Saturday, January 30, 2010

When Dad Cooks

I've always considered myself to be fairly handy in the kitchen when it comes to creating meals. I can usually go to the cupboard, scrounge around and find something to throw together that's pretty tasty. At least I think it is. Much like Handyman Tim, Chef Tim doesn't usually follow a recipe or instructions, or maybe uses one and tweaks it a bit. I've turned out some wonderful creations over the years, but don't ask my family to verify that statement. My wife has developed a defensive posture when I cook, so when she works late and calls to see what's for supper and I tell her it's a surprise then she automatically pulls into the nearest fast food place and comes home with something like chicken or hamburger that has an actual name instead of "a can of this with a box of that and some of that stuff that was in the bowl then bake it all until it's good and dead". The kids are getting to be the same way, doggone picky eaters. They just don't enjoy a good Italian Hillbilly Chinese dish like I do. I make great pancakes too, it's one of my personal favorite things to make that the family just doesn't appreciate. If Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben were to... hey wait, are they married? Well nevermind. But anyway they'd have some competition if I ever went public with my recipes. That would mean I'd have to remember what I put in my last casserole and write it down, which would be hard because; A) I like my dishes varied just a little each time, and B) I can't even remember what I wrote two sentences ago, let alone what I made for supper last night.
So if you ever come to visit just drop on in and I'm sure I'll find something to tantalize your taste buds. Trust me.

Thursday, January 28, 2010


I'm starting to feel an uncomfortable tension building inside of me. My son and girlfriend are getting married in April and are getting into the intense planning part of things right now, booking a place for the wedding, reception, finding a caterer, dj, all that good stuff. So why am I getting nervous? Well, contrary to tradition where the brides parents pay for most of the wedding, it seems we'll be helping out financially quite a bit, adding to the almost insurmountable mountain of debt we're under right now. I was hoping to use most of our tax return to alleviate a small portion of the bills but I don't think that's going to happen. I'm not complaining, I'm glad to help out, but I'm afraid that if things run over budget we might have to go further into debt to pay for everything. Also, the church they've chosen to get married in is somewhere that I know I'll start to panic when I go because it's outside my area of travel right now. That sounds so self-centered and childish, but since this is someplace I have to go maybe now is a good time to really confront my traveling fear.
On the brighter side, the two of them, check that - three of them - will finally be moving out on their own ( hopefully so, since they haven't gotten a place of their own yet). Being together on their own as a family will have many trying times, and with luck, many rewarding ones. They're both young, but I hope they have the patience and perseverance it takes to make their marriage work.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Handyman Within

I've been working for several months trying to get my cabin wired so I can have electric out there. Normally this would be a job that might encompass a few days, but... it's me working here, so that kind of explains the delay. But just in case you really want to hear about it, this is the reason it's taken so long.

To begin with, I'm a self-proclaimed handyman who's acquired knowledge of such things as plumbing and wiring through years of working on my house, along with several years of working in a home improvements section of a store. Wiring a building - an empty, brand new building, should be a cinch, and so it was. By the end of last summer I had the inside wiring completed and was using a DC converter connected to the wires from the breaker box to light the place up when we we needed light. The only thing that I needed to finish the job was a pole and a box for the outside. I was told by the guy from the electric company that "any old pole will do as long as it meets the requirements". So, I made use of the natural resources available and cut down a tree, stripped all the bark off it (do you know how much work that is?!) and let it sit to dry. Within a couple of weeks the pole I had cut began to split down the middle and was obviously not going to be able to be used, so I cut down another tree, stripped the bark and let it dry. The more I looked at that pole the more I discovered how crooked it was, so I got another tree, a nice big, straight oak tree and got it ready. Then I proceeded to go get my outside box at the store, at which point I mentioned that I'd cut a tree into a pole to use. The clerk gave me a dumbfounded look and said he'd never heard of anyone doing that, and that he was pretty sure I wouldn't be able to use it. So, to be sure, I called the guy from the electric company to ask him and he said that the pole would need to be pressure treated, that I couldn't use the one I had. That started a two month long hunt for a pole to use. You can't go anywhere on the planet (except maybe the middle of the ocean) and not see telephone poles sticking out of the ground, but do you think I could find one used pole that someone was willing to sell? Nope. I finally called the power company and asked them if they ever had any used ones that they sold. Oh heck no, they had a big pile of them that anyone could have... for free. I got the pole, got it in the ground, wired up the box to it and ran wires into the cabin, ready to hook up. About this time my brother-in-law stopped at the cabin and pointed out some things that might not be quite right about my wiring job. He brought down a former electrician to look at it and he noticed a few things that needed changed, like almost everything, before an inspection could take place. Mr Handyman Tim with all his vast knowledge wasn't thinking of things like building and electrical codes when he wired things up. Hey, they worked, right? Anyway, I decided to start all over and pulled all the wiring out and have been redoing the inside - with the help of a couple of electrical wiring and code books. So that's where I am, about halfway done with rewiring the inside, then, hopefully, it will be ready. Or not.

Friday, January 22, 2010

The Face in the Mirror

They say that you use more muscles to frown than to smile, at least according to all the thousands of "feel good" emails I've gotten over the years. Not Me. I have frown lines permanently etched into my face, giving me that grumpy old man look, so it takes hardly any effort at all on my part. I didn't always look like this, in fact at my last job, 12 years ago, one of the girls there always called me smiley. Now I look in the mirror and that guy is nowhere to be seen. I could blame my job, but that's only part of the cause of my transformation from an always pleasant person to the cynical one I've become lately. The truth is that I'm angry at myself most of the time for not changing the way I am or the situation I'm in. I think I'm on the verge of a much needed life change in a more positive direction. Not exactly sure how or where to start, but I don't want to live like this forever, with the stress of finances and a bad job turning me into someone I don't like to be around. The frown lines may never go away, but maybe someday I'll be able to look in the mirror and those lines will remind me of who I used to be - someone I never want to see again.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Love, Hardship and Wealth

My father's parents came to the U.S. in early 1900's, with his father coming over in 1901 I think, then his mother in 1905. They were from seperate towns in an area of northern Italy called the Val di Non, which is on the border of Austria and is a valley which has many towns and villages. We had always called ourselves Austrian, but a few years ago we saw on the immigration papers of my grandfather that he was listed as Italian, so evidently the border ran between their villages. My grandfather, Enrico, after he'd been here and had established himself, wrote to my grandmother's parents and ask them to send one of their daughters for him to marry. The story was that he'd been expecting one of the other girls, but my grandmother, Bianca, arrived instead and they were married five days later. I'm not sure if Bianca, Blanche - her American name, volunteered or was sent, but she left behind ten brothers and sisters in Terres, her hometown. The youngest of her family was a brother for whom she had a special love. He was about six when she left and it broke her heart to leave him, and especially so after she'd arrived in America because the trip across the ocean had mad her so sick she knew she could never go back.
My grandparents struggled to overcome the hardships of learning a new language and customs and trying to make enough money to survive.They had nine children but lost four of them before they reached two years of age. As bad as it was, grandma saved a few cents here and there and when she could she would write back home and send a dollar for her youngest brother. Times never really got good because the family was always trying to make ends meet, which meant each member of the family had to work. My father told of trying to study for school and support the family by working at the railroad depot, and how sometimes he could barely stay awake while walking home.
Unbeknownst to grandma, the dollar bills that she sent to her younger brother when she could were worth quite a bit more in Austria than they were in the U.S., and her brother had taken that money and made a small fortune with which he provided well for his family... except for his sister Bianca, in America, who was obviously very wealthy since she had sent so much money to him over the years. Grandma was happy for his good fortune and got a good laugh when she heard that he thought she was rich.

I only heard this story and several others over the past few years. My grandfather died in 1937, so I never knew him, and grandma died in 1975 so I didn't get to know her that well either. I really wish I would have had more of an interest in my family when my dad was still alive. So many of the stories I've heard from family members since dad died would have been even more intriguing to hear him tell them. I regret now that I didn't ask more, listen better and remember on those occasions when dad did talk about his family.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

The Worth of my Soul

I've always been of the belief that each person's life has a special meaning, a reason for existing. Everyone has a purpose and we are individuals working toward a common, if unknown, goal. We are all part of God's plan. This belief tends to be shaken when I see things like pictures of bodies piled on top of each other - from the recent earthquake, or pictures from the tsunami that killed almost 300,000 people, or worse, pictures of masses of bodies from places where one group of human beings tries to annihilate another. I consider myself lucky that I only see these images sitting in the comfort of my home and do not have witness of these things firsthand. Even so, I begin to see how maybe we each play a much smaller part in the scheme of things than we're willing to admit when I see so much destruction of life on such a scale. I feel shame at the arrogance of my ego, thinking sometimes that I could be someone who changes the world, if only I had the chance. I'm sure many of those people who lost their lives thought the same, and perhaps in some way they have. I'm coming to accept that my importance is that of a single atom in God's plan and that I have to live my life with humility each day, it's just that I need reminded of that from time to time.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

If I Could Make A Wish

I've been thinking about my family and how they're almost all grown up now. The past fifteen or twenty years has flown by and now I'm sitting here realizing how much I miss them being little boys. I realize that I never took them fishing or camping enough, never took them on the ferris wheel, never went away on vacations with them. How I wish I could go back and change things. Sometime during their teenage years (the two oldest) they got too old to keep saying "I love you" to without embarrassing them, and it's approaching that point with my youngest. I never thought that would happen, but as I remember back to my own youth things transpired similarly. It hurts that the intimacy we shared earlier has dimmed, but I suppose that's part of them learning independence. Although I'm glad they're slowly learning self-reliance I find it hard to tell them how much I still love them and how proud I am of each of them. I see within each the person they are capable of becoming, their core being which is a very unique and special person in each. A parent still sees that person even though they think he went away when they grew up.

So how can I tell them that I'm sorry I wasn't the dad they deserved? That I wish I'd have conquered my phobias so we could have led a more normal life. How do I ask them to be little again so I can tell them stories at bedtime - the time of the day when I always felt especially close to them? How can I tell them that I see them as blessings from God, entrusted in my care until they're able to be on their own, but forever part of my heart and soul?
I really hope I'll find a way.