Going back outdoors

Once upon a time, there was a rural boy who loved the outdoors… and urban life full of museums, cafes, and people of all colors, classes and Nationalities. Fast forward decades later across a couple careers, a heart attack and mountains of bad choices he did a funny thing… he went back outdoors.

I did a lot of traveling last year. I also bought a tent and a sleeping bag and started camping again. Now I grant you, it was gay camping, this awesome place in Ohio called Freedom Valley, as I thought it would be a safer, more familiar, entry point for me. Especially these days in Trump’s, well-armed, America. But it was camping none the less. And it was fun.

I'm the bearded dude in the middle with a red flannel shirt on next to the guy in the yellow shirt.

I’m the bearded dude in the middle with a red flannel shirt on next to the guy in the yellow shirt.

I made a lot of rookie mistakes. My sleeping bag was this monstrous blue aberration for one. It was like a gay bear, large, fuzzy, proud and resistant to compacting to a smaller size. Then there was my foray to Shawnee State Forest at the end of the fall season in 2017. With all my stuff. In my big ass backpack which weighed a ton. I still can’t use a compass unless it’s the one on my phone called Google Maps. Without a water filter. It wasn’t pretty. But it was still fun in that I learned a lot… and one of the artifacts of that trip is a short video of my campfire. I can’t remember how many times I have played that during various low points through the winter.

Honestly, my motivation was to dust off my sorely neglected outdoor skills. Sleep under the stars. Start a campfire. Have some beers with my brothers while talking about our lives.

A funny thing happened in the process. I found that I really enjoyed that kind of lifestyle. I liked it enough to pair it with hiking and backpacking. That leap was part of a way for me to combat this constant anxiety that I was gifted after having a heart attack in 2015. A way for me to challenge myself to live more fully in the moment. Learn how to realize when I was worrying about things I could not control and then let it go in favor of living my life. Some of us live life in a calm state of balance. That’s not me. Every day is a struggle to remind myself to triangulate my inner dialogue. Which reminds me of my immediate need to learn how to navigate, like with a compass, CPR, and first aid before heading out to Washington in September for a 50-mile hike through the Olympics with my best friend Doug. But that’s all part of the adventure I want to take I suppose. Life is a journey.

I guess that’s what people mean when they say that a significant health challenge is not all take. Sometimes it leaves us with gifts. Mine has been sleeping outdoors with new friends around campfires. Starlight falling all around like snow.

And, of course, lighter hiking gear, which is the subject of my next post on how and what I selected for my outdoor kit.

Posted in general, personal

On being a digital immigrant & choices

I parted ways with Instagram, FaceBook, and Twitter two months ago. An interesting set of changes happened after that.

“We are all digital immigrants. While the younger generations are true natives.” This is something that I heard last week in a meeting. Well, that’s sort of the point of this post I guess. Social media is an awesome tool and a great thing, and yes, I do belong to several digital social networks still; The American Heart Association Support Group and Linked In for two examples.

Yet, around the time of the Cambridge Analytica I started to think about my own use of social media. So, as the digital immigrant I am, I downloaded a phone app and tracked how many times I opened FaceBook, Twitter and Instagram. The results really gave me pause. This is what I discovered as a result:

  • I am thinking less in terms of potential status updates and photos – which was weird to start with
  • I have more time
  • I feel less distracted
  • It takes more effort to stay plugged in with friends – like old school face to face
  • I don’t use my mobile phone for much except, interestingly enough, as a phone, GPS, calendar and for Spotify now
  • I feel more centered – which is sometimes terrifying without the distraction away from those thoughts
  • I almost deleted my blog but decided to keep that presence, for better or worse, after talking with my husband and some friends
  • I have more time to spend planning fun things for myself outdoors solo rather than keeping up on what everyone else is doing

In the end though, I think it’s about basic choices and commons sense. While I didn’t have negative feelings toward these tools, I made a choice to unclutter my daily workflow. Just a little. The end results have taught me more about myself than I expected. I feel like I rediscovered my voice in the process without casting the natives in a negative light. It’s a big world in constant flux between the old paving the way for the new in this endless spiral of renewal. That’s the beauty of culture I suppose.

A moment

Posted in personal

A walk with a friend

Running races was, momentarily, my measure of truth. My way of keeping time to the beat of cardiac health. It was… absolutely wonderful and I don’t regret a single race no matter how humiliating, or great, the outcome was. For me it was all about setting milestones along my path that would keep me honest toward exercising along a regimented and regular schedule. And yet it was last year that this schedule fell apart. Just like when your tire blows out while you are driving down the road. The thing is that I discovered something between my cross country travels and tent camping in 2017. I felt at home outdoors. Something I had turned off in favor of technological and business pursuits for nearly 25 years. It was at the end of summer that my friend Doug and I started talking about “taking a walk together.” Not one intent on setting ourselves in harms way, but one that would be a little bit of a mile marker regardless.

After he and his husband’s wedding, Doug and I went on some amazing day long walks together. Up to the top of Saddle Mountain, waist deep in freezing water to an amazing waterfall and ultimately 6000′ above sea level to McNeil Point on Mt Hood. He has the benefit of living in one of the most beautiful and nature rich States in America. Which is probably why we nervously side eyed the senior citizens who dusted us in the speed department up the side of Mt Hood with their hiking poles.

McNeil Point Mt Hood

Camping in 2017 reminded me that I love sleeping on the ground, reading in a hammock, walking through wooded areas (trying not to think about ticks… or bears), looking up in the pitch black of the night around you to be blinded by the delicate arc of the Milky way, the sound of rain on your tent, the smell of the mist in the morning as it burns off in the sun light.

But back to the conversation with Doug about taking a walk. While my race running metronome had gone still, I could almost sense another one taking form in the background. What if I tried something I’d never done before again? Like a 7-day hike in a well-known National Park area? Put it on my calendar like I did my 20-mile race. Train for it in steady increments. Partner, yet again, with my Drs to keep them in the loop on what our plans were.

Yet there’s a reality here as well, hiking is not camping. There’s a ton of planning, lesson learning, and mistake making that will go into this endeavor. With Portland Oregon at an elevation of 50′ and Columbus Ohio at 900′ looks like our maximum elevation will be 5200′ above sea level on the trip. It’s still not classified as high altitude according to this guy but it will be for us. Along those lines, this is a good article on training at sea level for a marathon in the altitudes we will be in for part of our trip. Incidentally, this article does classify 5200′ above sea level as high altitude.

Trail by Doug

My guess is that we should both focus on endurance and then pace when we are at that elevation. Slowing down to match the effort. I’m planning on working back up to running to the 13-mile mark again and lifting 2x a week. Intermixing some 3 to 10-mile walks with a weighted vest on. Working on cardio and muscular/connective tissue/skeletal strength. And Yoga… definitely Yoga. I’ll talk with my cardiologist and GP about any risk factors well in advance and how to mitigate that but I imagine with McNeil Point being 6100′ above sea level we at least have an idea of what to expect … then again, we weren’t hauling a weeks’ worth of gear on our backs then either. I need to get a weighted vest soon now that I’m writing this and get some x-rays of my knees just to take precautions again.

I love all the planning and dreaming that is going into this goal. Having come out of one of the strongest cardiac-emotional funks I’ve faced to date, this is a refreshing thing to build up a positive energy flow. Yet, just as my failed marathon goals taught me, I plan to take those lessons of flexibility with me this time to make this a loosely held aspiration rather than a rigidly fixed one. It’s the process that I want to focus on here. The sharing of an experience with my best friend.

Ultimately, if luck is with us in August/September of this year, we put on these synthetic shirts, running shorts, hiking shoes, and 30 lbs. back packs, get used to smelling funky and strike out for a staggered walk through the Olympic Mountains. Scares the shit out of both of us I think. But you know what? That’s one of the best parts about life. Facing our unknowns. Ideally with someone else. That’s all a person can hope for in life.

Posted in personal

Ringing bells

Yeah, I don’t do New Years Resolutions but I have a habit of listening, and reviewing, the lessons of the previous year and looking at my life compass and setting a direction for the new year. Over the past month, with the demands I’ve talked about that tackled me to the ground roughly in December and November, I took a good deal of time to do a deep amount of soul searching over the Holidays, as a very full year wound down to a close. 2017 told me I want to work more on my career path with the clear goal of becoming a cloud architect, a better husband to the man who has been my partner for many more years than our legal marriage, spend even more time outdoors in nature, a better friend and active community member in multiple spheres and to find a better milestone than running races to keep me on a heart healthy path, and strong, in the face of cardiac artery disease.

After talking to one of my Christmas Day guests who is a friend and former colleague of mine from Cardinal Solutions who is now running her own business, I took her advice on seeking coaching. It’s intuitively what I asked of my new therapist who I engaged to help me through the cardiac anxiety issues I am dealing with that have been pulling me closer to depression than I’ve ever been. The therapist asked me what my expectations were so I said, “I want you to challenge my beliefs and make me try to see things in a new light.” If I understood what Stephanie said to me on Christmas Day, that’s the role of a coach. So I’m reading a couple books right now. One of which is titled “On Managing Yourself,” a curated collection of Harvard Business Review articles intended to make you a better person and professional. The first article had a bit about taking the time to not just be mindful but to dedicate a chunk of time daily to find the purpose, meaning and value of life. While I already know who I am at this age, through some hard fought battles with past selves, I found that idea resonated with me deeply. Secondly, as a semi regular journaler and list maker, there was advice in the second article about creating a bell weather of sorts. Using the following list to measure our success and make alterations when necessary.

  • What are my strengths?
    • Meaning feedback analysis where you write down an intended outcome for every meaningful choice we make and then come back to review that iteratively. Which sounds like a whiff of Agile methodology to the developer in me… and a great way to apply that in real life.
  • How do I work?
    • Or are we a listener or a reader in how we interact with the world and people around us as knowing that will help us to better communicate with everyone, ourselves included, in all aspects of our lives.
  • What are my values?
    • What do we see as our ethical responsibilities to those around us in all contexts? One example being does the company I work for have values that align with my own? If not, then it’s time to change jobs. Same thing with relationships and people.
  • Where do I belong?
    • I took this as seeking out work and contracts that align with our strengths, work styles and personal values.
  • What can I contribute?
    • Based on the previous question, once you find the right fit, ask what is required and add value to the degree that you are capable and let others do the same thing.

While I’m only two articles into this tonight, on the first day of the year, I am energized by the type of dialogue it’s presenting. It’s one of those moments where you can almost feel the bell going off in your heart that you are hearing what you need to at the right moment in your life. It definitely gives value to the idea that at the end of every night there is always dawn… and hope for change.

It’s great career and life advice that I’d highly recommend to anyone seeking to either define, or redefine, themselves.

Ringing Bell

Posted in personal, professional

12 months the man

2017 started with my stated goal of “facing fears.” I lined up a series of challenges I’d been daydreaming about for decades. Work and life always took me in other directions I suppose. Maybe because I felt I had faced Death in 2015. Leaving me thinking that I should do things now, and quickly. Grab every goddamn day by the balls, pull hard, and make it count so to speak. How do you come to terms with that? My uncle and best friend Nick know what this looks like. Between heart attacks, cancer and strokes… the things that can end us, well, it was all I could do to keep my balance this year as a result of my mad dash to open myself up and experience all that I could.

And yet, I stepped into 2017 with an evolving set of goals last January. Brace myself for failure and the dark places my heart goes, to try and not place my hopes beyond today but to embrace it more fully every time I felt the light shine inside of me. I fell down on a number of occasions, especially toward the end when the complications of Nick’s health crisis impacted me in ways I did not anticipate. But with help, my husband, friends and hope I made it here to today. Sitting in a coffee shop while the snow falls at the tail end of a big damn year of change, exploration, fun and new experiences.

The actual list sort of looked like this:

  • Open my heart to others and form friendships I would not have allowed otherwise
  • Admit failure
  • Go to Seattle, Portland, Chicago, Miami, New York City
  • Encourage others
  • Be a better husband
  • Pay success forward
  • Reach out to the tech community and do what I can to mentor women and men with dreams
  • Be a better friend
  • Attend CLAW
  • Try to make peace with heart disease and strike a balance between life & fear
  • Tattoo a story of the door I walked through onto my back, with gratitude, no matter how much it hurt
  • Forgive myself
  • Forgive others
  • Visualize better tomorrows, corny, but allows for growth and self compassion
  • Open myself to the gay community and go on some very personal journies
  • Travel to new places with my husband
  • Go camping, a lot, in both remote and traditional spots to sleep outside under the stars and in the rain at times
  • Practice naked yoga with other men in a non-sexual and non-creepy safe context
  • Shower outdoors and sleep under the stars
  • Go hiking in remote places
  • Run races  – lot’s of failures here but it’s the practice that counts
  • Run in the rain
  • Muster all the fight in the world for my passions for what I think is right professionally toward changing culture in good ways
  • Grow a big ass beard
  • Take “rage against the dying of the light” to heart
  • Set a career path toward becoming a cloud architect

Looking back, damn if I didn’t do all these things I suppose. That and the curve ball of standing by Nick through his stroke and becoming close with the disparate collection of friends he had through the process. Or the poisonous exposure to his family… who to a man recovering from a stroke was medicine. But to those around him … well, wow. There were moments where I ultimately failed in that I just could not bear the exposure so I just shut them out after many months of interaction. Eddie and I bought them all a family Thanksgiving dinner so they could be together as brother, sister, brother in law, nephew and his partner together at the recovery center. As durable power of attorney I had to talk to the sister and break it to her that there would be no more loans from her brother, ever, because he could no longer afford it even as he was recovering his ability to move and reason. Or drafting a letter of collection of sorts to his nephew who had the benefit of his uncle’s generosity in paying for his student loan that he co-signed for many years ago… which he could no longer afford. Or telling Nick that he would no longer be able to drive and that we should try to offload his car lease. Or try to get the very personal assets that his nephew took from Nick’s meager apartment while he was newly admitted to ICU days after his stroke. These events challenged my belief in people like no other in my life during the year where my eye was focused on myself and the things I wanted to accomplish before I die. These were the source of some very dark moments that ultimately brought me back to working with a therapist in order to get a grip on myself again.

And yet all the other things I chose to do have left me with the feeling that I am somehow stronger, more grateful, less judgmental and, in some ways, freer. Even the bad stuff and personal failures brought gifts that I could not have imagined 12 months ago. It’s almost like seeing your true self really closely, and taking a moment to acknowledge that regardless of our blinding personal mythologies, ego, we are all just human after all and getting by the best way we know how to at the time.

The sum total of all these things? Life has a sense of humor even during the worst hours. Maybe she wants us to remember that? I honestly don’t know. But I built a wall of paper memories from 2017. My triptik as it were. One that maps out my personal journey. Growth, travel, failure, learning, fear and the freedom from fear. I think if I were to die tonight that I would go with a trail of good memories that, while brief, would shine and flicker in the dark. I took that collage down today as part of my plans to close out 2017, making way for another year. My hope is that I will take that box with me camping somewhere and burn that in a fire ring one summer night under the stars as the sparks fly from the memories of 2017. Both good and bad but ultimately that I had enough fight in me to face my worst enemy and greatest ally. Myself.
My 2017 triptik

It’s all the things I never I spoke, or acted on, in my entire lifetime, within a 12-month span… and so goddamn much more.

What is in a lifetime? A year? A month? A week? A day? A moment? From my 2017 perspective… it’s what we choose to let in. My lifestyle may be outside a lot of people’s norms but then again so are other peoples to mine. And that’s a great thing. Above all else I believe the world is a beautifully diverse place. Which is one of the lifelong lessons I’ve been working on, acceptance of other people no matter who or what they are. In an era where fear, misinformation and gated social media bubbles we just need to embrace diversity. We may not beat the forces that drive darkness across our landscapes but we can most certainly, as I tried to do this year, slide, dance and shuffle in between the rays of light. Experiencing joy, love and laughter.

In the end? I think I learned that the “return to me” through all the constant negative self-talk my brain queues up is enough of a battle. A war I may not win but something I feel like, after 2015 and all the years before that, I need to face without fear, in the face of fear, for the sake of fear. Life is too short not to allow ourselves to change and grow. I’m already excited about what 2018 may hold. Be it good times, difficult emotional work, training, career development, running or meditation, wilderness hiking or unforeseen health challenges or even death… I plan to step back out onto the new year as it comes like a bullet from the barrel of a gun. Expecting the unexpected and challenging myself to keep moving.

Me

Posted in personal

Beef bourgignon & Jello mold stars

Once upon a Christmas Eve, while Eddie and I lived on Crestview Rd in Clintonville Ohio, there was an ice storm. It was so bad that it derailed my friend Nick’s travel plans to Toledo to visit family (road conditions never bothered him). So we extended a dinner invite to both him and our motorcycle friend John. While it was fun to watch big old burly gruff John struggle parking his truck, and then coming in for help, what I remember about the day is beef bourgignon.

We’d all been friends for a very long time even at that point in our lives. The funny thing about friendship, they may come with an instant connection, but the trust and reliance that goes deep builds up over years, growing over time. I suppose that in 2004 the four of us had crossed over into the extended family territory. Which is probably why Nick reached out feeling down and blue about spending Christmas alone happened.

I was in an adventurous space at the time and was home cooking more frequently, maybe because Clintonville was a restaurant dessert and, perhaps, the fact that we lived next to one of the best food co-ops at the time. So it was that I found a French recipe that sounded accessible and really damn good.

I remember leaving work Christmas Eve that day to bus home from out by the airport near the company where I worked. This is an hour long endeavor and a space where I did a lot of reading, thinking and listening to music/spoken word. Now this ride, cold, gray and cloudy and, as always, with a slightly blue end of another year patina over everything you did and didn’t do in a years time. That and the expectation for tomorrow leaving one feeling both anxious and regretful at once. This is where David Sedaris came across the radio performing the “Santa Land Diaries.”This was the first time I heard it and, to this day, I remember laughing so much along with the track that I could not help but to feel immensely cheerful.

Once home, I remember staging the dish and then cooking the whole package of bacon in the large Dutch oven only to <turning page in cookbook here> “discard bacon and transfer chuck roast cubes to simmering bacon fat.” OMG. Even then, I was remotely aware of what was heart healthy or not, this was probably way out in the red zone risk wise. Still, that was before the events of 2015. And this is the most amazing thing I’ve ever smelled. Already.

I get through all the steps and had a pot of the most amazing beef stew I have ever smelled before simmering in front of me. As luck would have it, it turned out great. The four of us sat around the table together that night while our Christmas tree burned bright, the wine flowed, laughter ensued and bellies were full. These are the moments where traditions begin.

Even during the time period Eddie and I lived in Texas, Nick came out every year to spend the Christmas Holiday with us. This all makes me think of things like this home made tree topper that we found in a thrift store some 20+ years ago. It’s seriously corny. A Jello mold with glued glitter on the inside and one of those plastic electric candles. Seriously. Tragic. Yet we were young and having fun so we smashed the topper into the middle of the tree. We called it the heart. We may have been making fun of either E.T. or the 1990’s “Titanic.” Dunno. But the funny thing is, that we have the same topper sitting in the middle of our tree tonight. Tradition.

Christmas Tree 2017

We spent the evening with Nick at Dodd Hall tonight. Eddie cooked up some of the best beef bourgignon in our entire history. Nick ordered someone to get him out of bed so he could wheel down to the common room and spend another Christmas Eve together while he ate. It was an act of normalcy and strength that just makes my heart sing and break at the same time for the harmony.

While I am not a Christian, I enjoy this time of year for the coming together of family and friends. As a time to remember our departed loved ones and to celebrate and be thankful for another year together. With all of the challenges that 2017 brought, both scheduled and the surprises that lay in store for us, I am writing this with wishes to all my friends and family of love, warmth, enough to get by and find enjoyment within.

Merry Christmas one and all.

Posted in personal

Fancy baths, meditation & Reiki

When I was a kid I used to love Fall and the inevitable retreat to the indoors as the weather became cold and icy. An occasional snow day never hurt either. Yet, as I’ve gotten older my mood just tends to sink as Summer fades, the leaves drop and the Holidays approach. With all the work I’ve done between my therapist, exercising, meditation and relaxation I’m at least more aware of when my life spins off center.

Self awareness is great but it takes a good deal of work to keep on a more centered path, head up, breath steady, heart open and mind clear. In addition to spending a good deal of time outdoors this year, with the intent of sleeping under the stars and meeting new friends, I also pursued meditation classes where I could. One such session at a Yoga shop in Grandview was all about the “Elephant meditation.” The instructor provided us with a work sheet, a sachet full of things like chamomile flowers and rose petals and a piece of rose quartz. The idea was to draw a bath, throw the herbs and crystal into the bag, strip down and dive in for a quiet moment of reflection on balance.

Dreamer bath herbs

With Thanksgiving travel to NYC approaching, some pretty stiff deadlines at work and taking care of my friend Nick’s personal life as he recovers from a stroke while we fight an uphill battle to get him retired and into some sort of care situation long term… I can say, with certainty, that my stress levels are in the red area right now. The bath was great as were the moments alone with time to think about where my mind/heart is. I’m not an overly spiritual man, deep trust issues after suffering a bout of Baptist upbringing there, but I am leaning toward thinking that there might be something to this energy thing. Even if it’s just the physiological effects like we see with breathing exercises where things like your heart rate slows, blood pressure drops, creativity spikes and so on… I guess keeping an open mind is something I’ve had to embrace as well this year.

bath meditation

On a similar path I’ve been trying things like Reiki, or energy healing, in addition to massage, both at Uban Village Massage and Open Sky Day Spa, as a logical evolution to the meditation work I started last year. From what I read online Reiki was developed in 1922 by a Japanese Buddhist monk. While I have been exposed to the idea of what “chi” energy is it’s really interesting that all these paths I’ve been following post heart attack have led to our bodies interaction with the world around us. Both internal and external.

The first Reiki session with Daniel Sernicola took some getting used to as it was unclear what was actually going on. I had no idea what to expect. But it was effective enough to book a second appointment. Now the second time I think I could feel a measurable difference. In fact, I had an incredibly difficult task to do that afternoon. I was to meet my friend Nick’s family to discuss some complex, and very personal, financial topics. The talk lasted for four hours and at the end of it, I was exhausted, but everything, and everyone, was on the same page and happy with the outcomes. While I may have just had a good day, I really think that the Reiki session helped to clear my head by even 10%. It was that edge, or perhaps the removal of my own edge, that helped me to carry myself with more compassion and better listening skills while I arranged a complex agreement with another man’s family. As a result, I’m not so skeptical about the practice of energy healing or Buddhism as a larger topic I’d like to explore in 2018 given the chance.

Can I prove any of this? Physically measure it? Analyze the metrics? No. But I am feeling steadier handed now even though I can tell I’m already trying to hold off another round of depression as the cold weather moves us closer to the indoor prison of Winter.

In the spirit of the Holiday, I want to thank my teachers, guides, new friends and family for their companionship, guidance, and the meaning that they help me to find within myself and in others. It’s people like my aunt Lora who, way back when I was a teen, grabbed a virtual crow bar and pried open my very tightly closed brain to new ideas. That and a life time of mistakes, biases and lessons learned that have weathered me and my points of view like so many rivers that have carved out deep canyons across the world. If nothing else, I’ve come to value working toward keeping an open mind. Maybe that’s what these Elephant and Loving Kindness meditations, the running, baths with crystals and herbs and, yes, the Reiki sessions, have reminded me of the most.

Wishing everyone peace and hope this Thanksgiving Holiday.

Rivers & canyons

Posted in personal

Nick

2017 has brought with it so many opportunities for me to grow as a man, a professional, a lover and as a friend. And yet it was August 29th, when Eddie and I got calls from the hospital and police regarding our friend Nick, that I got the biggest challenge of them all. Nick, my friend of over 28 years, first person I ever had sex with and my constant compass along life’s paths and voice of reason fell. Nick suffered a hemorrhagic stroke on the way home from the grocery store. CCTV shows that he was not discovered until upwards of an hour where he was rushed to the James hospital. His survival and recovery have been nothing short of miraculous. This post is an effort to collect my thoughts enough to send out an update because every time I take a moment to write about him I end up crying. Tonight, is no different but it’s time to start accepting the fact that Nick’s life is going to be dramatically reduced while we all wait to see what the next 10 months look like during his one year recovery window.

I met Nick when I was still a 20-year-old forestry student at OSU. We struck up a conversation out on the Oval one afternoon near the Main Library on campus. He was a library science guy and faculty member. It’s funny, he loves the university, his students, bad new age music which I made fun of him for, dinners, time with family and friends, reading copious amounts of periodicals and amassed a collection of books totaling over 1000 volumes. His views on life, politics, history and people were so broad and deep that he quickly became one of my most important, and brightest, guiding lights. The zenith by which I guided myself at times in the dark areas of life.

His knowledge and loving distaste of Columbus, it’s people and the gay scene… well, I’ve never met another individual with the depth of knowledge that comes close to his. And while our romantic relationship was very brief, I had the attention span of a 20-year-old, he became something like a father figure crossed with a best friend to me. He gave me help, strength, alternate perspectives, and always this crazy unconditional love that made him nothing less than the biggest cheerleader I’ve ever had in my life. I’ve made many mistakes over the course of my life, and I know that without him those would have been worse.

He’s always come to our parties at Hunter Ave when Eddie and I were just two young guys with an eclectic collection of friends. Men and women who all seemed to be connected by some vibe, creative energy, free spirits, spark. Together we wove the fabric of a great life as close friends. Crying together when we needed to, laughing, always partying and eating great food while spinning up these deep conversations over coffee and red wine talking into the next day as the stars spun all around us.

Writing this is really difficult for me but it’s time to start talking about it.

He can still speak and has great long term memory recall. Short term memory is difficult for him. And while formerly very active and a voracious reader/thinker, he’s now a fall risk that has made the huge accomplishment of taking 20 steps which wiped him out physically. Lying in bed under constant supervision for his personal needs. Unable to read or seemingly comprehend news articles. I’m noticing moments where he seems to “check out” when we talk now and I get back canned answers or gestures that remind me of Eddie’s dad when he could not hear something he’d just smile and laugh.

The group of friends surrounding him is however, amazing. There’s his friend Gini, his old boss Marsha, Gini’s son Johnathon, Lorrie and myself as the POA’s he chose. There was some humor that together we make on Hell of a caregiver. It seems the common thread between all of us is strength and extremely powerful personalities… and our love for Nick.

After Nick’s mom died he was hurting. Badly. Eddie and I were living in Clintonville at the time and we created a new tradition that continued all through our Dallas years and return back home where Nick would dine with us for Christmas eve and stay with us for Christmas Day. If that’s not a family I have a grossly underdeveloped concept of that word.

It’s challenging for me to be faced with the task of shutting down his current life and finding a new one for him in senior living with 24-hour care. To see the after effects of this kind of brain event and how much of ourselves it can strip away. Almost like a fire burning through the trees leaving huge black scars where life once thrived. I’m glad it’s the group of us who are working together and I do not feel alone here. It’s more that I am trying to allow myself to let Nick find Nick. To be there for him through all of this and, maybe if I’m lucky, provide a compass for him toward his future. However long that may be as the recurrence rate for this kind of stroke is high and a second event would be devastating.

So we are starting the process of closing up his home and finding him a new, less independent but safer, place to live out 2018 in. One note there too. Nick is a hermit. He loves his apartment and the life he’d built. He’s pretty OCD and very fond of patterns. I can’t imagine what it’s like for him to have lost those or to recreate new ones while he waits for his brain to rewire over this 12-month recovery window.

We used to go to Yellow Springs, The Winds Café, walks outdoors, coffee shops, the Tradewinds was a favorite haunt of his (and ours), Barney’s and Neiman Marcus joking, laughing and talking all the while. It was when his friend Tom died a decade or so ago and then his father where I saw just how graceful of a human being Nick was. He took both losses in stride but always honored the people, love and time as if it they were points on a map to navigate by. For him, loss was painful but he never allowed it to cloud or define him. Always moving forward. Fighting harder. Living better. He’s my fucking role model faults and all.

Of all the fears I’ve faced this year and the challenges I set before myself this unexpected one has been the biggest. The one that hurt the most. But also, the one with the most love and memories. This is that part of love that becomes painful because it makes you realize just how much a person is a part of your emotional life chemistry when they suffer. However, with all challenges there are gifts in the process. He’s still alive. I’ve met all his other friends again and have become closer to them in the process. I started trying to reclaim part of my own life from the wild reaction I had as part of my own acceptance path after having had a heart attack to a core place. my foundational ground zero.

His sister told me that Nick said that he would trust me with his life years ago. Which reminded me of “Rage, rage against the dying of the light” from the famous Dylan Thomas poem. I may get that tattooed on my chest next year now that I think of it.

If I’ve learned anything from Nick, it’s that times like this should remind us of just how short, precious and beautiful our connections to one another truly are. That we are not alone or strong of our own selves… it’s the love, memories, voices and time that make us better human beings. Together always.

Eddie & Nick

Posted in personal

Facing fears & making choices

I decided to adopt a more Mediterranean diet today. While this is a construct in itself, it includes the consumption of chicken, turkey, and fish. This post attempts to address the reasoning behind it by facing up to some fears and challenging my own “black and white” reactions. As you will read, there are various schools of thought that talk about how horrible animal products are for us and how they will most certainly kill us. While this may be true, or not, I have my own reasons.

With my best Ohio friend recovering, as best he can, from a major brain bleed less the ability to move without assistance or to make and hold some short-term memories, I am faced with a lot of the same emotions I had after my heart attack. First, I’m goddamn lucky. Second, I’m not invincible and all of this will someday end, probably not without some major personal challenges.

“Life is a sexually transmitted disease that ends in death,” my doctor.

Looking back over 2017 has me smiling today, however. I’m consciously aware that I am taking a luxury in looking ahead to what 2018 might hold as far as interests go. One of my main goals is to pull off a 7-day wilderness walk. Complete with hiking shoes, backpacks, shit shovels, gravity showers and more dehydrated foodstuffs with my best friend Doug from Portland Oregon. This is going to require a deviation from my running goals taking me back into the weight room which has given me the he-be-gee-bees since 2015… for absolutely no other reason than fear. My cardiologist imposed zero restrictions regarding food or activity. Sure there are definite guidelines the likes of which you can find at the AHA website. It was me, however, who chose to react out of fear and jump into a few pretty radical changes over a slow calculated course of time during the past two-plus years.

Sitting here at lunch today has me thinking about the nature of fear. Well, my fear. The dark places I have visited over the course of two years that have on more than one occasion just knocked all the wind out of me until I couldn’t move for the paralysis it caused. Yet it’s our own built-in fires that provide the strength we need to simply change our minds and our directions. Maybe that and more than a little help from the people who love us really.

It’s fear that first brought me to the conclusion that Dr Esselstyne and Dr Ornish were the right plans for me. Even though I hybridized them by adopting meditation, running and a plant-based lifestyle. I still sought out things that I enjoyed including the occasional lighter cheese and mushroom pizza from Dante’s, which I love, in Clintonville. Or a small serving of onion rings from Bare Burger. Or kettle chips at home with Eddie. While my cholesterol dropped to 93, I still have some work to do concerning various food cravings. But that’s life I think. It’s not going to be perfect and even if it were, there are absolutely no guarantees.

2017 taught me to face specific fears. I spent a good deal of energy working on myself, at length, and doing all sorts of things that used to “scare the Hell out of me” this year. Tattoos, camping, hiking, being alone in the middle of nowhere in the pitch black, running a 20-mile race, showering outdoors, hanging out in our birthday suits with other campers around a campfire talking well into the morning hours telling stories, letting down some of my very high and overly professional walls, taking time to just be myself and enjoy the things that make me who I am. Big freak or not, I’m here and I’ve had a damn fun year. You see, facing fear is the only resolution I signed up for on January 1st this year.

So today I saw my Dr. and got a second opinion which supported my cardiologist’s recommendation back in 2016. That whey protein, lean chicken, turkey, and fish are perfectly fine choices for a person with Cardiac Artery Disease (CAD) to have on his plate. Most importantly, regardless of doom and gloom warnings in my head thanks to the gifts from my heart attack of anxiety and depression, it’s how I want to fucking live my life again. No regrets. No fear. Full of intimacy, risks, challenges, camaraderie, family, and laughter. 2017 marks the year I started to take some of that back for myself.

While yes, life is a “one day at a time” kind of experience, I am taking a little bit of moment today to face an older but recent reaction to fear and challenge one of my own decisions. Now Esselstyne followers will probably say I signed my own death warrant but I am choosing to acknowledge yet let those ideas go. I want to accomplish something more, however. I want to hit my grave knowing that I loved myself enough to shout into the night sky and let the world know I am here.

To the day where I am no longer here. I was here and had a full life because it was the only thing I have discovered that makes anything worthwhile about breathing. It’s the everything part of what is around us and how we let all of that energy into our hearts and minds and then share back out into the world that counts.

RAWR!!!

Posted in personal

Cascadian cuisine?

Having had a past life as a foodie and professional wine schlep, I was stunned by a night out I had last night with my best friend, his husband, and his close friend. It was so amazing that it may have been the best food experience of my entire life and it was all centered around vegan fair that was sourced within a 100-mile radius of the restaurant.

Farm Spirit does everything they can to tell the story behind the vegetables they literally hand select from the farmers they have real relationships with as respected friends. They honor these relationships by taking the time to learn the stories behind the products. Just like the story behind the wine. Where they informed us that the Merrman 2014 Chenin Blanc came from very old vines that had been cast aside and left to die. Only they survived and suffered then flourished producing some of the most minerally, complex, slightly acidic with incredibly balanced fruit in a glass that knocked all our socks off last night.

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The menu looked daunting with a list of dishes that was almost as big as our hands but we soon found out that each service was made to order. It was kind of like being on the set of Top Chef where they were doing one of the big competitions and serving world renowned 5-star chefs. Only it was a motley crew of people from Portland, Washington, Chicago and Ohio coming together last night to celebrate life, love and friendship on one incredibly beautiful Pacific Northwestern evening with a cool breeze, the clean scent of trees in the air and stars gently shining above.

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The first few dishes were finger foods and included Melon Pastrami, Watermelon Horseradish Shisho, an out of this world steamed bun stuffed with purple carrot and a life completing black garlic sauce. I believe the black garlic had been slow roasted for 6+ weeks if I heard correctly. All these dishes had a story behind the vegetables and one about the preparation technique and flavor combination to match.

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Our conversation was one of friends having a chance to come together and share experiences. Ask each other probing questions because our trust level among one another was built on a solid foundation of mutual respect. And, of course, each one of us had an opportunity to be vulnerable and share with the others the inner workings of our persons. All while the food and stories kept coming.

We moved onto things like an heirloom tomato floating on fermented celery with preserved walnut and leek blossoms. Then, one of my favorites, charred celtuce stem and garlicky leaves in a plum sauce.

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Then came the mushrooms. Now my buddy Doug hates mushrooms. Would probably rather eat garden slugs roasted over a summer grill to be quite honest. And yet he sampled the various selections of these various fungi that were presented to us last night. There was a dish with beautiful orca beans in a lobster mushroom cream sauce. One playfully titled “chicken of the woods” which was a type of mushroom I had never had before in a beautiful corn puree that damn near tasted like chicken. It was fibrous, meat like and absolutely delicate complex and amazing.

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One of our group favorites seemed to be the summer squash with quinoa and fermented sunflower, red pepper and tangerine sage dish. Absolutely well balanced yet transformative in it’s subtle complexity.

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Then all of the sudden we all fell down the rabbit hole and were presented with a playful concoction served over ice n a simple apothecary bottle stoppered with a cork titled “drink me.” This was the Kefir Refresher and was a shrub that served to reset al of our palates before the desert course was served. I’ve had a fair number of shrubs before which are vinegar, sugar and usually a fruit of some kind steeped for a few days until the flavors are melded. This one however was like a fine liquour brewed and guided by a master distiller.

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As the night came to a close we enjoyed a white nectarine and rose geranium ice cream with carbonated grapes. Yeah, the grapes had fiz! And yet it was the roast peach on an Emmer shortbread with filbert cream in a prickly ash syrup with snap dragons that stole the show for me. The richness of the peach as it had been roasted complimented all the other flavors while the syrup melded everything together into one cohesive experience with the flavors from the flecks of snapdragon blossoms. Absolutely incredible.

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The chef du cuisine made farewells. We all applauded. The night came to a close and we all rambled outside to talk as former strangers, chance acquaintances, people who experienced one of the greatest joys in life as a group forged through a beautiful shared experience.

If I lived here in Portland I would save up my money twice a year to come back to Farm Spirit. Not just for the food and wine sourced within a 100-mile radius of the restaurant, but for the humanity of the shared stories. Knowing that there are men and women behind the vegetables that stare back at me from my plate. The people shoulder to shoulder with me as we reflect on life together, share successes, failures, laughter and love for a couple hours over some of the most artistic compositions one could ever hope to encounter.

In a word? Magical.

Posted in food