manly things

For three days now we’ve been living in the wake of a “derecho” – that being a storm that smacks down anything in front of it with 90 mile an hour winds.  It was a strange thing to watch on Friday when it hit.  In my office I was struggling with my persistent urge to not work when the blue sky started to take on a yellow tint and the breeze that had been blowing slowed to a standstill.  Uh oh, I thought.  This feels like earthquake weather.  The kids were at the pool for swim practice.  Wonder if they’ll cancel, I thought.  Then BAM!  That storm struck like a runaway freight train.  The power was knocked out immediately.  I went to the front door to make sure the dogs were inside, they were.  Then I ventured outside to see if I could find the source of the power outage – yep, easy; a tree had come down and ripped the line out of the house. The loose wire was now slung across Heather’s care and about half of our driveway.  Great.

There wasn’t much more worrying about the power because seconds later another tree came thundering down, helping me realize how ridiculous it was for me to be sightseeing outside.  I pushed as hard as I could against the wind that was assaulting everything by that point and got back to the house.  The kids.  Panic set in and I started speed dialing Heather.  It’s not that I was worried that they weren’t safe, I assumed they were.  But I wanted them home, selfish as that may have been at the point.  They had to be terrified.  No answer.  I tried again.  Voice mail.  Shit, shit.

Suddenly here they came in the van, barreling across neighbor yards because more trees had collapsed in the road, taking more power lines down with them.  The street was now blocked in both directions.  I ran outside and waved her to drive as close to the house as she could.  Inside both girls were terrified and crying, though the howling wind made it impossible to hear anything.  I flung open the door and yelled “Come on!  We’ve got to get inside!”  grabbed them both, rushed them through the house and to the stairs, vaguely processing that one of our giant trees in the back had fallen down… one that would have crushed our house to the ground it had come down on it.  Downstairs we collapsed under a pile of blankets and pillows.  I spent a few minutes calming them down, then went upstairs for the dogs.  That’s when the rain decided erupt.  Torrential rain.  I’ve seen storms before, but never anything like what was happening.  This was bad.

I couldn’t reach Rhonda either.  Both my cell phone and ipad service were terrible in the basement, or because of the storm…whichever.  The fact of the matter was that I was going to have to trust that she was smart enough to be somewhere safe and my job was to take care of the girls.

Ok, flash forward a few hours and there we were outside talking to the neighbors and surveying the destruction.  Surreal.  Given how many trees had come down, the fact that our house wasn’t smashed to pieces was hard to fathom.  Some of them looked like they had just been plucked out of the ground – roots and everything.  Some seemed as though they’d been twisted by giant hands.  Power lines were strewn across the street, some of them still supporting the trees that had pulled them down. Rhonda was finally able to get home, though our street still wasn’t officially open yet.  She had to negotiate with a cop and finally just drive past him.

It was more than obvious that power wouldn’t be back on for at least a day.  Given what we all had been through, we decided to stay in a hotel for the night.  That plan lasted all of about 30 minutes which was as long as it took us to drive to hotel row and see all the customers standing outside smoking.  No power there either.  That also meant all the restaurants in the area were out.  We drove to another town about ten miles away.  Nothing.  We later found out that power was out for at least a 40 mile radius.  This was worse than we thought.

Its three days later.  It’s been a consistent 100 degrees with high humidity.  We don’t have any air conditioning and have been keeping a slow but steady pace of recovering from the storm and repairing our house.   A lot of our friends are in the same boat, though perhaps with less damage and wreckage that needs to be cleared, so we’ve been making everything a community event.  All the food that’s been at risk for going bad has been thrown into coolers until it’s time to fire up the grill…again.  I don’t think I’ve ever worked so hard in my life, or ever done so many things out of my comfort zone/skill set.  In fact, Brock, Rheuben and I decided to shave our heads as a symbol of how earthy and renaissance we’ve been.  I did mine in a mohawk for a couple days.  Lily was sick when I decided to shave it all the way down.  Here’s how that exchange went:

Lily: (crying) I want my Daddy to have a mohawk!

Me: Well think of it like this.  Daddy has to go to work in a couple days so he can make money and buy juice. Would you rather have juice or me wearing a Mohawk?

Lily: Juice!

Me: (stuck, confused) Well… I guess you’ll have lots of time in your teenage years to act that one out.

Lily: (cries harder)

I’m keeping a list of all the manly things I’ve done to help my family recover from this mess.  Take a look:

  • Chopped up trees with a chain saw.
  • Drank beer.  Out of cans. Lots of it.
  • Cooked meat over an open flame.
  • Purchased a new tool kit – including a maul axe.
  • Spent time in an electrical warehouse finding parts we need to get our power lines reattached.
  • Assisted in hard wiring a generator to my power main.
  • Drove a 4×4 truck.
  • Hauled countless loads of branches and chopped wood out of our property.
  • Bought a leaf blower (I also injured myself with the leaf blower but that’s another story…)

I’m proud of how I have handled all the situations that usually cause me stress (not knowing how to fix things, not having any manly know-how, really).  I need to note how I feel about all of this.  I feel good.  I feel stress-free and capable – just the opposite of what I (or anyone) would expect.  Productive.  Being out of touch with work and instead only focusing on what is right in front of me and my family and is without question a priority has me feeling very calm.  That’s rare and it is unexpected.  I learn things I need to do, and then I do them.  I’m focused.  I’m thinking about what is right in front of me and not jumping from one thought to another before I finish. Then at the end of the day I take everything out of the coolers that needs to be cooked.  That makes me feel even more in my element.  Confident.  I’m being a good Dad and a good husband.  I’m taking care of my family.  I’m taking care of the house we all live in.  It’s me doing all these things.

I’m sure at least part of what’s going on is related to our discussion in therapy last week about tabling the decision/plan to move.  We had, or I had, back-to-back therapy appointments.  The first hour was just me and the second hour was the two of us.  I spent my hour talking about all the pressure I’ve been feeling and trying to locate the source of the stress.  With some help, I was able to put it into context with everything else going on this year (presidential election, etc..) and figure out what anxiety is natural and necessary and what is being self-imposed.  Moving to Colorado is self-imposed and has been unnecessarily placed (by me) on an accelerated timeline.  Then the other night, with out warning, I said to myself “I think I don’t want to deal with moving right now,” and instantaneously I felt an enormous burden being lifted off of me.  Physically, I felt it.

I know it threw Rhonda for a loop when I asked to postpone the conversation.  She came in for our joint appointment and unbeknownst to me was prepared to tell me that she was now committed to moving.  Ironic!  I had to be very clear to her that me saying I don’t want to talk about moving wasn’t about me being nasty or passive aggressive with the conversations – it’s just literally too much for me to handle right now.  We decided that at the end of the year we will revisit the topic – or not.  God I feel relieved.

So… a common theme that’s been coursing through my head is responsibility.  Jennifer made an off handed comment about how Colorado is really my thing and as much as I really want it to be our thing, Rhonda was never going to want it as much as me because I am the catalyst of the conversation and all the reasons we’d move are about me.  I don’t think that conversation was supposed to stick with me as much as it did, but I haven’t been able to stop thinking about whether or not I have been being a responsible spouse and father.  Have I been selfish for eight years now?  Always planning to leave, never viewing my friends as permanent, rarely acknowledging all the good things that have come from being here…  I’ve got to take a hard look at myself and my motives and what my responsibilities are at this point in my life.  I think I am living inside an outdated version of me.  Responsibility.

Update – It took us nearly three months to get all of the trees cleared out of our backyard.  To get that done I also operated a hydraulic wood splitter.  Add that to the list.

father’s day reflections

Perfect Father’s Day.  I spent the majority of the actual day focusing on the girls, which was sublime.  Bob Evans was the consensus for breakfast, which doesn’t happen often but it sure sounded good today.  I made sure to get a big bowl of grits and think about my Dad.  It was his day too…I know.  After breakfast we went to see the new Madagascar movie.  One of the great byproducts of parenting is getting to become a kid again and doing things I haven’t done forever or haven’t done in a long time.  I love the Madagascar movies!  Actually, I love every kid movie I see these days.  They are so fun and much better than when I was a kid.  Going to the movies with the girls is kind of our ‘thing’.  Rhonda goes sometimes, but Ava, Lily and I really own that real estate.  Love it.

The other unquestionably manly thing that I did this Father’s Day was compete in a rib-off with some friends.  We’ve been talking about it for months, joking with each other about how we have been raising our own hogs and harvesting exotic spices to make secret rubs.  This weekend the contest was finally here.  I had so much fun getting ready for it that I even made labels for the two sauces I would enter and had team shirts made for the family!  Of course everyone would appreciate the gamesmanship, right?  Trash talking is a big part of that.  (Note: the labels on my sauces indicated that they were already the winners of this year’s contest…heh heh heh…see below.)

I’ve been working on my ribs for weeks and experimenting with different types and amounts of rubs & smoke as well as different cooking techniques. I’ve done it all – grilled, smoked, boiled, baked, pressure cooked…all of it.  I even deep-fried some ribs for fun.  Not bad but you still have to cook them another way first.  In the end I decided that rubbing them and letting them site for about 36 hours was the best way to spice them.  I did two racks, one with a rub from the Savory Spice Company and one that I made.  For cooking I opted for simply smoking them with hickory chips at 225 for the better part of a day.  I know…hardly a ground breaking recipe and process.

I also made two sauces, one each to go with the ribs.  The first was an apple chipotle barbecue that was very dark with a deep, rich and spicy taste.  I’ve made it a few times and have to be very careful about how much I cook it down because it can get too sweet…or spicy…or smoky…  The other sauce was a Memphis style vinegar-based sauce that I truly believed would be the winner.  That sauce is good on anything.  Both were made a day in advance so I could get them bottled up and get the labels on.  We actually took two bottles of each – one to use with the ribs and one to set on the counter and gloat about…

Ah… tragedy.  So I didn’t win the rib contest, Dave did.  He should have, too; I actually voted for him.  Like me, he only smoked his ribs.  Smart.  Two variances between his ribs and mine – 1) time of cooking – he smoked his 8 hours – nearly twice what I did.  2) type of ribs – he used St. Louis style and I used baby backs.  I don’t think the type of ribs mattered much for flavor.  It may be that St. Louis hold up better to long cooking.  One thing I would change about the contest next year is either doing the sauces and the ribs separately and giving two awards (which is what we did, but not officially) or not allowing sauces to intermingle with ribs.  I paired my sauces with what I cooked, so it seemed to me that the whole process got infected when someone put my sauce on other ribs and we only gave an award for ribs.  Ah…salty loser I guess.  Rheuben Gibson, who is a professional furniture make, made a fabulous trophy out of a cow rib and it will sit in Dave’s house until next June when I come back to claim it as its rightful owner.

I’ve done a lot of thinking about my Dad today, even beyond the grits. Two common ways people think about the deceased it seems.  One, they wish the person was still around to observe or partake in the current goings-on in their life (or maybe give them direction).  Two, they question whether or not the person who passed would be proud of them.  Maybe those two things are really different slants on the same dynamic.  Regardless, I don’t do either of those.  I know he’s proud of me and for some reason the notion of him never being involved in my day-to-day doesn’t torture me.  It’s probably because we went for several years with a gulf of mental space between us.  Or maybe it was the physical space because we didn’t live in the same state for more than two decades.  Who knows.

What is true is that he is constantly on my mind.  I asked Rhonda the other day how often she thinks about her Dad. She goes for days now, she said, sometimes weeks.  There was an  awkward silence after she answered. I think it was clear that I wasn’t going to answer my own question…so she asked.  “Every day.  Usually a couple times an hour.”  It’s true.  He is also in my dreams every night, usually when I was between the ages of 10 and 20.  I don’t know what that means or says about me.  But I’ll say this much…when I am thinking about my Dad, I am thinking about how to be a better person. Not a better person than him, a better person than me – very important distinction.

That was his indirect and long-lasting gift to me and it simultaneously drives, soothes, clarifies and tortures.


Today I am asserting an exercise on myself.  Open ended question as a means to begin an assessment of myself and ultimately what I want to be when I grow up.

This, of course, in the queue maybe a play or two in front of making incredible, earth shaking, monumentally significant decisions…of course I have no idea what they are.  One menacing crossroads has loomed above me for years now, albeit at a safe altitude.  Its descending now

Today’s question:  What do I want?

30 minutes – GO.

For just me – I want to feel healthy and inspired and supported by relationships.  Those are three very distinct, yet inter-related things. Health; I want to live in a climate and locale that helps facilitate healthy living. Inspiration; whereas I have enough time to write now, I don’t have enough ambition. It was the thing I was most excited about when Rhonda & I got together.  Relationships; I want to be surrounded by people I care about and who care about me, people who have similar interests and values.

I want my relationships with my side of the family to be better.  For the most part, I feel like I am the one most in control of making that happen.  The next ten years are critical for the health of my mom and sisters.  Most of all, I want to choose things in my life out of proactive will, not out of fear or default; that is to say I want to go out and get the things that I want.  Its’ what I’ve always done and how I have become confident and happy in life.

For our marriage – I want us to be connected and trusting of each other and both feeling like we are a strong unit that does things together. I want us both to feel good about where we wake up, where we go and what we do during the day and what we’ve accomplished when the day comes to an end. We’ve always been connected, with some notable, temporary, exceptions.  When we’re connected everything is good.  We have fun doing things together.  We deal with problems efficiently and effectively. If we’re not a unit, everything else is probably going to turn bad.  We’re in a really tough place right now because if we stay in Ohio, it’s probably going to deplete me.  If we go, there will be inevitable stressors for us as individuals and us as a unit.

For the kids – I want our kids to be worldly, multi-cultural and rich in experiences. I want them to have relationships with my side of the family.  I want them to develop close friendships that they maintain in life. You don’t build adults when they’re 18, you build them now.  I know that, and I want them to have enriching experiences that add to the fabric of their character and help them make smart decisions in life and always hunger to fill their brain.  Can you do that in Lima?  I don’t know.  Maybe.  I also don’t want them to struggle for things I now believe that they need – like higher education.  Both Rhonda and I were lucky enough to get our school paid for.  I want to be in the position to do that for our kids, should they need it.

For our careers – Both of us have only really worked in the grown-up world for 10-15 years.  Amazing that we likely still have twice that time left in the workforce… maybe depressing. To date, things have only been good for both of us.  We’re both professionals with enough education and experience to a) always get jobs and b) get better jobs than most people – that’s an incredible ace in the hole and something I reflect on and am grateful for every single day – no exaggeration.  Still, for me, work is secondary, that’s no secret.  Even so, work certainly doesn’t play a secondary role in my life.  Rather, it takes a huge bite out of everything I do.

If we stay in Lima, I have two options that make sense – 1) I keep a national job out of DC and expect to travel significantly.  2) I pursue campaign jobs in Ohio, which is probably more time spent working and just as much travel.  Working in Ohio would be less possible with me living in Lima; I’d need to be in Columbus or Cleveland.  I probably could ebb and flow w/election years and take on special projects as I care to.  That doesn’t sound massively unappealing.  And neither does America Votes.  I like where I am and what I do most the time, but it does drain me.

On daily living – Just as most of marriage is down time and not honeymoons, most of life is daily living and not vacations.  The decision about where to live is far more complicated than it was nine years ago when we colored in a map and then high fived that some of our interests overlapped.  That was an exciting time; we were just starting our life together and we were just excited to be together.  That’s how I want things to be.  At the same time, we’re better off than we ever have been before; we have a day-to-day routine that is working; our family is healthy; we’re cash positive in every way.  So then the question is this – If we’re better off now that we ever have been, why change that?  I can argue it either way and make either way make sense.  On staying – Rhonda’s job, cheap living, no stress of moving, etc…  On leaving – Limited time w/family left, Ohio is awful, etc…

Lima was never supposed to be permanent.   I was never asked to consider it as a lifetime, or even long-term decision.  I was asked to move here for a short time for specific reasons.  I didn’t choose Lima.  I chose Rhonda.  How I’ve dealt with Lima and my life in Ohio has always been predicated on believing our stay here was temporary.  It’s why my strategy with work has been national and not local.  It’s why I am not all that invested in any friends here.  Today I think that may be an outdated paradigm, and that reflection is making me nervous.  What have I been doing with all my time?  I’ve never considered myself to be living in the skin. The truth is that I gained a lot moving here but I gave up a lot to move here as well.  Whether or not I’m actually missing out or I just feel like I am owed what my brain has been programmed to want is the real discussion to have.  With myself.

In thinking about all of this, it’s become clear that finances are weighing heavily on every category.  I don’t like that.



I just came in from the deck.  It’s clear outside – 9:30am.  The internet says its 76 degrees here.  I don’t think it’s that warm, but it’s a nice morning for sure.  Birds were chirping in stereo and I watched a cardinal watching me, cocking his head every time I raised my coffee mug to take a sip.  The deck looks great.  There are new plants all over and a couple weeks ago we had it powerwashed and then weatherproofed.  It looks nice, all of it.  Rhonda is looking for a propane firepit as well.  Life is easy here, I think.  We do what we do and we don’t worry about much.

Yesterday I drove to Columbus to take some pictures of our house in Italian Village.  On the way, I stopped at this little gas station that I always go to.  It’s in Huntsville and there isn’t much else there, believe that.  I bought a Coke Zero and while I was waiting for the kind female cashier to change my $5 bill, I was privy to her discussion with another woman, also an employee, sitting next to her.

“You know, I’ve got to figure out a way not to take my work home with me,” she said.  “I leave here and I want to be off the clock…I want to relax.  But then I’m constantly worrying about this place.”

My first thought was Amen…I hear you sister.  Then I looked around.  No customers in there but me – as usual.  Worth noting is that while she was pontificating to her friend, the cashier was sitting down in a chair and smoking a cigarette.  They were both sitting down, actually.  A radio was playing.  The window was open with a nice breeze coming through.  I thought about what a shift might consist of in that little shop.  Straighten the candy. Push some new beer cans into the cooler tracks.  Use the speaker to tell a motorist that they need to raise the lever for the gas to turn on.  Swipe some credit cards.  Then I wondered what kind of work she was taking home with her.  The truth is that it really doesn’t matter.  Stress is relative and just because in my head or in my life it would take a hell of a lot more to reach a tipping point – it feels the same to people.  She wasn’t less stressed than I get.

I went outside and sat on a bench where, occasionally, I would watch a truck drive by.  Across the road and in the distance a tractor was slowly moving back and forth across a field making even lines.  Corn season has begun.

So there’s the question I’m dealing with on this blissful Monday morning, sitting outside on the deck and making my work to do list while Rhonda sits inside on the couch doing the same thing (she doesn’t go in until 11 today).  What is the right recipe for life?  Maybe it’s a more specific question I’m pawing at – what’s the right recipe for our life?  Certainly everyone has a few baseline commonalities like good health and enough coins in the bank to keep a roof overhead and milk in the fridge.  But then what?  Then, it seems, everything is uniquely interpreted and designed by the end-users.  That’s us.

So let’s pretend all intentions and history had been cleanly erased and today was the first day of my life.  What’s my recipe?

life on the inside

Detroit Airport – 5:33 pm

Cold fries are always vexing to me; bad service or God saying “Get it together kid, you don’t need these…”  Then I think to myself, Am I more agnostic or more impatient?  I don’t really think God gives a shit about me eating french fries, right?  Plus I’m not religious.  Secular, not religious, and trained to some degree in the workings of the brain.  Ah, got it.  My subconscious is calling me fat.

God wouldn’t be telling me what to eat or not eat anyway.  Were he to exist, and were he to have a role in the presentation of these shitty, cold french fries.  It would put to me as a test, right?  You decide, son.  Not dictate what I should do.  God lets me ruin things on my own then lays down the consequences.  That’s what I’ve heard.

So I’m anxious, but that’s not new.  Why now?  Worried about boarding late?  Worried about heart attack?  Hate this.  Fries remain untouched: three way tie between god, my subconscious and arteries.  Shitty service wins.  Tip follows.  I have a whole other rap on why bad service should be tipped but I’ll get into that another time.

That was yesterday, and now I’m eating by myself at a restaurant in DC – Osteria Sette.  So far I am unimpressed, mostly due to their shitty service and the fact that they couldn’t handle a flash rain storm (I was seated outside).  But whatever.  I’m not in a hurry and my feathers aren’t going to get ruffled from having a few extra minutes to myself.  Then again I am thinking about having bad service twice in a 24 hour period.  The food isn’t awful, but it isn’t good either.  The risotto tastes much better once I add salt and olive oil and serve it up on the browned pizza crust bread they brought me.  Not what they had planned I’m sure.

Some girl at the bar is making uncomfortable eye contact with me.  I’m acting like I don’t notice.  She appears to be eating by herself too.  Funny.  Part of me is reminded of a short story I wrote about bar meet-ups nearly 15 years ago.  That was my first dealings in burying some of my real-life experiences in fiction.  A guy just came back from the bathroom and I realize she’s not eating alone.  The eye contact is now 50 times more uncomfortable.

The waitress misinterprets my empty plate as me liking their food, not me being simply hungry and too lazy to go get better food someplace else.  The truth is that I am the one that made their food edible and I probably should have just ordered an olive oil, salt and risotto pizza to begin with.  She just walked by and grabbed my plate.  Didn’t ask me if I was done, didn’t ask me anything.  She’ll get a tip, but she’ll also get a bit more of me than she’s expecting.  The explanation now:

I don’t ever tip less or not tip at all because someone is an awful server.  My reasoning is that starving them will probably only lead to them hating customers even more and to more bad service.  I guess I am paying it forward for the next guy to an extent.  Now, that said, I don’t just swallow the bitter pill either.  My tip for bad service comes with an explanation of my reasoning.  Tonight that meant I handed her the signed receipt indicating my 20% gratuity after I explained that she was awful, but that I wanted her to be better, and so I was tipping her both money and a reminder.  Yes, I felt better and she was wildly unimpressed.

Changed scenery.  Now I’m in a pub on the way back to my hotel drinking a New Hampshire IPA.  It’s a Tuesday night so the place is predictably quiet.  As such, I am privy to a conversation between the bartender and some random customer two bar stools to my left.  Occasionally they will break so the bartender can deal with customers, but for the most part the entire exchange is about their sexual exploits with various bartenders and servers in the area.  The man is a regular, but he doesn’t live here.  Just like me, I think.  He might be a little older, but he has a routine down and knows all the attractive servers within a five block radius.  So does the bartender and the two of them are talking – quite graphically – about their mutual experiences, which girls are good for which activities and the histrionic shortcomings of them all.  It really is an unbelievable conversation.  This is why women hate men.

And there is 24 hours inside my head.