Monday, October 28, 2013

Lightning Strikes at Chickamauga

"This is a white man's nation... This is a white man's republic!... Do you want these northern abolitionists to take away your Constitutional right to your own property?!?"

"Long live the Constitution!"

"Long live the Constitution indeed! And long live the Union! It is your choice, good people of Georgia, who you want to represent you as the next President of the United States."

"Do not let these bickering Democrats confuse you. The platform of the Constitutional Union party is very simple; Maintain the primacy of the Constitution, uphold the sovereignty of the Union, and enforce the laws democratically passed by our people."

It was with such exhortations that visitors were greeted as they stepped off the bus for the special "timeline" program at Chickamauga during the 150th anniversary commemoration of the battle. The program was truly unique, taking visitors on a journey through north Georgia from 1860-1864. The timeline began with 1860 political stump speeches with representatives of John Breckenridge, Stephen Douglas, and John Bell making statements like the ones you just read, and then moved through recruitment into the Confederate Army in 1861, the homefront in 1862, the Battle of Chickamauga in 1863, and the aftermath of battle in 1864. It was a fascinating way to present the information that truly stood apart from anything else I have seen as part of the sesquicentennial.  I am working on a series of videos of the timeline, but had to put the project aside when the government shut down on October 1 and have been unable to pick it back up since returning. 

This program was far from the only thing that was new and unique about spending a week in north Georgia. It was a part of the country I had really only driven through before and a great chance to learn more about a crucial Civil War battle and campaign that I was far too ignorant of.

It could well be argued that the Battle of Chickamauga, despite being a Confederate victory, was actually the death knell of the Confederacy. Events leading directly out of this battle culminated in Lee's surrender to Grant nineteen months later. It is also second only to Gettysburg in regard to casualties sustained in a single battle. Yet it is largely unknown and unreferenced in the eastern theater of the war. I too was largely ignorant of much of its story before spending ten days helping to tell it.

I split my time between photography and video, successfully producing these four videos during the time that I was there.

Artillery Demonstration

Killed at Chickamauga

What the Monuments Speak to Us

Lightning Strikes at Chickamauga

Eight more videos are in process and I will hopefully be able to turn my attention back to them after finishing a promotional video for the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address.

Although most of my focus during programs and tours was on video, I did take some pictures as well. You can see some of them in this Album from the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Chickamauga. As was the case at Vicksburg and Gettysburg, my favorite images were captured when I went out at sunrise or sunset. Although trees abound at Chickamagua, making it quite difficult to capture the sun, I ended up with some pretty decent images from my various attempts to photograph the light and the clouds.

Spending ten days in Chickamauga was not without its complications. It was no simple thing to miss an entire week of school, especially sine I am taking three classes this semester and was already feeling overwhelmed by the amount of work. Indeed, had it not been for The Government Shutdown, I don't know how I could have recovered from the trip and gotten everything done. Despite the impact it had on my schoolwork, I am very glad I got to be a part of it, especially since the event was most likely my My Last Battle of the Sesquicentennial. I have said it before, but in light of the recent abuse directed toward the Park Service, it bears saying again: I get to do some pretty meaningful things and work in some pretty special places as a National Park Ranger!

Thursday, October 17, 2013

The State of the Republic after a Government Shutdown

After 16 days of being told that I could not come in to work I am officially back on the job. It is a good feeling to be doing something that I love once again, although I am definitely going to need to retrain myself to get up and go into work every day! 

The timing of the shutdown was actually incredibly good for me.  I had just returned from spending ten days in Georgia for the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Chickamauga, and was scrambling to play catch up with all the schoolwork I had not gotten done while I was gone. The shutdown came at the perfect time to allow me to, not only catch up, but also keep up with all of the additional work, including writing three papers. I still have two more papers to write in the next week, but was able to get a lot done in the past two weeks, work that I don’t know how I possibly could have finished if not for the shutdown. The timing also perfectly coincided with Alison’s parents coming to visit. They arrived on October 8 and departed yesterday, which meant that I did not have to go into work the entire time they were here. Although we could not go to Shenandoah National Park as we had planned, I was able to do a good deal more with them while they were here because of not having to go to work. So, from a personal standpoint, the shutdown came at a rather good time. If only they had passed a CR that expired December 7 or 8 and then shut down the government again for a week or so to allow me to get all of my finals done… :p

In all seriousness, despite the benefit of extra time for school and family, the stress of having to try and figure out how we would pay bills with me not getting a paycheck and constantly having to reevaluate plans to make sure I was available to go into work if called back, definitely made the shutdown a less than enjoyable experience.

Being furloughed during a government shutdown taught me a lot, and revealed much about the status of our nation. Here are a few of the things that I observed:

~We have serious problems with the leadership of our country. There have been fights among political factions since the day the American republic was founded, but the situation we face now is exceptional in the intensity of partisanship, and the ineffectiveness of the leaders of our government to effectively govern.

~You can blame the shutdown on who you want, but no matter how you look at it, the result is far from optimistic. The great solution to reopen the government after 16 days of closure was to do almost nothing at all. The debt ceiling was raised for a few months and the government funded for even less, with no measure taken to effect any sort of meaningful change. I am glad to be back at work, but the bill that was signed last night gives me very little hope for our future.   

~The adherence to partisan ideology in this country has reached a point that should disturb all of us. The way that congressional districts have been drawn all but guarantees the reelection of many members of Congress and it is abundantly apparent that few are willing to stand up for the best interest of the people and really take a stand for something. Most coverage of the shutdown and nearly all the comments I heard from members of Congress was focused on vilifying the opposing side with no sense of responsibility and little or no reference to the large political culture and issues that have made this situation possible. This is a stupid way to run a government and the ongoing polarization is making it worse. We would do well as a nation to call more attention to it.

~On a related note, I was sorely disappointed in the behavior of our president. I did not vote for Obama. I did not want him to be the president. However, he was elected by the majority of the American populace and therefore rightfully occupies the office of the President of the United States. With that office comes certain responsibilities and expectations. Chief amongst them are to act like the president. Throughout the shutdown process Obama consistently set himself up as, not the president, but rather the head of the Democratic Party. The clear partisanship of his statements and actions is not the model of presidential authority. As the president, he should be able to set aside his own political beliefs and step above the partisanship, something he has clearly and consistently failed to do. In many ways he is just as radical and extreme as conservative Republicans, he is just radical and extreme in the other direction. Rather than recognizing this and striving for a moderate middle ground, he consistently blames conservative Republicans for everything as if he has no power to do anything about it. This is not presidential. It is petty and childish. Being the president doesn’t mean you get your way. It means you lead both parties and the country as a whole.

~The American people, many members of Congress, and President Obama displayed a significant lack of understanding of basic divisions of power and responsibility under the Constitution. Whether you agree with Tea Party Republicans or think they are the antithesis of all that is good and right in the world, the suggestion that the House of Representatives does not have the ability to determine what gets funded and what doesn’t (which I heard repeatedly over the past three weeks from many sources, including the president) is patently false. This is a power that is explicitly given to that body of our government by the Constitution.

Congress as a whole has the power to:
     “lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common
       Defense and general Welfare of the United States.” (Article 1: Section 8)


      “borrow Money on the credit of the United States.” (Article 1: Section 8)

Two other especially relevant passages are:

Article 1: Section 7:
  “All Bills for raising Revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives.”


Article 1: Section 9:
  “No Money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law.”

In other words, the government cannot pay for something unless a bill for raising revenue or a bill to borrow money on national credit and then an appropriation are passed. Thus, both the Senate and the House have to be involved in raising money and funding government programs and if they choose not to fund something it doesn’t operate. This is the express power of Congress, not the Executive or Judiciary. It is a fact that seems to have been widely forgotten by much of the American public.

~On a similar note, it was very surprising to me how many people, including members of Congress do not seem to understand that when an appropriation is not passed the government has to close down its operations. While I readily agree that it is very confusing because so many government functions were not stopped (I think they should have been, but that is another conversation), the fact remains that it is a very clear cause and effect scenario. If Congress does not pass appropriations the federal government has to close down sites normally available to the public.  

~As I noted in my Last Post, I was very surprised to see how much both members of Congress and the American public vilified the Park Service for the closure of parks. I thought that most people, and certainly members of Congress, understood that failing to pass an appropriation of funds meant that all 401 National Park units had to close. Not some of them, not the less popular ones, all of them. One of the things that became all too evident during the shutdown was that this fact is not understood well at all.

~In the midst of the shutdown a House regulatory commission subpoenaed the Director of the National Park Service to a hearing on his supposed intentionally and unnecessarily painful implementation of the shutdown. It was truly painful to watch this hearing. The sheer lack of understanding and lack of responsibility was appalling. Among the many things that bothered me about that hearing (and there are many) was the fact that the shutdown was treated as a normal and expected function of government. Director Jarvis was lambasted for not having a plan in place to keep parks open through state funding as if that was something he obviously should have prepared for since shutdowns are a routine part of governmental operations. Likewise he was attacked for failing to reopen subsidiary sites more quickly when he was operating with a miniscule staff because nearly everyone had been furloughed. It doesn’t even make sense. The hearing was a powerful example of the failure of our government to understand that there are consequences for their actions or lack thereof. 

So while I am very glad and thankful to be back and work (and receive a paycheck!), I am concerned for the future of our nation. Change needs to happen or we will find ourselves in increasingly dire straits in the months, years, and decades to come. 

Saturday, October 5, 2013

The Impact of a Government Shutdown

I have gained quite a few unique experiences living and working in the immediate vicinity of our nation's capital for the past three and a half years. When I came out to work on the National Mall in January, 2010 I expected to have moved on in less than a year. I certainly did not know that I would meet the love of my life, get married, take on the challenge of an MA in American History, and work in three different positions with the National Park Service in the immediate area. I also did not anticipate having a front row seat for the shutdown of the Federal Government.

As we near the end of day 5 of the government shutdown, we appear to be no closer to resolution than we were on September 30 and National Parks continue to be one of the principle faces of the shutdown. It is strange to be barred from my office and forced to stay at home waiting each day to find out if I can return. It is strange to see places I used to work (most visibly the WWII Memorial) become so central to the public perception of the shutdown. It is strange to be so intimately impacted by the actions, and lack of action, of others.

It is also disturbing. It is disturbing to see how polarized representatives of the two parties are. It is disturbing to see how differently the shutdown is portrayed depending upon which media pundits one listens to. It is disturbing to see the misrepresentations, manipulations, and outright lies set forth by both sides. It is disturbing to see members of Congress, whose actions are directly responsible for the shutdown, display such a disconnect between what they are, or are not, doing, and the impact on the American people. The same Representatives and Senators who failed to pass a budget, and thus shut down the government, are repeatedly attempting to portray themselves as heroes who are opening the shuttered memorials on the National Mall to the public, while appearing to genuinely fail to understand that it is they who caused their closure in the first place. It is disturbing to see one Representative in particular Who Castigated a Ranger at the WWII Memorial, telling her she should be ashamed of its closure rather than taking any measure of responsibility himself.  It is disturbing to see the agency I love portrayed as villains, "goons", and
"stormtroopers" (amongst other things) for doing the job they are required to do. But most of all, it is disturbing to see how little most people (including members of both houses and the president) appear to understand the way this government is intended to work, which branches and levels are responsible for what, and even what the structure of the government actually is. It appears that civics education is sorely wanting in America.

On a personal level, this shutdown has come at a very good time. After spending 10 days in Georgia at the 150th anniversary commemoration of the Battle of Chickamauga,  I was behind in schoolwork and scrambling to stay abreast of each of my three graduate classes. The extra time to catch up and get ahead on schoolwork is badly needed, and I am trying to take advantage of it as much as possible. I even managed to squeeze in two trips to the George Mason Aquatic center before classes this week. Since I am taking three classes I am considered a full time student and thus have access to the university recreation facilities. I am usually so busy I cannot take advantage of this, but this past week I swam a mile before class on Tuesday and Thursday.

Yes, this is a disheartening time, but it is also a time for reflection and taking stock of life, and thus a time for remembering what really matters. One thing that this shutdown is making abundantly clear is how much better off we are founding our hopes and faith in Jesus Christ and his sovereignty than in the United States Government.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Other Forces at Work in the World

Twelve years is a long time. It doesn't seem like it has been that long since the terrorist attacks in 2001, but the date suggests otherwise. 

I was reminded of how long it has really been a few weeks ago while watching the teen tournament on  Jeopardy. One of the questions was, "In October 2001 Congress passed this act to deter and punish terrorism."  In my mind it was an easy question as the answer could not be anything other than "The Patriot Act," so I was surprised when none of the three contestants got it right.  But then Alison pointed out that these kids would have been no older than 4 or 5 when the Patriot Act was passed. To them it is no more current than the Sedition Act of 1918 or the Social Security Act of 1935. Twelve years can, indeed, be a long time...

In some ways much has changed since that September morning twelve years ago, but in others very little has changed at all. 

My own thoughts have certainly developed as my focus has shifted and widened. Last year I reflected upon the ways in which my perspective had changed in May It Always Seem Like Yesterday

One thing that appears not to have changed is the manner in which politics influence and guide this nation. The surge of national unity that followed September 11 is difficult to find in our current political climate. Partisanship reigns supreme and many of the same problems remain or have gotten worse. It is easy to feel as though there is little reason to hope, and I have often felt that way myself. The failures and inaction of Congress and our president have had deep personal impacts on my life and it often appears as though our leaders care little for the effects their decisions and actions have on their constituents. Yet, as I write to you today, hope is the very thing that is on my heart. 

As bleak as things sometime appear, it is helpful to remember who we are and where we have come from. I am currently taking three classes in what will, Lord willing, be my last semester of coursework (with a research seminar and internship to follow in the spring) of graduate school. Those three classes cover the early American Republic, Reconstruction, and the interwar period (between WWI and WWII). As I find myself in the midst of my third week of class, I have already observed a multitude of connections between these three periods of American history. Of these connections, the most prevalent is that all three classes cover the period immediately following a time of war and great national upheaval. In fact, it could be argued that they cover the aftermath of the three most defining moments of conflict in this nation's history. 

In each case, the nation that emerged from the fire of war and ashes of loss was very different than the one that had existed beforehand. But also in each case, things did not go smoothly. The Alien and Sedition Acts under Adams' presidency and the infighting between Federalists and Jeffersonians nearly tore the new country apart in the 1790s. The violence, poverty, and oppression that developed in the South after the Civil War continues to leave ripples in our society today. The fear and uncertainty in this country after the Great War resulted in incredible violence, labor unrest, and general mistrust and backstabbing that rivals any other period in our history. These were not times of peace and prosperity for most people.

But these were also times of transformation. On the far side of the tumult the United State emerged as a "treaty-worthy" nation with equal standing to the major European Powers by the 1820s: as a newly united nation that passed legislation to, not only abolish slavery, but grant civil rights and suffrage to it former slaves by 1870: and as the preeminent world power that became a potent symbol of the positive force of democracy, especially when contrasted with the totalitarian regimes that would soon emerge. Although in each case, there were plenty of reasons to despair, there were also very good reasons to hope in these periods that most define our nation.

A few weeks ago Alison and I saw a performance of Shakespeare's play, "Much Ado About Nothing." It is a tale full of scheming, backbiting, and attempts to thwart others. But in the end, the truth prevails and all of the plotting and deception proves to be much ado about nothing. Perhaps, in the bigger picture, as hopeless as things may seem, even our current political culture will prove to be likewise.

It remains to be seen what role 9/11 and the wars waged in its aftermath will play in the legacy and future of the United States, but perhaps we have more reason to hope than it might often appear.

This past Saturday Alison and I had the pleasure of watching "The Fellowship of the Ring"with all of the music performed live at Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts. It is a splendid way to watch the film. Although I have seen that movie at least 20 times, there is One Scene that grabs hold of me every time I see it. Saturday was no exception.

In the dark of Moria, when all hope seems lost, Frodo laments:
"I wish the ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had happened."

Gandalf's response reveals wisdom that transcends that particular moment:
"So do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us."

We cannot control our circumstances, but we can decide how we respond to the situations we face and what we do with the time that we have on this earth.

But Gandalf doesn't stop there. He continues by saying:
"There are other forces at work in this world, Frodo, besides the will of evil."

And concludes with the statement:
"Bilbo was meant to find the ring. In which case you also were meant to have it. And that is an encouraging thought."

That is, indeed, an encouraging thought. We don't have to look very hard to find the reality of evil in this world, and few events speak of its presence in this nation with more force than 9/11. But we do have reason to hope. There is more going on than the reign of evil. There are more powerful forces at work if we have the eyes to see them.

We don't know how much time we have or how and when we will die. But we do know that we have an opportunity each day to make this world a better place than we found it. And we do know that God is sovereign, and that even when we cannot see the way ahead, his power is still very much at work.

So on this twelfth anniversary of the tragedy of 9/11 take a long view of history and find hope in the thoughts that we can change the world we live in, that no matter what we face, we always have the chance to decide how we will respond, and most of all, that there are forces at work in this world more powerful than the will of evil.

Reflections from Previous Years

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

The Introduction of Video Production

A significant component of my position with the Park Service for the last year and a half has been serving a photographer at special events, particularly the 150th anniversaries of Civil War battles. If you haven't already seen them, this album of Memorable Moments and this album of Scenic and Landscape Photography contain some of my favorite results.

While at Vicksburg this past May I ventured into the realm of video for the National Park Service for the first time. I hadn't done anything with video since I left Oroville, CA in early 2009 and all the work I had done there was via Final Cut on a Mac. Now I had to learn to use Adobe Premiere Pro on a PC. It was a bit of a learning curve. My first forays into video in Vicksburg were not spectacular, but weren't bad either. They included these three:


Although I didn't put the final video  together, all of my artillery footage was used in the final Artillery Thank you video during the event as well. 

When we returned from Vicksburg and began to plan for Gettysburg we decided that I would focus exclusively on video with the assistance of one other member of the team brought in from the regional office.

The result was much more impressive than our efforts at Vicksburg. Most of the work was done during the actual event or in its immediate aftermath, but the final video on the list is one that just went live this morning. Since the launch of that video officially concludes my involvement in the 150th anniversary of Gettysburg, I thought it would be worth putting all the direct links together in one place here on the blog.

The Videos of Gettysburg:

June 30 - The Eve of Battle

In this video you see timelapse of the sunrise as well as the opening program that occurred the evening of the 30th. You also see and hear footage that I filmed of various different speakers including Director Jarvis and Doris Kearns Goodwin.

July 1 - The First Day

July 1 began with a program about the last march of the Iron Brigade, as they entered into the fighting when the battle began in earnest that morning. It was one of the most impressive programs I have ever seen as living historians dressed as members of the Iron Brigade led the way as 1,300 people streamed across the fields of Gettysburg. I was sprinting through the fields trying to get one shot after another with Alison right beside me. She stayed with me despite being attired in shorts and sandals, which was most impressive. Unfortunately it also meant that she exposed herself to poison ivy, which stayed with her for the better part of a month!

July 2 - The Second Day

On July 2 I followed in the footsteps of the Confederate advance in two separate programs, both of which are featured in this video ("In the footsteps of Captain Johnston" and "The Valley of Death). I also managed to capture some memorable footage of Confederate living history demonstrations, which is likewise featured in the video.

July 3 -The Final Day

The highlight of the third day, and really of the commemoration, was Pickett's charge. More than 15,000 visitors followed in the footsteps of the 13,000 man charge, crossing the same fields along the same paths taken by the nine brigades that made the charge on July 3. It was an impressive sight, and all told roughly 40,000 people were present for the program, making it by far the largest of the sesquicentennial.

Pickett's Charge Preview

A short video highlighting the impact of Pickett's Charge on the battle and the war as a preview for the larger video to come later. 
July 4 -The Aftermath

Among the programs focused on the aftermath of battle was a fascinating presentation about the dead, given on the Rose Farm with 3D pictures and glasses to help visitors more fully appreciate the experience. Even I donned the glasses as I filmed the program.

This is the big one, with footage from the entire event over the audio of interviews that I did with various NPS personnel and footage I captured of speakers at the opening ceremony. 

This video tells the story of the "Last March of the Iron Brigade" program on July 1. Everything in it was shot by me in the manner described for the July 1 video. 

The final video is of the big commemorative march on July 3. Much of the footage appeared in the July 3 and Pickett's Charge Preview videos, but this one is really focused on that specific program and contains a fair amount of new footage as well.

I will be running the video side of things again at Chickamauga in a few weeks. It won't be the scale of Gettysburg, but I am still hoping for some fun results!

Friday, August 30, 2013

The Changing Tides of Life

I have officially completed the first week of my last semester of coursework in graduate school. 

I will be going down to Georgia for the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Chickamauga from September 13-23. 

I will no longer be working in my current position with the Park Service after May of next year. 

I could not have made any of these statements with any degree of certainly until a few days ago. Quite a lot has changed in the last couple of weeks...

Earlier this summer it appeared that I had stumbled onto a way in which I could not only be promoted to a higher grade level in the Park Service, but also be converted into what is known as a "Term" position. I still wouldn't be permanent, but it would be notably closer and would qualify for health insurance. I determined that in order for this to happen I would have to finish graduate school this school year, and consequently set out to find a way to do precisely that. 

After meeting with my graduate advisor and discussing different options, I decided to take three classes this semester to allow me to focus on doing a research seminar and internship next semester. I was able to find a way to use my position with the Park Service as a launching point for an internship, which will give me credit without me having to do nearly as much additional work. I also found out that, as luck would have it, the topic for the spring research seminar is.... The Civil War! And the professor leading it is the guy I took a class on the Civil War from last semester. So that really is perfect. It should allow me to work on a project that I am really interested in and I will be able to focus on that without having to do other papers and coursework at the same time.
Thus I have found myself taking three graduate courses simultaneously while also working full time. We will see how well I survive the venture when I (hopefully) reach the end of the semester! 

One additional benefit of taking three classes this semester is that I am considered to be a full time student, which means I can now use the recreational facilities on campus. This past Monday I went out to the aquatic center on campus and swam 1000 yards in the pool before work. It was really fun as I haven't swam laps like that in ages.I don't know how much I will be able to take advantage of it with how much else I will have to do, but it is nice to have the option!

If all goes according to plan I will complete all requirements to graduate in May of 2014. 

Even as I began the semester and put this plan in motion I was finally able to sit down with my supervisor and the two people at Manassas who have control over the hiring and budget issues and talk about my situation and the possibilities of promoting me to a higher grade level. We had been trying to arrange this meeting for quite a while, but with various scheduling issues and in order to give them time to find out more specific information, it hadn't happened. 

I went into the meeting expecting to get confirmation on my plan to convert me into a term position when I graduate in May. Instead I found out that it is not possible after all. 
It is exceedingly frustrating and disappointing, especially after I had designed this whole plan with the expectation of that conversion happening. But the bottom line is that I can't do anything about it. 

So where that leaves me is that, instead of being promoted, I will lose this position the day after I graduate. I cannot work in my current position unless I am a student and I can't be converted into another position in this office, so come May 18 (the official graduation day or GMU so consequently my last day of eligibility as a student) I will lose this job. 
While that is obviously problematic, I do also get four months of non-competitive eligibility for any open position in the federal government after I graduate. This means that I can be picked up without having to compete for any open position anywhere for four months. That four months starts the day after I graduate. 

My plan is to do anything I can to utilize this four month window (May-September 2014) to get hired into a different position, ideally one that is permanent.

My career with the Park Service has been a risk and journey into the unknown from the beginning. It has worked out through God's abundant provision so far. Every time I needed a new position, something came along. So we are just going to have to trust that that will happen again once May hits. 

Speaking of God's provision, there is also good news about Alison to report. On Tuesday (September 3) she will begin an internship  with a non-profit that does work with international and national justice and human rights. The work is 20-25 hours a week, and mostly done remotely whenever she has time. So at long last, she will get to do something she is actually interested in that isn't just starbucks. She will remain at starbucks (for now still working as she has been, about 35-38 hours a week) and do this as additional work. That way we still have her starbucks income and health insurance, plus an additional monthly stipend for the internship. 

So literally on the heels of finding out that I would not be promoted and would not be able to get health insurance, we found out that she will have the opportunity to do work she cares about and we will get a little extra money as well. 

In a few weeks I will go down to Georgia for what will now be my last major Civil War 150th event. I will go to the 150th of the Gettysburg Address in November, and there will be a few other small events, but with me losing the position in May, this will be my final multi-day event.

Thus, even as new horizons are opening, old ones are beginning to close. We know that these next nine months will be a time of transition. It remains to be seen where that transition will takes us.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

A Western Escape

The thought of "going on vacation" doesn't usually inspire images of returning home, but for Alison and I this summer that is precisely what it meant. Or at least it meant returning to each of our state's of origin to spend time with our families. For some time now we have been aware of two facts about our life together: we had never been west together in the summer and both of us had a significant piece of our before-married life that the other had never experienced. For Alison it was spending time in Lake Tahoe. For me it was Camp Meeting.

For the first 25 years of my life I never missed (the Arizona District of the Nazarene Church) Camp Meeting. Since I started working for the National Park Service in 2009, however, I had not been able to go. Thus Alison had never experienced something that played a key role in my childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood.

Alison's family owns a cabin above Lake Tahoe in California. I had been to Tahoe in the winter to go skiing when I lived in Oroville and visited the cabin with Alison and her family over Christmas in 2010 and again very briefly to go skiing the following March. I had not ever seen the lake or area in the summer, however, something which she wished to rectify.

As we looked at our calendar and responsibilities for 2013 we concluded that this summer offered an opportunity to not only do something about changing the circumstances described above, but also to spend time with both of our families, something we would otherwise have been unable to do until the fall. So we committed to focusing all of our vacation time, money, and effort on going west and returning home during the summer.

As plans developed the visit became even more important as it offered the additional opportunities of celebrating my Dad's 60th birthday and seeing our new nephew, born to Alison's sister Melanie last December, while we were in California.

The shenanigans began with a 60th birthday celebration for my Dad which took place on Kristen's 27th birthday at my Dad's house in Glendale. The weather was actually quite nice (for mid-July) and we enjoyed a dip in the pool before the party officially began. In addition to partaking of tasty Mexican food and cake we also played games in which we had to guess how my Dad and Kristen answered questions about themselves and guess trivia about the decades in which they were born. We also, naturally, took a series of ridiculous pictures with the aid of all manor of silly costumes and props. This is one of the highlights.
The day after the party we headed north to Prescott for Camp Meeting. Before camp officially began Alison and I went up to Flagstaff to visit my good friend Brian, his wife Andrea, and their new daughter Charlotte, born only three weeks earlier. Camp itself was filled with lots of tasty food, church services, and games including cranium, guillotine, squabble, and of course the ever-present pit and rook. We also had a couple of epic night ultimate frisbee matches complete with a light-up frisbee and glowsticks to identify who was on which team. This photo captures what we looked like after such a match.
Camp would not have been complete without some ridiculous family photos, which we captured on the final day. This one, with the addition of a few props, is a particular favorite.
From Arizona we flew to Salt Lake City and then to Reno, Nevada, where Alison's Dad picked us up at the airport and took us out to Lake Tahoe. It was quite late when we arrived so I didn't fully appreciate the difference between winter and summer until the next morning when I could actually see outside. It is certainly a very different place! The picture below includes the immediate family and Bart (the Scottie) sitting in front of the cabin. As you can see the view is pretty spectacular!
We didn't get to out on the lake, but we definitely enjoyed walking along its shore, driving all the way around the lake, playing mini golf, and spending time in and around the cabin and Tahoe City. Among the highlights of the trip was the Living History Day at Sugar Pine Point State Park, which included a tour of the Ehrman Mansion and a picnic down by the water. We also had plenty of time to enjoy the company of baby Noah, who was seven months old during the visit.
Now it is back to the grindstone of work and real life, but at least I still have a couple more weeks before school begins again! This is going to be a tough semester, so the break and time spent away with family in cooler climes was welcome indeed. 

For more details and a lot more pictures of the entire trip, take a look at This Album.