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.

August Adventure Days 3 – 5: Duluth and Sandstone, MN

Wednesday AM: Obligatory stop to the Sunshine Cafe. We had a great time and as usual the lady remembered us, where we lived and what we wanted to order! After breakfast we headed to the encounter for the annual pool/push ups extravaganza. After hanging out with John, Hank, and Amy for a bit we had a bit of time to kill before having lunch.

Wednesday afternoon we stopped at the Brewhouse for a beer and then went to lunch at Va Bene with Grant and Danielle! Fun! After lunch it was off to a much needed pedicure and eyebrow wax! Finally!

Post waxing we headed to Papa Murphy’s, ordered some pizza’s and headed to the Blake’s to meet little Alden! Yay! After some pizza, root beer, and s’more pizza we said goodbye and headed to Inline Station with Tony for a couple of games of bowling. It was fin, and good to hang out with Tony but I am definitely OUT of bowling shape!

Brewhouse Beers Beget Bosom Buddies

Thursday morning was a nice slow morning. The only plans we had were at 1:30 to have lunch with my dad. So we watched a movie, drank a pot of coffee and had bacon and egg sandwiches for breakfast. Tony suggested we go to the new hibachi and sushi restaurant in Duluth for lunch. We did and it was fantastic. The five of us had a great lunch. I’m bummed that all of the good food options didn’t come to town until after I left.

After lunch we headed to Sandstone to visit the campground/farm. We headed to the campground first and went straight to the pool with Sarah, Brian and the kids. We went on a quick tour of the farmhouse and land, enjoyed a beer out on the patio and then headed back to the campground for dinner and a campfire. We had hotdogs, beans chips and roasted GIANT marshmallows to make s’mores. Everyone headed out for the night and we “camped” for the night in the trailer.

Next day we woke up LATE and feeling like we’d slept the day away. We put ourselves together we headed to the farm for the morning. Around lunchtime we brought everyone back to the campground and grilled steaks for lunch! Kids went swimming and then we headed back to the farm for the night. We rode the four wheeler and hung out with the kids until after dinner when it was back to the campground for us for an early night to bed!

August Adventure Day 1: North Brunswick, NJ to Sudbury, ON via Niagara Falls

The morning started bright and early – 5:45am. A little later than planned but it was great to get some rest. I got right back to my usual routine by listening to the water run while Travis took a shower. I was so pleasantly surprised when I rolled out of bed that Travis had finished unpacking all of my institute stuff, had organized and packed the camping/road trip stuff and had loaded up the car before he came to bed last night. It was a much less stressful evening and morning for me. We got ready, packed the remaining odds and ends, made our usual Starbucks stop and we on our way by 7am.

All packed up with somewhere to go!

First stop-noon. A service center on the side of some New York freeway. We filled up with gas, took a bathroom break and spent the better part of 30minutes figuring out how to boil water for our cup-a-noodles. Back on the road, we enjoyed our breakfast/snack while listening to our recently acquired audiobook Bossypants. As expected, it’s hilarious and prompts frequent bouts of laughing out loud. I took a brief nap and then a 1pm PSI conference call.

By 2:30 we were at our first official stop – Niagara Falls (the Canadian side). The skies looked ominous so we decided to head to Margaritaville for lunch first. A beergarita (yum!), a coke, and one massive plate of volcano nachos did it for us! The food was great, the waitress was nice, and just as we sat down the rains came. After making a small dent in the nachos, we were stuffed and the rain had stopped so we walked down to the falls for some photo ops. The falls were gorgeous and huge and we were getting wet from the mist just standing there looking at them!

The best pic we got of part of the falls.

We decided to drive as far as Sudbury (approximated 4.5 hours past Niagara) so we quickly googled a campsite and by 4:30 we were on our way. The rest of the drive was pretty standard-another hour or some of Bossypants, napping while listening to music, think as the beautiful Canadian scenery filled our view. There was one more stop for gas and a brief bathroom break and by 9:15pm we were at our campsite. Go Carol for staying open a few extra minutes and saving that last available campsite for us!

We’re currently kicked back in our camp chairs, getting eaten alive by mosquitos, enjoying the campfire and a s’more. We’ll head to bed shortly and then it’s off to Duluth in the morning!

August Adventure Day 2: Sudbury, ON to Duluth, MN via Sault Saint Marie , MI

If waking up in the field had been this much fun in the Marines, I never would have EASed. I LOVE camping. I love it with Rebbeca so much that I’ll even do it sissy style with a tent and duffle bags in the car. In fact this method even has it’s advantages, such as having coolers full of food to cook on the fire and little girls in golf carts delivering firewood that’s so dry that it starts up just by holding a zippo under a log.

Canteen Cup!

We enjoyed camping until about 9:30 when we got back on the road. While technically we ended up driving much further yesterday, today seemed interminable. I couldn’t help but marvel at the customs process in Sault Ste Marie (that’s “soo saint”). Homeland Security is eating up our government. We wasted an hour sitting on a bridge waiting for a 5 min conversation with customs in a mult-billion dollar drive thru facility erected just so our govt can save political face because they wanted to step up their game on the Mexican border…

Crossing the dotted line!

Aside from that, we finished Bossypants which was quite entertaining. The audio version contains a particularly thorough performance from Tina and I am pleased with the purchase. Thanks you TFA Corps Members for getting the iTunes gift card that made it possible…but I do not thank you for the “The Voice” tracks that also got played as a result. Fortunately, Rebbeca is extremely more tolerable of various musical preferences than I am and I was allowed to enjoy real music most of the non-Bossypants hours.

Best breakfast...in the WORLD!

No surprise to find Duluth roadways still under construction. I like to think that it was finished in the years since we left but has now just so happened to start up again. But we all know better than that. Looking forward to a Sunshine Omelet at the Sunshine Cafe in the morning!

…PS I got a text from someone who knows full well I have left on vacation. He wanted to make plans to work out Thursday morning. I couldn’t bring myself to tell him I’d be there…I’ve gone so soft…

Barrett On Tour – Day One

As with all things transitory, we had more stuff in mind than we anticipated, but then, that’s why we chose to drive. Fortunately, it all fits in the brand new RAV4. We’ve started the Bossypants iTunes file (funny!), cranked out some laptop work from the road, and discovered the electric kettle won’t be a viable option. Maybe I can barter for Jetboil…?

About to step off from a rest stop on the NY thruway to Niagara Falls eating Cup O Noodles. I used the kettle at an outlet by the bathroom, superiorily scoffing at all the dirty lookers in line for McD’s.

TFA Alumni Movement

When I started my TFA journey three years ago, I started the precursor to this blog thinking that I’d update it (at least weekly) and document my journey as a newbie teacher. Unfortunately, I always have the best of intentions and the grandest of ideas but don’t generally follow through on them.  The same thing rings true on this blog – if you look back, very little of the writing actually comes from me.  Rather than create any grand and lofty ideas about when/what/how to write, I think I’ll just start writing more often – and see what comes of it.

This week I’m finishing my third year in the classroom and my first at my new school.  It’s been an amazing year.  I’ve been extraordinarily busy but someone less stressed out by many of the things that plagued me as a new teacher.  I taught Physics and Chemistry for second and third year this year – finally not feeling like I was reinventing the wheel.  For the most part I work with administrators and coworkers who supported my teaching and helped me rather than hinder me from getting things done.  I finished a master’s degree in December and started teaching math as an adjunct faculty member in January.

My current (next) big project is my role as CMA at this year’s NYC Institute.  This has by far been the most challenging and most rewarding job I’ve taken on (other than being in the classroom).  The months of preparation for my role have required me to really dig deep, plan more purposefully than I ever have before, and in turn I am more excited than ever to work with corps members and staff this summer.  It’s exciting for me to see how my role in the alumni movement in Teach for America is growing.  In some ways, after you leave your two years in the corps, you’re kind of on your own, but I just can’t stay away.  I’ve worked hard searching out ways to keep myself educated and stay involved in the work I started three years ago.  I am already inspired and motivated by all of the work that my fellow staff members are doing and I am looking forward to all of the incredible inspiration and strategies that I know I’ll walk away with this summer!

Here’s to another great summer!

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”.