Sunday, September 16, 2018

Help!


Being something of a Beatles fan, I've read several interviews with the late John Lennon where he is asked "what's the best song you've ever written?" or "what's your favorite Beatles song?".

Something of a surprise is the fact that Lennon has answered "Help!".  

The surprising part of that answer is that "Help!" is from what could be described as coming from the early Loveable Mop Top era of the band. Remember, John Lennon has written some, shall we say, significant songs in his life. Titles such as "Imagine" and "Strawberry Fields Forever" come to mind.

Side note: Contrary to what's noted in the songwriting credits, for most of their career together John Lennon and Paul McCartney wrote separately, with the other simply helping in spots.  How can tell the songwriter of a Beatles song? Outside of material that was written for Ringo or George, it's the song's lead singer.

Anyway, I never really thought that much about the song Help!, well outside of the fact that it's a catchy tune from a fun movie (of the same name) until I heard/read John Lennon talk about it.  You see, Lennon was literally crying for help in (and with) the song. That's why it was among his favorites: It was honest.

Oh, and just to make all of us feel just a bit inadequate, Lennon wrote the song in his early 20's. In my early 20's I was still in school, with not even the raw ability to comprehend just how deep a sentiment a simple song like Help! could convey.

So, what's the connection here? Why even post this?  Well, I am not very good at asking for help. In fact, I hate it. I was always afraid to ask for it growing up, lest it is perceived as being some kind of weakness that my mother could then exploit.  That carried through to my adulthood, especially so after losing my job in late 2016.  If there ever was a time when someone should ask for help it is with a job search, but yet by and large I didn't.  Maybe that partially explains the career pickle I now find myself in, which is another post for another day.

I am trying though.

The loss of both a 28-year employment and a brother in short order have had a profound impact on me, more so than I have ever truly admitted.  It got to the point where, after several very difficult months in 2017, I really did need help.  Sometimes circumstances overwhelm our abilities to self-correct, a fact that I should have realized far sooner than I actually did.  In any event, I'm still availing myself of help, and it has been (at the risk of being duplicative) helpful.  

The first moral here is that the biggest lies we tell are those that we tell ourselves. Just ourselves.

The second moral is that we all need help from time to time.  All of us.  There is no victory in trying to solve problems that are above our emotional and intellectual pay grade.  And there is always a pay grade above us, no matter who we are and what we do.  This is a lesson I'm likely to continue to learn for the rest of my life.  Luckily though, I have a secret weapon:  A wife who knows me and cares enough to tell me the truth when I'm too stubborn to admit it to myself.


Sunday, September 9, 2018

Fear of Having Peaked

I don't readily admit to being afraid of anything.  In fact, I think I've noted this point in many prior postings.  Yet something has been nagging at me for the past month (or probably longer) that I've only now begun to understand.  That revelation?  I'm afraid that my best days, from a professional perspective, are behind me.

Side note:  I've already established that (physically) my best days are behind me, but that's okay because that's true for all of us who are over, say, age 40.  

This fear isn't completely unfounded, as I can point to several things that prove I've been on something of a professional decline of late.  A decline that exists at least in my head, which is probably the point of this whole posting.  Maybe I have peaked, and maybe that's okay.  Well, that's what I want to tell myself.  The more positive alternative is something along the lines of "no, your best days are in front of you".  Kind of like a tree-lined street in Stockholm, Sweden.

(Just an excuse to share a picture of Stockholm)

I honestly don't know which of the above (past peak/peak is yet to come) is actually true.  I do know what statistics tell us.  That answer is, by the way, 48.  At about age 48 men typically reach their earnings peak(1).  There's even a chart:

(From the website Sciencealter.com)

There are, by the way, multiple sources that point to this very same set of conclusions.  As something of a "science guy," I do find some comfort in this finding, the kind of comfort that comes from not feeling entirely singled out.  In case you are curious, that comfort, at least for me, lasted about 12 hours.  

I'll note that this really isn't even about money.  In addition to having married well, I've tried to live responsibly, keeping most of my expenses (excluding expensive, once-in-a-lifetime cruises) to a minimum.  No, this is more about pride, about the sense that I have capabilities that may be withering.  It's about circumstances, not economics.

In the terrific book Drive(2), author Daniel Pink makes the case that personal and professional satisfaction hinges on three things:
  1. Autonomy - Being able to act independently
  2. Mastery - The sense that you know what you are doing
  3. Purpose - The idea that what you do has a deeper meaning

I actually had the opportunity to hear Daniel Pink speak on this very topic a few years ago at an ATD conference.  Assuming again that this whole mental pickle I find myself in really isn't about money, then is it about missing one of the three things noted above?  That's a question I can't fully answer at this stage.  If anything, maybe this is about purpose (or lack thereof).

Like much of the more introspective stuff I write (and speaking of purpose), the process is as important as anything else.  Just typing this out has a kind of purpose to it.  Hopefully, that purpose isn't seen as seeking pity or anything of that sort.  The interest on my part is simply getting this set of thoughts out of my system.  It's about maybe someone reading this and thinking "yeah, I've felt (or feel) that way too".  It's about trying to organize, make sense of and give another voice to the incessant thoughts in my head around this topic, one that has been occupying too much mental real estate of late.

The intellectual and rational me know that this whole mess is far more in my control than it is out of my control.  It knows that success is more than just what you do to pay the mortgage.  It knows that I could get run over by a bus tomorrow morning and it would still be noted in my eulogy that I came from little and did well for myself.  I'd like to think that part of me...the intellectual and rational part...is ultimately what rules the day.  That's just not how we human work though.  It's simply not that simple.  Maybe the underlying fear here is less about being past my peak and more about a sense of lacking control over this part of my life(3).     

Maybe I should have been an electrician. 


* * * * * *


(1) Citations:

(2) More on Daniel Pink's framework can be found at:

(3) See a related posting here:
http://www.sgalbert.com/2018/04/from-anger-avoiding-control-freak.html







Monday, September 3, 2018

Road Apples, #175

Road Apples
I haven't written a Road Apples posting in almost a year.  Part of it, I have to confess, is the fact that I tend to view them as being less interesting.  The hit counts tell me that they are less interesting to others as well, not that (in theory) I care about such things.  Anyway, and who cares, for here goes.

"Body Shaming"
I put the term in quotes because, in part, the whole premise of the activity is questionable, at best.  In point of fact, none of us should care less what anyone else looks like, period.  Now if someone is in your family and, for example, you are concerned that their excess weight may create health issues, well then, by all means, do talk to them about it.  But to criticize some person you don't know because they don't meet your standards of beauty?  Simply ridiculous, on many levels.  

About 4 Years
That's the amount of time I think I have left in me for serious, middle-of-the-day in the summer yard work.  One outcome from this weekend's work?  If my heart were truly bad, I would already be on a slab at this very moment, so I guess that's a good sign.  

They Love Me
Mosquitos, that is.  I was using the pressure washer on Saturday afternoon (a gas one...strong enough to strip the skin off your feet if you're not careful), and when all is said and done, I think I easily got at least six mosquito bites from the endeavor.  Granted that popularity has never been something I've been good at in my lifetime, but it would be nice if what little I did have wasn't wasted on invertebrates.

Blog-O-Versary
The ten-year anniversary of this blog occurs on October 27, 2018.  I know this because I put it on a label that is plastered on the monitor from which I actually see this text as I am typing.  I guess I should save the deep (and other) thoughts until then.

Sign of the Times
Fall is, in theory, my favorite time of the year, and as today is Labor Day, it's not too far around the corner.  In as much as I don't enjoy the really cold weather once it arrives, I do enjoy the change from the really hot stuff that July and August bring.  I'm already starting to go through my warm weather clothing, figuring out what I haven't worn so that it can be donated.

The Upcoming Schism
The Catholic Church is, in my estimation, nearly at the point of a major schism.  There's a longer post in that topic, but if you are at all interested in religion...from a spiritual or an academic perspective...then pay attention over the next few years.  Deeply conservative Catholics are leveraging the abuse of children as a means to force Pope Francis to resign.  This isn' about the abuse of children, by the way, it's about a Pope that they feel isn't doctrinally conservative enough for their tastes.  Case in point:  If this were about the clerical abuse of children, then John Paul II would never have been canonized.  More to come.

Conference on Youth
Philadelphia Catholic Archbishop Chaput has asked that the Church's upcoming Conference on Youth be canceled and in its place, a synod should be held on the life of bishops.  You can read more at this link.  While I understand the sad but ironic twist that accompanies a conference on youth has for the Church, simply being more internally focused isn't the answer.  How about a synod on the culture of a church that, for some bishops, fostered the abuse of children instead?

Doors
During our recent cruise to Northern Europe, I took about 1600 photographs.  Two of my favorite photographs are of doors.



I think there's a bigger meaning to this, but I'm at a loss to figure it out at the moment.

Labor Day
Today is Labor Day, and regardless of one's political orientation, I think we can all agree that our country sometimes devalues hard work and labor.  There is a nobility to be found in working with your hands to accomplish something, be it constructing a house or cutting your grass.  As a wise person once told me, the most important person in the world isn't a political or a corporate CEO...it's a plumber when you have blocked up toilet on a Sunday.  


Tuesday, August 28, 2018

The Bon Ton...I'm Afraid It's Time For Goodbye Again

"Life is a series of hellos and goodbyes
I'm afraid it's time for goodbye again"
 - Billy Joel, Say Goodbye to Hollywood


The Bon Ton, as in all Bon Tons, will be closing for good soon (if not already).  As I've mentioned in the blog before, my first real job after graduating from college was working for the Bon Ton.  Back then it was known as S. Grumbacher and Son, and my tenure lasted from May of 1986 until December of 1988.  I actually worked in three different stores during this time with the company, with the final assignment being at the Bon Ton store #9, Carlisle Plaza Mall.  See This Posting for stuff I'm basically too lazy to re-type.

Also in the category of "Things that I'm not going to write about" is why the Bon Ton ended up failing.  If you are keenly interested in such stuff, watch This Video, which does a great job of dissecting the company's financials in a way that anyone can understand.  In summary, the company's reach exceeded its grasp.

I actually owe a debt of gratitude to the Bon Ton.  When I was graduating from college, I had two job offers: The Bon Ton and Kmart Apparel.  How ironic is that?  Two offers to work in two different companies that (in the case of Kmart) will be sharing the same fate.  Anyway, the folks at the Bon Ton believed in me and provided me with some much-needed structure and stability in my young adult life.  They also gave me an opportunity to stay outside of northeastern Pennsylvania for a few years, which I do think was truly a good thing.  In point of fact, I don't think you can truly appreciate a place until you've been away from it for a while.

As a bit of a side note, I visited the Bon Ton in the Midway Shopping center as it was closing.  While the trip ended up with me acquiring a new pair of jeans, there was something even better to be had:  Shelving.  Much shelving.  Slightly used laminate shelving that I'm going to be using around the house for various projects, including one where I installed a folding work surface on our second floor enclosed porch.



Expect some porch written postings in the not-too-distant future.  By the way, one piece of the shelving was used on the porch (above); I have nine more available for the "other stuff".

Moving beyond the creative use of former department store hardware, I can't help but feel a tinge of personal sadness in the closing of the Bon Ton.  I've seen this kind of thing before:  Icons of my life that I think should be outliving me, but yet haven't.  My high school...

(The former Bishop Hannan H.S., now some kind of nebulous Diocese of Scranton center for stuff.)

(My high school yearbook photograph. Note the hair helmet.)

...and the parish of my youth...

 

(The demolition of Holy Family Church in Scranton.)

...are but two other examples.  I'll note that neither place offers what I would consider as being "fond" memories for me, but they were fixtures in my life never the less.

In the final analysis, I suspect that this is all a part of growing older:  Namely experiencing a kind of loss that may seem trivial but yet still touches you at your very core.


Sunday, August 26, 2018

Faith of My Fathers

I actually didn't know all that much about the late Senator John McCain prior to his running for President many years ago, so I read his book, Faith of My Fathers.


The book is engaging, and I recommend it to anyone wanting to learn about the late Senator and the service of his family in the United States Navy.

I ended up not voting for Senator McCain, mostly because of his selection of Sarah Palin for a running mate.  I understand the reasoning behind his choice, and while it cost him a vote, I never lost respect for the man.  A shocking idea in American politics today:  I can disagree with him, but yet still respect him.

In any event, American politics has been diminished today with the passing of Senator John McCain.  He was, in spite of what some may say, a true American hero.

Rest in Peace Captain McCain.



Sunday, August 19, 2018

A Church in Crisis: Silence is Complicity

The words "Abuse Scandal" and "Catholic Church" are becoming all too synonymous these days.  Nowhere is that more on display than in the recent Pennsylvania Attorney General's report on clerical abuse that covered all but two of the state's Catholic diocese.  You can find a copy of the report, in all of its 1356 page glory, HERE.

For the record, I'll start right off by asking the following question:  How could I not comment on this?  How could any of us, where "us" represents that group of adult humans who seem to actually care about what's going on in the world around us, not care about this?  Granted, thinking about what to write when it comes to this issue does give me pause, if only because a good part of my life has been steeped and shaped by the Catholic Church ("the Church" for the balance of this posting).

My Faith Journey
Before I get too deep into the current events, I have some compulsion, valid or not, to actually talk about my connection to the Church.  Maybe this is a reflection of my wanting to somehow qualify myself to comment; maybe a better way to look at this is something a chronology of my own faith journey.  Here goes:

Early 1960's - Mom.  My Mother was a convert to the Church, having been raised, I believe, a Baptist.  Her sponsor/mentor as she was brought into the Church?  That was, at the time, Father James Timlin, who would later on become Bishop Timlin, prominently featured in the Report.  My Mother made sure all of her boys were raised in the Church.

1970's/1980's - At the Altar.  All four of the Albert young men were Altar Boys (as opposed to the more inclusive "Altar Servers" these days).  In fact, I was an Altar Boy for approximately 10 years, from right after receiving First Communion until after I graduated from high school (a Catholic high school).  Speaking of high school...

1970's/1980's - Catholic Education.  Three of the Albert Boys attended a Catholic high school in Scranton.  That was a choice, by the way, on our parts.  We all attended public school up through 8th grade, meaning that we were socially and religiously unprepared for what awaited us in the parochial education system.  For me, going to a Catholic high school was mostly born out of a desire to not attend the public high school I was deemed to be attending by my junior high guidance counselor.  I can't speak for my brothers.

1982-1986 - College.  I actually attended Mass with some regularity throughout college.  In fact, I was the president of the Catholic students group at Penn State Harrisburg during my senior year of college.  I got that title mostly because no one else wanted it; regardless, it looked good on my resume and I got a nice gift from Fr. Anthony Miller for my service.  That gift, a cross, hangs in my home office as type this...


1987 - 2011 - Marriage.  Well "marriage, part 1" is a better description.  My first marriage was an official in the Church affair, complete with mandatory martial education (Pre-Cana, as it is known).  That education, taught by celibate religious and a couple that was too perfect to be real, was useless as a guide to the real-life business of being married, especially to someone in their early 20's.

1988 to Present - Children.  All of my daughters were raised in the Church.  That was important to me, and, I believe, to my ex-wife as well.  This meant regular church attendance and even participation in church activities as they were growing up.  It was my belief that the girls should receive Confirmation in the Church and then from there it was their decision as to what they wanted to do with their faith.  I won't speak to their individual expressions of faith these days, but what I will note is that none of them are active members of the Church (similar to many members of their generations).

2011 - Divorce.  As my children got older and life changed for me (you can go explore the blog archives in 2010 for more if you're so inclined), I basically separated myself from the Church.  That part was made easy by the fact that the Church isn't exactly kind to those members who divorce, instead insisting that, in order for such a thing to occur within the confines of the Church's rules, it needed to be proven that a valid marriage never, in fact, existed (the term is nullified, also known as receiving an annulment)  While my divorce wasn't exactly an easy time, I had no desire to make that process even more complicated or difficult for myself or my ex-wife, and in fact we had a perfectly valid marriage for many years, so an annulment was never in the cards.

For more information about civil divorce within the Church, you can click HERE.

2015 to Present - Re-Marriage.  In the eyes of the Church, since I have not received an annulment (again, basically saying that my first marriage never actually ended, at least from a "sacramental" perspective), my getting re-married officially represents an act of adultery.  For the record, there is no one I would rather commit adultery with than my (current) wife.  Anyway, my wife was raised an Episcopalian; in fact, she was a super-Episcopalian, given that both her father and her grandfather are/were Episcopal priests.  I was honored that my wife's father actually performed our wedding ceremony.

I will note that, as something of an endpoint to the above chronology, I do not regularly attend any church.  On occasion, I have attended services where my father-in-law has been the celebrant, but since he is now officially retired, that's not likely to happen again any time soon.  I will also, on occasion, attend services at a Presbyterian church, where a good friend of my wife is the pastor.  My wife and I have talked though about eventually joining a church at some point in time in the future.  Because of the whole "the Church still thinks my first marriage is valid and I'm now committing adultery" thing, that will not be the Catholic church.

In totality, the Catholic Church has been a part of my life...all of my life...and will remain so basically forever, even if I don't attend Mass.  I have been blessed by those who I have encountered in the Church and by what I have learned.  I have no regrets.

The News
Getting back to the abuse scandal, you can find a listing of those priests and religious who have been credibly accused of abuse, as defined by the Diocese of Scranton, by following THIS LINK and clicking on the names of each individual; the links associated with each individual take you to a resource hosted by the Diocese of Scranton.

I personally have never been abused, harmed or even subject to inappropriate suggestions by any priest or religious in my lifetime.  I will note, however, that I interacted with three priests on the above-referenced list.  The specific names aren't important, but one of the three did take me and a friend to see the movie Friday the 13th, followed by a visit to his room at the church rectory.  Again, nothing happened, other than chatter about the movie.  In retrospect though, I will say that I'm re-thinking that whole encounter.

This was, by the way, three out the dozens of priests I have encountered in my lifetime.  In fact, some of these individuals were/are truly wonderful human beings, including, I might add, my cousin (who happens to be both a wonderful priest and a thoroughly decent human being).  Speaking of thoroughly decent priests, I can still recall, from my youth, getting a ride to school by (the late) Fr. Yarrish in his Mercury Capri after saying morning Mass at Holy Family Church.  At the time, Fr. Yarrish was the secretary to (the late) Bishop McCormick, which to me seems like it would have been a hell (no pun intended) of a job, but yet Fr. Yarrish was an incredibly nice man.  Then there was also Monsignor Lewis, who always made me laugh at the ungodly hour at which weekday Mass occurred at Holy Family Church.

The bottom line?  Most of my experiences with priests have actually been very positive.  This noted, the abuse of minors and seminarians was and is real.  While it's easy for some to try and soften the scandal (you can Google Bill Donohue from the Catholic League if you truly want to get disgusted), the fact remains that even one instance of abuse is too many, let alone thousands.  Now, are there false claims being made against the Church by grifters in search of a fast buck?  Absolutely yes, and I will also note that every accused priest/religious has a right to be treated as being innocent until proven guilty.  However...and this is a big however...there are also many valid instances of abuse that remain unmade as well.  Again, this scandal is real, and it is self-made by the Church.

Probably the most visceral aspect of the scandal, at least for me, lies in the fact that many cases of abuse were aided and abetted by the bishops within the Church.  That point is made incredibly clear in the Report.  While outside looking into the Church it's easy to be disgusted, it's important to realize that the Church is an ecosystem unto itself; its universe is more or less self-contained and it is ruled by a rigid male hierarchical structure that puts the United States military to shame.  Central to the ecosystem are bishops, who technically report to the Pope himself.  Given that there are thousands of bishops in the world, actual supervision becomes more or less a function of Church bureaucracy.  Catholic bishops yield significant power within this ecosystem, and while it's easy to focus on the pastoral aspects of their job, a reality is this:  Protecting ecosystem in which they exist...the Church...is central to what they do.  I firmly believe that, in viewing the actions of bishops in the Report, you need to keep that point of reference in mind.

In decades past, bishops could completely exist within the ecosystem, particularly in deeply Catholic areas such as Northeastern Pennsylvania, where the Church, in fact, wielded significant social and political influence.  They controlled who knew what and they didn't view themselves as being accountable to civilian authorities.  Their accountability was just to the Church, and the Church alone.

So what changed?  I think the world has gotten smaller and information, long guarded by the Church as a closely held asset, has now become a commodity that is very easily shared.  The Church can no longer operate within its own ecosystem, and by extension, bishops are suddenly no longer just accountable to a Church bureaucracy.  The Roman Catholic Church has never liked scrutiny by outsiders; heck, it really doesn't even like scrutiny by women, laity and many others within the Church itself.  Now we have an entire world peering into the business of the Church, and what we see isn't always quite so pleasant.

The scandal is also happening in a world that is dramatically changing with respect to how it views organized religion as a whole.  Initial reporting regarding clerical abuse by the Boston Globe (link HERE) in 2002 was just the beginning of a series of events that proved to a younger generation that religious leaders may not, in fact, hold the moral authority they claimed.  The Church's failure to act boldly when these initial stories came out only created a template that guaranteed even greater scandals in the future.  Why?  Again, because the Church viewed itself as operating outside of the world at large, operating in its own ecosystem, in a place where it controlled everything.  Now, well, the Church may have run out of opportunities for bold action on its own, precisely because it no longer has the ability to control the facts surrounding the larger abuse scandal.  The genie has left the bottle and is never going back.  This is going to get worse, and in fact, it may never get better.

Coda
Sometimes in life we get to experience a nexus, a time and place where things shift dramatically and diverge around us.  The fall of the Berlin Wall is a good example.  We may not always realize the shift at the time though.  This isn't one of those instances; if you're attuned to this story in the slightest way you're going to be all too conscious of what happens to the Church the years and decades to come.

By the way, consider me somewhat ambivalent regarding what the future holds for the Church.  Why?  Well because the abuse scandal isn't just about the actions of individuals...it's about the behavior of an entire ecosystem.  You can replace individual parts of the ecosystem, just as individual bishops are replaced over time, but unless the very fabric of the ecosystem changes (the culture of the Church, if you will), well history will simply repeat itself.  The failure of the Church to date to create a meaningful mechanism to deal with the discipline of bishops...


...is a great example of ultimately how resistant the ecosystem of the Church actually is to change.

If there is a silver lining to all of this sadness it's this:  Those who were victims of abuse no longer have to suffer in relative silence.  What's more, I do think this will force many Catholics to re-think their participation in the Church, which may not necessarily mean a change in their actual faith, but rather a reckoning and realization that while the Church may be "of God", it is run "by (flawed...as we all are) Men".  While my faith in the institutional Church certainly has wained in my lifetime to date, the actual faith I hold in something bigger than myself (as opposed to an institutional church) has only gotten stronger over time.


* * * * * *

EndNote:  
Some postings are easier to write than others; this posting falls decidedly in the difficult camp.  I'm not sure why.  Maybe it's the ingrained respect I have for the Church that resists any and all attempts to offer criticism, valid or not.  Maybe it's a fear that I would offend someone who knows me.  Regardless, I think this needed to be written.  In fact, I think we all need to take a stand when it comes to these events.  If recent history teaching us anything, well it's this:  Silence is complicity. 

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Filling the Bucket: "Med Mange Takk"*

(*) "With Many Thanks", in Norwegian


How can I end a series of postings about a trip that I never really imagined I would ever take?

I actually pondered the above question during the trip and ended up with the following idea:  Gratitude; I'll end these series of postings with gratitude.  So with that in mind, I have a lot to be grateful for, and I'll do my best in the text that follows to try and express that gratitude.  With exception of the last item in the list below, this isn't intended to be in any particular order.

Thank You - The crew of the Viking Star
"The great difference between voyages rests not with the ships, but with the people you meet on them." - Amelia Barr

(The Viking Sun, sister ship to the Viking Star)

Viking Cruise Lines must be a terrific company to work for because every single crew person I encountered on the Viking Star was positive, focused on the guests of the ship, and (most importantly) seemed to be having fun.  Whatever they are doing from a Human Resources perspective is working; perhaps the folks that run WalMart need to pay them a visit.

I would HIGHLY RECOMMEND a Viking cruise to anyone interested in taking an unforgettable voyage.

Thank You - To the Tour Guides
I'm convinced that, once you leave the Russian military special forces, you become a western tour group guide in St. Petersburg.  We had terrific tour guides at all of our stops, especially so in Russia.  While Russia was a somewhat challenging place to visit, it's clear that our tour guides took their work...and the well-being of the groups they are leading...very seriously.  Another reason to choose a Viking cruise.

Thank You - To my Brother Rich
For the pick-up service in Philadelphia.  I don't want to imagine just how much it would stink to undertake a  2+ drive after 7+ hours of air travel, at night, when my body thinks that it's actually well into the wee hours of the morning.

( Steve & Rich in1981; I look like a q-tip)

Thank You - The Rivers Family
David, Elizabeth, Julie, Mark, Diana, Kyra, John, Fran...thank you for the honor of being part of your family, especially so over the past two weeks.  Special thanks for tolerating my incessant photography (for the benefit of the curious, I took about 1,600 photographs during the trip).

Thank You - Most Especially - To My Wonderful Wife
I wouldn't have made this trip without my wife, Ms. Rivers.  In fact, the absolute best part of this trip was being able to see so many different places with my best friend in the whole entire world, the person that I miraculously get to call my wife.  There is a world of difference between being on a trip like this alone vs. making it with your partner in all things. 

(Near Copenhagen, Denmark)

Along those lines, I can think of no better song to express how I feel than following...



Finally, I'll note that "...how can I end..." is something of a misnomer, in that I'm pretty sure I have one more posting in me about the trip.  A kind of re-cap of places if you will.   That one needs a bit more time, plus I have laundry to do.


Saturday, August 11, 2018

Filling the Bucket, Day 15 - Stockholm, Sweden

At the Port of Stockholm

Prior to July 28th, I had never taken a vacation this long (in this case, 16 days).  I had also only barely left the country (sorry Canada, but you're basically a big...and nicer...version of Minnesota).  Since July 28th, I have:
  • Visited 7 countries
  • Visited two national capitals
  • Taken my first ever trip onboard a cruise ship
  • Visited countries where a majority doesn't speak English
The list could go on, and on, and on, but I don't get anything out of boring others or myself, so I'll leave it at the four items above.  Suffice to say, it's been a long and sometimes strange trip.  I'm grateful for the experience (more on that in a future posting) but also glad to be going home.  I have some business there to attend to for which I am glad to report I have some new-found clarity.  Anyway, on to some pictures.

Stockholm
Pictures of Stockholm, both from the ship and from our walking about the town.




Stockholm is a beautiful city, a place where you can walk down just about any street and see a magnificent older building.  This is a place worth visiting.

Vasa Museum
You can read more about the Vasa HERE.

(The exterior of the museum)

(The bow of the Vasa)

(The stern of the Vasa)

ABBA Museum
A fitting coda, at least for me, to a bucket-list trip.


Okay, I confess:  I didn't take any photographs at the museum.  Basically, I don't think they wanted visitors to take pictures.  You can learn more about the museum HERE.  This place is worth visiting if you are an ABBA fan.  If you're not, well, go next door and enjoy the amusement park.



Observations:
  • Time.  Stockholm, like every place we've visited, uses a 24-hour clock, where, for example, 1pm is 13:00 hours.  It makes sense to me, which is probably why the United States sticks with the whole AM/PM thing (along with avoiding the metric system).
  • Unisex.  The Vasa museum featured unisex bathrooms, as in two bathrooms that just consisted of fully enclosed stalls and sinks.  It was odd seeing a woman coming out of a bathroom space I was entering, but in the end, what did it matter?  It's not as if I saw any "naughty bits".
  • Dry.  Northern Europe has been very hot (as noted in other postings) and very dry, so much so that some of the trees in Sweden have started to drop their leaves.  I guess I didn't need that colder weather coat I brought on the trip after all.
  • Cars.  The Swedes love their cars, and although there is public transportation a-plenty (we even took a ferry today), it's clear why SAAB and Volvo are both Swedish companies.  What I didn't see was anything that was old or otherwise in bad shape (as in my first few cars).
  • Sunset.  I could never get used to sunset being after 10pm, especially when it comes at the cost of extremely shortened daylight during the winter months (our guide in Helsinki said that typically in January, it's light between 9am and 3pm).  For the record, it also looks like twilight at around 3am.
Soon the very the long trip home begins.  We'll be moving backward in time by 6 hours, so while leaving Stockholm at 2pm, we will magically arrive in Philadelphia at 7pm (ish) after many more hours in transit.  Hopefully, the trip will be more comfortable than what we experienced coming out to Bergen.

Finally, I wanted to say thank you to all who took the time to read these dispatches from the field (if you want to call them that...) and provide me with feedback.  This really wasn't work for me, which does beg the basic question of why don't I find a way to do this for a living if, in fact, I enjoy it so much.  That's a bigger question for another day.  Anyway, my plan is to package these postings, along with some photographs and other assorted paraphernalia, into something of an album.  Something to give a certain dimension to the memories that will no doubt grow foggy over time.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Filling the Bucket, Day 14 - Helsinki, Finland

On-Board the Viking Star

I expected Helsinki to be, well, bigger.  You hear about the city in the news of the world all the time, but when you get down to brass tacks, it's a city of little over 600,000.  Like Tallin, it's impeccably clean and cosmopolitan.  I'd best describe it as being, well, nondescript.  First thing in the morning we went down to the harbor market.

(Near the Harbor Market)

(Helsinki Town Hall)



(The Cathedral of the Finnish Lutheran Church)

In the afternoon we were on a small boat cruise of the waterways around Helsinki.

(An old fortification)

(A complex on one of the islands)


Finally, a few shots from the trip out of the Port of Helsinki.

(Basically the Helsinki skyline, all be it from pretty far away)

(On one of the many little harbor islands)

Observations:
  • Streak Broken.  The streak has been broken, as I saw my first real pick-up truck in Europe in the Port of Helsinki, a late 70's/early 80's vintage full-sized Ford (the badge read "Ranger", but it was more of an F-150).  Gaze upon it in all of its splendor -
  • English.  As somewhat expected, the English language skills I encountered in Helsinki were simply outstanding.  In fact, I vendor I spoke to at the harbor market spoke perfect English.
  • Signs.  Most signs in Helsinki are written in both Finnish and Swedish (which is the largest minority in Finland).  Honestly, I couldn't tell the difference and in fact, thought that "gee, the place names here are really long here". 
  • (Not) National Anthem.  Monty Python fans have probably heard the "Finland" song, but for those who have not...all together Fin-a-philes -

Tomorrow is our final stop, Stockholm.  This is a place I've always wanted to visit, literally, since I was a teenager.  It's the "bucket" in "bucket list".  Stops will include the Vasa and the ABBA museum.