One Man’s Roofing is Another Man’s…

16 09 2009

Every so often, I have some minor epiphany that makes me understand my dad a little more.

My dad had two main jobs that I can remember while I was growing up. He was either working in the ministry in various capacities (pastor, youth pastor, etc) or he was roofing houses.

Of the two jobs, working in the ministry is what I would say he was passionate about. It’s what he went to school for; it’s the area in which he’s most obviously gifted. But it can be a complicated way to make a living. My dad’s not the kind of guy who lets something that’s broken stay broken just to maintain the status quo. He shakes it up, he fixes it, even if the fixing is going to be a painful process. It’s one of the things I admire most about my dad, but it’s also something that’s not always met with warm, cooperative support. And for that reason, a second source of income was often necessary.

My dad was also skilled in the trade of roofing, as are others in his family. It was often my dad’s fallback for supporting his wife and children. Even today, I’m betting that somewhere in Colorado, my dad is working on a roof somewhere.

He used to take me along when I was a kid. I loved being around my dad, and I loved the idea of working with my dad. But I’m not going to lie, I hated roofing and I still hate it. It’s brutal. I can’t imagine anything worse than a tear-off on a hot day. The fiberglass splinters from the shingles, the smell of sticky tar, the sore muscles from trying to balance on an incline all day. The parts that I enjoyed had nothing to do with roofing — it was talking with my dad, listening to talk radio together, eating lunch together, and the satisfaction of having accomplished something at the end of the day. But the actual work of roofing sucks.

I think that I made a conscious effort to try to do my roofing work without absorbing any of the skill or knowledge associated with it. I decided somewhere along the way that I did NOT want to know how to roof houses, because I didn’t even want it to be an option for me to fall back on roofing when I reached adulthood.

During my sophomore year of high school, my school decided to offer a course called “Internet.” In this course, the teacher and the students learned alongside each other just what exactly this thing called the internet, rapidly growing in popularity, was all about. I got the school library to purchase a few books that would teach me how to build websites. Back then, it was strictly a manual endeavor — websites were built by making graphics in Adobe Photoshop and coding pages manually in Windows Notepad. I built my school’s first website, and we were one of the first schools in the entire state to have a website.

I started putting that knowledge to work shortly after high school. I continued learning and continued building. Several of my jobs have at least involved, if not centered around, web design. I’ve done numerous websites as a contractor, and still continue to do so.

So this week, when I started to take a hard look at the financials for my cafe and realized that it’s not making the money it needs to be making, I realized that I once again need to get proactive about doing something additional to make sure that the bills are paid. My mind, of course, immediately turned toward securing more website work.

And that’s when it hit me: in my determination to avoid becoming a roofer like my dad, I actually did exactly the same thing as my dad.

His roofing is my website development.

Because the funny thing is, web design isn’t something that I love, but it’s something that I know how to do, it’s something that makes decent money, it’s something that I’m good at, and it’s something that I don’t really mind even if I don’t love it. And at the end of the day, my biggest concern is strictly on making sure that I’m bringing in the resources necessary to take care of my wife and children. And building websites is a way for me to do that when my other endeavors aren’t able to.

It got me thinking about my dad and how hard he worked to provide for his family. He made his fair share of mistakes as a father, and I think he’d be the first to tell you that. But I never had a dad who sat around doing nothing while his family went in need of provision.

It all seems like a pretty obvious lesson, but it still felt like a significant realization to me. In a perfect world, I think we’d all be doing something for a living that we enjoyed and that reflected our natural talents and abilities. But in the real world, when you have a family to support, supporting them is really the most important thing.

I get it now — I get why my dad spent so much of his life doing something other than what I always perceived to be his “true calling.” He knew that he had a responsibility and a commitment to his wife and his children, and if roofing houses was the way he best knew how to fulfill that, then that was what he was going to do.

And so it’s with my dad in mind that I set out to start rounding up some more work today.

My family deserves nothing less.


Dirk’s Shitweed

31 08 2009

Some of you who read my blog won’t find this funny at all, and I apologize in advance. I, on the other hand, thought it was hilarious.

Dirk, one of my employees, just came into work after having the whole weekend off. I asked him how his weekend went. “Pretty good,” he said. “I smoked some Shitweed.”

I laughed like I understood so as not to appear ignorant, but then my curiosity got the better of me.

“What’s Shitweed?” I asked.

He answered, “The kind of weed where after you smoke it, you don’t wanna do SHIT.”


Barcelona – Please Don’t Go (With Drums)

18 08 2009

I recently fell in love with a song called “Please Don’t Go” by Barcelona. The song is gorgeous and recently gained a good amount of added exposure when it was featured in a YouTube video of the Kuroshio Sea exhibit in Okinawa, the second-largest indoor aquarium in the world.

Even though the song is excellent in its original form, and I highly recommend purchasing the album (as I did), I kept finding myself trying to drum along to the song in my head. I finally decided that I had to record a drum track and then remaster the original with my track added. So I did.

As an introduction to the song, here’s the Kuroshio Sea video so you can hear the original version. (The video is well worth watching in its 5-minute entirety, both for the beautiful song and the beautiful footage. Whale sharks, can you even imagine? What an incredible exhibit. I will visit this someday.)

And then there’s my version with the drum track added. A few quick notes on this version:

  • First, I was aiming for a very ethereal drum track that would complement, rather than detract from, the dreamlike feel of the original version of the song, hence all the washy reverb. I realized there was a chance it would sound a little big-hair with that much reverb, but the cleaner, unprocessed recording just sounded like it was trying to compete with the piano. The verbier one blended into the strings much more nicely.
  • Second, I would like to point out that I am very humbly submitting this version of the song to the blogosphere, realizing full well that the original song was very well crafted without needing any interference on my part. I can just picture the members of Barcelona hearing this version and saying, “Oh man, what on earth did this guy do to our song?”
  • Third, I will be the first to admit that Rhett Sloanlake, the band’s drummer, could have laid down drums for this track much better than I did. I’m no professional; I’m just some guy with a coffeeshop in the middle of nowhere. In the unlikely event that anyone ever notices or hears this version, please know that it is being offered with much respect and out of love for the original song itself. This is the version I heard in my head every time I listened to the original, and thus decided I needed to actualize.

So, without further ado, here it is:

Barcelona – Please Don’t Go (With Drums)

And finally, here’s a link to the downloadable file of my remastered version with the drum track added. I have a request to make, however. If you intend to download this version, please, PLEASE support the original recording artist by FIRST buying the original track. It can be purchased for just 99 cents on iTunes ( or ZunePass. Even better, buy the whole album (like I did), which is well worth owning.

Download Link:

If you’re interested in more of my music (trust me, it’s nothing to get excited over), you can find me on MySpace at:

You can find Barcelona on MySpace at:
Barcelona’s official website is at:
Buy the original version of Barcelona’s “Please Don’t Go” on iTunes:

Manager vs Employee

16 07 2009

I have the best employees in the world. They are each my favorite for different reasons.

One of them is named Kiera. Honestly, you have to see Kiera to understand Kiera, but I’ll do my best to describe.

Her hair is electric pink. She has a few tattoos. She has a nose ring — not the stud in the nostril, but the ring in the middle — three lip studs, and a few other random piercings. Her wardrobe… well, let’s just say you won’t find most of her clothes in a catalog or a department store. One of her accessories is a purse that she sewed out of Capri Sun juice packs.

The very moment Kiera asked for an application, I decided on the spot that I wanted her to come work here. I didn’t tell her that; she filled out the application and interviewed just like anyone else. But, as I had suspected, she has a personality and sense of humor that just… well, it just all belongs here. I knew she would bring a unique piece to this puzzle that no one else would, and I hope we get to enjoy having her here at the cafe for a long time.

She used to waitress at Denny’s. A secret shopper complained about her appearance and she got the boot. I guess some people make negative assumptions about people with piercings, which is ironic because she probably has the best personal hygiene of anyone who works here. And she makes the most beautiful Chef Salad you have ever seen in your life. Plus, as Grandad Turpen observed, the hot pink hair would make it so much easier to see before you took a bite if you ever had a hair in your food (which hasn’t ever happened, so far as I know).

When she interviewed, she offered to tone down her look and take out the piercings during work. I told her just to be herself. If I hired her, it was because I wanted to hire her and not some other version of who I thought she should be. I knew I was running the risk of alienating the occasional customer who might be put off by her appearance, but I also suspected that for every person who might be turned off, there would be ten other people who would come back because they’re fascinated by the interesting-looking person at the coffee shop.

Kiera’s been here about a month now. She’s got most of her job down, with the exception of knowing how to make some of our less-frequently-ordered drinks.

Tonight, Kiera and I had a Manager versus Employee moment. My employees know that if there are no customers waiting and absolutely everything is done on their list, they can read, surf the web, whatever, until there’s something to do. But if someone comes up to the counter and my employees don’t realize it, I throw a small fit.

So tonight, there’s a customer waiting at the counter for maybe the third time while Kiera’s messing around on MySpace. I lean over and say, “Kiera, you know I love having you work here, right?” She nods. And I say, “So go WORK here!” She got it.

Maybe two minutes later, she comes over to where I’m talking to some of our regular customers. She demands, with far too much satisfaction, “Rob, I know you like visiting with the customers, but since you’re my manager, why don’t you come teach me how to make an iced chai!”

I laughed pretty hard. Chalk one up for Kiera.

Cafe as Creative Expression

25 06 2009

So for those of you who don’t already know (and if you’re my friend on Facebook, your not knowing is sort of unthinkable), about a month ago I became the co-owner of the cyber cafe in Gallup where I had gone to work about two months prior.

As I have expressed on numerous occasions, I absolutely love what I am doing. It is one of the most fun, demanding, rewarding, exhausting, and enjoyable things I have ever tackled in my life.

I want to share a major part of the reason I love it so much.

I’ve worked at restaurants before, and while I’ve enjoyed those jobs, too, being the owner of a place like this provides me with something unique and unexpected, something that has been largely missing from my life the past year since our move to Gallup — an opportunity for creative expression.

I love the way that this place becomes, a little bit more every day, an extension of my own personality.

One example: I stopped turning on the fluorescent lights and opted instead for the softer incandescents. It was a little strange at first because, walking in here from the bright outdoors, it seems a little dark at first. But an odd thing happened with the dramatic change in lighting. Customers started to express that this place “had a great feel.” They started to see it as a refuge from the outside world — a place where they could come in and check their email over a latte, or read a book while sipping a smoothie, or eat a sandwich while getting lost in a video game. They hang out for longer periods of time now. They order more food and drinks. This place becomes a highlight of their day, not just another stop within the daily routine. Even some of the older folk who come in for their morning coffee, the ones who told me they didn’t like the lighting change, are showing up more often instead of less.

I stopped tuning into local, commercial-laden radio. Instead, I bought a Zune pass allowing us unlimited music downloads for a flat monthly fee, and now I build a music playlist for each day that’s always different and never plays the same song twice in the same day. Each of my employees has made his or her own contributions to the music collection, and in that way even the background music reflects our unique tastes and personalities. I love that people can come into my cafe and hear familiar songs but also some of my favorite musicians that probably don’t get much airplay in other eating establishments — musicians like Plumb, Chasing Furies, The Appleseed Cast and The Echoing Green. And every day, there is a musical closing-time regimen that requires the playing of two songs: Closing Time by Semisonic and Another One Bites the Dust by Queen. The day can’t end properly until those songs have played.

I banished most of the pre-made food that was on the menu when I first arrived. Sandwiches and salads are now made fresh to order, and I picked how I want them to look when they’re finished. The presentation is gorgeous. Our sandwiches are the kind that people notice when they’re on someone else’s table and say, “Can I order one of those, too?” I’m planning to add grilled panini sandwiches to the menu within the next few weeks.

I expanded our specialty coffee menu with new Signature Lattés featuring unique flavor combinations. You can go to a handful of other places in town and order a vanilla latté or a café mocha, but this is the only place around where you can order a German Chocolate Latté (Ghirardelli chocolate, caramel, and coconut), a Leprechaun Latté (Irish Cream and Vanilla), a Black Forest Latté (Chocolate, Cherry and Vanilla), a Pink Panther Latté (White Chocolate and Raspberry) or a Funky Monkey Latté (Banana and Coconut).

I think that the way I approach this place as a creative extension of myself is why I get frustrated when I’m not able to do everything as quickly as I want to do it. One example: When I arrived, this was a place where everything is served on a styrofoam plate with plastic utensils. I’ve started to purchase a collection of dishes (not ugly restaurant ones, but trendy black ones) but it will still be a bit before we have enough to start utilizing them. (And there’s more important stuff I need to buy first, like a vehicle.) But disposable dishes just don’t fit into my vision for this place, so they’re on their way out.

I love the way that this place is gradually reflecting my vision for what it has the potential of becoming.

Mostly it makes me wish the rest of the people I love most could come out here (or for the ones who do, come out here more often). That’s probably the part that is the hardest. Even in Colorado, it was never often enough that I could get my family out to experience whatever creative outlet in which I was taking part. When you put yourself out there, you hope that the people who matter most in your life will be able to be a part of that. Only a few of those people live out here.

Right now, I’m looking forward to some promised visits this summer. And who knows? Maybe if this place becomes successful enough, I’ll be able to talk some of them into moving out here!

Rob’s Super-Secret Chili Recipe

16 03 2009

Mine is not a cooking blog, but I’m deviating from the norm to bring you my personal recipe for chili with beans. I call it Rob’s Super-Secret Chili Recipe, though it’s obviously not so secret if I’m posting it on my blog. Still, I guarantee that when you take this to your next family gathering or work potluck, you won’t need to bring leftovers home.

It has taken a substantial amount of trial and error to get this right. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say, not so much “error” as it was thinking, “This could be better,” and then figuring out how to make it so. Each time, it has been better than the time before. I am finally ready to present it as a final version suitable for sharing.

A word of caution – this recipe has some ingredients not too often found in chili. You might be tempted to pass them over, but they really do work together quite harmoniously for a final product that is quite delicious. Resist the temptation to omit, or to substitute (unless a suitable substitution is indicated).

And finally, this chili will be good enough to eat just after it’s been prepared, but to truly reach its full potential, it needs to be prepared, refrigerated overnight, and then heated again (the best way is in a crockpot; a microwave is suitable; if you reheat it on the stove, don’t heat too quickly so as to prevent scorching to the bottom of the pot). The wonderfulness is dramatically increased when it’s eaten on the second day.

Rob’s Super-Secret Chili Recipe

1 lb beef chuck, sirloin or stew beef, cut into 1/2″ pieces (keep these bits small)
1 lb lean ground beef
1 large onion, chopped
2 leeks, thoroughly washed and chopped *
6 cloves garlic
2 Tbsp vegetable oil
2 C water
1/4 C brown sugar, packed
1 bottle Guinness beer **
2 cans (6 oz each) tomato paste
1 can (14.5 oz) petite diced tomatoes (do not drain)
1 can (8 oz) diced green chiles
4 Tbsp chili powder
2 Tbsp Better-Than-Bouillon, beef flavor ***
2 Tbsp red wine vinegar
1 Tbsp unsweetened cocoa
1 Tbsp ground cumin seed
2 tsp instant coffee ****
2 tsp monosodium glutamate *****
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp dried parsley
1 tsp ground cayenne pepper
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp dry ground mustard
1 can each (about 15 oz each) dark red kidney, light red kidney, pinto, and black beans ******

1. In large frying pan, cook beef chunks, ground beef, onions, leeks and garlic in oil for about 12 minutes over medium-high heat, stirring often.

2. In large stock pot, combine all remaining ingredients except beans. Mix well. Bring to boil, then reduce heat to medium-low.

3. Add beef mixture to stock pot mixture. Cover. Adjust temperature to maintain a low simmer. Simmer 60 minutes.

4. Add beans. Cover and simmer 60 minutes.

5. Uncover and simmer about 15 minutes to thicken.

Tips for serving: Refrigerate overnight, then reheat prior to serving. Serve with grated cheddar and a small dollop of sour cream on each bowl. Excellent stir-ins are torn flour tortilla or Fritos.

* If you’re unfamiliar with leeks, here are some tips: Take apart each layer and rinse away any dirt or debris. It’s like celery; it accumulates near the base between layers. Use the bottom, white half of the leek and discard the green top half. If leeks prove too daunting for you, substitute another onion. Green onion is okay, too.

** Guinness works best. Acceptable substitutions are other dark, stout beers, or a red beer (such as Killian’s). Don’t use a light beer unless it’s the only alternative to no beer. Using bottled instead of canned beer will prevent a metallic taste in the chili. Canned beer is an abomination unto the Lord. And don’t skip the beer. Relax; the alcohol evaporates while cooking. The flavor it imparts is essential.

*** Better Than Bouillon is usually available alongside powdered stock in the grocery store, and it makes a notable difference over the powdered. If you use powdered stock, use the amount that would make six cups. Don’t add extra water. If your only option is liquid beef stock, eliminate the 2 C of water from the recipe and remove the cover for a longer portion of the simmering to allow some evaporation. The chili shouldn’t be watery.

**** Yes, coffee. I promise, it tastes delicious in the chili whether you like coffee or not. I recommend instant coffee because it keeps the chili from becoming too watery, but you can use brewed coffee instead. If you do this, eliminate the 2 C of water from the recipe. Feel free to use decaffeinated if you prefer, as caffeine (unlike the alcohol in the beer) does NOT cook its way out of the chili. It’s a small enough quantity that I haven’t noticed caffeine reactions when serving this, but use your best judgment.

***** I realize that the old stigma about MSG still persists. I have never seen a reaction to MSG unless the person knew they were eating it and consequently got mentally worked up over it because they believe they had a sensitivity. Magically, when I “forget” to mention the MSG, everyone goes about their business eating happily and feeling wonderfully. I recommend that you don’t omit this step because it dramatically enhances the flavor. If you can’t bring yourself to use it, though, substitute an additional teaspoon of kosher salt instead. Having trouble finding MSG? Look in the spice aisle for a product called “Accent” Flavor Enhancer. The only ingredient is MSG. Still can’t find it? Ask at an Asian grocery.

****** I find myself in a perpetual dilemma over whether or not to drain the beans, which are usually canned in corn syrup. Adding the entire contents of the can makes for a sweeter chili, which is not necessarily bad, but sometimes it becomes TOO sweet and that’s hard to reverse. I usually find myself draining the beans and then adding a little more brown sugar to the chili until it’s just the right sweetness.

A Dollar

8 03 2009

Let me tell you one of the reasons I love my wife: she can, without fail, come up with the one line in any situation that will make me laugh the hardest. I think she knows me and my sense of humor so well that she can consistently come up with the completely unexpected remark that makes me say, “That was the funniest thing you could have possibly said right that second.”

Breakfast this morning came from the grocery store bakery. The kids and I had donuts, but Liesl opted for cheese danish. This would only happen on a Sunday, because my wife the superwoman has been doing an amazing job taking control of her diet. Sundays are the day she allows herself a little flexibility. It was a large danish, the kind you set out for everyone  at the breakfast table. Knowing that she probably wouldn’t eat any more of the danish after today, and that there would probably be quite a bit left over, I joked that she had better finish off the whole danish while it was still Sunday.

“I’ll give you a dollar if you eat that whole thing in one sitting,” I teased. Without missing a beat, she looked at me and said with absolute confidence, “You’ll give me a dollar if I tell you to give me a dollar.”

I laughed hard. She’s totally right.