Tag Archives: alaska

Live storytelling in Chicago

Somewhere between my pre-school preacher years and high school, I came down with a bad case of stage fright.

I remember taking my first speech classes in college and being simply terrified of the crowd. I tried every trick in the book, and I even took an acting class to try to learn to be more comfortable with it.

My father is a preacher.

I am most certainly not.

So when CHIRP’s Julie Mueller approached me about doing the CHIRP’s live storytelling and music series called The First Time, I tried to think of every excuse why I shouldn’t do it.

Chicago is, perhaps, the world center for live storytelling right now. There is not a night of the week where you can’t find a themed storytelling event in any part of this city.

Continue reading Live storytelling in Chicago

The kids are alright, until they’re not


There are many stages in parenting, and I have no idea which one I’m currently in. 

I despise parenting advice, so this isn’t advice, in fact, don’t take it as advice. It’s just an experience I’ve had recently. Take it for what it’s worth. 

When your children are born, they are very needy, and your entire life is given over to them. 

Well, your wife’s entire life is given over to them. If you’re a dad, you try to help out where you can, but the blowouts and the, um, feeding, tend to fall into mom’s lap, generally. 

When they get a little older, they gain some independence, and this is both awesome and terrible at the same time. 

They can hold their head up on their own, they can roll over on the bed, which means you don’t have to wake up panicked in the middle of the night fearing your child has expired from sudden infant death syndrome. 

But they can roll off the bed too, which means you suddenly have some freedom, but you also have a different kind of responsibility too. 

Then they learn to walk, and this is exquisite, because you don’t think you can carry them through that Saturday Market one more time. 

And it’s awful too, because now they can run out into the street or disappear in the grocery store. 

For every ounce of independence they gain, parents get a change in responsibility. Children learn things very fast. Their brains are capable of these massive influxes of information. 

As adults, we are losing brain cells and starting to slow down a bit. This has always been a strange dichotomy to me. 

Then there is this interesting moment where your children are old enough to have really intelligent conversations at dinner and where you go to museums together and enjoy good food. 

As a father, you look around at the dinner table at night, and you’re really proud of this little family you helped create. They’re smart and funny and fun to be around. 

And it’s so brief. 

If and when you recognize this moment, it’s too late. You’re already at the end of this golden age. 

Our oldest son became old enough to babysit when we moved to Montana in 2007. This was a righteous blessing for us, since we hadn’t really had a nice hour or two away from the kids in years. 

By the time we moved to Alaska in 2009, the kids were old enough to cook for themselves and generally police their own lives, which gave us a little more independence. 

And then we moved to Chicago in 2012, and we spent the first two months really enjoying each other’s company. Of course I can only speak for myself here. But it’s really true. We had nice meals out in the big, oak-lined backyard. We watched fireflies at night and my wife and I sipped on ice-cold, bone-dry rose while the kids cleaned up the dishes. 

We watched movies together on the really hot days. We went to the beach together and spent Sundays exploring Chicago’s many food choices. 

And then that moment came. 

I was sitting at dinner, and the kids were asking deep questions about world affairs and politics. I felt like the king of the castle. 

Everyone was happy and smiling. It was perfect. 

And then it was gone. 

It might have flickered a little through the winter, there were a few moments here and there, but when the spring rolled around, the kids were gone. 

Off to spend the night at a friend’s house or hanging out at the mall. Skateboarding with the crew from down the street, or flirting with the neighbor girls. 

Even the little one, the joy of my heart, is often gone away to some friend’s house when I come home from work. 

This same one used to run at me full speed whenever I got home. I had to institute a no-hugs-until-I-took-my-shoes-off rule. 

When we go on adventures on the weekends now, the boys automatically opt out, and if I force them to go, they will find a way to ruin the entire experience. If you think teenage girls are moody, I have two boys who say it’s an equal opportunity emotional roller coaster. 

Yes, yes, I realize this is all part of growing up. I understand that this happens. I just wish that I had paid attention enough during the times when everything was perfect. I wish I didn’t just recognize it that last time. 

As I said, I have no idea what stage I’m in currently. Maybe there are a few bad ones before a good one rolls around again.

And this is not advice, merely one man’s experience. Take it for what it’s worth. 

But if you look around your dinner table at night and see your kids elevating the conversation to new levels in an artful way or challenging you with good questions, stop and relish that moment for a bit. 

Because chances are you’re already close to the end of it. 


When I announced we were moving to Chicago from Anchorage, Alaska, the response from friends and family immediately focused on the change in weather.

Many people told us we’d hate the cold winters in Chicago. So far, it’s been difficult not to laugh at that concept.

Anchorage barely got above zero last year in January. It’s been averaging a balmy 30 most days.

And yeah, the wind is brutal on the walk to the train station, but nothing like working in an Alaska village on a day that hits 55 below zero.

Today is supposed to be the worst commute day of the year, because of a storm known at an Alberta Clipper bearing down on the region.

So far, like the rest of winter here, it’s failed to live up to expectations.

Winter is rough anywhere you go. Some places are rougher than others.

It’s hard to make comparisons from one place to another until you’ve tried them all out.

I’ve got a few places to go before I can start making those comparisons.


The Landscape of my life –


I was thinking about the different places I’ve lived and how landscapes have influenced me over the years.

The first landscape impression I have is of Austria’s Rax mountain, which towered over the village of Richenau, where I lived until I was seven.

I recall hiking on the mountain’s central plateau as a child and staring down the rugged edges into the Höllental, which was like something out of Tolkein’s “Lord of the Rings.”


I have loved mountains ever since.

The second is the verdant Willamette Valley, a green swath running north to south between the Cascade mountains and the coastal range in western Oregon. The volcanic peaks of Mounts Hood and Jefferson to the east, along with the Three Sisters and the flattop of Mount St. Helens to the north form a boundary of sorts, while the wild Pacific Ocean to the west hems you in to the wide valley from which it is very difficult to escape.


The third is the bleak lava fields of the western part of the big island of Hawaii. I spent seventh grade living up on the slopes of Hualalai with my parents and my brother and sisters, and though I was fascinated with the lush vegetation and dank lava tubes near the school I attended and the smell of rotting guavas near the bus stop, it was the dry flats with their moonlike appearance that impacted me most. I loved to read the dates of the most recent lava flows on signs posted along the highway and imagine the stark blackness of the cooled lava highlighted by the vicious red of molten rock flowing toward the ocean. Living in Hawaii is to experience the slow and formidable creation of the world that we know.


The fourth is the crown of the continent, a portion of north central Montana where glaciers scoured out a gem of massive granite walls and deep valleys carved out by dusty blue rivers. Glacier National Park looks nothing like it did when I was a kid and visited with all the wonder of the discovery of the dawn of the world, a time when glaciers and dinosaurs were synonymous and where the ice, even in early summer, was thick and hearkened back to an age when it covered the world.The glaciers are all but gone. A few cling to rocky precipices thousands of feet above your head, but they are trickling away their lifeblood summer after summer.


The fifth is the tundra, which has two very distinct personalities. The tundra that I lived with every day was that which clings to the Chugach mountains high above Anchorage, Alaska. In the spring, the tundra runs wild with the life-giving spring runoff. In the summer, you can watch it almost shimmer with the brilliance of millions of tiny plants clinging to the sides of the otherwise barren mountains. I would take walks in it and rest upon its carpeted softness and wonder if the caribou could taste a difference in the millions of tiny plants that make it up. The second tundra is the flat tundra of the northern realms. outside of Barrow, on the edge of nowhere, the tundra runs beige and dry in summer as snowy owls hunt for lemmings in the 24-hour sunlight. In the fall, the tundra follows the pattern of leaves farther south. It turns a brilliant shade of rusty red with orange and yellow highlights. I’m convinced there is not a painter alive who can mimic the magic of the northern tundra.


And the last, or, I should say, the latest, is the city, sprawling, as it does, from wilderness to wilderness as an organism complete with a vascular system of pipes and wires that connect one part to another. In its own way, the city is as breathtaking as the country side. Where the mountains greeted me upon waking in Anchorage, now the skyline meets me, seemingly rising out of Lake Michigan like a range of mirrored peaks. The difference becoming more defined at night, when the skyscrapers light up with the brilliance of millions of watts of electricity to draw your eyes upward as they would be toward the snow capped peaks in daylight. And if you wander the canyons of the city, they overflow with life at almost any hour. And this is probably my favorite detail. There is no loneliness in the city. Or at least there does not need to be any. The city is like a hive of the best of humanity, the highest achievements in food and lifestyle and community. Unfortunately, the opposite is also true. The city can exhibit the basest of human behaviors, the lowest forms of community and food deserts. And all of this, all of this is contained in just a few square miles so that it is condensed and anywhere you look, there is always something new, some detail that went unobserved the last time you looked there. Always there are new faces and interesting stories, and that is why the city is the most fascinating landscape for me. It truly holds more surprise and more adventure per square inch than any landscape that I’ve lived in or near in this short life so far.



Dressing my wanderlust –

Yesterday I traded in my puffy coat and survival gear for a wool trench coat with New York on the label but made in China.

I gave up my bunny boots for a pair of leather Kenneth Cole dress boots made in Italy.

What you wear is a reflection of your personality, after all.

And yet this concept confuses me.

I’m now one of thousands of men walking the streets of Chicago wearing a wool tench coat over a dress shirt and slacks and walking around in Italian-leather shoes.

To borrow a term, though I know not from where, I’ve blended in.

It’s funny how in leaving Alaska, you leave with the best souvenir the world has ever known. The ability to talk about having lived in Alaska.

“What part of Alaska did you live in?”

Definitely my favorite question.

My answer: Alaska is not like California. You don’t have a Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco or Sacramento and a million other points in between.

In Alaska, you have Anchorage and everything else. Also known as Anchorage and the real Alaska.

Our three years in Montana gave us good prep for Alaska.

Sparse, wide-open country with individualist people inhabiting it loosely.

We moved in winter and spent our money on smart winter coats, gloves hats and boots and some cross-country skis for good measure.

Within a few weeks, we fit in, at least in our own heads. Blended, as it were, with other Alaskans.

Though we were given away for Several months for the way in which we said Lower-48 instead of Outside and snow mobile instead of snow machine.

We moved to Chicago in the summer, so we had only to strip down a bit to fit in.

We should’ve bought Sox shirts to wear around our south side home, but we like the Giants.

Today as I walked from the train at Union Station surrounded by a mass of humanity, my leather-soled shoes clip clopping on the cement, and my coat swishing around my knees, I was reminded about permanence yet again, and how I tend to flee from it.

Necessity might be the mother of invention, but wanderlust is the father of re-invention. I’ve had it bad in my life. Lusting after new experiences and new vistas, wearing new hats and coats as if I belonged to one land or another, when in truth, my heart did not belong to any one place. Never has. I doubt it ever will. 

On Thursday I head to New York City. 

Day 3: The Menagerie Road –

There wasn’t a cloud in the sky as I peeked my head out the hotel window in Whitehorse this morning. 

After yesterday’s misadventure, I was hoping for a good day of driving with the kind of scenery I’ve been expecting from the great north country.

We ate a breakfast buffet under the watchful eye of a buff German woman who was so efficient, it made me laugh to watch her work.  We gassed up the vehicles and hit the road under big blue skies.

The roads out of Whitehorse were immediately better than those we drove yesterday, and we moved along at a respectable clip. We actually did the first 100 miles without stopping. 

The first part of the day was all verdant underbrush, Aspen forests and those wide, muddy rivers that I’ve been noticing lately.

We made good time and covered the first 200 miles In a little under 4 hours. The kids slept, and we got through most of the first part of “Game of Thrones” on audio tape.

Then we saw one, a little black shape just off the side of the road. I braked hard and pulled to the side of the road. I put it in reverse, and pretty soon we were side by side with a small black bear.

It was game on after that. All told, we saw 14 bears, mostly blacks with one grizzly, a lynx, dozens of wood bison, Trumpeter swans, big horn sheep and a Loon.

It was as if Paul Simon had written another road trip song, one I shall call “The Menagerie Road.” 

By the end of the day we had stopped pulling over, but we still pointed them out enthusiastically.

By late afternoon the rains came again, and we walked into Liard Hot Springs to stick our feet in the thermal waters there.

The Northern Rockies loomed large as we got underway again, but the going was smooth and there was little stress, if any.

I went through two bags of sunflower seeds and two thermoses of green tea, I listened to way too much Journey before noon, and I enjoyed this northern stretch of highway, this Menagerie Road.

Looking forward to a change of scenery tomorrow. Already we are far enough south for darkness, and that is a good thing for me.