I got my wish.
I love Utah, but I truly despise the month of January there. I’ve said for years that, if I can have it my way, I will never spend the month of January in Utah again – and missing February wouldn’t hurt, either.
Well, we’re off to a pretty good start. We went to Hawaii, followed by a trade show in Las Vegas, then to India – and I’m writing all of this from Almerimar, Spain. It’s surreal.
2017 began with Allison and me moving out of our apartment in Mount Pleasant, Utah. With some help from a few friends and loved ones, we got most of our belongings into a storage unit – we also shed a ton of stuff, selling and/or giving away the kind of things that tie us down.
It was -5 degrees the day we moved out. Ugly-cold. I actually got freeze-burns on my fingers from handling the frigid steel lock on our storage unit. But we got out in the last possible moment, and sped down to Las Vegas, NV, where we would catch a flight to Oahu, HI. It was a rocky start. We got to the gate just as they closed the flight. It was my fault we were late, so I kicked myself as we settled in for a sleepless night in the airport. But the next morning we were under way. Hawaii!
My sister and brother-in-law were married years 6 years ago. They have two teenage boys from his previous marriage, and they’ve since adopted a beautiful little boy to join their crew. And, being LDS, they’ve all made the decision to be sealed together in the temple. For those of you unfamiliar with LDS Temple Sealings, some people do it on their wedding day, and others wait to do it later. In its simplest form, I suppose it’s a way to renew your wedding vows; we believe this can be done in a more lasting, eternal way, by doing so in a short, sweet ceremony inside any one of many LDS temples. A sealing ceremony can also include children, binding them to their parents as an eternal family. It’s a beautiful tenet of our belief system – one of my favorite things about it. The concept of the Eternal Family is as central to Mormonism as our belief in Christ. I’ll try not to get off topic, but here’s more info about LDS temples for the curious among you.
Anyway, they decided to do all of this in some place special to them, and that place was the Laie LDS Temple in Hawaii.
The only way we can afford all of this travel is to work from the places we visit. We try to schedule our day in a way that allows us to meet all of our work obligations, while balancing work with the need to play and explore. You know. Carpe diem, and all.
As you know, I have a real thing for motorcycles, and – whenever possible – I try to rent one when I’m in a new place.
You may also know I have a thing for BMW enduro motorbikes, particularly the F800GS. This model has been my companion on many an adventure. We named her Lie, after the Hawaiian goddess of the mountains.
One of the best parts of my job is that I can do it from anywhere with WiFi. When I worked in corporate cubicles, taking a break meant stretching my legs in a stairwell or – at best – going out for an Orange Julius at the nearby food court. But WiFi freelancing means when I take a break in a place like Oahu, I can go exploring along the coast for a quick ride, or go out and try any one of a million food trucks along Oahu’s North Shore.
Pro Tip: Get Korean BBQ any chance you get.
I loved riding past the pineapple fields. I don’t think I’ve ever seen pineapples still in the ground before.
Poor Allison was so sick while we were there. She had already been sick for the previous two weeks, and was struggling; plus, she had a ton of work to do that couldn’t wait. So she was a trooper, and didn’t come out with me much until the end of our stay the following weekend. I was glad she could join me.
We knew we wouldn’t be back this way again for a long time (maybe ever?), so we couldn’t pass up the chance to go out and see the Pearl Harbor Memorial. It was so worth it.
A ferry took us out to the Pearl Harbor Memorial, which is built over the sunken remains of the USS Arizona.
The USS Arizona is officially the final resting place of nearly a thousand U.S. servicemen. A total of 1,177 men died on board during the attack. Of those, only 229 bodies were recovered. The rest remain entombed in the sunken wreckage. Some of the men who served on the Arizona and survived the attack that day (and the war that followed) – who have lived into old age and passed away of natural causes – have , by special request, had their remains entombed inside the sunken Arizona. They wanted to be at rest with their brothers.
The Arizona has an oil leak, which they leave as-is. They say it leaks about 9 quarts of oil into the harbor each day. You can see the tiny droplets of oil float to the surface, one after the other (about every 1-2 seconds). Local legend is that the Arizona is crying for its lost crew, and that these tears of oil will continue to seep out of the hull until the last surviving crewman passes away.
It was touching, and I was moved to tears. I was mostly containing it, but this kind of stuff really resonates with me (as you know). I had my emotions mostly contained, but there was no hiding my tearful eyes.
It was then that a cute Japanese couple (about our same age range) approached me. The woman offered me a Kleenex. At first, I followed that stupid, gut reaction to say, “no thank you.” They smiled and turned away, and I realized I was missing out on an important moment. I followed after them and motioned that I would like a tissue after all. They offered it to me gladly, and with reverence, and the symbolism of what was happening struck me to my core. I was wrecked. It was so clear that they were there not just to see an interesting tourist attraction or historical monument. They saw me mourning our fallen, and – in their effort to offer some small comfort to me – it was clear they were to personally participate in the healing of those old wounds.
That moment softened me in ways I wasn’t expecting, and truly defined my experience there.
I’ve been wanting to share one of my favorite moments in Greece last summer. I’ll set it up, but I’m gonna start off with a tangent so don’t let it be too distracting.
I’ll try to set the scene.
When we took the boat back from Skiathos, we arrived at a port in Volos. We were about to buy bus tickets for the 4-hour drive back to Athens, but we got suckered into a Taxi ride all the way there, instead. For less money than the bus tickets. Remind me to tell you sometime about the part where Allison and I both considered very seriously the idea that we made a mistake by getting in the taxi, and were being kidnapped. We even got transferred from the first taxi to second taxi, with a driver who spoke zero English and was on the phone every 4 minutes. He was taking us well off course, and we ended up near a small airport. Allie, sitting to my left – directly behind the driver – leaned over to me at one point and whispered, “If it goes down, I’ll go for his eyes while you take care of the rest.” She was not joking.
We were not kidnapped, of course, and I hate to tell a story about something that almost happened but didn’t. So that’s not what this post is about.
I will say, though, that on that very same kidnapper-taxi ride back to Athens, about an hour or so into the drive, we randomly ended up taking a route along the coast that took us right past Thermopylae. It was fleeting, but I was thrilled to see it in person.
I’ve read that the sea (not in frame) used to be much higher, here, with the shoreline reaching roughly where you see that modern highway.
In the photo, above, you can see that canyon on the left side of the frame. Those are the “Hot Gates,” the route the Persians would need to take to continue their invasion of Greece (and the rest of Europe) back in 480 B.C. And that highway you see there is the one that our taxi driver ended up serendipitously taking back to Athens.
AS THE STORY GOES
Thermopylae (or Hot Gates, in Greek) is the setting of the famous battle in 480 B.C. where 300 Spartans, led by King Leonidas, fought alongside a Greek force of around 7000 against the Persian King Xerxes and his invading army of somewhere between 100K-150K, which was sweeping the globe. Many of the Greek city-states had already pledged allegiance to him, in order to save their necks. Athens and Sparta were among those who opposed Xerxes. The decision to march on Xerxes at Thermopylae was not popular, and was surrounded in political controversy.
The Battle of Thermopylae is famous for the Spartan’s heroic last stand in the narrow mountain pass on the shoreline of the Aegean Sea. Because of terrain, strategy, and the logistics of marching your army so far from home, going through the pass at Thermopylae was the only good route for Xerxes’ army. Any other route involved high risk of his army being cut off and stranded in Europe; but with the bridges they had already built, and the navy they had in the Aegean, the Persians theorized that if they held Thermopylae, they could march throughout Greece and well into Europe. It was here that, against overwhelming odds, the meager Greek forces held off the invading Persian host for three days.
There’s a ton more to the story, with many separate battles, naval warfare, and much more. But Thermopylae was arguably the hinge pin to all of it.
As the story goes, Leonidas led the small Greek force to Thermopylae and met the Persians at the entrance to the canyon. Man for man, the Spartans were far better warriors, and seriously outmatched the Persian soldiers/conscripts. And while the Persians outnumbered the Greeks by at least 14 to 1 (likely more like 20 to 1), the Persian numbers meant nothing within that narrow pass. The Greeks – more especially the Spartans – slaughtered wave after wave of the Persian invaders.
After the second day of fighting, Leonidas and his men were betrayed by a local Greek, who told the Persian commanders of a small mountain pass that led behind the Greek lines. Leonidas became aware of the betrayal, and – knowing the Persians would soon surround them – he ordered nearly all of the Greek host to retreat (later to regroup) while he stayed behind with his 300 Spartans and about 1100 other Greek soldiers. This group of roughly 1400 Greeks held the pass for one more day, securing the retreat of the larger Greek force. Many sources say the Spartans outlasted the rest of their Greek brothers in arms, until all were surrounded. Given the chance, they refused surrender.
All were killed. Their sacrifice helped to unite Greece and, in numerous ways, made possible the defeat of the Persians, and ultimately allowed for the formation and spread of democracy (an idea in its infancy at the time).
On a monument erected shortly after the battle is a short poem, whose translation comes out roughly:
Go tell the Spartans
Strangers passing by
That here, by Spartan law we lie
As you can see, I’m a real geek on the subject. It’s an inspiring story about a battle that profoundly affected the world in ways we’ll never fully understand. It’s a pivotal moment in world history. Who knows what the world would look like if Xerxes’ army was able to continue their march into Europe?
IT WAS ENOUGH
When we first arrived in Greece – because of some of the snags we hit with the crooks at Ryan Air – we had to choose which places we would and would not be able to visit. Remember that our business was about two and a half years old when we left, and we were doing this as minimalists, with an extremely limited budget; some have wondered why we went at all, with almost nothing in savings and such meager monthly income. It’s a fair enough question, from a conventional perspective. Maybe we had no business going at all.
Here’s my answer: If you have to ask why, the question is moot.
Anyway, you can imagine why I was disappointed when we had to re-assess our budget and I realized how just far out of the way Thermopylae is from where we were staying in Athens. We had to cut a few of the fun things, and visiting Thermopylae was one of them. Even when we went to Skiathos, the bus we took to Volos bypassed Thermopylae. It just seemed unrealistic to make it out there. I had written it off.
So imagine the grin on my face in the back of that taxi, when I saw the street signs on that coastal highway:
Θερμοπύλες | Thermopylae
With a start, I realized where we were. Allie did, too. She noticed the same green street sign and, excited for me, she asked, “is this it?” I looked eagerly out the right side of the taxi and recognized it in an instant. The Hot Gates.
Looking on the narrow mountain pass, I remembered a passage from the novel Gates of Fire (award-winning historical fiction by Steven Pressfield), where a young Spartan in training (roughly equivalent of a squire) named Alexandros asks one of the veteran Spartan soldiers if he fears going to battle. The soldier responds by squeezing at the flesh on his arm and says:
“Never forget, Alexandros, that this flesh, this body, does not belong to us. Thank God it doesn’t. If I thought this stuff was mine, I could not advance a pace into the face of the enemy. But it is not ours, my friend. It belongs to the gods and to our children, our fathers and mothers and those of Lakedaemon a hundred, a thousand years yet unborn. It belongs to the city which gives us all we have and demands no less in requital.”
With reverence and wet eyes, I took in as much as I could as we flew along the highway. My inner-warrior relished the moment as I looked on the ancient battlefield where such heroes died for something larger than themselves. Allie knew what was going on, and squeezed my hand without a word. We didn’t stop the taxi. Our driver spoke no English, and I didn’t need to see the touristy souvenir stands anyway. We passed by at highway speeds, and within minutes it was well behind us. But it was enough.
As you know, I managed to tear my quadriceps tendon in mid-March. I thought it was time for the story (for posterity) and an update on the recovery.
SURGERY WAS A BUMMER
An MRI confirmed that the quad-tendon in my right leg was at least 60-70% torn left to right (from my perspective) – or medial to lateral (if you took Medical Terminology in High School). Surgery was the only good option. Here’s a surgeon demonstrating the procedure on a cadavre.
WARNING: Definitely don’t watch it if you’re easily grossed out. It’s super interesting if you can handle a mildly-juicy, dissected knee joint.
The thumbnail of this next video may be a bit grizzly for the faint of heart, so I softened it
as best I could. You’re welcome. To understand what I was seeing, I had to watch the one posted above first.
WARNING AGAIN: This is the juicy version of the same procedure, performed on an actual patient. Clicking the image will take you to Youtube.
I told you it was a bummer.
Definitely more pain than I’d ever felt before. Maybe from the holes they drilled in my knee cap, or the anchors they tapped into those holes, or maybe one of the largest muscle groups in my body connected to my knee by a couple of cables laced up through the tendon and pulled taut by said anchors. Meh.
I always feel like adding the disclaimer: “I’m sure other people have experienced far worse . . .”
But pain and pain thresholds are relative, right? This set a new bar for me. Luckily, my sweet wife took good care of me. I think she liked to imagine herself as a nurse in the WWII French Resistance, tending a handsome American fighter pilot who crashed nearby . . . who survived the crash without a scratch, stole a motorcycle and raced through the country-side, but got off the bike and turned his ankle on a crack in the sidewalk and fell onto his knee in the least sexy way a person can injure one’s self . . .
Anyway, I couldn’t have done it without her. I actually asked her to call the nurse and ask if it was supposed to be this bad.
“Oh yeah, he should be really really hurting. That surgery is one of the bad ones.”
It actually helped, mentally, knowing it went well and the pain was normal and expected. Allie kept me sane when the pain meds had reached their maximum effect and didn’t seem like they hardly made a dent. She kept me distracted and pampered. The pain was enough that I had no appetite. I prettymuch lived off of strawberry smoothies for the first week.
I was surprised by how much I take for granted. Getting into and out of the shower was a strenuous, hour-long project. It required me to swallow some pride and allow Allie to help me in my weakness and nakedness. And since this injury (my right leg) was, in fact, caused when I sprained my left ankle, using crutches was definitely the added “insult to injury” that they talk about. Thankfully, my police officer brother let me use his wheelchair and shower chair that he used after he was shot in the femur while on duty.
A benefit to all of this was using those motorized shopping carts at Wal-Mart and Costco. What a treat! :)
I actually got the stink-eye from lots of old people when they saw me cruising through the store on these things. I don’t think they noticed the brace.
THE PAIN OF HEALING
Week 1 post-op was the worst of it, by far. Weeks 2 and 3, the pain was much more manageable and the pain meds seemed to really make a dent, and I was able to get some sleep. Soon I was instructed to start putting a little bit of weight on my leg. Then a little more, and a little more. By week 6, I was done with crutches and I had my first physical therapy appointment. Everyone warned me how terrible it would be, but I was actually really excited.
Just before my first PT appointment, my surgeon instructed me to start bending my knee to 30 degrees. I figured that was enough to start practicing my ninja kicks.
My first PT appointment was rough, as expected. With some help, I got my knee bent to just over 70 degrees. It hurt a lot. So did the stretches he gave me to do at home. But I did them. Poor Allie had to listen to me wincing and breathing heavy from pushing into those stretches constantly. Within 8 days – after a couple more appointments, lots of work at home – I was able to push it to 97 degrees.
There was still a lot of swelling and fluid in the knee joint, and I had to find the sweet spot between working hard on my stretches/exercises, and letting my leg rest and heal. When I pushed too hard, the knee pushed back. My stretches were painful and results were slow, and it was hard to stay motivated some days. Still, it felt so good to be moving again. My leg wanted to bend and push and stretch so badly, and most days it felt good to be in that kind of pain. It’s different than the pain of injury. It’s the pain of healing. Does that make sense?
Progress continued at this rate for the next few weeks, until I finally got past 135 degrees. If this is all getting hard to visualize, here you go:
They told me that, while it’s not ideal, I was now in the range where my knee was considered functional. Now that we had my range of motion into a good range, we started focusing more on my strength (more range of motion will continue to come). I had lost a lot of muscle, and some of what I still had was starting to atrophy.
Now that I was moving around more and more, I was excited to start going on short-ish hikes and nature walks. I missed being outside, and I missed the mountains. Not to mention, I ordered a quad-copter for my birthday in March, and hadn’t taken it out flying yet . . .
I’m still working on it, and it’ll be some time before I’m back up to speed. Stairs are hard for me, especially going down. But I’m able to do it without support or a brace. It stiffens up a lot at night, and I get restless if I sit with it bent for too long. It’s getting stronger though.
And yes. As you can see, the Yamaha I bought as a project bike two summers ago is now running great, and I’ve been able to take it on some quality rides, including the Nebo loop a couple times, where I took these:
I’m motivated by a quote that Matt and I often share with our students in our defensive training courses:
In life’s small thing be resolute and great
to keep thy muscle trained: Know’st thou when fate
thy measure takes, or when she’ll say to thee,
“I find thee worthy; do this deed for me?”
– James Russell Lowell
In my family, my mom started a new tradition earlier this year where we write what we like about a family member on their birthday, and send it in an email to all the family members. I wrote this about Allie for her birthday yesterday. I asked for her permission to post it here. She was hesitant, but agreed.
I like Allie’s wide range of experiences, and the common thread of serving others. Did you know some of these things about her? If not, now you have some good conversation starters for next time you see Allie:
- She helped deliver babies while assisting in an OBGYN office in Oklahoma.
- When she was 17, she spotted a man who had collapsed while crossing the street. He appeared to be homeless, maybe a war vet. Cars were just driving around him. She told her mom to stop and call 911 as she went up to him and rendered aid. He had no pulse and was not breathing. She rolled him on his back, adjusted his head, and – pausing briefly to consider that she might contract a deadly disease – she dismissed the warnings and moved her mouth toward his to begin rescue breathing. Thankfully, he gasped a gulp of air just before her mouth met his.
- She has traveled to 10 countries in Africa on 4 separate occasions. Twice with Mothers Without Borders, and twice for her own non-profit organization, Ungana, which she formed with some friends while she attended USU. Although they haven’t been active for many years, some of the projects her organization helped to start in Rwanda remain self-sustaining today.
- She had to escape to the American Embassy in Zambia. She was assisting a small adoption agency, helping place Zambian children with adopting parents. During the occasion in question, their group refused to pay the bribes demanded by a corrupt Zambian social worker; when they refused to pay the bribe, he reported them to the authorities as being part of a child trafficking/prostitution ring. Photos of the prospective parents (all Americans) were published on the front page of the local paper. Agents of the government’s special police approached Allie and her local liaison (and close friend) in the courtyard of their hotel. They asked to see the Americans’ passports. Allie and her friend returned to their room to “retrieve their passports,” where they quickly gathered the other Americans, sneaked out the back window, and sped to the U.S. Embassy.
- On a different occasion, while helping local entrepreneurs in Rwanda, Allie was so close to the civil war being fought across the southern border of the Congo that she could hear the tanks and small arms fire.
- She has comforted the dead and dying in powerful ways, including caring for new born babies whose mothers either died during childbirth or abandoned them right after; many of these babies were premature and/or deathly ill when born. She held and comforted these infants during their precious few hours or minutes of life.
- Yes, really.
This is just a hint at the attributes of my amazing bride. I love her stories, and that she holds them so sacred that she rarely mentions them – I had to ask her for permission to type what I did above. I’m not sure she loves the attention.
I’ve said before that, once Allie and I were dating, we didn’t even have to pray and ask God if it was right. We just gave Him thanks. And we still do.
I love this woman.
I do love steak. I love grilling, and I love steak.
Earlier this spring, on Easter Sunday, I thought I’d try my hand at slow-grilling a nice big chunk of tri tip. I’ve had it in restaurants and always thought it was delicious. For those who don’t know, it’s an extra tasty sirloin cut of beef, with a nice layer of fat on top. It is generally served medium-rare to medium.
I learned how to slow cook it on the grill by following the instructions by The Tri Tip Guy. He deserves the credit. The short version is:
1. Let the meat warm up to room temperature before you grill it.
2. Pre-heat the grill to 350-375 (and keep it there the whole time).
3. Place the meat on the grill, fat-side-up.
4. Close the lid and cook for 15 minutes, keeping the temperature at 350-375.
5. Flip it (use tongs – not a fork or knife, as you don’t want to lose those good juices).
6. Let it cook for another 15-20+ (depending on the size of the roast)
7. Once it “bounces” off the grill, you’re getting close (watch his video to understand this better).
8. Use a meat thermometer. Take it off the grill once it hits 135 degrees or 140-145 degrees for medium.
9. Let the meat rest for 8-10 minutes before you cut it open. Yes, really. It’s important. In fact, I like to heat up the serving plate in the microwave first before placing the meat on it. This helps to keep the meat from cooling off too much while it’s resting.
While you’re grilling – especially once you flip it – that fat’s gonna start to drip and catch fire. Do your best to keep the flames down, so you don’t scorch the outside of the meat.
As far as pleasing everyone regarding medium-rare or medium, keep in mind that it’s a large chunk of meat; if it’s medium in the center, it’ll be more well-done toward the outside edges. I wouldn’t do any more than 145 degrees, or you’ll end up with some of it being much more well-done than you probably intended. Once it’s done, there’s a nice charred layer of fat on top that gives it a great flavor.
It was a fun new challenge. I like that you have to be precise with the temperature, chasing it up and down the gauge to make sure it stays in that 350-375 degree window. It takes at least a good 45 minutes. I was on crutches, at the time, and I ended up sitting down in front of the grill and using my crutch to open and close the lid when I saw the temperature gauge climbing. :)
For the asparagus, we like using an Italian salad dressing as a marinade. Once the asparagus has marinated for 30 minutes or so, toss it onto the hot grill for probably no more than 2-3 minutes (unless you like them soft and rubbery). To test, I use tongs to pick one up and wiggle it – once it starts to wiggle (it’s no longer stiff/rigid like when it’s raw) pull them off.
It was so fun to do this for Easter Dinner. One roast easily fed four adults.
If you like steak, you will love this. If it’s your first time, definitely head over to The Tri Tip Guy’s website and watch his video tutorial. Super helpful.