Monday, April 28, 2014

"Crease Code"

I'm gonna tell you something you don't know – life is complicated.  Oh, well... I didn't know you already knew that.  Ya'll make it look so simple.  Which may be my point, I haven't decided yet.  Back to complicatedness (which I have now complicated into a noun), I know, in my heart, that this trip we are on is a simple one.  If we can unvelcro ourselves from the sticky layers of modernity; refocus our attention on the warm, caring hands in front of us and forget the cold screen and indifferent touch-pad in our own; if we can lift our eyes, if not upward in prayer, at least outward in recognition and connection, then perhaps we can remember the inherit, decent simplicity of our journey.

I am going to go with the lame and overused “that being said” as a segue instead of actually writing a clever and well-prepared transitional sentence.

This is an extraordinarily complicated age, this age of... hell, I don't even know what it's called.  I'll call it The Age of Saturation.  I am privy to way too much information.  I was going to make a long list of everything I am trying to keep up with and it daunted me.  I backed away from a sentence because it intimidated me.  True story.  The hardest part of it all - not just as a parent, mind you, but, that is my perspective - the hardest part, is not being sure what to focus on.

I am present for, and mindful of, my sons. That's great, right?  Well, hold on now, I'm not really sure of that.   I know what books they like, what they are afraid of, who they like, when they wake and when they're tired. I know their favorite food, color, shirt, pants, stuffie, tree, bird, pillow and pet.  I can read their emotions, predict their moods, practically read their thoughts.  I don't say this because I am particularly clever or clairvoyant, I just have spent a lot of time with them.  This isn't a bad thing, that's not my point – as if I had one – but, honestly, I take up a lot of room in my head with this stuff, and, well, it's complicated and... I still don't understand them.

I found this in Nick's, Nick mind you, backpack:

It is in Zack's hand and says:  make a stew a every Place you eat at.  the lead is rich mental Problem - the head is ate under the cafeteria s he dead.  Well, that's sort of creepy.  But, wait, there at the bottom it says crease code.  Oh, I see, let's read the letters down the crease, meet me under the playset.  I think we can learn two things here.  First, uh, Zack sucks at the crease code and, secondly, my boys are so freaking cute they meet under the playset at recess.  I think I know so much about them and yet, I had no idea they met sometimes on the playground... that is so cute.  (Sorry.)

I initially found this on the kitchen table, it apparently wasn't quite right:

That's cool, we all need a "redo" every now and then.  Just one thing - what the hell is that in his hand?  And, uh, can I have one?  Take a closer look:

It appears to be a handled candle with spinning diamonds.  I've no idea.  Here is how it ended up, the finished product:

I know, it is just an endearing, creative, um, hot mess of weirdness.  And I claim I know them.

Zack loves Baily.  Zack drew a picture of Baily.  I am glad he labeled it as such 'cause I'd've guessed a turtle in a cage:

So, this is the point where I make my point.

Life is complicated, little boys are complicated; loving little boys is simple, life is simple.

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

N: "I am a cheap steak."
B: "Buddy, the term is cheapskate."
Z: "I like steak."
B: "I like steak, too."
(love my boys)

I think a cheapsteak is actually a guy who's a cheap date.  Yum, chopped steak, oh, even better, Salisbury steak, in gravy...

Thanks for stopping by again.  I wrote once before about the things I find that confuse me in a post called Stumpers and Befuddlers.  Silly man that I am.

Oh, and this is who Nick was "versing" in battle:

Well, that clears up everything.  He's got a spinning candle thingee, too.  And, a really cool fez...

Thursday, April 24, 2014

"Can I Go On Out?" And Other Math

I can't be sure when it happened really.  Nor can I figure why it happened.  I just know it did.

A few nights ago I closed my book, shut out the light, got comfy with all my pillows, sighed and thought, this is the best part of my day.  I'd like to say I was offering up a prayer of thanksgiving - a primal evening hymn of gratitude and victory and happy resignation.  I was not.  It was a bitter retort, a childish little rant in which I was the victim.

Maybe I just needed to consider it, to, perhaps learn something from the notion that the end of my day was the best of my day.  Is that an adult theme?  Is it my nature to celebrate the done, the finished, and not savor the yet-to-come?  Have I forgotten the sweetness of tomorrow's dew, seduced by the low, glowing embers in the fire of this day's eve?

But why?

Nicholas, dear Nick, wakes up before six in the morning.  Every morning.  He comes into our room quietly and waits for me to acknowledge him.  He knows I am most likely awake, he can sense it.   I am indeed awake.  We are awake in different ways, however, and the gulf between those ways is profound, telling.

As I lie awake mustering the strength to get things started - muffins, bacon, homework, clothes, backpacks, snacks and a thousand little things that I have to do.  As I consider the great inconveniences and trials of the day ahead, a little man stands before me, waiting for a "good morning," an "I love you," an acknowledgment of his presence, his being.

"Dad, can I go on out?" (Subtext: Dad, I am so glad for this day, so excited to be alive again, still.  Can I get it started?  Can I get going because, well, it's today?  Again!  Isn't that wonderful.)

How on earth have I forgotten this?

Remember the book I closed before I went to bed?  It is a book based on the lectures and writings of Henri Nouwen called Spiritual Direction.  It is difficult, reflective reading that sometimes takes a while to reach my heart.  The last paragraph I read must have echoed through the corridors of my dreams that night.

"One of the main objectives of spiritual direction is to help people discover that they already have something to give. Therefore, the director needs to be a receiver who says, "I see something in you, and I'd like to receive it from you."  In this way, the one who gives discovers his or her talent through the eyes of the one who receives."

What beautiful truth.  As parents we need to be director as receiver, we need to see what the gift is our children hold and we need to be ready and willing to accept it.   In honoring and cherishing these gifts we connect to our child-likeness, our sacredness, our shimmering essential holiness.  And, there's more, in the recognition of the gift given, the child sees the beauty of the gift he gave.  Perfect balance.  Perfect love.

Nick gave me back my morning prayer, my prayer for hope, my prayer for now.

"Dad, can I go out?"

Yes, son, yes... and I am right behind you.

Thank you, Nick.

Over and over again I learn from my sons.   Lessons that would humble the best rabbis, priests, philosophers and poets. Simple profound lessons on love and hope and truth...

...and math.

This is how the problem was presented.  As you can see by the 'check minus' there followed by the ominous word "fix," Nick had some difficulty with this:

This is how I was taught to solve it:

This is how the boys are being taught to solve it:

Yes, well...  When I first started working on this post I had a brilliantly crafted (in my head) rant all ready to go.  It was to cover how I was taught math and Mr. Sharp, my fourth grade math teacher.  In his class we chanted the multiplication table and did problems in chalk on the board and never talked about how we got an answer.  Old school, Mayberry crap.  I had every intention of showing, logically and without a doubt, how my way was the right way.

I tried to show Nick, now in tears, the "simple" way of doing it.  It, uh, didn't go so well.  Fortunately, Nick was a brother in the same grade who, conveniently, has the same math teacher... not Mr. Sharp.  As Nick sniffled and I fumed, a voice from the living room, a voice of authority and clarity, said,"You need to use a number line, Nick."

"What?!" I say, incredulously.  "How on earth are you going to use a "number line" to solve this?  It's simple math."

"Dad," the wise boy went on, "Some kids don't understand your way, but everybody gets this way."

Zack then went to his bookbag and pulled out the same worksheet - he'd gotten a 'check plus' - and showed it to Nick.

"Oh, I get it now," he said as he glanced at Zack's work.

Twenty minutes later the work was done.  It only took me one to realize how very wrong I'd been.  Zack gave me a gift, a gift of understanding, a gift of humility, a gift of empathy.

I see so much in these boys, and, slowly, I am coming to understand that I wish to receive it from them.  And, just as profoundly, they are coming to understand that they can teach me.

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

Photo shoot for Peebles & Peebles Used Cars ad campaign

I often begin a post somewhere and end up somewhere else.  Thanks for going along with me, I am glad you could.

Oh, I nearly forgot.  They made cards:

Zack's a used car salesman and, get this, a Micro Biologist.  Sweet...

Friday, April 18, 2014

Spring Is Sprung

I have some random thoughts about Spring to weave into a nice tapestry of a post. I will probably end up with a ragged throw rug, but, what the heck...

Baseball season started for the boys last night. It was their first game as the Red Sox – I am a Reds fan. Little League makes for strange bedfellows. I mentioned last night, right?  Thursday, Holy Thursday, Maundy Thursday.  For at least the last four or five years, we have gone to the service - you know, the one where the priest washes feet - and we have washed feet as a family.  It is humbling and sacred and really quite touching.  We missed it this year for a baseball game, one of twenty-some.  A lackluster game that we won, but, that doesn't matter much.

I missed washing their little feet.  I missed their trepidation and giggling and wonder at the whole thing.  For a baseball game.

It is also a great time of year to go camping.  However, there is a baseball game every weekend, so it is difficult to find time to go.  The boys love camping - the fires and endless loops on their bikes and staying up late and hotdogs and chili and real, uninterrupted family time - and ask often when we are planning another trip.

That's a birdhouse in the foreground... for scale, I'd guess.

I love camping with them, it is something I am good at, something that shows them skills that can't be really shown other than at a campsite but, we won't get to go until the heat of summer is upon us.  For a baseball game.

It is truly difficult when you have twins to miss sports games, I mean we are usually a sixth of the baseball team or a fifth of a soccer team and it causes a difficulties for the coach if we can't make it.  I understand that the boys need the kind of bonding that sports teams can offer.  They love baseball, they love scoring and running and laughing and they need to know the thrill of victory and the pain of defeat.  They need bruises and sore muscles.  I understand that.

But, I need the long languishing that is camping.

I need to wash the feet of little boys.

Memories are made a million different ways.  I get that, but, I sometimes regret that we emphasize the recreational sports so much, as a family, and, in my opinion, as a society.

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

Nick:  My coach, he can still talk and see, but a couple of years ago he got turned into a wall.

Zack:  Yes, I played for him a couple of years ago when he was first a wall.  He is a good coach.

Nick:  It was actually really convenient since, when he was a regular player, he was so good everyone called him "The Wall."

I knew nothing of this...

Thanks for stopping by again, I am glad you could.  Have a sacred Easter, remember what it is about, even if you do not celebrate.  Forgiveness, resurrection, suffering, and purity are not only Christian themes, they are universal themes that live in the collective soul of humankind.  Own them, ponder them, dance, sing, pray, give thanks, rejoice.

Friday, April 11, 2014

10 Sentences I Wrote About This

1.  "Ninga" is actually spelled 'ninja.'

2.  When Chuck came home in Nick's backpack last week, we spent a good fifteen minutes pretending to throw ourselves through the air, as in chuck  ourselves.

3.  Chuck ties very nice bows around his waist, his ankles and his wrists.

4.  Although he looks angry, that is his "warrior face and he's actually a pretty nice guy."

5.  Chuck is so good he covers his hands and feet and is still a ninga  ninja, either that or he didn't do well in the sword portion of the training.

6.  The classwork that Nick drew this on the back of took him "like, two minutes... what else was I suppose to do?"

7.  For want of a comma, Chuck is destined to be thrown for the entirety of his ninja career.

8.  He, Nick, got all the answers right on the sequencing worksheet this is on.

9.  I secretly love that Nick is a poor speller, it lightens my heart, somehow, and makes me think about the nature and necessity of words and language.

10.  I really, really dislike the trend to make postings into lists because, in my opinion, they forgo storytelling, are easy, make clever transitional writing unnecessary and seem to me to be lazy, meaningless clickbait.

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

I really should start a Top Ten List of things you don't expect to say during Mass ...

 "No jazz hands during Lent."

Let's face it, it's the Fosse equivalent of a Halleluiah... 

I've been a bit serious this month, I can't really say why.  I am glad you stopped by and peeked into a book-bag with me, it was fun.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

If I Had A Dream... (A Future's Perfect Post)

I tell the boys stories I make up about a blue kid-size teddy bear in a yellow polka-dotted purple bow tie. He's mischievous and a little excitable. Chu-Chu is his name and he is my imaginary friend and I frame the stories about him around my childhood misadventures growing up in rural Ohio. In the most recent one Chu-Chu got caught stealing apples and was reprimanded by a farmer who, in truth, just wanted to be asked for the apples, he had plenty, he reminded us in the end. Oh, and there was pie.

I finished the story and Nick asked me where Chu-Chu was now. I told him that after a long career as a loving companion to several children, he retired to Arizona.  I flippantly remarked, "He'd always dreamed of that."

Tuck, hug, bathroom, hug, tuck, "three pats," lights out...

"Dad, what is it you've always dreamed of?"

"Whaddya mean?" I asked through the dim, quiet room.

"You know, if you had a dream what would it be?"

"For you guys to grow up happy and healthy. Now, good night," was all I said. But his words keep echoing through my mind, through my heart, through my soul.

If I had a dream...

We walk together along the stone walkway that marches from our screened-in porch and winds under the maples towards an outbuilding which sits about midway back in the yard, just beyond the tall locust tree, there, where the tomatoes and the roses once grew and the oak saplings still struggle upwards. The building has windows on the side facing the house, shuttered at times, and the siding is the whitewashed wood of an old barn, baked for decades, in the unforgiving Midwest summer sun.

The shadows of two boys and a man float in the speckled light and seem to crouch on the roof which is not peaked but slopes from the opposite, higher wall, at a slight, easy angle. A low, unrailed deck comes off the front of the building which sits somewhat skewed on the lot so that you see the windowed wall and the front facing as you approach it. We stand quietly. Behind us, on the front, wide wall, a pair of barn doors wait and a another window hides behind shutters. Our eyes are drawn, as always, to the stained purple, red, pink and burgundy glass window that sits magnificently, triangular in the space formed by the sloping roof above the barn door and the shuttered picture window.

One pair of hand reaches out and opens the doors as the other set pats my shoulders and then swings open the shutters of the front window. The interior is revealed. The place is dreamy, the floor is recycled wide wood planking, butter toned, and extends to the back wall perhaps twenty or so feet. A circular window is nestled high in the angular space, mirroring back the front one. We step in and gaze through the familiar light. The restored rose window - saved from a church long lost to tears and time – is back-lit in glory from the setting September sun. Below that window, the wall is weathered wainscoting up to a stick brown chair rail. The rest of the wall, and the windowed wall to the right are painted a yellowed, parchment beige.

Just below the rose window, a score of sconces hold candles of every size and description. My two companions light them with wooden matches and the sulfur smell mixes with the wood and incense infused into the very essence of the space. Lit daily for years now, they provide the backdrop to a simple wooden trestle table maybe four by six feet. An exquisite white porcelain plate, oversized and oval, sits gracefully, contrastingly smooth against the rough work table. On this day a dazzling geode sits, split open, shimmering in the candle and stained light of the back wall, seeming to hover just above the simple plate.

“A geode, nice...” A soft voice breaks the silence.

To the left, the high wall is covered in shelves and cubbyholes handcrafted by an old cabinet maker, installed flawlessly. A row of lights on the deep blue ceiling showcase old books and watches and jars of marbles and new books and photos and, well, a bit of everything, really. Hands reach out, six now, and eyes flit from this to that, breaths intaking, hearts breaking, memories soaring at every stop of each mind's eye. Beautiful things, warm things, stuff you want to hold in your hands or against your breast. Towards the front of this wall another work table sits, waist high, the kind of table you tinker at. Two lamps string down from the ceiling to illuminate it. Two hands reach out to turn them on.  Papers and music and pencils and cardboard and notepads wait. Two guitars hang on the wall, also waiting.

Below the picture window, an old-timey teacher's desk sits in the ruddy evening sun. A laptop, a scanner, and a printer are hidden under the papers and handwritten notes and finished and unfinished manuscripts. An unlit candle and a smoke-stained desk light and a cold cup of coffee sit, temporarily abandoned in the paper chaos.

I sit down at the now ancient desk.

“Dad, I remember you designing this, in the basement. Blue tape and, like, manilla card paper.”

“Yes, but it didn't turn out that way...”

“Yeah, life's like that,” the third man offers with a wisp of a smile.

“ turned out better.  Life's like that, too.”

What is this place? It is a shed. A shed where I go to dream at an oaken desk. A shed where I go to pray at a wooden table of an altar. A shed where I go to find peace, serenity and solitude in the paper words of poets and saints. We built it, we three. Someday, some-time-ago, some-time-to-come, now, never, always. We built, are building, will build, this.   A father and his sons – we three.

It is my Prayer Shed.

If I had a dream...

A retired architect, famous once but now just another guy sitting at the local coffee shop, asked me what I did as I sat tapping away on a laptop one cold winter day. I laughed and told him I was "just a dreamer." He said he was once a dreamer, now he was just tired. He went back to his mug of coffee, black and strong and hot.

"What do you dream about?" He whispered it, almost as if he didn't want to say it, didn't want to bridge the sanctioned gap between our tables, between us. I trusted his eyes so I told him about my Prayer Shed. I told him it was hard to write and think in a cold, dank basement and that I wanted to be in a space full of light so I could dream bigger, hope harder, pray more reverently, think longer, more involved plots and characters and narratives. I told him it hurt my heart to dream of something I knew I could never have.

His eyes were full, both tears and understanding fell from them, and he looked inside me and, trusting me, he said, "I'll design it for you." And he did. The blueprints are rolled up and stacked in a cubby just there, next to that Mason jar of my grandfather's marbles.

If I had a dream...

Once a month, when the weather is good, the front porch of the shed is filled with people, singing songs and laughing and telling stories. It is a hootenanny where anyone can play, children, old-timers, old rockers and bluegrass pickers. A simple sound system, a couple of small Peavy amps, some mics and a good friend at the mixing board. A fire in a fire pit, beer and wine, hotdogs, friendship and music - inclusive music, sacred music, raucous music, good and not-so-good music - fill the evening air like prayer lanterns lifting up and out of sight.

People come from all around and there is never anywhere to park, but, the neighbors don't care - one's a fiddler and the other is stoking the fire. There is an atmosphere of love and acceptance, and memories are made, a lifetimes worth, evening after summer evening. Sometimes, when the weather is bad, we all shove into the shed, close, happy to be so, the amps turned off, the guitars and singers just feet away from the glad, expectant faces of the crowd.

If I had a dream...

The dreaming-once-again architect calls his cabinet maker buddy and finds out he could use some work and, for nearly cost, he puts in the shelves and cubbies and, from his own workshop, "lends" me the table that becomes the focal point of the space.

I meet an old hippie at the farmers market, and, liking his chest length gray beard I comment on it, he laughs, loud and strong, and wonders how he still has it because he works as a stained glass artist. I ask him about the work and we stand, talking comfortably, as he explains a recent project. He found a rose window in an old barn, covered in dirt and grime, and decided to restore it. Chuckling and shaking his head he says that he can't imagine why he did it - no one wants that kind of thing anymore.

"I do," I say quietly. 

When I go to his shop - a jumble of color and glass and lead - a vintage Martin guitar stands in a corner and a even older Episcopalian Book of Common Prayer sits open amidst the glass fragments, neither are dusty, neither neglected.

I tell him where it will go and he is pleased and offers to design another window for me, the window above the front door, the window facing east, the window he calls "Sunrise Prayer."

If I had a dream...

I wouldn't stop there. No. The building inspector would have a son who was a graduate film student and needs a thesis project and comes and documents the whole process from architect's office to glass studio to shingles and front deck. He would come to deeply understand why the shed must be built by profoundly understanding why dreams must be dreamt. He will edit and filter and score and narrate and he will manifest his dream as I do mine. And, his documentary will be beautiful.

He will help me explain my dream. He would listen to me say things like: "I think it is important for children to dream, it is important that adults dream, it is the stuff that moves us toward God. More than that, though, it is important, urgently so, that children see adults dream. Even if that dream ends in failure, which it may, we must give our boys and girls permission to dream, to dreamy crazy, to dream big." And, he would make me seem credible and decent not flaky and misanthropic.

If I had a dream...

The sound of hammers and saws filled the backyard for weeks and weeks. I remember pouring the foundations, framing the walls up and hoisting the rafters. My sons helped me. They helped me build my dream, board by board, nail by nail, blister by blister. They are just nine - or twelve, or twenty, I know not, really - and they learn a lifetime of skills, good skills, hand skills, heart skills. They will forever tell the story about the hammer Nick dropped and Zack caught, miraculously, just before it crashed through a window, a rose window. They will learn, finally and forever, that their dad is crazy and beautiful and earnest and humble and holy and full, so full, of the kind of love that is so hard to place, and, and, he built a place for it - because, because... he needed to.

If I had a dream...

I would dedicate my shed to my work. I would finish my novels there. I would have a website, I would ask others to send me books, prayer books and bibles and poetry and memoirs and my shelves would swell and bow from the weight. I would ask for things to place on my makeshift altar and people would send feathers and stones and baby socks and acorns and geodes and flowers... and hopes and dreams and fears and failures. I would pray for it all. I would take a photo everyday and post it on the site, "from the table" I might call that, and years and years of images would be forever saved in simple, prayer-like zeroes and ones.

If I had a dream...

People would come to see me, some might want to pray with me, others might want to pray alone. Some would come to argue with me, tender arguments about God and gods and saviors, warriors and souls. With some I would talk about writing and music and the nature of Art and we would sing songs and form bands and laugh freely and gather around an old wood stove off in the corner by the door and tell stories on a cold winter's night. And, we would dream together of sacred journeys and holy places and basement boats and backyard sheds. We would call ourselves "shedheads" and we would show others how to dream impossibly big and crazy and hope-filled dreams.

If I had a dream...

I would share it with you.

If I had one...

Thank you for listening to me dream my little dreams.  I hope it helps you to remember to dream yours.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

"Blue As The Moon Without A Sun"

You may remember I've mentioned the songs Nick and Zack have been writing before, in a post called "Memorise This Moment" and a another, Wright A Country Song.  Well, they are at it again.  In all honesty, Z does most of the hard-lifting in this duo.  He types them up and formats them, does most of the rewriting and curates them in a nice binder, along with the handwritten original.  I think N is the idea man, and you know how flaky they are.  Here is their latest:

"The sun and the moon rotate around us, Just like me with you.  When I'm not around you'll be blue as the moon without a sun."  That is a good lyric, right there.  Hell, I might steal it...

Zack came out of bed the other night, late, and asked me if he could leave a note to remind him of something.  He's done this before, and it is usually pretty cute, so I said he could:

"Create snake palace in cop world."  Clearly code.  I still have no idea...

For as long as the boys can remember, we have read books to them before bed.  We never talked baby talk, or dumbed down our words for them, either.  Consequently, I think, Nick has a very good vocabulary and a strong sense of story and Zack uses words poetically, sparingly, as a good lyricist should.  It's been a long journey from repeated readings of Seuss after Seuss after Seuss, through the entirety of The Magic Treehouse series and a wonderful trip through all of Narnia to where we are now, on the fifth book of the Harry Potter series.

Reading is important to me, to Marci, and now, important to the boys.

I am glad for that, words have served me well in my life, I hope the same for them.

Zack drew this the other day.  He continued the sun and moon imagery from the song to this wizard's fantastic outfit.  (That is a sun, not a circular zipper there on his pants.)  Wait, perhaps those are just moons for scale...

In my opinion, we live in a world where it is difficult to raise kids.  Oh, I know, it appears easy, there are endless opportunities in sports and extracurriculars.  There are marvelous movies and great games and good television and baseball games and, well... there is too much.  So, around here, we default to paper and craft-boxes, dirt and green balls, words and songs.  You know, the childhood essentials.

I hope you enjoyed coming around today.  Some new folks have been able to start visiting and I'd like to give them a special thanks today.

Oh, yeah...

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

"When you have maracas, you need a saxophone."
(discussing the music at Mass)

Yes, the classic duo of saxes and maracas, foundation of liturgical music...