furniture. Unload it we did though, and three hours later Derrick––my friend––and I stepped into the coolness of the new air-conditioned home. The next day the air-conditioner broke. In two places. While Derrick and I (mostly Derrick) attempted to figure out what had caused the washing machine he'd just bought to explode, Nicole and the kids retreated into their air-conditioned car. And then the car died.

We managed to get the car working again, but when evening came and we had no word from the landlord on when the A/C would be fixed, my friends made the wise call to spend the night at another friend's house the next development over. Not wanting to intrude, and feeling the heat wasn't "that bad" as long as I refrained from moving anything but my eyes, I elected to stay behind.

The development fortunately had a pool, and around nine that evening I got the urge to go for a swim. I walked the block and a half there only to find the lifeguard staff shoeing everyone out for the night. Craving a relief from the heat, and perhaps some human interaction of some kind, I kept walking and ultimately ended up at a Mexican restaurant just beyond the community gate. It seemed everyone was at the bar, so I took a seat there and ordered a drink and some tortilla chips and salsa. 45 minutes later, my vodka and kahlua gone and withering under the advances of a heavily intoxicated Texan woman who would only admit to 47, I took my leave and walked back to the house. Which leaves me on the dark porch at 1:00am watching the Puerto Ricans across the street and imagining myself to be someone else.

The next day things looked up, however. I woke up and wasn't in Tijuana. I went down a water slide. The A/C repairman finally came. The car continued to work. Derrick and I even made an impromptu 40 mile drive to the Oklahoma sign on 377. In the past month, you see, the number of states I've never been in has dropped from most of them to just four or five. One of those was Oklahoma. So we drove to the Oklahoma sign. Why just the sign? Because there was nothing to see beyond the sign for several hundred miles. At least nothing interesting.

What was interesting was the drive back. We discovered that the late-night drive-thru attendants at Taco Casa don't really speak Spanish and fueled up at a gas station full of half-naked cowboys.

It's true.

So now I'm back in Pennsylvania again, where I've spent the last few days trying to catch up on things. And now I'm at home, swearing I'll never do anything or go anywhere again. That's just part of the pattern I guess.

But next week––who knows?

Thursday, August 01, 2013

Dr. Dolittle

While the circumstances leading to my current situation of living in a large empty house but for a dog, a cat, three guineafowl and eight or nine chickens, are too complex, delicate, and likely to incur the wrath of numerous people against each other and ultimately myself to explain, I felt it might be in order to say something about what it is like in itself. That is to say, what living alone with a dog, a cat, three guinea fowl and eight or nine chickens is like.

First, homecomings are interesting.

The moment I step out of the car, hardly one foot is on the driveway when Bella, the black labrador, Jasper, our demon-possessed cat and eight or nine chickens––unnamed due to their expendability––rush at me. When, at a later time, I stroll out of the house into the yard, they all follow me. I'm like their great loving mother, or Dr. Dolittle, which is strange because I really quite dislike them all. Absent from these parades, quite ironically, are my three surviving guineafowl, who have become increasingly stand-offish since I arrived back from the west coast, and now spend their days pensively darting in and out of the savanna-like grass of the 30 acre windrows across the road, digging pits in the yard, and attending a book club that is currently reading through Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness. Okay, I made the last one up.

Second, there is lots of drama. Loads of it.

Most of it is related to their apparent misconception that it is my responsibility to provide them with food. In the case of Bella and the guineafowl, that is at least somewhat valid. Jasper and the chickens however, put up more fuss about it than they do. Just this morning for instance, Jasper came out on the deck as I was attempting to water my potted Artemus-absinthium and began meowing and pushing at my hands to the point that I couldn't hold the water jar straight. When I gave him a firm but slow nudge away, the cat, who jumps out of trees, vivisects rabbits larger than he is, and has been rumored to stalk herds of small deer, lurched sideways as if I'd punted him, fell down the stairs banging on every step and landed in a pitiful meowing heap on the ground. I can only imagine that such tactics must have been rewarded for him in the past.

Or take any time I walk to the other side of the driveway carrying anything that vaguely resembles a feed bucket. If you have never had the experience of witnessing eight chickens running at you full speed, it's quite terrifying. Like something out of Jurassic Park, really. Of course, I'm not carrying a feed bucket. The chickens are free range now, and expected to fend for themselves. Rather, what I'm carrying a basket for is to take their eggs with.

That has been another little adventure. While letting the chickens out means I don't really have to feed them, it also means they lay eggs wherever they feel like it. With 8/9 chickens to one person, I could almost theoretically maintain an unhealthy but livable diet off of just their eggs. But that means finding them. It's like Easter everyday. Only not. Not at all.

But seriously, I can't move, and have no privacy. The other day I was trying to do something covert. What was it? Oh, steal potatoes out of my grandparent's garden. I'm on this damned gluten free diet thing, and practically the only carbohydrate I can eat that doesn't have the word "ancient" or "expensive" in front of it is potatoes. So having neglected to purchase any, I did what any self respecting neighbor would, and snuck into the next door garden with a pitchfork and bucket. Everything went well. Until I saw something fly past me and realized it was the dog, who had followed me, and having no regard for my needed level of stealth, was bounding down to make our presence known. Save to say, I had no potatoes that night.

Or take this evening, when I tried to eat outside. I could write a book about how disconcerting it is to sit eating a bowl of tunafish with a demon possessed cat sitting four feet across from you staring you down and making unnatural, deep throated growling noises. But I will refrain.

At any rate, I'm leaving for Texas this weekend.    

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The Wild West

16 days, 8,000 miles and a lot of places later, I'm back home again. And it's a pretty good feeling.

I think my last post left Josh and I in Colorado somewhere headed for CO Springs. We made it there, and Ben and Korlissa, old friends of his (and old acquaintances of mine) were awesome enough to let us stay with them for the weekend. It was definitely relaxing compared to the past week since we'd left Long Beach––but that's not to say we didn't do anything at all adventurous.

Like Pikes Peak.

Sometime the week before, Ben had planted the idea in Josh's head that it would be a great idea to mountain bike down Pikes Peak. Not on the road, mind you. And by the evening we arrived at their house, the decision had already been made that it was to happen.

I'm not a mountain biker, and even if I were, I wouldn't bike down pikes peak. So it fell to me to drive my dare-devil friends to the top of the Mountain and then pick them up in Manitou Springs––where they apparently have flash-floods. Rain, however, was not expected until much later that afternoon, so we figured it would be okay.

Ben and Korlissa had spent enough time the night before warning me how terrible the drive up and down Pikes Peak is that I think by the time I finally did it, it didn't seem too bad. So after arriving at the summit, eating some supposedly famous donuts that they make up there, jogging around to see how light-headed we could get at 14,110ft. altitude, Josh and Ben assembled their bikes and took off down the trail. And I got back in the car and headed for Manitou.

On the way down, about everything that I'd been afraid might happen did happen––well almost anyways.

Despite stopping a quarter of the way down to take a bunch of pictures, keeping the car in 2nd gear most of the time and only using the brakes on switch-backs, they were well over 300° by the mandatory  brake check at the half way point, and they told me to stop for 15 minutes to let them cool. (I tend to think it's more a conspiracy than a safety measure as they have a large gift shop and cafe located right next to where they make you pull off).

No sooner had I gotten back under way than it started raining, which meant there was only one real thought in my mind: Flash-floods. Particularly at the off ramp from 24 to Manitou where a reporter recently filmed himself and his car getting sucked into a torrent of muddy water.

When I reached the off-ramp though, there was no wall of water in sight, and after a few minutes of driving around in search of a parking lot, I was sitting in this amazing little place called Kinfolks Mountain Shop waiting for my friends to show up on their bikes. That ended up being a bit, as they got hit by the same rain storm I did, only at their elevation, it was an ice storm.

They made it though, and we went to a Palestinian restaurant called Heart of Jerusalem, where I had the best shawarma I've tasted since Beirut.

So it all really ended well.

We did some other cool stuff in CO Springs, and I must say my experience there far exceeded my expectations. Albeit, my expectations were formed mainly around the fact that it's the headquarters of Focus on the Family. But seriously, it was great.

Two days later though, we were headed back into the midwest for a drive that seemed like it took forever. No, I don't remember how long it actually was. In fact I remember precious little about it, except that the welcome centers in Kansas have free coffee and tea.

And then I was home, only I wasn't, because the next morning I had to go to Morris for two days to film a horse camp. And now that I'm done with that I'm extremely lazy and unmotivated. Thus the delay in publishing this post, and the complete lack of a unified voice throughout it.

But, problems aside, that wraps up my experiences driving across the wild American West.


Only not, because I just found out I'm driving to Texas in two weeks.

Friday, July 12, 2013

The Haunted Mesa

We've been in Navajo country for the last couple mornings. It's beautiful land, although kind of strange because everyone I see reminds me of some friends I used to have.

I've crossed two things of my bucket list - pretty much everything I wanted to see in the southwest. Though I definitely hope I'll be back before I die. It was cool enough to see again. 

The first one was the Grand Canyon. We came down to the less frequented but still breath-taking north rim yesterday morning. It was amazing. 

After driving under some amazing weather and passing through Four Corners, it was almost dark. Because it was the only thing around with camping, we went to Mesa Verde national park. And that was where I saw the second thing I'd always wanted to in the southwest: The cliff dwellings. 

They were super-cool. Unfortunately I didn't get any photos of them with my phone, so those will have to wait. It was great to be there though. I can remember looking through this picture book of American Indians (it probably had words too, but they were irrelevant to me then) and spending hours looking at the page about the cliff dwellers. It was probably my favorite one. It seemed out of place in America somehow. 

But this morning, there it was. 

Climbing down into a Kiva made me think of the first Louis L'Amour novel I read. The Haunted Mesa. 

There's undeniably something very spiritual feeling about this part of the world. I'm sure how it looks us part of it. But that could be said of much of North America. Here it's a little different. There's a human history to it. One you can see in those ruins. 

I thought about that as we drove through northern Arizona and New Mexico and southern Colorado. Past little Navajo trailers framed against massive Mesas. I also thought about both of my friends, and how, as far as I know they're buried somewhere out there in that expanse.  

So if it isn't a haunted place for everyone, it seems it at least is for me. 

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

California - Every Night's a Different Story

California was a blur. So much in so little time that it felt more like a race between points than a visit. I guess I can just think of it as a scouting expedition for places I'll want to come back to.

The night before last we crossed the border from Oregon and [per usual] couldn't find a vacant state park at that hour to camp in. So instead we ended up in a rest stop in the middle of the redwood forest. One of those that looks like all the fixtures caught some kind of degenerative wasting disease that they threaten to pass onto you if you touch anything. 

The next morning we started driving down Highway 1 along the coast. It was beautiful, if kind of slow, and it was easy to imagine you were a character in one of the many movies that's filmed there. 

We reached San Francisco about five, which was a terrible idea in retrospect. Ironically, the nearest fuel shortage disaster we've had so far didn't happen in some God-forsaken desert, but at the Starbucks studded bases of the downtown San Francisco skyscrapers where we got stuck in traffic for an hour on a street where all the gas stations were to the left and no left turns were allowed for two miles. 

By the time we got over the Oakland Bay Bridge we were well behind schedule and didn't get to our reserved campsite in Yosemite National till around 10:30. 

Having hundreds of miles to cover through the desert the next day, we took a precursory drive around the base of the park and then headed for Death Valley. 

Death Valley was awesome to see. And to feel, since Josh feels that AC ruins "the experience". So with windows down and the Knights of Cydonia blaring over the stereo, we plunged from the 9,000ft Tioga Pass to the -250ft floor of Death Valley. 

Hot wind isn't something I've felt in a while. I'd almost forgotten what it was like. But this afternoon I felt it. And I was in the desert again, which in some strange way was a good feeling. 

And then with Joshua trees blurring by on the side and The Joshua Tree by U2 playing, we climbed up into Nevada. 

That's where we are now - driving through some suburb of Los Vegas where I can - God-willing - upload this post over LTE. 

Not sure where we'll end up tonight. Either Zion or the Grand Canyon. I'm kind of hoping for the Canyon, but we'll see what happens. Every night's a different story. 

Monday, July 08, 2013

Stuff I Like - The Pacific Northwest

Last Friday we crossed over the mountains into what I guess is classified as the Pacific Northwest. I think I'm in love.

Drinking great coffee, eating seafood, jogging on the beach, drinking great beer, more great coffee, jogging on the beach again, more great beer. I could get used to it. 

The three days we spent there were split between Seattle, WA (which I've wanted to visit since my Dad's CBO made me read "Pour Your Soul Into It", Long Beach, WA (where we visited Josh's sister) and Astoria, OR (which is probably one of the coolest little towns I've been in.)

I could ramble on for awhile about why I like it so much, but the fortune cookie version is I feel like it has the better parts of the East and the West, along with a little something else I can't quite put my finger on. 

At any rate, I was a little sorry to leave this morning.  

Maybe California will be good though. 

Friday, July 05, 2013

Glaciers and Washboards

I think it's funny that when I said I was about to go on a road trip out west several people said something to the effect of: "That's awesome! Take lots of pictures so I can live vicariously through you." I think that's kind of funny, but just in case you were planning on living vicariously through me, stop.

Right now. 

Unless driving on the edge of the US-Canadian border past midnight at six mph for 20 miles over washboard dirt roads with the worst bladder/urinary tract infection of your life sounds like fun. Because that's what I was doing the night before last. 

As I said the other day, everything out here is really spread out. Like, 200 or 300 miles spread out. Either my body doesn't like frequently going six hours without peeing, or something in my body that shouldn't be there does like it, because after our 1st 2000 miles, I suddenly found myself in a good deal of pain.

That reached its worst the night before last - which is also when we entered Glacier International Park after dark and somehow took a turn that put us in the middle of nowhere along the park's north-western edge. 

It wasn't really fun. 

We did finally end up in the park though, at the Bowman Lake campsite. 

When daylight came I didn't feel much better, but the view of the lake was quite spectacular.

While on the shore we met this eccentric little old mountain man who spent an enormously long time telling us about his misadventures photographing grizzly bears. 

Because it was Forth of July, we'd had trouble finding campsites all week but made it to the other side of the park and then back up the middle in time to get the last spot at one of the campgrounds up in the mountains. 

While we were finishing the check in process, a ranger asked how long we were staying. When she heard only for the night, she suggested climbing up the Sunrift Gorge Trail as the best thing we could in that amount of time. Also as something "not many people do." 

She was right. It was beautiful. Not too steep, but a little challenging when crossing some snow packs that are still across the trail. 

I really like Glacier because it's on the edge of several ecological zones and has some diversity of plants and scenery that I'd been missing so far on our trip. That was one of my favorite things about Lebanon and certain parts of Europe, and I'd started to think the US might just not have anything like it. Glacier came pretty close though. 

And I was also beautiful, in a breathtakingly massive way. 

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

The Lonesome Gods

After almost 2000 miles of what could all be described as the Midwest, we reached western Nebraska and things started to change, first slowly, and then faster and faster.  

First everything got unbelievably vast. Then it got dry. Then it got rocky and the hills got bigger. And then it was basically the desert as we entered Wyoming. 

I think the biggest change is distances. Everything is so spread out.  It'd be boring if it wasn't so terrifying. 

 I had some time to think about it when we got stopped by a construction worker in the middle of a huge sandy valley for half an hour. I also had time to start that Louis L'Amour novel. 

Ever since entering Wyoming we'd been climbing in elevation, and by the time we reached 6000 feet the land changed again. We were passing through Lander then, and what I think were the painted hills (though that may have only been the name of a development). It was beautiful. But things got even more breath-taking when we climbed higher into the Sheshone National Forest. After hundreds of miles of no trees, we were suddenly surrounded by them. 

And then we saw them: the Grand Tetons. They reminded me a bit of the Dolomites in Austria, but with an even more majestic effect because they rise up out of what seems like a flat basin. 

That's where we ended up staying the night. Actually it was about ten miles on back roads from there because all the campsites were filled up in the park. I'm being reminded for the second time this month I don't care all that much for camping. I think my body is too high-maintenance for it. But then it's an adventure. 

You know it's one when you have to keep reminding yourself that it is.