Sweet Irish Liberty


The Tempest, The Real McKenzies

We are all born free but forever live in chains
And we battle through existence on and on
We’ll take whatever comes to be while keeping hopeful melody
And we’ll cruise through the darkness until the warmth of dawn

So row row ye bastards you never can tell
Through water like glass above a briney hell
So row and a-hollar come give her all you can
Or the sea she will best us, we’ll never see the land

We carry on the burden and we hide our grimace well
For the day will come for us to mutiny
But as long as we survive our hope and pride they can’t deprive
And we’ll carry on our melody to sing in harmony

So row row you bastards you never can tell
Over water like glass above a briney hell
So row and a-hollar come give her all you can
Or the sea she will best us, we’ll never see the land

So row row ye bastards you never can tell
The ocean a tempest or the land a stormy hell
So row and a-hollar till bloodied on the hand
Or the sea she will best us, we’ll never see the land

We are wracked from the hardships
Exhausted by the years we can still escape this barren misery
But even with our shackled wrists we can fight our way through this
And we’ll power all aboard the ship to total liberty

The Potential of Human Drive and Humility


How far can a human being push themselves in a world where everything is provided at the touch of a button, reading is at an all-time low and screen watching is at an all-time high? The documentary Jacob answers that question. Currently running on Amazon Prime, this seemingly unassuming glimpse into the life of Jacob Appel carries significant weight for those who want to see past the exterior, or need “flash and bang” documentary storytelling, and brings the viewer into the life of someone who shook off social norms and pursued being a lifetime learner.

If you don’t know who Jacob Appel is, then you aren’t alone. His presence is nondescript, but it is his accomplishments that draw you in. Appel has nine degrees including a medical degree, law degree, bioethicist, psychologist, playwright, and New York City tour guide. He has also written dozens of books, short stories, and plays. He has spent the majority of his life gaining knowledge in at some of the most regarded learning institutions on the east coast, as well as earning awards of the highest claim.

What makes this documentary even more fascinating is that you wouldn’t know any of this unless they made a documentary about Appel. He is labeled throughout the documentary as “one of the most humble people you will ever meet.” Even the documentary length suggests this, as it is only 46 minutes long.

So what makes Jacob worth watching? There are two reasons I will go into in this post. First, Jacob shows the potential of learning a person can delve into in order to find answers to life’s toughest questions. Health, justice, peace, guidance, ethics are all at the root of Appel’s educational pursuits. They are the soul of the disciplines he studies. Appel not only wants to gain knowledge in these juggernauts of fields, but he wants to bring others along the way. Most of the documentary, when it is not interviewing Appel one-on-one, shows him going from speaking engagement to teaching opportunity. Appel’s love for knowledge seems to be so he can give it away through teaching.

One of the people interviewed for the documentary is a lifetime friend of Appel, Peter Grosz (Yes, it is the guy from the hilarious Sonic restaurant commercials). Grosz makes a comment about why Appel would go to such lengths to gains these degrees, “It feels like he is to synthesize this massive worldview.” This documentary shows that there is integration between the disciplines, giving Appel an edge up on most graduates as he is not known for one field of study (something that he might even see as a limitation). Instead, his humanities approach to learning makes him even better at each field of study. This is something most people aren’t doing. They receive their degree in a specific field and then sit back gaining knowledge in only it (and maybe who is singing under a mask)

A second reason to add this to your watch list is that it shows the importance of humility. Appel is introduced by every person in the documentary as someone who would never tell you of any of his accomplishments unless asked. He doesn’t learn to peacock his intelligence, but to search for answers and improve himself.

This world is filled with pompous asses that showboat their opinions, power, and talents. Appel doesn’t appear to be one of them. His appearance is non-descript. His living arrangement involves function over form. His pursuits aren’t about power, they are about the pursuit of truth. I, personally, found that inspiring and humbling.

Take the 46 minutes to get to know Jacob Appel and you, too, will be challenged to expand your learning and your personal potential.

Thankfulness Seems to be a Losing Virtue


A lady standing in line at a Chick-fil-A conveys her disgust that she didn’t get enough sauce packets with her order. A young teenage boy complains that he has to take a 45-minute ride with his family to see his grandparents for Thanksgiving. An elderly couple murmur about their daughter-in-law’s stuffing recipe and how it wasn’t to their liking. A twenty-something young man doesn’t make it to his family’s Thanksgiving dinner because he doesn’t want to deal with the drama. Hundreds of millions of examples could be added to this list on a daily basis from people experiencing the same thing: a lack of thankfulness in this world.

At an early age, most children are taught to say “thank you.” It is a sign of appreciation or at least recognition that something was done for them. If a child is not taught the importance of saying thank you there is a level of entitlement and privilege that grows in the inner-psyche. They expect service. They give immediate feedback to discontentment. They pout, throw fits, and even lash out at their providers in extreme cases. If the child is not taught the importance of thankfulness they grow into adults to reject the concept completely.

Now, imagine generations of people who aren’t thankful for the world they live in. People who believe that they are the center of everyone else’s storyline. A storyline that focuses on their pleasures, their attentions, their wants and needs. You can see that this would quickly diminish the concept and implementation of being thankful.

I’m not one of those people who walks around saying, “You think you have it tough! Well, what about all those people in the olden days?” I don’t highlight the mythology of pilgrims and how they are the role models of thankfulness. Yet, of the 100 people who boarded the Mayflower in 1620, only half of them were alive the next spring. They saw disease and death, and they recognized that being alive was a gift.

With today’s internet-dependent, apocalyptic-minded, entertainment-based generation, we don’t seem to be seeing the need for appreciation. In fact, the exact opposite seems to be true. We see a need to pick apart the world we live in and those who inhabit it. If the world is presumed to be ending in 10 years, wouldn’t we want to make the best of it? If this is the generation that information doubles every year, wouldn’t we want to bask in the incredible, awe-provoking concept that the world is a vast and complex creation? If people are more isolated than ever before because of social media, wouldn’t we want to lean into the real relationships we have and make sure they know that we appreciate them and want our interconnections to be mutually beneficial?

So, feel the weight of your phone in your hand. It is a technological miracle that you are given the privilege to use. Look in the eyes of the people around you. They are people who share your history, your DNA, and your legacy. Look at the food around the table. There are more choices, flavors, and technological cooking advancements than ever before. There is so much to be thankful for. There is so much to appreciate and highlight. Don’t use today (and the days to follow) as excuses to point out the problems, the flaws, the issues. Instead, use it at a time to flex your thankfulness. You will be thankful you did.

The Dawn of an Adult


I’m sitting in the dark, quietness of a hotel room in Kansas City, KS waiting for the early hours to pass, so that I can call my oldest kid and wish her a Happy Twenty-First Birthday. My mind is reflecting back to snippets of time and places where I can see my daughter for who she really is and who she has become. I see Her laughing in the backyard, playing Harry Potter with neighborhood friends. She sings loudly from the front row at her pre-school Christmas concert, unaware of her volume (or pitch). She cuddles up under a blanket and reads an entire book in a day. These are the memories of one of my favorite people in the world. And, today, she turns 21.

It’s fitting that I wait as the sun rises, since this is a sunrise age for her, personally. Being 21, especially in America, is a year of liberation. She’s “drinking age”, and all that come with that. She is also allowed to be her own person and such like never before. For me, however, 21 is about being liberated from the last confines our society regulates. I am for all the rules we place on emerging adults, so please don’t think I am suggesting my daughter is “free” from chains of governmental regulation. Yet, she is now to a point where she gets to be released as an adult and given the freedoms within it. That excites me for her. That makes me proud, as I have seen her appropriately meet every expectation that is placed on her. She is truly ready to be an independent adult.

Young people today call it “adulting.” Adulting is where you show qualities or characteristics of a mature person by taking on actions or responsibilities in which are seen at mature or adult-like. Grace will no longer be acting like an adult. It isn’t a role that needs to be played, but a state of who she is and what she is about. She IS an adult.

Sure, there will be mistakes, immature decisions, impulses of childlike flashbacks, but that is part of being an adult, too. And, as someone who is halfway through his life already, I find myself dealing with the same issues in my adulthood.

The sun is up and I can see through the window that it is going to be an amazing day. It will be sunny, clear and beautiful But, I didn’t even need to crack the shade to know this. It’s my daughter’s 21st birthday–what else kind of day would it be?

What’s Wrong with Questions


We seem to be living in a very declaritive time in America. Maybe in social media, maybe it’s kids raised on psychoanalysis, maybe it’s just that people think their opinions matter more because they are most true to them. Whatever the case, though, people are making statements that don’t seem to have factual basis, research, or even hints of truth. Because of the subject matter, however, their views aren’t really called into question. The political hotbed that is our country has ignited like gas on flames with even the smallest of issues. So, when you throw out topics like racism, immigration, male-female relations, abortion or other heated topics, the personal declarations become just that–personal. Anyone who says that something is racist, sexist, oppressive, murderous or divisive has become the expert and the person or persons that is accused becomes the indicted. Their declaraion makes is the truth and anything that a person does to refute it is met with sceptisim and violence.

When I was in my twenties, I remember a professor speaking about the power of questions. It is known in the world of communication that the person who asks the questions holds the power. If you want to see a humerous example, watch “Who’s Line is it Anyway” and the category of “Questions Only“. The performers battle over getting the power. This isn’t the case anymore it seems. In fact, it doesn’t appear that people are allowed to ask questions. They aren’t allowed to challenge thinking. When something is declared (of course the more inflamatory or the more famous the person the more influential) then is it stone written. To questions is to put on the suit of the accusation itself. If someone asks why something is “sexist” then they become sexist for posing the question. This is true of both sides of every issue, whether it be CNN or FOX News, Democratic or Republican, conservative or liberal.

I don’t like this, I don’t mind saying. I think questions are the only way to get out of the aggressive conflicts that are taking place. If someone says, “Universal health care is stupid and anyone who wants it is a socialist.” I want to ask, “How would you provide medical care for someone who isn’t able to afford it?” or “What is our civic duty to take care of our fellow man?” When someone says, “We should have open boarders.” I want to ask “So Mexico and Canada would be free to have anyone cross at any time?” or “How would you assist in the assimilation of people who come into this country without a process?” I have never known anyone who wants to take a declaration and actually think it through. Perhaps this is due to the fact that people just regurgitate what opinionated news anchors tell them, or that they just reTweet what others have posted. Either way, people don’t want to sit down and have a conversation. They want to give a very brief monologue.

So, start asking questions. I would start with these and go from there.

  • What do you mean by that?
  • What’s your definition of… (Racist, Sexist, Murder, Immigrant)?
  • Where did you get your information/facts?
  • What if you’re wrong?
  • How does your statement shape your values, then?

I am going to make it a priority to ask people to clarify their declarations.  I believe if everyone does this, then it will shift the power from those who don’t know the answers to those who aren’t afraid of being questioned.

Hot Dogs – Get Your Hot Dogs Here!


There is nothing like the heat of the summer, or a road trip to a sporting event, to get you thinking about hot dogs.

It’s summer, and it has been hot across the country. Last week I became one with my underclothes as the heat bonded me with my Duluth Trading Company drawers at a molecular level. In the midst of this heatwave, I took a road trip with my son, Seth, to watch Liverpool take on Borussia Dortmund at Notre Dame. It was a bucket list expecrience than I was honored to share with my favorite soccer player.

There is nothing like the heat of the summer, or a road trip to a sporting event, to get you thinking about hot dogs. I love hot dogs! I grew up on them. They are a true taste of summer for me…especially my childhood. I think about my dad in the backyard grilling hotdogs for the family. We ate so many meals outside as a family. In the winter we would boil the hotdogs on church nights for a quick meal. A hot dog plus a soft bun and any number of condiments was a Barker family staple. Sometimes hamburger buns were used, and the occasional slice of bread (gross), but for the most part the 3 simple ingredients of dog+bun+condiment= deliciousness!

Perhaps it is the sense of nastalgia, or my road trip, that has me obsessing about hot dogs recently. I wish I knew the number of dogs I’ve eaten. It could be in the multiple hundreds, if not thousands. Nonetheless, I wanted to share my Top 5 Hot Dogs list with you.

Mr. J’s (Chicago, IL)
I first ate at Mr. J’s in high school on a road trip to Chicago. I didn’t know about “Chicago Dogs” but I was quickly informed. The place was so busy you had to order as soon as you walked in the door. You would shout your order number to the guy behind the register. By the time the line moved up to him, your order was ready. Ingredients like celery seed on the bun, sweet relish, sport peppers and even totatoes made the delicious dog even more delectible.

Hear me out. For the money ($1.50/pop) there is no other dog that tastes this great. It is a 1/4 pounder assemble by a guy in a beard net after you’ve snacked on “appetizers” throughout the store. Add to the fact that you get to church your own chopped onions at their condiment bar, and you have everything you need for a great hot dog experience.

Wrigley Field (Chicago, IL
I’m a Cubs fan, which explains the bias, but Wrigley is where I first heard my 2 favorite words in the hot dog world—HEBREW NATIONAL. If you haven’t ever eaten a HN dog then you haven’t had one of the best hot dogs ever. Add to the fact that you are eating it at one of the most historic of baseball facilities, the Friendly Confines, and you get a true dog experience.

Barker Backyard (Quad Cities)
Sitting at a picnic table with an iced Diet Pepsi, Sterzing’s kettle chips, sliced watermelon and a grilled dog is one of my favorite meals. Add a smear of Boetje’s Mustard (pronounced “bulges”) and you get a taste to die for. Don Barker’s beautiful backyard has flowers, lawn art and a goldfish pond that brings peaceful conversation to any meal, even as simple as hot dogs.

Teds Coney Island (Des Moines, IA)
When you enter Ted’s Coney Island, you are brought into a world of simply delicious food. Burgers, Gyros and Dogs. Their dogs bring a sence of nostalgia to the palate. Topped with various classics like chili, peppers, or just delicious mustard. Get the basket meal so you get fries and rings.

I’m sure there are more since I’ve been to numerous beachfronts, ballparks, youth events and farmer’s markets, but these 5 stand out. So, make yourself a simple—yet delicious treat—and start eating!

The Great Writing Challenge


Despite what anyone under the age of 25 will tell you, writing is still alive and well in the world. Social media, through no fault of its own, has boiled language down to the verbal equivelent to grunts, moans, hand gestures and hyroglyphics. However, there are still more needs for sharpened written skills than people would make you believe. The problem is that people aren’t flexing those muscles. If the average American texts about 94 times a day, and the average teen uses Snapchat 40+ minutes a day, it is easy to see why writing proficiency is on a sharp decline.

So, what if there was an fun and interesting way of getting people to write? The makers of The Most Dangerous Writing App are testing that concept with a videogame-like approach to getting people to write. With a simple screen the “player” must write for 5 minutes straight or the “lose”. It seems too simplistic to be enjoyable, I recognize, but just this simple 5-minute activity can increase higher level thinking, vocabulary, and mindfulness in the participant. Even writing this blog post I have taken about 7 minutes to write two paragraphs. My own cranial cobwebs need dusting in the area of writing.

The Most Dangerous App uses a game format to do something that people normally wouldn’t do—advance an intellectual inefficiency. People do not like to focus on things that they are not good at. They don’t like to be reminded that they can’t do something. Yet, with this app there it is easy to increase your writing fortitude just by playing a few times.

I’ve argued with many people that Snapchat isn’t a social media outlet, but that it is a videogame. The streaks that people have make them want to keep checking back to make sure they don’t “lose” it. This means that most people (especially those under the age of 25) are participating in Snapchat becuase of its “stickyness”. Malcolm Gladwell, in The Tipping Point, writes about the Stickyness Factor:

“The Stickiness Factor is the quality that compels people to pay close, sustained attention to a product, concept, or idea. Stickiness is hard to define, and its presence or absence often depends heavily on context. Often, the way that the Stickiness Factor is generated is unconventional, unexpected, and contrary to received wisdom.”

The makers of The Most Dangerous Writing App have given writing stickyness. They have used a modern context to bring enjoyment to writing. Try it out. See if you can write for 5 minutes straight. You will find that you are increasing your intellect as well as your emotional intelligence.

Varsity Soccer


Seth is having a great time playing soccer for West Des Moines Valley High School. It is a challenging program that asks the most out of its players. He has had to work hard and learn new methodologies, but it has been worth it in the end to see him play at Tiger Stadium and continue the rich tradition of excellence in their soccer program.

A New Road


I’m excited to see a new direction in the lives of people in this country. There will be a tipping point and I looked forward to experiencing it. Nothing ever stays they same. Like fields that feed millions, there are seasons that have to be experienced so that the next one with come. What will the fruit of this season be?