Angel’s Landing

17 09 2018

My first trip to Zion National Park was unforgettable. It was 2012; I was newlywed to my amazing wife, and my in-laws were still adjusting to the idea. My father-in-law is an avid hiker, and was my wife’s #1 hiking buddy… until she met me.

 

487214_344763562272941_986374107_nWe decided to fly out to visit her folks in Salt Lake City, Utah, with plans to road trip with her pops, Chuck, down to southern Utah, so he could show me his favorite hiking spots (and possibly test my qualities as a daughter-in-law by hiking me into the ground.)

 

The road trip itself was memorable, with an endless banter of joking, navigating, speeding, and flat tires just  miles from our destination. Despite the obstacles, we arrived safe and sound, in 100 degree prime afternoon sun, ready to start planning our whirlwind 2-day adventure.

 

We booked a local motel that Chuck stays in every time. We split a modest room with 2 queen beds, a shared bathroom, and 40 -year-old fluorescent lights. We dropped our backpacks onto the thin, overly-patterned comforters, and headed a mile north to the park headquarters to get the latest on hiking hazards and weather warnings.

 

With a potential risk of flash flooding lurking for the next day, we decided to set our sights higher. MUCH higher. We were bound for the infamous and elite trek all the way up and out through a narrow backbone to what is known as “Angel’s Landing.”

 

We warmed up with some easy hikes along the way, like Emerald Pools, and then double checked at the ranger’s station once more. As the valley began to heat up with mid-evening crackle, we began our ascent up the switchback on the western side of the canyon. Deep below the plateau, the shadows shielded us from the July intensity, and we casually climbed up the leisurely cliff-side, back and forth, pausing to enjoy the views and the wildflowers.

When we reached the top of Walter’s Wiggles, we hit what is known as Scout’s Lookout, and there is a choice to make. Views of Zion Canyon’s 270 million-year-old rock layers will take you back to the Triassic period, with views of the Colorado Plateau, which was a flat basin at sea level. In order to reach this view, however, you must risk traversing a potentially deadly ridge, climbing up crumbling, rocky precipices.

 

Chuck, a this point in his early 70s, wisely chose to split off to the west to do the Rim Trail. “I’ll meet you girls back here in a couple of hours. Be safe,” he casually warned us. I was amped up for our split to the east. After ascending this far, I couldn’t turn back. Although this heaving thrust of stone has lead to the death of far too many, most were overly-confident rock climbers, or unfortunate hikers who succumbed to unforeseen wind gusts. I was neither… I was feeling pretty good about this.

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As I began my ascent, I felt the diminishing nerves of my wife just behind me, whose fear of mortality was obvious when she audibly gulped at my back. “I might’ve taken too much ibruprofen,” she shared, feeling slightly nauseous. I told her that if she was feeling anything less than 100%, she shouldn’t pursue a risky hike like Angel’s Landing. Steel-nerved, she would never admit her fear, or deny me of this experience, and so at every point of brief rest, she insisted that I carry on.

 

It excited me to hit the point of the trail where the rocky outcroppings insisted that my body acquiesce, lean over and use my hands to climb. Scrambling over boulders always makes me feel like I’m really doing something (a bit more than hiking, but less than true rock climbing), however, scrambling at over 1,000 feet above the ground is a little bit different. When I reached the point where metal chains were bolted into the solid rock, to hopefully prevent someone like me from being blown over in a gust of upper level wind, the seriousness of this hike really hit me. On either side of my dusty Chaco hiking sandals, red rocks crumbled down farther than most birds have ever flown. My sense of mortality crispened sharply.

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This was an arduous, serious hike, requiring a snail’s pace in order to be safe. Between the beginning of the hike and the culmination, there were twists, turns, skinny passages, and nervous pauses. I hike quicker than my wife, and anytime a crest came between us, my heart palpitated in fear. I had jut married my soulmate, and I would never forgive myself if I lost her now.

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She was too proud to let me help her. Too proud to let me climb behind her.  I could only ask passersby, “Have you see a short woman with a silver pixie cut?” But I never let her fall too far behind me. This experience is one of constant amazement, unending vistas, and experiences that you simply cannot NOT share with another human being. It is unlike anything else in the United States.

 

Finally, with countless “excuse me” narrow bridges, chain grips, and breath-taking breaks, we reached the peak. I took us almost 2 hours to climb out 1 mile. A wide plateau emerged, wide enough to stand up straight and walk around with a normal gate, to peer cautiously over the cliff’s edge in all directions. Angels Landing is the unimaginable plateau that, from the river valley below, seems infinitely tall, soaring, like it belongs to the heavens above. And after reaching this place far above, it felt, indeed, like I was looking down from the heavens. I could barely make out cars far below, let alone people.

I sat down on the rocky edge, and turned my head left to right, like an owl, 180 degrees. I peered down on the valley below, nervously aware of just how far a pebble fell into the great depths below. I felt so lucky, knowing how rare this experience truly is, and just how many millions of other tourists had been to Zion, but who would never know this unforgettable vantage point. To those, like my own mother, who would be nervous by my photos alone, I felt a bit sorry. THIS, is living. This, is a bucket list item crossed off with an arm-sized sharpie.

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Hitting the Road Instead of the Books (p2)

9 04 2018

“If you could go anywhere in this great big world now, where’d ya like ta go ta?”

“… I want to see the BIGGEST ball of TWINE in Minnesota!!!”

 

(Read Part 1)

My best friend and high school sweetheart, Jamie, decided to join me on this epic journey. When I asked him if it was okay to include him in this writing, he whole-heartedly agreed, with the caveat that I refer to him as “the type of beauty that you don’t even notice until you look away and find that everything else is grey and lacks luster because your eyes have forever been ruined by perfection.” (Happy, Jeremiah?) In truth, I loved his heart more than anything else. As a young man, he was fiercely loyal, compassionate, and caring. His long hair, spiky Doc Martens, and handmade chain mail bracelet were a nice touch too.

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As a modern day renaissance man, Jamie was a perfect companion for a road trip. While I had taken a few semesters of high school shop classes, and learned basic auto repair, he did it for a living, and was a whiz at diagnosing unexpected mechanical failures (which, with a VW Bus, was inevitable on a cross-country road trip). I do blame Jamie for getting me hooked on Weird Al’s music, however.

 

maxresdefaultI partly blame Mr. Yankovic for my near-obsession with seeing all the World’s Largest things. The fateful book, “Roadside America” didn’t help things any, either. I poured over the pages, my eyes filled with awe at the low-resolution, black and white photos of things so bizarre, I simply couldn’t NOT go see them! I never even knew there was a Spam Museum, nor did I eat spam, in fact, I’d been vegetarian since the age of eleven, but… c’mon, aren’t you curious???

 

Knowing that this would be the theme for my big adventure out West, I fully embraced this new life of kitschy oddities. That’s when I had the brilliant idea… to kidnap Ms. Gwendolyn and take her with me.

 

I didn’t know who Gwen actually would be, but I knew that she would have the time of her life! Her ceramic life, that is. You see, Gwen was a 2 foot tall ceramic goose that I stole from the lawn of a stranger in Lake Orion, Michigan. Honestly, she wasn’t my first choice. (Shhh.. don’t tell her). You see, in 1998, in this particular midwest suburban town, it was shockingly difficult to find people with lawn ornaments! I thought it would be so easy to find a cute, plastic garden gnome (by the way, my idea existed waaaaay before the movie Amelie was ever filmed). But after driving around in search of a victim, I was left with extremely sparse options. Then I saw Gwendolyn. She was standing there, next to another ceramic goose, and the setting sun glistened off her dewy concrete eyes. I knew she was ‘the one’ instantly, but I wish I had known how heavy she was going to be before I ran out of the car to snatch her.

 

Gwendolyn was a plain looking goose. She was mostly white, with some grey. Her feathered body was molded with little divots, not unlike a golf ball. She was hollow inside, which helped to reduce the load capacity of my under-powered, over-packed VW. I named her Gwendolyn, because she wanted to start fresh, with a whole new life. I wrote down the address of the house from whence she fled, and off we went.

Gwen was gleeful about her new adventure! The first night, we stopped at a campground listed in our thick book of campgrounds across America. It was a trailer park/ campground, and it was late when we pulled up. The gate to the campground was closed, and I didn’t know what I was going to do. It was dark, I was nowhere near any other towns, and I didn’t have the energy to stare at the atlas with a flashlight trying to reroute to someplace another hour down the road. Thankfully, a local living in the trailer park rolled up, opened up the gate before us, and said, “Just be outta here by 6am and you won’t have to pay!” “Uh… okay. Thanks!” I replied, nervous that I was going to get myself in trouble by sneaking in there after hours.

 

I found an empty site, got myself all situated, and started a small campfire. Gwen wanted to celebrate her freedom with a fire-roasted marshmallow, so I found her a stick with a Y-shape at one end, and whittled it down so she could roast her own, while balancing the stick atop her chest. She was a natural!

 

The next morning, we packed up our things under the darkness of cheap flashlights, and headed out. First night on the road? $0. What a great start to this adventure!!

 

(Read Part 3)





Spanish Hugs

24 03 2014

Recently we hosted a young, international family in our home in Indianapolis. What ensued was a brief, but beautiful series of interactions, with rich cultural exchange.

 

catalan spain mapThe woman, Maria, booked one night to stay with us, explaining that her husband had been gifted a single ticket to go see a basketball game in the Circle City (Indy), and they would be driving over from Cincinnati, Ohio for the event. She also mentioned that they are a Spanish couple, with their 17 month old daughter, visiting the U.S. on a one year teacher exchange. Because it was only a one night booking, I did not spend too much time going back and forth via email to get to know them first. I simply clicked “pre-approve” for their selected date.

 

I had another guest checking out that Friday, and so I asked Maria if we could arrange a later arrival time. She agreed to meet me at 5pm, so that I could get home in time to change the sheets and vacuum before they got there. We’ve only been hosting in our new house for about a month, so I’ve been extra careful to have everything just perfect for our guests’ arrivals. The pillows were plumped, the guidebook was open to a list of local restaurants, and a bottle of filtered water waited for them on the window ledge, along with two blue glasses, and a little blue plastic cup for their toddler. The dogs were outside playing, and I was ready to greet them.

 

I saw them pull up, driving sloooowly the wrong way past our house. Then they saw my little 2-seater hybrid parked in front and decided this was surely the right place. They parked their car, unpacked their things, and slowly approached the front porch. They were a little unsure, because they are new to AirBnB. It’s a weird concept to pay to go stay with strangers in a strange city, at first. But they never regretted it.

 

Maria and her husband, Elliot, warmed up quickly as I welcomed them inside. They started to remove their shoes on the porch, and I ushered them in to remove them in the entry instead. I took their bag and showed them to their room.  She carried her daughter on her hip, and her smile was framed by a clearly European haircut- squarely shaping her face with a flat cut of short bangs, with wisps heading straight down in front of her ears. Her husband had a thin frame, with a casual but tidy appearance, sparkling eyes, and soft, curly hair. After a quick tour of the house, they made themselves right at home, plopping down on the large, pea green and lemon-colored area rug in the foyer. It was clearly the softest spot to let Tatiana stumble around, since the floors were bamboo and ceramic tile. I stood a few feet away, leaning into the white-painted opening to the kitchen, and we continued our conversation.

 

They’ve been in extreme culture shock where they landed in Cincinnati, she explained. He teaches science (in Spanish) in an underprivileged school in the poorest part of the city. Ironically, they are renting a house in the rich, white suburbs. The disparity was starker than they expected, and the behavior of the suburbanites blew their minds.

ohio schools“I would not have believed this if I had not seen it myself,” Maria exclaimed, “they all have to get in their cars just to buy bread!” We talked at great length about suburbia, and the link to the poor inner city schools, about mass transit, and the upsurgence of urban dwellers like us. I tried to do justice in explaining that not every city’s bus system was broken, about how I used to love riding the bus in Ypsilanti or Austin. But here, it is broken.

 

Elliott had an option to stay here for up to three years. They would have considered it if not for the dire situation at the school. He is not allowed to greet his elementary students with hugs and kisses, like he does back home in Spain; that is forbidden in the U.S. public schools, for fear of molestation and abuse. Meanwhile, the children struggle to learn, with grumbling bellies, and anger management issues, but he is not allowed to stop teaching science in order to explain simple life skills, like conflict resolution. His principal is so focused on test scores, he cannot fathom letting his teachers take on the extra problems of hunger, poor role models, and abuse.childhood_obesity_2

 

For Maria, the worst part has been the feeling of isolation. As we were talking about the sense of community that we cherish in Fountain Square (and in Ypsilanti before that), a knock came at the door. It was my friend and nearby neighbor, Jerry, who was dropping off his keys for me to watch his dog and borrow his truck. He was on his way out of town for a weekend trip to Chicago with his wife, but stood briefly to exchange a little Spanish with our Spaniard guests. After just a couple of minutes, he turned to leave, and then reached forward to give me a hug. I wished him a safe trip, closed the door, and turned back to my new guests to revive our great conversation.

 

Maria stared at me, mouth agape, with a corner smile and look of surprise. I cocked my head to one side, questioning her expression. “What is it?” I asked.

“This… this is the first time we have seen this since we have been in the U.S.!” she exclaimed.

“Seen what?” I asked, even more confused.

FREE_HUGS,_in_Hibiyakoen,_Tokyo_Prefecture“To touch another person! We do not see anybody do this here. And for us, this is so normal, to hug and kiss and be close!” she explained.

Wow. My forehead wrinkled in a look of pity. These poor people have not had a simple HUG in all the months that they have been living here! That is so sad!! This is something I take so fundamentally for granted. I surround myself with people who love to hug. I had to learn how to hug when I was 14, because I grew up in a family that never expressed love, and I could never imagine going back to a world without hugs! No wonder they were in culture shock.

 

I wished that I could have plucked them from Cincinnati and transplanted them to my neighborhood. I wished I had more than one day, to show them all the wonderful people I know, and to prove that the stereotypes were just that. I wanted them to see that, while it’s true that we drive our cars way too much, and lock ourselves inside boxes with busy schedules, there ARE people who reject this American lifestyle. I wanted to walk to the market with them and introduce them to my favorite tea guy; to sit in the park and make friends from strangers; to have wine and conversation late into the night with neighbors; but all I had was a few hours with these beautiful souls.


I_Need_HugWe had a wonderful time getting to know each other during their one night stay. They left the next morning around 9:30 am, but not before we had some more rich discussion about our opposing cultural norms. I wished them well, and asked them to please reach out to us with any questions about Indy, or Michigan, before their last road trip in June. I made some wonderful new friends that day, whom I may never see again. As they stood there, waiting to open the front door and be on their way, I smiled and gave them each a big, long, loving hug. Elliot was surprised by the closeness of our embrace, as it seemed so ‘un-American’ to him. Maria let out an audible sigh, and held me for a full thirty seconds.

 

It felt great to be the unofficial hug ambassador on behalf of my country. Send all the Spaniards you’ve got. I’ll hug each and every one of them.





Have yourself a very Krampus Christmas!

22 12 2013

Last night we celebrated several lesser-known seasonal delights, and had the joy of sharing these with someone new. They were: Winter Solstice, and Krampus.

We have another international guest, Joel, from the Netherlands, who is staying with us forst nickolas boot 3 months. He arrived here just days before his own version of Christmas. In that part of the world, they celebrate St. Nicholas night in early December, instead of on December 25th. On this night, everyone places their boot outside the back door in hopes that they will be filled with candy and goodies as a reward for being good. We didn’t want him to feel homesick, so Bethany immediately started planning something to welcome our new friend. She couldn’t find Joel’s boot (since he was wearing them), so she filled a sock with little toys and candy from The Rocket and hung it on the back porch for him to find. It’s just our way of showing how much we love embracing all the different celebrations that we have.

Last year at this time, our home was filled with people sharing their holiday traditions. Our high school exchange son, Bank (from Thailand), was experiencing his first ever snowfalls, while we explained the traditions of Christmas. We also had two young men from Germany staying with us for 3 months, Sven and Torben, who shared their own European traditions. Lastly, we had Craig, the retiree who lived with us for a year and a half, who shared his life stories with us, when he wasn’t be a curmudgeonly recluse.

loy_krathong_yi_peng_san_saiThere we were, one big, makeshift family, covering the globe with our religious, cultural, and generational experiences. We gathered around the fireplace and shared with each of them the tiny tokens of our friendship that they pulled out of the six stockings hung by the mantle. Bank talked about how they have started to celebrate Christmas in Thailand, even though most people are Buddhist. It’s a secular celebration of lights, and lanterns, and gift giving. Sven and Torben talked about how their concept of Santa Claus differs slightly from the American version. Craig talked about when he was a little boy, and the memories he has of his family back then, and the joys of celebrating now with his grandkids.

solsticeSo back to this year. Our dear friends invited us to their Solstice party. It was a dreary, freezing rain kind of December night, but we invited Joel to join us anyway as we walked through the rain, about 20 minutes across town. Bethany splashed her winter boots in puddles along the way like a gleeful child, while Joel avoided drenching his sneakers, and shared my umbrella with me. When we got to the house, it was brimming with celebration. Packed with people, since it was too wet for an outdoor fire, it felt like we were salmon swimming upstream. And that’s not a bad analogy for a night where we celebrate the shortest day of the year, and the swing back towards more daylight and the springtime to come.

We had a wonderful time visiting with old friends, and meeting new ones alike. As the evening waned on, Diana dimmed the lights and directed everybody on how to write down a thought or a wish that they would like to say goodbye to from the past year, or welcome into their lives in the new year. Then, one by one, we each reached out our hands with our tiny folded piece of flash paper, held it over the candle, and watched it disappear in a quick eruption of flames. Farewell, 2013! It felt more like Bank’s Thai tradition of Loi Krathong than New Year’s Eve, though all three of these share that reflective, introspective characteristic.

krampus-black-beat1After we left the Solstice party, Bethany and I explained that we were going to take Joel to another, far more obscure, celebration. It was the Krampus Ball. I found it ironic that we would be educating someone from Europe about a tradition that originated there. Leave it to American hipsters to resurrect the oddities of another culture and start practicing them here with full fervor, as if they’ve always been celebrated.krampus

We walked into the Corner Brewery to find it filled with music and people in costumes. They weren’t quite as authentic this year as they have been in years past, but still, it was eclectic. I explained that Krampus was the horned, hairy creature who was kind of like the devil version of Santa. He would come around and whip children who had been bad, instead of giving them candy. If they were really bad, he would stuff them in his sack and take them away! Krampus was a mythical creature that was used to scare kids into being good, and men from the village would dress up like him to make it more real. The creepy character was abandoned in the early 1900s, particularly after the war, when the Austrian government said, no more! They must have thought people had enough nightmare material already, and shoved this centuries-old tradition under the Alpine rug. The much more jolly red suit grew in popularity, but Krampus could not be contained, and was recently resurrected here and in Europe, prompting events such as this Krampus Ball.

There are hundreds of weird ways to celebrate this time of the year, and I always like to share that there’s more than just Christmas to December. Whatever you celebrate, I hope you rejoice in love, kindness, and acceptance of others. Don’t be a Krampus or a Grinch.krampus2 krampus couple





The Vegetarian Roll: A Love and Hate Relationship with Thanksgiving

27 11 2013

Ah, Family: a Love and Hate Relationship
Basket of fruits and vegetablesEvery year, around this time, I reflect on what it is to be a vegetarian in America. I have my own pleasant and tortuous memories of family feasts, where I was accused of not having a thick enough skin to ignore the taunting. It’s supposed to be a time of gratitude, when friends and family gather to celebrate the cornucopia that nature has belssed them with that harvest season. Our family meals were an extensive spread of wonderful foods, many of which were kindly altered to make them an option for ‘the vegetarian.’ In more recent years, as I have learned to cook elaborate dishes, my own uncles have admitted that “that tofu was pretty darn good” and gone back for seconds. A huge victory for me, and others who have lived through this experience.turkey cartoon

There were usually 20-25 of us sitting down together at various impromptu tables at a given holiday. About half of those were my cousins, mostly younger boys. For about 15 years, no Thanksgiving was complete until one of the boys grabbed his slice of turkey with two hands, and pried the slice apart, mocking the motion of a beak, while making “Gobble! Gobble!” turkey sounds in my direction. The others would laugh, or at least smile, at the ingenious humor and wit, which they had completely forgotten about in the 365 days that had passed since the last ritualistic display.

I had learned by age 13 to just ignore them, as it only egged them on to get a reaction from me. Still, this didn’t exactly make me feel embraced in our family. This did not stop until one year, when I was 26 years old, and I finally erupted. I declared that this was rude, inconsiderate, and childish behavior and I was sick of it. I left the room and did not return. The “Gobble, gobble” noises have since not returned either. The holidays have been vastly improved ever since.thanksgiving cartoon

Who Are ’The Vegetarians’?

a_vegetarian_thanksgiving_menuThe holidays are probably the hardest part about being vegetarian, depending on your family, but by no means is this the only day of the year where we feel different. There are plenty of other challenges to being in this ‘other’ category for something that is such an integral part of daily life. In the 1970s, approximately 1% of the population in the U.S. was living on a plant-based diet, sometimes including animal by-products like milk and cheese. Today, self-reported vegetarianism is between 10-13% of our population, with more and more people switching their diets for health or sustainability reasons. (For a country by country breakdown of vegetarianism, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vegetarianism_by_country)

The definition of ‘vegetarian’ is also not consistent. When I first became one at age 11, I began feverishly researching and writing a research paper on the topic to learn more. This was back in the ‘dark ages’- pre-internet. I discovered that, at that time, there were as many as 7 major categories of vegetarianism. You could be a pescetarian (eat fish but not other animals), you could be a lacto-ovo vegetarian (most common, eating eggs, cheese, milk, but no other animal-based foods), or, the most extreme type, vegan (eating only 100% plant-based foods). So when you ask, “Is the soup vegetarian?” in a restaurant, it must be followed by a dreaded onslaught of follow up questions. “Is there fish? Chicken broth? Bacon bits? Cream?” By any definition, being vegetarian means you are a minority.

Travel Much?

When we travel, we all enjoy the tasty, unsual flavors of exploring another culture’s food. As a vegetarian, you always have to take extra steps to plan ahead to ensure that you will find sustenance along your travels. I always learn enough of the local language to be able to ask for vegetarian food. This sometimes means spelling it out, “No meat, no fish, plants only, please,” since some cultures don’t really have a word for ‘vegetarian’ or ‘vegan.’

india veg mcdDepending on where you go, it can be hard or it can be easy. In Europe, there is a lot more education and awareness, and therefore sensitivity to diet needs, despite the relatively low percentage of vegetarians who live there (typically less than 5%). In Germany you have to politely ask for dishes “ohne Speck” or without bacon crumbles, since they view this as ‘other’ and not really meat. In Thailand everything comes with fish sauce, and it can be a struggle to get a truly vegetarian meal unless you are pescetarian. This is in contrast to countries like India, where various sources estimate that 20-40% of the population is vegetarian, and the cheaper the food, the more likely it is to be veg. There is a country-wide mandated identification of non-vegetarian items, noted with a red dot. Even chains like McDonald’s are jumping on the bandwagon in India.

What’s ‘God’ (Buddha, Allah, Krishna, Nature, etc.) Got To Do With It?

bibleAs we quickly learned from our Thai exchange son, diet does not always align with religion either, as we sometimes have been led to believe in overly simplified stereotypes. I always thought that all Buddhism, like Hinduism, was aligned with the belief that we should not take other lives. However, in Thailand, Buddhist monks must accept whatever food is given to them, including animal meat (usually fish). Our Thai son told us that, “Buddha give us fish so we can eat them,” which was a very different interpretation than what we have seen in most American Buddhist traditions.

There are also interesting twists in religion where the faithful have chosen over time to ignore some pieces of scripture, while embracing conflicting quotes. For example, the bible warns Christians not to eat animals at all in some passages, while giving a specific list of approved animals in others.

  • “It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble.” (Romans 14:21)
  • “You shall not eat any flesh with the blood in it. You shall not interpret omens or tell fortunes.” (Leviticus 19:26)
  • “Thou shalt not eat animals that ..walk on paws… or unsplit hooves.” (http://www.openbible.info/topics/eating_meat)

book of mormonSimilarly, the Book of Mormon states that “Yea, flesh also of beasts and of the fowls of the air, I, the Lord, have ordained for the use of man with thanksgiving; nevertheless they are to be used sparingly; And it is pleasing unto me that they should not be used, only in times of winter, or of cold, or famine.” (D&C 89:12-13) Despite this relatively recent (and therefore less diluted by interpretation) religion, many followers do not follow this religious scripture on diet.

With so many interpretations, innumerable sects of religions, cultural norms, and geographical reliance on local food, who is to say what is truly the ‘right’ answer? You will never hear me telling someone that they are wrong for eating animals, although I have a long list of reasons why I choose not to. I am happy to share my reasons with those who want to know, but, as with religion, I do not think it is right to force my beliefs onto others. We each have to find our own path to happiness, and no two paths will be the same.

Who Cares, Let’s EAT!

So, wherever you are this week, whatever you choose to eat way too much of, remember that there is a vast and varied world out there, and you are simply enjoying one tiny slice of the ‘pie.’ Our cultures and traditions are no more right or less wrong than anyone elses, and nobody should be made to feel different or lesser because of what they choose to eat.

Happy Thanksgiving!!!The-Last-Thanksgiving





Licking Up the Late Summer Sun

7 09 2013

It’s a week after Labor Day, and the temperatures are rising. It’s going to be in the 90s this week in Indianapolis, and you’d better believe that folks here are out and about this weekend, soaking up the last of the summer sun. sunbathers

As we experience this September heat wave, I cannot help but smile at how differently we embrace the heat here in the Midwest.

Summer is a precious commodity here. It’s something that I, personally, clutch close to my chest to get me through those frigid days in February. it fades, like an ephemeral dream, almost disappearing, until the cycle brings it once again closer, and my ground thaws once more.

This time of year, I, and others whom I witness, are well aware that these days are numbered. we pack our days with outdoor activities, knowing that the fall chill will soon be here.

Picnic-DressYoung folk try to see how many more miles they can get on their flip-flops, while I air up the tires on my bike each week and hit the pavement. We bask in the glorious sunshine, and search for excuses to have a picnic in the grass. College kids lay out in swim trunks, although the beaches all closed two weeks ago. What I wouldn’t give for one more plunge into a lake!

Yet, this year, I see it a little differently. I think about our son back in Thailand. I see him dodging in and out of shadows, avoiding the relentless sun, fearful of it licking his skin and developing deeper pigment. Most people wait until the sun has set to go out to shop, which explains the prevalence of the Night Markets throughout southeast Asia. In his little town, people cover themselves with long sleeves and pants, while we bare as much skin as possible before our season is really over.night-market

Does this knowledge change what I shall do this weekend? Probably not. But it’s still fun to contrast our cultures, and know that one woman’s trash is another one’s treasure.

9.7.13





American Value Meal

4 06 2013

ice cream kidsToday, as I was leaving a coffee shop meeting with a contractor, I walked past an ice cream place. It was a sunny, warm June day, and the decadent scent of fresh waffle cone was being piped out to the sidewalk to tempt passers-by. I smiled at the woman with her two small children sitting out front, cones dripping with red dye no. 30. Had it not been so close to dinner time I could have been swayed.

As I bravely passed without stopping, I turned towards the rows of parked cars, and saw an American tragedy. There, sitting in a shiny new car, a dad was buckling his seatbelt with one hand while gripping a large cup of ice cream in the other. His daughter was safely in the backseat, ready to hit the road.

ice cream dad“Really?” I thought to myself, “can’t this poor family afford just 10 minutes to actually sit here, on this gloriously sunny afternoon, to enjoy their ice cream and each others company?” No, cus they’re American. In America, we do not pause. We do not relish. We do not appreciate the simple things in life. No, here we are always rushing, and on to the next thing. Even when we take the time to treat ourselves to something as delicious as this, we must counter that indulgence by multi-tasking and finding ways to be simultaneously productive.

It gives new meaning to the phrase, “You can’t have your cake and eat it too.” Sure, that little girl in the backseat got to stop for her ice cream, but she paid for it by giving up a few minutes to BE with her dad. They couldn’t trade bites from the backseat, nor could her dad help her to catch the melting ice cream before it dripped. Instead, he got to clean up the mess that was left in the car.

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A few weeks ago, we were driving to a neighboring state for a weekend trip. Baeating in car baboonsnk was in the car, and we had a long way to go, so Bethany and I packed snacks for the road. Instead of stopping, we ate small bites of sustenance from our seats. Bank looked at us and laughed. Confused, I asked him what he was laughing at. He smiled and said, “That SO COOL! We eat in the car. Very American! We no do that back home.” I paused, bite in hand, and looked at Bethany. We both felt a pang of guilt.Yep. We WERE being very American, and we didn’t even realize it.

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Since our Thai son arrived, I have had to adjust to having a son. As a family, we are his structure, and as a non-traditional family, I feel even more obligated to uphold some of those traditional American values (and withhold others, like, eating in the car). I don’t care how crazy work is, and even if I have to go upstairs and work another 2 hours from home in the evening, I will be home for dinner every night to sit at the table as a family. This is a big deal, and a big transition.

american 50s dinnerAlthough I thought that Bethany and I were actually pretty good at eating meals together, what I quickly realized is how often we scrounged together for meals when we were too tired to cook. Now, however, this is not an option. When we are feeding three people instead of two, and responsible for sending a school lunch packed for ‘the boy,’ it suddenly makes sense to prepare something specifically for dinner every night to be enjoyed in unison.

Having a family dinner together every night has been a very pleasurable experience, despite the added work. We are blessed to have one parent home to take on such tasks, with her flexible schedule as a full time student. In fact, Bethany has embraced her role as the mother wholeheartedly. She packs his lunch every night with care, often including sweet gestures like his favorite sweet treat.

It’s almost comical how much our life feels like a 50s sitcom these days. When I arrive home from work, exhausted from a long commute, she greets me at the door with a smile and a kiss, and dinner ready to serve. It’s like I married a tattooed, five-foot-tall June Cleaver, if Ward was a lesbian with with a Thai son.june-cleaver

Despite our non-traditional household, I believe that some American traditions truly hold their value, and are worth aspiring to. I know that our days of being a single-income household are short-lived, but while it’s here, I am enjoying the pleasures that come with it. Despite our family structure, we will ALWAYS take time to appreciate the little things every day. And if I’m going to splurge for an ice cream, I’m gonna get a double scoop in a waffle cone… and I’m gonna enjoy every last bite of it with my loved one.








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