Saturday, May 7, 2016

Working at the Food Bank

As anyone who knows me at all well can tell you, I am not a morning person.  I have nothing against the morning; I just prefer to see it on my way to bed.  Despite that strong preference, however, today, on a Saturday, when I normally sleep for most of the day, I arose after three and a half hours of sleep to head to the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina.  PT was having a volunteering day, and I wanted to participate.

After an hour of standing and listening to two folks train us, we went to work.  Our group included some folks from PT, some family members of PT staff, and many more people from other volunteer groups.  We collectively numbered over 30. Our job was relatively simple:  to convert boxes of donated food into boxes of food sorted by type (e.g., water, other beverages, dry packaged food, and so on).

Click the image to see a larger version.

We started with many pallets of unsorted donations, and we ended with many pallets of sorted food ready to go to groups to feed people, as well as a lot of trash.  A lot of trash.  I made only two trash runs, and I dumped well over 400 pounds of garbage.

I started as one of the people who was sorting food, but in less than five minutes I had become a runner, someone who moves full boxes from a work table to a pallet.  I spent a bit over two hours moving full boxes, taking out trash, and, near the end, picking up and stacking empty pallets.

When you look the way I do, people always end up asking you to lift things.  I have a peasant build, and I spent a lot of my teen years doing jobs that involved lots of lifting and carrying.

When we finished a little more than three hours after our start, we had assembled about 10,500 pounds of food ready to go to people.  The Food Bank folks said that would translate to over 8,500 meals.

That's pretty cool.  Helping feed people is a good thing.

I'm glad I did it.  I'm also glad for the reminder of why I went to college and why I am always happy that I am fortunate enough to work in air-conditioned offices.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Stephen Kellogg, artists, and audiences

As I wrote in yesterday's entry, Stephen Kellogg and his band put on a wonderful show at the Back Room at the Cat's Cradle.  His highly personal songs touched everyone in the audience, and the crowd responded to every tune enthusiastically.

Click the image to see a larger version.

The problem is, the audience numbered about fifty people.  Only fifty people showed up to see one of my favorite musicians pour his heart out for nearly ninety minutes.  For my taste, if there was any justice Kellogg would pack huge venues and sell out wherever he played.

My taste, of course, is an extremely unreliable indicator of artistic success.  Josh Ritter would be filling stadiums if my taste ruled, and Ritter is not (though I think he's doing well).  Nick Harkaway would be a bestseller in the U.S.  (My own books would do rather better as well.)  I could go on and on.  I'm sure you could, too.

All any artist can really do is create the best work they can, put it out there, and hope for the best.  I know marketing and social media and all of that can help, but if the work doesn't happen to touch a large audience, then the artist won't sustain such an audience over time.

I find this truth disheartening, but it is the truth.

Nonetheless, I hope one day Stephen Kellogg gets the audiences I believe he deserves.

Thursday, May 5, 2016


is a song that Stephen Kellogg and his band played in a concert earlier tonight at the Back Room of the Cat's Cradle.  I was fortunate enough to be there.

I'll write more about the show tomorrow, but for now, enjoy the song.

I do love his music and his live performances.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

WTF, Republican Party?

Donald Trump is now set to be your nominee for the role of President of the United States of America.  Wow.  Years and years of increasingly divisive campaign tactics have culminated in this awful moment.

Here's hoping the voting citizens of America have the sense to stop him before he wins that office.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Now with PT

is back with a new episode, so I have to point it out here.  The buying advice this time concerns enterprise IT products, so it doesn't relate to most people, but I will say that the host, Drew, is looking ready for the beach.  I am definitely ready for the beach.

Check it out.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Steamed buns at Panciuto

The other night, a group of us ate dinner at Panciuto, one of the very best local restaurants and one of the restaurants in the whole world I love the most.  One entry on recent menus had made the visit irresistible:  steamed buns with bologna.  Even imagining what chef Aaron Vandemark could do with that combination set our mouths to watering.

When the menu for that day appeared online, the steamed buns were gone.

I called the restaurant and begged Lauren, Aaron's sister, to plead our case with Aaron for steamed buns with bologna.

We went, the steamed buns were not on the menu, and so we shrugged and ordered anyway.  Sometimes, you miss dishes.  We understand that.

Everything we ordered was, as always, wonderful.  My friend, Kyle, says that eating one of Aaron's dishes is like getting a hug, and he's right.  The food was great, delicious and rich and comforting.

In the middle of the meal, a gift from Aaron unexpectedly appeared:  the steamed buns with bologna. We were as excited as little kids.

The dish surpassed our expectations.  Every bite was amazing.

Talking later with Aaron, I learned that the steamed buns with bologna had not sold well.

I was stunned.  These steamed buns were amazingly good, so good I cannot imagine any meat eater not liking them.

Maybe if Aaron were willing to go all fancy and call them "Southern-style steam buns with local meat"--which they were--they would sell better, but Aaron tells you what you're eating, and I love that.  I love the way he takes local ingredients of all sorts and elevates them beyond what you would have thought was possible.

So, if you live near here, go to Panciuto, order whatever's on offer, enjoy it--and ask after the steamed buns with bologna.  If they're on the menu, order them, and prepare to be amazed.

Do this not just for the good of all restaurant-goers in the area, but also for me, because I'm already craving those delicious steamed buns.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Tears for my mom

Today would have been my mom's 83rd birthday.  She died a bit over four years ago, on February 11, 2012.  On this blog, I wrote about her death and the week following it.  During the time from her death to her memorial service, I never cried.  At the memorial service, I choked up several times, and a few tears hit my cheeks, but I didn't cry.

I still haven't cried for my mother.

It's not that I don't miss her.  I do, terribly.  It's also not that I didn't love her.  I did, very much.  I still do.

The problem is, I don't cry.  The closest I come is to choke up, get a few tears, wipe them away, and move on.  Many, many different things can cause me to reach that point, but nothing has taken me to full crying since I was eleven.  At that time, when I was in the years of abuse, I vowed not to give anyone the satisfaction of seeing me cry, and I stopped crying.  Period.  Something that might make me cry enters me, my emotional shields automatically engage, and that's that.

I expect it might be healthier for me to cry, but at this point I don't know how.

A few weeks ago, I went to a superb Delta Rae concert at the Lincoln Theatre.  As the band hit the first few notes of "Dance In the Graveyards," I realized that I had never danced with my mom.  I immediately ached with that thought, and in the same moment my emotional shields snapped into place.

Leaning against a railing at the Lincoln, in the dark, friends around me but unable to see my face, alone with this tsunami of grief, I decided to try not to block the pain and instead to embrace how much I missed Mom, how much I wished I had danced with her.  I pushed back the shields as much as I could, and I opened myself to the pain as much as I know how.  I listened to the song, which I love, and I thought of Mom, whom I loved so much, and tears rolled down my cheeks.  My self-defense systems fought me, and in the end they won, because I could not full-on cry, could not sob, could not let the grief control my body for even a second, but in that minute, at that concert, listening to that song, I shed more tears for Mom than ever before.

This quiet battle, which matters only to me, passed in the first minute of the song, and then I was myself again, listening to the music and aching for my mother, but distantly, as one does for an opportunity missed long ago.

I thought about that intense minute again today, on Mom's birthday, and I decided to write about it as a belated gift to her, one she cannot enjoy but that at least I have tried to send, a shout into the ether as pointless and yet as heartfelt as those tears.

What we do for people we love once they are gone cannot help them.  I understand this so much better now than I did before Mom died.  If you love people, let them know now, if you can, if you are better at expressing your love than I ever was with my mother, because once they die you will have only tears and pain, and neither will warm them in the cold nights when they wonder, as we all inevitably do, if they are loved.

I love you, Mom.


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