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

Fearing the Unknown

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Good morning,

Is early morning as I begin to write this, it’s not quite 4:00 a.m. and I am sitting in Hazelton out in the street because I’m early and I do not want to get the Galáns up before they’re ready. I am headed to the airport to fly back to Wisconsin. This is actually the second time for this trip, I tried it yesterday. However as it seems to be the case most often flying into Newark, the flight was delayed and I would miss my connecting flight. So even though I had been dropped off at the airport, I had to have them come back and get me. Mr. Galán, in his usual graciousness, came back and got me. So now we are doing it again. Now at the airport and aboard a little prop plane to Newark and then the flight to Minneapolis. I should be in Menomonie by noon. That first flight would have had Jordan screaming. Amazing turbulence and the man next to me ending up being sick, needing a bag (two of them) and all. Quite a way to begin my morning.

As I write this I am at probably 30,000 feet and about not quite halfway to Minnesota. We are flying over an ocean of puffy-blanketed clouds that stretch as far as I can see. It is nice to be on top of them and see the sun. The sun has been noticeably lacking the past week. That might have been a positive for me because of the hours I needed to spend my end of the semester grading. As always, I had a flurry of requests to hand something in last minute. For my Foundations classes, I was accommodating for the most part. I have also gotten the first phone calls and emails asking for some justification on why I decided a particular grade. This conversation almost always stumps me because of the misperception, or more accurately the belief that I merely assign grades or that their assertion that they worked hard should automatically translate into an acceptable grade (most often their only acceptable is an A). What I think I will tell them is that in 5 1/2 years and almost 900 students, only about 80 students have earned an A in my classes. I would also note that approximately the same amount have failed a course or dropped it. The greatest number of students have received a B in my classes. I do think that will (and did) change this semester. I was not as benevolent in offering the benefit of the doubt. Simply put: do your work and follow directions. Following directions and thinking critically are two of the important skills one can develop and use. Speaking of critical thinking, the town council in Bloomsburg, where I live (I technically live out of town) voted 4-3 to NOT adopt a proposed ordinance that would keep businesses, landlords, or other public places from refusing service or refuse the offering of services to people based on their sexual preferences. The arguments that were offered by some of the council members themselves for the decision were almost ludicrous. One member (when probably actually referring to Laramie WY, though one can’t be sure) noted he did not want Bloomsburg to become another Columbine. The misguided belief that discrimination was legally supported by religious belief is so absurd; it is atrociously sad. Equality and Justice might be a religious issue and perhaps should be, but discrimination based on a group identity has led to some pretty horrific incidences throughout our history, be it in this country or in Europe. The ordinance would afford protection for a group of individuals, who have been, and still are, systematically disenfranchised because of fear or stereotypic stupidity. I am hoping to do some work next semester in my technical writing classes to work in response to the town’s failure to pass what I believe is a ordinance that promotes Justice and equality.

I am amazed how fear keeps us from doing the right thing or standing up for the right thing. I am amazed how powerful fear is as I realize it can keep people alive or cause them to die. Fear often paralyzes the human spirit. Fear of reprisal often keeps us from speaking out when what we have experienced is discourteous or hurtful. I know some of these things first-hand. The fear of being different often compels people to hide their true identity or feelings. The fear because of past experiences can reduce people to merely a shell, their inner abilities shriveled up and withered (this is really what I believe PTSD is). I must give the Galán family a great deal of credit for pushing me to stand up, even at times with, or more aptly against, them, when I have felt that some action was problematic. What I have realized is in doing so I am acting the very way they have modeled for me. At one time I would have been afraid that I would lose them. While I do not believe that is the case any longer, I do know that I changed “the rules” so to speak. What I have done is actually stand up and show that I have as much right to my thoughts and actions as any other. I am entitled to respond just as the next person has this entitlement. I should note that I am still learning about the love they have for me. I do not always understand its expression and especially when it is demonstrated in such a different manner than I have ever experienced. It is Mr. Galán who is most helpful through his consistency and respect. It is Mrs. Galán in her unbelievably consistent actions towards me that help me understand. Ironically, it is the child (not meant pejoratively) with whom I have (and have had) the least contact that I probably am most comfortable. Yet, it is Melissa and Jordan for whom I have experienced the greatest sense of love I have ever known who have forced me to look at myself and grow. That growth has not been without difficulty, but it has been significant. It has been important. All expressions of love or care have an inherent risk; something I have learned first hand this year, but in spite of my bumps and bruises, ultimately I am grateful. In this very blog I have argued and hollered out, and there are places I still disagree, but as they always tell me, the love for each other is the most important thing. I think they are correct.

It is that same love that takes me back to Wisconsin at this time. Since I wrote about Lydia in a recent blog, she continues to lose ground in the battle with dementia. In fact, it is not really a battle any longer. She has lost the battle and most of herself. As her brain continues what seems to be a free fall toward nothingness, the consequences of her deterioration are more deleterious. I used the word sinister this morning in a conversation. Dementia and other forms of this debilitating disease seem much more sinister than any battle I am presently fighting. It is love that pushes me to return to see her and try, with God’s intervention and help, that I will try to offer her the comprehension, the understanding, the confidence, that death does not need to be feared. It is okay to let this life go. I remember shortly before my father passed away 17 years ago later this month, he told my sister that the living room was full of his passed-on relatives beckoning him to let go and to not be afraid. He passed away about two days later. I am hoping in whatever language, English, more likely German, and perhaps most importantly the non-verbal language of presence, she will know it is safe to let this frail and agonizing body of hers go. I am hoping that her knowing or sensing that she is not alone will help her conquer what I believe is a fear of the beyond. I know that I am no longer afraid of dying. I think I once was, and I imagine that is pretty normal. I think my fear was more about feeling like I still had things to do or accomplish. I think this past year has taken care of most of that. I think the fact that I have been granted tenure is another substantive element in realizing I am okay.

This morning I was asked if I wanted to live. My answer to that question was “yes”. I do want to live, but what I am realizing is I am comfortable with dying. It makes me wonder if the “fighting” I am doing is really necessary. I am wondering if all of this medical stuff, treatments, or other actions to fight against our demise is merely another part of the system that my friend argues so vociferously against. Even though what I am currently doing is pretty natural, and I imagine it has other positive results, if I am doing it to merely stay alive and really doing the very thing Lydia is doing.

I’m now I’m Menomonie and have gone to see Lydia. While I was told she is the cat with nine lives and I said she’s on her 12th, the reality of the last couple weeks is significant. Even the caregivers who have known her from the beginning say that it is only a matter of time and the time is short. She did not really know who I was again today, but she seemed pleased that I was there. I guess that’s the best I can hope for now. I promised her that I would do what I could to take care of her. I’m doing the best I can to manage that promise. It hurts me deeply to see her this way. She’s not longer living she’s merely existing. I guess what I wrote earlier today makes sense. It is time to let her go; it is time for her to like go. I hope in the next few days I can help her get over her fear. I’m grateful for the people who care for her. I’m grateful she has a place to live where she is safe. I’m grateful for the staff and the administrator. Even though she doesn’t know it, she is blessed and so on am I.

As we enter this time of Christmas, my piety reminds me that it’s time to not be afraid. It’s time to except the reality that we have. It’s time to give thanks for what has happened in this past year. I am grateful for so much. For friends, for my Dominican family, for my biological family, and for a job that I am blessed to have. Fear not and be of good cheer. In each of our lives we have something for which to be grateful. Lydia, I love you; José, Maria, Mery, Melissa, and Jordan, para mis defectos, me perdone. Por el don de su amor carrera igualada, me siento muy honrado y agradecido. Te quiero todo. To all who have supported me in my ongoing battle, thank you. To the Deckers, Mark Gayle, Grace, Mary, Max , Caroline, and Rosie, I am beyond grateful that I ended up in Bloomsburg. Thank you for your love and making me me part of your family.

To the rest of you thank you for reading as always,

Michael