Tag Archives: Family

Trouble with tradition

When I was a kid holidays were ranked according to which brought the most presents. Birthdays, Christmas, going to our friends Seder for Passover. As I’ve gotten older, presence has taken precedence over presents and I am glad to have traditions to cling to and perhaps pass on.

Still, we’ve never been too traditional in our traditional celebrations. We do the ones we like or resonate with and we do them in our way. Set up an alter in the dining room for Dia de los Muertos and eat dinner as a family and listen to Jazz. Go to Quaker meeting for Christmas Eve after making and delivering cookies to everyone we know in the city. One of the other big ones growing up was Thanksgiving.

My grandmother, whom is properly referred to as Grams, was not so big on most holidays but Thanksgiving was her deal. Every year we would make the 7+ hour pilgrimage to South Jersey. There’d be silver to polish and things to clean before we pull out all the leaves for the huge ancient drop leaf table, adding them until it stuck out of either end of the dining room with barely enough space for all the chairs, let alone the occupants. Memories of good food, family closeness and that quiet look of contentment on Grams’s face as she sat in her chair in the living room after everyone had enjoyed themselves – these are my Thanksgiving traditions that I cherish. Even the waffles and creamed turkey they eat on the Friday that weirds me out… Now that Grams has passed we get down there less often for the big meal and I do miss it.

The trouble I’ve had with Thankstaking, the Day of Mourning as I have come to understand it in the context of history and reality is that we come together and do all this great stuff essentially in honor of a genocide. I’m not the first to articulate this idea and certainly won’t be the last. There’s nothing wrong with family and closeness and giving thanks – it’s really nice. I guess my problem is why can’t we do that all the time? Why do we only do it to honor a historical meal Colonizing Europeans were given by the “Indians” they essentially wiped out? For many, there is nothing evil or wrong about Thanksgiving and it is not celebrated as genocide day. I doubt most of the practitioners hold hands and thank God for slaughtering the indigenous people of this land before carving in to their Turkeys. We certainly don’t. I think most people who do celebrate it, do so with the same spirit as Grams, out of love and appreciation for family.

But you don’t have to participate in injustice to abide by it. As much as we can find the nobility in our traditions, I wonder if we (as a society / nation) will find the nobility to deal with our history in an accurate and honest way, acknowledging the ugliest truths instead of masking them behind something warm and fuzzy.

Backlog

Again I find myself bewildered by where to start now that I have some time to get back to my blog. Its been a crazy month. I am finally done with my semester, which ended well though with a frenzy of projects, studying and crits. I am still waiting to pick up some of my work and document what I did over the fall, but It was a busy semester. I took 5 classes, 4 being studio classes. But more on that later…

Outside of school, Scope, Pen and Sword / PS-Design and all of the other ventures associated with our recently formalized network, the Grassroots Grind Group are proceeding with a life of their own. We are all working on our respective projects and launches and its exciting to see everything happen so fast and new people coming in to the fold. I have nothing but hope for the upcoming year.

On the home front, things have been bittersweet. Last Saturday, we had to put down Blizzard, our loyal hound for the past 14 years. We got her during the April fool’s blizzard which was to be her namesake of ’97 when she was still a puppy and she had become a family fixture. All of our friends and neighbors knew her, and indeed loved her. She was the reason some people got dogs, the reason some got over their phobia of them. For us she was a reason to leave the house, even in the darkest and most miserable conditions, a wellspring of unconditional simple love, a dish washer and food disposal, a foot warmer and heat hogger. We will miss her very much.

Rest in Peace

Some weeks are just full of terrible news.

Last Wednesday, our dear family friend Amy Grabel passed away after battling cancer for years. I consider Amy part of the village that raised me, and her death is very sad for the friends and community who loved her. She was a warm, generous soul, dedicated activist and community member, teacher, artist and fabulous cook who often invited her friends over to share her home. I feel blessed to have known her and find it hard to believe such a good person is gone.

This weekend’s violence struck close to home for many of my friends who grew up with one of the victims, Tito, and the cycle of violence and grief that plagues our city is wearing so thin. Its incredibly frustrating / heartbreaking to watch time and again senseless death go unchecked by ever-increasing police presence and countless pleads for peace, while the root problems continue to fester.

And then on Sunday night I got a call from a friend who had been watching the news about the death of Josh Stimpson, a kid I met working at BU who had just graduated last may. We had been doing freelance web design projects together and he was helping us when he could with coding and development and some of the business stuff for Scope Apparel. He had just started his job at a consulting firm and was excited to be starting his life. My heart goes out to his parents and family. It’s not ever supposed to happen like that and the loss of such a bright young life so early is tragic.

At this point I don’t know what to think except to be grateful for the friends, family and loved ones I have, and the time I have to spend with them, and to hang on to the memories I have of the people we’ve lost.

Making Up for Lost Time

This past weekend me and my Mother Esther ventured up to Maine to a cabin on a lake – no TV, no cell service – no wifi – just us and some boats and the water and some books and some chairs – PERFECT. This trip was really a blessing as Es was unable to attend the Niederkorn Family Reunion in Blackduck, since she had to attend to our now-on-the-mend dog Blizzard. We set very good attainable goals for our selves: Have fun; Don’t Stress; Rent a motorboat; Have fun. Pretty straightforward. And when you make a good plan it’s easy to make it work.

We drove up Friday night – listening to a shared music playlist featuring the entire Roots album, Billie Holiday and whatever stations we could pick up along the way. Silence and talking was good too. By the time we got there I was nodding off. We pulled down the ridiculously steep driveway , unloaded into the beautiful cabin, and headed down to the dock. In the night away from the city you can see so many stars, the variations in thickness becomes visible with layers of stars beyond stars, in clusters of their own. On top of that we were given a spectacular shooting star show – featuring one that fell up and another which flared right through the middle of the sky above our heads – so good sign for how the weekend would go.

Saturday Esther woke up early and picked up the boat rental and drove it through the lake to our dock where I jumped on board and we took off – in search of breakfast and my sunglasses, left in the car at the marina. we boated the long way out, tied up at the dock and went into town for breakfast. We spent most of the day like that, boating from one part of the lake to the other, hopping out a couple of times to go get food or get out of the sun. We made a few stops at some of the many antique shops which populate the area – which had great cheap comics and VHS tapes. The boat was by far the highlight of the trip, and something we want to do again. Both Es, and I had a blast driving it – and while she is quite nautically experienced, it was my first time really figuring out how to drive one, fast – which is so fun. We had to return it by 5 leaving us an evening to hang out, relax with as few electronics as possible and just enjoy spending time together.

Sunday, we hit another string of Antique / Junk shops, one of which had dozens of sequential issues of comics for like 50 cents. Needless to say, I stocked up, bringing some 80 comics home, all for about 45 bucks. By the time we got back to the cabin, it was about mid-day and we spent the rest of it enjoying the lovely weather from the porch or big adirondack chairs outside, squeezing out every last drop of tranquility until we had to pack up and head home in time for the work week.

This was a trip that has been a long time coming, and it was exactly what we needed to do – great way to end the summer.

As usual, there was a post-vacation work binge (and blog vacuum) both of which I hope to address shortly, but the weekend itself was about as relaxing of a trip as you can get and I am grateful to have found that a few weeks before I go into my last year of college. Good family time isn’t hard to do, its hard to make time for, something I gotta be better about.

A Tale of Two Weeks

Well I have been seriously neglecting my blog and a lot has been happening so a recap is long overdue. I spent the first week of august in Scenic Blackduck, MN, a town and lake in northern Minnesota, at the 2nd Niederkorn Family Reunion in celebration of my grandfather’s 80th birthday. We did this for the first time 5 years ago and it was great to do it again. All of my cousins have grown frighteningly older – which means I must be doing the same. This trip, I was officially of drinking age – which boggled the minds of my aunts and uncles. Whats even scarier is how old we’ll be in another 5 years. One of the perks was that I could partake in my uncle’s obsession with micro-brewed darks and IPAs and the guy’s night out on the boat with Bourbon and Cigars with all of my uncles and the ancient one.

Being on the boats (pontoon, kayaks, fishing boats) was one of my favorite parts. My dear mother who grew up a water rat on the Delaware river gave me an appreciation for small boats – just being out on the water and this was a gorgeous lake. I think that was one of the worst parts about the trip too, because Esther had to stay home, and could not enjoy the things we did that she would have loved. She elected to stay home with our sick hound and help Blizzard through her recovery from the surgery to remove cancerous stuff from her leg. While we have all agreed that getting the dog the surgery sooner rather than later – and having one of her people there with her while she healed – was the right thing to do – but it still sucks it meant Esther missed the big to-do and a chance for some family time. Fortunately we are making up for that as much as we can – so look forward to more travel-related-posts.

So, I enjoyed a 7 day vacation, something I’ve discovered I’m not very good at doing. I brought my laptop with me under the impression I would do SOME work while I was there, as the resort advertised a wifi connection. Serendipitously, it was never working right, so I really did get a vacation from staring at screens. Unserendipitously, I dropped my phone (while it was one) into a sink full of water – effectively cutting me off from everything else. It was great to be where no one could reach me – but breaking the nicest gifts I’ve ever gotten was not the highlight of my trip. If anyone knows a cheap reputable repairer for iPhones – holla. I took it as proof that I cannot have nice things as I tend not to know how to treat them.

But sufficed to say, I was happily technology deprived for the first week of August. When I got back Saturday night though, I could not help but fret over all that I had supposed to accomplish that week, and while I was relieved to find out the world was still spinning and the sky still aloft when I got back, it was nice to return to the grind I am used to – and thrive in.

So to celebrate my return I cranked up the ol’ laptop and worked on what is now the second version of scopeurbanapparel.com as well as a bunch of new shirt designs to flesh out the store section. This turned out to be a big week for us because not only did we relaunch the site, we ordered a new design called Steal Art Make Money, a tribute to the dubious “art” that Shepard Fairey sells. #DISSOBEY. We also made some new connections with potential partners and got our first international order from Glasgow. I really am curious how someone found us out there – but find us they did.

But beyond everything on the Scope Front, the most exciting news of the week is that my man Catch Wreck opened up for Public Enemy at the House of Blues – thanks to Professor Griff and uncle UNO. I remember when Catch was a 14 year-old with the Huey Freeman Afro, going to the PE video shoot, meeting them and making his way to their Staten Island studio. Everything has come full circle and this was one of the proudest moments of my life. Things like this encourage me to keep going – because like it or not, we’re coming for ours  – and we’re going to get it.

So – moral of the story: I suck at taking vacations, I’m too young and ambitious. But when I do slow down and enjoy life – it IS enjoyable – if a bit unsettling. I am really glad I got to see the fam, and wonder where we’ll all be 5 years from now. One things for sure, the wonderful wackiness that makes us who we are is sure to stay. After all, why be normal when you can be a Niederkorn?

And I’m Legal

At exactly 12:01 on Monday, July 19, I got a phone call, from across the globe (12 hr. time difference), from a very special person, wishing me a happy birthday and wanting to hear my voice. That set the tone for what has been a fantastic birthday week. Thank you to all my loved ones and friends for making it what it was. I feel like this whole week has been a series of celebrations – which was great. On Sunday night I met with some of my boys to toast at midnight and have limited festivities given that I was working the next day.

My actual Birthday was spent at my job (as usual) before going home to celebrate with some friends, and then go out. We hit up Central Sq., B.U., Downtown, the Beach – all made possible by Chad’s Benz and expert driving. While it was fun, Boston is totally dead on a Monday night – yet another indicator that I gotta get out of this city, if only for a while. The comic book store in Allston was playing with my emotions,  as it was full of lights and people at 1:30 in the AM but not open. It was a great night though.

Tuesday, I went in to work late and celebrated my birthday with my supervisor and several coworkers who had their birthdays within days of mine. That night it was birthday dinner with the folks at a bomb Indian restaurant. Later that night we went to check out the iStandard Producer Showcase at the Temple recording studio in J.P. Center. It was a 2 day showcase featuring local artists and produces including our friend the Archetype, who is the engineer at the Bridge Sound and Stage where we record much of Catch’s music. He was featured the second night so Tuesday was really more of a reconnaissance mission. Wednesday we returned with shirts, CD’s, flyers, business cards and utilized the opportunity to network with all kinds of people.

So, I guess it feels good to be 21, and able to hit up whatever scene this city has left. I’m glad all my family and good friends celebrated with me and I definitely had fun.

Worlds Collide

I always love it when I can get all my different circles of friends together in one space. This past weekend, my dear mother broke in her BRAND NEW Propane Grill – (call it a mid-life crisis) hosting a cookout for some of the neighbors, friends of the family and my boys. As always there was world-class potato salad, black bean and corn salad, Greek salad, hamburgers and other offerings. But beyond good food and beautiful weather, I think the best thing about yesterday was the way everyone just hung out and met people they might not have met before.

It was dope connecting my musical genius friends with my visual /design genius friends with my super genius friends – a flock of friggin Freud’s to use a Jim Carey riddler line. Lately I’ve been spending a lot of time working with my business partner Jero on our clothing company, Scope Urban Apparel and other people we’ve brought in on the project. So far the response and reception has been tremendous and we are getting ready to make our first moves. With a fairly tight production schedule planned out on top of all the other stuff going on in my life, its going to be a busy month – but it was nice to take a night off to politic and eat, shoot the shit and catch up with people.

The absolute best thing though, was undeniably the home-made strawberry shortcake, (Another of my mom’s many summer specialties…)

Man’s Best Friends

About 10 years ago our friends (now neighbors) called us up frantically asking us to take in two kittens they had found dumped out of a car in front of their house. They were headed out of town but had found two abandoned, weeks-old kittens the morning they were supposed to leave. We were supposed to watch these kittens for a week, while they were out of town. Well, by the time we got to their house one of the kittens had gotten loose. The other, a palm-sized grey ball of fuzz covered in chewing gum went back with us – in theory just until they came back from their trip.

This is how we got Maestro – my cat. Of course once kid and kitten met all notions of giving this cat back when our friends returned sort of vanished – I claimed – and named Maestro and he became part of our family – the NORMAL part. Our other cat at the time, Licorice, was a totally anti-social, neurotic creature who hated human contact. But Maestro was our cat who, if you came over enough, could pet, and would come over and bang his head against your leg looking for food. With the people he knew he could be quite affectionate. But he’s also a cats cat – loves to play hard to get. If you try to get him to come in the house he’ll sit on the back stoop, running away every time you open the door and running back every time you close it. Even my mother who HATES cats likes Maestro (although for the longest time she would only do so by saying he wasn’t a cat).

This weekend we brought him into the vets because his stomach blown up like he was full of something. We had them do a test revealing it was some sort of mass that had ruptured and fluid had drained out, filling his belly. The tests they ran on a sample of the fluid came back positive for malignant cancer which is inoperable. Today he had the first of possible many procedures to drain 300cc’s of fluid from inside him – in order to make him more comfortable and take some pressure off of his insides. They also gave him a shot of steroids. They say that we can drain the fluid every so often to keep him comfortable and the steroids will help but at this point they are saying days or weeks. I was never one to believe life could be calculated like that, especially when he doesn’t even seem to be in any sort of pain for the moment. But it’s a sad truth that this otherwise healthy and happy cat is on his way.

When I was a kid he would sleep at the foot of my bed, staring at the fish tank that I used for a night light. And the first summer we had him I went away on a road-trip and was worried about him going out by himself, so my mom used a leash in the backyard. I feel like he has a good life – roaming the neighborhood and being king of our hill. I hope we can keep him happy as long as he’s healthy and am grateful for the joy, humor and comforts he brought into our home – animals offer love without complication. Maybe its because they depend on us for food – but at least they don’t have a problem letting us know that. Maestro is the first cat (or animal) that I’ve ever said is mine – and its sad to think he might not be with us much longer but I’m glad he fell into our lives.

First time for everything: Chicken Parmesan

I love to cook but it is one of those things I can’t make myself do unless I’m cooking for someone else. It used to be my ex-girlfriend, who was the first person to make cooking meat something I considered doable and not totally disgusting. See I was raised in a household where the primary cook was a Vegetarian. Not super hard core, we can cook and have meat in the same containers for instance, but I never really learned how to prepare meat from scratch. I’ve always wanted to learn how to cook Chicken Parm, and I could think of no one more deserving than my mother Esther who loves good Italian food – so yesterday, we had a night to hang out (something incredibly rare with school and all my work) – We got the last season of the Sopranos on DVD, and cooked Chicken Parmesan from scratch!

So, since I like to cook AND since I like to learn how to cook new things, I am thinking of starting to dedicate a few of my Blog posts to my culinary exploits. So, for all you who never picked up a knife or never held a raw slimy chicken breast and cleaned it – this is the cooking blog for you – nothing too fancy or unachievable, just my favorite home-made meals that you can do for a special person in your life – friends, family, significant others etc.

Chicken Parmesan

1) The first step is to wash and clean your chicken breasts. Once you have rinsed all the slime off, cut all the fat and stringy parts out, it has to be pounded. I think the technical term is “tenderized.” Basically I put it in a plastic bag and beat the hell out of it with the back of a pan – until the breast is about a half an inch thick all the way around.

2) Next is the seasoning and the Dredge. Rub the chicken with salt, pepper, some basil and some oregano on both sides. Get a saute pan of olive oil going over medium high heat on the stove. One at a time, take your seasoned breasts and dredge them in a wash of 1 egg mixed with 1/2 cup of milk. The next phase is to dredge it in seasoned bread crumbs – make sure to get a good coating on both sides and around the edges.

3) From there the breasts go into the pan. The oil should be hot enough that if you flick water in it bubbles and boils. Cook the chicken for about 3 or 4 minutes on each side. I found it easier to do this one breast at a time, but those who are more confident with their spatula skills can try to double up. Once they look nice and crispy on all sides, with a nice brown crust take em out of the pan and place into a baking dish.


4) With all the chicken breaded in your baking dish, place slices of mozzarella cheese over each breast. Then pour over tomato sauce (more than you think you’ll need so there’s enough extra for the pasta) to cover everything. Finally, top that with grated Parmesan cheese.


5) Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for approximately 25-35 minutes. While the chicken is baking you can cook your pasta, garlic bread and prep your salad or just drink a glass of wine. The biggest thing is don’t rush it. The chicken won’t dry out because all that lovely sauce is in there with it so you don’t need to be so concerned with over baking it. Basically, when it is bubbling on its own, it should be ready to go. See comparison below:
Once it looks like the dish on the bottom, you are ready to pull it out.
6) That’s basically it. Now just serve over your favorite pasta with a nice green salad and some good garlic bread and enjoy!
So I hope y’all found this to be helpful and inspiring. I know I feel a lot less intimidated about cooking and handling poultry. Making good food yourself is one of the most satisfying feelings so I encourage readers to find someone to cook for, take the time to learn something new, and get yourself a badass apron like mine:

Snow Bird

For a Boston kid, me and my family never did the whole snowbird thing where we flee from our bitter northeast weather to warmer and welcoming destinations. We typically celebrate the holidays at home – if we go anywhere it’s to visit family who live in as cold (or colder) areas. So this year we totally switched up all traditions by taking a trip to Florida. None of us had ever been before and the prospect of a tropical getaway for just the three of us seemed too good to pass up. We left on Christmas day, arriving at a nearly dead Logan airport. We had a brief stopover in Bmore where there was also snow on the ground but when we landed a few hours later in Fort Lauderdale, it was as if we had entered a different world. From the window of the plane, Florida’s sprawling development butted up to turquoise-blue water and for the first time when we walked off the plane, it was WARMER in the connector tube to the airport.

Standing outside waiting for the courtesy van from the chain hotel we stayed in the first night, we gawked and gaped at the birds, the breeze, the palms and pink skies. The first of many “we’re not in Kansas anymore” moments. Driving from the airport down to the hotel, we saw egrets and herons, coconuts and people in shorts and t-shirts. It definitely felt like the twilight zone, going in a matter of hours from being bundled and scarfed, knit hats and multiple layers to a place where a thin cotton shirt could feel heavy.
Where we were staying in Fort Lauderdale, since it was only for one night until our real place was available we picked the cheap hotel closest to where we had to go rent our car. So for the first night we were somewhat stranded in a sprawling series of big name stores, car dealerships, big hotels and the like.

As we walked around as a family in the oh so lovely strip mall and chain hotel haven it definitely did not feel like any Christmas before. We went to the only place open for Christmas dinner – Pancho’s fine Mexican cuisine. The food was great, burritos and fajitas with little Mexican flags on toothpicks triumphantly sticking out of the top. After our holiday meal, we made our way the mile walk down desolate and empty roadway to the beach – where enormous hotels and condos lined the soft sandy strip. We found our way to water, kicked off our shoes and in the dark, on Christmas day went walking through the tides.

The next morning we picked up our car and the REAL vacation started. We drove down the A1A, a scenic highway going down the coast of Florida. The endless palms and tropical plants were distributed amongst truly gigantic beach-front high end luxury towers… The architecture and distribution of buildings was unlike anything I have ever seen, with turquoises and whites and giant glass – mega towers along the entire beach with random smaller buildings everywhere else.
As we got down towards Miami Beach, the architecture changed, and the classic art deco hotels with their sexy neon and stylish lettering of a bygone era. These buildings had the look of an old Cadillac, with pastel colors trimming creams and taupes – all finished off with sleek metal and highly decorative facades of geometric shapes and clean patterns. The nomenclature and typography of these establishments were a romantic throwback to the era from whence they came, and despite an influx of tourists, modern cars, name brand stores and chain eateries, they were breathtaking to an architecture geek like me.
We kept driving south, on highways which seemed to bounce up and over the massively sprawling and developed area of Miami, eventually ending up on route 1, the highway to the Florida keys. We made a brief yet oh so worth it detour to the Robert is Here fruit stand, a tourist attraction and fresh fruit stand boasting 50 years of fine produce purveyance.
They also specialise in fresh fruit milkshakes – so while we stocked up on mangoes, grapefruits and kumquats, we had key-lime strawberry, tamarind, and banana cantaloupe smoothies which were TO DIE FOR. Getting back on the road, laden with fresh fruit and veggies and sweet beverages, we kept on our southward trek to the Florida keys. The farther we went, the smaller the islands got until we were going on Bridges connecting little islands in a long chain. We are staying on Long Key, in a small house right on the water of a protected estuary which literally comes up to the side of our porch.

Watching the sunset over the water – sipping on cool drinks and munching on pretzels, I had a profound sense of peace and relaxation – a calm I have not felt in months.
It’s been a hell of a year – for all of us. Deaths in the family, new jobs, tough school semesters (for me and my schoolteacher mom), drama amongst friends and people I work with, pain and heartbreak and in general – a loss or change of many of the things I drew stability or strength from in my life. We all needed a vacation, and even though this certainly doesn’t help me feel grounded or connected to the traditions and securities I yearn for, it gives us all a well-deserved break.
I have no idea what time of day, nor day of week nor season of year I am really in – and even though we didn’t change timezones we may as well have because it’s warm enough to be out later than when the sun goes down here. I have no sense of the Boston I left behind, weather-wise, life-wise – but sitting on this chair, looking out at this calm water – watching the pelicans and herons swoop in and out I don’t much mind. I know it’ll be a reality check when I walk off that plane in a week, to put on my hat and gloves and face whatever I am not dealing with now…
But at least for now a vacation from reality, a little excursion to the unknown is just what the doctor ordered.