Darker and More Hollow

A few years ago (has it really been that long?), I wrote a couple blogs about Anissa Mayhew. She was blogger with sass, snark, and spirit and I really enjoyed what she had to say. She suffered through a myriad of health issues, causing strokes and other maladies. When I came across her stuff, she had just experienced a stroke and the internet was pouring its love out to her.

I was one of them. I even bought the t-shirt.

Today I found out that she has passed away. I’m saddened by her loss and the loss felt by her close friends and family. She was a special person, an exuberant, life-filled, soul. Though we never actually met, my heart now feels darker and more hollow for her presence having been taken away.

Requiescat in pace, Anissa.

Here are my previous blogs about Anissa in case you’re interested:

A Real Hero

Extremely Manly and Testosterone-Filled Tears

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The Comeback Kid

giphyAwhile back, I wrote about my struggles with clinical depression. How it steals parts of your life away. Well, things are looking a bit brighter these days and I wanted to share that part of the struggle, too.

Life is pretty good these days. My medications seem to have me balanced out. I’m no longer missing work. I’ve cut back on the therapy sessions because, when I get there, I just dodn’t have much to talk about. Both my therapist and I agreed that this is a Good Thing™. But most of all, I don’t feel quite so miserable all the time. So, all in all, I feel like I’ve come out of the other side of a really bad patch–which was made up of highs and lows all on its own.

To be sure, I still have some bad times. Nothing is all Pollyanna-Technicolor-Rose-Colored-Glasses here. I have to watch out for the pitfalls that send me down those rabbit holes of thought that have me spiraling into a funk. But I have tools to help me and support. That helps immensely.

I’ve also been throwing myself pretty hardcore into my hobbies–especially role-playing games. I’ve been creating adventures like a fiend and running the Wife through all sorts of adventures. Plus I have my regular gaming groups.

Anyway, this is all to say that if you suffer from depression and you see that wall of funk spring up in front you, there is an other side. There is hope. There are ways to help you through the morass. It’s not easy and it’s not fun, but it’s possible. And it will always be work. But it pays off in the end. You get your life back. And that’s pretty cool.

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Geekwerks Brewing (or My Misadventures in Home Brewing)

So a while back I told you about my new obsession–home brewing beer. Well…I’ve had some mixed success (or mixed failure, depending if you’re a pilsner glass half-full or half-empty sort of person).

I used the Mr. Beer™ kit to make a batch of Oktoberfest. It actually turned out not bad. A little yeasty, but not too bad. Not perfect by any stretch, but it was definitely beer. So I decided to stretch out a bit–a Scottish Ale with my 5 gallon kit rig. This one turned out–not so good. I singed the malt on the stove and was afraid this would make the beer taste burnt. Wonder of wonders, the beer turned out bland as hell–essentially beer-flavored water. So then I got out the Mr. Beer™ kit again and tried the “Velvet Velociraptor”–a fruit beer with a Czech pilsner base. This one exploded in my linen closet after one day.

But I’m not giving up! I’ve got a Mr. Beer™ American porter percolating in the closet now and I’m getting ready to try 5 gallons of a coffee porter. Fingers crossed! And that Scottish Ale? I’m letting it age a bit, see if it develops a flavor to it. We’ll see.

Anyway, that’s what’s going on at Geekwerks Brewing.

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Pop a Top, Again… (or, My New Obsession)

mr-beer-micro-brewery-beer-making-kit-275So I have a new obsession as of this year…home brewing.

A couple of summers ago, my brother bought me a Mr. Beer™ brewing kit for my birthday. Being the resident beer snob of my family, it seemed the next logical step. Either that, or he was telling me to put my money where my mouth was. Regardless, the kit sat in my garage for a couple of years as I am fundamentally lazy.

That changed this past December when I purchased the book My Beer Year by Lucy Birmingham. This book, the journey of a beer journalist to become a Certified Cicerone, inspired me to want to get out the kit and try it out.

I had to order a new tin of malt extract and yeast, as mine were past their expire dates due to my having let them sit. So I ordered an Oktoberfest blend and waited. A week later and I had everything I needed.

I watched the accompanying video and hit the online forums. I read everything I could get my hands on. And then brew day came. I followed the directions and brewed up the Oktoberfest. I then put the keg in my linen closet and prepared to wait.

Which is the hard part–the waiting (as Tom Petty will tell you).

It takes about 2-3 weeks for the yeast to do its job. So in the meantime, I bought another kit–this one a “real” brewing kit for 5 gallon batches, and started another batch of Scottish Ale.

kit1This one was a bit more complicated. It was still a kit, but involved a bit more “cooking” than the Mr. Beer™ kit. There were grains to be steeped, hops to be placed in the boil at specific times, and both dry and liquid malts. The Mr. Beer™ kit only used liquid malt, no grains, and cooked in a much shorter boil. It’s kind of the “Hamburger Helper” of brewing–but a great place to start.

I ended up scorching the malt on the bottom of the brew kettle, which will probably come back to haunt me with off-flavors in the beer later. I don’t know, we’ll see. This batch is currently percolating in the closet.

The Oktoberfest turned out pretty well, I think. I tested it this past weekend–tasted like a flat, but sweet, and tasty beer. It has now been bottled and is going through carbonation. That’s another couple of weeks. Waiting–again.

In the meantime, I’ve joined the AHA–the American Homebrewer’s Association. They give discounts at various places for homebrewers. I hope to get involved in the local homebrewers’ guild–if I can make one of their meetings. Suffice to say–I’m having a good time with this. Even if the beers I’ve done so far don’t turn out, I’m learning something and making something. That’s new for me, who doesn’t have a crafty bone in his body. I’m very excited. Plus I get to have unique beers.

As they say in the biz–Relax, don’t worry, have a home brew.

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Still Beating Heart

Aortic Root Replacement I’ve been thinking a lot lately of a Christmas I spent some 23 years ago. It’s hard for me to believe it’s been that long, but that’s the funny thing about time–it passes both slower and more quickly than we think. 

I spent Christmas of 1993 in the Intensive Care Unit of Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas. I had just underwent Aortic Root Replacement surgery and was recovering. Essentially, I had part of my aorta replaced, including the valve itself, with plastic (Dacron, specifically). This was due to complications associated with Marfan Syndrome–my aorta was starting to rupture all on its own and it need reinforcement before I had a full-blown “dissection.” Such an event was what had killed my father at the age of 37. They had determined that unless I had this surgery that I would probably meet the same fate–and possibly sooner than my father did. 

I don’t remember much of actual Christmas Day–I spent most of my time sleeping or on morphine. I vaguely remember some family visitations. I do remember being thankful to be alive. I remember that much. 

I spent the days leading up to the surgery getting as many presents for the people I knew as I could with my meager income–I was a pizza delivery guy at the time. In the back of my mind I felt like this might be my final gift for them and I wanted it to count for something. I tried to play off my nervousness and fear, but secretly I wondered if I would survive this. I had never even had minor surgery before, much less open heart surgery, and I feared the worse. 

I had nightmares of waking up in the middle of the procedure. I imagined myself dying on the table and the grief of my family and friends. But outwardly, i kept my calm. The day of, as they prepped me, I “joked” that I wasn’t ready and wanted to go home. I wasn’t really joking. 

But–everything turned out fine.

I did discover that I have a low tolerance for anesthesia, though. I woke up while still intubated and kind of panicked but things were fine. Later, they had to take me in to drain some fluid off of my heart. I woke up as they were finishing that too. They told me to go back to sleep. Later still, they had to implant a pacemaker and I woke up in the middle of that. Luckily, a sheet was up between my face and chest and I asked if I should be awake and I was told “No” and was put back under.  

Eventually I was taken out of ICU and went to a regular room. There I had to get up try to walk down the hall as part of my recovery. That was one, long hall. I also had breathing exercises to do. I finally got the hang of it and eventually got to home. It was 1994 by then. 

And here I am, 43 years old and still recovering nicely. I see my cardiologist regularly and make sure I have no more rupturing. I’m on more medications than I care to mention, but I’m alive and my quality of life is nothing to complain about (though sometimes I still do). 

I am grateful for the surgeons and nurses at Presbyterian that took such good care of me. And to my friends and family who supported me while I was down during that time. Without them I wouldn’t have found the motivation to persevere. 

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