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Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Brittany Maynard and the right to die

Back in late October/early November, the story of Brittany Maynard was making the rounds.  For those that may be unfamiliar with her story, or who want a refresh, you can follow  THIS link.

I honestly can't fathom what it must be like knowing in advance that I would die a long, slow, agonizingly painful death.  Forget water-boarding, as that's real torture.  And yet in the midst of that, the late Ms Maynard made the decision to engage in a public dialogue about her desire to die on her own terms.  Courage?  You bet, in copious amounts.

Now I do understand the religious objections of those who believe that what Ms Maynard did was wrong.  In fact, some religions teach that suffering in this world somehow brings you closer to God, pointing to the long, drawn-out illness of the late Pope John Paul II as an example of to suffer with dignity.  As for me, well I am not in the business of telling anyone that...

...they should suffer
...that suffering is somehow a good and noble thing
...that suffering will somehow lead to eternal rewards later all of that is beyond my pay-grade.  I also believe it is above your pay grade too, no matter who you are by the way.  Yes, in the end, if we can't control what happens with our own bodies, then in essence we control nothing.  Maybe that's part of the point, namely that we really don't control anything.  But so I digress.

I do think that the way Ms Maynard chose to talk about her decision, in a very public manner, was a good thing for our society.  Ms Maynard gave those who disagree with her decision an opportunity to voice their opinions, and it also gave many others the opportunity to consider a topic that simply doesn't come up in casual conversation all that often.  Again, this was one very courageous lady.

As for me, well I have a living will filled with plenty of instructions on how my end of life decisions are to be made.  What would I do in Ms Maynard's position?  As noted above I don't know, but that's the central point of this, namely that I don't know...nor do you.  What seems to me to matter here is that we should have the right to face these kinds of things on our own terms, as guided by whatever we believe.  That means without the unwanted interference of others, where "others" would be the government or religious institutions.  Yes, if your religious convictions tell you that assisted suicide is wrong then you must have the right to abide by those kinds of  teachings.  However it's the converse that I find troubling:  other people's religious teachings...not our, but others...can interfere with this decision making process for you.  There is no dignity in having an outside institution make end of life decisions for you.

I hope you are resting in peace Ms Maynard.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Road Apples, #157

Rob Lowe's DirectTV Commercials...are actually really well done, at least as far as commercials are concerned.  Here's "scrawny arms Rob Lowe"...

I do have a suggestion:  Hippster Rob Lowe.  It could go something like this..."Hi, I'm Hippster Rob Lowe, and I only watch the television on this retro black-n-white set from 1976.  I also only get three channels, sometimes."  Hippster Rob Lowe could have an iconic beard, black glasses and of course be wearing a sweater vest.  Think Mumford and Son, or the guy half of Pomplamoose.

Reason #126 Why Planning a Wedding When You Are Older is Complicated...Attempting to explain why you don't want your DJ to use props and a disco ball, this despite the fact that virtually all the videos he shows you feature, you guessed it, props and a disco ball.  No props.  No disco ball.  No chicken dance.  No funny hats.  Just good music.  Now I may give, just a little, and allow the electric slide (if, for no other reason than the fact that I can actually do it).  But that's it.  Maybe.

Bloggers:  Want to dramatically increase your number of hits?...Just mention a local politician in your posting titles.  Trust me, it actually works.  I have metrics to prove it.

Lackawanna County Commissioners Race...As best I can tell, my Facebook friend Kevin Haggerty is no longer running for county commissioner, a fact (well at least I think it's a fact) that is somewhat disheartening.  As I've note before in this space, Kevin is genuinely crazy, and I mean that is the best of ways...I really do.  He's not the the typical political hack that you get in these parts, as he speaks his mind even when it involves being critical of his own party.   The current two majority county commissioners?  They look like walking billboards for everything that's wrong about local governance.  One need only look at the utter bashing each gave the other...when they were running as opponents...that magically turned into a love fest the moment they became a "team".  Sincerity anyone?  I guess all those old campaign flyers were just lies.  Anyway, and not to belabor the point, but I do hope that Kevin returns to elected office one day, as the area need more leaders like him (and less like the current country crew).

Speaking of Political Insincerity...we have the concessions offered by the Scranton Fraternal Order of Police, as negotiated by a Scranton Mayor well known for being a pal of the police union, Bill Courtright.  Now I don't blame the police union for negotiating a good deal for their members, as that's what they do.  However, I do blame the Mayor for pushing an agreement that is actually pretty far from being full of concessions.  Sure, the union did give on some points, but they also "got" on several others.  Funny, but I'm thinking that the nature of these negotiations, what with Scranton being distressed for longer than Justin Bieber has been alive*, was for one party to just "give".   My favorite anti-concession?  Allowing a police department leader to spend a day a week, on the taxpayer's dime, to conduct union business.  Smooth Mayor Courtright, smooth.   At best this agreement will forestall the inevitable even further, a trick which Scranton's political leaders are (in)famous for doing time and time again.  This agreement will not significantly sure up the police pension fund, which is so dramatically under-funded that it is practically insolvent.  As I have said time and time again Scranton is already bankrupt; all that's missing is the formal, legal designation.  Oh, and let's see what the true NET savings are for this agreement, as well as what the city gets from the infamously hard-nosed firefighter's union.

Speaking of Unions...I read recently in the Scranton Times that two local teacher's unions are involved labor disputes.  Another sad state of affairs, with well represented public employees who enjoy better-than-average (for NEPA) wages and benefits facing off against ambitious but mostly incompetent local politicos and their connected lawyer friends.  No wonder the unions win more than they loose.  It's also, by the way, the only reason why I can understand the need of teachers to be in a union, namely because in the absence of that kind of power they would subject to all manner shenanigans by elected school board members and their relative administrators.

Anyway, what's the solution?  I have one:  A single master contract for teachers, negotiated at a state level with the union(s) that sets wages and benefits for all teachers in Pennsylvania.  This kind of agreement would then have built-in geographic distinctions for salary so that teachers working in high cost of living areas would automatically make more than those in low cost of living areas.  Simple, huh?  Here are two reasons why it won't happen:

  1. Union leadership would balk at the prospect of the best contracts having to make concessions in order to meet the requirements of the new state-wide master contract.
  2. Local lawyers and politicians, now out of the labor negotiating picture (something for which they seem ill-equipped for anyway), would fight their loss of power.
Just an idea.

(*) "The Biebs" was born on March 1, 1994; Scranton was declared a distressed municipality on January 10, 1992 (citation HERE).


Friday, January 23, 2015

Anti-Science Hits a New Low

I've always said that there is a certain level of anti-science in this country.  It is manifest in several different ways, none the least (on the human impact scale) can be found in the absurd "anti-vaccine" movement that has sprung up, promoted by intellectual giants/health advocates such as Jenny McCarthy.

Anyway, as my friends in Iowa would day, the chickens have come home to roost.

Now a few points to set the stage here:

  • Measles is highly contagious.
  • Measles can be fatal.
  • The vaccine used to prevent measles is highly effective.

Oh, and last but not least, the vaccine used to prevent measles DOES NOT cause autism.

To that last point, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics:

"Studies conducted in the US and Europe have found no association between the MMR vaccine and autism."

Note the use of the word "No".

I can fully appreciate the frustrations that must be experienced by parents of autistic children.  However, in a search for answers, we have to remember that causality can be created in all manner of ways, but that doesn't equal evidence.  For example...

How many people who end up in car accidents have had water to drink immediately before getting into their car?  Well if that's a high number, wouldn't then drinking water potentially be a cause of car accidents?

...which is, of course, untrue.  But yet that's how these kinds of urban legend, pseudo-science things are propagated.  Real science in involves large studies that include such things as control groups, repeatability of results and the peer review of findings.  I get that none of this provides the simple and quick answers that some in our society today crave, but that's the price we have to pay for learning the truth.

All of this makes for an interesting intellectual debate, but it's also important to remember that there are human costs in all of this, namely outbreaks of diseases which shouldn't ever happen.

Thursday, January 22, 2015


I am at a loss to understand why more people don't write.

Well maybe they do write, but they don't share their work.  Wait, scratch that, because I actually know many folks who actually dislike writing or, at best, treat it as some required but tedious activity, akin to flossing one's teeth.

Me?  I can hardly fathom the idea of not writing.

I've actually been writing for a very long time.  I have journals and the like going back decades.  This blog, while only going back to 2008, came after another blog I had on some other God forsaken platform.  I still do have all of that work, by the way, squirreled away in a Microsoft Word document buried within some folder that I could eventually find, if I had an hour or so to look.

Writing for me is more than just expression.  It's a kind of all encompassing activity.  It actually helps me sort out the anarchy that lies within my head.  My head, by the way, is a very dangerous, complex place.  Think the stuff I writing here is a bit random in terms of topics?  You should spend a half hour in my head.  Writing serves to create order out of my personal chaos.

The best stuff I've written in this blog is the product of hours on plodding, thinking, plodding and thinking some more.  I almost always, for postings that I view as being important, have a structure in mind as I start typing along.  More often than not that structure results in more words than I actually publish.  If writing is the brutal act of giving voice to my feelings, editing is the act of better understanding those feelings.  Editing is more than fixing typos for me; instead it's very often the process of viewing something through as many different lenses as I can muster.  I don't know what other folks do, but for me I almost always spend more time editing than I do initially composing something.

I'll also add that the best stuff I've written on this blog has helped me far, far more than it helps (or helped) anyone else.  I know, that's not much of a stretch, but it has the benefit of being true.  This virtual place is where some of my frustrations, fears and congealed struggles go to die.  Well at least I hope some of them die, but then again most seem to just go dormant for extended periods of time.

Speaking of lenses, I was once accused of using this blog to relay subtle messages to others.  It's an interesting thought actually, but it does suffer from two almost fatal flaws:  I'm not terribly subtle and I'm really not clever in a devious kind of way.  Trust me, I'm not.  Given the divergent and sometimes randomly confusing ways in which I see things, the whole notion of subliminal messaging would seem to be a exercise in my own futility if it were by design.

There's another thing I really love about writing (as in any writing, not the "good" kind) by the way:  it doesn't really require that much talent to pull off.  For me, it's actually more a form of dictation.  Writing this blog entry is really just dictating thoughts in my head to my finger tips.  Those thoughts could just as easily come from someone else, but the fact that all of the wiring for this act is internal just serves to make the process more efficient.  I like things that are efficient.

As for the writing of others, well the stuff I like to read, at least as far as other blogs are concerned, really runs the gamut and is well reflected on the right hand side of this blog.  One of the blogs I really enjoyed a few years ago was written by a young lady and it had to do, at least on the surface, with fashion and style.  Now in point of act I don't really care about either fashion or style (as I have neither), but the blog in question was really...despite the intent of the author...about how this young professional person viewed the world.  The fashion and style part was kind of set-up for talking about the world from this person's perspective.  Nothing salacious of the sort, just about what it is like to be in the author's shoes.  Sadly, that blog (like so many others) is no longer being written.

I do wonder why so many blogs seem to fad away (with a tip of the hat to Douglas MacArthur).  Maybe when those blogs were started there was an overt or even covert reasoning behind them, and over time they simply accomplish their goal(s).  Maybe the blogs were written as some attempt at ego gratification, an effort I will tell you is deeply flawed, as this is in fact the Internet, a mythical land where things like cinnamon swallowing can become wildly popular.  Maybe some folks approached this under the guise of thinking it wouldn't actually be like, well, "work".

That last point is as a good place as any to end this rant, as it is "work" writing this stuff.  Even the bad stuff.  But it's a kind of work that at least for me is more enjoyment than anything else, being well worth every minute of time invested in it.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

2014 Was the hottest year on record.

This is worth taking the 30 seconds of your life to watch:

I've talked to folks who simply don't believe in the THEORY (emphasis added) of global warming because it is just a THEORY.  Well guess what:  gravity is a theory too, but I don't see too many people arguing that point.

Regardless of one's political or religious leanings, one simple fact remains:  the Earth is getting warmer.  The cause?  It's likely us.  All of us.  I don't need NOAA or NASA to tell me that pumping millions of tons of pollution into the atmosphere is in fact a bad thing and that it will result in bad things for the planet.  Sure, human existence by it's very nature seems to always result in some pollution, but we can and should be smarter about it.

Forget global warming for a moment; anyone want to argue that pollution is good?

Friday, January 16, 2015

The Sad Case of School Board Director Cy Douaihy's "Father's First Cousin's Niece Through Marriage"

You can read the particulars HERE.

When is nepotism considered, well, nepotism?

In the example of Scranton School Board Director Cy Douaihy and his "Father's First Cousin's Niece Through Marriage" (or however it actually goes) I don't see a case for attempted nepotism.  Heck, by that definition, I'm actually related to 90% of Scranton's population of Irish ancestry.

This is not, however, the real issue.

The real issue in this case is the fact that Director Douaihy actually does have a  current, real, actual conflict of interest.  As noted in my blog posting from July 7, 2014

"Mrs. McGuigan, a member of the minority, also questioned whether Mr. Casey, Mr. Douaihy and Mr. Martinelli should be involved in negotiations. Mr. Douaihy and Mr. Martinelli are retired Scranton teachers, and Mr. Douaihy’s wife, Mr. Martinelli’s daughter and Mr. Casey’s mother are all Scranton teachers."

Yes, Director Douaihy's wife is a Scranton School District teacher.  This puts Director Douaihy in the enviable position of being able to increase his own household income via voting on a labor contract for district teachers.  Show of hands:  How many others out there would like that ability?

Anyway, forget the imaginary conflicts of interest, as there are plenty of real ones to go around.

Given the whole "I can vote my wife a raise" fact, is it any wonder that the public and others are keenly and intently looking for shenanigans in the search for a new Superintendent for the Scranton School District?  I think not.  If anything, there should have been more scrutiny in the past and even more scrutiny in the future.  Director Douaihy can make a small case for shabby journalism in this case, but that argument is long overshadowed by the fact that his own service on the Scranton School Board is enormously tainted by his real conflict of interest.

The Bottom Line?  
Director Douaihy and others should stop complaining about the extra scrutiny in this case as, quite honestly, he (and the rest of the Scranton School District Board) deserve it.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

The Good, The Bad, and the Mental Health Shuffle

The Gene Pool
Is mental illness inherited?  According to the Mayo Clinic,

"Mental illness is more common in people whose biological (blood) relatives also have a mental illness. Certain genes may increase your risk of developing a mental illness, and your life situation may trigger it."

Citation HERE.

Now that's a heck of a way to start a posting, but it has, as I often times say, the benefit of being true.

I come from what I would kindly describe as difficult stock in the area of mental health.  At the risk of disrespecting the deceased, my father had extensive mental health issues, perhaps born out of extreme poverty as a child, chilling military service and questionable parenting that he received growing up.  All of this manifest itself in the form of substance abuse and a complete an utter inability to function as an adult human being, let alone as a husband or a father.  For all of my childhood I had no tangible relationship with my father.  He was simply a smelly (as in always stinking of beer and unfiltered cigarettes...which is one of the reasons why, to this day, I have an almost rabid reaction to smoking) guy who I saw a few times a year, usually at some cheap boarding house where he would be staying, for the sole purpose of giving me a few bucks.  Mr Brady?  Not a chance.  I lacked a father or even the ability to understand what a father was or was supposed to do.  I had no model, only the vagaries that come from watching television families in the 1970's.

I can no claim no respite from the my Mom's side of the genetic fence either.  Now saying that my Mom also had a "difficult life" would be like saying "there's a good chance there will be a Tuesday next week"; in point of fact she had an incredibly tough life.  Growing up the youngest of many, many children, she related more to her nieces and nephews than she did many of her actual brothers and sisters, such were the age differences with a large group of children.  Clearly, starting off she was at a disadvantage.  She plugged away at life, making a few bad choices and suffering incredibly difficult health challenges, but yet she was always working hard at trying to move ahead.  I owe much to my Mom in terms of having a physically healthy upbringing.  Yes, I said physically.  I still recall, as a young boy of about 5, my mother carrying me to the hospital after (we learned later) my appendix had ruptured.  To this very date though, most of the the memories I have of my Mom are those of an incredibly bitter, angry human being who was unable to form functionally healthy relationships with anyone, including her own children.  I have no memories of my mother ever, not even once, telling me (or my brothers) that she loved me/us (while growing up; as an adult I made a point of saying it to her myself), telling me that she was proud of anything I accomplished or even for that matter remembering the birthdays of her own granddaughters.  I know, "boo hoo", but I'm not writing this as an exercise in expressing popular opinions.

Now for the record, I do know my Mom did love me, I do know she was very proud of me and I do know she was genuinely interested in all of her grandchildren, but yet there was always a disconnect between her ability to feel these things inside and be able to tangibly express them on the outside.  To others less close to her, my mother could be kind, friendly, engaging and witty.  But then you got home, and no one was spared.  Her series of brain tumors, starting in 1985, made all of this much, much worse.

When my Mom passed away it wasn't grief I felt, rather it was relief.  How very sad that I just had to write that!  Sadly, it is also true.  For nearly a quarter century I took my mother shopping every weekend, I helped her with financial matters and generally assisted her with anything that needed to be done.  Surely, for the most part my Mom was grateful for the help I provided, and she would even thank me from time to time, but I didn't do it for the gratitude...I did it because she was my Mom and it was simply the right thing to do.  What made it all the more difficult though was the fact that every interaction with my Mom was roll of the mental health dice; when I arrived at her house she could be relatively pleasant or bitter, engaging or angry.  We would talk intelligently about current events or I would bit my lip as she bad-mouthed my brothers or someone else who just happened to be on her "crap list" at the moment.  No doubt I was on that very same list many times myself.  There was no rhyme or reason to my Mom's moods, there was just her.  God rest her soul, as I hope that at this very moment she is in a place where all of that anger has gone away.  As I said at the beginning of this paragraph, "relief".

The Gifts
I did receive two, all be it somewhat unwitting, gifts from my parents.

From my father I receive a genuine suspicion of alcohol and other forms of substance abuse.  Now to be sure I have had alcohol and there have been times when I had too much to drink.  However (and this is a big however), there have also been stretches of time, measured in years, when I have not have any alcohol to drink.  Not a single drop.  One of my fears, I think, is that I am only a degree or two of indiscretion away from becoming a hopeless drunk.  It's as if I see the allure and yet I'm incredibly determined to not fall prey to it.  It's not just me though:  between my myself and my brothers, three of us basically don't drink at all.  I'll leave my remaining brother out of the equation (but suffice to say that very point proves my supposition).

I'll also add that I received a parenting lesson from my father in a way, as in the lesson of "don't be like him".  My Mom would make that point in a far more crass manner by the way.  Repeatedly.  As a parent myself though, I've tried very, very hard to set a good example, not the "anti-example" that my father set.  Time will tell as to how successful I have been in this quest.

Speaking of my Mom, from her I receive the gift of calm and patience...not by her example, but rather by my need to react to her example....and I'll qualify the notion of calm and patience with a hearty "at least as far as the world can see".  This was a well earned skill, born out of the fear of a child that he would be screamed at by his only the drop of a hat...for some minor infraction and practiced throughout adulthood whereby arguing with my Mom over anything was a pointless exercise (and with one exception I always did avoid the argument; that one exception occurred when a line was crossed by my Mom relating to my daughters).

There were other parental gifts as well, to be sure, such as a genuine desire to work hard from my Mom, but when it's boiled down to the mental health arena, what remains is an in-grained fear of substance abuse and fear of conflict so strong that, when I actually do have to engage in conflict of the righteous sort, it basically sucks the life-force out of me for days afterwards.

The Aftermath
I know that, in the grand scheme of life, I am lucky to have been born, let alone to have at least one parent who was able to physically provide for me.  Yet, anyone taking an objective look at me would have no clue as to the mental machinations that occur in my skull on a regular basis.

I have three wonderful, highly educated, hard-working and successful daughters.

I have a great job with a wonderful company.  People come to me to learn things.

I am well paid, earning more than I ever imagined as a kid growing up in a housing project.

I am healthy, alert and inquisitive.

I have the ability to express myself creatively.

I have the real, tangible benefit of a partner who is incredibly loving and supportive of me and what I do.

And yet with all of the above, I do struggle from time to time maintaining a healthy mental balance in my life.  I've used the word "struggle", but that's not entirely accurate.

There are also times when I am barely conscious of any stress.  These are the times when there really is no struggle.

There are times when the struggle is an easy one; these are the moments when I see the stressors in my life building up and, out of sheer determination, I lift a figurative middle finger to it all and scream inward "nope, not me, not this time...I will win".

There are times when the struggle is mighty.  When I started school again I lost sleep for days before hand.  I remember feeling a genuine panic as I drove to work the morning before my first class was to begin.  Panic I tell you, sheer panic.  It was as if there was something inside of me, this irrational beast, consuming me from within.  I felt pretty hopeless, and my only recourse was to just get through the day, start experiencing school again, and then get over whatever fears resided inside.  Thank God for an engaging job.

Then there are the minor peaks and valleys of my everyday life.  These are the basically good vs mildly annoying days.  These are the days when I can kinda/sorta just pinch myself if I feel a bit too negative, with the hope being for some kind of minor mental re-boot.

Is any of the above even normal?  Well I don't rightly know, as I have no yardstick by which to measure such things.  So...

Where Do I Go?
Where do I go from here?  Well a good place to start is where I know I will not be going, and that's an easy one:  I am not now, nor will I ever, going to look to some kind of pharmacological augment for my brain chemistry.  Mind you I have nothing against those who need this kind of intervention to help them balance out their mental state.  If it works for them, well then I say a hearty "Great and God Bless!".  However, it's just not for me, and I can't really articulate why other than what I've already noted in terms of an in-grained fear of conscience altering substances.

Maybe, instead, this is part of where I go from here.

Maybe my therapy is simply a long road of asking questions, stopping every once in a while to pick something up, examine it, and then continuing on my journey.  Timing is everything in life, and I am a firm believer that sometimes just the right things are left for you to examine precisely when you need them the most on life's journey.

Maybe everyone struggles like this or has their own similar story to tell; I just happen to be the one bold or stupid enough to type it out for some sliver of the world to see.  Where the "world" is the few hundred people that open up this page every day.

Maybe there is a kind of freedom associated with admitting my fallibility, something my Mom was never quite capable of doing and my father was likely never capable of even understanding.

Catharsis?  Perhaps.

So where do I go?  Forward, I suspect, wherever that takes me.  I really shall "not cease from exploration", as I think that's who I am, it's what I do.

* * * * * * * * * *

Post Script
This was a tough posting to write; in fact, I've been at this one for months.  I think I've easily invested more time writing this than I've invested in any other piece of content on this site, ever.  Thank you for reading it by the way.

If at the end of reading this you are compelled to feel bad for me, well then please save your energy, don't, and instead use it for something far more constructive, like making pizza or reading a good book.  I am, in fact, more than fine; in fact I am wonderful.  Besides, it's not the people who admit to being a bit off kilter every now and then that we all need to worry about.

If at the end of reading this you are bothered at how I've described my parents, for example, well then you'll just have to be bothered I suspect.  I was there, you weren't.  Trust me, if anything, I've provided the kinder, gentler version in this posting, as there was much that ended up on the literal blog editing floor.  Oh, and there will be no "director's cut" in the future.  This is just about the only time this will ever come up.

If at the end of reading this you can somehow relate, well, that's kind of what I wanted in the first place.  Again, I have no yardstick, so the notion that someone could relate to what I've written is both helpful and hopeful.  I have learned in life that we are all equally dysfunctional, but that learning for me took a very long time to come about, and I suspect that "equally" is a very relative term.  Maybe this will shorten that lesson time for someone else, which is a very good thing.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Some Kanye West Fans Don't Know Who Paul McCartney Is

As reported HERE and several other places.

I just can't pass this one up, so... are 10 reasons why even the dumbest Generation XYZers should know who Paul McCartney is.

10.  He is an excellent bass guitarist.

9.  He wrote a song in tribute to the Motown sound that ended up getting covered by Earth, Wind and Fire.

8.  He wrote and performed a James Bond movie theme song.

7.  He had a Range Rover that he named "Helen Wheels".

6.  Like Jimmy Hendrix and my daughter Katrina, he is left handed.

5.  He owned a sheepdog named Martha that the wrote THIS SONG about.

4.  He wrote songs that could be both very simple and very deep, like "The Fool on the Hill".

Note the absence of words like "bitch", "ho", "crib" and such.  Oh, and no auto-tune either.

3.  He held his own along with another genius songwriter, John Lennon, and wrote this song about Lennon's son.

 2.  100 years from now, when the words "Kanye" and "West" are the answers to some obscure Kardashian trivia game purchased at the 2114 version of Dollar General, people will still be listening to his work. 

1.  He was a F*@king BEATLE you DOLTS!

Saturday, January 3, 2015

New Year's at the Top of Pennsylvania

As I have done for the past three years (I or minus a year), New Year's eve was spent with the family of Ms Rivers at Rickett's Glen State Park.  The actual time spent was at a cabin, well cabins when you include Ms Rivers' parents, brother and sister plus families.  I don't know the total count, but suffice to say the age range want from very young to, well, more "seasoned".

I've written about Rickett's Glen before, as it's a place we frequent from time to time.  The connection to the park runs deep for Ms Rivers and her family, as many a vacation in younger years was spent there, away from their south Philadelphia home.  In fact, when you think about it, sitting on top of a mountain ridge at Rickett's Glen is just about as different as one can get from deep inside Philadelphia.  The fact that the family continues to come to this place is, in my estimation, simply wonderful.

I love rituals like this, by the way.  I think the attraction for me lies in the fact that this particular ritual involves two things that were in short supply when I was growing up:

1) We didn't have much in the way of rituals.
2) We had no sense of an extended family.

It is as if I can vicariously live part of a childhood withheld through this particular annual event.

Now the end of December at Rickett's Glen is not for the faint of heart.  Simply put, it's really, really darn cold.  There is no cell phone service.  No Internet.  No television.  Get the impression that this isn't the most attractive event for the teenage set?   In fact, you have to go half way down the ridge before you can begin to get cell phone service.

What is there to do?  Well I can't speak for others, but I love to hike.  This works well, as Ms Rivers' mother also likes to hike, as do other members of her family.  So you guessed it, lots of hiking.  There is also time to contemplate, and this year I did indeed engage in come contemplation.  There is also lots of time for reading, which usually allows me to finish "that book" that I can never seem to finish other wise (in my case, "that book" was really THIS BOOK).  Part of the ritual involves going to a party at the Harvey's Lake location of Grotto pizza to celebrate Ms Rivers' birthday (it just happens to be New Year's Day) along with an even more extended group of family.  I will confess that my initial exposure to the "Grotto Party" was a bit over-whelming (see above, re:  inexperience with extended family), but since then I've come to really enjoy the time.

The down side for me?  I am, admittedly, a notoriously bad sleeper under the best of conditions, so I always need a bit of chemical-willy to help at night, but even that doesn't guarantee anything for me.  There is also too much food, and this time always means throwing good eating out the window.  Lastly, there is the packing (my sleeping bag, two pillows, blanket and memory foam mattress pad alone take up a ton of space), unpacking and packing again.  All minor inconveniences, to be sure, but I have to be balanced about this stuff.

Here's to year end 2015 at over 2000 ft above sea level.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Resolutions, Old & New

Time to reflect on how well I did in meeting 2014's resolutions and think about what I want to accomplish for 2015.

2014 - In Retrospect
Here's what I planned to do in 2014:
  1. To Consciously Disconnect One Day a Week - Once all of the moving stuff is completely settled at the end of the month, I'm going to take one day out of the weekend and pretty much put the phones away.  Personal and work.  I may check it once, perhaps, and I am not sure which day, but I will have one day during the week when I will not be a walking connection to the Internet.  One day when the only way you will be able to deal with me will be through one of the old fashioned ways.  
  2. To Dramatically Reduce Multi-Tasking - I have a number of habits (such as almost constant note taking, using my phones, etc.) that I employ basically as an excuse to keep my mind on 4 different things at once.  It's a neat trick, but I need to stop that, and I need to make the conscious decision to be present.  "Present" as in actually attuned and focused on what I am doing at that moment.  I owe that not only to those I work with, but for my family and loved ones as well.  Mostly though, I owe it to myself.  I deserve to not have my mind working in constant swirls, as it's ultimately both unproductive and stressful. 
  3. To Practice Calm - I will make a conscious effort to be calm, to not allow myself to be dragged down by negative thoughts, and to listen to what my body and my mind is telling me at all times.  My goal is to try and appreciate that in life, every moment truly counts, so way allow myself to get mentally bogged down?  I know, easier said than done, but that's why this is a goal.  The next two relate to my body.
  4. To Eat Better - I have to treat my body better.  I need to be eating more fruits and vegetables and less red meat.  I need to stop treating what I eat as something that doesn't matter, because it does.  
  5. To Exercise More - There have  been far too many reasons why I have been able to put off going to the gym on a regular basis.  That needs to stop.  I need to find a new routine.  Now more than ever, as I turn 50 in a few months, it's essential that I become even more active.  
  6. To Read More and Better - I read a lot, every day, but like my eating, I tend to read a lot of things that represent the equivalent of empty calories.  I need to focus more on reading things that either make me really happy or which make me a better person.  Now the category of "make me really happy" is pretty darn broad, but that's okay. 
  7. To Really Pay Attention to My Career - I'm not all that interested in promotions and the like (I know, that's the equivalent of sacrilege in the business world, but so be it), but I am interested having a bigger impact at work.  I need to better focus my energies on those things that will have the biggest impact on the people I work with and serve (be they an executive or someone in the mail room).  This means doing more of the things that energize me and it means really, truly engaging in self development.  It's time to start practicing what I preach to others.  It's time to stop hoarding for some future date the encouragement, trust and support that others have given me.  
2015 - Looking Forward
One of my chief learnings, as I think about resolutions, is that I have a tendency to take on too much.  Wait, was that a resolution in and of itself?  Anyway, with learning in hand/mind, here's what's on my mind for the upcoming year.

1.  Simplify, Simplify, Simplify and Simplify
I am going to make a conscious effort to simply my life.  This means fewer, but more meaningful things.  And by that I mean "all" when it comes to "things".  This means carrying around less in the way of things with me, be they physically, mentally and otherwise.  This means not holding on to old stuff in perpetuity.  Between my professional and personal lives my existence is complicated enough, so it's time to make some cuts.

2.  Ask More Questions
Why do I react the way I do in certain circumstances?  I do have fairly well defined patterns of what I could call "stimulus - response" behaviors, but I really don't think about why these patterns exist.  Anyway, it's time to:

a) Start be more aware of non-constructive behaviors;
b) Think about what is the cause behind these behaviors and 
c) Figure out how I can change things for the better.

I have a major life event happening in 2015, so it's time to start that new life sans some of the baggage from the old (and some of that baggage is decades old).

Regardless of me and what's in my head, here's to hoping that everyone out there reading this has a happy, healthy and prosperous 2015.  Let's all never forget that every single day we wake up in the morning is an opportunity for us to get it right.

Peace & Love,
- Steve