What Does It Take?

Hello from about 35,000 feet and above the Colorado/Utah border, perhaps a little west.

It has been some time since I’ve made a cross-country trek, either by air or land; in fact, it is the closest I’ve been to Placerville since shortly following Lydia’s passing. I believe that is the longest stretch of time away from the vineyard since I was first there in 2006. Such a realization prompts me to think about the trips made, but also the time that has lapsed or how many things have changed from the simple and individual/personal, and the more significant and globally, if you will. While I have flown to the west a number of times, I think it is the first time I have been on a trans-continental flight from coast to coast with no intermediate plane-change. It is a 5 hour 23 minute flight and it has been for the most part smooth, though we are hitting a bit of turbulence as I am writing this (I should note that I have proofread and edited this because doing it on my phone was a bit more laborious that thought, and by what I see, not as successful).

Ironically, I found my way to Placerville-and even Tahoe eventually-because I had come to a conference about 12 years ago right now. The conference was in San Francisco and I drove up to Placerville, and the vineyard called Miraflores, to visit a sort of distant relative and her husband and their daughter. It was the most amazing day trip and I met some of the most wonderful people. Two of those people have become important friends. Marco is truly a Renaissance person, and is now married to an equally wonderful woman, named Belinda. Together they have created the most wonderful family with two of the most stunningly beautiful children that I believe I have ever met. The second person is Fernando. He is hard working, gracious, and brilliant in both what he has learned and how he understands. Since then, I have also learned a lot more about wine and how amazing it is not only as a beverage, but as the management of a simple (or maybe not so simple) fruit. I remember during the time immediately following that visit, I was fortunate to take Peter D’Souza’s “Wine and Spirits” course. I actually sat in and donated wine the second time I took that same class. Wine is a completely natural product and if you choose to minimize residual sugars and ferment methode ancienne, you have gotten back to basics about as close as perhaps possible. Wine offers the possibility of making dining an experience versus merely a meal. I remember the first time I compared how the wine tasted unadulterated, or with a clean palate and then what you received from the wine when paired with food. I was stunned that you might use a bold and hearty red wine with a grouper, for instance. Of course, I need to add that the grouper was blackened and served with a raspberry buerre rouge sauce. It was heavenly and it began an culinary affair between that gulf coast fish and me that continues to this day. Understanding or pondering our relationship with food and beverage is a complex, and generally misunderstood science/consideration/hobby/need. The reasons for our poor, or often unhealthy, interactions are a combination of simple lack of knowledge, more significantly our being too lazy to find out, and finally a lifestyle that screams more is better and faster is okay. So we gorge ourselves on processed sugars, even when the brand says “Nature’s Promise” and a label check illustrates 25+ grams of sugar per serving. Those of you who know me, know I love to eat, but not just for the sake of eating. I am all about eating for the experience.

As I have traveled to Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic, Ukraine, Austria, Slovakia, Ireland or most anywhere not in the States, going out to eat is something you do for an evening. It is an event. My students are often ready to dine and dash, not in the criminal way, but in a behavior that demonstrates a lack of etiquette or a lack of manière formelle appropriée. The difference in both portion and pace allows for such a much more appetizing experience as well as a more enjoyable interaction with everything and everyone. Think for even a moment. How often are you looking at your watch, flagging down your server or demonstrating visible frustration when you food does not arrive on your schedule? We want to “relax” by going out to eat and having our meal prepared, but we simultaneously stress out because we want to control their kitchen. It makes no sense. I think the sort of “eating as a habit or requirement” is an additional difficulty for us. Growing up we had specific times you were to be at the table to eat. Breakfast was the only one with flexibility, lunch and supper (dinner) were 12:00 and 5:00 period. If you were late, too bad. Even Sunday’s noon meal time was sacrosanct. Two of the biggest arguments my mother and I ever had were because of that time commandment. What was interesting in retrospect was my father could have been out an hour before and eaten, but it was 5:00 p.m. so you ate again. There was nothing about being hungry, or so it seemed; you ate because it was time to eat. It was a chore, an obligation or a habit, and for me, realizing that I was struggling with IBDs long before I knew what they were, eating was anything but pleasant. Learning that dining could be and memorable experience, a healthy and enjoyable opportunity is something that I am still learning.

. . . It is Sunday about 5:23 a.m. and I am sitting on the plane waiting to depart Reno and fly the first leg to Denver. I was blessed to work with a really brilliant colleague, who understands theory as if she were reading a children’s literature book. Our presentation went well and I am looking forward to the next step of writing the chapter for the book that is hopefully following. The OSCLG Conference is always a good group of people and the presentations thought provoking in a manner that compels one to look at the significance of communication in our polarized climate. I also got to see two of my mentors from graduate school, Drs. Patricia (Patty) Sotirin and Victoria (Vickie) Bergvall. They are both outstanding scholars, but more amazing people. For them to say that our presentation was important and shows promise was quite a positive reinforcement.

I am again flying, but in an aisle seat, so it is not quite so stifling or uncomfortable. In light of my post’s focus, I am unfortunately admitting that the food at the conference was not that amazing. While the food at the SF conference four years ago was superb, this food did not quite match up. Yesterday, however, I did take a bit of a respite from the conferencing and found my way down to Miraflores. What a nice thing to be back in the vineyard again. They were in the middle of crush and harvest was about two weeks from being complete. Victor happened to be there and it was nice to see him. Fernando is now in charge with Marco in Italy and there was a little barrel tasting and the Cabernet was stunning. Smooth, great black cherry fruit and a delightfully smooth finish. It will be stunning. The best thing is they have started to work with a shipping company so I can get the wine at the door. I will need to follow up with Cantiga. I think some of my best food memories have been in Placerville. The summer I spent there was stunning and I learned so much about the oenology, the viticulture of the Sierra Nevada area, and all the complexities of getting a block of grapes from vine to bottle. I need to check on Ted sometime and see if he is still bottling, making some kick-butt hot sauces and other things. I am still grateful for how he taught me to make quesadillas. Sometimes a simple twist moves a food from the category of blasé to something close to exquisite. It was his combination of cumin, coriander, and cardamom (a somewhat surprising spice usually used Scandinavian cuisine), that shocked a relatively simple Mexican stable into my nightly go-to, and better yet, it was quite healthy.

As I wing my way back East, I am reminded of the profound changes the past 12 years have sort of bestowed upon me. I was living in Wisconsin and had finished what had been perhaps my most successful year at UW-Stout. I felt like maybe the dark cloud that had enveloped my first couple years had dissipated. I had move into the little carriage house and between work and Lydia, my life was busy, but good. I had endured another surgery a year or two before and felt like I was healthier than I had been for some time, maybe since my initial diagnosis with UC, which was now properly diagnosed as Crohn’s (Preparing to land in Denver and we are bouncing as we approach on final descent). My neighbors on the other side, both Stout faculty and a couple who epitomize good parents and incredibly faithful souls sort of adopted me also. Yet, within a couple of years, there would be significant changes and I would find that being on the market for a new position would be necessary. A move to Pennsylvania after a year of playing both sides of a coin would ensue and a new life close to an old place would follow. Health things, as I have learned since my late 20s would create more needs and different concerns, but somehow I have been blessed and through a variety of doctors and other avenues, I think I am probably as healthy as I have been for a long time. As important, and in someways more so, I have been pretty successful professionally. I guess that is most apparent to me in that I am beginning my 10th year in the same location (the longest I have remained stationary geographically since childhood). So much has happened in that there are no longer relatives in Riverside or the Northside of Sioux City. I certainly have important and people dear to me in Menomonie, but Lydia has been gone almost 4 years. I have renewed some friendships in PA and lost some. I have been blessed by new people, and I have been fortunate enough to travel in ways I could not have imagined. I have met people from across Europe and learned anew that while our place in the world is certainly important, we are not as significant as we have been led to believe, and we are probably not as influential as we once were.

This morning, as I drove from Tahoe back to Reno, I listened to an hour program from the BBC, examining the global economic crash of 2008. I wondered what Lydia would have thought of how it all shook out. Her memory was waning and the dementia was ramping up during that time. What enthralled me was the comprehensive and expansive consequence of the collapse on a global scale and I learned more completely about the difference between Keynesian economic stimulus theory versus austerity. I would have loved to listen to Lydia address that practice and why it is or is not the thing to do. The program is a three part series and something I think I need to get a hold of an something to give a listen. While it might seem I have strayed from my initial point, and in addition my title of “[w]hat does it take? Perhaps the picture of the balancing dancer will clue you in that my seemingly wandering post has not gone totally awry.

Something I am still working on, and trying to master more than as simply a concept is balance. Somehow, in theory, it does not seem difficult. Imagine the extremes and try to find the place in the middle. One can eat in a healthy manner and still eat in a way that offers the experience about which I wrote in the initial part of my blog. One can find a place between being incredibly OCD and not managing anything in a organized manner. One of the things I believe has happened at Miraflores was finding the space between spending exorbitant amounts of capital on making the best wines in the Northern California region and focusing those resources in a more systematic way that did not compromise quality. That seems to have happened. Marco spoke about the winery being taken to the next level. I need to speak to Victor about a project. Listening this morning to the BBC I learned about the balance of spending and tightening when there is an economic crisis. I think I should chat with Nakul about a possible article on that. The initiating and practicing of balance is a balancing act in and of itself, and too often, our human nature gets in the way of common sense that would allow for balance to be a more incorporated life philosophy. What does it take to practice balance, it takes some of the things I spoke of in my previous post. It takes patience and a willingness to step back and think. It requires us as individuals to consider the needs of the other and how our needs affect more than ourselves. It obliges us to realize the difference between needs and wants. Too often we mistake our wants for needs. What I realize now, as some quite a bit older than I was, as a high-schooler, is that I always had what I needed growing up, but I did not always have, or immediately get, what I wanted. I did not comprehend the value of those lessons until much later in life. It was yet another example of balance. I was also afforded some special opportunities: private music lessons, involved in a special audition-only children’s choir (as an update-I have board the plane for AVP, and while we pushed back from the gate on time, 27 minutes later we are still waiting to take off). I am starting to fade from being up at 3:00 a.m two of the last three days. Again, that is the age showing me the difference yet again.

I think the simple idea, but difficult to employ, practice of a balanced life is something that was probably apparent more than I knew and certainly necessary more than I realized. Oh, if I had only understood and practiced it sooner. Maybe age and experience are what it takes.

Thank you again for reading,

Dr. Martin

Walking in the Other’s Shoes

70e349a3df0c42efbd7e47ce883a8e82-70e349a3df0c42efbd7e47ce883a8e8Good early evening from my office,

It is always interesting to see how people respond to the plight of their fellow humans. How is it we can be both the most caring, empathetic of all creation, and simultaneously the most cruel and ruthless? How is it we can teach our children how to respect, act graciously, and use their manners and as adults exhibit precisely the opposite? I remember the infamous parental phrase growing up: “Do what I say and not as I do.” As if that oxymoronic sentence made up for the contradictions that screamed out loud to our wondering eyes and ears. That saying, it seems to me, has come back to roost. Did we really believe that those who watched us would not learn more from our actions than our words? Did we believe that the habits we exhibited would not stick with our sons and daughters, our nephews and nieces, our granddaughters and grandsons more profoundly that any platitude we might have uttered? I am quite sure if any of us were to think more carefully or critically, to analyze more thoroughly or completely, we would come to the conclusion that the infamous cliché of actions speaking louder than words would be there as the third ghost in The Christmas Carol pointing out the error of our ways and perhaps offering one last chance to atone for our failings.

Of course, it is easy for me to lay out such a dictum when I have never been a parent. It is easy for me to look at the students in my classes and see the good people they are, but often how woefully under-prepared they are to do college level work as I read their blogs, intros or other assignments. I see their eyes and their furrowed brows and I feel their fear of possible failure and certain struggle more than they might know. One of my students asked thoughtfully and honestly today how was it that I managed the course load I did as an undergraduate student, managed the other things I was involved in, and somehow managed to graduate pretty successfully? It was a fair and important question. My answer was also honest and simple. I had failed the first time. I got sent home and I was embarrassed. When I went back to college I was scared. Plainly put, I was not sure I could actually do it. I had never pushed myself in high school and in the service when I did well, people were amazed and actually thought I had cheated because nothing in my academic record implied I was capable of anything beyond what was deemed average. I remember once being put in the corner and screamed at and told I was stupid, only to find out I had a 100% average in a Communication and Electronics (Field Radio Operator School) course. I was petrified. I would note that I did not end up with a 100%, but I did do exceptionally well.

Again, please do not put me up on some sort of pedestal for what I have noted in the last couple blogs; please do not hold me up as some paragon of goodness, for I am anything but. I am simply a person who has learned from his mistakes. I am a person who has realized painfully how what he has done at times has hurt or created difficulty for others. For those things, I am often ashamed and struggle with the guilt dealing with the proverbial error of my ways. As I have often noted in my blog, somehow it seemed to take me longer to grow into what or where I should have been for my age. There are probably more reasons for that than I am able to figure out, but at this point, I know only a couple of things. I try to do the best I can at most anything I attempt, and second, when I fail, I do not blame someone else. The consequence of that, I believe, is that I try to be more gracious with where I find the other than I might have been at some time earlier in my life.

Graciousness, forgiveness, and empathy are perhaps three things that seem to be sorely lacking in our society at the present time. It is always interesting to listen to both sides of an argument, and there have certainly been both sides of the current Supreme Court situation spoken about on campus over the past few weeks. I would note this first. While I have my viewpoint, and certainly some of my students know what that is, I try carefully and intentionally to respect their view point also. I understand the power dynamic of a classroom, but college is where people should be allowed to speak their mind and figure out both what they think as well as why they think it. I understand well, having grown up in Iowa, attending school at a small Lutheran liberal arts college in Nebraska, the more conservative viewpoint on things. I grew up where hard work and “keeping your nose clean” was not merely a saying, but it was expected. I grew up with a father, who might be honestly more liberal than I am. I am certainly more conservative than my sister (who was a biological sister) was. At this point, I know why I believe what I do. Some of it is because of my upbringing; some of it is because of my education and personal experience, but all of it is because I read, I ponder, and I think. I do not simply accept the latest sound byte that is trending, and I can be persuaded to consider something different. Why? Because I do not know everything, and I do not see all the angles of something. What frustrates me is not a difference of opinion, or even an argument over a position. What frustrates me is when someone is not willing to speak about an issue in a civil manner. What hurts me is when someone I respect is not willing to return that respect. What does it mean to be gracious? It has to do with compassion and mercy. These are not merely nouns, they are verbs. How do you comport yourself? How are you able to act when you are accused of something or questioned? How are you able to respond to the needs of another? Compassion and mercy are something that only we as humans seem capable of understanding, and not only what the words mean or how to employ them, but the consequences when we fail to do so. Forgiveness might be the most powerful thing we have in our relationships with our fellow human beings. What does it mean to forgive, and not only in a religious sense of the word, but in a community building, societal managing, interpersonal understanding from one to another? How doe it feel to say “I am sorry” to another and not receive some sort of forgiveness or absolution for the failure we have confessed, so to speak? I do not believe we can be merciful or forgiving without empathy. Empathy has to do with tenderness; it has something to do with our ability or capacity to imagine ourselves in the other person’s position or situation.

It seems to be we are severely lacking in all three of these things in terms of how we treat others in our country and the world at the present time. We have become predominately selfish. Some will say I have worked for everything I have and I should not have to share, but that is not what we were taught even as children. Before you want to run down some anti-socialist rabbit hole: stop. That is not what I am trying to argue. What I mean is the opposite of being merciful or compassionate; it is being unwilling to imagine the plight of the other. To care only about ourselves. That is selfish, and the consequence is division. Compassion is to have some empathy for the struggle of the person next to us, but that does not mean the other has no accountability. Yet, what is a reasonable expectation, and can we give care to the other versus only taking care of the other? The second thing we have become is fearful, and fear is often followed, and quickly I might add, by anger. The fear we have come to demonstrate of the other is palpable. It is unmistakable to such a degree that we have gone down a different rabbit hole, if you will. The recoil of the United States, Great Britain, and a number of other European Union countries should create serious alarm. While that is the case for some, the anti-globalism that President Trump espoused at the United Nations last week should disquiet us. It should serve as a tocsin for us, but too many see it as a positive thing. There is a lot more reason for us to work together as a world order than to turn our backs, but that does not seem to be where we are.

Most of us are not in the one-percent (hence the one-percent), and acting  as we often do creates division, dissension, and conflict. We want to believe we are so important or better than the other, but are we? Yet, we do not see the consequence of this. If we are divided and unwilling to work together, the one-percent keep their power and their money and we are given what is left over, and that is not nearly enough for the 99%. Think about it (and that is precisely what the one-percent does not want to happen). If we are so busy fighting among ourselves, we have no chance of changing what is problematic. We will continue to lose the middle class; we will fight to somehow manage the spoils, and spoiled and rotten they are. Most of us will never walk in the one-percenter’s shoes. Nor do I want to do so. I would be much more content to have a country that cares, a country that leads by an example of goodness and charity. I would much rather somehow help someone a bit less fortunate to become more fortunate. I would rather see the smile on their face and feel the warmth in my own heart. Some things can only change if we are willing to do the heavy lifting and commit ourselves to creating a more just and thoughtful world. In spite of the present situation in our government, perhaps we can make small differences in our own spaces. My former graduate department chair referred to them as small potent gestures. Perhaps that gesture needs to be more than flipping off the person with whom we have a disagreement or a struggle. Perhaps the gesture is to walk both metaphorically and literally down the street with each other shoes one (and if they do not fit, perhaps the pain of that is what you need to realize. I am reminded again of the Phil Collins song about paradise. The world seems to be anything but. However, maybe we can create a small sense of it by our graciousness, our forgiveness, our empathy. I would like to also to say thank you for your incredible kindnesses in response to my last posting.

Thank you as always for reading.

Dr. Martin