Sunday, December 30, 2018

A Frozen Lake In Winter

A few pictures from our recent stay at the Ricketts Glen family cabins, a tradition of my wife's family.  The first three photos are of Lake Jean.




A rotting tree that just happens to also be making a face.

I've been going up "to the cabins" with my wife and her family for a number of years now.  The exact number of years escapes me, and Ms. Rivers for that matter.  The accounting though really doesn't matter all that much in the grand scheme of things.  What does matter is family, and I am eternally grateful to be a part of my wife's family.

So, what does one do in a place with no cell or Internet service in 2018?  Well for me, it was...

...about 5,000 words written.  Of that, maybe 2,000 are actually any good.

...several hikes in the "not too cold for this time of year" grounds of Ricketts Glen.

...finished reading Almost Everything:  Notes on Hope by Anne Lamott.  

...eating more cake than I should have.

...taking photographs (see above for a smattering).

...discussing all things corporate learning and HR metrics with my sister in law Julie.

...creating a new bill tracking spreadsheet for 2018.  I know, only I care about that.

...explaining the ins/outs of blogging to my mother-in-law, a published author.

...trying to figure out how to be both comfortable and warm in a cabin bunk bed.

...enjoying homemade bread created by my wife's sister's husband (my brother-in-law?).

...a drive to Benton, PA to shop in two antique stores; I bought a 40-year-old architect's scale.

...fishing a dropped prescription out from the dishwater.

...talking about our life in (real) retirement with Ms. Rivers.

...pondering life in 2019.


Happy New Year to one and all!


Thursday, December 27, 2018

Closing Out The (2018) Books

Closing out the books for 2018, thinking about what 2019 will bring.  While I'm short of specifics, I do know this:  The older I get, the more I realize that I really do have no clue what the new year will bring anyway.  Why bother trying then?  Because it's important to be more than just a spectator in life.

The above is not exactly profound, I give you that much, but as I've often times repeated in this corner of the Internet, it has the benefit of being true.  While just about every year I talk/think/write about new annual goals, for 2019 I'm going to go a bit more in the general department.  Why?  Well, for the most part, I suck stink at achieving the personal goals I set for myself (I am far, far better at my professional goals).  The logic defies me in some ways, as I always set detailed goals but then don't pay enough attention to them as the year progresses.  That's no doubt a manifestation of my interest in far too many things.

Anyway, as I think about the new year, three things do come to mind.

First, I need to focus on my health.  My whole health, as in physically, mentally and emotionally, mostly because I increasingly know that all three are connected anyway.  It's time to being more strategic when it comes to my own wellness.

Second, I need to re-focus some of my career energies.  While I loathe self-promotion, it's about time I stopped punching below my own weight class.

Third, I need to work at being happier.  There's simply no excuse for not being happier.  None. I simply have too many of the bases of life, such as an incredible partner, already covered.  Part of being happier will be finding ways to help others, be it personally or professionally.  And cats.  By the way, WebMD has 15 Steps to Becoming a Happier Person, for anyone looking for concrete suggestions (and cats, by the way, didn't make the list).

Grated that all three of the above are probably manifestations of the same underlying things.

I hope that you (who happen to be reading this) are thinking about what you want to accomplish in the new year as well.  My wish for you is that the new year brings challenges that are motivating, but not daunting.  I also hope that we can all find ways to rise above the fog of negativity that seems to be gripping our nation.

Lastly, thank you for reading my stuff throughout the year.  I appreciate your willingness to climb in what really is my head for a few minutes each week or so.  If I've provoked a thought or even mildly entertained, well, that's a good thing.  If not, well, I suggest you check out Andy Palumbo's blog instead.  He takes nice photographs.


Sunday, December 23, 2018

2018: What I've Learned

"Change is the end result of all true learning."
(Leo Buscaglia)


A few thoughts on what I've learned during 2018.

1.  The view may not always worth the hike.
In 2018 I earned a Master of Science degree as well as a senior Human Resources professional designation.  Yet try as I might to have some sense of pride or at least comfort in both, for the most part, what comes to mind is a kind of tired feeling.  I think about how draining the process of earning the degree was for me.  I sometimes now look back and wonder just how in the heck I managed, and whether or not I'd be able to do that again.  That's not a happy thought.

The silver lining:  I actually did it.  And did it very well.  There have been a few times when I've walked past my diploma and thought to myself "you've done well".  Maybe over time the "tired muscle memory" will fade.

2.  Sometimes the view really is worth the hike.
Especially when that hike is in Scandinavia.

(Bergen, Norway; July 2018)

See #5, below.

3.  We are all fully human.
All of us struggle.  I've experienced co-workers and family members struggle with stress and anxiety in 2018, more so than in prior years.  In fact, from a professional perspective, I don't ever recall seeing so many co-workers feeling so stressed in all of my working life.  There is no immunity for me when it comes to working struggles either, and as I reflect on the year, I've come to the conclusion that all of this may be for a reason.  Maybe 2018 is the ending act of something that started on October 13, 2016, for me (see THIS posting), a closing of a chapter that has to occur before a new chapter can begin.  Maybe this a transition time, a kind bridge between old and new lands.  Time will tell.

For my co-workers and family that are struggling at the moment, well, I know better days await them.  We all just need to keep moving forward, and remember the advice of the world's most famous fictional boxer:

"It ain't about how hard you hit.  It's about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward"

There's also never any shame in asking for HELP.

4.  Progress comes, but sometimes at a cost.
Smoking has been a big topic in the news this year, and there is really good "news":  The adult rate of smoking in the United States has continued to decrease, and I hope that it continues to drop.  Look, I realize that we all make bad choices, but those choices shouldn't result in a long, painful death (from, for example, lung cancer).

(from THIS page)

Dying of lung cancer is a horrible, horrible thing.  No one should have to experience such a thing, especially when it is the result of a personal choice...a choice that, in fact, has no real value.

Simply put, I really and truly wish that no one smoked.  While smoking rates have declined, 2018 saw the rise of a disturbing trend:  The surging use of electronic cigarettes and related devices among teenagers.
(From THIS article on Vox)

There is nothing redeeming about the use of nicotine, and while vaping is likely less damaging than smoking, it's just a higher tech way of addiction maintenance.  To me, it seems like a poor trade-off.

If you smoke, please stop.  If you vape, please at least wean yourself off of nicotine, which really is nothing more than a poison that also gets you high.

5.  My world got bigger.
See above; I don't think you can travel internationally and not be positively impacted by the experience.  In 2018 I got to visit the following countries:
  • Norway
  • Demark
  • Germany
  • Poland
  • Estonia
  • Russia
  • Finland
  • Sweden
The phrase "life-changing" doesn't give it justice.  You can read about my travels in a series of postings that start with THIS one.  Where do I go from here?  Well, likely we will be going to Scotland, maybe in 2020.  We shall see.  I wouldn't rule out a return trip to Norway or Sweden either.

6.  The negativity is like a toxic fog.
There is a kind of general negativity in the United States today that's unlike anything I've ever experienced before.  I'm not going to soil this blog by talking about national politics, but I will say this:  The country would be better served if the President of the United States simply stopped tweeting.

7.  Some take "servant" out of "public servants".
Some folks who are, in theory, public servants don't seem to understand what the combination of those two words actually means.  Nowhere is that truer than in the Scranton School District (SSD).  Case in point was the ridiculous decision on the part of the SSD Board to eliminate all of the district's librarians.  I wrote about this, and my recollections of Mrs. Golden, in THIS posting.  I'll note this for the record:  The SSD Board is grossly incompetent. While I don't wish to create any bad juju, I do hope that, at some point in 2019, the board is disbanded, the state Department of Education takes over, and at least some Directors are indicted on corruption charges.

A more current view of the SSD Board's latest foray into incompetent can be found HERE.

8.  The goodbyes may be coming more frequently.
The Bon Ton department store chain closed for good in 2018.  Before the final death knell, many of the chain's stores were closed, including one that I worked at up until 1988.  You can read about that experience HERE, and read about the final closing for the entire chain HERE.  When you get older, these kinds of transitions become more and more common.  To be blunt, you simply outlive people and things that have been a part of your life. 


9.  The emperor truly had no clothes.
The phrase "the wheels came off the bus" tends to be over-used, but I can think of few instances where it wasn't any truer than in the sexual abuse crisis facing the Catholic Church.  It wrote about that in THIS posting.  No one should be taking any glee out of the situation facing the Church, although there is something of a silver lining to the crisis in that even the most fervently conservative Catholics are now actively talking about how lay people need to take a larger leadership role in the Church.  That's a good thing and long overdue.  

There is a problem with the notion of larger lay participation in the Church though, in that the leadership (alone) of the Church gets to make up all of the rules.  And arbitrarily change the rules if it wants.  It truly is a case of a trial where the same person is the defendant, prosecutor, defense attorney, judge, and jury.  Call me skeptical when it comes to most Church reforms, which is truly sad given the many wonderful religious I have met in my lifetime.

10. Some things you just don't get over.
THIS posting.  Part of me feels, well, stupid.  I should just stop thinking about my brother Chris and just "get over it".  Another part of me, the smarter part of me (I think) knows that I wouldn't tell anyone else in a similar circumstance the same thing.  So, I'm not "getting over it".  I've given myself permission to embrace the grief.  


Sunday, December 16, 2018

Getting Ready for Christmas

My wife is equal parts impressed and (likely) disgusted by my organizational skills related to Christmas.  I can offer two examples:
  1. I buy presents months in advance.  This comes from times in the past when I simply didn't have an awful lot of money, so spreading out the cost of gift purchasing was a necessity.  
  2. I spreadsheet it all.  I maintain a year-over-year spreadsheet showing the gifts I buy for everyone, including their economic value(1).  I started doing this many, many years ago in order to make sure that, as I bought things for my daughters, they were all treated equitably.
Old habits are hard to break, which is why I still do these things.  What's more, I can see a point in the not-so-distant future when I scale my holiday organizational efforts back.  My life has been complicated enough, so why I continue to add to the burden, no matter how well-intentioned, is sometimes beyond me.

I just don't spreadsheet gifts for my daughters; the spreadsheet covers everyone.  I literally mean everyone.  Including people that aren't even with us anymore.


I had thought about modifying the spreadsheet to remove my late brother Chris' name, but I just don't have the heart to.  In fact, I get some sense of momentary pleasure to look back on the gifts I had given Chris over the years.  I always try to be very thoughtful about what I give to others; it's never about just gifts for the sake of gifts.  Getting back to my late brother, holidays were something of a difficult time for him in the two or three years prior to his death, as he would routinely just not show up for the Christmas dinner I would host, in spite of assurances to the contrary.  He would inevitably come up with an explanation after the fact, but the reality in hindsight (although suspected in real-time) was that he just wasn't well, and his abuse of things made going anywhere or doing anything just about impossible.  I know this was especially true at Christmas, which I know is a particularly hard time for those who struggle.  Anyway, as long as the spreadsheet exists, Chris' name will remain in column I, even though the cells will be sadly empty.

Christmas this year just isn't about the things on the outside.  Case in point:  I have a nasty habit of allowing things in my outside world (work and other pressures, as examples) to intrude into my inner world.  Christmas doesn't get a special pass when it comes to that stuff either.  This year I have three more specific things that are pinging around in my head like so many stray nuts and bolts placed in the fender of a mid-70's Chrysler(2).  The specifics of the specific things aren't important and they don't really add to this narrative, so cryptic I will remain.  Suffice to say, I'm trying to keep things in balance.

Part of keeping this in balance, at least for me, is having a plan.  The late Dr. Gordon Livingston(3) once said that there are three keys to happiness:
  1. Something to do
  2. Someone to love
  3. Something to look forward to
Planning, for me, takes care of items 1 and 3.  I can honestly say that I have item #2 covered, a fact for which I am truly blessed.  I do, however, need to plan...and act...more.  Case in point:  I read quite a bit about the benefits of disconnecting from things like social media, at least for some time frame, but I don't think that would work for me.  I can, however, make some small changes, including moving my cell phone off of my nightstand and into my office.

Finally, there's also some benefit for all of us in taking stock of the year as 2018 rolls into 2019.  One of the things that this far-too-fast-paced world takes away from us, as we instantly react to various sundry tweets and cat videos, is the time to really reflect on who we are, and what we're doing.  This is important because we can't know where we are going if we don't know from whence we start, and there are a lot of places we all can be going to in the months and years to come.

Here's to a quick Christmas sprint.



(1) Economic value is, by definition, more or less what someone is willing to pay for something.  From a practical standpoint, in this case, it's what something is worth, not necessarily what I paid for it.  For example, if I buy something that costs $75 but it is normally priced at $100, the value for purposes of equitability is $100, not $75.  I do, by the way, realize that this explanation is just about the least Christmas-y thing you will read all day today.

(2) Urban legend (likely based on fact):  Apparently as a way to show displeasure with their labor contracts or, just because they could, American auto workers would put random things in the cars they were building.  If you ever had a 70's or earlier vintage American car, you know full well some of the quality "challenges" that came with the vehicles.

(3) If I had to recommend just one book to anyone, it would be Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart by Dr. Livingston.


Sunday, December 9, 2018

Grapefruit League

(Photo from Health.com)

I love grapefruit, which may come as a surprise to some, given the fact that I have the eating habits of a five-year-old.  Grapefruit though was something I grew up eating.  For the young Albert boys, it was bordering on an exotic fruit, given the limited food options (based on my mother's sensibilities) we had growing up.  With the previous three sentences noted, the last grapefruit I had was in early 2016.

It was in January of 2016 that I was diagnosed with a medical condition that necessitated my taking a medication that interacts poorly with grapefruit.  To the uninitiated, the seemingly kind and gentle grapefruit interacts with a ton of medications.  Don't believe me?  Check out THIS LIST.  It's kind of like discovering that your kind and gentle Uncle actually works for the CIA, interrogating suspected terrorists, or something along those lines.  I never had an uncle like that, but I have definitely missed eating (red) grapefruit.

Jumping back to the present day, actually this past Wednesday to be exact, I was feeling normal.  As in fine.  Outside of a challenging early afternoon phone conversation, the day was even going remarkably okay.  By later on in the work day, well, I started to feel a bit off.  What transpired next isn't suitable for my PG-rated blog, but here's a good-but-sufficiently-nebulous description for you:  "My body + Wes Craven Horror Movie".  At this point, I have to give my doctor's office, at Geisinger Mount Pleasant, tons of well-deserved credit:  I called the office and they were extraordinarily helpful, postulating on what likely was happening and providing good advice.  They also got me in to see my primary care physician the next day, which is nothing short of a small miracle in this day and age.  Two sets of blood tests and a doctor visit later and the jury is still somewhat out in terms of what is actually going on within my entrails, but I can gladly report that I feel fine.  More tests are likely needed, and I've run out of arms from which to draw blood, but I'm sure the good folks at Geisinger will figure that part out.

There is a silver lining to all of this:  I can eat grapefruit again, I think.  The medication that apparently offended the grapefruit gods has been removed from my daily intake, as it was making what happened above (i.e. Wes Craven Horror Movie) a lot worse.  The replacement medication I will be taking gets along much better with grapefruit. 


Friday was a day off, and outside of my doctor checking in with me, I spent the day shopping with Ms. Rivers.  Our final stop?  The grocery store.  I bought two grapefruits.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

The Scranton School Board: Yes, It Can Get Worse

Apparently, the individuals who are responsible for solving the Scranton School District's significant fiscal and educational issues had trouble even agreeing on who should be in charge.  See THIS article.

"The annual reorganization meeting, where directors elect leaders for the following year, included five nominations for president. After directors tried to beat each other by shouting out nominations first..."

Yes, they can't even effectively organize themselves.

It's a mistake to minimize this story as being "that's just how these things go" or "you don't understand the process"; the Scranton School District is insolvent right at this very moment.  This is an emergency, decades in the making.  The Board doesn't have the luxury of, to be crude for a moment, "pissing contests" over who gets what title.  This is akin to the officers of the Titanic arguing over who gets to wear what hat while the ship itself is sinking.

(from THIS page)

The taxpayers deserve better than this, but then again it's been the taxpayers who have elected successive and incredibly unqualified board members in the past.  While there has been some hope that new members would bring a degree of professionalism to the board, I can't get over the whole "...tried to beat each other by shouting..." aspect of this circus.  This is service to one's self...at the expense of the greater good...at it's very worst.

Will it get worse?  Yes, it will. 

Sunday, December 2, 2018

A List of 8 Things that Need to End

In no particular order.
  1. Twitter Articles.  I don't mean articles about Twitter, but rather articles from (in theory) legitimate news sources that consist of 20%-60%+ Twitter quotes.  I've literally seen articles that had something like two paragraphs of real content followed by dozens of Twitter references.  This is lazy journalism at its very worst.
    1. Devaluing Work.  "She's just a waitress" (something I overheard not that long ago).  It's time we stop, as a society, stratifying work by our perception of its monetary value.  Want to know who the hardest working folks I know are?  That would be anyone in a Call Center, Waiters/Waitresses, and most folks working at any Dunkin Donuts.  All hard work is noble.  The most valuable person in the world isn't Jeff Bezos or some Walton next of kin, it's a plumber when you have a furnace emergency in January.  We need to stop celebrating athletes (who are just entertainers playing a game) and the rich/famous for no reason (Kardashians, for example) and start recognizing the folks on the front-lines of the economy.  Oh, one more thing:  The default tip in a restaurant should be 20%.
    2. Facebook's Monopoly.  I noted this in another posting as well.  Facebook has simply grown too large, it has become too influential, and some of its practices are questionable at best (current reference HERE).  That noted, it's too late to turn back the clock on social media, as it's not an important part of the lives of many.  Where are the alternatives?  I've done some research, but nothing stands out. 
    3. Manufactured Election Hot Button Issues (that die out the next day).  This one is self-explanatory, but I'll offer an example...transgender bathroom scares.  Yes, nothing gets the professionally paranoid more riled up than talk about men using the ladies bathroom.  Personally, I don't care what bathroom anyone uses, just as long as they wash their hands and clean up after themselves.  In fact, in Sweden, some of the bathrooms are gender neutral; think "all stalls".  Anyway, the louder a politician yells about an issue right before an election, the more we should hold them (and their issue) in suspect.
    4. Insignificant Penalties for Animal Abusers.  Anyone who is cruel to an animal can very likely be cruel to a fellow human.  Now I'm not suggesting life in prison for killing a dog (for example), but I am suggesting real jail time, not a fine and a promise to be good next time around.  I'll note that I was once called "stupid" or something like that by a fellow commentator on a Scranton Times article.  Of course, that commentator was posting under a pseudonym.  Which brings me to...
    5. Anonymous On-Line Commentators.  Few things in this world are more pathetic than anonymous keyboard commandos.  The Scranton Times is full of them.  As a matter of fact, when it comes to the Scranton Times online edition and regular story commentators, I'm one of two who posts under his/her own name, which is kind of ridiculous.  
    6. Shopping on Thanksgiving, a.k.a. "Let us give thanks for greed".  There is no legitimate reason why a retail store should be open on Thanksgiving Day.  None.  Zero.  Why is it so difficult to put greed aside for one day in this country in order to allow the families of retail workers to celebrate Thanksgiving together?  You can find a list of stores that were both open and closed this past Thanksgiving HERE
    7. Expensive Engagement Rings.  You can find an interesting article on this topic HERE (Sometimes the younger generations get it right).  Look, if money is no object to you and you want to get an expensive engagement ring, well, more power to you.  However, that's not reality for most folks, and the money spent on an expensive ring could be used for so many different and more important things.  The whole custom was concocted by as a way to sell more diamonds (reference HERE) anyway.  

    Sunday, November 25, 2018

    Road Apples, #176

    A Memorable Thanksgiving...Thanksgiving should always be memorable, mostly because we get to spend it with family and friends.  That was true for this me this year, but with an added twist:  We had a flying squirrel visit us for Thanksgiving.  By way of background, we had a large Thanksgiving dinner in Jenkintown, Pennsylvania with my wife's family.  The actual festivities were held at a beautiful old church hall that my father-in-law (a retired Episcopal priest) was able to procure due to his having previously acted as a temporary pastor.  Anyway, after much chasing and general Keystone Cops-esque tomfoolery, our visitor was safely captured and returned to the wilds of Jenkintown.

    (Photo courtesy of my sister-in-law Julie's Facebook feed)


    Hopefully, our little friend will go about what flying squirrels normally do and avoid church halls in the future.

    Bohemian Rhapsody...We saw the Queen movie Bohemian Rhapsody on Friday night, and it did not disappoint.  In fact, if you are even remotely familiar with the band's music, I'd highly recommend that you take the time to see the movie.  A lot of great stuff is being said about the lead actor, Rami Malek, and all of it is deserved.  I will note though the actor who played Brian May, Gwilym Lee, was uncanny in his resemblance to the guitarist.

    I know there has been some backlash centering around how the movie treated Freddie Mercury's sexuality (see THIS article as an example), but it seemed to me that the film made a very reasonable attempt to show Freddie Mercury as the complex individual he likely was.  While I can't relate to his sexuality, I can absolutely relate to being someone who is wildly uncomfortable in personal interactions but very comfortable and confident when on a stage (in my case, in front of a classroom).  In any event, Freddie Mercury was a son, a cat-person, a rock icon, a loyal friend, a lover and many other things, all of which the movie tried to show in the course of fewer than two hours...and I think they did a great job. 

    Christmas Shopping...It's only a few days after Thanksgiving and, as usual, I am almost completely done with my Christmas shopping.  Now lest anything think that this is because I am masterful at planning (well, actually, I'm pretty good it), the reasoning behind my holiday buying habit is far more practical:  For a long time I basically didn't have enough money to buy all the presents I wanted to get for others, so I had to start shopping very early (typically in the summer) and buy a little over time.  I may not have that underlying need now, but the practice continues.

    Bombas...I admire businesses that give back to the world in a significant way.  One such company is Bombas, a company that makes and sells socks.  You can read more about them HERE.  For every pair of socks you buy from Bombas, they donate a better pair to a homeless shelter.  I've purchased a number of socks from myself from Bombas, and they make a great product. The fact that they help others in the process is all the better. 

    October (in the rear-view mirror)...October is the worst month of the year for me.  Always has been, always likely will be.  Looking back on last month, October once again delivered fully on its reputation.  There is a larger post on this topic that's to be written but suffice to say I got through it, and maybe for the better.  The odd thing is that there was just one part of the month that was particularly challenging for me, but other parts were actually very enjoyable.  

    Self-Checkouts Are Horrible...Don't use self-checkouts. Just don't.  They seem to me to be just another example of how some retailers are trying to further de-humanize retail, squeezing even more profits out by reducing entry-level jobs.  I'm not the only one who feels this way; see THIS article.


    To end this on a high note...


    Thursday, November 22, 2018

    Giving Thanks

    We all have reasons to be thankful.  All of us.  I get it though...at times things become difficult and the pressures mount; things don't work out for us, and the future looks more cloudy than clear.  I've been there, by the way, in more ways than I care to mention in a posting about gratitude.  However, while we live and breathe there is always a reason to stop, reflect, and be thankful for the precious life we have been given.

    Here are a few things I am thankful for in my life.

    The gift of being a father.  
    Anyone who meets me for the first time knows that it takes exactly zero encouragement to get me to talk about how proud I am of my daughters, and how blessed I am to have two wonderful stepsons.  If I were to die tomorrow, the very best thing anyone could say about me was that "Steve was a good Dad", and that would be enough.

    The gift of my wife.
    My wife, also known in these posts as "Ms. Rivers" literally saved my life.  Just when it seemed that almost everything in my life was falling apart, when I was at my very lowest, she was there to help pick up the pieces and help me build a brand new life.  She was also my Master's degree research paper editor, is my fashion consultant, health advisor, and person who makes me optimistic about the future.

    The gift of my family.
    I value family now more than I ever have in the past.  That's not to say I am actually good at things like staying in touch, but I am trying to do better.  The fact that I was able to spend time with my adopted-through-marriage family this past summer is just an example of how important and enriching family connections can be for all of us.  

    The gift of friendship.
    I am not an out-going kind of person, and while I've learned professionally to talk to just about anyone, I don't have a ton of people I would call actual "friends".  Those who I do consider my friend though are important to me, and they help me in ways they probably don't understand.  I hope I return the favor every once in a while as well.

    The gift of my health.
    Look, when the personal odometer starts to get extra mileage on it, well, some parts start to wear.  That's as true for cars as it is for me, as it is everyone else.  I'm lucky though in that there is nothing I am facing with my health that isn't treatable, and there is nothing that limits what I can do in my life.  Thank you to all of the professionals that help me stay healthy, both physically and mentally.

    The gift of learning.
    I am thankful that I am still inquisitive, that I am still learning new things, that I still find things in the world to explore.  There is never an excuse for me to be bored.


    I can also add, as a final note of sort, the gift of laughter.


    "As God as my witness, I thought turkeys could fly..."

    Happy Thanksgiving to one and all.

    Tuesday, November 20, 2018

    When Protection Is Needed From Protectors

    I have the utmost respect for the police.  No one else in civilian life puts their life literally on the line every single day they go to work, and for that, they deserve our respect.  It's with that in mind that stories such as this...


    ...are particularly troubling.  It seems readily apparent, at least from the article, that the young lady in question was assaulted, in public, by an off-duty police officer.  The fact that the assailant is a police officer, by the way, is very relevant in this case.  We have to hold police officers to the highest possible standards of conduct precisely because of the respect they deserve.  The badge is diminished, needlessly so, whenever an officer fails to live up to what are basic standards of conduct and decency, such as by punching a wall and grabbing your partner's arm so hard that it leaves a bruise (refer to this public social media posting by the victim).

    Then we have the response by the officer's attorney (from the above-referenced article)

    “These are mere allegations which he takes very seriously. [name] is presumed innocent and is looking to appropriately addressing these allegations in court.”

    My hope is that "appropriately addressing these allegations" doesn't involve any kind of implication that the victim somehow "had it coming".  While I'll give the defense attorney the benefit of the doubt, the reality is that far too often someone is victimized twice in cases such as this:  Once during the original assault(s) and then in court.

    No one "deserves" to be manhandled like a like a calf at a rodeo.  No one deserves to live in fear that they will not be believed because of the fact that their abuser holds a position of public trust.  No one is responsible for the (alleged) substance abuse and anger management issues of another.

    My hope is that the young lady in question moves on with her life.  Based on her posting (see above), she seems to be on track to do just that, at least for now.  Life is far too short and far too precious to live in fear.

    My hope for the officer in question is that he gets the help he deserves.  Yes, that he deserves for all of those times he has put his life on the line in service of the public.   Until then though, he shouldn't be wearing the badge that represents so very much, including the protection of others.


    Sunday, November 18, 2018

    Old Facebook Photographs

    Facebook has simply grown too large, it has become too influential, and some of its practices are questionable at best (current reference HERE).  That noted, it's too late to turn back the clock on social media, as it's really become an important part many lives.  Where are the alternatives?  I've done some research, but nothing stands out. 

    Anyway, I was looking over some old photos I've posted on Facebook over the years.  There were a few that brought back some memories and others that are just good photographs.  Here are a few I'd like to share.

    Posted in 2013:  Pretty much the only photograph I have of my mother smiling.  This photograph was probably taken in the late 1950's.  I posted it shortly after she passed away.

    Posted in 2013:  Eastern State Penitentiary, in Philadelphia.  This was an intriguing place, and I took a ton of photographs.  You can learn more about Eastern State Penitentiary HERE.

    Posted in 2012:  My 1974 Chrysler Newport, parked at my apartment at Meade Heights, Penn State Harrisburg, in 1985-1986.  I loved that car, in spite of the less than 10mpg I would get in local driving.  The car literally died as soon as I got home from my last trip back from college in 1986.

    Posted in 2010:  A church being remodeled in Pittsburgh.  I love this photo, in spite of the obnoxious overhead wires.  I don't normally shoot photographs in black and white, but this one really worked.

    Posted in 2010:  A hawk sitting on a branch at Lake Scranton.  I was walking around the lake right after a rainstorm, and this beautiful creature was sitting on a branch about 20 feet away from me.  My wife loves this photograph so much that she had it printed and framed, where it hangs in our dining room.

    Posted in 2010:  A salamander at Lake Scranton.  I took this during the same walk where I took the hawk photograph.  I love the contrasting color of the salamander and the dark soil.

    Posted in 2009: Me at college in 1984.  This was taken in Wrisberg Hall dormitory by a fellow student who was taking a photography class.  I had built a wall of stereo equipment because of the fact that room-mate seemed a bit, well, unstable.   This is one of two photographs in the posting that I did not take.

    Posted in 2009:  One of the best photographs I have ever taken.  The location was the Kinzua Dam.

    Sunday, November 11, 2018

    My Brother, the Veteran

    (Chris and Steve, somewhere in the late 70's)

    In the year before he passed away, my younger brother Chris would occasionally tell me about some of his experiences serving in the United States Navy.  He was a "Hospital Corpsman"(1), serving at Norfolk, Virginia, and Camp Lejeune, North Carolina(2).  These were never pleasant conversations.  Now I'm not sure what role medication(3) played in these conversations, but I always did my best to listen to Chris, because clearly, there were things he experienced that deeply troubled him.  For the record, I'm not going to comment on what he told me, mostly because that doesn't really matter in the context of this story.  What does matter is the fact the served and that service changed him.

    As I've noted several times over the years, I did not serve in the military.  That was, in sense, an example of privilege on my part.  Now we like to talk in this country about the "privilege" of military service, but I think that's a misplaced sentiment.  I didn't have to serve precisely because so many in the United States, like my brother Chris, voluntarily served.  They paid a debt so that the rest of us didn't have to.  More than anything else, that's what I think Veterans Day is really all about: Some small repayment towards a debt that will forever be outstanding.

    Now we all make big decisions in life, decisions that change us at some basic level.  Sometimes those decisions are more a function of a default than anything else(4).  Sometimes those decisions are really and truly a matter of choice.  My brother Chris' service in the United States Navy was truly a matter of choice.  He simply did not have to serve in the military, but I don't think he knew what else he could or should do after graduating from high school.  He was also desperate to get out in the world, to see what was beyond the confines of Scranton, Pennsylvania.  Granted that the stories of debauchery, as told to him by the Navy recruiter, probably helped Chris make the decision.  Regardless of the motivation though, the two things that Chris was the proudest of in his life was his daughter Miranda and his service in the United States Navy. 

    Back to the subject of service and change.  The first time I saw Chris after he joined the Navy he was truly a changed man.  I envied him.  He was confident.  His life was together.  I think that he found the discipline of military life beneficial.  While Chris was a smart guy, prior to his military service he was wildly undisciplined, which caused tremendous tension between him and our mother (someone who valued discipline over about just about everything else).  That tension never really disappeared throughout his life though.  I think that the military also gave him a kind of purpose in life that, outside of being a father, he never seemed to have again.  More than anything else though, I think that Chris' military service gave him an identity that he carried forward to the end of this life.


    I am glad that his identity as a veteran is a part of this final resting place.

    Rest in Peace Sailor.

    * * * * * *

    (1) I always thought it was "Med Corpsman", but the Internet seems to disagree; citation HERE.
    (2) In support of the United States Marine Corps.  
    (3) Prescribed or otherwise.
    (4) "If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice" - Rush


    Monday, November 5, 2018

    VOTE

    Vote on Election Day, Tuesday, November 6th because...

    ...the politically powerful count on you not voting

    ...voting is a protected right under our Constitution

    ...by not voting, you're allowing others to decide your fate

    ...so many have fought and died to give you this right

    ...big political contributors have too much influence 

    ...we can do better

    ...the richest and the poorest are all equal at the voting booth

    ...it's time for a change

    ...no President of either party should be above checks & balances

    ...you can say no to fear and hate

    ...it offers the smallest investment/biggest return available

    ...well-off old white guys shouldn't make all the rules

    ...you get the government you vote (or don't vote) for

    ...no one has to know who you voted for anyway

    ...politicians lie to you and think you're too stupid to notice

    ...your one vote literally could change history



    I truly believe that, as a nation, we are at a crossroads:  Do we choose fear and xenophobia, or do we choose to believe that we can do better?  This is above and beyond politics; it's about who we are as human beings and what kind of nations we choose to call home.  

    Please vote in tomorrow's election.  If you haven't voted in a while don't worry...just show up and the poll workers will help you.  Vote because you...and your vote...and our nation...matter now more than ever.

    Sunday, November 4, 2018

    A Weekend Pause

    On the road in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

    Ms. Rivers and I usually go away for a weekend in the Fall.  Nowhere fancy mind you...the basic rules are that it's for a weekend and it has to be within driving distance.  The allure of air travel has long expired for both of us, and there are simply too many other things going on, making anything longer than a weekend impractical at best.  That latter point is one of the many things Ms. Rivers and I have in common:  Am almost ceaseless list of things we want to accomplish.

    This weekend's trip was decided in theory a few months ago and decided in practice last Monday.  That's how this stuff rolls sometimes.  We choose Lancaster because, well, because it's Lancaster.  I've also only been to Lancaster once before.  That trip was in 1987, and I drove with my fellow Maxwell's buyers to get a train to New York City in Lancaster.  Suffice to say, I didn't see all that much.  For the record, at the time I lived in York, which is something of a slightly smaller sister city to Lancaster, but without some of the charm the Red Rose City enjoys.

    Timing is everything.

    I really needed this trip.  Really and truly.  This should be one of the best times of my life, yet I've been fairly unsettled for a while now.  In life perspective is everything, so what better way to gain perspective than a temporary change in scenery?  While Lancaster has had its share of problems over the years, beautiful scenery isn't among its challenges.  This is a beautiful place, and the thought of living somewhere that afforded the ability to walk to a farmer's market for fresh food is alluring.  Ms. Rivers and I have spent more than a few minutes over the past months and years thinking about where we'd like to live our retirement years.  Decisions are still pending.

    Glassworks.

    We spent late morning and most of the afternoon on Saturday wandering about downtown Lancaster.  The city has a wonderful farmer's market and tons of small shops that remind you of Philadelphia, all be it on a smaller scale.  One such place we stopped was Art & Glassworks.


    Walking into the shop, the first thing Ms. Rivers noticed was all of the beautiful glass the shop had on display.  The first thing I noticed?  That would be Nicky.  You see, Nicky is a 19-year-old male cat that keeps watch over the shop.  Nicky and I spent about 5 minutes getting acquainted as Ms. Rivers attended to more serious shopping business.  Any business that has a cat is worth patronizing in my book, so if you are ever in Lancaster (either at their stand in the Farmer's Market or at their store) please visit Art & Glassworks.  And pet Nicky for me.  He's a good cat.  I'll also note that, in addition to petting a cat, we did get some shopping done, so it was a win for both Nicky and the shop owner.

    Jesus was not live on stage.


    We picked this pamphlet up at the hotel(*), and I thought it was almost bizarrely funny.  Now I know from a Facebook posting that others have actually seen this show and enjoyed it.  However, I just think it's a bit odd to claim that Jesus is "live, on stage".  If, in fact, Jesus was live, I would hope that it wouldn't be on a sage in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.  There's a lot of bad stuff happening in this country at the moment, and if there is such a thing as divine intervention, well, we could use a little bit of it right here and now.  We are truly an un-tended flock at the moment.

    The Last Sears?

    On the slow road back home, we stopped at a mall in Lancaster, and low and behold there was a functional Sears.


    I'm not sure how many of these are actually left but suffice to say the answer is somewhere between "few" and "not many".  As a sign of just how dismal the whole situation is, we could have waited about 14 minutes for the store to open, but we thought "Meh, why bother?".  That pretty much sums up Sears.

    The Final Stop.

    The final stop on the drive home was the National Civil War Museum in Harrisburg.  The stop itself was figured out this morning, mostly based on the intricate science of "well, why not?".  Nice place. 


    Walking through the museum I was reminded of what this country has been through, and likely what it still has to go through.  In spite of a bloody war and over a hundred years of time passages, some of those old wounds have yet to heal.  Let's hope it doesn't take another war for us to find our "better angels".

    * * * * * *

    (*) We stayed at the Cork Factory Hotel on New Holland Avenue in Lancaster.  Overall it was a nice place, but apparently, it does a very robust wedding business.  That's good for the hotel, but not necessarily good for the other guests who can't find parking or a table for dinner.  Speaking of dinner, we needed reservations to eat at the hotel's restaurant.  Now I've stayed at some fancy hotels over 30 or so years, but I can't recall a lone hotel restaurant that required reservations.  If you want to get married in Lancaster you should check the hotel out.  If you just want a weekend getaway?  Well, better not make that in June.



    Saturday, October 27, 2018

    10 Years of Stuff: A Blog-O-Versary


    I started writing on this blog 10 years ago on October 27, 2008.  Just in case I would forget, the above is what I have Dymo tagged to the top of my home computer monitor.

    In thinking about what to say in this posting, one thought that occurred to me was this:  In terms of things I've been doing in my life (outside of biological imperatives, parenthood, etc.), the blog is really the second longest vocation I've ever had.  That says a lot, I think.

    Anyway, I'd like to tell you interesting and inspirational stories related to the blog, but that even bores me, so I won't.  In fact, I've never tried to be interesting or inspirational in this space;  instead, I'll save the interesting and inspirational stuff to professionals.  For me, the "gladly amateur blogging state" is good enough.  That's not to say that there isn't anything to tell at the ten-year mark.  To that point, here are a few road apples.

    The most popular posting I've ever written...
    ...is about radio commentator, (hopefully) recovered drug addict, and thrice-married ladies man Rush Limbaugh.  You can read the posting entitled Rush Limbaugh Audience Demographics, HERE.  Why has that posting been so popular?  Well, my number one source of traffic is google.com, and I suspect that the (hopefully) former drug addict (I'm not making the drug addict thing up...citation HERE) is a popular search topic.  I also suspect that many who landed on my posting were very disappointed at what they found.


    The most interesting comment I've ever received...
    ...was a death threat.  I'd show it to you, but I think it's been long deleted.  Anyway, someone didn't appreciate the observation that using "Southern Heritage" to justify the display of the Confederate battle flag is basically the same as using "German Heritage" to explain away the display of a swastika (original posting HERE).  Here's the offending graphic I created.
    The ball is in your court, Cletus.

    The easiest postings to write are...
    ...none, at least not by category or subject.  Some posting just seem to flow out, others have to be forced out, kicking and screaming.  Some postings can take a year to write from original idea to finally hitting the publish button.

    The most difficult postings to write are...
    ...about politics.  This is why I don't post much on that subject.  The country has gone to a very dark place, and while I'm happy to taunt racists and their sympathizers (see above), there's too much "you are evil because you don't believe in ____________" these days.  It's just not worth it.

    The best part about writing a blog is...
    ...the abundance of "blog groupies".  I'm just kidding, and the very idea is only slightly more absurd than claiming the existence of "Dungeons and Dragons groupies" or "a Scranton School District anti-Nepotism policy".

    Actually, the best part about writing the blog, at least for me now, is the fact that over the course of 10 years I actually have something that may outlive me, something that someone can go back to and say "that was Steve Albert".  It's not a bad feeling actually.

    The worst part about writing a blog is...
    ...the guilt I feel when I don't post something at least once a week.  That is the serious, actual answer.

    The number of postings I have published is...
    ...currently 1940, with 87 postings in draft form.

    Just to take this a bit further, the most productive blogging year I have had was 2010, which yielded 411 published postings.  The least productive was 2017, with 82 postings.

    The number of "hits" the blog gets is...
    ...something I am not going to share.  Why?  Because this isn't about "hits" or competing for an audience or any of that nonsense.  I compete against no one, and quite frankly, I'm happy if one person other than me actually reads this stuff.  I will say this though: The site average between 4,000 to 6,000 page views per month.

    Life in October 2008 was...
    ...pretty different than now and difficult.  This isn't to say that the world for me is now sunshine, smiles, rainbows, and kittens, but it is certainly a different world.  I began the blog in part as a way to maybe process out-loud some of what was running through my head.  Some of that stuff was pretty visceral, as evidenced particularly by the postings from late 2010.  The blog has been, in a way, a kind of therapy sometimes needed more times than others.

    Speaking of "sometimes", sometimes the best way to denote the passage of time is to think about major life events, and this blog is full of them.  Between getting divorced, the death of my mother, having an angel appear in my life just at the right time...

    (October 2012; one of my favorite pictures of Ms. Rivers)

    ...and the death of my brother Chris, there's a story in all of these 1940 postings.

    The posting I am the proudest of...
    ...is the one that I wrote about my brother Chris; you can read it HERE.

    In the clearing stands a boxer
    And a fighter by his trade
    And he carries the reminders
    Of every glove that laid him down
    And cut him till he cried out
    In his anger and his shame
    "I am leaving, I am leaving"
    But the fighter still remains
    (Paul Simon, The Boxer)

    In a way, I still can't believe he's gone.

    What I've got planned for the future is...
    ...unsure.  I do know that I still enjoy writing, so it's unlikely I'll be closing up the blogging shop (like so many local bloggers have) any time soon.  Talk about things like fate, destiny. etc. are basically above my pay-grade, so I'm not going to claim any kind of manifest destiny for the blog or for me.  I also know that life in 2028 will likely be far different for me than it is in 2018 so there will be more stories to write, more angst to expel, more draft postings to get moldy, and more surprises at just what some folks find interesting.

    The closest I can get to describing how I feel about the blog comes from a song called "The Guitar Man", written by David Gates.  While Mr. Gates' toenail clipping have more talent than I do, the underlying thought of just having to "play" (or in my case, "write") seems to be appropriate.


    Thanks for reading.




    Sunday, October 21, 2018

    The Ritual of the Hike

    Humans are hard-wired to favor rituals.  Predictability in our environment and actions calms our deep reptile fight or flight brains.  We feel somehow safer and more secure when we can anticipate and participate in that which is familiar.  With that science in mind(1), yesterday was part of a ritual for me:  The annual hike up Ricketts Glen State Park(2) with my mother-in-law.

    I'll spare the deep philosophy on this one, and instead simply focus on the beauty of the experience.  If you live in Pennsylvania and have never been to Ricketts Glen, well, put it on your bucket list.  It's a real, genuine treasure. 

    By way of staging, my mother-in-law and I hike up to the top of the park from the parking lot at its base.  There are two major trails to choose from, the Falls or the Bulldozer, and we've alternated from year to year.  Both trails start and end around the same place, and both can be a bit of a challenge when walking up, although I personally find the Bulldozer trail to be a bit more taxing.  This year we took the Falls trail, although I suspect future October hikes will almost always be on Bulldozer trail, mostly because it involves less climbing over and through rocks.

    Anyway, enough of me, and on to the visuals.

    At the beginning of the Falls trail.

    Moss on a log.

    Steps made from rocks.

    Waterfalls...of which there are many.

    Some of the waterfalls less dramatic, but never the less still beautiful. 

    One of the better shots I took.

    Orange mushrooms on an exposed tree root.

    On a final note, one of the best parts of this annual event is the fact that I get to spend time with my mother-in-law, Elizabeth Rivers.  In addition to being a dedicated hiker, she's also a published author(3) who has a new book of poetry that will be released in the not too distant future.  It's rewarding to know that, even in my 50's, there are still people who inspire me.


    * * * * * *


    (1) See https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/why-rituals-work/

    (2) You can read more about Ricketts Glen at - https://www.dcnr.pa.gov/StateParks/FindAPark/RickettsGlenStatePark/Pages/default.aspx

    (3) Find her book on Amazon at -
    https://www.amazon.com/Colors-Universe-Elizabeth-Rivers/dp/061575743X/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1540148263&sr=1-1&keywords=colors+of+the+universe%2C+elizabeth+rivers



    Saturday, October 13, 2018

    What They Don't Tell You About Getting Older

    WebMD has a terrific service whereby they send you educational quizzes and slideshows on health-related topics.  It's well worth subscribing to, even if you're just casually interested in being healthier.  A recent topic is entitled "14 Surprising Facts About Getting Older".  I haven't looked at it yet, and likely won't until after I'm done with this posting.  It will be interesting to compare notes, eventually.

    Anyway, here is my listing of things they (whoever "they" are) don't tell you about getting older.

    Item #1:  With Age Comes (Some) Wisdom
    I don't feel "old smart" yet.  In fact, I'm not sure how much smarter I am now than I was, say, 10 years ago.  Rather than smarts, I think what you gain with age is an experience.  You simply live through more stuff and provided that such things don't drive you insane, well, you're able to somehow leverage it for the better. 

    Item #2:  You May Outlive People You Care About
    I have a confidant that tells me that losing a sibling is like joining a kind of exclusive club, although it's a club you really don't want to join.  As some may know, I lost my younger brother in January 2017.  I do think about him often, and, well, I'm not sure I will ever be "over it".  At one point in time in my life, I would wonder how some folks just seem to hang on to grief for what seems like so very long.  Now I know.

    (Albert Boys, August 1970:  Chris, Steve, Rich & Joe)

    Fun fact:  The very first thing my brother Chris said to my (now) wife Chris was, in fact, a midget joke.  With apologies for the use of the word "midget".  Yes, that was my brother Chris.  Not to be outdone, the first thing wife's Dad (an Episcopal priest), along with her Uncle Dick (a retired corporate lawyer), ever said to me was a Dolly Parton joke.

    Item #3:  Pain
    Some things just are physically painful when you get older.  Osteoarthritis is something that just seems to happen as a result of an active life, and I've had, to date, an active life.  In my case, it's in my right big toe.  So if you see me walking funny, well, that's why, although it does somewhat look like I am interviewing for a position at the Ministry of Silly Walks.


    Item #4:  You Get Tired
    I just get tired more easily.  It's as if in my head I'm still 25 years old, but the physical machinery, well, that's a bit older.  It would probably help if I slept better, but alas, sleep and I don't have a very good relationship.

    Item #5:  You Think About Things (you never would think about before)
    N.B.:  I am healthy and not going anywhere.

    The above noted, as I've gotten older, I've actually thought about my own funeral, burial, etc.  In fact, one of these days I'm actually going to write stuff down.  Be forewarned, as this might be the first funeral ever to feature ABBA.

    Item #6:  Some Things Don't Change...
    When I think back to where my head was, say, in my early 20's, I wasn't quite sure what I actually wanted to be when I "grew up".  A few decades have passed, and I honestly still can't fully answer that question.  I do know this much though:  I enjoy helping people.

    Item #7:...But Your Life Can Radically Change
    At age 40 I never could have conceived of what my life is like now in my 50's.  When you're (or make that "I was") younger, you lack the perspective in many cases of just how your life can be turned on its head.  Sometimes for bad, sometimes for good.


    Item #8:  You Want Less Stuff
    I'm simply less interested in stuff.  In the past, well, I loved "stuff".  I have a small hardware store's worth of tools to prove that point.  Now?  Rampant consumption has just lost its luster.  In fact, I'm looking for ways to actually have less stuff.

    Item #9:  "Modern" Music Will Stink
    I don't know when I made the transition, but at some point, it became clear that more modern music is simply horrible.  Try as I might to actually enjoy, say, Arcade Fire, I just don't get it.  And I don't even think Arcade Fire is actually "modern" anymore.  Electronic Dance Music (EDM)?  It honestly sounds like something the government would use to torture ISIS prisoners.  I'd much rather listen to the Pretender's album Learning to Crawl for about the 80th time.


    Item #10:  Connections Will Matter More
    The older I get, the more value I see in staying connected with others.  Granted that I'm pretty horrible at it...a fact born out of decades of (lack of) practice...but never the less, I now see the value of connection more than I ever have in my life.  I'm working on getting better.