Being trained to love Germany

Mrs. Dubbatrubba and I recently ditched the kids¹ and took a week-long trip to Germany. Our whirlwind tour took us to Frankfurt (home of the frankfurter… but not Dr. Frank-N-Furter), Rüdesheim (a lovely little town — and I’m not just saying that because it has an umlaut in its name) along the Rhine River, Berlin, Nuremberg (home of famous trials!), Munich (home of Oktoberfest… too bad it’s in September), and Rothenburg ob der Tauber (a walled medieval village that was the inspiration for the village in Pinocchio!).

We had fun at every stop along the way, but for me, there was just as much joy in getting there, because we rode trains. After our typical air travel experiences getting to Germany (i.e. being herded like cattle, stripped of our shoes and belts, scanned, patted down, waiting in endless boarding queues and being crammed into seats that would be cozy for Billy Barty), it was thoroughly refreshing to roll into a train station ten minutes before departure and stroll right onto a train where the “second class” seats were more spacious and comfortable than most plane seats, with free wi-fi and a place to charge your phone. Our 344-mile trip from Frankfurt to Berlin took four hours. Sure, you could get there a bit quicker by plane (one-hour flight + one-hour check-in + random delays) but our entire trip was stress-free.

I was able to buy a seven-day “twin pass” (two travelers) for under $400, and it was money well spent. Germany’s Deutsche Bahn national train system is well known for its efficiency. Traveling by train is also a great way to see a bit more of the country, and I was impressed by what I saw. Beautiful little villages and tree-lined hills… and plenty of solar panel arrays and wind turbines! Germany’s Energiewende program has helped them get 35% of their energy needs from renewable sources. Why the frack can’t the US do the same?

Other random observations:

The food is a total sausage fest. Not many choices for two vegetarians…

…so we just ate pastries instead!

German has a lot of words that are funny to someone with the mind of a 12-year-old boy (i.e. me):

    

You gotta love a country with beer in their vending machines.

They also have a miniature street grid for kids to practice riding bikes on the roads. Genius!

I’m cuckoo for Germany

Even if the last syllable of my last name is on toilet paper packages.

Auf wiedersehen!

¹ They were with Grandma – don’t call Children’s Protective Services on us.

Gone but not forgotten

T.S. Eliot said “April is the cruellest month” but September and October have been pretty darn harsh for my college friends. We’re in our 50s, which means our parents are in their 70s and 80s, which means The Grim Reaper has been making a lot of house calls.

First to leave us over the past month was Alice, the mother of my friend Vinnie. Because I work in communications (and have always been good about keeping track of email addresses), I’m usually the one that gets the call (or text or email) and is saddled with the very un-fun task of letting the rest of our gang know about the “celestial discharge” as my wife and her nurse friends call it.

Two days after the celebration of life for Alice, my friend Robin sent word that her father Gil (a.k.a. “Gil The Thrill”) had passed away. When I sent out the note about Gil, my friend John emailed back to let me know that his mother Marilyn had gone to a better place. When I sent out word about Marilyn, I got an email and text back that our friend Jeff’s father had died rather suddenly. I’m starting to fear that my email notes are like those old chain letters, but in reverse. “If you DO pass this along, bad things will happen.”

I don’t want to be a complete Debbie Downer about it. All of these parents led full lives and raised great children. But I know firsthand that losing a parent is brutal.

My favorite author is Ray Bradbury. My favorite short story of his, The Leave-Taking, is about death… but it’s as far removed from morbid as can be. If you’ve lost a beloved parent or grandparent, please take five minutes to read it. And remember what Ray says: “No person ever died that had a family.”

My friend Vinnie’s brother John wrote a wonderful tribute to their mother, and shared it at her celebration of life gathering. He’s given me permission to post it below. But first, the backstory: Alice and her husband had seven kids, six rowdy boys and then a baby girl. When their youngest was still an infant, her husband left her… and she was left with the gargantuan task of raising seven children all by herself. The fact that all seven have been successful is great, but the fact that they are wonderful human beings is even more important.

                                         Our Renaissance Mother

           Mom marched to the beat of several drummers—each uniquely her own.   Referred to as “The Duchess” in the Farrell family household back in Philly, she was not only captain of her field hockey and basketball teams in high school, but also homecoming queen. She drew high honors in her academic endeavors at Mount Saint Joseph’s Academy and at Trinity College.  She walked down the fashion runway as a model back in the day, and was an artist who picked out the perfect shade of yellow for our family’s front door on Stratford Road. A Jill-of-all trades; she turned an old cast iron claw foot tub into a flower garden, cooked homemade meals for people in need, and started a sharing library for her neighborhood at her last home in Severna Park.  Mom was somehow always transforming herself, never being ashamed or too proud to do so. She inspired us all to do the same.

          We all could sit here for weeks on end and tell stories about this lady. But I guess that is why Mom wanted this party–so we could share those stories and maybe create some new ones.  There is nothing more honorable than having your wisdom passed down in a story, and Mom (or “Grandma,” or “Aunt,” or “Sister,” or “Friend,” or just “Alice”) had thousands of them.

          Mom once told me she was born too early, and if she had come of age in this day and time she would have been a doctor, or president of a company or even of these United States.  While those titles could have been impressive, I am so grateful and honored to call her Mom. She often sacrificed her own dreams and goals for her 7 children, 19 grandchildren and 2 great grandchildren.  Mom was our first caregiver, our first friend, our first teacher who helped shape and form all our strong foundations. Teaching us that there is no substitute for higher education, independence and a good upbringing, she passed down her wisdom, her values, her manners, her strength, her dedication, and her determination using tough love (and the occasional bar of soap in the mouth) helping prepare us all for what existed outside our front doors.  And by “all,” I mean every one of us gathered today since Mom was a true believer that “it takes a village to raise a person.” The tough part, she once told me, was knowing when to let go and let us all live our own lives.

          The whole family meant everything to Mom and she did everything in her power to keep it together.  The glue at times grew thin and dry, but Mom made sure it never broke. When I was young, she took night classes to acquire a second college degree in accounting to help keep the powdered milk on the table and the heat set at 52 degrees.  Even in the end Mom was thinking and giving of herself to her world family. She was always ready to send a small check to support various charities, and she asked that the final one be written to the St. Vincent de Paul Society. She recently told me an interesting story about why she had wished her body to be donated to Johns Hopkins University Medical School.  Mom told me that her father had applied and was accepted to Johns Hopkins many years ago, but his family could not afford to send him there. Her grandfather (his father) was a coal miner. Her father eventually graduated from Temple University and became a doctor. But Mom wanted to make sure her father got to Johns Hopkins one way or another.

         Mom was always a task-oriented person — one who did not find fulfillment at the end of the day unless a project was completed or new one was underway. Well Mom… you have done your job and you have done it well.  Sit back and relax. We will take it from here and we will pass along your wisdom and unconditional love so the next generations can build upon it. Something you and the world will be proud of.

We will love you and miss you forever.  May God bless you and keep you.

 

 

And then there were none

Got a call from my cousin Tom yesterday, letting me know that his mom/my aunt had passed away over the long weekend. Aunt Pat was one of my dad’s two sisters, and never really strayed far from her Jersey City roots. She and her husband (a.k.a. Uncle Vince) lived in Verona, NJ for most of their adult lives. After Vince passed away a few years back, she moved to Virginia and moved in with her daughter and son-in-law to be closer to family. She loved her kids. She adored her grandkids. She was over the moon about great-grandchildren.

Aunt Pat was pushing 90, but you’d never know it. “Young at heart” fit her to a tee. I remember when she was in her 70s and several members of our family had gathered at my older sister’s place in Brooklyn. My sister’s kids were riding Razor scooters on the promenade along the Hudson River, in the shadows of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. Aunt Pat promptly commandeered one of the scooters and took it for a spin, as fun-loving and carefree as any teenager. That was Aunt Pat in a nutshell – when her peers were riding Rascal scooters, she was on a Razor.

Aunt Pat loved Seinfeld too…

She had a joie de vivre that always came through, with a smile on her face and a joyous lilt to her voice. Now she’s gone – the last of that generation to leave us, preceded by Uncle John, my dad, Uncle Vince, Aunt Virginia, Uncle Don… and my mom, Uncle Remo and Zia Inez on the maternal side of my family. Which means I’m now part of the eldest generation of the Dotterweich/Osellame family. The connective tissue with the greatest generation has been severed… we still have the stories they shared, but it’s not the same without them here.

There’s not much we can do about it, but we can live the rest of our lives like Aunt Pat lived hers – with fearlessness, with a fun-loving attitude, with a smile on our face and a joyous lilt in our voice. Aunt Pat never let us down, and there’s no way I’m letting her spirit fade away. Hand me that scooter and get out of my way.

 

Going, going… gone

A couple of days ago, I helped our oldest child move into his freshman dorm room (and it was on the 11th floor, and the elevator line was too long, so we hauled his stuff up 11 flights of stairs… and it was snowing… wait, now I’m mixing up my hardship stories).

He’s not going far from home. He’s enrolled at the University of Cincinnati, which is about 8 miles from our house. But if home is where you hang your hat, he’s now living “away.” It’s been a long goodbye. He started checking out when he moved into his own room a few years ago. (It’s the one above the garage, the former guest room, a.k.a. “The Fonzarelli Suite.”) Then he got a job at a swimming pool one summer and was away even more. He added another job at Ramundo’s Pizzeria, and started driving, and hanging out with his friends more, and spending the night at their house quite a bit on the weekends… but that slow fade from our house doesn’t make his departure any easier. He doesn’t have to check in anymore, doesn’t have to text when he arrives at a friend’s house. He’s on his own… at least until laundry day (which for an 18 year old boy could be months).

As an alum of crosstown rival Xavier, I can’t help but feel that I’ve failed in my parenting. Then again, Xavier doesn’t have an engineering program.

His room at home has been empty most of the time for the past few months. But now it’s a different kind of empty.

It feels more hollow… in a way it mirrors the hole in our hearts, the void in our lives. I’m so happy for him as he starts his next adventure, and I’m trying to focus on that part of the equation. But it’s tough.

 

A rude awakening. Repeat daily.

Well, my summer vacation was fun while it lasted… but today was back-to-school Day #1 in our house, so my leisurely mornings came to a screeching halt around 5:28 a.m. E.D.T.

Three teenagers (and one or two adults) trying to get ready every weekday and catch a bus.

Compounded by the fact that we have only one functioning shower at the moment. Packing lunches (my wife does most of that), signing permission slips, finding lost sneakers… every morning is an adventure.

This too shall pass. Our oldest will be heading to the dorms in a week, with the others soon to follow. Five years from now, I’ll be wistful about our early morning reveille.

But right now I’m just a wee bit tired. One down, 179 to go…

 

And now, in honor of my morning alarm, a new song from The Alarm

Dad fail

I have four kids, yet the only one who occasionally reads my blog is my daughter Leah. We were on vacation last week, so I took a vacation from posting. Big mistake. Because Leah’s birthday was last week. And she pointed out to me that I blogged about Peter’s birthday, and Andrew’s birthday, and Gabriel’s birthday, but not hers.

So, better late than never…

Leah turned 15. She’s 6 months away from getting her driving temps, which just boggles my mind. I still picture her as just a few years removed from this shot:

Don’t worry, she got braces.

In addition to being my only blog reader, she’s also the only kid who, when we’re in the car, puts up with my weird bands with weird names who play weird music (the other kids immediately switch the station to hippin’ and hoppin’). She actually likes Car Seat Headrest, and thought it was cool that Craig Finn of The Hold Steady played a house concert at our place. On the drive down to Florida last weekend, we took two cars (wife and kids are staying two weeks, I’m back at work) and the AC went out on one of them. So I got up early last Saturday morning and drove it from our hotel stopping point in Troy, Alabama (so scenic!) to a dealership that was on the way to our final destination, while my wife and kids headed straight to the beach. Here’s a text exchange with Leah:

I didn’t text and drive, I used speech-to-text.

I love her empathy and her sense of humor. And she also crushed it at school this year, coming up just shy of straight A’s (darn you, Latin III). I pointed out that her birthday was her quinceañera and she immediately broke into this song:

Apparently this song clip has become a meme with the teen set. So I’m learning from Leah.

So sorry I let you down, my darling daughter. Thanks for reading. Thanks for listening. Thanks for being you.

 

The Mother and Child Separation

Normally, I don’t like to mix posting and politics, but the latest immigration tactics (nay, antics) of our Demander-in-Chief have taken this beyond a political issue. It’s a human rights issue.

“Families are the foundational element of our society and they must be able to stay together. While protecting our borders is important, we can and must do better as a government, and as a society, to find other ways to ensure that safety. Separating babies from their mothers is not the answer and is immoral.”

— Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, the president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, in a statement.

I’m equal parts angered and saddened. I have “zero tolerance” for this b.s.

As per usual, the fantastic Hitting The Trifecta blog has found the perfect way to express (in a much more eloquent way than I could) exactly what I’m feeling. Author Rickey Dobbs has a way of breaking down complex issues in an engaging, typically satirical way. This most recent blog post absolutely nails it on separating kids from their parents. Please read the entire thing. But if you can’t, this wrap up should bring it home nicely:

If WE are going to do this (yes, “we” are doing this, my co-owners of this representative democratic republic), we’ll need to gather the niños into places where we can keep track of thousands of them all at once. To that end, we’ll be concentrating all of them into some outpost, or maybe a camp.

Gosh, no, it’s not a concentration camp or anything like that! How offensive! *clutches pearls, then realizes I accidentally wore my pearls to work.

But understand: those kids just hoofed it across the harsh Mexican terrain, risking their very lives seeking freedom from unimaginable violence. So, it’s safe to say they’re a scrappy bunch! Because of that reality, we’ll have uniformed men with guns to make sure the kids don’t scale the ten-foot fences that surround their cages.

Word will – and already has – spread to the next incoming “waves” of immigrants that there’s a really shitty patch of territory between the Rio Grande and the Canadian border. If you’re a “got-damn furrner” and you get caught in that 1800-mile expanse, abandon all hope all ye who enter. Oh, and abandon your dreams…especially those “American” ones.

But oddly enough, fully knowing the inhospitable environs that await, they keep coming. They risk losing their children for a tiny chance at giving the kids a better life than is possible at home.

You have to understand, that no one puts their children in a boat unless the water is safer than the land.” And no one tries to cross the border, via asylum or otherwise, knowing they’ll likely lose their children, unless the alternative is uniformly worse.

 Of course, our government doesn’t have to take your kids if they catch you. We don’t have to make your arduous, desperate life worse than it already is. We do it because we’re America in 2018. There’s a rabid, deplorable electoral base that needs red meat, and you’re wearing red meat underoos. We’re a nation of uneducated playground bullies who elect even bigger uneducated playground bullies, and we always punch down.

And sorry, José. You are both geographically and socioeconomically down.

All of this is to make it clear as day, brought to you by white resentment, economic insecurity, and rich guys who profit from both:

The America of which you’re dreaming is just lighting and camera tricks. It’s not available for you, scapegoats. It’s barely available for us. We are simply making the age-old American reality abundantly clear: you and your family are, perpetually, one generation too late.

 Lo siento, amigos.

So true, so sadly true. The link above in the Hitting the Trifecta blog post is to a wonderful poem that you simply must read. Now! Here are the final lines:

i want to go home,
but home is the mouth of a shark
home is the barrel of the gun
and no one would leave home
unless home chased you to the shore
unless home told you
to quicken your legs
leave your clothes behind
crawl through the desert
wade through the oceans
drown
save
be hunger
beg
forget pride
your survival is more important

no one leaves home until home is a sweaty voice in your ear
saying-
leave,
run away from me now
i dont know what i’ve become
but i know that anywhere
is safer than here.

 

It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood…

Fred Rogers is having a moment, nearly two decades after his show signed off.

Tom Hanks is set to play him in a movie. A documentary about him called Won’t You Be My Neighbor opened in select cities yesterday. Maxwell King has written a book that is due out soon called The Good Neighbor: The Life and Work of Fred Rogers. This article from The Atlantic website pulls from that book, and demonstrates the care that Fred took in scrutinizing every word that he and his fellow cast members ever spoke on the show, to make sure it was right on target for his target audience of preschoolers.

The writers even coined the term “Freddish” to describe the language. Here’s a great example from the article about how a simple line could morph:

Per the pamphlet, there were nine steps for translating into Freddish:

  1. “State the idea you wish to express as clearly as possible, and in terms preschoolers can understand.” Example: It is dangerous to play in the street. ​​​​​​
  2. “Rephrase in a positive manner,” as in It is good to play where it is safe.
  3. “Rephrase the idea, bearing in mind that preschoolers cannot yet make subtle distinctions and need to be redirected to authorities they trust.” As in, “Ask your parents where it is safe to play.”
  4. “Rephrase your idea to eliminate all elements that could be considered prescriptive, directive, or instructive.” In the example, that’d mean getting rid of “ask”: Your parents will tell you where it is safe to play.
  5. “Rephrase any element that suggests certainty.” That’d be “will”: Your parents can tell you where it is safe to play.
  6. “Rephrase your idea to eliminate any element that may not apply to all children.” Not all children know their parents, so: Your favorite grown-ups can tell you where it is safe to play.
  7. “Add a simple motivational idea that gives preschoolers a reason to follow your advice.” Perhaps: Your favorite grown-ups can tell you where it is safe to play. It is good to listen to them.
  8. “Rephrase your new statement, repeating the first step.” “Good” represents a value judgment, so: Your favorite grown-ups can tell you where it is safe to play. It is important to try to listen to them.
  9. “Rephrase your idea a final time, relating it to some phase of development a preschooler can understand.” Maybe: Your favorite grown-ups can tell you where it is safe to play. It is important to try to listen to them, and listening is an important part of growing.

Tons of folks have parodied Fred Rogers, most famously Christopher Guest (with Bill Murray as the bass player) and Eddie Murphy (see below for videos). But the original Fred was a wonderful, caring teacher to generations of kids… and adults.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Special delivery

My 18-year-old son is retired.

He just gave up his paper route, after six long years. It was a weekly neighborhood paper, covering community council meetings and the local high school sports teams, mainly. The job wasn’t a very lucrative gig, when you consider the time spent bagging the papers, delivering, and then collecting payments once a month. But it provided him with some folding money once his Tooth Fairy days were over.

Nice panel van, Mister!

Other than our summer vacations, he delivered every Wednesday for six years. If “80% of success is just showing up” then his route was great career training.

As you might guess, his subscriber base (average age: 72) was dwindling. Sometimes quite literally dying off. In the internet era, no one reads the paper anymore. Heck, half the population doesn’t even know what a newspaper is.

They don’t even get the gossip rags anymore.

Don’t worry that our son will get lazy. He’s still working. In fact, he’s still in the delivery business. But instead of papers, which very few people care for anymore, he’s delivering something everyone likes to consume:

 

 

The other Memorial Day

Today would’ve been my dad’s 87th birthday. Hard to believe it’s been more than eight years since he passed away. He’s still with us in spirit.

Herb (yep, that’s his name) served in the military during the Korean War… and pretty much hated every minute of it. The “command and control” structure fit him like a hairshirt. (Gee, wonder where I get my rebel streak from…) Besides, his biggest battles were yet to come. Watching your wife succumb to leukemia. Moving your four kids to Arkansas. Struggling to get by. Fighting depression.

Not all heroes wear suits. Or fatigues. Sometimes they wear horn-rimmed glasses and polyester pants and thrift shop shirts. And they love their kids, and raise them the best that they can.

Happy Birthday, Pops.