Monday, July 17, 2017

Making an Elephant from Fire, Sweat, and Steel

What is something you have always wanted to do but for whatever reason haven’t done yet?  One of my things is to become a welder.  Now, let me preface everything I am about to say with this:

Welding one time does not a welder make


For father’s day my wife got me a gift certificate for a welding class with the Tampa welding art studio Rustic Steel.  Not sure what to expect, I came to the class with a pair of welding gloves my wife got me as well as some long sleeves and a few ideas in my head dancing around like sugar plum fairies.  Those bouncing ideas congealed into my final vision,  to make a Stee-lephant (get it, steel + elephant).


Spending my first 40 minutes, I went through all the metal in the Rustic Steel warehouse bins, shelves, and tables to select my assortment of gears, chrome sheet, sprockets, and such.  Once I had a table full of various metal shapes the design began to take form in my head.  It would have this spoke/sprocket like head and butt with a round curved belly.  It was incredible to watch my design come to life with each piece I welded.  I wanted my elephant to have long spindly legs like the elephants painted by Salvador Dali.  To get those legs I took slim pieces of steel and cut them shorter and began to bend them by hand.  After the pieces were bent to the desired shapes I welded the various individual pieces back together to create the effect I desired.  My final elephant weighs in at somewhere between 25-30 lbs and sits in the front entrance inside my house to greet any visitors.


Are there better elephants (or stee-lephants) out there?  I’m sure of it.  The thing is, this is mine, and I am very proud of the effort I put into it and I’m happy with how it came out.  All of this is thanks to my wonderful wife for knowing me so well, this was the perfect gift!


I have future ideas in my head scratching and clawing to get out, but the next step for me is to decide if I want to begin saving for my own welding equipment. Also, if anyone has any help / suggestions / ideas of how best to get your own welding rig let me know in the comments. I’ve begun looking on craigslist for a reasonably priced used rig, but I’m not educated enough in welding to know what price ranges are “reasonable” for used equipment.  I also am not entirely sure what kind of equipment a beginner welder would need (it seems like from my initial research that the sky is the limit on what you can spend).

Here is an Imgur gallery of the creation of my Elephant

Sunday, July 16, 2017

How I communicate and why I write

Something that I believe I’ve never appreciated when I was younger was the concept of simplistic and understandable communication.  While in school (especially middle school and high school) I believed that more was better.  Rather than boiling my ideas or concepts into their most fundamental and basic structure I would use complicated and unnecessary language to appear to have a LOT to say about something which often was very simple.

While communicating clearly is a valuable tool, the ability to make something beautiful can complement an important message as long as you choose to use techniques (be they written words, powerful quotes, or interesting videos) to make your message more impactful.  When I was in the military my words carried their own gravitas.  This was, in my opinion, because of the historic time of my writing, as well as the emotion I was conveying.  Since then, I have not felt the same motivation to write and communicate on a personal level.  Part of this is due to my own struggle with what happened to as a soldier and what Iraq represented for me.  Having some distance from that time and from the complicated and nuanced mental (and physical) luggage I was encumbered by, I now have greater appreciation for what I went through when I was such a young man.

Now, you may be asking yourself why I’m writing this (ironically over-complicated) message.  I am also asking myself why I am writing, and I believe I have my answer.  I am writing simply to write.  Over the last decade or so I’ve written quite a bit, but post Iraq most of my writing has been for work or college.  Writing for myself was one of the most cathartic things I have ever done, but we (I’m using the royal we when I really mean I here) often make excuses to do those things which are good for us.  The same holds true for working out (for me).  Speaking of working out, I’ve begun swimming 1000 meters about 2 times a week.  Never have I liked running so swimming is a great mental compromise for my cardio health.

            Perhaps you have enjoyed my writing in the past (and maybe you are even enjoying this rambling piece), while I do write for your sake I want to make it clear that on a much deeper and meaningful level I actually write for myself and my own sake.  My children have even enjoyed a bit of my fiction writing and have asked me to finish the story I once began for them.  Perhaps with that too, I will find my motivation and finish it, or who knows, I could begin a new story and see where such a story takes me.  If you have made it this far then you may be wondering where my simple and concise message is.  Perhaps someday I will get to such a message, but for today you will have to accept this instead.

Monday, December 21, 2015

A not so quiet night

There really is nothing like having a car full of excited Cubans while you drive late at night down the switchbacks of the German / Austrian Alps in the frost and snow. The sheer joy and nervousness was palpable.

As we crested the mountain road and came to a beautiful meadow with an ice-covered turn-off I made a snap decision. Slowing down, I turned onto the dark road. With no electric lights anywhere around, my headlights pierced the darkness as they swept across the frost kissed grass all the way to the base of the foothills. As the car slowed down, my loud and loving Cubans became very confused and even a bit concerned. I stopped and turned off the engine, got out of the car, and then urged them to follow me. This request was met by a chorus of groans and anxious questions about what could be wrong.

At my insistent requests, they finally acquiesced, still confused they looked at me and at each other in the near darkness of the frozen night. I simply pointed up towards the sky, looking up, the only sound my cold Cubans and I could hear was our own breathing and our feet crunching on the frozen blades of grass.

It finally hit them.

The awe and amazement on their faces was easy to see in the starlight as our eyes adjusted to the darkness. There were so many stars! More than I had ever seen with exception to similar dark and cold nights on my grandfather’s farm in Wyoming. The entire Milky Way glowed across the sky, Orion’s Belt, the Seven Sisters, Mars, Venus, and so many other constellations and planets were visible. It was no longer quiet in the cold night, now the expressions of joy and happiness filled the quiet air. Their shivering and cold was momentarily forgotten as their eyes grew wide and their smiles were lit up on their faces by the twinkling distant stars.
This is one of those moments I will treasure and never forget. The night I spent gazing at the stars on a lonely road through Germany in the heart of the Alps with my wife and her parents. It was an extraordinary moment that I was able to share with those I love.

Sunday, February 01, 2015

Still around and kicking

I hope all is well. I'm still alive and kicking.

Kids are doing well and I am married to a wonderful woman.

It's been quite a while since I last wrote I know, but I'm still kicking.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

The 3rd year of the Renaissance Festival in Tampa

Life sure has been busy; I’ve been away from things for quite a while. Going to night school, being a single father, and working fulltime take their toll. I was fortunate enough to be able to take kind of a working vacation recently so I do feel a bit recharged; however, I am ready to be done with my school courses. Last weekend I took my children to the Renaissance Festival here once again (this is our 3rd year in a row). We had a blast. My son found himself (now that he is finally a teenager) ogling the girls, and my daughter and I had fun playing with all the medieval toys and puzzles. We spent almost seven hours there eating, playing, and watching all the amazing shows.

The Knights were awesome, they had full contact jousting, breaking their lances on each other and smashing their swords into their opponent’s full plate mail. We watched as their Clydesdales around the arena also dressed in full plate armor. I was selected by the King and Queen to pose in the “Men in Kilts” calendar, so if I end up making the cut I will post the link to purchase them on my blog here. Overall it was an amazing experience. I love how I am building multi-year traditions with my children; I feel that this will be a cherished memory by both me and my kiddos.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Summer Reading

I recently found out that my blog has been assigned reading for junior in high school English homework.

I was asked the question by a student the following in an email:

"What do you feel is the driving emotion behind the blog entries and why?" I felt that you felt guilty for killing so many people and devastating their families, while also feeling guilty for leaving yours at home. But truly I would like to know what was your driving emotion behind these blogs"

I thought I would share my response since I haven't written here for some time. I took a bit and reflected on why I did write so much...


I am glad that you found my writing interesting. It is an odd feeling to have your experiences and writing read as summer homework but I am honored all the same. As to your question regarding my driving emotions behind my blog entries...

You mentioned guilt for the death I have caused. I suppose that there is guilt there, but if I had to go back I probably would have made many of the same choices. It is war and in war you fight or you die. you return fire or you are killed. That is the black and white of it, I am simplifying things a bit, there are so many gray areas because of the cities, the civilians and such but you still must understand that aspect.

When you do have to go to war, however. When you do have to kill or witness death and sorrow. When you can't look away because it is a child who was killed and you are the only one who speaks Arabic and must go comfort the family who just lost their little boy. Those memories seep into your soul. I began to dream about those things all the time. You see I have what is called PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder). It is what happens when you have seen or experienced something so traumatic that you mind has a very difficult time dealing with it. There are many symptoms (nightmares, insomnia, hyper-alertness...) I chose to write about those events. For me it
was my attempts to put my daemons to rest. I still can't sleep very well and I think back to those days often, especially the day I had to see the boy killed.

I don't really know what else to tell you. Take care XXXXXX


Friday, February 26, 2010

New writing on my story

There is some new writing on my story over at

Thursday, February 18, 2010

More moto pics

I posted some new Moto pics over at my blog about raising my kids as a single father.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

New post

I have a new post over at

Wednesday, December 02, 2009


Posttraumatic stress disorder – PTSD – is an anxiety disorder following a traumatic event that can disrupt all aspects of a person’s life. You might be hearing about it in the news, on TV dramas, and maybe from people you know who have served in Iraq or Afghanistan. Actually, it’s more common than you might think – researchers estimate that at least 50 percent of us will experience or witness a traumatic event in our lives, and many of us will experience PTSD symptoms. An upcoming three-part documentary series, This Emotional Life (PBS, January 4-6, 2010) reveals the serious impact that PTSD can have on sufferers’ lives, with a special look at its impact on service members and their families. Watch the trailer:

In this video, Dr. Barbara Rothbaum, Director of the Trauma and Anxiety Recovery Program at Emory University School of Medicine, discusses the fundamental questions about PTSD.

And according to experts in the series, here’s a Q&A about PTSD, why it’s important for us to understand, and how to recognize the signs – and get help.

Q: What is PTSD?
A: After experiencing a traumatic event, it is natural to feel distress and upsetting feelings. In many cases, the lingering emotional effects go away after a few months, but when they persist for many months and cause difficulties in many aspects of life – from work to sleep to interactions with others – it is symptomatic of PTSD. Common situations that can lead to PTSD include witnessing or experiencing terrible injury or danger to a loved one, rape, assault, and war.

Q: What are the symptoms of PTSD?
A: There are three “clusters” of symptoms of PTSD. The first are the “re-experiencing the trauma” symptoms like nightmares and flashbacks. The next are the “avoidance” symptoms – sufferers don’t want to talk about their experiences and will often shut down emotionally. The third group of symptoms is the “physical arousal” symptoms group, including hyper-vigilance, exaggerated startle response, problems sleeping and concentrating, and irritability.

Q: Can PTSD be treated?
A: There are several options for treatment for PTSD. People can learn to be the people they were before the treatment – it doesn’t happen for everyone, but there are many examples. Treatment strategies that have demonstrated success include cognitive behavioral therapy, exposure therapy (“re-living” or re-telling the experience in a controlled way), eye-movement therapy, and medication. Learn more about these approaches.

Q: How does PTSD impact people who serve in the military?
A: PTSD is complex for members of the military who return home from war. Not only do members of the armed forces witness or experience traumatic scenarios and events, but they often come home to families, colleagues and neighbors who can’t imagine what war is like. It can be an overwhelming experience, and many service members show signs of PTSD; some studies show it approaches 30 percent returning from combat. It’s critically important for veterans to receive the support they need – both professionally and from their communities. Watch this video from Iraq veteran, Bob, who shares his experience with this difficult condition.


Check out the “Perspectives” feature of the This Emotional Life Web site, with video clips, behind-the-scenes interviews, and blogs from celebrities, experts, and amazing real people featured in the project. From stress to happiness to PTSD and resilience, “Perspectives” connects people with stories and conditions and expert insight that’s only available here.

Follow the project on Facebook:

PBS on Facebook and Twitter: and

Ben Wakana
On behalf of This Emotional Life
t| 617.692.0505
c| 617.834.6709

Premiering January 4, 2010