American Southwest Bro-Trip, Part 1: Preparation

In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.

Dwight D. Eisenhower

One month prior to spring break, Daniel and I sat down with our calendars and an atlas. We put our heads together and figured out where we could go for a week on the cheap.

The beach was an obvious choice. Unfortunately, the beach was an obvious choice. Everyone goes to the beach during spring break.

Going abroad wasn’t an option, because Daniel doesn’t have a passport (yet). Plus, the cost to get out of the United States is typically high, even though things might be cheaper once you do get out of the country.

We really didn’t want to take a “traditional” spring break trip, and we really wanted to go somewhere we’d never been before and do something we’d never done before. For both of us, that meant visiting a state we’d not yet crossed off the list.

I’m fond of the American West, so I started looking at places out that way that we could get to in two days or less on the road. Of course, they also needed to be interesting enough for me and entertaining enough for Daniel.

After a little research, I pointed at a spot in southwest Utah. “How about Zion National Park?”

We looked at pictures online and I looked at the trail reports on the National Park Service’s website. It didn’t take much convincing once Daniel saw the beauty of the area and how much there was to do there.

Little did we know how much there is to do out there.

With a location decided upon, we began to research transportation and lodging. Camping was an obvious choice due to how cheap it is to camp in a national park. Driving in my truck meant that we could go where we wanted and carry all the gear we needed, rather than try to stuff it into carry-ons and check bags on an airplane. (Plus, neither of us are old enough to affordably rent a car if we ever fly anywhere.)

One thing most people don’t know is that there are tons of places where it is free to camp across the United States. Much of the land administered by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the United States Forest Service (USFS) is free to camp on with a fourteen-day maximum stay. For RVers, Wal-Marts and other large retailers tend to accommodate overnight “boondocking” in their parking lots. The website FreeCampsites.net has an interactive map with thousands of such free locations documented across the U.S.

With this in mind, our plan was to free-camp our way to Zion rather than stay in hotels. I picked out places for every night, including in Cibola National Forest outside Albuquerque and Goosenecks State Park near Mexican Hat, UT.

Our initial itinerary was to leave DFW early on Friday the 8th and drive to Albuquerque, and then drive to Zion on the 9th. We would stay in Zion until the 13th, when we would then drive to Monument Valley for a couple days before reversing our route and coming back home. We would be back on Saturday the 16th, which would give us one day to rest up before re-entering the “real world” (or a day of cushion in case something happened on the way back).

Then Mom and Dad stepped in and basically demanded that we get “real” lodging on our way.

And then one of Daniel’s professors moved an exam forward from after spring break to the day we were supposed to leave, which meant we wouldn’t get to leave until 11AM at the earliest.

At first, I felt like these two setbacks wrecked the plan, but strangely they helped solidify the itinerary. I decided to reverse the trip: we would drive to Monument Valley first since it was closer, then to Zion, and then back home. We could still travel a good distance on half of Friday and all of Saturday. And, blessedly, Daniel’s professor agreed to let him take the exam earlier that Friday the morning, meaning we could leave sooner than we otherwise could have.

Instead of staying in Albuquerque the first night, I booked a room at the Best Western in Santa Rosa, NM, and then a room at Goulding’s Lodge in Monument Valley for the next night. We then booked the South Campground for five nights in Zion (booking for the South Campground opens up only fourteen days in advance), and an AirBNB casita in Albuquerque for the trip back.

Whew! Everything did indeed fall into place.

Next, we had to get our gear together. We had most of the camping gear already: tent, Therm-A-Rests, mummy-style sleeping bags. We opted for a newer but smaller Coleman tent that Daniel used on a recent trip to Big Bend National Park, because the older Walrus tent that we had used in Missouri during the Great American Eclipse leaked in a great deluge even though I waterproofed it. Otherwise, we took the obvious camping and survival items: hiking boots, knives, many ways to start a fire, mylar blankets, rain ponchos, and the like.

I’ll pause the narrative a minute and note that I will occasionally hyperlink to Amazon pages for products that we used on this trip. These are affiliate links, meaning that if you buy the product through the link on this page, I get a small kickback from your purchase. Don’t feel obligated to buy anything at all, but if there’s something I write about that you would like to buy, I’d appreciate it if you did so through my link.

And with that PSA out of the way, back to the story.

Our camping in Zion would be primitive in the sense that there was no electric hookup or shower. A camp restroom and a spigot were thirty or so yards from our reserved campsite in the South Campground. We would be cooking our own meals, something we’d never really done before. And, we’d be doing it in what was likely to be cold, potentially wet weather.

Two weeks before we left, we drove to the closest Wal-Mart Supercenter and loaded up on canned goods: Campbell’s soups, green beans, spinach, tuna, you name it. We bought some of the cured “mystery meat” sausage, as well as crackers, trail mix, and cups of mandarin oranges and peaches.

For breakfast, we decided on grits, since neither of us like oatmeal. To prepare it all, I bought a Stanley cooking kit to complement a one-person cooking kit I already had.

We were going to eat and we were going to eat well.

For water, I purchased two Aqua-Tainers in anticipation of free-camping. It turns out that I didn’t need two (and probably not even one), but I went with the old rule of thumb that every person needs a gallon of water per day. With two people and at least seven days of travel, that would be fourteen gallons, exactly two Aqua-Tainers.

Due to concerns about the weather, I also bought us each a base layer and crampons for our hiking boots. For cleanliness, I bought some body wipes and dry shampoo (since manly men with flowing manes need to keep oil at bay, too), since we wouldn’t have access to a shower unless we paid $5 for four minutes in the nearby town of Springdale.

The day before we left, I got Vader the truck washed and waxed (so he would cut through the air better on the open road), then came home and loaded up what I could. I stored all the food in the two Plano containers that I carry around in Vader’s bed, and loaded the sleeping bags, cookware, and other miscellaneous things into the extended cab.

For campfire-building, Dad helped me pack some old wood that had been covered up in the backyard into a Rubbermaid container. All the camping gear was already stored in an old Action Packer container. I simply loaded these into the bed and pulled the tonneau cover shut. I also took the old Coleman camp stove and three cans of propane just in case.

And with that, we were pretty much ready. All that remained was for Daniel to take his exam, load up the last few things, and then hit the road the next day.

The big day: Loaded for bear and ready to roll!

Bro-Trip Report: Zion National Park and the American Southwest

The view from the top of Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park. Very strenuous, 4 miles long, and an elevation change to 1,500 feet, but completely worth it!

With spring break around the corner and no plans, Daniel and I put our heads together. Where could we go that would be exciting, affordable, and something that we’d never done before?

The beach was an option, but everyone does that over spring break. So was skiing, but that’s expensive.

Looking at the map and using my rudimentary knowledge of the American West and National Parks, I put together an itinerary and proposed a trip.

With approximately a week and a day to work with, I determined that we could drive to Zion National Park (near Springdale, UT), camp there, and use that as a base from which to explore the park and the surrounding area. Both on the way there and coming back we would be able to stop and do things along the way to break up long stretches of driving.

I ran the plan by Dan the Man, and he liked it. We would spend spring break in the American Southwest, specifically in Zion National Park.

Daniel enjoying a dinner of beef ravioli, green beans, and Ritz crackers in the South Campground.

It would be a trip unlike any we’d ever done before. We’d be camping five nights in Zion, cooking our own meals every morning and evening, and over a thousand miles away from our family, or really anyone who could help us if something went awry.

Initially, the plan was to drive about eight hours a day to get to Zion and camp every night during the whole trip to save money. Mom and Dad (thankfully) steered us away from that option due to the sheer amount of time and effort required to set up and break camp. It would quickly get old. Instead, we opted to stay at motels and AirBNBs along the way, and set up camp only once when we arrived in Zion.

We left DFW on Friday the 8th and drove to Santa Rosa, NM, and then from Santa Rosa to Monument Valley, UT on the 9th. On the 10th, we drove to Zion, and then stayed there through the morning of the 14th. From there, we started back home, stopping overnight in Page, AZ and then in Albuquerque, NM. We arrived back home on Saturday the 16th.

Sunrise in Monument Valley, viewed from our motel balcony at Goulding’s Lodge.

During our trip, we did the following:

  • Ate steaks at The Big Texan in Amarillo (no, we didn’t try the 72 oz. steak challenge)
  • Visited Walter White’s (Breaking Bad) house in Albuquerque
  • Hiked the White House Ruins trail in Canyon de Chelly National Monument in Chinle, AZ
  • Drove through Monument Valley, AZ/UT
  • Took lots of dam photos in Page, AZ
  • Tent-camped four nights in Zion National Park and weathered wind, rain, and frost
  • Conquered Angel’s Landing (1500 foot ascent with chains)
  • Walked through Valley of Fire State Park in Overton, NV
  • Climbed dunes in Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park in Kanab, UT
  • Saw mule deer and bighorn sheep in Zion
  • Checked out Horseshoe Bend outside Page, AZ
  • Walked around the rim of Meteor Crater near Winslow, AZ
  • Took the obligatory “standin’ on a corner in Winslow, Arizona” photos
  • Successfully resolved a check engine light in Albuquerque on the way back
  • Built three campfires
  • Made numerous s’mores
  • Drove almost 3,000 miles in Vader the truck
  • Made memories we’ll never forget!
Looking out over Canyon de Chelly (Chinle, AZ).

Every evening before bed, I journaled the day’s events. Over the coming weeks, I’ll use that journal to help retell this epic trip, day by day, and all our escapades along the way. I’ll share the adventures (and some misadventures) that we got ourselves into, what we learned, and travel tips for those who wish to visit the amazing places that we did. I’ll also share plenty of the amazing photos that Daniel and I took along the way, because we all know that a picture is worth a thousand words (and, in some cases, ten-thousand words).

Stay tuned!

Stop Just Reading The Bible

I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.

Psalm 119:11, English Standard Version

For the past three years, I’d held to a “year through the Bible” approach to my personal Bible time. I’d wake up and get my three or four chapters in, faithfully, day after day. For a couple years, I kept a notebook at my side and wrote down questions that I had about what I read.

Last year, I started the Bible marathon again. I made it through the Old Testament well enough, but by the time I made it to Acts I was losing steam. I had a sort of Bible burnout.

It’s not that I didn’t want to keep reading God’s Word. I realized the problem was that, deep inside, I wanted and needed to slow down. Just like traveling, you can blaze from place to place and see a lot of things, but you really won’t appreciate what you see unless you stop in one place for a few days and take it all in.

I started the year by camping out in Ecclesiastes and letting Solomon’s profound, divinely-inspired wisdom soak in. I supplemented daily chapter and section readings with a devotional called 31 Days to Happiness by Dr. David Jeremiah that Amazon Kindle coincidentally recommended to me.

I will note that, while the devotional is good, it is no replacement for reading Ecclesiastes yourself, just like any devotional is no replacement for reading the Bible yourself. And as a side note, if anyone tries to put words into God’s mouth (ahem, Sarah Young, ahem, ahem), be on your guard. Of course, we Christians should always be on guard anyway (1 Cor. 16:13).

After camping out with Solomon for a couple months, I felt that I should start memorizing some Scripture. When I was in junior high, I learned at a church retreat that young Israelite boys, particularly those preparing for the priesthood, would memorize whole books of the Bible. I figured that if a thirteen-year-old kid from two-thousand-plus years ago could memorize whole books, I could at least memorize some verses and psalms.

Last week, I memorized all of Psalm 1, which makes two psalms I know by heart (the other being Psalm 23, which seems perpetually burned into my memory from childhood). In doing so, I reflected on what I felt were the benefits of memorizing a passage of Scripture, and I concluded three things.

1. Memorizing Scripture is not hard. Like any task, breaking it into manageable chunks makes it easier and more fulfilling. For Psalm 1, I focused on one or two verses a day, reading them from my Bible in the morning, reciting them aloud or in my head throughout the day as best I could, and referencing my Blue Letter Bible app as needed for a refresher. I felt very accomplished when I concluded the day by thinking, “I now know one more verse by heart than I did when I woke up this morning.”

2. The momentum builds. Once you start memorizing Scripture, it gets easier to memorize more. I find that this is especially true with passages such as Psalms and Proverbs. You’ll find that, in many cases, each verse ties into the next, and so you’re not just memorizing words, but whole, coherent thoughts. Getting the ball rolling can be difficult, but once it’s rolling, it’ll keep going.

3. You gain a deeper understanding of the passage. It’s one thing to read verses on a page, like you’d read words in a novel. It’s another to slow down and dissect them for meaning, like you might a classic text. It’s a completely different thing to commit them to memory, because then your mind starts to sift them and process them and your understanding and appreciation of them will increase.

Let’s take Psalm 1:3 for instance.

He [the righteous man] is like a tree
planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.

Psalm 1:3, English Standard Version

Pause for a moment and think about that imagery. A tree planted by streams of water might initially conjure up an image of an idyllic, sylvan scene: a tree in a grassy forest by a riverbank. When you consider that the psalmists lived in the Middle East, where water is often a luxury and there is plenty of desert and wilderness to go around, that mental picture might change to one of a Joshua Tree with little other life around (at least for someone like me who’s never been to the Holy Land!).

Let that last sentence sink in: “In all that he does, he prospers.” Isn’t that something you want to commit to memory and meditate on as you go about your day? It might be something you want to think about when life gives you lemons, a Biblical truth you can cling to when the chips are down. It might be something you can turn back to praise when things go well: “Lord, thank you that you have allowed me to succeed in my work!”

To continue this example, let’s take a quick look at the following verse.

The wicked are not so,
but are like chaff that the wind drives away.

Psalm 1:4, English Standard Version
This is some sorghum chaff. If it weren’t piled high like this, imagine how easy it would be for a strong wind to blow it away. Photo by sarangib on Pixabay.

Here we see the contrast. In the previous verse, the psalmist talks about the vitality of a righteous man (or woman) and compares him to another living thing, a tree. In this verse, the psalmist compares wicked people to the remnants of harvesting grain: useless and left behind. Note also that the wind doesn’t just blow them away, it drives them away. They are not wafted along in the breeze but are gusted out of existence.

I don’t think there’s anything really profound in what I just wrote above, but these are things that I would have (and actually have) overlooked in daily Bible readings. Even though I believe every Christian should read through the whole Bible (it is God’s Word, all of it!), I also believe every Christian should slow down and smell the roses that God has planted along the way.

As for memorization, I believe there are two things it will do to your spiritual life. Firstly, it will draw you closer to God (James 4:8) as you put a larger focus on His Word. Secondly, it will aid you in times of need. I know there have been times when a verse that I memorized a long time ago pops into the forefront of my mind and sustains me through a time of distress or guides me in making a critical decision. I don’t know that God would bring them to mind if I hadn’t read and remembered them.

If you’d like to start memorizing more Scripture, the best thing to do is to just start today. Start with the Psalms, because they’re poetic and are fairly easy to recite. Start with Psalm 1, even. Do one verse a day until you’ve memorized a whole passage or chapter. Write your verse on a sticky note or notecard or even create a reminder in your phone so you can work on it throughout the day.

And just think: If you memorize one verse a day, you’ll have memorized three-hundred-sixty-five verses in a year. If you memorize one passage a week, you’ll have memorized fifty-two passages in a year. The best part is, you’ll have drawn closer to God and hidden His Word in your heart in the process.

The mouth of the righteous utters wisdom,
and his tongue speaks justice.

The law of his God is in his heart;
his steps do not slip.

Psalm 37:30-31, English Standard Version

Don’t Let Them Steal Your Joy

We all probably know at least one person who has a glass-half-empty perspective. Some of us may even know someone who always think the glass is completely empty. These people are often tough to be around because they can be more depressing than Eeyore!

If you deal with people like this on a frequent basis, no matter who they are and what your relationship with them is, it is taxing in many ways. I believe that a person’s overall health can be quantized to four components that make up a greater whole: physical health, mental health, emotional health, and spiritual health. Being around negative people, or being negative yourself, adversely affects all four.

I’ve noticed the effects of other people’s negativity on my own health. Instead of getting out of bed ready to carpe diem, I find myself dreading the day because I have to deal with that person. Or, an otherwise great day is upended by that person’s comment. At the end of a day dealing with that person, I feel emotionally drained or on-edge (emotional health), am unable to get my mind off of what they said or did (mental health), can feel physically weak from the stress (physical health), and often don’t feel much like talking to God (spiritual health).

I’ve decided that, to the best of my ability, there will be no more of this.

While I can’t be “master of my feelings” (can anyone?), I can make an active choice every day to be joyful. And I can choose to remain joyful even when people around me are walking around with rain clouds hanging over their heads. Even when life taxes me to the limit, I will choose joy.

I will always associate the phrase “choose joy” with a girl I went to high school with named Taylor. I didn’t know her very well, and I only spoke to her a handful of times, but I thought she was a happy person. I remember that she smiled and laughed a lot.

Taylor battled cancer throughout high school before eventually succumbing to it not long after graduating. Through it all, she kept smiling and laughing. She could have become a very pessimistic individual (and I’m sure she felt that way many times), but ultimately she chose joy instead. Now she is experiencing the eternal joy of our Lord, free from the pain and anguish of our limited time on the earth.

In Nehemiah 8, the scribe Ezra is reading the Mosaic Law (the Torah) to the Israelites in Jerusalem, the first time it has been read in years after it was lost during the Game of Thrones-style drama between the kingdoms of Israel and Judah. (Read all about it in I and II Kings.) The Israelites at this time had never heard the Law read to them before, even though the Law was, to them, what the Bible is to Christians today.

Think of what it would be like for your great-great-grandchildren to only have knowledge of Jesus Christ through word of mouth because the Bible had been lost to the sands of time. Then imagine that, one day, someone uncovers a pristine copy of the Bible, calls everyone into a great assembly, and begins reading it aloud. That’s approximately what’s happening in Nehemiah 8.

The people begin weeping as they hear the words of the Law (8:9), and that’s when Nehemiah, the governor, steps in and makes what I think is a profound statement. He commands the people to stop crying, to go eat good food and drink good wine, and to rejoice, “for the joy of the Lord is your strength” (8:10).

Think about that. The joy of the Lord is our strength. God is joyful, and He takes pleasure in His creation, which includes us lowly humans. Even despite our screwups, He loves us so much that He sent His own son, Jesus, to pay the price once and for all that we would each have to pay for our screwups (John 3:16, Galatians 3:13-14). All we have to do is believe in Jesus and follow him.

Photo by Edgar Chomba on Pexels.com

And if we accept that truth, that God is joyful, we will be strengthened by it in all four aspects of our health. We will renew our strength and “mount up with wings like eagles” (Isaiah 40:31, physical health). We will not be conformed to the world, but transformed by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2, mental health). We will cast our anxieties on Him instead of bearing the burden ourselves (1 Peter 5:7). And we will

It’s very easy to get mired into the drama of everyday life, to be like a ship blown about by the waves of circumstance. Life might really be pitiful for you right now. Just remember that there is a God whose joy is your strength, who walks with you and guides you even when you “walk through the valley of the shadow of death” (Psalm 23:4). And ultimately, we will be filled with the Holy Spirit (John 14:16) and equipped to endure the spiritual warfare that we all face (Ephesians 6:10-20).

Joy is strength, and joy is vitality. The Lord’s joy is even more so. And I’ve decided that I’m not going to let anyone take my joy away from me. I’m not going to let the Sally Sobstorys of the world bring me down to their level, because if I do, they win, and it gives them license to keep acting that way.

If I lose my joy, it will be on my own terms, not someone else’s. The Lord’s joy will be mine and will give me strength in all aspects.

Choose joy because, even though life is full of pain and hardship, we serve a risen Savior and have hope for an eternity spent with Him in true joy. Choose joy because so many people aren’t joyful in this world, and someone out there needs your joy to give them hope as they struggle. Choose joy because you’re alive and you can start working to make things better today, for yourself and for others.

As for me, I will choose joy. And I won’t let you steal it from me.


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Reading is Dangerous

“What’s so dangerous about sitting down and reading a book?” you ask. “That’s probably one of the safest things you can do!”

Well, that depends on what you’re reading.

And no, I don’t mean that thrillers are somehow more dangerous to read than romance novels are. In fact, both those genres are relatively innocuous and predictable. Barring all plot twists, the hero will somehow prevail at the end, and the guy will get the girl (or vice versa).

Some books are inherently dangerous, though. You read them and run the risk of your whole worldview being thrown on its ear. Some are as startling as a splash of cold water in your face. Others feel more like a punch to the gut. And still others will slowly tug on your heartstrings until the tension is unbearable.

This past week, I started reading a classic called Propaganda by Edward Bernays. In it, Bernays breaks down how a very few select people can determine how the majority thinks. He uses the fashion industry as an example.

Business offers graphic examples of the effect that may be produced upon the public by interested groups, such as textile manufacturers losing their markets. This problem arose, not long ago, when the velvet manufacturers were facing ruin because their product had long been out of fashion. Analysis showed that it was impossible to revive a velvet fashion within America. Anatomical hunt for the vital spot! Paris! Obviously! But yes and no. Paris is the home of fashion. Lyons is the home of silk. The attack had to be made at the source. It was determined to substitute purpose for chance and to utilize the regular sources for fashion distribution and to influence the public from these sources. A velvet fashion service, openly supported by the manufacturers, was organized. Its first function was to establish contact with the Lyons manufactories and the Paris couturiers to discover what they were doing, to encourage them to act on behalf of velvet, and to help in the proper exploitation of their wares. An intelligent Parisian was enlisted in the work. He visited Lanvin and Worth, Agnes and Patou, and others and induced them to use velvet in their gowns and hats. It was he who arranged for the distinguished Countess This or Duchess That to wear the hat or the gown. And as for the presentation of the idea to the public, the American buyer or the American woman of fashion was simply shown the velvet creations in the atelier of the dressmaker or the milliner. She bought the velvet because she liked it and because it was in fashion. 
      The editors of the American magazines and fashion reporters of the American newspapers, likewise subjected to the actual (although created) circumstance, reflected it in their news, which, in turn, subjected the buyer and the consumer here to the same influences. The result was that what was at first a trickle of velvet became a flood. A demand was slowly, but deliberately, created in Paris and America. A big department store, aiming to be a style leader, advertised velvet gowns and hats on the authority of the French couturiers, and quoted original cables received from them. The echo of the new style note was heard from hundreds of department stores throughout the country which wanted to be style leaders too. Bulletins followed despatches. The mail followed the cables. And the American woman traveler appeared before the ship news photographers in velvet gown and hat. 
      The created circumstances had their effect. “Fickle fashion has veered to velvet,” was one newspaper comment. And the industry in the United States again kept thousands busy. 

Edward Bernays, Propaganda

Most would agree that this is a fairly harmless example. The scary realization is that people can (and have, and do) use these same tactics to manipulate public opinion in more serious areas such as politics, economics, and religion.

This begs the question: Are your opinions really your own? If not, who has dictated them to you?

This is what I call a “red pill” book.

If you’ve ever seen the movie The Matrix, you’ll recall that there is a scene in which Neo (Keanu Reeves) is offered a choice between two pills by Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne). Morpheus holds a red pill and a blue pill out to Neo. If Neo takes the red pill, he will be whisked away to the real reality and see things for what they actually are (and they aren’t that great). If he takes the blue pill, he will go back to “ordinary” life inside The Matrix, the computer simulation he lives within, where ignorance is bliss.

(Side note: The concept of The Matrix originates in Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, which you can read in his work The Republic. You owe it to yourself to at least brush up on the Allegory of the Cave.)

We have access to so much information, now more than ever before, thanks to the Internet. More and more books are published every year. And yet, so much of what’s online and in bookstores is merely meant to coddle us, reinforce our beliefs, or—at worst—blatantly deceive us.

The worst part is that most people continue to buy into this. They don’t bother to ask the “what if…” or “why…” questions. They don’t actively seek out information that could change the way they think. Ignorance truly is bliss.

When I was visiting the University of Texas at Austin campus during a high-school trip, I saw a striking inscription on the main building: “Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”

The quote comes from John 8:32, when Jesus is talking to Jews who have believed in him. (Though as you read the full chapter, it will become clear how much the Jews actually “believe.”) In the broader context, Jesus says that people are either enslaved to sin or freed by the Son (John 8:34-36).

While the last thing I want to do is take Christ’s words—or any Bible passage—out of context, I took those words quoted on that building to mean that all truth sets us free. We are freed from the shackles of sin by Christ; we are also freed from the fetters of falsehood by truth.

Or, to put it another way: Christ is truth, and anything that is true is allied with him. All else is falsehood.

Paul has an interesting admonition in Philippians 4:8:

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

Philippians 4:8, English Standard Version (emphasis added)

Paul tells the Philippians that they should think about, among other things, whatever is true. How do we know what is true?

Pilate asked Jesus a similar question: “What is truth?” (John 18:38). While it’s impossible to know whether he was being honest or sarcastic, it’s ironic that he asks this while putting Truth on trial.

Do we put truth on trial? We should. I believe we owe it to ourselves and certainly to God to do so.

We should honestly and objectively examine what we hold to be true lest we spend our days living a lie.

We’re blessed to live in an era where information abounds. Truth is out there, and I believe it’s even easier to find now than it ever was before, even despite the misinformation and disinformation (propaganda?) that pervades these days.

It’s not politically correct to question. Many times it’s not even “socially acceptable.” But it is necessary.

So read dangerously. Read the Bible. Read guys like Plato and Bernays. Read about science, economics, and history. Read things that will challenge what you hold to be true. Think about these truth claims and test them for veracity.

God gave you a mind for thinking; use it! Don’t let others think for you. Don’t let long-held beliefs and assumptions hold you captive if they aren’t valid. Take the red pill.

Seek the truth, and the truth shall set you free. Seek the Truth, and He shall set you free.


Find Propaganda by Edward Bernays here on Amazon or free to read online here.


Thanks for reading. If you enjoyed this, consider following my site so you can be notified whenever I write something new.

Also, if you’ve ever thought that computers are too difficult for you to understand, or you’ve ever been frustrated when faced with a technical issue (we’ve all been!), check out my new book How Computers Work and What to Do When They Don’t.

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It explains, in simple English, how your computer operates and what you can do when it’s not operating the way you want it to. It also teaches you how to solve many existing issues, including sluggish performance and virus infections. When computer woes happen, you’ll never have to worry again.

How Computers Work and What to Do When They Don’t is available on all Amazon sites for Kindle and in paperback. You can read more about it here on my website, including an excerpt. Be sure to sign up for my email list to receive free bonus content to supplement the book!

A Baking Mistake That Turned Out Great

The image is a bit blurry, but hopefully you get the idea.

On Saturday, I decided on the spur of the moment to bake a pumpkin pie. All the ingredients were already on-hand, so all I had to do was pick a recipe. Since the recipe on the can of pumpkin called for condensed milk and I only had evaporated, I opted for the classic Libby’s recipe that Mom always used.

I mixed everything together, baked the pie, and everything went great. There was one thing, though: The pie filling looked a little darker than I thought it should. I had a taste and thought it was all right, so I popped it in the oven and didn’t think anything more of it.

A few hours later, Mom came home and asked where the teaspoons were that I’d used to make the pie. “In the sink,” I said, “to be washed.”

“There aren’t any teaspoons in the sink,” she said. “Did you use tablespoons for the dry ingredients?”

Oops.

Now, I’m a Baker, but I’m not the best baker. I know that three teaspoons make a tablespoon. What I didn’t realize was how small a teaspoon is, and that a spoon labeled with a capital T is, in fact, a tablespoon. I reached in the drawer, found the spoons that read 1/4 T and 1/2 T, and assumed they were teaspoons.

I was wrong. I’d tripled the amount of cinnamon, salt, ginger, and cloves that the recipe called for. That explained the darker filling!

I hoped it would taste all right. Mom cut it up after supper and gave me the first piece (so everyone else wouldn’t have to try it if it tasted horrible, I guess!) and I tentatively took a bite.

It was actually really good!

Of course, they probably thought I was biased because I’d made the pie. Nevertheless, Mom served pie to everyone else and I watched nervously as they tried it.

Everyone liked it!

It wound up tasting a lot more cinnamon-y and spicier overall due to the mis-measurements, but it still tasted good. I for one liked the additional spiciness, and I think Daniel did, too.

In one Saturday afternoon I inadvertently created my first recipe. I felt pretty accomplished! I’d baked something and been innovative! It got me wondering how many other great recipes have been made out of kitchen mistakes and mishaps.

Regardless, for anyone interested in a bit spicier take on a classic dessert, I present Baker’s Botched Pumpkin Pie. (Maybe I need a better name for it. Suggestions are welcome.) Enjoy!

Ingredients:

  • 3/4 cup pure cane sugar (I used organic)
  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tablespoon salt (maybe use a little less)
  • 1/2 tablespoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 tablespoon ground cloves
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 15 oz. can of pumpkin
  • 1 12 oz. can of evaporated milk
  • 1 unbaked 9″ pie crust

Instructions:

  1. Mix sugar, cloves, ginger, salt, and cinnamon (in that order) in small bowl. Beat eggs in large bowl. Stir in pumpkin and sugar-spice mixture. Stir in evaporated milk.
  2. Pour pie filling into pie crust. Cover edges of crust with aluminum foil.
  3. Bake at 425 degrees (F) for 15 minutes, then reduce temperature to 350 degrees (F) for 40 minutes. Insert a toothpick into the center of the pie to test if it’s done; if it doesn’t come out clean, let it bake another 5-10 minutes.
  4. Let the pie cool and then serve or refrigerate. (Pie refrigerated and served the next day is even better than the day of!)

And there you have it! It just goes to show that sometimes good things come out of errors. Maybe I should make baking mistakes more often….


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What if you could feel inspired and empowered to fix your computer the next time something goes wrong with it? Now you can! How Computers Work and What to Do When They Don’t explains, in simple English, how your computer operates and what you can do when it’s not operating the way you want it to. It also teaches you how to solve many existing issues, including sluggish performance and virus infections. When computer woes happen, you’ll never have to worry again.

How Computers Work and What to Do When They Don’t is available on all Amazon sites for Kindle and in paperback. You can read more about it here on my website, including an excerpt. Be sure to sign up for my email list to receive free bonus content to supplement the book!

Wisdom from Walden

Photo by Spencer Selover on Pexels.com

A man is rich in proportion to the number of things which he can afford to let alone.

Henry David Thoreau

My introduction to Thoreau occurred in AP English in high school, where we read and sampled some great works by American writers. For one assignment, we were tasked with highlighting and annotating an excerpt of Walden, one in which Thoreau discusses living simply and deliberately. As I read it, I was hooked immediately. Everything he wrote was eye-opening yet glaringly obvious at the same time. I decided then to return to Walden in the near future and read more of what this man had to say.

Five years later, I finally made it back to the forest outside 19th-century Concord, Massachusetts to revisit Thoreau, his cabin, and his philosophy. The book best known as Walden is also known as Walden; or, Life in the Woods. My parents knew it as On Walden Pond (I don’t know why). Whatever you want to call it, Walden is indeed the name of the pond that Thoreau lived near for two years, two months, and two days.

While I always thought Thoreau became a sort of “man in the wilderness,” he was anything but. Walden Pond is just a short walk from the center of Concord. Thoreau entertained visitors fairly frequently during his residence there. Interestingly (and humorously), Ken Ilgunas relates in his book Walden on Wheels that Thoreau had his mother do his laundry for him while he lived in his little cabin.

Even though it appears Thoreau may not have been a John the Baptist eating locusts and honey or a character out of a Jack London story, he did seek to simplify his life, strive for self-sufficiency, and reconnect with nature. In Walden, he goes into great detail explaining how he made himself self-reliant, including how much he spent to build his cabin and how much he made by selling what he grew in his garden in order to support his way of life. He lived a minimalist lifestyle that makes most other minimalist ways pale in comparison, with very rudimentary furniture and just some works of classical literature to keep him entertained. For exercise, he worked his garden and strolled through the woods, sometimes paddling across the pond in a boat.

On the whole, Walden is a tough book to read. One reason for this is that Walden contains many different themes and messages, as Thoreau addresses topics ranging from simplicity to government to economics. There are also references to works that might have been well-known at the time but are now all but unknown (at least to me, although I tend to think that even people back then may not have known those works). On top of all that, he writes very obtusely, using long sentences and uncommon words, requiring the reader to really focus on the writing. In short, it often feels like work to read.

The good thing about Walden is that, for whatever reason you come to it, you will come away from it with what you sought. For example, if you read Walden because you want to want to find ways to reconnect with nature, Thoreau delivers. If you read it because you want to learn about life in a New England town before the War Between the States, you will learn that life was different then than it is today, but still the same.

I approached Walden from a philosophical perspective because I wanted to understand how Thoreau thought. I wanted to learn what prompted this man to live like he did. I wanted to know what made him different, and why.

I walked away encouraged and amazed. The work was worth it.

As I read, I noted the passages that resonated with me. I don’t know that I’ll ever read all of Walden again, but I’ve at least gleaned many kernels of wisdom to chew on for the rest of my life. I’ve included some of them below for your edification and inspiration.

Hopefully these photos of forests set the sylvan mood of Walden. Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

First, Thoreau says we need to be able to check our beliefs at the door and look at things objectively while considering new viewpoints, else we find ourselves lost when reality sets in:

It is never too late to give up our prejudices. No way of thinking or doing, however ancient, can be trusted without proof. What everybody echoes or in silence passes by as true to-day may turn out to be falsehood to-morrow, mere smoke of opinion, which some had trusted for a cloud that would sprinkle fertilizing rain on their fields.

Change is always possible:

So thoroughly and sincerely are we compelled to live, reverencing our life, and denying the possibility of change. This is the only way, we say; but there are as many ways as there can be drawn radii from one centre. All change is a miracle to contemplate; but it is a miracle which is taking place every instant.

Time is precious:

In any weather, at any hour of the day or night, I have been anxious to improve the nick of time, and notch it on my stick too; to stand on the meeting of two eternities, the past and future, which is precisely the present moment; to toe that line.

An expansive wardrobe, along with many other things in life, is unnecessary:

Let him who has work to do recollect that the object of clothing is, first, to retain the vital heat, and secondly, in this state of society, to cover nakedness, and he may judge how much of any necessary or important work may be accomplished without adding to his wardrobe.

Just because something is popular or fashionable doesn’t make it right or necessary:

Every generation laughs at the old fashions, but follows religiously the new.

It is the luxurious and dissipated who set the fashions which the herd so diligently follow.

It was hard to own a home back then, too. Thoreau is disenchanted with “the system” and sees through the sham:

I think that I speak within bounds when I say that, though the birds of the air have their nests, and the foxes their holes, and the savages their wigwams, in modern civilized society not more than one half the families own a shelter. In the large towns and cities, where civilization especially prevails, the number of those who own a shelter is a very small fraction of the whole. The rest pay an annual tax for this outside garment of all, become indispensable summer and winter, which would buy a village of Indian wigwams, but now helps to keep them poor as long as they live. I do not mean to insist here on the disadvantage of hiring compared with owning, but it is evident that the savage owns his shelter because it costs so little, while the civilized man hires his commonly because he cannot afford to own it; nor can he, in the long run, any better afford to hire.

He talks a lot about “genius,” which I interpret to be one’s desire to do something, the driving force behind one’s actions:

A simple and independent mind does not toil at the bidding of any prince. Genius is not a retainer to any emperor, nor is its material silver, or gold, or marble, except to a trifling extent.

Follow your genius closely enough, and it will not fail to show you a fresh prospect every hour.

He prefers the relative simplicity that a laborer experiences to the never-ending toil and worry of the employer:

The laborer’s day ends with the going down of the sun, and he is then free to devote himself to his chosen pursuit, independent of his labor; but his employer, who speculates from month to month, has no respite from one end of the year to the other.

Living a simple life is a major theme:

In short, I am convinced, both by faith and experience, that to maintain one’s self on this earth is not a hardship but a pastime, if we will live simply and wisely; as the pursuits of the simpler nations are still the sports of the more artificial. It is not necessary that a man should earn his living by the sweat of his brow, unless he sweats easier than I do.

Thoreau stresses independence and not letting anything or anyone dictate one’s path:

I desire that there may be as many different persons in the world as possible; but I would have each one be very careful to find out and pursue his own way, and not his father’s or his mother’s or his neighbor’s instead.

Every path but your own is the path of fate. Keep on your own track, then.

He is critical of nursing a symptom of society rather than searching for a cure:

There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root, and it may be that he who bestows the largest amount of time and money on the needy is doing the most by his mode of life to produce that misery which he strives in vain to relieve.

And then we come to the classic Thoreau quote, the same one that I read as a junior in high school:

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.

Amazingly, Thoreau also addresses the “Netflix and chill” concept, which evidently isn’t new:

By closing the eyes and slumbering, and consenting to be deceived by shows, men establish and confirm their daily life of routine and habit everywhere, which still is built on purely illusory foundations.

He echoes much of what Solomon discusses in Ecclesiastes about accumulating property and possessions and the fleeting nature of it all:

With a little more deliberation in the choice of their pursuits, all men would perhaps become essentially students and observers, for certainly their nature and destiny are interesting to all alike. In accumulating property for ourselves or our posterity, in founding a family or a state, or acquiring fame even, we are mortal; but in dealing with truth we are immortal, and need fear no change nor accident.

Thoreau stresses the value of being in nature to one’s mental health:

There can be no very black melancholy to him who lives in the midst of Nature and has his senses still.

He discusses the concept of living in constant safety and security, and I wonder what he would say about the amount of security we have in our lives today:

The old and infirm and the timid, of whatever age or sex, thought most of sickness, and sudden accident and death; to them life seemed full of danger—what danger is there if you don’t think of any?—and they thought that a prudent man would carefully select the safest position, where Dr. B. might be on hand at a moment’s warning. To them the village was literally a com-munity, a league for mutual defence, and you would suppose that they would not go a-huckleberrying without a medicine chest. The amount of it is, if a man is alive, there is always danger that he may die, though the danger must be allowed to be less in proportion as he is dead-and-alive to begin with. A man sits as many risks as he runs.

He talks about how traits can be generational and why people don’t change:

Commonly men will only be brave as their fathers were brave, or timid.

While he doesn’t hold society in a very high regard, he’s right about conformity:

But, wherever a man goes, men will pursue and paw him with their dirty institutions, and, if they can, constrain him to belong to their desperate odd-fellow society.

And he runs counter-culturally in his thoughts on what really matters in life:

Give me the poverty that enjoys true wealth.

An Irish farmer living nearby told Thoreau about how glad he was to be free in America, to which Thoreau again waxed philosophical on what freedom really is:

…and yet he had rated it as a gain in coming to America, that here you could get tea, and coffee, and meat every day. But the only true America is that country where you are at liberty to pursue such a mode of life as may enable you to do without these, and where the state does not endeavor to compel you to sustain the slavery and war and other superfluous expenses which directly or indirectly result from the use of such things.

He discusses how easy it is to fall into a rut when living the same day over and over again:

Men come tamely home at night only from the next field or street, where their household echoes haunt, and their life pines because it breathes its own breath over again; their shadows, morning and evening, reach farther than their daily steps. We should come home from far, from adventures, and perils, and discoveries every day, with new experience and character.

Ponder his insight into the value and sacredness all life:

No humane being, past the thoughtless age of boyhood, will wantonly murder any creature which holds its life by the same tenure that he does.

And in the end, after his “experiment,” Thoreau has a few things to say to sum it all up. He talks about what matters most in life:

I learned this, at least, by my experiment: that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours. He will put some things behind, will pass an invisible boundary; new, universal, and more liberal laws will begin to establish themselves around and within him; or the old laws be expanded, and interpreted in his favor in a more liberal sense, and he will live with the license of a higher order of beings. In proportion as he simplifies his life, the laws of the universe will appear less complex, and solitude will not be solitude, nor poverty poverty, nor weakness weakness. If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.

The value of individualism:

Why should we be in such desperate haste to succeed and in such desperate enterprises? If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away. It is not important that he should mature as soon as an apple tree or an oak. Shall he turn his spring into summer? If the condition of things which we were made for is not yet, what were any reality which we can substitute? We will not be shipwrecked on a vain reality. Shall we with pains erect a heaven of blue glass over ourselves, though when it is done we shall be sure to gaze still at the true ethereal heaven far above, as if the former were not?

Some words to keep you going when the going is tough:

However mean your life is, meet it and live it; do not shun it and call it hard names. It is not so bad as you are. It looks poorest when you are richest. The fault-finder will find faults even in paradise. Love your life, poor as it is. You may perhaps have some pleasant, thrilling, glorious hours, even in a poorhouse. The setting sun is reflected from the windows of the almshouse as brightly as from the rich man’s abode; the snow melts before its door as early in the spring. I do not see but a quiet mind may live as contentedly there, and have as cheering thoughts, as in a palace. The town’s poor seem to me often to live the most independent lives of any. Maybe they are simply great enough to receive without misgiving. Most think that they are above being supported by the town; but it oftener happens that they are not above supporting themselves by dishonest means, which should be more disreputable. Cultivate poverty like a garden herb, like sage. Do not trouble yourself much to get new things, whether clothes or friends. Turn the old; return to them. Things do not change; we change. Sell your clothes and keep your thoughts. God will see that you do not want society. If I were confined to a corner of a garret all my days, like a spider, the world would be just as large to me while I had my thoughts about me. The philosopher said: “From an army of three divisions one can take away its general, and put it in disorder; from the man the most abject and vulgar one cannot take away his thought.” Do not seek so anxiously to be developed, to subject yourself to many influences to be played on; it is all dissipation. Humility like darkness reveals the heavenly lights. The shadows of poverty and meanness gather around us, “and lo! creation widens to our view.” We are often reminded that if there were bestowed on us the wealth of Croesus, our aims must still be the same, and our means essentially the same. Moreover, if you are restricted in your range by poverty, if you cannot buy books and newspapers, for instance, you are but confined to the most significant and vital experiences; you are compelled to deal with the material which yields the most sugar and the most starch. It is life near the bone where it is sweetest. You are defended from being a trifler. No man loses ever on a lower level by magnanimity on a higher. Superfluous wealth can buy superfluities only. Money is not required to buy one necessary of the soul.

And a final observation that may double as a warning:

If a plant cannot live according to its nature, it dies; and so a man.

Hopefully Thoreau has inspired you to strike out on your own path and seek out what really matters in life, rather than get mired in someone else’s life and settle for pacifiers. If you’d like to read Walden for yourself, you can access the full text for free on Gutenberg.org. You can also buy a copy on Amazon. I also recommend Ken Ilgunas’s book Walden on Wheels as a modern take on Thoreau and a sort of foil to what he writes in Walden. It’s also a fantastic story of its own. Thanks for reading.


What if you could feel inspired and empowered to fix your computer the next time something goes wrong with it? Now you can! How Computers Work and What to Do When They Don’t explains, in simple English, how your computer operates and what you can do when it’s not operating the way you want it to. It also teaches you how to solve many existing issues, including sluggish performance and virus infections. When computer woes happen, you’ll never have to worry again.

You can read more about it here on my website, including an excerpt. Be sure to sign up for my email list to receive free bonus content to supplement the book!

It’s Official…

Look at that shiny orange badge!

It’s official… my book is now officially ranked as the #1 New Release in the Consumer Guides category on Amazon. I’m amazed. I don’t like to brag, but I’m very proud of this accomplishment!

As you can also see in the image above, How Computers Work and What to Do When They Don’t also got its first review… and five stars no less! It reads:

The prose is good, it reads well. It’s factually accurate, even when it touches on matters of opinion and taste. Does a good job of defining terms. I think it could give someone dealing with their computer good guidance, and enough, but not too much, confidence; it draws a well positioned line explaining where the reader should go for expert help.

That eloquently expresses the aim of this book. I’m glad the point got across, and I’m grateful for the review!

If you haven’t grabbed a copy yet, you can do so by clicking on the buttons below. Currently, the Kindle and paperback versions aren’t linked, but this is something that usually takes a few hours (or days) to occur on Amazon. For the time being, the buttons below will take you to the respective product pages.

Enjoy! Until next time, onward and upward!

Bestseller Status!

Great news! How Computers Work and What to Do When They Don’t now ranks #1 in three different categories on Amazon! This is very cool and something I did not expect at all. So, if you’ve helped it here by buying it or grabbing it for free, thank you!

If you haven’t grabbed a copy yet, I have good news. First, the Kindle version is free on Amazon again through tonight. Second, it’s now available in paperback! I know many people (myself included) like to have a physical copy, so here it is.

Currently, the Kindle and paperback versions aren’t linked, but this is something that usually takes a few hours to occur on Amazon. For the time being, click either of the buttons below to go to the respective product pages. Enjoy!

Tech Tip: Better than Bookmarking

This weekend, Mom baked a birthday cake for my brother, but spent quite a bit of time searching for her go-to yellow cake recipe in her browser’s bookmarks. Unfortunately, she could not find the exact recipe, so she picked another one. (Fortunately, the cake turned out better than any she’d made before, so it all worked out!)

This has happened to me on occasion, too. I’ve bookmarked a fantastic article or blog post only to go back to it later and find that it’s vanished from the face of cyberspace. Even though they say that everything’s permanent on the Internet, it doesn’t seem like it when a link is broken or content has been taken down.

There is an alternative to bookmarking webpages, and that is printing them to a Portable Document Format (PDF) file for viewing in programs like Adobe Reader. If you find something online that you want to save (maybe like this Tech Tip?), you can easily save a copy of the content in a Portable Document Format (PDF) similar to how you would print a hard copy with a printer.

To do this, press the Ctrl and P keys (Windows) or the Command and P keys (Mac) to bring up a print menu in your browser. There should be an option to print to a file or PDF instead of to a printer. The exact options and procedure will depend on your operating system and web browser, but the end result should be the same: the digital equivalent of the webpage printed out.

The standard print menu in a web browser. Instead of clicking “Print”, click on the “Change…” button to select a different printer.
After clicking the “Change…” button in the previous image, select the “Save as PDF” option. When you click “Print” now, you will be prompted for a filename for the PDF printout.

Once you have the webpage saved in a PDF file, store it somewhere you can easily retrieve it on your computer. I suggest creating a folder called “To Read” or “For Reference”. You could also back this file up to your cloud storage service of choice so you have an extra copy. If you wanted to, you could also print the PDF out later.

There you have it! A quick and easy way to ensure that you will always have access to the information you want, regardless of what happens online. I’ve already suggested Mom do this with every great recipe she finds from now on just in case it mysteriously disappears. I made sure she did it with this yellow cake recipe.


Thanks for reading. If you enjoyed this blog post, I think you’ll also like my book, How Computers Work and What to Do When They Don’t. It explains, in simple English, how the computer you use every day operates and what you can do when it’s not operating the way you want it to. It also teaches you how to solve many existing issues, including sluggish performance and virus infections.

You can read more about it here on my website, including an excerpt. Be sure to sign up for my email list to receive free bonus content to supplement the book!