Pedaling for Peace

On April 15, 2012 I started riding my bicycle cross-country from Jacksonville, Florida in voluntary support of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation (NAPF) and the work of author and Peace Leadership Director for the NAPF, Paul K. Chappell. By July 4th, I had covered over 1300 miles to just west of Luling, Texas where a major mechanical failure brought this first stage of my cross-country journey to an end. After storing my bicycle and trailer with my aunt and uncle in Weatherford, Texas, I flew from Dallas to Santa Barbara, California to attend the NAPF First Annual Peace Leadership Summer Workshop. I then lived and worked in Santa Barbara for several more months before I returned to Jacksonville and sold off the rest of my possessions that I could to help fund a continuation of my journey. Starting June 8, 2013 and ending August 9, 2013, I rode from Weatherford, through 400 miles of the central Texas hill country, including Austin, Texas, back to Luling. It was at this point that a friend of mine invited me to work for a brief period in Pennsylvania before flying me back to Santa Barbara where I continued volunteering for the NAPF as well as for the Santa Barbara Bike Coalition. As of August 9th, 2014 I began"Stage III" of my cross-country adventure, this time heading south from Santa Barbara to San Diego and then east to El Paso, TX. It was there that illness, winter weather, and diminishing resources brought that leg of my journey to an end. After staying with another friend in Columbus, GA for several months, I moved "back home" to Kentucky to stay with my dad for a while and build a better "resource base" for future endeavors including review and further tracking and primitive survival skills training at Tom Brown, Jr's Tracker School , and a possible longer tour of the east coast, northern tier, and north west coast back down to Santa Barbara, CA.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Towards a Better Understanding of Moral Foundations and the Need for Peace Literacy

I know it's been a while since my last post. Since moving to Campbellsville, Kentucky, I am sad to say, I have not been on my bicycle much. Instead, I've been driving my dad's Cadillac to and from Lowe's where as I have been working for about a year-and-a-half. Now I can add more recent "retail sales experience" to my already lengthy resume. I don't really mind that. While I was in Santa Barbara, CA I noticed there were quite a few jobs in retail for which I was slightly under-qualified. That won't be the case in the future no matter where I eventually choose to settle down!

Even though I am off my bicycle, my efforts to "wage peace" or to support others in their efforts have continued. Most recently, I had the honor and privilege to do the final proof reading of Paul K. Chappell's forthcoming book, Soldiers of Peace: How to Wield the Weapon of Nonviolence with Maximum Force. Once again I found myself inspired by his insights and new conceptual frameworks for understanding how to continue to move forward towards a better world.

I reference some of those ideas in what follows along with another important book by Jonathan Haidt, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion.

In sum, I am more limited in my traveling these days, but taking the time to continue to "study" and to write occasionally. The material below is from a recent post to The Blue Moon Turtle Blog, but I felt it was just as relevant to this blog and my ongoing efforts to "wage peace", so I decided to post it here as well. As always, feel free to comment below!

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So here we are, several months into the Trump Presidency. Oh, and in case you didn't realize it, my last post was about him! That's right, I've been aware of emotional/psychological "arrested development" in adults for almost 25 years now! Most of it is caused by childhood trauma; i.e. bad parenting...but then, that has a multiplying effect generation after generation, so it is no wonder so many people are struggling with ordinary "adult" life, even in this highly technologically advanced society. As Paul K. Chappell points out in his forthcoming book, Soldiers of Peace: How to Wield the Weapon of Nonviolence with Maximum Force -  in spite of all of our advancements in technology, we are "preliterate in peace". In other words we aren't all that good at simply knowing how to get along with one another!

I recently encountered someone with whom I shared a great deal in common...except for "beliefs about God (and Jesus)." I walked away from that encounter convinced that he was more interested in how I believed than how I loved, just as I was more interested in how he loved than how he believed. In spite of everything else that we could have shared, mismatching on this point caused him to decide to end the relationship before it really even got started. It saddened me and left me feeling a bit "mad", as in "crazed" by this crazy maddening world that left us unable to relate with one another more functionally. He said he believed that "everything happens for a reason". If he had met me 15 years ago, I would have agreed with him. Now, I think things happen, and we try to glean some greater meaning from those experiences, especially when they are particularly "Dynamic" or traumatic. This encounter was both for me, and I'm trying now to channel my response into more productive writing, as I will admit, I've gotten a bit complacent living here in the heart of the "Heartland" in Campbellsville, KY!

Nevertheless, I have continued to "study" and one of my recent "text books" was Jonathan Haidt's The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Religion and Politics. Wow! What a tour de force in presenting his research on "moral foundations" in a clear and concise way! I appreciated the content as well as the structure of its presentation. Definitely one of my new favorite books!

As summarized here, Haidt describes five "moral foundations" for which there is strong evidence: Care/Harm, Fairness/Cheating, Loyalty/Betrayal, Authority/Subversion, and Sanctity/Degradation; and one for which the evidence is not quite as strong, but still important to consider, Liberty/Oppression. The moral foundations are things most people can grasp intuitively, or at a "gut" level, what he refers to as "intuitive ethics". However, through culture we learn to give more emphasis to some of the foundations rather than others, or to express them through specific, sometimes very elaborate behaviors and rituals. That's where things start to get messy and conflicts arise: not from conflict over the foundations themselves, but through conflict over their interpretation and behavioral expressions that vary considerably across nations, cultures, religions, and political parties. What Haidt seems to call for in his writing is a deeper recognition of our moral foundations, what we actually share in common, and less emphasis or distraction by all of the different ways humans can embody and express those foundations.

Also, as I have seen for myself, almost every one of our "intractable" social issues arises from an unresolved conflict between moral foundations. For instance, the abortion issue pits "care" for the unborn against the "liberty" of a women to have control over her own body. State sponsored "welfare" is about "care" for those in need, but again, it is in conflict with the "liberty" of taxpayers to control their own resources, or to freely choose to support other charitable organizations rather than have their money taken from them and used through the government bureaucracy. (Keep in mind, this applies to those who are against "corporate welfare" and "bailouts" as well!) There seems to be a general pattern of thinking that goes: "I want my individual liberty (to do whatever I want), and if I make poor choices, I (also) want the government to be there to take care of me (even if I have no respect for the government and its authority)."

The above statement reflects what I have referred to here as an "Individual Biological Moral Code". Haidt also points out that the U.S. represents more of an "individualistic" society, where it is believed that "society is there to serve the individual", while at the other end of the spectrum, China adheres to a more "collectivist" view where the "individual is there to serve society".  As I recently discussed with Paul K. Chappell, I wonder if either of these cultures would be able to continue as they are if it were not for their interactions with one another? Our individualism is great for generating new ideas, new technologies, etc., but not all that great for finding people willing to do the rather monotonous work of reproducing them. The Chinese are not known for innovation, but they do just fine reproducing products designed in the U.S, something I can speak to very directly given my many years experience working in the production-line sewing industry!

Finally, Haidt suggests that we are "90% chimp and 10% bee". In many, many regards our behavior is similar to that of lower primates. We form bonds with certain members of our society and not with others. We form hierarchies. We will care for our own infants as well as infants belonging to other members of our family group (as necessary), but may even kill the infants of non-related members or of rival groups. We can be faithful or unfaithful to our sexual partners.

In addition, however, we also have an enormous capacity to cooperate with a much larger group of otherwise total strangers in order to share a common experience (like a rock concert) or achieve a common goal (like winning an election). That's the "10% bee" part. Furthermore, as Yuval Noah Harari explains in his book, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, it seems one of our greatest talents as humans is to tell stories (like those expressed by all religions concerning the nature of "God" and/or the Universe) as a framework for moral behavior, which can be applied to a much, much, larger group of otherwise unrelated individuals.

Which brings me to one of the points of Haidt's book that really stuck with me: Moral development, learning how to function well and peacefully in a society with other human beings, depends on one's association with a smaller group or "moral community" in which one can be held accountable for one's actions. There has to be some kind of feedback system that allows for "course correction". If you do not grow up in such a community, if you do not feel at least some concern for the good opinion of others, or at least, feel some sense of dependency on others for your overall survival and well-being, then you can behave however you want, without any real moral development taking place, even throughout the course of your entire lifetime!

Furthermore, if you are inclined to think highly of yourself for being one member of the "global community of humankind" without any real connection to a smaller community, one to which you feel more directly accountable, then, again, you can actually live your life as an otherwise immoral person, with no one to stop you, unless your immorality leads you to break laws for which you can be removed from the larger society through incarceration.

This brings me to one final, more recent observation: There are many minority groups in our society whose individual members take great pride in being part of those groups based on their race or gender preference. What is more obvious with race, but maybe less so for some with respect to gender preference, is that both of these characteristics are an expression of a person's biology, over which they have little or no control.  No one consciously chooses to be "Black" or "White," "Asian" or "Hispanic," etc. I have yet to meet a homosexual who claims they are choosing to be homosexual any more than someone else chooses to be heterosexual. And even with religion, at least until fairly recently, a person would be hard-pressed to find others who did not agree with or follow the religion of their birth. Granted, there are opportunities to "choose" to "believe in Christ and accept Him as your Lord and Savior" within various Christian communities, for instance, but if you don't, you may also face shunning or excommunication. At the very least, as long as you continue to be a part of that community, you will also continue to feel the pressure to choose as those in your family/religious community have chosen before you.

So, to a great degree, with regards to race, religion, gender preference, physical disability, etc., no one is actively choosing these identifiable characteristics. However, if there is anything truly unique in the animal kingdom with respect to human beings, it is our capacity for choice with regards to how we behave in our relationships with other human beings, in our relationships with non-humans, and in our relationship with this planet we live on. In his book, Peaceful Revolution: How We Can Create the Future Needed for Humanity's Survival, Paul K. Chappell describes several "muscles" that all human beings can learn to strengthen including the "muscles" of hope, empathy, appreciation, conscience, reason, discipline, and curiosity. These are aspects of our shared humanity that (apart from some forms of mental handicap) we can choose to exercise, no matter what the superficial dictates of our biological, religious, or cultural heritage.

Therefore, rather than focusing so much on the things we can't control, like what race or culture we were born into, or how our brains were wired during development to affect our gender preference/identification, or how intelligent we are, it seems we would be far better off focusing on those human qualities or capacities that we can control, and measuring ourselves, and holding each other accountable, according to how we exercise or demonstrate those capacities. In addition, rather than merely identifying as another member of "the whole of humanity", or even some other broadly recognized majority, minority, secular, religious, or political group, we need to come to embrace and appreciate the importance and power of smaller groups and communities to shape individual and collective moral behavior, to allow ourselves to be held accountable, ideally, for our capacity to exercise our truly human "muscles" of hope, empathy, appreciation, conscience, reason, discipline, and curiosity!

Finally, to begin to bridge the seeming gaps between secular and religious beliefs as well as political ideologies, we need to give more direct consideration to the underlying moral foundations of Care/Harm, Fairness/Cheating, Loyalty/Betrayal, Authority/Subversion, Sanctity/Degradation, and Liberty/Oppression rather than seeing only the surface expressions that vary so widely from culture to culture, religion to religion, and between political parties. 

We must realize we all hold individual responsibility to be Moral Actors and to mature as Moral Actors through the course of our lives and to be held accountable by the smaller communities we either grow-up in or consciously choose. No matter how technologically advanced we become, our long-term success as a species and our individual and collective well-being in the here and now depend on our learning to live together more peacefully.

In Soldiers of Peace..., Paul K. Chappell explains that the majority of human beings were once illiterate with respect to reading and writing. At a certain point in human society we realized that learning to read and write was critical for our survival. Now we have reached another critical point in human society where we are mostly "illiterate in peace", and our survival depends on our becoming "peace literate". I look forward to continuing to take part in and contribute to that ongoing education effort!

Sincerely and Respectfully Yours, In Peace...

Thursday, October 13, 2016

“You Get What You Play For!” - 2016

Although I have tried hard not to get sucked into the ongoing dramas of Election 2016, I have enough friends who are posting about it on Facebook and Twitter, and the topic has come up in the break room at work as well, so that my efforts to resist have been futile. This morning I awoke with my brain generating ideas that I felt needed to be shared, so here I am, sharing them, in spite of my resistance. 

Back in 2014 I wrote a post here entitled, “You Get What You Play For!” In it I made a distinction between what I called a “Social Moral Code” and an “Individual Biological Moral Code”.  As an example, one could say that “The Ten Commandments” are a type of social moral code in that they establish certain rules regarding how people should interact with one another (and with “God”).

By contrast, an “Individual Biological Moral Code” only applies to individuals. I proposed that the "rules" of such a “code” might be, “If it feels good do it!” and “Survival of the fittest!”

If you take, for instance, “Thou shalt not commit adultery” from “The Ten Commandments,” it’s pretty easy to understand how this applies in a “society” or “community” of people:  For very primal reasons, as well as for legal ones (regarding the transfer of property to one’s legitimate/blood-related offspring), both husbands and wives might take issue at having a third person’s DNA brought into that mix!  Resulting interpersonal conflicts could in turn be disruptive to the stability of the affected families and to the larger community. In fact, seven of the ten commandments address issues of interpersonal and community relationships. That’s what makes “The Ten Commandments” a type of “Social Moral Code”. Contrast that with, “If it feels good do it!” and the distinctions are clear. Whether married or not, if it “feels good” for me to have sex with another person, so be it! 

Furthermore, if it “feels good” for me to drink until I’m so intoxicated that I can’t see straight, but I want to drive anyway, so be it! If it “feels good” for me to speculate recklessly on the stock market with other people’s money, so be it! If it “feels good” for me to eat my way into disease and disability and expect “the government” to pick up the tab, so be it! If it “feels good” for me to have unprotected sex all the time, with one partner or many, and bear children that I cannot otherwise afford to raise, and expect "the government" to pick up the tab, then so be it! If it “feels good” for me as a man to act in a sexually aggressive way towards women, because it satisfies a deeper biological drive to increase this species’ chances of reproduction, then so be it! The list goes on and on and on, and ALL of these things can be justified as “moral” under an Individual Biological Moral Code, founded on the principle, “If it feels good, do it!”

As I have suggested above, the second principle of this Individual Biological Moral Code is “Survival of the Fittest”. In this culture, “fitness” is usually recognized as celebrity and/or material wealth. Once again, those who achieve greatly in either or both of these categories, no matter how they actually got there, can justify their positions because they are simply “playing by the rules”. There are no greater measures of “fitness” required – like personal integrity, honesty and fairness in one’s business dealings, voluntary care for the health and welfare of one’s employees, let alone members of the larger whole of society. Consequently, just like in the natural world, this adherence to an Individual Biological Moral Code leads to a highly skewed distribution curve with a few “apex predators” at the top and the vast majority of “feeder species” comprising the bottom of the curve. It should come as no surprise then, that that is exactly what the "wealth distribution curve" looks like for our society!

Nevertheless, if you are thinking it is time for a “revolution” – think twice! If all the “revolutionaries” want to do is Trade Places with the current “apex predators”, without a fundamental change in The Moral Code Itself, then that Distribution Curve Will Not Change! Sure, it might change for a generation, but if we persist with the same Individual Biological Moral Code guiding us, we will eventually be right back where we started!

So it is not the players that have to change, it’s the real, underlying moral code that we've agreed to that has to change. Furthermore, it is my contention that in order to create such a new and better code, we first have to come to an agreement that a) Human Beings are SOCIAL not Solitary creatures, and b) Our ability to function cooperatively with larger and larger groups of individuals has been a hallmark of our evolutionary development. Therefore, an Individual Biological Moral Code WILL NEVER WORK for the Social species that we are! Consequently, we have to develop and agree to a different code, a Social Moral Code.


In his book, Peaceful Revolution: How We Can Create the Future Needed for Humanity’s Survival former Iraq war veteran turned peace activist, Paul K. Chappell, discusses seven “muscles” he feels we need to learn to “exercise” and strengthen in order to create a better future for all of humankind. These “muscles” are as follows: (realistic) hope, empathy/respect, appreciation, conscience, reason, discipline, and curiosity. The development of these muscles helps us develop our full potential as mature human beings, human beings who are capable of interacting more functionally and peacefully with one another.

Along with our own "Bill of Rights" and  the Universal Declaration of Human Rights established by the United Nations General Assembly in Paris on December 10, 1948, these could form the basis of a new Social Moral Code.

Another principle to consider is that expressed in the title and elaborated in the book, Extreme Ownership… by Navy SEAL Officers Jocko Willink and Leif Babin. “Extreme Ownership” is not one of those things that “feels good.” It demands both vulnerability and courage to acknowledge and accept full responsibility for one’s decisions and actions and their consequences. It is especially important for those in positions of leadership, but it has implications for every person’s life on a day to day basis as well.

It has been my observation that there are many in the world today who, for various reasons, are waiting on “God”, “Jesus”, “The Government”, “Extra Terrestrials”, etc., etc. to either swoop in and solve all of our problems or bring an apocalypse. In other words, they are not accepting “Extreme Ownership” for any of these problems themselves. I’m afraid that is the “double-edged sword” of “faith” – for some it makes them feel more responsibility and accountability, for others, it relieves them of responsibility and accountability. Like the underlying “Individual Biological Moral Code” that I believe is currently guiding us, this dual aspect of “faith,” when it comes to responsibility and accountability, is another foundation of our culture that needs to be reconsidered with respect to how it might aid or compromise establishing a more beneficial “Social Moral Code”.

To summarize: We might change the players, but the outcome, the “skewed curve” of wealth distribution in this society and others, and all of the “inequalities” that it perpetuates, will not change until we actually change The RULES of the Game we are playing! In my mind that means we have to change from an Individual Biological Moral Code to a new and better Social Moral Code.

In either case, it bears repeating, “You Get What You Play For!”

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

To Be or Not to Be a Tracker...? Is that the question?

In my bedroom I have a small book shelf. On three shelves it holds the books that have had the greatest impact on my life so far in chronological order of when I read them. The first book on the first shelf is my Bible, the second is a hard-back copy of Kahlil Gibran’s, The Prophet, and the third book is The Tracker: The True Story of Tom Brown, told to William Jon Watkins.

I decided to start re-reading these books, or at least, The Prophet, and The Tracker... as a way of helping me fall asleep at night. However, when I started reading The Tracker... I recalled not only how it impacted me originally, but how I have been further inspired by actually taking tracking and survival skills classes from Tom Brown, Jr. as part of my cross-country cycling preparations back in May of 2011. When I had the resources to do so, it was the first thing on my list that I Really Wanted to Do followed by riding my bicycle cross-country.

Given my history with my mother, given that most of my early life was consumed by Her story of “Us”, it has taken the rest of my life to try to figure out what My Story really is, what my deepest motivations truly are and how I can focus my attention on pursuing those motivations successfully.
I will admit to feeling some envy for talented children whose parents have no problem supporting their child’s natural motivations. Whenever I watch shows like “America’s Got Talent” or “So You Think You Can Dance: The Next Generation” I am awed by the level of ability some children are able to demonstrate in part because they were simply given the support they needed to embrace and express those talents early in their lives.
That just wasn’t the case for me. The first 20 years of my life were all about what my mother expected of me and what she needed me to be for her own ego-gratification/sense of self-worth. It was only after she was formally diagnosed and committed to a mental hospital that I was set free to figure out what My Life Purpose was supposed to be For Me, how best to learn and to give My gifts to the world.
I’ve literally been “all over the place” with that quest. Starting from Tennessee, I was on the road with the carnival for several months, lived in Montana, England, on the island of Kauai, and in Colorado where I joined the Navy. From there I went to Great Lakes, Illinois for boot camp, was stationed on an aircraft carrier for three years, home ported in Norfolk, Virginia and made two "med cruises" to places like Greece, Italy, and the Arab Emirates. Shore duty brought me to Maryland where I lived for a few more years before attending Tracker School in New Jersey and riding my bicycle cross-country.

As documented in this blog, that adventure took me first (by car) to Williamsburg, Virginia where Hurricane Irene gave me an opportunity to practice shelter building.  From there I continued by car to Jacksonville, Florida. I actually started by cross-country cycling from Jacksonville Beach and continued through Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana, and into Texas. Texas was also the venue for all of “Stage II”. In between I lived briefly in Santa Barbara, California and Millville, Pennsylvania, and after “Stage III”, Columbus, Georgia and now back “home” with my dad in Campbellsville, Kentucky.
Although I was trained as an Electronics Technician while in the Navy, I finished my Bachelor of Science in Social Science in 2010, a program I'd started 18 years earlier as a student at Tennessee Tech. However, I was so "beat up" being on my own, working full-time, going to school, and having to deal with a long string of dysfunctional living arrangements, including a brief marriage and divorce, that I did not have the motivation to pursue my formal education beyond that. Looking back, once again, Mom was the one who thought I’d be the next Margaret Mead or something, not me!
Mom also thought we’d be writing books together. Over the course of the last several years, besides writing this blog, I have made numerous attempts to write a book – philosophical, practical, autobiographical, etc. Most recently, I thought I would write a book focused on parenting as leadership incorporating the principles I learned from reading a book entitled, Extreme Navy SEALs Jocko Willink and Leif Babin. I don’t know so much about Leif, but I know Jocko is one of those people who knew what he wanted to do with his life as a child and got to do just that. This is something he refers to pretty often in his podcasts.
Rather than being encouraged by Jocko’s story, I found myself once again feeling frustrated by my own circumstances and wondering if I would ever be as motivated about anything as someone like Jocko. Although I may still give it some attention as a “back-up plan”, I have once again run into a lack of motivation and focus where my research for the parenting book is concerned. (I have learned a lot more about our brains though as illustrated here...)

However...I have been pretty focused of fishing lately! And feeding the birds and the squirrels and keeping the water baths clean and full. As I sit here typing, I’m looking out the basement windows as the yellow and black Swallow Tail Butterflies hover feeding on our deep purple and lavender butterfly bushes. The ground looks a little weedy, but that’s because I’ve left the Lamb's Quarters to grow so I could add it to my green smoothies. There’s also one sunflower that came up under the feeder on its own. Who knows what ate the top out as soon as it was blooming, but I’m hoping the secondary buds might make it to maturity.

There’s also the worm composter on the back porch. That’s been doing really well since I moved it from Georgia. It is an expression of my deeper motivation as a "constant composter" - never wanting to let anything go to waste, to allow things to progress through the "Life-Death-Life" cycle wherever possible. I was fishing with some of my home-grown red wigglers at a co-worker’s pond and managed to catch enough Bluegill for supper. Although I empathize with their suffering as I am cleaning the fish, I try to make quick work of it, and there’s a strong part of me that wants to know how to do this – to eat what I catch. I joked with my dad a little about it being pretty satisfying even though it is quite a bit of work first to catch the fish, then to clean it, then to cook it, and even to eat it while avoiding all the bones! 

Of all the times that I was “trapped” inside the house with mom, some of my strongest memories are of the rare times when I was able to get out. One of the apartments where we lived in Radcliff, Kentucky sat on the edge of the woods. I spent many hours playing there, mostly alone. I remember the year there was a “plague” of little brown frogs that scattered ahead as I walked through the grass.  I remember when I sat amongst the trees in the middle of winter, and watched the birds come to the feeder not five feet from me, including a covey of quails, all marching in line, one behind the other.  I also remember a big blackberry patch in the middle of a field of red Kentucky clay. I picked a lot of blackberries that summer, and I think of it every time I pick blackberries now like I did on the property of the co-worker with the pond.  I also remember a sink hole where I played in Brandenburg, Kentucky. That’s where I started catching snakes and lizards, much to the awe and chagrin of all of the boys in the neighborhood. (I "played" with another snake here at the house in Campbellsville, early this spring.)

I guess what I’m realizing is that I’ve always had this affinity for nature. Maybe it had something to do with growing up watching Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom, or maybe it was the rare times I remember going camping with the whole family and fishing with my dad. Maybe it was because my dad brought turtles home to me from his truck trips rather than store-bought souvenirs.

Nevertheless, it was never something my mother ever encouraged me to pursue for a Living. Again, she had much grander plans for “us”. And so, instead of taking Environmental Studies or something that might have led to my becoming say a park ranger, I was taking courses “working towards a degree in anthropology”. Granted, a lot of those were “natural science” classes, but they were never meant to be the FOCUS of my education or my far as my mother was concerned.
Now I find myself “over the hill” – but feeling I still have another Big Hill yet to climb, The Hill that is truly aligned with my deepest core, my values, my skills, my INTRINSIC motivations.
The other day I watched a brief TEDx video, How to Know Your Life Purpose in 5 Minutes.  The speaker, Adam Leipzig, posed a series of questions: Who are you? What do you do? What are you qualified to teach others? Who do you do it for? What do they want or need? How do they change or transform as a result of what you give them?
I had a hard time answering those questions at first. However, if I were to become skilled enough myself to teach tracking and survival skills to others, I could answer those questions easily: What I learned from the experience of, for instance, learning to make fire from “scratch”, is that it is Very Empowering and Liberating. Although I may not be super-skilled yet, I learned enough during two weeks of classes at Tracker School to feel I could survive in the woods for an indefinite period of time if I had to. Consequently, no matter how bad things might get in the world, I know that I have the option to “run away” from it all. And because I have that confidence in my ability to run away, I am also free to choose to continue to be involved with this world as much as I want to.
As I was explaining to my dad over supper, I think part of the “madness” and violence in the world today is due to the fact that people feel trapped. They feel trapped in their jobs, their relationships, in their neighborhoods, in “society”. Some try to resolve these feelings of being trapped by “fighting their way out”. Unfortunately, this can lead to even worse incarceration. Others will “die trying” or intentionally take their own lives and who knows how many others' with them.
In the wild, if two bears confront each other over territory, they will posture and roar, but it seldom comes to violent conflict. That’s because either bear has the option to Run Away. I think part of the problem with modern humans is we have, for the most part, lost the option to literally Run Away. Instead we virtually run away by using drugs and alcohol,  playing video games, or watching endless hours of "entertainment media". Few of us could survive for long outside the bounds of our homes, towns, and cities, let alone in any truly Wild part of this country. And so, for most people, the only option is to fight, or die - quickly or slowly.

How different might things be if more people could literally run away for a while, or at least know that they could? If they could go off into the woods and become more connected with the abundance of life and the natural world? Or connect with one of the most primal abilities of humans across millennia: to build a fire from nothing but the natural materials around them?
I know this may seem a bit morbid, but I have felt truly empowered by two distinct experiences in my life: the first was having the knowledge that I could kill myself if I wanted to, and the second was being able to build a fire from scratch, something I got to do during the first week of classes at Tom Brown, Jr’s Tracker School! (And although a photo of that first fire was taken by a fellow student, I was never able to get it from them. :/ )
Now, I don’t mind dealing with the challenges of day to day living that we all face. But I’m not carrying fears of the credit card companies, or the IRS, or some other government entity messing with my life, or forcing me to do something I really don’t want to do…because I know I can Run Away whenever I want or need to. (After more classes at Tom’s Tracker School I’ll just be that much More prepared to Run Away if I want or need to.) And I’ve known this for over five years now, and I’ve found it’s Good to Know! It allows me to be calmer deep down inside, where others might feel fearful and anxious.
So, should I choose to pursue tracking and survival training more intensively, to the point where I could become a teacher for others, then this is how they might be “transformed” by what I will have to give them: they will be liberated from their fears of entrapment. They will become free to run away whenever they choose, which means, they will also be free to stay, and to do whatever they can to figure out their own life purpose, the gifts they have to give to others, and the ways in which they can help transform the world into a better place for humans and non-humans to live.
I’ve had many motivations that have led me away from this. Motivations that I really had to see were not intrinsic but rather extrinsic and mostly stemming from my relationship with my mother. As I have learned from one of Gregory Careman’s neuroscience courses, "extrinsic motivations drain you of energy, intrinsic motivations give you energy". If wanting to become an expert in tracking and primitive survival skills is my deepest intrinsic motivation finally coming to the surface, then the energy will be there to carry me through in a way no other motivations have thus far.
From the beginning, this blog has been about my I've felt more and less sure of where that journey-ing would take me all along the way. Nevertheless, I continue to persevere and to try different paths as others have grown cold. I Have Learned A Lot along the way and I hope there has been some value here for those who have continued to follow me. No matter where my motivations have led at any given time in the outer world, what I have been most motivated to do is to live more and more deeply from my heart. That is where the inward journey has been taking me, deeper and deeper into my own heart. That is the "home work" that I feel is every individual's responsibility, something for which they must ultimately take "Extreme Ownership"!
So here's to that continuing journey...the skills we learn and the wisdom we gain along the way...and the tracks we leave behind for ourselves and others to follow!

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Long Overdue Update from Campbellsville, KY

In late November 2015, I relocated from my friend's house in Columbus, GA to live with my dad for a while at The Lake House on Green River Lake in Campbellsville, KY. My father and step-mother built the house there about 16 years ago. I'd visited a few times, but only for the occasional holiday. Truth is, I haven't actually lived with my dad much since my mother divorced him when I was seven. He's been on his own at the house since my step-mother passed away in October 2014, so living there with him is a mutually helpful arrangement for now. Besides, after I got clearer a while back on "Demands and Expectations" vs. "Means and Resources", I realized it would probably be a good idea to go back to "square one", building a better "resource base" for my life including family and finances.

I've had access to a vehicle here so I've been able to drive the 10 miles into town to work. I started as a part-time seasonal employee at Jo-Ann Fabric and Crafts through Christmas and then was asked to stay as a permanent part-time employee after that. However, it's a pretty low paying job with only 15 or so hours/week so I decided to look into a job at the nearby Lowe's as well especially since they were hiring seasonal employees at the time. I was actually able to get a part-time permanent position as a member of the "Weekend Team", which made splitting hours with Jo-Ann's more manageable. Lowe's also provides a decent health-care package to their permanent employees. Working for both of these retail stores has given me enough variety to be interesting - it's kind of a cross between Easter egg hunting (finding the merchandise people ask for) and creative problem solving. Finding a place for everything and putting everything in its place also appeals to my attention to detail and organizational skills. Furthermore, my life experience thus far has made it possible for me to connect with all types of people very easily, which makes it pretty satisfying work overall.

So now I'm on a pretty consistent schedule working Friday through Sunday at Lowe's and Monday through Wednesday at Jo-Ann's. Thursdays are for grocery shopping with Dad (since it's Senior Discount Day at Kroger's), and catching up on any other domestic responsibilities at the house. Today, I'm also taking time at the Public Library to use the computer, to write this post, because we don't have internet at the house and on top of that, my iPad crashed again during the last update. (That happened when I was in Stafford, Arizona as well, but I had access to my host's computer to fix the problem then. I can't register/use iTunes on the Library computers. :( ) So, the iPad is pretty much down for the foreseeable future. In addition, as I have been planning to save-up for a new laptop, I'm probably going to have to attend to some pressing dental issues first. Nevertheless, I felt it was time I got something posted here for anyone who might be dropping by to see what I've been up to in the last several months!

 Besides work, I've been really enjoying watching the seasons change here in Kentucky. It's probably one of the most distinctive experiences I remember from growing up in this region of the country.

One of the features of our house is that it actually has a view all the way down to the lake. It sits next to the gas line which has to remain clear of trees so aerial surveys can be conducted to check for leaks. It makes for a nice view which I have tried to capture as Winter has turned into Spring.

Of course, having the lake so near means fishing is an option. I bought my fishing license as a birthday present since the season started March 1st.

I realized I could actually walk down the hillside in back of the house if I took a long, zig-zag path to accommodate the steepness (and avoid a path that could possibly lead to erosion).

The grass has grown higher since early spring, and I've been working more, so not quite as much time to fish, or beat a trail down to the lake.

Instead, I've spent a few mornings fishing with one of our neighbors who's been teaching me more about the sport. Just this morning I caught a small walleye, sauger (?), and blue gill, while he caught a sucker and a catfish, all at the settling pool area below the dam, and all with the same live night crawler rig. I've also caught large mouth bass and white bass so far, as well as a "mess" of blue gill at this point behind the visitors center. Those I actually cleaned and fried for one meal I shared with Dad. Probably one of the more exciting experiences so far was when I had some fish come up and actually swallow my bobber! Of course, it spit it back out before I could figure out what it was, but, to swallow a 1.5" bobber, it had to be pretty big!

In addition to working, cooking for dad and myself, keeping the house clean, etc., I've also kept up with my regular reading. I've mentioned Introvert Power... by Laurie Helgoe in a previous post, but I feel it's worth mentioning here again. I've also read The Female Brain... and The Male Brain... by Louann Brizendine. I appreciated the explanations she provides of how hormonal changes throughout the life span influence male and female brains, especially with regards to "focused" and "diffuse" awareness. Having tried to share these explanations with others, I realized (not surprisingly) why she was so thorough in her research. (About a third of the pages of each book are just for the hundreds of references in her bibliographies.) It still seems a bit "taboo" in our "everybody is equal" society to talk about any differences between men and women. Nevertheless, I wish more people would take her books into consideration and accept the research for what it is, as it would probably help us understand one another better, appreciate our strengths and weaknesses, and move forward towards Equal Value instead! (Will probably save more on that for another post on "The Blue Moon Turtle Blog"!)

In addition to Louann Brizendine's books, I have read Sam Harris's End of Faith, Free Will, and Letter to a Christian Nation, as well as listening to several of his "Waking Up" podcasts. It was one of his podcasts on "The Logic of Violence" that led to my reading Extreme Ownership... by retired Navy SEAL Officers, Jocko Willink and Lief Babin. It was, shall I say, a tour de force drawing leadership principles from their operations in Ramadi during the height of the Iraq war. They followed their own leadership principle of "Keeping it Simple", by writing a very well organized, and straightforward book applying these leadership principles to business.

Nevertheless, as I read through it, I started having flashes of how the book could, and maybe should be written for parents as well. That's the project I've started working on, and I've been able to be in contact with both Leif and Jocko via Twitter to "discuss" the idea (as much as one can do so in 140 character increments(!)). For now, it is up to me to put together "The Plan" (as any good leader would!) and follow-up with them once I have a first draft. So far, we've considered "Life as a Battlefield" (not just a "university"), and from there, I want to consider how families might orient themselves as "Teams" in the world, with parents as Leaders, and Family "Mission Statements" to help better orient their decision-making. Of course, the notes are already going up on the wall. With a little more stability in my life right now, we'll see if I can complete this larger writing project...this time around!

Finally, I'm involved with two groups on a regular basis. The first is a chapter of the American Sewing Guild that meets in Larue County (about 30 miles away) once a month. With the help of the leader, Rosa Smith, and other members, I'm finally making progress on my own, properly fitted pants pattern (a guide, technically called a "slopper"). My mission over the next month is to complete my first wearable pair of tailored pants. It's still a little daunting, but I'm more encouraged and motivated because of the group support. (And besides, there's really no way to properly measure or fit yourself, by yourself. Trust me, I've tried!)

The other local group is the Friends of Green River Lake (FGRL). In fact, I'm on my way to a meeting tonight as we are preparing for an event we're hosting next weekend, the "I'm a Dam Runner 5K Run/Walk". (And, yes, the course runs across the Green River Dam!) I feel I'm carrying on something of a tradition, in that my late step-mother participated in the run/walk herself. Of course, not unlike my days as a judge at the bicycle races, I'm helping out in the background rather than running the race myself. Maybe next year I'll manage to do both?

So that's about it for me, for now. Besides, my time on this computer is about to run out and I've got grocery shopping to do before the FGRL meeting tonight.

As for getting back on the's all about working hard over the next two or three years and continuing to build that "resource base", leading to a final tour of the east coast, north, and northwest part of the country before settling permanently in Santa Barbara, CA! Who knows, maybe I'll be promoting my Own Book this next time around?! We'll see... :)

Yours In Peace...

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Taking a Few Moments - Before Things Get Hectic Again

In my last post I discussed the possibility of going to work for the Alda Center for Communicating Science. Well... the job posted this past week and after reading it I realized I was not really as qualified for it as they needed me to be. If I worked at it, I might have been able to stretch my skills and experience to fit, but it would have been just that - a stretch.

During the few days that followed the job posting, as I further considered the possibility of moving to New York, settling into another more "conventional" job, etc., I realized that I'm not ready to give up the "job" I feel I have now, i.e. "Pedaling for Peace". In addition, I've been working progressively over the past four years to reduce my worldly possessions to a minimum, and the thought of having to re-accumulate all over again to set-up a more conventional living situation really doesn't appeal to me.

Consequently, I'm going "back to the drawing board" so to speak, as well as moving to my dad's house in Campbellsville, KY for a while. The plan is to continue with the reduction process I've started here in Columbus, GA and probably build another multi-purpose trailer for my bicycle. I've learned a lot over the past four years and I am looking forward to putting some of that experience to further use. There is much of the U.S. I have not seen yet and many new people I have not met. In spite of the challenges of this "job," there have been some really great rewards as well, and that is what is keeping me motivated to continue, and maybe to continue for as long as I am physically able to do so. I can't say that this was ever what I thought I'd be doing as my "retirement plan," but, so far, it's not so bad!

Looking back I can see that, just so I could handle the physicality of what I'm doing, I had to get an early jump on this particular "retirement strategy," otherwise, there would not have been enough bodily strength to "train into it." I've still got a few issues to deal with - definitely need to get some dental work done, but everything else is continuing to work pretty well!

For instance, over the past several weeks, I've been revisiting my marathon training program from eight years ago, running and walking in intervals of three minutes and two minutes respectively as I have slowly increased my distance from three miles to six miles using the trail around the lake in the local park. Having reached my six mile goal, I will now start progressively increasing the run time and reducing the walk time until it's all (or nearly all) run time. As I learned from my trainers, you need a day to recover for every mile you run, so if I run six miles one day/week then I have six days to recover in between. In addition, this form of relatively slow-paced exercise actually burns fat more effectively than bicycling and I can do it in a more protected area, rather than having to negotiate with traffic so much.

So that's one way that I have continued to "train" while here in Columbus, although, I really had to wait for things to cool down a bit. The heat and humidity of the summer here was pretty intense, more than I have had to deal with anywhere else so far! As my dad's house sits on the banks of Green River Lake, I expect to map out a similar six mile route fairly easily and will continue this routine for the foreseeable future. I'm also doing the three "end of course" exercise routines from my favorite yoga program, Richard Hittleman's Yoga: 28 Day Exercise Plan

Over the next week I will be getting ready for yet another "yard sale," and then focusing the rest of my time on packing to move to Kentucky. My friend and host here in Columbus has been generous in offering to support my transition financially and my dad is welcoming me "home" with open arms. I'm looking foward to reconnecting with my family and even plan to stop in Dalton, GA to visit with my mother, with whom I have not had face to face contact in about 30 years! (If you have seen my TEDx talk, then you know more of the history there.)

In addition, the cousin I spent time with in Santa Ana, CA during "Stage III" is helping me find a home "in the family" for a treadle sewing machine that I have been keeping track of/storing, etc., also for about 30 years. It's the one item that could not be packed or shipped easily under any circumstance, and even now, in the last days of my being responsible for it, it is proving to be a challenge! Nevertheless, I intend to persevere and see to its finding a new home with some of my other relatives in Tennessee.

To the extent that I have already freed-up a lot of energy from letting go of many of my other worldly possessions and living conventions, I feel I am in the "final round" of that process. I am getting to live more freely than most people in the world today, even in this country, and I do not take that for granted. However, I also feel I have a powerful message to share and I know that there are many who are following my journey who also gain, if only vicariously, from all of my experiences.

I want to say, "Thanks, Again!" to all of my friends and associates who have supported my efforts in the past and continue to do so. For my part, I am going to continue to do what I can to persevere on this journey and to keep you updated along the way.

Yours in Peace...

Monday, August 31, 2015

Thoughts on a Boston Globe article "When did parents get so scared?"

Hi, Everyone!

I know it's been a while. Of late I have been trying to figure out what I am going to do with the rest of my life! As I have been living with my friend in Columbus, GA, in exchange for room and board, I have become the "house manager" - taking care of food prep, dish washing, laundry, pet care, etc., while he and his oldest daughter, who is also living with us now, focus their attention on college.

I've also been continuing my own "studies" including Sam Harris' first book, The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason and Patricia Churchland's textbook, Neurophilosophy: Toward a Unified Science of Mind-Brain. In addition, most recently, I have been in contact with Valeri Lantz-Gefroh, Improvisation Coordinator at the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science in Stony Brook, New York. Since I saw Alan Alda give his presentation at the National Institutes of Health when I worked there, I have been thinking the improvisation classes would be of benefit for the NAPF Peace Leadership Workshops as well. In the course of talking with Valeri, she explained that there was a position being added to the program for which I might qualify and I let her know of my interest. I'm not anticipating anything to happen right away, but given my history, I could definitely imagine working for them! In the mean time, I still have my boxes to finish sorting through here in Columbus, and at least one or more yard sales on the horizon.

This article, When Did Parents Get So Scared?, came to me via Gregory Caremans from whom I took the Master Your Brain: Neuroscience for Personal Development course via Udemy not so long ago. It was associated with another of his courses, Neuroscience for Parents: How to Raise Amazing Kids. Since I was even more overprotected than most as a child, given my mother's mental illness, I have very personal experience to relate to this article. However, what I'd like to add is what I have learned more recently about everyone's tendencies toward negative bias.

Rick Hanson writes about negative bias in his book, Buddha's Brain: Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom. I came to understand his ideas through the Brain Smart webinar lecture series presented by the National Institute for the Clinical Application of Behavioral Medicine. He explained that the brain has a specific area in which it registers negative experiences, especially those that may be life threatening. Where our lives were once more directly threatened by predators, etc. in the wild, many of us today feel just as threatened when our beliefs and points of view are challenged. In other words, it is our "identities" that are at stake, not just our physical lives. Thus, negative experiences can take many different forms other than just threats to our physical well-being.

Furthermore, as I also learned from Paul K. Chappell, the most common human phobia is being attacked by another human being and the media focuses its attention on such negative stories because it knows we will, too. The above article makes the point that now that we can access media coverage from all over the world, we can be impacted indirectly by negative experiences far more often than we would ever actually be impacted directly. Unfortunately, this just exaggerates our negative bias that much more and, according to this article, there seems to be a growing generational effect.

From my own study of childhood development, especially from reading The Drama of the Gifted Child by Alice Miller, Stages of Faith by James Fowler, and The Biology of Belief by Bruce Lipton, I came to an understanding of how young children especially tend to internalize the directives they receive from adults as if all of them were a matter of life or death. As Lipton points out, these messages get programmed into the deep subconscious through the various "hypnogogic" states that infants and young children are in up until the age of six or so. Again, in a more primitive environment, knowing what tracks to follow and what tracks to avoid, what plants were edible and what plants were poisonous, really were matters of life or death. Nevertheless, that is not the case in modern society when it comes to having the latest technology or wearing a particular brand of tennis shoes! I dare say there are children out there who do harbor deep rooted fears that their very lives actually depend on such things! (I've written more about this here.)

It is part of the challenge of our now much more complex society to find ways of mediating the effects of this constant bombardment of information - being able to recognize what is actually relevant to life or death or happiness, for that matter, and what is not. Although society has grown so much more complex, our brains, especially the lower limbic parts, are struggling to keep up. As Rick Hanson points out though, there are ways to combat the problem: We have to learn to very, very consciously and deliberately pay more attention to positive experiences! In addition, from Brené Brown's point of view, when we are inclined to "forebode joy" in any given moment, our best defense is to consciously choose to Be Grateful for each moment of joy that we do get to experience.

As Sam Harris writes in The End of Faith..., and I would offer, this applies to each of us as individuals as well as to our children:

You [or your child] could die at any moment. You might not even live to see the end of this paragraph. Not only that, you will definitely die at some moment in the future. If being prepared for death entails knowing when and where it will happen, the odds are you will not be prepared.... And as if this were not insult enough, most of us suffer the quiet discomposure, if not frank unhappiness, of our neuroses in the meantime. We love our family and friends, are terrified of losing them, and yet are not the least free merely to love them while our short lives coincide. (Page 37)

I would offer, as well, love is not the opposite of fear. Faith is the opposite of fear - that is the kind of faith that Sam Harris talks about, not faith in a system of unjustified beliefs, but rather faith in the Greater Processes of Life in this World that we are coming to understand. This kind of faith is what can help us transcend our fear and keep our hearts open to loving and appreciating every moment that we have with one another, every moment that we have with our children, and every moment we get to experience joy!

Each of us will eventually die. Some of our closest friends and relatives will die before us. Some will die after us. This is one thing that is certain for our physical bodies, in this lifetime. (What one chooses to believe beyond that is up to them.) However, I, for one, have come to believe This Is It! This is the one life each of us has to live and for parents, it is the one life they will shape for each of their children, for better or worse. Will those children live their lives cowering in fear or will we teach them, as Brené Brown suggests, to "Dare Greatly"?

Having lived both sides of that dichotomy, I would definitely recommend the latter!

To end I will quote from the movie "Strictly Ballroom":

A life lived in fear is only half lived!

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Winter in El Paso, TX - 2014 to 2015

As I have been traveling across the country, it has generally been my habit to post a blog AFTER I leave one place and get to another. Part of the reason it's taken so long for this update is because, once I got to my second host's house in El Paso, TX - shortly after Thanksgiving, I stayed...for what has turned out to be - four months! Now that I have actually moved on (and I'll get to those details later in this post) I have a better overall perspective from which to account for my time in El Paso.

So here I am crossing the border into Texas just before Thanksgiving. As you may recall from a previous post, I had met a woman in Deming, NM who gave me contact information for her nephew, John, encouraging me to look him up when I got in the area. She told me he was "into cycling" and would probably be open to helping me as much as he could.

Of course, she turned out to be absolutely right about that! Although John was working when I got to his house, I was able to let myself in with the spare key he had hidden for me. I had a small room to myself, and plenty of space in his garage to park my bike and unload my gear. I thought it somewhat serendipitous that there was a "blue turtle" sitting on the desk in my room ("waiting" for me?) on this my 108th day on the road.

(For those of you more into "metaphysics," you know 108 is a significant number! :) )

In the next couple of days, John, graciously chauffered me around town, helping me (financially) with some sturdier tubes for my tires, and a blue enamel campware plate that I had been looking for to cover my bowl when I needed to boil water in it. He also took me to one of his favorite country western dance clubs, "Little Bit of Texas", where I got to do a little bit of "Two-Steppin'" with him and another friend of his. Although I'm not an experienced two-stepper like John, I still had a good time, and it was a nice change of pace and scenery after being on the road for so long!

So everything seemed to be going just fine for this visit...and then...rather suddenly...I got really sick. Whether it was from being overexposed the previous week or so camping outside (not getting much sleep with the kitten that found me at the rest stop), or because John and his (then) 11-year-old son Michael had also been quite sick just before I got there, or maybe it was from all of the pollution coming across the border from Jaurez, Mexico, or maybe a combination of all of those things - I came down with a really nasty upper respiratory infection - one of the worst I've had in a long, long time. Consequently, I was not in a good position to head back out again in just a couple of days. Instead, I was laid up, often in bed even, for the first week, and still struggling to recover through the second week as well.

Given this timing meant any more plans for crossing West Texas had to be scheduled (potentially) around the Christmas and New Year's holidays. Furthermore, I was looking at many long stretches through some of the most barren and uninhabited regions on this route, while the nighttime temps, especially, were getting colder and colder. Admittedly, John was at least as concerned as I was about my prospects, and so he did not put any pressure on me to be on my way.

In addition, there was the issue of money...which I had basically run out of by that point. Given that John was owner of an electrical contracting company, and he had some paperwork I felt I could help with, he took me up on my offer to organize his expense receipts from 2012 in anticipation of an IRS audit. Granted, this was not something I'd ever done before, on this scale, but I'd managed to work through other novel administrative situations and I figured I could do the same here. Furthermore, since I knew I was not going to be around to be asked questions about my work, I decided to create a spreadsheet where I would document everything - i.e. details of all of the expenses AND reference information for where the expense item came from - sales receipts, bank and credit statements, or a combination of these. The spreadsheet format also allowed for automatic totalling of all the different categories of expenses and it made it pretty easy to add to and make corrections for any items that needed to be moved between categories.

Of course, having no experience doing this, I had no idea how long the whole process would take. I certainly fantasized about it going smoothly, and fairly quickly, but that's how ignorance and bliss can walk hand in hand!...While John traveled to Dallas to visit with his mother and other family members during the Christmas Holidays, I was thinking I'd have most, if not all, of this work done, to his pleasant surprise, by the time he returned home.

With that in mind, Christmas morning, I turned on Pandora, selected a "Christmas Holiday" music channel and started listening, thinking that would be good background music while I was processing all of those receipts. Unfortunately, the Christmas music also kind of "put me in the spirit" and a new and much more compelling idea entered my head: I could take the Christmas wrapping paper John had pulled from the attic and left behind and decorate the house with it!!! Yeah! Afterall, there would be plenty of time to get to all those receipts later!!!! :)

And so, I was my not so unusual (maybe even a little ADD) sort of way! First on my list were "boughs of holly" and "evergreens" to form frameworks around the windows and fireplace mantle in the living room. Those were followed by 15 bright red paper bows, and about 35 paper cranes. I even included a bit of "mistletoe" hung in a welcoming position in the front hall, and topped it all off with a fancy, fan folded, wreath on the front door!

Granted, I think John was (somewhat pleasantly) surprised by the Christmas decorations, but later he let on that he was also a bit disappointed that I wasn't further along on the receipts when he got back. I'm afraid he had his own expectations around all of that, not unlike mine.

Nevertheless, over the next several weeks, I persevered - working a few hours a day on the days that John was not using the office and computer himself. It all turned out to be a lot more tedious and often more confusing than I initially expected it to be. In addition, John confessed to me that he'd been struggling with his company for some time, following his divorce and the economic downturn in 2008. I could see evidence of that struggle from my "research material". At the end of the day, my heart kind of went out to him, and so I wanted to give him my best effort to help in whatever way I could.

Consequently, in addition to this "administrative" work for his company, I also started helping more with Michael, following up on school-work, etc., as well as assisting more around the house with cooking and cleaning, especially when it came to cleaning before and after other cyclists who came to visit. There were 17 altogether before my own departure!

For instance, the first couple John and I "co-hosted" were from Switzerland - Mischa and Tina (seen with me here while we were site seeing around Transmountain).

They stayed with us for a couple of nights and then headed east, only to turn around and come back, because the weather got really nasty.

 To continue on their journey, they opted for a rental car instead, but not before celebrating New Year's with us and treating us to some really awesome homemade bread and chocolate brownie cake!

After Mischa and Tina we hosted the following other cyclists:

Ezra and Chris


Arika and Bill

Emily, Maddy, Lisa, and Sam





and Glenn and Maya

It was during Lisa, Emily, Sam and Maddy's visit, that Lisa ended up buying one of my newly made, custom designed, tapered headbands. She had just gotten her hair cut shorter than she was used to and was really needing a headband to hold her bangs out of her face. I was actually happy to be able to sell one of mine to her and that single purchase gave me the confidence to believe that other people might be interested in my creations as well. And so I started thinking much more seriously about how I could turn this into a business of some kind. By the time Maya arrived with Glenn, I had mulitple options for her to choose from, and she also decided to make a purchase.

With my background in production line sewing, research and development, I knew I would do well to figure out some way of using the "scrap" fabric left over from making the headband. Consequently, I did a little research on making cloth flowers and developed my own "flower bauble accents" for both the headband itself and to attach (and interchange) on flip-flop sandals - something I'd already been doing since before I left Santa Barbara.

Sewing the long 42-44" seams of the headband, by hand, took some time. And there is actually a lot of prep work that goes into the flowers as well, sewing Velcro "hook" tabs to pieces of felt, cutting out all of the circles that make up the flowers, and then soaking them in a gelatin solution to seal and stiffen the fabric before hot-gluing them to the Velcro backs. Just prior to leaving El Paso, I also used John's computer to produce all of my advertising materials that I'd hoped to use in a farmer's market or flea market once I got to my destination in Columbus, GA. I even found a really nice carrying case to hold some of my supplies and merchandise (and carry with me during my plane flight(!)).

However, I'm getting a little ahead of myself...

In late January, we got a little snow storm in El Paso and since John had this big open area of grass in his back yard, the remnants of a grass tennis court, I couldn't help but take advantage of the opportunity to build a couple of snow-people whom I tried to characterize as tennis players (of course)!

When Michael came home from school, he joined in the fun along with me.

By later the next day, the sun had already done some serious damage, but my "players" certainly hung in there for as long as they could.

(I imagined the player in the back of the court thinking: "Dude, just serve the ball already. I'm dying out here in this heat!")

The weather continued to be a mix of warm sun and cold wind and rain over the next several weeks. I continued to work on John's receipts and help around the house. I took advantage of the fairly well stocked kitchen and started making bread from scratch, along with oatmeal cookies of various kinds, and I even tried making some fudge for the first time (that I could remember).

...And I made a "Kool-Aid" birthday cake for Michael which we shared as we also shared our March 4th Birthday. (Without any food coloring in the house, I ended up using various flavors of Kool-Aid for coloring the icing which gave it a very sweet-tart taste.)

It was also during the month of March that John went through a process of restoring the grass in the back yard as he was getting ready to sell the house.

It went from this:

(Seeds sprouting under plastic sheeting to preserve moisture and heat) this

It also became a gathering place for all of the ring-necked doves in the area - probably because of all of the grass seed left over. I counted as many as 35 out there at one time. And then there was my first butterfly of the season:

A sure harbinger of transformations yet to come...! :)

Although it came a little late for me to actually use it for sewing headbands, I used some of my birthday money from my mom to have my sewing machine shipped from Santa Barbara. That gave me an opportunity to sit down with Michael and give him a chance to get a feel for sewing.

He seemed to enjoy the experience and we even sewed a new bag together to hold the marbles for his "Good Job Marble Jar" that I bought for him (and his parents) before I left. (The bag that came with the container actually turned out too be a little too small to hold all of the marbles.)

I had found out about these "Good Job Marble Jars" from Brené Brown as I was taking her "The Power of Vulnerability" course via She gave me a new appreciation for the process involved in developing trust in your relationships with others. This quote sums up the basic idea:

As I later explained to Michael, those "marbles" accumulate with other people in your life as you show genuine caring for them and, very importantly, Do What You Say You're Going to Do.

I guess one thing that I have learned during my cross-country trekking is that things don't always go the way you plan! Nevertheless, it is important to be very conscious of what you commit to and, especially where it involves other people, keeping them informed as your plans (or feelings) change.

At the same time, I've learned, it is difficult if not impossible to win the trust of people who are simply not open to trusting in the first place, or are so caught up in their own "stuff" and how they come across to others, that they're paying very little attention to all the "marbles" they might be receiving from others on a day to day basis. (Note the emphasis above on "work, attention, and full engagement". A person can't bring that attention and full engagement to others if they're too caught up in their own "stuff".)

As I have also learned from Brené Brown, it is not easy to live "Wholeheartedly". Sometimes it is hard to move beyond feeling desperate for "love and belonging," as if our very lives depended on it (as was actually the case when we were infants and young children), and feeling the very normal "irreducible human need for love and belonging" that each of us, as otherwise self-sustaining adults, can choose to meet with others who actually have the capacity and desire to meet those needs with us. Again, as she points out above, "trust" is not a "grand gesture" - it is not "all or nothing" - it is "a growing marble collection" and we fill those "marble jars" (or not), with ", attention, and full engagement".

(There was a lot more I learned from "The Power of Vulnerability" course as well as another course I started through Udemy, "Master Your Brain: Neuroscience for Personal Development" with George Caremans as the instructor. I will follow-up on all of that at another time...and probably via The Blue Moon Turtle Blog instead of this one.)

In addition to cycling visitors, my friend Eleanor, from Santa Barbara, also stayed a couple of times. She had temporarily relocated to Florida just before I left Santa Barbara, and then she found another place to stay in Boerne, TX. While making a road trip to pick up some of her own things in Santa Barbara, she also picked up more of my clothes and some of my books and brought them to me in El Paso. Of course, that meant I had that much more of my own stuff to pack up before flying to my next destination of Columbus, GA.

As I commented to John, packing is always a complicated process for me because I'm never packing for just one thing anymore! This time I was packing some boxes to ship as well as some boxes to take on the plane (one large box and my bicycle box), and I needed to know in advance how much they weighed to anticipate shipping costs and avoid overweight fees on the plane. I was also figuring out what I could carry in my backpack, and merchandise and supplies I might need in my new pink and grey carry-all. I had an extra large duffle bag that Eleanor brought with my clothes - not quite full - so I knew I'd have a little more space in it for some of my nicer clothes that she also brought, hanging in a long plastic bag. 

I flew on Southwest via Houston to Atlanta, and when my friend Michael recovered my duffle bag from the carousel, I noticed that it had gotten badly damaged en route (something that has never happened to me before while flying on Southwest). After carting everything up and down the baggage claim area for about half-an-hour, we finally found the customer service counter where they were quick to replace my original duffle with a much fancier (and heavier) one with wheels.

Although I could not find an exact image of my original bag (and I had to turn it over to the Southwest agents in order to get the replacement bag), it was an extra large, single compartment duffle that looked something like this: 

What was nice about it was that I could fold it down to a very portable size, which was handy for shipping, or even carrying it on my bicycle. And the bag itself did not weigh that much so I could pack more stuff in it and not so easily exceed the 50lb baggage limit.

This is what I ended up with in the exchange with Southwest(!):

Now I have multiple compartments...

....And wheels, etc., etc. I could imagine designing a whole new trailer around this bag so I could pull it with my bicycle!

I know, I know...under normal circumstances, I should be Thrilled by this new bag, and how much "better" it is than my old one. I'm sure it cost a heck of a lot more! Neverthelss, I suspect I'll still be looking to replace that old one, for the same reason's I bought it in the first place! And besides the outside pocket getting ripped, I had a Swiss Army pocket knife in it that was small enough to carry on a key ring and had some sentimental value as well. I knew I would need it to open the bike box so I had put it in there to be handy. Unfortunately, it wasn't anywhere to be found when I got my bag back. Again...lesson learned!

Nevertheless, I'm now in Columbus, GA to "house sit" for my friend Michael. We met while we were both stationed with the military in Bethesda, Maryland and we've accumulated quite a few "marbles" over the last 10 years or so. (Kind of hard to believe it's been that long!)

My (tentative) plans are to relocate the remainder of my belongings from Florida and, hopefully, by the end of June, complete that Truly Final sort through - especially of my "historical documents" and "reference material" from the early years of my life. I'm also planning to visit my mother in Dalton, GA with whom I have not had face-to-face contact in many, many years. (See My TEDx Talk for more on that story.) I've already checked-in with the local bicycle advocacy group, Bike Columbus, and will be looking forward to meeting with them and sharing from all of my previous experiences with the Santa Barbara Bike Coalition. (To be honest, I feel like a "bee" that is "flying from flower to flower" and serving to "cross-pollinate" between these two communities and who knows how many more as my journey continues?!)

I'm glad to be able to take another "break" from the road - this time with a good friend. It has certainly been an adventure thus far and I look forward to whatever Life has in store for me as time goes on!

I am once again grateful and humbled by all the people who continue to read this blog and show their support as contributors and hosts. It's been quite the ride...and, I's still not over just yet!