Sunday, March 20, 2005

Farewell, Old Fart

The call came on Tuesday. My mother's voice, usually bubbling forth a cheery "hello", sounded hollow as she delivered the news that my grandfather had passed away. Since that time, my emotions have been on a twisting and hilly course similar to Cedar Point's Corkscrew roller coaster. The assurance that he was no longer suffering would be, in another moment, overwhelmed by deep sadness that one I loved so much was gone forever. I'm now back in Ohio...for the funeral, for the comfort of the family, to be with my somehow bid him farewell.

Gramps was a huge part of my life, always. He was always there, always strong, always quietly present. When my father walked out, my grandparents stepped in. We saw them weekly, sometimes more often. Together they made sure we knew we were loved, that we still had a strong family bond, that we were not really abandoned. How do I say goodbye to one so important, one so gentle, one so intensely and deeply caring?

He was always a strong man, both mentally as well as physically, strangely belying his slight stature and small build, as he topped out at about 125 at his heaviest. Yet he could do back-breaking work and endured many physical and emotional hardships as a child. Called the runt, he took the blame - and the beatings - for all the wrongs of his brothers and the whims of his father. And yet he took his father in and provided a home and hospitality and care for him when he became infirm.

My grandpa could fix anything, from a broken lamp to a skinned knee. When he purchased a small one-level home and needed more room as his family grew, he dug a basement below it and added a floor above it. He made us skateboards and mended fences and painted our house and helped others with their lawn-work. My grandpa could do anything!

Gramps was always a quiet, soft-spoken man with a heart as deep as the ocean. Anyone in need was cared for, along with my grandma's help. Together, throughout their 65 years of marriage, they helped the underdogs and the underpriviledged and the under-loved.

Though his name was Herman, he had many nicknames and monikers: Gramps, Stubborn Dutchman, Cracker. But the one that was most enduring - and which never failed to elicit his infamous grin - was Old Fart. He graciously accepted this name on his 80th birthday, and it labeled him since. He enjoyed that we enjoyed it; he liked having the inside joke with us, right up to his most recent 96th birthday.

The word that comes to mind as I think of him is "simple". He was a simple man with a simple faith. He had that child-like faith that Jesus asks us to have, and he lived it out daily in his actions as he loved his family, and saw - then met - the needs of others. I believe that when he entered heaven, the Lord ran to greet him and say, "Welcome Herman. You have been a good and faithful servant. You have served faithfully and joyfully and patiently. Enter in the joy of your Lord."

Gramps was a simple and humble and wonderful man who simply served God and loved his family intensely. And in the end, no greater thing can be said about a man's life than that.

Copyright 2005 Valerie Schneider

Sunday, March 13, 2005

A Taste of Il Bel Paese

Bryan was pleased to receive a bonus from work recently and decided to celebrate by taking me to Santa Fe for lunch at our favorite Italian restaurant in the area, Osteria d'Assisi. Our mouths watered ceaselessly during the hour-long drive to the City Different.

We arrived to the sight of a large tent in the parking lot next to the restaurant and another smaller one over the entrance courtyard. We worried. We hadn't called first to ensure that they were open. We had previous experiences with encountering locked doors here. They are, truly, Italian here; sometimes they are just closed...just because. We arrived for a Valentine's Day lunch last year (or the year before, I can't remember which), a Saturday, to find the doors bolted and no one around. Bryan had called and made reservations no less, but they had apparently decided not to open for lunch that day. The sign said "Open for lunch except Sunday". Okay. We proceeded to plan B and then decided we would have to call first on all subsequent visits. Another day they were open on a Sunday for lunch, despite never usually being so, and we had already eaten elsewhere. It's one of those quirks that we encounter frequently in Italy so we chalk it up to having a true, authentic experience.

So the white tent brought fear to our hearts as we realized that in our anticipation and haste, we had not called prior to our departure. Turned out that they were having a large party for the "Santa Fe elite" that evening; "We are very pleased," deadpanned one of the waiters. We were gratefully ushered into the dining room where we sat and enjoyed an unhurried pranzo. A glass of Barbera d'Asti, insalata mista, involtini di vitello, my favorite - a tender piece of veal stuffed with greens and served in a mushroom cream sauce, and Bryan's salsiccia e pepperoni on a thick slice of polenta all satisfied our tastebuds. The leisure and atmosphere satisfied - as much as it can in New Mexico - our longing for Italy. And the conversation with Nicola, our favorite waiter, allowed me to practice a little bit of Italian and feel the camraderie that Italians bestow. Even though Nicola isn't actually Italian, he's Greek. But he studied in Italy, lived in Miami, lives part of the year in Peru...well, that is one of those international experiences that we frequently encounter in America. He brought us a plate of tiramisu, gratis, along with our coffees.

We leaned back in our chairs and plotted our dreams and loved the fact that we were able to experience a long lunch just like in Italy. Unfortunately, we had the hour drive home instead of a siesta, but we escaped to our "Italian world" for a couple of hours, and came home full, as well as full of future dreams. Not bad for one afternoon's outing.

Friday, March 04, 2005

Toxic Tables and Open Spaces

My living room has a wide, gaping hole in it. Well, it's more like a vast void, the space in which previously rested my coffee table. This was a rustic-looking table hewn from pine with wrought iron drawer pulls, a tad on the large side but it had fit well with the southwestern decor of our home. Notice I say "was".

We had this table for several years. It had no finish on it; Bryan had contemplated putting one on, but the rustic character of it appealed to us. Unfortunately, the large surface area of it appealed to the cats and they used it as their play space, nap space, and took it upon themselves to add additional character by knocking over various liquid-filled glasses, spilling the contents all over, and using it as a hairball depository. (Lovely animals!) Over time, the rustic turned to more of a grungy look. We tried to clean it up, but to no avail. Bryan took it outside and sanded the top. It got rid of the grunge, but rendered the top, of course, a different and lighter color than the rest of the table. I didn't think it so bad, but he was unhappy with the result.

Off we went to the hardware store to find some kind of natural oil which might even out the tone. We came home with a Danish Oil, said to be a natural oil. It was applied liberally, to beautiful effect. Unfortunately within ten minutes of bringing the table back inside after several days' drying time, I got a headache and my throat began to hurt. Outside it went, and onto the internet I trolled to discover that danish oil, rather than being "natural" as we were led to believe, is instead highly toxic, containing such lovely and healthful ingredients as formaldehyde and asphultum. Wonderful! Bryan became indignant, partly because I became sick and partly because all his efforts were fruitless. Said coffee table now rests prettily in the garage.

Why such ingredients are even used is beyond my comprehension. In Prescriptions for a Healthy House, the authors cite a study that there are about 80,000 synthetic organic compounds (VOCs, volatile organic compounds) commercially available and thousands more are produced annual by the chemical industry. Most of these are petrochemicals, derived from oil, gas and coal (furthering dependence on the petroleum industry and increasing use of non-renewable resources). Environmental sensitivies are on the rise and it is no wonder when we are being exposed to these kinds of substances. Sick building syndrome is attributed to exposure to chemicals used in construction materials, cleaning products , adhesives and particle board-based furnishings. I am convinced that exposure to these kinds of chemical plays no small part in my chronic fatigue issues. (Or is it merely a coincidence that the onset of many of my symptoms began after moving into a new home?)

So my coffee table is relegated to life outside, and our living room has an empty space needing to be filled. All is not lost, though. Winston the cat loves the openness of the room. He can run unimpeded and likes to burrow himself under the area rug. And it's providing a nice space to do our morning stretches. I've been forced to get things more organized; no longer having the wide shelf to store the many coffee table books and photo albums, I've had to actually clean out and make better use of the closet in the guest bedroom. We've also learned that we need to be more diligent in our purchases; that all ingredients are not truthfully labeled, so we need to be more aware and conduct more research for ourselves. We need to be more environmentally conscious, for our own health, but also with the realization that if these products are unhealthy for us, they are ecologically toxic as well.

But I need to get the large table out of the garage, so if you know anyone who is in the market for a used slightly toxic table, let me know.

EPA Facts on Sick Building Syndrome

Ohio State University Fact Sheet on Sick Building Syndrome

Fact Sheet on Multiple Chemical Disorders