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Friday, December 30, 2011

2011: A Personal Odessey

Well it's nearly the end of 2011 and as such it makes some sense to take a few moments to look in the rear-view mirror.

The Rear View Mirror
One thing I've learned in 2011 is not to spend too much time looking in the rear view mirror.  Yes, reflection & retrospection is a good thing, provided that it serves a useful, forward thinking purpose. Oh, and that it is not done at the expense of living in the now.  Life truly is short & time is fleeting, so why spend too much of it engaged in "if I had only" mental exercises?  In the past we did the best we could at the time, period.  This kind of acknowledgement is an important part of accepting ourselves for who we are as fully functioning human beings.

As A Dad
I have a lot of different names & titles but none is as important to me as that of "Dad".  As I have noted in the past in this space, growing up I didn't really have a functional father, so I have been determined over these past 23+ years to be for my children what I only dreamed of (and saw on TV...although I will confess some relief when I discovered that Mr Brady was actually gay) when I was a child.  Have I been successful? That's not for me to answer, but I will say two things for certain:

...I try very hard to be a good Dad & I don't take the role for granted
...I try to live an example in my own life of what I tell my girls should be important in their lives

To the latter I think some parents fall into the trap of "do as I say, not as I do". For example, we tell our children that they deserve to be in happy, healthy personal relationships, but those words are detrayed if we ourselves live in relationships that are unhealthy. How is this any different than the pot-head parent telling their own children "just say no"?

Note that I do not claim that this notion of "eating your own cooking" is ever easy; in fact I am living proof that this is actually extremely difficult.  But your children are smarter than you think (mine are...), and while even parents are allowed to make mistakes, the error of hypocrisy is very difficult to overcome. 

My "children" are actually adults now, ages 18, 19 & 23 (soon to be 24), so I guess I could look back and point to all my failings, but that would be foolish (see the rear-view miror).  Instead I will offer this:  one is a colledge graduate who is employed in the field she studied in school; one is a Dean's list Biology major at the University of Scranton and my youngest just finished her first semester at West Chester University, also making the Dean's List.  In totality, I think the evidence points to some success in the co-parenting world.

This was probably one of the best years I have ever had professionally.  I report to someone who is a terrific manager himself, and the company is taking an interest in my personal development.  Well that last phrase is incorrect:  more correctly, I am being given the opportunity to explore development opportunities (meaning the door is open...but I need to do the walk'n through it).  This year also saw something for me that hadn't happened last since Bill Clinton was President, namely that I received a promotion.

It's all good stuff, and when I think about how difficult the job market is for some, I realize just how many blessings I truly enjoy.  

Life has its ups and downs, and no where was that more on display for me than in my personal life during 2011.  All told though, I've landed in a terrific place.  As I often times remind myself, sometimes you don't get what you want in life, but over time you always get what you need.  For me, nothing could be more true.  God at work?  I don't know, but sometimes you just have to accept that it's not possible to understand everything.  Faith?  Perhaps.

I'll end this trite tirade with completely different but equally true sets of thoughts:

To the second "W", here's to not ceasing from exploration.


End-Note:  In high school I was ungainly tall, extremely thin, fairly bright, very uncoordinated and exceptionally introverted.  In short, I was a pretty weird kid.  I heard about a book called "The Great Shark Hunt" and read it cover to cover over the course of about a week.  At that point I learned, for the very first time, that it was okay to be both smart and weird.  This past year I learned that maybe I'm not so all alone in that department.  Maybe we are all just a little bit smart and weird.  Anyway, a fitting final word from the author of that book...

"I understand that fear is my friend, but not always. Never turn your back on fear. It should always be in front of you, like a thing that might have to be killed."

- Dr. Hunter S. Thompson

Monday, December 26, 2011

Response to JD's comment

Comment from JD Curtis
Merry Christmas Steve.

And may your upcoming new year be every bit as gloomy, melancholy, darkly introspective, negative, stoic, foreboding, dejected, despondant, doleful, wistful, disheartening, glum, funereal, pensive, trite, and mirthless as your blog is. :)

Now this just begs for a response.

Well I disagree with that assertion.  I think I can be gloomy from time to time, just like any other human, but please, Eeyore I am not.

One would think that JD was describing Lydia Deetz.

Actually I don't own that much black.  Except for a pair of pants.  And some socks.

Darkly Introspective...
Okay, guilty on that charge.  But hey, life ain't sunshine, smiles and rainbows...unless you are JD Curtis I suspect.  Oooops, sorry JD...don't think that I am for one minute implying that you are Gay with the whole rainbow comment.  I know you feel about those people.

Wrong.  I'm not the one who tells entire classes of people that they are somehow wrong.  Pot calling the kettle black on this one JD?  In point of fact I am one of the most positive people I know.  This goes to show you that anything you read on-line should be held in suspect relative to the truth.

Guilty as charged.

Not really.

Dejected & Despondent...
There was a point in time when I did feel that way, but not now.  My life now is great, thank you very much!

Full of Dole?

Wistful & Disheartening & Glum...
Again, if you think you can really know someone from what you read in, of all place, a blog...well then I really want to sell you some stuff.  Can I stop by?  I have some real estate that I don't own that is burning a hole in my pocket as I type this...

By the way, since JD apparently do believe all that he sees and reads on-line, for the record I really look like this...

...except for the eyes.  Mine are hazel.

I confess to having to look this word up.  Kudos!  I disagree underlying thought, but I am impressed never the less with the language.

Seriously JD, you basically just started taking words for this list that were simply found in the definitions of other words.  I expect more than just blatant verbal recycling.

You do realize that this is:
a) The Internet
b) We both have blogs
...right?  Please do tell me what parts of on-line blogging are not trite? Hell, at least I am man enough to admit it!

Those that really know me will tell you that I am a pretty funny guy.  Now not as funny as, say, Rush Limbaugh as he makes fun of blacks, homosexuals, and others (but not drug addicts...oops), but funny never the less.

But hey, at least you didn't include hypocritical on your mirthless, gloomy and pensive list.

So Happy Holidays JD...and here's to a mirthful 2012!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Road Apples, #118

Handel's Messiah...As something of a tradition...well to the extent that two years in a row constitutes a tradition...I recently attended a performance of Handel's Messiah, this year at St. Luke's in downtown Scranton.  I can't claim to be the world's biggest fan of religiously inspired classical music, but this is very enjoyable when you hear it performed by a group such as the Robert Dale Chorale.  It makes you realize just how tremendously talented some of the local folks are in NEPA.  I have to thank Ms Rivers for continuing to contribute to my cultural learnings.

Somewhat Less than Classical...Two movies I recently purchased:  Woody Allen's Love and Death and The Fifth Element.  I watched Love and Death the other night with Katrina.  The Fifth Element will probably be screened some time this week.

Unemployment Benefits...Congress is battling over unemployment benefits again.  There is a rather slanted, in my view, article HERE from the New Republic.  I am somewhat skeptical of adding too many conditions to the receipt of something like unemployment benefits, if for the only reason that workers do in fact pay into the system that provides these benefits.  Besides, isn't adding rules to legislation another example of "big, intrusive government"?

Tax Cuts...Coupled with the unemployment benefit legislation is the extension of what I've previously said is an ill-conceived tax cut.  Ill-conceived because this is a bogus tax-cut, robbing the Social Security System simply because Congress isn't capable of actually reforming the tax code in a way that would provide real, long-term tax relief.  Every day I wake up and read the news, and every day I see why the abysmal approval rating of Congress is deserved.

Bloomberg Businessweek...An enormous THUMBS DOWN to the folks at Bloomberg Businessweek.  I subscribe to the magazine and actually do enjoy the content they provide.  So why the thumbs down?  Well my subscription is up in early January, so towards the end of November I received a card from them stating that my credit card would be automatically charged $50 for a renewal on or about December 26th, and that if I wanted to cancel I could do any time before then to avoid the charge.  Fair enough I thought...I'd noodle it over and probably just go with the renewal.  So what I do I see when I reconcile my last statement?  Well sure enough, I got charged $50 by Bloomberg Businessweek...on November 30th.  Yes, they hit me almost a full month before they said they would.  So I called them yesterday morning to get the charge reversed, and low and behold it may take "1 to 2 billing cycles" before the my account is credited.  Yes...they took my money without my permission and will take their own sweet time to make it right.  They suck.

Occupy Scranton...I have to find out if the Occupy Scranton folks were evicted from courthouse square in Scranton yesterday. I don't have strong feelings about this either way, although I will say that this isn't something I would participate in myself.  I also found their "protest" about firefighter cuts in Scranton to be silly at best.  Can you say "tool of unions"?  Anyway, I say let them stay with two conditions:

  1. There isn't any illegal activity (drugs, etc) going on.
  2. Their presence doesn't negatively impact the use of the square by other individuals and groups.  This includes health and safety concerns that might arise from a quasi-permanent camp. 

Basically I don't think the rights of the protesters should supersede the rights of others.  If there is no conflict of rights then I say let them stay.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Test Post

This is a test using some new technology.  More to come.

Truly mobile blogging technology.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Scary Newt...

Courtesy of the LA HERE.  This should scare the crap out of anyone with half a brain.

"Newt Gingrich says as president he would ignore Supreme Court decisions that conflicted with his powers as commander in chief, and he would press for impeaching judges or even abolishing certain courts if he disagreed with their rulings."

Favorite Beatles Covers

A listing of my favorite/what I consider to the be best covers of Beatles songs.  I've listed them in quasi-order..."quasi" in the sense that this is highly subjective stuff.

1.  In My Life
Cover by Johnny Cash.
Ponder this:  John Lennon wrote "In My Life" when he was in his early 20's, but yet a man who was in his 70's and near death records it and bring a a certain level of gritty authenticity to the tune.  Listen to the Cash version and you will hear the song for the very first time.  It's that good.

Trivia:  This is one of my daughter Rebecca's favorite songs.  One of mine too.

2.  Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds
Cover by Elton John & band.
I think one of the hallmarks of a great cover is that the re-recording artist brings something new to the song.  That's definitely the case with this version of the Sgt. Pepper's tune.  Elton's version has different sound to it, and the pacing of the vocals is completely different.

Trivia:  John Lennon plays guitar on this song & also contributes backing vocals (listen carefully to the chorus and you can hear him).  He is credited for the guitar work as "featuring the reggae guitars of Dr Winston O'Boogie".

3.  Something
Cover by Paul McCartney, Eric Clapton, et all.  From the Concert for George.
I know this may not technically be a cover, since it is being played in part by another Beatle, but remember that Something wasn't a Lennon/McCartney song.  I just love this version of the song, especially the initial piece where it is just McCartney, a ukulele,  and some light percussion.  This makes me want to sing along.  As originally recorded this song was a pretty heavy love song (Frank Sinatra called it one of his favorite love songs once), but at the hands of McCartney and Clapton is is transformed into what is at first almost a sing-along...then Clapton & company (such as the terrific Andy Fairweather Low) transform it back into a serious piece of emotional angst.

Trivia:  Rumor has it that McCartney didn't want to participate in the Concert for George and had to basically be shamed into joining the concert by Eric Clapton.

4.  Across the Universe
Cover by Rufus Wainright.
I think this was one of John Lennon's favorite songs songs, and I can't help but think that Lennon would really like this version.  It's all in the vocals by Wainright...he has this gritty but simple quality to his voice that makes the song come to life.  It almost has a spoken, poetic quality to it that I think really brings the words of the song to life.

Trivia:  The lyric "Jai guru deva om" roughly means "Give thanks for the heavenly teacher".

5.  Got To Get You Into My Life
Cover by Earth, Wind and Fire.
McCartney wrote this as something of a tribute to Motown, which then gets turned into an actual genre piece by a soul/R&B band (Earth, Wind and Fire).  This speaks to just how authentic a song-writer...and fan of music in general...McCartney actually was and is to this very day.  Truth be told, as a youngster I actually heard this version of the song long before I heard the Beatles version.

Trivia:  This was in the wretched St Pepper's movie spawned by the Bee Gees.

Bonus:  My two favorite covers performed by the Beatles:

Money, by Barrett Strong.
Lennon just belts this one out, and the rhythm of guitars throughout the tune makes you just want to tap your feet.  As is the case in many early Beatles songs you can barely hear McCartney's bass guitar.

Twist and Shout by Phil Medley and Bert Russell
Once again Lennon proves that he can belt out a rock-n-roll tune.  I love the parts in the middle & end of the song where each of the Beatles contributes an "ahhh".  At the very end you can hear one of them yelling "yeah".  I believe that most of the early Beatles stuff like this was recorded live, meaning that all four Beatles played at the same time, instead of the instrument and vocals being recorded individually.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

My Sweet Lord

I have a Beatles post drafted that needs to be posted (Wow, that sounds rather "heady" does it not?  As in this is some great, long awaited effort...but so I digress...), but in thinking about what I wanted to write I was reminded as to how much I love this song.

Forget the overt religious elements on this song...just focus on the notion of longing to try and understand what higher power(s) might exist.  If that doesn't work, well then just enjoy Billy Preston belting this one out.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Local blogger threatened with legal action

Read all about it HERE.

Apparently expressing an opinion is viewed as being illegal in some parts.

Not here though.

For the record I've had both good and bad experiences with chiropractors, although I don't buy the whole "adjusting your spine will cure diabetes and bad breath" nonsense.

Anyway, kudos to Justin Vacula for once again standing up for what he believes in, no matter how unpopular that may be in some quarters.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Road Apples, #117

Non-Posting...It's rather humorous in that I have all these ideas swirling in my head about posting topics, but yet when the rubber hits the road so to speak these ideas most never seem to make it to the page.  I think it's just because I am so very busy these days.  I know, I know, that's a lame-arsed excuse, but it does have the benefit of being true.  In time though, one of the most powerful forces in the universe...Catholic Guilt...eventually compels me to starting writing again.

Sankta Lucia...I had the honor of attending the Sankta Lucia event at Old Swedes' Church in Philadelphia over the weekend.  It's amazing to hear a song that you normally hear in Italian sung in another language...namely Swedish.  In addition to the Christmas carols also being sung in Swedish, the story behind the celebration and participation of the children of Gloria Dei Episcopal Church made it a really nice event.

I don't know that you could ever get me to walk around burning candles on my head.  Then again I'm not a teenage girls, so the likelihood of this happening is not very good.  Many thanks to Ms Rivers for answering all my silly questions about the service and to my oldest daughter for coming along.  Before the service we had a chance to frequent some of the local merchants...

...which thrilled my oldest daughter.  I found one book to be particularly interesting...

I am reasonably sure I am going to burn in Hell over that one.

Now if it would have been just a tad bit warmer.

Christmas Tree...For the record I have put up my small Christmas tree, although it has come down twice at the hands of Jean Luc the cat.  I may yet need to re-examine how and where I have this thing located.

Meanwhile, Back in the Jungle...Republicans in the House all of a sudden want to tie extending an ill-conceived tax holiday to an oil pipeline and Democrats react in righteous indignation (as if they have never tied two completely different things into a single piece of legislation before).  For the record, this tax holiday IS ill-conceived because it simply takes revenue out of the Social Security system revenue stream.  This is YET AGAIN another example of how disfunctional Washington DC really is:  both parties support this, yet if the problem is that people need more take-home pay, then cut the actual tax rates for Pete's sake.  I am beginning to think that the biggest force threatening America isn't global terrorism or something like that, instead it's POLITICAL PARTIES.  These are institutions that exist not for the greater good, but instead for the benefit of themselves.

Keeping a Promise...Okay, my blood pressure started to go up just thinking about those self-centered politicos in Washington DC, so I have to calm myself down.  As I write this, one chapter of my life in formally coming to an end and a new one is beginning.  Someone that helped me deal with all of this asked that I keep them posted on what is going on in my life, so I need to start working on a "here I am" letter.  Actually I confess to I started working on it last night.  Regardless, it's a virtue worth celebrating when we remember to thank someone for the help that they have provided.  I don't do that enough.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Hartford Bound

I'm off to my employer's Hartford, Connecticut office later today for a days worth of meetings and interviews tomorrow.  The meetings I have scheduled are mainly just either in support of my main reason for being in Hartford (more in a second on that) or are because I will simply happen to be where others are located.  Either way it promises to be a long day.

By way of disclosure I do go my company's other primary locations with some regularity, with Hartford being the most common destination.  Some, such Ms Rivers, loathe the 3.5 hour drive.  As for me, well I like to think of it as 3+ hours of time where I can think and process stuff.  It's really a gift when you think about it, at least if you are pre-disposed to wanting to think about stuff for 3+ hours.  One of these days I'm going to take the initiative, start something like Rosetta Stone, and learn Italian.  At a minimum I should least find some way to get mileage points for all the car rental time I incur during these trips.

As for my primary reason for travel, I have a staff opening in the Hartford office that I am trying like there is no tomorrow to fill before the end of the year.  The position requires a fair amount of technical expertise, so I am hoping that the selection process is, as a result, somewhat easier. "Easier" by the way is a relative term, as spending the equivalent of several working days either preparing for or conducting interviews isn't exactly "easy", although in fairness it is a hell of a lot better than some of the other things I've done to earn a living in my lifetime.  Maybe, just maybe, the reward if you will for working one's ass off is that you get to call something like interviewing "working one's ass off".

The only wrinkle to this all, as least as far as travel is concerned, is that the weather may be somewhat less than ideal.  So be it.  This is the northeast and it is December, so you will have such things.  Oh, and JLA... always less than thrilled when I travel, but somehow he always forgives me when I return.  I think that has something to do with guilt-induced cat treats on my part.

In any event, it's onward and outward.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Carbondale is Dying

As was reported this past week by the Scranton Times, Marian Community Hospital in Carbondale is closing.  You can read the press release HERE.

What's left?  With a "major" employer is considered to have about 75 employees, then you have to wonder about the health of a community.  In case the case of Carbondale, the community health has been on life support for decades.  Whereas many communities in NEPA (such as Wilkes-Barre and Scranton) managed to survive the death of the hard coal industry, it seems that Carbondale never quite found a replacement and has slowly been decaying these past 40-50-60 years.  Since then it has been a steady stream of businesses leaving, population dropping, and schools closing.

At the risk of sounding overly dramatic, this does raise an interesting question:  should anything be done to hasten the demise?  By asking the question, I'm basically saying that Carbondale, as a municipality, is beyond saving.  There simply isn't anything there and outside of a dramatic reversal, say at the hands of gas drilling (unlikely at best), nothing is likely to change.  Should a community in this condition have the option of going through what amounts to in the business world as a bankruptcy and liquidation?  Even that's a bad analogy, as a bankrupt business typically has at least some assets of value; the case of a municipality, there are few real assets (outside of some city-owned real estate, perhaps).  The problem though is that running the city of Carbondale will require more and more in the way of a smaller and smaller tax base., so at some point in time the math simply no longer works.  Hell, the math may have stopped working a long time ago.

Maybe what I am referring to is some kind of dis-incorporation, whereby the city of Carbondale simply ceases to exist, and it is instead folded some other legal body.  Services are re-aligned or changed.  The police force becomes regionalized with the surrounding communities.  Fire protection is modified to fit the tax base. Things have to change.

I realize that the above sounds  It is as if we (or more correctly the residents of Carbondale) were somehow beaten, and we Americans hate to lose.  But this is a loss never the less and it's time to face reality.  There will be no big factories built.  There will be no casino.  There will be no mass infusion of federal or state money.  There will only be further shrinking of the tax base.  There will be more decay.

Next up (withing a few days):  Scranton.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Skipping the light fandango

"We skipped a light fandango
Turned cartwheels 'cross the floor.
I was feeling kind of seasick,
But the crowd called out for more."

- Procol Harum/Lighter Shade of Pale

When I think of my introversion, for some reason the first few lines of the song "Lighter Shade of Pale" by Procol Harum comes to mind.  I suspect that this is because my line of work requires a fair amount of times...which does make me sick, in a manner of speaking.  Also, the fact is that I often do feel as if "the crowd calls out for more" in the sense that it really is something of an extroverted world out there, as least as far as the business community is concerned.

Note:  I wrote the above on November 30th and just stopped for some reason.  The muse, if you will, sometimes just comes and goes.  And now for something completely different.

I always wanted to do that in a blog posting.  If you are not a Monty Python fan then I suspect that you will not "get" the above.  Too bad.  When I was a kid I loved staying up until 11:30pm on Friday nights in order to watch Monty Python's Flying Circus on WVIA.  Mind you I didn't understand all of the gags, but it didn't matter, as what I did understand was utterly hilarious.

Anyway, when I started initially writing this posting I wanted to comment on introversion.  Maybe not so much now, but perhaps it will sneak itself back into the discussion fold before I call this posting "done".  I do feel that urge, if you will, to write about me.  That's why I started this whole on-line writing thing years ago.  Oh, and it was years ago.  While this page dates back to 2008, I had a blog on a Yahoo page that went back years earlier.  I keep telling myself that I need to resurrect some of those postings.  Yes, it is all about me in the end.  It's that way though for just about every blogger when you think about it....and at least I will admit that much.  Others?  Well not so much sometimes, but that's okay.  There are some personal musings in the blog-o-sphere that I simply love reading (such as this guy's stuff) because it has such a very real, gritty quality.

None of this has anything to do with introversion, or does it?  I suspect that it does.  We introverts (wow...I just realized...that is almost a contradiction in terms..."we" and "introverts") get our energy from the inside, as opposed to those extroverts who get their energy from the outside.  What is blogging if not an expression of what's on the inside?  What's more, it's more or less a unidirectional expression at that.  Yes, I know there are comments, but I view blog comments being very different than blog posting, if for no reason than the fact that they can often times take on a life of their own.

So here's to skipping the light fandango...

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Can someone please step up?

I don't suspect this post will make me friends or influence people, but so be it.  Anyway, saying that I am disappointed in the 2012 Presidential election is like saying that fat guys like all-you-can-eat buffets.

On the Republican side, let's see what we've got:

  • A moron (Rick Perry) who can't remember what the voting age is or what federal agencies he himself would like to ax.
  • A ladies man (Herman Cain) who, rumor has it, got his 9-9-9 tax plan from a video game.  Funny, my daughters used to play Sim City and yet they never came up with a tax plan...just what was their problem?
  • A self-righteous homophobic dolt (pick'm: Santorum or The Bachmann).
  • "Mr Family Values", a.k.a. Newt.
  • A guy who has changed more positions than your average porn star (Romney).
  • A few others who can't win anyway (see Paul & Jon...and I'm not talking about the Beatles).
On the Democratic side you have the current President, who doesn't seem to stand for or accomplish anything.  Seriously, outside of health care reform (the core of which WILL be struck down by the Supreme Court...see HERE, among other things) JUST WHAT THE HELL HAS THIS GUY ACCOMPLISHED?  Please, someone tell me!  It's simply not enough to be against the other folks.  Oh, and please, it was the U.S. Military that killed Bin Laden.  The President simply said "yes" and watched it on TV.

Personally I think that the President needs a credible challenger.  Someone like Hillary Clinton.  Someone who can both stand on principle but yet actually get stuff done.  History is full of examples in the past:
  • Ronald Raygun, "saint" Ronnie to some, worked extensively with Democrats in Congress, signed the largest amnesty bill ever for illegal immigrants, raised taxes and grew the size of government.  
  • Billy-Bob Clinton signed welfare reform into law, had balanced budgets and presided over an expansion of the economy...but yet Republicans tried to have him impeached. 
Will someone step up?  I doubt it.  Call me pessimistic, but I think this country is screwed.

Monday, November 28, 2011

The Onion

Sometimes the best humor has an undercurrent of truth to it.

It's rather sick that we are in a position to even "get" the humor in this case.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Road Apples, #116

Thanksgiving...For the record I had an outstanding Thanksgiving holiday, spending time with the most important people in my life, including my beautiful daughters last night.  There is truly much form me to be thankful for, and what a difference a year makes. Special thanks to my brother Chris, who saved me the drumsticks from Thursday's turkey (which will be my dinner tonight).

Blog Geek...While I haven't posted much over the past week, I have been making a few changes to the site, including a more in-depth "about me" description.  The idea for this came from something written by D.B. Echo.  Never let a good idea go un-stolen, especially when it comes to the Internet. I do need to do something about the blog mast-head picture, as it takes too long to load.  I might need to do some cropping.  Time to fire up Picasa, which has become my favorite free photo-editing software.

Tech Geek...As I've noted before, I'm considering the purchase of a tablet computer.  It will be something of a gift to myself to mark an important milestone.  Anyway, I spent some time yesterday at Best Buy playing with the tablets.  A few observations:
  • Speed...the Android tablets seemed faster than the iPad.  I realize that store display models aren't the best avatars for testing speed, but it was somewhat noticeable.  
  • Display...the iPad's display wasn't as crisp as some of the Android models.  
  • Android Interface...bottom line?  Every Android tablet has the same interface.  Zero real differentiation.  The real differentiation among Android tablets lies in software add-ons and tactile feel of the device.  
  • Sony...I played with the Sony tablet and I wasn't blown away with the overall feel of the device.  The real benefit behind the Sony though lies in the software...especially the universal device remote control and the ability to play Playstation games.  It was also not as large as some of the other models.
  • Motorola, the prices have dropped on this device.
  • Blackberry Tablet...has a great display and seems pretty quick.  However I don't like the form (it is a smaller tablet) and I get creeped out by all of RIM's self-inflicted issues. 
  • Kindle Fire...this isn't on my list, but man it is a cool device.  Excellent display.

Scranton...Many reports over the past week or so about how my home-town is running out of things to sell and credit upon which to borrow.  As I've noted many times before, Scranton's government is simply too large for the tax base to support, period.  What's more, there isn't a secret of horde of "crony consultants" that, by eliminating, will save the fiscal day for the city (sorry Janet Evans fans).  Scranton IS bankrupt, period.  It's just a question of legally acknowledging this fact.  The sooner that happens, the better.

Ron Paul...I want to like Ron Paul, I really do.  He was giving a speech the other day in New Hampshire where he basically said the U.S. government had no business telling other countries what to do.  I agree.  However, Representative Paul seems to have no problem with the U.S. government telling women what they can and can't do with their own bodies.  This is a contradiction I find troubling.  While I don't support abortion as a concept, I find it troubling that some believe the government should have the power to reach into a woman's body make decisions for them.  I don't expect that my position on this issue will resonate positively with everyone, but so be it.  As the father of three adult daughters, I shutter to think what would happen if they were ever the victims of a sexual assault that resulted in a pregnancy; in such an instance I would not be qualified to tell them what to do...and I am their the government sure has Hell is not qualified either.

Penn State...For several years I have made an annual contribution to the University.  That will not happen this year.  Mind you this has never been a large sum of money in real terms, but it was the largest single donation I would make to any organization.  At this stage I simply can't support an organization that has been so focused on a stupid game that they were willing to look the other way when there was credible of child abuse.  This was and is appalling.  I'll find some other use for the money and hope that, in the coming months, real changes are made at Penn State.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Being Thankful

I know, this is the time of the year when I list all that I have to be thankful for in my life.  I loathe being so predictable though, so what to do?

Well I've thought this through, and while there are in fact tons of things to be thankful for, I am going to pick just one.  Note though that this doesn't mean that I am NOT thankful for all of the other blessings in life that I enjoy, because that would be completely FALSE.  I am, in fact, truly blessed with healthy children who make me so very proud, the caring and support of a wonderful friend, a great job, (and the list goes on...hey, I AM listing things...need to stop).

This year I am going to be thankful for a gift that I think some seem to lack:  the ability to be critically introspective.  Maybe it's somewhat presumptuous to state that others lack this ability, but you know what?  I've seen some evidence to the contrary.  Now I'm not talking about morality or necessarily the ability to make "right" decisions, because the very concepts of "morality" and "right" are at least somewhat subjective in definition.  What's more, I've learned over time that sometimes one has to make short-term decisions that seem flawed in order to achieve a far greater objective over the long term.  It's really though not outcomes that I am thankful for anyway; what I am truly thankful for is an internal process that allows me to make decisions.

It's all about the process in life, at least when you boil things down to their elemental components.  As is often said, life is a journey and not a destination.  That journey, I suspect, is in part driven by your ability to be critically introspective.  What do you do along the journey of life?  How do you act and react when you come upon those milestones that define you as a person?  I know, these are just questions, but they at the heart of being introspective.  I do, in fact, question just about everything, all the time.  At times this has been a blessing, such as when I need to make a decision at work that requires the weighing of different factors.  It has also...all be it rarely...been something of a curse, especially when the introspection creates a kind of feedback loop that prevents me from acting.  Mostly though it has been a blessing, as the curse part has been relegated to relatively few times in my life.  These "curse" times are usually defined by instances where I've had to deal with ideas, concepts and emotions for which I have little frame of reference.

Anger on my part, for example, creates the kind of feedback loop I referenced above, as I'm simply not an angry kind of person.  Even allowing myself to feel angry takes substantial work on my part, as my introspective tendencies tend to tell me to always consider someone or something else's point of view. "Maybe I shouldn't be angry" or "Maybe I've done something wrong to cause these feelings" are what typically ping through my head when faced with budding personal anger.  Almost always these feelings end up getting somehow settled.  On rare occasion I actually have allowed myself to be righteously cheesed off.  Did it feel good at the time?  Not really, but as a fully formed human being I am allowed to be angry once in a while.  Introspection on introspection.

My particular blessing of being able to sense the world around me and ponder it has led me to appreciate, of all things, poetry.  For me, poetry is a kind of song that goes with life.  It's creating visuals and rhythm to slices of existence.  Poetry can be, at least for me, a true act of introspection, both on the part of the author and the reader.

Maybe I'm just (as they say) "whacked".  Maybe this "gift" of always questioning and pondering is just part of the equipment that all humans come with when we roll out of our mother.  I don't think though that everyone takes advantage of it.  I am also sure that, as a gift, it requires practice and cultivation.  The full utilization of critical introspection seems to be contingent on other gifts, such as humility.  It may be hard for someone to deeply consider their own thoughts, ideas and decisions if they believe they are inherently better than the rest of the universe.  Mostly though, I don't think we, as a species, are introspective enough.

As for me, well the past year has been one of significant change.  Throughout it all, I've maintained this internal discussion about what has been happening both inside and outside of me.  That has been the one constant.  I've learned though that you can use introspective to move your life along, or you can become so wrapped up in the internal discussion that it becomes an all-consuming monster...the kind of constant feedback loop that causes nothing but grief.  In totality I've learned more about myself over the past year than I probably did in the last 15 years.  The fact that I can ponder what I've learned...and use those learnings the gift of critical introspection.  For that I am very grateful.

"The longest journey is the journey inwards."
- Dag Hammarskjold

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Responding to a comment about Holy Family Church

A comment from one of my postings about Holy Family Church.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

May the spirits of those Slovak miners and their founding families rise out of the rubble and let their presence be made known.
November 21, 2011 11:15 PM

Amen Anonymous...amen.

By way of history, this was actually the second Holy Family Church.  The first was a wooden structure on, on think, Capouse Avenue.  That original structure stopped being a church after the brick structure was built on North Washington avenue.  I understand that the original church actually stood until the 1940's used as an indoor racketball/handball court until it was demolished.

The picture I saw of the wooden structure actually showed it to somewhat resemble the brick church, all be it on a smaller scale.

When you consider just how little some of these miners had, and how they must have sacrificed to build these churches, it's actually pretty awe inspiring.  

Monday, November 21, 2011

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Getting older stinks, but...

Some good news on the health front.

I had my follow-up visit to the doctor yesterday after the end of October asthma flair-up.  The good news: my breathing capacity just about doubled (going from something like 250 to 575 on the "blow into the tube" gizmo).  Even better news?  My blood pressure was astonishingly low, something like 112 over 68.  Now sure how that happened.  Maybe the equipment failed.  Who knows.  I'll take it though, for the record.

The less than stellar news in all this is the fact that I'm probably gong to have to take an inhaled steroid over the long term (well I'm supposed to...actually doing it is another story).  I'm also going to have to take an allergy medication daily from now until forever.  The thought behind the medications is that they will prevent another asthma attack, which sounds reasonable to me.  I had never wanted to be on any daily medication for anything, but years ago that mojo was broken by virtue of the fact that I've been taking medication for acid reflux daily now for years.  I guess I am really screwed if the zombie apocalypse actually occurs.

The other variable in all of this lies in where I live.  While I don't have any science to support this, it wouldn't surprise me if there was some kind of environmental factor in my current living arrangements that somehow disagrees with my physiology.  Can't prove it, but I do have my suspicions.  That will be resolved, as the "NCFE Command Bunker" will eventually be relocating.  After that maybe I will do some experimentation with the medication.

In totality though, it is all good.  I'm a pretty healthy guy, all things considered, and I've managed my health such that I'm really not at risk for a lot of the horrid things that come with age.  While my weight fluctuates more than a Kardashian's marital status, my cholesterol numbers have always been very good, I don't drink, I've never smoked (not once) and I'm very active.  My goal in all of this? To be healthy enough to live a good life.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Occupy Protesters/Free Education

Occupy Protesters were heard shouting that education "should be free, like the air and water" yesterday in New York.  Well, they think that, do they?

First, the water is NOT free; anyone who has a home will tell you that fact.  Second, while I do agree that a post-secondary education by and large costs too much, that's a different issue than claiming it should be "free".  The fact is that the moment you make something free you diminish it's value.  We sometimes lose sight of this fact in our society these days.  Education has value, and a higher education is worth paying for, by and large.

In a larger sense, there are times when I think that the current generation has been given TOO MUCH and they have lost sight of the fact that there are few actual RIGHTS in this world.  A post secondary education is NOT A RIGHT, it is a privilege, one that requires two abilities:

  1. The ability to intellectually handle the work
  2. The ability to pay for it

It may be all warm and fuzzy to think that everyone can do both of the above, but that's simply not reality.  We are not all equal in our abilities, and that's okay.  Society needs both lawyers and plumbers to function, and true personal value isn't measured by W-2 earnings or what (if any) school you attended...personal value is best measured, in my opinion, by the kind of person you are and the kind of person you strive to become,


The RIGHT that I do think we all have is the "right to strive", but "strive" is different that being "given".  Hell, I don't really think that we have a right to strive, I think we have an OBLIGATION to strive.  We owe it to ourselves to always try and make ourselves better, throughout the course of our lives.  That kind of drive almost has to come with a cost, because it's the effort part of striving...the having the work hard and make choices part...that builds us as individuals.

I do believe that it is entirely noble and correct to fight against injustice, and in American society today there are tons of injustices that need to be addressed.  Having to pay for a college education is not an injustice.  Pain in the butt?  Definitely.  Injustice?  No.  Claiming the right to a free education as an issue worth chanting about makes at least some of the Occupy Wall Street protesters out to be spoiled little children who believe that they should entitled to anything they want, just "because".  Wrong.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Holiday Mail for Heroes 2011

I saw something posted on Facebook about sending Christmas cards to veterans at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.  Since as a general rule I don't believe anything I read on Facebook, I decided to check it out.  You can see what had to say about this HERE.

The good news?  There actually is a program sponsored by the American Red Cross that allows us to support our soldiers over the holidays.  You can read about it HERE.  I've also copy & pasted the key points immediately below.

Take a moment and support those who put their lives on the line for all of us.


Holiday Mail for Heroes 2011

Welcome to the fifth year of our Holiday Mail For Heroes program! As in previous years, we will partner with Pitney Bowes to collect holiday cards from regular citizens all across the country and distribute them to service members, veterans, and their families. If you’re looking for a fun way to give back a little bit this holiday season, this is a great option. Check out our slideshow of cards from previous years for some inspiration.
Send cards to the address below:

Holiday Mail For Heroes
P.O. Box 5456
Capitol Heights, MD 20791-5456
All cards must be postmarked no later than Friday, December 9th. Cards postmarked after this date will unfortunately be returned to the sender. This deadline ensures enough time to sort and distribute cards before the holidays.
After the mailbox closes, the cards we received will be screened for hazardous materials by Pitney Bowes and then reviewed by Red Cross volunteers working around the country.

Monday, November 14, 2011

I was duped...

I was duped.  I confess.  Now I am not easily duped, for the record; in fact, with most things I am fairly skeptical.  But not this time.

Yes, for years I swallowed the whole Joe Paterno "victory with honor" bullcrap.  I believed that he wasn't like the other big-time college sports program coaches (such as Calhoun from UConn).  Even worse, I believe that he was inherently a good man.

Fast forward to now and a two things are pretty clear:
  1. Joe Paterno knew of credible allegations against Jerry Sandusky, but basically sat on the information...until, of course, he was forced to testify in front of a Grand Jury.
  2. Joe Paterno put the interests of a f&^king game before children being harmed.
College football is a game.  It is a cousin to just about any other game out there.  It is dominos on steroids.  Yet this game somehow over-powered the moral sensibilities of adults that people such as I took for granted.  Of course I believed that "JoePa" was a highly moral guy.  He graduated lots of his students.  Many Academic All Americans.  Again, he wasn't like "those others".  Yes, I was duped.

Even if you feel that Joe Paterno rightfully followed the rules by reporting the allegation of abuse to his "superior" (a laughable concept by the way, as he had no "superior" at Penn State), no one can question the fact that he did not follow-up EVEN ONCE on what was reported.

In the end, the rape of a 10 year old boy simply was not important in Joe Paterno's world.  It fell below his precious little game.  At one time "JoePa" seemed so big.  Now he seems so very small...just like his game.

Never again.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Swimming in a fish bowl

A little over a year ago I made what I consider to be the biggest change in my life, ever.  Now since we are talking about me here, the whole endeavor was fought with "the over":  over-thought and over planned. What's more, I have to confess though that I probably was not ready emotionally for what I needed to do.  I was, in a very real sense, very much afraid.


Can you believe that? Here I am, this hunkeringly large individual, who from the outside would seem to be very much confident, and I was actually being held together by what seemed like Jello from my (all be it) twisted perspective.  The benefit of over a year has given me lots to think about and ponder on this whole topic (what I am doing now...), but I am still amazed that I actually did it.  The whole concept of what "afraid" means is worthy of pondering.  I wasn't afraid for... health (I was the only one who took care of me anyway) wealth (I don't have that much to being with) intellect (I wasn't suddenly going to go all Rick Perry)

...on the surface I'd say that I was afraid that I would end up "all alone".  Hindsight being 20/20, that was probably cover for something deeper.  What that "deeper" is, I'm not sure.  I do know that I hate losing at anything.  Maybe, just maybe, I was actually really just afraid of failing at making this kind of change. I knew that once I started doing this, my compulsion to not fail would force me to move ahead.  Would I then lose control of the situation?  Would I end up starting a course of action that I myself would somehow not be able to change?  Would I "fail"?  Note I did reference "over thinking" before.

Courageous vulnerability.

There actually is a term for what I was doing over a year ago.  That term?  Courageous vulnerability.  What this means is basically that "I am scared, but I am going to do it anyway". Regardless of what I found fearful in making a major life change, I still did it.  Over a year later and I can still almost smell the fear in the almost exists as a tactile sort of thing. Amazed, as a descriptor, doesn't begin to articulate how I feel now when I look back at that time.  I truly was afraid, but I truly did it anyway.  Now I am sure I could do it all over again, but I could also, for example, go through the process of getting a dental implant again...but I have no desire to do so.

There are other lessons in all of this, of that I am absolutely certain.  Some I've articulated in my head a hundred times over, to the point of being bald tires in my mind.  Some have made it here, some will never make it here.  Some exist as your basic vapor-ware in my head...they are there ready to be spoken, but just need to be coded in words. As someone who has poured a thought out in words over time I almost feel a need to somehow explain things, not for anyone else other than me.  That will come, in time, as I am ready.

Wish You Were Here

Over a year ago, the song "Wish You Were Here" by Pink Floyd was playing in my head almost constantly.  Now as I mentioned to Ms Rivers just yesterday, I love things that are smartly multi-dimensional.  I find it fascinating when you see something that has a different color/meaning to it, depending on your perspective.  In 2010 I would listen to this song and think about how it somehow symbolized losing something in my life.  It's for that reason that I actually didn't listen to that song for almost a year.  I simply couldn't listen to it because of the thoughts & feelings it brought up.  However a few weeks ago I listened to the song again, and I got a wonderfully different perspective that, as I noted, comes with experiencing something "smart".  

Side note:  you can read more about this particular song HERE.

That new perspective?  Perhaps the "you" in "Wish YOU Were Here" is actually a "me".  Put another way, I think that we all engage in some kind of self-isolation.  We put ourselves in a fish bowl, year after year.  My life for the longest time was just that:  simply swimming in a fish bowl.  The benefit of being in a fish bowl, I suspect, was that I knew every inch of the space.  There is a comfort in limitation.  Over a year ago I basically jumped out of the fish bowl...not prepared...but I jumped out anyway. Courageous vulnerability.

Maybe when I am 80 and explaining all of this to grandchildren I will come across as being supremely confident and acting in accordance with a big plan.  That future statement would be a lie though, but that's okay.  There has been no big plan, other than to move forth and take some chances in life.  Some have worked out, others have not.  Some things have happened that I would have never guessed could occur in a million years.  I have not been given what I wanted, but at every step of the way I have been given what I needed.  In totality the chances and changes have been worth taking and I am truly in a great, wide-open place in life.

In the end I suspect that all of this can be summarized into one single thought:
Your life can be as small as your own personal fish bowl, or it can be big as the universe.  

You decide.  Circumstances may make change in life difficult, rarely do they make change in life impossible.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Veterans Day

In honor of all those who honorably served in the United States military, including my father (U.S. Army/Korean Conflict), my brother Chris (U.S. Navy/1983-1986) and my uncle Frank (U.S. Army Air Corps/World War 2).

Dad (in uniform), home from the Army at the Hotel Casey, early 1950's.

Dad's grave, Fairview Memorial Park (Veterans Section), Elmhurst, PA.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

A Message from PSU President Rodney Erickson

As received from the Penn State newswire service.  Don't expect anything relevant here, other than an acknowledgement that more is to come.
A message from Interim Penn State President Rodney Erickson 
This is one of the saddest weeks in the history of Penn State. It has been
difficult to comprehend the horrific nature of the allegations that were
revealed in the Attorney General's presentment last week. As a member of the
Penn State community for 34 years, as a parent, and as a grandfather, I find
the charges as they have been described to be devastating, and my heart goes
out to those who have been victimized and their families. This is a terrible
tragedy for everyone involved, and it will take some time to bring a measure
of understanding and resolution to the community. 

In addition to the legal process under way, Penn State's Board of Trustees has
authorized a full investigation " determine what failures occurred, who
is responsible, and what measures are necessary to insure that this never
happens at our University again and that those responsible are held fully
accountable." As those involved pursue their cases, I also urge you, as Penn
Staters, to be patient, to avoid speculation, and to refrain from passing
judgment until the facts are known. 

As you are now aware, the Board of Trustees has asked me to serve as the
interim president of Penn State effective immediately. I undertake these
duties with a firm sense of resolve, and I ask for your support as we move
forward. And move forward, we must and we will. 

Penn State has a long and storied tradition that has endured for more than 150
years. Our roots are deep, our constitution is resilient, and the importance
of our work is as vital today as it was last week - perhaps even more so in
the face of such adversity. We are 96,000 students, 46,000 employees, and
more than a half a million alumni. We are 24 campuses across the Commonwealth
and a World Campus. We are a university that is committed to its core values
of honesty, integrity, and community. We are a university that will rebuild
the trust and confidence that so many people have had in us for so many

Through your conduct every day, you can play a role in restoring the
integrity, honor, and pride that have always characterized Penn State. I share
your anger and sadness in this time, but always remember that your actions
reflect on the entire Penn State community. Please set an example that will
make us all proud. Moving forward is the only responsible course to take in
the coming months. I ask for the full support of our faculty, students, staff,
and alumni, and in return I will do my best to lead this institution through
the challenges ahead.

Thank you for being a part of Penn State.  
 Read the full story on Live:

Penn State Pride (and Shame)

Reference article HERE.

As a kid I wasn't the biggest sporting fan in the world.  I was tall, very lanky and not particularly graced by any sense of coordination.  Sure, I eventually learned to enjoy playing some sports, such as basketball and tennis, but by and large I was not ever someone who was a sports fan.  I was always a Penn State fan though.

As I worked through my high school years, I really wasn't sure what I would be doing with my so-called life. Sure, my grades were good...I think I graduated in the top 10% of my class...but I wasn't particularly inspired  for anything, other than maybe architecture.  Well the architecture thing didn't work out, as you need great test scores to get into college for it, and my SAT scores were abysmal.  In truth I think I had been drinking the night before the test, which probably had something to do with my shall we say "less than stellar" scores. My senior year approached and I applied to a few different colleges, but I was really only serious about attending one:  Penn State.

My Penn State career began in 1982, the year in which the school won its first football national championship.  Four years later, after stints at Scranton and Harrisburg, I left Penn State with a BBA and a job.  It was the year of Penn State's second football national championship.

Interestingly enough, I had never been to State College (Pennsylvania) until a few years ago.  That, however, never curbed my enthusiasm for the university.  Over the years I've done my best to financially support Penn State, I've volunteered for events at Penn State Harrisburg and served on its alumni society board for two terms.  I also, after years of paying for it, got my much sought-after life membership in the Penn State Alumni Association.

I mention the above, I suppose, as something of a way to give myself some "street cred" when it comes to Penn State.  My time at Penn State really, truly changed my life, especially my last two years.  I have been nothing but exceedingly proud to proclaim myself a Penn State graduate, up to and including the alumni license plate that graces my car.

Recent events have given my pause though as I think about how others view Penn State, particularly current students and supporters of Coach Joe Paterno.  As I noted the other day, Coach Paterno made a grave error (or maybe errors) by simply following procedures when credible allegations of child molestation were made against a former coach.  The "Paterno Way" was to never simply take the easy road, it was never simply to "just follow the rules", it was never just was "victory with honor".  There is no honor in placing a football program's reputation above that of even the potential that children are being harmed.

To the Trustees of the Pennsylvania State University:  I applaud your actions in immediately terminating Coach Paterno and President Spanier.  I'm not proud that this had to be done, but I suppose you have done the best you could in these particular circumstances.  Now take the text step by putting policies in place that will prevent an athletic program to become so important that it can run an entire university's reputation into the ground.

To the current students of Penn State:  Imagine yourself being ten years old and being raped by an old man in a shower.  Now tell me what the real issue is in this case.

I am not Penn State Proud at the moment.  And my annual gift is sitting here un-mailed.  It very well may stay that way for the rest of this year.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Joe Paterno

"Success without honor is an unseasoned dish; it will satisfy your hunger, but it won't taste good."
- Joe Paterno

If Coach Joe Paterno had evidence or allegations of wrong-doing and simply followed the letter of the law in addressing it, then he has failed to live up to his own standards. It has never been enough, for example, for Penn State to have a graduation rate that was acceptable to the NCAA; Coach Paterno saw to it that Penn State's graduation rate for student-athletes far exceeded the minimum required.

As an alumni of Penn State, I've been proud that Joe Paterno represented my university so very well over the years.  Until now. I expected more, again, because he taught Penn Staters such as myself to expect more.

Coach Paterno should resign, immediately.

- Steve Albert, '86

NEPArtisan Posting: O'Brien and Wansacz

My latest NEPArtisan posting can be found HERE.

I may not be making too many friends or influencing too many people, but what the Hell?  Sometimes you just gotta call'm like you see'm.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

More Holy Family Church Pictures

Just a few more that I have snapped.

Mass schedule.  The sign dates back to when I was a teenager (I think).

Anthracite Bridge Co, Scranton PA.  This stamping probably hadn't seen the light of day for over a hundred years.

This is the structure of the church steeple.  The Children of God (or whatever they are) folks stripped the copper off weeks ago.

What's left of the structure that supported the steeple.  Note the rivets.  It looks like the hull of the Titanic.  I think it dates from about the same period actually.

The front of the church.

Decorative stone work that isn't so decorative any more.

Post script:  Holy Family Church was built by Slovak miners from Scranton's Pine Brook section.  The dedications on the stained grass windows were actually in Slovak.  Rumor has it that the church, being built in a heavily mined area, was constructed on pylons that went down to bed-rock so as to avoid subsidence.  In all the years that I attended Holy Family I don't recall ever seeing evidence  of mine subsidence, so how knows?

In any event, I can't come up with anything more meaningful to say about the demise of something that really was a part of my childhood, so I'm going to leave this subject with the following...which seems strangely aligned to how I'm feeling.

Holy Family Church

A few pictures from earlier in the week, as Holy Family Church falls into the sunset.

Side can see how they are stripping material from the steel.

Detail of the steel structure being dismantled.  Some of the girders are stamped "Scranton Anthracite Bridge Company".

Steeple, sans copper and structure.

Rear view; note the ceiling art.  When I was a child I would spend many-a-Mass looking at these beautiful pictures.

The confessionals, still in place at the rear of the church where they were when I made my first confession.

Detail of the structure holding up the plaster roof.