30 November 2014

The Comfort of the Familiar

I may be wrong here, which will come as a shock to none of you who find yourselves ensconced on the couch here in the Den, but it is my assertion that more people here in the U.S. come together at Thanksgiving than any other holiday. To see if I'm off base, just for giggles, blow by your nearest commercial airport today and take in the shenanigans.

Thanksgiving is wrapped in the comfort of the familiar. From the traditions, the food, and the gathering, it screams familiar. That was certainly the case for us this week. We've been surrounded by the things most familiar to us. Watching my grandson hoist his 18 month old self atop a coffee table and cackle with laughter brought back memories of watching The Boy do the same thing time and again. Here's hoping my grandson won't break both arms leaping from that table as his uncle did when he was just 15 months old. Those super fun trips to the ER are familiar ones I would not like to be part of again. Ever. Seeing my adult daughters howl with laughter as they tried to extract their father - me - from the snares of a zip line made me smile, knowing that even though they grow up, your children can still be 'kids.' Sharing a burger at In-N-Out with the stunningly patient and mighty fine SML yesterday was a pinnacle of the familiar. Living in Southern California for many years, the glory of the Double Double and fries was a big part of our lives and it was so good revisit it again. As we sat there indulging in that burger goodness, I was enveloped in the comfort of the familiar. There I was, sitting across from she who makes my life complete, having memories of good times past flow across my mind's eye, and I was happy.

I suppose you could argue that the very comfort of the familiar is what puts the 'fun' in dysfunction that are also the hallmarks of big gatherings like Thanksgiving. But no matter how dysfunctional you may think it is, there is indeed comfort to be found. I'm glad I've had the opportunity these last few days to surround myself in the comfort of the familiar with the people I love; to say thanks; and to count my blessings.

I don't think I will ever be able to stop doing that.

27 November 2014

Being Thankful

As I write this, the air is infused with the aroma of garlic as it toasts up in the homemade croutons. The whir of multiple blenders blends into the constant hum of blow dryers. The clanging of pans is accompanied by the sounds of laughter and cries for the instructions for the roasting pan. All signs of that uniquely American celebration that is Thanksgiving.

Our Thanksgiving celebration is under way. We are hours away from carving the bird, but the house, unlike the unfortunate turkey, is alive with the familiar sights and sounds of this holiday. For the first time in several years, we took to the road, and by road I mean a well-worn 757, and are surrounded by family. Cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents, and one very important grandson are making for a great day. Of course we are missing TMFKATB. Methinks this will be just a regular day for him. Not thinking anyone will be serving up turkey and pumpkin pie along the Mexican-Guatemalan border. He's in our thoughts today.

It would be an impossible task to enumerate the blessings I've been granted and all the things for which I'm grateful, so I won't even pretend to start a list. I'll say this though - I am a lucky man. I am surrounded by my family today. I have been blessed by friends far and wide who have made my life so rich. What a poorer life I would have without you all in it. My heartfelt thanks to each of you this day. 

I'll close with this:

“I give thanks to my Creator for this wonderful life where each of us has the opportunity to learn lessons we could not fully comprehend by any other means.” -- Joseph B. Wirthlin

25 November 2014

"best week"

That smile says it all
So thanks to a long day o'meetings in Manhattan and a big ole monkey wrench tossed by that she-hag Mother Nature, I am late in posting the highlights of TMFKATB's letter. He entitled his email 'best week of my life.' That, my friends, are some of the sweetest words a parent can read! With your child thousands of miles away, those words are beyond comforting.

He's had a good, nay, great week. It sounds like he decided to take off the shackles of timidity that may have bound him because he wasn't comfortable with the language. He and his companion are talking to everyone and anyone and having a good time doing it. He expressed how happy he was and he looks it. Also, he's killing me with the fact that he's got tamales on hand constantly. Killing me.

He's getting into his groove. As he gets into the groove, ours is getting thrown off, just a little. Mother Nature, that she-hag of all she-hags, has decided to toss a Nor'Easter into the Thanksgiving travel mix and it looks like tomorrow is going to be, well, challenging. But Mother Nature shall not get the best of us. We are prepared and have adjusted our plans accordingly. Looking forward to a good Thanksgiving celebration, in spite of that she-devil's evil plans!

19 November 2014

What Do People Do All Day?

Lowly, Huckle and friends
Earlier this week, the stunningly patient and mighty fine SML made her way across the border to MA with a friend of hers to go to the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art. Of course, Mr Carle is the author - illustrator of the beloved 'The Very Hungry Caterpillar.' While exploring the little museum, SML happened upon one room and found the illustration above. She took the picture you see above and texted it to me. As soon as I saw it, I was flooded in emotions. I sat at my Midtown desk, sporting a huge grin and allowing a couple of tears to roll down my face.


Most certainly, if you are of a certain age, you recognize that worm and that leiderhosen-sporting cat. It's Lowly and Huckle, two of the beloved characters of author - illustrator Richard Scarry. Seeing those two so beautifully drawn is what triggered those emotions when I saw the picture. As a child, I loved, loved, loved these characters and the works of Mr Scarry. His magnum opus, in my opinion, 'What Do People Do All Day?' was first published in 1968, and I'm quite certain it took a place on my childhood bookshelf very quickly. Although I cannot remember when I first read it, I have vivid memories even now of paging through this book time and again as a young reader. Huckle and his friends were easy to connect with and this book in particular was so exciting to a young child. It allowed you to see what adults did after they left the house in the morning. It was wonderful and it is one of those books that made me a reader.

Once I became a father, this book was one I delighted in reading to my children. I'm not quite certain it had the same impact on them that it did me but I'm fine with that. They all emerged as readers in their own ways. I am so glad that when we got married all those many years ago that SML brought a list of children's literature that she wanted to make a part of the lives of our children. I'm glad that that her aunt, J, turned us on to early reading techniques that helped instill a love of the written word in them as well.

One of the payoffs for a word nerd/reader like me has been trading books with my children now that they are adults. Discussing books we've read has been a joy for me. And to think, I've got a worm and a cat to thank for a lot of that!

17 November 2014

Gangster Street English

Fans, 'staches, and the 'browsie' arch and that hideous Noah's Ark Tie!
Monday has once again brought us news from The Missionary formerly known as The Boy (TMFKATB). His letter and real-time commentary were really positive and a reflection of his personality. This is his third week 'in country' and last week's letter was more about the ups and downs that he was experiencing, which was totally expected for us. Of course he was going to be a little bewildered by his new surroundings and confounded by the language. We really didn't worry (a little, for sure, but not too much) and this week's letter was laugh out loud funny in a couple of places, so it made for another good day.

TMFKATB reported that he's working hard, in spite of a little gastro-intestinal drama and ongoing rattling from small earthquakes, or as he put it, 'just a quick shake' that happen 'all the time.' He and his companion are working to teach more and while they aren't seeing the success they have hoped for, spirits are high and they are working hard. He's trying to be as obedient as he can as well.

He shared a bit more about his surroundings, like living across from the town futbol arena, shopping for beans and snacks at the local 'Kwiki Mart' (his description, not mine)  and that there are dogs and chickens everywhere. He's discovering new fruits and 'crazy meats' in the street market. There's also a tortilleria nearby. Here he is with a fresh stack of tortillas:
He talked about his companion wanting to learn more English, but only gangster street English. Lovely. So as his teacher, this young man has TMFKATB. Who better? I mean he was raised on the mean streets of the Dirty 630 - Naperthrill - and in the hills of Connecticut and these, as anyone can tell you, are hotbeds of the 'gangsta' life. Here's a sample of the teaching that he shared in this week's letter:

Also my comp likes to learn English and only gangster street English.
So when we talk to the ninos in the street, he will say, "What's crackalickin', my homie?"
or "What is, good gangsta'?" He is too funny.

Perfect. Just perfect. I see a career in cultural protocol. Actually, did you see how he was arching his eyebrow in the first picture? I actually think he could replace Phil Keoghan and his "browsie' as the host of The Amazing Race.

16 November 2014

Grilled Cheese Nostalgia

As a part of the lay ministry that constitutes the local organizations of our church, each Sunday night the stunningly patient and mighty fine SML and I welcome a group of young single adults into our home for fellowship, friendship, and food. Tonight is no different.

However, when we got home from our Sunday services today, we were both pretty hungry and decided to throw something together quickly. Our Sunday go-to? The simple, but sublime, grilled cheese sandwich.

As those sandwiches were grilling, SML said, 'I always think of your dad whenever we make a grilled cheese, especially on Sundays.' I smiled and agreed. You see, grilled cheese sandwiches were my Dad's thing on those rare Sundays when he was home. Those Sundays were rare, as he was often gone at a church meeting but if he was home, it was a lock for grilled cheese that he made. It also meant, for several years, an opportunity to see him let his hair down, which is ironic since he was bald, and laugh. Dad wasn't much of a laugher. But in those days, Sunday nights meant sitcoms on CBS and my dad laughed - out loud laughed - while watching 'The Jeffersons.' George and his war of words with the maid, Florence, really made him laugh.

So tonight as I waxed nostalgic, I couldn't help but smile as we ate those sandwiches. It's been a little more than five years since my Dad died quite unexpectedly. There are days when I feel his absence more acutely than others, but not a day goes by where I am not grateful for his impact on my life. He was an outstanding husband to my mother. He was so good to us, his children. He served all who knew him well. He was a good, good man.

So, Dad, tonight's grilled cheese was for you. Thanks for those Sundays with you.

11 November 2014

Thank You for Your Service

In the United States today we pause to honor those who stepped forward to protect the freedoms that we cherish and, far too frequently, take for granted. It is Veterans Day, a day in which we honor all those who have served in the U.S. Armed Forces.

Iconic images, like the flag being raised at Iwo Jima in World War II, make it easy to remember the more 'spectacular' efforts that were made to preserve our freedoms. What we cannot do is forget those who weren't in those 'spectacular' moments. Every veteran, regardless of where and how they served, deserves a heartfelt 'Thank you for your service.' It is the contribution of every single member of the military that leads to those heroic moments that we all remember.

Earlier today, I watched a clip of a Marine, Kyle Carpenter, talking with David Letterman about his experiences in Iraq that led to him becoming a Medal of Honor recipient. He spoke with reverence of his fellow marines and his team, and the people they were defending and those they were trying to help. It was not about him. Watch it please:

I am in awe of him and all those who have served. I'm looking forward to reading this book as well:
We cannot forget the service and sacrifice of all those who have served. We live in a time where the survival rate for those injured in action is incredibly high. Sadly, too many are being forgotten once they get home. That's an injustice that can be prevented. Check out what the Wounded Warrior Project is doing to make sure our veterans are not forgotten. As their motto states:

The greatest casualty is being forgotten

May we never forget and may we always say, "Thank you for your service."

10 November 2014

Tamales. He's learning to make tamales.

Working the masa
By his own admission, this week's letter from The Missionary formerly known as The Boy (TMFKATB) was full of ups and downs. He's been 'in country' two weeks and the reality of his new world is setting in. He misses his family, but not overwhelmingly so. He's doing his best to focus on the work that there is to do and that is certainly helping him. He's feeling better about the language too. Although he does not see it yet, I can see the impact on his immersion in Spanish in his letters. Some of his phrasing in English is taking on Spanish grammatical structure. He mentioned that in talking to his companion, they determined they like the same music. Remember his companion speaks not a word of English so TMFKATB would have had to drive that conversation in Spanish. I think he's learning more than he realizes. His sense of humor is intact too. As is his growing love for the people he is serving.

As I read his letter today and had a few minutes of real-time exchanges with him, I so wished I could be at his side. I'd love to be coaching him with the language and helping him as he endeavors to teach and serve. But that's not my role right now. He gets to learn and grow without his parents at his side now. And that's good. Just taking some getting used to in these first few weeks.

He did, however, shoot a loving arrow across the bow today with his proclamation that he had learned to make tamales, authentic from the hand of a sweet Mexican lady tamales. He even provided photographic evidence. This sent both his mother, the stunningly patient and mighty fine SML, and I into spasms of joy. Because tamales. Because homemade tamales! Our urgent need for tamales, particularly at Christmas, will now be sated upon his return. That he will be bring home such an awesome talent is for me, a tamal addict, dare I say it, glorious.

This is beyond joyous news, people, you just have no idea.

08 November 2014


One of the few educational highlights of my high school waste of time experience was my junior year English class taught by Mr. Miller. I'd always been a reader but he took literature to a whole new level, opening my world and it led me to my decision to be an English major in college. This unfortunate choice, like nearly all other English majors led me to a career that has absolutely nothing, and I mean nothing, to do with my major. But my love of the written word remains firmly intact.

One of the stories we read all those many years ago was Shirley Jackson's 'The Lottery.' If you haven't read it, you should. Now. Although there are a host of interpretations of this powerful short story, I'm in the author's camp on its commentary on "pointless violence and general inhumanity" in society. Note that this story was first published in 1948. Its commentary is as timely today as it was nearly 70 years ago in an era that seems so far removed from ours.

I've been giving "The Lottery" some thought this week as I've watched a stream of invective spew through my Facebook and Twitter feeds and on what little television I've stomached. It was Election Day earlier this week in the United States and the political rhetoric got ramped up to 11 again. The polarization in our nation has become untenable and it manifested itself in the aforementioned feeds. So I had to get bulimic on those feeds and purge away. Ironically, there was an article earlier in the week claiming that liberals are more likely to 'defriend' someone who disagrees with their political bent than those on the right. I can honestly say it was not the beliefs that caused me to purge. It was the level of vitriol and negativity that did it. So if that makes me a bleeding heart liberal (and in my faith, given that I'm fairly centrist as opposed to right-wing that pretty much makes me a raging leftist), so be it. The bottom line is that I'm done with the vitriol.

I realize that I've been guilty of those same behaviors. And for that I am sorry. I guess I'm tired of our inhumanity to one another. What has it gotten us? A whole lot of hate. And that is good for what? Any one?
Is this thing on?

I don't want to be the one holding the stone, ready to cast it. And I don't want to be the one taking a rock in my skull. No good can come from that. So I'm going to control what I can. When I find myself picking up that symbolic stone, I'm going to ask myself what good is going to come from launching that little fusillade? I'm going to continue to embrace the diversity that I have in my life. I love that I have friends from all parts of the world with all sorts of different points of view. I do not agree with all of those points of view. Nor would I want to as that makes life boring. And I don't want a boring life.

It's time to put down the stones.

03 November 2014

Now Monday is our new favorite day of the week

We can now say that Monday is our new favorite day of the week. With the first email from The Missionary formerly known as The Boy that arrived just before 1:00PM Eastern today, it was 'game on.' We'd now know where he was living and what the first week "in the field" has been like. So here's what we know:

Where he is: Tuxtla Chico, Chiapas (a town of about 7,200 people just outside Tapacula, Chiapas.) It's basically on the Guatemalan border and the Pacific Ocean (thanks, Google Maps!).
Does he have a Mexican companion: Indeed, Elder Diaz from Mexico City. Speaks not a word of ingles.

We had a chance to do a little back and forth real-time emailing. The quote of the day from him was "Mom, you would vomit if you saw my living conditions but it doesn't bother me." His personality is still intact! And we knew it would be.

His attitude is great. He's already loving the people. He's adjusting to his new world. In another real-time note to me he said, "There is always music in the street. It's just a party here. So poor though. Tin houses and everything. And the rain is crazy."

Honestly, this has been such a great day. Knowing where is and that he's happy is all we needed. Yes, he's drinking the water, much to his mother's dismay. He'll get used to it. He's my son and there's very little my cast-iron stomach hasn't liked through the years.

Here's a couple of pictures:

One of the streets in his new area

"The food is so freakin delicious"
The tamale shot was sent specifically to make me jealous. It worked.

02 November 2014

My Sister

No, not that kind of Sister
Ah, sisters. No, I'm not referring to the good Sisters of the Catholic faith. On them, I think the media has given them a bit of a bad rap, from the singing and flying (The Sound of Music, Sister Act, The Flying Nun) to the coldly oppressive (Doubt), it's safe to say that these women and the good work they do have been woefully misrepresented. That said, I could write for days about the fearsome Sister Mary Stigmata from the brilliant Blues Brothers movie. Her ninja-like use of a ruler is one for the ages.

No, I'm referring to the one sister I was blessed to have. It's her birthday today and her day deserves some 'virtual' ink her in the Den. I'm proud of my sister. She's done some pretty amazing things with her life. She's fiercely independent. She's a medical professional. Her advice to me, "Take the Valium," prior to an agonizingly unpleasant procedure reserved just for men was some of the sagest counsel I've ever gotten. She's smart. She's a good mom. She's remarkably forgiving.

We didn't always get along all that well. Because teenagers. Because one of us was pretty imperious and one of us was pretty impetuous. I'll let you guess who was who in that little teenage match of wills. Fortunately, we managed to recover from that. The passage of time allows you to look back and learn some things from life. My sister has taught me that no matter what may get thrown at you and even if you get knocked down, you pick yourself off, patch up the scratches and keep going. That's a good lesson to remember.

I'm glad she's my sister. Happy birthday, friend.