People of the woods, and their little dog too.

So this little turn of events I can blame on myself and afternoon of bloody marys.  Typical.

We’re harboring Germans in our basement, and their little dog Mickie, too.  I guess I should say hosting, or housing, but the words harboring and Germans in the same sentence seems more fitting and slightly more ironic/comical. 

We met said Germans at Kerksi’s bar at the bottom of the hill.  Their knowledge of English was helpful, because sometimes charades and pictionary get really old as a form of communication, especially since I’m not good at either.  And they were forest dwellers, living in a log cabin at the top of the hill that overlooks the whole town.  Each day, they could be found walking up and down the hill, with their little dog Mickie by their side, traveling to wherever they need to go, sometimes walking an hour or two in each direction.  I went to their log cabin one night after too many shots of Rammazoti and one glass boot.  It was what you’d expect from a German log house, set back in the woods.  The rooms were small and the house is heated by only the fireplace.  American music bellowed from their stereo, mostly classic rock, which they love.  Family pictures hung from their walls and my favorite part of the whole house–the spicket for the shower is outside.  Spicket.  Outside.  Yes.   How fantastic is that?  I found real people of the woods.  I felt like I had just uncovered some magical treasure, because who knows people like this?                                              

And so S and M.  S and M as in their initials, not the other S&M, which if we wanted to talk about that, we’d have to discuss the neighbors to my left, who run an underground weekend sex club in the back shed of their house.  They act like I can’t see what’s going on around 11pm from my window.  But ehhhhh, that’s another story for another time.  Back to S and M, our basement dwellers.  S is a small, mousy-ish woman, with a tiny, squeaky voice and a luxurious little mullet.  M is from our area, but he seems more Eastern European, with his shaved head and rough around the edges look.  He works at a factory nearby and does local carpentry or side jobs for people of our town.  It’s clear they’ve both been around the block and have their own stories to tell and I like the mystery in it all.

So anyway, we’re lounging around the house one Saturday, sipping on bloodies and rocking the sweats when the doorbell rings.  Sure enough, it’s our friendly wood dwelling neighbors, stopping by to say Happy New Year on their walk down to the pub.  We invited them in for a drink and they started to tell us about how recently their water line froze and broke, or whatever happens when your pipes ruin in the winter.  What happens now, I asked.  We walk to get water, they say.  To where?  Oh, about 5km each way, to S’s sister’s house, to shower and to do laundry–but the 5km is through the woods.  (which is really amazing to me) What do you do , I asked, when you want water to drink or cook with?  Or for the bathroom?  We walk down the hill to Kerksi’s bar and fill up jugs of water and then walk back up the hill. 

Get the hell out of here.  It’s could be a show or a book, like the Swiss Family Robinson, but I guess here it’d be Ze Deutch Familie Schmidt.  Anyway…

And so then the bloodies kicked in and I had an idea.  They had never seen our house.  They didn’t even know we had a spare in-law apartment that was empty in our basement.  And so when I asked what they were going to do, and they told me about how no one in town would rent them a room or apartment for the rest of the winter, I knew what had to be done.  So I showed them around, negotiated a monthly price, and offered our basement apartment to them “until the snow melts.”  In retrospect, that was a horrible little timeline to toss out there.  I mean what if the fucking snow doesn’t melt til May? 

But there it is.  The basement dweller situation.  And it’s fine, so far.  No issues.  Not even the one my mother suggested one day:  “What if they kill you in your sleep?”  Normally I’d tell her to stop with the crazy, but I could only assure her.  “Mom, I’m 85% sure they won’t do that.”

85% is a good enough trade-off for good German karma these days.  Good German karma comes with a price.

Winter, the ugly sister of seasons.

Typically I don’t spend much time thinking positive thoughts about winter.  I’m usually too busy avoiding slush, shoveling, or generally freezing my butt off to think positive thoughts about ice and piles of snow and my least favorite season of the year.  I’m from Maine.  I know all about snow and blizzards and winter sports and going to school in a foot of snow because that’s just a dusting.  I know snow and I only like it the first three times it hits the ground. 

The first three snowfalls are pure and beautiful and magical and each little flake sparkles and dances in the wind until the moment it hits the ground, either to melt or collect. The rest of the winter?  Eh, the snow continues to fall just like it did the first time, but it’s dirtier and not as magical  and it’s wet and downright cold and the only time it’s fun is when you’re watching it from your couch. 

But then again, maybe I’ve just forgotten what it’s like to be a kid during wintertime.  I’ve forgotten what it’s like to watch the snow fall at 11 o’clock at night, in the dark, out the window, willing it to fall more, hard and heavy, all night long, so that I could stay home the next day.  The excitement you’d feel in waking up every morning, like it was Christmas in January, the excitement to race to the nearest window or turn on Channel 6 news and see SAD 35 run down the list on the screen.   It has been too long since I’ve gone sledding, fast and careless, down the biggest hill in town.  It’s been too long since I’ve played pond hockey, on a pond found deep the woods.  It’s been too long since I snow plowed (fell repeatedly) down a mountain and called it skiing.   It’s been a long time since I put on snowpants and spent the day outside, all day, wet through the endless layers and freezing cheeks and snow angel making until my lower half went numb or building snow forts with maximum security gates and mazes of endless tunnels and rooms for snowball fight plotting.  

Maybe it’s been too long. 

It’s the Winter Olympics in Vancouver that got me thinking about winter as a kid again.  It’s the winter olympics that gets every kid crazy about winter, whether you live in California and have never made a snowball, or you’re in New England, chin deep in snow and worn out from climbing that hill one last time.  And so I thought to myself, what do the winter olympics mean to me?  And here’s a little of what I came up with.

Frost bite . Hot chocolate.  Lodges. Accents.  Bright and vivid track suits.  Chateaus. Sparkling snowflakes and sub-zero temperatures. Lycra. Lots of it.  Flags of red, white, blue, purple, green, orange, brown, black.  Faces, friends of every color and nation of the world.  Swooshing, cutting, slashing, racing, sweating, shooting, triple sow-cowing, jumping, scoring, encouraging, willing, praying, defeating, history re-writing.  Cheering, embracing, high-fiving. Fireworks. Hope. Medals. Dreams.  Values.  Tradition. Music that seeps into your blood and makes your heart want to explode with pride, as you hear your national anthem pulsate, ringing in the ears of people around the world. 

These are the very essential parts that make the Olympics.

In growing up in New England, the Winter Olympics doesn’t just occur every four years.  As a kid from Maine, the Winter Olympics occurs every year, from the moment the frost hits around Halloween, the anticipation building as Thanksgiving approaches and with the first snowflake that hits the ground, shovels and skates, sleds and mittens that have been patiently waiting by the door wait no more.  With the first snowfall of the year, every child from Rhode Island to Canada is sure: The Winter games have begun.

The Winter Olympics, whether the real deal or made-up version in a small town in New England, is never about being the best in the world, or the neighborhood, it’s about the opportunity for every person in the world to just be there.  It’s about the family you bring with you, making extended family in places you’ve never dreamt of visiting, and
traditions that are celebrated and passed on for hundreds of years, country to country, teammate to teammate, friend to friend.  It’s about being proud of where you come from, and having the opportunity to teach the world about your people, and make those people, your countrymen, proud that you were there to represent a land you love called home.

I’m looking forward to the Olympics this year.

Generic resolutions and January self improvement…

Ah, resolutions…the time to create the new you.

I feel like bringing in the New Year is just another marketing tool for diet companies and gyms and nothing more.  If anything, it’s a ploy to make you feel worthless, as though you have let yourself down yet another year, and hey, champ, let’s try harder this year.   Another year, another chance at making yourself a better person…right?  If not a daily quest, fuck it, make a go of it once a year and the world is better off, no?  I think it’s a bunch of bullshit, but I’m always in a frenzy, trying to come up with a great, new resolution that’ll save the soul….ah, another lost cause. 

Let’s go over the typical resolutions and my thoughts on them:

1. The “To be a better person” resolution:  What the hell does this mean?  Jesus.  Could there be any more generic of a resolution?  Unless you’re a pedophile, a prostitute, serial killer, Yankees fan or Bible pusher, I think we can all do better.  This is so unoriginal. 

2.  To lose X pounds.  Look, I’ve fallen prey to this very sneaky resolution.  But let’s be honest.  It’s January.  You just pigged the shit out of the holidays and you napped more than babies do in their first three months of life in two weeks.  (I do not know this baby, btw) You’re either fit or you’re husky and no amount of resolutions is really going to change that in the month of January.  Running and greens, running and greens.  That’s the rule, January or come July.  Don’t give Planet Fitness/Gold’s Gym/Balley’s or any other such evil establishment the satisfaction of selling another going to-be-used membership.  Fight the man, fight the gym.  Just stop swallowing lard.  Now that’s a resolution.

3.  To stop drinking.  It’s called AA and unless your resolution is to stop being a drunk, just slow down.  I’m an expert on this.  How about something more original like, stop blacking out in public and saying inappropriate things at work functions? Or stop getting drunk and flashing strangers or stop spending more money on liver failure than rent?  Those are at least slightly more honest.

4. Quit smoking.  Who cares?  You’re probably more likely to get hit by a bus or attacked by a homeless person or assaulted by a DC squirrel.  We all have limited time here.  Enjoy your vices and smoke ’em if you got ’em.  Errr.  Maybe that’s a whole other resolution.

5.  Stop procrastinating.  Good one.  And that is why I’m posting about resolutions on the 8th, not the 1st.  Procrastination just means you’re thoughtful and thorough and cautious.  Not lazy.   Feel free to use my definition if it fits.

6.  Spend more time with my children/parents/family/friends/cats/dog/lover/partner/whatever.   Fine.  And spend more on a therapist too and we’ll call it even. 

7.  Be more spontaneous.   I don’t understand this.  Are people living under rocks?  Is no one making an unpopular decision?  Cut your hair, wear lime green, try a new beer, get crazy.  I don’t understand people who are afraid of life in the first place.  I am afraid of strippers, snakes, clowns and little people.  Surprises in life?  Oooh, spooky.  

8.  Get out of debt.  Fine.  Ok, this is good.  Good for adults and good for people wanting to retire.  But this is boring.  This isn’t fun and if you’re actually trying to live life to the fullest, well, credit cards come in handy. 

9.   Get organized.  Jesus, just clean your house and throw away the pile of papers on your desk.  And there’s a new profession called “personal organizers”.  They’ll do it for you.  Pay them.   They need money for food and you need your life less chaotic.  Or, stop being a pack rat.  Stop being a knick-nack queen.  Dust.  Learn to recycle.  Contribute more to landfills.  Those are better resolutions, though not all popular, I’m sure.

10.  Help others more.  Ok, Mother Theresa in training, go for it.  But at least pick something you care about.  PETA and the homeless and anything Angelina endorses are all causes that from what I can tell are doing ok, or at least they have more manpower than some other causes.   Don’t be generic here.  You don’t have to spend a lot of money, and those that spend more that have less, I love you.  You are great.   But really, if you want to help someone, help someone in a practical and helpful way.  There was once a time when I felt the need to help the homeless, primarily because there was a bad ass homeless man that lived on my block that was great for car washing, security and random, useless street gossip.  When I asked him what he needed, he gave me this list: socks, sandwiches, a blanket and Jim Beam.  And that is what he got, with an emphasis on the Beam.  Look, if that’s what’s going to make his nights happier, than so be it. I’m no expert on being homeless.  I can’t judge and  I’m not going to save the world, but I sure as hell am going to help the cause of a homeless man that makes me smile. 

Now, what am I going to do, now that I’ve had weeks to think about it?  Nothing earth shattering. 
1. Read 50 books this year.  That’s one for every week…give or take a few.  Last year I read 37.  I think I can read 50. 

2.   Be able to communicate with my fellow Germans with ease.  I don’t have to be fluent and I don’t want that accent, really, but I’d love to be able to know what the hell they’re saying behind my back.  And I know they are.

3.  Hit a new continent.  I’m shooting for a little Asia and I have no idea where yet….

4.  And ideally, I’d like to win a photography contest.  I don’t even care if it’s third place at Deerfield state fair next October.  There’s no shortage of great shots over here and I take about 100 a week.  It’d be nice to see something hanging in a frame, with a ribbon on it.

And so a week late, but better late, than never.  Happy, happy January.