A letter to my son on being an ally

Hey, bud. It’s been a week, hasn’t it? My head and heart are still in shambles. I feel broken. The world feels broken. The country I thought I knew feels foreign, like we’ve sacrificed our moral authority.

First, I want to say how proud I am of you. You’re 14. You got interested in this election without my prompting. I didn’t know you were becoming active until I saw a few of your tweets a while back. Yes, your views aligned strongly with mine, but that wasn’t the point. You were becoming active, vocal in your own way. You were becoming a citizen. Continue reading

Allowing the Present to Arrive

My Monday commute started 300 miles from my office, long before the Eastern horizon even hinted at dawn. I saw flashes of lightning silhouetting clouds in the darkness, soon followed by sheets of rain that provided ample volume for the semis to spray on the windshield. In between the swoosh of wipers, I tried to keep my focus on the newly painted lane markings along the always-under-construction I-70 West — my road most traveled between Ohio and Illinois — but my mind kept wandering to seven words from Friday night’s Shabbat service.

We need to learn to forgive ourselves.

It was my first Shabbat service ever. As a recovering Catholic who has been non-practicing and essentially agnostic for more than half of my 45 years, the simple act of being inside any religious building is surreal. But I proudly sat next to my girlfriend at the official start to the weekend’s celebration of her daughter becoming a Bat Mitzvah, an adult in the eyes of her Jewish community.

Near the end of the service, congregant and community notable Artie Issac was invited to give a guest sermon as the Jewish calendar approaches Yom Kippur, the day of atonement. He rambled delightfully among several philosophical themes but ended with a reminder.

We need to learn to forgive ourselves.

By the time I reached the halfway point of this morning’s commute, the rain stopped but clouds still covered the sky to the horizon. The weather forecast promised cooler temperatures, but the heavy overcast was a pall over my hope for a beautiful fall day. We were a few days past the equinox, but yet to be blessed with that first really crisp, cool, and crystal sky day.

My mind still tossed around Artie’s words.

We need to learn to forgive ourselves.

I just got divorced two weeks ago. Well, I moved out of the house we shared more than two years ago, but a family court judge — deliberating his last docket before retirement — pronounced my divorce official just two weeks ago. Our marriage was effectively over the day I moved out, but I still feel the weight of its failure — my failure, our failure.

Artie’s words made me think of the relative power of Catholic versus Jewish guilt, and the endless debate over which is more severe.  Regardless of the winner (loser?), nothing is heavier than guilt. It was there when it was clear my marriage of nearly 20 years was ending. It was there the day we told our son. The day I started packing boxes. The day I first turned the key to my new apartment home.

And it was there two weeks ago, when the judge wished us good luck after declaring our divorce final.

I can run in selfish, justifying circles of logic to describe why our marriage failed, but there is no escaping my personal failure. I failed to be the person and husband I promised to be. I failed to work hard. I failed to turn right when I should have turned left. I failed to care enough. It may not have been my failure alone, but it was still my failure.

There is nothing I can do to change my failure. I can learn from it. I can be kind, patient, and understanding as the best co-parent possible for our son. But I can’t change my failure.

As I approached the Illinois border along I-74, blue sky appeared on the horizon. I could see the trailing edge of the storm front, but couldn’t judge its distance from me.

We need to learn to forgive ourselves.

I think I was destined to sit in that chapel to hear Artie’s words about self-atonement. I’ve been waiting for the world to absolve me of my transgressions. Perhaps the world has moved on to more important things, and I’m the one who needs to stop waiting for its forgiveness.

My late friend Laura once told me put down the 2×4. I think she was saying the same thing as Artie.

We need to learn to forgive ourselves.

 

skyfront

I arrived home and stepped out on my balcony for a moment. The edge of the clouds dissipated directly above me into the clearest blue sky.

What’s done is done. What’s past is past. No amount of self-flagellation will resolve it, and simply allows the past to control the present. Forgiveness from the world, from others, may arrive and we should welcome it if it does.

But I think I know what Artie was saying now. Until we learn to forgive ourselves, we don’t allow the present to arrive.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The lesson of the walnuts

I chose my steps carefully around the furrowed trunk of the black walnut. Ripening husks littered the floor of the Illinois Arboretum nut grove, greasy black flesh waiting to stain a poorly placed shoe.

I closed my eyes and took in the earthy lemon scent that filled the air, a fermented sweetness that fell on the good side of decay.

I remembered the time I was hiking with scouts, and surprised them by finding a just-fallen fruit along the trail. Many of them had enjoyed walnuts in chocolate chip cookies, but wouldn’t believe that the green orb in my hand was one and the same. In a moment of lost discretion, I plunged my finger into the flesh, digging towards the hull that would prove to them a walnut grew inside.

Three weeks later, my fingers lost the dark hue of the juglone that stained my hands.

Continue reading

Slow cook BBQ chicken and mushroom-bacon twice-baked potatoes

My son has been battling a respiratory bug for the past couple of weeks, struggling to keep up with a busy school and extra-curricular schedule. Today, we decided, was a rest and recuperate day. He stayed in bed well past noon. I deemed it the perfect day to make the slow cook BBQ chicken that he loves. Instead of the sauteed red potatoes I normally make with it, I had a craving for a stuffed, twice-baked potato as a side. Continue reading

Thank you, unconditionally

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My son opened our bedroom door this morning, with a “Happy Thanksgiving! Is it okay if I let Gem and Tigerlily in?”

“Of course,” we chimed back.

Within seconds, eight paws, two tails and a preteen turned our bed into a Thanksgiving morning of smiles, purrs, snuggles and laughter.

As I watched my son close his eyes and go nose-to-nose with an equally winky Tigerlily, my heart melted. The compassion that he has shown with our new kittens astounds me as I watch their mutual bond, pure and unconditional, grow each day. Continue reading

New heights

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I’ll admit it.

I’m not good with heights.

I wouldn’t go so far as saying I’m petrified of them, but climbing to wide open heights doesn’t exactly top my list of favorite activities.

When I learned we’d be climbing the 100 stairs of the fire tower at Forest Glen Preserve this last weekend, I knew I’d have to harden my constitution. After all, as scout leaders we encourage our boys to step out of their comfort zone and grow. I’d need to do the same. Continue reading

Le Creuset Challege: Chicken Sausage and Kale Stew

When I was given the opportunity to participate in P. Allen Smith’s Garden2Blog 2013, my taste buds started to tingle. The wonderful recipes of Allen’s that we get to sample while down in Little Rock are downright delectable, but this year we were asked to contribute recipes of our own as a part of the Le Creuset Challenge. We were each provided a Le Creuset French Oven and tasked with using it to create one of our favorite recipes.

I chose a Chicken Sausage and Kale Stew that I first made (based closely on a Real Simple recipe) for our friends on New Year’s Day.

This stew is a simple one to create, even easier in a fine piece of cookware like the Le Creuset French Oven.  Last year, I’ll admit to not understanding the pleasure of cooking in high-end enameled cast iron. This year, I was well aware of how evenly food cooks in a Le Creuset.

I started with the following ingredients:

  • 24 oz. sun-dried tomato and mozzarella chicken sausage
  • 30 oz. cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
  • 24 oz. diced tomatoes
  • 1 qt. chicken stock
  • 4 cloves garlic, sliced
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large bunch kale
  • salt and pepper

First, cut the sausage into bite size chunks.

Next, slice the garlic cloves.

Sauté the garlic and sausage in the olive oil for about 10 minutes over medium heat.

Add the tomatoes (including liquid) and beans.

Pull the kale into small sections, discarding the the midrib of each leaf. Wash thoroughly.

Add the chicken stock and the kale to the french oven, slowly working it into the stew.

Add salt and pepper to taste. Cover and simmer for at least 30 minutes over low to medium heat.

The kale will slowly cook down and incorporate into the stew. The longer you cook the stew, the more the flavors will mingle.

Ladle the stew into serving bowls, and garnish with fresh kale. I chose to serve it with a freshly baked whole grain artisan bread.

If you like beer, an ale like Hopslam is a good companion to the strong taste of the sausage in the stew.

The prep and cooking time can be as short as 30 minutes, or as long as three hours, depending on how mingled you’d like the flavors to be.

Many thanks to P. Allen Smith and the folks at Le Creuset for providing the french oven as a part of Garden2Blog 2013! It’s a piece of cookware that will be in my cooking repertoire for countless years to come.

The majority of the cost of this trip including lodging and travel were provided to me at no expense for participating in the Garden2Blog event. There was no obligation to write about my experiences and all opinions stated here are my own.

A Living Reminder at Mammoth Cave National Park

On Saturday, my wife, son and I visited Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky on the tail end of a week-long vacation. As we were walking down to the entrance of the cave, I noticed large clumps of daffodils growing in the hillside. I remember thinking to myself that planting all those bulbs would have been a chore, and that there didn’t seem to be much rhyme nor reason for their placement.

Later in the tour, another visitor asked our guide about the daffodils. It turns out that they are a living reminder of the thousands of private landowners who once called the park home. Before Mammoth Cave was established as a National Park in 1941, eminent domain was used to forcibly evict many families from their land. Not surprisingly, this subject remains sore for many local families, nearly 70 years after the park’s founding.

There is no doubt that Mammoth Cave National Park continues to enrich the lives of millions of visitors each year by exposing them to both the human and natural history of the area. These daffodils emerge each spring as a bittersweet reminder that there is always a price attached to the common good.

I certainly will never again look at a daffodil without wondering a bit about the person who first gave it a home.

Recipe: Simple Steak Fajitas

It’s Sunday night again, time for me to dish up a tasty dinner for my family. Tonight, I chose a simple recipe: Steak fajitas. It’s not the lowest calorie meal I’ve ever made, but it doesn’t break the dietary budget if you stick to a single serving.

I started by marinating two hotel steaks in the refrigerator in a canola oil/lime fajita seasoning mixture. After two hours of marinating, I grilled them on our George Foreman grill for about 10 minutes until well done.

Next, I sliced two onions and a package of mini bell peppers and sauteed them until tender in a tablespoon of canola oil and the remainder of the fajita seasoning.

I added the sliced beef to the onion and peppers and cooked for about five minutes longer, the served the mixture on warm high-fiber tortilla.

Each fajita weighs in at 445 calories, 30g protein and 27g fat. Common sense would have told me a single fajita would suffice, but they were so tasty, I ate two. I went over my dietary allotment for both fat and calories, but sometimes you’ve got to splurge a little.

Maybe next time, I’ll use grilled chicken instead for a healthier alternative.