Food, Words and Music

It’s good to be back.

I’ve been asked if I stopped writing my blog. The answer is no, I haven’t stopped. I’ve just been in a different movement in the rhythm of my year.

I finished up my second season of The Portico Experience a week ago. This has required my full attention, and my writing has been intentionally shelved until the fall and winter months when I have more time to devote to it. 

For those who are new to my blog, The Portico is my one-table-per-night micro-restaurant, served in my screened portico in my backyard. I created 71 unique experiences this year, from May to October.  I design the menu based on the season and a consideration for any dietary restrictions you may have. It’s typically a four-hour ordeal. But that time frame is usually a minimum.  It’s not uncommon for guests to stay longer. One great thing about this is the guest is never in a hurry, since I don’t have to turn that table for later. It’s one party per night, and it’s all yours as long as you like.

Fall sunlight dappled on the final table of the season

Now that the weather is turning, I, too, can turn my attention. It’s my objective to create a seasonal flow to my annual calendar. The Portico is a labor-intensive operation, and since I’m the only labor involved, it can be taxing. The stress is much lower and even though I am doing things here that I could have never done in the restaurant business, the workload is still similar, especially since I function as host, server, bartender, cook, dishwasher and owner. This means lots of hats to wear during that 4-hour excursion.

It’s my plan to operate The Portico Experience for six months and to focus on my writing the other six out of the year. I am in the process of publishing my second book, due out late November.  It’s a collection of my thoughts and poems that started as a writing practice on Instagram a year and a half ago. If you are unfamiliar with this element of my work, you can view it on my IG @chefkevinshinn.

The book is titled, Use Fewer Words. It came from this piece:

To be a better writer

Be more honest


Than you were today

And use fewer words

Kevin Shinn

The inspiration of the thought came when I decided to withdraw from the playground that is Twitter and take my toys and go elsewhere. It became too negative for me. But I liked the initial parameters of Twitter, to use 140 characters to speak your piece, and leave it at that. 

I took to my typewriter with the same restrictions. Could I say something that matters in a few lines on a manual, analog machine and integrate it into the digital environment? I was going to find out.

I regularly posted my thoughts as an exercise. I wasn’t thinking it would turn into a book. I was only trying to improve my writing skill. Eventually, the questions started appearing:

“Are you saving all those?” 

“Are you going to make something out of all those?” 

“I hope you turn those into a book.”

I took that feedback as good advice and started the process a couple of months ago. I will share the details here about when the book will be available and how to purchase one.

575 entries and counting…

Regarding The 2022 season for The Portico Experience, I plan to begin taking reservations in March. If you are not on my mailing list, you can enter your email address here and you’ll get information about that in advance. Kevin’s Email List.

It’s good to be back writing again. Let’s see where it goes this time around.

Make room. Don’t hold back.

Chef Kevin

Remembering Jack

Remembering Jack Shinn, written and read by Kevin Shinn

My dad passed away 16 years ago today. And as regular practice on this blog, I repost the eulogy I wrote and read at his funeral.  It includes a story I’ve told countless times over the years.  And now that story is bearing fruit in the form of young fathers with their sons, telling me how the story has influenced how they parent.  I’m very thankful to my dad who valued wisdom over logic and reason, and had an ability to recognize value in the seemingly small and mundane things of day-to-day life

I repost this eulogy from time to time as a reminder to my regular readers, and an encouragement to those new visitors who have never read it before.

Thanks for reading.


It took a while, as it does for most youth, to realize that the vistas of the world I was seeing was a direct result of the shoulders I was standing on. I thought in order to matter in the world, you had to go out and conquer it. But what I have learned from my dad, the man named Jack Shinn, I now believe that it’s just the opposite. You make a difference by simply letting the world come to you, and then offering blessing to each and every person that comes your way.

From time to time, I would make it back to Route 2 Box 162, sometimes bringing university students with me to visit the farm and experience the country life. Without exception, every person I brought there was greeted by my Dad with a hug and a kind word. Sometimes those students would later tell me how much that meant to them. Dad seemed to think that it may be the only hug they got, so he would offer it. It didn’t matter the color of their skin or how long their hair was, they got the same attention. You make a difference by letting the world come to you and offer blessing to each and every person that comes your way.

As I got older, this lesson became more and more evident. People would say to me how much they appreciated Dad’s smile or sense of humor or offering a piece of candy. They remarked how positive he always was, how willing he was to help out. In his latter years, he dealt with much physical pain, but you would only know it through the grimace on his face. He never complained about it and never allowed it to rule his spirit.

No summary, however, would be complete without the story I have told many, many times. It’s a story that encapsulates his life and what he valued most. It’s a story that happened when I was about 12 years old, but I didn’t hear it until nearly 20 years later. The story takes place at Route 2 Box 162 Bartlesville. With very few kids around my age, I had to learn how to entertain myself. Dad helped that effort by buying me a little Yamaha 80cc Dirt bike. That motorcycle provided me countless hours of fun. With 26 acres to my discretion, one would think that would be plenty of space for a 12 year old boy to ride. But for some reason, I decided to include the front and back lawn in that 26 acres. As you can imagine, motorcycle tires are not kind to growing grass, and it didn’t take long before a nice little path was worn around the front of the house, to the back of the house, then out to the pasture. Round and round I would go, living in my mind the adventure of being a world-champion racer, or being chased by bad guys.

This path was pretty unsightly, given that it was visible to everyone that passed on the road out front. One time a neighbor had stopped by to visit and he asked Dad this question. “Jack, how come you let your son tear up the yard like that? Why don’t you make him keep out in the pasture?”

Now this was a pretty logical question given the amount of land we owned, but my Dad’s wisdom sometimes defied logic. To know my Dad was to know what a deep reservoir he was. Even though he was a man of few words, he was also a man of countless thoughts and musings. In these past few days, I have read many of those thoughts recorded in the margins of his Bible.

I believe what set my Dad apart was his ability to look at his choices and side with that which was of most importance. In other words, he had his priorities right. He responded to the neighbor by saying. “The grass will come back” he said, “but the boy won’t.”

Now if you drive by Route 2 Box 162 today, you will see the grass has come back. The boy lives in Lincoln, Nebraska in a home of his own, with two kids of his own. He hopes to be the kind of man Jack Shinn was, a man who hopes that as the world comes to him, that he will offer blessing to each and every person that comes his way.

We will miss you, Dad

Because I Have To

Any regular reader of my work will know that I’ve been pretty open about my life experience. I can point to a day in May 2010 when my writing took on a new timbre when my now late wife received her first diagnosis of cancer.  My first compulsion after receiving the news was to leave the hospital, go home and begin to write about it.  I think that’s when I knew I was a writer.

I write because I have to. 

And that’s a good motive to possess at my age.  I’m on the back 9 of my life and grateful that I am in a position to focus on what I enjoy doing, but also on things I’m good at.

I’m in my third month of my new culinary venture known as The Portico and it is already proving to be the right risk for me to take.  I mentioned this in a previous post.  It’s my one-table-per-night backyard dining experience. And I’m having more fun than I deserve.

Just like writing, my cooking is also compulsive. I feel like I have to cook for others. If I don’t, I’m afraid something will dry up inside me. And The Portico has been the perfect fit for me this season.

The Portico at night

It was all borne out of COVID restrictions last year. No one could go out to eat since all the restaurants and venues were closed. Celebrations were curtailed, yet people were clamoring to get out and do something.

You have not because you ask not, except for the first couple in May 2020 who asked me to make a meal for their 25th anniversary. They were supposed to be in London to celebrate the occasion and the travel ban nixed those plans. I said yes and built a multi-course meal with two nice wines. I boxed it up and sent it to their house and they were delighted.

Then the power of social media took over.

Don’t call this pork, “the other white meat.”

After posting photos of their food, I began receiving requests the very next day, asking, “can you do that for us?” To which I replied,  “Yes and no. I will make a meal for you, but I won’t put it in a box. Would you feel safe and comfortable in my backyard?”  They said yes.

38 dinners later, I closed out the inaugural season of The Portico on November 07, 2020.

It snowballed into an opportunity for people to gather again, and it ultimately became my new business. It was all word-of-mouth. I did no advertising. This post is the most forward I’ve been about broadcasting an explanation.

Fettuccine w/ Bacon, Snap Peas, Micro Cilantro & Nasturtium

The story is too long to include here, but the details that led to a second season include gaining approval from the IRS, the Liquor Commission and the County Health Department. I received final approval on April 29 and The Portico served its first official guests on May 01, 2021.

If you are interested in learning more about how to request a reservation this season, send an email to and I will send a full description.

Make Today Count,



Adjustment is another word for change. And change is something we all know much about in this last year.

About 7 years ago, I made an attempt to get in better physical shape by hiring the service of a personal trainer. In our very first session, he immediately assessed an important issue that he wanted to address.  He asked me to stand up straight, face him and relax. Then he told me to look down at my feet and asked me what I saw. I was confused and thought it might be a trick question.  He told me, “Look at your right foot. How is it different from your left?” I replied, “It’s angled outward just a bit.”

“There’s your problem.”

The trainer went on to say, “And I can help you fix it.” 

It seemed easy enough, but I wasn’t prepared for the work that it would require. Years of muscle memory had to be reprogrammed. His instruction was simple, but the execution was difficult.

As time progressed, my good intentions faded under the demands of a stressful marriage and business and I lost sight of the trainer’s instruction.

When my new identity began a year and a half ago, I no longer had two people to take care of and now it was back to just taking care of me.  Living alone, I had no excuses in the house to stop me from working out again, eating better and getting my body back into a fit state.

I remember the trainers advice and put it back into play. I focused on moving my right foot 10 degrees back toward center. Every time I walked, I worked at keeping the right foot pointed forward and not angled out.  It took months, but the work paid off.

I started noticing the pain in my right knee beginning to subside. My lower back now felt less pressure. Then I came to this conclusion:

Maybe I can run again?

With this 10 degree adjustment, coupled with getting twenty unnecessary pounds off my frame, I ran my first mile in at least ten years on March 26, 2021 at age 57. 

I was elated. I thought those days were behind me, and certainly the days of running 26 miles at the same pace are behind me, but my body remembered the pleasure of propelling itself forward. And that’s an amazing feeling at any age.

Running was always a motivational metaphor for me.  I recall deciding to run my first marathon in 1986 as a senior in college.  I thought if I could deal with the pain of enduring 26 miles, I’m sure it will help me deal with other kinds of pain.  

It was a prophetic thought meant for 30 years in the future when my life started falling apart.  Where did I get that wisdom at age 22?

I describe the transition through intense personal loss as coming to a place where the bleeding has stopped and the swelling has gone down and I can start to breathe normally again.  It’s time to shift from thinking about the immediate and start thinking about a future direction under my new identity.

In the last five years, I watched the dream of my work turn to a nightmare.  All three restaurants that I designed had failed and I let a lot of people down because of it.  My marriage was already on the brink of collapse and adding insult to injury, she was diagnosed with a third occurrence of ovarian cancer and would die exactly one year later.  I was unemployed and not sure what to do.

In May of 2020, a gift was presented to me in the form of a request from former patrons who knew me as “chef,” a name I was wondering if was relevant any longer. I kept my knives, but sold or gave away most of the food preparation gear I had in the garage.  They asked if I would make a meal for their 25th anniversary, as they were supposed to be in London celebrating, but the pandemic travel ban had disrupted those plans.  I agreed. I made a 5 course meal with two bottles of wine, boxed it up and sent it to their house. They paid me handsomely and I had fun preparing food again.

The very next day, I received a text from another couple who knew me as chef. They said they saw the pictures of the meal I made and wanted to ask if I would do the same for them. It was their 35th anniversary. I agreed, but with one stipulation. I would not put food in a box. I asked if they would feel safe and comfortable with me serving them in my backyard. It was outdoors and socially distant. And they agreed.

38 dinners later, I wrapped up on November 07.

It was an opportunity that found me, and it was all driven by the pandemic. People were clamoring to dine out together and word-of-mouth referrals drove the occasion.

In December of last year, I began receiving inquiries from past guests, asking if I was going to do “that thing” again. I said I never planned to do it in the first place, so who knows?

However, I had a few persistent guests that pressed me to take it seriously. They pointed out that they had never had such a unique and intimate meal completely driven, hosted, cooked and served by the chef himself.  What would it take to make this backyard experience a legitimate business?   We agreed to a meeting in January to discuss it.

Fast forward through the details, on May 01, 2021, The Portico was officially approved by the Health Department and I launched my new business venture. 

It’s just me, my food and my table. And it’s great to be back.

And like me learning to run again, I had some adjustments to make to reclaim the name chef again.

One thing I had to do was forgive myself. While I would need forgiveness from the many that I disappointed, it was extending forgiveness to myself for the mistakes I made that hurt so many. This was a critical first step in recovering from the downpour of loss.

Forgiveness is like moving my right foot 10 degrees back in lockstep with the desired direction. One attitude out of line will produce debilitating pain and prevent me from doing what I really want to do. And that’s to live a free and full life.

The Portio Experience is a 5 course dinner, served over 4+ hours. I seat one table per night and is by reservation only.  If you would like more information about attending, send an email to and add Tell Me More About The Portico in the subject line.

I’ll set the table. You bring the conversation

Chef Kevin

The Irish and Hank

Every year, I always look forward to March 17, St Patrick’s Day, as does a large part of the rest of the world. Have you ever stopped to wonder why? Why are we drawn into wearing green, drinking Guinness and eating corned beef and cabbage on that one day out of the year?  Some might say that it’s just an excuse to get drunk, and I’m here to say that I think it’s more than that.  To explain, let me share about my dog and what he has taught me about it.

Hank is a rescue dog with an unknown pedigree.  I’ve had him for about five years.  He looks like a boxer in the torso, with broad shoulders and narrow haunches, but his head looks like a bird dog of some type. When I take him to the vet, his chart reads “boxer mix” because the doctor agrees with my visual assessment. But I now know different.

Hank is a lab. And his instincts proved it for me.

I take him to the city dog park each week because he’s impossible to manage on a leash. He can roam freely on the open acres fenced in for the dogs. On one particular day, two identical black dogs found us throwing the ball and decided to join in. At once I thought I had 3 Hanks. They all responded the same way to my gestures. I would throw the ball and the three of them take off running to retrieve it.  Regardless of which dog got there first, together the three would return to me, drop the ball, and stare at me, panting, as if to say, “Do it again!”

The owner caught up to us and I asked about her dogs. She said they were black labs, purebred. I told her mine wasn’t pure, but his instincts definitely were.

It’s fascinating to me to see how a dog can be bred for certain characteristics over time. It’s in their DNA. And that’s why I think we love St Patrick’s Day.  

It’s bred into us.

The Irish are a people that have been marginalized for centuries. They have been raided, pillaged and plundered by many sources. They are anything but lucky.  Yet they are a representation of what it means to be resilient. Their music embodies both grief and celebration. The Irish can dance and mourn, weep and laugh. They drink to be happy and drink to forget. 

I think I’m instinctively drawn to this, and I don’t think I’m alone.

Beneath the beads, the Lucky Charms, the shots of Jameson and the hangovers lie an innate reason. We’re all trying to find our way back home. We want to be in a place where we feel like we belong. And it’s reasonable to think that the Irish might be of some help.

The difference in me and Hank is he doesn’t have to think about it. He responds instinctively to his true nature. I, on the other hand, deliberate and talk myself out of my deepest instincts. My heart knows its longings, but I’ve been conditioned to distrust or ignore them. But there are always voices calling me back to where I belong.

Occasionally Hank will escape the yard following his bloodlust for the squirrel or fox. But I’ve learned to not worry. He’ll find his way back home. It’s his instinct.

My heart knows where it’s from. I do well to pay attention.

It will always call me back home.

Strange Fire

At first, I hesitated to use this picture because it may be easily misunderstood, but therein lies the risk of the writer when seeking to communicate below the surface.

A few years after I moved into this house and it was evident that we would be here for a while, I built my kids a playfort. It had a swingset, a slide and a clubhouse with a shingled roof. I had fun designing and building it and it proved to be a worthwhile investment of a few weekends worth of work.  My kids spent hours with it. I taught them both how to swing themselves, but they still liked it when Dad would push.

Five years ago, when I was an empty nester, I realized that there was no longer a need for the playfort. It was showing its wear from the elements and I wondered if it’s time was up.

Instead of taking immediate action, I felt it was important to ask both my kids for their permission to tear it down. I wasn’t sure what they would say, but I wanted to honor their opinion.  They both seemed puzzled that I would ask, and gave me their blessing. But my daughter did ask one question; “What are you going to put there?”

I said, “How about a fire pit?” To which they both said, “Yes! Go for it.”

I picked a weekend to begin demolition. My plan was to cut it down into firewood sized pieces and use the old lumber to build the first fires. I began by removing the slide and the swingset before moving to the clubhouse. I was not prepared for what I found inside. In a child’s handwriting, the first words I saw were:

“Girls Only. No Boys Allowed.”

The entire walls were covered with writing, stick figures and sayings. Included were the clubhouse rules and the names of the girls in the club.

I sat down on the edge of the platform and cried.

As I felt the nostalgia sweep over me, I contemplated not tearing it down.  How could I rid myself of this history?  I stopped my work for the rest of the day. I wasnt sure I could go through with it.

As my emotions conferred with my reason, I came to a conclusion the next day. I’m getting rid of the playfort. I’m not getting rid of my children. This assertion didn’t make the demolition easy, but it did give me pause to think about the beautiful gift of memories.

The playfort served its time. It did what it was supposed to do.

I recall setting the first pieces of wood ablaze in my new backyard feature. The same emotion was there, but I knew I had to face the grief straightaway. I sat back and watched the fire consume the old lumber, and the sense of loss turned to peaceful rest.

It only took minutes to burn down a portion of what took me weeks to build and years for the kids to enjoy. Life is like that fire. What I have and what I have built will be gone in a moment. But until then, I have the choice to invest as much in it as I choose.

Since then, I’ve put many obsolete items in that fire in the same way I burned the playfort. In the picture above is an old table. It was crooked and uneven, causing it wobble when something was set on it. It had been around for years and I wasn’t sure why. So I decided to toss it into the fire one night.  I didn’t need or want it any longer. It served its purpose. Life moves on. And I move with it.

It’s time to build something new.

Did We Do What We Came To Do?

I spent a lot of time by myself last year. The pandemic and recent arctic blast of subzero temperatures has assisted this decision. But I’m an introvert, not a loner. I know how to be alone. I just don’t like feeling alone.

The sum of my life experiences add up to the whole of the man I am today.  One of those many experiences includes my childhood heritage. As a young boy growing up in a rural area of northeastern Oklahoma, I didn’t have many options for social interactions. As a result, I learned how to keep company with myself. I would have preferred hanging out with kids my age, doing the things kids did to entertain themselves. I just didn’t have that option.

I taught myself a number of skills that would come back to serve me in my new season of aloneness. I learned that complaining had no value and would not net me anything I desired. So as a boy, I retreated to my mind for companionship. My imagination kept me company. Even as it does today.

I choose to see these days as a season of time that I may never have back. I may not have the opportunity to travel at the drop of a hat or to write as freely and often as I am now. I may not always have the freedom to turn up the music at 3am when I can’t sleep or to let the dog sleep at the foot of the bed.

I may not always have the time to watch all the old war movies that I never saw.  I may never have a garden as beautiful as the one I have planned this year.  I may not have the liberty to take long walks in the middle of the afternoon because it’s finally sunny and 68 degrees.

I may never have this same chance to record the music that is hatching in my head. Or to archive my thoughts of faith and hope in audio for my family and friends to know more about me. I may never be able to bang on the drums in the basement as loudly as I do now.

There is a time and a season for everything. My dad taught me the value of this wisdom by reminding me to stop and smell the roses.  He was a certified rosarian. Growing roses was his hobby. He gave me my green thumb. I loved walking with him through his multiple rose gardens, listening to him describe the latest cultivars and varieties he was enjoying.  I’ve since taken that wisdom and made it my own. Enjoy what’s right in front of me. Right now.

In 2009 I had the opportunity to take my family to Ireland. I could not pass up this chance to get my kids to an international destination and show them another culture and way of life.  In preparation, I made a checklist of three essential items; coat, backpack and suitcase. All four of us had these three pieces and every member was responsible for toting their own. Anytime we were moving to a new area, I would ask Coat? Check. Backpack? Check. Suitcase? Check. And off we go.

I came up with a version of my dad’s roses advice on that trip.  At each city, I would ask the kids, “did we do what we came to do?” Meaning we may not ever get back here, so speak up now if there is something you want to see or do. 

I may never get this kind of time to myself ever again. Instead of wishing things would get back to normal, I don’t want to miss what is available in the abnormal. Am I doing what I’m supposed to do with the time that I have?

Am I doing what I came to do? 

Certainty and Control

The recent news of yet another noted leader in the evangelical world is making the news for revelations of sexual misconduct. Instead of explaining the details, here is an article outlining the allegations against apologist and teacher, Ravi Zacharias.

I am saddened by this news, but I am not surprised.

As one who refers to himself as a recovering evangelical, this is an area of high interest to me.  I grew up attending an evangelical church in my formative years in the 70’s and 80’s.  I studied at and hold a degree from an evangelical seminary. This is my heritage and I cannot deny or disown it. It has influenced and shaped me.

I use the term recovering to describe my faith journey much like any addict who is getting over an unhealthy relationship with something that holds power over them. In my case, it was not drugs or alcohol. Instead, I was bound to a system of thinking.

This system that I have come to reject was less about the ideas and tenants of the faith that I still hold dear to this day. It was more about the spirit that encompassed these ideas.

I’m talking about certainty and control.

As a young evangelical, I was trained in how to share my faith with others who did not believe like I did.  This training was built around being prepared with the right answers for any question that I would encounter. The oft quoted scripture used to defend was this:

“Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.”

Ravi Zacharias was at the top of the pyramid when it came to finding those answers.

He would appear on college campuses for debates with well-known atheists. As young evangelicals, we would attend these meetings much like a sporting match, hoping for a knockout blow from our champ against the opponent.  There would even be cheers when we felt like he delivered a point-scoring jab.

We all wanted to be on the winning side.

But over time, as I began to relate more and more to people who did not think like me, I grew more disillusioned with this competitive metaphor to describe my faith.  I had started making new friends who were muslim or hindu, athiest or gay. I did not like the notion of going to battle against them to prove myself right. There had to be a better way.

As an intuitive person inclined toward feeling deep emotion and instinct, I realized I had been ignoring my own heart as an evangelical.  I was taught to distrust my heart and emotions for they were considered evil and unreliable. Feelings were tertiary to facts, knowledge and reason. These were the engines to which I was instructed to pull the train. 

As I trusted my heart, I saw this dichotomy more clearly. If I ignore my heart, I ignore my story. And if I ignore my story, I miss everything in it, especially the dark parts.

I slowly started to toss overboard this flotsam and jetsam. I did not throw my faith into Davy Jones locker, but I did gladly watch the system of certainty and control settle to the bottom.

Mr Zacharias fulfilled the teachings of Jesus in these words

Jesus said to him, “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword.

Whatever means I use to protect myself will eventually be my demise and cause my downfall.  If I guard my faith by a rigid system of certainly and control, what else am I guarding? 

I like the way I live and believe now. I enjoy the freedom in it. I don’t have to convince you to think like me. I never had that need for control anyway, so why would I want to control how you think?

I’d much rather our friendship be based on curiosity than control.

Stories like Mr Zacharias will continue to emerge as long as leaders like this refuse to own their entire story. Not just the logical parts. Not just the reasonable parts. Not just in the rational thinking.

The whole story.

Creativity and Loss

Artwork by Annika Kristin Illustration
Audio track by Kevin Shinn, ©55 Degrees, 2021

All loss isn’t equal. But all loss must be grieved.

There isn’t a gold standard or a canon that outlines the right way to grieve. Loss hits us all so differently because the circumstances surrounding the loss are so different.  I only hope by adding my voice to the mix, there might be someone out there that resonates with the choices I’m making and take solace or comfort in feeling seen in their pain.

The way I choose to go about dealing with my loss isn’t about reading the right book or following a road map. But it is about listening to my heart and body and taking their opinion into account. I glean insight and wisdom from a variety of people that have suffered loss, especially those who’s loss doesn’t look like mine.  I can learn hope from those who have experienced the loss of a child, the loss of a physical home, the loss of mobility or even the loss of joy.  

Loss is absence. And it doesn’t have to mean the absence of something good. But it has to be dealt with nonetheless.

Loss creates a void, an empty space that causes a vacuum that wants to draw something back into its place. Understandably so.

And this is where mistakes get repeated. The void demands to be filled, and oftentimes, it gets filled with something all too familiar.

A person can lose a partner to divorce, but it feels more like a death. And vice versa. And the deep cavity in the heart needs tending, in order to prevent the same mistakes from happening again (and again).

I’m at a new juncture in my loss and new identity. The heavy lifting of processing and paying attention over the last year has enabled me to develop new emotional muscle. It wasn’t a passive stage, but it was still very inward focused.  I’m asking my heart and body, “what’s next?”

The void needs to be filled. This is normal human nature and requisite.  What will fill it is the $64 dollar question.

Enter the creative process.  Creativity is the ability to point to something new that did not previously exist and say, “I did that. I made that happen.” Creativity puts something on display that is a direct result of the work of my hands, my energy, my vision.

I haven’t uploaded a blogpost in a while because I’ve been putting my creative energy toward new things. I’m working on a concept for a second book.  I have a new culinary venture that I am launching in May. And I have returned to draw from a long-lost well that I love so dearly: Writing music. It’s all my attempt to fill the void. I want to look back on my creation, in the same way my Creator did on the 7th day and say:

It is very good.

Taking note of the ancient text of Scripture is profoundly important to me, but it can be easy to become so familiar with it, that eventually I become unfamiliar with its richest meaning. In order to remedy that, I create musical soundbeds to lay the text upon so I can listen to it on a walk or in the car.  I have no intention for them other than private edification. I have posted one of my recent creations for you to observe how the creative process works for me.

Make room. Don’t hold back.

Audio track by Kevin Shinn, ©55 Degrees, 2021

How Am I Doing?

The Apple of My Eye by Amy Beth Petersen

Grief is not monolithic nor unilateral. It’s multi-faceted. It’s nuanced and personal. The light fractures off my brokenness in a different array than yours. The colors that exude are much more than black and white.

Grief is like a Venn diagram. There is a vast expanse that is empty and feels void. Most of the tears shed in that space go unwitnessed. But like all terra incognita, exploration is required to create a chart and a map that might be helpful to someone following in my footsteps.

In the Venn diagram, it’s the overlap that brings insight. When my grief crosses over into your space, new acumen develops. New discoveries get added as a reference point on the new map. Intentional documentation plays a big role here.

In my newfound identity, I have a chance to take new risks and invest in myself in ways I never could before. The stakes aren’t quite so high when it’s just me on the line.  I risked everything once and lost it all. So what’s stopping me from trying again? There’s a whole lot less to bet, and a world of payouts to anticipate. It’s like I’m playing with house money.

I recently joined a writing group called hope*writers.  I decided it was time to invest in my voice as a writer and see where the road would lead. I have just scratched the surface that this resource has to offer but have already begun mining it as a valuable claim. I have connected with other writers who are telling their stories and taking note where another story overlaps with mine.

All loss must be grieved. Writers are inclined to use their words to express the resultant sorrow.  Amy Peterson is one of those authors.

I just finished her book, The Apple of My Eye. It is so beautifully written, I felt compelled to pen a short review and recommendation.

Amy lost her husband this year to a rare form of ocular cancer. With small children at home, it was an even more complicated ordeal to manage. And while the details of her loss are not equivalent to mine, the description of the emotion of five years of treatment and loss sparks deja vu.

The biggest value of this book for me is summed up in these four words in chapter 36, page 211:

“I did my best.”

Any caregiver knows the self-doubt that insidiously creeps into those thoughts that begin with, “what if…”

  • “What if I had kept up with her regular cancer screenings?”
  • “What if I hadn’t risked our life savings and future security to chase a dream?”
  • “What if I didn’t want so much?”

This hamster wheel of second guessing will keep on spinning as long as I volunteer to propel it. And at some point, when exhaustion sets in, its time for me to get off the wheel and accept that, yes, I did my best. There will always be things I wish I did differently and wish I could have changed. But I can’t live life backward.

Sometimes it takes hearing it from someone else, an experienced voice outside of my own head, to affirm what I want to know as true. To hear from someone who knows how to effortlessly describe what the inside of a hospital room smells like or the title of the hymns that the elderly man was playing on the piano in the hospital atrium, there is no substitute for this kind of possession.

All loss isn’t equal, but all loss must be grieved. In my conversations with friends this year, I glean from those who have lost a marriage, a job, and even a pet. There is no spectrum of ranking loss in terms of importance. Your loss is yours. It is loss, regardless. I can’t, nor should I try to minimize my loss by comparing it to yours.