Quality vs. Quantity: a Cage Match. 

Earlier this week I posted a pic on Instagram about a field trip I took with the boys to a dairy farm just south of the Phoenix area. Like most families living in North America, milk is a part of our life: not a big part, especially when I think of the gallons we guzzled growing up, but we still have a good amount in our diet. Cheeses, yogurt, butter, and yup, milk. And not just the 2% gallon jug with a blue, red, or yellow lid. 

We do milk raw. 

Milk with a bit of fine print…

I know, right? Isn’t that illegal? Aren’t you going to die of a horrible disease? Well, no and no. Amidst all the, ahem, “interesting” ideas that come out of our state legislature (guns, under-funded schools…) a great thing about living in the Wild West is they sometimes kinda’ just let you, the consumer, take a risk now and then. And while the lax gun laws sometimes make me cringe, I like the “lax” idea in other areas. Give and take, I guess.

So we have a Milk Man. Not in the 1950’s deliver-to-your-door way, but we actually know the guy that milks the cows. Rick and his herd aren’t part of a giant conglomerate of dairies where millions of gallons of milk are poured into giant vats, mixed all together a poured into attractive jugs depicting a rolling, grassy field of cows which might exist in Switzerland but here look a little more like a mass of cow hide rugs bumping into eachother on a small, flat, brown chunk of land under a tin roof. 

We know Rick. And now we know his cows. 

Gettin’ after some organic oat hay. Tasty…

There’s Sue, kinda’ the matriarch of Fond du Lac Dairy. There’s Ju-Ju, daughter of the late Jesse who was Rick’s favorite. He seriously knows them all by name. As we watched the 34 brown beauties (the breed is Brown Swiss) line up in anticipation of milking, Rick pointed out a dozen of them, each with their own story. Some he had helped their mama birth them, others he has taken across the country to show at fairs. As he talked, Rick gently stroked Sue’s face, letting her curl a 12-inch sand paper tongue around his arms. 

Rick loves his cows. 

And this is where quality comes in. Sure, we can argue back and forth on the merits and dangers of raw or pasteurized, we can point fingers at whether corn-fed is demonic, free-range is angelic or whatever. But you can’t beat watching your milk come from a cow while she’s getting an ear-scratch by her farmer. But, considering the title of this post and to pass on some info, I’ll give you an idea of some of the differences I’m talking about. 

Kai feeds a third generation calf

The “big guys” (of which Rick used to be a part of, FYI) have literally 1000’s of nameless, numbered cows. They have to be medicated (dont’ be fooled by rbST: there’s new stuff, and other stuff… think of the high-fructose corn syrup switch to “fructose”) because they live too close together and often they stand in their own poop all day long. The milk comes out of a cow with brilliant nutrients, but since that cow was standing in poop, there’s a chance that bad bacteria made it into that batch. And since she’s one of a few thousand contributing to your gallon o’ goodness, they need to heat up the milk, now zapping away all the good stuff. But don’t worry, they add synthetic viatamins (D, E) and calcium to “fortify” it.

And I bet that cow on the front of the jug isn’t named Sue…

Ju Ju get hooked up!

When we first started on the raw milk journey, it was a bit nostalgic. I have clear memories of filling up a five gallon bucket (think the orange Homer bucket at Home Depot) at a tap sticking out of the wall at a local dairy. Fresh, raw milk for the week. Later, my dad came across a Jersey cow who had half a tail, battled fleas all her life and looked like her hips might pop through her back. But Bess produced the most amazing calves and we had milk straight from our barn for a while. 

Nostalgia aside, Lanna and I started hearing of the benefits we were missing out on. The good bacteria (think yogurt and kombucha) we could access, the support of a more local producer, not to mention the taste. Man, that taste! And like I said, we’re lucky. For a while you have to go directly to a dairy or be a part of a co-op to access raw milk. By the time we started buying it, it was sitting on our grocery store shelf. 

And it’s $7. For a half gallon. 

WHAT?!?! Yeah, we had to shuffle the budget around. We already spend way more than the average family on our groceries, but for us it was a matter of quality over quantity. For instance, if you’re eating food that has good nutrients, you don’t actually have to eat as much. It doesn’t take a scientist to know that eating a pastrami-on-rye is better than a Big Mac, not to mention for more fulfilling even when the burger has twice the calories. 

Good nutrients take less to fill you up. For real…


So we pay it. But it’s like a triple win. I mean, maybe even a win-win-win-win: our boys are healthier for it, we’re supporting small business, we know our farmer, he knows us and has watched our boys grow up, and I could go on. That’s a lot of wins.

And the cool thing is, Rick doesn’t really want his operation to get huge. He doesn’t have stock holders to please, no growth charts to reach, no expansion plans. If it happens, if demand goes up, I’m sure he’d love to give the good stuff to more people. But it’s the quality he’s talking about. Rick won’t sacrifice the quality. I hear this buzz around the market when I go. Benny makes, the best tortillas for us and a few restaurants. He makes 800 tortillas a week. 800! When I asked him if he’s looking for help, he says no. He’s good where he is. No need to grow bigger. Why, I ask? “Quality.”

The best tortillas in the world… for real. They are.

A few weeks after raw milk had been in our grocery rotation, I walked up to a guy sitting on a cooler with a spread of sample cups on the table in front of him. He was sitting under a pop-up tent with a banner that shared the name stuck to my half-gallon of milk in my fridge. He wore a baseball hat pulled low over his eyes, a black t-shirt, blue jeans and work boots. That day I met Rick. He’d been our dairy man for a a while, but that morning we chatted about farming, cattle, and kids. I left the market with two free jugs for being a loyal customer. But the transition had already been set in motion. Friend was a better suited word for this budding relationship. 

That’s quality. That’s living the slow, good life. 

Travel (Without Kids)

Sometimes Lanna and I just need a trip. This whole traveling with kids is good n’ all, and let’s be honest, the boys are at a perfect age to where it’s pretty easy and straight up fun. But sometimes our travel bug bites just the two of us. 


So when it works, we do it. We get out. Thanks to incredibly supportive grandparents on both sides who love hanging with the boys for a week or so at a time, we’ve been everywhere, man. 

So when Lanna had to sandwhich something between a conference in Lexington, Kentucky and a meeting in Scranton, Pennsylvania (yup, that Scranton) and the most accessible place was a little town called New York City, we had the boys holed up with her parents faster than you can sing a Broadway show tune (if you actually knew some Broadway show tunes that were a little shorter in nature…) 

We were stoked. 


Neither of us had ever been and while we had just experienced a vast Hong Kong and Lanna had grown up in the huge metropolis of Buenos Aires, Argentina (I won’t mention my hometown size here:), this is New York. This is some deep history, some classic sights, and great food. This is an amazing city. 

We tried to pack as much as we could into our three full days so it was up early and back to our AirBnB late. We stood in line for to-die-for cronuts (croissant + donut: it’s a thing), waved from Lady Liberty in the rain, walked about 10 miles of Central Park, scarfed dumplings in Chinatown and pizza in Greenwhich Village, hit up a Broadway show, and scored two free beers from Brooklyn Brewery and one free hotdog from Papaya King… right? I know, New Yorkers are some of the nicest people. One guy even laid out the whole way the subway works on our first “we’re lost” moment. 


Seriously, I dig this city. 

And, surprisingly, the two cities that bookended the trip were a blast as well. We discovered the vast, beautiful world of horse and Bourbon culture in Kentucky. The people were so nice, the grits were delish (though Lanna tends to avoid this delecacy), and the countryside was beautiful. Fun fact: there are more places to eat per capita in Lexington than anywhere in the country besides San Francisco. Third on this list? New York. And the food scene was good. The focus on local ingredients at some of these places (often a renovated house from the 1800’s) was astounding and while we were bummed to miss it, apparently they have one of the better farmer’s markets in the country. Yup, Lexington: a metro area less than 300,000 people is rockin’ the culinary world better than most major cities, ya’ll. 


Meanwhile, a good friend and whiskey aficionado met up with me and we did a good chunk of the Craft Bourbon Trail. We were in massive, oak-barrel filled warehouses that smelled like a bowl of your favorite sugar cereal and poking around glorified garages listening to a passionate distiller in a dirty t-shirt describing their process while wiping off grass clippings because he’s also the landscaper. We dipped fingers into fermenting corn vats, bottles into hot wax, and lips into smooth samples of bourbon, moonshine, and a smattering of other local delicacies. 


Scranton had me humming the theme song to “The Office” pretty much for the full 20 hours we were there. Aside from the obligatory pic from the opening credits, this city offered up some great coffee (Cadbury creme egg latte… right?!) and some really nice Pennsylvanians. Unfortunately, no Michael Scott or Jim Halpert sightings… maybe next time. 


And then it was done. We were so stoked to see our boys and while they had an absolutely fantastic time with grandparents and cousins, even they were excited to be together again. Although after squeezing Aven for a solid two mintues, he pulled away from me and asked “So, when is your next trip?”

Love you too, buddy. Love you too. 

Kai loses tooth #3 while we were gone…

Below I’m listing some of the sights we loved, places we ate, and little tips from our trip for those that are curious. If you’re thinking of hitting any of these places in the near future, by no means am I an expert, but I learned a few things by being there for a few days. Let me know!

Lexington:

Do: Kentucky Horse Park had everything you wanted to know about horses and a lot you didn’t. You can ride a horse, meet a Derby winner, groom a pony and lots more. At the Mary Todd Lincoln House you can get your history on with the wife of one of the most famous presidents. The Bourbon Trail is awesome. There’s tons of distilleries within a hour or so of Lexington. Check out TripAdvisor for the craft distilleries where you’ll get smaller, more intimate tours. But do one big one to see how Bourbon goes big. Also check out Universtiy of Kentucky and the Farmers Market. 
Eat: Stella’s, Village Idiot, Kentucky Native Cafe, Lexington Diner, Vinagrette
Stay: Everything from a modern, sleek studio condo to an 1860’s townhouse on AirBnb. 
Tips: It’s horse country so if you go during auctions (4x a year) or a couple weeks pre-Derby (the big race), it’s expensive. Otherwise, it’s a super affordable spot. Uber was easiest to get around, but rent a car if you want to hit up the Bourbon Trail

 New York:
Do: everything. Seriously, the tourist stuff is all great. We got cheap Broadway tix with an app (TodayTix) for “School of Rock.” We love history so look up “Free Tours by Foot” for great walking tours. If nothing else, it gives you an idea of the area and the guides hook you up with eating suggestions, where to go next etc. No cost, it’s tip based. (We usually give $10-15 a person) Carry a bit of cash: many smaller restaurants/food carts don’t take cards. Take the subway: You’ll get lost at least once, but for $30 a person for seven days, it’s your cheapest option by a long shot. Yelp and TripAdvisor are big in New York; find good stuff to do on there. And yeah, you should walk the Brooklyn Bridge: It’s really cool. 
Eat: We hit Bleecker Street Pizza and Papaya King Hotdogs (cash only) for street eats. Superiority Burger (veg burgers) the Little Beet and Buddha Bodai Vegan (dim sum… so good!) for great, healthy vegetarian options. And Trader Joe’s is a cheat place to grab snacks, breakfast/lunch on-the-go to save some money. Brooklyn Brewery is LEGIT: they’re one of the oldest craft breweries in the country and they have a pizza truck parked outside the tasting room. Great beer, cool vibe, and good tours. 
Stay: definetly AirBnB. Hotels start at $150 and you’re not close to anything. We stayed with a woman who gave us a room and one breakfast for $70 a night. Since you’re in the city that never sleeps, you won’t be home much so don’t splurge on anything fancy… at least, that’s how we roll. 🙂

Scranton:

OK, this is shorter because we weren’t there long and we stayed in the Hilton courtesy of Lanna’s work. But, stay close to downtown and walk by the brick “Dunder Mifflin” building, eat at Bar Pazzo, and grab anything at Northern Lights Esspresso Bar. Everything is good there. 

Every trip has learning experiences; even if you’re a world traveler. Here’s a few from this one…

– Carry at least $24: a twenty and four ones. This covers lunch in case they don’t take cards and money for tips. I was scrambling in Papaya King. They’d already made my hot dog, it was 11pm and I couldn’t scrounge up the money. But they were awesome and I got my dog for free. 

– Google Maps is your friend and knows NYC subways better than you do. (Can you hear Lanna saying that to me?) 

– Even with some research, let yourself be surprised. Lexington was way cooler than I thought it might be. Be open. 

I’m in love with my mechanic

I’m currently sitting in a coffee shop waiting for my car to to get motor mounts put in. I don’t have any idea what a motor mount is or why it should cost half a pay-check to put in, but apparently when your car has over 160,000 miles, these mounts need to retire into a car-part Active Adult Community. So Tony and his guys are looking at it. 

Tony is indeed, the man. 

The Subie awaits some new motor mounts

I met this guy when we moved to Tempe five years ago. I needed work done on the car and I realized that we have everything within a skateboard ride: Trader Joe’s, a used clothing store for kids, a great bookstore, every ethnic food option you could think of (including three Mexican spots), three coffee shops, and the list goes on. Why not find a mechanic from which I could just walk home? So I turned to Google and found a place right on the corner that got 4 out of 5 stars in their reviews. What? A mechanic shop that rates better than most tourist destinations? 

Do you ever hear of people liking their mechanic?! 

It really became love when I took it in for a dreaded “check engine” light scare. I knew that shops routinely charge 80-100 bucks for just plugging in the contraption that then tells you what horrible expensive fix you need to do. So, as much as I was starting to trust Tony, I decided to go to a car part place where they do the plug-in contraption for free. After they kindly printed out a four page list of the thousands of things it could be, I drove across the street to Tony’s.

160K miles worth of some good Road Trippin’…

After explaining the issue he motioned for me to follow him outside. 

“I bet’cha it’s your gas cap, Joey,” he said. 

Sure enough, it was a bit loose. After telling me it would be about $15 to fix and then we’d check the light, I thought “OK, that’s pretty cool. He just passed up an easy $80: I like this guy.” So while he swapped that out and changed the oil, I jumped on my skateboard to head home. About an hour later I get a call:

“Joey, hey man, I’m really sorry.” Here it comes… “I know I told you that part was going to be $15.” Don’t drag it out, dude. Just hit me with it. “It actually came out to $17. Is that alright? And the “check engine” light doesn’t come on so you’re good.”

What?! $17?! This is an outrage… I mean, yeah, that’ll work. 

And this kept happening: he’d quote us something and it’d come back cheaper. After the first couple fixes where I called other shops just to compare pricing, even his quotes were better. I stopped calling other people. I sent friends and family to Tony for stuff that other shops would say “sorry, only the dealer can fix that.” Tony would have it done in two hours. One time he sent me to Discount Tire because he knew we could get a better set of tires there for cheaper than he could get them. Once we were headed out of town on a road trip and a part they had just put on failed (we couldn’t steer; not good) and he felt awful even though it had nothing to do with him or his guys work. Our car was up on the rack before I left the shop and we were on the road in less than an hour and he didn’t charge us a dime. 

My other Subie…

Even now: we visit the Phoenix area every month or two so I religiously take it back to Tony. He knows our car and us. He’s in our circle. And shouldn’t he be? We live in a car-centric city where we see him at least 4-5 times a year for brakes and oil changes. That’s more than we see some family members… Speaking of brakes and oil, we trust him to take care of our family: I’m putting our safety into his hands pretty much every day, knowing that he’s letting me know why that squeaking is important to fix or the suggestion that maybe your motor will fall out if you don’t get new mounts. 

So here’s to Tony. And to the tears I know I’ll shed when it just doesn’t make sense to drive two hours for an oil change. 

Happy Wife, Happy Life…

Ever have those moments that pretty much slam you back in time? Like, slam: not just “whisked” or even “transported,” I mean full on, all five senses, pinch yourself kinda of slammed. Tonight I came around the corner into the kitchen and had to steady myself a bit: apparently I had jumped in a Delorean and was back in a little apartment, more than a dozen years ago. 

I watch an apron-clad Lanna dance around the kitchen to her beloved Maná album from the 90’s while prepping a delicious dinner of tuco (pronounced “too-ko,” a red sauce from Argentina) and grilled ciabatta. I was back to where the paychecks pinned us to rent, a water bill and $40 a week for food. Eating out was once a month at In-n-Out, we had no cable or internet (thank you, public libraries) and we shared one cell phone, one car, and just one of those resourceful paychecks. 

But we had each other, bunny-ear antennas on the TV, and tuco. Life was good. 

Clockwise, from top: simmering tuco, ciabatta prepped for the oven, ensalada mixta, Lanna works her magic. 

Yup, I could go through all the great cliches, the nostalgic reminisces about everything simple and fun about early life being in love, but you’ve read those books, watched those movies (we had a $1 theater to hit up and see those ones). It is good, however, to reflect back in my own head and remember that it was those hot summer nights where we kept the A/C above 83F, blasting Spanish rock that Lanna would yell over translated lyrics of the best lines, twirling around our kitchen as I lopped off finger tips and she worked her magic over the finicky stovetop: that was the foundation, the base layer, the bedrock we were building our future on and we didn’t even know it. 

For some reason, tuco has not been on the menu in a long time. Perhaps its because I eventually took over the planning and cooking a bit more as I shifted to home life. We don’t eat as much pasta either. Maybe we got all fancy and started to blow the big bucks on food (considering tuco costs about a dollar to make…) In any case, it was a pretty welcome dish that most likely will surface again in the near future. Both boys essentially inhaled as opposed to chewing and I believe thirds were consumed. 


Another thing that happened last night was a bit of a rekindling. Watching Lanna tango with a wine bottle, listening to her sing along in spanish, and smelling her delicious food was so good for my soul, my love for her, and our connectedness. We’ve never really struggled for long periods in our marriage, we’ve fought (especially early on, another bit of memories there…) but never held grudges or felt like we were drifting apart. But there are times that we both tend to get a little lost in ourselves and the routines of the day, week or those long months between seeing friends and family pull on us. It seems to be good timing when every once in a while we do something not just to shake it up, but also to remember why it is we’re on this journey together. Sometimes it takes a vacation, other times a date night. 

Sometimes, it just takes some tuco. 

Below, I’ve got the recipe for the good stuff. Obviously, this is to our tastes and you can mix it up a bit. Traditionally, it’s one of the only meals that doesn’t include meat in Argentina (kinda’ the beef capital of the world) but you can use it as a sauce for chicken if you want. Grab the ciabatta from a good baker, it seriously makes all the difference. We were spoiled this time around: I baked the ciabatta fresh with Jared from Proof in Mesa (check him out here.) 

Tuco (Lanna style… it’s a simple red sauce. Make it your own.)

Fire up a big skillet on medium with 3 Tbs olive oil and sauté 1 medium diced onion till it’s translucent, about 5 minutes. Add 2-3 diced garlic cloves and stir it for a minute. Add 1 big can of crushed and 1 small can of diced tomatoes, add some salt, thyme, basil and just a bit of oregano to taste and stir around. Throw in a 1/2 cup of cheap red wine and 1 tsp of sugar, stir a bit and bring to a strong simmer. Flip the burner to low and let the whole thing sit for about a half hour till it thickens up. 

Meanwhile, bring a big pot of water to boil and turn your broiler on. Throw in some thick noodles (linguine, papperdelle, or choice) and cook till al dente then drain, drizzle with olive oil, and keep warm. Slice some ciabatta rolls in half and generously spread a mix of butter and olive oil over them. Slice into strips and stick them in the oven to broil for 15 mins, or until brown on the edges. 

Grab some bowls or plates, heap some steaming noodles in a pile, scoop a load of tuco over them and sprinkle with some good Parmesan, not that powdered stuff in the green tube either. Even when we were poor, we splurged on good cheese (Thanks, Trader Joe’s!). Pull out that hot bread and commence inhaling… ¡Buen Provecho!


For more good stuff, follow along on Instagram and Twitter. Here’s to livin’ the slow, good life! 


BFF’s

When Lanna and I decided to, you know, leave society and hermit-ize our life there were many aspects both present and future that we took into account. Our list of pros was drawn up and there were some obvious ones (immediate access to nature) and other not so obvious ones (didn’t even know who won the election till a day later). As any thoughtful and open minded person would do we also jotted down the cons with the obvious (lack of social life) to the surprises (the pipe broke, Home Depot is 25 miles away.) Our biggest struggle in even making the big jump into the Great Unknown was leaving our family and friends. 

Me, Jesse, and the boys.

I know I’ve mused on this before. We had (still have) an awesome neighborhood that we left with some great friends for life. I shared many tools, fires, thoughts, and dreams with a new and now great friend Jesse just two doors down the street. Lanna has a great family that lived close and between kid swaps, sleepovers, birthday parties, holidays, and other gatherings, we had a great thing going with them. The boys have three cousins who were all within a couple years and a few miles of each other. Kai was starting to get into a good group at his kindergarten. The Dueck Social Club was in full force. So…

…why exactly did we leave? Especially for the lonely life in the woods?

Yeah, it seems a little more than crazy. So I’ll give a little look into our thoughts and some history. We did indeed know that while leaving a good social group was a “con” on the list, the opposing “pro” happened to be that our boys are actually really good friends. We had noticed it early on and knew that they did well together at home playing with their toys, make-believe games, swimming in the pool, among other activities. It really came to light when we traveled. We noticed that the boys seemed to click really well on playgrounds, in hotel rooms, and waiting for tables at restaurants. Camping was a shared adventure between the two of them and they were hardly apart from dawn to dusk. Even then, while passed out and drooling they would often manage to flop on top of each other in their king size hotel bed or cozy sleeping bags. 

Thai cook school love…

Either this little experiment in the mountains was going to strengthen this bond or shatter it. 

Fortunately, it has been the former. Now, before you get all frustrated at me and this seemingly perfect life raising two angels, please note: often the best-est of friends fight the fiercest. There have been a fair share of bloody noses, scratched out eyeballs, screams, nasty names, and many given bumps and bruises. The age difference factors in when we read books at night and when we fire up our school table every morning. They get sick of each other. Aven taunts Kai. Kai steals Aven’s Lego. It’s life with two boys. And ultimately, these two are forming a deep strong bond that will last throughout their lives, even if it ebbs and flows with that brotherly love and hate. 

Even after 14 years of life together, Lanna and I have figured out new things about eachother and figured out how to work and live in a smaller space 24/7. Let’s just say that when we load up for a trip down to the Valley, we’re both ready to hang out with some other faces for a bit. But we’ve figured some things out: afternoons alone are a good thing once a week; sometimes a long walk after dinner is even better for a mental state than a physical one; and date nights are far more special when they only happen every couple months. 

And let’s be honest: this is a season. We chose to swing the pendulum way over from the busy, high-stress suburban Dueck family life to the slower, no-stress hermit family life. It’s not forever. In fact, we often talk about how our future home/life will pull into a balance and take away some of the things we miss from that former life and some things we enjoy from this life. For now, this still feels good. We’re seeing some really good fruit in the relationship with our boys, we’ve noticed deeper and more focused relationships with our friends and family that we only see every few weeks or months. It’s amazing how giving yourself a bit of space can pull even the best relationships into a good perspective. It’s why we slowed down; so we could continue the good life. 

Nothing like a Road Trip

Growing up, we drove everywhere. And I don’t mean commuting, running errands and all that. We road tripped. From long weekends at Grandma and Grandpa’s four hours away to epic treks from Canada through Denver or Ohio, my parents packed us up and took off. To this day it astounds me: we’re talking pre-internet and cell phones. I remember Dad at pay phones leafing through the thick yellow pages dangling under the booth looking for available rooms and campsites. The cooler was packed with a month’s worth of my moms bread and buns, slices of farmer sausage and cheddar cheese surrounded by tubs of peanut butter, jams, and an assortment of other snacks and lunch food stuffs. We started out in a Chevy Cavelier (yup, we were a family of six… seatbelt laws were a little lax in the 80’s) then moved in to a four door mini-wagon with no A/C which seemed the perfect vehicle to stuff full of camping gear, bags, and four kids only to break heat records in the middle of July in Chicago. Eventually we hit the family milestone of a minivan and that red Dodge Caravan took us all over North America with a little more space and working A/C. 

It changes when your’re a single college kid: Texas to California in 23 hours is do-able. Denver to Minneapolis with your buddy, a stack of cd’s, and the windows down is more fun than the actual destination. Even though I would drag a reluctant new wife with me on some good treks, it took some convincing to ignore a cheap flight with promises of a picnic overlooking the Sonoran Desert outside of Yuma, but she always went for it. It’s now to the point where we’ve done multiple extended trips covering most of the western states with two kids in tow. 

Granted, we’re in a Subaru. With working A/C. But there’s some good mystique to a road trip. 

Cruisin’ Big Sur last week.

We still pack up a cooler but we do a good deal of Yelp-ing, stop by our fair share of Trader Joe’s, and usually have hotels and campsites at least scoped out if not booked in advance. And when we cleared the coast through Flagstaff (a ten hour jaunt where the halfway point is Barstow, California… look it up) it sure helps to have a couple movies downloaded and some headphones for the boys. 

But there is nothing like it. 

The little towns you pass through, the undiscovered shoreline, the mom-n-pop bakery (they still exist!), the late night truck stop for gas and potty breaks, the mandatory pic at the state line: these are things you miss at 35,000 feet. Of course, there’s a time and a place and right now in our lives we have the luxury of time to road trip it; we also use flights when it makes sense. I checked, but it’s nearly impossible to drive to Hong Kong…

Kai perches in the tree outside Santa Cruz.

We just got back from meeting up with my brother, Marty, and his family for a trek down through Big Sur. Of course, we extended it a bit and hung out with good friends in San Diego, shot up through the Grapevine (that’s a mile high pass, I just found out) and met up at a house literally suspended in the trees above Santa Cruz. Yeah, the boys loved it. A pretty rad Air BnB for sure. Then we trekked as far down Highway 1 as we could but it was closed due to rock slides and a washed out bridge. Undettered we rolled out of Monterey down the 101 to Pismo Beach. It was a pretty classic California road trip. And with beaches, boardwalks, and hotel breakfasts, it was heaven for the boys. 

Our new favorite place: Pismo Beach, California.

We’ve got a new tradition too. We’re picking up stickers of all the places we travel through (except Barstow, sorry…) and our goal is to cover our Thule car top. With a trip spanning California to Manitoba this summer, we’ll get a good part of that carrier stickered up. And if you have any suggestions of where to hit up in between, send ’em over: we’re all about exploring. We’ll try to smack a sticker up for it too. I’ll send you a pic. 

Any road trips in your plans this summer? Long hauls or quick trips, let me know. It’s fun to share plans. And hey, maybe we’ll even meet up on the highway. Cuz there is nothin’ that keeps the slow, good life rolling like a trip out on the road. 

Love is in the Air

I guess it’d be good to do a Valentines post. I mean, I totally sidestepped it at Thanksgiving, missed Christmas (sorry, I was at the beach and I’d rather look at waves than screens…) and by the time I rolled around to wishing people a Happy 2017 we were already a week in. 

So I’m not good at writing over the holidays. 

And, honestly, Valentine’s Day really is my jinx day. Or my nemesis. Or just the day Joey never quite gets it right. I’ve forgotten to get a baby sitter, mis-read gift clues, shown up at recently closed down restaurants, and messed up dinner reservations more then once including not getting a table at all when my 80 year-old grandparents came all the way to visit us from Canada. That was one to forget…

We had three straight days of rain when they came. When has it ever rained for three days in Phoenix?! We’d been married all of two years and we were hosting my quite active (and wonderful) grandparents in malls, coffee shops, and our tiny two bedroom apartment during the “Rainy Season.” We only knew about a few of the chain restaurants as we had no money to really go out and were essentially limited to the Mexican place down the street, Dairy Queen, and if we were feeling fancy; In-n-Out. So there we were on Valentines Eve and Lanna asks what reservations I had made for the next night… 

Anyway, after a gentle tongue lashing we decided to see what might work which left us wading through the multitudes outside of the Macaroni Grill, Chili’s, and On the Border (I mean, those can be romantic, right? Apparently thousands of Phoenix residents thought so) and ultimately giving up on two-hour wait times. In desperation, with a wife sending ice daggers in my general direction and my patient grandparents naming every strip-mall neon sign that even hinted at food, we found a windowless Chinese restaurant serving Arizona’s finest greasy Ameri-nese cuisine. 

It was a night to indeed, forget. 

Noodles is not normally a V-Day tradition for us… we have no tradition on the 14th.

So this year, I started to prepare. I actually do prepare every year, I just end up missing pretty big pieces of the preparation puzzle. But blessed be St. Valentine and his minion Cupid for shooting a “Give-this-guy-a-break” arrow into Lanna. She actually held up the white flag and said “Let’s just not try too hard this year.” 

And the heavens rejoiced. At least I certainly danced a small jig. Quietly…

So this year we are still going to do something special. The classic romantic comedy that is the “Lego Batman Movie,” a saucy dinner of homemade fried rice, and dessert in our candle-lit dining room for four. No, it’s not the norm, but seriously, what is? I dare you to comment or post a really good Valentine’s Day you had with your spouse or partner within the confines of either 1: no money, pre-career days or 2: with kids under five. 

Or maybe I’m just cursed? Hey, I’ll take a happy marriage (364 days following V-Day) and some stir fry out of a somewhat made-up day over forgetting our anniversary or missing a birthday. If this is the day that is just kinda’ “meh” for me (and graciously, Lanna) then I’m cool with that. I hope it is not that for you and that you celebrate Love in your own way. In the best way possible. And maybe I’ll see you at the Batman matinee. 

Growth…

For the first time in about 4.6 years, Aven turned down a Second Breakfast. If you’ve ever been with our family over the course of the first four or five hours in the day, you may think that you had somehow entered a portal to Middle Earth. We are totally into double breakfasts, Elevensies, multiple snacks and, well, you get the idea. But today a second piece of toast was simply not to be. However, once First Snack rolled through, Aven of the Shire wolfed down his share of grub. Phew, thought we’d lost him there for a bit. 

Elevensies at the zoo… donuts ftw!

The idea of Growth has been on my mind over the last while. I’ve mulled it over in my own thoughts, brewed up conversation around the fire pit with my good friend Jesse, discussed it over dinner, and now it must be an official preoccupation since I’m blogging on it. These past two weeks it’s been particularly on my mind for numerous reasons. For one, it’s hard not to think about growth when you are feeding two growing boys and watching them daily reach skyward. Our measuring ruler is literally in the center of our great room so the notch marks of time are hard to miss. But even beyond the constant reminder of parenting, teaching, and measuring my kids, Growth is all around. And sometimes, I’d argue, we’re practising the wrong kind. 

No, I’m not going to attempt a stunting experiment on Kai. Although, sometimes I’d like him at seven for a bit longer. 

For the past 600 years or so, Our modern world has been obsessed with growth. Expanding empires, soaring stock markets, huge houses… we can’t seem to grow enough. To be static is failure. A business posts a level line on the line graph in the big meeting and heads roll. The stock market balks for a week and we border panic. The demand for milk or oil goes down and a CEO has to sell a yacht; hundreds lose their jobs. 

Why? And who? And what?

Why does this matter? Who is being forced to drink all that extra milk? What is happening to us?

I just read a book about the lack of nutrients in our food and how it takes more of the empty calories to feed us since the nutrient-rich meat and veggies are in scarce supply. It’s why our caloric intake is suggested to be between 2500-3000 instead of the 1500-2000 of generations past. Many families have three cars to put gas in. And I can’t even keep up with the average house size. Growth, right?

Ok, I’ll stop ranting and get into a more positive side to this. I think if we take a step back, we can see that all the growth I just went off about is potentially harmful and somewhat meaningless. The old cliche “stuff doesn’t bring happiness” is pretty worn out. There is, however, a good kind of Growth: in fact there’s lots of it. Your kids should grow, otherwise you might need to see someone about that. Your savings should grow, the fulfillment in your work and passions should grow. The love for your spouse, your friends, your kids; this is good Growth. 

And you. You should grow. 

This past weekend, two Growth things happened: one involved baking bread, the other involved a deep friendship. 

I’ve been baking sourdough for almost three years. In that time frame, the bread has gone through about, oh I dunno, a thousand different textures and shapes. And still, after all the loafs I’ve baked I still somewhat nervously check that those little dough balls pop up in the oven. See, I can do all the right things outside the oven: the mixing, proofing, shaping… even setting the temp perfectly. But the oven makes those mounds grow. And sometimes, they simply don’t. And it sucks. I question everything I did. I rehash in my mind all my steps, but sometimes they just won’t grow. 

Two days ago however, they were Just. So. Perfect. 

Yeah, I’m showing off. But aren’t they beauts?!

I’ve got some friends going through a tough time right now. The oven they’re in is hot and it’s threatening relationships that extend deep. One in particular is on an extensive inward journey where I know the heat of the oven is forcing some really good Growth. And by the time these friends are pulled from the oven, they will be perfect and at just the right spot they need to be in on the journey. Hard, but good Growth. 

Sometimes it takes good preparation, other times it takes some heat, mostly it just takes us getting up in the morning and looking for space in our life we can grow. Got a hobby you want to push to the next level in? Want to expand your career opportunities? Need to go deeper or even repair a relationship? Do it. Grow. Don’t buy something or scope out your next McMansion. Really grow. Focus on the good stuff. Focus on you and those around you. That’s the good life right there. 

Peace…

This morning I stepped outside for my walk to snow falling softly on the path ahead. It was silent but for my footsteps. The world was small, cozy, and incredibly beautiful. After humming through every Christmas song about snow and wishing that we celebrated Christmas all the way till February, I started into thoughts about peace. The path this morning was truly an ideal picture of peace. 

Morning walk. Pretty peaceful at 7am…

My mind soon led me to the days ahead. I honestly don’t know how it came into my thoughts, other than the brief scrolls I’ve taken through social media the last few weeks, but I started to contemplate the inauguration ceremony on Friday. Being slightly disconnected and not really wanting to care about the (mostly) men announcing how great our future will be for %51 of the country while the other %49 groan, complain, or worse, pen vehemently on FaceBook. And as my thoughts drifted farther from Peace, I realized that’s something we really need. Right now. 

No, I’m not talking about any “anti-feminist/immigration/racism/______” fill-in-the-blank. I mean Peace. 

I try to keep my scrolling limited to about 30 seconds a day on Facebook and unfortunately in the last few days, I’ve noticed less Peace. Maybe not less than around the election (gulp) but far less than we should have. Why is this? Why the hate towards Obama as he leaves? He and his advisors can do whatever they want under certain limitations. Why attack? Why lash out at Trump? By all means, stand for justice, especially in the face of discrimination. But does he deserve our hate?  

So lately when Aven doesn’t get his way, he’s been punching. I don’t now if you’ve met Aven, but this is a four year-old in the 99th percentile in height and the 95th in weight. When he punches, you feel it. Of course, we spend the time to patiently explain that we don’t punch to solve problems. He needs to apologize and then sometimes face a consequence: lose a toy for a day, skip dessert, or even miss out on Friday Night-Movie Night (believe me, this is like solitary confinement in our house.) 

Aven Preps for Friday Night-Movie Night

Later in school, if he chooses to attack, verbally or physically, it will book a trip to the principal. As a teacher, I was instructed to turn in any sort of hate messages, threats, and other potentially dangerous essays or notes to our administration to help these teenagers firgure out better ways to express themselves. 

So really? We hate Trump and write about it on FaceBook? You miss dessert tonight. 

So we want to kick Obama’s butt out of the Oval Office? You get sent to the counselor. 

Want to blow up Iran? Support Israel’s oppression of Palestine? Sorry, you miss out on your movie this week. 

And no popcorn. 

Now please, by all means: stand up FOR peace. FOR justice. FOR your sisters, brothers and all those oppressed. Cuz oppression is real and it’s there. Sit-in on Friday, march this weekend, and post something about what you believe in. 

But can we stop with the attacks? 

Here’s a thought: avoid Facebook this weekend. Can’t do that? Skip posts that start out with anything political. Still can’t keep your eyes away? Post something positive. Post something about your sisterhood; encourage all the women out there that are struggling under these ceilings, this demeaning speech. Write an encouragement on your Muslim friend’s wall. Share about ways to stay healthy so you can avoid Affordable Care. Just remember to breathe and slow down before you write. Rants get nasty the more we let our mind spin. 

Let’s spread some Peace this weekend. Slow down a bit and be kind. Be kind to your friends, your enemies and both in your social media meandering. Mostly, be kind to yourself. It’s really the only way to truly experience the good in this life.

Imagine: It’s all you need. 

 I’m sitting in a bright, cozy little coffee shop in Flagstaff typing this out next to a warm mug of tea, surrounded by college students tapping out papers, checking facebook, and sharing stories, ideas and laughs. It’s a good place to be on a Monday. The reason I even mention my setting is that whatever the playlist is that’s wafting through the shop out of propped up speakers is absolutely perfect. It’s a mix of some good classic rock, folk, a few oldies and a cover or two of those periods. They’ve played Ray Lamontagne, The Beach Boys, and a bit of James Taylor. And just when you think you’ve reached quite possibly the pinnacle of your morning, they play it. 

John Lennon on a piano somewhere asking me to join him and Imagine…

Yeah, it was one of those moments where you look up and watch a movie director motioning to the lead camera to slowly pull out from the shot as the lead actor takes a sip of his latte, the shot zooms out further to pan over the smiling extras sitting at tables… well, you get it. 

After contemplating my brief Hollywood stint, I got to thinking about that song; the simplicity, the gall of asking adults to use there imagination to make the world better. I was reminded that just the other day the boys were left to their own devices while we cleaned up dinner and before long they were playing a totally made-up game involving them geared up with everything from binacolars to nerf guns acting as Santa’s elves in charge of defending a vegetable patch from Wamp rats. I think there are a solid four movie and book references in the mix. They played for 45 minutes straight. 

That’s some imagination. 

Imagination in full effect circa 2015

Shortly after this game, I got completely distracted on my ipad and began planning out my future happy life with everything from a GoPro to a food truck. I peeled myself away from my screen feeling so unfulfilled I realized that I needed a Trader Joe’s Peppermint Cookie (yeah, we stock up; every year. No, you can’t have any.) As I tried to fill the hole in my soul with a cookie, I realized how ridiculous this was: I’ve got a really good life. I don’t need anything right now. In fact, I could probably get rid of half of what I have, not feel it, and be just as happy. 

I remember pre-Asia trip Lanna and I were trying to let the boys know some things to expect: long lines at places, overnight flights, different foods etc. and Aven piped up and said “Is this longer than North Dakota?!” And aside from my youngest son’s infatuation with on of the most northerly, least populated states in the Union, I realized that he has absolutely no idea what I’m talking about. Asia, North Dakota, Tempe, Flagstaff… it’s all just a plane ride here, a road trip there. Everyday for two weeeks leading up to the trip he asked if this was the day we were going to Hong Kong. 

He has no idea. His whole life is in the Now. Right here. Right Now. 

Aven being in the Present…

This is truly awesome, when you think about it. All these gurus and artists wax poetic about imagining worlds, living in the now, being present, finding joy in the little things, don’t worry, be happy… A few have even said to take it all in like a kid. Be happy. Be like that little kid that built a fort out of a box, shot nerf darts at aliens, and discovered something new. 

Imagine what could happen all around us if more of us just imagained…