Author Archives: Travis

I hate Verizon. I killed them with Google Voice.

While there is competition in the cell phone market, it’s hardly competitive. For whatever reason, it always seems as if there is really only one option for a service that you “need”. We loved T-mobile. Unfortunately, when we moved out here to to Newark, the service wasn’t reliable enough to be useful. The pricing between Verizon and Sprint is pretty much the same.

If you ask me, any service that requires you to be locked in is immediately suspect. When that contract is up and you need a new phone, like now, because pieces keep falling off, that huge discount on that fancy device is alluring. The two year hit seems easy to swallow.

But what sort of company simply passes off taxes and fees onto the customer? All that government stuff should be covered by them. I’m sorry, are they not rolling in money? Can they not simply increase the price when my contract is up. Apparently, the contract is only one way. They can increase taxes and fees, but I can’t get out. (Although you can change any aspect of your plan whenever you want, just not cancel it.) When I signed up for the contract it was $70 for the family plan, $10 for the extra line (mine), and $60 for 2 unlimited data plans which included all sorts of fancy messaging. Taxes and fees of course can’t be estimated (cause they increase EVERY month). That’s a base $140 minus the 15% NJ Teacher’s Union discount which hopefully would off-set the taxes and fees. I have yet to pay under $160. Apparently, billing was just restructured so I can now expect over $200 including the discount…every month. Taxes and fees this month are $50.

After a long sweaty bout of screaming obscenities and calling them bad bad names, I decided to execute my right as a consumer to not give them my money. Of course, I can’t cancel the contract, but I can alter it, including closing extra lines attached to the account. I have a home phone that doesn’t get used thanks the to the Optimum Triple Play (which I hated up until this point, but that’s another rant). They can’t port a cell number to a landline unless the area code matches.

To the rescue is everyone’s favorite Big Brother, Google. Google Voice phone numbers are free. I have been using it as a business number that forwarded to my cell. Now, it forwards to my home number. For a $20 one time fee, Google called Verizon, took my cell number, and closed the line for me. Texts go to my email. Since I am only out of wi-fi range for 10% of my life, I should be alright. I can even still use my smartphones wifi to get my messages.

I simply do not need, nor do I want to be, that easily accessible anymore. You people have become far to comfortable not leaving voice messages or thinking texts are acceptable for important information. I’m bringing contact back into being apart!

I am seriously considering a Pay-as-you-go Virgin mobile hotspot and a iPod Touch. $10 for 100mb or 10days and it rides any towers Sprint has access to. Pretty handy for the 10% I don’t have free wifi.

My favorite thing? All cell phones are legally required to ALWAYS make 911 calls, activated/on a plan, or not. As a customer, I am paying “NJ 911 System/Emerg. Resp. Fee = $0.90” every month. WTF?!

August Adventure Day 7: Monticello, MN to Ames, IA

We set off pretty early, as is our customary fashion. First on the ToDo list: Caribou Coffee for the road. A large chai with soy milk for me and a medium non-fat caramel High-Rise for her. We finished these whilst perusing the Rogers, MN Cabela’s for female athletic apparel and some medium-rise scope rings with which to mount the Aimpoint 3000, that I swiped from my Dads closet before we left Duluth, to my renovated 10/22. Also some batteries and other odds and ends I decided I “needed” upon careful perusal of every aisle…twice.

As far as drives go, this one went relatively painlessly. A bit longer than the drive from Sandstone to Monticello, but about 5 or 6 hours all told. The GPS was a little limited in negotiating the apartment complex it took us too when trying to find Maggie and Spencer’s place (and Ben’s!) but we managed.

They were still out by the time we parked the car, so we walked over to a little coffee shop and hung out (you could find some pictures of this in the sidebar on the right there —>) for a little bit. This was the first time I had ever met Ben and it was quite a treat. He’s quite an agreeable little tyke. It’s nice to see that some parents can actually both work and still be fully into their kids.

My favorite part? No juice. He eats fruit like a champ, and loves it naturally, but all that goes into the sippy cup is water. He’s a future 03 after my own heart, all he needs is some sunflower seeds.

That night we slept quite well on an inflatable queen mattress.

August Adventure Day 6: Monticello

We left Sandstone and the farm nice and early. We accidentally slept so long the morning before that everything was rushed and it felt like it would be like that all day! We packed up and got going to Monticello to hang with the Woytcke side of the family.

The last of our vacation pictures...whoops

We got a great rain storm on the way so plenty of bugs got scrubbed off the car…they had been bugging(!) me. We got in about 11AM,  but not after the disappointment of not getting a Sour Dough Monster Burger from Hardee’s…apparently, you can only get breakfast foods (bleh!) before 10:30…it was about 9AM. It was nice to sit at the house and just talk and drink beer. Grandma and Grandpa showed up before too long and my sister Megan showed off her new fiance.

Dad and the boys and I went to see Cowboys and Aliens where Dad and I bonded over a flask of Black Label and then made Alex drive. Oh, the subtle pleasures of having a teenager with the fresh ability to drive around. The movie is worth seeing in the theater. They dropped me off at Buffalo Wild Wings where we met Nate and Megan for a couple more drinks. We chit chatted for a while and then made our way home.

Once home, Dylan and I lit off some fireworks in the street and then Rebbeca and I passed out cold. We’ve been forgetting to take pictures.

Food, loaded-type

Her potato clearly does not meet my personal cheese quota.

There are few meals my wife makes on a regular basis. The ones she chooses to revisit are without a doubt among her most favorite things in the world. I certainly appreciate not having to mentally contribute to a meal on these occasions…but that’s another story.

However, not many people actually consider these dishes to be actual meals. In the cases when it’s simple salad, popcorn, corn/hot dogs, or chips and guac, they’d probably be right. But when it comes to her touchdown dishes, those people are plumb crazy.

I’ve actually started making one of them for my post-first-coffee meal on a regular basis. Sloppy Nachos are incredible. My versions are more simply fabricated (though the excesses I pile on are a bit…much), so I’ll explain her methods.

She sets the chips (sometimes home made from corn tortillas) on the plate and throws down a bit of cheese and black beans for the under layer. Then does the same once more on top of that (classy move. I love the cheese) but also includes her homemade salsa, shredded chicken goop, guacamole, and anything else that strikes her fancy. Rebbs’ nachos are an art form. She isn’t as meticulous in crafting each individual bite as the famous Brenton Porter nachos, but her art is in the flavor and appearance. The way she creates her nachos makes each bite different. You can taste each ingredient separately or paired depending on which you select. It’s beautiful.

My nachos are a pile of crap that, while good, usually consist of shoveling twice. First off the plate, and then off your shirt before it reaches your mouth.

Her bestest though, is the LOADED BAKED POTATO. In the spirit of full disclosure, the loaded baked potato usually only makes an appearance when I am also eating this dish (she hates grating cheese. Apparently this is a “man’s job”…but I blame a bad experience she had once with John and Lindsey Blake…)

This thing is full of love and all sorts of gloriousness. A slight taste of butter, cheese poncho wearing broccoli, sprinkled with a crumbled piece of bacon or two, and usually shredded chicken. While it’s too hot to eat right away, she’s usually done with hers just as mine is cooling enough to get close enough to smell.

On the upside, I get to gather up the potato skin and cheesy bits she left behind on her plate. My recommendation to drink with the Loaded Baked Potato is Newcastle Brown Ale, with the Nachos – Jalepeno Lemonade with 1800.

I am a photographer/drunk/writer/addict/warrior/mercenary

I love being a photographer. Everyone loves having their picture taken…when they are ready. I get amazing pictures of couples brewing their coffee or giving their vows. Seriously, it’s the easiest thing in the world to take pictures of the world as it wants to be seen.

Unfortunately, that’s not what makes a photographer. The photos that really capture the essence of humanity; what it feels like to really BE ALIVE are not so easily captured. I’m not even good enough a photographer to know what sorts of people will consistently capture that photo and share it with you. I’m sure they must be great.

I’m not even good enough a writer. The feeling of missing the love of your life while hearing the rain fall on the veranda and wishing it could be shared is a mercenary adventure. We don’t do things for money, or blood lust, or what ever you heard a warrior say once.

I wish I could capture the beautiful moments in conflict scenarios and share them with my wife. She is the most important thing in the world, yet, I am half a world away doing the only thing that I can do well. She should hear the pitter-patter of rain that must be an ounce per drop.

This is the weather that calms me. Even if for no other reason that nothing can be heard but the thunder and rain. I must relax. If you snuck upon me in this, I’d be utterly defenseless. Only this, and if only, I’d want to share with you. The sound of the storm leave me at your mercy.

A haiku of love and storm (see Flickr photostream at right):

Rain pounds tile and cashews,
Despite my hard candy shell,
Monkeys frolic outdoors.

Wife: I wish you were here. I wish I loved teaching as you do. I wish you loved executing the unsuspecting as I do. In the meantime, let’s go see Spider-man on Broadway.

I hate the internet

I have been in a particularly unpleasant mood for almost a week now. Just to give some disclaimer, I’m hating just about everything at an increasing rate. It’s probably all the Chuck Bukowski I’ve been reading. Wonderfully depressing material. Not nearly so light-hearted as the Californication show based on his thoughts. Perhaps the most depressing is that I see a lot of myself in his thoughts and I don’t have the jacked-up life story to warrant it. I’m so glad I married a waffle, I just hope she doesn’t get tired of mingling my spaghetti sauce in her corn-syrup and peanut butter.

The internet, and well, connectivity in general, I feel is sucking the life out of living. There is so much information being shoveled at me, that I can’t tell what I need to know. The amount of time wasted on technology in general is astounding. It’s pretty much ALL my time. And the funniest part is, I think I really NEED all this stuff. We all do. The world thinks access to the internet is a God-given right. It’s like we need to the 2nd Amendment (don’t get me started on those wind bags) to protect our access to the internet in America.

Access to technology and convenience eats up $221 a month in my household. That’s two fancy phones for $160, Netflix for $11, and broadband internet for $50. Some families add on top of that a home phone and cable television (another $30 each at their cheapest). I could bundle all 3 services for $60 a month, but then I sit around using those too. The only thing making this easier on my mind is all the ways that Rebbeca and I do manage to live simply.

We have only one car that doesn’t guzzle gas (except when I drive it). We eat amazing meals that are all various things purchased from the grocery store and she does some kind of voodoo and is awesome. We don’t eat out to often (though still more than we like to admit).

We also manage charitable giving that exceeds this “connectivity” budget, so that’s a win for stickin it to the man…unless you count the cost of the devices. All in all, it just makes me sick. I can wade through blogs, news, updates, reviews, ideas, and information all effing week and have nothing to show for it. It’s all simply that I can be more informed than those who’ve come before me. Sure, I’m more diverse and have a bigger wealth of knowledge both learned and at my finger tips…for what? I’m not helping anyone with this. I’m not doing anything to end the hell on earth for people and I’m not even that much happier for it.

All things in moderation I suppose. I think I’m done with the forums, blogs, updates, and generic BS. I need to learn to make the internet my biotch. It’s a tool for me to use, not a formless overlord spoon feeding me so I’m a good puppet.

And no, the irony of taking this rant to the internet is not lost on me. If I didn’t have to be in public this evening, I’d probably be drunk about 15 min from this second I “Publish”.

Redeeming Faults

It was a two-fold marketing campaign, and it was wholly successful, in a way. My father is not a man anyone would immediately associate with the stereotypes of being a man’s man. The Art of Manliness will probably never have a manvotional dedicated to his memory, unless of course, I write one (and they publish it). In fact, there are not many aspects of my father’s manliness that I aspire emulate in my own father/man-hood. Or so I think by default.

My generation, those born into the late 70’s and early 80’s, spent the majority of our formative years in a transitional society. Our parents, statistically speaking, weren’t that much older than us. Hardly out of childhood themselves, they were pioneers in a new American tradition of children raising children. I fared much better than most in similar situations. My parents weren’t awful and they honestly gave a shit about trying their best. Sometimes, that really is all you can ask, and in this case, that is enough.

Wonderfully, there is no looming “but” transitioning to the flaws of my father. In fact, I think that the more of an adult man I become, the more any flaws I thought I had identified fall out of existence. Now nearly 10 years older than my father was when I was born, I marvel at his ability to pioneer. Absolutely, mistakes were made, but I can’t think of any serious transgressions. It’s my hope than when I do decide to parent, I can build on our experiences together to create an even better father for my child, however that might look. Probably some cross between Dad(…s…), Jesus, and Jack Burton, if I may be so imaginative.

What brings me to this train of thought is something I just realized about an hour ago, while reading “Ham On Rye”. If I ever start smoking cigarettes, they will be Camel‘s. Frankly, anything less is simply unmanly. Smoking is a filthy, nasty, wonderfully romantic, and badass habit. I associate smoking, or at the very least, possessing, Camel cigarettes with confident men, worthy of respect, good natured about life and people, and capable of succeeding in tribulation.

There are many times in my young adult life I have prepared for difficult situations. Though I never have smoked, I always considered it because of the aforementioned associations I have with Camel’s. I always pack a lighter, a zippo if I can, yet resisted the urge to also bring a pack of Camel’s. I think, perhaps simply having the smell of the pack at hand could well up confidence and the will to persevere.

Don’t get me wrong. Stale smoke and long-ago smoked cigarette smells absolutely horrendous, but fresh Camel’s? That is luxurious. A hearkening to a simpler time when men were men in ways they defined for themselves. Camel’s hold a special place in my heart, even the beloved Camel cash and branded items from their catalog are fond memories. That stuff was cool. Especially the zippos, poker sets, and billiards sticks…

Perhaps there will come a time when I deem a Camel appropriate to be enjoyed in moderation. Probably long after my father is gone, I’ll have a special moment to enjoy the memories evoked by the smells and just spend some time considering what it means to be a successful father and remembering his example.

On Women in Combat

It is unfortunate that we are only looking at this issue as one of equal rights. I don’t believe it is. I volunteered for the USMC to serve in combat, and did, so that others wouldn’t have to go in my stead. It is an honor that changed and shaped me for the rest of my life. I believe that women and men are fully equal in regards to citizenship and humanity in general. I respect women so fully that I don’t want them in direct combat because they shouldn’t have to be there.

Certainly, women are finding themselves in dangerous combat situations while they are deployed to combat zones. But these are the type of dangers anyone, anywhere in the world, could face at any time. The potential for being attacked by an IED or mortar round has as much potential danger as a crash on the freeway or attacked by a madman in the parking lot. It is one thing to fight back against a threat to you. It’s another entirely to locate, close with, and destroy the enemy. Being in a dangerous combat situation is not the same as serving in a combat capacity where your sole purpose is to kill.

There is no doubt that women could do the job and pull the trigger. It’s been a long standing joke in the military that if Iraq had sent it’s women to fight us, we wouldn’t have been able to roll across the country with relative ease. Ability is not the issue. Succeeding in the most advanced combat units is more a mental game than a physical one. If I can do it physically, anyone could. The skills can be learned by anyone with the mindset to do it. That, coupled with the tenacity and drive inherent to women, they undoubtedly would be a formidable force.

Our nation as a whole is taking this issue a little to flippantly. It is clearly unfair that women are passed up for promotion because they were not allowed to have the experiences that we value in our leaders, but this can be corrected without asking them to sacrifice parts of their humanity which are the essence of their womanhood. I am confident that if we dig up women who have killed in combat situations, they will not say they would have rather enlisted in units who train to kill if given the opportunity. Our service women do not yet fully understand what they are asking for. They never could until they are neck deep in it.

It may seem like a logical leap to go from repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell to allowing women to serve in combat units from an equal rights stand point but the two are unrelated. We aren’t barring women from combat, we are protecting their humanity from scarring.

This is not a glamorous Hollywood scenario. If we choose to send American women to put bullets in people, there will be little left of the America that was the gallant protector of the weak who stands for right even against the odds. Further, if our politicians and media moguls decide allowing women in the infantry is good, and our young men don’t swell the ranks so there simply isn’t room, that will be the defining moment historians will point to as proof the American empire was eroding at it’s foundation.

On Fundamental Christianity

Today has been rather unproductive for me, despite having rigidly stuck to the “writers schedule” I set for myself. Pretty sure I mostly daydreamed about accessories for my shotgun and racked up a list of just under $500 worth of parts that I “need” to make it “combat-ready” (read, “tacti-cool”). I’ll probably never buy any of it because of hard and fast rules for “tactical” equipment that I follow religiously…but that’s another post.

I broke the spell by wandering Barnes and Noble for the last hour. I may have stayed longer, but I found inspiration which I then darted home to share with you. Not sure if any of you have read “The Unlikely Disciple” by Kevin someone-or-other, but it looked interesting, if only for the concept. Pretty sure it’s not something I would sit down a read through, although, his bibliography of helpful books he read contains quite a few gems which I have on my shelf. To be honest, I had been thinking about reading them again just recently.

The premise of this memoir is a kid who was just a regular American. He grew up in a Quaker household, which I was surprised to discover much more nominal than I had stereotyped, and attended Brown University (which he self described as college if you’re from Sodom and Gomorrah). He got a job as a Writers Assistant working with the author of “A Year of Living the Bible” (I think…) during that project. On an OJT field trip, they ended up at Jerry Falwell’s church where he met some students from Jerry Falwell’s liberal arts college. More curious than chaffed by his first run in with evangelicals (which went exactly as the stereotype leads you to assume), during which he thinks, “Jerry Falwell has a liberal arts university? Isn’t that like Courtney Love teaching an etiquette class?”, he eventually goes for a semester at Liberty University and plays along with the culture he finds there.

So at this point, I’m amazed and run home to work my jumbled mind out on paper…or content entry box and keyboard or whatever. I haven’t read any more than what I shared with you and all the Christianese and Evangelicalism is turning me off more than Austin Powers could (Baby). Yet I find myself fascinated at this anthropological experiment and also the accepting mind that could perform it. I might be just as close-minded as pretty much everyone else I hate for that reason and it’s making me uncomfortable. This situation baffles me. I am familiar with that world and would never consider attending ANY religious university. So what is the deal with this kid…?

Which brings us to my actual point, all God needs is a willing heart and he can perform his greatest work. So what’s my problem? What’s the problem with the rest of America? Apparently, our hearts are not as willing as we’d like to believe. The older and more experienced I get, the more resistant my heart comes to change, and therefore, to God. The fundamentalist nature of these colleges and communities irks me, but it seems that I must practice what I preach to others in some way.

There isn’t anything wrong with the fundamentals present at the core of fundamentalism. I can’t believe it took me so long to realize it. In order to become proficient in ANYTHING you must become an expert at the fundamentals. I believe for too long I have been throwing the baby out with the bathwater on the religious front. It might be time to start opening myself up to experience at least as much fundamentalist Christianity as I do secular world vision. With both, I have to be selective in what I think best to incorporate into my life and relationships, so perhaps, being a bit more well rounded would help.

On Birthdays

I don’t like being asked what I want for my birthday, though I’ve never really known why. To be frank, I have a habit of being extremely opinionated without actually understanding myself. Such is life. But, some possible reasons actually came to me last night, and I jotted some bullet points on a notecard (which I organize into my recipe box of ideas) so I could recall it for you now.

When I’m asked what I want for my birthday, I can’t ever really come up with something. That feeling of being put on the spot makes me all queasy. My mind retreats inside my skull and reality gets all fuzzy. Being noticed or the center of attention really doesn’t sit well with me. I prefer subtlety in every area of life, it’s all shadows and inferences for me, thank you. This, I realize, is a personal issue, which would be unfair to subject you, my loyal audience, to rants about what my personal preferences…and the irony of that situation given the topic isn’t lost on me.

As much as I like irony, this is a rant about our culture and yet another thing I find to be degrading the quality of it. Why are we even giving gifts in the first place? Personally, I LOVE giving gifts. The best gifts are ones that celebrate a dynamic of the relationship between giftee and giftor. Sometimes, depending on the giftee, the magic of the gift is lost in translation, but it doesn’t matter much at the moment. When that person utilizes that gift, it strengthens our relationship, whether it simply gives them insight into something I appreciate, or more simply, it might jog their memories of me when they use it.

However, when you give a gift that someone has asked for, none of this happens. You are merely applying your finances to something they wouldn’t necessarily buy to enjoy for themselves. At it’s surface, this isn’t really a bad thing. It’s great in fact. If it weren’t for this aspect of gift giving, I wouldn’t own my fancy camera (shout-out to my mother-in-law, Sherry) or the super ugly video game rocking chair (shout-out to Rebbs, who got it for me even though she hates video games…and the chair). But at some point, it’s just mindless consumerism, asking for things we want, yet know aren’t important enough to spend our own money on.

There’s a fine line between materialism and consumerism, and to be honest, I haven’t had enough coffee yet to figure it out. Maybe later, but for now, let the semantics slide and understand the subject I’m attempting to convey. When I’m asked what I want, I feel greedy. I feel like I shouldn’t have an answer or I’m being materialistic. Besides, most of the things I actually want are fricken WAY outside reasonable price ranges (new gun parts, a house with a custom office and fireplace, paratrooper bicycles…) and I don’t really keep the kind of company who could whip out gifts like that. They aren’t my scene.

There are little things that I’d be interested in having of course. Books I would enjoy, clothes I would wear, gadgets I would use, but I don’t feel I should have to mention these things. I didn’t fully realize it until I started processing this post, but just below conscious thought, I feel slightly let down when people ask me what I want. We’ve spent all this time together and have this great relationship, but you don’t know what kinds of little things I would like? Throughout this past year, we have had conversations about material things, you’ve observed me using things I own, participating in activities I like, and expressing interest in a myriad of random anythings, yet now you can’t recall any of that? Have you been paying attention at all or am I just some prop or scenery in the 12-act play of your life? When someone has to ask what I want for my birthday, I get one of two impressions, they are self-centered and don’t really care about me, or they are lazy and don’t really care about me.

Remember, though, that those are just feelings below consciousness. They are easily fended off because I DO know these people. I know their heart and they do care because I know they wouldn’t ask someone they didn’t care about what they wanted for their birthday. This is a normal cultural occurrence, and it’s one that I regularly take part in. Sometimes, you just need to get an idea of where they are at now, in respects to those times you remember they expressed interest in other things. Sometimes you need your memory jogged. Or, like me, they typically buy all those things they want and need and you don’t have any clue what they could possibly be interested in. Some people are simply difficult to buy for.

So here is my solution: take your time.

Take your time to think about the person. Instead of analyzing them to pick what they might want, be self-centered and dream up all the ways this person is important to you. Think of gift idea that might strengthen this relationship. This is especially applicable to the elderly in your life, who can be IMPOSSIBLE, to buy for. In their last 50-90 years, people less important than you have bought them every conceivable item, which either made the cut or eroded away as time passed. The chances of you finding something they want to hold on to for $25-$50 is slim. Start thinking about the one thing they are probably wishing they had more of: time. Of course, you can’t actually do that, and buying them MORE vitamins probably won’t help. Consider the different aspects of how you could enrich the time they have left.

Take your time. You can think of a good gift for someone, you just have to take the time to do it. Of course, you’ll have to stop the endless cycle and to-do list fogging your mind for a bit, but you can do it. It might even be a rewarding little gift for you. Over the course of time, you have enough experience with this person to select something that will be meaningful to them and your relationship. Rarely will you be flying blind and you certainly couldn’t do worse than when President Obama gave Queen Elizabeth II an iPod with all his speeches on it…seriously, she’s a celebrity who is responsible for PR, not a politician…fire the aide who came up with that idea.

So really, take your time. If this person actually means something to you, plan an experience. Something you know they would like, even if they wouldn’t. Memories don’t go away until you get really old. Rebbeca planned a weekend in DC for my birthday one year. At the time, I definitely felt like she had finally found an excuse to do something she wanted to, and that is pretty much what happened (or we would have made it to the epic Smithsonian museum). But I’m having trouble thinking of birthday gifts I received in the past, except that one. It isn’t something I would have planned for myself, but experiences and time together celebrate the relationship and the person. They will remember that.

So take your time for someones birthday.