Monday, April 24, 2017

On a Personal Note – One Reason Why I Write

“I always wanted to write about my coming to America, where I was able to be successful.”  This quote came from an immigrant that never graduated High School and arrived here without speaking English.  By the time he made the comment above, the accent was gone and he fit into America 100% and  living the American dream.  Early in coming to America, life was hard, and when his father died a few years after arriving, he did what young men (or teens) did, went to work to support his mother and two older sisters.  A strong why, years of hard work, which included working in various industries (bookkeeping, insurance, installment business), being an entrepreneur (various) and finally sales, helped to support his family, grow a family and eventually have a house in the city and one “in the country.”  Upon retirement, he had attained financial freedom and lived the lifestyle he wanted, but never wrote his story. 

This is not a unique story, but one of many, where a legacy (not necessarily financial) is passed on as an oral history, with each successive generation passing on the family values and history through their personal filters.  Writing is not easy.  I remember writing in High School where my imaginative mind often had teachers frowning at the topics I chose.  In college, I had to write essays for history classes, one teacher understood my more creative way of explaining (via analogies) while another teacher sent a test back to me writing that I was “basically a f*@# up.  Needless to say, this did have a negative impact on my earlier life.  While I had some thoughts on writing, these (along with mediocre English grades) banished any thoughts of writing.  When Gab and Bec were little, a friend gave me a journal to write down the things we did as a family – not for myself, but to pass on to the girls when they got older.  The book sat unused on a shelf.  Many years later, as I became an active volunteer, I was asked to write a monthly article.  My creativity seeped into these writings, but now, instead of a critical, focused audience (a teacher), I had a more receptive audience that liked the digressions and creativity (made reading the article enjoyable).

Like any skill, it takes time to develop the skill, practice that skill and see how others use the skill (in my case reading).  We have all met people that say they want to do something, but do not always want to put in the effort to develop the needed skill(s).  The immigrant generations came to this country, where prior to arriving, they believed that the streets were paved with gold, meaning that the United Stated of America was the land of opportunity.  They worked very hard to provide for their families, purchase homes and become pillars in their respective communities.  The person in the story above, my grandfather, would have been 109 had he still been alive.  He was a strong willed man and had few regrets.  Even though Grandpa never wrote out his story, it has become part of our family oral history.  Maybe, by writing with consistency, besides for sharing lessons and experiences, I will be able to impart a piece of my history to our future generations, to live alongside our family oral stories.

Monday, April 17, 2017

The Best Way to Enjoy the Holidays – As a Family

As the opening strains of “There’s No Seder Like Our Seder” begin, I look around the room at the family and friends that have gathered to celebrate this first night of Passover.  Both daughters came home from college for the Seders, a holiday / event that they both look forward to each year.  Do we do a traditional Seder – Yes and No.  The underlying text we use – Yes.  The method of delivery – No.  The Seder has the potential for being a stuffy affair, but not in the Zeiler household!  I learned early on that the more fun we have, the more everyone stays involved.  In the back of my mind, I still have pictured Uncle Hy, at my Mother’s parent’s house, sitting at the foot of the table, head back and snoring.  

How many time do we go to some event and it is exactly the same way it was the previously.  Yes, there is some comfort in repetition and know every step by heart.  As I get older, in a world where each day has its own challenges, there is a warm feeling of doing something by rote as a means of comfort.  That would relate to me, but what about the other people in the room?  Can I really say, “If it was good for my grandfather…”?  When the girls were little, Debbie and I started to host the Seders, but we wanted it to be accessible to our children, including them and be fun at the same time.   The Seder had to be fun for the adults as well.  We started to look for things to enhance the experience, which included song sheet, which eventually became a part of our homemade Haggadah.  Then came props, some I use, some others use.

Gab’s freshman year, we did not know if she would come home.  She came home.  This year, both Gab and Bec were not 100% sure they were coming home – they were here.  When asked what they like about coming home for the Seders?  They answered that they enjoy the company, being with family, and our own tradition.  Everyone is involved in some way or other.  This year, Bec did all of the baking.  With some new kids at our Seder, the girls included them and helped created activities for them.  We are proud that our children realize the importance of keeping everyone engaged.

Sometimes, we go through the motions of ceremonies that have been handed down, as a way to connect with our past or share our culture backgrounds with our children.  Sometimes, we need to inject a little something to make it relevant, to make it fresh and to make it exciting.  How do you make your family traditions exciting?

Monday, April 10, 2017

Standing Naked on a Hill

Have you ever thought of standing naked on a hill? Where you can be the king or queen of the world and not have any cares in that moment?  It would be a moment unto itself, with just you and nature as one, feeling the cool breeze against your body, being able to see for miles and feel the soft grass between your toes.  What if, for one moment of complete solitude you could have this experience, would you take it?

I am thinking these thoughts, sitting here typing on a laptop, pre-dawn, relying on the lights in my kitchen, having just finished cooking my breakfast.  I look over to the electronic clock to see what time it is, so that I can plan the time to go upstairs and get dressed, then hop into my hybrid car to drive to the bus stop, which will take me to an underground conveyance (subway) leading me to the high rise building that I work in.  I will most likely read on my portable reader on the way and maybe check emails on one of the two mobile devices I carry (one for work, one personal).  I am a modern man, surrounded by all of the conveniences that make up my daily routine.  I could not have a lifestyle be further from existing naked standing on a hill!  The only breeze I feel is when I turn on the air and it hits my exposed arms and face…

Have we lost complete touch with the basics of life that our ancestors contended with on a daily, weekly or monthly basis?  Today, I can type a message using WhatsApp and communicate with friends anywhere in the world where there is a WiFi connection.  It is almost inconceivable to think that about 100 years ago, when my Grandfather was in Austria and his father was already in New York City, that the only means of communicating was via letter.  And that letter, once sent, could take weeks to reach its destination, depending on the ships that traveled across the Atlantic and the weather conditions. 

Take a look at any of our daily routines:

  • We wake up (alarm clock),
  • We eat breakfast (coffee machine)
  • We commute (car, bus, etc.)
  • We work / get educated (computers, etc.)
  • We communicate (IM, texting, phone, email)
  • We eat dinner (prepared, refrigerated, etc.)
  • We relax (TV)

There is a certain allure to the prospect of convening with nature, to have that moment where I can be one with the surrounds – standing there enjoying the view and meditating on life.  Of course, it would have to be a place of solitude – no one needs to get arrested for public nudity.  The weather condition, of course, would have to be just right – not too hot and not too cold (I am thinking of a reference to a Seinfeld episode).  I am not big on bugs and critters, because once they appear, things could get less comfortable – the thought of a mosquito bite in a usually covered area would be “uncomfortable.”  OK, standing naked on a hill would end up being more about getting out of my comfort zone than trying to impress anyone, and this morning, I am happy sipping my hot tea, hearing the breeze of the heat blowing, and typing on my computer.

Remember, it was Bob Dylan that sang the truism, “But even the President of the United States sometimes must have to stand naked.”  …though probably not upon a hill…

Monday, April 3, 2017

Trimming the Bushes

Each spring, I get to look out my window and look at the trees and bushes that are on our property and on our neighboring properties.  A number of years ago, the town replaced a tree on the street side of our property.  I watch each year as the tree grows a bit more, with some new branches sprouting outward.  Spring also means that there is a chance that some of the dirt patches will begin to show some new growth, fresh grass which will help fill out the lawn. 

These thoughts come filtering into my mind as I stand in front of my bathroom mirror.  As I lean in closer, I cannot believe what I see.  At what point in my life did that one random hair sprout from my ear?  Not some short, barely visible peach fuzz, but one long strand.  Then I notice the single thread of hair dangling from my nostril.  In the language of our youth - WTF????  Where did that come from?  OK, I can remove those.  What, do not tell me…why is there a few unsightly excessively long hairs in my eyebrows?!?

I am quite sure that when we were younger, my brothers and I had at least a few laughs at people with excessive hair growth from places that did not seem normal.  Little did we know at that time, that one day, we too would have hair sprouting in unsuspecting locations.  Was it karma or just our bodies doing their natural thing?  Should we just ignore them, which I am having trouble with doing as I am writing about it…For example – what do I do with that one lone hair that sits ABOVE my watch – when did that show up?

Grooming is not just making sure that I comb my hair anymore.  OK – it is confession time, as I do not look this good by accident only.  I engage in…manscaping.  OK, it is now out there…I am publishing this.  I do trim my eyebrows.  I do remove any random hairs jutting from my ears.  I do pluck those annoying nose hairs.  I do shave those few hairs that live on the lower back part of my neck (only on one side though).  Next time you see me – do not expect to see these random hair growths – they will be gone.  I do work towards giving a clean, professional image, and now this includes the new efforts I have started. 

I know that many of us face this phenomenon as we get older.  Some hair grows slower, some hair falls out, it is just the unsightly locations of the fresh growth that is weird.  I am sure each of us has a different tale to tell about related things happening to us as we age… care to be daring and share with us?