Friday, December 26, 2014

The Value of Travel

If you've been reading this blog then you know that global travel is something I value highly. However I'm not sure if I've ever taken the time to explain what's behind that.

Do I like to travel in order to avoid working?
Am I a beach bum or a slacker who has no interest in contributing to society?

In fact, I believe that thoughtful global travel is the highest form of contributing to society. After all, everyone on the planet is now our neighbor and as a global superpower I believe it is both our responsibility and in our best interest to better understand our neighbors so that we can all get along.

So why do I travel?
Why did I spend a month in Indonesia and want to live (not just as a tourist) for at least 3 months in each of Mexico, Turkey, Colombia, Thailand, France, Chile, the Himalayas and more?

Rick Steves articulates the answer far better than I could. This sparkling 20-minute video is highly recommended and chock full of beautiful, thought-provoking insights, some of which I've highlighted below.

On "America! Fuck Yeah!"
2:53 - how we grew up thinking that America was at the top of the pyramid and everyone else was "trying to figure it out"
3:00 - we have the American Dream...these people have the Sri Lankan Dream... our dream is beautiful but so is theirs
3:13 - "travel wallops my ethnocentricity"

On Iran
7:09 - "Why am I going to Iran? Because I believe it's good character to get to know people before you bomb them."
7:41 - "fear is for people who don't get out much"
8:04 - Another perspective on "Death to America" in Iran.
9:28 - On being aware of and understanding the baggage of other cultures

On Legislating Morality
12:00 - In America we're all about government by, for and of the people via the corporations we own. In Europe they also have government by, for and of the people, but in spite of the corporations they own

On High Taxes
17:14 - Rick Steves: How can you Swiss people so dociley pay such high taxes?
         Swiss citizen: What's it worth to live in a country where there's no homelessness, no hunger, and everybody (regardless of their parents) has access to quality health care and education?

On Understanding Other Religion
19:00 - the Whirling Dervish

On the Value of Travel
20:30 -  "Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness"
                               - Mark Twain

Be sure to also check out Rick's podcasts. He's also here on twitter.
And feel free to share this video with people you know who "don't get out much".

Monday, December 22, 2014

2014 In Review: What I Watched

This is the third of a few posts reviewing my experiences in the past year:
  1. What I Read
  2. What I Listened To
  3. What I Watched
  4. What I Did
In 2014 I watched more movies than any other year of my life. This was the result of my expanded free time, living in a new place and not knowing anybody, and living in a big city again that has quality arthouse and independent cinema.

What I Watched in 2014


Six films really stood out to me and were an absolute pleasure to behold. I've ranked them here in order of my preference:
  1. Birdman - Michael Keaton & Ed Norton starred in the best and most beautifully crafted film I saw this year. Follow the link to read the rotten tomatoes reviews that describe it better than I can.
  2. Mistaken for Strangers - It starts out as a documentary about the band The National directed by the singer's brother. But it's where it goes from there that makes it spectacular and unique among rock docs.
  3. Jingle Bell Rocks! - I covered this one last week.
  4. Boyhood - This film was made over the course of 12 years, following the growth of its lead actor from boy to adult.
  5. Top Five - It's funny. And it has romance, but I'd {shudder} to call it a romantic comedy because Chris Rock is at a level of excellence that genre has never seen. 
  6. Snowpiercer - Best and only sci-fi I remember seeing in 2014. It all takes place on a train in a dystopian future where the entire planet Earth is frozen.

TV Shows

I finally watched Breaking Bad after having it recommended to me by enough people over the past few years. My technique with tv shows is to not worry about watching them on their first run but to wait a few years. Then, if people are still talking about it, I'll watch it on Netflix (if available).

Normally I can't make it past season 2 or 3 of an hour-long drama series because I feel as if after the first couple seasons the writers have to force the plot in a variety of cliched ways in order to keep the program on air and making money. After all, the first goal of almost all television is for the show to make money. That's why after a few seasons we tend to see things like:
  • Everybody starts sleeping with everybody else
  • Some long-lost friend/lover/enemy/child from the past shows up out of nowhere. Shocker!
  • Tragedy like a car crash or heart attack
  • etc.

I enjoyed Breaking Bad, but part of the reason I made it through all 5 seasons is because I knew it was ending in the 5th season. If I were watching it live on the first run I would have given up on it.


Cody Townsend wasn't the first guy to ski this. That honor belongs to Travis Rice. But, damn, did he ever slay it.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

2014 In Review: What I Listened To

This is the second of a few posts reviewing my experiences in the past year:
  1. What I Read
  2. What I Listened To
  3. What I Watched
  4. What I Did
I've always been an appreciator of thoughtful, well-crafted music -- music that is written from the soul of the performer because the artist has a driving need to create it and share it. Please note that this is different from most music heard on pop radio which is created in order to be sold to the biggest group of people possible.

Over the last several years I've become a huge fan of podcasts, too. In the olden days it was always good to catch an informative hour-long radio program from NPR, but they usually aired on Saturdays and Sundays so I'd only hear them if I happened to be driving in my car at the right time of day. And even then, it's likely that I would only hear part of the show.

The new art of podcasting now allows the listener to hear those programs (and many many more) whenever they want. Even more importantly, it has democratized the airwaves by allowing anyone anywhere to make a recording and share it.

The podcasts I enjoy most are a combination of both professionally produced shows from some NPR outlet as well as individuals who decided to start recording themselves talking about something they're passionate about.

Here's a sample of what I listened to most...

What I Listened To in 2014

"Mincer Ray" by Guided by Voices - An older GBV song written by their secondary songwriter Tobin Sprout. Can't tell you how many times I listened to it on repeat in the past few months. It just really grabbed me this year.

A Love Supreme by John Coltrane - I finally bought my second true jazz album, this one, after enjoying Miles' Kind of Blue for the last decade. I'm glad I finally appreciate this foremost style of jazz.

Brill Bruisers by The New Pornographers - They just keep on cranking out phenomenal pop records.

Southeastern by Jason Isbell - Listened to this gorgeous, heartfelt album more than any other over the past couple years.

Songs for Slim tribute by Steve Earle ("Times Like This"), Lucinda Williams ("Partners in Crime"), The Minus 5 with Curtiss A ("Rockin' Here Tonight"), Joe Henry ("Taken on the Chin") - These artists took songs written by Slim Dunlap and portrayed them in a new and more masterful light, spurring me to compare Slim Dunlap to the likes of Townes van Zandt & Leonard Cohen (i.e. someone who writes beautiful songs but doesn't have the best voice or arrangements).

Neutral Milk Hotel concert in Denver in April 2014 - I previously wrote about it here.

The Tim Ferriss Show - Tim Ferriss, author of The Four Hour Work Week has weekly discussions with world-class performers in a variety of fields in an effort to desconstruct their successful habits and thinking.
The Sprocket Podcast - Fun show out of Portland, OR that talks about riding bicycles and living simply, usually with guests.
Pedal Hub - New Twin Cities-based podcast about bicycles and bicycling.
WTF with Marc Maron - Neurotic comedian hosts in-depth & personal interviews with interesting artists, musicians, comedians, etc.
Freedom Lovin' - Inspiring discussion around the host, Kevin, and his experiences in securing a location-independent income stream and long-term global travel.

Travel with Rick Steves - I used to think that Rick Steves was too dweeby & populist, but I've grown to appreciate his thoughtful, open mind and his deep insights into humanity after a lifetime of interacting with people of different cultures.

Friday, December 19, 2014

2014 In Review: What I Read

This is the first of a few posts reviewing my experiences in the past year:

  1. What I Read
  2. What I Listened To
  3. What I Watched
  4. What I Did
Since quitting my corporate career one year ago I've had more free time, pretty much all of which was spent reading stuff, listening to stuff, watching stuff and doing stuff. I've had the luxury of time to examine my life closely and make sure that the stuff I'm reading, listening to, watching and doing align with my personal values of living fully and treading lightly.

My primary goal right now is to establish a location-independent income stream. By that I mean that I want a way to make money consistently while out camping, backpacking, skiing, or living in places around the world like Colombia or France or Thailand. I want an income stream that doesn't require me to show up at a certain place at a certain time. That's what I'm pursuing by owning a Supercuts hair salon franchise in Denver. It doesn't have to be a huge income as I've done a decent job of retirement saving over the years. But a few grand a month would kick ass.

What I Read in 2014

As part of simplifying my lifestyle I bought a Kindle and gave away all my books. Because of this I've found myself reading a lot more than I used to because my entire library can now fit in my pocket. The ease of carrying a bunch of books means that I often bring my Kindle with me and am finding significantly more time to read.

Here are some faves in no particular order...
  • San Miguel de Allende: A Place in the Heart by John Scherber - Stories of expats living in this charming Mexican city
  • The Emerald Mile by Kevin Fedarko - Thrilling story about a record speed attempt floating the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon
  • The Last Season by Eric Blehm - Nice read about what it's like to be a National Park Ranger and the story of one who went missing
  • Tao de Ching by Lao Tzu - Ancient Chinese classic
  • Buddha's Brain by Rick Hanson - Scientific neurological look at meditation, happiness & wisdom
  • Simplify by Joshua Becker - On the benefits of simplicity and one man's journey to unclutter his world
  • Nonviolent Communication by Marshall Rosenberg and Arun Gandhi - An enlightening look at how peaceful communication can create compassionate connections with family, friends, and other acquaintances
  • Superhuman by Habit by Tynan - How to develop new habits
  • Practicing Radical Honesty by Dr. Brad Blanton - Not as radical as the title suggests, which I greatly appreciated. Book is actually built around mindfulness.
  • The Snow Leopard by Peter Matthiessen - Beautiful classic that's about everything in life except the snow leopard.
  • The New American Road Trip Mixtape by Brendan Leonard - Modern day On The Road
  • Leap of Faith: Quit Your Job and Live on a Boat by Ed Robinson - Fun stories from this lifestyle that many of us have dreamed about

Most of the blogs I really enjoy are currently listed over on the right hand side of this page under the heading Blogs I Read. Here's a brief summary of each...

  • Adventure Journal - Lots of cool outdoorsy & adventurey stories
  • Al's A-Basin Blog - Regular updates on snow conditions and what's happening at Arapahoe Basin ski area where I have my season pass this year
  • Becoming Minimalist - Simplifying one's life
  • Bumfuzzle - Family of four travels the world pretty much full time in a variety of fascinating vehicles
  • Full-On - Fun outdoor adventure stories from a Mpls gentleman and his kids
  • Going Places Quietly - Bozeman friend samh shares his tales of human-powered outdoor adventures
  • McSweeney's - Brilliant contemporary humor in written form
  • Mr. Money Mustache - Sage and confrontational wisdom from a guy who's figured out how to not allow American consumerism and sloth to upset his family's financial situation
  • Raptitude - A guy who's getting better at being human
  • Russo's Rants - Minnesota Wild hockey blog
  • Small House Bliss - Gorgeous small houses that I want to own
  • Strong Towns - Strengthening America's cities, towns & neighborhoods. Act local.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Jingle Bell Rocks!

For the last several years I've enjoyed the Sound Opinions podcast's take on alternative Christmas music. And now... there's a film about it:

Thanks to the Denver Film Society for showing it tonight. More on the film here.

I just returned from the viewing and it was phenomenal. The music is terrific as are the profiles of the people in the subculture who obsessively collect it.

Here are a few of the music highlights like Clarence Carter's "Back Door Santa":

Run DMC's "Christmas in Hollis":

"Close Your Mouth (It's Christmas) by The Free Design:

It might be showing at an arthouse cinema near you. If you're a music fan I highly recommend it.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Let Thy Food Be Thy Medicine

Ever since I was diagnosed with hypertension earlier this year I've been doing lots of research about how to improve that condition. Hypertension (very high blood pressure) can lead to early onset of strokes, heart attacks, etc.

What I've found is that in just the last 10 years we have significantly increased our knowledge of how the human body works. Advancements in medical technologies have allowed us to get a closer look into the functions of our brain, heart, other key organs and the human body as a whole.

A few years ago my friend Leah introduced me to the idea that the bacteria that lives in our gut might also be a key factor in our overall health. The scientific findings on it are still in their infancy, but are pointing to very powerful results.
"Let thy food be thy medicine and thy medicine be thy food"   - Hippocrates
Below are a couple videos made by an Australian TV show that nicely illustrate the problem and the solution.

  • 4:05 - the association between gut bacteria and health has only been discovered in the past few years (since technology has allowed us to examine them more closely)
  • 4:20 the bacteria that lives in our body far outnumbers our own cells by a factor of 10:1. The bacteria also contribute 100x the number of genes that our own genomes do.
  • 4:50 - some scientists say a human being can be looked at as a superorganism, like a termite colony or a beehive where individuals are just part of a whole
  • 9:30 - caesarean section babies have gut microbes that look more like the microbes in our skin than children born via natural birth whose gut bacteria looks more like intestine
  • 10:00 - c-section babies are more likely to have allergies and asthma issues
  • 11:00 - our gut bacteria change depending on what we eat
  • 11:20 - bad food, especially low fiber food, supports bad bacteria that create disease
  • 13:45 - taking antibiotics is like dropping a nuclear bomb on our gut bacteria
  • 15:00 - diseases like asthma, depression, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, arthritis, autism, allergies, multiple sclerosis and obesity may be linked to poor gut bacteria (which is linked to poor diet)

So what do we do about it?
Part 2 of the video suggests some tactics....

  • 26:30 - see the dramatic improvement in insulin levels for one test subject after changing his diet 

The result of what's been learned so far is both striking and quite elementary -- what we put into our mouth has a direct effect on our overall health.

Hippocrates knew this in 400 B.C. but the corporations that produce and sell processed food have done a terrific job of changing our habits.

My goal is to get my blood pressure back to normal levels without the help of pills. I'm making progress but these habits are so ingrained and difficult to change, even when I know they directly hurt me. It's difficult when I know that any single donut or bottle of beer isn't going to kill me, but that only over a long period of time will their wrath be felt.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014


Here's some stuff from the interwebs I came across recently and enjoyed...

Pardoned Turkeys: Where Are They Now from McSweeney's


Pardoned by George W. Bush, 2005. Founder and administrator of Building Dreams, an Ohio-based charity which offers counseling and job placement services to recently-pardoned turkeys. Marshmallow’s best-selling memoir, I Beg Your Pardon, and numerous appearances on Hardball With Chris Matthewshave brought national attention to the cause of pardoned-turkey rights.

    Presidential Turkey Pardoning: The Turkey Hunger Games from the good folks at Priceonomics.

The National Turkey Federation typically selects around 80 newly-hatched turkeys to be considered for the ceremony. They’re then fed a “grain-heavy diet of fortified corn and soybeans” to bulk them up, with the end-goal in the 50-pound range (more than the weight of most dog breeds). From there, the flock is narrowed down to the “20 largest and best-behaved,” and they embark on their next phase of training: preparing for fame. 

Are You Giving the Shaft to Your Future Self? blog entry from Mr. Money Mustache:

Every financial transaction you make today is not so much a deal with a mortgage company, car dealer or department store. It’s a deal with your future self. After all, when the 20-year-old version of you borrowed $32,000 to buy that fully loaded Honda Accord, who ended up having to pay it back? The past self got the new car with no responsibility, and her successor in the present holds the result: a debt hangover and a car that’s now worth only a tiny fraction of the new price. Past You gave Present You the shaft.

Too Many Cooks video from Adult Swim. An excellent rip on '80s and '90s sitcoms:

Ski porn:

The Shadow Campaign // Whitewash from DPS SKIS on Vimeo.

Minnesota Gophers knock off Nebraska football team. Big win for the Gophs.

Why Pop Country Music Sucks so Bad, 2013 Edition

Friday, November 21, 2014

Best Bands of All Time - #5 Afghan Whigs

#5 - Afghan Whigs

I'm certain you've been silently clamoring for the mathematically convenient fifth addition to my Best Bands of All Time after I left you with the legendary Run Westy Run at #4 almost three years ago. While the silence of your clamoring hasn't exactly kept me up at nights, it may have mystically transmitted to me the mesermizingly smooth and gritty sounds of Cincinnati's Afghan Whigs over the past few months.

The video for 1993's "Gentlemen" captures their essence quite well...

The Whigs were one of my favorite bands of the '90s but somehow I got away from them. Perhaps it was because they quietly faded away in 1998 after their album 1965. Perhaps it was because lead singer Greg Dulli went on to continue his beautiful work with the Twilight Singers.

I dunno.

The Whigs wormed their way back into my regular playlist a couple months ago when I began taking long walks. They haven't left. For some reason I decided to give 1965 another listen after never really appreciating it. I suppose it was their new album and tour (that I did not attend) that brought them back to me. At any rate, they have this gorgeous style of soulful white-boy rock unlike any other.

It's clear now that the 1990s are when rock music peaked.

The Deets
If you could only buy just one album: Gentlemen
Best iTunes track to sample: "Fountain and Fairfax"
Best lyric: "Don't forget the alcohol / ooooh, Baby / ooooh, Baby" from "Milez is Ded" off of Congretation (1992)

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Winter Biking, Denver Edition

Winter rolled rapidly into Denver yesterday so I raced to prep my bicycle for the season.

Riding last night through the snow into the park and to the bar to meet the girl was sublime - far better than the date itself. 

The best thing about cycling in winter is the silence, the neighborhood's noises muffled by fresh snow. It was cold so my path was mine alone - no pedestrians, no cyclists and few cars. 

The second best thing is the solitude. 

The third best thing is the cold beer waiting upon my return. 

Here's my bike with newly mounted studded tires.

This will be my first winter living in a place as balmy as Denver and it is my understanding that the snow here rarely stays around for more than a few days. The studded tires will be overkill for much of the season so when the roads are clean I'll ride my other bike. 

Sunday, November 2, 2014

My First Pheasant

This past weekend I went pheasant hunting for the first time in my life. Well, actually, I went hunting for the first time in my life (not counting that time a friend and I went walking in the woods for an hour with guns looking for grouse and didn't see even one).

Hunting seems to be one of those familial pastimes that gets passed down through the generations, primarily from father to son. My father didn't hunt but he did fish on occasion, so I grew up fishing on Minnesota lakes a few times a year but never really got into it.

In my youth, my hunting opinion was shaped by those around me who I saw go hunting and it wasn't pretty. In my high school it was mostly the stupid or underachieving kids who hunted so I did not view it in a favorable light. Hunting seemed like more of a redneck lifestyle (and undoubtedly it still is for many rednecks around our nation).

But over the years I met more gentlemanly hunters who changed my view. In Montana, virtually everybody has a gun and hunts no matter their political leanings. Hunting is seen there as an honorable way to spend time outside with family gathering food for one's table.

A few weeks ago my good friend Andrew invited me to join him pheasant hunting on some land his family owns around Onida, South Dakota. I was excited to get the invitation as I've been wanting to explore this sub-culture for some time now.

Onida is right smack dab in the middle of South Dakota, 30 miles north of the capitol of Pierre. It's a small town of 750 people that has one really great little bar and a pretty active "business district".

The house we stayed in belongs to Andrew's aunts and was conveniently located 1 block off Main St. and within spitting distance of the excellent Blue Goose bar where Thursdays are $1 Busch Light days.

I think this land is beautiful -- the golds and greens and browns and blues and greys reflect the simple beauty of the people who have farmed this soil for generations.

Sunset is particularly spectacular but this was the best my simple phone camera could capture. I'd fired a shotgun for the first time on that grouse excursion a year ago and in Utah had a friend who took me to the pistol range a couple times, so I'm not unfamiliar with guns. But shooting at a moving target proved to be something of a challenge for me.

The first day I went out with Andrew and the two of us walked tree lines and fence lines and ponds -- the breaks and inconsistencies in the otherwise farmed landscape -- looking for those places where a pheasant could hide in some long grass or reeds. We saw about 15 male pheasants and I was 0 for 20 in my attempts to bring one down.

But Friday morning brought better luck. We were now a team of five hunters and one dog moving between several different property locations around Onida. Around lunchtime I finally got a lucky shot and brought down my first bird. In fact, this was the first creature I think I've ever killed that's bigger than a mosquito. The thought of killing didn't really bother me because I knew I'd be eating it and, after all, isn't it important for us to all understand that the chicken at the grocery store wasn't just created under plastic wrap like that?

I shot one more that afternoon and another on Saturday and was thrilled with the experience. First of all I spent time walking some gorgeous country with good friends. Second, I got to interact with people that I normally wouldn't come into contact with -- the residents of small town rural South Dakota. I think this was the longest amount of time I've ever spent in a town that small. And third, I actually got me a couple birds.

Will I be running out tomorrow to buy myself a shotgun? No, but I do believe I'll hang on to my paradoxically blaze orange- and camo-colored truck stop hunting cap.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Things That Pop Into My Head While Meditating

  • relax
  • feel the weight of your body
  • become one with your environment
  • focus on the breath
  • set your intentions... my intentions are to be more mindful to avoid junk food and be a great listener (by which I mean I want to impress the ladies with my amazing empathy so that one of them might want to actually spend significant time with me)
  • just breathe...
  • that Janine is really cute... I wonder if she'd go out with me
  • it's okay to lose focus on the breath... just gently bring it back to the breath
  • I'm really doing well today. That was a long streak of uninterrupted breathing
  • c'mon now... back to the breath... good...
  • I should tell Janine about how well I'm doing with my meditation
  • I'm pretty sure Janine rides a bike around town... bikes are awesome...
  • Note to self: remember to check your tire pressure before biking to the library today because there's that slow leak in your rear tire
  • c'mon! Stop making to-do lists while you're meditating...
  • just focus on the breath
  • breathe...
  • it's okay to lose focus on the breath... just bring it back...
  • losing focus is part of meditation, that's why it's a practice... just breathe and empty your mind
  • breathe...
  • I think I went, like 15 breaths without interruption. Yes! Janine would be so impressed!
  • alright....back to the breath...
  • we're just breathing...
  • I should write a blog post about all the things that pop into my mind while I'm meditating. Maybe it'll be McSweeney's material.

My Bicycling Origin Story

There are three moments that I remember as being big parts of my development as a bicyclist.

I remember my first time riding a bike with training wheels along our sidewalk when I was a kid, maybe 5 or 6 years old. Pretty soon I had the freedom to explore all over the neighborhood and my friends and I found all sorts of fun together.

My next bicycling memory comes when I was about 14 and learning how to play golf. I used to ride my bike 3-4 miles to the golf course with my golf bag slung over my shoulder. I just did a google image search for that and this is the only example anywhere on the interwebs, so it appears as if kids today don't do that anymore.

Then I got into high school and college where it was far more cool to be driving a car than riding a bicycle and I barely touched a bike for 15 years. I mean, c'mon. Why ride a bike when you can cruise chicks in a 1980 Ford Fairmont Futura?

It wasn't until about 2003, after 9/11, that I had my awakening and realized that the only reason America was at war in the Middle East was because of our addiction to oil. Quickly I understood that I wanted to minimize my part in that addiction so I started bicycle commuting to work (and I remember being really nervous about it).

My commute was a beautiful one down stately Summit Ave. in St. Paul (which had a bike lane) and then along the Mississippi River to downtown Minneapolis. It was just under 12 miles and usually took me 50 minutes.

But I had the normal concerns that everyone has:

  • What route would be best to take?
  • Was it safe to bike on the road next to all those cars?
  • Would I be all sweaty when I got to work?
  • Heavens to Betsy -- what would happen to my hair?!

My greatest fear was of getting doored while riding in the bike lane down Summit Ave. Getting "doored" is when bicycling by a parked car, the driver of the car opens their door right in your path and you hit it, sometimes hard. My fear was that that would happen and I'd get flung out into traffic and run over by a truck.

Here's how I overcame those concerns:
  • What route would be best to take?
    • I looked at a map to find friendly streets and bike paths where available. The city provided a physical map of bike trails, but it's much easier now that Google Maps is quite skilled at giving bicycling directions.
  • Is it safe to bike on the road by all those cars?
    • I bought a helmet, wore a bright jacket and biked in a safe, predictable manner while constantly gazing into the parked cars to see if anyone was behind the wheel, waiting to take me out.
  • Would I be all sweaty when I got to work?
    • There was technically a shower at work, but it was not a pretty thing all tucked away in the maintenance bowels of the building down there. I began by taking the bus into work with my bike attached to the rack on the front of the bus and then only biking home. Eventually, as I became more comfortable with biking I started biking both ways and using the shower (which really wasn't so bad). I also recall at first only riding my bike on casual Fridays during good weather to make it easier.
  • Heavens to Betsy -- what would happen to my hair?!
    • Helmet hair is a serious concern for people biking to work or to an important engagement. I avoided this problem as noted above -- first by only biking home from work and later by using the shower at work.
A couple years later I was organizing group bike commutes to work from different parts of the city in order to help new commuters feel more comfortable. The bike commute into work became a highlight of my day and I still gain great pleasure from a leisurely or practical ride about town. It's amazing how we can transform after simply taking that first step out of our comfort zone. 

Marriage Thoughts

I went on two dates recently with women who are not interested in getting married, which is cool with me because I share the same sentiment. I think a lot of people don't think objectively about marriage because it's been such an institution in our society for so long.

There are three thoughts that now run through my head when I think about drawing up a legal contract with the government and pledging in front of God and family "til death do us part".

  1. First, in his mind-opening book How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World Harry Browne said something to the effect of "Why would I want the government and the church involved in my relationship?" Makes sense to me. Obviously commitment is an important part of any long-term relationship, especially when children are planned. But it seems to me like the marriage contract is somehow being used as leverage (or a crutch) between the two partners in order to make up for a lack of trust. Shouldn't love, trust, dedication and, most importantly, frequent and honest communication be enough so that a contract with the government isn't necessary? Without those traits one probably shouldn't commit one's life to another (or make babies together, for that matter).
  2. What does "til death do us part" mean to a 24-year old today? With medical advances in stem cells, robotics, nanotechnology and greater awareness of the toxins most of us put into our bodies every day, people may soon be living long past 100 years. A 24-year old making a legal agreement for their entire life could very well be entering into a 100-year contract, far different from the 20-40 year contracts of old.
  3. Historically the two partners in a marriage needed each other -- society said that the man was supposed to make the money and the woman was supposed to manage the home and raise the children. The husband was CEO of the family and the wife was Vice President of Homemaking. Their roles were clearly defined and each needed the other. Today we live, obviously, in a very different world where those roles are no longer limited by gender. Relationships today are (supposed to be) far more about two people loving each other and wanting to explore their lives together -- to learn from each other and grow together. They can have kids or not. They can both work or not. If people grow apart and don't want to be together anymore, it shouldn't require government process, paperwork and legal teams.

Here's an introduction to Harry Browne and the freedom traps that many of us fall into...

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Denver Faves: Mayan Theatre

The Mayan Theatre is just a 5-minute bike ride away and has become my favorite arthouse cinema in Denver. See photo for awesomeness...

What a beauty!

The interior is similarly designed and has a bar on the 2nd floor where they let you take your beer into the theater. It's one of those old theaters that used to be one big theater with a balcony, but now they've divided the balcony into 2 separate spaces and still have the larger space on the main floor.

Every week I check to see what films are coming because they show indie/arthouse cinema. I saw "Boyhood" there, for instance.

It's a Denver fave for sure.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Turn $100 into $1500

In 2007 some co-workers and I each kicked in $20 to Kiva so that we could support entrepreneurs in developing nations around the world.

How Kiva Works
1. We read personal business profiles like below and decided who we wanted to help. The entrepreneurs are searchable by region, country, gender & business. There are NGOs local to the individual entrepreneurs that vetted the businesses for Kiva.

2. Our $100 was then broken up into smaller amounts (micro-loans) and loaned to people like this...


3. Other Kiva investors also loaned money to these businesses and the loans were paid back monthly over the course of a year or so.

4. Those re-paid dollars went back into our account so we could loan the money out again. Our initial $100 has been loaned out to the tune of $1,475.

Here are the cumulative stats for the entrepreneurs that my co-workers and I have supported in the past 7 years:

As you can see, there's a default rate of 6.78% which is about the same as what American borrowers have experienced in the same time period.

If you've never tried Kiva, I highly encourage you to check it out. It's fun reading through the bios of the different entrepreneurs and is an easy way to help out.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Things I'm Unlearning

Our first years of life are filled with learning. We know nothing and therefore everything is new and our brains are sponges that soak it all in. Personality and sense of self develop on top of it.

Of course we’re constantly learning all through life (good Lord willing), but the first 18 years where we’re legally classified a minor are the most foundational. Our first 18 years is where we rely most on our culture to guide us. 

The below items are things that I was taught that for one reason or another are no longer beneficial ingredients in my world. They were taught to me by our culture & society -- school, parents, friends, neighbors, television, radio, newspaper, magazines, advertising, government, etc. Some of them I probably even taught myself.

What you were taught was certainly different, but in my adult phase of life I’ve learned that each of these is, at best, out-dated or inaccurate and, at worst, toxic filth perpetrated to strengthen the ruling elite.

Things I'm Unlearning
    • Change your oil every 3,000 miles
    • Cooking is done in the microwave
    • Skinny is beautiful 
    • Do what you’re told
    • Conform to society
    • If you don't go to school and get good grades then you won't get into a good college and won't get a good job
    • Get a job (working for someone else)
    • USA is best country in the world
    • Government is here to help
    • The rules are for your benefit
    • Without rules there’d be chaos
    • Fear those who don’t look like you
    • Other cultures are (scary/wrong/weird)
    • People are supposed to get married and have children
    • A house looks like this
    • Driving a car is how we get around town
    • Renting an apartment is like throwing your money away
    • People on TV or radio are experts in whatever they’re talking about
    • People like me (Norwegians) are stubborn and don’t express their feelings
    • Food Pyramid is for your benefit, not the benefit of the current food production establishment who has pull in D.C.
    • Memorization of data is how we learn
    • Every vote counts
    • Politicians are public servants
    • etc.

 ...we also learn many more personal untruths that can affect our sense of self for decades.

This list was sparked after reading Practicing Radical Honesty by Dr. Brad Blanton.  The book surprised me because it went much deeper than simply touting the benefits of being honest with everyone all the time. In fact it barely touched on that and instead went looking for the root cause of why we lie so often and how it shapes us.

Practicing Radical Honesty helped me to understand why Americans in their 40s start to re-examine their lives -- where they’ve been and where they’re heading. It’s not so much a “mid-life crisis” as it is an evaluation. It seems it often takes us 20 years post-upbringing to be able to build up the life experiences to see that so many of the things we learned in our first 20 years are folly.

Fun Exercise

Here's a fun exercise:
  Take mental note each time you lie to yourself or other people, even the tiniest lie. 

For example, yesterday I was recounting to friends some work I had done the previous week. I'd done this work Monday, Wednesday, Thursday & Friday but decided it was easier to just tell them that the work was done every weekday last week. I did this because conversationally it was simpler, but then that got turned into the story in my head. I began believing that my business benefited from me working 5 days last week when I only actually worked 4 days. Will my business thrive if I only do 80% of the work while convincing myself I did 100%?

I constantly lie to myself and others, usually in ways that are meant to make me look better, but often the lies are negative and restrictive like "That attractive woman is way out of my league. She'd never want to go out with me."

Who Cares

Why do we do this? Does it even matter?

It does matter. Over time we create our own personal story that's not a true reflection of who we really are. We become convinced that we're smarter than everyone else, a better driver of our automobile than everyone else, or shy or unattractive or anxious or whatever. 

Our personal narrative then defines us and restricts our world.

I don't know about you, but I don't want my world restricted.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Blogging vs. Facebook

I've noticed that I get about 2x the hits on any blog entry if I post a link on Facebook, but I don't care because this blog is for me.

Fuck Facebook. I've been done with it for months.

RSS still rules for ingesting information.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Communicating Without Judgement

About a year ago when I began to simplify my life I also started trying to learn how to meditate. Meditation was not something I’d done before, but increasingly as I read about people I admire they said how daily meditation was key to improving their lifestyle and to achieving what they did. Like this guy...

As we do, I googled it looking for mp3s of guided meditations that I could play to help me out. And I found one in particular that I liked -- a 20 minute meditation called Breath Meditation. It taught me to focus on my breathing and nothing else. Seems easy, but it’s incredibly hard because our mind is constantly racing. I was lucky to get in a breath or two before I got distracted.

Just recently I started using an app called Headspace that has nice guided meditations that are set up for beginners to grow with. The Headspace app works better for me because it is thoughtfully set up as a learning experience and not just a bunch of random meditations. I’m seeing progress.

But it wasn’t until I started using that app and was asked by it to clarify why I’m actually meditating that I really thought about why I’m doing it. To better live in the moment? To free my mind of clutter? To achieve some sort of inner peace or mindfulness?

Why I Meditate
Books like Mindfulness in Plain English and Non-Violent Communication (horrible name, I know) helped me realize that the reason I meditate is because I want to listen and communicate without judgement. Because if I ever want to be in a kickass relationship there's got to be good communication, right?

I’ve learned that I often carry too much personal baggage into a conversation and, as a result, don’t fully hear what the other person is saying. I have my own filters that block my brain that make it difficult to empathize. Much of that is because there’s always chatter from predispositions and stereotypes and worries and whatever that clog my mind. 


We all do it. We see someone and instantly form an opinion on them based on virtually no information. We all have strings of thoughts going through our heads all the time -- some of it is beneficial and some is not (that’s why we don’t speak everything that comes into our brains). But even when not spoken it’s still there clouding our empathy.

Something I learned while spending 6 weeks backpacking on the Pacific Crest Trail earlier this year was that almost always the stuff going through my head is completely worthless. With that much solitude all I had was my own mind to keep me company, and my mind wasn’t as cordial and riveting a dinner guest as I had hoped. Over and over and over the same crap kept popping up, like...
    • how I might describe this particular place to others in the future when I recap my hike to them
    • what I want my future life to look like
    • women I’d been on a date or two with
    • women I’d never been on a date with but wanted to go on a date with (what can I say... I’m a guy)
    • how much longer until I’d take a break
    • etc.
And the most maddening thing of all was that the same ones would keep coming back and coming back. Ten minutes after I’d had a little two-sided mental discussion about something, it would come back again, demanding more attention. And I’d just repeat the same two-sided discussion in my head from ten minutes prior. Again and again.

I started saying to myself: “Stop thinking about that! It’s worthless and you already addressed it ten minutes ago and now you’re just repeating yourself. Just stop.”

Eventually this inner dialogue evolved to: “It’s interesting how these identical pointless thoughts keep popping up. I’m going to ignore you and simply use this experience to add to my understanding that this is how my brain wants to work.”

Upon further reading on mindfulness I learned that virtually everyone’s brain has been programmed to act like this. It’s only after we learn to calm the mind that we can truly be present and communicate without judgement.

So that’s why I’m learning to meditate -- because I want to quiet my mind's filters and communicate with more empathy.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Random Shots

I picked up these mugs at Goodwill ($0.49 each) the other day and it feels like they have a story to tell.

Replacements T-shirt
This should go down in the annals as one of the all-time great rock band t-shirts.

Soul of Skiing
Steve Casimiro tells the story of bucking convention and using this amazing photo on the cover of Powder magazine’s Soul of Skiing issue back in the day. Apparently the cover photo wasn’t full of enough beautiful bodies and didn’t sell well at grocery stores. But if this isn't the soul of skiing then I don't know what is.

My backpacking trip to The Bob a couple weeks ago was with two friends who love foraging and wild mushrooms. We didn’t see any of these, but you can bet I was keeping my eyes peeled.

Hybrid Tree
Also in The Bob I saw this tree and should have taken a video to fully capture it. The bottom 4 feet of bark is dramatically different from the rest of it. On top, it’s a birch tree, but the bottom looks like a cottonwood or maple or something. Anybody know how/why this happens?

Personal Values Exercise

This values worksheet is something that helped me identify my goals and path in life when I was introduced to it several years ago. I’ve shared it with dozens of college students and they found it beneficial as well. I posted my top three values in my cubicle at work where I would constantly be reminded of them. It helped me to make decisions that were in line with my values when oftentimes competing options tried to take control of my life.

What do you value?
When push comes to shove, what is most important to you?

Click on it to download.

When you look at this list, many (most?) of the words will jump out to you as something you value. But the important thing to figure out for yourself is which few are the most important. 

It’s easy for us to say that we value the environment and education and freedom and happiness and loyalty and relationships and faith. But do we really? When faced with a decision between convenience and the environment, which do we choose?

How to Measure
The way we can best measure where we place our values is by looking at how we spend our time and our money. When we say we value happiness most of all, are we actually acting out our life in a way that supports that value? Is our time being spent doing things that make us happy? Or have we gotten caught up in going along with societal norms (what supposedly makes other people happy) at the expense of our own true happiness?

If you’ve never thought about your values before, I encourage you to complete the exercise. It’ll only take a few minutes.

In our society, it is super easy to get caught up in the crowd and to just go along with the flow because everyone else is doing it. That’s why it’s important to step back and examine the path we are on to make sure it’s the path we want to be on. After all, we are each captain of our own ship and it’s up to us to make the life for ourselves that we will cherish.

Simplifying My Life

This past weekend I moved into a 450 sq. ft. studio apartment in Denver historic neighborhood and it feels like I’ve been released from prison. Previously I’d been crashing with a buddy in the southern exurbs of Denver that was rural scrub brush 20 years ago and wholly designed for automobiles not people. Now I’m centrally located and can walk or bike to anywhere I want to go. I’m in a nice old neighborhood with many bars, restaurants, coffee shops, thrift stores and tattoo parlors. I’m also a block off of the Cherry Creek Trail which is a main bicycling thoroughfare in Denver and deserves more national recognition like the Greenway in Minneapolis. 

artist's rendering - not my actual neighborhood

artist's rendering - not my actual neighborhood

This is the first time as an adult that I’ve lived in a studio apartment and I’m diggin’ it. 450 sq. ft. feels just right because all I need space for is:
      • a place to sleep
      • a place to prepare food
      • a place to cleanse and relieve myself
      • a place to sit comfortably
      • minimal storage for seasonal and outdoorsy things
Anything more feels like wasted space to me since a whole city’s worth of parks and trails and entertainment is easily accessible via foot or bicycle.

Simple living is something I began taking baby steps toward about a year ago. This understanding of space needs came to me in my prior 1100 sq. ft., 2-bedroom, 2-bath apartment when I realized that I always sat in the same chair and walked far more than was necessary to get to the kitchen or toilet or my bed. With thoughtful design and architecture, we can get a terrific feel of comfort and space out of a smaller place. Unfortunately, many Americans have not spent quality time in a thoughtfully designed space because we are all used to living in houses that were built in a manner that maximized profit for the developer.

I also realized I owned all sorts of stuff that I rarely or never used. At first it was hard to get rid of stuff. I started by moving unused things from, say, the kitchen into a closet. Then I gave myself a month to see if I actually needed them from the closet. If not (which was 99% of the time) I took them to Goodwill. There was even stuff packed in boxes that I moved to Bozeman from St. Paul 2 years prior that I had never taken out of the boxes! The guys at the drive-thru Goodwill dropoff became like brothers to me.

Books were more difficult to get rid of. To me, my bookshelf was a symbol that showed people who I was as a person. It didn’t matter that most of them were read 10 years ago (or never) because I thought it would help people to understand me and what was important to me. 

So I started by just grabbing 5 books that I thought I could do without and took them to Goodwill. That wasn’t so hard.

A couple months later I noticed that I hadn’t missed those books so I unloaded 5 more. This repeated itself a couple more times when I realized that I could by a Kindle and purchase digitally any books that I deemed I simply must own. 

Then I bought a Kindle Paperwhite after thinking through the fact that the Kindle would only be to replace my library and I didn’t need full color or quality web-browsing or anything else out of it.

Sayonara to the rest of my library! And I only ended up buying about 5 books on Kindle that I thought were essential for me to own. Now I read a lot more because it’s super easy to carry my entire library with me wherever I go -- it’s about 1/3 the size of a dime-store paperback.

Now I’ve been living for close to a year without those things and I can’t think of one that I wish I still had. I’m able to save money by living in a smaller place, never have to do Spring cleaning, and appreciate more that which I do have.

Simple living fever: Catch it!

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Bob Marshall's Chinese Wall

Last week was the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act and I had the absolute pleasure of spending it in the amazing Bob Marshall Wilderness ("The Bob") in western Montana.

The Bob encompasses over 1.5 million acres of pristine mountains, rivers, forests and meadows and all the critters, from pika to grizzly, that call it home. The entire Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex includes the Great Bear Wilderness and Scapegoat Wilderness and sits just south of Glacier National Park in western Montana.

The Bob welcomes Dixie & me...

Who was Bob Marshall? Bob was a legendary outdoorsman and wilderness activist in the 1920s and '30s who died young at age 38 in 1939. An average day of hiking in this wilderness for him was about 35 miles and he was said to have hiked 70 miles in one day. In a word, Bob was a badass.

The goal of this trip was to visit the famed Chinese Wall, a 12-mile long natural stone wall that rises an average of 1000' above the valley floor.

First glimpse of the Chinese Wall...

Sunrise with tent beneath the wall...

My partners for this trip were Andrew and Dixie and they were terrific to hike with. We backpacked an average of about 12 miles per day in our lollipop loop that took us up to the wall, along the wall, up to Larch Pass, and back through the amazing meadows along the Sun River.

This pic is from a picturesque lunch spot at a dramatic inflection point where the wall makes a left turn...

The wall, it just keeps on going and going for 12 miles. We saw many cougar, wolf & bear tracks and scat on the trail through some really dense forest just east of here...

Contemplating the meaning of life, untrammeled wilderness, suburbs, jobs and cubicles...

Here's another view of the wall from it's shoulder on Larch Pass...

But it wasn't all about The Wall. There were gorgeous meadows and prairies, too, full of grouse & deer...

But the highlight of the trip for me was when I scattered my Mom's ashes in a meadow at the base of the wall. I knew this would be an amazing place and decided that 13 years after her death it was time to send this little portion of her back to the earth.

Saturday morning I left camp early and agreed to meet up with Andrew and Dixie later down the trail. I hiked a few miles to the wall and saw it for the first time in all its monolithic glory. A side trail lead to a meadow beneath the wall where I pulled the ashes out of my backpack. As I reached into the pack a nearby raven called out and sent a shiver down my spine. Then I opened the jar and the raven called again as tears welled up in my eyes. I spread the ashes and the raven rang out 5 more times over the next minute before launching itself from the tree eastward towards the rising sun. Now the tears were flowing like the nearby Sun River and I was immensely thankful for this amazingly special moment.