Making Room For Loneliness

In a session with The Keyholder, she asked about loneliness and what I do when I feel lonely. I replied back very confidently,

”I don’t allow it.”

Her face had that look that indicated I had said something profound, and her slight grin indicated a playfulness guarded by a professional demeanor.  Channeling her inner Tyler Durden, she shot back, “So how’s that working for you?”

I told her, “Very well, I might add.”  

I didn’t see the truck that was about to hit me, but I was blindsided by a force that I had avoided for years. Let me see if I can outline the impact.

I describe my childhood as lonely. I lived out in a rural area 15 miles from school and any potential friends that would serve as playmates.  As a result, I developed at a young age a keen ability to be alone. I retreated to my imagination for help in passing the time. I taught myself how to build things, shoot things, catch things, and even cook things. I relied on my creativity at age 12 to deal with loneliness and that skill has stayed with me at my current age of 58.

So is there a downside to this part of the story? What’s my point? It sounds like I was a clever child.

Clever, yes. There was more underneath it. 

Scared? Yes. Sad? Yes. Lonely? Absolutely.

I grew up learning to survive, but I didn’t know what it meant to thrive. I didn’t know what to look for.  I didn’t know certain conditions were even possible. Being alone was the safest place I knew, I told Loneliness to leave me alone. And she did.

Until now.

In that session with The Keyholder, her curiosity plied me with questions regarding why I didn’t allow loneliness. Bluntly, I said back, “because I don’t want to start drinking to chase her away again.”

These last two years have been marked with epiphany and apocalypse.  The Lights are coming on and the Truth is standing in the doorway. Both are asking me permission to come in and set up shop, but I’m hesitant because I like the house a little dark. My eyes hurt from the new luminescence.

The Keyholder gave me a simple way of reframing my thought process.  She asked me to consider Loneliness as a companion, as an actual person that has my best interest in mind. She said, “What if Loneliness doesn’t lead to despair?  What if she was walking you along a frightening path that leads to a place of spacious freedom?”

This is why she is the Keyholder. She unlocks these hidden places so I can move about unbound and unrestrained.

This explains why the last few weeks have been some of the hardest in my grief recovery.  I am allowing myself to be with Loneliness at her invitation to come sit with her. She wants to talk about hard things that I have shut out for years.   But I can see in her eyes that she has only my best interest in mind. She assures me that she is here to make me prosper and that I will emerge a richer man.  

She also tells me that her work is temporary. She has no intent on moving in. She just wants to clean the house so that Joy and Peace have a nice place to live.

The Tone of the Voice inside My Head

I live alone. Of course there’s Hank, but he doesn’t really count. He swears a lot, especially when I don’t throw the ball often enough or feed him on schedule. His conversation skills are limited in that way.  So I end up having conversations with myself. And I’ve learned much from these talks.

Specifically, I’ve discovered that the voice in my head has a tone to it. I didn’t know this until I found myself in this season of isolation. Here’s a little example:

You did what

These three words have no punctuation, nor non verbal cues or tone of voice to add meaning to them. Words left alone in the dictionary are inert. And it is impossible to leave them that way. As soon as I pick up a word, I add to it, simply by using my voice.

These three words could be a question.

You did what? I have no idea what you just did.

They could be a clarification:

You did what? Say again. I didn’t hear you.

They could be a shock

You did what!!! Unbelievable.

By adding a few punctuation marks, the meaning changes, but you still read them with the voice in your head.  You put your own spin, your own history, your own bias onto the words presented. This is my new discovery

The voice in my head often has two predominant tones.

An imperative mood. It tells me YOU NEED TO DO THIS NOW, even when that task or activity isn’t pressing.

And it’s a voice that isn’t always kind.  YOU COULD HAVE DONE A MUCH BETTER JOB THAN THAT. It’s hard not to agree when it sounds so authoritative like this.

The advantage of this season of having this much time alone is the opportunity to hear voices that are true and right. When the Voice in My Head says “It’s OK, son. Everything will be alright.” I like the sound of that much better.

Now when I’m in doubt, I listen for the kindest voice in my head and follow that one.

I’ll Take That Chance, Sir

I made a decision in 9th grade to not play football any longer. That choice turned out to be extremely important for me. It’s one that I still draw on today. I was 14 at the time. 

I had transferred schools in 7th grade and in an eager attempt to fit it, I signed up to play football. I learned quickly that I was not wired for the aggression required to play the sport, but I stuck with it for three years.

In the spring, the 9th graders would load a bus in the afternoon to practice with the high school team in preparation for the fall season.  I didn’t get on the bus. I stayed behind in class.

About thirty minutes into class, I got a notice saying I need to report to the principal’s office. I anxiously made the long walk down the stairs, then to his office at the end of the hallway.  He signaled me to come in. The principal was leaning back in his chair, smoking a cigarette and asked me a pointed question. “Why didn’t you get on the bus?”

I replied, “I’ve decided not to play football anymore.”

He had this look of disappointment, maybe even disgust. I recall feeling nervous, but something in me refused to cave.

“You’ll never have this opportunity again. I’m afraid you’ll regret this.” he said.

And 14-year-old me said confidently, “I’ll take that chance, sir. Can I go now?”

This probably seems like an innocuous story, but it was a defining moment for me as a kid. I felt the pressure to perform in a sport that I was not wired up for. But the desire to fit in pushed me to submit and go beyond my own sensibilities. I don’t know if there was a last straw, but I chose to listen to my heart at an early age and trust myself to do what I needed to do.

And no, I never regretted it.

This foundation gave me the courage to pack up and move to California after college.  It led me to take the risk against common sense and open a restaurant, for which I had no prior experience or training. And it also helped me in my marriage to see what was really at stake.

I was married 29 ½ years. It was buffeted by a tremendous amount of life challenges along the way, As does with any marriage, the stress took its toll and strained our relationship significantly.  We sought counseling, and each time I tried to describe the issues, the therapist would send us home with a new book on communication style or love language. 

And it never helped.

As time went on, our conflict continued. It was like two squirrels chasing each other around the same tree, getting nowhere. I kept thinking to myself that communication style is not’ our problem. There must be something deeper that is preventing the trust and openness that fosters good communication.

Eventually, I found a therapist that could see what I see. She saw past our repetitive conflict and identified the unmitigated core issues that stem from childhood trauma. These would need to be solved first.

And then cancer took her away.

Suddenly, I feel like I’m 14 again. I’m alone, just like I was in the principal’s office. Now what should I do? It wasn’t the violence of football that I wanted out of. It was the cruelty of life. How do I deal with this unfairness? There would be no hope of resolution. Our conflict went to her grave.

At the onset, there were many voices that proved helpful to me in sorting out this dilemma.  I am grateful for each one and the unique contribution they made in my recovery process.  But eventually, I had to start relying on my own voice. I couldn’t just read someone elses thoughts about grief. I had to put mine down on paper.

When I write, I am my first audience. The paragraphs above that represent the past hour of writing are primarily for me and my own inspiration and encouragement. And once I am satisfied with the result, I’ll share it with the rest of you.

This is why my mission in writing is to use my voice to help you hear yours. My work might help you think or process, maybe even smile. But ultimately, I want you to trust the voice that’s inside you. This is where your real power resides.

It All Comes Down To This

I’ve only recently discovered the Tour de France and I’m already trying to figure out how to travel to see an actual stage. It seems excessive, I know, but let me try to explain.

When my late wife was in hospice at home, she spent a lot of time sleeping. I’m an early riser to begin with, and there were many mornings that I would wake with nothing productive to do as I waited for her to wake up and tend to her needs. I don’t watch much television, but for some reason, I staggered downstairs with my coffee a little after 5am and flipped on the tube and found a live broadcast of Le Tour just beginning. As I recall, it was around a 4 hour stage and I watched the entire thing uninterrupted while she was in bed.

I was immediately hooked.

Each morning following, I intentionally got up according to that day’s start time. I paid attention to how the announcers outlined the strategies of the different teams, how some guys are just workhorses, or domestiques, whose main job is to get their superstar on the podium.  I loved learning about the distinction between physics and psychology and how teamwork plays a role just like drafting does.

Then there is the genetic piece of the pie.  And it’s simply not fair. Some riders have a genetic advantage over others. One in particular is the ability to metabolize lactic acid, which is the cause of the burn in the legs.  It differs remarkably across the athletes.  This genetic superiority allows that rider to recover from the climb or sprint much quicker, reducing the mental stress that goes with it.

But there is one common denominator that is equal throughout the peloton. 

Pain. 

No rider is immune. Everyone feels it. Acutely.

I don’t know why I thought this way, but I imagined at that level of world class talent their strength was so well developed through training that they operated on another stratum.  But Anthony McCrossan made it clear to Simon Gerrans in Stage 17 as Tadej Pojacar, Jonas Vingegaard, and Richard Carapaz made the grueling climb to the finish. McCrossan gave this illumination:

“It all comes down to the one rider who can best deal with the pain.”

World class. Top of their sport. The best of the best. Training is extremely important but it doesn’t eliminate it. None are immune to pain. 

McCrossan’s words stayed with me.  It struck a chord as I was watching the woman upstairs deal with the pain of cancer. Mixed in that was my pain of helplessness. She can’t avoid it and I can’t get rid of it for her.  I can attempt to relieve it, but no one will ever be able to prevent it.

Anyone Know What Time It Is?

About 40 years ago, I made a deliberate decision to live a life of faith. Even though there have been many points along the way that challenged the validity of that decision, I don’t regret making it. I have learned much along the way about the secrets of living a life of faith. But secret isn’t the right word. In my experience, there is nothing secret about faith. It’s available to anyone who wants it and is willing to look for it.

On several occasions, I’ve had eye-opening revelations or as I like to term them now, apocalypses. This word is often misrepresented by associating it with a foretelling of catastrophic events, or doomsday predictions. But simply stated, apocalypse means to unveil or reveal truth. Something like that happened to me this week, and I’m excited to see if I can articulate it in a concise manner this afternoon.

As I have gotten to know The Ancient of Days in my journey of faith, I have found that he teaches a course on time management. The whole class centers around this one equation:

A quick glance at it seems confusing. What the hell does that mean? That literally means nothing, because they both cancel each other out.

Brilliant analysis. I wish I had seen that earlier.

I had an epiphany this week about this equation as I listened to the story of Diane Van Deren. She’s one of the best ultra-runners in the world. She described a series of events that has enabled her to have an advantage over other competitors.

Diane has epilepsy.  She was an average runner when the seizures started. But her disease gave her a predictable warning signal before a seizure occurred. She described an aura that began to surround her. Over time, she learned that as soon as she felt this sensation, she put her running shoes on and went out the door to run. Running would quickly calm this aura and the seizure was held at bay. This was her strategy, and it was successful, but only short term.

Eventually, the seizures came quicker, so quick she could not get her shoes on fast enough. Her plan was rendered ineffective. Now what was she to do?

She submitted to an extensive bout of scans and tests to try to determine a solution to this crippling illness. She would be tested during a seizure. In so doing, doctors discovered the part of her brain governing the seizure was in her right temporal lobe, the place in the brain that oversees short term memory and orientation.

Diane agreed to do surgery to remove the misfiring part of her brain. The surgery was successful. No more seizures. This meant she could run again.

She returned to the sport she loved, and quickly discovered she had the ability to run for longer distances and durations. Why was this? 

Diane describes that the surgery didn’t take away any discomfort of running, nor did it give her any super ability to process pain. So what was her newfound edge over the competition?

She no longer had a sense of time.

She told of running a 10-day endurance event in the Yukon, where she would run 23 hrs and sleep only one hour a night. By day 6, other runners would be complaining about mental exhaustion, “I can’t believe I’ve been out here 6 days and we have 4 more to go.”

That never entered Diane’s mind, because she no longer thinks about time the same way. She’s unable to. That part of her brain is now gone. Time became irrelevant to her.

The light bulb went on for me as I saw the implications of this story to my life of faith.  It’s the point of the equation. A day is like a thousand years and a thousand years are like a day because the Ancient of Days doesn’t deal in the boundaries of time. As Diane discovered, when time isn’t a factor, she gets to function very differently now, because she thinks very differently now.  Without that limitation, she can go much further than she ever believed she could.

I have been praying for 35 years for some things to happen. I’ve gotten discouraged over that time. If I did the math right and applied the equation of The Ancient of Days, 35 years means I’ve only been waiting about 50 minutes. That’s a very different way of looking at things.

While time seems to be irrelevant to The Ancient of Days, it appears he has much more interest in timing.  

Have you ever been waiting for something good to happen or to have a prayer be answered? And you wonder if you are stupid for thinking so, then all of a sudden, a random person from out of the blue contacts you, and then the next day, someone says a word to you in passing, then you get in the car and a song comes on the radio that outlines how you feel, and then you open your phone and see a word of encouragement on IG that seems like it was meant solely for you?

That’s kind how his timing works.

In my 40 years of connection with The Ancient of Days, I find him incredibly patient, delightfully humorous, and especially interested in involving me with his plans. He loves getting people enlisted in his effort to speak to us.  When he wants our attention, he’s going to have fun orchestrating the timing of it all.

And that might take 35 years. Or 50 minutes, give or take.

Make room.

KS

Fight The Good Fight

Two years ago today, I was inducted as a member into a society for which I never sought association.  But since then I have gained a camaraderie with other members here that are among my richest life connections.

I became a widower two years ago today. I have experienced what feels like another lifetime of change in those 24 months. 

One of those changes is in how I approach my writing. I have made a commitment to myself as a writer to be as honest as possible in my work.  

No one needs guidance to know what to do with the good times. It’s when times get dark that we can’t see our way forward. That’s when the light of others becomes much more critical. I choose to be more forthcoming about the ugly parts so you can gain courage to deal with yours.

Anxiety was one of those ugly parts.

Our marriage took some heavy hits. We had plenty to upset the applecart along the way. Any disease is a struggle. Hers was ovarian cancer, an aggressive foe that takes a woman down in about 18 months. She stayed in the ring against it for 9 ½ years. It was an exhausting fight for both of us.

But for different reasons.

I witnessed a more formidable opponent show up to join in our match. Cancer called in Fear from ringside. Neither of them fight fair.

At times it felt like three against two. Cancer and Fear emit a toxin when you rub up against them in the ring. Their poison is Anxiety. It gets in the bloodstream and it wreaks havoc from within. And now we’re outnumbered.

On some days, it appeared the fight was over. Cancer and Fear were keeping quiet in their corner. She and I were in the other. But unbeknownst to us, Anxiety was still contending, gnawing at us both with an insidious appetite that ate away at our souls.

I started paying attention. Anxiety had a predictable pathology. It was akin to something like LSD. With permission from Cancer and Fear, Anxiety worked on the mind, creating hallucinating scenarios, causing us as victims to conjure mental circumstances that were not true, but produced responses as real as the nose on your face.

Anxiety nearly convinced me that my life wasn’t worth living. As I tell my story of depression, some find it hard to fathom that I was at that point. They would say. “You seemed like you were strong through it all,” Or “I’m so glad you recovered. You have so many people that love you.”

The venom of Anxiety kept me from seeing those kinds of truth statements.

Cancer robbed us of years. Anxiety robbed us of life within the years we were allotted.

I use my words to help you hear yours.

This is my mission as I try to become more effective in communicating through the written word.  If I can help put words to your thoughts or validate a feeling that you had but weren’t quite sure how to articulate it, I’ve served my purpose as a writer.

Your circumstances may never mimic mine. Hopefully your spouse never gets cancer, let alone die of it.  You may have better luck resolving conflict than I did.  Financial security may not even be an issue for you like it was for us.

But there will be challenges of some kind to deal with. No one gets through life without a big ‘ol bite of the shit sandwich.

As a man who sat bedside and watched his life partner die, I’ve earned the opportunity to speak honestly about that assignment. I learned a lot about marriage under the vow I took, “till death do us part.”

Marriage provides an unpredictable environment for two people to join together and bear their hearts and souls to each other in search of a deeper, richer life than could be experienced alone.

With an emphasis on the unpredictable part. Neither of us knew what was going to eventually hit us.

On that Saturday April morning in 1990, when I stood before witnesses and said “for better or for worse, in sickness and in health, till death do us part” I wasn’t expecting to take that literally. If I had seen the end from the beginning, I would have probably lost heart along the way.

Some days were better than others. Some years were worse than others.

We were healthy most of those days, but sickness once required me to learn how to administer an enema out of necessity during the season when the infirmity was its most acute.

“Till death do us part….” And it did.

It’s in this place I can speak about the “for better or for worse” parts. And it serves no one for me to gloss over those. I am willing to go there because it’s real life. Not just mine, but yours also. 

These are my memories today, two years into my new identity. We fought long and hard against Cancer. But at times, Fear and Anxiety caused us to turn and fight each other. If I could go back, would I do things differently? Honestly, probably not. I did the best with what I knew at the time. I was present. I stayed at the ring. I fought well. No regrets.

Thanks for reading,

KS

I Use My Voice to Help You Hear Yours

I don’t even have to look at a calendar to know that it’s been two years.

Something about how the air blows differently from the duct vents when the furnace moves air molecules versus the effect of the air conditioner.  It pushes out different scents and aromas through the house. One of those scents is the smell of death that still reminds me of what happened on November 2, 2019 in that back bedroom. It’s most noticeable at this time of year when the thermostat gets switched from cool to heat.

It doesn’t matter how hard I try, some reminders are never going to go away fully. There will always be residue that hides away from plain sight.  On certain humid days, when the house isn’t fully ventilated or if I’ve been away for a day or two, I can tell a smoker lived here before me. That would have been at least 30 years ago. The damp air convinces the walls to release a bit of its evidence.

It’s a reminder that no matter how hard I try, I can’t get rid of the past.

Now that my cooking season is ebbing, I get to allow my writing to flow. And now that I have a renewed sense of mission in my words, I approach it with new vigor and interest.

I couldn’t verbalize it when I first started writing publicly around 15 years ago. But as I look back over the context of my work, I can read between the lines and see the mission even then.

I use my words to help you find yours.

I have come to embrace the truth that I can write. To reinforce this awakening, I put the title, Author, on my new business card. And why was this so hard to do?

Owning a name is a vulnerable acceptance.  If I downplay the fact that I keep a blog and have done so for 15 years, it makes criticism easier to stomach. If you disagree or misunderstand my writing, it hurts less if I don’t think very highly of it.  If I knock myself off the pedestal, I don’t have far to fall when you try to push me off.

Writing, like cooking, is a deeply intimate expression. I’m drawing something out of my soul to introduce into yours. And we both hope that it nourishes, and doesn’t bring discomfort or displeasure.

It took me about two years into the restaurant business before I wore a chef coat, let alone refer to myself as chef. That title was for others who had earned it. I had no experience and never went to culinary school.

And here I am in my mid-life years, and I am finally figuring out what I want to do when I grow up.

I use my words to help you hear yours.

It’s always helpful to find a book, or a communicator, or a podcast that presents ideas that I resonate with. I lived for many years, however, distrusting my own heart and the ideas that were coming from it. The author/speaker/podcaster is the authority. Who am I to disagree with them?

I can say this unequivocally now: That’s a dangerous way to think.

I believe inside each and every one of us is a deep well from which life-giving water can be drawn.  It may not be a well of words like I possess. It might be a well of ideas, or a well of compassion and kindness.  Deep in someone resides a wealth of music, inventions, and a cure for cancer.  Deep in someone is a cavern full of ways to feed the homeless, or to heal the scars on our earth.  Deep in someone is a warehouse packed from floor to ceiling with ways to quell the rage that burns through the political system.

And nothing will be brought to the surface without someone who believes it’s worth going down to get it.

This is what I mean by using my voice to help you find yours.

I don’t operate in the political realm. But you might.

I’m not in the medical field. But you might be.

I don’t know biology. But you could be an expert.

If my writing can kick start you to write, my work mattered.

If my writing can make you think you might have what it takes to solve cancer, my work mattered.

If my writing can lead you to believe you can open that business, then my work mattered.

This is what I mean. I use my voice to help you hear yours.

Make room. Don’t hold back.

KS

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

Tomorrow

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 55degreesUS@gmail.com and I will send a full description.

Make Today Count,

KS