Prejudice and Jello Salad

Prejudice and Jello Salad.

Thanksgiving break and my daughter Kathryn is preparing to leave the U of A and come home to the Upper Midwest for the holiday.  “I’m looking forward to my mother’s Jello salad,” she tells her western friends.  “What’s Jello salad?” they query.  

Back in Illinois, she relates the above. Kathryn explains that her friends know what Jello is, it is the salad part that is confusing. I guess that makes sense as Jello salads are still only popular a few places: the Midwest, the South, and Utah.  In other regions of the country, Jello salad is mostly forgotten.

To gain a better understanding of contemporary feelings around Jello salad, I turned to YouTube’s query function.   Up popped a number of videos, most of them created by millennials.  In one video a couple makes a simple Jello salad and then warm the mold too much when they try to release the Jello.  Out comes a slimy mess.  They make disparaging comments on how gross and disgusting Jello salad is.  Another channel makes a classic lime Jello salad that has mayonnaise as one of its ingredients.  “I can’t get past the mayonnaise,” the host says as she twists her face. Still another channel has two hosts sitting at a desk, news anchor style. They don’t bother to make anything; they just show Jello salad recipes scanned from magazines from the 1950s.  Laughs, gagging noise, and other disgusting sounds erupt from them in forced humor.  The implication being that these are some of the most disgusting foods that they have ever seen. I am saddened.

If you are over 50, you probably have some recollection what a Jello salad is. Let me give the rest of you a brief history of Jello.  Jello is a brand name for gelatin, an animal product that is derived from processing collagen that is abundantly found in connective tissue.  There are records from the 1500s where the wealthy ate gelled foods served up in fancy molds.  In the middle 1800s techniques were developed to create a gelatin powder, and shortly after that Pearle and May Waits combined the powder with flavorings and sugar to create Jello. At the turn of the 20th century, Jello’s popularity skyrocketed with clever advertising that also features recipes that combined Jello with other food ingredients.

In some ways, Jello was one of the original fusion foods, as it allowed homemakers creative license to combine Jello with all sorts of things, both savory and sweet.  The mixture could then be poured into a mold, and the resulting dish would be not only tasty but also beautiful. Countless Jello recipes combine Jello (often lime flavored) with vegetables.  These are one form of “Jello salad.”  However, it is easy to broaden the definition of salad. There are recipes for tuna and chicken Jello salads, and a multitude of recipes for sweet salads that combine fruit and a wide variety of ingredients like marshmallows, cream cheese, or whipped topping (Cool Whip). In the spirit of a tossed salad, many recipes have a little mayonnaise in them. Although it may sound disgusting, mayonnaise adds a creamy goodness that tones down the sweetness of the Jello in a good way.

Jello was often served in my 1960s home.  Sometimes plain as a snack, or with fruit cocktail suspended in it.  My mother would make Jello salads for special occasions, always of the sweet variety. Typically, they would be poured into her prized Tupperware mold that had a quick release top for easy salad removal.  Although my mother made a variety of Jello salads, she is most remembered for a classic Lime Jello that blended cream cheese, cottage cheese, and pineapple into a green delight.  This signature salad is now brought to family gatherings by my niece “Kat,” and it has become her signature Jello salad. My wife fondly recalls her mother’s “Under-the-Sea” Jello Salad (Lime Jello, pears, cream cheese and a touch of cinnamon).  My sister-in-law is famous for her Eggnog Jello, and my wife’s signature Jello salad is a layered concoction that has a graham cracker crust, a cream cheese/Cool Whip layer, a Cranberry Jello/mandarin orange layer and a top Cool Whip only layer.  Julie’s salad is made in a 9 x 13 pan, and it is cut into squares for serving.

Many of the above concoctions may sound dessert-like, and indeed there are many desserts that use Jello.  Pies, parfaits, and poke cakes are just some that come to mind. So what is the difference between a Jello salad and a Jello dessert?  Often, not much.  A salad is served with the meal; a dessert is served afterward.  If it was molded, it was a salad.  If it looked like a dessert, it was a dessert.  I know that this is a weak convention, but that is the way it is.

A homemade Midwestern celebration (not catered) will likely have Jello salads.  This is not the case for a fancy dinner.  Despite millennials disgusting grunts, many Jello salads are lovely.  Like a good pot roast, they don’t claim to be haute cuisine.  But like a pot roast, they can be delicious and satisfying.

When I was researching contemporary views on Jello salad I was struck with the bias that so many younger people had against it. That bias was formed by lack of experience, lack of understanding, and preconceived notions.  People were willing to write off Jello salads because they didn’t conform to something that was familiar to them. YouTubers who sell their channels by trying to be sophisticated and hip were happy to discount something that was outside of their comfort zone. Strong negative judgments were formed with little and in some cases no objective evidence. They hated Jello salads because of their ignorance.  The salads were different, and different was terrible.  

Our views on Jello salads are not that different from our views of people.  Often if we are familiar with them, we are willing to accept and even embrace them, flaws and all.  However, if they are different from what we are used to it is easy to come up with biases and conclusions about them that can be negative and demeaning.  

Race, gender, sexual orientation, religion; it is so easy to judge the label and not the person.  May I suggest that you make a nice Jello salad today and serve it up with an open mind.  You may find that you think differently about it.  Perhaps you could also experience a person who is different from you; you may find them sweet and delightful.

Our well-used recipe!
Jello salad at a family party.


Ice On The Road!

Ice On The Road!

The basement bonus bedroom was dark and quiet.  Julie asked me, “What time is it?”  I looked over at the little nightstand and touched my Apple Watch to activate it.  “Nine-ten,’ I said.  “We have to get up!” she exclaimed.  

Our Thursday morning was already starting late.  We had hoped to leave Minnesota early and avoid the predicted snow.  I quickly got dressed and headed upstairs where I was greeted by my in-laws, and our hosts the Petersons.

The large granite island in the kitchen already had breakfast laid out in a buffet style. Yogurt, frozen berries, fresh fruit, homemade granola, juice, an oatmeal bake.  I spooned up some yogurt and tossed onto it a large scoop of frozen fruit. I grabbed a couple clementines and headed to the side counter for the coffee maker and a mug of strong black coffee. I sat at the big rectangular table and chatted with my relatives, as Julie came up the stairs and headed for the coffee. Grace appeared, followed by Kathryn.  Will was still missing, and so I sent Grace down to rouse him awake.

Breakfast now done, we repacked the car.  It was 10:30 AM and Julie reminded me that we had promised Will that he could go to Ragstock at the Mall of America. Ragstock is a hip Goodwill type of store that Will likes. The chain is Minnesota based, and there is no Illinois outlet.  

I hate malls, but the trip to Ragstock was part of Will’s Christmas gift. The five of us piled into the Flex, and I dialed in the M of A on the car’s GPS touch panel.  

The Mall of America has a  Tim Hortons. As we passed it, I told the family, “After Ragstock I get coffee.”  I wanted a little Timmy’s out of the deal.  The family agreed.

Shopping and coffee completed, we got back into the car and drove towards the parking lot ramp.  I could feel the Flex slip and slide.  “Oh crap,” I thought.  We were 8 hours away from home, and the roads were icy.  We entered the expressway, which was moving at a snail’s pace. Despite the slow speed, there were cars in the ditch.  I pressed the wash button on the car’s wiper control dial and heard the whir of the pump; no windshield washing fluid appeared.  My windows were starting to salt up from the road spray, and the windshield was turning a pebbly opaque.

Car slipping, poor visibility, no place to stop.  We moved on because it was the only option.  Eventually, I was able to pull over and clear the ice from the wiper cowl.  I could now get washer fluid on the window, but only from the passenger side nozzle.  Some of that fluid would mist over to the driver’s side giving me a 1-inch swatch to peer out of. Double crap!

Into Wisconsin, we traveled and saw more vehicles in the ditch.  Some looked like they just ran off the road, others squashed and belly up.  We saw two semis abandoned; the second one was partially off of a bridge.  Police prowlers with their Mars lights ablaze were everywhere. I could feel my jaw tightening as I consciously tried to stop grinding my teeth.  I positioned my torso to the right to increase my view. This caused my back to stiffen up.

A December trip to Minnesota is always a game of chance. Sometimes we have clear sailing, at other times we face white outs and black ice.

On past trips, we have spent nights in random hotels in unknown towns, and even ate our Christmas Eve dinner at a truck stop.  As the family’s main driver I do a minute to minute risk analysis.  The tipping point is usually determined by my stomach.  When I feel that it is in a permanent knot I know it is time to find refuge.

Yesterday’s trip was right on the edge but never crossed over the line, so I kept on driving.  As we were about to exit Wisconsin, the windshield fluid ran out.  Luckily, there was an exit ahead.  I felt smug because I had an extra gallon of wash fluid in the car.  I popped the hood, but I couldn’t figure out how to release its safety hatch. A wave of panic hit me with enormous force as it was injected with the stress of driving over 300 miles in abysmal conditions. I put on my “doctor” hat and forced myself to calm down.  “Think logically.  Give yourself a few seconds to gather yourself. Your panic is preventing you from accomplishing a simple task,” I told myself.  With my terror down a few notches, I pulled out my iPhone and typed in, “How do I release the hood latch on a Ford Flex.”  The 4th result on the search page gave me the required answer.  Up went the hood, in went the fluid.

As we crossed the Wisconsin/Illinois border I pressed the windshield washer button for what seemed like the millionth time.  Holy cow, both jets now worked, I could see out of the entire window!

I drove the final 100 miles back home.  The road was less slippery, my windows now clean. The remaining trip was not stress-free; it was less stressful.

Dear reader, I write you today to remind you to be prepared when you drive in adverse conditions.  We had proper clothing, blankets, food, and washer fluid.  Yet I didn’t pre-check the window washers, and I didn’t even know how to completely unlatch the car’s hood.

When traveling in winter, dress appropriately, have an ice scraper, and a cell phone with you.  Do this even if you are going a mile down the street to your grocery store.  Remember, to use common sense, and trust your gut.  Slow down in slippery conditions.  Stay home, turn around, or seek refuge if you feel that it is too dangerous to drive.

Will we drive back to Minnesota next Christmas?  Probably, but we will have food, sleeping bags, gloves, and anything else that I can think of to keep a stressful situation from turning into a dangerous one. Of course, I will check the windshield wipers.

Happy winter you ol’ Midwesterners! The rest of you don’t know what you are missing.

A little Timmy’s to soften my dislike of shopping malls.


Challah On Christmas

Challah On Christmas.

Saturday before Christmas and my son William left an urgent note on the kitchen countertop. “We need cat food!”  Day three of his plea; it was time to act.  

Our cat eats Iams brand cat food. Since it was Christmas, I thought it would be nice to get her a little wet food and a cat toy as Christmas presents.  Mercury has never stated a particular religious preference, but I knew she wouldn’t object to any holiday that would score her some Friskies pate. It was time to make a trip to Walmart. Unfortunately, a place to avoid on a Saturday afternoon is Walmart.

To buffer the trauma of hoards of Walmart shoppers I asked Grace and William to come along.  To sweeten the deal, I promised them lunch at Portillo’s. They accepted.

“Do we need any groceries?”  I asked the kids.  Silence for a moment and then Grace said, “Dad, let’s make Challah bread.”  Grace loves the stuff, which we usually buy at a local bread store.  I had told her that I made Challah when I was a resident physician and was living in the predominantly Jewish suburb of Skokie.  However, that was over 30 years ago.  “OK,” I said.  “Look up a recipe on your phone.  At the very least we need to buy yeast.”

Back home and out came the Bosch Universal Mixer.  In went water, oil, yeast, honey, eggs, salt, and flour. Around and around the mixture spun and kneaded.  After a rise, we divided up the dough and braided it into two loaves.  The smell of baking bread drove the entire family mad with desire.  The result was worth our effort. The bread was much better than what we would have purchased.  Soft, slightly sweet, warm.  A little unsalted butter melted onto each slice… perfection.

I was raised Catholic and currently attend a non-denominational Christian church. With that said, I love Jewish food, which is very similar to the Eastern European food that I grew up with. Lox, bagels, kreplach, latkes, the list of mouthwatering delicacies are endless.

Growing up I had no exposure to other cultures and religions.  As I grew up, I started to meet people that were “different” than me.  Jews, Muslims, Hindus, and so on.

One of the things that brought us together was food.  Brisket, hummus, shawarma, mango chutney, dal, tandoori chicken. Dining at a friend’s house, eating at a restaurant;  we ate delicious foods made with creativity and care.

When you eat with another person, you share something special.  Breaking bread is much more than filling your stomach.  You eat with people who you care about.  You eat with people who you trust.  You talk, you share, you laugh. Food becomes a link between the two of you. By eating together you realize your similarities and accept your differences.

Christmas signifies the birth of Christ and the start of Christianity. A belief system of inclusion, not division.  There are those who will use any religion to control and manipulate others.  They create “us versus them” scenarios to bolster their power. I don’t believe that exclusion and demonization of others has ever been the intent of any true religious dogma.

Our world is polarized.  It is so easy to identify a group of people to vilify and blame. Perhaps we all should preach less at each other, and dine more with each other. Let’s do lunch!

Making Challah
Two fragrant loves!


The Empty Office

The Empty Office

For over twenty years I sat at my desk, facing south.  To my right were the huge windows that overlooked Seven Gables Park.  To my left was the computer desk with my two Apple monitors.  Behind me were my bookcases.  In front of me was my wall of diplomas and certificates.  Twenty years, a long time.

I remember where we were planning this office suite.  The thirteen offices, the clerical bullpen, the conference room, the waiting room, the kitchen.  It was new and shiny in 1996. I remember the smell of carpeting and fresh paint. I remember bringing in a guitar so I could practice during free time.  But there was no free time.  I remember the early partner meetings.  My push to bring technology to our practice.  I designed the first logo, built the first website, designed the brochures, programmed the voicemail, starting the podcast, and so it went.  It was exciting to combine technology with a psychiatric practice.  Cutting edge in the day.

Over 20 years sitting with patients.  Some happy, some sad, some angry, some confused and psychotic. Most patients would choose the couch, a position where I could see them and the peaceful park beyond.

Over twenty years of picking up voicemail, filling prescriptions, returning phone calls.  Over twenty years of eating at my desk so I wouldn’t have to stay later than my already late hours. Over twenty years of taking a quick 5-minute nap at my desk. Over twenty years of thinking about other people’s problems.  

My office was my second home.  It was filled with me.  My bookcases full of knowledge and tchotkes, my desk drawers containing everything from pens to silverware. My life condensed.  My place.

A few weeks before I closed my private practice I started to move things out.  I did this carefully, as I didn’t want my patients to see my office in a transition state.  I didn’t want to stress them more.  I took out big things that weren’t vital.  The fake ficus, my twin Apple monitors, the old 1930s console radio tucked in the corner.  I left the rest for this week.

I returned to the office over the weekend.  Down came the diplomas.  They are my prized possessions as they represent my life’s work. More things to throw out, give away.  Then came the drawer sorting. Garbage, things once important, useful items, important items.  Each drawer, each bookcase shelf, each space sorted. Exhausting.

Saturday, Sunday, Monday.  Working until I could bear no more before returning home.  Tuesday I came for the last time.  Four more moving boxes loaded into the Flex.  I returned to my office, the furniture was where it always was.  My desk, my leather chair, the couch, the bookcases.

I had a little time and I pulled out my laptop. The office was quiet and I thought I could work on this year’s Christmas newsletter. I started to type but I felt like I didn’t belong, I was in someone else’s space.  The office was no longer mine.  Dear reader, this feeling was internal to me.   The staff was happy to see me, no one was pushing me out of my office.  The space was still mine to use for the day.  

But it was no longer my space.  In a matter of days my office had gone from my second home to a blank, generic space.  The feeling was indescribable, strange and awkward. The feeling only partially created by the dearth of stuff. My soul had made the transition.  I had given up the space.  

I looked around the room for one last time, closed the lid on my laptop, put on my hat and coat, prepared to leave. Just as I was about to leave I ran into Ralph.  He will be taking over my space.  He walked in and looked around.  Soon my office would have his diplomas and certificates on the wall. The bookcases will have his books and tchotchke.  He will sit in the big leather chair.  His patients will lounge on the brown leather couch.  The life of the office will go on with a new master. It won’t notice the difference, it will be business as usual.

Despite careful pruning, I still have multiple boxes in my garage.  When it gets warmer I’ll sort through them, discard and give away more.  My house is already too full and I don’t have plans of opening up another private practice.  Some items will find new homes.  A print will be hung in my home study, A floor lamp will have a spot in my family room, extra “cheater” glasses will be put to use, and likely lost like so many pairs before them.  

My work will continue, in part-time mode.  Today and tomorrow I’ll work from my basement studio doing telepsychiatry.  Friday, I’ll drive to Rockford. Life goes on.

I spent yesterday cleaning out my home study closet.  Full to the brim with mostly useless garbage tossed in over the last 25 years.  Once done I’ll be able to organize my study.  It will now be even more important to me to have a dedicated place for creation and reflection.

For everything, there is a season.  I move into my new seasons with my eyes open.  Prepared, but still unaware of what the future holds.  Determined to continue to be productive.  Determined to allow myself to, at times, be unproductive.  Forward, ever forward, one foot in front of the next. Each day anew.

Diplomas off the wall.
Empty bookcases.

This Friday It Will End

This Friday It Will End

Dear reader, allow me to let you in on a little secret.  There is a difference between confidence and a sense of self-worth.

I am a confident person.  I believe in myself and my actions.  Others respect and seek my opinion. However, I can sometimes question my self-worth.  Let me tell you more.

You may know from reading past post that I was the last child in a family of five children. The 60s was a time when parents told it as it was, without a lot of sugar coating. I knew that I was not considered an asset or a surprise blessing. Add a significant stress when I was a freshman in high school, and you have a recipe for a very angry teenager.  My life could have turned out very differently than it did.

Thankfully, I had some great people in my extended life who saw something in me.  They felt that I was different, in a good way. Individuals, often in the form of teachers, would seek me out and take me under their wing.  For whatever reason, a number of them told me that I was destined for great things.  Dear reader, I have no idea what those folks saw in me. I was mad and felt that the world didn’t give a damn about me.  Despite my angst, these guides would find me, talk to me, like me, value me.  They believed in me, and I wanted to believe them. Eventually, I realized that I wasn’t bound to my past;  I could determine my future.  I would not wallow in what others had done or not done to/for me.

The way that these two opposing forces impacted me was significant.  I started to define my self-worth based on what I could accomplish, especially what I could provide to others. I have spent my life being productive, and I have felt good about myself because of it.  

However, there is a negative side to such an approach.  When you are not providing a service, you feel like you are no longer needed or wanted.  Dear reader, I have had this hypothesis proved at times, but disproved many more. When I am in a normal state of mind, I know that there are people in my life who care about me.  Like my past angels, they see something in me that they connect to. That quality is not about what I can do for them; it is about who I am.  They like me for me.

Unfortunately, in times of stress, the logical part of me submits to my primitive fears.  A stressful time is upon me, my partial retirement.  

I told my friend and business partner Ralph, that I did NOT want any retirement celebration. My stressed mind felt that it would be an imposition for others to attend.  I could not imagine that they would want to gather for the sole purpose of wishing me well.  I was retiring; I no longer had anything to offer them. Ralph continued to push, despite every reason I could come up with.  Finally, I told him the truth.  “Why would anyone want to celebrate with me?”

Ralph, would not budge and he finally resorted to contacting my wife Julie about it.  With mounting pressure, I gave in, but I imagined that I would be standing in an empty room. I imagined myself feeling awkward, then embarrassed, and ashamed.  What would my wife and kids think of me?  Would they be ashamed of me too?

Old tapes are hard to suppress under great stress. I gave in to Raph’s pressure, and parties were going to happen. It was my fault for saying yes, but it was too late now.  I called upon my psychological toolkit. “By this time next month, it will all be over.  I will heal from the embarrassment.  I am strong.  I can only be hurt if I allow myself to be hurt.” and so it went.

I was already getting contrary evidence from my patients.  Notes and cards of thanks, little gifts of appreciation.  “Doc, please find me someone just like you to take your place.”  It felt wonderful, but my fear was great.

Last Sunday the festivities started, a reception at a special restaurant, everyone showed. Docs from the practice, docs that had long left, my former business partner Steve, my sister who worked at Genesis and her husband, and of course my wife and kids.  Balloons bobbed, champagne flowed, and forks clicked on plates full of food.  People reminisce and told stories from the past.  My good advice, my bad guitar playing, my crazy socks… and so it went.  I felt cared for.  The room had been booked for 2 hours, at hour 3 we finally exited.

The next day was an office reception; fear once again welled up in me.  The room was packed; the party was put together with thought and care.  I’m known for getting packages from Amazon; my retirement cake looked like Amazon boxes.  They even made one of the layers sugar-free, as I no longer eat sugar.  People took pictures, asked questions, made conversation. I was presented with a beautiful memory book that the staff created for me.  It contained letters from doctors, therapist, and patients who I had served.  I opened the scrapbook style book and saw the care that each page was created with.  I thought that I would burst out into tears, so I closed it with the promise that it would be explored when I was in a better state of mind.

At the end of my last office hours day, a patient dropped off a poem that she wrote for me.  It was clever and sweet, more tears.

Today is Thursday.  Tonight my office voicemail gets redirected.  I’ll call the office once or twice tomorrow to approve prescription refills.  This Friday at 5 PM my private practice career will end. I will still be working at another workplace a few days a week, but my private practice will be behind me.  I remember when I received my letter of acceptance to Northwestern University’s medical school in 1978.  The whole world was before me.  Another chapter has now closed.

I continue to be taught lessons if I allow myself to listen.  I know many of you who will read this have little or no faith in a Higher Power.  I am not trying to convert you.  However, I see God in my life on a daily basis.  Once again He has stressed me and pushed me to the limit so I could learn and challenge my false beliefs.  Amazing.

A wonderful goodbye celebration.
A retirement cake in the shape of an Amazon package.
A beautiful scrapbook of memories.
Right after seeing the last patient of my private practice career.
A beautiful poem from a patient.
A life built on paper.




First Snow

First Snow.

My alarm went off at 3:40 AM, and as usual, I hit the snooze bar. I was tired today as I had been out late last night. Julie took me out to the fancy Waterleaf restaurant in neighboring Glen Ellyn. She made the reservations at least two months earlier. The meal was a celebration dinner for my semi-retirement.

The five-course feast had an Eastern European theme. I love this kind of food, but almost never eat it. It was even more interesting to have an upscale slant on what typically would be considered peasant food. Dumplings, duck, pickled fruit, the list went on.

A big meal served late at night tends to make me want to sleep in, and I was eager to continually hit the snooze bar this morning. Instead, I put my feet on the ground and weaved my way to the bathroom.

Downstairs I checked my phone for the weather report. Twenty-one degrees and snow! I dropped a Keurig capsule in the coffee maker and cut up a Honeycrisp apple. On the cut up fruit I smeared some peanut butter. Breakfast.

We have had unseasonably warm weather in the Upper Midwest, and the thought of walking in 21 degrees was a bit daunting. I employed a simple psychological tactic to get me out the door; I wrote that I would go walking on Facebook. I’m a responsible guy who tries to honor his commitments, and I knew that such a post would get me moving.

I was already wearing a heavy Woolrich plaid, but also threw on one of the few sweaters that I own my navy blue cardigan. Then scarf, hat, coat, and gloves. The ducks came out of the hall closet since my running shoes are not good in any precipitation.

Out the door I went looking like the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man. I was bulky but warm.

There is something magical about walking in the dark after a snow. Even a dusting quiets the streets. Everything looks clean and new. My thoughts ran on as I tried to redirect myself to pray and meditate.  This was a losing battle, and I gave into the moment and allowed myself to savor the frigid air.

I’m now at Starbucks, my usual morning haunt. My friend Tom stopped in to chat, but only for a few moments as he has to supervise a kitchen demolition this morning. He looked at the photo of the menu that I sent him from yesterday’s Eastern European feast. “Mike, there should be an accent on this letter, and that h should be a z.” Tom is the Polish version of me, and like me, he is a little OCD. My mornings are always brighter after a little kaffeeklatsch with him.

And so my day starts. In a moment I’ll pack my computer in my leather messenger bag, put on my layers, and head out the door for the walk back home.

Today is a day of telepsychiatry from my basement studio. Tonight I’ll make dinner with my kids; Swiss steak, corn, mashed potatoes, rolls and butter, and a salad.

I am a fortunate man

A dusting of snow quiets the streets.
A five-course feast.


They Didn’t Teach Me

They Didn’t Teach Me

Yesterday I finished seeing patients around 6 PM.  I brought up my charts to the front reception area and returned to my office for a quick re-appraisal.  I’m trying to move out items without making the place look like a space under construction.  

On Monday I took a big 1930s style floor standing radio home.  Yesterday, it was the Ficus.  My former partner, Ralph will be taking over my office space and would like to move in before the end of the year.

Tonight my wife is taking me out to a fancy restaurant.  This weekend will be my last on-call for Genesis. Sunday there will be a little get-together at Mesa Sabinka, a fancy tapas (not topless!) bar. Monday, there will be a reception at the office.

Monday and Tuesday will be my last patient contact days at Genesis.  Dozens of goodbyes.  It shocks me how long I have been seeing many of my patients.  Ten, twenty, thirty years.  I have treated them and at times their spouses and kids.  Thirty years!  It shocks me.

There seems to be a similar theme when they thank me and tell me how I helped them.  It surprises me because what meant most to my patients was something that I didn’t give them with actual thought.  

Yes, many thanked me for getting them on the right medicine or keeping them out of the hospital.  However, most thanked me for not judging them.  For listening to them.  For guiding them without controlling them.  For being there.  For returning their phone calls.  For caring about them.

My mind focused on symptoms, medications, side effects, drug interactions, psychodynamic interpretations.  I wanted to deliver a superior service.  They needed this from me, but what they needed more was a connection with someone who would accept them, not judge them or try to control them.  They came back when their insurance changed and had to pay out-of-pocket.  They came back when they moved out of state.  They came back for the connection.

I spent four years in medical school and four years in residency.  This was after college and grad school.  Fourteen years of formal education learning anatomy and physiology, biochemistry, pathology, psychopharmacology.  Each piece of knowledge integrated into the next.  Fourteen years… and the aspects of my care that were most significant to many of my patients was something that I was not taught in a single class.  Perhaps it should be.

How many of us need to feel heard, accepted, and understood?  How many of us feel ignored, rejected, and misunderstood? How little it takes to be compassionate and accepting.  Why is it that we do the opposite with those people who we care for?

It is likely that some of my patients would never have needed to see me if they had someone who listened to them in their life. Fourteen years of education, thirty years as a doctor.  Moving forward, leaving behind.  More lessons learned.

The radio and ficus are now in my telepsychiatry studio.


Do I Need A Handler?

Do I Need A Handler?

I don’t really like change; I like predictability.  In fact, I have spent much of my life discerning how things that appear to be unpredictable are, to a high degree, predictable.

As an expert in human behavior, it is clear that even reactive people have only a limited set of “reactions.”  I’m not saying that I can forecast the future or have the insight to predict a person’s impulsive behavior.  However, once you get to know a person you can see their behavioral patterns emerge.  Reactive people tend to respond in more reactive ways.  I tend to react in predictable ways.  Some people like my steady consistency, others find it boring.  But I digress.

I now am entering the two-week countdown to the end of my private practice.  Everyone is congratulating me on my impending retirement.  They are asking, “What next?” Those who know me understand that I won’t spend my new-found time oscillating in a rocking chair.  However, dear reader, I am also asking the same question of myself.  In fact, I have been thinking about this question for years.  I have come up with, modified, and discarded some ideas.

A part of this problem is predicated on my ambivalence.  In my formative years, people (teachers mostly) told me that I was destined for great things. Hear that a few times and you start to believe it.  I have squandered an opportunity or two to do “great things” over the course of my life.  I think the “great things” portion of my life is over.  I lived my professional life doing what I felt that I should do, rather than living up to some artificial (and likely untrue) expectation. I believed that I should be a practicing doctor, who spent at least a part of his time providing services to the underserved.  I am steadfast that this was the right thing for me to do, but hardly “great things” worthy.

The current status of my retirement will only give me two extra days a week.  This is limiting.  I am battling with the idea of doing something significant vs. something significant to me. What is meaningful to me varies.  Some of it is trivial, some not.

I have started the process of organizing things in my home.  Doing these mundane tasks offers some satisfaction, but organization always tends to move back to disorganization.  The pantry that I spent two days cleaning a few months ago is once again in chaos… And so it goes.

With that said, there is a satisfaction doing concrete and time-limited tasks.  I have tackled a number of these tasks over the last year.  I have much more to do. Some I accomplished with my friend, Tom.  Others, by myself or with the help of my kids.  A few with my wife.  

But I digress again…

It is clear to me that I’m having difficulty writing this piece.  I think that it must create a subconscious angst in me.  It is one thing to dream of doing something; it is another thing to do it.

Beyond the mundane tasks, I have creative goals.  I want to get back to playing my guitar.  I am toying with taking guitar lessons. Oddly, I feel like I need to get better at playing before I take lessons, as I don’t want to waste the teacher’s time.  I know this is ridiculous.  I am thinking about learning a foreign language.  A monumental task as I have terrible auditory discrimination and even worse short-term memory.  I want to expand some of my current creative outlets. I wonder if my friend Tom would let me help him a bit.  It would be exciting to allow myself to learn from someone.

None of the above seem sufficient to me.

OK, I’m stalling. Let’s get down to business…

As I had mentioned in past posts, I was a creative little kid before I discovered science.  I could come up with fantastic stories, I could play the piano by ear, I could build and create things.  I gave up most of that when I decided to move my life in an analytic direction.

I come from a family of writers and creators.  I want to write and create.  I have always had the desire to combine multiple interests into something bigger. What, I have no idea.

I continue to try to improve my writing, but I don’t have a clear voice.  I take nice photographs, but I don’t have a distinct style.  A part of me fights having a particular voice or style as I don’t want to be limited.  I know that this ambiguity is not the road to success.

I also know that I have a passion to know the stories of others.  I see the extraordinary in the ordinary.  The uncommon in common. The treasure in the discarded.  How do I join all of these together?

I want to explore places, connect with people.  I have come up with dozens of ideas, but I have been unable to move forward due to fear and lack of protocol.  

When I founded Genesis 25 years ago, I did it with other partners.  One loved business; the other was an extrovert with superior people skills.  I came to the table with creative, technical, and problem-solving skills.  Together, we formed a formattable package.  Each complementing the other.  I think I need that now.

I need a person (or people) who have the skills that I lack.  I need to brainstorm ideas.  I need someone with connections to help me achieve my goals.  I need someone who can take my ideas and help me turn them into something that would be relatable to others, not just to me. I need a compassionate handler. I need a lot.

I have no idea how to find such a person or group.  I have no idea why anyone would want to help me in this pursuit.  I just know that this is the missing link.  The link to take me to the next step.

My life has been characterized by being fully independent and a self-learner.  My HIgher Power has slowly moved me in a new direction where I have been asking others for help.  This process has been both wonderful and terrifying to me.  When I build my courage to ask for help my childhood tapes play loudly.  I wait to hear, “I’m busy.”  “Don’t bother me.” “That can’t be done.” “Why do you want to do that!” In reality what I typically hear is, “Sure.” “Let me try.” “No problem.”  I need to use my psychological awareness to move past my old garbage and into a brave new world.  However, I need a bit of a miracle to know who or what to turn to for this great adventure.

I find life so interesting and complex.  Onward and upward.  Turn every disadvantage into an advantage. God, show me the way.


Does Size Really Matter?

Do you wonder if size really matters? Is bigger always better? If you think that is the case I would like to dispel that belief.  In fact, I would propose that sometimes a smaller size can be more comfortable, and if handled properly a smaller size can provide experiences that are more difficult to achieve with a larger one.  Well, at least that is my opinion.


My cousin Ken stood in front of the group. He welcomed everyone and offered a freestyle blessing that ended with the classic, “Bless us Oh Lord, and these Thy gifts.”  It was the kick off for Droby Fest, year 18.

What is Droby Fest? I guess you first have to know what a droby is.  A droby is a Slovak fresh sausage made of rice, potatoes, and various meats.  It is usually seasoned with salt, pepper, and sage.  It is most often baked, typically with bacon wrapped around it. Like many ethnic sausages it sounds terrible, but tastes delicious.  

The droby sausage is a connection to my ethnic past.  It is something that you can’t buy in a store, it has to be made.  The process is fairly labor intensive and involves grinding all of the ingredients several times, and then stuffing them into sausage casing.  Apparently, there are multiple recipes for droby.  At least that is what  my internet research has indicated. My family’s version contains pork and various organ meats in addition to the starches.


Growing up it was expected to actively participate in celebrations with my extended family.  Major holidays, Communions, Confirmations, they were all events to be shared with aunts, uncles, and cousins.  As our families grew the mass get togethers ended, and for decades I lost contact with my cousins.

The generation before ours was dying, and it seemed like the only time that cousins would see each other were at funerals.  Those contacts consisted of a few minutes of catching up.  At one such event my sister Nancy was talking to my cousin Ken.  “We should have a family reunion picnic,” she said.  And we all started to reconnect.

We now get together multiple times a year.  My cousins Ken and his sister Kris have become the event organizers. There is the monthly Bunco game, the summer Kuna Kampout, the fall KFR (Kuna family reunion) picnic, Pierogi making day, and of course the Christmastime Droby Fest.

We usually do have droby sausage as part of the buffet style Droby Fest meal, but the title is more about getting together with family and celebrating who we are. I used to be embarrassed to be Eastern European,  I so wanted to have a surname that reflected a more Anglo heritage. However, I now am grateful for who I am and proud of my extended family who are sophisticated and accomplished.


The attendees for Droby Fest can vary.  All are welcome, and any relative of anyone is invited.  Really, anyone is invited to partake in the conversation and food.  The only request is to bring a dish or two to pass.  Some people will cook, others buy.  There is always plenty.

I expected a big turnout this year.  The weather was mild and there wasn’t a hint of snow in the forecast.  I was surprised to discover that the crowd was smaller than in times past.  Some of this was accounted by the lack of my first degree relatives.  Several were vacationing, others had obligations.  

This fact was a potential problem for me, introvert Mike.  I naturally gravitate to my immediate family during such events, but most of them were missing.  

Dear reader, as I had told you many times, take a disadvantage and turn it into an advantage.  I really like my cousins and the smaller size of the group plus the lack of my usual cohorts gave me the opportunity to have more in depth connections with them.  

I had a nice long conversation with my cousin Ken.  Ken is one of those people who the more you know him, the more you like him.  His delightful wife, Kathy happily gave me a photography lighting kit that they were no longer using.  

I got to chat with my cousin Steve (always “Stevie” to me) and his wife Sharon.  Stevie talked about his father’s experience in WWII, and reminisced about growing up in the 1960s and 70s.  

For the first time in memory I talked with my second cousin Victoria and her Brit husband, Paul.  We shared stories about how we met our respective spouses.  

Cousin Kathy recounted her recipe for mock clotted cream (something that you can’t buy in the states, due to some sort of pasteurization rule).  Cousin Rudy told me that his photo was on the Portillo’s web site… and so it went.

By having a smaller group I was able to mingle more, and touch base with a lot of wonderful people in a way that I usually would not.

Large groups are great, but sometimes a smaller sized group is just what the doctor ordered.  It can be easier to do some things with a smaller size.

On the way home I commented to my wife,  “I really have a nice family.”  “I always thought that,” Julie replied.

A small Droby Fest