If you have been following this Blog for a while, you may remember from a very early Post that I planned to have someone pick me up off the Trail (and then drop me back) so I could be there.
Dad rented a house (more like a mansion, really) on a lake in New Hampshire. He invited us all up for the week. By "us all" I mean... ALL my siblings, their spouses and children. There was a core group of fifteen plus a few "Day Visitors" scattered throughout the week.
My initial reaction was that this could be a potential disaster. Don't get me wrong. I love my family. In fact, I get along with all of them on an individual basis. Mostly in small doses and spread out over time. Birthday parties, weddings, graduations, maybe a Fourth of July cookout... But 24/7 for a week?! Thinking about it made me chuckle and I agreed to go. This could be more entertaining than one of those "reality TV shows."
In my head I was calculating the odds on who would survive the week and who would NOT. Just for the record, I had myself listed Very High up in the NOT column. In fact, I brought my tent and gear just in case I needed to disappear into the woods for a day or two.
For me it was a culture shock. I live by myself and generally come and go as I please. And, I admit to being a bit OCD. I believe everything has a place. After you use a thing, it goes back into its place. Counters, floors and tables are not meant to be sticky. Cabinet doors and dresser drawers are supposed to be closed until you need something from inside-- then you close them again.
Side Note: Speaking of drawers... The first of many passionate discussions that we had during the week was about the little space under the kitchen counter where you keep the utensils. You know the one. It has a handle and when you pull it, it gently slides out so you can grab a spoon or fork, then slide it closed again. What is that called? Is it a "drawer" or is it a "draw"? Go ahead, ask your family... I dare you.
Another reason I was concerned for my mental sanity is that I don't do groups of people. I am more of a one on one kind of guy. I rarely do parties or events. When I do, I have to psych myself up for it. Often I will trick myself into thinking it's a part of my job. I will take the opportunity to "work the room" handing out business cards. Another favorite trick is to bring the camera and float around snapping photos. This allows me contact with everyone (but not for too long.)
This is why being a massage therapist is the perfect job for me. I work with one person at a time. I am completely in charge. Even the "chatty" people are quiet within 15 or 20 minutes. And I get to wear sneakers!
Anyway, during the past week I learned some things about myself and about my family.
I LEARNED that almost everyone in my family is a Reader. I read a lot but had no idea that they all read a lot, too.
I LEARNED that both of my brothers-in-law are better cooks than all of my sisters combined. I did know that Shawn could cook. He practically caters most of our family gatherings. And it is common knowledge that he could rival any trained chef. But Matt surprised us with the spread he laid out for us on his night to cook.
In theory, we were all supposed to cook a meal. Breakfast, lunch or dinner. But I don't really cook. And the kind of food that I eat, most of my family doesn't consider real food. So I volunteered for Peanut Butter and Jelly Night... but that was not an option. My four year old nephew has allergies, so all week we lived in a "Nut Free Zone." (At least "Nut Free" in a literal sense.)
So Shawn took pity on me and offered to "assist" me on my night to cook. We made a fabulous pasta dinner complete with homemade pasta sauce, garlic bread and sausages (all made from scratch) and an awesome "triple chocolate chaos" for dessert! That's chunks of chocolate cake mixed with chocolate pudding and topped with ice cream. Very decadent.
Maybe Shawn did a little more than "assist." He made his famous homemade pasta sauce. AND he made the sausages too. That is definitely not a job for me! OK, I admit that he made the garlic bread, too. But I was there when he did it.
But really, I did cook the pasta. I boiled the water, poured the pasta from the boxes into a huge pot of boiling water. Probably the most dangerous part of the whole meal.
And I did make the dessert. Except for the cake (my niece baked that.) But I did stir the pudding mix with the water and put it in the fridge to solidify. And I did cut up the cake into chunks and mix in the pudding. And I did scoop ice cream into anyone's bowl who wanted it.
Mostly, I think I hung out in the kitchen trying to look like I knew what I was doing. But in reality I was just in the way. But I think we have a picture to prove that I "cooked."
I LEARNED that my niece and nephews are all creative. It's amazing. They range in age from two years old to twenty. They are writers, artists, musicians and story tellers. We have quite the talented family. Apparently we come from the deep end of the creative gene pool.
I knew my niece was an athlete but I had no idea she was an amazing creative writer until I read the first three chapters of her novel. This is a work in progress. The imagery, characters and narration are all believable and easy to read.
It was so good that I am inspired to get back to work on a book that I started months ago but never finished. I challenged her to finish her book and try to get hers published before I publish mine.
All three of my teenaged nephews are musicians. This I knew. But this week, I was privileged to see video clips, read song lyrics and see works of art in progress.
I was impressed all around. So impressed that I commissioned one of them to create an artwork project for me.
My four year old nephew is the story teller. You can hand him any object and he can create a story-- past, present, future. He can make it up on his own or you can give him guidelines to work within. It doesn't matter. Change the guidelines mid-story if you want. He will adapt to it. He is a master of improvisation.
Even the two year old shows promise. It seems his brain is working in overdrive, absorbing everything he sees and hears. His older cousins sent him home with a whole new arsenal of words and phrases (some accompanied by hand gestures.)
I wish I could be there next week to see the look on that poor unsuspecting Mom's face when he flashes the peace sign and says, "Peace, man!" to the two year old in the shopping cart across the aisle in the grocery store. And I wish I could be there next Sunday when he raises his index finger and pinky finger (but keeps the middle two fingers bent down, tucked under his thumb) and says, "Rock On, Dude!" to the priest in church. Note: The "Rock On, Dude!" phrase is delivered complete with bobble head and slot machine arm.
I LEARNED that almost everyone in the family (with very few exceptions) enjoys being out on the water. When I heard that the house Dad rented was lakefront property, I decided to bring the kayaks. Come to find out there was a tandem kayak, a rowboat, and a paddle boat that came with the house. But still, at some point all the boats were out.
We took turns bringing the younger kids out. Between the beach and the boats, they couldn't get enough.
I LEARNED that we all work well together as a team. I brought a dry erase board so we could post daily chores. But the board never left my car. Our chores seemed to rotate effortlessly. Whoever didn't cook, cleaned. When the trash or recycle barrels were full, they got brought out to the garage. None of the bathrooms ever ran out of toilet paper. It was all pretty organic.
The thing that I was most impressed with, was the interaction between the "cousins." As I mentioned, they span almost two decades. Ages 2-20. The teenage dynamic is hard enough by itself, but toss in a two and four year old, and things can be very unpredictable.
What happened absolutely amazed me. The younger kids quickly became attached to the older kids. And the older kids were very gentle with and very entertained by the younger kids.
As a general rule, kids like me. And I like kids. But that may be because I deal with them in small doses. Actually, as I am writing this, and thinking about it... the same is true with grown up people, too. I can handle just about anyone in small doses.
I was fortunate enough to spend some quality time with each of them. Which of course is how I learned all this great stuff about them. And about me.
My patience and tolerance quota got better as the week went on, but I found that I do have a maximum limit.
Pay attention, I'm getting to the good part.
It took me all week to notice this, or to figure it out. And I don't know for sure if they consciously did this or if it was just coincidence, but I think the older cousins were "looking out" for me.
Whenever I found myself getting close to my maximum little kid limit, one of the older cousins would magically appear and take the little ones away to play some game (or to read or color.)
In my experience, most teenagers are self absorbed, but these kids played a big part in allowing the grown ups to feel like they were on vacation, too! I know these kids will all grow up to be great parents... or teachers, or coaches, or leaders of some kind. They each displayed great character and discipline. And I am Blessed to have them in my life.
I LEARNED that I come from a family of debaters. Some people might call it arguing, but in this case I do mean debating. I have learned that my family is opinionated, but not in a radical sense. Everyone was always willing to listen to the opposing opinion.
As an example, I return to my Drawer/Draw discussion. Everyone was passionate in their opinion, intelligent in their presentation and polite while listening to opposing view points. Sometimes our discussions got loud, but never angry. And it never got violent. In the end, it was tomayto vs. tomahto. We agreed you could call it whatever you wanted (as long as the drawer stays closed.) And nobody was shunned for going or not going to church on Sunday.
This passion carried over into our games.
I LEARNED that the rest of my family is as competitive as I am. We spent hours playing Pictionary and Catch Phrase (among other games.) And who knew that Ping Pong was so addictive?
One evening we took the older cousins to a place that claimed to be the "largest Arcade in the world." It had a miniature golf course, a few bowling lanes, air hockey, pinball, skeet ball and every retro video game you can imagine dating back to Ms. PacMan, Donkey Kong, Asteroids, and even the original Atari game "Pong"!
I'm not sure who "threw down" the challenge, but our Gang of Teens ended up in a drag race with a Gang of Local Teens... on the Bumper Cars! The funny part about it wasn't that Bumper Cars are not designed to go fast for racing. It was that these particular Bumper Cars were specifically designed for kids age ten and younger. I know this partly because all the cars had funny faces on them with goggle eyes and tongues sticking out, but mostly because it said so on the Sign.
Luckily, it was late and all the little kids were gone for the day. So the attendants didn't toss us out. In fact, I think they enjoyed watching the race, too. The kids all looked like clowns in circus cars.
And then there were the Riddles! One of my favorite cousins got me hooked on the Riddles years ago, but I didn't realize the others enjoy the thrill of solving the puzzles, too.
Here are just a few of the Riddles we solved during Vacation Week:
--- A man leaves home. Takes three lefts. Returns home. He finds two masked men. Who are they?
--- A man rides into Dodge City on Tuesday. He stays three days. Then he rides back out of Dodge City on Tuesday. How is that possible?
--- The more it dries, the wetter it gets. What is it?
If you know of any good Riddles... feel free to share!
I LEARNED that you don't need to be a little kid to appreciate coloring books. At some point during the week, I saw almost every person in that house sitting with a box of Crayolas. Some coloring inside the lines... some outside. I know what you are thinking. That big kids and grown ups were sitting coloring with the little kids. But no. More often than not, it was a solo retreat. I would be willing to bet that if you look through all the coloring books, that you would find more adult pages than kid pages. There is something very therapeutic about it. I know. I did it myself.
I LEARNED that we are all addicted to our computers. One of the things I love about being out in the woods, is that I don't feel the need to go "on-line" to see what's happening in the world. I feel like I'm already IN the world and I just look around and I see what's happening.
I may have been the last hold out, but a few years ago, I finally broke down and bought a computer. In my lifetime, I have been exposed to some peer pressure. But never more so than in the past year or two. It seems that just having a computer is not enough. Now they want me to swallow the "FaceBook" Pill. One of these days, I'll write a Post on Social Networking and my predictions about the Evils of FaceBook.
I LEARNED that my family appreciates a very wide variety of music. And I've learned that you can tell a lot about a person by looking through their iPod. (I have always felt the same way about looking through somebody's book shelves.)
The music ranges from classical and oldies to rock, jazz, punk and more. Some of it is interesting and some is just noise. But....
I LEARNED that when Neil Diamond sings "Sweet Caroline" and "Cracklin' Rosie" everybody sings along or gets up and dances. I got some pictures but this was truly a video worthy moment. Sadly, the camcorder was not handy at the time. Who would have thought Neil Diamond was middle ground? Maybe we should send Neil Diamond on a concert tour through the Middle East.
I LEARNED a lot this week. About myself and about my family. I think if we were on one of those family against family shows that we would kick ass. It seems that whatever differences of opinion that we had... we all pulled together when it counted. I was pleasantly surprised by my family and a little surprised by myself. We all survived the week and even discussed the possibility of doing this again. Sometime.
I'll share just one last story. Occasionally my siblings and I get wrapped in those "Reply to All" on-line chats. Usually they are quick and have to do with what day or time is best for everyone in regards to planning a birthday party or other family event.
But about a month ago we got into an on-line debate about the economy and how poor we were. I don't know how we got on this conversation... we've never really discussed anything like that before.
It turned into two or three days of, "I'm so poor that..." and "That's nothing, I..." I have to tell you it was very interesting. And funny. That's something about my family I already knew. Very funny. And clever. We grew up speaking "sarcasm" as a second language.
Anyway, after about three days of this I got tired of the conversation and wrote something like: "I suggest you ask Dad to compare all our tax returns to determine who makes less." With that, I declared myself the "Poorest of the Poor" and the conversation over. (Dad is a CPA and does our taxes!) I never heard back from any of them on the subject. So they either believed me or they asked Dad... and he told them.
I love my family. And they love me. I know this. Not because they told me (which they did!) but I know this because of how they acted around me and how they treated me.
They love me even though I'm not a college graduate. They love me even though I'm impatient and a little OCD. They love me even when they get their birthday cards/gifts a little late. They love me in spite of the fact that I'm a terrible cook. And they love me even though I Clobbered them at Ping Pong (OK that part isn't true.... but the rest is!) So after spending this past week with my family I would like to publicly change my status.
My point is... with all this love around me, I'm finding it very difficult to uphold the "Poorest of the Poor" title. So as of now, I hereby declare myself...
"The Wealthiest Man In The World."
I hope you all find such wealth in your lives.
Note: It has been my experience that the more you invest in it, and the more you give away, the more it comes back to you.
Peace and Love,
P.S. Thanks Dad. Good week!