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Monday, January 6, 2020

Goals, Goals, Goals





Note:  I was actually thinking of the Motley Crue song (as odd as that sounds) when I came up with the title.

As I’ve noted here in the past, every year I set some goals for myself.  Some might call these new year’s resolutions, but I've never thought of it that way.  Rather, I think everyone should always have some set of goals they are working towards, be they simple or complex.  There’s just too much of life to be experienced, and documenting the steps involved in that experience only makes sense.

Anyway, as I began thinking about what I wanted to accomplish in 2020, I decided to learn about some of the best practices for setting personal goals.  That turned out to not be all that helpful.  For example, there’s some decent thought out there that says we should only set no more than 3 goals for ourselves at any given time.  That’s something which simply doesn’t work for me, in part because my thinking and interests can be so divergent, that I could never come up with just three.  However, I did settle on “three” in a sense:  I broke my goals up in the three categories:  Personal, Professional and Home.  From there though, there was no limiting things to just three.

In another vein, I am reviving a practice for 2020 that I had many years ago, namely that of setting a theme for the year.  This year, the theme is “Creating a New Normal”.  That’s an important idea for me, as it seems like the past 10 years of my life have been just been a rolling series of upheavals and dramatic change, far from anything that would seem like “normal”.  Sure, there was plenty of change in the pre-2010 world as well, but things over the past few years just seem like they have gotten particularly out of hand in that particular (change) department.

So, what am I planning?  Well, there’s some usual stuff…
…lose some weight
…read more books (I read a lot, but I sometimes lack the focus to devote to whole books)
…many projects around the house (such as creating a walk-way to our garage)

There are also some new things on the list as well, such as decluttering my vast store of stuff*. 

Some of the goals are simply reminders to take the time to do things I really enjoy, such as photography.  

Mostly though, the goals are a kind of reminder that, since there are a lot of things outside of my control, it's important to focus on those things where my reach does not, in fact, exceed my grasp.

Here’s to all of us creating a new normal in 2020.




(*) For example, I have every work performance appraisal I have received since 1989.  Why do I need to keep that?

 

Thursday, January 2, 2020

The Interesting Life of Rudy Giuliani

Rudy Giuliani has been in the news quite a bit over the past few months, and none of it has been all that flattering.  In a way, he’s a modern-day tragic kind of figure:  Going from “America’s Mayor” in New York City during 9/11 to now someone more known for outrageous statements to the press and seemingly shady foreign dealings.  With that noted, here are some facts about Rudy Giuliani, most of which are actually true.

1.     Rudy Giuliani has been married 3 times.  If you add his marriage count to that of RushLimbaugh, Newt Gingrich, and Donald Trump, you get a total of 13.  This puts him below the average for that list of family values espousing Republicans.  Rudy can thank Rush for boosting the average above 3. *
2.     Rudy Giuliani’s first wife was his second cousin. *
3.     Rudy Giuliani and his first wife did not have children.  If they did though, for example, have a male child, that individual would be both Rudy’s son and his cousin.  That would make for some confusion at family reunions.  “This is my son, I mean my cousin, I mean my cou-son”.  *
4.     Rudy Giuliani’s favorite television show of all time is All in the Family. **
5.     Rudy Giuliani is a cancer survivor. *
6.     Rudy Giuliani is rumored to use 23 and Me as a dating app. **
7.     Rudy Giuliani could technically be called “Rudy Giuliani, K.B.E.” after receiving an honorary knighthood from Queen Elizabeth II. *
8.     Rudy Giuliani is a former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York. *
9.     Rudy Giuliani has many detractors, but few doubt how much he loves his family.  Especially his cousins. **
10.  Rudy Giuliani once said, while defending President Trump, that “facts are in the eye of the beholder”.  It’s a good thing that the doctors and scientists who developed his cancer treatment had a differing opinion on the subject of “facts”.  *

(*) Actually true; see links for references.
(**) Not actually true, at least as far as I know.


Sunday, December 29, 2019

2019 - Time


The older I get, the more appreciative I become of how complex something as seemingly simple as “time”.

As a kid, time was much less fluid than it is now that I am older.  As a kid, Christmas morning came and went by incredibly fast, but yet any given day of the school year seemed to last a lifetime.  As a decidedly mid-50’s adult, well, time just seems to move fast…and getting faster…all the time.  It’s as if my life is rushing towards something (yes, to be frank, the end of it).  That makes it all the more important to appreciate the here and now.

Part of appreciating the here and now rests with understand what has come before.  When I think about 2019, what comes to mind is change.  Probably more change, I will note, than many other years.

“I’m from Iowa; I only work in outer space”
(paraphrasing Star Trek’s Captain Kirk, responding to whether or not he was some kind of spaceman)
I started 2019 working for a company that took over the company that previously employed me.  I went from working for the same company for nearly three decades to (now) three different companies in the span of three years.  That’s a lot of change, and the fact that I’m here to write about it, having navigated that change, says something good about me. 

Company number two in this time frame was just about the worst possible fit for me in terms of culture, business model and just about any other dimension imaginable.  It was a place where I never would have sought employment myself.  Yet as difficult as that situation was, and it was pretty difficult, I managed to bring it to something of a conclusion.  Even in the difficulty of working for a “worst fit” organization, I was able to gain connections with some truly remarkable people.  It also was a stark reminder to me of how deeply ingrained the notion of work is to me.  A wise person told me that work is important because, oddly enough, I am comfortable in the environment.  I’ve filed that in the category of “Feedback I don’t necessarily understand…but I will accept nevertheless”.

Company number three, where I am now, is something of a gift, being a kind of anti-matter equivalent of company number two.  Where the former was enormously large, the latter is relatively small.  Where I struggled to understand my value in the organization (in fact, feeling lost and devalued), now I know where I fit in and the value I provide.  I owe a debt of gratitude to those who helped get me here, directly or through encouragement, and I’ll do my best to repay that over the years to come.

“I have met the enemy, and he is me”
There are no two ways around this:  I haven’t done enough to take care of myself, and that’s gotten worse in 2019.  After something of a frightening health experience last December, I’m left with the prospect of a colonoscopy every three years for the rest of my life.  Granted that’s not terrible, but it is a stark reminder that the teenage years of almost super-human invulnerability to all manners of physical neglect and abuse to self are long, long gone.  No, at this stage, things will, in fact, wear out, and what how I treat myself does matter.

There are, by the way, at least 876 reasons why I should take better care of myself.  That’s a fact.  What’s less factual is why I have allowed myself to get to this point in the first place.  Part of it, I am sure, is a kind of general despair that comes from a horrible working environment (see above).  Regardless, no manner of excuse is actually sufficient. 

“And there’s someone on my head, but it’s not me”
(Pink Floyd, Brain Damage)
When I think about the 11+ years I’ve written this blog, one of the things that I am most proud of is the fact that I’ve allowed myself, modestly I will note, to be somewhat vulnerable in terms of self-expression.  Now there are fits and spurts where this is more prominent, but I can honestly say that what’s here is pretty much me (all be it with hopefully spelling & grammar).  I don’t know though that I’ve been fully transparent over this past year. 

I have been troubled on the career front (see above, and some other postings), but pretty much kept the worst parts to myself.  There are practical reasons for that (which I can’t disclose), but it’s hard to deny just how dark that drove my life for the first half of 2019.  I still find myself digging out of the emotional toll-hole it has taken.  The good news though is that A) I am making progress and B) I can at least now admit the problem existed.

Now I’m fully aware of all the learned advice about “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”, but I’m calling B.S. on that concept, at least as it applied to the scenario above.  I’m not stronger from that experience.  I am, more correctly, feeling damaged, but at least recovering.  For a person who is naturally wired to be very self-reflective and critical, this past employment experience was simply Hell. 

I also think a lot about my late brother Chris.  I had a very vivid dream a few weeks ago that he was in, where I told him how much I missed him.  He said, “I know”.  That was a remarkable bit of coherency for one of my dreams, by the way.  Spiritual people would tell me that was some kind of message.  I don’t know about that part.  What I do know is that when I woke up, it didn’t offer much in the way of comfort.  As difficult as the latter part of his life was, I still feel cheated by his passing. 

“Cheat your landlord if you can – and must – but do not try to shortchange the Muse.”
(William S. Burroughs)
As something of a side effect to all the above, actually writing these postings has become more difficult for me.  I normally (whatever “normally” means) get ideas for things and then just pretty much bang them out in an hour or two.  Occasionally I start writing something and then come back to it later.  Even rarer is a posting like this, that is written in parts, stitched together like some kind of written Frankenstein’s monster. 

Anyway, it feels as if I’m almost trying to punish myself by not doing the things I enjoy.  As if I need to be punished for a year that was quite punishing enough, thank you very much.  It’s a good thing the sole, only intent of these postings…and it’s 2,000 siblings by the way…is my own enjoyment, as it’s been a disappointing year at NCFE.

“You and I have memories, longer than the road that stretches out ahead”
(Paul McCartney, Two of Us)
There’s a real danger, I think, in spending too much time in retrospect.  As I used to tell my daughters, it’s like driving a car:  If you spend too much time looking at the rear-view mirror, you’re not going to see what’s in front of you.  Granted though that an occasional glance is actually prudent. 

The task for me, at least as I see it now, is to pack all of what 2019 was (the good, the bad, and the very ugly…some of which is noted here, some of which is not) and put it away.  We all have bad years, for sure, but they all come to an end as well.  As is our annual ritual, I’m going up “to the cabins” for a few days of being unplugged from all manner of Internets and Social Medias, which creates something of a natural re-set button.  There I’ll catch up on some quality reading, do some off-line writing, spend some time hiking and maybe take a few photographs, all surrounded by my wife and her family.  It’s a kind of simple, gentle end to a year that was far from simple…or gentle.

* * * * * *

All the best to anyone reading this, and I hope your New Year is full of promise.


Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Pecans

And so it came to pass in the town of West Pittston that I was sent to find and acquire pecans for the baking needs of Ms. Rivers.

There are a few reasons why this is noteworthy.

First, I barely know what pecans look like.  Put them in a lineup with walnuts, cashews, and some of their other friends and there's about a 50/50 chance I will not be able to make a positive identification.  This isn't the case of some benign indifference, mind you. I really dislike nuts.  All nuts.  In my head there is a scale of sorts, starting with walnuts, where my reaction is one of "I'm not eating that!" to peanuts, where my reaction is "that's simply disgusting...why are you eating that?".

Second, there were no pecans at our local Gerrity's supermarket, at least not that I could find, as I scoured the baking isle while on the phone with Ms. Rivers.

Third, after getting off the phone and staring blindly at the shelves, hoping a bag that said "pecans" on it would appear, low and behold a kind stranger comes upon me, and after hearing my plight, decides to have pity on me.  This was a lady of my age or younger, with a cart full of stuff and clearly lots to do on her own, but yet she wanted to help.  And help she did, as she showed me some additional hiding places where pecans tend to congregate.  At the third stop, we hit the jackpot, and pecans were, in fact, located.  I thanked this lady three times (at least) for her concern and help.  And I got my pecans.

Now it's easy to get caught up in the negativity that seems to be swirling around us these days.  On a national level, we have folks glorifying & excusing tawdry name-calling and treating greed as if it were some kind of warped virtue.  I feel that all the time, and it certainly permeates how I think about things all too often.  Yet this lady I did not know, spent five-plus minutes of her obviously busy shopping day to help me find pecans.  Why?  I suspect it was because she simply wanted to help...because it was the right thing to do.  I'm sure it wasn't a big deal to her, but after this past year (there's a larger post coming on that topic), it was a big deal to me.

I know, this may come across as sappy and maybe a bit stupid, but I honestly don't care.  Maybe if all of us helped each other (and strangers) out just a bit more...for no more of a reason than it is simply the right thing to do...our nation and our world would be a slightly better place.

Happy Holidays to one and all.  Whatever you celebrate...or don't celebrate...may it bring you peace and some joy.

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Sleep

"Sleep, those little slices of death, how I loathe them"
- Author Uknown


I've probably noted a few times in this space about the relationship I have with sleeping.  At best, I'd call that relationship one of convenience; at worst, well, it's a kind of war of sorts, all fought within the confines of my head.  

My Head, At Bedtime
"Boy, I am actually tired, this is great...I'll be able to fall asleep quickly."
Then it comes time to turn things off and actually fall asleep.  That's when my head starts telling me "crap, I don't know if I can actually fall asleep".  The good news is that I usually do fall asleep fairly quickly, but even then part of me fights it.

My Head, Asleep
"Let's get a few dozen images and tie them together in some truly surreal stories."
Saying that I can have vivid dreams is like saying "there might be a Tuesday next week".  In fact, I have vivid dreams just about every night.  Right now I can remember details of some, even those that are days, weeks or months ago.  I'll admit that here, but I won't describe them, as often they just don't make any sense; maybe they did at the time, but now I'm simply left with fragments floating around in my head, like shipwreck debris on the water.  As someone who tries to go about my life in a logical and ordered way, my dream time is chaotic and disordered.  There are times when I really don't want to go to sleep on account of not wanting to subject myself to yet another round of mental chaos.

My Head, Early Morning
"Hey, wake up!  Here are a half dozen important things to consider."
Pretty much between 5 and 6am my head grows weary of the disjointed chaos of my dream state and starts to ponder the realities of the day to come.  That's the point of no return, and by then I usually can no more fall back to sleep than I could create cold fusion in a blender.  

I'll note that I try to fall asleep around 11pm-ish, and during the week, I am up and out of bed by 6:15am.  My actual odds of sleeping a bit later are far better during the week than they are during the weekend.  That's downright cruel.

Now I have had nights where I've gotten a good night's sleep and felt refreshed in the morning.  I think that's actually happened twice in my adult life.  Twice. 

Now part of me wants to believe that one day I'll get this sleep thing finally figured out, that the adversarial relationship I have with the "little slices of death" will give way to a kind of truce.  That's a nice thought, to be sure.  Until then, the battle begins anew in about 90 minutes.  Wish me luck.

Monday, December 2, 2019

Cat Fishing Man


Admittedly, I work hard at maintaining my composure, and for the most part, I am successful.  Every once in the while though I get close to losing "my stuff".  Such was the case today coming home from work today, as I talked to my wife about this story in the news:

"Fishing for Cats Suspect Gets Prison Time"

This story has bothered me since it first appeared in the news a while ago.  The latest iteration is hopefully the last time it rears its ugly head.

I will not describe the story, other than to say that the story title is literally true.

Now it's not much of a secret that I love cats.  In fact, I've written 29 (now 30) postings that reference cats and those are the ones that I actually remembered to correctly tag.  Nothing against dogs, which I do like also, but I have a big soft spot for cats.  As a fully functional big adult person, I have that right.

Anyway, here's the larger point: I work hard...very hard...at believing people are inherently good.  Even when bad actors appear, I want to believe that they are trying to do the right thing, even if their actions contradict that idea.  Maybe they are simply confused.  Then I read something like this, and, I just don't understand.

Our pets (cats and dogs) don't have malice.  Even in the worst of circumstances, their actions are a product of instinct.  If someone is attacked by a dog, for example, the dog is doing so because it feels threatened (or feels that their owner is being threatened).  There's an almost comforting purity to that notion, even when polluted by those who would train the dog to act inappropriately. 

To this story, I simply can't process how this "person" could harm a helpless cat.  It genuinely pains me to even think about it.  How does this person's thought even work?  How dark...how disordered...does a thought process have to be in order to come up with this kind of action?  I don't understand.  Part of me wants to understand, but another part of me is incredibly angry at what this "person" has done.  Unlike this "person" though, I have the ability to exercise some control over my errant thoughts.

In this story, the animal wasn't the cat.

Enough.

Friday, November 29, 2019

Thanksgiving and an Quasi-Almost-Anti-Giving-Thanks Post


This is Thanksgiving time, and I’m supposed to write a posting about the many reasons why I am thankful.  Granted that I do have many, many reasons to be thankful, but if you think about it though, that’s almost self-serving, to the point of seeming to brag to others about just how wonderful life has been.  What to do?  Well, I can’t really call this an “anti-Thanksgiving” post, but I am going to do something different:  Instead of writing about the good things I am thankful for, I am going to instead write about a crappy thing that ended.

Specifically, I spend an unhealthy amount of time thinking about where my professional life has taken me since being involuntarily retired in December 2016, from an employer that I thought would take me well into my 60’s.  There have been some good things happen on that front, including meeting some great folks & discovering some new things about myself.  There have also been some bad…genuinely bad…things happen as well.  To that latter point, I feel guilty for having been previously associated with an organization that, in my opinion, was not good for me, for my community, for people I call friends.  I went from a nearly 28-year association with an organization I am proud of (still to this day) to one where I can barely speak the name.  It’s as if I contributed to something unhealthy, and I need to apologize for some nebulous damage by the association I may have caused, knowing full well that some of the damage was, in fact, to myself.

Part of the above damage included an almost constant inner dialogue…

“This seems wrong, why are you a part of it?”
“This contradicts a lot of what you personally value”
”You are not valued here and this is demeaning”
”You need to just quit”

…conflicting with…

“I need to work, and just leaving will make me feel worse”
”It would be wrong to bail on my co-workers”

I know, it’s all so very circular. 

In yet another example of cosmic synchronicity, that job ended, and another opportunity became available.  These days I have the luxury of no longer living a daily professional life of contradiction, but instead, I can ponder it from the past tense.  Now I have the ability maybe help make something better, as opposed to being associated with something that (in just my personal opinion) made things worse.  My professional night has literally turned into a professional day.

Within this larger story, there are, as is usually the case, many mini-stories:
  • There’s the story about my learning the value of networking.
  • There’s the story about my leaning into the discomfort of change.
  • There is the story of learning to take pride in some of my accomplishments.
  • There’s a story of practicing humility in the only way it truly makes sense...by being made humble.

All of this may change in the blink of an eye.  Or it may stay the same for the next ten years.  One thing is for sure though:  There is more to be learned.

Monday, November 18, 2019

Scranton's Teachers, Learning a (Biblical) Lesson

"Do not be deceived:  God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap."
(Galatians, Chapter 6 - Verse 7)

As noted in a recent Scranton Times article (link HERE), unionized teachers in the Scranton School Distract are upset.  You can read the article for the particulars, but that's not the point of this posting.  Rather, and as noted above, this is about a lesson of almost biblical proportions.

For decades, unionized teachers in the Scranton School District financially supported and campaigned for school board candidates are where, at best, incompetent.  At worst?  Well, according to the Pennsylvania Attorney General, there is more to come on the "at worst" front (link HERE).  It was this history of union-supported candidates who...

...drove the district to insolvency & at the doorstep of a state takeover
...approved to no-bid, dramatically over-priced, busing contracts
...allowed a non-employee to receive employee healthcare benefits
...looked the other way as a former Business Administrator was committing felonies

...and I could go on (and on), but the point is made.  Call me unsympathetic, but the union knew exactly who they were supporting, and what these individuals stood for, such as no-bid busing contacts.  What was the underlying thought process of union leadership?  That the money would never stop flowing, so what's some graft here or there?  Maybe it was that "better the known and incompetent than the alternative"?

Now the teachers' union has an absolute right to support the political candidates who they believe will benefit its membership.  They don't, however, have a right to be exempt from the rightful criticism that comes with aiding and abetting (at best) incompetence.  What's called for here is an examination on the part of the union leadership as to their role in the downfall of the Scranton School District and how such a role can be prevented in the future. The teachers' union is just one of many with dirty hands in the sorry state that is the Scranton School District; as learning professionals, they should be at the forefront of culling some important lessons from it all.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Free Range Human

Greetings from Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

I'm here in a nice hotel room, having checked my company email for the last time today.  Tomorrow starts the two flights that will eventually bring me back home.  Since I've washed the travel off of me (literally...I just got out of one of those "far too long in the shower, but what the heck, it's a hotel room"), I'm left to here to either watch TV (which I don't like to do), organize files (which I don't want to do) or write.  As you can see, writing won.

Speaking of writing, I'm not publishing stuff on this blog as frequently as I used to.  I still do write, almost daily, as a matter of fact, but most of that stuff isn't fit for even this cheesy attempt at public introspection.  I feel a bit guilty about the whole not writing as much thing, by the way.  Guilty not because I somehow feel it is being missed, but guilty because this is a kind of commitment I made to myself back in 2008, and I should be doing a better job of honoring it.  Yes, that's one of the hundred or so thoughts pinging around in my head at the moment.  I'll be spelling out some more (literally) shortly.  Guilt aside, at least I am writing this posting.

The above is a kind of stall...as in I am stalling.  One of the things bothering me is the fact that a fellow Pru alumni, fellow blogger, and terrific human being, the author of the blog "Lights Cancer Action!" disclosed that she has a reoccurrence of breast cancer.  You can find her blog on the listing to the right of this screed, as well as a link to the specific posting HERE.  I'm not going to say much about her story, as you can learn about it from her blog, but I am going to say that there are times when I just really don't understand the cruelty of life.  Cruel, as in a third cancer diagnosis.  Cruel, as in children being tortured by drug-addicted parents (link HERE).  Cruel, as in the abuse of animals who only offer us unconditional love (link HERE).  Yes, I am bothered by all of this, and more.  I know that life offers us opportunities to learn in ways that we never really expect, but there are times when I wish the lessons weren't quite so painful.

Maybe I need to take another one of those "washing away showers".  Then again, if I shower once more today, my skill may actually start to flake off, en masse.  The joys of the heating season I guess.

Trying to move on, this was my third to trip to my employer's office in Fairfield, Iowa.  For some reason, they seem to not mind my visits, and for that...and the advice on local places to eat...I am grateful.  I am also grateful, in general, to my employer for providing me with work that (hopefully) has a positive impact.  That was...and is...important to me, and is something of a lesson learned from my last employer/micro-disaster.  I am not sure when I am coming back, but I am sure it will be sooner or later.

By the way, and as both a final point and explanation for the title of this posting, I'm wearing this shirt for my trip tomorrow.


For some reason, it seems fitting.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Tips for (In)frequent Business Travelers


From the temporary office in Fairfield, Iowa.

Tip:  When it comes to hotels, you get what you pay for (sort of).
Without mentioning names, I've been in hotels that cost $250 a night and those that cost $60 a night.  The big differences?
  • Food.  The food is better at the expensive places.  I'm currently staying at a "lower end of the scale" hotel this week, and I was sure that I would end up projectile vomiting my breakfast yesterday morning (the eggs smelled kind of, well, funny).  So far my immune system seems to be ruling the day.  
  • Decor.  Everything in my current hotel room seems to be tinted a dull yellow.  I'm not sure if that's the horrible compact florescent light bulbs in use, baked into the paint cigarette smoke (this place is older...as in pre-smoking ban older), or just yellow-ish paint.  The completely yellow-themed bathroom doesn't help.
  • Sound.  I could literally transcribe the voicemail I heard from the room next to me last night.
There's one not-so-universal caveat to this rule though:  Water pressure.  I've been in higher-end hotel rooms where water basically just oozed out of the showerhead.  In my current room, I am reasonably sure that I could strip paint off of an automobile fender with the pressure available (this is a good thing).

Tip:  Never, ever leave anything on the floor.
I was told this back in the early '90s.  Maybe it's an urban legend, but the idea is that anything left on a hotel room floor may end up becoming a transportation vehicle to your home for some kind of unwanted critter guest.  I even keep my shoes off of the floor.

Tip:  Ziplock bags are your friend.
I always keep an extra ziplock bag with me when I travel.  Use them to store the extra batteries you had to get at WallyWorld last night.  Or keep the above-mentioned critters from eating that half of a candy bar you also bought at WallyWorld last night.

Side note:  Forget fancy pill containers...I now just use three ziplock bags.  I use a big bag with two smaller bags inside of it (one for morning stuff, one for evening stuff).  The advantage?  I can easily find a nook or cranny in my backpack for the stuff I am taking.

Tip:  Bring a spoon.
I always have a spoon in my toiletry bag.  It comes in handy in case you, well, need a spoon.  Seriously, for example, if you bring something into your room to eat or if you are old and need to mix your Metamucil.

Tip:  Don't connect through Chicago O'Hare.
I've been violating this tip lately, and I'm sure at some point there will be a punishment administered.  According to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Chicago O'Hare has an on-time rating of about 80%.  That means there is a 1 in 5 chance that your flight will be delayed or even canceled.  All it takes is one forced overnight stay in an airport to learn why this is a bad thing.  In addition to the Russian Roulette of on-time departures, O'Hare can be over-crowded and filled with nasty people (Why? They got the 20% previously referenced).

Tip:  Airports are food Hell.
Airport food is dramatically over-priced and rarely any good.  I've tried to get healthier food (well, healthier by my...low...standards) and have always been disappointed.  Want a hot drink for Starbucks?  Well, if you are at Chicago O'Hare and your flight is delayed, you may just have time to wait through the line.  Otherwise?  You're out of luck.

Tip:  Checking your bag isn't so dangerous.
I've been traveling for almost 30 years and do occasionally check my bag.  The number of times I've actually had a checked bag lost?  Exactly zero.  The number of times a bag has been delayed?  Exactly twice.  You have to be smart about this though; for example, never pack medications or expensive electronics in a checked bag.  It's actually pretty nice not having to lug a bag through an airport.

Tip:  Spring for First Class every once in a while.
Every once in a while I will spend an extra $70 (or so) of my own money and upgrade to a First Class seat.  After a long and tiring trip, it's sometimes down-right demoralizing to cram yourself into a seat with enough leg-room for a dwarf and less than an inch of cushioning for your posterior.  First-class is like another world of airplane travel.  There is actually room.  The seats aren't (seemingly) 18" wide.