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The Man With the Handlebar Mustache!

October 19, 2014 16 comments
Uncle Jacob 1988

©2014 Karen Szczuka Teich

Fall bursts with bright colors, Oktoberfests and beer, memories from my childhood and the man with the handlebar mustache.

Memories are a curious thing. They come in the form of a person’s personal perspective. Each situation, event or conversation, means something different to all those involved, and also to those not involved. We give different meanings, according to our belief systems, and how we are affected by the event. In Other words, we don’t see things as they are necessarily; we see things as we are. (http://www.getselfhelp.co.uk/perspectives.htm)

The following is my perception and memories of a man who I am truly grateful to have had in my life.

The sun had set and I remember watching the glow of the red sky slowly fade to black. It had been a long day, a great day of blueberry picking but it was late now and clearly we were lost. It felt like hours since we’d left my parents. Maybe it was. Somehow, we missed where they turned. The back roads of the Catskill Mountains are endless, nameless and windy. There were no maps or street lights to guide you on these less traveled roads. I can’t recall everyone who was in that pale blue Volkswagen bus with me that evening, I think my brother was, maybe my sister too but I remember the mood perfectly: content and tired, despite being lost. I think I was seven or eight-years old. Another thing I remember for sure; I wasn’t scared. I felt safe. It was another adventure. Finally, we came upon a tavern and stopped for directions. We followed him inside the small watering hole and waited patiently, spinning ourselves on bar stools as he drank from a frosty mug, no doubt making new friends while he inquired about our whereabouts and how to get back to the Parkway.

This remains one of my earliest memories of the man with the handlebar mustache.

He wasn’t a “blood” relative but we were close like family and called him Uncle anyway. Uncle Jacob (pronounced Yahck-up) lived with his family, his wife and three sons in an affluent part of Westchester, NY, a short walk from Rye Beach and Playland Amusement Park where their famous boardwalk was featured at the end of the movie “Big”, when the “Zoltar the Magnificent” fortune teller machine returned the adult Tom Hanks to his original childhood age/state of being. As a kid I roamed that boardwalk with my siblings a million times over. My family spent lots of weekend time at the house in Rye. Uncle Jacob and my Dad were very good friends. Shortly after my Dad immigrated to this country from Germany, Uncle Jacob gave him a job as a painter’s apprentice and a place to live. That was over 50-years ago. Back then, an immigrant coming to the United Sates had to have a job and a place to live so as not to be a burden on society.

VW Bus

Trip to Niagara Falls most likely 1963 with the two families. This is actually my Dad’s VW Bus but Uncle Jacob had a very similar one. My Dad is in the driver’s seat. Tante Theresa behind him. Richard (the middle of the three sons) is in the passenger seat. ©2014 Karen Szczuka Teich

Uncle Jacob’s wife, Tante Theresa, was an amazing cook and made the best Sunday dinners and chocolate chip cookies you ever had. For real. The three boys were older than me and my siblings. I can’t say I had a relationship with any one of them in particular but I do believe that a life-long bond that exists among family members was created between us during those years and beyond. They knew my Dad before he got married, before we were born. They were patient with us when we came over. I remember watching them and my Dad play with this huge train or racing car track that Uncle Jacob built for them. It was on a wooden board as big as a bed, in fact it retracted onto the wall just like a Murphy Bed. It was a fun, comfortable place to be in, like home and even though the neighborhood was a quiet and reserved one, Uncle Jacob’s house was anything but quiet and reserved.

Looking back I realize Uncle Jacob was the most progressive man I’ve ever known.

Still.

To. This. Day.

Uncle Jacob

L to R: Me, Uncle Jacob & My Sister ©2014 Karen Szczuka Teich

Everything I experienced at that house was unique and unusual although it all seemed quite normal at the time. As a child, I loved Uncle Jacob but it’s only now as an adult that I truly appreciate the happy, wonderful, exciting things he introduced and exposed me to.

I think of him with the same kind of respect I have for Jean Piaget, John Dewey and Ralph Waldo Emerson and realize how amazingly lucky I was to have had this man’s influences infiltrate my childhood. My schooling occurred behind the stone cold walls of a small, strict catholic school but much of my learning occurred under the indirect tutelage of the man with the handlebar mustache. He was a natural teacher demonstrating a hands-on approach to living and learning. He was a modern day Dr. Doolittle only instead of having an English accent; his was German occasionally slurred by a happy consumption of wine or beer. Like the Pied Piper too, children and adults were drawn to him and his charismatic ways.

Let me explain.

In addition to being a house painter by trade, he was a musician and a singer. Actually, he was a party on two feet, a walking Oktoberfest, all-year-round. He played the accordion. Always and everywhere.

He was a butcher. One time he and my dad bought a pig and among other things, made sausage in his basement, letting me hold the clear, thin casing while he cranked out the ground up sausage meat into it. Another time they bought a calf. We ate veal every day in every way for about a year. I don’t eat veal as an adult.

And yet another time when my younger brother wandered into the basement and as he puts it,

One minute there was a chicken running around and the next minute Uncle Jacob laid it on the butcher block and chopped it’s head off.

Dinner.

He was a farmer, growing tomatoes and other vegetables, and berries along the perimeter of the square shaped fence that surrounded the patch of grass that was his back yard.

©2014 Karen Szczuka Teich

Me & my baby who I named Rabbit in Rye. ©2014 Karen Szczuka Teich

Peter Rabbit

My younger brother, Peter w/ a rabbit in Rye. ©2014 Karen Szczuka Teich

He raised rabbits. I remembering playing house with them in their living room, dressing them up and rocking them in my arms like I would a baby doll.

He was a Bee Keeper and for some time, kept his bees in boxes on the roof of his quiet little house in the affluent city of Rye. One summer, when I was 10 or 11, he gave me and my friend a job building bee hive frames. He showed us how to hammer and wire them. He treated us like we were capable. At the end of the day he paid us with jars of honey. Soon after, a neighbor complained and called the police. Uncle Jacob called the newspaper and had me come back and go up on the roof where the bees were to show them how safe it was. Eventually, they made him move the bees.

We had freedom to explore in and out and around his house. There was a small concrete swimming pool that was enclosed by a gate on the property that we swam in often, amongst the huge green lily pads and giant orange gold fish that he kept in it.

He made my brother his first fishing pole out of a stick and some twine and helped him catch his first fish with it.

He was a swimmer and swam in the Long Island Sound, probably every night. He would walk to a small alcove with his flippers in hand and his best friend, Horste, by his side. Horste was his dog, I think he was a coonhound. Sometimes we would go and watch him and Horste swim together.

Uncle Jacob and my Dad would lay in the living room on a Sunday afternoon reading the German newspaper or watching soccer, my Dad on the couch and Uncle Jacob on the floor. Uncle Jacob would call us over one by one and tell us to walk on his back to massage his weary muscles.

As I grew older and became more preoccupied with my own life and living, going to college and working, my personal contact lessened and at some point Uncle Jacob left his house in Rye to go live where his heart was, in the back woods of the Catskill Mountains. I never got to see his place there but my mom used to refer to it as Jacob’s Chutzpah! I imagined it to be a place where animals and people could dwell in an uncomplicated way. Tante Theresa remained for the most part in the house in Rye and I was told that when Uncle Jacob would come down from the mountains to visit his grandchildren he’d bring a baby chick or a bunny rabbit in his coat pocket on the train for them to see and hold and play with.

Jacob

©2014 Karen Szczuka Teich

Needless to say, not everyone he came in contact with appreciated his carefree nature and unfortunately, or fortunately, a neighbor who didn’t enjoy his unconventional ways of living (or German music maybe?) had him arrested on a DUI one night after playing at a local party. He was put in a small-town, back woods jail for a few months, to teach him a lesson. Needless to say, sitting idle in a cell didn’t sit well with Uncle Jacob. He asked for a can of paint and a paint brush. By the time his sentence was served, his cell and the whole jailhouse for that matter was left with a fresh coat of paint on its walls, compliments of the man with the handlebar mustache.

Is there someone in your life that had a huge, positive impact on you as a child?

I’d love to hear about them.

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Strawberry Fields…

June 30, 2013 15 comments

strawberryshortcake

“Let me take you down

‘Cause I’m going to

Strawberry Fields

Nothing is real

And nothing to get hung about

Strawberry Fields forever”

~ The Beatles

I love strawberries with fresh cream. I love my kids too. They do not necessarily love the same things I do.

It was the first weekend in June, last summer.

Even though I met with a fair amount of objections, I managed to persuade my kids that this outing would be fun. As we approached the annual Strawberry Festival at the waterfront by the train station in a neighboring town, we came upon a young police officer diverting traffic away from the train station parking area which was full. Ten minutes later we finally found a spot. This diversion along with a blazing, hot sun, hastened the regression of both of my kids to those early toddler-tantrum days. The sweltering heat which hovered in the mid-nineties that day didn’t help. It caused my kids to moan, groan, rebel and resist as we embarked on the half-mile decent from the very tippy-top of a winding hill. By the time we reached the entrance-way to the festival, my kids were toast; hot, sweaty and agitated to a point-of- no-return. That happens with teenagers sometimes and it was clear, no one was going to have a good time. I all but gave up trying to convince them they would. We decided to abort this mission and just leave.

Before making the steamy ascent back up to the car however, I needed to use one of the several port-a-potties lined up at the start of the festival.

Ugh! Gross! And Yuck!

I’ll be right out. I explained.

Three times in two minutes, someone attempted to enter the stall I was in, even though I’d made it clear that someone was inside. I left flummoxed and aggravated. When we were all finally back in the car my motherly instincts to try and salvage the afternoon kicked in and I declared that we would stop for ice-cream before heading home.

I can’t think of too many things that would be more embarrassing for an 11-year old girl and a 13-year old boy than for their mom to force bring them into a sit-down ice-cream parlor, chat-it-up with the new owner and then discover she had no money or credit card with her to pay for the three sundaes they just enjoyed when presented with the bill. That’s right, nothing. Not-one-penny did I have, despite the fact that I distinctly remembered putting cash, a credit card and my license into the back pocket of my jean shorts. ‘Gone’ I thought in a panic and Oh. My. God. there was only one place they could be.

We left with an I-OWE-YOU and headed back to the port-a-potty at the Strawberry Festival from hell.

This time when meeting up with the young officer directing traffic to the tippy-top of the hill half-a-mile away from the festival, I gave him that get-out-of-my-way-and-let-me-pass look that only a mother in distress, who means business can give. If you’pottyre a mom, you know the one. You know exactly what I am talking about. It’s the same kind of aura you emit when your child is in danger and the strength to lift a vehicle or move mountains automatically fills you.

With my son in the passenger seat and my daughter in the back, I rolled down my window smiling that no-nonsense-smile and before he could get a word in, I said,

I’m going down there with my car to get my wallet, drivers license and credit cards.

Without hesitation, he stepped aside and waved me through. 

Of course, there was no available parking in the lot by the entrance to the festival where the port-a-potties were, so I did what any other good, mortified mom in this desperate situation would do: I drove to the end of the lot and parked head-on at the wall, blocking in at least four parked cars, two on either side of me.  Then of course, I did what I’m sure every other mother in my sad and sorry situation would do: I left my car running with my two kids in it. The temperature after all was in the nineties.

Don’t move. I’ll be right back! I bellowed to the blank stares looking back at me.

Of course, I was not, right back.

How many embarrassing moments can happen in the span of one hour?

There was nothing to be found in the port-a-potty that three people walked in on me, in the span of 2-minutes nearly an hour earlier, so I did some inquiring and sprinted over to the “Lost & Found” booth at the far end of the park. In the middle of the park a stage had been setup for bands. One was getting ready to play. The pleasant woman at the Lost & Found table said nothing was brought over but,

We can make an announcement, she said. Come with me.

Unwittingly, I followed, passing all the luscious booths selling the strawberries and cream and shortcake in a variety of mouth-watering versions that I had come for but would not have that day. Instead, I found myself standing in the center of the stage where the band was setting up. The woman I followed stepped over to the microphone and in a very matter-of-fact motion removed it from its resting place and handed it to me. I stood bewildered until she snapped her head toward me in a, “go ahead” nod of affirmation. Startled and stunned, I stumbled over my words as feedback from the microphone penetrated the park and the hustle and bustle of the festival’s activities came to a screeching halt. All eyes curiously gazed upon me. I have no idea what I said. All I remember is that my mouth moved and words came out. When I was done, I bolted toward the parking lot where my kids were waiting in the running car.

Could there be any more embarrassment?

Of course there could. Indeed, there was a not-so-happy man trapped in his car as a result of where mine was.

Oh, my God, Mom! I heard as I jumped into the driver seat and proceeded to back my way out. That man is so frustrated. He kept coming up and asking us when you were coming back!

Uh-huh. That’s right. I left my kids in a running car where they were approached by a strange (aggravated) man more than once.

They were mortified. So was I.

The ride home was a quiet one. I kept trying to tell myself it could be worse, it was only money and a credit card and my license, all things that could be replaced. Once inside I retreated to my bedroom. Now, I was toast and needed to change into something more comfortable. When I opened up my closet door there was a pair of jean shorts laying on the floor, ‘right,’ I thought, the ones I had on first this morning and Oh. My. God.

…. the ones with the cash, credit card and license in the back pocket.

Life has a way of throwing a wrench in even the simplest of plans. As parents we try our best without a lot of training. For me, finding the humor is key. Thankfully, hindsight is a wonderful gift and today my kids and I laugh a lot and out loud about the calamities of that day.

 

Silly Sightings In A Single Swoop

June 1, 2013 14 comments

Life takes it’s toll in one way or another.

When the opportunity arises for you to stop and smile, do it!

Ever take the same route over and over again so many times you could do it in your sleep? Not that it would be advisable that you do it in your sleep of course but you feel fairly confident you could, if you had to?

For me, it’s the morning school route with one carpool stop.

E-v-e-r-y-d-a-y.

A few weeks ago, as I set out on this everyday journey and slowed at the first traffic light, something that’s normally not in my peripheral vision at this point caught the corner of my eye.

sink 005

Once a year a neighboring town hosts a Hot-Air Balloon Festival but that’s not until July.

This was a little out-of-the-ordinary.

sink 001

As I rounded the corner at yet another traffic light along this established route of travel, I came upon an extra-large cup of Dunkin Donuts coffee — on two legs — waving to me.

This does not happen every day.

memorial day weekend 032

And when I got to our morning carpool, this fella was waiting in the driveway to greet us. ‘Nope, it’s not Turkey Season’, I thought. Heck, it’s not even November. Like the balloon, the walking cup of coffee and the rain-shower that came out of nowhere just before we got there, this occurrence was random.

But, not as random as seeing this scene or rather, this scenery, being pulled along the main street of our fare city as I continued on my way to work, after dropping the kids off at school.

When was the last time you saw something like this on your regular route?

memorial day weekend 027

All of this randomness in such a short period of time, didn’t feel so random all of sudden and it made me stop and smile.

random 009

(This smile was not random. It’s not even mine but it was spontaneous, taken on that same day and it seems to fit here nicely.)

Maybe the universe was trying to send me a message. At times it seems as though life is taking it’s toll, daily.

Maybe these silly sightings in a single swoop on a morning that began with clear skies that quickly turned cloudy and even rainy before returning to sunshine within the span of 4o-minutes, were meant to be the gentle reminder of that which I already know but often forget:

The only certain thing about life, is that nothing is certain.

You never know what may present itself to you at any given moment, in any given day. You never know who will enter your life or who will leave it. It is however, worth appreciating here and now, as it is, before it changes because for certain, it will.

A Walk In The Woods

January 20, 2013 14 comments

What lies behind us and what lies ahead of us are tiny matters compared to what lives within us. ~ Henry David Thoreau

Cold Spring, NY ~ January 2013

Cold Spring, NY ~ January 2013

For many, many moons now I’ve had the great fortune of a “standing“, weekly walk in the woods with a friend.  Last week, she suggested we tread a new path.

Cold Spring, NY ~ January 2013

Cold Spring, NY ~ January 2013

So, we did. We saw some interesting new sights…..

Cold Spring, NY ~ January 2013

Cold Spring, NY ~ January 2013

…and met a few new friends along the way. Standing still and strong and beautiful were two deer watching us, curiously and cautiously as we passed.

Cold Spring, NY ~ January 2013

Cold Spring, NY ~ January 2013

Be true to your work, your word and your friend. ~ Henry David Thoreau

Mostly we lost sight of the path and got lost in the hour’s chatter like we always do. We talk about everything and nothing, all of which encompass the important happenings of our lives. We exchange intimate details that are meant to be freely shared with someone who will keep them safely to themselves. Trust. This ritual helps me stay centered within, ever reminding me to be grateful for the peace and beauty in the people and places that surround me and the ability to see them, touch them and be with them, giving me all I need to go forth.

Go confidently in the direction of your dreams.  Live the life you have imagined.  ~ Henry David Thoreau

Wappingers, NY ~ January 2013

Wappingers, NY ~ January 2013

For me, this is…

living life to the fullest, while fully awake. ~ Henry David Thoreau

What do you do to center yourself?

Photo Credits #1-4: Karen Szczuka Teich & Takingtheworldonwithasmile.com

Transition 101

September 16, 2012 10 comments

September is a time of change for many of us and change is a fact of life.

In the northeast, the warm weather wanes, temperatures begin to dip and cool breezes begin to blow. Our evenings get chilly and the mornings turn slightly brisk. After any kind of change, there is always a period of adjustment. Here in New York, sweaters are coming out of the closets, pants are being worn instead of shorts. Sneakers and socks are starting to replace sandals. September means school. Teachers and students are going back to school and in many cases, a new school. In some cases they’re going to a new middle school. Middle school is notorious for being difficult to navigate and signifies a huge change for kids ages 11 through 14. It can be a very scary endeavor.

For some kids the transition into middle school is really hard and approached tentatively.

They quietly tread their new paths lightly.

Others kids approach their new experience like an adventure.

They embrace it.

Jump into it with both feet.

Color their hair purple three days before the first day of classes….

…and then proceed to run for class representative, in their  brand new school.

 

Go get ’em baby girl!

How do you meet change?

Photo Credit #1:  Google Images
Photo Credit #2 – #5: ©Karen Szczuka Teich & Takingtheworldonwithasmile.com

What the… Bindlestiff?!

August 12, 2012 16 comments

I went to the circus this weekend.

Well sort of.

Actually, it was a Cirkus.

A friend of mine won tickets at an auction to see the Bindlestiff Family Cirkus at a venue called a Spiegltent which is temporarily situated on the lush campus of New York’s Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson. She asked me if I’d like to go with her.

My new mantra:

Just.  Say.  Yes.

…wouldn’t let me turn down the offer, even though I’d never heard of the Bindlestiffs and had no idea what a Spiegltent was.

Besides, I truly enjoy my friend’s company. So, after a delightful dinner in the Tavern Restaurant at the Beekman Arms Inn in Rhinebeck, the country’s oldest operating Inn, we continued to head north in search of this mysterious venue.

A Spiegltent, I discovered, is a traveling tent constructed in wood and beautifully colored canvas and decorated with mirrors and brilliant, stained glass. Primarily used for entertainment purposes, the Spiegltent was originally built in Belgium during the late 19th century and there are only a handful of them that remain in the world today.

It truly is a spectacular venue, worth seeing, regardless of the show playing inside.

I’ve never been a huge fan of the circus. As a kid my Dad took us once a year and it always seemed, noisy and smelly to me. I’d spend most of my time craning my neck, trying to see the main event in the Big Ring and wondering if the clowns were really sad or the animals really happy.

The Bindlestiff Family Cirkus it turns out, is no ordinary circus. First of all, “Family” refers to those persons who are at least 18-years or older. The Ring Master is a Ring Mistress who not only gets dangerously, drunk during the show, she can do disturbing things with her nose and a latex article used for well, clothing; kind of. This Cirkus has one kinky, krazy, sword-swallowing clown named Kinko, two nearly-naked but quite amazing acrobats; one of whom wears a fury G-string and monkey-ears and the other whose tantalizing tassels are sure to tease please. Their acts are accompanied by a three-piece band including an accordion player and a violinist.

Are you getting the picture here?

If it seems a little fuzzy or bizarre, you’re on the right track. Even though the “show” is billed as a Cabaret, it has a bit of a Burlesque-ish feel to it. Add a disco ball and dance music at the end of the evening and it becomes an all out party!

My mantra is:

Just.  Say.  Yes.

And I’m so glad I did.

Many thanks to The Bindlestiff Family Cirkus for re-posting this on their Facebook Page.

You can check it out here:  The Bindlestiff Family Cirkus and for re-tweeting @Bindlestiff

It really was a fabulous show!!

Have you ever seen The Bindlestiff Family Cirkus or been inside a Spiegltent?

Photo Credits #1-4 Google Images

Wild Thing, She Makes My Heart Sing!

December 21, 2010 3 comments

Talk about taking the world on with a smile…..

How about the 9-yr old who does it everyday and isn’t even trying? I’m talking about the same one whose first kiss was from a dolphin and who swims with sea lions. No inhibitions. Although she was born with a tooth in her mouth, her hair did not start growing until she was two and even then, it was only at a snail’s pace.  People mistook her for a boy until she was four, even if she was wearing a pink dress.  Her first haircut wasn’t until she was six. At nine she happily struts her stuff in her older brother’s hand-me-downs. She never wears matching socks and only has one ear pierced. If there is a revolt at school, she will be the leader, ever speaking her mind. She has a healthy disregard for authority.  She once devised a plan for her and her peers to escape the school’s playground at the injustice of having a “made-up” game, banned. (Think Lord of the Flies.) They were going to take the city’s Loop Bus……. somewhere. I’m thankful she had no money.

This child actually smiles when she’s sleeping. No lie. And yes, she wakes up smiling too. Joyful. That’s the word that comes to mind. A blessing. She is a modern-day Pollyanna, not only drinking from the cup of kindness but always sharing it too. I’m often amazed at the wisdom that comes from such a youthful mind.  I am equally humbled when she tells me everything is going to be alright and I believe her. She’s inspirational. I used to say, when I grow up I want to be just like her but now I say, whenever I’m ready to stop being so grown-up, I’d like to be just like her.

Sometimes you need only look in the room at the end of the hall for a reason to keep trying to take the world on with a smile.

Mayhem Makers

“Wild thing you make my heart sing. You make every thang…….. groovy!”         The Troggs

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