I will dare

The other day, I was talking to my buddy Jason, a co-worker of mine. He’s a fellow Xavier grad and we both have season tickets for men’s basketball, so usually our conversations are about rankings and seeds and opponents. But he got deep on me, and mentioned a conversation he had just had with his wife Charlene, where he said “you’re really only yourself up until about age 4, and then again at age 74.” Meaning kids are too young to know better, and seniors are too old to care, about what others think. But in the decades between, we give up our true selves, and worry too much about fitting in and playing by the rules. We let the weight of other’s expectations and societal cues bring us down. We let fear, judgement and shame take over.

Meanwhile, in a moment of true synchronicity, I happened to be reading the book  Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by Brené Brown

This book covers the same territory. Here’s a great quote from it:

“When we spend our lives waiting until we’re perfect or bulletproof before we walk into the arena, we ultimately sacrifice relationships and opportunities that may not be recoverable, we squander our precious time, and we turn our backs on our gifts, those unique contributions that only we can make,” says Brown. “Perfect and bulletproof are seductive, but they don’t exist in the human experience.”

Brown also talks a lot about “scarcity” in American society. We’re conditioned to crave more… a better job, a nicer house, a cooler car, a fatter bank account, more “likes” on social media… in a zero-sum game where we’re constantly comparing/competing with others. She mentions that the opposite of scarcity isn’t abundance, it’s “enough”… as in “I have enough. I AM enough.”

“Worrying about scarcity is our culture’s version of post-traumatic stress. It happens when you’ve been through too much, and rather than coming together to heal (which requires vulnerability), we’re angry and scared and at each other’s throats.”

Man, does that quote ring true in 2018! The solution, which seems counterintuitive at first blush, is to be more vulnerable.

“Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.”

“Courage starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen.”

“The willingness to show up changes us, It makes us a little braver each time.”

“Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path.”

Vulnerability is the best way to connect with others.

“Connection is why we’re here; it is what gives purpose and meaning to our lives. The power that connection holds in our lives was confirmed when the main concern about connection emerged as the fear of disconnection; the fear that something we have done or failed to do, something about who we are or where we come from, has made us unlovable and unworthy of connection.”

The title of the book comes from a Teddy Roosevelt speech in 1910:

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.”

Here’s Brené Brown’s TED talk about vulnerability.

The book is well worth checking out. Dare to make it a great weekend!

Addicted to this Pot, Instantly

My named is dubbatrubba, and I’m addicted to the Instant Pot. 

It’s a combination slow cooker/pressure cooker/rice maker/steamer/yogurt maker… I think it might even play karaoke tunes – I’ll have to check the manual.

I couldn’t help myself – all the cool kids were doing it, and I succumbed to the peer pressure. Oh, and there’s also the fact that a lot of recipes that used to take hours now take mere minutes. Hence the “Instant” part of the name.

A co-worker was the one who introduced me to it. She kept bringing in her lunches and raving about how good they tasted, and how easy they were to make. Her recipe for lentil chili is killer, dude! Of course, she’s a darn good cook even without the Instant Pot.

Now I can’t go a day without using it. As a veg-head, it comes in very handy. I make a big ol’ batch of black beans every week. I used to have to make them on weekends, because they take 10 hours in the crock pot. Now it takes less than an hour. I’ve also whipped up red beans with veggie sausage, the aforementioned lentil chili, curried lentils, mashed potatoes and a batch of veggie chili. It comes in handy when cooking for my 16-year-old son (the fitness freak) too. He eats chicken for lunch and salmon for dinner every doggone day, and it used to be a laborious process of thawing and baking. Now we can go from frozen to finished in less than an hour. We also use it for brown rice and hard-boiled eggs. And I’ve merely scratched the (cooking) surface of what it can do. Seriously!

I think you might even be able to make brownies, but searching for Instant Pot Brownies might get me busted in Ohio.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m jonesing. I need to go make another meal. Be back in an Instant!

 

 

 

The best decision on Super Bowl Sunday

Game over, Eagles win.

Our 18-year-old leaves his friend’s house to come home. Light snow had melted but then froze into a thin sheet of ice on the main road to our house. It caught folks off guard… and the salt truck drivers must’ve been watching the game instead of hitting the roads.

Our son sees cars slipping, sliding, spinning, careening, crashing into each other like a demolition derby.

At least six cars got dinged. He’s less than two blocks from our house, but it’s enough of a downhill slide to make continuing risky business, especially with a couple of crashed cars up ahead in his lane. He pulls over, hits the hazards and calls home.

“Patience is a virtue, Possess it if you can, Seldom found in woman, Never found in man.” 

When you’re 18, the waiting is the hardest part.

But it can also be the smartest part. Wait it out. Call for backup. This too shall pass.

Here’s to Gabriel, our Super Bowl MVP.

 

 

Life was so much easier back then

My ongoing quest to clean up the basement continues unabated… other than the weeks when I don’t do anything. A couple of days ago, I found this school project from our youngest son, Andrew, from a few years ago. It’s a timeline of his life:

Walk. Sit on a chair. Go on vacation. That sounds really good. Sign me up.

 

The miracle of the internet

The true magic of the world wide web isn’t cat videos. OK, maybe that’s part of it.

But the real miracle is its ability to connect us. Across the miles. Or in my case, across nearly half a century. Two and a half years ago, I wrote a blog post on my mom’s birth date, about how I was so young when she passed away that I don’t really remember her. You can read it here:

Absence makes the heart grow… confused?

A couple of weeks ago, on my birthday, someone commented on that post:

(JC = Jersey City, New Jersey. And don’t worry, she later realized she misspelled Damian. )

 

Needless to say, I did connect with Veronica “Ronnie” S. (nee Wain). She said she and her siblings would often wonder about what happened to their old neighbors on Liberty Avenue in Jersey City. She Googled my dad’s name recently and saw his obituary. A few more searches led her to a blog post from 2015… on a blog that only a handful of people even know about… it’s a web miracle!

Ronnie was able to provide several tidbits of info about my mother, helping me fill in the blanks and connect a few dots, and start to “know” a mom I don’t remember. Her email was far and away the most wonderful email I’ve ever received (sorry Nigerian prince who wants to share his millions with me).

I’m sharing her wonderful note here because it made me smile… through the tears, of course:

I have endearing memories of your mom from the 1960s that I’d like to pass to you:
She had a beautiful smile, always, and looked exactly like the photo on ur page (wearing the pretty coat).
Your mom and dad were both devout Catholics. When she was expecting Jeanne she would attend Mass on weekdays.
Our family didn’t have a car and to save us the bus, train, bus trip to North Arlington to visit our brother Joe, she would often drive us, despite having so much to do at home.
When Marie graduated from high school, your mom was kind enough to contact
someone at Thacher Proffit law firm and secure her an interview; she was offered a secretarial job soon afterwards. She subsequently worked for William Simon at
Salomon Bros., before retiring from the Port Authority of NY/NJ in 2000.
Your maternal grandmother would visit you often, and I recall visits by your Aunt (Florence?) as well. She always dressed impeccably……I loved her hats!
My mom enjoyed chatting with your grandmother (she was a lovely, soft spoken person!) and she shared stories of your uncle’s S.J. missionary work in the Philippines. Your grandmother missed him and sometimes worried about him.
Your maternal grandfather would visit and help with small jobs around the house. He amended the soil in the front yard so Olga could have a small garden. He planted tomatoes and flowers there.
We didn’t see him later in the 60s….I don’t know whether he predeceased your mom or, after her death, was too broken-hearted to return.
John was very attached to your mom and would always be in her arms…..until you arrived, Damien (you were the sweetest baby!). Then he took his place by her leg.
There was a back room on the first floor of your house and she asked my mom for advice on turning it into a playroom for you, J, J and V.
I would see your mom from time to time as I passed your house on my way to the Blvd. bus, going to high school. She always showed an interest in what was going on in my life, and offered me advice. She did very thoughtful things……like one summer day, taking me for a ride to your aunt’s (Pat?) house in Verona. I remember hearing them laugh and talk in the kitchen. I think your mom was very close to her.
Your mom and mine talked almost every day…..usually outside when the weather was nice, over the backyard fence or by phone. Olga was an authentic friend in every sense of the word……and the sister my mom never had. My mom never quite got over her death. Our neighbor George Martine (wife, Sabina, who also passed away around that time) missed her terribly as well.
We knew she had become seriously ill yet never expected she would be hospitalized and not return home.
Many neighbors and friends attended her wake and funeral Mass.
(Damien, I think you all were too young to attend her wake….I didn’t see you there.)
After her death, your grandmother came almost daily to help your dad, and close neighbors checked in and did whatever they could.
When he decided to move to Arkansas we were really sad yet knew he did
it with your best interests in mind. NJ was becoming pretty unaffordable even then.
When he returned east to visit family, he would stop by to see my parents, and they would pick up on conversations, like he had never been away. (I believed they continued to exchange Christmas cards and letters about family life….and baseball.)
I happened to be home for one visit (I had since married and move to West Orange) and was really surprised to to see that Jeanne had accompanied him.
She was all grown up and sooooo beautiful!

The most significant lesson I continue to value from life on Liberty Avenue was we didn’t have much materially, and I sensed your mom and dad struggled more, yet we had everything we needed.

Damien, I have no doubt you, Jeanne, John and Virginia are fine, fine people and
ultimately that is the most enduring tribute to your mom and dad.

My mom in Jersey City at the park close to our house.

 

God bless you, Ronnie – you gave me a priceless gift on my birthday. And:

 

9 lives. Make that 8. Maybe 7.

Behold the lovely and talented Coco Bear:

As you can plainly see, her main talent is sleeping… usually about 23.5 hours a day (+/- 30 minutes). On Christmas Day, however, she decided to hit the road – probably due to the 35 house guests we had, although perhaps she just got tired of being chased by our foster puppy. She’s an indoor cat, but she does make occasional forays into the great outdoors, usually in the spring (she’s an avid bird watcher). But on Xmas day, it was colder than a polar bear’s toenails. She didn’t come back that night, or the next, or the next… She was outdoors in single digit temperatures, completely MIA, for nearly two weeks. I kept looking for her, to no avail, and was convinced that she was a goner – no house cat could survive that Arctic blast. This past Friday, my wife saw a dead black cat on the busy street near our house – we feared the worst for Coco Bear. But on Saturday evening, she showed up – looking a bit gaunt but seemingly none the worse for wear.

If cat’s have nine lives, I think Coco is down to seven. Unless she managed to build a kitty shelter in the woods out of twigs and leaves, and capture her own food. If that’s the case, we should change her name to Coco Bear Grylls.

 

Rice, rice baby

Behold the mighty Black & Decker® Flavor Scenter Handy Steamer™

My wife and I got it eons ago, probably as a wedding gift (no Tiffany & Co. silver spoons for us!), so it’s easily more than 20 years old. We used it for a while back in the day, then it was relegated to the Shelf of Misfit Appliances in the basement, along with those other products that you don’t use often enough to justify granting them precious storage space in the kitchen (looking your way, Cocomotion™ and Jelly Belly Snow Cone Machine – we’re running hot and cold on you).

 

So there the Black & Decker® Flavor Scenter Handy Steamer™ sat, collecting dust, dryer lint and cat hairballs, until our son Peter went on his health kick. He hits the gym more often than he hits the books, and he eats the same lunch and dinner every day: baked chicken with brown rice, and baked salmon with brown rice, respectively. So we needed to step up our rice production in a major way. The Black & Decker® Flavor Scenter Handy Steamer™ to the rescue! It went from overlooked to overworked. It never left our kitchen counter, because we could barely keep up with Peter’s 16-year-old-weight-lifter consumption. As soon as we made one batch of brown rice, we needed to start on another. And heaven forbid if we forgot to make the rice, because then Peter would claim we were “stealing his gains” (i.e. messing up his meticulous weightlifting/eating regimen).

We also had to resort to buying brown rice in bulk:

This will last us about two weeks.

I’m sure the B&D® FSHS™ (we’re tight, so I call it by its nickname) was loving all the attention, and reveling in being needed once again after decades of neglect. It was having its Sally Field Oscars moment:

Then Christmas came… and Peter’s grandmother got him this:

A brand-spanking-new 16 cup rice cooker.

So sorry, B&D® FSHS™… hope you enjoyed your moment in the sun, but it’s back to the dark dungeon for you.

 

 

 

 

Happy trees, happy dad

My kids are on winter break and it’s easy for them to fall into the trap of staring at a screen for hours on end. But yesterday my daughter Leah foraged for art supplies in our basement, and wound up creating this:

Picasso had his Blue Period, and now Leah is following suit (mainly because we only had blue and white paints in the basement).

I should mention that she was staring at a screen during the creation of this masterpiece – she was watching a Bob Ross video.

Good old Bob and his happy trees and happy accidents.

Bob and his amazing hair left us in 1995, but he’s gotten a second wind of late. It’s not just the fun hairstyle and the soothing voice… it’s because he clearly loved what he did. And a lot of his art instructions were really life instructions. Here are a couple of Bob-isms to ponder:

  1. “I think there’s an artist hidden at the bottom of every single one of us.”
  2. “Talent is a pursued interest. Anything that you’re willing to practice, you can do.”

I’m thrilled that my daughter is watching those old shows. Her work may never end up in the Louvre, but her life has a better chance of being a masterpiece. Thanks Bob, for continuing to make the world a happy place.

 

 

On Dasher, on Dancer, on… Rover?

My wife’s uncle Neil, who passed away very suddenly this summer, was a great guy. He loved people and parties. He loved his job and the people with whom he worked. He loved promoting Mt. Adams, the hillside neighborhood and business district in Cincinnati where his company is based. He loved dogs. And he loved Christmas.

For 30+ years, Neil dressed up as Santa and visited family members and friends on Christmas Eve.

Today, all those things that Neil loved will be on full display. In Mt. Adams, the 28th annual Reindog Parade will be held. Thanks to Neil’s company, Towne Properties, the event has been renamed in his honor.

You’d better believe that we’re throwing some antlers on our pooches and participating.

And I believe that Neil is upstairs grinning from ear to ear.

Welcome to adulthood. Be careful!

Our oldest kid, Gabriel, isn’t a kid anymore. He turns 18 today. It’s a Monday. It’s a school day. He has to work at the pizza parlor tonight. Yep, sounds like most adult birthdays – booorrrrrrinnnng!

Now that he’s officially an adult in the eyes of the law, there are a lot of risky things he can do, like bungee jumping or skydiving or buying lottery tickets. (Actually, that last one isn’t risky at all – the house always wins.)

He can buy cigarettes but I hope and pray he never does.

He can get a tattoo but I hope he realizes that everyone has a tattoo these days, and the rebellious thing to do is to NOT get one.

He can buy fireworks and go to jail… somehow those two are related in my head, in an if/then sort of way. If you are stupid enough to buy fireworks, you are probably going to wind up in jail.

He can vote, and I hope he does… can we fast-forward to 2020 please?

But most importantly of all, he can get his own credit card… but I don’t see that happening anytime soon, not when his old man’s credit card works just fine at the gas pump and fast food restaurants.

And here’s his song of the day, a dedication to his parents: