Derek Johnson Muses

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Monthly Archives: June 2013

Road (and Flight Notes): Idaho

Saturday night Sunset near Twin Falls

Saturday night Sunset near Twin Falls

It’s weird flying out of Omaha at 2:30 in the afternoon-if you have been impressed by numerous early morning departures. That was the time that my Dad and I left to go, first to Salt Lake City, then to Boise. It is a rarity to fly out of Omaha with your first leg of a connection being the longest, but it’s a blessing when it does happen. And after only two days at home to recoup from my last trip, leaving at 6 A.M. on Saturday would have been horrendous.

There was no line at the security checkpoint at Eppley, and I was almost disappointed. Both flights were full, and on-time, with minimal turbulence as we descended into Boise. There were a few interesting characters: a tanned skinned, foreign man in a fedora who went up to three separate Delta employees to ask about something; a man and a woman with a child who rushed onto to our flight to Boise at the last minute to complain about how bad their flight from Atlanta was; and some guy at the lost luggage counter to try and get back a bag he’d lost, as he’d started his travel day in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania at 5:30 (I could see where he was coming from). It didn’t seem as eventful. Both are flights were full, not surprising for this time of year, but it did seem like fewer people were traveling.

I had left my phone on the flight from Salt Lake City to Boise, but I was able to retrieve it in short order. The drive out to Twin Falls (home of our dears) took place on Saturday, under the glorious clouds of a high sky. We stopped at Burger King in Mountain Home for dinner, and there was a car with New York tags in the parking lot, and another with Massachusetts tags.

I forget often what it’s like to be out here in the Western United states, where the sky is so big and there’s such a distance between the small towns and the big ones. Even when I drive around the towns of 500-1,000 people in Nebraska, Iowa, and Wisconsin, it all feels so close together. Out here, everything feels so far apart. Towns are either 10,000 or 150, with half of the buildings empty.

Sign up

Sign up

Sunday afternoon, my father and I visited the two national parks around Twin falls, the Minidoka relocation camp for the Japanese during World War II and the Hagerman Fossil Beds Museum. On the way out of Hagerman, we stopped at the town’s museum and met a man who grew up in Columbus, but had moved out here. He’s going to the Nebraska-UCLA game this year, so I gave him my card and hope to see him at Noyes. We drove back to Twin Falls over fifty miles of sun-worn highway, past houses with tiled roof built on slabs of cement. Small homes. Now that I own a home, I miss being there more than I’m on the road, and I can see how you get tied to a particular place. I wonder what’s  like to be tied down here, in a place that’s so much more isolated.

Old Guardhouse at Minidoka

Old Guardhouse at Minidoka

Road Notes: Dodging Iowa Tornadoes

Burlington, Iowa Bridge

Mississippi River Bridge at Burlington, Iowa

Last Sunday, I finally left to see fields that were planted two weeks late due to the rain and take photos for the Blue River Hybrids product guide. I spent the two days before I left running around tying stuff up and prepping for game night (why did I buy this house?), and had worship committee at 11 A.M. before loading my new duffel into the truck and jutting off to Ames.

I made one stop on the way up, at Crane Coffee because I had run out of coffee on Friday and been crushing Starbucks Vias. The barista recommended Smooth Omaha (thanks Heather). Already weary, I treated myself to Crane’s specialty Turtle Latte and was back on the interstate, weaving my way through Colorado SVUs with Michigan bumper stickers and luggage racks loaded with bikes and canoes.

Monday morning, I was out the door at seven after waking early, reading and walking. Under a sky divided by dark and light clouds, I drove to Hubbard Iowa, about an hour north of Ames, passing an industrial truck that had a headlight that pointed into its cab (?). I turned off I-35 onto Iowa Highway 175 and passed the gas station/repair shop/utility store in Radcliffe for what must be the fifth time. I had to wait for about half an hour at the home of a grower, due to an emergency, but he made the appointment. By 9:00-sometime, I was back on US 65, heading south to get to Washington to avoid passing Radcliffe again.

Lil' Beans

Lil’ Beans

It rained off and on the way, reinforcing my belief that I was better off for not going back I-35 and adding another thirty miles to my trip. I had to use a back road highway to eventually get on I-80 due to construction, but by the time I did, the rain had stopped.

For lunch, I stopped at the Perkins in Newton, Iowa. I don’t normally care for the other clientele at Perkins (this one was no exception), and it is one of the few restaurants that can be busy in between peak meal hours, but they have bacon and eggs all day. My server, a pretty student-type named Auburn, was very good, and I received my meal in short order and was back on the road around noon.

There isn’t a good road to Washington if you are coming from the east, so I cut off on Exit 230, ten miles east of Iowa and headed south on the blacktop of Black Hawk Avenue through the hills and gullies of Eastern Iowa, eventually rumbling into Highway 1.

When I got to Kalona, I made the critical decision to go ahead and stop for gas and to use the bathroom. If I hadn’t made the stop, I would have passed the fourteen miles to Washington with ease before the severe rain started. It slowed me down, and by the time I got Washington, I had to spend forty-five minutes in the basement of the library because of a tornado warning.

Washington Public Library

Washington Public Library

After my appointment, I took the same route I took last fall prior across the Mississippi into Illinois to met the soybean growers who live around Peoria. I stayed in the same hotel I did last year, but ate dinner at Stake ‘N’ Shake, watching a bunch of teenagers working what must be their worst summer job ever. (I forgot about the grease that accumulates in the fast food industry.) I had to change my order because they were out of chicken strips and had to remind them to get my milkshake. They were lucky I was at the end of a long day.

No Report

No Report

The next day, I awoke early and went through the circle of growers around Peoria. They are all guys who we haven’t worked with much in the past and who we hope to help get a better start this year. Most of them are doing okay, even though they all planted on a late start. When I was done, I grabbed a Turkey flatbread sandwich and coffee at Mika’s in Eureka, a coffee shop with maroon concrete walls, all the while reading the reaction to Nebraska’s alternate uniforms. Before heading out of town, I stopped by Eureka College and took in the Regan Statue, then drove up and at times along I-39 to take photos.

My final appointment was delayed until Wednesday morning, but it was worth it. I got the photos with the Breslins, a father-daughter farming team by Ottawa just before a fierce rain storm started. They invited me to stay for tea, which was enough time for the rain to stop and the sky to clear. I then bolted down I-80 toward Nebraska, stopping at the Starbucks in Des Moines to read the Superme Court/Aaron Hernandez new of the day. I was relieved to be home-after all, I’m leaving Saturday for Idaho.

Coming to another farmer soon...

Hope springs anew…

Writing Tips: Every Day Writing

I suppose given how much I blog, I owe it to my readers to share some tips on how to write and how to break out of writer’s block. It said that the best writing advice is, write every single day, and a lot. But what?

The easiest idea I can tell you, dear readers, is to write down everything you did for the last week or twenty-four hours, even if you just make a list of actions and attitudes. Here’s an example I did earlier this week.

(My Road Notes posts also reflect this strategy.)

Last night, I was trying to get my sleep schedule back on track. I came in around 8:30 from mowing the lawn and showered. I then watched Terminator 3, a movie I can’t believe is 10 years old already. I can remember when I saw it in the Rivoli back in 2003, and the film had the biggest greenlit budget at time. It doesn’t feel as dated; actually, the CGI in it seems restrained compared to how much is in current movies. I started the movie at nine when I was eating dinner and finished the movie at 11. I had such a plan-I would skip my afternoon nap, and then I would go bed early and get my sleep schedule back on track. Of course, I still needlessly read on my kindle for thirty minutes or so before I managed to turn my light out at 11:36

Then my alarm went off at midnight. I had accidentally turned it to on when I shut off the radio yesterday. This time around, I set the alarm to 8 to avoid any future upsets. The disturbance in my sleep costs me forty-five minutes.

So this morning, I became conscious for the first time around five, and after fifteen minutes, I got up to start a load of lights. Then I went back to bed, and drifted between sleep and waking for a little while longer. Around seven, I forced myself up and began reading on my kindle.

That’s pretty simple, and it’s mostly actions, but it needs work. Usually, I find you have to write a certain number of actions to get a judgment or an assessment. Take the first paragraph. The judgment or assessment is I was trying to get my sleep schedule back on track in the evening. Under the that mindset, I worked outside, watched TV, and I read. There was a bad habit in that paragraph, namely the tangent I go on with my memories of Terminator 3. That is one thing that I do often in my drafts that I try to get out in my final versions as much as I can, spending too much time talking about a sub-point which has nothing to do with the main article. Usually, when I get to the judgment, I have an idea of what I need to build the post around. All of the rest of the writing needs to be taking out points that don’t support it and refining the ones that do.

Here’s another example of this strategy.



How to Get out of Arrested Development

I caught on to the Arrested Development-on-Netflix phenomenon three or four years ago. The first time I watched the series, it didn’t stand out until the last four episodes of season three, but then I ended up rewatching most of the episodes. It was sad there weren’t more episodes, but judging by the start of the third season, it would have faced some creative ups and downs as it began to stretch the characters from their roots of a never-do-anythings, sans Michael.

Judging by the reaction to AD‘s fourth season, we finally saw the characters stretched.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m glad that Mitchell Hurwitz and Imagine decided to bring the show back and found a format that could accommodate the actors. Anyone who is willing to break the standard entertainment mold deserves a measure of credit. I’d also bet part of the reason that Netflix agreed to do AD was that it could say to other series who have been off the air, “Hey, want to do a reunion series but your major contributors can only shoot an episode or two? How about this!?!” Not that’s necessarily bad; I could see this format working for a show like The Office which ended (spoiler alert) with many of the principal characters going their separate ways.

But business reasons aside, comedy happens with the right mix of characters (straight man, the crazy sidekick, etc.), and when you split those characters up, you risk loosing the energy. You give Kramer his own show (The Michael Richards Show), and it’s not as funny. In the case of AD, George Sr. just isn’t interesting enough to carry to hours of comedy. On the other had, Buster, the wacky son, did very well with his episode, albeit a shorter one. But the biggest surprise was that Michael need to have his crazy family around, or otherwise he went crazy. Jason Bateman is a TV star, but even he can’t carry a lot of broad comedy.

What really killed the show’s momentum was the storyline progressed like that of a comic book: sprawling and characters too often intersecting by chance. They were just wandering around, trying to “find themselves”, and weren’t acting on behalf of their family, like they did in the original series.

Beyond the character development, the fourth season arc lacked polish, that, considering how long it gestated in Hurwitz’s mind, there is no excuse for. Ironically, the last two episodes of AD‘s third season were perfect for a show that didn’t know whether or not it would get more episodes: the main storyline of the whole series was wrapped up, and it didn’t matter whether or not the show continued the story of Lucille fleeing the country. Season 4 ended with implications that the major cliffhanger items would be addressed, even though the show has no firm commitment for another season. Could we at least have found out what happened to Lucille 2, given that it was set as the seasons’ big mystery?

Here’s how AD can improve: a ten episode season, with each episode running between 25-27 minutes. Do some team-up style episodes, focusing on two or three characters as opposed to just one. And foremost, have an overarching story that involves ALL the characters doing something for the family, like helping to build the wall between US and Mexico, Buster’s trial, and Michael’s movie. Have a plan, keep it tight, and it will keep the show strong.

Time in a Blender

Over these last couple of months, I have been feeling the subtle onset of middle age in the area of my memory and how it has changed throughout my twenties. When I was younger, it was easier to mark time around the school year. The defined four years of high school and college were marked out in my head with clear chalk, stalls where defined amounts of memory could be parked (even though I finished college in three years.) Sometime around when I turned twenty-five or twenty-six, the way I looked back on years dissipated and became more fluid. Maybe it was having a defined period of life that was six years long, or seeing one too many people I went to high school with have kids. Memories of the past eight years all seem to have happened recently when I think on them. Events that happened during my freshmen year of college seemed miles away on the day I graduated. A significant event that happened back in 2009 blurs into the front of my memory as if it happened last week.

As I’ve noted before, change is so much easier when you are in early twenties. After my freshmen year of college, I packed up and transferred without a second thought. The thought of moving itself feels taxing now, even though I have barely any stuff. And I refuse to buy stuff because I fear that I will at some point have to pull up stakes again and move, and I will, horror of horrors, have to go through it. (I really need to get a wife to help with this.)

The older I get, the more I want and need to have routines. Years ago, I dreamed of running off and working in a National Park. Now, I’m much more content to take little side trips on work trips, all the while honing my craft in the seed lab and on the computer. I don’t need to do everything, just master a few things. This year, I’m turning thirty, and in another thirty years, I’ll be looking like the old man I feel like most days. Youth does go so fast, even if you drag your adolescence through your twenties.

Depends on Your Perspective...

Depends on Your Perspective…

World War Z, Conservatism, and Christianity

“Then Noah built an altar to the LORD and took some of every clean animal and some of every clean bird and offered burnt offerings on the altar. And when the LORD smelled the pleasing aroma, the LORD said in his heart, ‘I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth. Neither will I ever again strike down every living creature as I have done. While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.’” (Genesis 8:20-22 ESV)

I read World War Z last winter, after the film adaptation’s trailer came out, and enjoyed the book immensely. The idea of a zombie did get me thinking about how I should think about post-apocalyptic literature like WWZThe Walking Dead, or even the late TV show Jericho, from a Christian perspective. WWZ preached the token secularist point: surviving nations ruthlessly adapt the Redeker Plan that leaves people to die, and Theocratic Russia is plainly hiding something. But as I read the book, I couldn’t help but wonder why it seemed that liberal, isolationist culture would be the ultimate victim of a WWZ, if there was such a war.

Liberal social policies tend to rise in societies that can afford them. Should the resources disappear, society would have to adapt. Ask yourself this: who is better built to survive a zombie apocalypse, wealthy, urban social liberals who can pay for two or three divorces, or thrifty conservative families who have always bought their clothes at Goodwill? Birth rates always go up with the advent of war and fears of the end, and prospering in our modern society is bound in many ways to being socially liberally. Should the zombies rise, humanity would have to reproduce at much more rapid rate to replace those who died, and conservatives, in general, have more children than liberals

And consider how the notion of family would change. Without birth control abundantly available as it is now, people would have more children, and the sheer act of providing, even without emotional content, would be considered love. The ambitious people who today leave government for the private sector would have a stronger moral obligation to lead in government. And religion would become more of a cultural force, and not the religion of self. If you don’t know where your next meal is coming from, “give us this day our daily bread” is your favorite prayer, and you would want a God who is greater than this world.

I’m not saying that every liberal/leftist principal would get swept away in a sea of zombies, but what I am saying is that a lot of liberal principals require the vast prosperity that America (certain parts of the world) currently provides. Liberalism wouldn’t die (although modern capitalism as we know it might), but some of it we would see in a different light.

It makes me wonder why Hollywood, the liberal center of western culture, is greenlighting so many destroy-the-world epics when destroying the world would likely cause them to loose a place for the liberal values they enjoy. Of course, the Hollywood version usually features the “death of God” in some capacity, and the end of the world is caused by a greedy businessman or general (think Terminator 3, where the ambitious military is responsible for Skynet, or , as I’m given to understand, The Day After.) But it would be curious to see one where the liberals get the shorter end of the stick. 

So, conservatives, let’s write a novel that will show a world crisis that eradicates radical secularism and liberalism from America after a cataclysmic event. Hey, maybe I should get on that.

Coffee Bread, Microwave French Toast, and Corn Flakes Treats: New Adventures in the New Kitchen

Early evening light coming through the window...

Early evening light coming through the window…

Everyone tells me that my new kitchen is spectacular, and truth be told, it does dazzle. Its subtle orange color scheme is more out there than most kitchens (certainly brighter than my last two kitchens), and it has an old-fashioned, swing into the room window which looks into my utility room widow. But as a frequent cook, I love spending my evenings tweaking old recipes and trying new things.

As a coffee junkie, I have been considering ways that I could integrate leftover coffee into my cooking. I decided to substitute the coffee as water in making basic bread in the machine. Since I envisioned the bread as ideal for toast with eggs, I added brown sugar and cinnamon. It turn out to be the perfect volume of sweet, like a warm muffin, and the conversion of water to coffee was exact. It did go well as toast, but I still had brautwurst on it too.

Mix up the same

Mixes up the same…


Same Delicious

And after cutting some makeshift hotdog buns out of a few slices of bread, I experimented in making a single serving of French toast in the microwave. (Side note: if you live alone, making pancakes and/or French toast for just yourself is always such a dilemma.) I simply broke up the ends into smaller pieces and mixed up about a cup and a half of milk with an egg, cinnamon, and peppermint syrup instead of vanilla. (Really have to remember to move that here too.) Two minutes in the microwave, and I have French toast for one.

French toast out of the microwave...

French toast out of the microwave…

I also took a new approach to making granola, using marshmallows instead of honey as the sticky substance to hold the dry ingredients together like Rice Krispie treats. My friend Marian had given me some Corn Flakes when I moved in, so I used them with the Cheerios instead of oats. On the second batch, I found out it took half the bag of marshmallows to get the treats to stick together. But totally worth it, although I really should just break down and buy the specialty honey I like.

The base

The Base…

The Sticky Stuff...

The Sticky Stuff…

The Delicious..

The Delicious..

Yeah, my new kitchen rocks.

Thanks, Dr. Walther

I had a joyous experience Tuesday night. I had the privilege of attending the coordinating council at St. John as the rep from the worship committee. Finally, I was hanging out with the cool people and have made a small step toward becoming one of the elders.

Not only that, but I was also privileged to read the group’s devotion and choose a daily devotion from God Grant It by C.F.W. Walther. The devotion covered John 3:14-15, and was on new birth. Even though I read it at home before the meeting, hearing myself read to the group was a bit surprising. Dr. Walther had a way of piling up words against each other that we don’t hear in today’s diction.

“our bodily birth gives us a bodily life and natural movements, desires, wills, understanding, and powers…” (p. 472, God Grant It, Concordia Publishing House. Translated by Gerhard P. Grabenhofer. 2006)

“a born-again person…thinks, judges, speaks, and lives according to the Word.” (p. 473, God Grant It.)

For a young man who was eager to be in a place of church leadership, I’m glad to remember how little I really know. Today, we read news stories and blog posts that say, “Bill got up. He ate breakfast and went to work. His boss supported him.” Walther hammers on points, making them over and over again, one sentence after the other. In our modern twitterverse, you will rarely hear one person expound the same principal in such a way, for fear of loosing audience. Which you will if you are too repetitive.

A hundred and fifty years ago, when sermons would last an hour and political debates three. Now, pastors I know tell me that they have, at most, fifteen minutes of people’s attention until their eyes start glazing over. Our technology in America today is amazing, great, and a blessing from God, but we should never think that we are so much smarter today than we were fifty years or a hundred years ago, even if we have a greater libraries of information. What we do with information and using it well is what counts for something.

So thank you, Dr. Walther for knocking me off of my pedestal. 


Neighborhoods of Seward

Over the past year, I’ve semi-moved twice, once to an apartment a few blocks from my parents’ house, and the second time to my new house. The first move wasn’t really a move and felt more like a designed re-organization. I would sleep at my apartment, but I’d go back to my parent’s house to check in the internet and cook most of my meals. In the eight months I had that apartment, I would be surprised if I cooked more than twelve non-breakfast meals in my apartment. When I came to my house, it was a real move

Each of my residences each has an unique flavor, which conversely is what is one of the oddity’s a town Seward’s size. Even though there’s only 7,000 or so people here, the neighborhoods mirror pre- and post-World War II style, and Hillcrest Street divides the town smoothly along those lines.

My parent’s house is a duplex that sits on a semi-busy suburban street, (East) Pinewood, which comes off Highway 15. Ironically, my aunt in the Bay Area gets less noise on the street she lives on than we got on our street because she lives in a circle off the main street. (In California, a house where you have less noise is more valuable than it is in rural America.) The garage dominates the front of the house, making it looks smaller than it actually is. The windows to the backyard and the upstairs balcony do create a lot of room, but I always felt like I was looking out at the interstate of walkers and school children passing my kitchen window, back and forth, back and forth all day. I heard the school children playing in the morning and the parents coming home and taking their kids to practice in the evening, even as I was stowed away on my private island.

The House by the Elementary School...

The House by the Elementary School…

As I have alluded to, I felt semi-home at my apartment, which was the definition of a studio space. My realtor told me that renting is for people who want to do nothing but work and not do home maintenance, making that your residence nothing more than a glorified Motel 6. The complex, a mess of college students and other twenty-somethings, represented a mass of humanity at life way stations. In my constant desire to be alone, I always seemed to work my hours so that I woke up well after everyone else left for first shift at five in the morning, and arrived back after everyone else was in bed.

After I had lived their for three months, I felt much more safe than I ever felt on Pinewood because there were a lot of people living close to my apartment and could hear the city bustle when I lay awake in bed. Even when a door slammed at three in the morning and someone stormed out, it was mildly disturbing when I slept in proximity to others, very similar to the time I lived in a dorm just off the freeway in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Street by my Apartment...

Street by my Apartment…

I don’t want to make conclusive assertions about my new house, since I’ve only lived here a month. There’s more drive-by traffic than I expected because of an one-way street that forces some people to drive by my north corner, but overall it’s not bad. From the outside, my house looks bigger than it is; I’ve already got stuff strewn everywhere. I have a porch I can sit on in to read and watch people go by.  There aren’t as many walkers as there are on Pinewood, just the hodge-podge of people who live around me. Since I’m in an old part of town, the houses around me are kept up to varying degrees. Some are ghost houses, some have been refurbished and dazzle, others are abandoned, still some are being rebuilt. It is not crowded with families and retirees like Pinewood was. In a way, it’s like cities were back in the 1950’s, when people of all walks of life and political persuasions lived close to one another. While I have left the old walking trails that lead around the ball fields behind, I can now walk into downtown Seward, mega-plus.

My new house is a dilemma in the making. I love the old-school neighborhood and the old-school high windows and ceiling, but my house is small and lacks the closet space of a modern house. I would really miss being close to the coffee shop and the bank if I had to move, but I’m getting ahead of myself. Who knows what opportunities will come by in the next thirty to forty years? I may even get a chance to leave Seward.

But if I stay, it’s great to know that Seward has plenty of options.

Rocking it at the Crib...

Rocking it at the Crib…

Thanks to St. John for letting me stow this here...

Thanks to St. John for letting me stow this here…

Kids are Okay. In Fact, They’re Good.

Recently, I finished reading a book called What to Expect When No One’s Expecting by Jonathan V. Last, a statistical analysis of America’s (and the world’s) falling birthrate. Personally, I reflected a lot on this book, because it taps into feuding movements in my mind: one, having babies is a good thing, and two, I personally lack skills necessary to raise a child.

Last’s book, short and to the point, is definitely conservative but ends with a reasonable goal: we need to help people who want to have babies have babies, and there is only so much that we can do politically to increase the birth rate up. He simply lays out the trends, like the rising costs of raising a child, the decline in religion and family structure, and even social security, all adding to possibility that social unrest could accompany population shrinkage. And once momentum is heading one way, it’s hard to get going the other way.

While there may not be immediate problems with population decline, we should be aware of it and know the possible difficulties that way may face, like economic downturn and too many elderly citizens to support. Of all the points Last raises, the growth of movements like the child-free movement is particularly disturbing. Some (not all, of course) in this movement mock people with children and complain about how the world is set up for people who have children. I find the most extreme attitude of the people in this movement appalling. Yes, I’m in the same boat, but I’m not here to mock anyone who needs more resources and support to raise their kids. Personally, I have no idea what to say to a child, or how to raise one. People with my attitude shouldn’t be telling people who have kids how to raise them.

My perspective from the book: you can’t have a kid as an act of self-fulfillment. Two people have children because they see something beyond this life that is greater than it, and they want to give it to their . I can’t help but wonder as I look at the secularist countries and the secularist parts of the U.S., who have such low birthrates, what it is about this life that they don’t want to pass on to another generation.

I’m inspired by those of you who are raising God’s gifts to you, and doing it without a second thought. You’ll end up being a more self-less person than I’ll ever be. Yes, I mind it when your kids act up, but only for a second.

Epilogue: Pastor Mark Preus, has written a paper on rethinking birth control, which you can read here. His wife, Becky, was in my college class at CUW, and the way he connects naturally having kids with God’s plan for the humanity.  Preus’ paper got me thinking about kids in general, and it’s really a great example of how belief in God is essential to raising the birth rate. If you view kids as a commodity, you won’t want one. If you view children as a gift from God, you see those sacrifices in a different light. Thanks again, Pastor.

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