Sunday, September 30, 2012

Hashing Things Out -- a round about expression of gratitude


I ate Hash browns for supper, covered in fresh chunky home made salsa. (That sounds like a worthy Facebook update right there if ever there was one) Yet, I know there are those who would set me straight on this. In their great zeal and out of shepherding concern, yea for the sole purpose of saving me from the barbarosity of myself, they would point out the following; that when a potato has been desecrated by knife or chopper, and then fried into a moderately cohesive pancake, the resultant item is to be consumed at breakfast, which is the meal that coincides with the rising of the sun. Furthermore, they would point out that ketchup, not salsa, is the condiment of choice. To this, I say that they are truly missing out on a good and tasty experience, especially when the salsa is fresh! And while I might be able to persuade some of the less jaded of their number of this, they would invariably revert back to their mantra of, “But, hash browns are breakfast food!” While I will agree to disagree, I get it... or do I?

Riddle me this then, oh guardians of culinary etiquette. If the same staple tuber were to be desecrated and prepared in exactly the same (though somewhat coarser) manner, yet the remnant scraps remain separate and unconnected from each other when the time for eating has come, why then would they be deemed appropriate only for consumption at any time OTHER than breakfast? We would call these French Fries (or simply 'fries') on this side of the pond, whilst the British would staunchly declare them to be 'chips', but both parties would agree that these spuds are not breakfast fare. The only way to eat discrete pieces of fried potato for breakfast without risking accusatory glares or gasps of exasperation is to squish the shredded roots back together before frying, and call them tater tots. And yet, all the while we are talking about potatoes that were cut into strips, then fried before they met their uniformly ignominious demise. Hash browns vs. fries (chips) vs. tater tots... who decides when these things should be eaten? More importantly, who cares?!

For that matter, why is a potato cooked whole not appropriate for breakfast, while one that has been cubed, is? And don't even get me started on when they get pulverized beyond anything resembling their original form (mashed) or sliced thinly and baked (scalloped), for these too are reserved for evening, or at the very least, mid day... I used to think the thinly sliced ones were called 'scalped potatoes' because it looked like some sadistic Apache raiding party had had their way with them some time before they found their way to my plate. It's a good thing they had always been peeled, or as a young tot I might have been traumatized by those lifeless eyes staring up at me, pleading.

Decidedly NOT Mr. Potato Head
At this point, I will admit that I have hopelessly digressed. Suffice it to say that it felt fully appropriate to consume hash browns after dark. There are, in fact, several good reasons for this, and the earnest food police may kindly take their criticism elsewhere.

Most import among these reasons is that the supper was very kindly prepared for me by Charlie, who had, quite literally, been instrumental in the preparation of the salsa. He chopped and diced the onions, bell peppers, jalapenos, serranos, and who knows what else to make that good stuff a reality. And after hours of doing that, he also made sure we would not go hungry. Thus, the potatoes AND the salsa were both due in large part to his efforts.

For those of you who have not met our eldest, I can assure you that he fits in well with the rest of the siblings. That is to say, he looks decidedly less Caucasian than either my wife or I. Perhaps it is best to use his own words to describe himself. He once declared, “I am Asian-American, a real rice and potatoes kind of guy!!” Perhaps that goes far in explaining the hash browns. Either way, Thank you for supper, Charlie!

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Character

When we moved the family to the opposite corner of the country to start a new life, one of the changes for me was to work with folks on the opposite end of the life spectrum.  Instead of preschool to middle school aged children every day, I now spend my time with people who are decidedly more elderly.  Instead of trying to give individuals tools that they’ve never had, I endeavor to help them recover ones that they have lost, or, at the very least, make the best of what abilities they have left.  Although these things are loosely related in that they involve communication and the brain, there are stark contrasts in my personal daily experiences.  Specifically, this is a result of the clients themselves.

My world view is being inexorably altered as I encounter wisdom that can only be acquired through decades of trial and error.  More than ever, I can see the outgrowth of decisions made long ago, and the impact governing life principles had on those decisions as well as the patterns that persisted.  Put more simply, I see the sum result, that is the endgame of how people have chosen to live their lives. --And it can be very sobering.

On the one hand, there are married couples who have been married for 60 to 70 plus years, who take the latest challenges or inevitable realities in stride with something approaching gracefulness; who have children and grandchildren rallying around them in their time of need.  Even if one of these is now far from their prime and suffering from advancing dementia, I can see flickers of who they once were, bolstered by the manner with which their family members relate both to them and to each other.  If I ask these types of individuals how they cope with challenges, they meet the other’s gaze with a knowing look, then respond with something akin to, “Well, we just work it out.  There is always a way.”  With every situation, even when there is no longer a way, collective support abounds.

On the other hand, there have been many whose situations were far from the one described above.  The person is alone, either because he or she did not wish to be tied down by such encumberances as a family and thus never had one, or because an impassable rift formed and they were separated permanently. (I am not referring to those who have outlived their entire family)  In any event, no one visits, and no one (besides us) supports.  Often through the course of interaction with these folks, it does not take a herculean stretch to surmise why no one comes.  As they do their best to burn bridges even with you, you can begin to smell traces of a lifetime of burnt bridges trailing behind them; of many rivers crossed that can never be crossed again.  Every bad thing that has ever happened, including the current situation, is somebody else’s fault.  Sometimes, even though we have just met, it is even MY fault!  Recrimination and bitterness abound right up to the end, until the realization that the end has come and you are alone.  But by then, it is far too late.

Two extreme situations, to be sure.  And yet, I have seen both of these and many subtle shades in between.  Here is what am taking along with me from this:  The decisions we make, even the seemingly small ones, matter.  More importantly, how and why we make the decisions we do, matter.  What we believe, matters.  And how we treat other people throughout our lives, matters completely.  No one is likely to spend time looking over our shoulders to see if our words match our actions, but that is no basis for altering how we live, anyway.  In the end, there will be no fooling even a passive witness.

Live your life the way you would like to be remembered.

Senryu

To Communicate
Wellspring of my life. Ergo--
Writer's block
Senryu is a 3-line unrhymed Japanese poem.  Structurally similar to haiku, it focuses on human nature, usually in an ironic or satiric vein. In other words, it appears to have been designed specifically for me. What better way to interrupt nearly four years of silence?