A Most Unlikely Emperor

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Today is my third wedding anniversary. Three years ago I read vows to a woman while crying like a little baby. Our relationship since the wedding has continued to mature – our laughs and conversations keep getting better and better. Probably the best part of being married is that I can feel loved even when I am laying on the couch in my underwear while simultaneously eating pork rinds and singing along to Toto’s “Africa.” Without Christina, I would not be able to regularly read and write; it would be nearly impossible to complete classics while getting texts and updates from Tinder or eHarmony. Instead of swiping right or left on an app all I have to do is swipe right or left while cleaning the floor – this causes an immediate summons to the bedroom.

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Thank you, Christina, for helping me to be a better man and helping me get through the tough books which my former self would never have opened. One of those tough books was my most recent classic I, Claudius by Robert Graves. There are some books that are hard but interesting and others that are hard and boring – the latter is I, Claudius. Before reading it, I had the feeling one gets right before running the mile for the Presidential Fitness Test – an increase in heart rate, anxiety, dread, and the overarching desire to play dead on the ground. However, like the mile run, upon completing this story about the Roman Emperor Claudius, I felt a euphoric high that only comes from adversity.

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I, Claudius is technically fiction but written with historical accuracy as the autobiography of Tiberius Claudius. Claudius was a family member of the Roman court and the book details his life from his birth in 10 B.C. to his ascension as Emperor in 41 A.D. What is cool about the autobiography is that Claudius details the lives of fascinating Emperors like Agustus, Tiberius, and the evil Caligula. Claudius was born with a limp and a severe stammer which forced him into isolation from his more “Romanesque” brothers and sisters; at the time physical strength, aesthetic beauty, and elegant speech were desirable attributes in the royal court. Claudius became a bookworm and spent his time writing obscure histories. Most people thought he was stupid and treated him like a second-class citizen.

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Rome was a brutal place, and his family members were routinely killed by rival factions to climb the political ladder. When Claudius was middle aged, his nephew Caligula took over the throne. Caligula was a monster who slept with his sisters, killed his father, and smothered the former Emporer Tiberius. Caligula would end up killing most of his rivals and any family member envious of the throne. The only one who survived Caligula’s insanity was Claudius. Claudius played dumb and used his wit whenever threatened. In the end, Caligula was assassinated, and by accident, Claudius was chosen to be the Emperor. It’s actually a great story because Claudius more than any of his siblings deserves the throne because of his humility, intelligence, and levelheadedness; ironically, these attributes not only make for a great Emperor but also a great marriage. Here’s to many more years with you Christina – thanks for helping me always get to the finish line.

“I am supposed to be an utter fool and the more I read the more of a fool they think me.”
-Robert Graves ,  I, Cladius

Shenandoah: The Red-Headed-Step Child

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Two years ago on June 21st I married the love of my life. It was one of those days in which time both stood still and flew by-leaving a host of wonderful memories. Following our wedding day, we spent our honeymoon in Yosemite National Park. I thought it would be a excellent idea to camp the whole week-suffice it to say, do not camp on your honeymoon. After only two days, Christina was complaining about her back hurting and our sex life was in a state of drought worse than California. We ended up getting a hotel for the rest of the trip but still had a great time relaxing in nature. It is our goal to visit all 58 national parks in the United States so we decided to celebrate our two year anniversary with a vacation to Shenandoah National Park in Virginia.

Shenandoah is the red-headed-step child of the national parks system. Essentially, city goers in Washington D.C. wanted a national park in the east similar to those found in the west like Yellowstone. The Blue Ridge Mountains were chosen because of their proximity, natural beauty, and the preexisting tourist development known as Skyland Resort. Skyland was a bohemian complex that sat on top of the Blue Ridge Mountains and was owned by George Pollock. Pollock pushed for Skyland and the area around it to become a National Park so he could get more business. Old Georgy got his wish but the National Park Service ended up disbanding his business after the park’s opening in 1935. Shenandoah’s odd history does not stop there. Since the 1600’s, the Blue Ridge Mountains had been settled and owned by all sorts of individuals-generations of families who worked the land. This area was host to complete American towns with churches, schools, and cemeteries. To make a long story short…these people were compensated for their land and told to leave the park. Some were relocated, some did not leave (their houses were eventually burnt down), and some sued the State of Virginia (they lost).

With that history in mind let’s get back to the anniversary trip. Forgetting the nightmares of camping in Yosemite, I thought it would be an excellent idea to camp in Shenandoah. We got to our campsite and commenced a four-hour long operation to get our site completely set up: pitched the Taj Mahal tent, assembled the stove, stacked firewood, sprayed copious amounts of bug spray, searched for the bathrooms, etc. At about 7 pm we collapsed on our cots exhausted and were ready to go to sleep when the sky turned completely black. I knew this was bad and before the thought could register the wind blew so hard that the tent collapsed on our resting heads. Christina jumped up like a chicken and we soon began an hour ordeal in which we were bracing the tent-spread eagle style-while lightening, thunder, pouring rain, and wind threatened to destroy our dwelling. The rain tarp partly flew off and rain began to drench our sleeping bags, clothes, and books that were on the floor. At about 8 pm it was decided that our camping trip was over. The storm began to wane and we jumped ship with all our wet belongings to the nearest hotel-a very sketchy Budget Inn.

The next day we heard on the news that the storm registered 50 lightening strikes per minute. We survived and ended up having an awesome vacation with a ton of beautiful hiking. The tally of nature that we saw was quite impressive: 5 bears including two cubs, four falcons, a snake, deer, centipedes, a host of fish, and a partridge in a pear tree. The highlight of the trip was a 9 mile hike up to Old Rag Mountain which required precarious rock scrambling and copious amounts of trail mix. In the end, Christina and I really enjoyed the adventure with all its twists and turns. Was it right to kick the people out to make the park? It’s a hard question to answer because the park benefits so many people and wildlife now that it is protected land. I have to say that I am glad it exists and hope to go back in the future when the leaves are changing colors in the fall.

 

A Valentine’s Day to Remember

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It was seven years ago, on Valentine’s Day, that I asked a very sexy lady to go on a date with me. I had been pursuing this fox for some time and finally got the gumption up to ask her out for dinner. In years prior, I spent my Valentine’s Day with my parents, which usually entailed eating a fancy dinner of chicken fingers at Big Boy. That sad tradition was soon to be history the day I planned my first ever “real” Valentine meal. The night was crisp, being February in Michigan, and I had asked my roommate if I could borrow his dress clothes for the occasion. Informing the guys at the dorm was half the fun and I may have lingered to long discussing my optimistic plans for romance. Suddenly, it was time to go pick up the lady and I rushed off through the empty quad to reach my date’s quarters. Reaching the door, I slowly raised my hand to knock but was overcome with sudden nervousness. “What if she doesn’t have fun?” “She can’t like a guy with braces.” “Should I give her a hug or a soft handshake?” “I want to get Ice Cream with her but can I hold in the subsequent gas!” Scoffing of the insecurities, I knocked. The door opened and my eyes lit up when I saw the most beautiful woman in the world. She wore a purple blouse that matched her radiance and surprisingly my own purple shirt. We stood at the door for quite some time staring until it got a little weird. Breaking the silence, I complemented her beauty and we set off for our special dinner.

We arrived at the restaurant only to find a long wait before we could be seated (I forgot to make a reservation). We were about to change our plans and go somewhere else when she said-“No, it’s okay we can stay and talk.” Those words seemed to melt my body into a pool of logophile-philosophical nirvana. I thought, “Not only is she drop dead sexy but she also wants to sit down and have a long conversation!” Time seemed to stand still during that chat and we soon were jettisoned to our table where we continued to converse, laugh, and digest our thoughts and food. The more the date went on the more enamored I became with this perfect specimen of a woman. Following our meal we decided to take a walk. This was when the nerves really kicked in. I had never seriously held hands with another girl. Sure, I held a girl’s hands during the obligatory Thanksgiving prayer and youth group sing-a-long but never in a romantic fashion. The only problem was I didn’t know how to initiate the intermingling of fingers. Should I just reach down and grab her hand? What if she snatches it away? I came up with a solution. I told her about a thing called “Keno” that my roommate Chris taught me about. Keno is the gradual increase in intimacy as a relationship matures. For example, the Keno at the beginning of a relationship is playful shoulder bumps or prolonged starring. It progresses to things like hand holding, hugs, and make-out sessions. After telling her about Keno, I said that “we should go to the next level.” I reached for her hand and intertwined my fingers with hers. I felt my whole body light up and I swear that first hand hold was the hedonic equivalent of eating donuts with John Candy. We finished our hand-holding walk and I took her back to her dorm room. We hugged for quite some time-not wanting to let go which would signal the end of our spectacular night. I said goodbye and seven years later that same amazing lady I took on a date is my wife, my best friend, and my biggest blessing. This Valentine’s Day, take a second to sincerely say “I Love You” to the those most dear to you and take your own trip on the  memory lane of love.

An Easy Marriage

Today is my one year wedding anniversary and I have to say to the whole world that I am in love with a woman that is truly my best friend. My life would suck without her and I am a better person because she shows me how to be empathetic and sensitive. Marriage is easy when you have a wife like mine and I thank God for this gift that I do not deserve. As we go into our second year of marriage I want to continually work on being a better husband. Being a truly good man is extremely hard but I am so grateful that I have a patient wife that holds my hand through the journey.