It’s my wife’s birthday, but the present is mine.

Could I sound like more of a selfish bastard?  At least I’m a truthful one!   I know what you are thinking…here we go with another story about some tool that was forged in 1900 that now mimics a nondescript piece of metal that only depleted four months of my allowance.  Fortunately, you are wrong in your thoughts…although after reading this, you may think the piece of metal is in my head and leeching outwards through my thoughts.

I’ve had a great run in the Culinary World.   It has afforded me opportunities that I could only dream of.   I’ve been able to cook alongside some of the best in the industry.  I’ve even been able to start teaching some.  Through teaching, I believe I learned more than my students did.   I started out fattening people while in culinary school.   I’d take classes by day and work at a beautiful timber frame structure that encompassed a steakhouse and huge copper kettle brewery.   With long hours at the restaurant, knowledge from the school, and a boss that appreciated hard work and risk, I was able to move up through the ranks from working the Garde Manger station to running the entire operation as the River company’s Chef.  I miss the restaurant.  I don’t miss the permanently blood stained fingernails from having to prepare so many cuts of beef into steaks.   I do miss having the fresh seafood truck arriving at 5:30pm on a Friday night, not knowing what what inside and then creating a special in my head as my team and i dissected the ocean creature into a special that even the rancher would sink his teeth into.

I miss Sunday mornings.   No, I didn’t like working them, but if i was, I was going to have the most holy experience while doing so.  I shared my holy experience with the entire crew that had the unfortunate luck of me putting them on the schedule for the day.    Friday and Saturday nights were prime rib nights.   This wasn’t any old prime rib.  This was prime rib that I prepared a day or two in advance so it could age with a bit of horseradish crust.   It wouldn’t exactly form a pellicle. It would air-dry in the walk-in fridge, adding a whole new dimension to the taste.    Then, it would be allowed to come up to temp before being placed on the smoker.    Illegal the procedure may be, but I think the majority of folk would agree with me that sometimes skirting right outside the law just tastes better.   Now I do apologize, but I can’t go into anymore detail about the process, or someone may steal my recipe and take my retirement job away from me.   What I can say is that I would be sure not all of the smoked prime rib would be sold.   It would then get sliced thin and placed on the wood fired grill.  It would be placed along side a freshly baked baguette, some onion, and a couple slices of tomato.  Once all grilled, the sandwich would get assembled with a heavy dose of horseradish to hold it all together.   We would all eat every bit of our sandwiches.  Then we were flooded with the church crowd, hungry for lunch.   We would cook, serve, and host from the crawling position.  Something about the smoked beef would put the body into a state of paralysis bliss.

I made Cheesecakes at the brewery.   They started off being innocent.  We would use the beer sugars from the brewing process and add a bit to the batter, and add a bit to the house-made caramel topping.    Then one day a monster was created.   I’d come into the restaurant early in the morning to bake cheesecakes.   I’d pick up random ingredients on my drive in.   I made cheesecakes to freeze for the following weeks, but they never lasted long enough to go to the freezer.   People began calling us to see what flavor of cheesecake we had, not what cut of beef or fish was on the nightly menu.   People would call weeks in advance for anniversaries, engagements, and birthdays.    People would buy entire cheesecakes at the price we sold them per piece.   People were paying  upwards of $80 per cheesecake.

Steak, beer battered onion rings, cheesecake, pints of beer.  I was helping give the community exactly what they wanted.   I was giving them excess.

It was at that time I realized all the excessive desires their mouths salivated for that I made a career change to teach and heal through the purchasing, cooking, and consumption of food.   I left the restaurant industry and became a chef at a country hospital.  My goal was of course to develop a menu to help heal patients…but it was also to help retain the staff through great cafeteria meals.   Again, another monster was created.   This monster catered to the community, held classes for kids and parents on how to cook and how to cook healthy.   It also teamed up with the farmer’s market to raise money and awareness for/of local food by cooking benefit dinners and auction dinners.

Unfortunately as time went on, the corporation that owned the hospital made it a lot less enjoyable place to work.   The bowtie wearing antique Camaro driving COO left and the hospital started spiraling after that.   I was up for promotion.   I turned it down.  I got out while I could.   I became a Chef at a hospital deep in coal country.   Again, my job was employee retention.   But this time things were a bit different.   I worked for a corporation that was under contract with the corporation of the hospital.  I figured such a move would put me in a safer place, as far as my career was concerned.  It seemed like a great corporation to work for.   They flew me down to Boca Raton for training.   I don’t think I saw daylight the entire time I was down there, but the establishment was great.   I came back and i didn’t see the same greatness at this facility.  I did my best to instill it.   There was tragedy, so I worked for that person…then more tragedy…so I worked for that person as well.  I catered on top of this.   I did this, I did that.   Benefits were weak at best.   I was paying dearly for health insurance that no doctor accepted.  I was driving a great distance to be taxed a great deal.  My family was taxed as well.  I was asked if I would like to be promoted.  I turned the promotion down, again.

I’ll only touch briefly on this because i only want you to dwell on it briefly.   A hardship or health issue with a child or spouse will scare the dickens out of you.   Most people would be hugging onto every thread of their job because of the benefits they receive.   If you pay dearly for a benefit, then is it truly beneficial?   I sincerely believe they should be truthful and rename benefits.   Why aren’t they aptly named “Hardships”?

I love nothing more than creating.   If I can’t touch it and shape it or mold it, then I’m not passionate about it.   I was passionate about food.  I was passionate about cooking.   I was passionate about health.    I feel that corporate doings have bled me dry of passion.

Don’t be upset for I’m not upset.   The thing about a corporate ladder is that I’m scared of heights.   I’m scared because its a long damn way to fall.    I’m not scared that I’ll lose my grip…I’m scared someone will step on my knuckles until I release my grip.  Maybe instead of saying “Hey, you are climbing the corporate ladder”, they could have said “Hey, you are hitting every V in the river, just keep paddling and wait until you see your destination”  maybe then I would stay.

I married my wife because I love her.   She shares a good many qualities as my mother, which makes her an outstanding teacher and an awesome mama.  I didn’t think love could get any deeper until my wife and I had our first child.   Then we had to go and have another child.   Now I’m head over heels in love with my entire family.   I’m not living for myself.   I’m living for my family.  I’m living for my children.  I’m living for their future.   If I’m not present, then my roll needs a drastic change.   My conversations are molded around thoughts of my kids.  I feel like I fell into a big vat of selflessness and I love every minute of it.

I handed in my letter of resignation on a very meaningful day.   I went through the day so concerned about handing the letter in, that I forgot just how meaningful the day was.  Again, I blame this on the corporate world.   Getting hung up on job responsibilities and the company as a whole that I had completely forgotten thoughts from my heart.

On my way home that evening, I was fielding calls from my boss’s boss and from the hospital’s COO.   You know that term “Confidential”?  Apparently its a fictitious word.   I called the COO to tell him first because after all, it was his facility.  He was the one that said every word of our conversation was confidential and I agreed and asked him to keep it that way.  Within minutes of hanging up, I received a call from my boss’s boss and they began quoting my conversation from the COO.   They then went on to say something about how they were going to travel to Paris with their girlfriend and propose and  how they would appreciate it if I could stick around and hold things together so they wouldn’t have to think about work.   At this point I knew I had made the correct decision, but I had no idea I made it on such a historic day.  I hung up my cell phone, and my wife and I continued driving down the road.   Minutes later I received a text from my god-sisters.  They said they were thinking of my family and send pictures and stories of snakes and how their family encounters them.   My dad loved snakes.   It was then that I realized my dad passed away on this day and this was the first time that I had given thought to it.  I felt railed.   I blamed it on the corporation.   It wasn’t their fault.   It was the fault of no one but me.   I had put the thought so far from my memory that I had forgotten.   I felt sad for his passing.   I felt pissed as hell for forgetting.   I love my father.  I love woodworking.  I love helping people think through a problem with wood.   My father was a psychologist.  My father was a musician.  My father was a woodworker.  My father was one hell of a dude.   Sam Elliot would be proud of my father.  Frank Zappa would be proud of my father.   I’m proud to be his son.   I lay awake dreaming at night thinking of what it would be like if he could have met my children.   That would have been awesome.   He’d have them both riding the pro bodysurfing circuit at age three.  He’d have my son playing Miles Davis riffs on the trumpet and my daughter so engulfed in art and nature that she’d want nothing more in life and be perfectly content with a few songbirds in the tree and a friendly blacksnake in her arms.

My wife knows this about my father.  She sees it in me.  She sees it in her own children…his grandchildren.   My wife gives them these opportunities.   I come home from work and hear about their encounters in the forest, and the drawings that they made to tell their daily adventures.    I want to be a part of these adventures.   I want to create something for my family.  I do create wonderful meals every day, but I want to create something more.   I want to create something for families.  I want to create something that will last generations.   I want to create something new out of something old.

Its my wife’s birthday.   She has given me the present.   She has given me the support and love to pursue my ultimate desire.  She is helping me expand the woodshop into a family-run business.

Cattywampus Woodworks LLC will continue its focus on furniture, but also now expand its horizons to being a general contractor.   We will focus on home remodeling and kitchen/bath renovations, but I’m sure there will be plenty of rustic barn building projects in the future.maybe even a few historic remodels in the works!image

I’m excited.   My wife is excited.   The kids are excited.   It just feels too damn right to pass up on an opportunity such as this.

Happy Birthday April!   I love you!!

3 thoughts on “It’s my wife’s birthday, but the present is mine.

  1. Steven W Gravely says:

    My brother from another mother…Much respect…I know every word came from deep within that passionate heart of yours… man you painted a picture in my mind through your words and even though I’ve never met your family… well,I take that back…I think met your wife once while we were in culinary school, anyway congrats on career decision and happy birthday to your lovely wife, continue to live life and love hard my friend… always keeping God first, love you, Your brother from another mother,Steve.


  2. Toni Levine says:

    I know you will reach your goals….I know you will be happy and successful and I know you built me the best darned barn in Virginia. Thank you and good luck!!!!!


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