Monday, August 11, 2014

Depression. Suicide. Nanu Nanu.

I'm writing this after a long day of work and a tiring night with the kids. This afternoon the world learned that Robin Williams was dead and it's believed he took his own life. Dammit all to hell, but that's a kick in the gut. When I was young I loved Mork from Ork, even more so after finding out that we shared the same last name*. I always wondered if we were secretly related (I was young and had no idea how common Williams was as a last name) and hoped that somewhere, sometime I'd find out that he was my crazy uncle twice-removed or some such thing. Anyway, today is a tough day for a lot of people. Mr. Williams touched a lot of hearts in his relatively short life and almost everyone you meet has a favorite performance or a bit that never fails to make them smile. It absolutely rips me apart to think about his loneliness at the end, to imagine the way his heart felt before he decided he'd had enough. Damn. Just Damn. Damn, damn, damn.

Well, here goes. I'm not sure I believe in coincidence but I'm compelled tonight to share a story I can't seem to shake free and let go. I haven't talked about suicide in . . . ever, really . . . and this past week it's been the topic of conversation more than once in my circle of friends. Just the other night, a Tuesday, I had a rare moment completely free from all responsibility: no children, no friends, no appointments, no schedule. It had been so long since I was truly alone with my thoughts I almost didn't know what to do. I went for a walk. Then I went for a drive. I meandered through the aisles of the Goodwill. I wound up buying myself a nice bottle of scotch; thinking perhaps I would sit at home and listen to some jazz and enjoy the hell out of drinking alone. I stopped to get some dinner and  as I sat there eating a chicken bowl from Panda Express I started to rethink my plan to sip myself into a slow stupor. More about this in a bit.

Robin Williams, suicide at age 63. Sobering as all hell. This is a pretty difficult thing to admit and I feel like I can only do it because so many people are talking about it today. I am exhausted and want to stop writing and go to sleep but I'm afraid if I wait until tomorrow I'll never share this.

I've been suicidal.

I've cut into my arms and hoped it was deep enough that I would accidentally die. That time in my life didn't last long but it was a short, powerful period of depression that I had a really difficult time shaking. You probably wouldn't be surprised to discover it was Junior High. I remember one day after school sitting in my bathroom shower with a knife cutting criss-cross patterns into my forearms and thinking it was probably as good a time as any to see how deep I could go when my phone rang. It's the same story every kid who "almost did it" has - my friend called me and knocked me out of it and everything was all better afterwards. Was I serious? I don't know; it's hard to look back from 20+ years in the future and remember what it felt like to be a lonely 13 year old boy. My friend called me every day so the cynical part of my personality thinks I probably knew instinctively the phone call was coming. But maybe I didn't. Did God step in? I don't know. What I know is time has passed and I've managed to keep going to sleep and waking up again the next morning, every morning.

What terrifies me about this whole topic is I don't know anything about suicide. Is it like alcoholism? Is it caused by a disease that you can never cure or is it a fleeting moment that you can pass by if you manage to survive it. This is a big part of the problem for us, if you ask me - we can't talk about suicide in a way that's meaningful. As I type this tonight all I can think about is how my mom is going to feel when she reads it or the concerned phone calls I'm going to get from my friends wanting to seem super supportive and cool but secretly just afraid I'm going to kill myself tomorrow. I'm not. I love my life, I'm happy, and I love every day that passes - I look forward to every new day. But . . .

I still wonder if suicidal tendencies are like alcoholism. Am I cured? I have these brushes with paranoia when I look at a whole bottle of blood pressure medicine or I am driving down a steep mountain road or when I've got the 10" chef's knife out. Not, "I want to kill myself" but instead,"Holy shit what if I wanted to kill myself?" Do you see the difference? I could just do it and that terrifies me. It's not the desire to do it but instead the recognition that I could or the fear that I might want to.

This brings me back to the bottle of scotch I bought on Tuesday night. I was feeling a little down that night, not sure why. I bought the bottle thinking it would be a nice night to drink a few glasses and doze off with a warm belly. But on my way home I got scared, like I sometimes do, that it might be a bad night to drink. "What if I'm too depressed to drink tonight? What if I do something stupid and kill myself?" Not the desire, not even the feeling that I might do it. Simply the fear of putting myself in a position that could make me want to. What if that's all it takes for someone to kill themselves? What if it's really just about being in the wrong place at the wrong time? What if no one actually "means" to do it but they just don't catch the signs that tell them they're going to put themselves in a bad position? How can we know?

Well, this is why I braved some of my darkest fears that Tuesday night. I pulled out my phone and chatted up one of my oldest friends, one of the people you can talk to about anything. And honestly, one of the people I knew I could talk to that wouldn't call the police. I shared what I was feeling and (after the obligatory, "you're OK right?") we started talking about being depressed and having suicidal thoughts. Turns out he has had similar thoughts. We had an honest to goodness conversation about what it is to be a human being; what it means to live every day and not know what the hell you're doing. We shared our fears, we shared our self-loathing, we shared our regrets. In short, we talked about the kinds of things we're almost always too afraid to talk to other people about because we're worried they'll think we're going to hurt ourselves.

And then I had the same conversation with two other friends on Friday night. Same preface, same momentary concern expressed, same fruitful conversation. Are we all just walking around wondering whether or not we're about to swerve our cars into traffic? Are we all just 3 stiff drinks away from sliding off a bridge into a river? Why can't we talk about these dark thoughts with each other?

Well, I don't know why I'm writing this except there's some part of me down deep that thinks maybe, perhaps just maybe, I might just be the person you'd be willing to talk about suicide the one time it feels too real. I won't know how you feel but I'll listen and hopefully we can learn something from each other and find out what it will take to see another sunrise.

*I changed my last name after I turned 18 for reasons that extend beyond the scope of this blog post.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Something has been weighing heavily on my mind lately. I've been hesitant to share it because I'm afraid it will be misinterpreted but here goes nothing. All I can ask for is your grace.

I'm having a really hard time getting behind the support group for Frank Shaefer. I have a lot of friends that "stand with Pastor Frank" (there's even a Facebook page - Stand with Pastor Frank: Support Equality) but there is something about all of this that is really not sitting well with me. Here's my issue - I don't think most of my friends in the UMC (United Methodist Church) really stand with Frank as much as they agree with his objections to church law (UMC law - the Book of Discipline specifically).

Let me be clear, I wholeheartedly agree with Pastor Frank and others that the law is ludicrous; the idea that sanctifying the marriage of two people is a so-called "chargeable offense" for a pastor has me so filled with rage that I'm on the edge of walking away from the UMC altogether. This is, in fact, what it means to me to say I stand with pastor Frank. By saying that, I feel like I'm saying I will stand next to him when the arrows fly. Were I ordained in the UMC it would mean that should his stole be ripped from his shoulders by a ruling of the court I would tear mine from around my own neck and hurl it at his accusers. As a lay person in the church,  standing with Pastor Frank means (to me) that a rejection of his call to service through ordained ministry is a rejection of my own call to serve the Church and I could not see myself remaining within a denomination that would reject us. 

Here's the thing - Pastor Frank broke the (church) law. As an ordained elder in the church he is sworn to uphold the "traditions, polity, and beliefs of The United Methodist Church"  (UMC Site - Pastor: Overview). The Discipline (the source of church law for the UMC) explicitly says that he may be tried if he does what he did. It's explicit in the Book of Discipline, "A bishop, clergy member of an annual conference (¶ 370), local pastor,14 clergy on honorable or administrative location, or diaconal minister may be tried when charged (subject to the statute of limitations in ¶ 2702.4)* with one or more of the following offenses . . . being a self-avowed practicing homosexual; or conducting ceremonies which celebrate homosexual unions; or performing same-sex wedding ceremonies." I think it's absolute nonsense - but it's the law. In 2012 the entire worldwide body of the UMC gathered and voted on whether or not to change the law. That body is referred to as the General Conference and gathers to vote on changes to the law every four years. The result? The church body voted to keep the law in place. It was the law when Pastor Frank performed the marriage ceremony and it is still the law. Again, I think it's NONSENSE and completely contrary to the message of Christ but that doesn't stop it from being the law. 

My sense is that my friends and colleagues want to avoid having Pastor Frank be tried for breaking the church's law. I get the impression that what standing with Pastor Frank means to many is urging the judicial body of the UMC to avoid taking up the case and thereby avoiding the nearly inevitable conclusion that will lead to him losing his position as an elder in the UMC (being defrocked). I don't thinking trying to hide from an unjust law and pretend it's not there is the best way to fight it; I think the best way to fight a law that damages people, unfortunately, is to force those people in power  to deal with the gory carnage that comes from enforcement of the law or by turning your back and walking away from those with the power to uphold the law. Is it time for those that truly stand with Pastor Frank to part ways with their beloved United Methodist Church? What does it mean if we stand with Pastor Frank up until the point when he is found guilty then continue on as if nothing had changed at all? Can we truly stand with Frank Shaefer if we continue to serve under a Discipline that would invalidate his call to serve and punish him for answering a very personal, loving call to sanctify his son's marriage?

I don't think we can. In my understanding of Jesus I see in him a model for the way for us to stand up against unjust laws. I think most of us (Christians) believe that Jesus could have avoided the punishment the authorities said he was due but instead he (Jesus) chose to face the consequences. What is one of the most damning messages in the Gospels? I think it's the failure of Jesus' followers to stand with him as he was accused and later when his sentence was handed down. We might argue that the Church (capital C) exists today because Peter and the others sank into the background and hid when Jesus was dragged before his accusers (denied him even) but we are left to wonder what would have happened if the people had stood with Jesus when the judgement was announced. "Then crucify me too," they might have said. Who knows what the world would be like today if they had shown such courage? I believe this is what it means to stand with Pastor Frank and I'm not sure I, nor many of my colleagues and friends, are really ready to do it. 

Here's a little background on the story if you're not familiar with it. 

Tuesday, October 16, 2012


There are days I wake up and am forced to come face to face with the reality of stability. Some mornings every part of my body and mind seem to be screaming at me that I'm a middle-aged, overweight, gray-haired but balding, father of 5 that spends his free time at church. Just this weekend the coolest thought that crossed my mind was that I could bring my little boy with me to my buddy's house to watch football. Damn it all but I would kill for a taste of 25 again. I long for the days when my best attribute wasn't stability. My 20th high school reunion is coming up; I keep in touch with people from back then and am always amazed that they don't seem to be getting older the way I am. The realization hits me - I'm not aging well. In the back of your mind, you always think you'll be sitting at the table with your wife and snickering because so-and-so looks ten years older than everyone else. Terror sinks in as you realized one morning that it's going to be you. Shit. I have noticed in the past month that I have moles coming up on my arms and legs. They're jagged, lumpy messes of fear and I realize that it's all downhill from here.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Sandra Fluke and Rush Limbaugh

I've been thinking a lot today about Rush Limbaugh's recent comments regarding Sandra Fluke on his radio show. I've been trying to understand why it upsets me so much, trying to understand why I'm so angry about THIS particular bit of foulness from Mr. Limbaugh.

Here's the deal: I have four daughters. They don't deserve to grow up in a world where a self-righteous misogynist like Rush Limbaugh can get away with calling them a slut on the public airwaves. Sandra Fluke is, by all accounts, exactly the kind of young woman I hope and pray that my daughters grow up to become. An assault on this woman is an assault on all women.

My anger isn't only on behalf of my daughters. I'm also enraged about the assault this represents on my brilliant and talented younger sister, a woman who has a future of limitless potential in front of her. When and if she becomes a parent it will be on her own terms; no man has the right to make that decision for her.

I dream that one day each one of my daughters will have the opportunity to stand up and speak with passion and conviction about something she believes in with all her heart. I'm going to go out on a limb and say that the ability to control conception is one of the most important advancements we have made towards equality between men and women in this world. Rush Limbaugh, don't you dare call a bold, brilliant young woman like my daughter a slut. Don't you dare let me hear you say that she is a prostitute or a "round-heeled woman" because she won't let her body and her sexuality belong to you.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Musings about electronics retailers

Funny thing happened on the way to work today. I heard a Staples commercial wherein the made fun of other electronics retailers for their awful selection and high prices. It made me think, "Does Staples really think they aren't the worst place to buy computer parts?" Or is it just an Huxley-esque (turns out Huxleyan means something else) attempt to convince a lie is true just by saying it's true. It made me wonder if people even realize how bad this store is?

So I thought to myself, "I wonder what it would be like if grocery stores sold food the same way that Staples sells computer parts?" So here's the amusing analogy that played through my head during my 30 minute commute.

"Gesum, they have price stickers for a few different types of cereal but nothing at all like the selection in their advertisements." 

"Hi there, can I help you?"

"Sure," I reply, sure that I'm about to be frustrated. "I'm looking for a box of Kellogg's Corn Flakes.You know, the one that's on sale today. White, 12 oz box . . You don't seem to have any on the shelf but every advertising flyer you have posted in the store, on the sign out front, and on your website lists them on sale for the rest of the month. I can't even find the label on the shelf here where they would be. Are you out of them?"

"What are you looking to do with it?"

"With the box of cereal? I'm hoping to eat it."

"I mean, what kind of bowl are you going to put it in? Are you having it fro breakfast or for lunch?"

"I, I . . . what? Why do you care? I just want to know if you have this exact model. Do you have it?"

"Well, the box you want really depends on what you want to do with it. How do you know you want Corn Flakes and not Raisin Bran?"

"Because I asked you for Corn Flakes. If it makes you feel better, I'm looking for a box of cereal to eat for breakfast. I might put it in a bown with milk or I might just eat it out of the box. I might even eat it for dinner sometimes when I get home from work late."

"Oh ok, Corn Flakes will probably work then. Do you want me to see if we have any in stock?"

"Yes, yes please. Please find out if you have any in stock." 

"Did you know which size you wanted?"

< . . . > "Yes, the 12 oz box. The one that's on sale."

< . . . waiting . . . >

< . . . waiting . . . >

"You look lost. Can I help you?"

< impatient, arms crossed > "No, I'm fine. Someone is helping me already."

"Let me get someone from cereal sales."

< sighing > "Sigh."

< manager arrives > "Hi there, I understand you need some help finding some cereal?"

< confused about where the original salesperson is> "Yes, Corn Flakes. Did you have it in stock?"

< manager gets condescending look on their face, as if to say, "ignorant cereal shoppers" > "You know, there's lots of different types of cereal. What were you looking to use it for? Breakfast? Dinner? Do you have any bowls?"

< realizing the manager wasn't sent by the original salesperson but was retrieved by the stocker > "Nevermind, I was . . . someone else is helping me."

< non-plussed > "Oh, do you know who it was? I can go find them."

< shocked, trying to remember what the first person looked like > "Uhhhh, I didn't catch their name. Tall, kind of heavyset."

< affirming > "Right, right. I'll go check on them. See if the need help. They may have had to ask the butcher for help."

< somehow even more shocked > "The butcher . . . why, huh? Nevermind. Ok."

< . . . waiting . . . >

< realizing that I could have ordered the cereal from Amazon and had it delivered already>

< . . . waiting . . . >

< salesperson returns, box of frosted flakes in hand > "Hey, is this the one you wanted?"

< perplexed > "No, not at all. I was looking for Corn Flakes."

< unfazed > "These are pretty much the same thing; they come pre-sweetened and don't really cost much more. It's a better deal."

< angry > "That's not what I wanted . . . Do you not have Corn Flakes?"

< sheepish > "Well, I couldn't find them in the back but I can check the computer. This is better though and it doesn't cost much more."

< angry-er > "Ughhh, alright what do they cost?"

< pleased > "$7.99"

< furious > "What? The sale price is $3.99 for a box of Corn Flakes? How could you possibly think I would want an $8 box of cereal?"

< salesperson-y > "Well, $7.99. But they are better. You have to buy your own sugar if you go with Corn Flakes."

< as upset as possible > "I don't want sugar. I don't even use sugar with my Corn Flakes. If you don't have the Kellogg's Corn Flakes that are for sale, do you at least have a 12 oz box of the store brand Corn Flakes?"

< happy he's helping me > "Probably, let's go check on the computer. It will tell me if we have them in stock."

< pulls handheld computer out of back pocket. I begin to wonder why this salesperson couldn't look on the computer for the Kellogg's Corn Flakes but quickly dismiss the thought >

< furrowed brow > "Well, it says here we have the store brand Corn Flakes in 12 oz boxes. Do you want me to go check?"

< no longer angry, just confused > "Check? What do you mean?"

< condescending > "Well, just because it's in the computer doesn't mean it's in the store room. I mean, it's not on the shelf, right?"

< about to give up > "Sure, go check."

< . . . waiting . . . >

< manager walks up > "Did you find your Corn Flakes?"

< jaw set aggressively > "No, I have not found any Corn Flakes."

< manager gets uncomfortably close > "You know, you could just skip the whole cereal thing and get one of these breakfast-in-a-bar things we've got. It's cereal, yogurt, fruit, and nuts all rolled up in one. It doesn't cost much more than a box of cereal."

< amazed > "No, really, I just want a box of cereal. I already have milk, fruit, and nuts at home. I hate yogurt. I just want a box of cereal."

< manager had already walked away while I was talking >

< salesperson comes back with the biggest bag of cereal I have ever seen > "Here you go, this one is actually a really good deal."

< shaking my head > "What is that? Why would you bring that out? I said I wanted a 12 oz box of Corn Flakes? That's got to be . . ."

< proud > "72 ounces. The biggest bag of cereal you can get. Not much more than the Frosted Flakes actually."

< about to cry, getting sweaty > "I don't . . . I have no interest in a giant bag of cereal. I could never eat all of that cereal. That's gotta be like, $20 right?"

< beaming > "Nope, not even $20. $18.99. Told you it was a good deal."

< firmly resolute in my desire to hang on > "So you don't have any 12 oz boxes o Corn Flakes? No Kellogg's, no store brand. No other brands?"

< confused > "Ummm, doesn't look like it. Computer says one but I can't find it. Have you seen our breakfast bars?"

< leaving the store >

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Easy Crock Pot BBQ Ribs

I thought I would share one of the crock pot recipes I've been doing for years. It's so easy and delicious (and relatively cheap) that I thought others might like to give it a try.


  • 2.5 pounds of country style ribs (beef or pork, try to catch them when they're on sale, they freeze great!)
  • 1 bottle of the BBQ sauce (Sweet Baby Ray's is my absolute favorite and they recently went on sale at $0.88 for an 18 oz bottle, I bought 20)
  • 1 medium size onion (I love red onions, but any kind will do)
  • 2 cloves garlic (or 10, as you prefer ) 
  • 6 mushrooms (optional, I buy cremini but anything works)
  • 1 can beef broth
  • 1 T apple cider vinegar
  • 1 T vegetable oil (or bacon grease, if you're like me and always have some handy :) )
  • Salt and pepper to flavor (or your favorite BBQ spice rub)

This really is about as easy as cooking can get. Dice the onion, when I made it this morning I had red and white onions in the fridge so I used half a red and half a white onion but the key really is to get a nice dice going and get that onion-y goodness in your crock pot. 

Break down your garlic cloves, dice them finely or use a press, and toss em in the crock pot. 

Grab your bottle of BBQ sauce and pour the whole thing in. In order to get all of the yumminess out of the BBQ bottle, pour your beef broth into the bottle and shake, shake, shake it up. Pour the beef broth into the mix as well. 

Now, if you're lucky enough to have a bottle of Wickersham Family Authentic Down Home BBQ Spice Rub shake a decent helping into the pot, otherwise add a teaspoon each of salt and pepper and send me an email begging for a sample of my spice rub. 

Next quarter (or smaller, if you're a little mushroom queasy) the mushrooms and mix them into your crock pot. These mushroom are totally optional, you could leave them out completely if you wish but why would you! Their primary role is, of course, to add their earthy, nutty flavor to the recipe. The added benefit, even more of course, is that they give you something else to soak up the yummy base you just made over the next 8 hours and help stretch the recipe if you're feeding a large family. And an earthy, nutty flavor, of course. 

Now that you have your base taken care of (that was really easy, right) it's time to turn to your meat. You could just throw the ribs into the crock pot and be done; I've done this on many occasions when I've been in a hurry. It will be delicious. 

If you have a few extra minutes, however (a really, really small number of minutes) you can crank the flavor up a few notches by browning the ribs before you put them in the crock pot. The flavor benefit to lightly browning these ribs before you braise them all day in the crock pot is unbelievable. The secret to all this extra flavor, obviously, is the Maillard reaction. It's also an opportunity to sneak some bacon into your ribs, which is never a bad idea. If you happen to have a tub (or a skillet left over from breakfast) of bacon grease you owe your family an apology if you skip this step. Seriously, it's bacon. Vegetable oil works well too if that's all you have (seriously, save your bacon grease). You want a mid-hot pan so you get a good sizzle, grab your tongs and lightly brown each side of your ribs. Then toss them into the crock pot. That's it. 5 minutes for flavor magic.

Now, if you browned your ribs you've got to keep all those brown bits in the pan. Deglaze with the apple cider vinegar (I said 1 tablespoon but I just use a couple splashes to cover the pan) and use your wooden spoon or silicon spatula to to get all that gooey goodness off the bottom of the pan. Let it reduce for just another minute (really, you've got the time!) and pour it into the crock pot. 

If you didn't brown your ribs, just pour a couple splashes of apple cider vinegar into the crock pot. Seriously though, brown the ribs. 

That's it! Stir it up a little to make sure the ribs are coated and set the timer so they're done by dinner. I like to go low for at least 8 hours but it's up to you. These ribs tend to be pretty tough and chewy so the lower and slower you can cook them the better they'll be. I like to serve them on a plate with some rice and my kids love them. Let me know if you try it!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

BBQ Smoker Modifications

People have shown a (surprising) interest in seeing the mods I did to my BBQ Smoker, which is the 
Char-Griller 5050 Duo Gas-and-Charcoal Grill with a side firebox added. We use the charcoal side almost exclusively for smoking big hunks of meat but I have noticed some shortcomings. Apparently a bunch of other people have too, and I found some great ideas for fixing things up. The biggest problem has been keeping temperature up, not surprising because of the relative lightweight nature of the smoker, and I wanted to address this so I could help keep the temperatures stable.

My idea was to both add thermal mass and to increase the time that the smoke/heat stayed in the cooking chamber. The first addition was to add a 3 inch water heater exhaust pipe to the chimney and bring it down to the grill surface.

Aluminum exhaust hose

The next step was relatively simple but I think will make the biggest difference in the overall performance of the smoker; eight firebricks in the bottom of the smoker. These bricks sit close to the firebox opening and add a tremendous amount of thermal mass to the smoker. 

I mounted a couple of stainless steel sheet metal squares on top of the bricks. The right side piece is pressure fit between the slightly offset bolts holding on the firebox and the left side is sitting loose so it can be adjusted to tune the temperature gradient across the pit. 

Bricks and stainless ductwork

The stainless steel plates serve two purposes: both serving as a bit of a duct to carry the smoke across the pit and as a vaporization plate for dripping fat and juices from the meet. I can also add a cookie sheet if I need to with some water (or beer :)  ) to make it into a water smoker,  but I have a vertical smoker, the Brinkmann 852-7080-E Charcoal Gourmet Grill and Smoker, that does water very well. 

The finished product

With the smoke coming through the bricks and under the stainless plates and drifting up and back across the surface of the grill to get to the exhaust pipe I'm hoping to get a more serious hit of smoke in the meat as it smokes and also a more consistent temperature over time. I'll keep you posted!

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