Welcome

I guess you are here because you have discovered one of my books and enjoyed it enough to find out more about the author, me. Either that or you’re a potential employer who is investigating me to see if I would be a good fit for your organization. In which case, surprise, I write books as well as teach. Some might look at that as a bad thing, and if so, please explain to me how.

For whoever finds my site, I want to welcome you, and also allow you the opportunity to follow me on a regular basis. Anybody is welcome as long as you keep your posts appropriate, and respect the other followers to this site. As long as everybody follows those two simple rules, I won’t have to kick anybody off. Let the friendly banter begin.

I am hoping to create an interactive site that everybody can enjoy. Of course, I will keep you up to date on the latest writings coming out of my head, and I will also let you know when and where I will be in the world, so someday you might be able to meet me in person. Most people regret that decision, but who knows, maybe you’ll be in the minority.

I will also tell you about my world-wide travels as this is something I do on a regular basis. I’ll show you pictures from places I have been (this one is from Dubrovnik, better known to fans of The Song of Ice and Fire as King’s Landing), and tell you the exciting stories that happen to me along the way. You are also welcome to ask me any questions you may have about the place I have been, and I will try to answer them in a timely manner.

I know it all sounds amazing, and I can see you wondering why you haven’t been a part of this fantastic experience so far, but let me tell you about the most exciting part of following this site – the interactive part.  You were probably wondering when I would get to that part I had promised you earlier. Well, I plan to create a list every month, and I want you to participate in its formation. I do love countdowns, but I am always disappointed in them. So I have decided to take matters into my own hands. You will be able to post your top ten of each monthly list and at the end of each month, I will comprise the total list to give you the countdown for that subject. Look for each new subject on the first day of each month, and the final list of the previous month by the fifteenth.

Otherwise, it is very nice to have you a part of this experience, and I look forward to all of our future posts together.

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Accountability Chapter 2

The serial continues, and I am amazed at how some of the characters I created five years ago are still around today leaving their mark on America’s education system. I hope this story gets people to wake up to the real problem so they can start to make the appropriate changes to this field before it becomes too late. It is already getting hard to find good teachers, and that is because they are treated so poorly in the United States that they go overseas to find more respect and as a side bonus, more money.

2

The easy transition into my son’s school day didn’t go as smoothly as I hoped it would. A commercial for the newest Buddy Bear appeared after the episode of the cartoon was over. The newest Buddy Bear was Billy Bob Bear. Billy Bob Bear had grown up in a broken household and was eventually left on his own because his real parents didn’t care enough about him. He was lucky enough to stumble upon the Buddy Bear family. Mama Buddy felt sorry for Billy Bob Bear and knew he needed a strong mother figure in his life, so she adopted him. Even though Billy Bob Bear was a little rough around the edges, he thrived under the caring love of Mama Buddy. He started to learn how he too could be a wonderful influence on the people in his life. I used to look at stories like this as a real inspiration and wished I had the opportunity to be like Mama Buddy sometime in my life.

Anyway, Billy Bob Bear wasn’t the problem. It was the fact he was being introduced in doll form that very morning. Zach had all the rest of the Buddy Bear collection and after he saw the commercial, he felt he needed to get the newest edition. He jumped up and down and begged me to buy Billy Bob Bear. I knew these toys were expensive. If I spent the money I was given as an allowance by my husband on this new toy for Zach then I wouldn’t have enough left over to get the haircut I desperately needed at the time. I knew it was a painful decision and my hair would need to wait for a couple more weeks, but my children came first in my life. I knew how important it was for Zach’s happiness, so we went out and got him Billy Bob Bear that day.

We didn’t have enough time to get one this morning and make it to school on time, so I told him we would pick it up later in the day. But Zach stressed how important it was he had one for school that day. He screamed and shouted and refused to get in the car unless we went to the toy store that morning. There was no way he could show up at school without the latest edition of the Buddy Bear family to display for his class. This seemed reasonable to me because it complied with the Department of Motherhood’s Standard Number One: A mother should insure the popularity of their children so they would have a healthy amount of self-esteem. Because of this, we set off to the nearest toy store to get a Billy Bob Bear before I dropped him off at school. We got to the store and of course it wasn’t open until 9:00, but I could see the display for Billy Bob Bear inside. It took awhile for Zach understand we couldn’t buy one until they opened the store. I showed him the display and we spent the hour staring at it in order to appease him.

Lindsey, on the other hand, was being the angel I always hoped for with my children. She quietly sat on the sidewalk and sucked her two fingers while I pointed out all of the exciting things the toy store had to offer to Zach. I felt so bad she wasn’t getting something for herself, so when the store finally opened, I bought her a new stuffed Baby Buddy. She played with it in the back seat as we dropped off Zach at school. I had to sign him in at the front office and I was scolded by my son’s teacher who was on her break at the time, but what did she know about being held to such high standards. Teachers didn’t have to deal with the threat of their reason for living being taken away from them if they couldn’t perform up to the required standards. I know I had done the right thing with my son and I gently took her scolding with a grain of salt, because when she was held accountable like I was then she would have room to talk.

I also stopped by the post office to see about the certified letter Robert had asked me to pick up, but the lady behind the counter told me they had sent it to my house already, special delivery. She said that I could expect it sometime in the afternoon and she didn’t even have to go in the back and check. I should’ve known something was up when they had the rest of my mail for me. I thought it was weird they would send the certified letter ahead of my regular mail, but I took the rest of the mail because it helped to validate my trip to the post office. Lindsey was once again the perfect angel while we were at the post office. It seemed purchasing the Baby Buddy for her was a great idea because it was the new toy that kept her occupied while I talked to the lady behind the counter. The postal employee even commented on how well behaved Lindsey was, and how I must be the greatest mother to have such a wonderful child. It always made me feel like I was doing the right thing when other people recognized what a great job I was doing.

By the time we got back home and ate lunch, Lindsey was wiped out from all of the running around we had already done. I tucked her in her bed to take a nap and she still had the new bear tucked under her arms when I snuck downstairs to read the newspaper and the mail.

I loved the house we lived in. It was a larger version of the dollhouse I used to play with as a child, except now I lived in it. Each room was designed for a specific purpose with comfort in mind. It was also a stimulating environment just as required by the National Caring and Loving Behavior Act. Every room in the house had a large flat screen television that could be viewed from any of the comfortable chairs surrounding them. Bookcases were in every room with various knick knacks and the occasional novel made into a movie.

One of the rooms was made into a library which housed our large collection of DVDs. They were arranged in alphabetical order by title in the various genres: children’s, horror, science fiction, action, romance, comedy, and Brad Pitt movies. If one couldn’t find a movie that they would find entertaining, they just weren’t looking hard enough.

The basement was turned into a game room with another large screen television. All of the video game consoles were there from the Wii, the PS4 and the Xbox with Connect. There was also a collection of all the newest, as well as classic video games. The couch in the room was the most comfortable one ever made. Anyone who sat in it felt like they were sinking into oblivion. There were many times I had to convince Lindsey and Zach to leave the confines of this couch in order to join Robert and me for dinner.

They were never required to join us for dinner, of course, but there were many nights we spent that meal together as a family, at least once a week. When we shared dinner together it was at the table in the kitchen. I would serve all of the kids’ favorites as long as they had some nutritional value, such as hamburgers, pizza, tacos, vegetables (as long as they were deep fried for taste), or omelets. Every night for desert we would enjoy some frozen delight served from our soft serve ice cream machine. The children were so good at using it they were able to make their own deserts any time they wanted to during the day.

The kids’ rooms were a joy for me as well as them. It was the perfect environment for them to stimulate their minds while enjoying the privacy of their own space. They each had a 3-D television big enough to enjoy, but not big enough to spoil them, 42 inches. They would often have many of the 3-D movie selections in their rooms during the course of the week, and I would have to remind them that they needed to be returned to our video library. Then I would return them to our video library. They each had their own gaming system as well. I tried to find the most educational games for them, such as Baseball and Football so they would get their sports, Medal of Honor so they could learn their history, and the Zelda and Final Fantasy games for literature. We also made sure that they had some of the fun games as well like Grand Theft Auto and Silent Hill, but we encouraged them to play the more educational ones.

Robert had his office upstairs next to the children’s rooms where he was able to finish his work. It was actually an extra bedroom we had converted into an office, and we put our guests there when they came in from out of town. I also had my special spot, and that was, as I’ve already said, the kitchen. This is where I would prepare the meals, pay the bills and watch over the kids if they happened to be in the family room playing. The kitchen table was the place where I would be able to wind down, look the mail over and read the newspaper every once in awhile. On the day my life changed, I had put Lindsey down for a nap, made myself comfortable in the kitchen and read a front page headline that caught my attention.

Secretary of Motherhood Avoids Assassination Attempt

Dr. Nancy Ann Blur, the nation’s first ever Secretary of Motherhood, was attacked by a crazed individual wielding a frying pan Monday afternoon at a speaking engagement at the Angelina Jolie Auditorium. She was talking about how important it was for mothers to follow the standards laid out by the National Caring and Loving Behavior Act. The attacker was a Miss Beverly Robinson who had made it up to the stage where Dr. Blur was giving her speech. She was stopped short by security. When Miss Robinson was detained, she threw the large frying pan she was carrying at the Secretary of Motherhood, coming very close to hitting her in the head. If it wasn’t for Dr. Blur’s athletic ability the outcome might have been completely different than it was.

Witnesses who were attending the event and were sitting next to Beverly Robinson stated they, “…noticed something strange about her behavior. Before Dr. Blur took the stage she was clutching on to her large purse and muttering something about ‘Wanting her to give them back.’”

Security guards who stopped Beverly Robison from reaching her goal said she had shouted, “I want them back b#&ch!” right before she threw the frying pan at the beloved secretary. They believe the frying pan was being concealed in the large purse and that is the reason why nobody noticed the deadly weapon when the Miss Robinson entered the Angelina Jolie Auditorium.

Beverly Robinson had just been released from the Capital Limited Re-Education Center near La Junta, Colorado two weeks prior to the incident with high marks. She was going to be reintroduced into the motherhood program when Thomas Stannish had offered her a job taking care of his two children. They had recently been left without a mother due to the inability to live up to the expectations of her duties. Beverly Robinson had found herself in a similar situation one year earlier when she was unable to have the children in her care pass the Motherhood Assessment Program (MAP) test for three years running. According to the rules of the National Caring and Loving Behavior Act, this violation is what led to her being placed in the re-education program.

Dr. Blur, whose approval rating is at an all time high of 78%, said about the incident, “It is sad indeed when things like this happen, but this is the reason I worked so hard to make sure the National Caring and Loving Behavior Act was passed in the first place. There were too many mothers out there who just weren’t being held accountable for the way they were raising their children. It is vitally important for our youth we weed out these bad mothers and replace them with ones better equipped to handle the job.”

I remember sitting there and staring at the paper. I couldn’t understand why anyone would want to attack this wonderful woman who had done so much to make sure mothers got the attention they deserved. At the time, it was clear to me that Beverly Robinson was insane and there wasn’t any amount of re-education that could be made possible to turn her into the perfect mother the act intended. I was sure Dr. Blur had done everything in her power to help this woman and she was just beyond help. I thought it was sad that not all women could be great mothers like I was, but I was sure that was why the government created the National Caring and Loving Behavior Act, to make sure these mothers, like Beverly Robinson, stayed away from children before real damage was done. I used to believe this act was making sure every child had a wonderful mother and it was all due to that amazing woman who wrote her historic report.

Dr. Nancy Ann Blur used to be my idol. She had grown up from small roots to take control of her life and be one of the most respected women of the United States. She grew up in the small town of Jeffery City, Wyoming where her dad was a science teacher and her mom was a school secretary for the elementary school in town. She was the only girl growing up with four brothers and in her teenage years she spent her afternoons with her mother at the school helping out in the after school program. It was there she found her love for children and discovered how important it was for parents to raise their children correctly. If kids weren’t given this opportunity, they would be led down the wrong path of life. Her brothers taught her that the stronger gender was actually the woman and it was what the mother did with her child that was more important in life than the father.

After she graduated from high school, she went to college. She attended five different colleges before she was able to graduate from the prestigious Eastern Wyoming Christian College in Casper, Wyoming with a degree in journalism. It took her six years to earn the degree. Part of the reason was because she couldn’t find a college that fit with her moral beliefs, and secondly because she grew up in a large family with such a low income. She was forced to raise her own money in order to make it through school. Luckily, she was blessed with charisma and she was able to earn a scholarship by winning a couple of beauty pageants. It was her talent with the trumpet that really impressed the judges the most. She even went as far as to come in second place in the Miss Wyoming pageant of 2007.

After she graduated from college, she earned a job broadcasting sports at the local Fox affiliate in Cheyenne, Wyoming. She pushed hard for the station to cover the local sports instead of focusing on the larger teams coming out of nearby Denver, Colorado. She earned their respect and spent most of the broadcast focusing on rodeos, beauty pageants, and high school sports. It was on one of her trips to cover a sporting event in her hometown of Jeffery City when she became aware of the corruption taking place in that town. She learned that Sam Hogston, the mayor, was fiddling around with the finances of the town. She vowed to resolve this problem. She quit her job in Cheyenne and ran for mayor of Jeffery City.

She won the election 635 to 211 by running under the campaign of making sure the children received the funds denied under Mayor Hogston. I didn’t watch the debates for the elections when they originally happened, but as I learned more and more about Dr. Blur I went back and watched them on YouTube. Dr. Blur was able to make Mayor Hogston look like a fool through the debate. He was not an attractive or imposing man to begin with, but when the debate was underway she made the short, fat, bald man look like a fumbling, bumbling idiot. After the election, she lived up to her promise by raising $14 million dollars through grants and donations to create a rodeo fairground for the local high school. She would have been able to finish the fairgrounds in a record amount of time if it wasn’t for the fact that the media, the People’s Network, had dug up some useless dirt about the mishandling of finances.

With all of the good she did for the children of Jeffery City, the President of the United States took notice. She continued to climb the political ladder when she wrote her report and soon afterwards was nominated for the newly appointed position under the National Caring and Loving Behavior Act, the Secretary of Motherhood, which she proudly accepted. She quickly laid out her philosophy of how the department should be run by writing the national bestselling book, Mama Grizzly. I had a signed copy of the book and at one time, it was the greatest treasure that I owned. I used to keep it safe on the bedside table and I had even gone so far as to sit down and read the first three chapters of the book. This is where I learned so much about Dr. Nancy Ann Blur’s life.

I used to believe the awful thing about Dr. Blur I had read in the paper that fateful day just helped prove my point about how some people did not take what she asked them to do seriously. Beverly Robinson, Dr. Blur’s attacker, probably didn’t understand that if she just took the time to live up to the standards presented in the National Caring and Loving Behavior Act, she would see that they are wonderful guidelines to help raise her children. There was no reason to fight the standards, but by accepting them she would become a better mother, the children would live in a secure household, they would grow up to be responsible adults, and the United States of America would thrive as a country.

I, on the other hand, was not afraid to show what a wonderful mother I was. I had always been ready to show the Department of Motherhood my skills every year and my two children shined with every assessment given in my household. The next assessment really excited me. It would be the fourth in a row with excellent marks. I was just waiting for the date to be announced when one of the assessors would come over to my house and observe what a wonderful environment it was to nurture children. This was why my hands started to shake when I saw the letter tucked away in the pile of mail I brought home from the post office. It was from the Department of Motherhood. Before opening it up, I looked around me like a sinner who was about to do something that would send her to hell for all eternity. When I knew I was alone, I focused back on the letter in my hand.

My index finger wiggled its way under the flap and I ripped the envelope open. I slid out the single piece of paper and closed my eyes before I read it. When I found the courage to open them up, I read the following words:

Dear Mrs. Rachael Young,

It is my pleasure to inform you the assessment period is once again upon us. We have diligently gone through our records and they show you have exceeded expectations for the last three years. Because of this, we will be scheduling you early in the process with one of our elite assessors. Please, be ready at the time indicated, as we know you will be. The assessment will be taking place on April 2nd at 10:00 AM and your assessor will be Dr. Nancy Ann Blur.

Thank you and have a nice day,

Department of Motherhood

I stared at the letter and had to look again after reading the name of my assessor this year. I couldn’t believe the Secretary of Motherhood would be coming to my house to be my assessor, but there her name stood out on the sheet of paper in front of me. I could tell that it was even her signature because it was exactly like the signature I had in the copy of Mama Grizzly that sat on my bedside table. She would be in my house and would see what a wonderful job I did raising my children. I was so happy. I believed this was the most amazing honor ever bestowed on me. I looked up at the calendar to see how far away the date was. It was only two weeks, but I knew I would shine because I had been following the standards all year long. I knew my children were ready to prove to the world what a wonderful mother I was. The excitement that rushed over me was so great I wanted to scream, but I knew if I did I would wake Lindsey from her nap, so I held it in.

Instead, the doorbell ringing two seconds later was what woke her up.

Accountability Chapter 1

Education had been on my mind a lot lately, especially when I think about the way it is heading in the United States. It reminds me of my first novel that I wrote that was never published. I finished writing it four years ago, but it seems more timely now. I have since become a better writer, and there are flaws in this piece that I have not gotten around to fixing due to the fact that I am finishing up my next novel, the first part in a horror serial, and am in the process of writing my next, a satirical look at the educational system of Korea as it compare to that of America. In the meantime, I thought I would release my first novel as a serial over my blog with a new chapter coming out each week. Please excuse the typos and silly mistakes, but enjoy the story while thinking about the current state of education in America. I hope you enjoy Accountability.

 

PART 1

ASSESSMENT

1

Did I dream of this?

When I was young, is this what I hoped for?

Did I dream of ending up in this dead end job or did I have greater ambitions?

Can I mark the exact moment that my dreams got taken away from me and I was sent down the path to this pitiful end?

Now I can. I know looking back I can pinpoint the exact moment my life changed. As a teenage girl just graduating from high school and embarking on a new life I looked at the moment differently than I do now. But of course, I was distracted at the time. The most handsome man in the world, Robert Young, had just proposed to me, and even though my parents didn’t approve of our match, I didn’t care because I was eighteen and I was in love. So what if we had only been dating for two months? When it is true love, you know in a matter of seconds and no length of time will tell you differently. And I looked at him and I saw he could give me everything my heart desired: a beautiful home, a loving husband, and a prospect for children on the way. So what if he was ten years older than me? Love could conquer that age difference.

But this wasn’t the moment that changed my life. It happened later in the summer during the wedding planning and the moving into his house. I saw it unfold on the national news. I used to love watching the People’s Network for news. Robert would get angry at me if he caught me watching, but he wasn’t around the day the news broke. I was picking out the music for our wedding and I wasn’t really paying attention anyway. I had the TV on more for background noise, not planning to be influenced by the propaganda Robert believed it portrayed. But there she stood on that big screen television, the woman who would eventually change my life, Dr. Nancy Ann Blur. She was taking about the report she had just written and filed with the United States government. That was the exact moment my dreams had officially been taken away from me.

It was 2014 when Dr. Nancy Ann Blur came out with her famous report, A Family at Risk. It pointed out that the central core of the family unit was at risk because too many mothers were becoming too busy to take care of their children anymore. They were always working on their careers or making sure they were moving up the social ladder. Their families often took a back seat. It was because of this that children were growing up to be disrespectful of their elders and unfit to become productive members of society. Dr. Blur was debating another woman on the television show who claimed what the good doctor was suggesting was absurd. I got to know that woman really well. When she was debating the good doctor, the People’s Network placed her name under her face so we would all know that she was Mrs. Karen Shatney-Moore. That lady was the CEO of the greatest company of that time, Homewide Inc.  Every mother in the world had at one time used a product created by Homewide Inc. Most of the mothers could even tell you which products they used were created by Homewide Inc. The company made quality products that were able to make life easier for mothers no matter what stage of development their children were in. They made nursing blankets and breast pumps for the time when the children were still babies. For the children in the pre-school age, they created fun games that taught the children about their colors and counting, all the while engaging enough not to bore the mothers silly while they played the games. They had a collection of authors they employed that were some of the most skilled authors out there. The writers told stories that were fun to read and easy enough for the children to read, yet were able to connect with every generation. The company also created equipment for outdoor use that was fun for children of all ages. The best part of this equipment was the children enjoyed it so much they would want to get outside to grab what the day had to offer. I remembered growing up with Homewide Inc. products and memories of the times I used them were some of my fondest.

The CEO of this company claimed that the problem was societal. The raising of the next generation should be the concern of everybody and shouldn’t be placed squarely on the shoulders of one group of people. It was an interesting debate, and at the time, I thought Dr. Blur gave the stronger argument with quick one-liners and witty retorts. Her argument stated that something should be done in order for the significant framework of the American culture to not get lost in the wake of these terrible mothers that were infiltrating the families of this great nation. She demanded that mothers be held accountable for the way they were raising their children, and the great men of Congress agreed with her. Within only a short year, they drafted and passed the National Caring and Loving Behavior Act to make sure the youth of America were no longer subjected to this atrocity. It was a bi-partisan bill that only garnered six “No” votes, most notably Congresswoman Shelly Perkins and Senator Sarah Hathaway. The American people took care of those dissenters by not voting for them in the next election. It forced them to go home to become the housewives as the stipulations of the National Caring and Loving Behavior Act said they should have been in the first place.

When time moved on and it came down to people losing their jobs and other people speaking about my future, I started paying more attention. I had felt pride in a nation that was starting to take the profession I would be going into more seriously. I was proud to be one of the trailblazers helping to bring this new piece of legislation into reality. I was still not a mother yet, but as I licked the envelopes of my wedding invitations, I knew Robert and I would be trying to have children soon afterwards. It would be during the birth of my first child, Zachary Noel Young, a year later that I excitedly started to uphold the standards of this now famous bill.

The National Caring and Loving Behavior Act was a simple bill. It established a new department of the national branch of the government, the Department of Motherhood. This department would be headed by the Secretary of Motherhood, and during the birth of my second child, Lindsey Ann Young, they had found the perfect person to take on this prestigious role, the woman who worked long and hard to make this law a reality, Dr. Nancy Ann Blur. She had established a series of standards every mother needed to live up to when raising her children. Each year a representative of the Department of Motherhood would visit the home of every mother in the United States and test the children to see if the mother was living up to the standards laid out by the act. If the mother passed the examination, her name would be posted on the National Accountability Website and the ones who had exceptional scores would be profiled in the newspapers. I had been featured in The Elbert County Gazette for three years in a row before my life took a dramatic turn. The mothers who did not earn proficient marks were taken from their children and sent to re-education centers. These centers supplied the mothers with the proper training so they could be more like the exceptional mothers making this country great. Each center was built by the leading economic force in America, the Capital Limited Corporation. Capital Limited’s goal was to make sure that every American, no matter their age, was given the opportunity to become a productive consumer within our society and these re-education centers would help to achieve this goal. They claimed it was not a perfect system, but they were tweaking it every year to make sure the standards were strong enough to reestablish America as the leader of motherhood it had always been.

I never complained about the act because I believed it was making this country a better place to live. It wasn’t yet living up to the standards laid out but that was not because of mothers like me. It was because of all of the other mothers. They spent all of their time fighting against the wonderful ideals this act could accomplish. I believed if the dissenting mothers would just take responsibility for their jobs in life and quit nick-picking over the little things this act doesn’t do, they might find it was a fair and honest way of raising their children. I thought they would see that everyone benefited because of it. Mothers had better relationships with their children. Children got to know their mothers better and they learned all of the skills they needed in order to make it in this difficult world or become caring mothers themselves.

I still mull over these thoughts. I constantly wonder if there was a moment when I could’ve done something differently or if I was a victim of fate from the exact moment A Family at Risk was presented before a confused nation. It doesn’t matter for me anymore, but if some other mother out there could learn something from my experiences, then my telling this story will be worth it.

The moment I can really pinpoint as the time when I should have realized my fate was decided for me, was a couple of weeks before my second to last assessment. It had started off as many mornings had before that day, in the kitchen.

The kitchen was, and still is, the place where I feel most comfortable. Nobody had ever outdone me in that arena, especially when breakfast had to be served, and people needed to be prepared for their responsibilities for the rest of their day. It was all about the timing to make sure everything was perfect and all I needed to hear to get going was what I considered my starting gun, my husband’s alarm clock. It was the sound I waited for every morning, but until I heard it, I stood in the ready position. My fingers stretched out from my sides making sure they were limber enough to take on the challenge. My mind ran through the list of all the things needing to be done and the order in which they needed to be accomplished. I always made sure my lips were moist. It was a superstition of mine. My legs would tense up as I got ready to spring. My eyes would narrow down upon my opponent, the stove, and I would wait.

On the day my life changed, I stood in the kitchen like a gunfighter at 12:00 noon, ready to do battle with the man in the black hat. The only difference was the gunfighter was dressed in chaps, a dirty shirt and vest, and I was dressed in pajamas with red hearts all over them, a pink bathrobe and fuzzy bunny slippers. The other difference was that the man in black was actually an inanimate object that I had complete control over, the stove.

Robert’s alarm started to screech from upstairs.

I sprung into action.

I leaped to the drawer underneath the stove and pulled it open. I gathered two frying pans and a large, square, flat griddle. I placed the griddle on the back two burners of the stove and the frying pans on the remaining two front burners as I kicked the drawer shut. I turned the right front burner on with my left hand while opening the fridge with my right. I pulled out a new package of bacon, a dozen eggs, a tub of butter, and a gallon of milk and placed them on the counter beside the stove. I grabbed a knife from the magnet on the back wall, sliced open the package of bacon with it, placed it back on the magnet pointy end up, grabbed the plastic from the package and ripped it down to expose the uncooked meat. I peeled the bacon off one at a time to place it on the heating-up frying pan. The first piece of bacon started to sizzle as I put the fifth piece down. I went through the whole package until the pan was full. This was like any other morning, and things were running smoothly. The routine was a machine and I had perfected it.

I listened upstairs to make sure that part of the machine was running smoothly also. I heard the water running in the shower in our bathroom. That meant Robert was at the appropriate place that morning, but I hadn’t heard from the children yet. I grabbed the gallon of orange juice and the maple syrup and plopped them down on the kitchen table before I ran to the edge of the stairs. I looked up to see Lindsey, my four year old daughter, standing on the top of the stairs. She still had her pajamas on. Her index and middle finger of her right hand were being sucked gently in her mouth, and her left hand clutched her pink blankee.

“Lindsey, is Zach up yet?”

She shook her head no.

“Well, go wake up your brother, and tell him I said so.”

Lindsey turned to run off towards her brother’s room as I headed over to the coffee pot. I put the pot under the running faucet as I prepared a new filter with the morning coffee in it. I put the filter into the coffee machine, and then I poured the water in. I turned it on and started to hear the coffee percolate through as I checked on the bacon. The bottom side hadn’t cooked enough yet for me to flip it over, but the sizzling sound told me things were going according to schedule.

I opened the cabinet to the left of the oven and pulled out two large mixing bowls. I cracked four eggs into one of the mixing bowls. I poured in some milk, added just the right amount of sugar and flour from the canisters that were on the countertop, and grabbed a whisk hanging from a small hook underneath the cabinets. As I turned on the two burners underneath the griddle, I threw the whisk in the bowl. I popped open the butter, grabbed a spoon from the silverware drawer, took a healthy scoop out of the tub and threw it on the griddle to let it slowly melt down into a brown liquid glaze. I threw some more butter in the other frying pan, and turned the burner under that one on. I checked on the bacon and saw that it was starting to shrink but noticed it was still not ready to flip over.

With the other mixing bowl, I cracked open six more eggs and poured in just a splash of milk. I grabbed the first mixing bowl and started to whisk quickly in order to create a fluid, even batter.

The shower had just turned off. Two kids stumbled into the room and took their seats at the kitchen table; one of them still had her fingers in her mouth. The bowl got placed on the counter so I could pour the orange juice sitting on the table into two juice glasses. I placed one in front of Lindsey and the other in front of Zach. Lindsey took her hand out of her mouth so she could pick up the glass with two hands and drink it down. Her blankee fell to the ground. Zach just sat there and stared at the glass of orange juice.

I quickly picked up the blankee and draped it over Lindsey’s shoulder.

I remember this happening because she looked up at me and smiled, “Thank you, mommy.” Back then I thought I needed more, but now I see all I needed were those little thank yous in order to validate how great a mother I actually was.

I picked up the mixing bowl and started whisking again, I looked over at Zach and gave him the jumpstart he was looking for, “Zach, honey, drink your orange juice. You need to get ready for school.” It seemed to wake him up from his slumber and he picked up his glass to drink it down.

I made my way over to the griddle where the butter had melted evenly. I poured the now perfect batter onto the griddle making eight perfectly round pancakes. I quickly flipped over the bacon at just the right time and grabbed a new whisk from where it hung on its little hook underneath the cabinets. I started to whisk the eggs in the other mixing bowl until they turned into a perfectly smooth yellow liquid. I looked down at the other frying pan and saw the butter had melted as well. I poured the egg mixture into the frying pan and let it sit for a moment.

The pancakes were cooking nicely, the bacon was cooking nicely, the coffee was almost done, and once again I was right on schedule. I grabbed two coffee mugs and placed them at the two open spots on the kitchen table. I worked my way over to the front door, opened it, walked outside, picked up the paper, waved to Sheila, our neighbor across the street, and walked back inside. I pulled the paper out of its plastic wrapper, pulled out the Sports page, placed it on top, and put it on the table in front of Robert’s spot.

I walked over to the paper towels. I pulled off two and folded them in half. I pulled a plate out of the cabinet, and placed the paper towels on top of it. I flipped over the pancakes, and scraped up the eggs so they made fluffy delicious nuggets. I pulled the bacon out of the frying pan and placed it on the plate with the paper towels on them. The paper towels started to soak up the hot grease as the smell of bacon wafted over the kitchen. I poured the excess grease into an empty coffee can I kept under the kitchen sink and placed the hot pan in the sink.

I grabbed the coffee pot filled with coffee and the bottle of French vanilla creamer from the refrigerator. I poured a little splash of the creamer into both of the coffee mugs. I gave myself a little more because I like things sweet, and poured the hot coffee in after it. As soon as I was finished, Robert came down the stairs. He was in the process of tying his red tie I loved so much. It was a good color on him. He was always more of a spring, and the color gave him a sense of flair to his strong jaw and broad shoulders. He came over to where I was standing by his chair. He gave me a quick kiss on my cheek.

“It smells wonderful. You’ve really outdone yourself again, Rachael.”

“Well, I will have it plated up for you in just a second. Why don’t you sit down, get started on the paper, and have a sip of your coffee.”

“You’re too good to me honey,” he said as he sat down and unfolded the Sports page.

“That’s what love is all about,” I replied as I headed back to the stove and pulled out four plates.

The exchange was part of our routine. We had said the same words to each other every morning for the last two years with only slight variations.

Looking back at that moment, I should have been mad about the exchange, but I was so lost in my morning I hadn’t noticed how insulting it actually was. I placed the food on each plate in a formation. Two pancakes at the two o’clock position, four slices of bacon at the ten o’clock position, and a healthy amount of scrambled eggs at the six o’clock position. I usually gave Zach and Robert a few more eggs than Lindsey and me because I believed, as I still do now, it is important for us ladies to keep our girlish figures. That day was no exception. I brought over the boys’ plates first and they dug in right away. By the time I had turned off the stove, placed the dishes in the sink, put the milk back in the fridge, and brought over Lindsey’s and my plates, the boys were already half done eating.

I sat down, unfolded the napkin and placed it gently in my lap. I remember looking over my perfect family and smiling. That morning Robert looked up from his paper to notice the odd expression on my face. “Is everything alright, honey?” he asked me.

I was shaken from my thoughts about how lucky I was to have such a wonderful family and looked back at him. “Yes, everything is perfect. Just enjoy your breakfast honey, or you’ll be late for work.”

“Oh that reminds me,” he said as he shoveled more eggs into his mouth, “I got a weird notification yesterday at work. It said something about a certified letter they were trying to deliver to me yesterday. The post office actually tried to deliver it to me at work. They were having a hard time finding me even though they shouldn’t have tried to deliver it to me there in the first place. Anyway, I was wondering if you had a little extra time today, maybe you could swing by the post office and see if you could pick it up for me.”

“I would love to. I can do it after I drop Zach off at school.”

Robert finished his meal and quickly got up from his seat. He grabbed his briefcase while he was on his way over to where I was sitting. He kissed me on the other cheek this time and I could smell the coffee on his breath as he did so. “Thank you, honey. I knew there was a reason I married you.” And he was off. Behind was left a dirty plate and a pile of crumpled up newspapers. Zach was also finishing up, and he seemed a bit more awake now that he had some food in his stomach. Lindsey continued to try to shovel more of her breakfast into her mouth, but more than half of it landed on her lap. The responsibilities of the day were coming at me with full force and if I wanted to make sure Zach got to school on time I would have to get started, but I was enjoying the feeling the morning had left with me. It was one of those moments when you are truly happy. I had everything I ever wanted: a beautiful house, a wonderful husband, and two amazing children. I let out a sigh of joy and then got up grabbing the dirty plates as I went.

“Come on, Zach. Why don’t you go get dressed? We’ll need to leave for school in just a couple of seconds.”

Zach got up from his seat and looked over at me, “Okay mommy.” He pushed in his chair and ran up the stairs to get ready for school. Lindsey looked longingly after Zach as he ran up the stairs and then she looked back at me.

“Do you want to get ready too?”

She nodded her head up and down.

“Go ahead and get ready like a big girl.”

She smiled at me. She lay down on the seat of her chair and slithered off on her stomach. When her feet touched the ground, she turned around, grabbed her blanket, and then ran up the stairs to get ready like her older brother. My perfect family had left me, and all I had left to remember from it was the remains of a served breakfast. I grabbed the last dirty plate off the table and took it to the sink. I started to wash the dishes as I thought about how truly blessed I was. A lot of my friends would constantly complain about their families when we met for coffee every Tuesday afternoon. Back then I couldn’t understand why they would complain because I was living in the perfect household thanks to my ability as a mother. The government kept assuring us we were living in the age of the mother and they did everything in their power to make sure the good mothers were recognized for what the government believed was the proper way to raise a child.

Other mothers would always complain about how the government was intruding in their houses. They would also complain about the way the system was set up. They thought it was an unfair system that would eventually ensure that all mothers would fail. This way the government could come in and take over the official duties of motherhood.

Usually when the conversation reached this point, I would start to laugh. Why would the government want to take over the duties of motherhood? What could they possibly gain from watching over the youth of America? Where would they find the money needed to make this a reality? It was so preposterous I had to sit back and laugh.

The other mothers didn’t like my laughter. They believed I hadn’t reached the point with my kids yet where this act would cause the same problems they were having with their children. It was only a matter of time when I would start to feel the same pain they were feeling.

I still dismissed it as a just a bunch of whiny ladies who regretted the mistakes they made with their children and were looking for an easy target to blame. The government is always the first one in cases like theirs.

These thoughts raced through my mind as I washed the dishes and cleaned up the kitchen from the morning’s meal. Right about the time I finished up, Zach and Lindsey had made their way downstairs. They were in the living room watching television before we had to pack up and go to school. I walked into the living room and saw them happily staring into the wonderful world of The Buddy Bears. It is the cartoon brainchild of the Capital Limited Corporation. They constantly show it on the kid’s channel. It is a family of bears called the Buddys. Each ten minute episode has a family problem resolved by the mother using the standards laid out by the Department of Motherhood. Capital Limited claims they work with the Department of Motherhood to produce this show as a way of teaching kids what they need to know when they grow up.

When I went downstairs, they were in the middle of an episode and I knew it would be foolish for me to turn off the television before the episode was over. I had tried doing this once before when Zach was younger and had just started school. He had become so mad he threw a temper tantrum. My actions were a direct violation of Standard Number Two: a child should never be denied the experiences that life has to offer.

I knew by waiting for the commercials to come on, I would have a better chance of not disturbing the natural happiness of my child’s life and I would be able to get him to school easier as well. He might be a little bit late, but really education wasn’t nearly as important as my child’s happiness. So I sat and waited for the antics of my son’s favorite cartoon to end before I rustled him up from the couch and drove him off to school.

Overcoming Adversity

Think back to that first moment when you first found out you could ride a bike. Your dad had let go of holding up the seat and you had balanced yourself enough so you could just let the wheels guide you to where you wanted to go. The wind whistled through your hair, and you grinned so big because you realized at that moment your whole life changed. You were no longer required to stay home. There was a whole neighborhood for you to explore, and all you had to do was hop on that bike so you could see every nook and cranny of it. For the first time in your life, you truly understood the meaning of the word, freedom.

But this sense of freedom did not come easily. A lot of heartbreak occurred along the way to you learning how to take that chance and become a proficient bike rider. You had to overcome the embarrassment of riding around the neighborhood with training wheels bolted on to your back tire, allowing your already bike-riding friends the opportunity to point and laugh at you. The arguments you had with your dad were equally frustrating as he would yell at you about the need to pedal and you would claim that you were pedaling, but deep down in your heart you knew you had too many other things on your mind to worry about his suggestion. The bruises and scrapes you collected during the process was a constant reminder of every time you failed. But the great thing was you never gave up. You persisted because you knew that the reward would be worth the struggle, and now you can no longer understand what it meant being unable to ride a bike. We forget about the process of what it took to get us where we are with our bike-riding ability today.

We eventually take for granted these important milestones in our life, and more importantly, as we get older, we rarely look for other opportunities that allow us to grow. We grow complacent in our daily routine, and sink into those comfortable moments. I find myself falling into this sinkhole from time to time, and it is when I start to see a danger of my life no longer being relevant. It is part of the reason that I love the fact that the school I work for, Korea International School, has a strong experiential education program.

I have been a big part of this program for the last three years as I have taken an active role in designing the trip that the sophomore class takes to Boramwon camp in the mountains a little southeast from Seoul. It has taken a couple of years to tweak the program to get it exactly where we want it, but it has now reached the level that the students will get a lot out of the experience. It centers around the hero’s journey, and just like that journey, the students are required to take their fears and worries on a series of trials and challenges that will allow them to overcome those things they struggle with. They have to take on low ropes, and high ropes challenges, biking, archery, rafting, hiking, and many other little adventures designed specifically to take them out of their comfort level.

It is a transformative experience. These kids come into the trip timid and shy, not knowing what to expect. But after each little challenge, they gain a little more confidence in themselves, and gain the willingness to try new, and scary things. In a world that is constantly changing, where we do not know what tomorrow will look like or what challenges will be presented to the human race, this kind of mentality is a really important to instill in students. Plus they have a great time in the process.

The challenge of experiential education is not only something for the students. Each trip challenges me as well. There is a certain amount of risk that is involved when you take inexperienced students out into the wilderness to test their wills and their athleticism. You can get the students lost on a mountain, or they may slip off of that bike and hurt themselves, but each of those setbacks are more important for the development of these kids than if they were able to breeze through each of the challenges. If they get lost on the mountain, they have to come together and think about the best course of action to get themselves safely down. As long as they keep their calm and think things through logically, they will be able to make it back to safety. When they come back to school and look at the next essay they have to write for their English classroom, it won’t look so daunting because they have already overcome something worse than that.

And if you think back to those days when you were first learning how to ride a bike, when you fell off, you quickly got back on. If you did not, then you would never have learned how to ride that bike, and enjoy the freedom that was gained from going through those troubled times learning how to ride. The reward was worth the pain that they suffered along the way.

When you learn how to ride that bike, or climb to the top of that mountain, you gain the greatest thing you can ever get in this lifetime, a story to tell, a memory to cherish, an accomplishment that no one can ever take away. These are the things that can never be learned in a classroom. They can only be obtained through the trial that was experienced. This is the importance of an experiential education program, and it is the reason that I can always be happy to be a part of this moment with my students, every year.

Seeing Home for the First Time

There is something strange that happens to the place you grew up in when you return to it after you have been away from it for awhile. You start to see it for the first time. You start to understand why the place you grew up in helped to define the person you have become today.

For example, I grew up with mountains always staring down on me from the west. They were such a part of who I was that I started to not notice them. Relatives of mine who grew up in the Midwest would come out to visit and would be amazed at their beauty and majesty. We would wind our way through the peaks, and they would stare out the windows with their mouths hanging open hoping to take it all in.

I would look up out of my window and say, “Yep, that’s a mountain.” They were something that was always there, and I did not need to think about it beyond that. Whenever I wanted to see them I would look west, and whenever I wanted to find west I would look for them. That was how I defined my life on the Front Range, and couldn’t understand why people would be so amazed by the thing that I took for granted.

It wasn’t until later in life when I voyaged to the ocean for the first time that I started to understand what people experienced when they visited the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. Here was the complete opposite of the landscape that I had grown up with. Here was this body of water that stretched out as far as the eye could see and was constantly undulating and changing. It wasn’t the steady rock that always hung to the west for me. Instead, it possessed a personality that could change from day to day. One day, it could offer a pleasant respite in the sun.

The next day, the clouds could come in and encase the coast with a dark blanket, giving rise to the waves crashing against the shore. People run to the safety of their warm homes and watch the weather from behind windows designed to frame the beach. The sense of solitude it offers is completely different than anything I felt while driving through the mountains, but I finally understood what others felt while they looked at those peaks jutting from the ground.

But then I moved out of the country for a couple of years, and I started to miss those things I had always taken for granted and those things that I never knew how much I loved. The mountains were the first things I longed for. I could no longer figure out which direction I was pointing, and because of that I always felt lost even though I knew where I was. But it felt as if a part of me was ripped away and I wished desperately to have them back.

When I got back to the states, the beauty and majesty of the peaks just stunned me as if it was the first time I ever saw them. I could start to appreciate them for the way they were meant to be enjoyed. I could feel that isolation that other felt as they were absorbed by the power of these giants. One of the days while I was out in Colorado, I got to enjoy the sunrise from above timberline as it inspired me and melted away the morning chill.

I was also able to complete a goal that I always wanted to achieve but never have been able to because of various reasons. In a span of one day, I summited not just one, but two of Colorado’s 14ers.

Thousands of people flock to these specific mountains every year as they visit the state. They have become one of Colorado’s biggest tourist attractions. Depending on who you talk to, there are 53 or 55 of these peaks that rise 14,000 feet over sea level. The distinction comes from how a person defines what constitutes a peak depending on how much of a rise in elevation occurs between one peak and the next.

Greys Peak and Torreys Peak are two of the more popular ones. There is a clear trail that runs up to the top of both of these mountains, and if you plan for a whole day of hiking you can make it to the summit of both mountains without much trouble because they are close enough to each other. The nice thing about them is there are couple more difficult routes that give the more experienced hikers a challenge if that is what they are looking for, and it is a long enough trail to give the less experienced hikers the challenge they are looking for.

My major concern with the mountains was the altitude. Even though I am a very active individual, I was coming from sea level and once you get above timberline, the altitude can become a serious problem. I remember starting the hike at 9,000 feet above sea level and thinking this would be easy as I talked to my companions on the hill. But my attitude suddenly changed as I was gasping for any air that I could stuff into my lungs and still not getting enough. I was worried that I would fail in my attempt of summiting another 14er.

Altitude sickness can be a very dangerous thing. Basically you are not getting enough oxygen for your body to function properly. First, you will start to feel a little dizzy. Then you will start to get a headache. The worst thing that could happen if you don’t treat your altitude sickness is that you could become so disoriented that you could get lost in the wilderness of Colorado. There is only one thing that you can do when you start to feel this way, head back down the hill, missing your chance of reaching the summit. Of course, you are still alive and well, so I guess that is worth the exchange of not achieving your goal. I was able to get my breathing under control so I could finally do this for the first time in my life.

Luckily, the feeling of dizziness never returned, but that did not mean that dangers disappeared. Many different things can go wrong on a mountain. It is part of the reason I have never been able to complete a 14er even though I grew up with them in my backyard. I have had to cut my expeditions short because of weather numerous times. When you get that high, storms can blow in quickly. If it is a blizzard you find yourself in, you lose visibility as biting snow blow into your face, making the path a slippery slide that could send you plummeting off the peak at any moment.  These storms don’t hold the same danger as a thunderstorm. When you get above timberline, there is no place for you to go find cover if lightning starts to strike, and you are the only thing it is most attracted to because you are the highest point around for miles. There have been many times I have made a fast scramble down a mountain as one of these storms started to blow in. Throw in scree fields with bowling ball sizes boulders willing to slip out for under your feet or come crashing down on you from above, and the random behavior of animals from mountain goats to the occasional bear, and you have the trappings for a spectacular adventure.

The mountains offered me many adventures during my voyage home. Even though the Greys and Torreys hike was the pinnacle of the hikes I took, there were various others I went on that were not as grueling, yet still fun. Growing up on the Front Range gave me thousands of opportunities to look down on the sprawling city. I never took advantage of it very often, and I regret that. But going back I was able to go on a few of these closer and shorter treks.

I had the pleasure of enjoying them with another aspect from home I missed a lot, a canine companion. I have written on a couple of occasions how my voyages overseas started with the passing of my dog, Bear, and even though I will never regret the experience I have had the last couple of years, the one thing I really miss is having that happy friend come to greet me every time I come walking through my front door. I miss the silly things a dog will do in order to get your attention. I miss that unconditional love that can only come from being a dog owner. While I was in the Denver metropolitan area, I had the pleasure of house sitting, and it came with the care of my brother’s malamute, Sakari.

Your perspective on life changes in the presence of a dog. All of a sudden there is another being that needs me in order to survive. And there is a companion there who gets really excited to even go on a simple walk around the neighborhood, getting even more excited when they know that they are going on a longer hike. It made being home that much more enjoyable knowing I was going to get to spend time with this happy individual.

Of course, it was a pleasure to spend time with my family as well. It is the main reason I go home every year. I enjoy watching how much my nieces and nephews have grown over the year. When I was living in the same town as them, I did not notice the change as much. It comes in subtle surges when I got to see them every other month. But when I do not get to hang out with them but once a year, they grow not only in height but in maturity as well. I can start have conversations with a couple of the older ones that are intelligent and go beyond them just agreeing with me. They formulate their own opinions, supporting them with things they have read or viewed on television. It is refreshing to see them grow into young adults.

Of course I get to reconnect with my parents and my siblings as well. It is always a pleasure to see them, but it is a greater experience to enjoy their company on a summer evening as the day cools down and the memories heat up. At this time in my life, these moments are not only about catching up with the experiences throughout the year, but also reminiscing about the moments we have shared in the past. I get to relive a whole lifetime whenever we gather together for an evening.

Of course, it is also about creating new memories as well. This is the best part of going back home. I went to many of the touristy places in Denver that I might make it to if I was living there, but since I was only in town for a short period of time, I made sure that I made it to some of my more favorite ones.

Coors Field in downtown Denver was definitely one of the places that I really wanted to go back to. I have attended a couple of baseball games in Korea and they are fun, but it is nothing like going to a MLB game. The level of play is crisper and more intense when I get to see one of these games. It was an added bonus to be able to see the game as well during one of the Rockies’ better runs for a pennant. The night I went, they had just come off of two games where they came back in the ninth inning from a Nolan Arenado hit late in the ninth inning. The Rockies had the best record in MLB. Expectations were very high that they would be able to continue on this streak. Of course, the night I went, they lost 16-7, and started a losing slide that had them go to the fifth place in the National League. I know there are going to be a lot of Rockies’ fans that will believe that it is my fault for the slide, but I was only there to enjoy time with my family and hopefully see a win. I didn’t get to see a win, but I did get to enjoy time with my family.

And the beer was pretty good too.

This is another thing that I really appreciate when I come back to the states. Certain types of food and beverages cannot be found in Korea. In fact, Seoul is just starting to experience their first ever craft beer revolution. Little pockets are springing up all over Seoul where you can find good beer, but it is nothing like Denver. There are craft beer locations all over the place and many of them make some excellent beers. It is getting to the point where they have to do crazy things in order to compete for the business of the average beer drinker.

One of these places is Dry Dock Brewery. They are a big hit in Colorado, and they have been expanding to other places in the country, so if you live in the U.S.A. and have not tried their beer yet, give it some time and you will soon be able to see it in your liquor stores. It started off as a homebrew kit place where they would experiment with their own beers. Their patrons enjoyed the beer so much that they expanded their operations and soon had a tasting room in Aurora that you could go and enjoy their beer. Recently, they expanded even more to include a place where they could mass produce their beer and can it to send it out to various places in the nation. The new place has a tasting room, but it also expanded beyond the borders of its building to include a nine hole Frisbee golf course behind its building. It is awesome. You grab a beer, play nine holes, and go back in for another beer. I enjoyed the course twice while I was out there.

The only problem with the course was the snakes that slithered around it. You had to be careful while you went out to hunt for your disc because you could have been bitten by one of them. While I was playing, we did come across a big bull snake, and we did the typical thing that all Coloradoans do when they come across a bull snake; we captured it.

And then we took it to scare other people who were playing the course. It was just a flavor of Colorado that I missed while I was living across the ocean, but was happy I got to enjoy it while I was back home.  It was fun to revisit old haunts like the Denver Zoo.

The difference this time around, I got to look at all of the sights through the eyes of a visitor and not as a resident.

It meant that every time I looked around I saw something that I usually would not see even though it was always there to begin with.

All of a sudden, the trees took on a new shape, and a new meaning.

The columbine flower was now worthy of my time to stop and enjoy. Colorado came to life for me in a way it had not for many years. It was as if I became like one of my relatives from the plain states of the U.S.A. driving through the mountains for the first time and being awestruck by its beauty.

But there was a time where I had to say goodbye to the Rocky Mountains and make my way further west. I still stopped at the ocean to stop and enjoy some time in the state of Oregon. When I eventually made it back to Korea and told my friends what I did over the summer, they all explained to me how jealous they were that everywhere I got to go was considered the more beautiful parts of the nation. I am lucky that I do get to spend a considerable amount of time in these parts of the world, and I have always been fascinated by Oregon and the Pacific Northwest in general.

The problem comes with the fact that I have been there so many times that the true beauty of the place starts to get hidden among all of the trees the state boasts of. And if you have never been to Oregon before, there are a lot of trees there.

But once you emerge from that forest, there is a lot to see. And it seems to get better every time I go. I have caught an Oregon sunset over the ocean a couple of times and it is a very rare event because the coast is usually covered in a thick haze from the clouds that roll in. To get a cloudless night is a rare treat, and you should take advantage of it if you are given the opportunity because the sunsets are spectacular.

I also got to spend more time on the beach then I normally would. We stayed two nights in the same location in a house right on the beach which added to the experience of going out there. Pretty much every other time I went out to enjoy the Oregon coast, I took a day’s drive from Portland and made it back before midnight on the same day. Because of this, I rushed through the time I had there hoping I could suck the most out of it. This time I was able to relax in the morning while enjoying the crashing waves, and go out in the afternoon to take part in many of the activities that the coast has to offer.

One day, my wife and I went down to Cannon Beach to take advantage of the breeze constantly blowing by buying a kite. There are many kite shops in town because this is something many people do while visiting this iconic spot. The water is not something people experience as much because it is colder than you would find in warmer climates. So people go down to the beach to enjoy the salt air and warm sand. The place where we bought our kite was on the edge of town run by a man who was clearly enjoying the new laws about marijuana. He had a Grateful Dead concert jamming in the background and was happy to show all of the kids that came into his shop how to assemble their kites and fly them. They usually bought the beginner kites, but my wife is an expert kite flyer and she went with the trick kite instead. It was the perfect purchase for the place because it allowed us to have many hours of enjoyment not only on Cannon Beach but also the beach that our house overlooked.

The next day, we went out to Manzanita, the next town further south from Cannon Beach. It is not as big of a tourist destination that the other place is, but some of the things that draw people to come down here are the salmon fishing and the kayaking on the Nehalem River. There are many places along the river where you can find a guide or rent a boat. If you time it perfectly, like we did, you can travel up the river during high tide and turn around when the tide switches so you can easily float on back down the river. It is also a great place to watch the wildlife. Many herons fly up and down the river in search of the salmon swimming upstream to their breeding ground, and we were followed by a bay seal that liked to pop its head out of the water far enough away where we could see him but not take a really good picture of him.

The beaches of Oregon offer many sights to see. When the tide goes out, you can observe tiny microcosms of sea life in the tide pools. I feel educated every time I stare at one of these natural aquariums from the ocean. I know the elementary schools of Portland bring their students to the beach at least once a year to give them this education, but considering I grew up in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains, it is a fascinating sight for me.

In fact, when I see sea life, I get really excited. Oregonians will look at a tub full of crab and think about how tasty they would be with a little bit of butter. I look at a tub full of crabs and wonder what it would be like to live that way. How did this creation ever evolve into the beings that they are now? Why do they need to walk sideways? But that is just because they are not something that I grew up with allowing me to take them for granted. I grew up seeing them in plastic containers after they had been processed and no longer looked like the creature they used to be.

It is this way for everything that exists in the town that you grew up in. You never really see it until you move away. But as soon as you come back from that long time away things start to emerge in a new light.

You can start to see the weirdness of the city because it is no longer the everyday you’ve become accustomed to.

It might be overwhelming at first, and the slightest changes might throw you off. It might disturb you that the band that was always promoted on your favorite music store is no longer painted on the wall. The company needed to make changes in order to keep up with the times, and you wish it was still the nineties. But change needs to happen, and the best way to embrace it is to enjoy it as if you are looking upon it for the first time.

And don’t worry because there are some things that never change. It is the combination of the old with the new that make the places you visit and the places you return to the great dynamic expression of humanity. Try to look on as if you have never seen it before, and the world will always remain magical.

This post brought to you by Tag: A Cautionary Tale, available at https://www.amazon.com/Tag-Cautionary-Tale-John-Collings/dp/1533623902/

Cabbie Logic

I must be growing up because I went on my first ever business trip. Through my years in education, I have been out many times with my students on Experiential Education trips, but I never really considered them business trips. Those kinds of trips require me to get all dressed up to meet colleagues so we discuss the matters important to our profession. I didn’t have to put on a tie and present myself in a professional manner on the EE trips, nor did I have to network with people and do the all important dinners afterwards. My most recent trip was my first time to have this kind of experience and I was lucky enough to have Singapore be my first stop in the land of adults.

I attended the reThinking Literacy conference held on the UCW Southeast Asia campus. It was a refreshing look at the way people view different forms of media and how it is being used to influence the masses. During this day and age, it was a particularly relevant topic especially when the keynote speakers discussed the ways producers of media have gotten selective with their audiences in order to deliver the messages they know their consumers want to hear. Of course, we have heard this message before and we believe that we are not a person that can be so easily influenced by this type of propaganda. We are more intelligent than that. And if that is true, then let me ask when the last time you spent some time watching or reading the media that you disagree with? If you can’t think of a time when you did, then the information you consume might be influencing your thinking and you might not even know that it is doing this.

Don’t worry you are not alone. I used to believe that I was above the influence of the news I watched and read. I believed that I could make up my own mind, and I was not being told what to think all the time. I believed that I could watch it with a critical eye. It was my choice to believe the same kind of things that they were telling me to believe. That was until I learned a little from the cabbies in Singapore.

Yes, there is a certain kind of wisdom that can be found from a conversation from the people that drive other people around town. They really know the place where they live better than anybody else. They are in touch with the pulse of what makes the place tick, and they are not afraid to tell you what they think. I got into a conversation about various world leaders with a cabbie on my third day in town. We started off by discussing one of the most recently elected to office presidents, Moon Jae-In, and how he impressed the cabbie by the way he was willing to come to the table to talk with Kim Jong-un.

The driver also told me about his opinion of other presidents, and prime ministers. This list of the ones he admired included Lee Hsien Loong and Donald Trump. This surprised me a little bit because I have not run into many people on my extensive travels through southeast Asia that admire the current president of the United States. In fact, most jokes I hear from people from various nations include the punch of Donald Trump. In the past, I would have made an instant judgment because this person did not agree with my way of looking at the world, but this time I held my tongue and listened to what he had to say.

I learned a lot by just listening.

The cabbie liked both of these men because of their abilities to grow the economy. They were also able to keep the people of their nations safe from the terrorists coming from the Muslim communities. It was really hard for me to not correct this individual that terrorism do not only come from Muslims, and not all Muslims are terrorists, but I was getting an education at this time, and it was important that I listened. The language barrier between us caused poor communication, and he was never going to listen to the opinion of a foreigner; whereas, by listening to his beliefs, I was able to see what issues were important to him.

I might not have agreed with his perspective and the handling of these issues has been done well by the current President of the United States, but I couldn’t deny that this was an issue that kept this cabbie up at night. Maybe if other politicians listened to this base instead of ignoring it, then maybe they could come up with a solution that would be something I would be more comfortable with and would avoid the racist, single-minded attitude spreading all over the world.

It was really interesting to hear that these same concerns were also taking place in this small city/state. It is one of the economic powerhouses in the world, and because of the British colonialism this community is a collection of a variety of people from all over the world. Where were these ideas coming from? It probably had something to do with the media being pushed out to the community, and if I spent some more time watching it I might have gained a new perspective on their thinking. But I only had cabbies to talk to instead.

The next cabbie took the crew I was with down to Arab Street. This is one of the bigger tourist spots in Singapore. It has a lot of great shops and a variety of restaurants that reminded me of a cleaner version of the Sojo district in Hong Kong. The journey to get there was just as eye opening as the one I had taken earlier in the evening. This time the revelation came from a conversation I was having that excluded the cabbie.

I was talking about past relationships with a colleague of mine, and he had mentioned something about his ex-husband. The cabbie had picked up on this. As I sat in the front seat, I had the prefect view to watch his eyes grow really big.

“Ex-Husband?” he questioned.

Once again this reaffirmation that Singapore was not the most progressive thinking country presented itself. The difference between this type of discrimination and the other was we couldn’t ignore it this time around. At first, my friend tried to correct himself by stating that he meant to say ex-wife, but this line correction was not really working. He finally just admitted who he was and answered any questions that the cabbie had about him and his life. On the other hand, we asked about the laws in Singapore and the attitude of people towards gay rights. It was an educational experience for all involved, and I do think that a new respect for both sides was reached during that cab ride, but the only way for that to happen was by first engaging in conversation.

I don’t know if it was the type of education that the reThinking Literacy conference was speaking about, but an important nugget was still there. My education on this trip was about digging through the onslaught of what we receive daily to digest and how we discover the truth of the matter through all of that noise. It really begs the question if we should be consuming all of that media in the first place. Instead, should we take the time every once and awhile to sit down with that stranger who sit across from us at the bar and have a conversation with them? What will we learn from those conversations? What will they learn? How will the world grow from having a healthy discussion? Is this what we are missing in our societies today?

Honestly, I don’t know.

Maybe, you could tell me.

This post brought to you by Tag: A Cautionary Tale by John Collings available at Amazon.com. Now on sale in the Kindle store for only $3.29.

The Real Bali

Why doesn’t anybody ever pick up an orange and bite into it right away? Because the skin is inedible. You must peel through that layer before getting to the juiciness underneath it. The same can be said about Bali, a small island near the equator in the southern hemisphere. When I first got there, I thought of it like any other country whose major economic power comes from tourism. The roads were crowded with shops selling various forms of artwork, saris, and trinkets to take home so you could remember your time on the island. Restaurants claimed to serve local cuisine as well as westernized food, so if you ever felt the need for a slice of home you could have it in the same place where the others would have the opportunity to experiment with the world flavors. On the surface, it looked like any other vacation destination that would have a couple of places that you needed to go to, but would allow enough relaxation so you could unwind from that long flight before getting back on another plane to go back home again. But I learned that I needed to peel back the layers.

That’s why I would recommend if you ever find yourself in Bali to veer off of the main drag to see what the place really has to offer. Most of the times if you are in a country who is not an economic powerhouse, I would not recommend doing this unless you knew where that would lead, but Bali has a different feel to it. You are not really experiencing the place if you stay where all of the tourists hang out. There is a lot of beauty to the country that you have to look for, and then you will really have an amazing experience.

Bali’s culture is seeped deeply in the Hindu religion. In fact, when the island was first growing, the Hindus brought their faith with them and created thousands of temples so they could celebrate it. Some of these temples are rather large; whereas, others are hidden behind secret doors down strange alleys. The one thing that is consistent with all of them is that the beautiful art work that gives you respect for the faith which inspired it. It is a place reminiscent of an Indiana Jones movie. The culture begged for me to learn more about it, and the further I delved into the corners of Bali, the more intricate the statues became. Some peeked out from the mountains, while others were covered with so much moss from the hills around the towns that it made me wonder how long they had been there and why had humanity forgotten about them.

It made me start to wonder which had come first, the works of masterpieces, or the nature that the gods created around those structures because this is the other side of Bali that is wonderful to discover the further you walk away from the beaten path. It is a tropical paradise. I was lucky enough to find myself there in May which would be a lot like November for those who live on the northern part of the world. Because it is so close to the equator, it never gets too cold, but it stays warm enough during this time of the year that you are never in need of pants. This is the perfect time to explore those expansive forests.

But when I did that I discovered something else about this amazing island. It was almost impossible to escape from some indication that man is lurking someplace around the corner. Most of the time this type of exposure would annoy. Hiking the hills of Colorado, I am always mad when I come across the signs that someone had been there before, but in Bali, this did not disturb me as much. The footprint left behind by man had a certain amount of respect with the place where it was left behind. There was a harmony that went along with the natural landscape, making me feel as if man had found a way to live in harmony with nature.

It could be seen in the way they grew their gardens. Rice fields were carved into the sides of cliffs, and laid far behind the facades of the towns, but these fields that supplied the people with their major source of food did not feel intrusive. Instead, it became just a natural part of the landscape much like the statues and temples that were hidden throughout the whole of the countryside. It just became a part of what Bali was all about.

The people of Bali were able to take this even further to make the landscape in their backyards into a great spectacle. They are able to shape it into something that is both relaxing and contemplative at the same time. This is where the real Bali lies. It was a place that allowed me to unwind, to take those principles of losing one’s self in nature and by doing so finding one’s true self to the extent I have always wanted to achieve. The place behind the façade of this country is the place where I was able to lose my façade for a while and connect with myself.

This is what Bali was for me. Most of my wanderings happened in the small mountain town of Ubud, and I would recommend that you take the time to find yourself there at least once in your lifetime, but do not just spend a quick time to do it. It takes some moments to shed the worries that come with your normal life. You need that time to forget about those worries, and Bali is great because you don’t collect more in the process. It was exactly what I needed during this stressful time of the school year, and I am glad that I got to enjoy it.

It allowed me to look at the horizon again with vigor and excitement. It allowed me to feel the tension that was wrapped up in my shoulders slowly relinquish its hold on me. It allowed me to feel at harmony with my own nature.

Thank you, Bali.

This post brought to you by Tag: A Cautionary Tale by John Collings. Now only $2.99 in the Amazon Kindle store.