I recently posted this as a note on Facebook about a good friend and longtime coworker of mine that recently moved to New Zealand. 

Friendship is a maze.

 

At times you may feel confident you’re on your way to the center, but all too often we run into dead ends. In a world of unlimited distractions, serial dating and obligations to family, school and work, we are constantly presented with an exit sign. The energy required to navigate and cultivate friendships can at times seem impossible. We are social creatures but we are also creatures of convenience. Sometimes you just hit too many dead ends. But other times…the maze opens up for you.

Shirley Stevens and I became first day buddies at the DOJ while suffering through six hours of lame orientation videos. Despite not even working on the same floor, we continued to remain in almost daily contact. In those early days we had a few cases together. In one case, my manager came down hard on me for a very trivial mistake and Shirley had my back. I had only known her for a few months at that point but she was already sticking up for me to the bosses.

 

A few months later, we were furloughed during the government shutdown for three weeks. During that time we bonded for the first time outside of work. And a few months after that we decided to start up a book club together to motivate each other to read more. We decided to host it on Meetup.com in hope of getting a small group together. And that small group unexpectedly took off and now has a membership of over 3,000. And from first day buddies we became drinking buddies spending many Wednesday nights drinking, dancing and singing karaoke. Drunkenly belting out our song, “Islands in the Stream.” Meeting a variety of interesting and cool people. We branched out and organized trivia and game nights.

 

Providing a space for people to come together and form long lasting friendships, or even romantic relationships. A clearing in a dense, confusing maze.

At some point I would sell out and leave the DOJ to take a job that offered more money in the private sector. And Shirley left the book club. But four months after that a paralegal in my department randomly walked out one night and never came back. I recommended Shirley for the job and was hired soon after.

 

And we got the band back together. Working next to each other in the strangest legal department either of us have either worked in. An assortment of strong and very different personalities coming together to make it work. Sometimes enjoying trashcan beers on Friday afternoons or lobster beers after work. At times the work was incredibly chaotic and stressful, but a small price to pay to work side-by-side with one of your best friends.

In the past year we both decided that we needed to pursue new endeavors and leave the legal world once and for all. While I went to a coding bootcamp and apprenticeship and now exploring different options, Shirley made the bold and exciting decision to undertake a viticulture program in a completely different country. Diverging paths that may prevent us from ever working together again or even living in the same city or continent. As she’s leaving on her jet plane at this very moment to New Zealand…I’m confident though that Shirley will always be an important part of my life. Once you hit that center of the maze, it’s impossible to go back. And we hit it a long time ago. While it may take different forms over the course of your life…it will always be right there. Just a lobster beer away.

 

Bon Voyage Shirley Stevens.
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“When someone seeks . . . then it easily happens that his eyes see only the thing that he seeks, and he is able to find nothing, to take in nothing because he always thinks only about the thing he is seeking, because he has one goal, because he is obsessed with his goal. Seeking means: having a goal. But finding means: being free, being open, having no goal.”

On my final day of my thirty days of sobriety, I decided to go explore Papago Park during my Phoenix vacay…and trip on mushrooms while doing so.

I lived in Phoenix for four years prior to moving to Chicago, and during that time I spent less than a handful of hours in Papago Park and explored very little outside of the hole-in-the-rock with an ex-girlfriend and the Desert Botanical Garden with my father once at night. In one afternoon as a visitor, I would see more of it than my entire time I lived in Phoenix.

I went back to hole-in-the-rock to take some photos with my snazzy new Sony A-6000 and 210mm lens.

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I found a cozy little spot high up in the rock to pull out my magic mushroom chocolate and take in the city from a different perspective.


“We are not going in circles, we are going upwards. The path is a spiral; we have already climbed many steps.”

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As I sat in my perch in the rock, I pulled out a copy of a book I brought with me, Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse. A book I have never read before despite sitting perched up high on my bookshelf for years collecting dust. A story that begins with Siddhartha seeking escape from his privileged upbringing and popularity in favor of spiritual illumination. He leaves his family and joins the ascetics where he fasts, becomes homeless, renounces all personal possessions, and devotes much of his time to meditation. After awhile, Siddharta comes to the realization that he must seek his own distinct experience as an individual and obtain a personal meaning in life that cannot be taught by teachers or by doctrine.


I shall no longer be instructed by the Yoga Veda or the Aharva Veda, or the ascetics, or any other doctrine whatsoever. I shall learn from myself, be a pupil of myself; I shall get to know myself, the mystery of Siddhartha.” He looked around as if he were seeing the world for the first time.”

As the magic mushrooms began to kick in, I felt a sublime sense of peace and connection with a city that I had previously felt largely apathetic towards during most of my time here in my late twenties. Through my viewfinder, I could see downtown Tempe where I spent many nights drinking with friends…singing along to “Sweet Caroline” at the piano bar, toasting on New Years Eve…or jogging along Tempe Town Lake.

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And downtown Phoenix…doing the art walk on first Fridays, having craft beers at Lost Leaf or fantastic wood-fired Italian pizza at Cibo.

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I considered staying at hole-in-the-rock until sunset, but I planned to also return to the Desert Botanical Garden so I had to leave my perch.

As I checked my cell phone I noticed that my battery was at 5%. I immediately turned it off and decided to just roam around the park some more. My eye was drawn to the white pyramid that I had seen so many times before during my stay but never inquired about what it was or paid it a visit. Since this day had been about changing my perspective on this city and experience the beauty that can lie even in the harshest of terrain, I decided to make the journey up to the white pyramid in the sky.

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“But now, his liberated eyes stayed on this side, he saw and became aware of the visible, sought to be at home in this world, did not search for the true essence, did not aim at a world beyond. Beautiful was this world, looking at it thus, without searching, thus simply, thus childlike. Beautiful were the moon and the stars, beautiful was the stream and the banks, the forest and the rocks, the goat and the gold-beetle, the flower and the butterfly. Beautiful and lovely it was, thus to walk through the world, thus childlike, thus awoken, thus open to what is near, thus without distrust.”

As I approached the white pyramid I wondered if maybe I should just leave it a mystery. The older I get, the less mysteries there are in the world. Sometimes I’m envious of the wide-eyed ten-year-old version of myself that knew so little, but was captivated by so many things that he didn’t yet understand. But I had come too far to turn back now and had to solve this mystery.

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George Hunt was a friend of the common man and a foe of the railroad and mining trusts, which he called “coyotes” and “skunks.”  He allowed women to vote in his state eight years before the rest of the country and was elected governor seven times, which set a national record.

The hilltop later became part of Papago Park and the open-air pyramid was enclosed within a tall, ugly iron fence.

With my remaining battery life in my cellphone, I wisely decided to take a selfie with the white pyramid.

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I then came upon a bench on the other side of the pyramid with a spectacular view overlooking the Phoenix zoo and the rest of the city.

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I lost track of how long I spent up here. I hadn’t eaten all day but wasn’t at all hungry. All my worries and concerns about my future…whether I would find a job as a software developer or if I would even enjoy being a software developer, whether I would find love again after a lifetime of heartbreak, whether or not the Vikings would win a championship…all vanished before my eyes. The magic mushrooms were definitely kicking in.

The sounds of birds chirping. The stoic mountain goats off yonder.

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mountain goat

I was enraptured by it all.

Until an old, shirtless fat man that sat down on the bench next to me and totally killed my communion with nature.

So I left before sunset to find my Desert Botanical Garden.


“Have you also learned that secret from the river; that there is no such thing as time?” That the river is everywhere at the same time, at the source and at the mouth, at the waterfall, at the ferry, at the current, in the ocean and in the mountains, everywhere and that the present only exists for it, not the shadow of the past nor the shadow of the future.”

As I wondered around a pond taking deep appreciation of the colors that surrounded me thanks to the magic mushrooms, I lost track of exactly where I was at in Papago Park and where the Desert Botanical Garden was. So I checked my cell phone. Unfortunately, I must have forgot to turn it off after that last selfie at the white pyramid. Oh well. I figured I would find my way. So I continued on.

I continued taking more pictures as the sun slowly began its descent. My goal of finding my Desert Botanical Garden no longer seemed important. Even if I didn’t make it before sunset, I would find it in another time. So I just wandered with no direction and no goal. And it became the longest sunset I ever experienced in my life.

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To be continued…

I’m less than a week away from completing my first dry January experience. This is by far the longest I’ve ever gone without drinking alcohol in a very long time.

I’ve been asked by friends if I’ve notice any changes in my health…increase in energy, quality of sleep, weight loss…

And the answer to that question…not really. My weight is the same. I don’t feel like I have some newfound energy. I still sleep.

I think the benefit has come from not binge drinking. No more hangovers. I’m consistently more productive during my days. I’m finding it much easier to establish morning routines like doing yoga and meditating. I don’t go anywhere near that dark abyss of self-loathing and depression…the existential void…that can sometimes creep up on me during certain nights of heavy drinking.

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I think my biggest take away from this month of not drinking is that I can be comfortable going out with a group of people and not drinking. I don’t need to unwind from a long day at work with a beer. I don’t need to drink to relax and have a good time on a date. I don’t need to celebrate  a miraculous catch by a Vikings receiver to win a playoff game by toasting with friends.

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And I don’t need to drown my sorrows after an abysmal beat-down of the Vikings in a subsequent playoff game.

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Hopefully that self-knowledge will guide me over the coming year to moderate. I have a long road ahead if I’m going to accomplish all the goals I have sought out to do. A single night of binge drinking could kill any momentum I have going.

I’ll leave you with some Johnny Cash…until next time…

I’ve gone on a handful of first dates this past month, all of them completely sober. It’s been…different. Alcohol has been a wonderful way of keeping my anxiety at bay and to portray confidence rather than nervous awkwardness. Alcohol has been the major contributor to every single romantic relationship I’ve ever had dating back to when I was 19 and had my first mixed drink of Absolut Mandrin and Sprite. It’s been a crutch for way too long and time for me to try something…different.

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The first few dates felt incredibly daunting. At times I probably came off awkward as fuck. But then I push past it. I learn that I don’t need to have a drink. I realize I’m a good person with a rich life and stories. And I find the confidence within.


You can be a lot more mindful of what your date is saying and  recall what they share with you afterward. You can learn a lot more about a person and objectively come to a decision whether they are a good match for you. Maybe if I had done the same in the past I wouldn’t have had as many short-term relationships that have ended in tears and recriminations.

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But I regret nothing. Each relationship has been a part of the journey that has led me to this moment of my life. A life that would not be nearly as rich without them. Each and every single one of them.

I imagine this dance will continue for some time. But now I know I can actually dance without the aid of alcohol.

 

My heritage has never been an important aspect of my life like it is for some people. I’m not fond of continuing outdated traditions for some misplaced obligation to my ancestors’ way of life. I’ve always been told that I’m half Norwegian, a third Swiss/German, and the rest Irish. Despite my heavily Nordic name, this has meant very little to me. I’m a futurist. I’m much more fascinated in where we are going. Not where we’ve been.

On a whim, I recently ordered an Ancestry DNA and the results are in. My Norwegian heritage holding strong at 47%, but to my surprise rather than 1/3 Swiss/German I have 29% of my ancestry coming from Great Britain. The rest a mix of Irish, Western European and Southern European.

I’ve always had a strong affinity for British comedies…and of course, the drinking…

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The Bramble

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Invented by a man named Dick Bradsell who worked at Fred’s Club in London in the 1980’s, the Bramble is a super easy to make cocktail.

Ingredients

  • 35ml gin
  • 20ml lemon juice
  • 1tsp sugar syrup
  • 15ml blackberry liqueur
  • Garnish – slice of lemon and a blackberry

Directions

  1. Add all of the ingredients into the glass;
  2. Stir thoroughly and garnish by adding a slice of lemon and a blackberry on top.
  3. Drink up, mate!

Five days in to my dry January.

The trick is to avoid bars, because I have no will power and cannot resist the temptation of drinking a delicious moscow mule or a stout beer. Unfortunately, that usually comes at the price of having a social life here in the midwest culture of booze.

I’ve been thinking more and more about the negative impacts alcohol has had on me in various situations. While it has been a wonderful social lubricant that has aided many a friendship, and romantic relationships, in my life…it has also been an impediment toward goals of mine. And right now, my goals are the only thing that matters. So in order to achieve those goals, sacrifices need to be made.

Impediment #1: Coding

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I enjoy a beer or two with coding, but my coding skills definitely fall off the cliff at a certain number of beers. This is exemplified in the Ballmer Peak as demonstrated in the below graph:

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The problem is that level of calibration takes a level of will power that I do not possess.

However, will power is like a muscle that can be strengthened over time. This is the point of the 30 day challenges I will be undertaking this year.

And at some point, I have no doubt I will be able to calibrate to the .129% to .138% B.A.C. to establish my superhuman programming ability.

And at that day, no one can stop me and my evil pursuits.


Mrs. Baxton’s Long Island Ice Tea

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Ingredients

Directions

  1. Fill a cocktail shaker with ice;
  2. pour in vodka, tequila, rum, gin, Cointreau, and sweet and sour mix.
  3. Cover and shake until the outside of the shaker is frosty.
  4. Place a few cubes of ice into a highball glass, and strain in the iced tea.
  5. Top with the cola, and garnish with a wedge of lime.

Day 2 without the booze. It’s going to be a long road ahead of me. I’m already getting the whiskey shakes and the cold sweats, which makes me wonder…is it possible I could die from a hangover? My friend Archer seems to think so…

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To all my faithful readers out there…if I do happen to die, make sure I am buried with all my stuff. Because you know it’s mine.


Hot Caramel-Popcorn Bourbon Apple Cider

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This recipe is guaranteed to warm you up in this soul crushing weather. I might not be able to enjoy it during my dry january, but that doesn’t mean you also have to neglect your body and your spirit.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup caramel popcorn (1 ounce; 30g)
  • 1 cup (240ml) bourbon
  • 2 1/2 ounces (75ml) hot apple cider
  • 2 ounces (60ml) Caramel Popcorn–Infused Bourbon
  • 1 small pat butter

Directions

  1. To Make the Caramel Popcorn–Infused Bourbon: Warm bourbon and caramel popcorn in a small saucepan over very low heat (you don’t want it to boil away), stirring frequently, for 15 minutes. Strain through a fine-mesh strainer and discard popcorn. Infused bourbon can be kept in the fridge up to one week.

  2. In a small saucepan, warm cider over low heat, five to 10 minutes. Preheat serving mug by filling with boiling water, then discard water. Add hot cider and Caramel Popcorn-Infused Bourbon to mug and stir. Top with pat of butter and serve immediately.