Connections

To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children…to leave the world a better place…to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.

— Ralph Waldo Emerson

Yesterday, the world was shaken as we lost someone who, even at 5’7″ tall, was larger than life. On August 11, Robin Williams took his own life. A permanent solution to a temporary problem, but at the time, he saw no alternative.

Countless people have wondered how a man who was able to bring so much joy to so many people, could be so miserable. Cracked has published a piece in which they explain how alone even the funniest people can feel, and how their personal issues can sometimes manifest in an extraordinary gift to make others laugh, even leading to their own demise. I’m not unique, in that I wondered how, exactly, that was possible. I battle with ennui, but typically that’s about as far as I get into the cycle of depression. I feel a bit of midlife crisis, pondering how exactly I could make more of a difference with my life. How could I achieve success, in the words of Mr. Emerson?

Interestingly, I think those two streams of thought may be intertwined a bit. In the case of Robin Williams, I’m fully certain that everybody who met him was thrilled to make his acquaintance. But, whereas everybody was thrilled to meet him, how many were genuinely interested in him, and not just a character? How many of those interactions amounted to more than the shallow , “I love your work”?

As a society, we’ve become increasingly disinterested in others. Of course, we like to pretend that we’re interested. When I met a new friend in June, he was telling me about a social experiment he’s been working on. Stunningly simple, yet meaningful. What was this mad social experiment?

Listening.

Yes, listening. How many people do you walk past on the street, that you may catch their eye, and say something canned, such as “How you doin’?” with absolutely no intention of even taking your ear buds out, let alone stopping? At every turn, with our body language, words, and actions, we demonstrate our disinterest. If we’re cognizant of the fact that it’s socially unacceptable to meet someone’s gaze and not address them, how is it possible that it’s better to address them without ever giving a thought to listening to their response?

Today, I’ve crossed paths with many whose fortunes could have been similar to Mr. Williams’. I’ve learned about people who have seen their fortunes turn around. I’ve learned about people whose family and friends simply don’t understand depression. As if they may catch it, like the chicken pox. Sometimes, you come across people who continue to struggle, and people who just started struggling, and wondering what is wrong? The American diet is deplorable, and has led to magnesium deficiencies. We’ve been decreasing our social interaction, as struggle to interact without the assistance of a web server. But, more than that, even the small interactions that we DO have daily, we don’t take advantage of.

Love, in itself, isn’t enough. You can have a beautiful wife and children, and still feel inexplicably alone. But. what if upon Robin’s imaginary trip for coffee yesterday morning, someone actually stopped and listened after asking how he was doing? So, in my quest to make a difference, I’m going to try to do so by listening. Connecting.

Connections.

Are you there God?

No, it’s not Margaret.
It’s Eric. Long time no speak, eh?

How you doing? Family doing well?

Things are alright around here. I’m a lucky guy. I have four beautiful girls. One, I chose. The rest chose me. I’ve got a pretty good job, working with people I like for the most part. They treat me well, and though we’re not wealthy, we don’t want for much. I’ve got a lot to be thankful for, as I work from home every day, watching these girls with pride, wondering who they’ll turn into as they grow up. We’re getting a pretty good idea of the first one, and even the second. We really like what we see! Thanks for asking!

You’re right. I guess I do have something on my mind.

It’s kind of an uncomfortable subject to approach, though. You see, it occurred to me a couple weeks ago, that your name has a negative connotation for me. In some contexts, it bothers me more than others. For instance, “In God We Trust” doesn’t bother me. At least not in appropriate contexts. The phrase “God Bless America” irritates the bejesus out of me, though. Partially because of Lee Greenwood’s song. Partially because I think it’s awfully presumptive that you’ve not got something else going on of a higher priority, and partially because I’m not sure that we give you much reason to be proud these days.

To be fair, my irritation with the very mention of your name isn’t your fault. It’s guilt by association. You don’t have to look very far to see people doing things in your name that I think that you would find not only disappointing, but downright distressing. When was the last time someone was put over God’s knee? 😉 So far, I’m impressed by Pope Francis. He really seems to be trying to get people’s heads on straighter. Getting people to pay attention to things that matter. Loving your neighbor. Taking care of those less fortunate. I certainly don’t agree with him on everything, but still…great choice. He’s really got his work cut out for him, though. And that’s just with the Catholic Church.

Many of the other denominations seem to be experiencing a similar identity crisis. I’m sure you’re aware, but we have groups (I won’t mention them by name, as I don’t want to send anybody there that doesn’t know about them) that actually picket funerals! Can you believe that? Scourge of humanity, really. How can you look yourself in the eye when you knowingly go out to cause people further anguish in some of their times of deepest pain? Or, the churches that actually coordinate Quran burnings, antagonizing millions, knowing just how incensed they would be if it was the Muslims burning the Bible.

Somehow, as a people, we’ve forgotten that Jesus was a brown skinned socialist. We seem to have overthrown his ideals in favor of the Church of Me. More people are worried about their brother’s speck than their own log, y’know? We condemn your children who are wired just a little bit differently, and prefer the same sex, even though it’s not unique to humans, but have no similar condemnation for those who demonstrate gluttony and greed at every turn.

So, unfortunately, I think your image is being degraded by who you’re being associated with. That’s the best reason I can come up with that I actually have an unpleasant reaction to reading your name. Many years ago, I was raised Catholic, all the way through Confirmation. But, if I’m being honest, the church turned me off. I’ve never been certain about what I think, but I was pretty sure that you and I would be alright, as long as I am treating people we respect, and living my life in a fashion that I can be proud of. So, while some would call this a crisis of faith, I’m pretty comfortable with where I am.

I’m pretty damn proud of who I’ve become. I’m proud of who my girls are becoming. I’ve been blessed, over and over again, even as an agnostic. But, I plead with you, please do something about your followers. It’s disheartening, because I’m pretty sure that a hefty percentage of them would step over their brother on the way to the bank.

Your good name, sadly, depends on it.

Risk

Hi. Remember me?

I’m the opinionated fella that seems to have an opinion about everything, but forgets to take notes on the ideas that I have opinions on and want to write about.

Since I was seized by one such topic while I have the iPad in my hand, I want to write on it. That topic is risk. Or, more accurately, protecting your kids from it.  I understand the notion, right? If I can exercise just a little bit more due diligence, and keep my girls safe, I should certainly do so, right?

Debatable.

Are we really doing them any favors by protecting them from all forms of risk? Or would we be better served by letting them fall sometimes? Then, we learn that falling happens, and how to get back up. These discussions with some of our close friends and family who are new parents. Facebook is full of fascinating things. Some of it, even good advice! But, it does t stand out as to which is which. Nobody wants to see their child hurt themselves. It really doesn’t matter if it’s by falling down, at the hands of a friend that’s less than kind, or a substance abuse problem. But, how do you learn about natural consequences, if you’re barred from making decisions that lead to them? The short answer is, you don’t. You learn to believe that someone else will save you from the repercussions of your actions.

And really, what are we trying to protect them from?

Is it that we’re trying to protect them from pain? Are we trying to protect them from bad decisions? Are we simply projecting our own fears upon them? Or, perhaps we’re trying to save our own heartache. I suspect mileage varies, but one thing that I’m sure of, is that it’s going to be difficult to find a person whose healthy confidence in themselves, if they have never been permitted to make decisions and not have them work out to force them to recover. Passing our fears on to our children does them no favors.

But, you know? Something that I’m certain of, is that it would be difficult to find joy in a life completely devoid of sorrow. The thrill of achieving an unexpected success would be severely degraded if there was no cognizance of what it is to fail. What kind of life would it be, to have such a numb existence? Failure is an integral part of growth. As a child, as a teenager, and as an adult. I’ve seen people and corporations become completely paralyzed by the fear of making a mistake, or failing. And while I’ll stop shy of encouraging them to fail, I’ll encourage them to try, because it’ll effectively be the same thing sometimes. And that failure is good, as long as you learn and grow from it.

Some people, I suppose, would rather have a boring, steady existence. I’m not one of those people. I’ll take the pain, and the joy that I then become cognizant of.

Throwback Entry: How Do YOU See The World?

I originally published this entry in December 2007. I’ve been thinking about some of this again, and might just have to post an update.

They say that Wayne Gretzky just saw the game differently. Jamie and I were talking about this some time ago, and I found it very interesting. It all started during a discussion about which viewpoint would make me more of an Arrogant Bastard.

Option 1)Nearly anybody can do what I have done.
Option 2)Not everybody can do what I have done.

For the record, I’ve been wildly successful, particularly for someone with no edumacation. Raised in suburbia with reasonable schools from third grade on, I was a perpetually unchallenged, academically lazy kid that really had no interest in continuing my education. But, if you listen to the “people that matter” these days, they seem to fill the kids with fear that if you don’t get a bachelor’s or master’s degree, you’re going to be flipping burgers (and that’s only because the drive through order taker is going to be at a call center in Malaysia).

But, I challenge anybody to tell me why most people couldn’t have done what I’ve done. I consider myself an intelligent guy, but I’ve had no formal education. I’m firmly of the belief that it’s more important to understand how you look at the world (or how you WANT to look at the world).

Try to figure out WHY

This basic intellectual exercise helps you understand the purpose of this particular piece in the larger picture. A basic part of troubleshooting, you need to understand the process.

You can use this exercise for almost everything you encounter.

When I was 7 years old or so, I told my dad that the turn signal should be pushed down for left turns, and up for right turns, because of the direction that the wheel is going to be turned.
When I go to a fast food restaurant with slow service or cold food, I think about a mechanism that could help them improve their data modeling to better understand what kind of demand they have for their food.
When my in laws purchased a small town hardware store, I thought about a solution to help them manage their inventory, so that they would be able to assign a dollar figure to the item as “shelf rent”, if you will. There are some things that a hardware store needs to have on hand to maintain credibility, but you don’t want to stock much inventory that you’re not going to be able to rapidly turn. This system will help ensure that the pricing is set appropriately for every item, helping to ensure that the organization doesn’t lose money as a result of poor inventory practices.
I knew that system would never be used. Really now…a hardware store in a town 300 is going to need that kind of sophistication? Wal-Mart may have something that ultimately delivers similar results. Maybe I should’ve talked to Meijer. Large enough to recognize the problem but maybe not so large that they have the technology resources at hand to develop something in house.

But that kind of attention to process is what I’ve found has empowered my potential. Think about the desired result. Think about the trigger. And think about how to get there from here.

Why can’t that kind of attention to process be taught? I’ve talked to a number of people that think that think that it can’t be taught. Why? I’m an intelligent guy, but not superlatively so. Education people think about the learning process all the time, so why can’t we teach people to understand the process of process?

She’s a keeper…

Last night, as my bride and I haunted the hotel bar at the Tudor Arms hotel in Cleveland, one of my new friends in town for a beer festival at FirstEnergy Stadium shared a bit of wisdom with me.

He affirmed for me that my bride of fourteen years was beautiful and a keeper.

He’s right, of course. And I already knew that. But I sure got the impression that he enjoyed sharing that with me. See, I’ve had a bit of a rough go lately. Things have been stressful and busy as hell with work. Stressful dealing with the house in Illinois. I’ve been PERSONALLY busy, as I drive my eldest daughter 400 miles round trip to obtain Oral ImmunoTherapy for her peanut allergy. So, I’ve been more stressed lately than I have been at any time since 2005.

As a result, my beautiful bride planned a one night getaway for us. To that mecca of exotica…Cleveland!

Now, I’ve never had much to say about Cleveland. Good or bad. It simply was. My buddies and I hit a Tribe game a few years back. That was fun. But, I wasn’t excited by anything there. Until this trip. We stayed at the Doubletree Tudor Arms, which was a pretty nice place. From there, we went out to the Great Lakes Brewing Company for dinner and a couple of brews. Enjoyed some Lake Erie Monster, and Ales for ALS White IPA, and a Commodore Perry IPA. The good news is, my shrimp and grits was delicious. The bad news was, I was too full to drink much more.

Still, we soldiered on, and went to Nano Brew Cleveland, where I managed two more pints of local brew. First being the Nano Brew Cluster Bomb, and the second being a Market Garden Brewery Viking Pale Ale, which I believe may have been my favorite brew of the night. It was on cask, and reminded me so very much of homebrew.

After two brews, though, I just couldn’t put any more down. Sadly, I failed to invoke the rule that “beer has food value, but food has no beer value”, and so we went back to the room to chill out for a while, before we went down to the hotel bar for a couple more.

After a FANTASTIC night’s sleep, we packed up and headed to Lucky’s Cafe for breakfast. Which was FAN. TAS. TIC. Pecan encrusted bacon and delicious biscuits and gravy for me, and a summer squash omelette for her. And nearly everything is sourced within 100 miles, with much of their food coming from their urban farm. So very cool. Check it out if you get the opportunity.

So, my new friend from the bar, you’re absolutely right. M’lady is a keeper. She went through a lot of trouble to go out of her way to show me a good time for the evening, and take my mind off my troubles.

For that, I’m ever grateful.

Father’s Day

It seems that Father’s Day is upon us again.

I know this, because my gaggle of girls took me out yesterday to one of my favorite restaurants, North Country Brewing Company, for an early dinner/late lunch. And my partner in crime bought me a very cool growler full of their delicious “Paleo IPA” to take home to drink during game two of the Stanley Cup Final.

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This morning, I was afforded the luxury to sleep well past when I would normally sleep, was taken out to breakfast at another favorite local place for breakfast, the Golden Rye Grille, where I was presented with a book of coupons from the girlies for everything from unlimited snuggles to car washes, to floor washing.

Those girls make me proud. They love big, live big, and leave me pondering what may be next. Sometimes, I become concerned that my own weaknesses leave the girls a little bit shy in the Dad department, but for the most part, they seem satisfied. And for that, I’m grateful.

Something that struck me today, as I was smiling while walking to retrieve the car so that the girls didn’t have to walk in the rain, is how much I love being a Dad. I don’t want a day off of taking care of my girls. That’s simply what I do. I had the good fortune of learning to be a dad from both my own Dad and my maternal Grandfather. Both of whom taught me important, though different, lessons. And have helped to make me someone that I feel that I can be proud of today.

I told a friend today that a great man and father teaches their sons how to be a great man. I then pondered joking that it’s a good thing I had all girls. But, I know that’s not true. I’m proud of who I’ve become. I’m proud of the work that we do to try to teach the girls empathy and gratitude. I’m proud of the way that we raise our girls.

For all you Dads out there that sometimes question how well you do at the most important job you have, remember that the single biggest thing that matters, is that they know how much you love them. The self confidence that comes from that gives them the rudder that’s necessary to be confident in themselves, and not be swayed by all of the forces out there that are constantly present, and can blow us off course.

Thank you Dad, and Grandpa, for the love that solidified my core, and allowed me to be steadfast in who *I* wanted to be. A [mostly] great Dad to my girls.

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Sweet tea brined chicken

Smoked chicken is a favorite ’round these parts. In fact, if I was to rate our favorites, it would be:

1a)Brisket

1b)Chicken

3)St.Louis style spare ribs

4)Pulled pork

This chicken is pretty simple, really. Brine for 24 hours. Smoke for 1-1.5 Enjoy! Of course, there are a couple of decisions to make with regard to a couple of those steps. Tonight, I changed up the norm, in that I smoked with cherry as opposed to hickory. And I added crushed garlic and onions to the brine, much to my wife’s chagrin. She asserts that there’s nothing wrong with the chicken, and when she’s found how she likes it, she wants to keep it the way she wants it. But, I like change. I think I’m going to have to do it again, though, as the cherry wood changed the product more than I expected. Sorry, dear. 😉

Sweet tea brined chicken
Recipe type: Sweet tea brined chicken
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
 
Brine with a southern accent delivers a bit of personality to your chicken.
Ingredients
  • Chicken (I prefer pieces, mostly because my family prefers dark meat)
  • 1 gallon iced tea
  • 1 cup sugar
  • ½ cup kosher salt
  • 3 lemons
  • Handful of rosemary
  • Thyme
Instructions
  1. Using whatever method you choose, make iced tea. I, personally, only make iced tea using Luzianne tea if I have a choice. Using my iced tea pot, I make iced tea WITHOUT THE ICE. I usually make two pots, which is probably around a half gallon of stronger, hot tea.I do this so that the temp is up and it's easier to dissolve the salt and sugar. Once the salt and sugar are dissolved, I add ice, in order to reduce the concentration of the tea and bring the temperature down quickly. I then add rosemary and thyme, fresh if available, and then I'll halve the lemons and squeeze them into the brine. Add chicken and refrigerate overnight.
  2. Preferably, I remove the chicken from the brine an hour or two before preparing to put the chicken on the smoker. This gives the meat a chance to dry out a bit. I also like to let the meat come up in temperature a bit before adding it to the smoker.
  3. Bring the temperature up as close to 300 degrees F before adding the chicken. This helps you avoid the smoked chicken skin being tasty, wood smoked flavored bubble gum.
  4. Smoke wood can be a bit of a holy war. To date, I still prefer hickory. Tonight, I smoked my chicken using cherry, and wasn't prepared for how sweet it seemed to make the chicken. It was still tasty, just different from my normal hickory characteristics.
  5. Smoke the chicken to 165F, or a little better if you prefer.

 

Hardwood grilled steaks

Duh.

This weekend, I had a duh moment when it occurred to me that I wanted to try grilling on my Weber Smoky Mountain. I knew that I wanted to make steaks, which I wasn’t interested in smoking, but I wanted that hint of hardwood regardless. My glee was hardly contained when I figured out that I could make that happen with nearly no modification to my WSM.

  • Remove the bottom rack and the water pan.
  • Bend out your brackets for the water pan slightly.
  • Move charcoal grate up to the water pan brackets.

Voila!

Just that simple, folks.

So, for the evening’s meat, we bought some NY Strip from the local supermarket. Sadly, not quite as thick as I may have liked, but not too bad. I rubbed them down with my version of this rub, which has become my favorite rub for beef thusfar.

 

From there, I lit a half chimney or so of charcoal, and once they were nice and hot, I added a half dozen chunks of hickory into the charcoal.

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Remove the lid for a while, and I found that i could get the chunks to catch flame. I liked this, as I was able to use the flame to sear the steaks. This picture is obviously from after I moved them, but you get the idea…

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I like my steak medium at the most. So, we didn’t leave them on for very long. Probably 8-10 minutes. But we still had a delicious combination of spice, smoke, and meat.

Beef Rub
Prep time: 
Total time: 
 
Basic rub for beef.
Ingredients
  • 2 tablespoons kosher or coarse salt
  • 2 tablespoons freshly cracked black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons paprika
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano leaves
  • ½ teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
Instructions
  1. Combine all spices.
  2. If I'm using this rub on brisket, I usually use 2 or 3 times the amount of cayenne. But, on a steak, two teaspoons of cayenne was a bit much for my wife. I, on the other hand, thought it was delicious!

My steaks will never touch the gas grill again.

Sea legs of life…

This weekend, we had some company in from out of town. Someone that I know, love, and was fortunate enough to see grow up is going through an important transition in life. From that of a broke college student to that of a graduate who is simply out living. In celebration, I prepared her favorite, brisket. And she stopped in for the weekend to visit as she leaves the only home she’s ever known, and heads out for a new adventure with the gentleman that she loves.

She’s not my daughter, though I’d happily protect her as my own. But, I’m proud of her. Though she’s been dealt a blow or two, she refused to be knocked down. She set high expectations for herself, choosing to pursue her degree in psychology. Though she’s very happy with change being at a minimum, she identified that her home state may or may not have much to offer her, and decided to embark on, quite literally, the journey of a lifetime with someone she loves. Her Coastie. A life of love, adventure, and some uncertainty. She identified just how great things could be, and is putting herself out there a bit to take a risk. Staring life down, and refusing to be intimidated into inaction.

My daughter, you’re not. But, I hope that my girls can find some inspiration in your confidence. Sufficient confidence in their ability to take what life has to throw at it, and enjoy the journey itself. Life isn’t a game that should be lived on the sidelines, as it’s hard to actually play if you’re too risk averse to step onto the field. A life without risks, at the end of the day, will be a life filled with “what if’s”. And each of those “what if’s” contain some regret.

From Odes 1.11

Don’t ask (it’s forbidden to know) what end
the gods have granted to me or you, Leuconoe. Don’t play with Babylonian
fortune-telling either. How much better it is to endure whatever will be!
Whether Jupiter has allotted to sink you many more winters or this final one
which even now wears out the Tyrrhenian sea on the rocks placed opposite
— be wise, be truthful, strain the wine, and scale back your long hopes
to a short period. While we speak, envious time will have {already} fled:
seize the day, trusting as little as possible in the next day.

I’m proud of you, and hope that your journey will bring you near us again. The journey itself is to be relished. Even if it is to New Jersey.

Lowcountry Summer

As a lover of good BBQ, regardless of what kind it is, I’m particularly interested in working to experience some of the best of different types of sauces. The SC Barbeque Society has a good link on the different types of ‘que that you’ll find in the country. For the most part, they break down into one of four families, in order of age:

Vinegar and Pepper: Traditionally located in the Carolina plains, from Virginia to Georgia

Mustard Sauce: Rich in German heritage, it’s the type of BBQ sauce that South Carolina is most famous for.

Light tomato: Vinegar and pepper with a bit of ketchup, this is popular around the Carolina region known as the Piedmont

Heavy tomato: Popular in the rest of the country, it’s a heavier, sweeter sauce. Often found on your grocer’s shelf.But c’mon now. You can do better than that, right?

 

For the Mayhem crew, my love of the Lowcountry is no surprise. So, there’s even less surprise that the first style that I decided that I wanted to experiment with was the Mustard sauce. Little bit of a disclaimer. I like spicy food. So, I wanted to make a Lowcountry sauce that I thought would give me some Lowcountry character with just a bit of something else. Boy, did I find it!

For now, the only thing that I did differently than the recipe wasn’t even really different from the recipe. It just wasn’t defined what kind of hot sauce to use. So, I used Frank’s Red Hot. And it was delicious. But, I feel the need to warn you again. It had a bit of heat to it. I halved the recipe, so I only used 1 tbsp of cayenne.

Great flavor, lots of character, unmistakably Lowcountry, and HEAT.

Sure sounds like Lowcountry Summer to me.