Dear 43 Things Users,

10 years after introducing 43 Things to the world, we have decided we have met our last goal: completing the incredible experience that has been 43 Things. Please join us in giving one last cheer to all the folks who have shared their goals with the world, as well as all the people who have worked at The Robot Co-op to build this incredible website. We won a Webby Award, published a book, and brought happiness to a lot of people.

Starting today, 43 Things users can export their goals and entries from the site. Starting August 15, we will make the site “read only”. 43 Things users will still be able to view the site and export their content, but we won’t be taking any new content from users. We hope to leave the site up for folks to see and download their content until the end of the year. Ending on New Year’s Eve takes us full circle.

It has been a long ride (one of our original goals was to "build a company that lasts at least 2 years” - we beat that one!) While we wish the site could live on, it has suffered from a number of challenges - changes in how people use the site, the advertising industry, and how search engines view the site. We wish the outcome was different – but we’ve always been realistic about when our goals are met and when they aren't.

As of today, you will be able to download your goals and entries. See more about that on the FAQ page. Thanks for 10 great years of goal-setting and achieving.

- The Robots.

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Entries
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Fix what is broken (read all 14 entries…)
Auto-pocalyse

I knew something was up with the Jeep on Friday. I was running errands and suddenly heard a strange grinding noise under the hood, and smelled something burning. I stopped and did a quick check including the oil, but nothing seemed amiss. I’ve been overdue for an oil change, and the oil was low, but not grievously so. I did add a quart of oil, and planned to get it to the shop the following week. While driving it over the weekend, the grinding and smell got worse.

This afternoon I went to start the Jeep and go to an appointment, but the engine refused to turn over. I tried several times with no success. I checked under the hood again and all seemed in order. On a whim I got a wrench and tried to turn the crankshaft. It would not budge. I’m now very concerned that the vehicle’s engine has locked up. If so, that will mean replacing the engine. Drats.

Now I have to a) get it towed from my house to a garage that I think will do a good job and not bleed me dry, b)prepare for a huge cash hit at a time when we were just about back to where we wanted to be financially, c)rent a car for about a week or two, depending upon how long it will take to replace the engine (if that is the problem), d) redo our June budget and probably our July-August budgets to conform to an austerity package that would make Greece blanch, and e)decide in short order whether to sell the vehicle or trade it in and take on a new car payment with a new vehicle. Frankly I’m scared of replacement engines. And I wonder if the investment will be worth it if I keep the vehicle only another two years as I originally planned.

In the gratitude column I must admit it was better that it broke down in my garage than on the side of the road. And it is better that we did not take it to Florida for the weekend as we originally planned. I can already say from hard experience, the Green Swamp is no place to break down.

Now it is time to see if those AAA benefits really pay off…



Change the Energy (read all 51 entries…)
All The Small Things

“When people show you who they are, believe them.” – May Angelou

Over the years I’ve developed a kind of philosophy about the places I’ve worked or companies I’ve worked with. It began when I worked for a vending company in Florida that allowed it’s vehicle’s insurance policies to lapse without telling the employees who drove the vehicles(including me) that they had done so. There was a big commotion and the company went from assuring the staff that it was an accident to telling them they didn’t know, to telling them there were legal things at play that we did not understand. I came away viewing it in the simplest terms: You only don’t pay for auto insurance when you don’t have the money to pay for it. To me that was the first hint that things were off track where I was working. The next 10 months proved me correct as the company floundered and went under, owing that staff three weeks in back wages. Chalk it up to experience and move on.

There are a lot of ways to view companies and employers. What they say and what they do is often not as important as what they don’t say and don’t do. I worked for a catering company that was in the top 10 in the city in revenue, but one day I found out they had not paid for the insurance of their fleet of vans and had to park them, opting to use the owners’ cars and trucks to deliver food. That small clue told me what I needed to know about the company I was working for: they were on their way down. Sure enough, a dozen other tiny, seemingly unconnected incidents reinforced my conviction. I left the company and a year later they were out of business, having squandered customers’ deposits and produced no services.

I routinely now look behind the bluff and bluster and glitter and glory of companies where I work and seek those few clues, those little bits of information that give me insight into what a company truly believes and practices. I use the same method on crews working for me or that I inherit, and on other places of business where I shop. A dirty bathroom at a gas station, trash overflowing in a kitchen, chronically late staff, consistently early staff, a disorganized cooler or a floor under an oven that hasn’t been cleaned in 10 years… all give me real insight into the character and culture of a company or team.

I use it everywhere except where it might matter most: on myself. I’ll say upfront this method is very imprecise when applied to people. It takes a long curve to make sure you haven’t caught some on a bad day, didn’t tell you the truth because they were embarrassed or tired, is trying to be smarter than they really are, or lots of other variables. Stories about people, particularly gossip, is very unreliable. But, when someone does show you who they are by their behaviors, vs what they profess, believe them.

I’ve shown myself who I can really be, and in the small, daily, repetitive actions I can form a data base of information that tells me how I really am progressing. Example: When I get sick I don’t go to the doctor. I rarely take medication. I have to be really, really, really sick to seek professional help. I once had a UTI so severe I was pissing pus and blood in excruciating pain for two weeks before going to a walk in clinic, convinced I could flush out the infection myself if I drank enough cranberry juice. That one thing, that small thing, tells me I’m stubborn to the point of self harm; a fact reemphasized again and again. For two years I avoided treatment for a chemical imbalance in my brain over which I had practically no control. I remain stingy with delegation and information convinced that no one can do a job as well as I can, so I end up working too much and stressing myself too much. That tells me I have issues of insecurity and fear of failure.

I can make a list or pluses and minuses. Knowing myself I think I can gauge which decisions or actions were made for what hidden reasons. I don’t think I’ll get them all. But if I applied the same analysis to myself as I do to external thinks I encounter, will it tell me all I need to know about myself? Maybe I can find that pattern or series of consistent events that lead to larger scale challenges. If I can do it externally, shouldn’t I be able to do it internally as well?

How exactly is a question. I don’t want to over analyze every thing that I do, and create a sinkhole of self criticism. There are some things I do because that is who I am. I’m conscious of that. There are other things I do and I don’t know why. There is my focus. To seek and examine and change what can be changed. I only came away from Dr. Phil with a couple of worthwhile observations, but one of them is: “You cannot change what you do not acknowledge”.



Try 43 Small-Batch Bourbons (read all 10 entries…)
4. Russell's Reserve

Picked up this small batch bottle a couple of weeks ago. It was a fair price of about $36 and has a ruggedly handsome look to the bottle. But, who cares about the bottle?

This is a bourbon blended by Jimmy Russell, master distiller for Wild Turkey. In my more reckless days I used to drink quite a bit of Wild Turkey, and I used to pay for it big time. It was a great liquor to mix with Coke or Dr. Pepper and get stone-blind & paralytic; which was the goal in those days. I was happy to find the wild booze of my youth has a calmer, more mature, and more sophisticated uncle.

Right out of the bottle Russell’s has a sweet, floral, spicy scent. There are traces of coffee, vanilla, and toffee and the bourbon has a glowing amber hue. The first sip has a bit of a wallop, despite the modest 90 proof, and a lot of upfront spiciness. Strong notes of black pepper, chilies, cinnamon, oak and toasted bread bang around inside the mouth and sizzle the tongue. It goes down nice and smooth, and there is an unfortunate stab of a mediciney flavor. But it only lasts for a moment. Then the hot warmth spreads out and the spiciness fades and there is a flavor of leather, cotton candy, and butter. It has a good mouth-feel, being very viscous, despite the sting and spiciness. There is a freshness to it, as well.

A cube or two of ice brings out the sweetness more, with notes of honey and florals, and pushes down the spiciness. I tried it with Coke, Ginger Ale, and good ol’ Dr. Pepper. For whatever reason, Dr. Pepper blended the best. Maybe I was being nostalgic. I made a cocktail called a Derby, which has bourbon, lime, sweet vermouth, and Grand Marnier. I thought the lime would be a nice compliment to the spiciness and pepperyness of the Russell’s. I was not wrong, it was pretty good. Cookingwise I made up a Coca Cola/Bourbon Apple Caramel Tart for a small tasting we did for some Coke reps this week. The bright flavors melded well into the coke syrup, and the addition of tart apples and sweet, house caramel sauce made for a good dessert. I did add just a pinch of cayenne to set off the heat a little more in the dish.

I don’t see this as a long and slow sipping bourbon. I found I drank it rather fast (it does not seem to linger on the palate very long). I can’t see enjoying it with a big fat Dominican (cigar) or swirling it in a sifter while watching the sunset. Like it’s Wild Turkey young ‘un, it seems to fit into a shot glass better, or to be the kind of whiskey you drink while playing poker or grilling steaks or watching porn. It is big and loud and takes up a lot of room and demands to be noticed. But it is good company, never the less. Very enjoyable.



The Big Project: Adopt (read all 11 entries…)
Houston, We Are A Go.

This goal, a secret one which I’m going to open up and reveal very soon, has been over two years in the making. Many reasons. But every hurdle has been overcome to get to this point, which is the “live” portion of our project. I’m excited to be to this point, but also a little wary and dulled at the prospect of more waiting…

But I’m mostly excited.



Make Some Nice Digital Art (read all 6 entries…)
Why Try?

I have always had a passion for art and being creative. As a kid I drew and painted all the time. I went through pad after pad of canvas sheets and tubes of paint, smearing and stroking and trying to make what was in my brain materialize on the canvas. I got a little better with regular practice, but that is not to say I was ever very good.

When I got out of high school I applied to the Ringling Art College in Sarasota, but my portfolio was not accepted. I took art and design classes at the community college. I tried to get the instructors to help me elevate my level of skill, but I was often beyond the level the class was at in terms of design, proportions, perspective, color and form. I was not really at the point where I knew how to take the next steps, and didn’t get the kind of education I really needed. I graduated with an AA in Art and Design, which I quickly found to be of not much use in the working world. I did a few graphic artist’s jobs, but within a couple of years I was looking at getting married and the paltry and inconsistent income I had from working in the art field was not going to be an option.

I put my pads, paints, pencils, etc, away and went to work in different industries. Art, design and form always played a part in my various jobs, but not a big part. I went for years and years without really drawing or painting or creating any art. I got into the culinary field and got a degree there. I found art and color and form and design to be very important in what I do. It has fulfilled a part of my artistic, creative soul. But lately I have been craving more.

I discovered “digital art” a while ago while trying to clean up and fix some photos I had taken. I found a program called GIMP which works fairly well for me, and is free online. It let me doctor up photos as I needed, but also allows me to stretch my creative muscles again and try something more creative. I recently bought a Wacom Bamboo drawing tablet that allows me to draw on it and have those movements transferred to my onscreen project as if I were drawing on a pad of paper or canvas (it takes practice and a different set of motor skills, however). In one setting I can paint, draw, chalk, airbrush, pastel, acrylic, or photo-enhance a project. There is no paint to clean up, no pencils to sharpen or put away, no canvases to make room for, no tarps to spread, no smelly solvents to pour. There are no trips to the art market to match a color or brushes to replace. When I am done my project takes up room on the computer, not in the house. And if I don’t get to it for a week or two… no big deal. Nor do I have to wait for paint to dry. And if I do something I don’t like, there is no need to scrap a canvas or scrape down layers of paint. I just click and erase. When I am ready to display said art, I can take the file to Office Depot or where ever and have it printed to my specifications, on archival, acid-free paper suitable for framing.

Some people (my mother included) have already told me that this is not “real art”. There is no texture or depth or layering. If I don’t like the tint or hue or contrast I can just go and adjust it in the computer so I don’t have to think ahead and plan like real artists. Okay, fine. It’s not real art, if that is how you feel. I’m not trying to be a “real artist”. I’m working… very hard… to reclaim my soul and spirit from the darkness and the bleak. I haven’t tried to paint or create anything worthwhile in years and years. Scribbling around like this makes me happy. It fulfills part of me. I enjoy it. I like learning about it, practicing, screwing up and dumping a couple of hours’ worth of work without any fiscal or material loss. I think with practice and self-training I will get better. I think one day I could build a portfolio suitable for gallery exhibition (as an amateur, of course). I think I could one day have a piece of my art on display on every continent in the world (I saw this on someone’s blog. She was an artist and her goal was to have someone from the internet buy some of her art, from all the continents. So far she’s conquered three. I thought that was a bold goal and very worthwhile, so I kinda adopted it for myself, too).

As it has been my whole life, my vision and imagination outstep my actual skills. This will be a long learning process, and a long self-education process, and a lot of practice before I am able to translate those ideas into digital form. But I’m excited about the challenge and it has been so long since I was excited so I am going to work at it and work at it. Worthy pieces (not perfect, just worthy) will be posted here on occasion.

I created the image above by drawing and painting over a stock photo of a man’s eye. Technically woeful but a nice try, I thought.



Savor the Flavors of Atlanta (read all 26 entries…)
Frescos

Chianti Braised Short Ribs at Frescos. A nice dish that could have been done better.

Down in Florida visiting the family for Memorial Day. When I left this town the height of culinary culture was Red Lobster and Carrabba’s, and you had to wait a couple of hours to get into either one on a Saturday. Things have changed in my home town.

I got up Saturday morning (we arrived around 1am after an 8 hour drive)and was going to go and visit the Auburndale Farmer’s Market, however my sister came over and agreed to go with me and S. and suggested we go to the downtown farmer’s market. I no longer have visit local farmer’s market as a goal, but I still try to visit new and interesting ones when I can. At this one they had blocked off three blocks of Main Street and had an assortment of produce bearing vendors. We wandered around and got some fresh beignets and some organic kale pesto.

I found an advertizing magazine that showcased some of the restaurants around Main Street Square. One was called Frescos and had some very interesting looking photos of featured food. I asked my sister about them and she said they were on her shit list because she went in there one morning for coffee and bagel and the staff person who was ringing up a large order didn’t acknowledge her right away. She left in an insulted huff and had not been back. I’d been itching for someone to be rude to me so I said we’d go down there and pay them a visit and see if they ignored me when I asked for coffee and bagel.

The restaurant is a short stroll from the square and had both indoor and outdoor seating. They need it because the place is small. On average the size of a common living room. I went in and was immediately met by a smiling man who asked me if I wanted to sit inside or out. I told him I wasn’t going to do either and could I please see the dinner menu. I querried him on a few menu items and his answers were competent and satisfactory. I saw several items on the menu that intruiged me and I decided to come back that evening for dinner.

From there we made our way out to Plant City to a blueberry winery and spent a couple hours there sampling wines. We drove home and I slept (noisily, I was told) on the sofa for about an hour. I got up and dressed and suggested to my parents and reluctant sister that we go to Frescos for dinner. I called ahead and although they don’t take reservations, they agreed to reserve a table for us if we were going to arrive within 30 minutes.

We arrived and the place was mostly full but kinda quiet. The live music was setting up and my sister bemoaned how much she hated eating while someone was playing music. We were re-greeted by the smiling man who shook my hand and led us to a table with a reserved sign on it. I picked up a beer menu with about seventy varieties of beers, and twenty different craft beers. I ordered a craft hard cider and looked over the menu again, even though I was pretty sure what I’d be getting. Our waitress was named Ashley and she was prompt, friendly, and professional. Everyone made small orders (Dad got a chicken Caesar salad, Mom had the pan fried trout and havarti grits, Sis settled for Drunken Shrimp and a side of risotto, and S. got the Ahi Tuna small plate and the Shrimp and Scallop Linquini). I built my meal out of some small plates, having the antipasta platter, California Spring Rolls, Ceviche and the Chianti Braised Short Rib. I recognize it is one of the dreadful consequences of going someplace with a foodie such as myself that there may not be much in the way of shrimp salad or grilled chicken biscuits or Redi-Mix mashed potatoes ala Applebee’s, Morrisons, or Chik-Fil-A. You go out with me and most times we are going to go someplace where the food is interesting and uncommon. I used to feel guilt about it, now I feel sorry for people who are missing out on opportunities. You can’t eat fried pork chops and turnip greens and Uncle Ben’s rice at every meal, for chrissakes.

The singer amped up and began some gentle easy listening ballads from the ‘70’s, which I tortured my sister with by singing along. Our food came in a very respectable amout of time and I had a great deal of fun consuming, debating and analyzing everything, from sauce to filling to garnish to preparation. Most of this debating occured as a monologue, since my family was mostly unresponsive to my observations.

I’ll say that I liked everything I had. There was nothing that was a disappointment or that I wouldn’t order again if I had the chance. That said, I have to say also that although I found the menu interesting and ambitious, the execution left something to be desired. Like a really pulse-pounding, exciting, thrill a moment movie trailer that makes you want to go see the film, only to find out it stars Steven Segal. Most things were technically competent, just lacking in passion, zing, joy, soul, love… what ever the magic mojo is, it didn’t have it. I crunched into the California Spring Roll and said: “Oh, I am totally gonna steal this for my own menu… but make it better.” Sister’s risotto had great base flavor, but was over-cooked and under seasoned. It was a good dish that fell short of great by a lack of zeal. S. said her liquini noodles were under cooked, and her ahi tuna was over-cooked, a high crime in my own kitchen (albeit it may be the “culture” around here to eat ahi tuna on the more done side). Short ribs fell apart under my fork and were accompanied by a great ginger-carrot slaw, but lacked a moist glaze or gravy or sauce which left it a little dry. The ceviche was nice, but clearly had been made hours (or even a day) ahead of time and was fully cured. Despite extra ingredients like tomatoes, onions, and peppers, it lacked punch or roundness or depth.

For dessert S. got a creme brulee and I got an apple crisp. My parents just kind of sat looking bored, not even having gotten anything to drink besides water. The creme brulee was competent, but not flavorful. Nothing to make it stand out from the 1001 other creme brulees in the world. I take that back. There was one thing I’ll remember. It was garnished with whipped cream from a can. Sac le bleu! My own dessert was served in a mini cast iron skillet and was hot, but not bubbling hot. It had a big scoop of vanilla ice cream in the middle. Again, lovely idea, creatively presented, no points for excellence. Like a gorgeous woman in a tight red dress and killer high heels who struts along and turns an ankle, lurching to the side and flailing to recover. I was satisfied, but I wasn’t wow’d. Since I punished everyone with the trip I picked up the tab and we came back to the house.

I asked my mother if she enjoyed the dinner and she said: “Not really. It was just too fancy for me.” She’d had some trouble with the menu, unable to discern appetizer from entree, and uncertain whether to choose soup or salad. “Fancy?” I thought. “You had fried fish and grits.” But I have to recognize that my palate and adventurous eating habits are not shared by my more traditional, predicatable, safe-eating family members. It kinda saddens me that something I am passionate about is of almost no interest to my family. Oh well, they have 364 days to eat Shake-N-Bake and canned green beans. I’m not asking for much.



Try 43 Small-Batch Bourbons (read all 10 entries…)
3. Four Roses

Recently went to dinner at Table on Main, a nice restaurant in Rosewell. We sat outside under huge blooming wisteria trees and had a very nice dinner. Before dinner, while we were looking at the wine list, the waiter mentioned that the owner was a bourbon fan, and that the bar had an extensive bourbon list. Funny how the Universe throws me these opportunities out of the blue. I asked for the list and chose a small batch bourbon called Four Roses, distilled by Four Roses in Kentucky.

I learned that bourbon, for the record, must be at least 51% corn, mashed and fermented. The remaining grains can be diverse but are usually barley, rye or winter wheat. Four Roses makes their small batch blend principally about 75% corn and 25% from rye. I got my bourbon neat in a common tumbler and took a deep sniff. There was definitely an upfront alcohol burn from the dark honey colored liquid (90 proof). It was also fruity like apples and star anise, and rich blackberries. The first taste over the tongue was nice and sweet, like caramel popcorn or roasted marshmallow, then it bled away to a nice woodiness, definite corn flavor and sharper citrus notes with vanilla. The burn going down was not as strong as I expected coming from the scent. It was smooth and easy. I was left with an aftertaste of sweet pipe tobacco, licorice, and a peppery sweetness. It did not linger long, though. Even though it has a big, bold flavor upfront, it is basically a limited range of flavor, without the layers of subtlety of other bourbons I’ve had.

I had them make a Sazerac cocktail with the bourbon, but I wasn’t too crazy about it. I thought it might go well with the anise flavors but those actually got washed out. And I’m not much of an absinthe fan anymore… not after that weekend in New Orleans…

I didn’t try it in a recipe, but I could see making a Four Roses and orange glazed cake with it. I didn’t drink it with ice or water or coke, but I imagine those ingredients would wake up the strong tastes and wash out the less up front ones. It is a nice bourbon, and one I could see myself ordering again at a bar. I won’t run out and get a bottle, though. I checked the price the other day out of curiosity and it is a reasonable $32 at the store.



Try 43 Small-Batch Bourbons (read all 10 entries…)
2. Eagle Rare 10 Year

Had the chance to taste this very nice bourbon recently, and was impressed enough to hunt down and score my own bottle. I paid $21.00 for my bottle, which is a steal. But on average the bourbon is available for $35 – $38.

It is made by the Buffalo Trace Distillery in Frankfort, KY and is a single barrel bourbon that is still considered a small-batch, although it doesn’t carry any of the info such as barrel number, bottling date, etc. The bottle is tall and elegant and simple, like a very classy woman. Also like a classy woman, she is so much more than she appears.

The color is a beautiful, rich bronzy topaz that is almost reddish. When the cork comes out there is almost a floral fragrance. My first date with Eagle Rare was a rushed shot glass bolted down between courses at work. On this night I pulled down a heavy tumbler and splashed a generous three or four ounces into the glass. The bourbon had very nice legs when swirled, and an initial nose of grain, tobacco, leather, and cardamom. The first taste was almost like a very sophisticated sherry, with additional charcoal, oak, vanilla, pepper, toasted grain, and traces of overripe fruit (flavorful, not spoiled). Swallowing was surprising easy for a 90 proof bourbon. It went down very smoothly and carried warmth vs. stinging heat. The flavors turned dry and spicy, making me think of beef jerky and dried persimmons and very old canvas (I dunno, that’s just what came to mind). After a few seconds there was a follow-up burn, but very gentle, with an oily, honey’ed, roasted almond taste that lingered in a very pleasant way with just a little bit of bitter acidity. So smooth was she I was able to sip the whole 3 or 4 ounces in under 30 minutes watching GOT on HBO.

The following Sunday I knocked out menus, schedules, payroll, grocery orders and prep sheets with a balloon glass of Eagle Rare on the rocks next to me. The cold and the water diffused some of the earthier flavors and maintained the sweet and spicy tastes. Later I paired it with Coke, Ginger Ale, orange juice, and composed into an Old Fashion. All were good, but this is a complex bourbon that really deserves to be enjoyed on its own. Over about two weeks I drained the bottle and even S., who is not a bourbon/whiskey fan at all, thought it was very smooth, flavorful, and lady-like.

I was actually a little jealous of sharing my bourbon with a food recipe, but I did use around 1/4 cup to make a bourbon-butter-cream sauce to go over white pepper seared scallops and red onion linguini pasta. I reduced the bourbon with a mash of roasted shallots and garlic, added some heavy cream and let reduce more, then swirled in some butter and emulsified, then finished with lemon zest and tarragon. I tossed this with the caramelized red onion pasta I made, sprinkled with flakes of shaved Asiago cheese and topped with grilled asparagus and orange juice-marinated sea scallops that had been crusted with white pepper and seared. The flavors were great, but I felt like the sophisticated elements of the bourbon got lost in the competition for flavors. I think this would be a good bourbon to blend with white chocolate and make truffles with, crusted in toasted peanuts.



Dine at Tarrador's Table (read all 31 entries…)
Tasty Mini Tacos

For an event we made some mini chicken tacos. We cut and fried mini tortilla shells and filled them with a creamy chipolte chicken salad, topped with spicy mango slaw and avocado-cilantro puree.

It is on thing to get great reviews from the customers. But when the customer is only getting three out of four tacos because the servers cannot stop snacking on them… well, I guess that is a kind of compliment, too.

They didn’t even have the decency to look embarrassed!



Do something to improve the house (read all 27 entries…)
Prettying Things Up

Haven’t had time to really work on the garden, and the season is slipping on. May just shoot for a late summer autumn garden now, which I have not done before and might be fun.

We need to finish our reconstruction of the raised beds and trellises along the fence. Teenagers keep jumping over our fence to cross the neighborhood, damaging the fence and now they have broken a slat on S.’s bench. Damn the HOA, I’m going to see if Home Depot sells razor wire and put an end to this rude trespassing.

We did get to Lowe’s for some paint for a room and while there S. got some very pretty marigolds to line the steps leading up to the garden.



15 Minute Solutions (read all 18 entries…)
Pantry Raid

I set out to make a 15 minute clean sweep and reorganization of the kitchen pantry. It has become not just a food storage area, but a general drop-off point for all kinds of stuff, some not food related. It is also relatively generous in size, and somebody’s law of something dictates that available stuff will swell and expand to fill all available areas unless rigidly controlled. So the pantry is full of all kinds of stuff that either have never been used, or were used once, or get used sporadically, or get lost in the shuffle and repurchased until we have multiple containers.

15 minutes actually turned into 1.5 hours and a lot of gathering, reorganizing, dumping, and relocating. During the course of the clean up I came across buggy pasta from 2 years ago, 5 different kinds of rice, 4 kinds of grits, 6 types of flours, 12 kinds of teas, 5 flavors of honey, 2 kinds of agave nectar, 6 heretofore overlooked bottles of our favorite wine, 12 types of dried fruits, 3 kinds of oatmeal, 7 kinds of ancient grains ranging from buckwheat to red quinoa, 5 lbs of graham cracker crumbs, 5 kinds of dried seaweeds, hemp powder, 3 flavors of olive oil, 2 varieties of balsamic vinegar, 8 varieties of dried and canned beans, 4 types of canned tomatoes, 4 kinds of salt, 5 types of chocolate, shredded coconut, coconut oil, coconut water, coconut milk, and coconut flavoring, a post-apocalyptic stash of sugar, malted milk and rum, and a bottle of lemon rinds soaking in grain vodka (my lemoncello project, lost and overlooked).

When the reorganization was finished everything was back in its designated area and it looks like a serviceable, efficient pantry once again. Now I have to summit the task of actually using the items in the pantry (what the hell am I going to do with 32 oz of tamarind paste?). A lot of stuff went into the trash. A few items got transferred to the refrigerator or the spice cabinet. Those will be the targets of my next 15 minute clean ups.



Fix what is broken (read all 14 entries…)
Neglected Finances

I have to say right off that I am not in financial straits. Our bills are paid, our credit is solid, our savings is whole and unplundered. We both have good incomes and solid employment with benefits. Despite starting new jobs over and over and over during the last two years, I am today making more money than I ever have. Both vehicles are in good repair and one is fully paid off and should be well serviceable for two or three more years. Credit card companies solicit us like Las Vegas prostitutes following a flush gambler from the casino.

So, what is broken? I feel like I best described it when talking to my therapist (yes, I still see the therapist, and probably will for a while longer. I’m better, but I’m still damaged). I said our finances were like wild horses tied to a buggy. What I felt like we needed was a couple of plow horses yoked up and tilling the ground. Our finances are fine on the income end, but out of control on the outcome end. Our house is pretty much in order thanks to my wife, who sallied forth and took care of bill paying and such while I was under a long, dark cloud. But I’m way better now, and I want our life to reflect that in what we do with our free time and how we save, invest, spend, and prioritize our money.

My wife and I are incurable enablers of each other, especially with money. We cannot refuse one another anything (except I have never gotten her the goat she wants to keep in our backyard). Truthfully we would never ask for something we knew we could not afford, but “afford” is a relative and bendable term. A happy bank account, fat savings, low-balance credit cards, and regular paychecks tend to make us careless, or at least over-confident. We both have histories of being fiscally poor and dead-ass broke at times. Times when I could not convince my first wife to let me spend $3 on a cassette tape in the discount bin. Times when S. ate Oddles of Noodles for weeks because at $.25 a pack that was all she could afford. Times when my dinner was Ritz crackers and salad dressing. Times when S. had to borrow the same $10 from a guy every week just to ride the bus to and from work. Don’t ever let anyone tell you that in America the streets are paved with gold. They are paved with ash and dust and sulfur. You have to dig for the gold.

Part of our rise to relative comfort was a change in our thinking about money. We both moved from what we called “poverty minded thinking” to “prosperity minded thinking”. I really believe this was instrumental to our steadily increasing incomes, our ability to buy a house (although now I tend to rethink the wisdom of that purchase), pay our bills and have lots of “fun money”. I am thinking now that we need a new overhaul in our thinking about finances, and maybe other parts of our lives, too. A move from “prosperity minded thinking” to something else. Perhaps “affluence minded thinking”.

Prosperity and affluence might seem like the same thing. Affluence might even seem to be more focused on the materialism of money and wealth accumulation. I don’t know if I see it that way. For me, prosperity is the realization of things like success, health, wealth, and material comforts. Someone who is prosperous sounds more active and whole and on the path than some one who is affluent. But actually “affluent” is about movement and flow and increasing and gain. Affluent is more about the progress of reaching prosperity.

Comedian Chris Rock once observed that things would only change for African Americans when they began to control true wealth. Shaquille O’Neal, he said, was rich. But the white guy who owned the team that wrote Shaq’s check was wealthy.

I might have some cash on hand, and be doing okay. But I’m dependent upon the guy who owns the business where I work to write the checks that keep me that way. It’s a fair trade, my labor for his cash, but it is still a limited and risky one. I’m past the fear of being fired by an employer. I know my skills, knowledge, networking and work ethics will help me get another job. But if my wife and I haven’t developed good financial habits, based upon the principles of affluent minded thinking, we will certainly stay afloat and not sink, but we will ever be at the mercy of the tide. Affluent minded thinking gives us a sail and a rudder to plot a course and follow it. That is what I have to work on fixing.

My therapist suggested that my wife and I sit down separately and each write an income, expense, and planning budget. Then we compare notes and see how close we are (or how far apart) in our approach. I think that is a good place to start, and to start repairing the framework and supports that hold our fiscal household in place. I guess I will also look around for books or audio tapes on moving from a prosperity minded way of thinking to an affluent minded way of thinking.

On a side note, I’ve been playing around with photo-manipulation and digital painting, which enabled me to create the image at the top of this post. It took me three days of research, tutorials, trial and error, and head scratching to come up with the image, but I’m pretty pleased with it. I know it’s not perfect, and some details got lost due to size and proportions (like the “men working” t shirt and the blow torch). But with every project I learn more, try more, become more imaginative, and get a little better. Maybe this is a little bit of affluence minded thinking in action…



43 Day Challenge (read all 7 entries…)
Get on Track

Normally, I might say “Get Back on Track” for this goal. But the truth is I’ve never really been on the track like I should be. I feel, and have felt, perpetually at the station, stoking up the coals and gathering steam, but never letting off the brake and begining that journey of momentum.

And as I work to turn a corner in thinking, emotion, positivity and such, I don’t want to chain myself to previous expectations. Even if some of the goals look the same, I want to feel like the spirit backing them is different.

I have to remember that I am not a different person. I’m the same person as always; I just feel better and think differently now. Or at least I’m living the illusion that I do. Hopefully the results are the same regardless. The life I want, as well as the life I might have had, is sprawled amongst papers, journals, websites, vision boards and to do lists. I need to move on past planning to execution.

I’m not as interested in specific achievements (lose weight, read more, save more money, on and on and on…). My 43 day challenge is to get on track by setting up an environment that makes success more possible. Not specific goals, but routines, disciplines, and support for those goals. Rather than “lose weight”, I’d first create a diet plan to support that goal. But first do things like clean out my pantry, pre-plan how to avoid eating out too much, decide how to have on hand proper foods… Basically, make the achievement of goals easier and more likely by laying the track on which they will run. The strongest engine won’t go anywhere without a secure, straight track.

During these seven weeks, I plan to lay the tracks aimed at where I want to go, and worry less about the engines that will get me there. The challenge will be to plan properly and execute, stick to the vision and realize I’m in this for the long run, with no short term expectations. For me, being patient, being consistant, being long visioned, and being committed will indeed be a challenge.



Do 50 Things I've Not Done Before (read all 6 entries…)
2. Smoke a Hookah

In my time I’ve smoked a wide variety of stuff that could be rolled in paper or stuffed in a bowl. I’ve made bongs on the fly from Gatorade bottles and socket wrenches and bic pens. I’m familiar with the mechanics of the hookah, but its recent resurgence around here comes at a tim when I had lost interest in inhaling smoke and burning fumes (unless I’m smoking a pork butt or grilling some steaks). I quit smoking tabacco and weed and pipes and even more nefarious substances about 20 years ago (although I never smoked crack – ‘cause crack is whack). I even have become one of “those people” who wrinkle their nose and give disgusted looks as I pass knots of people who stand outside a building, smoking. Or crack their car window on the freeway and eject a smoldering butt. Or come back from break reeking of Marlboro country.

My remaining smoking vice is cigars, which I enjoy rarely. Cigars can be more pungent and offensive that cigarettes, I am aware. But they have their own kind of culture, and they can take a long time, vs the 3 minute burn of a Winston. And I’m firmly in the hypocrital camp that feels that cigar smoking is something you do for enjoyment, whereas cigarette smoking is something you are addicted to.

Out of curiosity, we visited a hookah club a couple of weeks ago. Someone who worked with my wife said it was very authentic to what would be found in the Middle East. She also said it was a great place to hang out.

The “club” was a shop in a strip mall that had been converted. We walked past a glaring neon sign and an appropriately dred and goatee’ed young man at the counter welcomed us and introduced us to the various types of flavors available. I looked into the seating area and it was a series of padded benches along each wall with short tables to hold the hookahs. There was a small group of young people near the back, and a Rastafari-looking individual and an older rocker-dude near the front. Seedy came to mind, but I didn’t want to jump to any conclusions.

We chose to have a mango flavored shisha and added a cut fruit bowl. We chose an orange on the recommendation of the guy at the front. This basically means that they cut an orange in half, put the tabacco and bowl onto the cut fruit, and wrap it with foil. The idea is that the smoke gets forced through the fresh fruit before percolating in the water, and you get a better flavor.

We chose a bench and sat down while they prepared our hookah. There was a TV on the opposite wall turned to “Hardcore Pawn”. The volume was off but some blessed soul had turned the captions on, so we were able to follow along in the horrified way you watch a highway pile-up on the news. The music was not Middle Eastern, but a blend of Hip Hop, Rap, current hits, and what I would have called “Thrash”, back when I listened to such music. I don’t know what they call it now.

Our hookah came and it was very ornate and shapely and beautiful. S., who has never smoked so much as a Virginia Slim, took a few tentative puffs and made a “so what’s the big deal” face. I took my hookah stem and drew in a great, long breath. Mentally and physically I tried to prepare myself for all the harshness, burning, sourness and ragged coughing I remembered form my cigarette smoking days. But the smoke was very cool and non-offensive. The flavors were rich and mellow and I blew out a cloud of white smoke like a dragon who’d just eaten a village. S. got more comfortable and began taking deep drags as well. We tried to blow smoke rings and took pictures of ourselves issuing smoke like Westworld robots. The plug of tabacco lasted a good long while, too. We watched and commented on two episodes of Hardcore Pawn and two episodes of “Extreme Repos”.

More people came in through the evening, although they were not of the Middle Eastern type crowd. More the nouveau-hippie-bohemian crowd with young women in Thai fisherman pants or sarongs and flip-flops with strappy tshirts and no bras and guys in knitted oversized berets, strappy tshirts and no bras, ragged shorts and shower shoes. But they were nice and quiet and enjoyed their hookahs like everyone else.

I’ve since found out there are lots of more classy hookah places around the metro area. One of the most recommended appears to be not far from where I live. We are thinking of giving hookah smoking another try because we enjoyed the experience, if not the environment. Plus, just like cigars, pipes, and cigarettes, there are sooo many more flavors to try.



Dine at Tarrador's Table (read all 31 entries…)
Comida Sencilla and Happy Birthdays

I almost never stop for lunch during the day at work. As a result, my prep person almost never stops, either. I don’t make her work through lunch. I encourage her to take a break (when I remember). She demures and just keeps working. The other day I felt guilty because I caught her furitively sneaking bites of a banana while working. So I took a couple of minutes and knocked together a quick meal for us both.

Since I was working with chicken thighs, I set a couple aside and rubbed them with salt, pepper, garlic and whole grain mustard. I grabbed some leftover asparagus from the evening before and laid them inside the thighs, along with some shredded Swiss cheese, some shredded Asiago, and a wedge of brie, and rolled them up. I seasoned with paprika and sea salt and gave it a quick sear in a skillet, then tossed it in the oven to cook through. While it cooked I boiled some rice and tossed in some diced peppers and scrounged up some pickled onions, olive tapenade and balsamic glaze. Took about 15 minutes and we had a hearty meal to sustain us through the next few hours of prep. When I brought her the plate, Dulce laughed and thanked me. She said it was very good, but she had to add some jalapenos to it. But, she puts jalapenos on everything, so… Bottom line: we both cleaned our plates.

Saturday was Mina’s birthday. She’s a member of our marketing staff and a real sweetheart. Off-handedly I said I would make a cake for her. Saturday night Erika came into the kitchen and asked me when I wanted to bring the cake up to the office. I must have had that look on my face, because she asked if I had made it. Of course not, but I told her I was working on it. Mina would be in at 9pm, she said. No problem, I said. Immediately my staff chefs and I began putting together quick cake ideas that could be ready in 1 hour. I put them to work on an expresso cake that they promptly fucked up. I was going to make them throw it out, but they promised me they could fix it. Unconvinced, I began my own cake, and the whole situation turned quickly into a chef competition “cake-off”.

For my part, I made a chocolate sponge cake that baked up in about 15 minutes, then made a Kahlua-chocolate frosting and a brandy whipped cream. I cut the sponge cake into three layers, then took a cookie cutter and cut circles into the cake layers and layered the frosting on the layers. I reassembled the layers and filled the cut circles with brandy whipped cream, then frosted the outside, finishing with dollops of whipped cream on top. While waiting for the other chefs to finish their bungled cake repair, I made some pink icing and swirled it around the plate, topped with some edible gold glitter, and for good measure set a shot glass of brandy on the side.

The other cake came out after 30 minutes, and the chefs covered it with thick chocolate ganache, layers of sliced strawberries, and more ganache. We both finished within the hour and I took the cakes up to Mina’s office. When she came in she gleedfully knocked back the shot and cut into my cake first. Her eyes rolled with decadent delight. She told me later that both cakes were completely consumed before the night was out.



Do 50 Things I've Not Done Before (read all 6 entries…)
1. Fly A Plane

One of those goals that everyone has on their bucket list, but not everyone gets around to. For my birthday, my wife arranged for me to take a short class and a chaperoned flight over Atlanta in a Cessna Trainer. The “class” was a 12 minute video to familiarize me with the gauges in the cockpit, and a few minutes in the simulator, learning to keep the ball level and use the floor pedals. I didn’t crash the simulator, but it would have been one quesy ride. When the instructor asked me if I wanted to go again, or just head out to the plane. Of course I wanted to go out to the plane.

We did our walk around, checking fuel quality, mechanical issues, nuts and bolts. Then we climbed into the plane and did our pre-flight checklist. With my wife in the back seat and the instructor to my right, we put on our headphones and mic’ed up. I taxi-ed us to the runway in a weaving, drunken kind of way. The instructor took over on the runway, getting all the clearances from the tower and going for take-off. We got off the ground and climbed to 3,000 feet and ambled towards downtown. After about 15 minutes the instructor told me “you have control”. Trying to watch all the gauges, including the GPS keeping us clear of Hartsfield-Jackson airspace, I wobbled us around over the downtown buildings, including my workplace. We could see the tangle of traffic on 85 and 75 that we would normally be sitting in. Keeping the plane level and at 3,000 feet took a little work, and there was a little turbulence and I wasn’t sure if it was turbulence or me. We decided to fly over Stone Mountain, so the instructor set the directional dial to the required degrees and I turned us by degrees until we were headed for that big, bald hump of granite. We took a couple of swings around and the instructor told me that we were in open airspace and I could climb up if I wanted to. Tight-lipped and focused, I told him this altitude was fine.

Following a change of the degree dial, I began to zig-zag back towards the airport, working to line up with the distant gray tarmac 10 miles away. A little bogging and weaving, and I pretty much had us on course and decending with not too many sudden jolts. The instructor took over and landed us evenly and smoothly, and I got to taxi us back to our hanger.

It was a great experience, and one I’d be happy to do again. It was also remarkably easy and it is comforting to know I could be one of those guys who’s only had “a few lessons” and could keep a plane level and straight in an emergency, just like in Hollywood. Or I could pilot us out of danger in a zombie apocalypse…

Realistically I don’t think I’d spend hours and hours and thousands of dollars to get a private pilot license, and certainly would not own a plane. But there is something to be said for sailing over bumper-to-bumper traffic without obstruction. It’s hugely liberating to have the high view.



Dine at Tarrador's Table (read all 31 entries…)
Tapas Dinner and Bourbon Tasting

I recently was contacted to do a dinner for a couple based on a recommendation from another client. It was the gentleman’s birthday and his wife wanted to do something with a group of friends at their home. Since they were planning to go to Spain in May I suggested a tapas-style dinner with a Spanish wine tasting class. Since he was a big fan of small batch bourbons, she asked if we could do a bourbon tasting instead. I immediately agreed, even though I had no idea how I would work it out. I built some menu choices for them to choose from, suggesting they pick five dishes. They ended up picking all nine that I suggested. I told them that would be too much food, but they said they just couldn’t decide what to eliminate. They ended up going with the menu listed below.

I got a friend of mine from work to handle the bourbon tasting. He is a bourbon fan, too, and has procured some nice bourbons for my personal use before. He got lots of information from the distributor about the different liquors he wanted to talk about, and created a nice cocktail recipe featuring one of the bourbons. He also got the distributor to give him bottles of bourbon at well cost, which was a great bargain.

Normally I would do a dinner like this myself, but I had to be at my full time job for an event. First Montessori was having a fund raising auction and I had created an artisan fresh pasta station for the event, and I really needed to be on hand to make sure it went according to plan. I have very, very few people I would trust to send on one of my personal events in my place, but I asked my chef friend Alan to go, and sent my prep princess Dulce. Alan is a good chef but he can be a little verbose at times, but I had complete confidence he could execute the event with good technique and flair, and full confidence in Dulce to support him.

The food prep was pretty easy, except for the octopus. I spent four days and 10 lbs of octopus trying to come up with a method for cooking it that would make it flavorful and tender. I tried several methods but the one I ended up using was to wash the pus and rub it with sea salt, letting it set for 30 minutes. Then I blanched it for 1 minute in boiling water to fix the color, then cooking it with wine, garlic, lemon and herbs in my pressure cooker for 15 minutes, letting it cool in the pot until all the steam had escaped (about another 15 minutes), then letting it sit overnight in the rendered juices. This produced a pulpo that was firm, yet tender and well flavored, with just the lightest taste of the sea. We sliced the arms and Alan gave them a quick sautee on site with olive oil, garlic and shallots to warm them up.

Both the birthday dinner and my Montessori pasta station were great successes. Dulce did her onsite magic and Alan threatened to steal her away to work for him and I threatened to kill him and toss him in a dumpster if he did (I’m not really worried, Dulce made it clear that she thinks Alan if funny, but she’d much rather work for me than him). The bourbon tasting was a great hit, and Daniel had to actually stay an extra 20 minutes and make several rounds of the cocktail for everyone. My follow up with the client was glowing, and she went on about how great the food was, how much they enjoyed the tasting, and how effective and professional the staff was. She even tipped them $150 (which I split evenly between Alan and Dulce).

The big deal for me was not the complexity of the menu, or even juggling the production of two events on the same night for two different clients. It was the ability to release control over a personal event and trust someone else to take it as seriously and professionally as I would. Alan did not do things exactly as I would have (based upon the photos I ordered him to take of everything), but I know he took care to present it the best he could. Partly because he is a serious professional, and partly because he appreciated the confidence I placed in him to handle this important client for me. And the client was over the moon happy with the results, which was the ultimate goal, anyway.

Tapas Dinner and Bourbon Tasting Menu

To Start Things Off:
A Unique Tasting of Small Batch Bourbons, with Tasting Notes, Histories and Details, Hosted by Mixologist Extraordinaire Daniel Scarr.
Featuring:
Evan Williams Bonded
Elijah Craig 12 year
Eagle Rare 10 year
Jailer’s Premium Tennessee Whiskey
Mellow Corn Kentucky Straight Corn Whiskey

APPETIZERS:Chorizo Pan Rustico
Medallions of grilled chorizo sausage, smoked paprika aioli and minced olive on Spanish style rustic crostini

Sauteed Shrimp Spoons
Sauteed shrimp butterflied on a seared polenta cake with saffron cream broth and diced tomatoes, served in a ceramic Asian spoon

Iberian Dates
Sweet Medjool dates stuffed with Manchego cheese and wrapped in jamon iberico and lightly seared, served with cayenne-honey mustard

MAIN ENTRÉE TAPAS DINNER:

Crispy Calamari
Fried Calamari on fennel-onion slaw with diavolo jam and whiskey cream drizzle

Lobster Taco
Succulent chunks of claw and body with tomato-jicama slaw, fresh guacamole, Spanish aioli and drizzled with blood orange vinaigrette, in a crispy corn taco shell. Served with confetti rice pilaf and fresh pea shoots

Barcelona’s Hanger Steak
Strips of marinated and grilled hanger steak with black truffle sauce and cilantro coulis

Candied Pork Belly
Orange-glazed braised pork belly medallion served atop pan-seared shredded leek and potato cake with cucumber-mint salad, drizzled with cracked black pepper vinaigrette

BBQ Beef Empanadas
Home smoked beef brisket, shredded and seasoned with spicy bbq sauce, packed in a flakey pastry shell and served with grilled tomato and zucchini salsa

Roasted Octopus Steak
Tender marinated and roasted octopus arms, sliced into small steaks with Ancho pepper sauce, mango salsa, sweet roasted plantains and chive oil

Balsamic Beef Short Ribs
Balsamic braised boneless beef short ribs atop mustard-cheese flavored stone ground grits with blanched asparagus tips and red wine reduction sauce

DESSERT:

Chocolate Caramel Bread Pudding
Morsels of rich chocolate and vanilla brioche bread baked in mini ramekins and drizzled with salted caramel sauce

Flan Tres Leche
Individual tres leche flans with white chocolate and raspberry sauce



Fix what is broken (read all 14 entries…)
Dispatches From The Sea of Troubles

”Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous Fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles, and by opposing, end them…” – Hamlet; Wm Shakespeare

The least I could do, I thought, was reach rock bottom. But it turns out rock bottom is very, very deep. You have to descend and descend and lose sight of the surface and all light, and feel the constricting power of the growing pressure. And still no bottom. The descent is bad enough. I shudder at the thought of rock bottom. Rock bottom is a secular humanist’s Hell. And the descent to Hell is paved with darkness and pressure.

For a couple of years (maybe many, many years if I’m honest… but let’s just take little steps for now) I knew something was wrong. I felt a persistent, compounding gloom and pressure building in my daily life. Important things faded in importance. Trivial things took on an exaggerated value. Happiness and even the feelings of contentment and peace became more and more elusive. Even anger, drive and competitive ambition took a vacation from my life and thought processes, it seemed. Basically, my life and world view dulled out. Nothing I tried helped. And I tried a lot of things. Positive thinking and reinforcement, goals and action plans, meditation and contemplation, binges and other wicked indulgences. I considered running away, beginning again somewhere tabula rasa. I considered driving my car through a construction barricade and off an overpass. Not to be dramatic and grandly suicidal, just to put a stop to this existence and restart at zero with a new life. Fortunately, my ambition and follow through were also sapped away. So those plans never really became much more than leaden daydreams.

I knew this wasn’t a normal way to feel. It wasn’t as if there really was anything in my life that was so wrong. I had worked towards and garnered a great job that I enjoy and was almost everything I wanted. I remain married to a wonderful and soul-matched woman who tolerates and loves me no matter what hand grenades I threw into our relationship. My health is fine, no cancer or diabetes or gout, and my physician’s MA says I have “rock star blood pressure”. Bills are paid, money is saved, cash is coming in and we are off the “month-to-month precipice. No family dramas, no run-ins with John Q Law. I’m a white man in White America; what on God’s green earth could be the reason for not being happy? Yet, I knew there was something wrong with saying or writing words like “happy”, “glad”, “pleased”, “enjoyed”, and having them ring empty and hollow. I knew I wanted to feel differently and it came to making a choice, to suffer the slings and arrows, or to take up arms against a sea of troubles, and by opposing them, end them. End this melancholy, end this grayness, end this bleak. Surviving them wasn’t even the choice goal anymore. Just ending them; succumbing and feeling at peace.

The fact was I was looking for some solution. But all my efforts were self-generated, and I came to figure that it was like a car trying to adjust its own carburetor or change its own spark plugs; some things require the talents and knowledge of a skilled mechanic.

“Can you colorize my life, I’m so sick of black and white… Can you make it all a little less old? I can do that… now I can do that.” – I Won’t Do That; Meatloaf

So, at some point someone says “depression”, and I immediately dismiss it. I’ve seen the commercials for Celexia, Antpresta, Symbalta, Effexor, Confucius… all those symptoms described by the lightly lilting female narrator didn’t fit me, I thought. I don’t have a black cloud following me around; I don’t have a black dog gnawing at my heels. I get up, go to work, communicate, converse, order at restaurants, take showers, shave, and have sex… I have no crippling inability to do these things, I just have no ambition to do them like I used to. I’m getting old, my vigor is waning, I don’t like my job, I’m finally matured and reflective and realize I’ve wasted 1/3rd of my life on bullshit. But I’m not depressed. Sorry, spin again.

Then someone else says “depression”, and you know they had a cousin who blah-blah-blah. I’ve considered that, and it’s just not me. Thanks and choose another door, please.

Finally someone says “low grade depression, not full-blown”. Okay, okay. We’ve been down this road already. When are people going to learn that I never expected to live to be 40, and here I am knocking at the door of 50 so is it any wonder I’m lost and uncertain? I was supposed to married to one woman who would be my life and with whom I’d have children and neighbors and a deaconship at the church and a career I’d settled into and feel secure and safe with a mortgage and a 401K and Sunday picnics with the relatives where we’d talk about football and the price of bacon and how the Democrats or the Republicans or the Canadians were ruining the country.

Instead I was a thrice-married, childless, displaced, career-changing, hedonistic, aging rocker-hipster dude winding up when other men were winding down. Of course it would seem like I was depressed. But my problems were not chemical or biological… they were failings of character and morality. I am just about the smartest person I know, and it was fairly obvious to me the issues were all of my own making.

But the person who mentioned “low grade” depression is pretty smart, too. And she is someone whose opinions I respect. So I decided to do a little more research to build my bulwarks of self-blame and accusations. In my research I discovered a trove of information on what everyone agrees is a little understood and often misdiagnosed malady. In pages and pages of information I found an almost personalized litany of my complaints and ailments. In one moment I was both comforted that I was not so isolated, and also stripped of my uniqueness. I didn’t want to be mechanically broken. I wanted all this to be an Everest I had to be strong enough, tough enough, and resilient enough to conquer.

When my wife came home that evening I morosely told her I had “Low Grade Depression”. She asked me why I thought that and I pulled up the bookmarked Google pages and read paragraphs that could have been written by me rather than other people with similar feelings. After a too long pause, she said she thought those “symptoms” were just elements of my personality; I was just wired that way. I was able to explain how that is exactly how this illness goes unrecognized for years, so incremental is the descent. After about half and hour’s more conversation, she waggled her finger at me and said: “Okay, well, I’m gonna need you to take care of that. Take a pill, see a therapist… whatever you have to do.” And she walked out of the room.

Having taken up arms against my sea of troubles, I went out to find someone who’d disprove my personal diagnosis and reaffirm my still-deep-seeded conviction that it was really all just me. I found a therapist-lady (no way was I discussing such intimate vulnerabilities with a dude) and on our first appointment she asked me what brought me there. I spoke almost uninterrupted for 30 minutes. For that time she would only ask a couple of questions, but scribbled furiously on her pad. At the end of my mini rant, she looked up and said: “Well, I’ve got good news – based upon your descriptions, you are most certainly suffering from moderate depression, heading into more severe depression.” Then she smiled.

“I don’t get how that’s good news,” I responded cautiously.

“Well, it means, for one thing, that you’re not crazy. There really is something wrong with everything. It also means that what is wrong is treatable, and fairly reliably treatable, too. So much of what you are experiencing is a result of the skewed information your brain chemistry is sending you that once we get that straightened out, the rest of the work is going to seem so much easier.”

Okay, that does sound like good news. She continued. “What you need is what we call a SSRI (look it up). This is going to greatly benefit your overall feeling of confidence, happiness and positivity. I’m going to suggest you get with your primary doctor and get a prescription. One pill a day is going to make a huge difference.”

”I’m using the word ‘hate’ about a pill…” – Melvin Goodall; As Good As It Gets

I’m not into taking drugs. Aspirin, Thera-Flu, Tylenol, methamphetamine… I’m not so much against the nature of drugs, but I like to keep my immune systems in fighting trim by putting their asses to work and not letting them get complacent. So drugs and pills don’t excite me. I’m kinda anti-pill, in fact. But I was taking up the task of getting better for myself, my wife, and anyone else that cared about me. So I went to the doctor and had him prescribe a month’s supply of a SSRI drug at a measly 10mg. He also took the opportunity to violate my person under the guise of doing a prostate exam. Maybe after 1,000 he gets a bonus. Anyway, 10mg was not enough to have any effect upon my mood or attitude. I dejectedly told my therapist that “pills” weren’t helping. Maybe we should try matcha green tea. I read on a web thread it was used to treat depression. Her soulless clinical suggestion was to ask my doctor to increase the dosage of the SSRI I was taking to 20mg, which was the average dosage. I thought it was a waste of time to double the dosage of a medicine that was having zero effect. We talked about other things and I walked out with more homework than I’ve had since college. My doctor cautiously increased my dosage and my insurance ducked and weaved until compelled to comply. I began taking the new dosage and there were no immediate improvements, and now I was getting angry as well as depressed. Then, about four or five days later, I was Uncle Remus and it was a Zip-a-dee-doo-dah-day (look it up). Almost at once my mood improved, my positivity increased, my patience extended, and my dull, omnipresent sense of anxiety lightened. I smiled more, I laughed again, and I was solicitous of others. When people complimented my work and my food I believed them, which was a big, big change for me. I didn’t think of ending this existence so much anymore, I began to think of ways to enjoy and improve my life. Not consciously or purposely, just sort of naturally, organically. I thought of 5 ways to improve our menus and increase our client base. I was excited and energized about making menus and taking photos. I planned a vacation, I planned home renovations, I began cooking great meals at home, and I contemplated going back to school to get another degree. I want to study and get a degree in Philosophy. People look at me and ask why I want a degree in Philosophy. Will it help me in my job or career? No. It will help me enjoy my life. That’s why I want to do it. I’ve renewed my interest in art and design and crafting. I’m having fun with digital painting and photo manipulation. I created the photo image at the top of this post. It took me about 2 days of research and an hour’s worth of actual labor to produce it.

The pill comes with only a couple of down sides. One is I wake up in the morning with a fuzzy headache reminiscent of having a hangover. No one can explain that, but no one seems too worried. The other is a decline in libido. Now, the downward progression of my depression was impacting my libido as well, to the point where I got a friend of mine to procure some “street Viagra” for me so I could reliably perform my manly duties on a regular schedule. Ms. Therapist recommended I go back to my prostate probing physician for a prescription for “real” Viagra to help during this time of recovery. Hell no, I said. Viagra is for flaccid-penis’ed men with that dull and defeated look in their eyes like you’ve taken away from them everything that mattered (which, in a way, you have). I’m a Hillary, I’m a Neil Armstrong, I’m a Julius Caesar; I rise to the challenge all on my own by force of mind and will. I ain’t taking no stupid blue pill to boost my vim and vigor while lining the offshore accounts of pharmacy companies who prey on the distress of men suffering limp libidos. I’ll just call my friend and tell him to stock me up at 20 cents on the dollar. I finally gave in and got my doctor to call in a prescription for me at CVS, where the pharmacists are getting to know me rather well. I have the pills, but I haven’t used them yet. And I now have a legitimate cop-out if I want to say: “Not tonight, I have a headache”.

”Today is victory over yourself of yesterday; tomorrow is your victory over lesser men” – Go Rin No Sho; Miyamoto Musashi, Japanese swordsman and rōnin

In a situation like this, what does victory look like? Do a daily pill and a chemical shake-up of my brain constitute recovery and healing? Unfortunately, no. My mental condition feels much better than it did a year ago, or even for the last few years. I’m feeling optimistic and practical, passionate and long-viewed, impulsive and measured. My mental state is beginning to match my real-world state where I really never had that much to complain about, other that the messes I created for myself. But there is more to this life than feeling good and wanting to do adventurous things. At some point I do want to swim through the warm waters of giddy restlessness and being stroking towards some accomplishments. Now that I once again believe I can do awesome things, I have to relearn the art of actually getting things done. Not just what has to be done, and not just at the last minute. A planned, progressive, ambitious task list that matches my desire to my discipline. I’ve been running uphill with cement blocks on my feet. Some therapy and medication and I shucked off the cement blocks, but I’m not yet a skilled runner, or any closer to the top of Everest.

But tonight I do feel wonderfully unburdened and close to surface of my sea of troubles.



November Bootcamp 2012: Chasing and Catching Dreams (read all 2 entries…)
Dreams, Dreams, Fly Away

Passed this month with nothing to show for bootcamp. My fault, not the bootcamp’s. I’ve spend a lot of time in the mundane reality dealing with stuff, and dreams haven’t come alighting, teasing and pleading to be chased.

Dreams have kind of wandered off without me and are flittering out there beyond reach. I know they are there, sometimes I can glimpse their technicolor glow and vibrant hues at the edges of my steel and stone daily life. But I have to look up to see them and most times my vision is down so that I don’t get tripped up. I’m on a hard course right now, and I know inside it is not the one that will take me where I want to go in the long run.

I dream of who I want to be, where I want to be, what I want to do, and the reality of it all falls shorter and shorter of those dreams with every awakening. And there is a mental and emotional hardship that comes with not realizing dreams and with seeing goals uncompleted. It makes things a bit grayer, darker, grainier. Days are heavier and more plodding. Dreams and desires become more and more misty, and disperse more easily, and are forgotten more easily.

I don’t think I’m the right soil for dreams to take root in right now. All rock and sand and scrabble. Dreams seem to light upon me and shrivel from a lack of nutrients. I think I have more work to do on myself. For a time it may be necessary to banish dreams and desires until I think there is a place for them again in my life.

The next few weeks are pretty grueling and not made easier by the whims and undependability of other people. And other people who make plans for me in their lives without consideration to how it affects my life are pretty grinding, too. I’m tired of being everyone’s favorite, usable tool for entertainment and function. Twisting me and squeezing me and making me fit into their most convenient slot or hole. That is an environment that shreds the pretty little wings of dreams.

For now I will set aside my dreams and desires and work on getting through. Should I come out the otherside with anything worthwhile, I would be more able to draw dreams in to seed and sprout and root in more agreeable soil. Perhaps in a few weeks I can rest, and in rest, maybe some sleep. A nice, restful, healing sleep in this grey and cold and hard-edged world. Maybe from there I can draw back those dreams that elude me now.



The Garden Diaries - Resumed (read all 24 entries…)
Final Fruits

We harvested out the last tomatoes, bell peppers, basil and carrots from the garden. Went the whole year without cultivating a single watermelon of successful cantelope but that won’t stop me from trying again next year. Having beat back bugs, vine borers and mold, I am going to go for some minature zucchini and patty pan squash.

We decided not to sow a winter garden due to my December schedule. The rest of the vines and bushes we pulled up, along with the weeds and grasses that crept in while I was too busy to maintain the garden properly. It is going to lay fallow through the winter while we redress the area between the two beds, build up the raised beds another layer and add more dirt and compost. I’m going to stake down some black plastic over the dirt to keep stray seeds out and to hopefully smother the weed seeds that remain. There is also an ant investation that I will have to decide how to deal with.

The carrots came out very nice, lovely, sweet and brilliant orange. But they are still stunted looking from the hard packed soil. Next year I’m dividing and area with lots of compost, hay, loam and good drainage, and using that for my root vegetables like carrots, parsnips and beets.

Reconstruction of the garden should be done by the end of January. I plan to replant in mid to late March.



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