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Thursday, December 29, 2016

2016 Bookends

What can you say about a year that starts with a health scare and ends with (arguably) a career scare?

(from THIS website)

Part of me thinks that I shouldn't even try, but I'm going to keep writing anyway, so let's see what comes out.

Thinking about the year, it's easy to be negative, at least on the surface.  However, that's just a cheap sentiment.  Or so I want to believe.  Regardless, as is the case for most of my life (and that of most others), what seems like a negative actually ends up being a net positive.

Take, for example, some health issues I was facing at the beginning of the year.  Yes, getting a chemical stress test isn't something I'd recommend as a party game.  And a sleep study?  Well, let's just say that it doesn't actually involve all that much actual sleep (unless you try very hard...see HERE).  And a few other tests I won't even mention, the sum total of which added up to more needle sticks and doctor visits than I've had since my appendix burst in 1969.  Still, what problems I seem to have had have (hopefully) been remedied, and the whole episode taught me the value of taking better care of my physical self.  Granted, I don't have all that many bad habits to begin with (Is watching TV preachers just for fun considered a bad habit?), but still, age has a way of catching up with us, whether we like it or not.  Better to deal with stuff like this earlier than later.

On the career front, well, I can't say with complete candor that a major job change was a complete surprise, because it wasn't.  In fact, I'll cop to this one:  The possibility of a change has always been in the back of my head, wandering around like a stray cat through an alleyway.  Easy to deal with?  No.  Opportunity to learn a few important life lessons?  Of course.  The accounting is still on-going on that second front, but suffice to say that in the end, it will be all worth it.  It has to be when you think about it deeply, as we are all given changes like this in our lives, and it's as if the universe (and/or God) says to us "Hey, you know that choice you've been putting off?  Well, guess what?  We're tired of waiting, so this is going happen right now, in spite of your sloth, okay? Thank you, drive through.".

Two major life events, and one common theme:  Choices to me made which I had, in all likelihood, been putting off for a long time.  What I do with them, well, that remains to be seen.  Here's to keeping the faith in 2017 and beyond.

Now 2016 wasn't all health gloom and career doom.  In fact, by just about any objective standard, I had a great year.  I am still married to my best friend and we celebrated our one year anniversary.  My daughters are all doing well (go ahead...ask me about them...I dare you...), as are my stepsons.  Oh, and I purchased this...

Yes, quite possibly the least red-neck man on the planet now has an over-sized pick-up truck.  And I love it.

Learning is important to me, and 2016 I did learn quite a bit...

I learned that a lot of people are pulling for me in this time of change.  

I learned just how fortunate I truly am to not be suffering from many of the maladies that seem to plague so many in this day and age, including mental health and substance abuse issues.  I genuinely grieve for those who do suffer.

I learned to rely on others just a bit more.  

I learned to be a bit more fearless.  This goes hand-in-hand with relying on others; for me, it takes a leap of faith to rely on someone else.

I learned that all of the work I've done over the years to not needlessly dwell on the past has really paid for itself, several times over.

I learned that the Eastern Gray Squirrel is actually a ninja with a fluffy tail.

I learned that I have mad electrical skills.  Four words:  Power to the garage.

I learned that faith is the hardest simple thing in the universe.

Not bad 2016, not bad at all.

Gratias Ago
Last, but not least, and seeing as though this will be my final posting for 2016, I want to say thanks for reading my blog.  I appreciate your allowing me to share bits and pieces of myself with you.  I hope that you and yours had a good 2016 and that the prospects for 2017 are even better.

Steve Albert
West Pittston, Pennsylvania

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

In the Trump Era - What Should We Do?

Well, the election is over and the actual electors have voted.  Donald Trump is our President-elect.  If that frightens you, well just what should you do?

Something along the lines of the "what should we do" question was posted by my sister-in-law on Facebook, in a far more eloquent way than I am describing.  It's a good question, and while I don't have an eloquent answer, I do have a few thoughts.  For whatever it's worth, here they are...

Act - I'll speak out about and financially support the causes that matter to me.  This includes promoting basic human rights for the LGBT community, helping organizations that address women's health issues*, and supporting a local organization that helps the homeless.  Curling up in a ball isn't an answer as far as I am concerned.

Remember - I'll also use these next few years to remind myself that we can NEVER truly and entirely rely on the government to do the good work. At best, the government is amoral, as in doing no harm; at worst I think it's immoral.  In my opinion, this is one of the biggest blind-spots in the liberal/progressive community, namely this idea that the government can or should fix most things.  That too easily gets the collective "us" off the hook.  The commandment is to "love your neighbor as yourself", not "have the government do that for you", or worse yet, "force you to love your neighbor".  Handing stuff off to the government seems to me to be something of a cop-out, a way for us to have someone else do the dirty work.  

This is not to say that we shouldn't hold the government...and it's inhabitants...accountable, because we should.  However, we have to remember that government is really about doing essential things for the common good, for making sure that there is an even playing field for everyone, and for protecting us from each other (as sad as that sounds; sorry, I don't want my neighbor to open a pig farm or install an anti-tank gun on their roof).  We want government to be amoral precisely because morality is a human quality, not a bureaucratic or institutional one.  The fact that the incoming administration can potentially take rights way from a group of people proves my very point as to the lack of morality inherent in government.  

Be Hopeful - I'll remind myself that sometimes you need to take two steps backward in order to take three steps forward.  That's as true in politics as it is in our personal lives.

(*) Done in honor of my three daughters and my late mother.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Book Report & Quotes, Nadia Bolz-Weber's "Accidental Saints - Finding God In All The Wrong People"

Preface:  It's something of a quandary when I think about it...sometimes I create a posting that garners a lot of readers and I'm left with the feeling that I somehow have to "top" (or at least equal) it with the next entry that I publish.  It's as if I feel guilty for not following up the original posting with something of equal or greater value.  That, by the way, is the reason why I haven't posted anything in a week.  Seriously, this kind of thing actually weighs on me.

Thinking about what to do, well, I'm reminded of that great quote for the 1983 movie War Games...

...and the sage advice it provided.  I also try to remind myself that I started writing this blog over 8 years ago primarily just for myself.

So this is where I've landed, and it's okay.  I only feel slightly guilty.  Slightly.  There will be more popular postings in the future, of that I am sure.  In the mean time, if someone does read this and decides to pick up a copy of  Accidental Saints, well then my guilt will be relieved.  

On to the book report.

* * * * * *

I finished this book a few week ago, and am finally getting around to putting some notes together for myself, which I'll gladly share with the 16 or so* of you reading this posting.

Why this book?
This is the second book I've read by Pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber; the first was Pastrix.  That book was a good read, so I opted to continue the journey.  You can find both books HERE.

Did I like it?
I'd give it about 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Would I recommend it?
Like most things in life, "it depends".  I readily confess that I like reading books that deal with weighty topics such as religion, philosophy, personal growth, faith, etc.  If any of those topics interest you, well, you might like any of Pastor Nadia's (her own reference to herself) books.

Be forewarned:  Pastor Nadia's language can be a bit gruff at times.  I like that aspect of her writing by the way.  The best comparison I could make, relative to other authors, is that she's a sort of religious version of Hunter S. Thompson.  That's high praise in my book (no pun intended).

What was compelling about the book?
The two things that I found compelling about this book are:

  1. Faith for the rest of us.  More so than many other religious author (and I've read quite a few) Pastor Nadia is able to talk about faith is a way that's very real in a starkly compelling manner.  This isn't some esoteric regurgitation of scripture with a tenuous tie to modern life; no, this is about how scripture can apply to the lives of real people living all too real lives.  There is also no religious hierarchy in Pastor Nadia's book; all...including herself...are equally flawed.  I find that sentiment incredibly refreshing.
  2. Writing Style.  As noted above, I enjoy Pastor Nadia's writing style.  If you are interested in learning more about faith, but are turned off by the idea of reading a book by a clergy member (out of fear that it will sound like oh too many Sunday sermons you heard as a kid), well then this book may be for you.
What wasn't so compelling about the book?
One basic criticism:  Like many other authors who write about faith, Pastor Nadia has a habit of hitting the same themes over and over again.  As someone who had engaged in some educational work for a living, I thoroughly understand the basic need to repeat important themes; however it can get tedious if you begin reading a section and almost immediately guess how that particular story will resolve itself in the end.  File this under the category of "minor critique" though.  

Here are a few select quotes that can give you a flavor for the book:

"The most qualified to speak the gospel are those who know how unqualified they are to speak the gospel." (page 30).

"After years of therapy and twelve-step work, I've finally realized that trying not to need others isn't about strength and independence; it's about fear.  To allow myself to need someone else is to put myself in a position to be betrayed or made to look weak." (page 99)

"I told them that Jesus could have hung out in the high-end religious scene of his day, but instead he scoffed at that, choosing instead to laugh at the powerful, befriend the whores, kiss sinners, and eat with all the wrong people.  He spent his time with people for whom life was not easy.  And there, amid those who were suffering, he was the embodiment of perfect love." (page 110)

"Whenever people annoy me beyond reason, I can guarantee it's because they're demonstrating something I'd rather not see in myself." (page 123)

"It felt like the church's way of creating job security:  the church makes us feel so bad about ourselves that we then have to go to the church for absolution." (page 132)

"This Jesus whom we follow cried at the tomb of his friend and turned the other cheek and forgave those who hung him on a cross.  He was God's Beatitude -- God's blessing to the weak in a world that admires only the strong."  (Page 188)

(*) I'm joking, of will be more than 16.  Maybe 20.

Monday, December 12, 2016


Nine thousand, eight hundred and forty is the number of days I've spent as an employee of a terrific organization.  That ends today, more or less at 11:59pm.  It was a good run, by any measure.

Now I'll answer the question that some may be thinking right off the bat:  Am I bitter/angry/cheesed-off/upset/rankled?  The answer is an absolute and resounding NO.  How could I be?  I worked for one of the greatest institutions of its kind in the whole world.  And I got to do that for more than half my life.  How is that not a blessing?

Speaking of blessings, when I think back over the years, I see so many wonderful things to be thankful for:

I learned from some truly brilliant (and I mean brilliant) people.  And not just leaders, as many of those brilliant people never had a haughty formal title.  The value of the education I received is simply priceless.

I earned enough money to help pay college costs for my three (now graduated) daughters.

I had the opportunity to learn an occupation...several, actually.  If anything, the company encouraged and nurtured my professional wanderlust.  By my own account, I had nearly 4 careers over the years.

I developed skills that have prepared me well for this day.

I was able to travel to places I never would have seen otherwise.  My first ride on an airplane/jet was a company business trip to Boston in 1989.  I got to spend a week and a half in Hawaii on company business.  I could go on...
(2005:  Dinner in Dubuque, Iowa)

I was given the opportunity to help people and make a difference in their professional lives.

I made mistakes and was given the gift of learning from them.

I was able to hire some truly remarkable people who will continue to make a difference for years to come.

I could go on and on and on, but I won't.  I will make a special note though of the fact that I met my wife at work, something that, alone and in and of itself, would have made the whole experience worthwhile.
(July 3, 2015)

Does this mean that my life is now composed of equal parts sunshine, smiles, unicorns, kittens, and rainbows?  Of course not.  Any kind of transition like this is stressful, mine included, and I've had my share of bad days over the past few weeks.  Heck, I've had a job since I was 14 years old (and I'm not going to do that math...), so for me, this is uncharted territory.  As someone who values order and control in his life, this is a tough one.  However, I'm going into this new territory well prepared for what may be in my future.

As a closing thought to this chapter in my life, I'll repeat what a vice president I reported to a few years ago was fond of saying, namely that "...we choose how we show up".  Ponder that thought for a moment:  We make the choice as to what we say and what we do every day and in every situation we encounter in life.  "We choose".  More powerful words have never been spoken.  As I think about my transition, I'm keeping those two words in mind.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

My Mom, Smiling

I've had some free time of late, and one of the things I've been doing is going through old records that I inherited from my Mom (who passed away in 2013).  My Mom had this period, apparently, when she was very active in the Scranton Boys (now Boys and Girls) Club.  This was probably in part because her four sons all needed something constructive to do with their time and boundless energy, so why not go there?

Anyway, I found a half dozen or so newspaper clippings from that period, including one where she was actually smiling.
This particular clipping is from January 29, 1973.

I honestly don't have many photographs of my mother with an actual smile on her face, making this somewhat rare.

I won't get into the deep pseudo-psychology of why my Mom rarely seemed to smile, other than to say she had something of a tough life.  I'll confess to not being much of a smiley person myself, although that's not for lack of happiness or joy, but instead, more about a face that seems to look, well, stupidly fake when I smile.  If anything, I seem to have a face built for accountancy, or maybe financial services human resources.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Road Apples, #170

Trump and Twitter...Can someone, please, permanently take away Twitter access from the President-elect?  This is getting embarrassing.

I really, truly want to give Mr. Trump the benefit of the doubt, but he's making it very, very difficult.  I would expect this kind of stuff from someone after a junior high student council election, not from the presumptive leader of the free world.

Please stop Mr. Trump.  Please.

Glorifying Rape...I am sorry, but any television program that relies on violence against women (in the form of rape) doesn't deserve its viewership.  I'm speaking specifically of Game of Thrones and the Walking Dead.  What's more, I'm not sure how folks who view themselves as being "progressive" can actually watch these shows.  I can't.  I no more want to see rape being enacted as part of a plot than I want to see kittens or puppies tortured.

All Is Not Glum...I know, so far this posting isn't all that uplifting, but I have to call them like I see them.  For some balance, here's Metallica playing Enter Sandman using grade school musical instruments.

Muslim Registry...Let's file this idea, that of there being a national registry for the followers of Islam, in the category of "hopefully not actually going to happen".  Today's registry of Muslim's could become a registry of Roman Catholics or Baptists tomorrow.  Now if it should come to fruition, I publicly promise now on this page to register myself as a Muslim.  I don't think I'll be alone in that regard either.

JeanLuc...I've had my cat JeanLuc for a little over six years now.  Time flies, from this... this...

It's amazing the impact a pet can have on your life.  For the record, he was almost named "Spock", although I made a case for calling him "Bill" (so I could call him "Bill the Cat"), but I was over-ruled by just about everyone.

The "Theory" of Global Warming...These are New Guinea impatiens (this variety is actually a tropical plant...see THIS description) that are, as of December 3rd, still alive and well on my front porch. 

I'm tempted to put Christmas lights on them.  Good thing that global warming is just a "concept" (put forth, according to the President elect, by the Chinese in order to harm U.S. manufacturing).  And yes, he actually did say it...
My impatiens, alive and well, salute you Mr. Trump!