Monday, December 11, 2017

Awesome Evening Activity - Baking Cookies

“I am participating in a cookie exchange.  Do you want to help bake with me?”

I like to cook, as there is a certain creative aspect to coming up with a rub, or a flavoring, or even a sauce.  However, I am not very adept at baking.  Generally, I would say that I have something else to occupy my time.  As I was thinking about possible answers, Debbie added, “I am going to bake Black and White Cookies.”

I did a double take…who does not like Black and White Cookies?!  She had my attention!

“I’m in!” I responded, probably a bit too quickly.

Together, we read over two different potential recipes.  Debbie had purchased the ingredients to make either one a success.  Baking, especially for me, is all about following the directions.  I kind of understand that certain ingredients combined together can have, as a whole, a different impact than separately.  We put the batter together, then we worked on creating the homemade icing (yup, both vanilla and chocolate).  Once the cookies were out of the oven, we ooo’d and ah’d over the way they had the shape of the cookie.  Next, we each took an icing and did our halves, making sure that the icing met neatly in the middle.

“Boy, it got quiet in here,” Debbie noticed.

“I have to concentrate while putting the icing on,” I responded.

I also got to thinking; part of the fun of this cookie is that it has the two parts.  Many times, I have eaten one side, then the other.  And, sometimes, I go right down the middle.  I realized, that like the cookie, Debbie and I were no different – we were working together to make something as one.  Yes, technically, I mean the cookie…but, symbolically, we work well together as a team.  After all this time together, while we are each individuals, we work well as a whole; in some cases, we are able to accomplish more together than as two separate beings.  The importance of the two halves took on new meaning…

Finally, the icing was applied to the last cookie.  The long moment we had been waiting for had arrived – did this awesome looking treat taste as good as they looked?  We both manned our own cookie and, true to past eating, tried one side, then the other.  Mmmm – that was great!  The time and effort together in the kitchen had yielded a most tasty treat.  Together, we baked; together, we had a fun night; together, we created magic…

Monday, December 4, 2017

The House Is Empty…Again

Gab and Bec have left New Jersey, which means that the long holiday weekend is over.  For once, I can honestly say that the house feels “empty”.  Do not get me wrong, between Debbie, the two dogs and myself, the house is not “quiet”, it just feels empty.  Maybe it is because the past two years have had many challenges, that this might be the first time I really had a chance to notice.  Logically, I know they will be coming back soon, but it is a feeling that I seemed to have not noticed before.

Thanksgiving weekend is a great time, where in the middle of nowhere; we are celebrating a definitively American holiday.  Purposely avoiding any political correct landmines, we celebrate the arrival of freethinking individuals that landed in this part of the world, survived a harsh winter and lived amongst (or near) the Native Americans.  We supposedly recreate the festive meal they shared in thanks for survival in this new world.  Even as a child, I remember getting together with family to celebrate (by eating copious amounts of food).  We used to travel out to Long Island, sit in massive traffic (sometimes a three-hour trip) to spend this family event together.  Today, we celebrate locally, but it is still family time.  In fact, one of my brothers commented that this is what this day is about.  Agreed – being together (Dad did a Face time call to be with us for a while) and remembering what we have to be thankful for. 

And, just like that, the long weekend was over.  Maybe it was because there were many challenges faced this year.  Maybe it has to do with me getting older.  Maybe it is the thought that we are only a few years away from this particular dynamic changing as the girls head out more into the world.  This year I looked forward to being a complete family unit.  I enjoyed being that family unit.  It was good to have the house full, knowing where everyone was and what was happening.  Either way, during this Thanksgiving season, I am grateful for Debbie, Gab and Bec (yes, and Lucy Lou and Sadie).  I am grateful for my entire family, and thankful for all that I have.  Hope that you had a great Thanksgiving holiday and shared your gratitude with those around you.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Opportunity of a Lifetime

Back in September, while we were on vacation driving from Nashville to Memphis, Bec excitedly texted:

Bec had just sat down for her first class of the new trimester and had just received her class assignment.  These were three countries to not only learn something about, but to visit!  I think Debbie and I screamed in the car when Debbie read this to me – this was the “class field trip” of a lifetime.

Let me take a step back – Bec is in college studying Travel – Tourism and Hospitality Management.  She has reach the point in her curriculum where she is taking a course on Tour Management Operations.  You know that you need to walk the walk, before you can talk the talk.  So, the cornerstone of the class is a Familiarization (FAM) Tour — where you learn the first day of class what country, or countries, you are going visit, to experience the components of traveling and spend a day leading the class in discussions related to their experience.

OMG – Bec is going to Africa!!!  We screamed again in the car! 

The beginning of November, it was a few days before the trip and Bec, who is usually reserved, was extremely excited.  She wrote out her exciting itinerary, which included visiting Nelson Mandela’s house, going on a Safari, visiting Victoria Falls and white water rafting down the Zambezi River.  I screamed again and posted the trip on my wall at work.  Our little girl was going off on a unique trip.  While they were focused on the trip, they were not heading off to the calmest part of the world.  While in Zimbabwe, a lady from New Jersey was incarcerated for tweeting something negative about the president Robert Mugabe.  After the group returned, a quiet coup happened in Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe, where they had traveled through, ending Mugabe’s 30+ year reign where poverty became the norm as he held the majority of the country’s money.  “Toto, we are not in Kansas anymore…”  We screamed again…and a valuable lesson was learned about how we take for granted the freedoms we get to enjoy here. The students were made aware of the situation and understood how to act when visiting another nation.

OK, I would be remiss if I did not share the highlights, which Bec held close to the vest until she showed us a video presentation of her trip, through her pictures, on Thanksgiving.  We were thankful for her to have this opportunity and thankful she is back safely with having had a wonderful experience!
Safari in Botswana

Soweto and Nelson Mandela's House

White Water Rafting - That's Bec's foot as they flipped!

Victoria Falls

Monday, November 20, 2017

I Come from NJ with a Banjo on my Knee

A few weeks ago, I commented that I was going to learn the banjo, which included a picture of the banjo that I was gifted.  We all know someone that says they are going to undertake a goal, spend money towards that end and then, how can I put this delicately…they get distracted.  A simple example is how gym membership increases in January, the gym is crowded in January and maybe mid-February; yesterday afternoon when we went – it was empty.  I have the banjo, purchased two books and found some YouTube videos to help me – yes, I have opened and used the books; yes, I have used the video training.  Most importantly, to learn an instrument, one needs to practice.  While I have not practiced every day, I am able to practice at least 4–5 times a week for at least 15 minutes.  The result?  I am starting to develop calluses on my fingertips!

You might ask – does already being able to read music and the ability to play various instruments help?  The answer is yes and no.  Knowing how to strum guitar helps…only a little, since I am learning the 3-finger picking method.  While a string instrument like the guitar, the tuning of the 5-string banjo is different and the method of playing is completely new to me.  As with anything that is new in our lives, we tend to find the similarities to the things that we know to make what lies before us easier.  There are many times where I hear, “That is going to be a problem,” or, “That cannot be done because we could not do that the last time.”  As Henry Ford was famously quoted, “Whether you think you can, or you think you can't--you're right.”  If one changes their mindset in a small way, to look at things differently, the “problem” becomes merely a “challenge.”  Hurdles placed before us = opportunity to learn something new. 

My opportunities, in this case, are multiple.  I am enjoying listening to the great Earl Scruggs, who redefined the banjo with his three-finger picking style.  I am listening to some Béla Fleck, who pushes the boundaries of banjo usage into other genres outside Bluegrass.  I am learning to play a fun instrument, and trying to figure out what songs to play with the band where I can introduce the banjo.  For now, I am learning some basic chords (G is the easiest), and some rolls (right hand picking patterns).  I have to admit, having played guitar beforehand, it is a bit confusing, but like all challenges/ opportunities, it takes some time, practice and a desire to learn. 

Here is a clip of me playing Cripple Creek, a simple beginner banjo standard:

Monday, November 13, 2017

Take a Step Back

On one of the live Grateful Dead tapes that I used to have, the band comments that people are crowding too close to the stage.  To have the audience move back and make some general space, the band starts chanting, “1, 2, 3, take a step back.”  This seems to have worked, as there are other live records where they repeated this method.  If you have ever been to a concert with general admissions, as the band is playing and people are really into the music, they seem to gravitate closer to the stage.  They may not be intentionally rushing the stage, but more are drawn to it. They literally have to take a step back.

Basically, I am not an in your face type of person.  I am somewhat reserved, and slow to getting angry…but it does happen (as with most people).  When I get angry, or upset, it is usually after a series of events, a bad day, or someone has already gotten under my skin.  I do not look for confrontation, but sometimes, like my example above, it seems like I am drawn towards it.  That is not to make an excuse, but reality.

What I find is that usually, I get frustrated (instead of angry).  I have learned that people do not always listen, or, maybe better put, hear what they want based on the filters they have in place.  I can say something multiple times, but if my audience does not care, it is not important to them, or, they are completely distracted, they will not hear, no matter how hard I try, what I have to say.  Down the road, when what I have been saying, or in some cases, they have agreed with me, they realize it may affect them directly, they engage by either agreeing or, in many cases, pushing back.  The frustration happens, on my part, when I have put out the effort to communicate, taken steps to move something forward, and engaged other people, when my original audience decides to make a decision based on a single point and without “taking a step back” to look at the bigger picture, or deny they had prior knowledge.

As Frank Sinatra sang, “That’s life…ridin’ high in April, shot down in May…back on top in June…”  We have choices in life, either we let people (that we have no control over) dictate our outcomes, or we (re)direct our paths (things we have control over) to improve the chances of success.  Yes, sometimes we all need to take a step back.  People have short-term memories and forget the conversations they have had – I cannot control that.  People are self-interested and in general are concerned about themselves – I cannot forget that.  Align the path with others interests – I control.  Making sure to include everyone – I control. 

While we can take a step back, reassess the situation, readjust things and redirect our efforts towards our objective, it is important not to lose sight of our objects / goals.  Like any road we travel, there are times where a tree can fall in the way, a speed bump appears out of nowhere or we simply need to refuel.  Taking detours are part of being a driver.  When we fall, we can get up, brush ourselves off and move forward.  I can take a step back, catch my breath and move on.  Occasionally, like the Dead, it is OK to tell others to take a step back.