Category Archives: family

The First Rule of Hiking is “Stay on the Trail”

“Stay on the trail, kids! The first rule of hiking is ‘Stay on the Trail’.”

“You’ll know it because it’s been cleared of brush.”

“Isn’t it beautiful here, guys? Just imagine! This is what Ohio looked like when only the Native Americans lived here.”

“Wait up.”


“Look at that tree.”

“Watch out for poison ivy.”

“Stop waving those sticks around. It’s always funny until someone loses an eye.”

“JONAS, GET AWAY FROM THAT LEDGE! Do you want to fall and crack your head open?”

“Wait up.”

“Wait up.”

“Wait up!”

“Don’t touch that. It could be poison ivy.”

“Let’s stop here for a rest and to look at the beauty of nature.”

“Seriously, guys, what did I tell you about those sticks?”

“No, no snacks.”

“Because we just ate breakfast. Besides, it’s not like we’re climbing Mount Everest.”

“Wait up.”

“You think the Native Americans had juice boxes and granola bars? If a Native American got hungry, he would just go down to the lake and scoop out a fish with his bare hands.”


“Because we’re not Native Americans.”

“Are you kidding me? We’ve only been out here for like twenty minutes.”

“JONAS STAY AWAY FROM THE LEDGE. What do I have to do, get you a collar?”

“Look at those huge boulders, kids. That right there is what the Native American kids called a ‘playground’.”

“Don’t climb on that.”

“Wait up.”

“Leaves of three, let them be.”

“No, I don’t actually know what poison ivy looks like. Ask Daddy to Google it on his phone.”

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Décolleté is Fun to Say

Mama and I were discussing First Communion dresses. I felt that some of the specimens I had seen on the racks when searching for the V-meister’s dress were a little inappropriate.

“For example, spaghetti straps. Can you imagine?” I complained to Mama, who agreed that the world was indeed going to hell in a handbasket as evidenced by the latest First Communion fashions.

“And it was slim pickins’ just to find something with a cap sleeve,” I lamented. “I had to buy the V-meister a bolero jacket for the sake of human decency.”

“Times are changing,” Mama agreed. Then, sensing an opportunity to segue into a topic that has evidently been consuming her, she asked me what I myself would be wearing to the V-meister’s First Communion.

“And what about you?” Mama said. “Will you be bringing your décolleté tomorrow?”

“My what?”

There was a moment of uncomfortable silence.

“Do you know what a décolleté is?” Mama asked, using the French pronunciation.

“Well, yeah.” But what was Mama implying?

“It’s lovely, of course. It’s just that, don’t you think, especially in church, a low neckline can be a little distracting?”

I have never been distracted by my décolleté. In fact, I was only half aware I had one. Still, I assured Mama that I would be wearing nothing short of a turtleneck and hung up in a hurry.

Now I am paranoid. Every morning when I get dressed, I look down to see what’s the what. Most days everything seems to be tucked away neatly, but you never know how your décolleté is going to act in a given situation. I have had to take certain measures, such as walking around with my arms crossed and standing no less than five feet away from a person when we are talking. Also, I no longer permit myself to lean over.

Tomorrow, I am going to Nordstrom to get fitted for a Shakespearean collar.


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I Used To Be French

Legend has it in my famiglia that a great-great-great grandmother on my father’s side married a deserter of Napoleon’s army when it marched across the fatherland. I have always blamed this soldier personally for my short stature and the fact that I don’t possess your typical Lithuanian blond-haired, blue-eyed looks.

But the French ancestor has also served me well, especially as a conversation starter at parties.

“Hello, are you enjoying the party?”

“Yes. I am directly descended from Napoleon.”

I always chalked up the ease with which I picked up French to this particular family member, and felt pretty confident that with my beret, baguette, and striped boatneck shirt, I easily passed for a native during the time I spent living in France.

Whenever someone would comment on my impeccable accent, I would say,

“Thank you. It’s because I’m part French.”

But all of that changed last weekend.

I’d been hounding my father to write down his childhood memories of Lithuania for years, and every time I asked him how it was going, the conversation would go like this:

Hey, T?veli! Kaip tau sekasi prisiminimus rašyti?” (Hey, Dad! How’s it going with your memoirs?”)

And my dad would always tell me that he’s making good progress.

Kiek tu jau puslapi? parasiai?” (How many pages are you up to?”), I’d press him.

And he would say:

“Two paragraphs.”

But last week my Dad presented me with three single-spaced pages of his completed memoirs. He packed a lot in those pages – everything from how his family was separated while fleeing, to how he used to amuse himself in the refugee camps by picking apart detonated bombs.  I’m thrilled with it (and very grateful – a?i? T?veli!).

As a bonus, he included a family tree, which begins with the infamous French ancestor.

Whose last name was, “Felice.” Or maybe, “Feliz.”

I did a little bit of research about this surname and about the history around Napoleon’s path through Lithuania.

It turns out the name is Italian or Spanish. What’s more, Wikipedia told me that thousands of Spaniard and Portuguese conscripts deserted Napoleon’s army in Lithuania during the summer of 1812 and went on to loot, pillage, and terrorize the locals.

I took it pretty hard. It’s not that I’m not thrilled to be one-thirty-second Spanish or  Portuguese or Italian, only that for these past thirty-nine-years, I have believed myself to be one-thirty-second French. Also, my great-great-great grandfather might have been a marauder.

There would be no easy way to break it to my dad, so I went over there this afternoon and told it to him straight:

“I hate to tell you this, but we are Spanish, not French.”

He was clearly devastated.

“I wouldn’t be at all surprised,” he said.

“It’s just as I always suspected,” added Mama.

“That explains the moustache*,” my friend V said when I broke it to her.

And indeed, now that I’ve had a few days to take it in, I am very excited about my Spanish or Portuguese or Eye-talian blood. Of course, there are many things I will have to adjust accordingly (note: buy some pirate shirts and leather pants), but it does explain my fondness for paella and Spanish wine.

The only drawback so far is that the P-Dawg has started calling me, “Gomez.”

That’s the jealousy talking, right there.

The New Me

* I don’t really have a moustache.

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Dining With the Dead: Lithuanian Christmas Eve Traditions

Šližikai (Poppyseed Biscuits)

The traditional Lithuanian Christmas Eve dinner is called “K??ios” (Koo-chos) and it’s one of the most important holidays of the year. Like most Christian holidays, it used to be a pagan feast marking the winter solstice and as such, it was fraught with ritual and superstition. The main focus was always family unity and so it was paramount that, come hell or high water, every member return to the ancestral home for the K??ios meal.

And when the Lithuanians said “everybody,” they meant everybody. My people believed that the souls of dead ancestors returned to be with their loved ones on Christmas Eve night. According to some accounts, before the meal began, the head of the household would quite literally open the front door to invite the ethereal posse inside. If a family member had died in the preceding year, a place would be set for them at the table. In one region of Lithuania, a glass of mead or beer was also set for the dead person and I mention this only because my family swears up and down that K??ios is supposed to be a non-alcoholic meal.

Beet Salad

K??ios was also a night dedicated to forecasting and soothsaying, and a main obsession seems to have been divining one’s future in fortune and love. Various games were played and rituals were performed to ensure a good crop and healthy animals, not the least of which involved tying a chicken and a rooster together by their tails and seeing which one dragged the other one where.

My family celebrates K??ios, but like most Lithuanians nowadays, we stick with more basic traditions like twelve cold, meatless dishes (e.g., smoked eel and salmon, pickled herring, marinated mushrooms, beet salad, cranberry pudding, poppyseed biscuits in poppyseed milk). We still pass the plotkel? wafer around from the oldest to the youngest member of the family until everyone has broken from everyone else’s bread. One year we gazed for fortunes in hot melted wax and hid straws under the tablecloth which were later pulled to forecast who would have the longest life.

Dead Ancestor

Now that Vija and Jonas are approaching the age of reason, it’s becoming increasingly important to me to drive these traditions home so that many years from now, when they’re sitting down to Beef Wellington with a nice Rhone red for Christmas Eve dinner, they’ll be overcome with guilt at the sight of my disapproving specter materializing before them and say, “Screw it! Let’s just have cold marinated fish and Vernors.”

To this end, I went online to research some of the more interesting K??ios traditions we could incorporate into our meal this year.

Here are the ones that won’t be making the cut:

  • “On this day stroke the cows, so that they will be fat and have no pustules.”
  • “If you want your horses to be good-looking, steal manure from your neighbor and feed it to your horses.”
  • “Young men and women, wishing to find out who will be their mate, when casting lots take two candles, a towel and a mirror to an uninhabited house. The candles are lit and placed near the mirror. Wiping moisture from the mirror with the towel, they would see their future mate. Worthy of attention in magic rituals’ execution is total nudity.”
  • “After supper, the girl should climb up into the attic, undress and walk three times around the chimney, then in total darkness she will see the young man she will marry. “

Merry Christmas, everybody! May your horses be good-looking and your cows fat with no pustules!


Images courtesy of Google Images.

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