Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Christmas 2017

It's quiet this week in my office, so I have more time to think than at other times of year.  I'm sitting here typing with two burns on my fingers from grabbing a hot pot.

With that said, I'm not upset, but happy.  Even though they burned for hours after it happened, they were such a minor part of a lovely day that I shrug and say, "shit happens." 

Last Christmas was my first Christmas with my husband, David.  We both surprised each other with quite a few really nice gifts.  We probably spent more than we should have on each other, but neither of us will ever forget that first Christmas as a married couple.  After opening gifts, making waffles in our new waffle maker, and having a google chat with my family, we laid down to rest while poking around shuttefly to make a wedding album with our newly delivered wedding photos.  What we didn't realize is that we left a candle burning resulting in a fire.  Fortunately, no one was hurt and most of our things were saved.

This year, we planned a much smaller Christmas together.  We have a friend visiting us from Nigeria, so we picked up a few gifts for him to open.  We also bought each other a few nice things.  My mom and dad sent us quite a few big boxes along with gifts from other family.  We woke up at our own pace and laid a blanket on the floor to open gifts from each other next to our tree.  Our friend, James, joined us.  We each opened some fun gifts.  My favorite was the three foam dart guns from Santa.  A toy like this for three grown men brings quite a bit of laughter (and that laughter continued throughout the day).  Even when one of the tail fins came off the dart, it still flew with a big curve.

After we opened gifts, I made breakfast for everyone.  It's really fun for me to cook for folks that I love.  Some buttermilk biscuits, sausage, and cheese garlic scrambled eggs hit the spot and tided us over for most of the day.  I got to use some more of my new pampered chef knives and other products.  I love kitchen gadgets. 

David got a new men's jewelry valet, a watch case, and a cufflink case, so he tore apart our bedroom and reorganized his jewelry and his closet.  James and I watched folksy Christmas movies on netflix while I texted back and forth with my family and friends.  I got up after a while and started working on Christmas dinner.  We had some friends that had asked to join us, so I was a bit worried about having enough food.  I looked through my cupboards and decided to add a few dishes in case we didn't have enough main course.  I realized that if I have ever done a full holiday meal, it has been years.  I vaguely remember a Thanksgiving meal back when I was 25.  

I'm blessed to have my mom who talked me through some of my questions.  I cook a lot at home, but I don't think I've ever made some of my mom's usual holiday dishes.  The hard part about it is that she doesn't have a recipe for anything.  If you call and ask her about how much of an ingredient to add, her answer is always that "it depends."  I cook the same way all the time now, BUT, I usually start with a recipe and then alter it to my taste after I've tried it once.  Funny thing is that I have lots of cookbooks and printed recipes that are only basic guides for that dish.  Regardless, the food looked and smelled great.  It wasn't quite as good as mom's (it probably never could be).  Our friends got stuck on the train, so I couldn't keep everything warm.  I called mom and asked her what to do about the mashed potatoes.  She told me to put the entire kettle back in the oven for ten minutes. 

I did so and then pulled them out with my handy oven mitts.  They looked dry so I grabbed some milk to add to them (again thanks mom).  Forgetting that the kettle had been in the oven and knowing that the handles don't usually get warm when I use it on the stove top, I grabbed the handle with my bare hand.  Fortunately, I realized it before both hands hit the handles and quickly ran cold water over my fingers.  I grabbed an ice pack and guided David through fixing the potatoes.

We served a meal to our three friends, and opened some Christmas Crackers (leftover from our wedding) that always make us giggle.  We had some wine to drink and enjoyed the charming, witty, funny, and loving company of each other.  I had waves of contentment flood over me repeatedly all evening.  The burn was a minor set back in what was a reminder of the millions of things I have to be thankful for.  God has blessed me, blessed my marriage, and our friends this year.  In spite of the bad things going on in the world both in our own country, in Nigeria, and elsewhere, WE PERSISTED.  We are RESISTING.  We are SURVIVING.  We are LOVING, LIVING, and trying to help those around us do the same. 

As 2017 starts to wind down, I am grateful for the good and cognizant of the bad things that have happened.  I (with my love at my side) am ready to face 2018 with open arms and an open mind.  We will take all of blessings we can get, give as many as we can give, and have faith that we will have an even better year next year!

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Disgusting Colonizer

I'm traveling for a board meeting this weekend in Rochester, New York.  It's the first time I've had both enough time and enough inspiration to write a post in quite some time.

When I got here to Rochester, I checked out my house, posted some pictures, and I signed into Grindr.  Grind is a gay application on a smart phone.  A politically correct person might call it a gay dating app like Tinder.  Many gay men also use it for more than just dating.  As for me, David and I have met some fun people from there who have become friends and clients of our photography business.  It's also kind of fun to find out what gay men are in your area even if all you do is chat with them.

Our photo on Grindr

I signed in and left my phone on my bed while I showered to get ready for my lunch meeting.  I didn't message anyone, and frankly planned on just messaging the few guys I already knew as friends to just kill time for five to ten minutes before I had to leave.  My weekend was entirely too packed for anything else.

As I stepped out of the shower and began to dry off, I heard a notification that I had a message.  Being that this is not face to face, sometimes men can be really crass.  When I checked the message, it was from a handsome black man who was 24.

"Disgusting Colonizer."

That's all that the message said.  I don't know this man and have never met him.  It made me wonder why someone would have so much vitriol against another man/couple that he has never met.  My photo on grindr is a photo of me and David.  Our profile says that we are seeking clients who want photos and new friends.  I was a bit disgusted by it, but am coming to realize that the sentiment is one that I am hearing more and more often not just online, but in many gay social settings.  There is a great deal of animosity toward me because I married David.  Apparently, I somehow fooled him into loving me and because he is black, he is expected to marry another black man.  I don't know how your love life works, but I've never let any of my dates be constricted by race or economics.  I've dated men from many different races and so has David.  Our love has nothing to do with skin color and everything to do with how we make each other feel.  I message back, "May God Bless You," and then blocked the man.

Again this morning, I signed on again as I hopped into the shower.  There were a bunch of other messages from all kinds of men.  Some of them were friends, and some of them wanted to chat and find out more.  In a pleasant surprise, I connected online with one former friend who has since given up drinking and turned his life around.  On my next trip when David comes to visit, we are planning on grabbing coffee together.  Unfortunately, as I was sitting on my bed chatting with him and trying to politely reply to all of the other messages (some nice and some just asking for sex), I got another disturbing message....

"Can we just say GREENCARD marriage!?!"

Now I'm not unused to hearing things like this.  I do think that it is really odd that in less than 24 hours, I got two negative messages from handsome black men who I don't know and did not reach out to in any way shape or form that are disparaging me and my relationship with my husband.  I did respond to this man saying, "that's an incorrect assumption.  My husband happened to have an adjusted status before we were married."  David had a secure case for asylum when he arrived in the USA.  When we met, his asylum case was pending, but we were assured that he had a solid case.  Within months of our marriage, he was granted asylum.  He didn't need our marriage to stay here and still doesn't to get his permanent residence.  

Typical of a negative person, this man (I refuse to call him a gentleman) blocked me instead of engaging in conversation.  

What makes this even more surprising to me is that this happened in a place that I hold so dear, Rochester.  I have spent many happy years living and visiting in Rochester.  My work with the nonprofit sector has included quite a bit of social and racial justice work.  I'd be less surprised if this happened in Brooklyn, but I'm wrong.  As you can see in the image below, it does happen there too, but this message was so shocking, I saved it to show David.  Something has made at least a few black gay men hate white men in this wonderful city.

Another message with hate, but this time in response to the message "Hi" and this time in Brooklyn a few weeks ago. 

On Friday night, I spent four hours in a workshop on structural racism and what we can do as individuals and as a board to help move our nonprofit as well as other places where we have influence to be more racially inclusive by design.  This night of tough conversations was another opportunity for me to grow and learn.  Strange that it coincided with the same weekend of these negative racially motivated comments.  

I also tried to figure out what else could be going on.  I last lived in Rochester full time 8 years ago.  I've visited a lot since then, but haven't lived here.  Both of these men were 24 years old according to their profiles.  If they grew up here, then they were 16 when I moved away.  Has so much changed in our racial disparities in 8 years that this animosity has increased?  I might also wonder if the young people we are attracting here to work or study (maybe these gents were/are transplants) could also have their own race issues that they are bringing from elsewhere. 

My goal in life is to try whenever possible to be polite to people.  Sure, on Grindr I get messages that are sometimes a bit crass or vulgar.  Sometimes I see people and may make small judgements in my mind about them. I refuse to attack them with no provocation and make assumptions about them.  

LISTEN to me fellow gay men and women when I say that there are enough hateful people conspiring against us to make our lives difficult.  In the current political environment it seems to be getting even more precarious for us in our fight for equal rights.  If we cannot support each other with positive messages and energy, we become worse than the haters that are trying to suppress our rights.  

Love yourself first.  Try to love other people too.  If you think something hurtful that divides us, then keep it to yourself and don't attack strangers you know nothing about with your own racism and baggage.  

We are stronger together.  

Friday, June 23, 2017

My Superhero Husband Fights Homophobia in Coney Island

Last weekend, David and I decided to check out the annual Coney Island Mermaid Parade.  We hadn't been before and both had heard great things.

When we got up that Saturday morning, it was pouring rain.  David and I had not had a Saturday morning where we were able to sleep in and not go running to some appointment in months.  We listened to the rain and talked about our plans for the weekend and the coming weeks (also jam packed with parties, events, work, etc.).

As the downpour continued, we checked our weather app on our phones a few times.  It looked like the rain would stop just in time for the parade.  I was hesitant and thought maybe we should just stay home, but David insisted.

We grabbed some sandwiches and hopped on the F Train.  In less than 30 minutes, we got off the train into a sea of costumed people all standing in the station waiting for the rain to pass.  David grabbed our camera and started shooting right away.  We both have cameras and started our own photo company as a side gig.  David has been modeling and it helps for us to be able to light and take our own shots for his portfolio.  We have moved beyond beginner and are starting to get some paid gigs.

After getting photos of most of the people in the subway station, we decided to brave the rain and find a place to watch the parade.  As we jogged through the rain, we noticed a spot that had some openings.  David and I approached the group.  We saw a pack of photographers.  David asked me if he could go into the barricades and shoot with them.  I pointed out that they all had press passes and said he could try his luck.

David proudly marched in through the barricades with his camera around his neck.  I didn't find out until three hours later that one person kept telling the police officers David needed to leave because he didn't have a press pass.  All of the other photographers seemed to welcome him as a member of the unique pack of artists.  The other thing that happened surprised me.

It is important to understand that the Coney Island Mermaid Parade is a parade that celebrates art, uniqueness, culture, fluid sexuality, and people from all walks of life.  The people in the parade are of all genders, sexuality, colors, shapes, and sizes.  Over and over again, people in fabulous costumes would stop to get their photo taken by the group of photographers, and these photographers would utter quietly to each other that the person was a "homo" or "fag" and decide not to shoot them.  This was especially prevalent among the men that these photographers perceived as gay. If the subject was a woman, especially one who was scantily clad (there were quite a few of them who wore very little), it was fine.  They were happy to shoot some tits and ass.  David was surprised and a bit hurt by this.  When he told me, I was too.

So, what does my superhero husband do?  He goes above and beyond to photograph every person there.  David decides to spend extra time on the few men who these ignorant photographers thought were gay or gay looking.  David has no idea, just like me, whether someone is gay or not.  We frankly don't care.  We celebrate all people and their fabulousness.  Bring on the costumes, cover us in glitter, sashay all you want and we will say....yaaassss mama, you go girl, bring it dude, and whatever else we can to embrace you for who you are.

The only group we knew were gay included our friends.  We were ecstatic to see them there.  We are proud supporters of Gays Against Guns (GAG on that, will you).  I'm proud of David.  Although confronting the photographers would have resulted in his removal from the photographer section of the parade, at least he was able to show some love to people that the homophobic old fart photographers (who all happened to be male) were to insecure to photograph.

We can all do something to show our love for people different than us.  Even Jesus said:

"Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets."

If you want to look at all of the photos that David took of the Mermaid Parade, check out our the Shoen-Ukre photo share website: http://shoenukre.smugmug.com/MermaidParade2017

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

So which one of you is the husband and which one is the wife?

Last night, my husband David and I had the privilege to speak to a class on sex, ethnicity, race, and gender at the School of Public Health for the State University of New York at Downstate (SUNY Downstate).  We were invited by the professor of the class who is on the board of the organization where I work.

David and I were there to talk about our story and how we fell in love. The students were there to learn about gay relationships in a setting where they could ask questions without fear.  One of the questions we were asked, which we have been asked a lot by small kids, was:

I understand that you are married, so which one of you is the husband and which one of you is the wife? 

Now it's easy for a gay person to get offended by this question.  David later admitted that he was offended saying, "why would someone even ask that, don't they understand?"

As I looked at the class, I related that the same question had been asked by my four year old nephew who had been the ring bearer in our wedding.

My older brother and his wife were so shocked that he asked it and then tried to apologize and cover it up.  I raised my hand to stop them as I hugged my nephew Christopher and explained:

"Uncle Eric and Uncle David are both husbands.  We don't have to have a wife or a mommy in our relationship to be happy."  

As I relayed this story, I realized that there are probably many reasons why someone would ask this question (or think it but not dare ask it).  One of the biggest reasons is that we as gay people are fighting to not be assigned a gender and a role all of the time in our relationships.  

Society has said that a marriage must have a man and a woman, a husband and a wife, or one who is nurturing and one who is not.  In my own family, my dad works a job outside of the house and brings home the money while my mom does all of the cooking, cleaning, organizing, laundry, raised the kids, sewing, gardening, ironing, shopping, and other household chores.  

In glbtq organizations, we frequently ask people which pronoun they wish to use and how they want to identify.  

Unlike earlier times in my life, I was reminded that not everyone wants to fit on the traditional gender/role spectrum.  

I chose to respond in a way to hopefully help this student understand:

"David and I both identify as men.  We are both attracted to other men.  We are both husbands in our relationship.  Every relationship is different. In some, there may be a relationship where one of the couple identifies as the wife and the other as the husband.  Other relationships have a partners who identify as dominant and submissive, masculine and feminine, top and bottom, or male and female."  

"As gay people, we want to be seen as two people who love each other and are in a committed relationship.  We want you to stop assigning a role to us and let us love each other in a committed way regardless of the role we play in our relationship." 

"David and I consider ourselves masculine, but we sometimes can be feminine too.  We both cook, we both clean, we both care for each other, do the laundry iron, and even both are sexually versatile. That's us, but you can't apply who we are to all gay relationships."

That was just one of the interesting questions that we were asked, but it was the one that affected us the most.  It was clear that people in the class came from all walks of life and had many different levels of experience with gay people.  We were honored to be able to expose them to our life and to try to provide them with experiences that will make these students better health care professionals when they graduate so that they can work alongside us to make our community safer and healthier for all individuals regardless of race, gender, ethnicity, or sexual orientation.  

Saturday, June 10, 2017

A reset. Organizing and de-cluttering

Saving things for future use is in my blood.  I grew up on a small dairy farm in northern New York.  The barn and house were both built over one hundred years ago.  They both always had something that needed fixing.  My parents are/were very careful with money.  We tried to reuse things and save spare parts and extra cloth, rope, pipe, grease, etc for when it might come in handy.  Because of this, my amazing mother is a master at making an abundance of random things fit in small spaces, logically, in ways that you can find them, but also look attractive to the outside world.

I'd like to think I'm really good at this too.  I'm no where near the master sensei level that Momma Shoen is, but I try really hard.

Having grown up this way, and having this skill, also means that when my house/home/apartment/car is a cluttered mess of things, I go a little bit crazy.  I love my husband, who appreciates this art/skill, but has yet to master it.

I say this because during the past two months, our apartment has gotten out of hand.  Although David, my husband, has kept the floors swept, the rugs vacuumed, the shower, sinks and toilet scrubbed, and the kitchen in order, there are little things everywhere.  Surfaces were covered in books, papers, boxes, things we needed to put away, etc.

Yesterday, I had one glorious day to myself.  I needed to feel like my house was in shape again so I could focus on the rest of my life and getting that in order too.

I started by getting the laundry and dry cleaning dropped off to be done at the Chinese laundry on our block.  I then put up two separate shelves that we had been holding onto.  Then I took the things off of the floor and end tables and put them on the shelves.  I emptied three baskets and re-organized things in a way that made sense.

Next I tackled our bedroom.  Both of us have two bureaus.  The tops of the bureaus are gathering spots for mail we need to respond to, papers we need to file, our watches, wallets, sunglasses, receipts, cameras, headphones, chapsticks, photos, hair products, etc.  Twice this week, one of us had knocked a pile of things on the floor as we tried to get ready for work or find something.

To tackle this task, I put an old blanket on my bed and took everything off all four bureaus.  I then moved them, swept around them, wiped them down with a clorox wipe, and then began the organizing.  

At the end of the day, I had organized not only our living room, but also our bureaus in our bedroom, and the storage section of our car.  This made me feel so good.  Waking up today, I look at every part of apartment and smile.  There is still more than can be done (there always is), but just getting the things that were bothering me the most organized helps me focus on what else I can do.

My short directions for getting organized:
1.) Determine what you need and what you don't need (donate or throw out what out what you don't need).
2.) Make sure you have appropriate space for all you have (if you don't then you have to get rid of other stuff).  I find that having a basket, box, or container to put like items in helps them stay together.  I use twist ties, rubber bands, boxes with the lids cut off, mugs, hooks, etc. 
3.) Set out everything that you anticipate going into one certain area (a shelf, a bureau, a box, etc).  
4.) Put like things with like things.  Consolidate when possible (half used lotions can be poured together, etc.)
5.) Clean the space before you put things back.  You don't know when it will be empty again
6.) Decide what things are most important and should be most visible.  It helps to know which things you use most often.  
7.) Start with the big stuff and then put small stuff in.  
8.) Don't be afraid to be creative.  It's ok to stack things on top of each other and to store things under beds, tables, etc. Use hooks, magnets, string to tie things, and thumbtacks to place things on walls of cabinets or hang them from the top inside instead of just stacking things from the bottom and relying on that limited space.  
8.) Don't try to tackle all spaces at once.  It gets overwhelming. 

Monday, June 5, 2017

Worth every penny - A trip north

My parents have been extremely supportive of me for most of my life.  They don't always agree with my decisions, but they have proved over and over again that they love me.  The last time I saw them in person was at Thanksgiving until just two weeks ago.  Now that I'm in Brooklyn, it takes almost a full day to drive and see them.  There are no airports near by.  I decided, in spite of worrying about money right now, that I was going to see them on Memorial Day weekend.  Fortunately, my husband David agreed to join me.

It was worth every moment of the 6 hour trip up and the 9 hour trip back to see them.  I know they won't be around forever.  None of us will be here forever.  On our way up, David and I stopped halfway to surprise my older brother and his kids with a visit.  We are blessed that the kids love David and he is good with them.  He plays with them so I can catch up with my older brother.

David and I stayed at a cute little hotel in Potsdam, New York.  We met mom and dad at their favorite Mexican restaurant for dinner and were able to talk.  I wasn't ready to go to bed, so David and I followed them to the farm to chat some more.  Mom, David, and I talked until I couldn't keep my eyes open any more.  I then said I needed to go before we fell asleep.  As I left, I was reminded about how different the sounds of home are from the sounds of Brooklyn. There isn't much to see, but you can hear the wonderful noise.  

The next morning, David and I got up early and drove back out to the farm to cook breakfast and eat with mom.  She, of course, had been up for hours and already baked muffins.  It was so relaxing and rejuvenating to just sit on the bench in our country kitchen and chat while watching the birds at dad's bird feeder.  I needed that recharge after some stressful months at work.  Sometimes only a mom's love can do that.  

In the early afternoon, I finally brought David to meet my grandmother.  Although I came out to her in our Christmas card, she had yet to meet David.  She was even more welcoming than I anticipated. It was a pleasant surprise.  David was very quiet, as he normally is meeting someone for the first time.  Still, I'm happy to have crossed that bridge and don't have to hide him or me from her anymore. 

That night, we had dinner with Dad and Mom again and then breakfast the next morning with just mom.  David and I loaded up a cooler of home grown beef, co-op butter, home-made applesauce, home grown berries, and everything else my mom foisted on us.  It made for a lovely week of fun cooking when we got home.  

As I drove back to Brooklyn, David and I listed to the cast recording of Come From Away.  I realized that I have much in common with the Newfoundlander's (I am an islander) in the show.  We both come from places that are a bit rough around the edges and not as modern as other parts of the world. We love, we give, we work together, and we survive there.  I hope that Newfoundlanders feel the same way I do when they go home to Gander or the surrounding towns. 

Thanks, Mom and Dad, for helping me recharge and bring a bit of home back with me to Brooklyn. 

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Cry if I Want To

"It's ok to cry."

I sometimes have to say these words to myself out loud.

David, my amazing husband, just got home from the gym.  He walked through the door of our Brooklyn apartment singing along to his music.  David went to the gym this afternoon (yeah...I will get back to the gym soon, I know).  I was crying on the sofa.

"Don't cry, honey"

"I'm good, I swear."

"What's wrong?"

"It's just this television series I'm watching."

"Why do you watch things that make you cry?"

"David, sometimes I just need a good cry.  How will I ever truly experience the good and awesome things if I don't let myself experience the sad ones."

MOM - don't read the rest of this if you are reading my blog.


I'm watching this television series on Hulu that our friend, Jan, has recommended.  It's called "This is Us."  It really has hit a lot of my emotions.

Today, though, it touched all of my buttons.  Over the past few episodes, we have fallen in love with the sweet old grandpa who ends up being gay.  On this episode, we follow him to the end.  As he is about to die, he tells his son, "I am scared."

These words opened my flood gates today.  You see, those were the last words my sweet, loving, awesome grandmother said before she died.  It was two years ago, and she was on the phone with her son the day after Christmas and had a stroke.  I miss her.  I miss her a lot.  I was missing her every day.  Now I only miss her when I'm reminded of her.  My mom collected a bunch of little things from grandma's house when she passed.  She had an angel collection and a bell collection.  I have one of each in my living room.  She had dozens of salt and pepper shakers, and I have a pair of those.  In fact, my twin brother bought me a pair of new ones that remind me of her too.  Every time David and I cook a meal, we have her spoon rest on the stove, so that her love is in our food too.  At every party, we put out a green carnival glass dish full of nuts or candy that was in her house.  I want her at all of my parties.

You see, my grandmother was great at parties.  No matter how much people didn't like each other, had bad blood, didn't trust each other, were poor, or rich, clean, or dirty, smelly or sweet smelling, grandma wanted them all to get along at her parties.....AND WE DID.  For grandma, we would put away old grudges.  In fact, if grandma came to my parent's place, we put away our fighting, too, just to spend time in her loving company.

That's who I want to be.  I struggle sometimes.  I fight with my brother, or snap at my mom.  I decide not to invite someone over because they were rude to me at my last dinner party.

Thanks, grandma for being at all of my parties and reminding me to be loving.  Yeah, I'm going to cry a little today as I miss you.  I'm sorry you were scared at the end.  I hope you are in a better place now.

As I finish this, my husband just came back in from outside again....
"I don't like this thing you are doing."
"I know, David, thanks for loving me even when I cry."

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Cathartis - Come From Away

It was cathartic yesterday afternoon, to sit in a darkened theater with two dozen college friends and hundreds of strangers and cry.  We were there to fete an old friend.  Some of us went to Hartwick College with him, were fraternity brothers with him, performed with him over the years and had followed his career trajectory.  Others didn't know him or any of the performers on the stage, but instead came to see a show on Broadway.

What, I think, we all shared was a moment or a string of moments where we relived that painful day on September 11, 2001.  Come From Away is finishing previews on Broadway.

As I stepped into the theater, I was hoping for a good show.  I wasn't expecting much.  I read the reviews, looked at the news articles, and read the story that the show was based on.  I didn't think that the writers would be able to pull enough out of the story to put together a musical, let alone an entertaining one.  I was there to support my friend and see some other friends.

I'm pleased to say that the writers and performers proved me wrong.  I'm usually an emotional person.  I admit that freely.  I've seen quite a few broadway shows in the past two years.  I've enjoyed some of them (Kinky Boots and Lion King) while hating or sleeping through many others (Cats, On the Town, etc.).  This is the first time in my two years of living in Brooklyn where I've been glued to my seat.  I didn't want to miss a word or a note.  The tears started flowing as the second song began and kept on flowing through the end of the show almost 90 minutes later.  I even had to get up to use the bathroom (no intermission) and didn't want to miss anything.  I cried while I ran down the steps to the restroom and cried when i entered the theater again.

This isn't a sad show.  Don't get me wrong.  This show is beautiful.  The story line has been weaved into a magic tapestry of humanity and human goodness.  Our friend Tom summed it up best at the end of the show when he said, "We, each one of us, was remembering where we were, how we felt, and all of those crazy emotions on that day."  In this political climate with vitriol and hate, we are reminded that there are good people out there.  It's fitting that our neighbors to the north are highlighted so well in the musical.

Come from away is the story of 38 planes stranded in Gander, Newfoundland, Canada when the USA closed it's air space on September 11th and how the tiny villages welcomed the strangers from around the world with open arms and hearts.

The writers have peppered the show with kindness and humor.  They have also captured the emotions and feelings that so many of us went through when we found out that planes had been used as weapons in the Pentagon, NYC, and Pennsylvania.....feelings of confusion, fear, disgust, anger, anguish, and hurt.  The actors bring you almost to the point of sobbing before you hear some heartfelt jokes and uplifting music.

The people of Gander, and this truly inspiring show remind us of who we are and who we are called to be.  People from all races, cultures, genders, sexualities, and religions prayed together, ate together, and mourned together on that day around the world.  They supported each other with open arms, hearts, a warm place to sleep, and home-cooked food to eat.

I have been replaying scene after scene from the musical in my head over and over again since the matinee yesterday afternoon.  I'm inspired to try to be better, more loving, and more caring.  We all have the ability to be welcoming and loving.  Now let's show the world that's who we can be too.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Memories of a metal feed cart

Yesterday as I was walking through the hospital basement to the mail room to pick up a package, I noticed one the large carts that they use to transport things.  I was reminded of a childhood memory.

Growing up on a farm, you start doing chores as soon as you can safely help out.  When you are little, that typically means feeding the animals and staying away from their back end where you might get kicked.

As my twin brother and I got old enough to help out with heavier things, my father trusted us with more and more chores.

One of the things we had to do to feed the cows was to wheel around a large metal box cart of feed.  This particular feed was called silage and came from our silo.  Silage is fermented hay or corn.  The silage cart that my father owned at the time was very heavy and metal.  I looked online for images, but couldn't find any.  Picture a metal box on wheels that is approximately 4 feet tall, 5 feet long, and 3 feet wide.

My dad would fill this cart full of silage/feed to feed the cows.  Our job was to wheel it around and give a large forkful (pitchfork) full of feed to each cow.  We, of course, had to give our favorite cows a little extra.  The feed cart was so heavy that it took both of us to push it.  We would rock it to get it moving and then move it ahead a few feet before we took out some feed.  It was heavy when it was empty, but especially so when it was full.

To understand why this made me laugh, you have to understand the construction of small scale barns in the mid 1900s.  Today's barns are large open sheds where each cow gets their own feed area, but where farmers can use a large front end loader to scoop out the manure.  My parent's farm only had 30 or so cows.

Each cow had its own assigned spot in the barn.  Each cow was a registered pure bred cow.  They had name tags above their spots.  Sometimes a cow would go in the wrong spot, and you would have to move it back to it's rightful spot.  My dad would put cows who were trouble on the ends so they would only have a cow on one side to fight with.  Once in a while, a cow had to be moved to a new spot and you had to spend a few weeks guiding it there when you brought them in from pasture until the cow learned it (some cows never learned and you were forever trying to move them to the new spot).

The cows were lined up on both sides of the barn with a large alley in the middle.  At the top of their heads was a vacuum pipeline.  We would hook milking machines up to the pipeline to suck the milk from the cows and into a large tank in the milkhouse, a clean separate room in the barn where milk was stored and chilled until it could be picked up by the milk truck tanker.  Just behind the cows butts, was a gutter with a metal chain in it that had sticks on it.  When you cleaned the cows twice every day you would scrape their manure into this gutter.  At the end of the day, you would turn on the machine that made the chain move around the track in the gutter and pulled all the manure around the track and up into a manure spreader (we of course rarely used the word manure, preferring the more vulgar term that seemed much more fitting for something that smelled so bad - shit).

Half way down the barn there were two side passage ways to help you cross the barn.  The gutter had a large metal plate over it on each side.  This was so you could wheel wheelbarrows of food or carts across.  Well, as kids, we didn't have enough strength to wheel these slowly, so we had to get a running start.  Many times, we would end up knocking the entire feed cart into the gutter of shit because we were unable to steer it or because the angle knocked the gutter cover into the gutter catching the wheels of this heavy cart in shit too.

My father sometimes had a temper.  For some reason, I only remember him slightly mad at this and never super angry.  After all, we were doing our best to help feed the cows. It wasn't until much later in life that I could wheel that cart without help.  When we were kids, the cart was as tall as us.  We couldn't lift the cart out of the gutter or even lift the gutter cover (although some of it was that the gutter cover was covered in messy shit and we didn't want to touch it).  It was always a pain in the butt to get that cart across the gutters.

I'm grateful, though, that from an early age, my dad had us helping in the barn.  To this day, I don't like to sit still and always keep busy.  I'd like to think I work as hard as he does and did to make sure we had a good life, but I don't think that will ever be possible.  Dad worked and worked and worked to provide for us.  Most farmers did and do.  All I can do is try to live up to the example he sets.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

The Adventure of my First Married Christmas

A custom christmas ornament from my twin brother, John that says "Our 1st Married Christmas 2016"

During our wedding on July 30, 2016, David and I promised each other that we would seek out adventure and make sure that we didn't live dull lives.  We would thrive on new exciting experiences. We didn't realize that one of them would be on Christmas morning.

We decided to stay in NYC.  We both had a lot of work to do and we have been trying to be more frugal in our spending.  Christmas Eve, David worked (or so I thought) until almost 9:00 p.m.  What I didn't realize was that he was also getting the last of my Christmas gifts.  I'm the kind of shopper that has all of my shopping done a month in advance and has done most of it online.  He is a bit more last minute.

David came home and we got ready and went to Middle Collegiate Church for the service.  It was really beautiful and the perfect way to get us in the right mood.  Our friend Jeremy was there playing the organ and piano and had done some wonderful gospel arrangements.  After the service, we stopped into a pub to grab a drink.  Then we came home and crashed.

Christmas morning, I was up at my usual 7:00 a.m. and spent some time reading some books that I got for my birthday and waiting for David to wake up.  He had been working many late nights and I knew he needed some sleep.

When he first woke up, we decided to google video chat with my mom so we could open the gifts from her that we put under our tree. It was so much fun to chat with her.  Her video chat had not been working, but it worked Christmas morning.  We closed all of the shades to make sure that we didn't have a glare.  Mom got us matching pajamas (our first pair ever).  She got David some American flag cufflinks and me a pair of golden snitch ones.  She also got each of us some other clothes and things. David's big gift from her was a deep fryer.  She got me books on investing and other things I had asked for.  We spent more than an hour talking to her.

Then David and I sat down to open gifts from each other.  I got him a cashmere coat and a piece of art that he had admired as his two big gifts.

David also was cold a lot in the winter, so I found this onesie.  I think it was one of his favorite gifts.  He wore it every day for a week when he came home from work.  I think he's cute as a button in it.  

David really went above and beyond my expectations.  He got me the most beautiful watch, a nice backpack, a camera lens, and a comfortable and fashionable scarf.

We were feeling very blessed and enjoying each other.  We had tried on all of our clothes from our families and each other and started to put them away.  We opened up the waffle maker that my twin brother gave me for my birthday and made some waffles.  We lit the candles in all of our candle holders and put netflix on the fireplace channel.  It was really fun.  Our waffles were great.  Then we retreated to our bedroom to work on my laptop which was under the bed to putting together our wedding album.  The photos had arrived three days before and there was a coupon that we wanted to use.  We spent about an hour putting together the album when David smelled smoke.  We walked around the bedroom and couldn't find the source.  

When I opened the bedroom door, a plume of smoke invaded the bedroom.  I ran out into the living room and the entire coffee table was engulfed in flames.  I yelled at David to grab water.  He did and then I went to do the same.  At about that time, someone started banging on our door and buzzing our buzzer.  David managed to get the fire out, but the apartment was full of smoke and we couldn't see.  Neither of us had put pants back on after trying on our clothes.  I rummaged in the smoke and put on backwards the one pair of sweatpants with the broken string.  I managed to get to the door and open it, and there were a dozen neighbors there yelling at me.  One handed me a fire extinguisher.  I stood holding up my broken pants and just wanted to work on getting the smoke out.  One concerned neighbor kept yelling and asking if David was ok.  I said yes, but she wouldn't have it.  I yelled at him to find some pants and come show them he was ok.

We then rushed around opening windows and trying to air out the smoke with fans.  It was cold, but not unbearable.  

When we finally got some of the smoke to clear, we noticed that the one candle we forgot to extinguish was on our coffee table in a centerpiece that my mom had made us.  We were fortunate.  We only lost our three remotes, a candle lighter, and had minor damage to our carpet and coffee table.

Our wedding photo thumb drive, some DVDs, magazines, and other things were all on the same table, but were not ruined.  The ball of flames was only the center piece and the remotes burning.  All of our Christmas gifts including the big gift from each of us to each other were on the sofa next to the table.  We were not hurt.  No one was hurt.  We didn't lose much.  The smell, after much cleaning and airing out, and some febreeze dissipated after two weeks.  We got new remotes, and I sanded the spot in the coffee table.  It is now even more distressed and charming than before.

We now know that it is no joke to leave a candle unattended.  We never intended to do so, but are more diligent.  I also purchased a new smoke detector that is very good and doesn't go off every time I cook.  That had happened that morning and I had taken the battery out again.  Modern smoke detectors seem to be smarter.

I feel like we will continue to be blessed with adventures.  I'm hopeful that more of our adventures will be planned in advance (like my Christmas shopping), but all of them will result in blessings and not losses.

How to do customer service right....my move to online shopping

Since moving to Brooklyn, my online shopping has increased significantly.  I thought I did a lot of online shopping when I lived on adorable Goodyear Lake just outside Oneonta, New York.

                                   The View from my little cottage on the lake in Autumn.

Little did I know that the crowds in Brooklyn stores were outrageously long.  On top of that, the clerks and staff are very rude, the stores are disorganized messes, and the prices seem to be higher.

My friend Sandra posted on Facebook that she had fallen in love with a pair of shoes.  She jokingly said she wanted them for her Birthday.  She was kind enough to play cello at our wedding as a gift to us.  She is a very talented cellist.  The music was so beautiful that it brought tears to my eyes.  We've been wanting to send her a thank you that was better than the small gift card we gave her at the wedding.  This was the perfect opportunity.  I found the website and ordered her the cutest little peacock shoes.  Zebidah.com - I'd never heard of them.  I don't even know how Sandra found them. There was no option that I could find to send a card or gift wrap, so I emailed the general email.

Dearest Customer service people,

This is a special birthday gift for a friend.  I didn't see the option, but if you can, would you please put a note in that says Happy Birthday from Eric and David?  It can even be written on a scrap of paper.  

If not, I understand.  I just thought it was worth a try.  


Within a few minutes, I got an awesome reply. 

We got you.
Please see attached.

Is it good?
Thank you so much!Yash SareenCustomer Support

All I could do was smile.  Now that is a great response.  They got a real card and put it in the mailing without even charging me extra.  If I ever need to buy women's shoes again, I think I'll look here first.  They are top notch.  

Sandra got the shoes and loved them. This too made us smile. It was a fun way to surprise someone who has been so special to us.  

I didn't have to wait in line.  I had no rude people to deal with.  I found the perfect product, and I got to give some love along with it. 

Thank you to Yash for making this gift delivery extra special.