Sunday, November 28, 2010

Our Lady of the Igloo

Beth spent this afternoon getting in touch with her inner Aleut (or her inner Inuit, take your pick). Here are some pics of her hard at work ... for the record I supplied the grunt work and the snow bricks, using a small Coleman cooler. We're all keeping our fingers crossed for sub-freezing temperatures.

Sunday ritual...Dutch Babies!

They're amazing and easy to make, and our kids cannot imagine eating any other Sunday breakfast.
Simple ingredients: eggs, milk, flour and butter. Ratio: one egg: one quarter cup of flour: one quarter cup of milk. (roughly figure one egg per serving).
Blend ingredients together. Preheat pie dish to 400 degrees. Then add four tablespoons of butter to the hot dish. As soon as it melts, pour in the mixed ingredients. Any oven worthy container will do, but try to keep the depth of the mixture to about one inch. Bake for 15-20 minutes and then serve with syrup or fruit or sugar or all off the above.
This Dutch Baby recipe was passed on to Beth from her mother Charlotte, who got it from her mother...I'm not sure about the origins of the name...perhaps there was a Dutchman in the woodpile somewhere back there.

Flakes are falling

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Fire and Ice

On Thanksgiving we did a little pre-meal dash in the snow followed by a dip in the tub and then a gorgeous meal by the fire. The kind of day that reminds you how good it is to be alive.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Beginning the banjo oddysey

Beth brought home a banjo yesterday on a whim. Nobody really knows what to do with this thing yet. The kids are fascinated. The way they've been handling it reminds me a little of the cavemen in the opening sequence of 2001: A Space Odyssey. So far it's not music but who knows what will evolve...or over how long a period of time. In the meantime, our house is suddenly cacophonous.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Thanks Grandpa!....and all the souls of Veterans

A message from Colm to Grandpa on Veteran's Day. (Typed laboriously by his own hands):

dear grandpa, i am glad you survivd in the vietnam are a very good grandpa!!!
love colm!

Me again...Colm is full of questions about war as is his sister. It may soon be time for a Q&A with grandpa on the subject.

Over the years I've watched students, boys and girls, enter military service. A few of them have served in combat zones. Their motivations for joining the military vary, as they always have I imagine. Some seek a place where they'll get paid and get their three squares a day; some seek the first concrete step in the project of starting a career path; some are lost and don't know what else to do; some seek a proving ground for their own sense of self worth; some are inspired by ideals of service and revolution...and of course some are a combination of all these things. One thing military service almost always seems to produce in many of these people is an outward change, a carriage, that signifies to some degree an inward state of confidence and purpose. For those people who find the kind of cohesive sense of belonging in the military, this confidence and sense of purpose endures and nourishes them in later life.

I tend to agree with Christopher Hitchens who asserts that if one wants to locate the spirit of idealism in today's generation, one would do well to start with the young men and women who volunteer for military service. They are the ones who are, as often as not, prone to romantic notions about transforming the world and bringing enduring change and lasting peace. All idealistic and utopian impulses are of course fraught with painful and even tragic contradictions ...they are often perfect illustrations of the law of unintended consequences. Still, idealism is a necessary component to our human search for meaning and progress and to our vision of the world we would bequeath to our children.

I would imagine that any veteran who has lived long enough to see grandchildren grow toward the age of young adulthood cannot help but wonder at the seemingly endless parade of youth toward the altar of sacrifice...we do what we can to make things better, but history's appetite for human souls seems boundless. Watching my son and daughter march in a Veterans Day parade - it is the very definition of poignancy.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Goodbye Old Barney (cont.)

My dad wrote a thoughtful comment about Barney to Tess and Colm. I thought I'd post it for everyone to read.
Dear Tess and Colm,
Sorry to hear about Barney. I don't know how long ago the picture you sent of Colm on Barney was taken, but he looked good and I'm happy he was able to spend so many years with all of you in such a friendly and pleasant place. While not a very good cow horse, Barney was a very special horse in many ways. He was used by the Forest Service packing all kinds of equipment to build and manage trails and as a result he was great to ride in tight areas where there is always a good chance of getting scraped off the saddle by a limb or brush. It was always as if he knew just how much room you needed for your legs to get by an object. I rode him on trails with many good horses but none that could bring you back to camp any faster or more comfortably. As you may know I had to put Smokey down around a year ago when he was about 29 so Barney was probably close to that age and they were both wonderful horses that gave so much pleasure to us all. It is always sad and difficult to experience the death of a good animal as it also is with a good friend but we can take solace in knowing that while he gave us great pleasure, we lived up to our responsibility to take good care of him. The next time you come over, bring a halter that fits Stormy and I will make you a rope halter and lead rope to fit him.


Saturday, November 06, 2010

Goodbye Old Barney

It has been a week about horses. First we took the kids and watched "Secretariat". While I had a hard time reconciling myself to seeing John Malkovic in a Disney film, it was a fun movie to watch. Tess and Colm were completely mesmerized by the horse. At the end of the film, Tess beamed and said, "I want to do that with Stormy!" I couldn't argue with that sentiment. Within the space of five minutes however, Tess had worked out the fact that Secretariat had died years ago. The horse on screen had been so powerfully present to her. She took the realization of his death hard, like she had that very moment lost her best horse friend. She was pretty inconsolable for a nearly a half hour after that. A couple of days later, Beth and the kids were visiting her folks place where they keep the horses, Barney, Sadie and Stormy, who Tess is learning to train. The vet had come out to check on Barney but he couldn't really come up with any thing. Barney actually seemed a bit better. Everyone went inside and watched a documentary on the phenomenal racing mare, Zenyatta. Her final race was the next day. Plans were made to view it as a family. Everyone came home chattering about Zenyatta, how big and beautiful she was, how she danced a pranced and preened for the cameras, how she always won just like Secretariat, by starting last and finishing strong, only unlike Secretariat, she had never lost a single race. Later that night, I invented for Tess another installment about our favorite fictional horse character, Kadiddlehopper. It was a silly story about Kadiddlehopper trying to shoot snowballs out of his nose with the help of his friend raccoon. His nose got all plugged up with ice balls and when I tried to shoot the snowballs out of his nose his ears popped and he farted at the same time. This was right up Tess's alley, and she laughed uproariously. When I ended to story, we both settled down. I noticed Tess had almost immediately become pensive. She turned away and stared across her room. When I asked her if she was okay, she barely answered me. I climbed down off the loft bed. Her face was pressed against the safety rail. "What's wrong, sweetie?"

She said, "I'm worried about Zenyatta. What if Zenyatta loses tomorrow?"
I hadn't imagined where her mind was. "Don't worry," I said. "She's won lots of races. If she loses, she'll still be a great horse."
"But she's never lost."
"Secretariat lost his very first race. If she loses her last one, they'll be tied."
I left her in the dark and went to bed. Suddenly I felt like I had a vested interest in a horse that before that day I'd never even heard of.

The next morning, we were all in the kitchen just getting ready to sit down to some french toast and syrup when the phone rang. It was Charlotte, Beth's mom, calling to say that Warner had found Barney dead in the pasture that morning. Her voice seemed tired and burdened; Warner was at work taking care of getting someone to dispose of the body. I whispered the news to Beth. I commiserated with Charlotte for a bit. I told her what a good life I thought Barney had spent, first with my dad and then later with her and Warner.
She said, "I'll always remember seeing Tess and Colm riding Sadie and Barney along the fence line together singing "Oh What a Beautiful Morning" at the top their lungs. I'll always think of that when I think of Barney."
Charlotte said she'd called in case we were planning on showing up to their place early. I remembered then the plan to watch Zenyatta. I hung up and consulted briefly with Beth. It seemed like there would be no better time than the present to tell them. They were both in full Saturday morning chatter mode, alive and vibrating with energy. Halloween candy negotiations were still ongoing and Colm was working on a deal to trade his candy for money to spend on Legos at the toy store.
"Kids, listen up. I've got some bad news."
They both fell silent. Then Colm blurted, "Is the toy store closed?"
"I'm afraid it's worse than that, Colm."
Tess was studying my face intently. We made eye contact, and then she said, "Did Barney die?"
I nodded. I knew what was coming. While I watched Tess begin to tear up, I felt the weight of Colm's body land on my lap. His arms were around my neck and he was weeping. Beth had moved in to hold Tess. We all four sat like that at the breakfast table for a few minutes. Both of us, Beth and I, tried to console them. "I'm sure we'll get another horse."
Colm's reaction was instantaneous. He sobbed and said, "I don't want another horse. I want Barney."
I watched my kids work through it, and I marveled at the power animals have over us. I also appreciated the life lessons they bring before us by virtue of our caring for them. Charlotte called Barney an honest horse. That struck me as an apt phrase. I never once worried about my kids when they were around him or on his back. He was honest and true.
In time the kids came round. They loosened their hold on our necks. The air grew lighter; their eyes cleared. They even ate some of their breakfast. Both of them painted rocks with Barney's likeness on them to put over his resting place. Tess's stone had a horse standing beneath a brilliant but declining sun. It said, "Good Old Barney". Colm's stone showed a horse with a brilliant but declining sun overhead.
Later that afternoon we gathered round the tv with Warner and Charlotte, and, mesmerized once again, we watched Zenyatta lose her first and last race in the most improbable and nearly miraculous manner possible...done in by Blame, the pre-race favorite.
A little nervous, I checked Tess for a reaction. She was already leaping to Zenyatta's defense, "The other horses were younger than her, and she still almost won!" No tears, just a determined and even defiant effort to keep faith with a beautiful horse. Both of them honest and true.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Hoop Happy

Sometimes in life when you get too close, you just have to step back a bit and try again. Colm in action at a b-ball camp for little guys...he never stopped smiling from the moment he walked in the gym.