Salsa

By | October 19, 2019

We planted lots of chile and bell peppers in every color and size and degree of hotness (well, just about) and chopped them all up into a container of, well, chile hash — which we then used today to make 12 quarts of salsa.

Ideally, we’d have used homegrown tomatoes as well, but we didn’t focus on paste tomatoes in our garden — mostly, we got zillions of cherry and currant tomatoes and a few other varieties, but not enough. Instead, we bought nine large containers of roma tomatoes from Costco, added a lot of sweet onion, green onion, cilantro, and garlic — and then got down to the serious business of boiling it all up and canning.

Jay very carefully used me as a barometer to know how much chopped chile to add to the salsa; he added a bit at a time and stirred and had me taste and so on until I said “that’s probably enough, definitely don’t add any more.”

We don’t do this sort of thing as a rule — it’s been years since we did any serious gardening, but as the photos show, this year we got into raised plants and container gardens in a big way.

Next year, having learned what worked well and what didn’t work, we’ll probably grow fewer varieties of tomatoes and more of the specific kinds we really liked. As for the chiles — well, who knows what Jay will do next year? (Answer: not even Jay.)

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How You Know You’ve Spent Way Too Many Nights In Hotels

By | October 18, 2019

I’ve been in this job since May of 1998. A job that requires a lot of travel — usually a couple of flights to get to some distant city in the USA on Sunday or Monday and a couple of flights to get back home that Friday or Saturday. And in between — a lot of hotel stays. My employer has, for a long time, had a ‘preferred’ relationship with the extended Hilton chain of hotels — Embassy Suites, Doubletree, Hampton Inn, Homewood Suites, Hilton Garden Inn, and so on — which means we get a better rate if we stay there, which of course keeps my employer happy.

You stay in Hilton properties sixty nights in a year, they give you “Diamond” status and you get the occasional upgrade and so on … but you also get increased points for your stays, and points translate into free rooms at a later date, which get to use, which makes me happy and makes Carole even happier. We once stayed in a Hilton a couple of blocks from the Arc de Triomphe in downtown Paris — six nights — for free. It would have been something like $800 a night had we been paying.

But today I found out what happens if you stay in Hilton properties 1,000 nights (and you manage to earn Diamond level status for ten or more years) …

I got a nice little welcome kit in the mail today, certifying me as Lifetime Diamond, meaning that I’ll always have Diamond status even if I don’t actually stay enough nights in a given year to earn that status. The kit included a luggage tag, of which one can never have too many; a metal membership card instead of a cheap plastic one; a little note telling me how awesome I am; and a pair of free Bose Soundsport earbuds. I’ll probably wind up just giving those to Carole because if I take them along with me on trips I’ll just wind up losing them.

Still, even though I guess it’s kind of nice to be all Mr. Lifetime Diamond and that, it’s also a little sobering to realize just how many nights away from home I’ve had over the years. A thousand nights over 22 years (and occasionally nights in other chains as well, which obviously don’t count toward my Hilton total) is really a hell of a lot.

So hey. I’m Mr. Lifetime Diamond.

Woo!

(Parenthetically, this kit — and the status it bestowed — arrived three days before I’m coincidentally scheduled to roll over the odometer and become a million mile flier on United. That’s nothing compared to the poor bastards who fly every day or who fly to Japan or Europe each week, but it’s a lot for people who do what I do.)

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More on “Orchestrating Change”

By | October 16, 2019

In re Hey, I Was In A Movie!, there was a nice story on Me2/Orchestra and the “Orchestrating Change” documentary on WGBH last night.

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Hey, I Was In A Movie!

By | October 15, 2019

So: I’m a featured subject in a just-released documentary film.

For reals.

The documentary is titled “Orchestrating Change” and is all about Me2/Orchestra, the orchestra I’ve been playing French horn in since 2011. Me2/Orchestra was founded to raise awareness and fight stigma about the realities of mental illness. The members of the orchestra run the gamut of conditions — bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, autism spectrum, anxiety, and everything in between — but you don’t have to have mental illness to be a member. The orchestra is specifically “for individuals with mental illnesses and the people who support them” — so anyone who plays an instrument can join it. We form a model organization, in which people with and without mental illnesses work together in an environment of acceptance and mutual support.

Emmy-award-winning creators Barbara Multer-Wellin and Margie Friedman heard about Me2/Orchestra a few years ago and immediately realized that this group of amazing people would make for an equally amazing documentary. They spent several months (spread across about two years) visiting Burlington and Boston, spending time with the members of Me2/Orchestra Burlington and the newer Me2/Orchestra Boston — then went back to Los Angeles to do the hard work of compiling all the stories and pain and accomplishment into one incredible documentary.

It was screened here in Burlington at Main Street Landing Performing Arts Center the evening of October 12 and then was screened repeatedly in Boston over the following days. As one of the featured participants in the film, I was asked to be part of a roundtable discussion after the showing, along with the other featured members of Me2/Orchestra Burlington.

I wish I could share the whole movie with everyone I know because it really is a phenomenal, outstanding picture. In my opinion, it really tells the story of Me2/Orchestra in the way that we hoped it would be told — revealing the members as musicians, friends, people — showing that those who suffer from mental illness can still have prodigious talent and creativity. Since it’s not yet in wide release (they’re still working on that), I can point you to the website for Orchestrating Change, the film, which has a lot of nice resources including a few short scenes from the film and a printable discussion guide. There’s also a nice article in the Boston Globe that’s worth a look.

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Seize the day

By | October 2, 2019

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Pumpkin Spice Spam

By | September 29, 2019

Pumpkin Spice Spam was a thing — for about four hours on September 23, 2019.

Then it was sold out, gone, possibly never to reappear on the national scene.

Hormel made Pumpkin Spice Spam available in two-packs from their own website — with a limit on one two-pack per customer — but also sold it through the Walmart.com website, with no limit on how much you could buy. Until, of course, it sold out. If I understand correctly, Hormel’s own site sold out within four hours or so of the 8 am EDT launch time, and Walmart made it a few hours longer before they, too, had none left to sell.

Because I’m a complete idiot, I of course had the launch hour and date programmed into my calendar; I’d even set up a Facebook event so others could ‘attend’ and get a reminder when the stuff went on sale.

I sitting on a plane waiting to take off (heading through Chicago to Nebraska) when the launch time came but was able to get my official sold-by-Hormel two-pack purchased before we left the runway. It wasn’t easy to get my order in; when eight a.m. came and I launched the site from my smartphone, the site crashed, and crashed, and crashed, and crashed some more. I knew this meant that demand for the stuff was going absolutely through the roof. But it finally came up and let me get my credit card information entered just seconds before we took off. Yay!

I hit the Walmart site once I got to Chicago and was in cell reception again … and was super-excited to find that they hadn’t put any kind of limit at all on how many packs you could buy.

As Carole has often quoted me as saying, “if a thing’s worth doing it’s worth overdoing.”

So I purchased five more two-can packs, for a total of six packs and twelve cans, figuring that would last me long enough for me to get sick of it.

I know you’re asking, “Jay, why the hell did you want some in the first place?”

The answer is simple: “just for the sheer gormless pointlessness of the whole thing. And also because I kind of like grilled Spam. But mostly just to be stupid.”

Fact is, I’d read reviews prior to launch from various foodie website saying that Pumpkin Spice Spam didn’t actually suck and would probably go well with breakfast. And that it wasn’t actually pumpkin-y at all, instead having a mild nutmeg-and-cinnamon taste. So why not try some while I could?

The stuff came while I was in Nebraska and Carole Ieft it all waiting for me on the entryway table. Upon arriving home I greeted the Spam with glad cries and entertained myself by making a little tower of the two-packs (and taking a photo) before squirreling them safely away.

We waited until Saturday to try the stuff. I opened a can, sliced it neatly into six equal slices, and cooked it in a grill pan with a little canola oil.

Carole, bless her heart, didn’t refuse outright to try some. And she didn’t think it was awful or anything. But, let’s let these photos tell the tale:

Despite her dour look, she said she didn’t actually dislike it, but it wasn’t anything she saw a reason to camp out for. So to speak.

Me? I pretty much liked it. I think it might even have been better if the nutmeg-and-cinnamon flavor had been a little stronger. It certainly wasn’t overwhelmingly spiced or cloyingly flavored.

Long story short — it wasn’t as exciting as I’d hoped it would be, but was much less awful than I feared it could be. Hormel clearly tried to do a good job here and wasn’t just mailing it in or going for humor value alone. If it was available annually I’m sure I’d keep buying it. As it is, I have no doubt that I’ll make my way through the remaining eleven cans in due course.

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My Searching and Fearless Moral Inventory

By | September 19, 2019

I apologize to the world.

Yes, I know that statement sounds really stupid. But hear me out.

I know that I often rub people the wrong way. I can be thick as a brick and not realize when others find my presence or my behavior grating. I have often been so needy and so focused on attention-seeking behavior that I’ve taken situations that should have been about others and tried to make them all about me, me, me. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve interacted in a social setting or work setting with others only to come home and realize what a total jackass I had been.

For most of my life, I’ve been the guy you don’t invite to the party. The guy who causes you to abruptly change the subject of conversation when he walks into the room.

I get it: I’m annoying.

I wish I’d had this epiphany sooner. But it wasn’t until I spent quite a few sessions with a therapist back in 2012-2013 that I realized how in need of getting myself under control I really was. I’ve worked very hard on anger management and self-awareness and focusing more on the needs of others.

I don’t think I do a very good job in this regard, but at least I’m trying.

I’m not an alcoholic; I hardly ever drink these days. I’ve never done illegal drugs. I don’t have a gambling problem — in fact, I don’t even buy scratch-off tickets, let alone take trips to Vegas. From time to time I overeat, but I’ve never gotten to the point of having stacks of empty donut boxes next to my bed, and in any event, I’ve lost 50 pounds this year (yay). I sometimes spend money on stupid things I don’t need in the vain hope that they’ll cheer me up, but I don’t compulsively buy things with no rhyme or reason. And so on.

So when I say I’ve spent plenty of time reading materials from twelve-step programs, you might go “why?”

I grew up in a family where my father basically treated his kids like resented houseguests who’d overstayed their welcome. He literally never had a kind word for any of us. It’s pretty obvious to me now that my father should never have had kids, but like a lot of people, he didn’t figure that out until it was too late.

Dad had some very strange ideas about proper child-raising; he constantly reminded me not to take pride in things like having above-average intelligence, because I’d done nothing to achieve it — it was something I’d been born with and hence I had no right to feel special about it. He went to great pains NOT to compliment me or praise me for scoring highly on gifted-and-talented tests and assessments because he didn’t want me going around bragging.

I wound up pathetically desperate for attention. I’d act out in hyperactive ways in elementary school and, surprise surprise, had absolutely zero friends. Never did homework, either, all the way through high school. There was no incentive to do well in school; Dad wouldn’t have treated me any better if I had. I ate lunch at a table by myself all through middle school and most of high school, absurdly lonely but having no idea how to make friends or get positive attention.

I wised up a little bit, socially, by the time I finished high school and managed to become a class clown of sorts. But that didn’t translate into anything worthwhile; I never had a girlfriend, never went on a date. (It’s not like Dad would have let me have the car to take a girl out on a date, anyway.)

I somehow got into college and kept right on being an infuriating ass. I was the poster guy for “does not, can not, LEARN”.

And so it goes. I wound up in a career where “being paid attention to” is at the center of everything: I’m a corporate trainer, and from what I understand, apparently a reasonably competent one, in that I’ve managed to keep my current job for 21 years and counting. I get to run my mouth and be the focus of attention ALL DAY LONG.

<sarcasm>Woo-hoo! Score!</sarcasm>

(How did I ever get married? I was desperate and the woman who became my wife was equally desperate. We were both people who left a trail of pissed-off acquaintances wherever we went. We were perfect for each other. How we’ve lasted 22 years is anyone’s guess.)

I’m addicted to attention.

Yes, I know how sad it is that I work out my daddy issues by trying to get people to look at me, listen to me, notice me.

I know it’s not going to change anything in any substantial way; no matter how much me-me-me I do, it’s not going to bring my father back from the grave and get him to say “I respect you, son” or “Good job, son.”

I don’t think there’s a 12-step group out there for “attention whores” (pardon the expression). But if there was, I imagine I’d be there week after week going “Hi, my name’s Jay, and I’m an attention whore.”

As you probably know, one of the core concepts of a twelve-step program is taking an inventory of oneself and one’s flaws and then working to overcome them. Another core concept is making amends. I’ve been working pretty hard for the past seven years on the first part there — to the point that I think I’ve come to annoy those people who can’t entirely avoid interacting with me with endless talk of exactly how awful I am, and in what specific ways my awfulness expresses itself.

It’s the second part that’s so hard to do: the amends.

When you’ve driven people crazy your whole life through aggravating, maddening “acting out”, it’s not exactly easy to contact someone and go “hey, I’m really, really sorry for being such an asshole that time”.

Especially when the act of reaching out is itself an attempt to get attention.

The best, most effective “amends” I can think to make is to basically just disappear, as much as I can, as much as my still-needy ego will let me.

I used to do a lot of social media — now my Facebook account is completely devoid of content, to the extent that I don’t even have a profile photo. I still tweet a little bit now and then, but usually think better of it a day or two later and scurry around deleting everything.

Most of the time these days I just want to be invisible, to go unnoticed, to just completely drop off the radar. If I didn’t want to follow a few organizations and pages on Twitter and Facebook, I’d delete the accounts for good and save you all my presence. That said, from time to time I deactivate both accounts for a few weeks or months; no one ever notices me gone. I only maintain the furrs.org blog itself because once in a while it’s vaguely enjoyable to do a bit of writing; I’m well aware that you can count the number of people who read this crap on the fingers of one hand (but I thank those of you who do).

And at the end of the day, I’m also well aware that the act of writing and posting this long-winded garbage is itself a cry for attention. But I’m only really writing it so I can pin it to my Twitter and Facebook profiles in case someone does wonder where I’ve gone. I doubt anyone will come looking for me, and as a result read this, but if they do, well… I apologize to them too.

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Wafflemania

By | September 11, 2019

I don’t do Facebook much — that’s why I tend to be ignorant of news like “oh, alligators ate my left leg a month ago” until everyone else on the planet, up to and including the pool guys in cities a thousand miles north of the alligator line, knows the story.

But I do find a few things about Facebook’s content amusing. One is the Employees-of-Waffle-House closed group I somehow got added to. Every day is a soap opera like you would not believe.

People get into actual flamewars over whose manager is right about the order in which waffles and biscuits are supposed to be called to the cooks. And whether it’s even acceptable to make pancakes using waffle batter:

“OUR NAME IS NOT ‘PANCAKE HOUSE’. WE DO NOT MAKE PANCAKES!!!”

vs

“Hell, if it keeps the three year old who wants a pancake happy, we’ll cook him a damn pancake.”

Cue 900 follow-up messages taking every conceivable side of the issue. Including whether the aliens at Area 51 are somehow manipulating American waffle production for their own purposes.

It kind of makes you wonder what other closed employee-only groups there are out there — is there a group for American park rangers to bitch about things like the bear in the hat and necktie who keeps stealing picnic baskets? Or a group for Starbucks employees to bitch about the customers who complain because their latte is precisely two degrees too hot, with graphic descriptions of the tortures the baristas would like to subject said customers to? Or a group for pool guys to vent about all the alligators they’re finding in pools lately and how it’s not due to global warming, but rather, due to changes in pool chemical formulation?

Alligators, man. What are you going to do?

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September 13, 1997

By | September 10, 2019

Carole and I tied the knot on a sultry North Carolina afternoon just shy of 22 years ago — September 13, 1997.

That date was picked because:

  • it was the night of a full moon and we thought that was romantic in some strange way
  • it was a week before my 30th birthday and I was semi-determined to be married before the odometer turned over

One could make a case that having an outdoor wedding at 5:30 pm on a Saturday in September was asking for trouble — if I recall correctly, the temperature was in the high 80s and in any event, the moon wasn’t even visible from the patio next to the carp pond at the Sarah P Duke Gardens. By the time we were all legal and everything, all our guests were pretty hot and uncomfortable from standing around, and perhaps as a result, we wound up with a lot of uneaten food at the reception; no one seemed to have much appetite.

On a positive note, though, Carole’s grandfather did not fall into the carp pond in mid-ceremony, though there were certainly enough people in the audience who fully expected him to do so. He’d crept around to the back side of the carp pond, slippery rocks and all, with his camera, intent on getting some shots from that side — only to wind up windmilling his arms trying to maintain his balance. Carole and I could have stripped naked mid-ceremony and danced the lambada and I don’t think anyone would have noticed; Grandfather Odum had upstaged us.

In any event, I suspect that if people had been in a betting mood, there would have been some money put down on “it’ll last a year. Maybe.” You’ve probably all been to weddings where you just had the sense that the marriage was doomed before it started, that both the bride and the groom would, in short order, be spending their evenings at various dive bars irritably tossing back shots and griping about what a jackass their ex was.

Somehow we’ve made it through. I have no idea how. I’m a jackass. Carole’s a jackass. We’re both jackasses. I guess we deserve each other.

We never had kids — this is kind of a sore subject with Carole, who hates hearing me moon on about how I wish we could’ve. But anyone who knows us knows what terrible parents we would have been. We’re just one eyestalk each shy of basically being mutants, and no kid needs to grow up with that much crazy in their life.

Things have, somehow, worked out.

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The onset of darkness

By | September 9, 2019

The morning after the New England 3-Day, I find myself feeling tired, depressed, and kind of pathetic. I worked my tuchus off all weekend and now it’s over and I have nothing to look forward to for a very long time.

This year has been kind of about

work
work
work
Trip to NC over Memorial Day Weekend
work
work
work
Trip to NYC to see “Hamilton” and “Wicked”
work
work
work
Walk Twin Cities 3-Day
work
work
work
Crew New England 3-Day

but now the foreseeable future for a long way out is:

work
work
work
work
work
work
work

No vacations planned, no special events to look forward to, just a long Vermont winter and the onset of my usual I’m-so-pathetic-and-everyone-hates-me blues.

Major depression is a real illness and mine happens to be drug-resistant and very hard to treat.

Past experience has shown me that the smartest thing to do, when my depression starts to get bad, is to simply delete/deactivate my social media accounts. No one ever notices my absence, no one ever reaches out to say “hey, you’ve disappeared, how are you??” And that’s perfectly understandable. People are busy and have their own lives, and no one would put me on their list of top ten (or twenty, or fifty) friends.

And pulling a vanishing act has one major thing to recommend it — if I don’t even have a social media presence, I can’t use it to do pathetic, lonely things on those days when my depression is really out of control. And that means “fewer things to regret doing later.”

So if I do kinda drop off the surface of the Earth here in a few days or weeks, it won’t be because I’ve cried “goodbye cruel world” and jumped into a pond.

It’ll be because it’s the easiest way to avoid embarrassing myself worse.

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