Renaissance Man

When I was growing up, the gold standard, at least in the circles my family associated with was to at least try to be “Rennaisance” man. In practice, this is why I was enrolled in accordion, auto shop, baseball, Boy Scouts, Air Force ROTC, etc. I took classes in theater as well playing sports. I learned about classical music, literature, and they even had a class at my Christian school called “outdoorsmanship.” I have filed patents for a couple of gadgets. I wrote an interactive CD-ROM software to teach kids about orchestral music in college.

My dad firmly believed that a man should be able to change the oil, make a blackbery cobbler in a dutch oven on an open fire, pitch a perfect game, shim a door and then jump right into the tenor part of Handels “Messiah.” All of which I have done.

The idea was that if I showed even the slightest interest in something, my parents would at least try to let me explore it. (Although the accordion is an instrument popular in the old country, and my dad kind of insisted on that one). They didn’t always force me to finish what I started, but they made it clear that rounding out my interests would make me a more interesting person, with a deeply fulfilling inner life. I gravitate toward some, and others I thought they were interesting, but never pursued them past a novice level. I would let reader (or people who know me) decide if it worked.

There were a few of these things that I could just never get into. Namely. ballet and poetry. Both make me want to fall out of my chair and drop dead. However, my oldest daughter is shaping up to have to have a talent for the former, and is actually pretty spindly and petite, like a ballerina. Plus, she’s a girl and everything.

RIght now, she is slated to be a butterfly in the Queens City Ballet Company’s performance of “Alice in Wonderland” here in Helena, and if you have never had a child in a high-end ballet troup, its a pretty greulling schedule. They also have at least one “observation” night where you can watch a rehersal. (Usually, you don’t get to watch, because it is distracting). So, I went, to be the supportive dad. Me and Kahtryn, the one year old sat together.

As you can see, I am still having trouble containing my enthusiasm for the craft. But, I have to admit, there is some raw talent there, even if I try to be totally objective.

Mychael has a physician friend who, when you ask him “what made you want to become a doctor?” he replies “my mom made me.”

Columnist and talk show host Dennis Prager is also an amateur symphony conductor. He gets the opportunity to go all over the world and conduct orchestras as a guest, and there is one question he always asks the group as they begin rehersals. Kind of an ice breaker. He is standing in front of the most accomplished musicians in the world and asks “how many of you are here because your parents made you take [trumpet/violin/cello/whatever] lesssons and forced you to practice for hours?”

Almost all of them raise their hands. And I think about this in a world where these art forms, and these disciplines are fading from view and not appreciated. How do you handle this?

By the way, I thought this was a funny out take from our family photo session.

Not really sure what’s going on there.


The trenches of insanity!

Sun came out today and I was able to dig my way to the back gate of the horse pasture.

Now I can get to them to feed without feeling like I ran a marathon walking across a quarter mile of waist deep packed powder.

Has it finally broke?

Not sure if this is the breaking of winter into spring, but we have some really nice weather over the last few days.

The snow is starting to melt really fast and i’ve been able to start digging the escape trenches of sanity. Like this one to the external laundry room door:

Or this one to the barbeque, which is finally starting to make its location known:

We also had a chance to go to our new favorit barper shop, Dundees at Reeders Alley.

Mychael tells David, who is only there on Saturdays what she wants for our David’s hair:

Afterwards, we got a quick snapshot our front. Reeders Alley has a long and interesting history.

This is the beard product he recommended and Mychael picked the scnet she likes. She’t grown quite fond of burying her nose in my neck and smelling it.

Here’s a picture of Readers Alley in the summer. And a link to their site, with history.

CW11B3 Reeder’s Alley Helena Montana MT US. Image shot 1000. Exact date unknown.

History of Reeders Alley

A little military humor

This one is for my readers and friends who can relate. Six months since I retried, I’ve come up with a list of things I like about not being in the army anymore:

I can go on vacation without having to prove to my boss that I have reliable transportation, insurance and enough money in case of emergencies.

I can go outside with no hat on

I can go outside and carry things in my right hand

I don’t HAVE to get a haircut

No one calls me at 0400 to come pee in a cup

No one approaches me to “thank me for my service”

I don’t have to stand up when my boss enters the building for the first time that day

I am never “red” on my dental readiness category

If my shoulder hurts, I just skip push ups that day, and I don’t need a doctors note (profile)

I never sit in profile scrub meetings where privacy act and HIPAA protected information is discussed so the whole unit can hear

I don’t have to defend my parking space like it’s the most valuable strategic piece of real estate on the planet

If I am sick, I just call work and tell them so

My employer does not issue me a bunch of equipment, which I store in my garage for two years and then tell me its “dirty” when I try to turn it back in

My next promotion is not dependent upon how fast I can run or how well I can put a 5.56mm hole in a piece of paper 300 meters away

The speed limits in the civilian world are reasonable

I don’t spend half my life trying to mitigate risk

I never find myself in a room full of other field grade officers being yelled at by a corporal on a power trip because he is “in charge”

When I document a clinical decision I made, I do not get an email from some non-medical provider in the basement telling me I did it wrong.

People who sit behind windows are friendly and eager to help me with my problem

There are no “off limits establishments”

My commander is not hitting on my wife while I am deployed

I don’t have to tell every other person I meet my social security number

I never go amber on “suicide prevention,” “SHARP,” or “EO.”

I never go into a big room full of people and we all get six shots in the arm on the way out

(That’s my rack)

A momentary break in the action

Pretty soon I figure I will be able to do a post that is not about snow. 

But today is not that day.

The clouds broke for just long enough for me to dig a trench all the way to the bird run. The trench is really for Mychael, because when she sinks into the deep stuff her entire leg gets buried. Sometimes I need to remember that I am seven inches taller than her.

However, as you can see, eight of the next nine days call for more.

And is that a thirteen below I see in there? Yikes.

Anyway, Ljubomir farms had our first baby goat of the “spring” and Kathryn seems to like him.

And in case in you’re wondering, that is indeed a baby, in her swing, holding a baby goat wearing diapers and a fuzzy sweater vest.

Finally, I think my wife looks really cute in nursing scrubs so I snapped a picture of her putting her socks on this morning before she left. If I was ever a patient in the ER where she works I’d be hitting on the nurse.

Time to go get the side barn doors open because the snow from the roof melts, falls down in front of them, re-freezes overnight and makes it impossible to let the animals out without shoveling.



February accumulation proves to be a little too much

A couple of weeks ago the temperature got down to twenty-two below. This was the first time we had experienced double digit negatives, and here’s the main lesson:

Nothing likes it that low. No animal, no piece of equipment, nothing. Add wind to it and even if there is no NEW snow, the drifted snow is too dense and too high to move with a miniature plow. The wind chill factor was something like forty-five below.

That morning (it was a Monday), I got the little 4wheeler stuck twice trying to move what had blown around. I spent a big portion of the morning digging it out with a snow shovel, just so I could move enough of it to get the vehicles out. During that process, I thought “I wonder if my truck will start?” So, I tried and it almost didn’t. The starter made some really weird noises when I finally got it to turn over. The crunching rattle coming from the 6.0L powerstroke while it tried to warm up was nerve racking. But it fired up and I let it run for about forty-five minutes before trying to move it.

When I finally got some of it moved around I went up stairs to finish getting ready and noticed there was no hot water. There was cold at the kitchen sink (the farthest point from where the water enters the house) but no hot water anywhere. I didn’t have time to deal with it, so I told Mychael I would try to figure out what was going on with it when I got home. She wasn’t going anywhere that day so she could live a few hours without it.

I climbed in the truck and drove off, and the drive from the house all the way to the main road is basically idle–almost not throttle needed. That’s about a mile. When I got on to the main road, I started to throttle up and the more I pushed the pedal, the slower it got. Eventually, it died and I had to limp it over to the side of the road, where it got stuck. I could not get it out, and could not start it. Eventually I got it to turn over, and a neighbor with another super duty pulled me out. But the truck would not go more that about twenty feet and die. I called Mychael who had to put my tow chain in her car and come down to where I was so we could pull it to a safe location and have it towed into town.

The problem? I found out that weekend the difference between “diesel #1” and “diesel #2.” If you have ever wondered what that difference is when you are at the pump, it’s that diesel #1 has a freezing point of about forty below. Diesel #2 freezes (its called “gelling”) at about positive fifteen. Never seen temps like that in Texas. But they are pretty common here. The fuel filter was damaged, and the truck had to be pulled into a warmed garage for about 24 hours before they could even diagnose it. The truck has had a twitchy electrical system for a while, and the batteries were barely holding a charge, so ALL OF THOSE problems compounded and needed total replacement. In the end, I got:

New fuel filters, new fuel pressure regulator, two new batteries, new starter (I burned it up that morning trying to force it to start), new alternator (my intermittent blinking headlights became much worse once they got it started), new battery cables (all four were fraying and falling apart), and new power cord for my block heater. The total was about $1600 to get it road worthy and reliable again. Now she runs better than ever.  Solution? Run diesel #1 (which is way more refined and expensive) from about November to March. Here she sits next to her pal, the Honda Pioneer 1000 that plows us out in a rare non-blizzard, non-gale force wind moment from the bedroom window.

That road in the background is our access easement to the main road, and I have to plow it every day.

I wanted to live here, in these conditions, in this place. I am not complaining.

Next, the hot water problem. I got home that night and started to investigate. But in the mean time, I had contacted the builder who looked at the original plans and plumbing diagrams to give me some ideas about what went wrong. He suggested that somewhere between the toilet and the bathroom sink was the freeze. He said we needed to get the temp in the back bedroom and bathroom up by cranking up the heat in those rooms, opening up the closet (where the water heater is) and getting some heat in there. Here’s what it looked like:

That was all fine, but why did it happen? It’s a brand new house. So I investigated further and found that the hole in the wall where the power enters the house (located in the subfloor of the bathroom) is WAY bigger than the cable that goes in. So, I jammed a towel in there until I can get some expanding foam insulation.

Within an hour of plugging that hole, the hot water came back. And since we have pex pipe, it did not rupture. No permanent damage.

The builder said the guy I hired to do the electrical should have plugged that hole. No shit.

It was my oldest boys sixth birthday yesterday. Here he is with his mom handing him his presents:

And speaking of Mychael, here’a a little girl game tip for the ladies. There has been a lot of talk over at the Dalrock site about who is and who is not suitable or elite enough for modern marriage. Or what is game. Or…

The latest post is a wellspring of conversation on the topic.

I don’t know how elite I am, but sometimes I get pics like this from her:

That’t not a pregnancy test, its an ovulation test. Full disclosure–we are NOT TRYING to have another one. In fact, we bought this thing at the store a couple days ago as a joke. She’s 45 and I’m 47, so we are pretty sure those days are over. But she thought it would be cute to send it as a flirty way to say “want to have some fun later?” The smiley face means “peak” so who knows? But it was pretty creative.

She also picks my clothes out for me for work:

She says its not because I can’t pick out my own outfits, but because she likes to do it.

Now, for the married women who read here. Set aside everything you think you know about “headship” and “servant leaders” and what you believe you deserve or whatever. How hard is it to be sweet like that? How hard is it to flirt and make your husband feel like he’s a hundred feet tall? If you have to pull teeth to remind yourself that he’s supposedly the love of your life, is it possible the problem is you?

I’m not some super catch. My wife just knows instinctively that keeping the fire going requires her to light the match once in a while too.  Or maybe she’s grateful that I’m the one who goes outside and fights the double digit negative temperatures to keep her comfortable and safe.


Lazy, snowy weekends are nice

Got up Thursday morning and had to plow about a foot of snow before I left for the gym and work. Otherwise,  Mychael would not be able to safely leave the property when it was time to run around with the kids on her mommy errands.

The thing is, even on the nights it doesn’t snow, there is enough on the ground the the wind blows all night causing it drift over whatever road I made the day before and that drifted snow is more difficult to drive on than freshly fallen powder. Another thing I wasn’t tracking I needed to know about. And not being ready for it made me late for work twice last week.

The rest of the weekend was filled with fixing downed fences (goats are relentless in their pursuit of escape), off loading feed, and all the usual stuff. It never ends on a farm/ranch.

I did to take the oldest girl and pull her behind me in the 4 wheeler.

For the readers and followers of the old American Dad blog, I have finally started a serious new workout schedule, which includes going to the gym before work and doing both my run AND my lifting in the same workout. Then I go sit in the locker room and while I am cooing down I get to listen to guys who are only maybe a decade older than me talking about colostomy bags and erection issues. This makes me grumpy.

Oh the fun we have to look forward to as all our parts stop working!

On a related note, Mychael started a new routine (not really changing the activity side, but the diet side) and she is down a size. For any women readers interested, just comment below and she’ll get back to you. Its kind of her own creation based on a bunch of stuff she has come in contact with. She asked me to take her shopping and buy her a new pair of jeans to celebrate the weight loss.

And finally, I did get to relax for a minute with one of the other girls in my life.

I’ll start a log and some posts about how the new workout is going soon.


There are no heroes.

Now that I am a veteran, it occurs to me (to my great satisfaction) that I no longer have to care about things like Department of Defense guidelines and the “acceptable use policies” that govern the online behavior of those who remain on active duty.

During my time serving, most of my readers know I skirted that line quite often but now I can just write whatever I think about much of the colossal stupidity that passes for “honor” and “service.” In that regard, I’d like to talk about how lame it was, and still is, to be called “hero” when folks learn of my time in the army.

But first, two stories. In my first year as an enlisted soldier – still in my initial entry phase at Fort Sam Houston, my company was marched down to one of the on-post theaters to fill up the seats. This is common practice when a speaker is coming and they need to fill the room with the smiling faces of soldiers for the cameras. The guy that was speaking was a chief warrant officer who had been shot to pieces on some battlefield in Vietnam and was awarded the Medal of Honor. Our drill sergeant, right before the speaker arrived revealed to us whey we were being forced to give up a Saturday afternoon.

Some guy is coming to speak to you this afternoon. He was a medic in Vietnam and got shot up pretty bad and pulled his buddies to safety. I guess that makes him a hero or something. I don’t really get it, but whatever.

At another spot in my training, just a few months prior I was near the end of basic. We had finished our field training exercise and as we rounded the corner at the end of the ruck march back to civilization, we were funneled into a large bonfire area with a stage in front. There was rock music playing loudly and the officers of the battalion were all at the front cheering us on, congratulating us, giving speeches. The drill sergeants surrounded the event, with looks of disgust. You could see this was not their idea. They could not wait until the officers released us back to them. And they did, I thought they were going to kill us the way they went off.

Both instances gave me the impression that there is nothing heroic about simply accomplishing what you signed up to do. And that there is an expectation that even if you get all your limbs blown off dragging your buddies to safety, all you did was what was expected. Doing whatever it takes to accomplish the mission is not heroic. 

As I left active duty, one of my parting shots that I tried to share with the newer, younger officers and soldiers I encountered was basically a version of this speech:

We (the military) currently enjoy an enormous amount of positive regard from the general American public. They call us heroes everywhere we go. We are untouchable in the eyes of many–a group that has reached sacred cow status. But we can lose that high regard, and the American public will turn on us in an instant. I have already started to see it. Every time some veteran claiming special status because of his “PTSD” I can sense the cringe. I can see the looks on their faces. Oh great, another one of these supposedly traumatized soldiers gets special treatment.

Most of the time, they would look at me with the sideways, confused dog look. As if no one could possibly ever get tired of soldiers and their bullshit. I guess time will tell.

I’m no combat veteran. Sure, it says I am on my DD214. I get to call myself that. But please. I have been outside the wire a total of three times, and the scariest thing that ever happened to me was listening to small arms fire plinking the side of our Chinook. No real danger. In fact, we thought it was funny and we took selfies.

Silly Haaji. Don’t you know you can’t shoot down a Chinook with an AK47?

So maybe some of my consternation is my own guilt over having never actually faced the enemy on the field of battle, engaged him while he engaged me, and came back alive. Maybe I wish I could tell people my story before they say “thank you for your service.” I usually just grunt and awkwardly turn away.

But from my perspective, no duty bound personnel, should ever be called a hero in the course of doing exactly what they are called (and paid) to do. I reserve the term for the guy–not in uniform–who runs into a burning building and starts pulling people out who he has no fiduciary responsibility to care about at all. No oath bounds him to run into that building. He takes a huge personal risk to save people he does not know. 

What about Dave Sanders, who died protecting students at Columbine? Similarly, Liviu Librescu at the Virginia Tech massacre. These folks were thrust into a situation, and when the time came to make a decision, they suspended all thoughts of danger to themselves, with no statutory obligation to do so.

Or people like Chiune Sugihara, or Paul Rusesabagina–people who were in exactly the right place, in the right position to do the maximum good for a large amount of people–again at great personal risk to themselves with only morals to guide them. I could only dream of having the heroic ethos of people like them. 

My friend and former colleague Zeno Franco and his associates have been trying to wrestle with the definition of heroism for quite a while. He was thinking about it a lot, way back when we were in graduate school together. I think their efforts are interesting, but the quest for the heart of the matter will, I am afraid, elude them forever.

The duty bound personnel may sign up for firefighting, police work or soldiering because of an inordinate amount of altruism, belief in something greater or an extra helping of courage. Or they just have a really high appetite for risk. Either way, if they turn their back at the moment of truth, they will be branded a coward, as it should be.

All the others I listed, had they saved themselves, no one would have noticed or judged. They did something that no rational person would do, to save strangers.

And those of us who “served” know it. So the next time you see a soldier at an airport, think twice about the hero crap. You will probably avoid an awkward situation and most likely they just want to be left alone.

Am I proud to have “served?” Sure. But only because I managed to provide for a family without breaking any laws. But the plumber and the guy who dug my well do that too.

The necessity of one on one time

I had to take Mychael for part II of a dental procedure today. Not exactly the way she wanted to spend a Sunday afternoon. But we took the opportunity to have some individual time with David, our soon-to-be six-year-old.

Before we left for our day, David “caught” us making up after a minor disagreement and snapped the photo saying “that’s how rabbits apologize.” It was pretty cute. Apparently he learned that from a cartoon version of “Peter Rabbit.”

Rabbit Apology

Off we went into downtown Helena, which is essentially a living modern Norman Rockwell painting. We had ice cream.

Big Dipper ice cream in Helena

I got a pic of them holding hands

And looking around I noticed how idyllic this place is. Here’s the street the dentist is located on.

It’s about 50 meters from the front door of my office:

Anyway, David got some time with mom and dad, while the others stayed home with “Gam.” And he definitely enjoyed it.

Ive noticed that all my kids respond differently to these little outings but they all need it. Do you do this with yours?