Who Will Fill The Empty Seats At Your Table?

Some people write about the best recipes for cooking a cat not because it makes for good linkbait but because they are lost in memories of the place where they found and lost their innocence and confidences.

When they think about the ghost you cannot see they wonder what happens when the house you grew up in, the one that has been the rock and the anchor of your family for five decades is prepared to be sold someone outside of the family.


Ma and Pa Steiner met with a realtor and are actively pursuing this move to sell my their house and I feel a bit like I got punched in the gut.

It is uncomfortable for a host of reasons not the least of which is I feel a bit foolish for being upset by this. It is four walls and a roof, nothing more than drywall and paint.

Ask my children and they’ll tell you I have told them many times that the people you are with make a house into a home.

People are what power moments and help us turn the ordinary into the extraordinary but no matter how many times I say these words in silence I am still unsettled by it.

It is four years since my last grandparent moved on to whatever comes next. There is An Empty Place At The Table that will never be filled in the same way because they are gone and all I have are the moments that we shared.

The baton has been passed and all of the generations have moved to the next step. It is part of the proverbial cycle of life and perfectly natural but it still feels a bit strange to me to realize that I am not the kid anymore.

I remember my grandparents telling me stories about their grandparents but I don’t think I really understood or appreciated what it was they were sharing.

I do now, but I didn’t then.

You can’t screw an old head on young shoulders.

Who Will Fill The Empty Seats At Your Table?

When I was born all of my grandparents had sold their homes and moved into apartments so I haven’t any memories from grandpa or grandma’s ‘house.’

It is different for my children. Don’t know that it is better or worse, just different.

They are no happier than I am about the coming sale and keep trying to come up with ways for me to or my siblings to buy the house.

But even though I am torn about the move I am grateful for all of the good memories that are tied up in it. Grateful for the gift of gratitude and eager to continue trying to help my children understand this is not something to be insouciant about.

We have more than many and that is invaluable.

My children don’t ask who will fill the empty seats at the table because their primary memories of family meals are punctuated by two sets of grandparents and a smattering of great-grandparents.

Sometimes it makes me sad they didn’t get to know them better, but then again they got to know some of them and that is more than many.

And now for a musical interlude:

All My Life Is a Circle

Midnight approaches on a week night and I am back at the computer pointing-and-clicking my way through cyberspace.

Got a pair of Bose headphones that I purchased because they were supposed to provide great sound and noise reduction but I am not convinced they are as good as advertised.

Thinking about the house and all of the work that is required to get it into shape to move.

The last time Ma & Pa moved was when they were twenty-somethings who hadn’t finished having children.

I tell them they need to give themselves more time to work on this because when you are in your seventies you can’t expect to have the same energy as when you were younger.

They tell me not to worry and mom says “I had four kids by 30 and I didn’t have a nanny. You have no idea how much energy you had. My friends used to look at you and ask if you ever stopped moving.”

I smile at mom and keep silent. There is no reason to belabor the point, they know how old they are and they know this will be harder than they think.

And then a fragment from the past floats to the surface and I hear my parents talking to each other about how much work is involved in moving my grandparents.

That must be around 20 years or so ago and now instead of them worrying about my grandparents I am worrying about my kids grandparents.

Where I Became A Writer/The Problem With Bloggers

It is Spring of ’74 and mom is pregnant with my baby sisters. She tells me there are two babies inside her and says I can help come up with names.

I tell her I don’t want any help from my middle sister because I am a big boy who can come up with good names. She tells me that I need to be a good big brother to my sister and to the babies, even if they aren’t the little brothers I want.

“Go tell your sister a story.”

It is not an uncommon request and it wasn’t unusual for me to do so.

In many ways my house is where I first became a writer and a person who loved to tell stories. But back then I never second guessed myself or worried about whether my tales were good enough to be told.

I shared them with whomever would listen and moved on.

There was no concern about whether it was good enough to get some recognition. No concern about whether it was good enough to promote or conversation about how to get hooked up with more deals.

It was just my stories and I.

Sometimes I need to remind myself about those days. You don’t become a better writer by promoting your work to everyone who will read or listen.

You become a better writer by writing.

I am going to miss my house.

Altered Realities

The moments between the time I am full awake and still asleep are magical. There is a kaleidoscope of images and sounds that sometimes stay with me and I often find myself straining to remember just what it was that I saw. Some dreams are rooted in fantasies that could never be realized during daylight. I cannot fly nor can I run faster than a car. I don’t have super strength nor am I a wizard who can shoot lightning from my fingertips. Funny sometimes to think that even in my forties I still have these dreams of being a jedi or some kind of superhero.

My dreams aren’t limited to fantasy or things that are impossible. There are others that demonstrate that my extremely active imagination works over time. You have been in many of them. You know many of those stories just as I know yours. Been a long time since we shared those and I think that for now I’ll leave you with nothing other than the last one included Target, Grapevines, and Glade. Oh and lots of sweat leading to the sort of joyous smile you ought to wear all the time.

Back to the realities of daylight. It is a bit after 10 AM and I just finished stretching. Stretching because the forty something year old body refuses to accept that the mind it is attached to wants it to respond like it did at 19. It is not as elastic or forgiving of hard work as it used to be. There are aches and pains that come from extended use and certain positions result in a pulling sensation that suggests it would be better not to continue. It has become apparent that I cannot stop time.

I can’t stop the clock from ticking but I can slow it down. It is frustrating but reality is what it is. I teach my children to fight battles that they can win. I teach them to adapt, adjust and overcome. It would be hypocritical of me to act differently so I am working on that. Working on teaching the old dog new tricks.

The most important part of this is adjusting my diet. Really my search and destroy attitude towards food simply has to go away. I can’t put in the hours of exercise that I used to so I have to adjust my caloric intake. What worked for me in my twenties isn’t working now.  I know, I haven’t been close to twenty in years. If you tell me that I am closer to fifty than I am to twenty I will slap you silly. I know exactly how old I am and why my body isn’t doing what I want it to. I also know that I can still run with the twenty somethings on the basketball court….once.

But once is better than none so I can live with that. Besides I have learned that these boys are as dumb as I was when I was there age. All I need to do is tell them that they can’t keep up with an old fat man and their egos kick in. I might not be able to run all day long, but I can one in spurts. Not to mention that I haven’t lost any strength. My body still responds to the weights so all is not lost.

Changes in life don’t have to be bad. It is all a matter of perspective and adjusting to whatever comes along. Still, it doesn’t mean that I have to enjoy these mystery aches. WTF is that about.

Aging Gracefully- Pre Yom Kippur Thoughts

If you are one of the 17 long time readers you know that I have related more than once my love for basketball and how I am struggling to gracefully accommodate some of the changes that this 40 year-old body demand from me. New aches and pains introduce themselves with more consistency than I care to acknowledge.

Little nicks, scrapes and  bruises seem to accumulate with greater frequency and regularity than ever before. What I find especially unfair is that they used to heal instantly and now they hang out as if they are old friends. Not cool I say, uninvited and unwelcome guests I’d kick their asses right to the curb without a second thought.

But such power is refused to me. I can’t stop the clock. I can’t prevent that infernal tick tock noise from continuing. Sometimes I feel like there is an internal clock inside my skull whose ticking I can always hear.

It reminds me of conversations with my paternal grandfather, may he rest in peace. Later today I’ll go to the cemetery and visit him. I’ll sit there and think about all of the good times we had and how many questions I have for him now.

Three years later and I have more questions for him than I ever did. Three years later and I just miss him.

I remember visiting him in the hospital and asking him how he felt. He smiled and told me that he wasn’t ready to die. I said that was good and then he told me that he’d fight for every breath. I laughed and said that it wasn’t that serious and he told me that he knew that, but that is what we do. We fight to keep going on as long as we can.

It was said partially in jest, but there was truth in it. He was a scrapper and street wise. He may not have had a college degree but he was very well read and informed. He always knew what was going on and could speak intelligently on a variety of topics.

Sometimes I feel badly that my children never knew him as I did. It seems a bit unfair that they didn’t get to benefit from his wisdom and counsel as I did. He wasn’t just my grandfather but a trusted friend and confidant. Right until the very end he was someone I could rely upon.

It is fair to say that he and I are/were very similar in many ways.

Anyway, some times when I am out there running with the young bucks and I am having trouble keeping up I can hear him talking to me. Sometimes I can feel him running along side encouraging me to use my head and I remember that the best way to beat the twenty somethings is to use my head.

So I start talking to them. I look for little things that distract them. Sometimes I’ll complain about my age and whine about being tired or my back hurting. Other times I’ll go after that frail male ego and tease them about not being able to beat an old guy off the dribble.

It doesn’t always work, but there are plenty of times when it does. I play possum a lot. I conserve my strength and use in short bursts. I don’t have the endurance to go hard the entire time, but there are brief moments where the turbo kicks in. I love surprising those kids. I love it when they ask me where it came from and wonder how the old guys won.

That is one of those life lessons that I give my grandfather credit for. The crafty old veteran who would taught me to play fair but to recognize when I was being hustled. You didn’t fight unless you had to, but if you did you hit harder, faster and longer than the other guy. They went down because we keep fighting.

Part of the significance of Yom Kippur for me is taking time to think about my life, what it is now, what it was and what I hope it will be. Part of it is taking time to remember who helped me get to this place. Part of it is asking if I like the man I am now.

Resilience. Determination. Persistence. They are all part of the many lessons that I learned from my grandfather. The one that resonates the most right with me at this moment is remembering that I have all of the tools and resources that I need to be the man I want to be and to live the life I want to live.

The only question is will I use them.

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My Fountain of Youth

In one of our ten thousand discussions the Shmata Queen and I spoke about the beauty of aging. We compared notes about the benefits of aging, the sudden appearance of aches and pains and a dozen other new developments.

That wacky woman made the usual crack about how men don’t appreciate what pregnancy and childbirth do to woman’s body and how in some ways we have it easier. Of course she also expressed how she would do it over again a million times, but that is a different story.

Anyway as has become apparent to anyone who reads this blog I am wrestling with aging gracefully. It is a bigger struggle than I like to admit, but that is because I am feeling less than satisfied with a number of things. Some of them are things that I have control over and some I can’t do a damn thing about.

So as to avoid being a complete hypocrite I am working on changing the things that I have control over. In particular I am less than pleased with my fitness. If you look at this picture of me at 20 you will see a man with a full head of hair and a rock solid body. That physique was the result of hours of swimming, weight lifting and general exercise.

In other words it took a lot of hard work to reach that point. (Side note, I didn’t put the picture up and I am not going to.) In truth it took years to get there. I wasn’t ever heavy as a kid. I played a ton of sports and more often than not spent hours outside.

I mention that because when I get frustrated that I can’t fit into the jeans I wore in college I need to remember a few things. Twenty years later I don’t exercise like I used to. In part that is because I simply cannot. I don’t have the time. Life and the responsibilities of father/husband won’t allow me to spend the same amount of time on myself.

Add the joy of a metabolism that doesn’t work as well as it used to and you have your recipe for looking less like Charles Atlas and more like the Michelin Man.

But because I am determined to change this I have committed to finding more time to exercise and to becoming smarter about how I do it. I have to be better than I was, at least in the sense of making the most of my time.

I also have to contend with some of the changes that the years have brought down upon me. One of the things that I have done is I have begun foam roller exercises. I haven’t been doing them for very long but am exceptionally pleased with the results. Slowly but surely I am working out kinks that just didn’t disappear. If things continue to progress like this I expect that I am going to find that my progress into improved health accelerates.

And that my friends is a goal worth working for. Exercise is going to serve as my fountain of youth. It is going to be the mechanism for insuring that I remain young both in body and mind.

Stay tuned to this bat channel and I will be sure to keep you posted on how things develop. In the future I’ll share more about the weight lifting and whether I resume swimming. I am also playing around with getting into the Russian Kettlebells. I have heard good things about it.

I’ll keep you posted.