The Natural Beauty of Yosemite

Our road trip up the Central California coast peaked in Yosemite. Where Hearst Castle was the most magical part of the journey, Yosemite was the most memorable.

When we booked the hotel from the comfort of our San Diego home without any knowledge of the size of Yosemite National Park and the roads in and out, it seemed like a 10 minute drive each way. That didn't actually work, and each day we were there we spent at least 60 minutes on the road to and from the park. Some people (including two in the car we were driving) might think that was a poor decision, but as always, I tried to see the positive in it. And as we drove back and forth, we had the most fun looking into the forests for waterfalls, burnt trees mixed with thriving, towering Pines, and the occasional herd of deer.

At one point, we pulled off the road leaving Yosemite's famous wall face to look around and found a wooded area that looked an awful lot like the speeder chase scene from the Return of the Jedi.

The sheer beauty of Yosemite is inspiring. We planned to stay in the area for another day but were told that President Obama would be there the next day and that traffic would be insane, so we decided to leave a day early. But I'll always want to go back. Look at these pictures!

Our Trip to Hearst Castle

[dropcap custom_class="normal"] T [/dropcap]he drive took more than 6 hours, up the coast from San Diego, through L.A., winding our way through Santa Barbara, and eventually looping back a bit to take the coastal road more than an hour into what seemed like a dead end highway. Then there it was.

We'd just spent a night in Solvang and really enjoyed the Swedish town and all its charms. But this was an entirely different experience. It came with awe and wonder. I was seriously blown away.

If you haven't ever made the trip, it won't disappoint. The "Castle" is much more than a residence with stone walls; it's an architectural wonder, built over nearly 30 years, and overlooks an entire expanse of coastal property void of any other building or sense of community as far as you can see from atop the hill. Rolling golden hills and the Pacific Ocean are the only things within view, and that's all you need to take in, frankly.

William Randolph Hearst was the mastermind behind the estate. A media mogul with as much money as anyone in America has ever seen, Hearst's genius is world-renowned. And his passions were limitless.

According to the Hearst Castle website, Hearst owned the largest newspapers and media publications. He collected thousands of fine art pieces the world over, with a seemingly endless capacity and desire to buy more. He ran for and won election to the United States House of Representatives as a Congressman from New York in 1902, and many years later entertained British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and U.S President Calvin Coolidge at the Castle (in addition to dozens of Hollywood celebrities and sports stars).

As we walked through the halls, taking pictures of the incredible collection of art pieces, ornate decor, rugs, ceiling frescos, armor, vast dining halls and Hearst's personal study, from which he managed the country's most influential newspapers, the feeling of awe was powerful. How could someone make this much money? How do you finance a 28-year building project and still stay afloat? Room after room revealed one treasure after another. And we only went on two of the tours offered.

In addition to the main home, Hearst built expansive pools (the kind you'd see at the Palace of Versailles, built for King Louis XIV), additional homes, vast gardens with statues littered throughout, and to top it off, he established his own personal zoo on the property, with giraffes, lions, and more.

I've yet to go to Europe, but I can't imagine it would have anything on this place. I think what makes Hearst Castle even more incredible is that it wasn't built by centuries old monarchies or on the backs of peasants. Hearst Castle was simply one man's dream, and through hard work and decades of commitment, it stands today as a living American marvel.

No matter how old or young you are, believe me, this trip up the coast is one you must take.

For more information, check out Travel Caffeine's Hearst Castle Tips and Review. Phenomenal photos.

The Day I Was President

[dropcap custom_class="wh"] T [/dropcap]he packet said For Your Eyes Only. Inside was a brief on the current situation, with the Soviet Union positioning itself to march into Iran and capture its oil fields. The information I had indicated that western civilization would end if the Soviets were allowed to take Iran. I was the President of the United States, and it was my job to keep that from happening at all costs, even if that meant using nuclear weapons to do so.

This was a Cold War simulation in Boston, where I was paired with some of the best thinkers at Harvard, and pitted against a 40-year expert in Soviet affairs. I'd asked for the role because I wanted to experience the pressure our leaders face when making decisions that impact the world. What I learned was invaluable.

The scenario was simple on paper, but overly complex in reality, and designed intentionally to exploit the differences in governmental leadership between the two superpowers. On the US side, I had a cabinet of twelve, including the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs (an actual officer from the Naval War College in full dress), my Chief of Staff (Professor Tom Nichols, Naval War College), and nine others from across the country. None of them had all of the information, and no one knew what I did.

There was a larger Soviet team, as well as a United Nations contingent and a Press Corps.


And the weekend proved to be one of the most exhilarating and exhausting 72 hours on the job that I've experienced.

I've led weekend-long brainstorm sessions and business workshops, but this was different. This came with the pressure I'd put on myself--a test I needed to endure. Could I be a good US President?

"Even in a simulation, the idea of going to war and using nuclear weapons is intense."


Marriage in America: A New Dawn

With today’s US Supreme Court ruling on marriage in America and the landmark case of Obergefell v. Hodges, we are already hearing an outpouring of support from celebrities and others in the media. How should Christian America respond? I think the best response, ironically, is one that it should already have been using: Love.


I lost my wife, Jeseca, to cancer eight years ago. What ensued was an emotional battle that challenged me in every way, from how I would survive the heartbreaking loss of the woman I’d grown to love and cherish for 12 years to the new adventure of single parenting and leading two young boys through their own grief and hardship. A year or so after Jeseca died, a friend of mine lost his partner and asked if we could go to lunch to talk through what he was feeling.

As we sat in the popular Hillcrest cafe, “Jeff” brought back all of the vivid emotions I felt when Jeseca died, without even mentioning her name. He was recounting the memories he had of his partner—the ups and downs, the fun times and the arguments, the sadness and the regrets. But the loss…the loss came through so strongly! And as much as I wanted to resist it, one incredibly profound but simple thought entered my mind: Jeff loved his partner as much as I loved my wife.

It was profound because I had recently supported Prop 8 and the effort to keep marriage between a man and a woman in California. The issue was a political lightning rod that was being pushed to the extremes on both sides, with the extreme right arguing for political boundaries based on religious principle and the far left politicizing everything and accusing anyone who didn’t agree with them of being afraid or bigoted. Neither side was entirely right, of course, but neither did they talk from the middle, where people live and breathe and feel. It was Jeff’s feelings about his loss, more than anything else, that showed me that love is real for everyone. And it challenged me to go beyond the rhetoric and examine who I am as a man of faith striving constantly to model integrity for my boys.

“Changed understandings of marriage are characteristic of a Nation where new dimensions of freedom become apparent to new generations.” – US Supreme Court

If I read my bible right, I don’t see a Jesus who sided with the religious right or those who continually rejected the “sinful.” Rather, I see someone filled with mercy and grace who went out of his way to associate with those the pious condemned. And if I’m reading it right, he didn’t do it for political gain. He did it to show them a love that transcends differences, boundaries and social norms. He went for their hearts. He changed understandings.

Politically, gay marriage will continue to be divisive. In dissent of today’s 5-4 decision, Chief Justice John G. Roberts wrote, “If you are among the many Americans who favor expanding same-sex marriage, by all means celebrate today’s decision. Celebrate the achievement of a desired goal. Celebrate the opportunity for a new expression of commitment to a partner. Celebrate the availability of new benefits. But do not celebrate the Constitution. It had nothing to do with it.”

With that said, Christians may not have the luxury of taking a political position anymore. Instead, we should consider Jesus’ model of love over the next several days as we contemplate where and how we align with the new dawn on marriage in America. It may be the very thing that changes society’s understanding of Christianity.