“Read It Again, Daddy!”

When your children are long grown and out of the house, as ours are, you tend to cherish the memories of the days when the entire family was together and under one roof.  One of my favorite recollections from those days was of reading to the kids when they were toddlers, right before their bedtime.

Of course, the child-rearing experts will tell you that reading aloud to your children is an important method of establishing a strong connection with your kids, as you spend time on a common activity, sitting close together on a sofa, with no TV noise in the background or other distractions.  And the educational experts would tell you that, by reading aloud, the parent was directly showing the importance of reading and incentivizing the child to learn for himself how to decipher those words on the page.  All of those are no doubt true, but in reality we did it because . . . well, it was fun, and it became a family ritual, and human beings of all ages tend to like rituals that are enjoyable, besides.

slobodkina_caps_for_saleIn our household, as I suspect is true in every household, there were perennial favorites as the kids grew up.  Goodnight Moon.  The Runaway Bunny.  Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel.  Corduroy.  Caps for Sale.  Green Eggs and Ham.  Stone Soup.  Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.  And, when the holidays came, How The Grinch Stole Christmas and A Christmas Carol.  We sat side by side and slowly turned the pages, looked at the beautiful pictures, and heard, once again, the familiar stories.  And as we read, and reread, these books that are written to be read aloud, our inner thespians emerged, and Moms and Dads would give the characters different voices and act out the stories, too.

I’m confident that you could hand me a copy of Caps for Sale — one of my favorites — and I would immediately fall back into reading it with the same rhythm and cadence and voices that I did 25 years ago, with the brown caps, and the blue caps, and the red caps on the very top.  There was a lot opportunity for a Dad to ham it up, too, with the angry, foot-stomping, fist-shaking cap seller saying, “You monkeys, you!  You must give me back my caps!”  And the naughty monkeys high up in the tree that went “tsst, tsst, tsst.”  The actors among us got immediate gratification when the audience inevitably said, “Read it again, Daddy!”  Of course, whether that enthusiastic response was due to the quality of my performance or a desire to avoid going to bed for just a while longer was never entirely clear.

Chimes In The Foyer

IMG_0135Today I woke up early, for a Sunday, and went downstairs to make some coffee.  As I padded barefoot across the floor, thinking about how cold it is supposed to get, a familiar sound kept me company.  It was the gentle chimes of the wall clock in our foyer, letting me know that 6:30 had arrived.

We inherited this clock from Kish’s Mom, Faith.  It’s a beautiful piece of craftsmanship and design, inside and out.  I like the Roman numerals on the round clock face, the filigreed hands, and the cap on the top of the clock (called, technically, a bonnet), with the split pediment that looks like a bird’s wings and the round finial at the center.  The clock still functions perfectly and is wound with a key — a job that is reserved exclusively for Kish, who knows how to do it properly, because you don’t want to overwind an old clock.  But when the clock has been wound, and the hands are moving and the pendulum is swinging, you can see why “moving like clockwork” is synonymous with flawless functioning.

But what I like best about the clock is the sounds it makes.  The pendulum moves with a very audible tick-tock, and the chimes that mark the hour and half-hour are gentle and subdued.  Those are soothing sounds in the wee, dark hours of the early morning, as you sip your coffee and read your book and wait for the rest of the family to awaken.

Kids On The School Stage

A few days ago a drama teacher at Richard and Russell’s school gave Kish some pictures of the kids when they were in various productions, years ago.  There were some snapshots of Russell dressed up like a Native American for one school play, and this picture of Richard in a somewhat Harry Potterish old man costume and makeup for another.

The pictures brought back memories, of course — and they were all good ones.  Any parent who has watched their child perform in a school play remembers the tension and nerves as the show time neared, because you were praying fervently that there wasn’t some mishap or stumble after the weeks of learning lines and practicing and staging.  But then the curtain would go up, the kids would perform like champs, the parents would feel a sense of great relief, and in the end it was clear that the kids who were in the show had a ball.

IMG_0129And years later, when you think about your kids’ school years, it turns out that the theater performances created many of the strongest memories.  When Richard was in kindergarten he played a squirrel in a short play called The Tree Angel and had the first line.  The teacher said she picked Richard because she was absolutely sure that he would not be nervous and would say the line without a problem, and she was right.  I felt like I learned something important about our little boy that day.  Several years later, Richard played Grandpa Joe in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, even sang a song on stage (“Cheer up, Charlie . . . “), and did a great job.  Russell, too, had his turns before the footlights, memorably playing a Munchkin in The Wizard of Oz and the aforementioned Native American character, who I think was named Bullseye and (intentionally) got a lot of laughs in another show.

The point isn’t that our kids were great actors or stars, and their participation didn’t turn them toward Broadway or Hollywood for their adult careers.  But those school plays did give them a chance to shine on stage and to know firsthand what it was like to perform in front of an audience — and, in the process, to get a better sense of themselves and their capabilities.  School is supposed to do that.  The fact that the performances are warmly recalled by parents, years later, is just the icing on the cake.

When I look at these old photographs, I think about the school systems that, for budgetary reasons, have cut their theatre programs, or their orchestra or choir programs, or their art programs.  When the budget axe falls, those programs get chopped first, on the rationale that they are non-academic and therefore non-essential:  after all, the standardized tests that seem to drive school policy these days don’t check whether you can act or sing or play an instrument.  But that reasoning is wrong-headed, and also sad.  It doesn’t recognize how those programs greatly enrich the school years and help to produce more well-rounded students who have tried something new and now are bonded by the shared experience of performing before an audience — and it also deprives the parents of that deep, lasting thrill of learning something new about their child.

Fun With The All-Clad

IMG_0126Recently Kish and I splurged and bought some new cookware.  On the advice of Aunt Corinne and on the basis of some independent research, we bought three All-Clad pieces:  a frying pan, a saute pan, and a saucepan.

Before, we had the kind of hodge podge of mostly hand-me-down cookware that you tend to accumulate over a lifetime — a battered pot from one side of the family, a scarred, Teflon-coated fryer from the other, a pan with a mismatched lid from God knows where — and none of it was of very good quality.  It was kind of embarrassing to even look at the stuff, much less use it, and all of it had seen its better days.  And we didn’t have the sizes of pots and pans that you need if you really want to cook something.  Trying to cook something complicated using a cheap frying pan is like trying to carve a chunk of marble using a rubber band.  You really need the tools.

IMG_0122But the All-Clad . . . well, let’s just say it’s great.  It looks great, and it cooks great.  With their gleaming metal surfaces and their exquisite heft, with their thoughtful, even-heating design and handles that don’t heat up, the All-Clad pieces speak directly to your inner Julia Child.  Pick me up, they say.  Feel that quality!  Use me to try to make something tasty and interesting.  You can do it!  The temptation to answer their call and do some actual creative cooking is irresistible.

I particularly like the saute pan, which I’ve never used before.  It’s a revelation, because the size and volume of it really lets you stretch out and try whatever strikes your fancy.  On Sunday I used it to make us some lemon-garlic chicken with sauteed onions and arugula, and used the sauce pan to prepare some wild rice with walnuts and peas.  It made for a very nice Sunday dinner to stoke us up for the coming work week.

So now as I walk home at night, I think idly about what we might whip up with the All-Clad.  And, big picture, I’m thinking that maybe, just maybe, I need to see what other cookware All-Clad has to offer.

PTSD

We were in a small neighborhood bar in San Antonio on a Saturday afternoon in November, sipping beers and getting ready for the kickoff of the Ohio State-Michigan game.  There were only the three of us in the place with the bartender.  The door to the bar opened and a guy in his 20s walked in.

He looked at us and began talking . . . and talking, and talking.  Was that our car right outside the door?  Where were we from?  Columbus?  Hey, he was from Whitehall!  Watching the Buckeyes?  Well, he was a Buckeye fan, too.  What did we think of Jim Tressel?  Who did we think was the best Ohio State quarterback during the last ten years?  What did we do for a living?  Where did Russell go to school?  How did Russell like being an artist?  Kish left to do some shopping, and still the questions and running commentary kept coming.  What were we going to do while we were in San Antonio?  Did we know that we were there during the San Antonio bad weather period?

the-bonds-of-battle-ptsd-sebastian-junger-vfFor brief instants the guy would watch the game and root for the Buckeyes, but for the most part he was a chatterbox who simply would not stop talking or let us just watch the game in peace.  We answered his direct questions politely because that’s what people are supposed to do, but also because I didn’t want to do anything to provoke him.  My guard was up, because people don’t normally walk into a bar and begin a rapid-fire conversation with complete strangers.  Was the guy on drugs?  Was he getting ready to ask us for money?   What was his angle, really?

Halftime came, and the guy got a call on his cell phone.  When he took the call he walked around, seemingly agitated, and talked loudly to the person at the other end of the conversation.  A minute or two later he ended the call and announced he was leaving, and after we said goodbye he vanished into the rainy San Antonio afternoon without incident.  I admit that I breathed a sigh of relief.

We looked over at the bartender, and I asked if he knew the guy.  He said no, he’d never seen him before.  Then he shook his head sadly and said, “PTSD.”  The bartender explained that the San Antonio area is home to a lot of different military bases, and therefore to a lot of returning veterans who were dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder.  In fact, there was a Veterans Administration facility across the street, and he suspected the guy had come from there.

The bartender himself was a veteran, he said, and he’d seen the guy’s kind of behavior before.  He said that when he returned from overseas, struggling with what he had seen and done, the VA’s first response was drugs, because “drugs are easy.”  So he took the drugs the doctors gave him, but he later decided that the drugs he was prescribed, and the kinds of mood swings they provoked, were just too much, so he stopped.  The talker’s behavior, the bartender explained, was showing the signs of the drugs he was prescribed for his PTSD.  His behavior wasn’t his fault.

We had no way of knowing for sure, of course, whether the talker in fact had PTSD as a result of his military service, because he hadn’t talked about it — but the bartender’s comments had the obvious ring of truth.  It turns out that the bartender’s view of the VA’s actions isn’t unique; it’s not hard to find news stories that talk about the VA’s approach to prescribing drugs to returning veterans and question its value.

I felt bad for doubting a guy who had served his country, been scarred by the experience, and wasn’t getting the help he really needed to deal with his issues and return to civilian society.  And I wondered just how many returning veterans deal with PTSD and why the government that sent them over to fight hasn’t come up with an effective approach to a common problem.

It’s just not right.

A Year, Probably, Like Any Other

It’s December 31, which means the end of another year is upon us.  It’s traditional to reflect upon the year that is passing, and I’ve done that.  But the older I’ve gotten, the more I realize that the themes tend to be the same — because that’s just the way life is.

tsq_nyeve_2012We’ll remember 2015 as a year when we’ve lost some loved ones, but when new family members have been added through marriage.  Friends and colleagues have had good news and bad news on the personal health front.  We’ve seen some family members lose their jobs, while others have achieved graduate degrees and reached new heights in their professional careers.  Some doors have opened, and other doors have closed.

When you think about it, years are like that.  The days when you could reach New Year’s Eve and confidently conclude that the year just ending was the best year ever, but the next year will be even better, are gone.  You know there’s no predicting with certainty that the curve will move you ever upward, and when you get to a certain age, the years kind of blend together, unless they feature a marriage, or a special graduation.  Who remembers much about 1998?  Or 1994?  Or 2003?  At some point, shortly after the ball drops in Times Square, they just fade into life’s tapestry.

So 2015 probably will be viewed, in retrospect, as a year like many others.  The main point is that we’ve made it to the end.  At a certain point, that becomes a kind of accomplishment in itself, but the focus has to always be on what is to come.

Bring on 2016!

Potable Presents

IMG_0090This year we’ve received some excellent wine and even a fifth of pre-made old fashioned as Christmas presents.  By my rough estimate, at least, we’ve received more bottles of holiday cheer this year than we have in the past.

I applaud this apparent trend.  I get to try wines that I normally wouldn’t even be aware of, so I feel like I am broadening my wine horizons and developing new favorites.  And bottles of wine, or gifts of other consumables, add to the festive nature of the holidays because they can be shared with your holiday guests.  It’s fun to try a new vintage with an old pal or family member.

Old Fezziwig would agree with me.