I'm gonna step away from this for a bit. Might be three days, might be thirty. But I'll be back.


enjoy a slow Sunday

Today has been pretty much like any Sunday. Wake up, have coffee and breakfast, go to church and chat a bit, then come home for lunch and an afternoon of scattered activities. For me, the afternoon held most reading, but a little bit of gaming as it's somewhat social in as much as two disembodied people on an 8-bit screen can be. Later, we had dinner and then watched some sports (finally a win!) before winding down the night with a bit more reading and talking. All in all, pretty normal and completely okay.

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.


smoke pork shoulders

Thursday night I started working on a meal I was planning to share tonight. Although I had low expectations for the outcome (by my own skewed measure) I was certain that my work would be appreciated by those taking part. A trip to the grocery store yielded not my ideal take of pork shoulder, but at least the two lumps of meat I acquired were bone in.

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


get to the bottom of it, part 3

Over the last two days I've looked at two possible causes of my recent melancholy, namely lack of interaction, and work-related feelings of various types. Looking back on these last two posts, I think it is likely that both are involved in what is going on, but I'm not sure that even together the whole story is told. And there's got to be even more involved that I haven't managed to track down yet.

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.


get to the bottom of it, part 2

Yesterday I began exploring two of the ideas of things that have been weighing on me lately. I wrote a bit about work, and how that might be part of what has been tearing at my feelings of well-being. Today, I am looking at the second possible factor: friends.

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.


get to the bottom of it, part 1

It is strange how in the last several days that I've been unmotivated, unhappy, and uneasy. As I mentioned previously there isn't anything that is really sparking this that I can identify. I hope that this does not continue much longer.

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.


forget about it

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.


wonder about all sorts of things

Mostly owing the the fact that we stayed up so late on Saturday and into Sunday makes the holiday feel like it was so long ago. We celebrated new year on both ends of its hourly count, and that made today feel all the more odd when coupled with the realization that it's also Monday. In fact, when I think back over the last 48 hours, I am not entirely certain what happened in any given span without careful consideration... it has all just run together.

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.


cook more

Because it is the new year, I feel obliged to reflect on something from the previous year. Although I am choosing this particular reflection somewhat randomly, there is actually spur to choose it based on how I am feeling at this very moment: hunger. No, this is not going to be the typical declaration of resolution to exercise and lose weight (both of which I need to do more) because it is the new year. But rather, this is about the preparing of food.

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.