Throughout most of my adult life this has also been the case for me. I've been one of the first people to work (and many times among the last as well). I get to church early. I get to appointments early. Pretty much, if someone is expecting me to be somewhere, I wasn't going to have them waiting on me if that was at all possible. Perhaps as an extension of this mindset, this often meant that if someone was expecting something of me, they would get it and likely a bit more. But it's not over-achieving if it is only meeting my own goal.
The longer we've been married, the more that we've stopped giving specific occasion gifts, tending rather to get things for one another when the feeling struck or whatever. Generally we stick to this with exception to birthdays. In part it helps us celebrate one another, but it also removes some of the pressure around the holidays as we often find ourselves without any extended family on the "day of" more than we'd really like.
Keeping with this gifting tradition, my wife did procure a collection of things for me, even shipping them to her office so I wouldn't see tracking information and have foreknowledge of the gift. And while I'm sure she'll read this eventually, I had a pretty solid idea of what she'd gotten me as soon as she told me that she ordered something.
This particular gift was a collection from Bittermilk, a company that specializes in creating concoctions for adult beverages, lacking only the spirituous bits (or maybe bubbly water). Once, while walking through The Fresh Market I'd stumbled upon these mixes and debated for what felt like forty seconds about which of their bases to purchases. It was agonizing, that decision. (Full disclosure: that was sarcasm... I'm not the kind that sweats the small stuff like that.)
On that occasion, I procured their No. 1 mix (by name, perhaps even by popularity, but I've no way to know that), and I found it to be quite pleasing, albeit sweeter than I prefer in my adult concoctions. However, the bottle said to mix a particular ratio, and I stuck to it with my only variation being the slip of the hand perhaps adding an extra dash or so.
When the whole collection came in, I read each, evaluated the required ingredients and began the journey of matching things on my shelves to the back of the bottle. All was going well as I sampled the five mixes I hadn't tried over the course of several weeks until I made a mistake. One night recently I was working on a No. 5 and I didn't refresh myself on the instructions before pouring.
|Bittermilk No. 5|
Being rather reserved with my feelings and expressions, I won't go so far as to say that I was shocked, but I was at least surprised. Clearly it wasn't what I was expecting, but even more so it was shockingly good. (Enough so that I had another, slightly larger one later on.) As I was writing this, I reviewed their site to determine if this was a recommended recipe and I am both glad and sad to reports that it is not. This is my very own mistake.
And a tasty one, indeed.
I'm sure this is the product of years of being ignored or shunned, maybe even partly due to those years as a kid where I was the target of bullies or kids that just needed to feel "big" around others. I don't regret those times, or the fact that I am this way. Most of the time, at least.
But I mean this post quite literally, actually.
Being a good techie, I did my due diligence and verified that there was nothing in the port, no application running that would attempt this, and even did the obligatory reboot. If I charged the phone, the message would go away for a while, but it would come back shortly after unplugging. At this point, I made use of the internal support tools from Google and started chatting with a support representative within a few moments. After asking a few questions, having me reboot the phone again, and doing some research, the agent concluded that we would need to do a factory reset.
Unexcited, but hey... I've done worse. Twenty minutes later I've reset my phone, logged back into it, and begun letting the whole ecosystem work at restoring my applications and settings. And, as luck would have it, the message is gone. Admittedly, I was a little surprised by this as I thought certain it was a hardware issue at this point. But I'd take a win when I could get one.
Two weeks later, to the day, it started again. This time, I started the chat from my phone and referenced the previous experience (without providing any information directly to the support agent) and they were able to look up my previous experience and correlate it to the current situation. This time, the questions were a bit more pointed (has the phone gotten wet or been dropped, is there anything in the charging port, etc.), but the agent quickly decided that this was likely a hardware problem, and that they'd want to replace the device.
Over the course of the next few minutes I confirmed IMEI and was explained the return process. A few minutes later I'd officially ordered my replacement device, which would arrive in two business days (thanks for stretching out the agony, weekend).
Monday afternoon the replacement device arrived. I powered it on, removed the SIM from my old phone, and inserted it in the new one. Within a few moments I had connected the transfer cable to the old phone and my accounts and data were copying over, slick as a whistle. Of course, it took half an hour for the applications to download and install, and another hour to sign into the various apps that aren't using SmartLock yet.
But all in all, the process wasn't so bad, and just took a little patience. Sure, it might have been great to have a brick and mortar store to walk into to perform the exchange rather than waiting for FedEx to do their thing, but I really shouldn't complain as I didn't have to drive anywhere, and I could do the transition on my own time.
Thankfully, that is not true of all of life. Coffee doesn't come only as I order it (black), but it can be adulterated to include all manner of things such as sweeteners, flavors, and even things that alter its appearance as in the case of cream (as my wife would order it). In fact, it seems that very few options I am met with in real require hard and fast answers, and for that I am thankful.
In the time that I've been working at my present job, it has been a challenge for my to find a balance on several levels. What time should I get up and go to work, and do I carpool with my wife or just leave when I'm ready? How should I devote my time: minor maintenance or major innovation? How should I react to the behaviors of coworkers that I find annoying or unprofessional? Should I pack my lunch or go out in hopes of being part of the team?
I go back and forth on that last one, perhaps more than any other. The folks I work with have generally been with the organization for many times longer than I have, and they have lives that intersect outside of the workplace (although I don't know if work-life bled to lived-life or if those circles already overlapped). But joining up with them means going out to eat, often in places that don't have great choices, and I honestly don't make the best food choices.
Every week or two, I try and specifically make plans to pack several consecutive days to strive for a bit of balance. When possible, I align these days to those when I know my compatriots will have other plans because of meetings, standing engagements, or such. but it doesn't always work out that way. Usually it means I head to the grocery store, grabbing some bread, meat, and cheese, and probably a little fruit. Frequently these things just get assembled, wrapped in plastic wrap, and stuffed in my backpack where they languish without refrigeration until my coworkers are at lunch.
This week I didn't make the trip to the grocery store, but I did have some left-over brioche that we had purchased to make French Toast over the weekend (planning to make it twice, but only executing once). Along with some peanut butter and jelly, I executed a beautiful PB&J at my desk. I even managed to find balance with my sandwich!
|Two slices of brioche, left with strawberry, right with concord grape.|
There are obviously many places I'm seeking balance in life: rest, exercise, socialization, entertainment, spending, family... the list really goes on for quite some time. But it is a process, one that doesn't seem to have an end in sight. I'll see over time if perhaps the balance becomes more natural, but I imagine that I'll find that enough things in this world vie for my time that I'll have to make choices, and they won't always be balanced ones.
In similar fashion to yesterday, this I just want to be sure to point out that while this is sort of a product review, it is really a post for my own remembrance, and that no one asked me to write this--heck they might not be happy if they had!
I purchased the ROK Coffee Grinder to go along with my ROK Espresso maker, and I am very pleased with the pairing.
The grinder itself is a little larger than I anticipated when ordering it, but in retrospect I don't think it could provide the same experience if it were much smaller, and I'm quite happy. The solid metal construction is really a thing of beauty on my countertop, even when it's not in action.
The grinder's output is consistent across the levels of coarseness, and I've made great espresso, pour-over and french press with surprisingly little fuss. It took a little getting used to the adjustment ring in its default configuration (stepless) and that was compounded by the fact that the ring rotates when the handle does, so I made a practice to rotating it to certain position before making adjustments. ROK also facilitated a stepped grind selection with a pair of removable washers. I have changed to the stepped selection as I feel that the stepless method allows for a slight drift of coarseness over the process of grinding.
The base of the ROK Coffee Grinder has a wonderfully tacky substance requiring only minimal downforce to hold the grinder in place during operation. The unbranded rear-edge of the base is about an inch and a half deeper than the front, something I surmise was done to add stability while rotating the long handle.
I did experience a large amount of static build-up the first couple of times I used the machine and it made both the process of getting the grounds and clean-up maddeningly difficult. I located a YouTube video from ROKEspressoMaker titled "dealing with static" and while I was dubious about the claim, adding a drop or three of water to the beans in the hopper actually substantially changed the experience for the better.
The included grounds cup is very nicely styled and useful, but I do wish it had a slightly narrower curvature to match the ROK portafiler's profile (because it's quite a bit larger, I have often spilled more of my grounds than I'd like while loading). When making more coarsely ground coffee, it works wonderfully.
The ROK Coffee Grinder is a great addition to my kitchen that is pleasingly functional, and undeniably attractive.
|From left to right: ROK Manual coffee grinder, ROK Espresso Maker storage tin, ROK milk frother, scoop & tamper, ROK Espresso maker.|
When asked what I wanted for Christmas by my parents, the only thing I asked for was books of a particular series (Pendergast, Lincoln & Child), so they were kind enough to send me the first seven books in the series, and supply me with Amazon gift cards enough that I could buy most of the rest as well. So I've been slowly reading through these, taking about two weeks per book on average so that I can prolong the magic.
Earlier this week something came up and reminded me of another book I wanted to read that has now been out a few years, Ready Player One. I thought about just ordering it, but I recalled that there's the building called a library that lets you take books out for free. I jumped on the site for my local library and sure enough they had 131 copies in the system across the various branches, and around 30 copies were available. Noting that only one of the available locations was reasonably close to my daily routes, I set myself a reminder to stop by the branch and grab it.
Just before leaving work yesterday, I confirmed the book was still at the branch and then off I went. Upon getting there I found my way to the fiction area, then to the Cs for Cline... scanned once, twice, and thrice... no luck. I pulled up the site on my trusty phone, checked it again and it still showed as being there... what madness is this? Apparently I clicked something else without realizing it and the page updated to a new display that showed the book's location: shelving cart. Eyes darted around before spying carts flowing out of a room near the front entry and a desk staffed by a nice fellow. I walked up to him and explained what I was looking for, and a few moments later he produced it and I walked out of this magical place, book in hand.
I've been told that I can even have library books delivered directly to my desk at work... if I have a bit more patience. Maybe I'll use that for the harder-to-find titles.
During the middle of the last month, we took our usual January vacation away from the cold. This particular trip was a cruise aboard the Carnival Pride into the Caribbean. The trip on the whole was a good respite from everything at home, but there were some challenges that always seem to present themselves when traveling. We did see some cool things at a couple of our ports of call, and I was able to read three whole books all while enjoying time away from "real life."
Toward the end of the journey, the literal face of our country changed as a new president was installed in Washington, DC. Surprisingly, it was not something that was easy to watch aboard ship, and while a lot of people would bemoan the inevitable change happening that day, on the actual day-of, no one around seemed to notice, care, or largely mention it. In the end, I was able to find the inaugural ceremonies played in our stateroom on the tiny and somewhat fuzzy television there. It was an unexciting series of events, but remarkable for a number of reasons, not the least of which being how "normal" the process is in our country.
In the days since the new president took office, there have been a number of things that have shocked, hurt, and just confused many Americans. I knew that coming into this presidency that there were two very distinct possibilities with how things would go. The first being my hope, is that the charade and posing would drop as the gravity of the role settled in, and that would lead this man to be a respectful, compassionate, driven leader that made efforts to unite the country after the last few years of unrest, and who would serve his term separate from the persona seen in the campaigns and for years prior. The alternative is that the man would not assume the yoke of the office, but would rather attempt to saddle it with his own personality, fears, desires, and ideas thus creating chaos, anxiety, separation, and even fear.
I'm not an exceptionally political person. I follow things enough to have an idea of what's going on, but I don't enjoy enrapt conversations related to the particulars of the governance as some of my peers do. I generally have a positive outlook, attempt to see the positive in situations and people (except when it comes to a half glass of beverage--that is decidedly emptied!). But right now, I don't have the capacity to see the good and the positive in these things that have happened. I wouldn't go so far as to say I'm frightened myself, but I am for our country.
It was perhaps a couple of weeks ago when my wife and I were enjoying dinner. We usually keep a game on our dining table that is a collection of (sometimes) conversation-sparking questions, not unlike the "would you rather game" that many of us likely played as kids. On this particular night in recollection, a card came up that still sits in my mind: what obligation do you believe you have to your country. Obligation. That's a heavy idea in this context, implying that we are obliged regardless of context, compelled without reason, and duty bound morally to adherence. As on that night, I still don't know if I can identify obligation in this framing.
But it is some interesting food for thought.
I used to be what I would have called in years past a voracious reader earlier in my life. As I've grown older I have found other ways to fill my time, but few as fulfilling or entertaining. A number of years ago I started reading books by a pair of authors, I think at the time only numbering four or five collaborative works. These days, however, the duo has produced maybe two dozen works, and I'm winding my way through those pages now.
Although I've read several of the books in this particular timeline before, I decided to go ahead and re-read them as surely I'd forgotten some details in the intervening years. As I've turned each page, I've been surprised at how fluid the writing of this pair is, how it like a single mind writing each page and it makes me wonder what their workflow is actually like. It wasn't until I was reading the third volume of the series that I came across a section that felt decidedly different as I read it. By the time I reached the end of that passage, I wasn't sure what was going on despite knowing much of the story that lay ahead (in very cloudy detail). And a couple of chapters later it happened again and I settled on the realization that this wasn't one of the authors creating the difference, but a construct of the character being portrayed.
As I sat in my office reading, I felt relaxed even despite the sound of zombies floating out of my computer's speakers. In fact, the repeated groaning of the beasts actually wove themselves into an almost pleasant backdrop along side the flowing water. I'll have to remember today in three more weeks, the next time I'll have a similarly-planned Sunday, and maybe repeat it.
I cut open the packages, and removed the outer layers of fat from each shoulder. One of them had a layer of fat running between the muscled slabs that made up the roast and I had to debate whether I wanted to leave it there and create a more consistent cut of meat once it was prepared, or remove it and have more bark. I settled somewhere in the middle of that equation and cut a V shape into the meat removing a solid portion of the fat, but without creating much separation along the muscle.
With both shoulders now trimmed, the next thing to do was add the rub. I have a recipe for a rub that I've been working on for a few years that makes my shoulders delicious, if I do say so myself. While the ratios and method of the rub are closely guarded (not really), the contents are fairly standard with brown sugar, paprika, garlic, black pepper, ginger, and a few others that vary from mix to mix. I generally ground all of this together into a fine powder and then can roll the meats across a bed of the mixture before using my hands to get the powder covering all of the nooks and crannies. Then the meat sits for a day or more to soak it all in.
Last night, I pulled out the smoker, got it hovering around 205º, and in went the meat. Depending on a lot of factors, the meat may be in the smoker anywhere from 12 to 28 hours, and on a few occasions even less when weather was uncooperative. This time, however, my target was nineteen hours, and I wasn't going to touch the meat or even open its smoking chamber to rotate it even a little. Part of it was the fact that the temperature outside was hovering around 4º, part of it that I wanted prove to myself that with shoulders of this size it wasn't necessary.
I was not disappointed. Just before one I removed the two shoulders from the smoker, brought them in to rest on the cutting board, and marveled at the look and smell. As they rested before shredding, one of the shoulders collapsed against its own weight (and maybe I might have plucked a piece to try). Oh yes, this was going to be good.
|What used to be two 3.5# shoulders|
But all of these feelings aside, I know that I have a pretty good life. I do have friends, I have a loving wife, I have family (albeit far away) that isn't dysfunctional, a job that pays fairly well, minimal debt in the form of a mortgage, and what I would like to think is viable potential in myself. I don't live in a place plagued by gun violence or the overt presence of drugs, I have most of the comforts that any American wants, and I generally have the ability to do the things that I may desire to do. All in all, things are pretty good for me, so what gives?
Could it be merely my view of what is "enough" and "satisfying" has drifted and I'm no longer meeting those benchmarks?
To complement this thought, I made less money last year than I did in the previous due to changing jobs, but then that change wasn't supposed to be about the money anyway. I could file this thought as plausible, although when I look back at the last year I haven't really been impacted financially aside from my savings not growing quite as much, and I haven't had to change aspects of my lifestyle because of cost.
But perhaps this drift isn't in the monetary category. And this is where it gets dangerous (and it ties back to my first post on the topic). Could it be that my workplace friendships don't seem to be flourishing? I came from an office where I was well known and liked by almost everyone, as long as I wasn't telling them why they couldn't have or do something at the moment. I walk around my office and I know very few people, and largely feel uninvited to interact with many of them. In my more immediate team, I interact with a small group of individuals who are all nice, smart, and generally kind, but they are much closer knit to one another by virtue of many years together. So perhaps a large contributor to these feelings is specifically work friendships?
One of the other things that seems a common thread among most of the people that I know, but I lack is their own family (i.e. children). I know that children are a double-edged sword and I've watched so many first-time parents go through months of mixed bliss and anguish as they experienced the first bit of parenthood, loving the sweet times, and lamenting the lack of sleep and loss of control. Of course, not experiencing it myself, I can but make observations of what it looks like from the outside. I know that I grew up wanting kids--probably two--and I didn't really imagine life without them. Somewhere in my adulthood, I started to have mixed feelings on the topic, probably rooted in selfishness. I've wavered back and forth between wanting kids and having near apathy toward the potential. But this thing is something that almost everyone I interact with has to varying degrees.
This is getting more complex as I drill into my psyche, trying to uncover whatever it is that has me feeling so drained and disinterested. I'm not sure what's more scary: to consider the things that I've already brought to light, or to consider those things that remain as of yet undiscovered.
It would seem that most people have a few friends. If they are lucky they get to hang out with or commune with them in some way with some regularity. When I look back at the past few weeks, I could see how I haven't really had this. Through much of November and December I was part of a large gathering of musicians, and there was strong energy. Once that came to an end, things really quieted down in terms of social interactions outside of work.
One evening last month a friend came over and we tried to watch a movie but ended up talking rather than watching (the movie was too slow to start I guess). And New Years eve we hung out with some other friends and played games. Outside of that, it has just been my wife and I waking up, going to work, coming home from work, and going to sleep. Although my wife is a great friend and she does a lot for me in making my life overall better, she cannot supply the social needs I have between her introversion and the fact that she'd much rather read books, take baths, and sleep.
In my last job, I felt like I had some great relationships that extended outside of work hours. Heck, some of the people I worked with at that job I still talk with daily, and a few still get together for dinner and talking with some semblance of regularity. I don't have those bonds in my new job, and I'm not sure that those I work with are interested in a similar arrangement. (And now, I see, I understand why I made this two posts.)
Because of the holidays, we haven't been to a church service in a couple of weeks. Work didn't have a holiday party (for reasons that seem flimsy). Friends have mostly been out of town or busy. Oh, and there was Christmas, the exceptionally quiet holiday.
So yes, I'm lacking social interaction. Is it the cause of what I'm feeling? I'm not sure, but it certainly seems logical that it would at least be a contributor.
I've begun to try and identify the cause of this state--is it food, events, weather... None of those really make sense, nor does the lack of things in the same categories. So far, I've only come up with two candidates that seem viable enough.
First is perhaps what is most obvious: work. I haven't been finding much joy in my job in the last couple of weeks. I like the people that I work with, and I think that we are doing important things for the organization, but I am not sure of my own fit. While I possess all of the necessary skills and experience and perform the requirements of my position, and I think that overall I'm pretty darn good at it. I've made some important changes to the things we do, and I honestly believe I've made a positive impact. But there is something missing. I lack any sort of autonomy, and that often instills feelings of lack of trust.
This is perhaps an interesting thing to examine as my manager has been out of the office for nearly a month, and there is an approximate correlation to my feelings, but that would seem to indicate perhaps the opposite is true--that I don't want autonomy. No, that's not the case at all, so perhaps it is just coincidental.
Tomorrow I'll address the second possible factor weighing on me. I want to get to the bottom of this.
I've got nothing today. Work was okay but uneventful aside from my manager's return. It rained most of the day. I've felt empty. Uninspired. Unmotivated. I'm not sure what's wrong, but it's clearly something. No idea what, really. Nothing is blatantly amiss, just something I can't put my finger on what's keeping me off kilter. Tomorrow may be better.
There is another day off in two weeks, but that's not of that much consequence to me because I'll be away anyway. So tomorrow my manager will be back in the office for the first time since his child was born. To complicate his life, we're not even in the same building he left, so that should make things a bit more interesting for a day or two.
I've been trying to teach myself some coding over the last couple of months, but I have a hard time devoting the time to doing much of it most days. This morning (or was it yesterday morning) I spent some more time reading and watching tutorials, and then later started working with some basic Android constructs as that is the most likely first outlet for any positive outcomes I produce.
In fact, I've found that I'm having a hard time motivating myself to much lately. Although I'm generally quite interested in hanging out with friends, going places and otherwise just not being at home, I have been strangely content this holiday season to sit down with a book, flip on the TV, or veg out on the internet. I'm not suggesting that any of these things are bad, but I do feel like I should have a little more gumption toward activity especially being on the more extraverted side.
My wife has been working out pretty consistently for a couple of years now, and I think that lately she is maybe even using her workouts for a bit of an escape. I could be misreading things, but I know she's got a ton going on and not all of it is ideal.
Somewhere in my mind I have the desire to do what she's done, but I think there's something else that is demotivating me, and I can't place my finger on it. I want to look better, I want to feel better, I want to have people look at my differently. Yet none of these things is lighting the spark. What's it going to take?
Family is a difficult thing. We all have them in some form or another and if we're lucky we even like them. Our families live far away, and are very different than ourselves. While both of our parents enjoy seeing us, we have a hard time finding the time to travel to see them between needing to get time off of work and wanting to take traditional-type vacations to help unplug and unwind. It's a bit easier to physically get to see her family although more costly due to distance and that meaning we usually fly. Because of where my parents are, there isn't really a good air option because the total travel time (drive to airport, security, wait for flight, fly, change planes, fly, get a car, drive to them) ends up being the same or greater duration as driving the ~450 miles. And extended family? That just gets more complex.
A lot of people use this time of year to make resolutions they are going to break. I think I'll skip that and just say that I hope we find a way to improve where things are in every facet, even just a little.
When I look back at the last year (or three) I see a trend I'm not happy about as I count the number of meals that I've prepared myself at home, from base ingredients. I used to love to cook, to share my meals with people, and even took some kind of pride in making things myself. I'm sure that the things I cooked maybe didn't taste as good as it would have in a restaurant, or look as pretty as some of my friends seem to have a knack for plating, but by golly they were (almost always) edible!
If I went into my digital photos and searched the keyword "food" and pulled aside photos of all of the things that I made at home, I think I would seem a diminishing number of photos over the years of my marriage, and with a trend from somewhat complex or imaginative, to things that are more staple like pasta and pizza. Those last two are definitely the influence of my wife. Scrolling back a couple of years I find expansive palettes of color placed at my dining table. Where did this drive to create go?
I know that a lot of it was the change in my work-life balance at my last job. It was common for me to be in the office from 05:30 until 18:00 most week days, and when on-call I might be awakened every hour with alerts or a ringing phone because something wasn't working as expected. Between the long days and the wear of exertion, I came to a place where I did the least possible to prepare a meal. Kraft Mac & Cheese? Yes, please. Meals became something that if I made them myself would often be able to be cooked and cleaned in less than ten minutes: scrambled eggs and toast, cereal, boneless chicken breast with microwaved vegetables... No thought more complex than is it in my kitchen was allowed.
Things are a bit different now with my current job. While technically on-call more, the reality is that the volume of calls is minimal (like rare, even). So why have I not gotten back on the cooking bandwagon? Sadly, I think the answer here again is rooted in my wife and her preference for pizza, pasta, and some more pizza. She didn't grow up cooking, and while she'll make some tasty meals with enough prodding or begging, it isn't something she really wants to do. Couple that with the fact that when she gets hungry, she's borderline hangry immediately. This has translated to most of our meals that we do cook at home on weeknights being something super-quick and all-too-often prepared.
Looking forward, I think I can find ways around this by preparing ahead of time rather than making up a meal on the spot. There was a time when I'd get home an hour before my wife, and that gave me time to run to the store to get ingredients for dinner and have something cooking by the time she got home, but now that we're commuting together, that doesn't work as well. But I am not without options.
We have access to lots of things to help: pressure cooker, crock pot, sous vide, and vacuum sealer. With these tools at my disposal, I should be able to prepare meals ahead of time in part, if not completely. Some things will always need to be cooked when arriving home, but when I can dial up my sous vide machine from the internet and tell it to start cooking, or set a delay timer on the pressure cooker, it should be easier to have more complex meals that didn't come out of a box or bag. I may even be able to use my weekend to prepare large batches of things which could then be frozen or stored for consumption at a later date. It all sounds so easy when I say it right now.
One thing is clear right now: I need to go to the grocery store.