Not Even Chickens

The desire to have our own laying hens around here (again) resurfaced recently.   What stirred the pot was seeing this years potatoes in bloom.

My favorite meal this time of year is farm fresh eggs,  new potatoes steamed with onions, (and green beans when they are ready)  smothered in butter…especially when the potatoes are so fresh, their skins literally slide off when you scrub them.

This desire to have our own chickens  reminded me of another Robert Fulghum story… from the book   What On Earth Have I Done?

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With all the recent seaside development, it is easy to
forget that Crete and Cretans are fundamentally about the mountains –
the steep places, the high and isolated villages that breed independent,
self-sufficient people who have always been a rule unto themselves.
They still are.  The Mountain Cretans say they fear nothing and nobody,
and would look at God, Himself, with hat on and eyes open.  Thus they
look upon strangers with interest, not suspicion.

One afternoon I parked my car and walked a narrow road that
connects several small villages along a high mountain ridge.  A voice
called out from the porch of a whitewashed house:

“Ehla, ehlah, kahtheeseh!” (Come come, sit!)  An old man beckoned to me, pointing to the chair beside him.

I went.  I sat.  On a small table were almonds, raisins,  olives, and a bottle of tsikoudia (tsee-koo-di-ah)  the Cretan
equivalent of white-lightning or grappa- the proffered sign of
hospitality and welcome to a Cretan home.  He was expecting company -and
anybody would do.

“tho-kee-maseh” (Drink this, eat this!)  he said, handing me
a glass of tsikoudia and filling a small plate with almonds, raisins,
and olives.

 “Lee-pon.  Germanos?” (Well, then, are you German?)

I was touched to know that the hospitality came first,

even though I might be German- from a country that had brutalized Crete
in WW II.

“Oshee, Americanos.”  (No, American.)

“Americanos!  Americanos!  He shouted into the house, and a  younger man appeared.  They spoke high-gear Greek with a Cretan
accent.  The look on my face tells them I cannot follow, so the younger
man says in fine English, “My father is excited to meet you.  He has
never met an American.  He hears that in America they have everything.
He would like to ask you some questions.”

 Fine. 

With his son translating, the examination began.  “How old was I? “

“How many children? “

“How much money do I make?”  

Very Cretan  inquiries.  Then a harder question that led to even tougher scrutiny:

“How often do you dance and sing and recite poetry?”

 “Not very often.”

The old man looked at me with narrowed eyes.

“How many sheep and goats do you have?”

“None.”

The old man looked puzzled.

 “How many olive trees do you have and how much oil put away?”

“None.”

The old man frowned.

” How many vines do you have and how much wine put away?”

“None.”

The old man was nonplussed.  He raised his eyebrows.

“Do you have any chickens?”

“No.”

The old man looked mildly outraged and fell into high-gear Greek again with his son.  The son was apologetic.

“Pardon me, but my  father says that it is a lie that Americans have everything.  You have  no sheep, no goats, no trees, no oil, no vines, no wine, not even
chickens. “

He asks,” What kind of life is that?  He says, “No wonder you
don’t sing or dance or recite poetry very often.”  He is dismayed.”

 The old man peered at me with pity bordering on contempt.

Shaking his head in disgust, he mumbles in English, as he

rose and limped out into his garden, dismissing me from his mind:

“Nothing.  Not even chickens….”

 

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Racing Daughters

The first year I raced my daughter was in 1989.

Ringwood manor in Northern New Jersey.

We were there for a family outing, and the long south lawn had “race” written all over it.

She was nine.

I was thirty-one.

Lots of laughter as we crossed the finish line.

I kicked her butt. 🙂

As her thirty first birthday approached, I asked if she was game for  a rematch?

“Yes!” she told me.

Thought it was an excellent idea. 🙂

I had no idea how this race would pan out but I thought, what a great  way to make a memory with one of my kids..  (Can’t imagine for the life of me, racing my dad like that.)

I’m a blessed man to be able to have the kind of relationship I do with each of my kids.  The ultimate goal of parenting as I understood it, was to work myself out of a job….go from authority figure, to peer.

Several months leading up to our rematch, my daughter was going to the gym, going on long bike rides, eating healthy. She was focused and excited about how great she felt, and I felt in some small way, I was a part of it.

One day over coffee, my mom, quietly suggested I let her win, if it looked like I might beat her.

“No way!” I said. 🙂

“It is a real race, and if she doesn’t win this time, there is always next year.”

 

I won….barely.

after the race 6-16-2011

Just after our rematch  in 2011 

Afterwards, she confided in me, there was a part of her, that was glad I won, because if I hadn’t, it meant her dad was getting older.  Plus there was always the chance I might keel over from a heart attack or stroke, and she didn’t want that on her conscience. 🙂

Well, this past Saturday morning,  we had another rematch.

If you’re doing the math, you know I am now 58, and she is 36.  At some point, she is going to win. That’s just how it works.

(The last time we raced, I think she would have won, if it had been a longer distance. I’m fine in a short sprint, but a long distance…don’t feel quite so confident 🙂

We settled on a mile this year.  Four times around the track.

This year, I asked if we could walk it, so we did.

Thought it was a great way to transition into yet another season of our relationship…

The papa (that’s me) is starting to not be able to do all the things he used to be able to do…and that’s fine by me.

 

But I’ve Been To…..

“We we were in San Paulo last Summer with our two sons on a family vacation.   We wanted to expose them to the cultural institutions and a rich architectural traditions.  It was amazing!  Have you ever been there?” said Fred.

(I was at one of those boring high school graduation receptions, trying to mingle with crowd of complete strangers.)

“Nope.” I said.

I could tell Fred wanted to tell me more so I asked some open-ended questions and listened politely.

“The summer before that we took the boys to Saint Petersburg Russia.  It is a port city on the Baltic Sea….have you ever been to Russia?”

“No. I replied, but I did spend two weeks in Ibiza when I was sixteen…” (My comment fell on deaf ears.)

Five minutes later, Fred moved on to another guest at the party.  I could tell he was  talking about one of his favorite subjects…

Himself.

Himself and his travels to far away places.

Pause.

I remember being at a family reunion several years ago,  the same dynamic was taking place. Some of the cousins were trying to one up each other by talking about certain far away places they’d been to and discussing obscure facts that you would only know if you had been there too.

At the time it left me feeling inferior and inadequate.

I have a forty-year class reunion coming up next month.  I’m not going.  I am pretty sure I’ve written about it here on the blog not too long ago  (but I could be wrong). 😉

I grew up in small town USA.  My high school class numbered around 150.  I spent 13 formative years of my life  (counting kindergarten) with many of these people.  I was small and shy the whole time, except for the last 6 months of my senior year.  I was one of the last ones picked whenever we would choose sides in PE class, because I was so small.

I take full responsibility for the fact there are just a couple of classmates  with whom I still keep in touch.

In the past, I have gutted it out, and attended all the five and ten-year  reunions.  As many of you, I have grown and matured in my people skills, and while no one would ever consider me the life of the party, I do know how to engage in small talk with perfect strangers if I need to.

I can actually be kind of funny sometimes.

Few weeks ago, as I was again mulling over this upcoming class reunion,I decided to reprogram my  dark thoughts with something new. Identify some things to be thankful for, from  my years in school.  Here’s what I came up with:

I met my wife there.  If I never went, I most likely would have never gotten that first date .

I learned to read.

I learned to write.

What really excites me when I compare the person who graduated high school forty years ago and the person I am today is what has happened on the inside. The feelings of inferiority and inadequacy are 80% 90% less than they used to be.

I have navigated the treacherous waters of life, parenting 4 young people into adulthood. They all  stay in touch and  love to come home.  I have stayed married to the same woman for thirty-eight years, and we still like each other….a  lot.

Well, I need to run.  My siblings and I are taking my dad out for breakfast this morning for his 84th birthday.   I am a rich man…even if I have never been to  San Paulo.

On Writing…(2)

Memorial Day morning someone stopped by our place for a visit.  During the course of our conversation,  our guest brought up my newly published book.  They’d read it, and wanted to get two additional copies.  Can’t remember who said what next, but the next thing I knew, we were talking about several things they’d wished I’d done differently.

I genuinely wanted to hear their thoughts, because after the dozens of times I’ve been over that manuscript, revising, editing, deleting, correcting, etc.  my brain has become jaded.   Back in 2008, I’d shown the first chapter of my rough draft to someone else who considered themselves a writer of sorts.  After I listened to their input, I ended up with a writer’s block for three years. 😉

Lessen learned.  Be very careful with whom I share my rough drafts.

As we sat at our kitchen table Monday morning,  my guest told me he wished I’d spent more time talking about such and such.   Then later in the book, he wondered what book it was he was reading?  I seemed to be spending much more time talking about certain people than I needed.   I’d included the lyrics of a song by Alison Kraus half way through the book..He felt that I’d stolen the thunder for the story it was supposed to be introducing, not to mention, in the song, the  story happened on a mountain, whereas, in my book, the incident took place on the plains…..

My guest is a thinker.   I like him.

I said to him, “Where were you a year ago???!

“Next time, I write something, I  said, I would love to get your feedback.”

I  may have taken some of his suggestions into account if we’d had this conversation a year ago, but at this point, the book  is what it is.

I was thinking  more about our conversation this afternoon.  Before submitting my final (11th) revision  to the printer,  I had  eight different sets of eyes perusing all or parts of my earlier drafts.

Eight sets of eyes.

Some specifically, looking @ basic grammar and others,  giving input on readability and flow.

I gave it my best shot and I’m thrilled with the end product.

I’ve never had a class in writing.

Not that I wouldn’t be interested, but it would really depend on who was teaching.

I do read books and articles on the topic to improve my skill.  Couple of years ago, a young woman with a bachelor’s degree in writing spent a few afternoons trying to mentor me, but other than that, I am a work in progress.

Are there still details I might change, after listening to my latest guest…?

Maybe…

And maybe not.

Last night, a quote by Theodore Roosevelt kept coming to mind.

   ” It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.  The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is not effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory or defeat.”

 

Thanks to all of you that stop by this blog and interact.  Work is currently taking up  most of my creative energy  so I’ve not replied to several of your comments like I would normally do.

Good night 🙂

DM