Not Cease from Exploration

Sunday, August 13, 2017

182,893

182,893.

That's the approximate number of American casualties in the European Theatre of Operations during World War II*.

This is an important number to remember, especially in light of recent events in Virginia, where NAZIs and other assorted racists clashed with counter-protesters.  Now some on the fringe-right are going to call those counter-protestors "Anti-Fa" or "AntiFa" or some derivation therein, and use their presence and tactics at NAZI rallies to somehow deflect from the fact that, well, NAZIs are actually protesting in the United States.  In 2017.  It's all smoke and mirrors, a kind of nuevo way to make NAZIs and their NAZI tactics seem somehow reasonable in comparison.  It's a 12-year-old boy named Johnny trying to excuse his bad behavior by saying "yeah, but look at what Timmy did!", except for the fact that Johnny happens to be a NAZI.

Just remember the 182,893.

Our grandfathers and great-grandfathers were among those 182,893 who crossed the Atlantic Ocean to crush fascism, that soft political veneer intended to hide true monstrous nature of NAZI ideology.  This, lest we forget, is the ideology that created the Holocaust.


These NAZI and NAZI-minded marchers in Virginia (and elsewhere) aren't just a collection of nuts with guns that should be ignored.  They are moral descendants of the monsters who killed nearly 6 million Jews during World War II.  Looking the other way, ignoring their actions, somehow trying to explain away their presence is morally bankrupt.  It also denies the sacrifice of 182,893 Americans.

Twice in my life, I've been blessed to hear first-hand accounts from NAZI concentration camp survivors.  These individuals shared their stories of inhuman actions on the part of NAZIs in the hope that it would never happen again.  Yet here we are, and unless good people act, it will, in fact, happen again.


I have one request, one ask if you will, one purpose for this posting:  Don't forget the 182,893 and what they fought (and some died) for; don't allow discussions about what happened in Virginia to devolve into ridiculous squabbles about statues, the "Antifa", "Black Lives Matter", or any number of other distractions.  Don't take the bait.  This is about NAZIs and NAZI ideology.  It's about "people" (and I almost don't want to use that word in this context) walking around wearing tee shirts actually quoting Adolf Hitler as if he were some kind of Emo poet instead of a mass-murdering monster.

For the record, I doubt I'll follow-up this posting.  Why?  It simply took too much energy on my part, and I am already saddened at the prospect that I know people who will read this and somehow feel compelled to deflect and change the story related to Virginia, away from NAZI ideology and towards some other detail, all the while providing air-cover for monsters.

Finally, what happened in Virginia is a red-line kind of event:  You stand on the side of NAZIs or you stand on the side that included the 182,893.  There is no in-between, no neutral zone.  If you choose to stand for NAZIs...to defend, deflect, or enable them...to provide air cover for monsters...just know that YOU OWN EVERYTHING that goes with NAZI ideology.  EVERYTHING.  May God have mercy on your soul.

- Steve


* * * * * *


(*) This is a harder number to determine than one might think it should be.  Citation HERE.  The number includes MIA, KIA, POWs and injuries.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Vermontesque #2 - You're My Best Friend

Friday morning and I'm typing this while Ms. Rivers is still sound asleep.  She firmly believes in the "you can catch up on sleep" myth, mainly because she goes to bed late during the week and gets up early to get some professional work done before the crack of dawn.  Me?  I mostly just hate sleeping.  Anyway, after our long bike trek yesterday, along with plenty of walking, she's entitled.

Thinking about Thursday, one odd thing stuck in my head:  We were taking a break from our bike ride, sitting in a nice lake-side park, watching water and people walking/biking by.  A rather scruffy young man was biking by, complete with scraggly hair, no shirt, ratty shorts, etc.  He was blasting music as he peddled along.  What was he playing?  Nine Inch Nails (make that "Noine Inch Nails" for all you Howard Stern fans out there)?  Rage Against the Machine?  Arcade Fire (just kidding...no one really listens to Arcade Fire)?  Nope; it was "You're My Best Friend" by Queen.  I kid you not.



That's probably the most Vermont thing I've seen/heard so far.

* * * * * *

Saturday morning and it's just about time for packing up and shipping out.  I had every intention of finishing this posting last night, but I was simply too tired.  Speaking of yesterday, the day was spent at the Ben & Jerry's ice cream plant, wandering around an outdoor mall in Burlington, and a sunset (make that "cloudset" in our case) sailing cruise on Lake Champlain.  A splendid time was guaranteed for all, and by and large, it delivered.

Anyway, here are yesterday's Vermont observations:
  • Solar is a really big deal around these parts, which is interesting, given the fact that Burlington seems to get fewer sunny days than average (reference HERE).  
  • Burlington itself isn't all that large of a town, think Wilkes-Boro in size.  Yet the downtown was pretty vibrant, by and large (see below).  Then again, as a local explained it, this is a "six months of outdoor activity" kind of town, so maybe it's a year's worth of activity packed into half a year.
  • I discovered that there are, in fact, at least one or two flavors of Ben & Jerry's ice cream that I will eat.  Oh, and by the way, the hippies no longer own the business.
  • By and large, we saw a lot of younger families.  That was interesting in that the economy in Vermont apparently isn't all that great (according to our sailing ship captain, who was a great guy), and traditionally....well ever since they finished clear-cutting the forests back in the 1800...has never been all that great to begin with.  
  • The world's tallest filing cabinet is stupid.  Take our word for it.
  • Burlington as a downtown mall (indoor) mall that is struggling.  Something of a not-Scranton surprise in that regard, although there are plans afoot, apparently, to remedy the situation.  Ms. Rivers and I did enjoy the outdoor shopping area though.


Lastly, if you're in the Burlington area, you should check out the Whistling Man Schooner Company, which was the boat we sailed on Friday evening.  Beautiful boat, a nice cruise, and an informative captain.  Highly recommended.



Thursday, August 10, 2017

Vermontesque #1 - Whiter Than Sour Cream

Greetings from Vermont, which, I am told, is actually one of the least diverse states in the Union.  So far I've seen little evidence to refute that idea.

At the moment I'm sitting in a Courtyard by Marriott hotel room, waiting for the day's events to begin.  Those events include a maritime museum and bike riding along Lake Champlain.  Getting here yesterday was on the long side...something like six hours of highway and country road driving...but that's the cost of admission whenever you want to go some place and you have the attention span of a gnat.

Speaking of yesterday, it was another day for me of feeling exhausted.  This at least partially relates back to my case of "Chicken Pops, Part Deux", with the added self-inflicted wound of my having stayed up very late the night before working on something.  Late, as in 1:30 am.  Not sure if that was worth the effort, but we shall see.  Anyway, I know I wasn't the greatest of company, but fortunately, Ms. Rivers is understanding (in addition to being smart and beautiful).

* * * * * *

Fast forward to 9:30 pm, and it's been a busy day.  Like most Albert-Rivers vacation days, it's been pretty busy.  Among other things, we logged about 15 miles of bike riding along Lake Champlain.  Dinner was some wonderful Asian bistro...whatever that actually means, other than Mongolian beef I had and the curry shrimp that Ms. River had (which apparently was pretty spicy).  One would think that by now I'd be tired, but for whatever reason, it's now "second wind" time.

Anyway, here are a few Vermont observations:

  • It really is pretty damn white here.  According to one website, Vermont is second only to West Virginia in terms of absolute white-ness.  I can understand the West Virginia part by the way.
  • People look pretty healthy in these parts.  Seriously, pretty healthy, as in the average NEPA resident looks like a slug in comparison.  And we're definitely not talking about a place where, by the way, folks engage in running all year round.  With over 70 inches of snow in the Burlington area, I would think that the outdoors kind of shut down for several months at a time.
  • You don't see a ton of out-of-state license plates around, which is understandable, given the fact that it's not the easiest state in the union to get to via car.
  • Biking is a big deal in Burlington.  Many of the roads have a dedicated bike lane.
(Defacing public property, Vermont style)

If it weren't for the 10-degree average low in January and the previously mentioned 70+ inches of snow this might a great place to retire.

As for tomorrow, well we have some wandering around time planned in Burlington, the Ben and Jerry's ice cream tour, and a twilight cruise on Lake Champlain.  A splendid time is guaranteed for all.

Ten years ago I couldn't have imagined being where I am now, namely thinking back over a day of detachment and relaxation in Vermont.  I suspect there's a larger lesson in that last statement, some ground that I've already covered here before:  Each of us, all of us, have a shot at redemption.




Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Andy Palumbo's 08.09.2017 Blog Posting

You can read it HERE.

In this particular posting, Mr. Palumbo (Side note:  I'm 53 years old, so at what point can I stop calling other men "Mister"?  Still, "Andy" sounds so familiar...but so I digress.) shares another blog posting that talks about, well, blogs and blog posting from the perspective of another reporter.  So what's so special from my perspective?  Well, here's one of the several points made in the posting that I wholeheartedly agree with:

"So like I said, my blog is more for me than it is for my readers. Because, to be honest, I don't know if I actually have any in the first place."

In fact, here's a portion of my very first posting on sgalbert.com (dated October 27, 2008):

"So there you go. Now whether sixty people read this or six, it doesn't matter a bit to me. I don't generally write for anyone but myself. Now that might sound selfish, but so be it. As someone who at least tries to do for others (as a husband, father, friend, etc.), I think I'm entitled to at least this much of a selfish indulgence."

A bit of affirmation is good for the soul.

Speaking of goodness and affirmation, in about an hour or so a three or so day vacation to Vermont is about to commence.  I'm looking forward to it, if for no other reason than the fact that I can use a bit of rest.  Camera and laptop will be in tow, along with a new book on the Protestant Reformation (a bit of "light" reading).





Sunday, August 6, 2017

10 Things I Have Learned from the Mediatakeout Facebook Feed

Mediatakeout is an urban culture Facebook feed that you can experience for yourself HERE.  Be forewarned:  It's not always G-rated.  Well, it's actually never G-rated.

1.  Always take out your weave before getting into a fight.  Seriously, it looks like a dead animal once it's laying there on the ground, post being ripped off of one's head.

2.  BAE is good.  THOT is bad.  INSTA-THOT is even worse.

3.  "Got hands" means that one is skilled at fighting.

4.  No matter how cruel or dire the situation, you can rest easy knowing that someone will be there...not to help...but to capture the agony on a cell phone video.

5.  Meek Mill and Nicki Minaj used to like each other, but now they don't.  They really don't.

6.  Drake may or may not be gay, but his father certainly isn't.  #mackdaddyforreal

7.  Some rappers, especially if they come from Philadelphia, apparently have their own personal gangs, known as "Goons".  This reminds me of the Elvis Costello song Good Squad.


Note that I am likely the only person receiving the Mediatakeout feed who has ever actually heard of Elvis Costello.

8.  The Kardashians have a dark secret, and it has nothing to do with a social disease or their choice in boyfriends/partners/etc.:  It's their brother Rob.

9.  No one actually likes Australian rapper Iggy Azalea, who apparently now is, shockingly, dating white guys.  Yes, welcome to 2017 where such things actually are considered news...for the Internet...on Mediatakeout.

10. No need to worry:  TI and Tiny apparently are NOT getting a divorce.  The world can now rest easy.




Sunday, July 30, 2017

Another Working Day Has Ended

I am pretty darn tired by the time Sunday night comes around.  That's not likely the way this is supposed to work, by the way.  You know, "day of rest" and the like.  Yet here I am, more or less exhausted.  I know, I could blame it on the Chicken Pops - Part Deux, and maybe that's contributing to things this evening, but the harsh reality is that both my wife and I both tend to do too much.

Here's an example:  I had wanted to just spruce up some rocks I have underneath our dwarf plum tree, but for whatever reason, I randomly decided to pull out a bush on the side of our house.  This particular bush serves no useful purpose unless you consider "aphid breeding ground" to be a useful purpose...which may be the case for aphids, but not for me.  Anyway, 45 minutes and three yard waste containers later, the bush is reduced to a few sticks in the ground.  This week I'll have to break out the pickaxe and complete my shrub murder.  All well and good, but what possessed me to do it in the first place?

I could have spent the time finally finishing a book or two.

When my daughters were younger I had a valid excuse for moving around like a spinning top...and excuse called "functional parenthood".  These days I have no more young children; the best it gets is a teenage stepson, and to be honest (and to his credit) he's fairly low maintenance.  Yet here I am, Sunday at 10:15 pm popping Tylenol like they were M&Ms (plain...the peanut variety would make me vomit).

I have brought this to the attention of my co-conspirator in life, Ms. Rivers, which is a bit like going to Donald Trump to complain about someone else's abuse of Twitter.  That's a fancy way of saying that she's just as bad as I am in this department.  In fact, she may be worse.  Needless to say, I don't think there is a solution in the offing for this particular challenge, at least not anytime soon.  Maybe this is because I simply don't like laying around being unproductive.  Maybe this is because I have warped sense of just what "unproductive" really means.  Case in point:  If it helps me physically and mentally, perhaps it's not all that "unproductive" after all.

This is to be continued.

* * * * * *

Chicken Pops Update:  Some muscle soreness in the general area and a bout of two of intense itching, but this is looking like a relatively mild case.  I also learned today that the chances of me getting this again are slim.  Better at 53 than 73.



Friday, July 28, 2017

It's all fun and games until the Chicken Pops come along.



"Dad, I don't want to get chicken pops"

- My youngest daughter Rebecca, somewhere in the 90's



I was 19 or 20 years old when I got the "chicken pops".  It was, I think, around January of 1983.  To this very day, I can recall the intense fever I had, something along the lines of 103 degrees, for two or three days.  There was also the incredible headache that brought, along with blisters in many creative places, including the soles of my feet.  It was not a good time.

Fast forward to 53 years old and I've been diagnosed with Shingles.  You can read more about this affliction HERE.  I won't bore anyone, least of all myself, with the details, but I'll note this:  I woke up with an intense desire to itch in an unlikely place, and that turned into a feeling that literally makes me want to claw away layers of skin.  Enter the red rash, a burning sensation, deep muscle discomfort and the beginnings (as of Friday night) of a blister or two.  I'm sure this will get worse before it gets better.  Yes, I bought calamine lotion, which does seem to help.  I hope.

For me, this is kind of end product.

The American Academy of Dermatology (and others) note that being under great stress can precipitate an outbreak of Shingles.  That's certainly been the case for me over these past few months.  My story (make that stories) is noted in blog postings here since October of 2016, so there's no need for a rehash.  What I will add is that I've periodically had to deal with what I consider to be bouts of depression over these past few months, something I've never admitted to before, but which can easily be alluded to between the lines of many postings.  While I've certainly met my obligations...be they to my family, my (new) co-workers, and to myself (in finishing my Master's degree course work)...it's sometimes been at something of a steep price.  I think Shingles is part of paying that price.  This also isn't the first time in my life that a physical failing has followed periods of intense stress.

I wish I had some kind of grand philosophical statement to make that would put my life of late into a kind of proper context, but I don't.  Maybe it's the intense itching at the moment.  What I do know is that I am hopeful for a kind of separate peace now.  None of us truly know what life has in store, but looking forward, I'm hoping for a break from death, from self-doubt, from mental ruminations, and from the physical unhealthiness that comes from mental, physical, and emotional exhaustion.
 
Maybe this is the period at the end of one sentence, with a new one soon to be written.  It's just that this particular period is red and intensely itchy at the moment.








Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Lisa Brown is Not from the United States

Today's installment of incredibly bad phishing brought to you by Lisa Brown from United States.


Now that Lisa Brown has told me that she is from United States (as opposed to, say, the United States), and not, for example, from Burkina Faso, I'll be sure to write back for details.  


Oh, and also, Team Apple (there) has been gracious enough to let me know that they've found a problem with my account (there), therefore they are willing to help me fill data (whatever the Hell that means, there).



I genuinely think that I could have a career writing phishing emails, because some folks just really, really need help (there).

Sunday, July 23, 2017

24 Points of Random Stuff for Blog Topics

Preface:  I wrote this several years ago, and for whatever reason (perhaps because it "sucked") I never published it.  Here I am though, it's Sunday night, and I have almost no motivation to write about anything.  And, by the way, I enjoy writing, and as such, I promised myself that I'd post no less frequently than weekly.  Sometimes more frequently.  Anyway, for the moment, I seem to be running low on blogging units (a concept copyrighted by local blogger Gort42), and yet I am filled with guilt over the prospect of not blogging at least weekly.  What to do?  Recycle, that's what; see the posting below.

Here's to a new supply of blogging units, arriving soon.

Oh, and here are two random picture of an Osprey sitting on its nest.



* * * * * *
In no particular order, for no particular reason.

1.  Peanut Butter - I think peanut butter is the most vile, disgusting, acrid substance known to man.  I don't know how my fellow human being can even consume it.  The smell alone makes me want to vomit.  Writing about the smell makes me want to vomit.  Carrion is more appealing.

2.  Roasted Peanuts - I actually don't mind the smell of roasting peanuts.  Just don't turn them into butter.  See #1.

3.  Books, Part 1 - I am usually reading two or three books at a time.

4.  Books, Part 2 - None of the books noted in #3 are fiction.

5.  Television - I really only need four television channels:  WNEP (for news, in the morning), BBC America (for Top Gear...at least until the new host starts, then it's "see ya"), whatever channel is playing Family Guy, and whatever channel is playing those shows about dingy looking people living in Alaska (and I'm not talking about the Palin family either).

6.  Religion - I don't consider myself religious, although I am a avid reader of religious material; in high school I read every book the Scranton Public Library had on the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Days Saints, even though I had no desire to become a Mormon.  As a side note, I recently saw the Book of Mormon musical, and it was hilarious.   I do pray from time to time, although I think the act of praying has more to do with getting my head straight than it does actually wanting something from God.

7.  Politics - I don't align with any political party, and quite frankly I think political parties are, well, stupid.  Neither political party has a monopoly on the truth.  I also think that party line voting should be illegal.  I vote for candidates based on their ideas, not political philosophies spoon fed in neat little sound bytes.

8.  Abortion - Gee, should I even include this?  Well here goes nothing.  When it comes to the whole abortion debate, I just wish there was less screaming, yelling and finger pointing and more genuine compassion from and for all sides.  Note the word "genuine", as in what isn't typically seen when politicians talk about abortion.  It bothers me to no end when elected officials use this issue as a wedge simply to court some kind of political base (where the real desired outcome is the accumulation of political power...ponder just how horrible that really is).

9. Guns - I don't like guns, but heck, if you do, well more power to you.  Fire away.  Please just don't point it at me, bring your gun into my house or my place of business.

10. Hunting - I try very hard to not kill things.  This includes insects, spiders and other kinds of critters.  I wish I were disciplined enough to be a vegetarian, but I'm not, so I'll just have to live with that contradiction for the time being.  Now if someone does like to hunt well that's okay with me, but I hope they do it in a way that provides the bare minimum of discomfort for the critter(s) involved and the resulting "kill" is eaten or otherwise used in some meaningful way.  There's a difference between responsible hunting and animal cruelty in my book.

11.  Animal Cruelty - See #10.  It's my educated opinion that anyone who is capable of torturing an animal is also capable of torturing a fellow human.  In my world, there wouldn't be much difference in the sentences for assaulting a human or assaulting a defenseless animal.

12.  Cats vs Dogs - I love cats, but I readily confess to not being a good enough person to own a dog.

13.  Music - I love music, but I don't have musical bone in my body.  My signing voice is somewhere in range between Michael Jackson and a 12 year old boy who is about to enter into puberty.

14.  Sports - I love to play sports, although I don't have much time for it these days.  Growing up I was constantly either playing tennis, basketball or baseball (in a real sandlot near where we grew up).  Watching sports?  It puts me to sleep.  Too much watching sports on television can, I think, create the need for a lobotomy.

15.  Radio - I am an avid Howard Stern fan.  He is a genius, on par with Hunter Thompson & George Carlin, who created his very own radio genre.  Political talk radio?  I think its a wasteland for those who are searching for someone to think for them.

16.  Tattoos - I will never have one simply because I get bored far too easily to have something that permanent drawn upon my body.  While it's not for me, I've seen a few stories about tattoos being used by breast cancer survivors (link to an article HERE), which I do think is incredibly wonderful. Oh, and let's get one thing straight:  If you get "Ozzy" tattooed on your knuckles, then please don't complain if you have trouble finding a job.  Self-expression is a wonderful thing, but broadcasting stupidity is another.

17.  Drinking - I confess to drinking far too much diet soda and ice tea.  Alcohol?  I may have a drink of it maybe once or twice a year, if that.  Seriously, I really don't like the taste of booze, and I like even less how I feel after drinking booze.

18.  Earliest Memory - My earliest memory is of watching a black and white Superman cartoon in a half double home we lived at on Pine Street in Scranton.  I'm not sure of the age, but I might have been two three.

19.  Biggest Personal Frustration - I have what I'd describe as a frenetic mind, which while it allows me to be interested in lots of different things, has more than a few drawbacks.  I'm sure my incredibly short attention span plays into this as well.  The worst part of it?  That's waking up just about every morning with all these thoughts in my head.  There are times when I'd give all the money in my wallet for just five minutes of true mental calm, especially in the morning.  Sometimes when someone asks me "what you are you thinking" I don't answer honestly, as doing so would both take too long and the answers would be far too disturbing.

20.  Biggest Personal Regret - Sure I have regrets, but even the time spent thinking about them for the blog blurb is a waste.  What's done is done.  Pay attention to the past only to the extent that it can actually help in the present.

21.  Biggest Health Challenge - Bad sleeping habits.  As I've noted here many times, I don't typically sleep well.  See #19.  I think they have medication for this...Thorazine maybe?  I am joking about the Thorazine part.

22.  Power - Obtaining power...be it at work or at home...simply for the sake of having power seems immoral to me.  Besides, real power doesn't come from controlling or having control over overs, it comes from having control over yourself.

23.  Famous Person Dinner Game - If I could have dinner with a few famous people, who would be in attendance?  Well for starters, my wife would be invited.  Second, my list would be as follows:  Emily Dickinson, Hunter S. Thompson, Paul McCartney, Howard Stern, Berkeley Breathed, and Albert Einstein.

24.  How I'd Like To Be Remembered - If anything, I'd like to be remembered as a good Dad, a loving partner and a kind human being.



Sunday, July 16, 2017

Road Apples, #173

Friday's Travel...spilled into Saturday, technically speaking.  The final toll was as follows:  One completely canceled flight (Dallas to Philadelphia), two flight delays, two re-bookings, and a two-hour drive home from Harrisburg, arriving at 1:30 am.  My luggage, by the way, didn't make it to Scranton until about 3 pm on Saturday.  In the midst of the insanity, there were rays of light...the Avis counter person (Michelle) in Harrisburg, who found me a one-way rental, at 11:30 pm...the gate agent in Amarillo who got me re-routed, even if I ended up having to revise things further...the baggage staff in Harrisburg, who made sure my luggage got to me, even if it was a day late.  As I've noted here from time to time, there is nothing glamorous about business travel.

Lawyering, Scranton Style...I've been reading the verbal grousing between a certain local lawyer, the Scranton Times, and a Scranton City councilman.  Here's how I see it:  Whenever you have $400,000 that is paid out to a person(s) or firm(s) without bidding OR detailed records to document the work performed OF COURSE there will be flags raised.  There should be flags raised, by the way.  The fact the lawyer/law firm in question also significantly contributed to Mayor Courtright's campaigns over the years only makes it smell worse.  This is old-school Scranton back-room dealing at its finest.  In the end, it's entirely possible that the legal expenses in question were justified, but this is public money at play, so there needs to be more...not less...transparency.  Blaming the Scranton Times for continuing to raise this as an issue is SILLY (at best); what's the alternative?  Simply take Mayor Courtright's word for it?

Confederate Monuments...Apparently, there is all the rage over monuments to Confederate generals being moved and removed in places across the south.  My blunt assessment?  Why do we even have monuments to traitors in the first place?

The National Political News Blackout...continues on my end.  I'm simply not interested in the latest Tweets or scandals...real or imaginary...that are in the national news.  None of what's happening should be a surprise to anyone.

(the Catholic Church) It's Almost Official...There are practically two versions of the Roman Catholic Church in the United States today, at least as evidenced by competing books that deal with the LGBT community within the Church.  There's a very good article that touches on that point HERE.  As someone who does listen to militant right-wing Catholic radio (EWTN, Ave Maria Radio), it's pretty clear that the Church is suffering from an ideological split that fairly well mirrors the political split within the United States.  In fact, just listening to discussions about secular issues on militant right-wing Catholic radio will make you think that you're listening to a stereotypical ring-wing talk-radio host.  Just add a few references to the Magisterium and Mary and you've got the whole programming for militant right-wing Catholic radio fairly well locked down.

**The blog author now pauses and regains his composure, as he is getting somewhat cranky**

Blogs, #1...A former co-worker of mine writes a terrific blog that you can find HERE.  Her latest posting, The Retiree, touched on a few raw nerves for me, which I so noted in a rather lengthy comment (sorry about the length Michele).  I debated responding to the posting, but in the end, I am glad I did contribute my thoughts.  I do get anxious whenever I post something that's critical, by the way, even given my tendency towards restraint.  The fact is this though:  We are all called to always be decent humans, first and foremost.  We all fail at that from time to time (me too...well, especially me), but that failure is compounded when that it seems to be institutionalized, somehow a human failure of a planned sort.  My final word on this:  Always treat people the way you would like to be treated, be it in business or in your personal life.  Period.

By the way, I actually interviewed the author the blog in April 2014.  You can read that posting HERE.  

Blogs, #2...Andy Palumbo recently commented in a blog posting about how disappointing it is that people don't stay with blogs they start (my words; his words can be found HERE).  I concur with his sentiment, but with a qualifier, namely that I think sometimes blogs have a hidden purpose, and that purpose gets fulfilled in a time-frame that is all its own.  There have been times when I wonder why I write this, but then I remember the purpose of NCFE, which is basically a way for me to help explore things, to help me make sense of the world (the world that mostly exists in my head).  That need is not likely to go away anytime soon.  

 


Friday, July 14, 2017

Back in the Saddle

A few minutes to spare after packing but before leaving Amarillo, taking a long series of flights back to Northeastern Pennsylvania.  It's been a mostly good week.

The bad?  Well, let's call it "butter overdose".  It happened Tuesday evening, with a dinner that consisted of far more butter than my system was capable of handling.  That sort of thing has happened before, well many times before, and you would think that at my *advanced* age I would know better, but I am nothing if not consistent in my failure.  The result was waking up very early on Wednesday and an hour of so of dry heaves.  I survived.

The good?  Two fold really:
  1. I can't compliment enough the folks I worked with this week.  Exceptionally decent human beings.  
  2. It felt to be "back in the saddle again".
To that second point, I've spent a good part of my professional life facilitating workshops/discussions/learning events...I don't like the word "training" (that's another blog entry for another time)...and it's something I haven't done in any significant way in over 9 months.  This week felt, well, great.  Being in a conference room, having audiences, reading faces, making mid-course changes, developing material on the fly, getting challenged on something I said, answering questions...it's all both exciting and oddly comforting for me.  I imagine that this must be how a musician feels after they haven't been able to play in a while.

I'm heading home feeling accomplished.




Tuesday, July 11, 2017

The one was Texas medicine, the other was just railroad gin.

See HERE for the title reference.

Greetings from the land of the flat and the hot.

After something like a 20-year absence, I'm back in Texas on company business, although the 2017 version is a different company on different business in a different location.

The forecast for Amarillo, from where I type this?  94 degrees and incredibly sunny.  Every day.  All week.  The sky is a kind of scorched blue.  Not a deep blue you might see in Pennsylvania, but a washed-out variety, as if the sky itself was in the process of getting a tan.

Anyway, although I've probably spent, in total, maybe three weeks of my life in Texas, I've always felt that there are two versions of the state:  The one you hear about and the one you actually experience.

Part of what you hear about when Texas comes up is that it's the state of Ted Cruz, rabid anti-equality, fundamentalist Christian, and guns literally everywhere.  I'll be honest, that's never been my experience.  In fact, I've seen far more "open carry" nuts folks in Pennsylvania than I have in Texas.  And despite the impression one might get from the somewhat lizard-esque Senator Rafael Edward Cruz, I've met almost no one in Texas who wasn't incredibly nice.  Incredibly polite.  Whatever the opposite of acerbic (and Ted Cruz) is, quite frankly, seems to describe most Texans.

Case in point:  While eating dinner, I observed two older couples meeting in the restaurant.  One couple introduces a teenage daughter.  She actually more or less genuflected as a sign of politeness and respect.  You won't see that in NEPA, well, outside of a church.

I'll also note that the folks I'm working with this week epitomize what I noted above about Texas.  Just plain and simply nice people.  And the office they work in is shaped like an egg.  I kid you not.


I F#@cking Hate Flying

(Written during a series of flights from Scranton to Amarillo, Texas)

It wasn't always this way, for the record. 

My first actual airplane flight was in 1989, and I was barely 25 years old. It was from Newark (NJ) to Boston, on company business.  As I recall, that was shortly after smoking was banned from domestic flights.  Ponder that one for a moment: Being stuck inside a pressurized tube, breathing cancer smog.  Anyway, since then I've flone many more times, sometimes even for pleasure.  Like many things over the past (nearly) 30 years, flying has gotten far more complicated and far less comfortable.  At the moment, for example, I an stuck in a window seat that BARELY allows enough room for my lungs to expand and contract.  I also have almost no room to move my arms, which translates to my very uncomfortably pecking out the beginning part of this posting. 

Travel itself, in general, has gotten more complicated. I now possess one of those AM/PM pill holders, a fact that makes my wife hang her head in sheer, utter shame.  Granted, some of what I pack isn't prescribed...a vitamin, joint health supplements (2 pills that are so big that I look like a stork downing a turtle when I swallow them), and a probiotic  (that I take on the advice of the future Dr. Albert).  The actual medical stuff is enough, though, numbering more than 1 but less than 37.  Add in 2 asthma inhalers and you can see that this is something of a production.  One of these days I will post about the physical toll that my 30's and 40's, especially in the area of stress, has taken on me.

I should also note that, as a general rule, I don't like touching or getting touched.  Yet here I am, arm to arm with a 300 lb + seat-mate. At least he didn't object when I had to get up to go to the bathroom.  That happens, by the way, all too often. When stressed I tend to do two things...bite my nails into bloody stumps and, well, pee often.  As of this moment the finger next to my right thumb is crying out in surrender and, suffice to say, I'm trying hard to not think about my bladder.  The latter is not helped by typing this...nor is the former...although pecking out  posting at least helps to prevent more nail gnawing.

Probably the only good thing about flying is the fact that the view out the window...any window...is usually breathtaking. It also reminds me of just how big the real world actually is, and how small the things that irritate all of us in the daily grind actually are.  I still wish I had more room though.

This is, by the way, the first business trip I am taking with my newer employer.  My previous gig had a decent number of very specific travel policies. My new employer? I looked and found hardly any. I asked our Finance guy, and his response was basically along the lines of "...just don't be a jerk".  Good thing I tend to be a cheap date.  We don't have a corporate card, so if I was a jerk, well, the joke would be on me anyway.

Speaking of former employers, three leaders I used to work with recently lost their jobs, although this time they had to work through their 60 day WARN notice period.  I confess that it brought back a few flashbacks for me. I won't get into the morality of layoffs, but I will note this: Rationale aside, how such things are executed matters, an awful lot.  A leader can deliver that kind of news in a direct but empathetic way.  My actual notice lacked that empathy, but I was treated very well by those who explained the financial details of my separation.  I know I have mentioned that before, and I will likely mention it again, as it was equal parts trauma and life-changing.  My hope for my 3 former colleagues is that their next chapter takes them places they otherwise never would have dreamed going.


Monday, July 3, 2017

Two Years

Time truly is relative, and I'm not talking about couples dating in Arkansas by the way.  No, while time may be constant in terms of measurement, how it's experienced is sometimes highly subjective.  Which brings me back to July 3, 2015.

Having both been married previously (and done the "big church thing"), Ms. Rivers and I, when we decided to get married, didn't want any repeats of history.  In getting married the second time, we both just wanted to do something that was first and foremost simply fun for us and for those in attendance.  Maybe that's one of the biggest changes between first and second weddings:  The first time it's about you and the show, although in all fairness, you mostly don't know any better; the second time it's hopefully more about the things that actually matter (mainly because, by then, you should know better).

We approached the planning process from a project management perspective.  I kid you not:  We actually created a project plan.  That was actually very helpful and further aided in making the whole process far less stressful.


When all was said and done, it was a truly good day, and I'd like to think there have been many more good days since then.

Fast forward to this morning, and before we both went to work, Ms. Rivers presented me with a gift...

...on the other side it has our initials.  The phrase, "We are a gang of two", I am told comes from something I wrote on the blog, all be it somewhat paraphrased.  I'd look it up, but why bother?  In a way, talking about project planning a wedding and getting a cutting board as a gift almost perfectly represent just what we've both tried to do in our lives together:  Live simply and love wholeheartedly.

I don't know what my next anniversary (or even tomorrow, for that matter) will hold, but I do know that if it all ended abruptly, I would still consider myself blessed a thousand times over.

I'll end this posting with a song...one specifically that we played at our reception...and one that was immortalized in a framed print given to us by my daughter Rebecca.



Friday, June 30, 2017

The Not-Sailor

The title references THIS posting.

Your's truly, along with my wife and mother-in-law, where the guests of my cousin Frank and his wife Kathy on his actual, real-life sailboat.  I'd describe the experience in poetic terms, but I would probably just end up subconsciously nicking the lyrics to Sailing by Christopher Cross anyway, so I'll pass.  What I will say is this:  I can understand the allure of the activity.  
Ms Rivers was given the opportunity to "woman" the helm, and she did spectacularly well.  In fact, it seems like an activity that she'd like to partake in at some point in the future.


As for me, well, I was given the opportunity to "man" the helm, but a bruised hip (from a bike ridding fall a few days ago) made me think the better of it.  Bashing it again just wasn't something I was up for, so I wasn't taking any chances; besides, something tells me that depth-perception is probably a halfway reasonable qualification for a helmsman anyway.  

Looking into the future, I can see nautical activity in our retirement years.  I know Ms. Rivers would enjoy it.  As for me, well, just being somewhere sightly warmer, and by the water, would do just fine.

Many, many thanks for my cousin Frank and his (truly) first-mate wife, Kathy, for hosting us.  We truly had a wonderful time.  Unlike Ms Rivers, I don't have a large or particularly close extended family, so the older I get, the more I appreciate what time I do have with those with whom I share some genetic material.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Sitting on the dock of the bay, wasting time (typing) - Road Apples, #173

I actually am sitting on a bay, although I am actually about 12 feet from a dock, truth be told.  I am also definitely wasting time.  As part in parcel of that wasting time, I offer the following...

...I had another posting started about how I love being near the water.  However, I deemed that dumb-ass, and therefore it will not see the light of day.  I do like the water though.  Thinking ahead, many years into the future, I'd like to retire somewhere that is a) Slightly warmer than northeastern Pennsylvania and b) Near the water.  Why?  To quote that great scholar Bluto Blutarsky, "Why not!".

...Is it normal to always have a random song always playing in your head?  At the moment it happens to be The Who's "You Better You Bet".  "I know only fools have needs, but this one never begs".  As I said, random.

...It's difficult to truly comprehend the size of cargo ships, and by extension the marvels of international trade, until you actually see one in person.

...On today's agenda was pretty much nothing.  My better half went to Washington D.C. with my youngest stepson and her niece.  These days I find Washington D.C. to be disgusting, so I opted for some creative loafing on the Chesapeake Bay.  I have no regrets.

...I brought two books on vacation and haven't made much progress.  They are Consider the Lobster by David Foster Wallace and The Jesuit Guide to Almost Everything by the Rev. James Martin, S.J.. Lobster is a tougher read, mainly because Foster Wallace is a pretty literate guy, and his writing is infused with references to authors that I know about (Updike, for example) but will likely never, ever read.  I'm committed to both books, regardless.

...I haven't thought much about work.  That's a good thing, although I will regret it come next Monday.

...Blogging 101:  I struggle sometimes with something I shouldn't, namely this kind of pull to write about something that I secretly think other people might be interested in reading.  This is in spite of the fact that one of the stated ground rules of this blog is that I just end up writing about stuff that interests me, and me alone.  The sad reality is that I do check page views and I actually do know what kinds of content actually drive interest.  For the record, this posting won't.

...This week's Fall Count:  2.  Fall #1 was coming into the house Monday evening, missing the location of a step.  Fortunately I fell and rolled over (kind of like a dog).  The only damage was to my pride and two fingers.  Fall #2 was an old-school fall-off-of-bike-roadrash.  I was biking with my 80 year old mother-in-law, who, by the way, didn't fall.  Since it's been a long time since I've actually fallen off of the bike, I view this is as a kind of "red badge of courage" moment.  My right hip and elbow, both of which were on the bleeding edge, beg to differ.  Tomorrow we are going sailing, and my goal is to be injury free.

...Forget illegals from south of the border, the bigger threat apparently is the Nutria.

...Crabs are giant sea-bugs.  So are lobsters.  There, I said it.  Cockroach bisque anyone?

...Sadly, I have been somewhat exposed to the news over the past few days, via my father-in-law's consumption of the television variety.  I'm trying hard to not pay attention, as I am more or less still under a general news boycott.  Unfortunately, part of what I heard involves North Korea.  And I keep remembering the story whereby candidate Trump allegedly once asked why we don't use nuclear weapons.  I'm hoping that falls under the category of "Fake News".

...Speaking of "Fake News", here's what that term actually means:
NEWS THAT YOU DISAGREE WITH.
Newsflash:  All news, as it is written by emotional humans, is slanted.  The trick is to get it from a variety of sources, so as to see that the truth, as it always does, lies somewhere in the middle.

...We had a stray dog visit us (several times) this afternoon.  Eventually his owner was found driving by looking for him, so pouch and master are now reunited.  I love dogs...conceptually.  The actuality of dog ownership is another story.  To be blunt, I'm not (yet) a good enough human to be entrusted with one of God's most wonderful, loyal creatures.  Good thing that cats are low maintenance.

...Pennsylvania is liberalizing marijuana rules, and soon growers will be establishing businesses in the state.  As stated before on several occasions, I think the recreational use of marijuana is f&%king stupid*.  However, "f&%king stupid" isn't a crime, otherwise professional wrestling and Nickelback would be illegal as well.  Yes, it get it, marijuana has medicinal uses, and for those that use it in that way, well, good for them.  Here's to cancer patients gaining much needed weight through the munchies.  Let's not kid ourselves though, many who advocate for the legalization of marijuana are more interested in getting high and listening, for example, to the Dave Matthews Band.  Pouring burning crap into your lungs while listening to Ants Go Marching just doesn't sound appealing to me, mostly because that reality one is trying to escape will sadly be there long after the song and the high is over.  Yes, in the end, reality always wins.



(*) Yes, getting drunk is f&%king stupid as well.  No, I don't drink either.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

The Unlikely Sailor

My late brother Chris was a very proud veteran of the United States Navy.  He is now, in fact, buried in the veterans section of a local cemetery, something that would make him happy. As I woke up this morning and looked out over the water, it reminded me of just how odd it was that he ended up in the Navy.  However, my brother Chris was nothing if not always full of contradictions.

First, a few things to level-set:

  • Chris was not a particularly great swimmer prior to joining the Navy.  None of us were; we were poor kids growing up in a housing project, so our options for swimming were pretty much limited to free public pools and whatever we could experience in summer camp (which, because we were poor kids growing up in a housing project, were somewhat limited).
  • Chris never expressed any interest in the Navy, in sailing, in anything even remotely maritime. 
  • As far as I know, outside of maybe once during a summer vacation to Atlantic City (P.G.=Pre-Gambling, when AC was just this decrepit, decaying shore town), none of us spent any appreciable time on boats.
  • I don't know of any relatives who served in the Navy.  Our father and his brother both served in the Army (one as a medic, one in the Army Air Corps during World War II), but I know of no one in the Navy.

Truth be told, I'm not sure what drove Chris to the Navy.  I do know the decision to join the military was a logical one for him, as he wasn't an academic type in school (none of us were...I had decent grades without working too hard, but I think that was just random genetics at work), and he had a burning desire to move away from home as quickly as possible.  He also had basically zero marketable skills...none of us did at that stage...and in Scranton we as far from politically connected as one can get...so finding a job right out of high school that paid enough to live (independently) simply wasn't going to happen.  What to do?

As best I can recall, Chris knew he wanted to join the armed services upon graduation from high school.  My best guess is that, for him, the Army was too common, the Air Force was boring (and they don't let kids just out of high school fly planes) and the Marines offered only one real job opportunity, namely killing people.  I suspect that his friend Tim was also involved in this decision.  Anyway, after meeting with a Navy recruiter and being given quasi-graphic descriptions of what certain women will do for money in the Philippines, well the decision was made.

About the only time I had ever heard of my brother Chris actually being humble was to be found in his letters home from basic training.  Whatever they did, they did it well, because the process of basic training (which for Chris was in Great Lakes) literally broke him down and re-formed him.  Someone who had been undisciplined was suddenly just the opposite.  Maybe that large Hispanic drill instructor yelling "Ricky Recruit" at him the top of his lungs to do with that state.

Here's where the story gets just a tab bit odd (well, make that "odder"):  My brother opted to train to become a medical corpsman.  Note that Chris expressed zero interest in anything medical.  Nothing.  Zero.  Zilch.  He liked cooking, so I had thought that maybe that's where he would land, but no, it was medical stuff.  In later years, while likely under the influence or coming out from under the influence, Chris would describe how horrible some of the visuals he saw in his medical career, and while sorting out fact from self-dosed pharmacology may be somewhat difficult, I do believe that Chris saw some difficult visuals in his service.

Here's where I get to throw in yet another contradiction:  My brother Chris never served on board a ship.  Yes, a sailor who never actually sailed.  Instead, his service was spent between Norfolk, Virginia and Camp Lejeune in South Carolina.  In talking to Chris over the years, I never got the impression that the stint in Norfolk was all that memorable from a career perspective.  Personally, that's where (I believe) he met his first wife, but job wise, it seemed to be something of a yawn.  He did, over the years, talk quite a bit about Camp Lejeune though.  By way of back-story, the Chris of the mid-1980's was very physically fit, and since being a medic with the Marie Corps required being able to keep up with said Marines, that part was a lay-up for him.  Other random tidbits from Chris during this time of his service included:
  • Squid - Apparently this was the preferred insult dished out by Marines to sailors such as Chris.
  • Shot in the Butt - When asked, Chris said that his stint with the Marines mainly consisted of giving Marines penicillin shots.  And not for random cuts and scrapes, if you know what I mean.
  • Chiggers - When asked about the worst part of Camp Lejeune, other than the heat, Chris would always talk about chiggers...and having to dig them out.  You can read more about them HERE.

After leaving the Navy Chris never displayed any interest in working in the medical field.  Instead, Chris ended up in government service...with the Postal Service, Veterans Administration, and Office of Mine safety.  I honestly don't think any of that work actually interested him all that much; after all, his work at the VA and Office of Mine Safety was in maintaining computers, and even I knew more about computers than Chris ever did.  What did interest Chris, and what he did as side jobs (and one full time gig while living in New Jersey) for virtually all his life, was cooking.  My brother loved to cook.

In a life full of contradictions...a man who was a pro-abortion, anti-established religion "conservative"...the non-academic who never the less earned his college degree...a tough guy who simply loved cats and adored kittens...my brother never the less embraced all of what he did with enthusiasm.  He was, by every measure I've heard, exceptionally good as a medic.  As a cook.  As a postal carrier.  Even as an IT guy (although I still think I knew more about computers than he did).

Somewhere in New Jersey:  The unlikely sailor 
having earned his college degree, 
with his mother, daughter Miranda, and brother Rich.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Of loss and feeling cheated

Preface:
I’m going to apologize in advance for any funkiness with regards to the font and/or text size, as I am working with a hodgepodge of not-so-finely coordinated tools this week, involving much copy and pasting, a tethered cell phone internet connection and probably several other things I am forgetting at the moment.

* * * * * *
Sunday, June 25, 2017
The older I get, the more I appreciate the lyrics in some of Roger Waters' Pink Floyd songs.  For the benefit of the un-initiated, some of his songs (such as the incredible “Wish You Were Here”) deal with the loss, if you want to call it that, of band founder Syd Barrett.  You can Google the details if you want.

So, so you think you can tell
Heaven from Hell
Blue skies from pain
Can you tell a green field
From a cold steel rail?
A smile from a veil?
Do you think you can tell?

I’m on a much needed vacation this week, and part of the “much needed” part, I think, comes from a need to mentally deal with loss.  It’s not as if I haven’t already tried; well, in point of fact, I haven’t really tried.  Part of me doesn’t really know how to deal with this stuff.  I have a lifetime of mostly avoidance when it comes to dealing with such things, going back to when I was a kid and my mother would be yelling at the top of her lungs and I would find some safe place to weather the verbal storm.  Some skills, if you want to call them that, stay with you for a very long time.

The loss, for what it's worth, is really two-fold:  My (former) job and my brother, both of which I thought/had hoped would be with me for far longer.  Both of which, I will also add, provided me with plenty of cues that they wouldn’t (be with me far longer).  In both cases, my ability to deal with strong emotions by mostly not feeling them has been on full display for only me to see.  For the record I know this is unhealthy, but in an almost odd quasi-parallel to my brother, I’m not sure I know how to stop.  At best, over the years this blog as been one of the few ways I can try to sort things out in my own head.  Sad but true, you just happen to be along for the ride.

I want to also add that part of how I feel is a certain kind of disgust at myself.  The worst possible thought bubble I have about others is that “they are weak”, which is precisely why, I think, I struggle dealing with my dual losses:  I simply don’t want to be weak.  I don’t want to be that “weak” person who can’t get over stuff.

To the extent I have dealt with anything it was been my loss of a job, poured mostly into my new job.  I feel a kind of frenetic whirl as I am at my (new) job, so much so that there have been a few days when my chest has literally been pounding as the day ends.  I am shocked and almost dismayed at the level of concentration I put into it, so much so that I almost feel like a different person.  In some ways, it just doesn’t seem like me; at best it’s this turbo-charged on steroids version of me.  It’s like this heavy suit I put on when I go to work and take off as I leave Jessup, Pennsylvania.  To make matters truly surreal, I have simply wonderful co-workers…they are professional, exceptionally well qualified (as well qualified a team as you find in any organization, bar none), and hard-working.  In fact, I couldn’t ask for a better group of folk to work with, which adds a kind of exclamation point to the notion that how I feel is a kind of manufactured (in my own head) reality.  Yes, I landed well, but far too often my thoughts go back to the one-way 30 second video conference call that ended my nearly 28 year prior career. 

To that last point, I don’t even recall what she said in the 30 second video stream, other than the outcome.

Monday, June 26, 2017
I had hoped that my brother would have been around for much longer.  Part of me envisioned spending more time with him as we got older.  We had talked, for example, about going in an exploratory hike around the old Rocky Glen amusement park.  I knew he would be able to retire early, as he had worked for the federal government for most of his life, and that this would afford him some level of comfort.  The idea of maybe going on vacation with Chris and his wife had crossed my mind as well.  With Chris, or so the Chris I like to remember from years past, there was a kind of independence.  I didn’t have to worry about him, or help him, or otherwise be the “smart, successful one”, something that pains me on so many levels.  Of course, as the years went by and his illness began to consume his life much like a cancer, all of that went out the window, and I was left at the bitter end being someone who did in fact worry about him, as well as helping him out financially (which, I will add, was a mistake…but a mistake I would make over and over again).  Chris was one of the few people in my life that I truly had a shared experience with, who could understand some of the dynamic that shaped our mutual and perturbed views on life.

I feel robbed, that somehow life has needless cheated me out of two important things, and for the life of me, I didn't really ask for all that much in the first place.  I functionally didn’t have a father growing up.  I had a mother who was incredibly bitter and angry much of the time.  Was it too much to ask to at least have all of my brothers?  Apparently it was.

Growing up, Chris and I were both every different, yet we also had so much in common.   In an odd sort of way, it’s as if we were both cut from the same cast, but we both drifted in opposite directions.  My brother was a smart guy in every sense of the word.  If he set his mind to something he achieved it.  With rare exception, he was successful at just about everything he attempted in life.  He was persistent and passionate, two qualities that I greatly admire in anyone, let alone my brother.  He was also supremely confident…from the outside…so much so that he could be accused of arrogance.

Where we drifted apart, it was, I think, in how we handled the stresses of growing up in our dysfunctional environment.  Where I drew inward, he lashed outward.  My coping skills included over-thinking and rumination, while his mostly included rebellion.  Chris was, without a doubt, a rebel with a cause, with that “cause” being fighting back against an upbringing that he somehow viewed as having cheated him.  He ran away to the Navy and I ran away to college, but since I was the far more cautious of the two, I waited two years.  We both knew that something was off in our childhood, but neither of us had the skills to actually understand, let alone cope, with the circumstances.  And I’m still looking.

Perhaps what I saw in my brother was a final chance of having someone around whom, as we were both older and wiser, would be able to help finally and fully unpack our shared childhood.  I’ve been cheated out of someone who understood, at a very basic level, this far too difficult to explain shared experience.  Chris was someone who, in the absence of real answers, would at least be able to offer some affirmation that it wasn’t “just me”.

In the end, I know that, deep down, I am still truly blessed, and that everyone carries their own cross in life, even if some are far heavier than others.  Mine may, in fact, be relatively light.  Still, maybe my hope had been that my dues in this part of life were prepaid in years past, that somehow at this point things would less dramatic.  Note that I never wrote the word “easier”, because I get that part:  No one ever says that life is or should be easy. 

So here I sit, on a back porch overlooking the Chesapeake Bay on a very sunny Monday morning.  There is a breeze in the air, and a boat in the bay putting down or pulling up crab pots.  My legs are a tad bit sore from a 6 mile + bike ride (with my mother-in-law, no less), but otherwise I am fully functional.  If ever there was a place where answers could be found, it's likely here.  At the very least, it feels peaceful.  Maybe...just maybe...that's what I really need right now:  Some peace.




Sunday, June 18, 2017

Father's Day

When the "I am emotionally indestructible" body armor comes off every once in a while (such as now), you can probably get me to admit that little things such as Father's Day are meaningful.  Hearing from all three daughters (and having dinner & quality time with one) and receiving a card from my stepsons was very nice, even if today was something of a whirlwind of activity.  For me though, fast-paced days are probably the best days I can have, if for no other reason than they serve the invaluable purpose of getting me out repetitive cycles of thinking about things and towards simply just living things.

Speaking of Father's Day, I was talking to my youngest daughter about being a father, and she told me about someone she knew who was afraid to be a father, mostly because this young man didn't have a good role model growing up.  I could relate to that on one level, and one of my brothers chose to not be a father for pretty much the same reason.  However, I always took the opposite approach:  My father was a tremendous asset to me as a parent for one simple reason:  He shows me what not to do.  Looking back now over a span of something like 50 years, I can only recall now a few interactions with my father...

...that time he took me to a bar on Adams Avenue in Scranton.  I can still smell the beer, cigarette smoke and urine hanging over the place like some death cloud.

...that one time I remember him being in our house on Pine Street.  I didn't appear to end well.

...the time he gave me a bottle of shampoo as a gift.

...the few times I (and my brothers) would meet him in some flop hotel where he would dole out $75 to each of us.

...the times when I would take my mother to visit him in the veteran's home in Dundee, New York.

Not exactly Leave It To Beaver kind of stuff.  Still though, in life, we are given a set of circumstances, and what we choose to do with those circumstances defines who we are as human beings.  I never occurred to me to not be a father myself because of how I was raised.  I did, from time to time, worry that I didn't exactly know how to be a father, but along the way I met a few good men (such as my ex-wife's late father) who provided me with good examples to follow.  When I didn't know what to do I simply did my best, hoping that positive intent would trump flawed execution.

Back at the present day, I continue to do my best as a father, which means that I continue to probably make plenty of mistakes, all be it well-intentioned ones.  While that sounds like something of a downer, I can say the following with complete certainty:  In a life where showing up is half the battle, I've already succeeded in learning from my own father, as I did, in fact, actually show up.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Mindfulness

We have an initiative at work related to wellness, and while I do confess that I've struggled with parts of it (the initiative...and...well...wellness as a whole), at my core I know it's a good thing.  A really good thing.  As part of this initiative, the HR team gets together every other week to talk about what we're doing to promote wellness within our group.  Now there are other elements to this, including group competitions, and theme days (Fruity Fridays), but I'm not going to get into any of that; if you're interested in this from a professional standpoint you can always contact me via email.  Anyway, one of the things we're striving to do as a team is to have an informational topic (related to wellness, of course) discussed during a bi-weekly meeting.  Being something of an idiot/glutton for punishment, I volunteered to speak at the next wellness get together on the topic of mindfulness.

The "idiot" part, above, is more than just simply Trumpian hyperbole...there's something of a basis in fact, as while I know a fair amount about mindfulness, I struggle mightily with it.  Given close to 2,000 postings, I know I've written about this topic before, and will likely write about it again.  So sue me.  The point is this:  I have to give a little talk about mindfulness on Friday.

I have some ideas as to what I'm going to say.  Probably the bigger question though is this:  Why did I volunteer to do this in the first place?  In some respects, you can forget "struggle mightily"; I would say that I actually suck at it.  Maybe this makes me an ideal candidate to talk about mindfulness, as I'm something of an exaggerated version of everyone who struggles with a mind that wanders off of the present moment like seagulls just happen to wander into a dropped pizza slice on a Jersey boardwalk.

By way of a virtual time machine, I spent a lot of my child and young adulthood struggling mightily with worrisome thoughts about both the past and the future.  I wasn't fond of where I came from, and I was constantly worried that someone would "find me out" as being the fraud I was in the not-too-distant future.  In fact, being a father at an early age (mid-20's) was something of a saving grace for me, in that it almost forced me to back away from so many destructive thoughts and instead focus on taking care of business for my family.  Of course, back in those days, it wasn't called "mindfulness".

Fast forward in the virtual time machine to when my children were no longer children, and I had to face a kind of existential crisis of my own, much of which is documented in the early days of this blog.  It was at that point, struggling mightily with a few things, that I actually began to read about the importance of being who you are, about how utterly useless ruminating about the past was, and how much of one's life is wasted worrying about the future.  In a kind of very real sense, I needed to be told these things (but smart people who have written books), just as we are all told very fundamental things early in our lives.  It's just that this fundamental thing didn't make it to me until I was something like 46 years old.

"But Steve, you always seemed like you had your act together."

The key word in that sentence is "act".  I very much moved through life making it sometimes by sheer force of will, all the while dealing with perceived inadequacies, both real and imaginary.  My superpower back then was perseverance.  What I wanted was something cooler, like lasers shooting out from my highly dysfunctional eyes; instead, I got self-inflicted shame and pervasive worrying (oh, and perseverance).

So yes, I did learn quite a bit about mindfulness.  About not wasting my precious time on Earth worrying about what might come.  About compartmentalizing thoughts centering on the past into two basic buckets:  Things that could help me appreciate the today and...well...garbage.  I've also learned how mindfulness shows up in our daily lives.

What's the most important thing I've learned about mindfulness?  That's actually a simple question to answer:  Mindfulness isn't a place...or an achievement...or a badge of honor...or a rank...or a guru status.  It's not something you are able to master, at least not in how I think about such things.  No, mindfulness is a practice.  There is no goal, other than to simply practice it.  Practicing it more doesn't necessarily make me better at it by the way.  In fact, of late I've been struggling with the practice, but this is yet more proof that it is a practice in the first place.  Expressed another way, "trying to practice" actually is practicing mindfulness.

Mindfulness, at its heart, is the simple act of simply being.


Sunday, June 11, 2017

Body Count

This weekend I had the home to myself, as my wife and my stepsons were in Massachusetts visiting family members.  I would have gone, but I'm saving up my vacation time for an upcoming trip (the trials and tribulations of the new employee).  Anyway, the timing was actually pretty good, as I had been meaning to do work on our second-floor porch, which just happens to be about 6 feet from where I type this very posting.  A quiet house meant that I could make a lot of noise...and grime...with only the cats to offend.  The actual work, by the way, went well.

By way of digression, we really liked the second-floor porch when we bought the house, but it was probably the most shabby part of the structure.  Structurally, by the way, it's in very sound condition.  However, the screening seems to pre-date the Korean War, and as a result, it just had to go.  While just replacing the actual screens would have been okay, I preferred, as I usually do, to take a far more difficult route, namely to rip out the screening and its framing.  The underlying idea was to go from 7 panels of screening to 4, improving the amount of light, airflow, Feng Shui, etc.

(front facing panels, before)

(front facing, new framing)

Oh, who am I kidding:  I just like to play with tools and break things.  Where "things" hopefully don't include body parts.

I do, in all candor, have a habit of injuring myself with most household projects that involve things that are heavy, sharp, or otherwise even remotely dangerous.  There was the time, for instance, where I literally filleted my leg as I was cutting drywall (afterward I learned "never use your leg as a cutting board").

Anyway, I did, in fact, remove all of the old screens and associated framing, as well as building the structure for the new screens.  See above; I actually made more progress than what you see in the photo.  My wife does most of the painting work in the house...well the painting that requires decent eyesight to execute...so things are pretty close to being turned over to her for phase two of the project.

As far as breaking things, well, no broken bones.  That's the good news.  The bad news?  Well, there's this...

(with apologies for showing an unadorned body part, and yes, I dropped lumber on my foot)

...and a few cuts to my fingers.  One of the cuts was on the bleed-y side, so much so that I ended up having to undue some electrical work (part of the project involves replacing a porch-mounted flood light), as I started to bleed all over the wires.  Can you imagined how that would have smelled had the power come on?  The bruising and bleeding comes a bit more easily these days, thanks in part to modern pharmacology's wonderful blessing of next-generation blood thinners.  

For the record, I'm actually pretty good with electrical work, and, believe it or not, have never accidentally so much as lightly shocked myself.  For the life of me, I'm not entirely sure how this is even possible.
 

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Bad News on the Doorstep

There was a tragic event in my neck of the Pennsylvania woods this week, details HERE.

It's not worth me telling the story of what happened, mostly because I don't know.  Well, I know something horrible happened, I know there was violence, I know that are likely mental health issues at play.  I know enough to reference this for the posting.  I don't want to know anymore.

It's simply too difficult for me to process this kind of thing, at least now.

Speaking of now, I'd like to think of myself as a mentally tough individual, and perhaps that's true on most days and/or months.  It's certainly true some of the time, but even I can get overloaded when it comes to death and despair.  Since the passing of my brother, well, it feels as if my emotional bank account has been running at something of a deficit.  At most, I can feel deeply for the families of those who died in this story, including the perpetrator of this horrible crime.  It's easy to be angry at this young man...the perpetrator...but he was certainly someone who was suffering as well.

There is a kind of irony to this posting actually when you think about it:  I feel emotionally vacant at times, in part because of the death of my brother, and this young man was likely exploding with emotion such that he caused deaths.

A friend on Facebook posted an update related to those who suffer from mental health issues, which is certainly a right and noble thing to do in this circumstance.  It's that posting, and my reply to it, that drove me to this space.  My overwhelming thought?  There is just so much collateral damage that comes from dealing with mental illness, and true to form, the closer you are to it, the more damage it inflicts on you.  When you are in that circumstance it can become exceptionally difficult to know just what is the rational thing to do.  Logic and proportion fall sloppy dead*.  It's the ultimate puzzle full of pieces, some of them missing, and no picture on the box for guidance.

As I noted in my reply to that Facebook posting, my heart goes out to those suffering as a result of this horrible event.  May they eventually find some peace.




(*) With a nod to the Jefferson Airplane.


Sunday, June 4, 2017

A (Stern) Catholic Upbringing

I've had this posting in my head for a number of years, and for whatever reason, it's been percolating even more so lately.  That's probably a sign that I need to "work out the poison".  For the record, I write this as someone who probably owns more books on religion and religious thought that most non-clergy folks.

(A small sampling)

I mention my small book collection not because I want to impress...or whatever the opposite of impress is...anyone, but more so just to make a point, namely that I do think about the bigger things in life (this life and maybe the next one) often.  And I do seek answers, although I also confess that for the most part, my searching tends to yield more questions than anything else.

Much of how I see and seek things in the area of faith and religious thought comes from how I was raised.  My mother, born a Baptist (or so I believe) converted to Catholicism in the early 1960's.  While pretty busy as a poor single parent, she never the less insisted that her boys attend church ever Sunday.  We were also altar servers for many, many years, and three of us Albert boys attended a Catholic high school, more or less in spite of my mother's ability to actually pay for it.  From a religious formation perspective, I think we got the standard drill, or as Mother Angelica would later call it, "Catechesis".  For me, it was so well ingrained that I was able to become the president of the Catholic students group my senior year of college.  So where did things fall off the rails?

Thinking back to when I was far thinner (both in weight and in critical thinking skills), the over-riding word that would describe growing up Catholic was "stern".  In our parish, we had a stern older priest who didn't actually seem to like kids all that much.  The parishioners didn't seem to like kids all that much either.  I remember stern lectures from the pulpit about the noise made by kneelers going up at inappropriate times, about folks who would leave the church right after receiving communion, about countless other items.  For a church building that was actually (in hindsight) pretty beautiful from an aesthetic perspective, it was not such a beautiful place to be in, truth be told.

The standard rub you hear about Catholics, by the way, is that it's too much about rules and regulations.  A kind of "paint by numbers" mentality towards the hereafter, whereby if you just do the right things, if you go through the right motions, somehow your celestial punch-card will be sufficiently full as to allow you to sit on a cloud after you die.  I get that criticism, and on one level I even agree with it, but it was never the thing that really made my Catholic upbringing so unattractive in the rear-view mirror.  The retrospective has afforded me the luxury of seeing a much bigger paradox:  For a place that somehow celebrated a loving God, it was just not a very happy or loving place.  As I said, a stern place lead by a stern priest, and full of stern and unwelcoming people.  As a young kid, it wasn't shocking that I also viewed God in this kind of stern light.  Now I did meet more than a few wonderful priests both back and since then, but as a young kid, the happy and engaged priest was the exception, not the rule.

A byproduct of my Catholic upbringing was a kind of latent fear of being anything other than, well, a Catholic.  While I've always loved reading about other religious philosophies (as a teenager I read every single book the Scranton Public Library had on the Mormon Church), even as a kid I could never make the leap away from being a practicing Catholic.  I was in my 40's before I stopped going to church on a semi-regular basis.  Why then?  I suspect it was more to do with a lot of the pressures I had back then in my life, with the underlying nut being that this thing that was supposed to bring me comfort...namely a religious faith...didn't.  As I've written on the blog before, there was also the issue of divorce that I had to later contend with, but by the time that issue crept up in my life, well, the ship had already sailed.

There's been a lot written (including a very insightful Pew study you can link to HERE) that goes into detail about the decline of organized religion in the United States.  Maybe what I've written here is mirrored by others, and quite frankly I don't have the time or the energy to see if that's actually the case.  In a sense that line of thought really doesn't matter anyway, as while religion is a collective action, it is also inherently a deeply personal one as well.  My 40 years of trying to find at least one answer in the faith of my upbringing left my pretty empty handed, but certainly not bitter.  If anything, I have tremendous admiration for those that actually do find answers (or at least comfort) in their faith.  That's a super-power that I lack.

It would be easy from the above text to think that I'm angry or disillusioned with organized religion, but that's actually not the case.  In fact, I think I have more admiration for organized religion now than I ever had in the past.  While as a kid what I saw was a sea of sternness, now I actually know people that find answers and comfort in their faith, regardless of the actual faith (including Catholics).  That's a good thing.  Me?  I'm just going to keep reading.