Saturday, June 6, 2015

One Thousand Gratitudes, Part XXI: 500-476

I've had it suggested to me that my writing is sometimes too personal.

Another person told me that my stuff was sometimes, "T.M.I."

I don't want to sound like an asshole when I say this, but I don't know another way to write. If, at the end of the day, the only thing I can say about my writing suggests something in the way of truth and honesty, then I will feel as though I have succeeded.

I don't think that a writer can call him or her self a writer if he or she doesn't write from the heart.

I do, and I hope that those that think they love me recognize that.

I also hope they recognize that life -- the inside shit, the nuts and grains of the mind's and the soul's inner workings -- represent a body of water.

You're always susceptible to the weather, to the storms, and to the calms.

You are what you are; you feel what you feel.

Life is real. It's joyful. It's hard. It's a mixed bag.

Every day I recognize -- in different and fleeting moments -- that there are things about myself and my life I wish I could change and then I remember that I'm thankful for who I am, what I've been, and what I will become. Neither feeling cancels the other. They're just there.


Five Hundred: my wife

      April marked 12 years since the first time my wife and I went on a date, and by “went on a date” I mean had beers after work together. Last month we recognized the passing of eight years since we wed, and by “recognized” I mean we mentioned the token phrase in a regular-day harried phone call.

      I’m not sure if one of those out-crazy’s the other or if the cumulative effect overwhelms me more. Either way it seems nuts.

      What’s more: I’ve somewhat dreaded this entry since I started the series because the challenge of paying gratitude to your life partner presents two challenges: a) it should register with the rest of your most valued and perhaps top them; b) having a life partner means -- as the vows state -- that you take the good with the bad.

      The reason I mention that second piece has two pieces to itself: 1) you promise to accept the flaws of your spouse; 2) having a spouse means that you live with someone who knows your own flaws better than anyone else on the planet does, even you.

      And as things in this life sometimes go, we had an argument the night before I wrote this.

      It went like this:

      Background: I seem to struggle to find or make time to get my first mow of the year in every spring. It’s not that I don’t see the height of the grass or care about it; it just seems that I’m either busy when it’s nice out or the grass is wet when I’m not and then it’s tall and a big chore.

      Then when I get to it I tend to struggle to get the mower or the weedeater (or both) going for the first time of the season, which has -- in the past -- further delayed my seasonal outdoor duties.

      Current: This spring the time got away from me more than ever; it seemed to pour every Friday night or Saturday day (or both) and when at last I had the moment in hand, the mower’s starter cord snapped off in mid-pull. I then called various lawn folks for hire and scheduled two appointments with the intention of paying the first who could get there then cancelling the other. Dire straits had fallen upon me. One more week and I may have lost a child or a pet in those tall backyard grasses or had the home’s association fine me.

      The first one flaked; the second got delayed -- first because of busy-ness and second because it rained -- twice. When he got by to cut it I imagine he arrived and grew angry upon discovering the density of that backyard grassland. I would’ve just left and told the old man (me) to get lost.

      Once cut, these wild grasses could not be contained. They left those lovely rows of hay strips and he might have cut it too short and he didn’t weedeat and I couldn’t see the mow stripes and so on go the gripes of having someone else cut your lawn. He had, however, gotten the job done, which made my life easier and better.

      He could not, however, come by at my second request, which I made in the hope of having the place looking decent for a function we hosted of a weekend. By “function” I mean thing the wife signed us up or and by “signed us up for” I mean volunteered me to work like a slave for so that she could be social and feel philanthropic.

      More background: My wife has an amazing track record of thanking me for doing yard work as a lead-in to complaining about the way in which I do it. I don’t think she loads mean intentions behind doing it. She has an eye for landscaping and all of those details fall in one of two categories: a) things she didn’t tell me or b) things she told me while I wasn’t listening. Regardless, I think she envisions me firing up every piece of gas- and electric-powered equipment I own and then just going out there and Tasmanian Devil-ing the whole property.

      In no order and in unnoted frequency, some -- and I do mean some -- of things I’ve heard over the years:

1)      Do you think you mowed too short?
2)      You whacked my hostas.
3)      Why do you need hedge trimmers?
4)      What are you doing with those shears?
5)      You can’t just lop off tree branches.
6)      I don’t want you to cut anything with a chainsaw.
7)      You should probably ask a neighbor to help you with that.
8)      Why aren’t you bagging it?
9)      You whacked my hostas again.
10)  Why can’t you weedeat before you mow?
11)  You can’t just mow over leaves.
12)  I think those pavers need to be redone. (Note: In this case “those pavers” refer to the dozen-plus slabs of concrete I procured, hauled, dug holes for, installed, and -- as a result of said installation -- groomed the yard back to life, all so that she could have a stepping-stone path from the side porch to her compost pile.)
13)  Why did you kill all of that ivy growing up that tree?
14)  You whacked my hostas again.
15)  I wanted all of that ivy to grow up the wrought-iron fence.
16)  Be careful of those bushes I planted.
17)  I need you to get me a rain barrel so I can make a compost bin.
18)  I need you to get me another compost bin.
19)  I need you to till me a garden.
20)  I need you to buy me supplies for building a barrier around the garden.
21)  I need you to build the barrier around the garden.
22)  I need you to fix the barrier around the garden that the squirrels messed up.
23)  I need you to water the garden.
24)  Will you pick some of the tomatoes from the garden?
25)  I need you to build me an above-ground garden bed.
26)  I need you to bring me seven tons of dirt in your car for my above-ground garden bed.
27)  You whacked my hostas again.
28)  Will you water the garden (and the plants out front) before you leave for work?
29)  I’m going out of town for the weekend and have left you a watering schedule.
30)  Why do those hedges have bare spots (Translated: You trimmed them too short.)?
31)  I want you to get this half-ton pile of rocks from my friend’s yard.
32)  Just pile that half ton of rocks in the driveway for now.
33)  Will you move that half-ton pile of rocks to the back yard?
34)  No, not that part of the back yard.
35)  Be careful with the weedeater around the porch; I have flowers planted.
36)  I don’t want you to weedeat around the rocks lining the porch flowers.
37)  I told you not to weedeat within 50 feet of the porch.
38)  Are you going to mow this weekend?
39)  I thought you were going to mow this weekend.
40)  Just mow while the kids are napping.
41)  You can just wear the baby in the backpack while you mow.
42)  Just have the kids outside with you while you mow.
43)  If you’re not going to mow then I will.
44)  I’ll just buy a manual grass cutter.
45)  I bought a manual grass cutter.
46)  If buying a new weedeater means I don’t have to hear about the old one anymore, then fine.
47)  I hate the lawn-equipment situation in this house.
48)  What’s wrong with the (new) weedeater (you just bought last summer)?
49)  My mom says you should probably trim that tree to help my plants get more sunlight.
50)  Don’t weedeat there. That’s ground covering.

      Just some highlights from eight years of marriage plus two years of me hauling my equipment to her place from mine (and then the bags to her folks’ house and then back to her house to load up my equipment again.

      More current: After slaving for a function for which my wife signed us up for six months ago, I thought I might have a shot to get my first mow in after work on Sunday, but I did not remember that she had to attend a three-hour baby shower and (as a co-host) leave an hour before it started. This meant that -- at 5:30 Sunday evening after a long, exhausting weekend -- I sat down to tie the laces of my mowing shoes.

      Halfway through getting the back mowed it started to sprinkle a little bit, and when I had finished it the sky looked real gray so I set the mower aside so that I could scoop dog poop and finally feel good about letting our children run free in back. With my bag full of turds I thought I’d weedeat real quick and when I’d finished that, the sky had turned blue, so I moved around front, fired up the mower again and did the other half. Then I ran the weedeater there, and ran the blower in front and back. At 8:00 I sat down to untie my shoes.

      “Are you happy?” She began the questioning inside.

      “It looks good out there,” she said.

      “Thanks for doing all that,” she said.

      “You guys (me and the kid I’d hired the previous week) both mowed over the flowers that were coming up under the family-room windows,” she said.

      I did not enjoy hearing those words and she did not enjoy my reaction to them. I then avoided engaging in further discussion about it, she called me immature, and after a text apiece to one another we retired to separate sleeping quarters.

      This morning she brought me a cookie and I thanked her for making coffee and a new day began.

      This, in my estimation, is how marriage sometimes goes.

      Successful relationships must take the good with the bad. As Phish wrote:

      “Sometimes people build you up just so they can knock you down,
      Sometimes they will have you there ‘cause they need someone around.”

      This microcosm of our life can look like that in other areas, too, and for the most part, we do a decent job of managing it.

      “You’re not always going to like how the other person does things,” my therapist told us in a couple’s session, “but it’s okay.”

      Eight years seems like a lot, but only because it’s gone by so fast. Twelve years seems like a significant difference, but really it isn’t.

      We’ve only -- as they say -- scratched the surface.

      We’re still learning how to be partners. We’re still figuring out what one another’s needs are. We’re trying to listen when the other one shares -- with directness or otherwise -- to those needs. We’ve established a number of routines but so many unknown ones lie ahead. We, like most parents, are learning on the fly how to parent. We’re realizing that -- when you strip away all of the fat -- family matters more than anything.

      So you take the good with the bad. You try to remember to acknowledge that it goes both ways. You try to remain cognizant of the fact that for every one thing you find annoying that the other does, the other has one that you do that will match (or better) it. You try not to take for granted all of the ways in which you balance one another out in the days and the weeks and the months and the years of the lives you build together.

      You try -- no matter the details and the circumstances -- not to whack each other’s hostas.

      Depending upon your perspective, either my wife qualifies as a difficult person to live with, or I do. Or maybe it’s just hard to live with other people.

      For every time I tiptoe across the room and ease a door into its frame with a quiet release of the knob while my wife sleeps, she will trounce across that same floor and slam one shut without a half a second’s consideration of my slumber.

      For every morning we have awoken as a couple she has been given half a dozen reminders that -- pre-coffee -- I’m not suited for conversation.

      And for every mess of hers I tidy she will leave three more.

      At the same time, I know her blood boils at my every eye roll, my every sigh, my still-untapped well of patience, my perpetual pursuit for “instant gratification.”

      The good with the bad, though. The good with the bad.

      For all of the difficulties, the challenges, the struggles, and the gripes we do provide some semblance of balance for one another. We do need each other as people, as friends, as spouses, as lovers, as partners, and as co-parents. We provide support for one another -- even if, at times, it doesn’t feel like it -- and we love each other.

      My gratitude for my wife, then, includes all of these things and so many more.

      I’m thankful for her awareness of how the demands we all -- as her family members -- put on her. I’m thankful for her composure in the moments when the pressure of those demands reaches a high level. I’m grateful for the depth she possesses in terms of managing so many needs.

      I’m grateful for the privilege of being present in her focus, her determination, and her accomplishments as an adult, a professional, and a parent. I give thanks for the things she has shown me by example, for her display of endurance and perseverance, and for the way in which she stays true to her visions.

      My gratitude for my wife has everything to do with commitment, graciousness, good energy, and karma. It extends to her parents, who raised a wonderful girl that became an amazing young woman. It includes the blessing I received in having her come into my life and I into hers. It centers on the development of our tolerance of one another, the true joy we feel when those rare moments of quality time seep in, and our devotion to giving our children love and instilling in them a confidence about their worlds.

      My gratitude for my wife deserves more justice than a mere entry in a blog-post series can ever do. I consider myself lucky to have found her and earned her love.

      (Update: Since writing this, we have had yet another yardwork scuffle. This time I mentioned something in the way of having plans to trim tree limbs and bushes. The unsolicited response came in the form of preferring that we hire professionals for such jobs. I later received a text claiming that I “don’t necessarily know what I’m doing.”

      Of course I don’t. Twenty-nine years of yardwork has shown me nothing.

      Good times.)

Four Hundred Ninety-Nine: the 2014-15 New York Islanders as a metaphor for life

      I know I just -- in a sense -- wrote about this, but this is a little bit different, so bear with me.

      On November 8, 1971 the National Hockey League awarded one of two expansion franchises to Long Island, New York. One day shy of 11 months later they made their NHL debut -- against the league’s other new squad, the Atlanta Flames, a 2-3 loss at Nassau Veteran’s Memorial Coliseum. Five nights later they registered their first win as a pro club, and eight short seasons later they won the Stanley Cup.

      Then they won it the year after that, and the year after that, and the year after that.

      On April 25, 2015, the Islanders defeated the Washington Capitals at The Vet to push their best-of-seven first-round post-season series to a deciding game seven. Two days later the Caps defeated them by a score of 2-1, a loss which ended their playoff push and time-stamped their tenure at Nassau to a total of 42 years, six months, and eight days, all in the same building.

      That hockey club called the same sheet of home ice for longer than my son and I -- combined -- have been alive. In a day and an age where franchises and fan bases demand new buildings and threaten to relocate, the NYI tenure at NVMC commands respect.

      The Islanders rose from their franchise birth to quick success and after they earned their title and defended it, they sank into a dark funk for many years. They’ve had rebuilding phases and changes of ownership, but not until recent seasons had they reestablished themselves as potential contenders. Last year they looked decent and for a healthy stretch of this campaign, they looked tough. Like, deep-run tough.

      Then came that Monday-night game-seven contest in Washington, and in 60 short minutes their season ended. Eighty-nine games of grit and integrity vanished in the same instant as some 3,500 tilts as the Nassau anchor tenant.

      I’ve always kind of been a closet Isles fan and I felt some nostalgia for the club this season. My Eastern Conference dark horse, I rooted for New York to make that push, to close out their four-decade run in one building with an unbelievable wave of glory but it wasn’t meant to be.

      Sports are often like that, and sports are a good reminder of life’s bigger picture. For humbling moments like that, I give thanks.

Four Hundred Ninety-Eight: The Dotte

      It’s a whole other country over there (Kansas City, Kansas) and I do love it. Just wish there was a way to avoid driving in it.

Four Hundred Ninety-Seven: South Park clip #8: “Suck my balls, Mr. Garrison.”

      Never been a huge Cartman fan, but he does have his moments:




Four Hundred Ninety-Six: clean water

      Sometimes you look around this country and see a whole lot of crummy things happening and that makes it easy to take for granted a lot of the good things we have going for us. Like clean accessible tap water almost anywhere you go.

      I mean, when was the last time you stayed (or lived) somewhere where the majority of the people in the area didn’t drink the tap water? And what was the reason there? High fluoride content? Funny taste?

      The answer was probably not, It will supplant bacteria in your intestines and slowly kill you.

      So, yes. Clean water.

Four Hundred Ninety-Five: fresh produce

      I’m not gonna get on my fruits-and-veggies high horse here. Hell I wish we could live on nachos, quesadillas, and beer. A significant portion of this land’s soil, though, generates quality crops that provide us with nutrients. Fresh, local, sustainable, organic, whathaveyou. The options rest in tidy bins under fluorescent lights in your local grocery store, so I’m going to give thanks to it the next time I’m in it, even if that jackass is taking forever in front of the broccoli.

Four Hundred Ninety Four: 3rd Bass

      DJ Richie Rich, MC Serch, and Prime Minister Pete Nice. Those guys were fun for a minute.



     Couple good tracks. Minimal sustainability. Glad they did their thing, though.

Four Hundred Ninety-Three: spring rain storms

      I like those big ones that blend into a second day filling the late afternoon and much of the middle of the night with thunder claps. I like when you get so used to the sound of the rain that you cease to notice it, that the silence catches you by surprise. I like that these large showers can cool off the early mugginess of a Midwest spring. I’m down with the ensuing green and the free car wash.

      (Note: I wrote this prior to the Great Midwest Monsoon of 2015. Now I’m like, Fuck off, already, rain.)

Four Hundred Ninety-Two: writing as a cold engine

      Sometimes getting that beast to turn over takes some patience. Like a trusty Japanese motor, though, once you get it going it’ll take you to where you need to be.

Four Hundred Ninety-One: the shamelessness of those concerned with image

      I’ve been calling on this prospect for 10 months. He bought this little joint in my ‘hood that closed down and he quasi-niced it up by cleaning, painting, etc., but he dumbed it down via the name and menu he gave the place.

      He has kept me at bay by giving me tasks and, like a fool, I’ve done them all. I took him to a food show, had three different brokers bring him samples. I brought him pricing on five different occasions, came back three times when he claimed to be too busy to fill out an application. I took the family there for brunch after Sunday-morning Mass and ate their solo once for lunch. I’ve texted, called, e-mailed, stopped in, written them a menu draft, put them on promotions, and still he won’t buy from me.

      He claims it’s just timing. He insists that he wants to do business with me. He always finds an excuse. He likes to talk about how much -- without using numbers -- it cost him to renovate the place and he speaks as if he drops thousands per month on groceries.

      I should’ve taken the hint the first time I saw his SUV with the fancy wheels. A light should’ve gone off when he told me how many contacts he has in his phone. And above all, when I did get an application out of him, the name of his LLC -- Bragg and Boast -- should have clued me in that this guy’s more about the talk than the walk.

      Oh, well, though. Lesson learned.

      I’m thankful that I recognize my inner value of being -- or at least trying to be -- real and honest.

Four Hundred Ninety: Phish shows in utero

      Never in a million years would I have guessed that I would one day have offspring that knew the sounds of my favorite band before they entered the world. My daughter took in a pair of nights at Alpine Valley in Troy, WI. They ended up making a DVD of the shows, and the first time I put it on she paused from her three-week-old fuss and listened with intent. And then she settled. Could’ve been me reading into it, but it sure seemed like the opening notes to “Tube” sounded familiar and soothing to her.

      My boy’s got a trio of womb shows under his belt and while nothing remarkable has happened in that regard, I will say that he’s partial -- when it comes to bedtime song choice -- to cuts from the Rift album. Anytime I deviate from it, he fusses.

      I’m grateful that my children recognize Phish and enjoy themselves with it.

Four Hundred Eighty-Nine: text messaging

      What a life changer. Sometimes you love it; others you don’t. Thankful for the convenience of it, though.

Four Hundred Eighty-Eight: Google images

      At the time I wrote this, I had just spent 10 minutes scrolling through the hundreds of pictures I’ve poached from the Web in my eight years of blogging. Amazing what’s out there.

Four Hundred Eighty-Seven: recognizing mental challenges

      In December our neighbor asked us to host a dinner party as part of a church fundraiser. My wife loved the idea and said, “Yes.” I did not love the idea and said nothing.

      Then about 20 e-mail messages regarding the thing circulated. I glanced at some and rolled my eyes at most. When the date neared I started getting asked about my menu and I dismissed all of the questions. When it came time to craft one and formulate my shopping, prep, and execution plans, I became grumpy. As I trudged through the 15 hours of making it happen, I fired off complaints, both internal and otherwise.

      Our portion of the event, as well as the overall function, radiated with success. Hosts worked hard and spent a lot of money. Guests paid for tickets and enjoyed themselves, all in an effort to raise money for our kids’ school.

      Not that I tried, but I just couldn’t get positive about the thing. It all felt like a chore and something I begrudged to celebrate.

      Doing the work didn’t bother me. I do -- or at one time did -- take satisfaction in creating a menu and seeing it through the stages leading up to (and including) presentation. It was the time commitment, though, that challenged me from that December question forward.

      In the end all I could do was feel like a jerk for having the feelings that I did. I could have been grateful for the opportunity to do something positive for parishioners and the school, but what I’m left with is the knowledge that I have some work to do and for the ability to make that recognition, I give thanks.

Four Hundred Eighty-Six: recognizing mental challenges, part two

      While I typed that previous installment, my daughter came downstairs with half of a poppyseed muffin in her hand. She told me at bedtime the previous night that if I did a good job of seeking her after she hid that she would share some of her muffin with me in the morning. She offered this reward because I often ask her if she saved me any bites from her birthday-party treats (and other functions) when she tells me about her day at school.

      The next morning she came down to make good on her offer.

      “Mama says you can’t take a big bite,” she said. “Only a small one.”

      It appears we need to have a conversation regarding what constitutes a “big bite.” She got upset and I sent her back upstairs, which of course made her sadder then the bite did.

      Wrong reaction, I guess, but I couldn’t help it. More work to do.

Four Hundred Eighty-Five: Tenacious D

      Sometimes we need the humor of a Jack Black to make us laugh, to help us remember to not sweat the small stuff.

      “Take the six nuggets, and throw two of them away.”

      “One song, in the bank. Next song!”

Four Hundred Eighty-Four: AC/DC

      Cousin Rob turned me on to these cats in middle school. At first I thought they might scare me but their Aussie awesomeness soon showed me the error in my thinking. These guys pretty much wrote the book of badassery with little assistance. They hammered out an album a year for a straight decade, and very little of it didn’t kick ass.

      They’ve gone from the thick of the hard-rock genre to a household name that gets featured at American sports venues, both outside at the tailgate and inside over the loud speakers. Their music has served many a purpose, and I’m glad my cousin introduced me to them so many years ago.

Four Hundred Eighty-Three: Rusted Root

      I’m thankful for that mid-‘90s blip on the jam-band-scene radar that featured heavy doses of percussion. It -- for a moment -- brought the parking lot to the stage, which I found cool.

Four Hundred Eighty-Two: the mail

      Pretty cool gig: Put a sticker on something and it gets sent to your friend or relative. Pretty cool feeling: Come home to find one of your people put a sticker on something for you.

Four Hundred Eighty-One: coming home to a package on the porch (or between the doors)

      Who doesn’t like coming home to a delivered freight parcel? It’s pretty money.

Four Hundred Eighty: having your child fall asleep on you

      Ask any parent: Raising a kid might be one of the hardest things you ever do. I -- stubborn and short-tempered person that I can be -- just try to make it through the day with more positive than negative interactions with my kids. The other night my daughter curled up with me on the couch and asked me 10 questions about hockey as the Washington Capitals tried to tie the game against the New York Rangers. Then she fell -- the side of her face against my rib cage -- asleep and didn’t stir as I carried her up to bed.

      Great feeling. Thankful my kids sometimes take comfort in closeness with their old man.

Four Hundred Seventy-Nine: going outside

      My kids crave the outdoors. This makes me happy.

Four Hundred Seventy-Eight: Dansko

      These folks make a fine, fine shoe. My pairs got me through my quote/unquote final 10 years of cheffing. My feet and my back are thankful for that.

Four Hundred Seventy-Seven: having a complete kitchen

      My wife and I might one day encounter a culinary situation wherein we lack the tool or the means for preparation in our home. I doubt it, though. I think we have everything, which makes me super happy. Long were my years in kitchens where -- mid-task -- I’d think to myself how I’d like to have one of these at home. Hated that feeling. Love my kitchen and all of its wares.

Four Hundred Seventy-Six: having a tidy kitchen

      No matter the challenge of preparation and the mess that comes with it, there’s nothing like walking in to a clean and clutter-free kitchen to start the morning after the previous evening’s meal preparation.