Friday, November 28, 2014

Givingthanksday Post

I don't much like birthdays and anniversaries and, well, most holidays, really.  I know many do and that's fine.  Honestly, I see it as a character fault of mine, you know, more than anything.  I have argued here before that I think it is the result my many years in the restaurant business.  Personally, I think it is the result of deep and important thinking and theological musings informed by the canon of philosophical writings, or, I might be cheap or misanthropic.

Anyway I look at it, I still don't like them.  I don't mind the sentiments exactly.  Another year 'round the sun, another hard fought or easily won year in a marriage or on the job, a Savior birth and resurrection - it is all pretty important stuff.

Here's the thing, I don't need Valentine's Day to show my wife I love her.  I do it every time I fold her sweater or make her lunch or bring her a blanket or buy her sweet tea at the store or a hundred other small gestures I make to her, and she to me.  Maybe it is stupid, maybe trite, maybe a copout, but everyday is Valentine's Day, everyday is Mothers Day, Sweetest Day, ad naseum.

I'd say I ponder the resurrection everyday - in a sunset, in the new, feeble branches on the maples, in the inexplicable beauty of the tides.  I see it in the crocuses in a spring snow,  in the golden leaves slowly decaying in a fall cold rain.  I see it in the death of a beloved pet, in the transformation of a troubled friend, in the false finality of the gravestones I see in the Union Cemetery I pass everyday. Easter's every moment we breathe and beyond.

We know, we humans, birth - we deeply are affected by it.  It is cellular, genetic.  Every birth is the birth of a king, every birth is the birth of a saint, a poet, a dreamer.  Every birth is a damn miracle and I remember that everyday when I look into the shining faces of two boys going around on their tenth trip around the sun.  Everyday is Christmas.

But, then I get to Thanksgiving.  I think it is a perfect holiday.  Surprisingly bereft of the commercialization I so loathe in the holidays I mentioned above.  It's funny, I roast turkeys several times a year, we have dressing a few times a month, I make gravy regularly and mashed potatoes are in our regular rotation.  I still like Thanksgiving Day, the day, the specific holiday.  It's not like me.

I am a very thankful person.  I get that things could have turned out insanely different for me in my life.  I am beyond thankful for my wife, Marci, who stabilizes and centers me.  She's the best.  I am thankful for my family growing up and the lessons and memories that my mom and dad and brothers provided.  I am very thankful for the friends I have had, still have, they shaped me in a way I can begin to explain.  I expect you know what I mean.

Am I thankful everyday?  Damn straight I am.  It is one of the reasons I remain a man of faith.  I need someone, something to thank.  I need gratitude.  I need - desperately, I'd add - to keep the focus from myself.  Without something other than myself to be thankful towards, I find myself thinking that I am the reason things are good, that I am the one who should be thanked, that I am the center of attention... I am not.

I guess I just like focusing my gratitude for this one day.  I like knowing that you are doing the same.  I like thinking that in homes where there is not always joy, for this one day, perhaps, there is.  I like knowing that we stand together, for one day, in recognizing all that we have, our blessings - and believe me I hate the word, not because it is inaccurate but because it has lost meaning these days - you could say.

I know it is not a perfect world but, for one day, Thanksgiving Day, I like to pretend it is.

Here's an arbitrary and gratitutious picture for no reason - other than I think it is really cute:

I am always tardy with my holiday posts.  It bothered me when I first got started doing this.  It doesn't anymore.  I didn't write anything yesterday because, well, I was busy.  I was busy brining and basting and roasting and boiling.  I was busy laughing and fire-tending and fighting and singing and enjoying.  I was busy remembering and making memories.  And, in all of it, I was thanksgiving.

From Marci's  "... things you don't expect to hear from the backseat ... "

"Galloping pants? I would buy galloping pants."

It is not clear to me if the pants themselves gallop about or if the make you gallop when you where them.  I'm good either way...

This post is an anniversary of sorts, I started doing this just over three years ago.  Believe it or not this is my three hundred and fiftieth post, or thereabouts.  Many of you have been around most of that time, some are new, all I appreciate.  Thanks for stopping by.

Just for fun I looked back at past Thanksgiving posts.  The first was "I Am Thankful" (I used some take-home stuff, I loved that) the next was "Thanksgiving Daily" (in which I refute everything I said in this post).  This is the one I did last year called "Sellabrasin Day Post" (it was done in December in typical IHIWAT style) and, well, now you are caught up.

Listen, give thanks everyday, look around, you'll find something...

Friday, November 21, 2014

The Emphasis Is on the 'Is'

Sometimes, recently for me, we back away from our own thoughts.  This is, of course, increasingly easy in an age...

Sometimes we forget how to use the feelings and difficulties our personal journeys gently shove into our faces, we forget to look behind emotion and failure and we forget that they are the fuel that energizes us...

Sometimes I suffer an almost vertigo-like fear when I think about the despair and doubt and injustice so evident in human affairs which will be suffered on Nick and Zack...

Sometimes life can really suck...

I am having a bit of difficulty getting started today.  I want to speak of cold basements and lost opportunities and hard decisions and my mastery and understanding of them all.  I don't know how to do that.

At a morning mass this week, I had a thought.  I am embarrassed to admit that I've had it before, and I can safely assume I will have it again.  It is a selfish and practically pathetic little thought that whines up from my ego sometimes:  Why isn't this working?  Why don't I feel the peace and love, why don't I get the parables, why do I question all of it so thoroughly?  Where's the kumbaya of it all?

But this time was different, this time I got my answer:  It is working...

Zack decided that he wanted to use a word program on the computer to write a "persuasive speech" he has been working on for school.  He got out the laptop we begrudgingly use upstairs sometimes and turned it on.  Well, it hadn't been on for a while and decided it needed to load several hundred new updates, a process which pisses me of to the point of enragement, which isn't even a word  I find slightly annoying.  As I stood and he sat, me seething, he staring hopefully as the updates ticked down, I said something like "This isn't gonna work, Zack."

"Dad, it is working."

Surrounded by Cheerios he had spilled, a half boxful, Nick was picking them up one at a time and eating them off the floor.  They were everywhere and the floor wasn't as clean as it maybe should have been and we were a little pressed for time and he was maybe four and I said "Nick, this may not work, let me get a broom."

"Dad, it is working."

Always the emphasis is on the 'is.'

And it is, working that is...  Sometimes not to my satisfaction, sometimes not in my time-frame, sometimes totally contrary to my liking.

Zack got his paper done and didn't really mind the wait.  I sat down with Nick and munched Cheerios off the dirty floor, and I'll remember it forever.  And, my faith is working.  I am a better man now than I was twenty years ago, I guarantee it.  I am hopeful again and, although I am still at times lonely and frightened, I do not feel alone.

Everything is working.  Our parenting, our providing, our moral direction; our dishwasher and computer and the old toaster-oven; our smiles and tears and fears - all working.  Presently, right now, it is all working, not has worked, or will work but the emphasis is on the 'is.'

Z spent most of an hour working on this under the dining room table so no one would see it before he was done:

The award ceremony is on the back:

And yes, second place dude is wearing this shirt:

That hair is defiantly working for him.

Nick drew this for reasons yet to be determined:

It's a "pirate guy's hook wielding a gleaming rune-encrusted scimitar."  Well, that is indeed working for me.

I found this under a table in the living room.  I don't know if it is important or not:

"Icious"  It must mean something, like the state of being in the moment.  Or not...  it's still weird, though.  "Having or full of..." is what the suffix 'cious' means.  Hmm, full of "I," yep that's me sometimes, especially when I don't think anything is working.  As in: I am one icious idiot sometimes.

I am glad you could come around today, peace to you and remember, as we all should, that it is working.  Don't be icious...

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Your Title Here

Write your own ding-dang story.  I'd call it "Snow Day" or something like that...

Well done, you can really spin a good one.

From Marci's ".... things you don't expect to hear from the backseat ..."

"There is bacon between my toes!"

(as result of barefoot omelette making)

Is there a better feeling?  I do draw the line at salami between the toes, although it is important to note that if you lick a piece of salami it will stick nicely to bare skin...

Thanks for coming around today and telling yourself my story.  I wasn't trying to be flip or anything, but I'd imagine this story is familiar to everyone.  Not because I assume the ubiquity of snow, I know a lot of folks don't get a snow day or more a year.  No, I guess I was thinking about the inevitability of some moments.  This day was written for us long ago by the hearts of children still remembered.  It is the simplest and most fundamental of stories.  It is also a story easy to forget:  Let's play!

Friday, November 14, 2014

The Moments Between or The Essential Nothing

It's the nothingness of it.  Childhood, that is.  And, not in an existential, angsty way.  No, just an empty, waiting-to-be-filled nothingness, a sort of holy void or a soul waiting to be conjured or a mind waiting to be wired, however you might describe it.  Not that.

Today I am thinking of the nothingness of the days we pass as children.  We remember the bigger events and wilder moments.  We forget what happens between them.  There is a lot of time to fill between toddlerhood and puberty, hell, there is a lot of time to fill between birth and death.  We sort of forget that, except, when we don't...

I used to look back on my childhood and remember the grandness of it, the sled rides and bicycle jumps, the football in the mud, the holidays, the deaths and lost pets, the friends.  Now that I have kids, boys in particular, I find myself looking back and recalling the "nothing-to-do" moments.  The moments between.

JB, my best childhood pal,  and I dug holes - not a hole, mind you - multiple holes, trenches, dugouts in the roots of a tree, bunkers, rock-filled foundations.  In fact, I have a scar on my forehead from he and I digging horse shoe pits in the back yard.  I bent over as he was coming up and his shovel tip got me good just above my left eye - twelve stitches worth.  That may sound energetic and boyish and a little wild and adventurous.  In all honesty, it was mostly standing around leaning on shovels talking, talking about, well... digging a hole.  It was nothing.

Another childhood friend, JR, and I used to get together at his house and draw cars.  We used protractors and rulers and compasses to draw big finned roadsters with fiery carburetors and big block engines or long lean dragsters with smoking tires and spoked wheels.  We did it for hours on end, talking about, you got it, race cars and colored pencils.  It was nothing.

I read endless Hardy Boys and Sherlock Holmes and... oh yeah, sports novels.  Back in the fifties and sixties there were these short little chapter books about a boy or a group of boys who faced some sort of difficult dilemma, often moral, and had to figure out how to overcome it, usually with some shenanigans, and win the big game.  They came in football, basketball and baseball.  By the time I discovered them in the early seventies, their pages were yellowed and torn, the spines were tired and the checkout card filled with the names of families I knew, boys long gone.  They were trite and mindless and, again, nothing.

Another next-door neighbor, EW, taught me how to make cubes out of paper.  I suppose you'd call it origami today but, believe me, I'd never heard of the word when I was nine or ten and learning to make these elegant cubes.  I think we ran out of ideas and desire to make more paper airplanes and moved on to these.  We spent a few weeks obsessing over them.  We made little tiny ones and big ones out of butcher paper, we learned to color them before we folded them, we bopped them back and forth, I think we ignited some made from newspaper and threw them of his back deck if you want to know the truth.  I could still make one today, blindfolded.  It was just another way of doing nothing.

Good nothing.

Essential nothing.

The boys stare down at their Kindles a lot, often there is a Disney show running on Netflix at the same time and... it irritates me.  But, it shouldn't.  Some parents fill all the moments between for their kids.  That's cool, it makes for smart, clever kids, but doing nothing between somethings is as important and also makes for clever, smart, albeit sometimes odd, kids.

Zack drew this between something and something else.  It's "Pandini the Panda" eating bamboo in a forest of... bamboo:

Nick drew this when he got home from school one day as he waited for Z to finish his homework, it is a cat gazing into the distance:

Well, uh, no, actually it is one of his line-eyed-big-headed-floppy-eared-thong-wearing-ninja-dudes, sorry:

Zack found time between home and the optometrist's to do this:

Nick spent about three minutes crafting this between spilling his juice on the carpet and eating three pieces of Halloween candy:

And I will never know what this is or why someone took the time to make it, but I know it was between four and five o'clock yesterday afternoon:

In the grand scheme of it all, these things and so many more are just the detritus of our everyday life, the throw-away nothings that those moments between the big moments produce.  Stuff we think we've forgotten but we haven't.  Just like the nothings we do, stargazing and cloudwatching and holedigging, the nothings we produce build and form us as surely as winning the big game or shaping hope in our souls or learning to love or any of those "memorable" childhood times.

For a long while now I have been sitting on an essay called "An Open Apology for All the Crap," or something snappy like that, in which I explain why I feel so sorry we've introduced so many devices and technologies and the like to the boys.  I'll probably publish it someday - it's clever enough and kinda sweet.  Except there is one problem with it, it is from the wrong point of view.  They love the technology.  They love the Kindle, the laptops, the Wii, all that stuff.  And, when I give it some real thought, I would've, too.  It is nice to have something easy and mindless to do, between the hard parts.  Hell, I blog...

From Marci's "... things you don't expect to hear from the backseat ..."

N: "I have had enough of your smart-alecky responses."

Z: "They were remarks. And it is aleck, not alecky."

N: "Exactly."

Now I'm confused...

I am glad you could stop by today.  I have written about JB and my own growing up before in this post, Sticks and Stories and in a few others along the way.  See ya next time.

Friday, November 7, 2014

An Alternative to Today's Other Post... Post

It's been a week now since I last invited you over, sorry about that.  Days are busy and this and that and the other thing needed to be done and, more and more, I am trying to be less topical and such around here, so, truly, it shouldn't matter when I write these.  Theoretically...

The boys played in a soccer tourney this last weekend.  The first game was at eight in the morning here in Ohio... yes, before the time changed.  They didn't play in the dark but suffice to say that when we pulled into the complex car lights were shining on the fields so the boys and girls could get warmed up.  They needed it, not the light but the warming up.  It was like thirty-seven and there was snow in the air.  It sort of sucked but, you know what, it'll be one of the few soccer games they may remember in thirty years.  I played a ton of football games and only a few in mud and snow and storms and a particularly eerie game in the fog do I really remember.

They won, or maybe they tied that one and won the one at ten... I don't remember, really.  I remember them whimpering and winning in the wind, at some point that day.  It was nicer on Sunday, they had a "shootout" and Z was in goal.  That was sorta rough... for Marci and I.  There was another game, we won, I think, and then they played one later after we went for hamburgers and, something else.  Oh, they came in as runners-up for their division, "wings," I think, and they got a cool trophy, cup to be accurate.

You see, I shouldn't let the memory wait so long before I try to get it down.  It fades, but it also seems to distill, crystallize.  It seems now like a rembrance from long ago, from my childhood, or yours.

Zack drew this when Marci suggested he draw the soccer matches that Sunday night as a fire popped in the living-room:

Well, that about covers it.

It was an emotional weekend for them.  Not in a bad way just in a boy way.  They lost, they bonded, they won, they tied, they had their first shootout, they had their last game as a team.  Hard stuff.  Good stuff.  The stuff of dreams.  Stuff that works.  Before bed that night we were cleaning up a little and Zack accidentally crumpled up a drawing that Nick had made earlier that day.  A nothing little sketch of a guy in a tasseled toboggan, a sort of self-portrait I suspect now in retrospect.

Nick got really upset about it getting messed up, irrationally so it seemed at the time.  I asked him why he was so upset.

"I love that little guy," was all he said.

What he really said was he loved what had happened, he loved his place in it, he loved his friends and his brother and his home and his fireplace and bed and... well, you get it.

Here's the little guy:

I love him, too.

From Marci's "... things you don't expect to hear from the backseat ..."

"I lost my hat ... and my dignity."

There is truth in this...

Thanks for coming around today.  I wrote something else today as well, but, it's not for everyone, really.  Some might say it is a little mean or out of character, but, It was something I needed to say.   If you're interested take a look here.

On Whittling, Pickling and Blogging

I am going to break character for a bit today.  I don't usually talk about blogging and, to be honest, I recently promised myself I would just sort of ignore the fact that I am indeed a blogger.  Honestly, I consider myself more of a memoirist at best, an archivist at least.  That's all fine and good, but the fact remains that what I do here is called "blogging" and the site that hosts my stuff is called "Blogger."

But what is this thing we do?  I'd guess the answer to that is as varied as the number of folks that do it.  I've just done an exhaustive twenty minute search in an attempt to define the genre.  Not so easy.  Basically, this seems to be the consensus, a regularly updated website or web page, typically one run by an individual or small group, that is written in an informal or conversational style.  Simple enough.  As a contrast, this is what I found on the Urban Dictionary site, Short for weblog.
A meandering, blatantly uninteresting online diary that gives the author the illusion that people are interested in their stupid, pathetic life. Consists of such riveting entries as "homework sucks" and "I slept until noon today."  
Well, I can't really say that is inaccurate.

As I looked around today at the various definitions and references to "blogs" I found, it wasn't until I got to Wikipedia that the term was linked to business and commercialism and consumerism.  Blogs were not conceived as commercial entities, I think that is important to note.  Personally, I made a vow when I started doing this that mine would remain ad-free.  In fact, in the last couple of years, I have taken to telling folks, if it comes up, that I write a "non-commercial" blog.  I do this because many of the people who might come here have become jaded and annoyed by the commercialization of the internet and they are - I think justifiably - hesitant to even look at blogs because so many are so blatantly commercial.

I read a lot of blogs, mostly parenting blogs, and am increasingly turned off by the number of ads and sponsored content I see, even pop-ups and self-loading videos, more each week it seems.  Often, I can't even figure out where the content begins and the ads end.  On the other hand, I read dozens of blogs with unobtrusive ads or none at all and, even as I admit that it is to them I return again and again, I cannot say which is better, that's not up to me.

If you want to know the truth, I am taking a risk talking about this.  It may ostracize me from a community that I very much enjoy.  However, for every one overtly commercial blog there are probably dozens of relatively ad-free and sponsorless folks just writing.  Writing about their lives, their kids, their hopes and fears, joys and failures and it is them I wish to recognize, them I want you to consider, they who merit the kind of attention that stems from the heart and not the pocketbook.

When I was a boy, the grandfather of a friend of mine whittled chess pieces out of oak branches which fell into my friends yard.  I can see him now, either on the front porch of my friend Don's home or, in winter, inside a garage next to the house which was heated with an old coal-fired furnace.  Honestly, they weren't exquisite, in fact they were rough and simple but the lines were elegant and what I remember most was his concentration and, well, joy in carving them.  He died when we were in high school and the porch seemed so empty and the garage so silent.

I lost touch with Don when I went to college and tried to shed my small town roots and soul.  In recent years though I have seen him around a few times and I mentioned the carved chess pieces.  He told me that a few years after his "Pap" passed he and one of his brothers were hanging a new electric engine hoist from the joists of that old garage.  Over in a corner, out of sight, were about thirty hand made wooden boxes each containing a chess set, nestled in straw, waiting.  Most had names in them, names of daughters and sons and grandchildren and friends.  He'd carved each set for someone, hidden them away, a quiet gift, a piece of him.  My old friend, Don, cherishes his.

My childhood friend JB's mother, Mrs. B, canned, jarred or pickled just about everything that grew in our rural corner of the Ohio valley.  She made applesauce and canned beets and green beans.  She jarred pears and apricots and jellied strawberries, plums and grapes.  She pickled every imaginable variety of cucumber, sometimes sweet, sometimes sour, sometimes somehow both.  Tomatoes were sauced and stewed and put in Mason jars.  She also made an amber dandelion wine I've talked of before and Concord grape juice and bottled it all in small clip top bottles.

Year after year this amazing yield was placed on sturdy hand-made shelves, eight, maybe ten of them, which Mr. B had nestled in above the washer and dryer in a small room off their family room.  Each with a lip on the front so the jars could not be jostled off.  It is not the boiling pans of jellies and brine, not the pots and pots of sterilizing jars, not the hand grinder she used to mill the apples and grapes, not the acidic smell of stewing tomatoes or the tear-inducing piles of onions waiting to be pickled with ginger into an onion kraut or even the overbearing heat of it all that I remember best.  No, it is those larder laden shelves I recall so vividly, arranged so practically and beautifully on those hand-crafted shelves, a labor of love and commitment and joy.  God, they were a beautiful sight.

A hootenanny comes to mind.  It's a silly word, to be sure, but, when I was younger, it was what we called a group of guys and gals getting together, playing guitars and whatever was close by, singing and drinking into the late night.  We all frequently played together - this was in my college years and just after - but every now and again we'd have a party, call it a "hoot" and, well, it was.  But something else happened, something important.  We performed.  We nailed leads.  We remembered all the words.  We found evasive harmonies.  We looked each other in the eye, proud as we celebrated the songs and friends we loved.

Our collective songbook was mostly the folk and early rock we grew up on.  Songs I still play today, songs I bet all those guys still play today.  (Don't you guys... and gals?  It just occurred to me that maybe a dozen of those folks read this blog.  I told you it was something important.)  I sometimes wish they had been recorded, or at least chronicled in some way, a photo or a song list in a forgotten guitar case.  They weren't.  There are a few recordings of this or that, mixed and overdubbed on rudimentary cassette tape technology, embarrassingly crude and raw.  I don't really know where they are.  I wouldn't listen to them if I did.  But, sometimes as I belt out "This Land Is Your Land" I nearly weep at the beauty of those long ago singalongs.

I must, and do, have a point.  My friend Don's grandfather never considered making hand carved chess sets to sell them.  I knew the man and I am sure it never occurred to him.  In fact, only happenstance ever brought them to the hands for whom they were made.  Mrs. B would have never dreamed of putting up canned goods for profit.  She did it because she wanted a family fed, traditions followed and passed on, and a shelf of hope in her basement.  When my friends and I jammed out in a living-room or around a campfire back in the seventies and eighties we weren't doing it to be the next Pete or Joan or Woody or Bob, you know, for commercial success.  No, we were just making some beautiful music together.

When we make something, sing something, arrange something we made beautifully; when we make picket rail fences and fashion quilts from scraps and bake bread; when we write poems on scraps of paper and pen long love letters; when we create these things hoping not for the gold of reward but merely the quicksilver of memory, we are artists.

I have long loved folk art.  It is difficult to define and encompasses everything from the tangible paintings and sculptures and carvings of antiquity to the intangible traditions of the dying arts of craftsmen - the print-makers and the ironsmiths and mountain fiddlers and the cloistered poets.  It seems that every definition and explanation included the fact that that it was art by and for the people.  Music and dance and paintings and traditions that all bubble up from the very soul of us.  Art we are compelled to make and take in and art we intrinsically understand and essentially need.

I think blogging is a folk art.  Sure, there are times when it becomes a Fine Art, but the majority of those are from writers who choose the internet as their medium.  And yes, some blogs are designed and fashioned to be commercial exploits.  But, as I listen to fellow bloggers, I hear over and over again that their true and original reason for starting was because they wanted to create something for others, often their children as in my case, but for family and friends, lovers and like-minded souls as well.  Rarely, particularly for those who have been around a while, was a blog created initially and intentionally to make money.

Listen, truth is only a few people will have a look at this.  My reach is limited and my blog is an inconsequential blip in the wide world of blogs.  I respect and read a number of commercial blogs, I can hardly avoid it because a lot of great stories and wisdom are coming from them.  However, I do think that I get a lot more from a blogger who writes from his heart, about his heart, and through his heart than I do from one who is writing from his pocketbook, about things that clearly don't matter to him or her, and through a wall of ads and pop-ups.  Also, I think blogging is already on the decline.  I think in a decade or less it will be relegated to a "remember when" or a punchline on a late night talk-show.  Blogger, where I write, may someday start making me have ads, and I will no longer be able to afford a domain and a host, and I'll have to shut down.  But, it's all backed up, I could print it out tomorrow, place it on a shelf and hope that it finds its way.

So, you may be wondering why I have lined up these words today, words that may get me in trouble, words that may seem hurtful to some, words that may seem mean or discouraging.  Well, I want my fellow folk art bloggers to know that I am listening to them, that I admire them, that I cherish them as they will be cherished someday ... and, well, ultimately, that is my point:  Nick and Zack, I never even considered exploiting you in any way, nor did I.


Now, back to our originally scheduled programming.

Thanks for stopping by, I know for many it wasn't what you've come to expect around here.  I'll work on something else today as well.