Decision/Despair/Disgust 2012

Decision 2012, in my opinion, is going to be a rather critical moment for this country. This is why it saddens me, that the decision is going to be so heavily weighted on one word.

No, that word is not socialism. Nor is it capitalism. That word is xenophobia.

http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/xenophobia

xen·o·pho·bi·a

[zen-uh-foh-bee-uh, zee-nuh-]

noun

an unreasonable fear or hatred of foreigners or strangers or of that which is foreign or strange.
An opinionated sort, with an interest in politics, it’s no surprise that I’m very interested in the opinions of the masses. The source matters not. Comments on articles. Discussions on facebook. Discussions with imaginary friends on debate boards. There are a lot of important things to discuss, in my opinion. We have very real topics to discuss. Topics like national debt and deficit, and how to improve it. Topics like jobs, and how to create them. Topics such as women’s rights to equal pay and their medical autonomy. Or, perhaps healthcare as a whole, and who should have access to it? The list of important issues that are owed some intelligent discourse is long.
Which is why it causes me such anguish that the important topics of this election, according to the comments, seem to be whether or not Barack Obama, or even Mitt Romney, is a Christian. Or, that he was born in Kenya. Y’know, as if that shouldn’t have been put to bed by the Hawaiian authorities coming out in support of his birth certificate. Barack Hussein Obama may have what, to Americans, is a “funny” name.  But, it doesn’t make him less American. He’s not a Muslim, though there would be nothing wrong with him ACTUALLY being a Muslim. If, y’know…he was.
Why is it that this is what people are looking to attack him on? Some of this stuff is not only false, it’s embarrassing. It’s embarrassing to me, as an American, that this is what Americans are talking about. We’re not talking about the fact that President Obama is preferred to continue on as the leader of the free world., according to a BBC poll. By every surveyed nation but one.  Apparently, Pakistan apparently still isn’t thrilled with him.
This really isn’t intended to be a political opinion piece. In the interest of disclosure, I’m supportive of another term for President Obama. But, that’s not the part that gives me despair. It’s the fact that so many Americans, in 2012, will vote for anybody BUT President Barack Hussein Obama.
Why? Because he’s black.
Or, because he’s a Muslim, serving terrorists.
Or, because he was born in Kenya…
There’s plenty of room for dissent as far as what direction we should be heading. Some of my favorite people on this planet are most assuredly voting for Romney. Bless their hearts. 😉 I did hear one of them has recently switched teams, though!
I quite enjoy my discussions with them. They can hold intelligent conversations as to what they feel should happen. I don’t want someone to agree with me, I want someone to make me think.
All the people who want to talk about how “I’ll never be convinced Obama is a Christian”, or the birthers carrying on about “Obama is an illegal president”, or making sure to reference Obama’s middle name, because it may illuminate how you feel he’s different from you?
There’s a term for you. It’s called xenophobe. And, in case you were wondering? It’s YOU that is wrong with this country. If one guy lost because more people agreed with the other’s platform, that’d be one thing. This platform, as far as I can tell, though, seems to be predicated upon refusing or revoking the civil rights of others, and I can’t get behind that.

Teaching empathy and gratitude?

Today, I knew what I wanted to write about. What I wasn’t prepared for, was how difficult it has been for me to start. My personal thought is that the two are very closely related. In my case, I’m pretty sure that I understood empathy before gratitude. I was raised by hard working parents. Growing up, I can only remember a single vacation longer than a weekend. It just wasn’t in the cards, I suspect. Dad had a good job, but would find himself laid off by the factory, and find himself in a position where he had to take what jobs he could to provide for his mealy-mouth kids. For her part, Mom pinched the pennies as tightly as she could. To this day, I’m not much of a fan of turkey. This is because Mom would make the biggest bird she could find for Thanksgiving. I swear to you, the four of us would eat that bird until Christmas. Any idea what we had for Christmas dinner? I’ll give you a hint. It fed us until damn near February.

As a result, I feel for the ever-growing numbers of people who struggle. Who are trying to deal with the last thirty years of inflation with wages that haven’t kept pace. It’s always been easy for me to consider walking in their shoes. That said, it got a lot easier when we moved to Nowhere, OH. I’m pretty certain that a not-insignificant portion of town is “food insecure“, where they don’t know if they’ll have enough to eat today. I’m certain that there were plenty of food insecure people where we were in the first place, but I don’t believe it was as conspicuous. So, when we got here, my gratitude for all that I’ve had, whether I had to work for it or not, became much greater.

Important ideals, in my estimation.

More challenging, is how to pass that on to my girls. At what point do they even become capable of empathy? Until they become capable of empathy, is it even possible to teach them about gratitude? If they can’t consider how someone doesn’t have enough, how would they feel anything but their own disappointment at not getting a bigger ice cream dish, or a root beer float? We work to make sure that they understand that some of their classmates may not have enough. Last Christmas, I took them out to participate in the secret Santa phenomenon, paying off layaways at the local-ish KMart. One for each of the girls. I wanted to demonstrate that doing things for others is benefit enough, even when you don’t get anything more out of it.

What more can be done to help instill these values that, in my estimation, are suffering greatly in our society today? I’d love to hear from you in the comments. As a society, we’ve become so overly individualistic that I’m afraid that we’re going lose the ability to empathize. And if we can no longer empathize, I fear for our future.

Kinship lost

It takes a whole village to raise a child, states an African proverb.

Back in my younger days, I wholeheartedly disagreed. In 2000, when I became a father for the first time, there was still much discussion over this premise. “It doesn’t take a village!”, I scoffed. “It takes parents. Active, involved parents.” Love and discipline, I might have said. That’s all it takes to raise your child.

As life often does, it’s shown me the error of my ways. I am required, every day, to rely on others to keep my children safe. In small town America, ,neighbors take interest in your life. As a young man that grew up in suburbia, I once declared that i simply couldn’t handle that level of intrusion into my personal life. This is one of the things that I’m most thankful for, about where we live today. Not only are we related to the whole blasted town, (sorry girls, but you’re going to have to find a mate elsewhere), but the ones we’re not related to take a genuine interest in the girls. Caring for their well being. You can see it when Linda, childhood friend of my father in law and girls’ bus driver, greets the kindergartner. On a separate trip, she also drives the pre-teen to school. There is a cohesion to the neighborhood. A neighborhood, I might add, that doesn’t stop on “Snob Hill”.

But, it’s important to remember that we’re not on an island of safety, right? Some people certainly do despicable things, and it’s our job to protect our children from those despicable things. Sadly, I think that means that we sometimes keep them isolated. In a social bubble, if you will. Through our fear, we inhibit their social comfort. In some ways, technology has vastly improved our lives. News, regardless of distance. is delivered nearly instantaneously. This quenches our thirst for awareness, and nourishes our fear. We can interact with people from all over the world in an instant, but may not interact with our neighbor.

Because of this well-nourished fear, we are now conditioned to expect the worst of people. When a friendly older gentleman sits down to interact with our children, we immediately question their intentions. And it doesn’t stop as children. We don’t trust our peers. Why don’t we trust our peers? It’s ‘my belief that we’re doing ourselves and our children a disservice. Through our need to protect and cleanse everything for our children, are we inhibiting them socially?

Are we, as a society, better off if we’re more comfortable talking via SMS Text than our voice? Or when we’d prefer to talk via a web server two thousand miles away as opposed to thirty steps to share a beer with our neighbor?

“Doveryai, no proveryai”, or “trust, but verify”, is a Russian proverb made popular by Vladimir Lenin and Ronald Reagan.  Perhaps, we would do well to heed the advice of the Gipper before we instill an ever escalating, paralyzing fear into future generations.

What’s HE smokin’?!

Some time ago, as I was familiarizing myself with my new Weber Smoky Mountain, a friend suggested to me that I try smoking something rather unusual.

Deli pizza? Say what?

Friends, let me tell you something. This is an excellent way to make something as common as a $5 pizza, which you can pick up at places like Aldi. One of my favorite quick smokes, it only takes sixty to ninety minutes. And, I might add, this is actually a favorite of my guests, at least when we don’t have the time to do something like a brisket, which we’ll discuss later.

Crank up your smoker to around 225 – 250 degrees. Drop ’em on. Walk away. Check on it in an hour to seventy five minutes. But don’t be concerned about it looking a bit dark.

What does quick, cheap deliciousness look like?

 

As much as I like pizza with “stuff” on it, I have a confession to make. I like the pepperoni better. Enjoy the crispy crust and taste the hickory and charcoal smoke permeating through the pepperoni and mozzarella. Tonight, I chased it with a draft pale ale. Deliciousness, on a budget. Thank you, to that imaginary friend who turned me on to this simple treat.

 

Destination: Lowcountry

Y’all knew that wouldn’t take long, right?

For starters, we love to travel. We log hundreds of windshield miles a year, with all five of us in our little Mazda 5. Since our girls were small, we’ve taken them everywhere with us. Our girls go with us to see Grandpa at the cabin in the Northwoods of Wisconsin. We go to see Gramps in the lower part of the great mitten. Lots of family in Chicagoland. Upper peninsula. DC. And the Great Smoky Mountains.  But the one place that we just can’t get enough of?

The South Carolina Sea Islands.

When we cross the border into South Carolina on I77 near Fort Mill, I feel a calm come over me. When we get off of I95, it becomes excitement. And when I get into Beaufort, a feeling of contentment washes over me. It drips off of the trees alongside the moss that provides canopy over the roads. The antebellum homes welcome me back, as they’ve done with countless visitors over the past three hundred years that since Beaufort was settled.  I even get excited to see the Publix on Lady’s Island.  This is the place that provides the calm that can even overcome the mayhem.

My girls love this place as much as I do. This really isn’t a surprise, though. Miles of clean, sandy beaches. Beautiful weather, and a locale that feels, for lack of a better term, real. You can still find Gullah culture, even today. You come across reminders of Robert Smalls; a gentleman born into slavery, who went on to become a decorated soldier, statesman, and congressman. In fact, you can’t move without tripping over history.

On July 9, 2016, you’ll find myself and my beautiful bride renewing our vows for our seventeenth anniversary. Right here, at the Old Sheldon Church Ruins.

Sadly, I can’t find the quote that I’m looking for, which I believe was another Pat Conroy quote, but this one will do, as it’s proven accurate for me, thusfar.

“Charleston has a landscape that encourages intimacy and partisanship. I have heard it said that an inoculation to the sights and smells of the Carolina lowcountry is an almost irreversible antidote to the charms of other landscapes, other alien geographies. You can be moved profoundly by other vistas, by other oceans, by soaring mountain ranges, but you can never be seduced. You can even forsake the lowcountry, renounce it for other climates, but you can never completely escape the sensuous, semitropical pull of Charleston and her marshes.”
Pat Conroy

Tidal Marsh on Hunting Island

At the end of the day, when she says good night, I feel full. From my heart out.

I can’t help but look forward to the next day.

Mmm…Meat.

If you’re here, chances are good that one of the reasons that you’re here is meat.

Yes, Meat. It’s not unlikely that the meat is one of the things that drew you in to the abyss. There are a few things that I make that have been exceptionally well reviewed. One of them, is pulled pork. But, as an open source kind of nerd, I’m more interested in “standing on the shoulders of giants”, so I’m likely to share everything I’ve got. It’s not particularly likely that I’m going to compete with you over BBQ, and if I do, at least I know that I had a hand in beating me. 😉

So, I’m going to start with my favorites. And my favorite pork rub can be found right here. Chicago Style Ribs. I first saw this as an episode of Cook’s Country on PBS, but you can get the actual recipe at upyourflavor.com. This tends to be my “go to” rub for pork. Doesn’t matter what cut, this is the first thing that I consider. Now, in fairness, I take a few liberties with this particular recipe. First, I tend to be a lot heavier handed with the cayenne. I like my food to have a bit of a bite to it. So, I tend to crank up the cayenne from 1 tsp to 1 tbsp per recipe of rub. Obviously, it’ll take a lot more rub for pork shoulders or Boston butts than it will for a rack of baby back ribs. Plan accordingly. But, I’ll usually make three or so recipes for a shoulder. And then, I’ll often times make more for the sauce. The sauce is delicious of its own right. But, put them together with the pork? Heavenly. In fact, I was advised when I first moved in here, that I would not be permitted to compete in the Snob Hill Rib Off. Cancelled this year. Coincidence? 😉

 

A couple more important tips about pulled pork. I understand that you don’t like dry meat. You still need to cook it to over 190°F. Otherwise, it’s going to be miserable to pull. I like my meat smoked primarily over hickory. Yum.

 

Another tip? Pick up a “RoMan Pork Puller“. After making, and manually pulling, NINETY pounds of pork over a span of three weeks, I had NO interest in pulling any more pork by hand. So, I got this nifty little contraption that does it for me at the end of my cordless drill. Leaves me more time for my other love. Currently, I’m enjoying the hell out of some Great Lakes Burning River, which is a Pale Ale style brew. Full of hoppy goodness.

What’s on the menu for you this week? I want to do some chicken up a bit differently than normal. I’d love to hear suggestions, if you’ve got ’em. Otherwise, stay tuned, and I’ll fill you in on what I decided.

 

 

And you may ask yourself…

How did I get here?!

Apologies to the Talking Heads. But, how did a telecommuting foodie from Chicagoland that hates the cold end up in the bustling metropolis of Youngstown, Ohio? The short answer to that, is that my wife wasn’t yet ready to move to the Lowcountry. So, we moved to where her family was originally from. Which comes with a lot of benefits. Just about every other week, The girlies all go spend t he night with their great aunt, which has been great for us to have some time together. Sans children. It also has got to be one of the cheapest places in the country to live. You can still buy livable houses in the town that we live in for under $50k.

So, there’s a lot of good about here. Except that it’s somewhat of a purgatory for foodies. In some respects, it’s almost as though you’re being punished. That’s nto to say that all the food here is bad, as it’s not. But you’ve gotta look for the stuff that’s good. And here, I’m going to share some of the places that we’ve come across that we patronize on a regular basis.

Here’s a great breakfast:place to start you off, if you’re in the area.

The Pit Stop-Bridgewater, PA

Recommended by a “Snob Hill” neighbor, this place didn’t disappoint. Diner style comfort food, but executed extraordinarily well. I have never, in my life, had a better chicken fried steak. Also delicious are their home fries and their apple pancakes. Be advised, though, they fry in peanut oil. If you have a peanut allergic child, like we do, it’s an occasional treat, even though the price is pretty good, considering the quality of food.

We like to find good stuff in strange places, and we travel a pretty good amount. So, we’ll share ideas of places we go and places we’ve been.

Madness

Welcome. If you’re here for day one, you probably know the special brand of chaos that exists at my house. For the lone stranger in the room, though, I’m a thirty-something IT guy. Married to my best friend since ’99, with three beautiful girls. Twelve, six, and three. In 2010, we moved from the Chicago burbs to what can only be described as Nowhere, OH, where I now work from home full time.

Life is good.

This affords me a lot of flexibility. Why do we live in Nowhere, OH? Because I haven’t talked my bride’s family into following me to the South Carolina Lowcountry. It also affords me the opportunity to have great barbecue, even during the week. Stick around, and I’ll share some of my favorite discoveries. Meat rubs. Beer. technologies, and likely other stuff. Where applicable, I’ll share the recipes, so that you can recreate it at home. I’d certainly appreciate it if you do the same.

So, grab a draft beer, and make yourself comfortable. I don’t mind if you put your feet up on the couch.  Hopefully, we’ll discover some stuff together.

Eric