My Tomb Rolls Recipe

I make Tomb Rolls for Easter. These are rolls that, when they’re done and you open them, have a nifty open space in the middle.

Empty space. Like Christ’s tomb. So Tomb Rolls.

Here’s the recipe. The water and yeast are the only exact amounts. Everything else, I don’t really measure but have estimated for the purposes of this recipe. This recipe will make around 24 rolls.

2 cups warm, not quite hot, water
1/2 cup olive oil (or melted butter- don’t use margarine because gross)
1/3 cup sugar
1 tbsp salt
1 tbsp lemon juice (or yogurt-it helps the chemical reaction in the gluten)
1 tbsp active dry yeast
whole wheat flour (I dunno, six cups? four cups?)
white flour (enough to make the dough the right consistency)
24 large (not the huge ones) marshmallows


  1. Put water, oil, sugar, salt, lemon juice, and yeast in a bowl. Mix until really well combined.
  2. Let it sit until the yeast is clearly working: the mixture will be milky and have visible places where the yeast is growing.
  3. Add whole wheat flour, one cup at a time and mixing well between each cup, until the mixture is the consistency of just cooked, thick oatmeal. Let it sit for ten minutes.
  4. Add white flour, one cup at a time etc, and mix in and then knead until the consistency can be worked with. A good test is to squeeze some between your thumb and forefinger. If it is the softness of an earlobe, you’re good.
  5. Put dough into a greased/oiled bowl and cover. Allow to about double in size.
  6. Divide into 24 equal balls. I go for about 50 grams per dough ball (yes I weigh them).
  7. Grease a baking pan. I use a stoneware pan. It needs about a half inch+ of height on the side.
  8. One at a time, take a dough ball, flatten it in your hand, place a marshmallow in the center, and wrap the dough around the marshmallow. The marshmallow will keep the ball round. Pinch and seal the dough ball closed on the bottom and put it on the greased pan. Do this for all of the dough balls.
  9. Cover the pan of rising rolls with plastic wrap.
  10. Let rise for about 30 minutes, or as much time as it takes the rolls to nearly double in size.
  11. Bake in an oven preheated to 350F for 35-40 minutes, until golden brown.
  12. Let them cool in the pan for about 5 minutes. Then serve.
  13. Open the rolls to reveal the empty tomb. Enjoy the slight gooeyness left by the melted marshmallows.

Pretty easy, no?

If you have extra dough, make a loaf of bread!

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Help Me Support Operation Underground Railroad

Friends and fans, I need your help supporting a cause I’ve been wishing I could support more. It’s a group called O.U.R.- Operation Underground Railroad.

This is an organization that is dedicated to seeking out and rescuing kidnapped children from slavery– all too often from sex slavery.

Here’s their website:

Find them on Facebook:

And on Twitter:

Here is a video of them rescuing 12 child slaves.

So I am going to donate every penny, every dollar– everything I make from sales of BEYOND THE CABIN for the rest of February to this group.

I’m not going to wait for the royalties to arrive either, I’ll simply total things up and send this group the money.

I need you to share this as far as you can. I love these guys and want to give them as much money as possible.

Here’s the Amazon link to BEYOND THE CABIN:

The best way to help is to simply share a link to this post. I’ve had some wonderful people help spread the word about O.U.R., but without a link about this effort and also missing a link to the book on Amazon. Thus, no money!

Let’s see what we can do. I’ll update you with tallies at least daily.

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Why is Pornography Bad?

Pornography. It seems like it’s more and more becoming the subject of conversation, particularly on social media. And with stupendous organizations, such as OUR Rescue, freeing sex slaves and an absurd BDSM movie like Fifty Shades of Grey slated for wide release, it’s clear there are still a lot of opposing views about it.

You of course know that pornography and sex-trafficking are totally linked, right? They’re linked partly in that the word pornography is a modern variation, essentially, of prostitute. They’re also linked in that frequent users of pornography tend to drive the market for sex-trafficking. What’s more, a large number of the actors in pornographic content, particularly the girls, are forced into this work as slaves.

Here’s a link for more details on that: Connections Between Pornography and Sex Trafficking.

You also have studies coming out that show that pornography addiction works a lot like drug addiction, activating the same brain centers and hormones as drugs. It’s an illness. More studies are showing that frequent consumption of pornography is damaging to the psyche, to relationships, and to society. Heck, even GQ- an otherwise almost entirely useless magazine- published a short piece: Ten Reasons Why You Should Quit Watching Porn.

Then there are the religious reasons to not consume pornography. Here are some:
1. It is disrespectful and demeaning of God’s daughters in that it objectifies them and defines them simply as sex objects. All members of the family of God deserve respect, love, and support.
2. Viewing pornography violates laws regarding chastity: that men and women should only have sexual relationships with the man or woman to whom they’re legally married.
3. Viewing pornography debases and cheapens the extraordinary gift of a sexual relationship. This relationship provides opportunities for women and men to be sacredly intimate, as well as to make children.
4. Continuing number 3, viewing pornography is a perversion of the commandment to multiply and have families. The sexual relationship makes kids unless action is taken to prevent such a thing. It also brings husband and wife closer, so that builds and strengthens families too.

I’m sure there are other religious arguments against pornography. Please feel free to list them in the comments.

What these religious arguments boil down to is that viewing pornography is a sin. Now, that leads me to ask, what is ‘sin?’

I’m not a religious authority. I am very devoted to my faith and to the church that I belong to. This devotion to the promises I’ve made has been the prime drive behind most of my choices and actions over the last 22 years. I’ve studied doctrine, pondered a lot, and prayed, much like millions of other religious folks.

I proudly claim the doubts that have been a part of my religious journey, and which evolve and are replaced with new questions even today.

So now back to ‘sin.’ What is it? It’s hard to really just define it, so we often try to compare it to something. You’ve got the metaphor of sin being a dirtying element to our souls. When we sin, we become unclean and no unclean thing can dwell in the presence of God. So we have to have our soul washed clean through the blood of the Lamb: Jesus Christ.

But I’ve been unclean and have felt the undeniable presence of God. I’ve been at my very lowest, my very weakest, my most humbled and feeling absolutely filthy– and I have felt God’s Spirit, comfort, and guidance. And frankly, Christ in both his mortal and then resurrected form stood in the presence of unclean people. You know what else? We’re commanded to be perfect, to aspire to perfection in this life, but we and God know that we won’t make it. So we’re going to be in His presence while imperfect and unclean. He’s not going to turn us away, because remember: He loves us. All of us.

Thus, I’m not satisfied with the metaphor of sin being a dirtying element. And I think the use of language like ‘unclean’ is a good try, but ultimately a human, imperfect try at describing how sin affects our relationship and proximity with God.

But it’s still undeniable that pornography is bad, despite what some sex therapists try to tell us. It’s still certain that consuming pornography affects us on every level: spiritual, emotional, and physical. And for religious people who believe in making and keeping promises of ‘worthiness,’ consuming pornography often takes a very profound emotional toll on them.

On us, I should say. Yes, I’m revealing a thing here. I spent many years addicted to pornography. I am no longer. Addiction experts push the idea of ‘Once an addict, always an addict,’ and while I believe that this is partly true, I know with certainty that we can be totally and completely healed of addiction. That doesn’t mean we don’t have to be on our guard, but it does mean that the burden of this addiction and the powerlessness that accompanies it can be removed and we can be made whole. I know this.

And that leads me perfectly to what I believe is so bad, spiritually and emotionally, about pornography. I believe when we consume pornography, we know that we are doing something contrary to what we know is right. And when the addiction casts its spell over us, we feel less. We feel inadequate. We feel consumed by secrets. We feel that this secret, which so many refer to as a filthy habit, defines us.

Which becomes a vicious, disempowering cycle. And I think we can change the way we talk about pornography and addiction to pornography, and thus help thousands of people really understand how to free themselves from it.

I’m going to end this post now, but I’ll be back. Let me leave some thoughts with you before I go: Why do we tell our society to stop objectifying women, and men sometimes, while at the same time making people feel out of place for trying to overcome pornography addiction? Odd dichotomy? What is that mixed signal doing to people?

Why do we make those struggling to overcome pornography consumption feel terrible about the temptation it offers? Temptation is not wrong. How we handle temptation is where we can get in trouble.

Me being attracted to women is not wrong. Me allowing that attraction to determine my behavior is wrong.

Help me get my next post out quicker: What do you think about the sin metaphor of ‘dirty?’ Can you think of a better one? A worse one?

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Three Takeaways from 2014

If you follow me here or on social media, or if you are one of my dear family and friends, you know that 2014 was quite a year for the me and my family. From a lost pregnancy to cancer, from a successful and productive career to a lost job, and from losing my last grandparent to hurtling into the world of self-publishing, lots has happened.

I’m not going to rehash everything. What I am going to do here is list three lessons I’ve learned from 2014. Do with them what you will.

1. Make plans.
2014 wasted no time in beating the crap out of the plans my wife and I had made for the year. We started the year expecting our seventh child, and within two weeks that pregnancy was in question and we had a pretty firm kidney cancer diagnosis.

This derailed our financial and family plans. Then the layoff derailed financial re-plans again.

You might think this would burn me on making plans. Wrong. We started the year with a vision for where we wanted to be at the end of the year. Along the way, we had to re-calibrate and re-calibrate and then do so again. My mighty wife and I are different people than we were at the beginning of 2014. Not in the way we expected, but still, we’re different.

I’m still going to make plans. Living life without a plan, without a vision, without a goal or objective, is basically a plan for boredom and stasis. And if you live without making plans because you fear life and/or the universe throwing wrenches in those plans, then you are living in fear- and that never ends well.

By making plans, even with the understanding that circumstances might force change to those plans, you are telling yourself and the universe that you are the master of your fate. You’re shaking your fist at the vagaries of life and asserting that you are responsible for yourself and your direction.

So I’m going to keep making plans. Hey, 2014 was still filled with blessings, miracles, happiness, and bliss- even with all the raw crap that we went through. Why wallow when you can rise?

2. Love Generously
Life, man. Life. It can be tenuous sometimes. And when you face your mortality, like my wife did, or the possibility of years without the love of your life, perspective changes.

It’s an opportunity. A rough opportunity. An emotionally shattering opportunity.

My takeaway from the perspective shift of this year is that I am going to love generously. About five years ago, I decided that I no longer wanted to write from the anger I had in me but from the love I had and wanted to have more of. This year strengthens that resolve. I’m going to hug more- with both arms- and I’m going to continue to find ways to not yell at mouthy or dismissive kids.

And I’m going to keep trying to find ways to help people around me- without hesitation. I’m going to continue doing what I can daily to make the world a better place.

I can’t think of a better way to define my life than by the love I spread around, by the lives I improve, and by the smiles I widen.

3. Stop Waiting to Live
Twenty-five years. That’s how long I’ve spent practicing the art and business of writing. Twenty-five years honing my craft, immersing myself in story, and trying to get some publishing traction.

I’ve been telling stories through short-stories, poems, novellas, and books for as long as I can remember. Storytelling is my professional life’s work. I love it. I’ve tried quitting it a few times and cannot. I know that now.

But for so many years, my resolution lists have included this item: “Sell a book.” Of course I mean sell a book to a major publisher and hopefully do that via an agent’s representation. And I have spent countless hours imagining how cool it would be to do so, how accomplished I would feel if I finally did that. How I would finally feel like I belonged in the writing industry, like I had truly carved out a place that I merited.

Bull crap.

I don’t think I would have come to the catharsis that it was high time for me to stop waiting for my writing goals to happen to me if not for the events of 2014.

Yes, I was waiting for my writing goals to happen. Yes, I was working. I was writing, revising, submitting.

And I was waiting. And I kept waiting and waiting. And I doubted myself and questioned my worthiness to be a part of the dream I’d had for so long. But after my fiftieth rejection for Beyond the Cabin, and after being faced with so much crap that was out of my control, I realized that I had a lot more in my control than I was allowing myself to see.

So I went the self-publishing route. I had a lot to learn- and still do- but I will tell you that getting a story I believe in to people and having them read it is deeply gratifying. And doing this on my own makes it better. I still want to go the traditional publishing route, but I’m not going to wait on that fickle industry. I’ll keep writing, keep getting better, and keep submitting-

But at the same time I’ll keep building my readership and I won’t stop being in the driver’s seat. Will I become famous on my own?

Do I care?

Not really. What matters is that I’m not waiting anymore. I’m a writer and I’m acting like it. I’m taking this seriously. I’m writing stories and I’m getting better because I’m a writer now. Right now.

So my takeaway is that if I want something really badly, I’m going to go get it. I’m not waiting. Another case in point: I’m training for a triathlon. Why wait? It’s been on my old bucket list for ages.

Now I don’t have a bucket list. I have a list of stuff I’m going to do because each day is a gift. Forget tomorrow- what can I do now? What good can I do today?

Those are my three takeaways from 2014. What are yours? What happened this year that changed you?

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Fact and Fiction in BEYOND THE CABIN

In the Important Notes section at the back of Beyond the Cabin, I point out that while this book is inspired by true events that happened to me, the novel is still a work of fiction.

I stopped short of listing the events in Beyond the Cabin that are true and not true.

As a response to a request, I am going to make a few things really clear in this post. Warning: some spoilers ahead.

  1. I grew up with two older brothers, one of whom left when I was seven. His passing is as depicted in the book, but it happened about seven years after he left in real life.
  2. None of the kid characters are true-to-life portrayals of the kids I grew up with. The characters in the book have traits of some of the people I grew up with and traits needed for the story.
  3. I never ran away seriously. I threatened to once and made it about 1000 yards before chickening out.
  4. The setting- Western Pennsylvania- is real and the house is similar to the house we lived in there.
  5. The cult is real, although I changed the name. The real cult started in the 60s and was called the Process. It morphed and evolved for many years after.
  6. Every punishment in the book is something that happened in real life. Including the beating. Yes, I know what this means, legally. No, I don’t care to pursue anything recriminatory ever. Anybody who does try to do so, or tries to besmirch the group as it is today, does so against my wishes and with my deep disapproval. The water has long flowed under the bridge.
  7. A cabin was built at one point when many of the cult orphan kids lived in Western New York. It was a project that many of us worked on. It ended unceremoniously when my oldest brother injured himself badly with a chainsaw.
  8. The kids I grew up with are essentially my siblings. I never got truly close to any of them as a youth, due to my own failings. I did spend time with many off and on and they were my playmates, friends, and sometimes enemies, but I never felt comfortable enough with any of them to show anything resembling vulnerability. This was my failure and I spent many years regretting the way I treated them. Today I cherish them and their friendship.
  9. If it’s a weird ritual, a strange teaching practice, a religious song, or anything that adds texture to the depiction of the cult itself and life in it- it’s true. The songs are the actual words to actual songs. I still remember several more.
  10. The spiritual, mental, and emotional journey that Josh goes on parallels mine, only mine took over twenty years to come to fruition.

In the words of Forrest Gump, that’s all I’m going to say about that. If you have questions, I welcome them and I will happily answer them. There is also a lot on this site about my life in the cult. Try clicking over on the right on “The Thanks Series” under Categories.

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