Sunday, December 16, 2012

My Favorite Christmas Gift

To Tom on the occasion of our 17th Wedding Anniversary and 20th Christmas together.

I remember back to our first Christmas in our first home together. We posed for a photograph in front of the fireplace, the four of us in our matching, personalized holiday nightshirts. I remember your parents and one of your brothers looking at us with “WTF?” expressions, and I thought that they were wondering what the heck you’d gotten yourself into. I’m not sure that your family understood me and the kids back then, or even now, but the important thing is that you did. And we became a family.

You were willing to play along with us and join in our traditions, whether we were decking the halls Griswold-style every December or dressing in matching Disney-themed shirts to go to Disneyland umpteen times each year. You took part in all of our shenanigans, and you did it with a light heart, patience, and never took us, or yourself, too seriously. Over the years we had water fights that spread into the house. You made “Domination!” a family buzzword. You picked up kids in the middle of the night when sleepovers went haywire. You let us take your picture outside of the ER with an icepack on your bum after you slipped on some rocks under a waterfall. And there was the time Snowball got out of her cage. In the middle of the night. You captured her. With an oven mitt. You changed diapers, helped with homework, volunteered in classrooms, and went to countless school plays, holiday pageants, and performances of piano, ballet, tap, flute, and sign language. You went to swim meets, track meets, basketball games, volleyball games, and water polo games, to name a few. You coached YMCA basketball, went on college visits, attended parents’ weekends and numerous graduations, walked all over our neighborhoods every Halloween for twenty years, and jumped on an airplane with a moment's notice to be right outside of the delivery room while your first grandchild was busy being born.

You modeled what a good father, grandfather, and husband does. And now our oldest daughter married a family man who is able to pull off wearing a Griswold Family Christmas or Disney shirt, which is helped much by his own swagger and sense of humor. Our middle daughter is about to marry a great guy too. We love him and sense that he will cooperate with our shared vision for family holidays. Dan, you will wear your matching shirt when we watch National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation or go to Disneyland when you guys visit, right? Of course you will. ☺

In fact, it was during one of our Disneyland trips years back, when Kristen and Adam were designing personalized shirts, that we officially became the Rouseketeers. Obviously, we could not have been so named without you, and we all still have those shirts. In fact, we still have every Disney shirt from trips past because we still wear them from time to time in all of their awesomeness. We also still have them because I have that little tiny hardly worth mentioning very much improved these days clutter issue that you never complained about and why would you because I always know where to find everything and I’m always prepared. Often way in advance. Down to the last detail. And it only took about eighteen and a half years for you to stop asking me why I had to do things that way. But you always helped me along, even when you didn’t know why.

So, what did you get in return for all of the times you had to show up on a Christmas card in a matchy-matchy shirt besides getting to be in matchy-matchy shirts with us? You live your life surrounded by four women who love you, appreciate you, and understand you, too. We are grateful for the way your feet have been firmly planted next to ours through years of learning, healing, growing, and blooming. We are grateful for the vast amount of patience that you have shown us in so many ways, even if you are notorious for your openly expressed loathing of waiting in line and sitting in traffic. Your competitive spirit has been a challenge around the table while playing board games (we won’t even speak of Go-Karting), but it has served our family well when it comes to taking care of us and we know it. Out in the world and workforce, you are a champion and always bring home the spoils of your labor to share with us. We have a good life, but not because of what you give us. It isn’t about that. We have a good life because of who you give us.

What I think will always be my favorite Christmas gift from you was the year that we had decided not to spend more than $10 on our gifts to each other. Of all of the many years of Christmases and gifts under the tree over the last two decades, that is the one I remember clearly and most lovingly. You wrote me a beautiful poem, which I still have. Of course. And rather than just give it to me on Christmas morning, you waited until the clock struck midnight on Christmas Eve. In the darkness of our bedroom, while we were nestled in bed, you asked me if I wanted my Christmas gift then. I thought, “Yeah, right,” thinking that it would be you know what. But I said, “Sure.” And then you recited word for word every verse of that poem. I’ll never forget it. The next morning you opened your present from me. I had taken a photograph of Laura (who was then almost two) wearing a pair of white-feathered wings (that had previously been a part of one of Kristen’s Halloween costumes), with a cloud-printed sheet for a background. I put the photograph of your little angel in a “talking” frame that I had found for under $10, and recorded her saying, “I love my Daddy!” You still have that framed photograph on your bookshelf. If the house ever caught fire, I would grab that. (And my MacBook Pro.) (And Ducklina.) (And my autographed copy of Adam Lambert on the cover of Rolling Stone.)

I love you and I will continue to love you ‘til death do us part. It is my vow today that I will think, and act, above and beyond my original commitment to love, honor, cherish, and abide by you. And I promise that each and every day of our lives, I will throw for the end zone when it comes to finding joy and the coolest mass-marketed Griswold Christmas Vacation shirts available in any given year ‘til death do us part.

Sunday, September 09, 2012

Lifting and Being Lifted

Have you ever been to Disneyland, Six Flags, or similar and at some point while you’re on it the ride comes to a stop? And people, maybe even you (or me), groan aloud. You think, “Oh, what’s wrong now?” You wonder if the ride broke down. Maybe you’re anxious for the fun to continue so you can get on to the next fun thing. Perhaps your children (or husband) get antsy. Maybe you sit and enjoy the air conditioning or being off of your feet for an extra moment or so. And, if you are at Disneyland on the Haunted Mansion ride, you will hear a voice come over the speaker to say, “We have been detained by cranky spirits. Kindly remain in your ‘doom’ buggy . . . .”

I was standing in line waiting to board one of those “doom buggies” in the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland, over a year or so ago. Up ahead I saw that the ride stopped, and when it did, I heard the crowd groan in unison. A flurry of movement away from the main boarding spot, off to my left, caught my eye. There, I saw a young woman in a wheelchair; she looked to be about my height. An older woman, who I thought to be her mother, bent over her, cradled her in her arms, and lifted her from her chair. Carrying the young woman, the older one made their way over to the stopped cars. The older woman lovingly and gently set the younger woman down in a car, settled her, and slid into the seat beside her. My throat tightened and tears came to my eyes. The love and devotion in that moment was a palpable force, which I felt most strongly in my chest. I could barely breathe. In another moment, the ride began moving. I could hear the crowd around me saying things like, “Finally!” Of course, they hadn’t seen what I, and a few others, had witnessed.

I think about those two women from time to time. I think about the love I witnessed whenever a ride I am on comes to a stop. I think about it when I go to Disneyland and my feet hurt or the lines are long, and I’m forgetting to be grateful. I think about the love so palpable and strong that the memory of them has stayed with me ever since. And when I think about it, I send a positive thought and some warm light to those two women, and into the Universe because surely there are other parents also carrying their children in many ways and for many reasons, someplace, every place, at any given time. As I think about them, and that the rest of us have the ability to not groan at a seeming inconvenience, I also think that most of us even have the ability to help, give, and share our time and resources when someone needs it.

So, today, after I got all choked up reading about Robert and Maddy Van Beek, I was reminded of those two women at Disneyland and the power of love. I was thinking that especially as we come into this *gasp* *dares to say it* election season, I wanted to share what I witnessed and my hope. Going into November, and for always, I hope we purposefully think, act, and vote in ways that lift each other up.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Sarcasm Revealed

Definition of SARCASM from Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary:
1. a sharp and often satirical or ironic utterance designed to cut or give pain
2. a mode of satirical wit depending for its effect on bitter, caustic, and often ironic language that is usually directed against an individual

Origin of SARCASM:
From the Greek sarkasmos, from sarkazein to tear flesh

I recently read a pretty disturbing article written for a small newspaper that was posted on its website and quickly removed by the editor. Some have opined that the inflammatory article was posted for page hits, and page hits it did get. I’m not linking to it or naming the paper because I’m not into helping that paper get more page hits, and the article has been taken down anyway. But the editor’s apology note was qualified with the statement that the author’s attempt at sarcasm missed the mark. Having had some experience with sarcasm, it got me thinking. Sometimes when I think, I write. Sometimes when I write, I share. (Although I share very rarely here these days. Sorry, yo.)

Sarcasm: the last refuge of modest and chaste-souled people when the privacy of their soul is coarsely and intrusively invaded.
~Fyodor Dostoevsky

Saying Dostoyevsky was talented with words is an understatement, to be sure. That said, I don’t think he’s quite right (although in Googling for a quote on sarcasm to help make my point about pain, perhaps the quote I found on a quote-y website is taken out of some greater context that I have not tracked further). Dostoyevsky is saying that sarcasm comes from a place of deep pain, and I think that much is on the money. But I don’t think sarcasm has to be the last refuge of decent folk. And we are all decent folk, or we each have at least a seed of decency inside of us. Do we really need to hurt others so that we feel better, however subconsciously some of us may do so? If so, then sarcasm makes us the emotional equivalent of a schoolyard bully.

Sarcasm is a form of communication that heavily relies on vocal intonation and context in order that it has a humorous, satirical, or ironic effect on the listener. Humor, satire, and irony may incorporate sarcasm, but the message’s receiver would have to be in on the joke AND think it is funny AND not feel hurt (or feel the anger that “covers up” hurt). Sarcastic “humor” is the velvet glove that covers the iron fist of rudeness and hostility when there isn’t that shared understanding between the speaker and listener. Absent BOTH sides SHARING the laugh, sarcastic remarks are better classified under the heading of “unfunny, mean-spirited, denigration, or even (as we have all seen) drunken, ignorant” remarks.

Now before you think I’m gettin’ all judge-y about others’ use of sarcasm, it may shock you to find out that I am just self-aware enough (from spending a vast fortune on therapy, and countless hours studying and TRYING to practice spiritual principles) to know that I have misguidedly used sarcasm as a “humorous” means by which to deflect my pain. It didn’t work. I still had pain. Then I caused more pain. And the cycle of pain continued until said fortune spent on therapy and countless hours studying and TRYING to practice spiritual principles caused me to at least become aware of it, and I would like to think much better at not doing it, too.

If sarcastic remarks are to be a favored tool by some, perhaps it would be best to confine such remarks to private conversations with other mean people. Better still would be to lose the sarcasm and feel the pain. It won’t kill you. Warning: It might make you eat cupcakes. Hey, I’m a work in progress.

Sunday, January 01, 2012

Paris: Denied!

When we vacation and mean it, we've typically had our kids keep travel journals. Kristen and Courtney have travel journals from their trip to Paris in 1994. They say that they have enjoyed reading them later, although Kristen said hers reads mostly like a food journal, perhaps foreshadowing her future foodie nature. Laura kept a journal from our 2004 trip to England and France, and before this trip we all enjoyed looking at it (especially the pictures she drew). In that vein, as we were studying Ancient Egypt this year, one of my friends read to us from her travel journal that she kept from a trip to Egypt when she was in high school. A well-done travel journal is great not just for recalling possibly otherwise forgotten details of a trip, but in the case of my friend's Egypt journal, it made for an accessible learning experience about a region Laura was already studying.

Because we asked Laura to keep a journal of this trip, I did too, here. I dusted off this blog to document, savor, and share some of the things that we did during our trip. We fly home tomorrow, so from there I will get around to writing about our visits to Versailles, Disneyland Paris, over and under Notre Dame, dining at Le Train Bleu, discovering and falling in love with Ile Flottante, and such like. Today's post (although it won't be the last about Paris, it will be the final post from Paris) will be about what we didn't do while here. Maybe because we were here during the holiday season, or maybe because it is Paris and the culture here is a little less, shall we say, customer-service oriented, we would arrive at various venues at days and hours promised by websites or tourist books to be open, only to find our visiting pleasures denied.

On many days, we went around the corner from our apartment to what is obviously Diagon Alley (although the street sign claims it is rue des Rosiers, which happens to be a main drag in the Jewish Quarter of Le Marais) to get a crepe just as delicious as and at a price much below those sold by the vendors on larger streets. Often at the times we'd happen by, the rue des Rosiers crêperie was ferme (shut)!




Although most days we found it closed, as you can see, on this happy occasion it was open for purchasing sweet and circular goodness, warm and folded in paper.




On the day that we headed over to the Centre Georges Pompidou, just a short walk from our apartment, to ride the escalators to the top of the odd building, take in some modern art, and maybe do some people watching while sipping a warm beverage in a café, it was ferme! The escalators were running, but the doors were locked and there was nary a soul in sight inside. I failed to take a photo of the funky building with exposed and color-coded pipes from the outside, and the official website is in French with no apparent photos on the homepage, so here's the Wikipedia link, which has a photo of the Centre Georges Pompidou. Outside of the Pompidou, are colorful fountains and street performers, so it is possible to stop and take in some modern culture outside.




We ventured over, by Metro and foot, to La Grande Arche de la Défense, which is located in a modern business district in Paris. The Grande Arche was built in the 1980s to be a modern version of the Arc de Triomphe, but a humanitarian rather than military monument. We had previously hoofed it up all 284 steps to the top of the Arc de Triomphe, from which the other two (larger and smaller) arches could be seen. Laura wished to ride the elevator to the top of the Grande Arche, to see the two smaller ones from there. Guess what? Ferme! Many people were arriving to do just as we had planned, but the ticket office was closed with no explanation as the sign posted with the hours of operation indicated that it should have been open.




So, to amuse ourselves before taking the Metro back, we spent a little time under (over?) the thumb of this modern statue (Le Pouce) in the business district.




Having strolled by Victor Hugo's house (Maison de Victor Hugo) in Places des Vosges, we decided to later go see his (and other important folks such as Voltaire, Marie Curie, Louis Braille) final resting place, not to mention the large Foucault pendulum and whatnot, in the Panthéon in Paris' Latin Quarter, near the Sorbonne.



Guess what? Ferme!




Tom and I dined at Tour d'Argent in 1994, and we still have our postcards with the number of the duck we ate. We thought perhaps that we would take Laura, although she, being a vegetarian, would not eat duck. The restaurant was founded in 1582, overlooks the Seine and Notre Dame, and once boasted Henry IV as a regular. Tour d'Argent raises (and numbers) its own ducks for its signature dish of pressed duck. But dining there this visit was not to be as reservations were booked solid throughout our trip. We were told to check back the day of for cancellations, but we really couldn't be bothered with all of the other great places to eat (including Le Train Bleu, recommended to us by Aunt Snow, more on this place in another post) and the Michelin Guide having reduced the grade from three stars to two in 1996, and in 2006 to one. We thought that on our way to the zoo we might stop in and show Laura the lobby and the little museum shop (from which her grandparents brought us back some kitchen items one year). Guess what? Ferme!




Speaking of the zoo, which I never before knew existed in Paris, guess what we found when we arrived? Ferme? Well, yes, for us it was. But we had only by minutes missed the last entry time. So we went into the Jardin des Plantes, where we expected to find various museums in addition the gardens. Guess what? Ferme!




The gardens were still open and we we able to walk through the labyrinth, which was of great interest to Laura because she likes mazes. As we were leaving the labyrinth, guards began blowing whistles and shouting, as you may have guessed, "Ferme! Ferme!" And we were kicked out along with everyone else.




Most of our days here were capped off with delicious meals, which were then capped off with delicious desserts. But on a few occasions we opted to stay in, rest our feet, and eat simply. It is our intention that our home and our hearts, wherever they may be, always be open.




Bonne Année 2012!

Friday, December 30, 2011

Christmas Day in the City of Light

Signs of the holiday season were all over Paris in the days before Christmas. Laura was particularly delighted with these "recycled" trees made with Sprite (green), Badoit (red), and Coke (clear) bottles, just behind Hôtel de Ville, which is near our apartment.



We needed our own tree, of course, and we found a tiny one in an odd little discount shop in Le Marais. There were larger (and much more expensive) trees at the Monoprix, which is something like Target. The Monoprix is your one stop shop for groceries (alimentation, in the basement), sundries, household items, and clothing.


We woke up on Christmas morning and found cadeaux under our tree. Voilà! Santa came to Paris!



Our plan was to take a walk, which turned out to be a trek spanning many an arrondissement, and then spend a quiet day at home. We started our journey by hoofing it along rue de Rivoli to the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel just outside of the Louvre.



We strolled about and took some photos in le Jardin des Tuileries, which is located between the Louvre and the Place de la Concorde.




Laura managed to capture a photo of a bird in flight over the grass.






After some sky gazing at Tuilieries, we headed over to Place Vendome to check out the holiday decorations and whatnot over there. We also walked into a fancy hotel there and feigned guest-like expressions in order to use the, ahem, facilities located across the lobby and opposite the main doors. Place Vendome is beautiful even by day, and I imagine it would be quite spectacular when lit up at night.




Next we strolled over to Palais Royal to do some window shopping. How on Earth would I have resisted this red Yeti outfit had the shop been open?




We stopped to rest our feet and have some hot chocolate. I love this picture of Laura and a random French woman sitting on either side of the café window. Laura is immersed in her thoughts and game inside, contrasted by the woman immersed in her thoughts and cigarette outside.





We made another brief stop on Pont Neuf to rest our feet and take in the view along the Seine.




Here we paused for a photo in front of the Christmas tree outside of Notre Dame.




We went inside because I felt the need to go to church on Christmas, and where better to do it in Paris than Notre Dame? Also, we had seen the lovely crèche minus the baby Jesus before Christmas. I wanted to see him nestled in his tiny manger bed.



While we were there, we happened upon an organ recital that was just beginning, and we managed to find three seats. We did not stay until the end of the recital because we were all in need of the "toilette," water, and food, although it was tempting to me to gut it out to be able to experience the mass that was to follow the recital.



Thinking that everything in Paris would be closed for the holiday, we laid in a few simple supplies for our Christmas dinner. Much to our surprise, however, when we were out walking we found many cafés and shops open for business. Once home we had a meal of quiche (Lorraine for Tom and me, fromage for Laura), fingerling potatoes roasted in butter and salt, a simple lettuce and tomato salad, and a crusty baguette, of course. For dessert we heated individual chocolate souffles that we had purchased on Christmas Eve from a local patisserie, which we ate with a boule de glace chocolat (scoop of chocolate ice cream) on the side. Christmas in Paris will always hold a special place in our hearts for many reasons, not the least of which is because we topped it off with French chocolate.