Christmas blend

Having had a conversation with a friend this morning, regarding Christmas dining and preparation, it got me a little bit into the spirit.

Well, not really. But, that’s beside the point.

Anyhow, after wracking our brains on choices for antipasto (sorry, couldn’t spell the French term for it), turkey spices, and all that good stuff, we eventually arrived at the topic of dessert. Now, I’m not very particular about desserts. I’ll eat pretty much anything with sugar and/or dairy in it. So, I didn’t have much to say on the topic. But, dessert beverages are a different story. For me, anyway. Don’t get me wrong, I love eggnog (spiked or otherwise), hot cider, or whatever. But, I’m simple, and I usually just opt for a good cup of joe, instead.

Well, we went on and bickered about how it is/it is not boring to simply use the beat up, old coffee-drip brewer. But, come on, it’s Christmas. Do something special, for Jesus’ sake! 🙂 So, I recommended, if only for the occasion, what I’ve been using for the past fifteen years to brew my own coffee in… the lowly and humble French Press (Bodum only. No skimping, please)!

Bodum French PressMaybe, I’ve been living in the wrong century but, I realize that, to this day, the press is still not a very popular way of brewing one’s favorite java beans. Perhaps, it’s just a meager low-tech device lost in a crowd of auto-ultra-super-cyber-futuristic devices we’re so used to trusting with our very lives, these days. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen it in kitchens, just gathering dust up in the cabinets, for years. Although, I will take a guess, that the most popular way to do it, in this day and age, is to stand in line at the nearest Starbucks counter. Every single morning!

A very expensive shortcut, indeed. Thanks, but no, thanks.

Most coffee houses brew their coffee, espresso style. As far as I know, anyway. So, if you wish to replicate that same coffee house cocktail (latte, macchiato, etc.), don’t think you can get away, easily, with an el-cheapo espresso machine. I’m no coffee nerd, by any stretch, but I have virtually travelled a big part of the coffee-making world to get a clue on what’s good, what’s bad and what’s ugly. I love espresso. But, to make it at home, the way it’s supposed to be made, I would have to sell my car. Hey, if you’re going to get one, go for the glory. Or, better keep your hands off your pocket.

This brings me back to what I was talking about, earlier. The French Press. A simple person just wants a good cup of joe. Now, simple and good doesn’t necessarily go hand-in-hand, all the time. I told my friend, that it’s way cheaper than an espresso machine, and much simpler to use, but still, not quite that simple. You still have to have a good, yet expensive conical burr grinder. Now, I don’t have one, because I’d rather not miss payments on my monthly bills. I still use a blade grinder, but I don’t mind the sludge it causes to lay at the bottom of my cup. I still get an excellent flavor as long as I coarse-grind only when I need to; and the grounds/water ratio, water temp and brewing times are correct. Now, I’m not going to elaborate on the details. There are enough connoisseurs out there blogging about their own method, already. Go, do a search. But, I would recommend brewing your beans using this old-fashioned method. And, discover what flavors you’ve been missing, all this time.

Okay, if you’re really into espresso, a good, yet cheap way, is to use one of those stove-top percolators. I used to have one, but I accidentally left it in the stove to burn, a few months ago. So…

Oh yeah… use whole bean French Roast. None of them bag o’ Christmas Blends, please! Let your dessert do the sweetening.

Merry Christmas, everyone. 🙂

The depth of friendship

Just walked in a few minutes ago and right now, I’m a fixin’ (amazingly, some southern habits have followed me up north). Fixin’ to go to a Christmas party thrown by my boss, that is. But, I got about an hour to kill, so why not post something quick, right?
Well, I received an email from my best friend this afternoon. Not that it’s anything shocking, knowing him. But he’s such a great inspiration to me and his words never fail to stir my thoughts.
Hence, the thought of the day…
How much do we really value the littlest things in our possession? It’s not hard at all, to show appreciation for the obvious. A new car. A new gift. A new raise. Heck, a new love, even. Hey, I’ve been there. Many times, in fact. However, when was the last time we woke up in the morning, teary-eyed and thankful, for no other reason, except that we’re alive and well at that very moment? I can tell you, not in a long while for me. Bad times can easily overwhelm the good ones, as some of us can attest to.
But we know we have more than just being alive and well. We, somehow, manage to find food on the table. For the most part, anyway. We have clothes on our backs, too. Some luxury, maybe. Friends and family. Yes, functional or otherwise. But we have them, nonetheless.
However, some of us are, indeed, a tad luckier than others, simply by having a best friend. By best friend, I mean, a true confidant. For life. A mighty wall to lean on. Someone you are willing to trust with your own soul. Someone who is willing to walk the extra mile with you. And for you. All the time. Yes, someone you can agree to disagree, as well! And for the icing and gravy part, it’s a relationship where you’re able to express all kinds of emotions to each other without the smallest hint of awkwardness or embarrassment.

And this person doesn’t necessarily have to be a spouse, either! 🙂
I have such a friend. This kind doesn’t come everyday. And I can brag about it, only because we worked hard on our friendship. No, he actually worked hard on it. I just followed his example.
So, Mike… I love you, dude! – \m/ – I know you’re reading this.
By the way, here’s what he wrote…

Hey, man… hope all is well… and warm. I’m actually writing this to you from just outside of St. Paul, Minnesota where I’ve been for the past 2 days working with the President of our company; I’ll be here for one more day, then head home.

Anyhow, as I’m waiting to discuss more issues with my new boss, just wanted to drop you a line, and say that I feel like a very rich man. Rich in the sense of having the depth of friendship with you and a handful of others; rich in the sense of having been graciously given a strong faith; rich in the sense of being healthy; rich in the sense of getting to experience a myriad of different things and places; and rich actually and tangibly experience what it’s like to have gratitude that transcends understanding…. thanks, man…. I appreciate you being my friend and brother.

Did I tell you, I’m a sucker for depth?

K… it’s party time!

Leaving Los Angeles, Part 2 (The truth about giving)

One of the most memorable experiences I’ve had in Los Angeles was bittersweet. And a lifelong lesson as well. Are you ready to take a little journey back in time with me? It’s a bit of a long trek but a worthy one, I promise.

Right around ’94 or ’95, I was going through a spiritual workout. I wanted to prove to myself that my faith was sincere and was built on a firm foundation. I didn’t want to simply go through a phase and later move on to other things. I wanted to find what I was looking for right there and then, really find it, be home and settle down for good. I didn’t want to simply get lost in a church crowd, to be a co-participant in ministry events. That was easy to do. You’re encouraged. You sign up. You all do it together. Job’s done. That was a given. It was a bare minimum. But back then, I wanted to practice true religion on an individual basis. I wanted to mean what I say. And I wanted to learn.

To learn the truth about giving.

I did a lot of things but one of the two activities (yes, there’s a part 3 yet in the near future) that stood out for me was my weekly routine of visiting the elderly at a nearby nursing home. It was a ten minute drive from my place and I used to go every Tuesday and Thursday evenings. I must’ve done it for at least two years straight. Every now and then, I’d bring an interested friend with me but for the most part, I went by myself.

In this home, when you step inside the lobby, the hallway circles around the entire building. You start walking to your right. You just follow the hallway and you eventually come out of the left wing back into the lobby. Now, it takes a good couple of hours to go into each room and spend time with every single person in there. Well, at least, with the ones you can actually talk to sensibly. Sadly, some of them aren’t functioning properly anymore, if you know what I mean. Anyhow, most of these folks are different in more ways than one. Different in age, gender, race, mental and health status. So you treated each of them differently. Some will talk to you and express gratitude. Some are annoyed that you’re there. The first few visits, I remember just trying to get a good feel of each person. I thought… Who could I give just a smile to? Who could I actually say hello to? Who will want to get a little more involved and carry a conversation with me? And finally, who will crave a lasting friendship?

I could fill in the blanks for each of those categories with names. Amazingly, I remember a lot of them idividually. There was Eddie. A wheelchair-bound, 70-ish man who bawled and wailed everytime I stoop down to his eye-level to chat with him. Even more, I distinctively remember Evelyn, an 88 year old lady who patiently waited for me to come by twice a week after work. Now she came to be a real friend eventually. She knew I was going to be in time for dinner just so I can spoon-feed her. I wasn’t clear as to why the workers in the home didn’t do anything knowing she had a hard time feeding herself. Her arm shakes too much that by the time the spoon reaches her mouth, the food’s everywhere but on the spoon. She confides with me. She’s hungry all the time because she barely gets to eat her food. I ask how come they don’t help her. She said, she doesn’t know either. She could hardly speak, much less explain herself effectively enough to convince the staff to help her with her difficulties.

And so, this is what I did for the next year or so. I circled the hallway. I waved a smile to some. Said hello to a few more. Striked a quick conversation with others. And then, I spent the rest of my time with Evelyn. I fed her, spoke to her a bit, waited until she fell asleep. And then, I went home.

One day I came and did my routine, went to Evelyn’s room and found her bed made but empty.

“She passed yesterday.” The nurse informed me.

To say that it hurt is a big understatement. I did not expect this at any moment. I thought I will have moved out of town before anything remotely close to this would every happen. I was in complete shock. It was certainly a death in the family. It was the first time I felt I was given pain by something that I thought could never do such a thing.

How could you? I took care of you. I gave a portion of my life to you. And this is the thanks I get?

But I was too shocked. Too numb to feel the anger. And I was not about to learn my lesson yet. Not until way later.

To go back into that building was too much for me to handle at this point. I felt like moving on, one way or another. One day, I noticed for the first time that the building across the street was actually another nursing home. I’m not sure why I didn’t notice it before. Could it be that all I ever noticed in that street was the old beloved nursing home I go to week after week. To be honest, I don’t remember what else was in that neighborhood. Everything was vague. Except for my sole purpose.

Eventually, I was able to muster up enough strength to walk through the doors of the building across the street. Here I am. About to warm up a new bench again, so to speak. New folks, new faces, new acquaintances. And hopefully, new friends.

In this building I had a lot more fun actually. The people were more upbeat and wanting to be funny with you. There was this room that had about 10 beds. I did my rounds one day, walked in the room and told some jokes. Back then my hair was long. The folks in that particular room, for some reason, have bad eyesight, I reckon. I found this out later when one lady asked if I had a boyfriend (long hair could be troublesome at times). In my shock, I spoke a bit loudly and exclaimed with sheer dignity…”Oh no, I’m a guy!”

The next two to three seconds after that moment was a sight to behold. All ten women, of which most appeared to be in a slumber, all of a sudden got up, with eyes wide open and staring at me, altogether controverted… “YOU’RE A BOY?? LIAR!!!”

I could only wish though, that every room in that home was as lively as that one. But it wasn’t the case at all. There were folks in there who were too bitter, too unpleasant to talk to, in a way. However, there was this one room. It had maybe four beds in it. But there were only two occupants at the time. One of them seems to be passed out all day everyday so you couldn’t even say hello. The other was a woman I eventually came to know as Jean.

Now, Jean was funny. In a bittersweet kind of funny, that is. She was only in her early 60’s, I think. But she was struck by some kind of sickness that made her seem like a weak person in her 90’s. And like Evelyn, she also came to expect a visit from me on a regular basis. And this, only because she insisted.

“Kish, I want you to come back shoon. Pleesh, Kish.” “Okay, Jean. I’ll be back soon.”

Funny lady. In fact, like I mentioned, she’s bittersweet funny. She once made a confession to me, complete with animated excitement. She admitted that she loves me more than she does her own husband now because I’m always present and he’s never there. It nearly killed me to hear this. But I kept my composure as I meticulously julienned (using a plastic spoon) a few pieces of Hershey’s Kisses (her favorite) which I eventually started bringing with me everytime I come to visit.

“Don’t say that, Jean. That can’t be true. Wasn’t he here the other day?”

“Yes, but you come more often.”

I’m taking this with a grain of salt… I’m thinking right now, as I shove one julienned piece at a time in her mouth that would only open very slightly (hence, the way she talks). She looks down as she picks it up from the tip of her lips with the help of her tongue. She slowly brings it into her mouth and leaves it there to melt. Then I notice her chin gently moving up and down. This must be the greatest tasting candy in the whole world, I thought. A moment passes, then she looks up to meet me in the eye. Still nibbling on the chocolate, her eyes begin to water gently.

“I’ve been longing to taste this candy for many years now.” She whispers with a trembling voice. “Sometimes, someone would bring me some but because it won’t fit in my mouth, I couldn’t eat them. Until now.”

Jean and I had a very good friendship, to say the least. I will never forget the times we spent together. But much like with Evelyn, I had somehow forgotten, once again, that there is a certain truth about giving. The truth that when you decide to give, not only is there a possibility of not getting anything in return; but also, there’s a distinct danger that whatever else you have which you did not intend to give at all may also be taken away from you. It is a tough lesson, yet it is something that made me the person that I am today. And for that, I have no regrets at all.

After almost a year, it was now just another regular routine. The same ol’ drill, right? Tuesdays and Thursdays? Got it. Although, for some reason, I couldn’t make it one Tuesday. So hey, no big deal, I thought. I’ll do it tomorrow instead. And so, on a Wednesday afternoon, I stopped by the grocery store to grab a new bag of Kisses after work. And I merrily trekked down the ol’ building to do my routine. Now, usually, when I come down, I take a sneak peek at Jean’s room before I make the rounds. And then, when I’m done with everyone else, I come back to her for my last stop. But this time, when I walked in to peek at her room. I was greeted with the darkest of memories. A made but empty bed. My legs were shaking as I ran towards the nurses’ station.

“I’m sorry, she passed away last night.”

Last night. Tuesday night. I was suppose to be here. Come on, what’s another day to wait?

“You’re Chris, right? She’s been asking for you.”

Before I could let the nurse see my reaction, I had simply turned around and stormed out the door. Tears uncontrollably running down my face.

For the first time, I knew. I knew the price of giving. I knew that it costs more than what you’re willing to bargain for. I now will have to remember this for the rest of my life. And even though I decided at that moment that this was just way too much for me to give, I also know that I would never wish to turn back the hands of time either. That I would instead be proud and grateful that I was able to accomplish what I set out to do. That I was able to be unselfish enough to do something like this. Even when it was just for a short period of time.

We don’t have to able to save the whole world. But if we can just make one lowly person smile, it is a job well done.

Well, are you ready for part 3? It’s not as much drama as this one but it’s just as good.

Stay tuned!

Jagged little guilt pill

There was this database file that I trashed months ago. It contained blog entries that go all the way back to oh, let’s see… ’02, ’03 maybe. That’s when I was still hosting the blog myself (uh, I’m glad those days are over). I believe it had some rantings on a topic about a song I was writing at that time. I was really emotional about it from what I can remember. I wish I could’ve preserved them. Well, shame on me, Mr. delete happy!!!

Regarding the song, I didn’t finish it until sometime last year. It’s now on the compilation A Dark in the Light (geez, this thing is really getting quite a bit of attention lately, haven’t you noticed?). So, what’s the song called? Why, you guessed it… Shame on Me. I haven’t heard it in a while but I listened to it today, just because I like the song. And unexpectedly, it brought tears to my eyes. It brought me back in time.

Talk about sheer vulnerability. I really exposed my heart and soul on this one. Didn’t mince a word at all. And it’s the only song that took me almost four years to write. Yep. A jagged little guilt pill that took time for me to swallow. But I had to move on so, guess what? Gulp!

And still gulping today, to be honest.

The story of the song deals with my Christianity. And how I somehow misused and abused it. In the name of God even. Ha! I can somehow laugh at my foolishness now but it was something that almost killed me spiritually during those days when my eyes were first opened. In this song, I speak to six people. At least. None of them knew each other, I don’t think. We were friends. Buddies. Supposedly. At different times and places. But I guess I was an expert more on the rules and regulations back then than the simpler things in life like compassion, understanding and tolerance.

I really wish I could see them again and ask for forgiveness. I have no idea where they are now. All I know is that, at least, three of them walked away and disappeared for good. And one of them has died in an accident. That was when I knew I had to finish this song or I would lose my mind.

In a nutshell, this song is a plea for forgiveness.

But if I have to tell the whole story, I’d be sitting here for days. So, I’ll let you listen to the song instead.

Don’t just hear, though… listen.

Shame on Me

Shame on me
For trying to build a fence around eternity
Shame on me
For suffocating and stifling your ability
And all the pride I’ve shown
The stories overblown infuse the pain

Shame on me
For plundering your only source of sanity
Shame on me
For walking down the road that only leads to me
And everyone I left behind
The trail of shadows’ all you find, it stabs my soul
And every time I see your eyes
They penetrate into my guise

I’m losing all the love I had to give
I’m leaving all the life I hoped to live
I’m seeing another side of me
In the mirror, it’s getting clearer
Shame on me

The blame’s on me
For being the judge instead of your defender
Yeah, blame it on me
For counting all the days till you surrender
And every time you earn a prize
It never seizes to surprise

I’m losing all the love I had to give
I’m leaving all the life I hoped to live
I’m seeing another side of me
In the mirror, it’s getting clearer
Blame it on me

I need your water
I stole your life, it’s unfair
I need your water
You can take my blood, if you care
But I need your water
To quench the thirst of despair

Shame on me
For when I took away your independence
Shame, shame on me
For all the times I doubted your repentance
And every time you’re left alone
My conscience turned to stone, so

I’m losing all the love I had to give
I’m leaving all the life I hoped to live
I’m seeing another side of me
In the mirror, it’s getting clearer
It’s clear now that

I’m losing the wealth I’ll never find again
I’m leaving the only place I wish I’ve been
I’m seeing a different kind of me
In the mirror, it’s getting clearer
Shame on me

To Ricky, Nick, Myles, Will, Dustin (RIP) and JC.

Midnight conversations

Late last night I was awakened by a loud, tacky ring tone from my cell (which reminds me, I need to change that to something a little less disturbing asap). But I didn’t catch it soon enough as I was way out in dreamville at that point. Although, I heard the tail end of the ring just enough to realize I was getting a call.

So, I rolled around my bed and tried to reach for the phone. As I stretched my arm to grab it, I got a little agitated thinking, who in the world could this be. I thought, this better be good. And then I immediately thought of Deb, my ex. I know that she likes to talk to me but doesn’t have the time to do it except in the dead of night. Oh, great! However, she knows better not to call me at that particular time during weekdays.

Anyhow, sure enough, it was her. So, I called her back and we chatted for what seemed to be a couple of hours at least. I must be getting old as I could hardly hang in there that late. Everytime, I had to ask her a second time what she just said.

It was good though. I’m just glad to know she’s okay. She did sound good. She told me she started going back to church and that she’s been going after new friendships. She even had a good Thanksgiving with her dad. But she took him to Cracker Barrel? On Thanksgiving? Aren’t you suppose to roast your own turkey instead?

Oh well, I just thought that maybe she’s actually doing better than I though she was. In fact, even better than I am… as I have not been able to do those same things myself yet. I don’t know. Sometimes, I just don’t know where I’m at, even though I want to insist that I do. Trying to forget everything and starting anew is easier said than done. Especially, when there really wasn’t a reason to forget anything in the first place.

I miss her. She misses me. This is so tragic.

These midnight conversations that we have every now and then could both be a blessing and a curse. It keeps our memories of each other from getting sour and preserves our ability to remain friends. But at the same time, it doesn’t allow us to move on and look to see what lies ahead of us. I can’t maker her stop calling me. I’m afraid I don’t want to.

Really makes me think of that U2 song… I can’t live with or without you.

Okay, I’m getting sappy now.