Archive for March, 2011

Last Day Mountain Blues

I just got back from four days of skiing in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. The first leg of the week was with an old ski buddy, a resurrection of an annual trip that had been on hiatus due to time and resources. Due to age. We hit the double diamonds in the back bowl, hit many of the bars downtown (really, in both cases, it hit us), and what we lacked in form and endurance we made up for in effort and wit. After he left, my sister and her kids—Colorado natives—came up for two nights of games and good times on the more salubrious half of the trip. We saw John Popper play at après with his new band and scavenged for free Smartwool socks, we played a dynamic board game called Ticket to Ride and packed a picnic for our day on the mountain.

The only thing I have missed more than the mountains was to share them with my wife and kids.

It’s the Last Day Mountain Blues.

On the south ridge at Steamboat

 

It hits me while unlatching my boots

A sadness so full even this I will miss;

The last time setting foot

In these two shoes of stone.

 

A lifetime ago the mountains were home

I wrote and I drank cause I was alone.

The choice to go back to where I was known

Means that every return feels like here that I’m from.

 

The shush of the snow, the sky blue white sky,

A white pristine clean, a blue glaring clear,

Crystal too is the air

Where nothing is up here.

 

From way up on high is little downtown

A nest of wood and brick in a sea of whitecaps

Where people pass like the fall

Alike but nevr the same.

 

A lifetime ago the mountains were home

I wrote and I drank cause I was alone.

The choice to go back to where I was known

Means that every return feels like here that I’m from.

Apres beer

 

In between two places, always apart nevr one

A few days of the year it ain’t ever enough

But what lifetime is?

Mountains don’t ever get old

Getting home is better

Than the one left behind

 

A lifetime ago the mountains were home

I wrote and I drank cause I was alone.

The choice to go back means that getting home

Is far better than the one left behind.

 

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The Sunday Meal

We had the family over last Sunday for corned beef and cabbage. It was the first time making such a meal and, though it is probably not the best idea to invite people over to share in the experiment, it all worked out deliciously. After trimming the 3lb brisket, we initially had to impose rations on the meat, which is a less celebrated Irish tradition. That night, in a stupor of stout beer and beefy gas, I shared with Heather my fondness for the Sunday Meal.

A hot mess of pot roast love (image from Wizard Recipes)

The Sunday Meal was an institution growing up: as a kid it was as expected as church and, later, as a teen, it was an unappreciated obligation. As a full-blooded, first generation Italian-American, my mom would make enough to feed three families and—when we were younger, anyway—she did for her parents and siblings. Leftovers were to be redressed for the week and the smell of gravy (that’s Italian-American for tomato sauce) lingered for days.

The Sunday Meal died well before our mom and now, as an adult, I find myself wanting to resurrect it. Such is the spirit of tradition. The practicality of the Sunday Meal is simple: make a ton on Sunday when you have the time so you can have leftovers during the week when you don’t have time. Cooking on Monday night sucks. With leftovers you get wholesome deliciousness in the same amount of time to prepare as to eat. This is a beautiful thing.

But there’s more to that bowl of reheated corned beef and cabbage. You’re savoring, or to make the metaphor more flexible, chewing on the experience of The Sunday Meal. The food isn’t the only thing left over: it’s the news and updates from your loved ones, the gossip and the anecdotes, the plans that were proposed and the dates that were hashed out, the chance to not only catch up but to make future plans. That leftover, the memory of the meal, is a continuation of the conversation.

My mom knew what all matriarchs know: the best way to get family together is the enticement of food. The Sunday Meal is singular in name not because it is the only meal of the day but because it is the Meal that sustains you until the next one.

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My favorite Sunday Meal was Mom’s pot roast. That might be why I love soups and stews and croc pots so much, chop it all up, throw it in there, and let the heat do the rest. Mmm pot roast. The house would stink of it. Makes my mouth water now.

Anyone else have a take on the Sunday Meal, a favorite dish?

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The minivan: the true SUV

There’s no way to be cool about this so I’m just going to say it: I love my minivan.

I can hear your ridicule already. Its mere name, the diminutive ‘mini’, subjects it to mockery. Aside from its full-size namesake, the minivan is a misnomer. The mini is bigger than a wagon or a cross over, and is bigger inside than an SUV. In other parts of the world the minivan is known more accurately as an MPV, or multi-person vehicle.

The Honda Odyssey caravan

Our MPV seats seven legally. It can fit six adults without anyone’s knees touching. Try that, you SUV flesh-touchers. Unlike the SUV, the extended cab of a minivan can become a familial lodge on the road. If you take out one of the mid-seats, as we did on our first major road trip—a five-hours, 350-mile thrill ride—and put the two toddlers on the bench seat in the way back, there can be serenity on the open road. They could spread out with their stuff in arms’ reach. My wife and I switched off playing flight attendant by walking between our seats. She was able to read. I was able to nap. We only stopped once. If getting there wasn’t half the fun at least it was pleasant. We can go camping without worrying too much about the elements because if it gets too scary or too wet we can fold down the bench into a bed, pull up the middle seats, and sleep in the sweet canopy of our minivan.

Like so many people before us, we bought our 2002 Honda Odyssey with 110k miles on it when we moved from the city to the suburbs two years ago. It’s part of the adventure in the city to take the kids by bike, by bus, or by train, to avoid the hassle of driving whenever possible. Work was accessible and preferable by public. In the suburbs, you drive. To the cleaners, to the play dates, to the strip malls. We tried going it with one car—I’d bike to the train station, my wife would bike eight miles to work—but the kids were outgrowing our bike carrier. When we both needed the one car coordinating our day became as big a pain as driving in the city. We were not intrepid enough to bike in the weather, to go grocery shopping by bike, to ride the kids to picture day at preschool by bike. We tried and it sucked: it was not worth the self-righteous pride of going it with one car. Enter the minivan.

The minivan is the true SUV: the suburban utility vehicle. Do you SUV-touters (usually minivan haters), know that driving on your lawn does not count as off-roading, therefore you’ve never really used your sport-utility vehicle for its intended purpose? Such a waste. Or the absurd crossover, which is an SUV body on the same car frame as a minivan. This is not a truck; it’s a station wagon. The minivan is more versatile than either the truck-van hybrid of the SUV or the car-wagon crossover. When I take out the mid seats and fold down the back, that’s 88 cubic feet of space. The back has been filled with plywood, snowblowers, a rented aerator, a foosball table, my daughter’s bedroom furniture. Virtually any home repair can be satisfied in only one trip to the Home Depot with my minivan.

The minivan—despite the now standard V6, which means, with its lighter body, it can take most SUVs off the line—is built for comfort. The minivan can be a party on wheels, great for road trips, tailgating, and necking with your wife on date night. I mentioned how the back seat folds down? Yes, the minivan is for lovers.

According to an Edmunds analysis, “Minivans generally have the best safety ratings, have flexible interiors and great fuel economy.”

With gas prices expected to exceed $4, you SUV dweebs can have all the unused sport you want. With the money we save on fuel economy we’ll be able to use our car. Minivans also have better resale value; I recently got a solicitation from the local Honda dealer to buy our Odyssey back at $1500 over fair market value. That’s just about what we paid for it used two years ago.

My minivan is the best car I’ve owned.

I’m not trying to persuade anyone of anything, except that people who choose an SUV over a minivan are illogical and irrational. I’m just saying that the minivan stigma in American is steeped in stupidity. Ultimately, a person’s vehicle preference is a matter of style. And we all know there is no accounting for that.

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Glasses

I got glasses. It’s like looking out of a mask: there is a new border around my vision and this awareness makes me aware of how people are seeing me. It’s the opposite effect of the childhood belief that if you close your eyes no one can see you: everyone sees my new glasses because I do first.

This is as silly as thinking you can disappear by closing your eyes. My boss said, “I thought you always wore glasses.” My wife didn’t say this, fortunately. She said, smiling, “they look good.” Our three-year-old daughter, sitting beside her, had a thoughtful pause before she grinned, “You look like Grandpa.”

Everyone in my family has glasses, except my brother who got his laser-fixed. My self-denial wasn’t about the vanity of aging but the fact that eyes freak me out.

My glasses, made in China

Watching people put in contact lenses makes me sweat and blink maniacally. In high school, Visine never cured these red eyes; the saline ran down my cheeks, making it seem as if I had just come in from crying. This wasn’t a good cover; you don’t want people asking you what’s wrong when you’re stoned. Needle in an eye? The mere phrase makes me cringe; the sight of it makes me gag. My brother’s description of the laser incisions in his LASIK surgery caused a worse reaction than a catheter entering a penis hole. The earliest memory, perhaps the lone memory, I have of my ocular squeamishness was when my dad went down on a knee before me, the fingers of one hand pressing open my eye lid as a Q-Tip descended in the other one. I couldn’t see, except my dad’s hangnails and that white whale of a swab. It swabbed and probed and prodded. It dislodged from my eye a piece of wood. That piece of wood must be an exaggeration in my mind to give the memory its present significance. Let’s say it hurt like a splinter in the eye.

It’s fitting that pain, or the memory of pain that kept me from glasses is what ultimately brought me to them. The headaches of these past weeks could no longer be denied. The bands of muscles twisting around my eyes, under my forehead, and even over the temples to my ears, were being torqued by everything from driving to reading, which I do for a living. At night, in bed, I’d lie awake with my eyes closed wondering what the hell I would do without even faulty vision.

I could no longer hope that whatever force sent my vision awry could just as easily put it back on track. The delusion of self-correction. Such ignorance is the privilege of youth. It had to have been college, or shortly thereafter, that my deluded ass tried on a friend’s pair of glasses and noticed that things were slightly clearer. In the decade since the only thing that has gotten clearer is I’m no longer afforded the privilege of youth. I had to accept the nuisance of keeping track of another thing. Once I bought in, like a cell phone, I was yoked for life.

After the initial check-up, done on the heels of my son’s test for school (full vision for now, Junior), the world became divided into those who wear glasses and those who don’t. It’s like the first time we were pregnant, and being stunned at how many parents suddenly appeared. There’s a lot of bespectacled ones. A lot of us.

But you get used to it, don’t you? It’s been a week. I wore them all day yesterday and had no headache. Technically, I’m nearsighted (20/25?) with a slight stigmatism so I don’t need them all the time. Yet. They’re beside me as I write this. I think I like them. Like a mask, they are a prop. I’ve got a prop for a whole new repertoire of gestures, mannerisms, and affectations. My eyes are happy. However they look, or feel, is something, like age, to get used to.

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