Derek Johnson Muses

It is my daily goal to make everyone around me better people, thanks be to God.

Road Notes: Full of Surprises and Joy

Back to the Future

Back to the Future. I was there.

I spent three days last week trucking around the four awkward fitting corners of Nebraska-Missouri-Iowa-Kansas delivering and picking up seed. Couple of long days and short nights, but it was a lot of fun to be back in the truck, getting caught up on podcasts while watching the entire world wake up to spring.

It all started Tuesday, when the owner of the lab space I rent asked me to run some seed to his dealer in Graham, Missouri, a 200-size town roughly 20 miles east of I-29 off the Mound City exit. It’s the fourth time since December that I’ve driven down or across the I-29/Missouri River Valley, and the hills still roll like an endless wave. At least I-29 is better than I-35 between Des Moines and KC. On my way home, I grabbed dinner at Crave in Lincoln, thinking I’d spend Wednesday dutifully catching up.

The Long and Wavy Bluffs that Stretch from OMA to KC

The Long and Wavy Bluffs that Stretch from OMA to KC

On actual Wednesday, those tidy plans were disrupted when I was asked to go to Belle Plaine, Iowa and pick up a bulk load of seed. I gratefully threw my plans for the day out the window and left promptly because, as sudden as it was, too many ordinary days lead to too many ordinary thoughts. Besides I got to eat at the Corn Crib. 

Thankfully, I pressed hard to get to Belle Plaine and arrived at the processing plant just before the secretary I had to bother was about to leave for the day. I was loaded quickly and peacefully traversed to my parents’ apartment in Ames, along the tight hills-corridor of US Highway 30, until it opens up to four lanes around Marshalltown.

Thankfully, I slept poorly and woke up at 3:18 A.M. After 45 minutes of kidding myself, I got up, showered, and was out the door by 5 A.M., eager to beat rush hour traffic around Des Moines. So giddy, I celebrated with Starbucks breakfast: oatmeal with a vanilla latte, things I always want to get at Starbucks, but never do because I’m never there that early.

I glided cheerily through lighter traffic and the world waking up, even as my energy inconveniently burned off around 7:45, forcing me to crush a Starbucks Refresher. I still dragged, but clung to the thought that I would be back to Seward before noon and who knows what the afternoon would hold.

And upon my return to office, I was asked to take one more delivery to Kansas that afternoon! I eagerly said yes. After all, I could go home for lunch and crash for ten minutes and be back to normal. If I didn’t have another delivery, I would be on pins and needles from the Refresher all afternoon. Imagine the waste.

I went home, ate, started a load of laundry, and repeated the delivery cycle. This particular delivery was just across the Nebraska-Kansas border, south of Odell, Nebraska. The familiar turns on I-80 east to Lincoln, them south to Beatrice whizzed by me, almost as if it were happening to someone else. I crossed the border on an obscure country road (miss the welcome-to-Nebraska signs!), and after a bit of searching, found the farm. Then it was back up the highway, and another special dinner (Culver’s this time around), rushing back to Seward in time for church. A delightful day indeed.

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Border Signs

The Invisible Mound

Pile up at the bottom.

Pile up at the bottom.

I’ve written over 300 blog posts over the past two and a half years, not counting the post I’ve written for other sites. Over the past six to eight months, I’ve thought some about compiling these posts for a book or something, and a few weeks ago, I started dumping them into random files on my computer before I realized that this wasn’t the purpose of why I starting writing this blog to begin with.

I write first and foremost to get out the evil voices in my head that drive me crazy. When I started blogging on WordPress, my head was overflowing with thoughts I hadn’t expressed. I still can’t believe I would post something every day when I started writing, but it eventually slowed down. Eventually, I just ran out of things to say, which I was fine with. But given how many hours I’ve put into this, there is that sense that I should do something with all the words lying around here.

I recognize the pattern I’m in because I’ve been here before. I start on a project and I feel this rush of energy from the new challenge and experience. But after a while, the energy burns off and I give up and let it go. That’s part of who I am, and some of those project weren’t supposed to work out. But I also recognize that at some point, I may need to take a writing class or read a book on writing, so that I don’t keep churning out material and letting the thoughts wash away in my mind.

I’m back where I started. When I began writing this blog (and taking photos of my time on the road), I felt desperate to have a sense of accomplishment from the miles I spent barreling around the Midwest, nothing to show for it. Now, I want something to show for it again.

Corner in Black River Falls, Wisconsin

Corner in Black River Falls, Wisconsin

Life in the Wastelands

San Francisco's Grand and All...

San Francisco’s Grand and All…

I’ve seen the cartoons with the maps shows New York, LA, and nothing in between. Those big executives and companies on the coasts, they think so little of us in Flyover Country. Sadly, sometimes they are right, but there are good reasons people choose to live between Middle America’s hay bails.

I’ve been to Southern California twice, Chicago many times, DC twice, and spent a month in San Francisco once. My goal to visit New York remains unfilled, but I’m guessing I have spent more time in major cities than any rich, urban commentator has spent roaming the fruited prairie. Don’t get me wrong, the options there are amazing, and if I did make a lot of money, I’d love to live in Chicago or San Francisco. Or I could buy farmland here in Nebraska.

Bright Lights

Bright Lights of Chicago

There a lot of reasons people would choose to live here in Seward, or in any small community. A slower pace of life. Chunks of people (yours truly included) have been born here and never moved. Others have worked in a larger city and wanted to move someplace where they can preserve their savings and buy a better house for less money, even if they have to take pay cuts. Since the recession a lot of people have come out to the sub-1,000 towns of Staplehurst and Goehner here because they’ve become impoverished.

What makes this area look depopulated are the family farms where one sibling took over the farm and the other three moved someplace else. But the demographics are more complicated.

Towns like Seward (like most of rural America) have a gap of people between the ages of 22-30, as this is the demographic that has moved away to get more education and work experience. They come back in droves in their thirties and forties, but the lack of young adults is noticeable, and makes you feel a bit lonely if you were one of ones who stayed. It’s a part of a new age in America, where moving has become tied in with economic prosperity.

The Main Street...the One and Lonely.

The Main Street…the One and Lonely.

There is no question that this return to the small towns is tied to the “good place to raise kids” adage that cities quaintly tied upon rural America, and rural America in turn embrace to prop up their own self-esteem. But with the rise of adults-only priced neighborhoods, perhaps “a more affordable place to raise the kids” better reflects what these communities are. (Interesting side note: a friend in the know told me over the weekend it now costs as much to build in Seward as it does in Lincoln. Amazing we caught up.)

It’s weird for me to be in this money-preserving middle, having skipped the step where I moved to the big cities, or abbreviated it in some sense. But there would have been a lot of work involved in that too, so I guess I should be grateful for that.

Horizon

Horizon

Why I liked the How I Met Your Mother Finale Twist (Major Spoilers!)

(Warning: The following posts contains spoilers from the SERIES FINALE of How I Met Your Mother, up to and including the final scene of the series. Proceed at your own risk!)
I’d followed How I Met Your Mother since its early years and was always enchanted by the show. Granted, the whole mystery of how Ted actually met the mother could be tedious, but the show never took itself that seriously, which, incidentally, I would argue was the fatal flaw of Lost and why that show’s finale didn’t work. That’s why, when HIMYM pulled its final, premise-undermining twist, I was impressed that Craig Thomas and Carter Bays had the guts to pull a real shocker, even if the final reveal wasn’t as clean as it could have been.
The reason the ending worked for me is, like the daughter said, the mother was barely in the story. If you just plopped down on the couch and starting watching HIMYM, you’d probably have the same observation: show about the mother who isn’t there? What’s up with that? Ted, the classic overthinker, is the kind of guy who would sit his kids down and tell them eight years of history to work up the courage to ask one girl out. So that serves the overall arc of the show.
But the ending could have been better with more context. It is fair to look at the ending and say (as many have), “If Barney and Robin got divorced after three years with no kids, how are Ted and Robin going to make it with Ted already having kids?” Some more context could have helped, like saying “Robin moved back to New York two years ago and doesn’t travel as much as she used to. She’s shown much more interest in Ted’s kids since their mother has died.” There’s a ten-year gap between the last Robin sighting at Ted and Tracy’s wedding and Ted asking Robin out again, when Ted and Robin are now in their fifties. A lot could have changed, and that should have been made clear, in order to make the twist more palatable.
This leads to the real problem of the finale, and that is of Barney and Robin’s divorce after a mere three years of marriage, after three seasons’ worth of buildup to their marriage. Honestly, the produces should have killed Barney at some point in the future if they wanted to bring Ted and Robin back together. It would have been sad, but it would have been better than negating all the growing up Barney did for two years, only to knock it down and build it back up in half-an-hour
But in a way, HIMYM finale is just the way life is, for better or worse. People fall in and out of love, and in and out of lives. Just because Ted is asking Robin out in the future doesn’t mean that he was in love with her all the time he was married to Tracy. He’d still be with Tracy if she was alive, but she died. Ted moved on, and at his age, he can marry a woman who was just a friend.

What Causes the Happy State (of Mind)

The Empty House

The Empty House

I’ve sat and watched whole TV-on-DVD sets in just a couple of days. I’ve sampled every dessert at a party or an art opening multiple times, and been stuffed afterward. I indulge Starbucks lattes, Husker football games on a whim, and vintage clothes from thrift stores. It all serves the same purpose.

It makes me happy. But in reflection, I remind myself that those things gratify my tastes first and foremost. There’s a big difference.

“Gratification” causes a burn of aestheticism within the walls of the body. Sometimes it does actually lead to lasting happiness, but it lies and leaves one empty just as often. That burst of virtual reality that gives you a short feeling of connectivity while it’s on, only leaving you to go to bed thirsting for real human interactions. Gratification whispers, “There is no yesterday, and no tomorrow. Assume the present will save you.”

As I’ve aged, I’ve come to understand that true happiness depends a lot on what’s in front of you and behind you informing what you do in the present. While I still enjoy my leisure time, I can’t spend vast time in leisure without worrying about my responsibilities with the business, or at home. (It’s funny how a yearly property tax bill can change your perspective.) God’s promise of heaven to Christians enlightens what we should be doing now in time, so how much more should I measure my material possessions and time?

I have days when the business is slow, and I can do whatever I want. I know that sounds great, but after a while, I wish that I was doing something. The slow days pile up, slowly but surely, and over the course of years, they leave holes in your life that you don’t know how to fill. And you feel like you’ve wasted a lot of your life on stuff that doesn’t matter. That’s why I don’t get it when I hear Democrats like Harry Reid talk about “job lock” like it’s a bad thing. A lot of jobs may be boring, but they are just that: jobs. If you weren’t working as much, you’d worry more about your future.

Over the past couple of months, I’ve taken a few temporary jobs to pass the time when things are slow. They’ve been tough and exhausting, and the pay on some of them has been so low I’ve wondered if they were worth taking to begin with. But, they are jobs, and no matter the outcome, they saved me from time I would have wasted worrying.

(A post that inspired me to think about what causes happiness.)

The Houses that are not Empty

The Houses that are not Empty

The Walking Dead Underachieves Because of Its Radical Nihilism (Spoiler Warning!)

(Warning: This post contains spoilers through Episode 4×14 of The Walking Dead. Proceed at your own risk.)

Right now, The Walking Dead is my favorite show on TV, which sucks because of how disappointing the show can be. Don’t get me wrong, the zombies are terrifying and the action scenes are creative and captivating, but I just can’t stand the people moping around when they are on the verge of running out of food. What would make the show better is a dose of conservative ideology.

The Walking Dead underachieves is because it’s a wildly liberal/nihilistic show, embracing the motto, in the long run, we’re all dead. Whatever satisfies you now, do it. Which works great, in the modern American world of 7-11′s and mass convenience. When you put that philosophy into practice in a world full of flesh-eating zombies (as TWD tries to do every week), at some point, the characters become unsympathetic, because there’s so little pleasure in the world. If you live for pleasure in the zombie-apocalypse, why don’t you walk into the arms of the biters?

Season 4′s second half demonstrates how dumb this philosophy is. Rick and the counsel would have plan ready if they had to suddenly abandon the prison, like bags that were ready to fill with food, and a place to met on the outside (and getting to this specific, predetermined place could have been the major arc of the second half of the season). Remember how Glenn slept on the broken bridge through the night after the Governor’s attack? The prison was intact enough that they would have time to go to the kitchen and gather supplies before they left.

Instead, the characters run off into the woods and scavenge houses and eateries for food. Hadn’t they picked the area clean when they were on the road a year ago, at the beginning of season 3? The world went to hell, but it’s as if the McDonald’s never closed.

This roaming-in-circles, Cheese-Wiz-from-the-sky attitude is because Hollywood holds luck, not hard or planning, as the main arbiter of success and failure in life. The belief in the supremacy of lucks leads to a belief that personal actions are not important, and at some point, there’s no point in watching people whining over their personal autonomy being violating. (Like Maggie in Episode 4×13, for example.)

There’s a simple conservative ideology that could fix this: building for the future. Things may look bleak, but we have inalienable rights steaming for our creator, however we define him, and we have to preserve our society. To those who want to keep ideologies off television, I’d say this: this is a mild conservative ideology that would make the show mostly apolitical, and if you want to watch more liberal TV, you have unending options. No one says you still can’t have a couple pessimistic characters to balance things out.

I do have a glimmer of hope that The Walking Dead will get better, and that has to do with the one arc that I have found interesting in the second half of this season, the Daryl-Beth story. I know fans tend to complain about Beth (seriously, fans of guy shows hate woman as a general principal it seems), but Beth got Daryl to be more optimistic and to open up. If this season ends with Daryl saving Beth and becoming a more purposed character, that could be a great arc into the next season. But given how this show likes to play ball, I’m guessing that Beth is going to be killed, and her death is somehow going to motivate Daryl to be more of a leader. While the latter scenario would be ideologically consistent, it would do the impossible: it would make The Walking Dead even more nihilistic. But at least I might be able to give up the show then.

(For more on TWD‘s ideological issues, check out this post from The Federalist.)

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Oh Beth, if You Were Only on Hart of Dixie

College Stadiums Through a Prism

In my travels, I’ve passed many college stadiums, and have endeavored to keep a photographic record of them. I love seeing them when they’re empty, because you can tell so much about their character, and what kind of fans go into them. Here’s a few of them, on game days and other days.

Uppers...

Uppers…

This walled-in construction lot this is Cal’s Memorial Stadium during its renovation in 2011. Literally, they tore it all out except for the walls. You couldn’t even go up next to it with all the construction fences, but you could still see inside from up on Tightwad Hill.

Closest I'll get to the Blue Turf

Famous Turf…

As I’ve shared before, this photo was taken through the chain fence at Boise Stadium. That strategy was not as ingenious as the one I utilized below…

My Secret View of the Badgers' Home Turf

My Secret View of the Badgers’ Home Turf

..where I actually snuck into Camp Randal Stadium and found a window. Looks like a snow globe.

Spartans lying in Wait...

Spartans lying in Wait…

If you look close to the left of the tree, that’s the south side of Spartan Stadium. At the time, I was on a short time table, and there was not an open parking space close to the stadium, so I ended up with this crappy, obstructed picture. The stadium has some dazzling windows, and fits with the summer greenery.

Hawk Nest...

Hawk Nest…

This photo was taken on an early morning in September of 2009, you know, way before Nebraska and Iowa would be shoehorned into a rivalry. At the time, I was just moseying through the lazy Iowa cornfields, wanting to capture a great stadium in the most glamorous college league in America. I’d have a different attitude about it if I were passing by it today.

Corner...

Corner…

This is stadium on a game day. The Big House in Ann Arbor, Michigan to be exact. The flag is the Nebraska flag that flies in the northwest endzone. Pretty simple for such an important college football venue. (More photos from last year’s Nebraska-at-Michigan game.) I don’t get why people criticize it for being a high-brow stadium. As a visiting fan, I’ve been to both high-brow and low-brow stadiums, and Michigan Stadium was much less threatening stadium for a visitor.

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Sunny Days…

This is Jack Trice Stadium, through the fence at the south end zone. I’ve been to two Husker-ISU games there, in 2006 and 2010. Even though it’s a bit of a band box, it’s noisy as heck, especially at night, and the trees and greenery in this end zone are an unique feature. That dazzling scoreboard at the other end got installed in the first year was Nebraska out of the Big 12. Sigh.

Window Dressing...

Window Dressing…

With Nebraska’s move to the Big 10, the away trips have gotten longer, like our family trip last year to Northwestern. This is the scoreboard that watches over the north exit from the stadium. It’s in desperate need of upgrades, much more so than Jack Trice. Still, it’s great to think that migrations of Husker fans will continue to Evanston over the next ten to twenty years.

Decks of Concrete...

Decks of Concrete…

Technically, Qualcomm is an NFL stadium that happens to host a college program and two college bowl games (shown here before the 2009 Holiday Bowl), so I guess I can count it. While its sun-worn concrete sags away, it is nowhere near being the dump that its northern California doppleganger, the Oakland Coliseum is. Oh, why I am being so hard on it, it is a throwback to a money-saving time when football and baseball stadiums where single venues.

November 29th, 2013

November 29th, 2013

Did you not think I wouldn’t put in a picture of the stadium of my heart?

Snow Walking

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I mean this sincerely: I enjoy walking outside in the snow during winter. Not when it is utterly, bitterly cold, like last Sunday night when I went out, walked five blocks in the sub-zero ice air before turning back, wishing the whole way I’d brought my scarf. But at least a couple of times a week during winter, I try to walk my usual 45 minutes to an hour.

I bundle up for it. I have a stock of tight, long-sleeved woven undershirts, over which I layer two or three t-shirts and a sweatshirt, two if it’s super cold. The thickness of the sweatshirt matters less than the overall number of layers. If the first two layers are tight enough, the rest should fit snugly.

Bottoms are less important. I wear flannel sleep pants underneath whatever sweats or jeans I have on. Not really a coveralls guy, but I use them on occasion.

The cold doesn’t get enough mention for how tiring it can be. Having done phone book distributions in the cold, I can testify to the fact that Gatorade is essential to getting throw a long snow walk. Snow itself can in fact be bearable and quite pretty when you’re in it. The wind, along with blowing snow, is the part that make snow walking excruciating.

But the essential part of snow walking, being outside in the raw elements, makes the exercise of endurance worth it. Snow walking isn’t about getting out, but moving forward toward the eight-to-nine months of the year where we in Nebraska are bound by the elements (or some winter where we dodge the bullet) and free to roam our streets without the threat of white stuff from the sky. Being outside in those summer months, well, that’s just a breeze.

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Things I’ll Never Say

The High Plains...

The High Plains…

It always stars with a spark of brilliance, at that moment in the middle of the day, with the world is rushing around, when I realize something profound about life. Sometimes I get really excited about it and think about it for hours; other times, I will thoughtfully tuck it in a file in the back of my brain. Either way, I’ll be sitting down at dinner later that night, reflecting on my day and realizing that, if I were in an actual relationship or marriage, I’d be sharing my observation with someone at that very moment. But no one is there.

As I’ve gotten older, I have resigned myself to the reality that a lot of the wisdom and observation that passes through my head on a daily basis will go unsaid and unspoken, and I will forget it promptly. (Probably why I write so much.) I don’t know if that’s a good thing; I’m sure some of what I’ve forgotten wasn’t useful to begin with. But it would be nice to if I could be sharing my knowledge with a wife and kids.

One of my realizations over the last couple of months is that I choose to be alone more than I say I want to be. I’m not sure exactly what means, only that it is the way I have acted.

The Ben Franklin-style pharmacy

Exile on Plain Street

Through Trees and Branches Across the Nation

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Presidio of San Francisco, April 2011

Whenever I would take a photo like this, I would think it was great until it was on my computer.

Kansas, Fall 2009

Kansas, Fall 2009

I mean the bush in the foreground dwarfs the shoreline in back. It’s incredible!

Southern California Palms

California Palms on Coronado Island, San Diego, California, December 2009

A couple of them I took when I was on a hyper-relaxing vacation in sunny weather while Nebraska drowned in snow. Those photos, I took because the world seemed to slow down.

San Antonio, March 2011

San Antonio, March 2011

Some of them were taken when I was in the south, amidst the ruins of a Catholic mission from several ceturies ago.

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Sleep Bear Dunes, May 2010

This one was from one of the greatest evening of photographing, along Sleeping Beer Dunes in northern Michigan. The shores and winds run forever, and it’s a great place to get away from city stress and get into nature.

Tree, Interrupted. Sleeping Bear Dunes, Michigan. May 2010.

The wind-wiped-out half-tree above is one of the hallmarks of Sleeping Bear Dunes. Bottom line: if you’re a tree, hope your seed gets blown inland a ways.

Central Wisconsin off WISC HWY 21, September 2013

Central Wisconsin off WISC HWY 21, September 2013

Can you tell by the fuzziness of the leaves here that these are classic fall foilage in the woodlands of central Wisconsin, miles off of the grid, or does it just look like the lint you pull out of your dryer?

Middle of Nowhere, Who Knows When

Middle of Nowhere, Who Knows When

This burnt building is in a barren area of the country, and that is an understatement. Every 40 miles, there is a town of around 3,000 and that about it for 500 miles in any direction. In between are a bunch of small burnt-down ghettos like this one.

100_0230

White noise.

There are of course plenty of trees closer to my roost, like these in the Platte River valley off Nebraska Highway 92, lighting up the lowly March morning sky. (Okay, these I did something with when I got them on the computer.

Florida Tree

Florida Tree

This is a special one. I used to keep an 8×10 print of this tree within line sight of my bed, so I could see it when I got up in the morning and fell asleep at night. It always seemed menacing, like an orge.

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Open Box

This group of sticks was on the borders of one of the fields I used to go see out at Hastings. There’s a farm in the distance, not that you can see it clearly.

Living Room

Living Room

And these sticks are a few miles from where I live. How about that.

Future Walking Dead Death Discovered? (MAJOR SPOILERS)

(Warning this post will contain major spoilers for the second half of The Walking Dead‘s fourth season. Proceed at your own risk.)

A few months ago, I read a spoiler from Comicbook.com that one of the deaths in the final eight episodes of season 4 of The Walking Dead would be a character that had not died in the comics yet. Being the looser that I am, I analyzed some of the promos and after seeing them closely, I’m guessing that the character who dies is Maggie, who yes, has not died in the comics.

My basis for that is the freeze frame bellow. Look at what Maggie is wearing, the blue-black top.

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Now, look at this freeze-frame from another trailer. The second body from the left in the picture looks to be wearing the same blue top. Again this, is just a guess that it’s Maggie. Notice how Beth is crying.

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And, in case anyone asks, here is another shot showing walkers in the same spot eating someone.

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New (Old) Car

Two weeks ago, I bought a car. Nothing fancy, just a 1992 Chevy Geo Prizm. I’m not always the nostalgic type, but I like how 90′s-chic it feels. It’s been well-kept, and somehow only has 60,000. Here’s to hoping it lasts another eight years because the insurance on it is really cheap.

Other things I learned during my recent car hunting trip:

Daewoo autos are not reliable. The small Daewoo car I drove felt feather-light, as if it could be smashed into a single aluminum sheet if it were to be blindsided. I went and talked to my mechanics about it, and they warned that any repairs would be expensive, as the parts for Daewoo cars are rare. Daewoo, who normally makes cheap electronics, stopped making autos ten years ago.

For the money I wanted to spend, I would not have found a Toyota or Honda with less than 100,000 miles. There were a lot out there with about 130,000 miles though.

There is some modest risk to buying a car as old as mine with as few miles as mine. I was a bit more comfortable because I bought it from a mechanic who had just put in a new battery and some other new equipment. It’s just money in the end.

I’m probably never going to spend a lot of money on cars. My goal is to, by the time I’m sixty, have used ten or fewer cars. Right now, I’m on my third, so I’m winning on that front.

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Limning the Psyche

The web site of Mark Yarhouse

GMO Free Girl

Learning About Food One Bite at a Time

StarboCho

Dragon Slaying: from the Lutheran Perspective

The First Premise

Looking at all things through suffering and the Cross

Final Mystery

"The final mystery is oneself" - Oscar Wilde

Biking with Coleman

Traversing North America by Bicycle

Christian in America

The blog of Matthew Tuininga

Cassie Moore's Blog

Adventures in the Mundane

For the Love of Food

...because a girl's gotta eat

The Seminarian's Wife

"Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!" Psalm 27:14

Musings of a Country Parson

Just another small town preacher

Oratio + Meditatio + Tentatio

A theologian's pressure cooker.

Brent Kuhlman's Blog

A great WordPress.com site

Peruse and Muse

The musings of a student teacher

Gamekeeping

Ensuring young baby boomers thrive in today's workforce

St. Matthew Lutheran Church

Bonne Terre, Missouri

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