Sunday, December 9, 2018

Grapefruit League

(Photo from Health.com)

I love grapefruit, which may come as a surprise to some, given the fact that I have the eating habits of a five-year-old.  Grapefruit though was something I grew up eating.  For the young Albert boys, it was bordering on an exotic fruit, given the limited food options (based on my mother's sensibilities) we had growing up.  With the previous three sentences noted, the last grapefruit I had was in early 2016.

It was in January of 2016 that I was diagnosed with a medical condition that necessitated my taking a medication that interacts poorly with grapefruit.  To the uninitiated, the seemingly kind and gentle grapefruit interacts with a ton of medications.  Don't believe me?  Check out THIS LIST.  It's kind of like discovering that your kind and gentle Uncle actually works for the CIA, interrogating suspected terrorists, or something along those lines.  I never had an uncle like that, but I have definitely missed eating (red) grapefruit.

Jumping back to the present day, actually this past Wednesday to be exact, I was feeling normal.  As in fine.  Outside of a challenging early afternoon phone conversation, the day was even going remarkably okay.  By later on in the work day, well, I started to feel a bit off.  What transpired next isn't suitable for my PG-rated blog, but here's a good-but-sufficiently-nebulous description for you:  "My body + Wes Craven Horror Movie".  At this point, I have to give my doctor's office, at Geisinger Mount Pleasant, tons of well-deserved credit:  I called the office and they were extraordinarily helpful, postulating on what likely was happening and providing good advice.  They also got me in to see my primary care physician the next day, which is nothing short of a small miracle in this day and age.  Two sets of blood tests and a doctor visit later and the jury is still somewhat out in terms of what is actually going on within my entrails, but I can gladly report that I feel fine.  More tests are likely needed, and I've run out of arms from which to draw blood, but I'm sure the good folks at Geisinger will figure that part out.

There is a silver lining to all of this:  I can eat grapefruit again, I think.  The medication that apparently offended the grapefruit gods has been removed from my daily intake, as it was making what happened above (i.e. Wes Craven Horror Movie) a lot worse.  The replacement medication I will be taking gets along much better with grapefruit. 


Friday was a day off, and outside of my doctor checking in with me, I spent the day shopping with Ms. Rivers.  Our final stop?  The grocery store.  I bought two grapefruits.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

The Scranton School Board: Yes, It Can Get Worse

Apparently, the individuals who are responsible for solving the Scranton School District's significant fiscal and educational issues had trouble even agreeing on who should be in charge.  See THIS article.

"The annual reorganization meeting, where directors elect leaders for the following year, included five nominations for president. After directors tried to beat each other by shouting out nominations first..."

Yes, they can't even effectively organize themselves.

It's a mistake to minimize this story as being "that's just how these things go" or "you don't understand the process"; the Scranton School District is insolvent right at this very moment.  This is an emergency, decades in the making.  The Board doesn't have the luxury of, to be crude for a moment, "pissing contests" over who gets what title.  This is akin to the officers of the Titanic arguing over who gets to wear what hat while the ship itself is sinking.

(from THIS page)

The taxpayers deserve better than this, but then again it's been the taxpayers who have elected successive and incredibly unqualified board members in the past.  While there has been some hope that new members would bring a degree of professionalism to the board, I can't get over the whole "...tried to beat each other by shouting..." aspect of this circus.  This is service to one's self...at the expense of the greater good...at it's very worst.

Will it get worse?  Yes, it will. 

Sunday, December 2, 2018

A List of 8 Things that Need to End

In no particular order.
  1. Twitter Articles.  I don't mean articles about Twitter, but rather articles from (in theory) legitimate news sources that consist of 20%-60%+ Twitter quotes.  I've literally seen articles that had something like two paragraphs of real content followed by dozens of Twitter references.  This is lazy journalism at its very worst.
    1. Devaluing Work.  "She's just a waitress" (something I overheard not that long ago).  It's time we stop, as a society, stratifying work by our perception of its monetary value.  Want to know who the hardest working folks I know are?  That would be anyone in a Call Center, Waiters/Waitresses, and most folks working at any Dunkin Donuts.  All hard work is noble.  The most valuable person in the world isn't Jeff Bezos or some Walton next of kin, it's a plumber when you have a furnace emergency in January.  We need to stop celebrating athletes (who are just entertainers playing a game) and the rich/famous for no reason (Kardashians, for example) and start recognizing the folks on the front-lines of the economy.  Oh, one more thing:  The default tip in a restaurant should be 20%.
    2. Facebook's Monopoly.  I noted this in another posting as well.  Facebook has simply grown too large, it has become too influential, and some of its practices are questionable at best (current reference HERE).  That noted, it's too late to turn back the clock on social media, as it's not an important part of the lives of many.  Where are the alternatives?  I've done some research, but nothing stands out. 
    3. Manufactured Election Hot Button Issues (that die out the next day).  This one is self-explanatory, but I'll offer an example...transgender bathroom scares.  Yes, nothing gets the professionally paranoid more riled up than talk about men using the ladies bathroom.  Personally, I don't care what bathroom anyone uses, just as long as they wash their hands and clean up after themselves.  In fact, in Sweden, some of the bathrooms are gender neutral; think "all stalls".  Anyway, the louder a politician yells about an issue right before an election, the more we should hold them (and their issue) in suspect.
    4. Insignificant Penalties for Animal Abusers.  Anyone who is cruel to an animal can very likely be cruel to a fellow human.  Now I'm not suggesting life in prison for killing a dog (for example), but I am suggesting real jail time, not a fine and a promise to be good next time around.  I'll note that I was once called "stupid" or something like that by a fellow commentator on a Scranton Times article.  Of course, that commentator was posting under a pseudonym.  Which brings me to...
    5. Anonymous On-Line Commentators.  Few things in this world are more pathetic than anonymous keyboard commandos.  The Scranton Times is full of them.  As a matter of fact, when it comes to the Scranton Times online edition and regular story commentators, I'm one of two who posts under his/her own name, which is kind of ridiculous.  
    6. Shopping on Thanksgiving, a.k.a. "Let us give thanks for greed".  There is no legitimate reason why a retail store should be open on Thanksgiving Day.  None.  Zero.  Why is it so difficult to put greed aside for one day in this country in order to allow the families of retail workers to celebrate Thanksgiving together?  You can find a list of stores that were both open and closed this past Thanksgiving HERE
    7. Expensive Engagement Rings.  You can find an interesting article on this topic HERE (Sometimes the younger generations get it right).  Look, if money is no object to you and you want to get an expensive engagement ring, well, more power to you.  However, that's not reality for most folks, and the money spent on an expensive ring could be used for so many different and more important things.  The whole custom was concocted by as a way to sell more diamonds (reference HERE) anyway.  

    Sunday, November 25, 2018

    Road Apples, #176

    A Memorable Thanksgiving...Thanksgiving should always be memorable, mostly because we get to spend it with family and friends.  That was true for this me this year, but with an added twist:  We had a flying squirrel visit us for Thanksgiving.  By way of background, we had a large Thanksgiving dinner in Jenkintown, Pennsylvania with my wife's family.  The actual festivities were held at a beautiful old church hall that my father-in-law (a retired Episcopal priest) was able to procure due to his having previously acted as a temporary pastor.  Anyway, after much chasing and general Keystone Cops-esque tomfoolery, our visitor was safely captured and returned to the wilds of Jenkintown.

    (Photo courtesy of my sister-in-law Julie's Facebook feed)


    Hopefully, our little friend will go about what flying squirrels normally do and avoid church halls in the future.

    Bohemian Rhapsody...We saw the Queen movie Bohemian Rhapsody on Friday night, and it did not disappoint.  In fact, if you are even remotely familiar with the band's music, I'd highly recommend that you take the time to see the movie.  A lot of great stuff is being said about the lead actor, Rami Malek, and all of it is deserved.  I will note though the actor who played Brian May, Gwilym Lee, was uncanny in his resemblance to the guitarist.

    I know there has been some backlash centering around how the movie treated Freddie Mercury's sexuality (see THIS article as an example), but it seemed to me that the film made a very reasonable attempt to show Freddie Mercury as the complex individual he likely was.  While I can't relate to his sexuality, I can absolutely relate to being someone who is wildly uncomfortable in personal interactions but very comfortable and confident when on a stage (in my case, in front of a classroom).  In any event, Freddie Mercury was a son, a cat-person, a rock icon, a loyal friend, a lover and many other things, all of which the movie tried to show in the course of fewer than two hours...and I think they did a great job. 

    Christmas Shopping...It's only a few days after Thanksgiving and, as usual, I am almost completely done with my Christmas shopping.  Now lest anything think that this is because I am masterful at planning (well, actually, I'm pretty good it), the reasoning behind my holiday buying habit is far more practical:  For a long time I basically didn't have enough money to buy all the presents I wanted to get for others, so I had to start shopping very early (typically in the summer) and buy a little over time.  I may not have that underlying need now, but the practice continues.

    Bombas...I admire businesses that give back to the world in a significant way.  One such company is Bombas, a company that makes and sells socks.  You can read more about them HERE.  For every pair of socks you buy from Bombas, they donate a better pair to a homeless shelter.  I've purchased a number of socks from myself from Bombas, and they make a great product. The fact that they help others in the process is all the better. 

    October (in the rear-view mirror)...October is the worst month of the year for me.  Always has been, always likely will be.  Looking back on last month, October once again delivered fully on its reputation.  There is a larger post on this topic that's to be written but suffice to say I got through it, and maybe for the better.  The odd thing is that there was just one part of the month that was particularly challenging for me, but other parts were actually very enjoyable.  

    Self-Checkouts Are Horrible...Don't use self-checkouts. Just don't.  They seem to me to be just another example of how some retailers are trying to further de-humanize retail, squeezing even more profits out by reducing entry-level jobs.  I'm not the only one who feels this way; see THIS article.


    To end this on a high note...


    Thursday, November 22, 2018

    Giving Thanks

    We all have reasons to be thankful.  All of us.  I get it though...at times things become difficult and the pressures mount; things don't work out for us, and the future looks more cloudy than clear.  I've been there, by the way, in more ways than I care to mention in a posting about gratitude.  However, while we live and breathe there is always a reason to stop, reflect, and be thankful for the precious life we have been given.

    Here are a few things I am thankful for in my life.

    The gift of being a father.  
    Anyone who meets me for the first time knows that it takes exactly zero encouragement to get me to talk about how proud I am of my daughters, and how blessed I am to have two wonderful stepsons.  If I were to die tomorrow, the very best thing anyone could say about me was that "Steve was a good Dad", and that would be enough.

    The gift of my wife.
    My wife, also known in these posts as "Ms. Rivers" literally saved my life.  Just when it seemed that almost everything in my life was falling apart, when I was at my very lowest, she was there to help pick up the pieces and help me build a brand new life.  She was also my Master's degree research paper editor, is my fashion consultant, health advisor, and person who makes me optimistic about the future.

    The gift of my family.
    I value family now more than I ever have in the past.  That's not to say I am actually good at things like staying in touch, but I am trying to do better.  The fact that I was able to spend time with my adopted-through-marriage family this past summer is just an example of how important and enriching family connections can be for all of us.  

    The gift of friendship.
    I am not an out-going kind of person, and while I've learned professionally to talk to just about anyone, I don't have a ton of people I would call actual "friends".  Those who I do consider my friend though are important to me, and they help me in ways they probably don't understand.  I hope I return the favor every once in a while as well.

    The gift of my health.
    Look, when the personal odometer starts to get extra mileage on it, well, some parts start to wear.  That's as true for cars as it is for me, as it is everyone else.  I'm lucky though in that there is nothing I am facing with my health that isn't treatable, and there is nothing that limits what I can do in my life.  Thank you to all of the professionals that help me stay healthy, both physically and mentally.

    The gift of learning.
    I am thankful that I am still inquisitive, that I am still learning new things, that I still find things in the world to explore.  There is never an excuse for me to be bored.


    I can also add, as a final note of sort, the gift of laughter.


    "As God as my witness, I thought turkeys could fly..."

    Happy Thanksgiving to one and all.

    Tuesday, November 20, 2018

    When Protection Is Needed From Protectors

    I have the utmost respect for the police.  No one else in civilian life puts their life literally on the line every single day they go to work, and for that, they deserve our respect.  It's with that in mind that stories such as this...


    ...are particularly troubling.  It seems readily apparent, at least from the article, that the young lady in question was assaulted, in public, by an off-duty police officer.  The fact that the assailant is a police officer, by the way, is very relevant in this case.  We have to hold police officers to the highest possible standards of conduct precisely because of the respect they deserve.  The badge is diminished, needlessly so, whenever an officer fails to live up to what are basic standards of conduct and decency, such as by punching a wall and grabbing your partner's arm so hard that it leaves a bruise (refer to this public social media posting by the victim).

    Then we have the response by the officer's attorney (from the above-referenced article)

    “These are mere allegations which he takes very seriously. [name] is presumed innocent and is looking to appropriately addressing these allegations in court.”

    My hope is that "appropriately addressing these allegations" doesn't involve any kind of implication that the victim somehow "had it coming".  While I'll give the defense attorney the benefit of the doubt, the reality is that far too often someone is victimized twice in cases such as this:  Once during the original assault(s) and then in court.

    No one "deserves" to be manhandled like a like a calf at a rodeo.  No one deserves to live in fear that they will not be believed because of the fact that their abuser holds a position of public trust.  No one is responsible for the (alleged) substance abuse and anger management issues of another.

    My hope is that the young lady in question moves on with her life.  Based on her posting (see above), she seems to be on track to do just that, at least for now.  Life is far too short and far too precious to live in fear.

    My hope for the officer in question is that he gets the help he deserves.  Yes, that he deserves for all of those times he has put his life on the line in service of the public.   Until then though, he shouldn't be wearing the badge that represents so very much, including the protection of others.


    Sunday, November 18, 2018

    Old Facebook Photographs

    Facebook has simply grown too large, it has become too influential, and some of its practices are questionable at best (current reference HERE).  That noted, it's too late to turn back the clock on social media, as it's really become an important part many lives.  Where are the alternatives?  I've done some research, but nothing stands out. 

    Anyway, I was looking over some old photos I've posted on Facebook over the years.  There were a few that brought back some memories and others that are just good photographs.  Here are a few I'd like to share.

    Posted in 2013:  Pretty much the only photograph I have of my mother smiling.  This photograph was probably taken in the late 1950's.  I posted it shortly after she passed away.

    Posted in 2013:  Eastern State Penitentiary, in Philadelphia.  This was an intriguing place, and I took a ton of photographs.  You can learn more about Eastern State Penitentiary HERE.

    Posted in 2012:  My 1974 Chrysler Newport, parked at my apartment at Meade Heights, Penn State Harrisburg, in 1985-1986.  I loved that car, in spite of the less than 10mpg I would get in local driving.  The car literally died as soon as I got home from my last trip back from college in 1986.

    Posted in 2010:  A church being remodeled in Pittsburgh.  I love this photo, in spite of the obnoxious overhead wires.  I don't normally shoot photographs in black and white, but this one really worked.

    Posted in 2010:  A hawk sitting on a branch at Lake Scranton.  I was walking around the lake right after a rainstorm, and this beautiful creature was sitting on a branch about 20 feet away from me.  My wife loves this photograph so much that she had it printed and framed, where it hangs in our dining room.

    Posted in 2010:  A salamander at Lake Scranton.  I took this during the same walk where I took the hawk photograph.  I love the contrasting color of the salamander and the dark soil.

    Posted in 2009: Me at college in 1984.  This was taken in Wrisberg Hall dormitory by a fellow student who was taking a photography class.  I had built a wall of stereo equipment because of the fact that room-mate seemed a bit, well, unstable.   This is one of two photographs in the posting that I did not take.

    Posted in 2009:  One of the best photographs I have ever taken.  The location was the Kinzua Dam.

    Sunday, November 11, 2018

    My Brother, the Veteran

    (Chris and Steve, somewhere in the late 70's)

    In the year before he passed away, my younger brother Chris would occasionally tell me about some of his experiences serving in the United States Navy.  He was a "Hospital Corpsman"(1), serving at Norfolk, Virginia, and Camp Lejeune, North Carolina(2).  These were never pleasant conversations.  Now I'm not sure what role medication(3) played in these conversations, but I always did my best to listen to Chris, because clearly, there were things he experienced that deeply troubled him.  For the record, I'm not going to comment on what he told me, mostly because that doesn't really matter in the context of this story.  What does matter is the fact the served and that service changed him.

    As I've noted several times over the years, I did not serve in the military.  That was, in sense, an example of privilege on my part.  Now we like to talk in this country about the "privilege" of military service, but I think that's a misplaced sentiment.  I didn't have to serve precisely because so many in the United States, like my brother Chris, voluntarily served.  They paid a debt so that the rest of us didn't have to.  More than anything else, that's what I think Veterans Day is really all about: Some small repayment towards a debt that will forever be outstanding.

    Now we all make big decisions in life, decisions that change us at some basic level.  Sometimes those decisions are more a function of a default than anything else(4).  Sometimes those decisions are really and truly a matter of choice.  My brother Chris' service in the United States Navy was truly a matter of choice.  He simply did not have to serve in the military, but I don't think he knew what else he could or should do after graduating from high school.  He was also desperate to get out in the world, to see what was beyond the confines of Scranton, Pennsylvania.  Granted that the stories of debauchery, as told to him by the Navy recruiter, probably helped Chris make the decision.  Regardless of the motivation though, the two things that Chris was the proudest of in his life was his daughter Miranda and his service in the United States Navy. 

    Back to the subject of service and change.  The first time I saw Chris after he joined the Navy he was truly a changed man.  I envied him.  He was confident.  His life was together.  I think that he found the discipline of military life beneficial.  While Chris was a smart guy, prior to his military service he was wildly undisciplined, which caused tremendous tension between him and our mother (someone who valued discipline over about just about everything else).  That tension never really disappeared throughout his life though.  I think that the military also gave him a kind of purpose in life that, outside of being a father, he never seemed to have again.  More than anything else though, I think that Chris' military service gave him an identity that he carried forward to the end of this life.


    I am glad that his identity as a veteran is a part of this final resting place.

    Rest in Peace Sailor.

    * * * * * *

    (1) I always thought it was "Med Corpsman", but the Internet seems to disagree; citation HERE.
    (2) In support of the United States Marine Corps.  
    (3) Prescribed or otherwise.
    (4) "If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice" - Rush


    Monday, November 5, 2018

    VOTE

    Vote on Election Day, Tuesday, November 6th because...

    ...the politically powerful count on you not voting

    ...voting is a protected right under our Constitution

    ...by not voting, you're allowing others to decide your fate

    ...so many have fought and died to give you this right

    ...big political contributors have too much influence 

    ...we can do better

    ...the richest and the poorest are all equal at the voting booth

    ...it's time for a change

    ...no President of either party should be above checks & balances

    ...you can say no to fear and hate

    ...it offers the smallest investment/biggest return available

    ...well-off old white guys shouldn't make all the rules

    ...you get the government you vote (or don't vote) for

    ...no one has to know who you voted for anyway

    ...politicians lie to you and think you're too stupid to notice

    ...your one vote literally could change history



    I truly believe that, as a nation, we are at a crossroads:  Do we choose fear and xenophobia, or do we choose to believe that we can do better?  This is above and beyond politics; it's about who we are as human beings and what kind of nations we choose to call home.  

    Please vote in tomorrow's election.  If you haven't voted in a while don't worry...just show up and the poll workers will help you.  Vote because you...and your vote...and our nation...matter now more than ever.

    Sunday, November 4, 2018

    A Weekend Pause

    On the road in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

    Ms. Rivers and I usually go away for a weekend in the Fall.  Nowhere fancy mind you...the basic rules are that it's for a weekend and it has to be within driving distance.  The allure of air travel has long expired for both of us, and there are simply too many other things going on, making anything longer than a weekend impractical at best.  That latter point is one of the many things Ms. Rivers and I have in common:  Am almost ceaseless list of things we want to accomplish.

    This weekend's trip was decided in theory a few months ago and decided in practice last Monday.  That's how this stuff rolls sometimes.  We choose Lancaster because, well, because it's Lancaster.  I've also only been to Lancaster once before.  That trip was in 1987, and I drove with my fellow Maxwell's buyers to get a train to New York City in Lancaster.  Suffice to say, I didn't see all that much.  For the record, at the time I lived in York, which is something of a slightly smaller sister city to Lancaster, but without some of the charm the Red Rose City enjoys.

    Timing is everything.

    I really needed this trip.  Really and truly.  This should be one of the best times of my life, yet I've been fairly unsettled for a while now.  In life perspective is everything, so what better way to gain perspective than a temporary change in scenery?  While Lancaster has had its share of problems over the years, beautiful scenery isn't among its challenges.  This is a beautiful place, and the thought of living somewhere that afforded the ability to walk to a farmer's market for fresh food is alluring.  Ms. Rivers and I have spent more than a few minutes over the past months and years thinking about where we'd like to live our retirement years.  Decisions are still pending.

    Glassworks.

    We spent late morning and most of the afternoon on Saturday wandering about downtown Lancaster.  The city has a wonderful farmer's market and tons of small shops that remind you of Philadelphia, all be it on a smaller scale.  One such place we stopped was Art & Glassworks.


    Walking into the shop, the first thing Ms. Rivers noticed was all of the beautiful glass the shop had on display.  The first thing I noticed?  That would be Nicky.  You see, Nicky is a 19-year-old male cat that keeps watch over the shop.  Nicky and I spent about 5 minutes getting acquainted as Ms. Rivers attended to more serious shopping business.  Any business that has a cat is worth patronizing in my book, so if you are ever in Lancaster (either at their stand in the Farmer's Market or at their store) please visit Art & Glassworks.  And pet Nicky for me.  He's a good cat.  I'll also note that, in addition to petting a cat, we did get some shopping done, so it was a win for both Nicky and the shop owner.

    Jesus was not live on stage.


    We picked this pamphlet up at the hotel(*), and I thought it was almost bizarrely funny.  Now I know from a Facebook posting that others have actually seen this show and enjoyed it.  However, I just think it's a bit odd to claim that Jesus is "live, on stage".  If, in fact, Jesus was live, I would hope that it wouldn't be on a sage in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.  There's a lot of bad stuff happening in this country at the moment, and if there is such a thing as divine intervention, well, we could use a little bit of it right here and now.  We are truly an un-tended flock at the moment.

    The Last Sears?

    On the slow road back home, we stopped at a mall in Lancaster, and low and behold there was a functional Sears.


    I'm not sure how many of these are actually left but suffice to say the answer is somewhere between "few" and "not many".  As a sign of just how dismal the whole situation is, we could have waited about 14 minutes for the store to open, but we thought "Meh, why bother?".  That pretty much sums up Sears.

    The Final Stop.

    The final stop on the drive home was the National Civil War Museum in Harrisburg.  The stop itself was figured out this morning, mostly based on the intricate science of "well, why not?".  Nice place. 


    Walking through the museum I was reminded of what this country has been through, and likely what it still has to go through.  In spite of a bloody war and over a hundred years of time passages, some of those old wounds have yet to heal.  Let's hope it doesn't take another war for us to find our "better angels".

    * * * * * *

    (*) We stayed at the Cork Factory Hotel on New Holland Avenue in Lancaster.  Overall it was a nice place, but apparently, it does a very robust wedding business.  That's good for the hotel, but not necessarily good for the other guests who can't find parking or a table for dinner.  Speaking of dinner, we needed reservations to eat at the hotel's restaurant.  Now I've stayed at some fancy hotels over 30 or so years, but I can't recall a lone hotel restaurant that required reservations.  If you want to get married in Lancaster you should check the hotel out.  If you just want a weekend getaway?  Well, better not make that in June.