Saturday, February 26, 2011

#94 - The Communal Side of Food

It's late Saturday evening, and Teresa has just gone to bed. A few hours earlier, the last of the dinner guests left after several hours of catching up, laughter, and yes, good food if I do say so myself.

It was great to catch up with people I once worked with and hung out with, people I haven't seen in several months. The conversation flowed freely, the laughter perhaps even more freely.

That, to me, is one of the great aspects of food. It always seems to taste better when it is shared with friends. I don't know if that is because, as a cook, you try a little harder and the extra effort comes through in the food. Perhaps it is because cooking for friends adds an extra element of enjoyment to the act itself. I think it may be some combination of the two.

After everyone left, Teresa and I watched Julie & Julia, about author Julie Powell's year-long journey through Julia Child's cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Interspersed with that story is Julia Child's years long struggle to finish the cookbook and find someone to publish it. At the heart of the movie though, at least to me, is the food and our relationship with it.

In the film, food is the means by which Julie Powell is finally able to start and complete something, in the case cooking all 500-plus recipes from Julia Child's cookbook over the course of a single year. Food is also the means by which Julia Child finds purpose and meaning in life, perhaps even finds life itself.

When I have the chance to cook for friends, I don't know that I find purpose and meaning, but I do find myself feeling a little more alive, a little more connected with others. Cooking becomes my gift to them, my way of showing them how glad I am that they are a part of my life.

Cooking is mere ritual and eating merely a necessity of living when you have no one to share it with. Cooking during the week often feels the same way, coming home after a full day of work, faced with the prospect of what to cook or, as it is sometimes put, what to throw together for dinner.

Cooking for friends, though, becomes more of an act of love, a special occasion. I may be wrong, but I suspect many of the world's disagreements and misunderstandings could be cleared up or overcome if we could just cook for one another and break bread together. Who'll serve up the first course?

Thursday, February 24, 2011

#93 - The Facebook Effect

Today, I took what was for me the unpleasant and somewhat painful task of removing one of my Facebook friends, someone I had worked with for several years during my past life as a television news producer.

A recent political discussion begun by said former friend on Facebook had turned a little too ugly for my tastes, ugly to the point where it was suggested I hate America and told I should leave. So I did leave - the friendship, that is. Not the country.

The exchange is, I think, indicative of something I'll call the Facebook Effect. While we become what Facebook calls friends, we are often nothing more than connections.

There is little true intimacy and often little in the way of civility. The way many of us were taught to talk to and to treat others goes out the window on Facebook. We each sit behind our computer keyboards and talk at each other rather to each other, assuming from a few words written here or there that we know all there is to know about the other person. That false familiarity and the safety of hiding behind our keyboards gives us the license we seek to speak to one another in ways we likely would not if face to face.

Of course, not all interactions on Facebook are as I describe here. But there are enough such interactions to make me wonder sometimes whether I am really cut out for "social networking."

The aforementioned exchange left me with a sour taste and a feeling similar to the one which led me to get out of television news. I could feel myself beginning to sink to the level of those who were spewing their hatred at me. So I got out.

Since he has 4,800-plus other friends, I doubt I'll be missed by my former Facebook friend. It's sad in a way, though. Facebook has the potential to bring people from various places and various viewpoints together for meaningful discussion. I've seen it happen.

However, that potential is a double-edged sword as it also allows people of similar views to insulate themselves from different people or different views. In such an insular environment, progress can never occur, understanding is doomed, and cooperation is prevented.

I've experienced too much of that side of the Facebook effect lately. Now I'm ready to rediscover some of the best of what the Facebook effect has to offer.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

#92 - Rainy Day Reflections

"Rainy days and Mondays always get me down." - The Carpenters

I sit here on a Sunday afternoon, looking out at an overcast and gloomy sky. It snowed a little last night, and a few flakes continue to fall here and there.

Teresa is busy working on another of the myriad of household projects that always seem to need doing; I have a load of laundry working; and Christopher is busy making a clay monster instead of beginning to review for a test he has Wednesdays.

When I was younger - in my teens - I actually used to like drizzly, overcast days. Living in Seattle, such days were frequent visitors, and I would go for walks in the light drizzle. The drizzle no doubt suited my emotional state in those days. I often felt lonely and misunderstood, a common state for many teens I would imagine.

In my case, that was compounded somewhat by my difficulty in making many friends or in getting close to people. I lived in a single-parent family that subsisted on welfare. That combination cemented a feeling that I didn't fit in and wasn't like other kids. The fact that our closest neighbors were a gas station, a warehouse, and an abandoned field didn't help much. So rainy days seemed perfect, and I enjoyed them like one enjoys a visit from an old friend.

These days, I'm not so much into rainy days. I look forward to longer and sunnier days so we can get the trailer our and go somewhere. Of course, nicer weather will bring with it another list of projects that need doing.

Teresa is a list person. I suspect that somewhere she even has a spreadsheet listing the various lists she has. From my limited perspective, it seems to me that so many lists might make it harder to ever relax or even enjoy life. On the other hand, I can't deny that she keeps us organized and makes it possible for us to do a number of the things we like to do when we have the time.

I guess you could say that I am like a river, meandering here and there, flowing sometimes haphazardly but getting there in the end. Teresa is more like a road going from Point A to Point B. Each approach has something to recommend it. Together, the combination makes for a scenic drive along the way - as long as we remember to enjoy the view once in a while.

Monday, February 14, 2011

#91 - Conversation With My Son

I was sitting at the computer this morning, reading a few news headlines while I waited for my son, Christopher, to get ready for school.

While I was sitting there, he came in to talk to me. Here is the entire conversation:

Christopher: "Dad, can I ask you a question?"
Me: "Sure."
Christopher: "Will I ever find love."
Me: "Anything's possible."

My half-smart aleck, half serious answer seemed to be enough, as he then proceeded to get ready for school with nothing more said on the subject. Afterward, though, I got to thinking more about the subject.

First thought: This was an entirely appropriate question for Christopher to ask given that today is Valentine's Day, and as he put it, the day is about love, although he first indicated that by making kissing noises.

Second thought: Christopher's question has no easy answer, especially where he is concerned, given his autism. While he is capable of displaying emotion, I don't know whether he is capable of developing deep feeling for another person. It is a question I have occasionally asked even of myself.

There are times that I have great belief in Christopher's ability to lead and live a "normal" life, one that includes things like college, career, and even love, marriage, and family. At other times, I wonder to what extent he will be capable of such a life and to what degree he might be allowed to have such a life.

One thing I have learned as Christopher's dad is that nothing in life is certain and that there are no easy answers. Another thing I learned is that the answer I gave Christopher this morning, while intended somewhat flippantly at the time may, in fact, have been the best answer after all. Because when nothing is certain, anything truly is possible.

Friday, February 11, 2011

#90 - Old Friends

"Photographs and memories / Christmas cards you sent to me / All that I have are these / To remember you"

I've always liked that old Jim Croce song; it speaks to the melancholy side of me and to the thought of all the people I've let slip out of my life for one reason or another.

Lately, though, I've been struck again by the way in which Facebook has allowed me to get some of these people back into my life, albeit in a smaller and virtual way. It has been wonderful to rediscover people I knew and was close to years ago. I don't know if we'll be as close again, but in some ways that doesn't matter. Reconnecting with them has brought the memories of those earlier times alive again.

Through the years, I used writing - primarily song lyrics - to help me work through and deal with my emotions - joy, sorrow, anger - as well as my doubts and fears. In thinking back to the past shared with some of my new Facebook friends, I find myself so inclined again. I don't claim to be another Cole Porter or even Paul McCartney, but I think the message gets across.

Old Friends
Remember when we were as thick as thieves?
One for all, like Musketeers
But time went by, we went our separate ways
And lost touch with the passing years

My vision may not quite be what it was
But you still seem the same to me
I think of you and time just melts away
As I relive each memory

Old friends
Never really disappear
They live on in head and heart -
We're never far apart -
Their memories I hold dear
Old friends
Just a thought or dream away
When I get to feeling down -
Those old friends gather 'round -
To keep the blues at bay

In a quiet hour, I close my eyes
And travel back to yesterday
I think of those who walked into my life
And walked with me along the way

We only get a moment on this earth
And all too soon the moment's passed
But when I take that trip down Memory Lane
I can make the moment last

Old friends
Never really disappear
They live on in head and heart -
We're never far apart -
Their memories I hold dear
Old friends
Just a thought or dream away
When I get to feeling down -
Those old friends gather 'round -
To keep the blues at bay
February 11, 2011

Saturday, February 5, 2011

#89 - To Fob or Not to Fob - What Was the Question?

Saturday morning - I'm preparing to do a load of Christopher's jeans, and I ask him to check his pockets for anything left behind. He says he needs to check his fob, and we get into an energetic discussion of what a fob is. He says a classmate at school told him it was the small pocket above the right front pocket on a pair of jeans.

I always knew a fob had to do with a pocket watch, so I didn't think he could be right, especially since I never see anyone wear a pocket watch with a pair of jeans. I countered by telling Christopher that a fob was something attached to a pocket watch, like a chain or strap.

We go back and forth like this for a few minutes until I go and get a dictionary. While I'm walking to the bookshelf, I hear in the background "I'm not listening to you . . . la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la."

I get the dictionary, look up the word fob and find, lo and behold, Christopher is right. As am I. A fob, it turns out, is a small pocket on the front of a pair of trousers or a vest used primarily for carrying a pocket watch. It is also a small chain or leather strap attached to a pocket watch or something attached to a chain or strap, like a medallion. I guess even an English major can learn something. I'm not as sure about teenagers.

Right below those definitions was another entry for the word fob. This one had to do with cheating other people and also shifting jobs or responsibility onto another, as in "to fob off onto another." I mentioned to Christopher that "fobbing off" was something he was good at.

Christopher has a tendency, when we ask him to do something, to walk off and disappear for a while, until we either forget that we asked him to do something or we get tired of waiting and do it for him. I told him he could put that on a resume'. In fact, I told him that qualified him for a position in management. He didn't understand, but Teresa and I got a good laugh out of it. And isn't that part of what children are for? To make you laugh? After all, laughter is an aspect of joy. Perhaps I'm just easily amused. That's not such a bad place to be.