Thursday, June 16, 2016

Stepping safely into the future

The New: Safe and sturdy and good for years.
The problem started with a small crack and a little creak, but now the lovely Miss Wendy and I are finally stepping into the new century with new steps.

Here at Grebnief central, we've managed to make our way into headquarters for years despite a shaky set of front steps that came with our home when we bought it decades ago. As I recall, Reagan was sitting in the White House, Dale Murphy was playing for the Braves and Indiana Jones was becoming a household name when we first stumbled into our new castle in the early 1980s.

Since we were young and agile, the rocky steps -- I mean rocky as in the steps were literally made of rock -- presented no major obstacles and seemed of little import as we zipped through time. Fast forward a few decades, and getting from here to there has, at times, become a wobbly affair.

And so it was that a few months ago I began searching for a solution that would both enhance the curb appeal of Casa Grebnief while making it safer for folks of all ages to make it into our castle. I won't bore you with the details; suffice it to say that I touched base with a variety of folks who offered a variety of ideas.

The Old: Rocky and wobbly and falling apart.
The good news is my good friend Irwin provided me with the name of a contractor who managed to transform my squiggly ideas produced on my iPad into reality. That he was able to do the work at a fraction of the cost detailed by other companies was icing on my metaphorical cake.

Now the lovely Miss Wendy is happy which, of course, means I'm happy, too. Both of us can now bound up our new entrance with little fear of stumbling or worry that the steps will crumble underneath our feet.

I'm thinking we're good for another 30 years. Well, at least the steps will be good. At that point in the distant future, I'm pretty certain it will be Wendy and me doing the creaking and crumbling.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Grand welcome comes with tiny cut!

Rite of passage: Grandpa Steve, Avi share special moment!
A bris is a memorable tradition filled with much high ritual, the moment when a Jewish boy -- for those who believe in such rites -- becomes part of the ancient covenant given by God to Abraham and his descendants.

It's part of the bedrock of Judaism, one of the numerous mitzvot, or laws, that are at the heart of the religion. It also offers up a distinctive mark -- both literally and symbolically -- that helped create and sustain the Jewish people for thousands of years, a community filled with rich and robust traditions, rites, ideas and laws.

Baby Boy Levetan's bris was such a happening, a gathering of family and friends to welcome him into our lives and community with love and good cheer eight days following his birth. Oh, there was also a mohel, trained in the practice of brit milah, the "covenant of circumcision," to whack away his foreskin.

Ouch and welcome to the tribe!

Say ahhhh: Avi with his mom and dad, Lauren and Josh.
It's also the moment when a child receives their name, when what already is becomes even more, defined and enriched by a back story that adds weight and context to a precious being at the starting point of life.

For those with even a smattering of Hebrew, baby boy Levetan's name -- at least his Hebrew name, Avraham Yisrael -- was first heard uttered by the mohel, Rabbi Ariel Asa, as he went about his liturgical chores. But it was left to Lauren and Josh to announce and explain the proper name that now will be forever linked to their son and all he will become.

Avi Kenneth Levetan, a euphonic blend of old and new, ethnic and modern, is inextricably meshed with the ganze mispucha, the entire family. The Hebrew and English names honor and recall a great grandfather and grand uncle from Lauren's extended family and both Josh's paternal grandfather and, most poignantly, his maternal grandfather, Ken Stone, who died last year.

Their collective lives offer up a rich tapestry of being that stretches back to the Pale of Settlement, spanning half the globe and the last century or so; men who both embraced the ancient customs of their ancient religion and communities while striking out for the New World and all the wonders to be found in America.

We are family: Bailey (l-r), Pops, Lauren, Avi, Josh and Bubbe.
All they were, in a fashion, will now be carried into the next century, a bit of spiritual energy comfortably resting in the heart of a sweet little boy.

Avi, sucking away on a cloth dabbed in a bit of wine, rested comfortably following the bris as family and friends feasted on deli delicacies at a celebratory meal, Seurat mitzvah, that is yet another custom of a folk who are defined by such traditions.

So this is my hope, Avi, a little postscript from your Pops on the day after your bris.

If at some distant time you find yourself surfing whatever passes for the World Wide Web in the next century and stumble across this post, you should spend a few moments reflecting on all that happened on this special day in 2016. Then take a moment to understand that even when you were little more than a vibrant idea and bit of flesh you were already part of something huge and ancient and, most importantly, from the very beginning you were loved.

With that, I'll sign off for now with this wish, offering up a priestly blessing (sort of) while quoting that ancient Talmudic sage, Mr. Spock: Live long and prosper, Avi Kenneth, live long and prosper!

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Baby Boy Levetan makes his grand entrance

Only 2-hours old, Baby Boy Levetan ponders his future.
Life begins in an instant -- the blink of an eye, tick of a clock, a precious first breath. With a little push the darkness gives way to light and all that is and the potential for all that will be comes into focus.

So it was with Baby Boy Levetan, who joined our family and the world on Monday, April 25, at exactly 12:45 p.m.

It was a momentous day, of course, worth remembering even with all the static and noise and nonsense that jarringly speaks of a world gone slightly meshugga.

Johnny "Football" was indicted and John Kasich and Ted Cruz momentarily joined forces to best The Donald; President Obama announced that trade deals are good for the U.S. and every Republican on the planet agreed that he was wrong; the Hawks lost to the Celtics in OT in Game 4 of their playoff series and the Braves lost to the Mets in a season that was over before it really began; and Passover ebbed its way into day three, which means I remain five days away from a slice of pizza and big bowl of pasta!

Piffle, the mundane stuff of life; seconds ticking away while cosmic happenings wait gently on the horizon.

Josh, Lauren and the newest addition to their family.
Such are the musings I hold when writing this ode to Baby Boy Levetan, a gentle child just waiting to enter the arena, a baby that will one day carry memories of me and those of my generation into the 22nd Century -- Intimations of Imortality!

What wonders there will be out there, a time when technology will make this wondrous life we live today seem hopelessly simple and dark. The slight and tiny fingers that grasp my hand this moment might one day pound away at a super computer that easily changes the weather, or flips a switch that turns night to day.

I can only wonder at the sights and sounds that Baby Boy Levetan will experience in a life moving at the speed of light, a time of peace and plenty, I hope; a time when he, his sister Bailey and others can grasp and become all that they now hold only as potential within their tiny souls today.

Call such thoughts a prayer, if you like, the hopes of a dreamy Pops reading ephemeral tea leaves and pondering the future and the stuff of dreams!

Meanwhile, there's a bris a few days off, a bit of the ancient past filled with high ceremony and ritual that will carry us all into the future; a day when Baby Boy Levetan will be ushered into our Jewish community and, along with the rest of us, learn his name.

Stay tuned!

Thursday, April 14, 2016

I think that I shall never see a poem as lovely ...

Worker tops pine hanging over my house.
Don't look now, but there's a man hanging out in my backyard. He's found a way to get up in the world, a job that you couldn't pay me enough to ever think about doing.

The guy was part of a package deal, one of a half-dozen or so workers who spent the day taking down a half-dozen or so pines hanging dangerously over my house.

Once upon a time, I was thrilled by the shade and greenery offered up by the trees. But after 30 years of growth -- where did the time go? -- I find myself holding my breath whenever the wind starts blowing and the trees start swaying.

Which brings me back to the guy in the tree. He cut his way up, trimming off branches until he managed to top the last 10 feet. After swaying about a bit he proceeded to work his way down, cutting off huge blocks of the trunk until there was none.

And then he did it again and again and again and, well, yet again.

The good news is that now, when local meteorologists start hyperventilating whenever the sky grows dark and the wind starts howling, I feel relatively safe in my comfy little home. Let them rant on with all that high-tech gear they now have at hand, offering up dire warnings of what can be expected when a low front out of the northwest slams up against a ridge of high pressure speeding in from the southeast.

It's just a bit of sound and fury, signifying, well, nothing.

And now for the  bad news. There are still a dozen or so towering pines in my yard; a benign grove of nature's bounty when all is calm, a menacing presence when the skies and my mind grow cloudy.

Do I think kablooey or just say phooey to the whims of fate? Should I simply hunker down and hope Mother Nature and karma are with me when clouds blanket my little corner of the world?

BTW, did I mention all this inner sturm und drang began when a 90-foot-pine came crashing down a few months ago, falling deep in my backyard into my next door neighbor's yard. Oh, and a few weeks later a second tree -- another pine, just as big -- fell into a second neighbor's yard.

The good news -- and, yes, there is good news here -- no one was injured and there was minimal property damage.

Meanwhile, I am now wondering -- and here, finally, is the point of this blog -- since no one was around when the trees toppled, did they actually make a sound when they crashed to earth?

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Walking, talking and exploring the world

Bailey out and about and having a ball.
Bailey and I were making our way to my car recently, maneuvering our way through the garage packed with the stuff of life -- boxes of old clothes, and little used cooking utensils, tools, garden supplies and a flat screen TV that was fried during a recent storm.

As she wiggled her way between the car and a couple of dusty storage bins, Bailey muttered over her shoulder: This is a tight fit!"

She tossed out the words with a tiny exasperated sigh that had me chuckling for an instant. But I had to admit she was right. It was a tight fit! What I couldn't quite figure out, however, is when and where in her very short life had she managed to pick up the phrase "tight fit" and learn to use it correctly.

To put this all in context, consider: I took two years of Spanish in high school and two quarters of German in  college. I also lived in Germany for 15 months, working closely with locals on a NATO base that also employed a handful of officers from Italy, Belgium and France.

Given my years of study and living abroad, it might seem likely that I was trilingual, certainly bilinqual, right? Au contraire mom ami! Truth to tell, about the only phrases I recall from my scholarly and experiential efforts are the oh-so useful queries, "Habla Español?" and, that's right, "Sprechen sie Deutsch?"

I absolutely had no idea all those years ago -- and certainly not now -- how to say "This is a tight fit" in German or Spanish. So, exactly what sort of magic are Bailey and other toddlers using to learn how to talk?

Mom and Dad cuddling with Bailey.
Anyone whose spent time around a baby knows that one of the grand joys of life is watching an infant grow and mature. The talking begins with cooing around the second month and quickly morphs into babbling about four months later.

By the time a baby celebrates their first birthday there's a really good chance they're talking gibberish -- and that's a good thing! Over the next several months they start using a few familiar words -- mama, dada, Cookie Monster, string theory! Okay, the physics reference is stretching the point; but only a year or so later, about the time the infant is blowing out two candles on their birthday cake, they know 50 or so words and managing to correctly use two-word phrases.

And then they're off to the races.

Bailey is 30 months young now, a bundle of endless energy that comes gleefully wrapped with an infectious smile and a crown of curly hair. Like most toddlers her age she's hit that maddening stage of life -- the terrible twos -- when her wants are much more important than her needs.

The fascinating part of all of this is the language thing -- I'm convinced that it really is magic -- plus her boundless curiosity about all those things that we jaded adults take for granted.

Kodak moment: Bailey, Bubbe and Pops at Shabbat sing
That means that both Bailey and I -- her parents and Bubbe; her fraternal grandparents, Janice and Steve; preschool teachers and extended family and friends -- are occasionally frustrated as she explores the world and wants to know, well, everything.

Her favorite phrase right now is "What's that?" My answers as we venture about, include: A leaf, a cloud, the moon, a car, a sign, an ant, the mailman, a rock, a bigger rock, a chocolate sundae with whipped cream, nuts, sprinkles and a cherry on top!

The good news is our mutual frustration turns to joy and amazement most days when Bailey, with little fanfare, hands me a leaf and announces that it is, in fact, a leaf; that she lets me know when it's time to go home and tells me to put her in the "car", then points out the clouds that fill the sky and the moon resting on the darkening horizon.

Meanwhile, the wonder of watching Bailey become Bailey can be found in a little vignette that played out earlier this week. She was spending the night with Wendy and me and we had just finished up the initial steps of preparing for bed: Fresh diaper, into pjs, books selected and read, then read a second time.

We were methodically working our way through stage two of the process, making sure her dolls, blankets, "lovies" and pillows were all in her crib and properly placed when, unprompted and delightfully, she began quietly singing the "Shema"! Those of you still with me and not a member of the tribe, just accept my word that this is a Jewish thing akin to saying your prayers before going to sleep.

Bailey finished up the little nightly ritual, then hugged me and her Bubbe tightly before snuggling under her blankets and waving us out the door.

Another day older, another day wiser, another day filled with love. Bailey had a good day, too. Oh, it also turns out she's bilingual. Bailey chanted the Shema, after all, in Hebrew!

Friday, April 1, 2016

Pastry, politics and hoping the madness will stop

My mid-morning snack at Sugar Cakes in Marietta.
It being a lovely day in the neighborhood -- thanks and a tip of the hat to Mr. Rogers -- I made a snap decision to get out of the house earlier this week and head over to the Square in Marietta.

It was difficult pulling myself away from cable news and the latest happenings on the campaign trail. It seemed that, yet again, the talk was skirting policy issues -- the economy and jobs, healthcare, education and such -- in favor of a bizarre and misstated position on "the right to life" and nonsense on nukes; arrest warrants, hot wives and all manner of ways to steal delegates from the guy with the golden hair.

I eventually settled in at Sugar Cakes, a patisserie and bistro hidden away on a bustling side street just across from the Square and a squadron of youngsters and their moms enjoying the fresh air while ignoring a yellowish-green wave of seasonal pollen -- can you say ACHOO!

Sugar Cakes is a tiny restaurant with big ideas, featuring a gussied up menu for breakfast and lunch. Since it was too late for breakfast -- the sun was high overhead -- and, at least for me, way too early for lunch, I decided on a mid-morning snack.

The choices were lovely and luscious, heavy on caramelized fruits and glazes, whipped cream and sauces. It all looked good to me! But after a moments reflection and jarring thoughts of my ever expanding midsection and finger-wagging physician, I decided to stick with the basics: coffee and pastry.

Okay, truth to tell, the pastry was a hefty blend of sugary stuff, whirled and swirled and topped with peaches; a delicious treat that was probably filled with a ton of calories. It's the sort of thing I would have shared with the lovely Miss Wendy if the lovely Miss Wendy had been around.

But she wasn't and the pastry was! And this sense of guilt, I'm sure, will soon be a fading memory.

Now I'm back in front of the tube, listening to the latest political rhetoric and spin on the blather from the campaign trail, learning -- once more -- how best to make "America Great, Again!" by building a wall and threatening to nuke our enemies.

I'm thinking it might be time to revisit the Square and grab another hit of sugar or, just maybe, go ahead and bury my head in the sand until the madness stops!

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Let's face it, some people are just jerks!

Spewing exhaust for fun and entertainment.
You can file this under disturbing and disgusting.

Wendy and I were out and about the other day when we spotted a bicyclist hugging the side of the road as cars whizzed by.

A pickup truck pulled alongside the guy, slowed down for a moment before the driver hit his accelerator. A plume of noxious exhaust completely enveloped the cyclist as the trucker sped off down the road.

It was clear the bastard in the truck purposely slowed so he could play his little game, knowing exactly what would happen when he stepped on the gas. Turns our this bit of nonsense is so common it actually has a name: "Rolling Coal".

Sadly, this little vignette says volumes about the world we live in today. And so it goes ...