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

(2) You can read more about Ricketts Glen at -

(3) Find her book on Amazon at -

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.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Mental Health Awareness Week - Kevin Love's Story

In further support of Mental Health Awareness Week, I found a terrific article that is worth anyone's time to read:

The article was written by professional basketball player Kevin Love.  You can read more about Kevin and his background here.  For the record, Kevin is not some minor player in NBA who has nothing better to do than write articles while he sits on the bench; rather he is a 5 time NBA All-Star.  The fact that he is using his notoriety to spread the word about an important, but uncomfortable, subject is commendable.

Two quotes that stuck out for me:

"It really makes you think about how we are all walking around with experiences and struggles — all kinds of things — and we sometimes think we’re the only ones going through them. The reality is that we probably have a lot in common with what our friends and colleagues and neighbors are dealing with." 

"I’m trying to face the uncomfortable stuff in life while also enjoying, and being grateful for, the good stuff. I’m trying to embrace it all, the good, bad and ugly."

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Mental Health Awareness Week, October 7-13, 2018

I read somewhere (probably on the Facebook) that Monday, October 1st was a significant date relative to suicide prevention.  That turns out mostly to be a figment of my imagination, although October 7th to 13th is National Mental Illness Aware week(1).  Anyway, since none of us should need a special day or week to talk about mental health and related issues, I will now.

Throughout my life, mental health issues have been something of an almost constant backdrop.  I'll get into my own confessions, if you want to call them that, in a bit.  Probably the most visceral feelings I have on the subject though relate to suicide, something that I've had to face with individuals close to me several times over the years.  I can't accurately put all of those feelings into words, something that's odd for me, but that's because there is simply too much to parse.  The one feeling I can share is "helpless"; you simply feel helpless when someone you care about attempts to end their own life.  That feeling gets magnified significantly when someone you care about is actually successful at the act.

The above isn't intended to minimize the feelings that drive someone to attempt self-harm.  If anything, those kinds of comparisons ("...yeah, but I feel worse...") have no place in any frank discussion about mental health.  This isn't an arms-race or sports game that needs to be won; if anything, it's a race that we should all want to lose.

Acknowledging that helplessness is a product of having to face significant mental health issues, the bigger question is this:  What can be done about it?  That's far tougher to answer than it is to ask, but as I was thinking about writing this posting, it occurred to me that maybe I haven't done enough in that department.  Maybe I need to do more.  Maybe we all need to do more.

Speaking of me, I've been pretty transparent in this blog about the times in my life when I've had to struggle with my own feelings of inadequacy, helplessness, anxiety and similar symptoms.  In fact, sometimes I've probably been too transparent, but so be it:  I'm convinced that secrecy is basically one of the things which literally fertilizes mental health issues in this country.  That makes something like Mental Health Awareness Week all the more important.

So, what's next?  Well, I'll share three thoughts, all culled from my own life experiences.  I claim no special knowledge or education here, just a few lumps earned from a life well lived.

First and foremost, one thing I am absolutely sure of is the fact that all of us struggle with mental health issues from time to time.  Don't buy into the notion that "he (or she) really has their stuff together" because it's a lie.  It's a bold-faced lie.  In fact, it's probably the biggest lie some of us tell ourselves.  We all have our own moments of doubt and pain (to quote Mick Jagger).  That person who seems to always be composed, calm and rational may sometimes be a raging storm of conflicting emotions underneath. I know this because sometimes that person is me; I'm simply a better actor than you.

Second, I'm convinced that mental health is far more like a muscle than it is a clump of grey matter.  Like a muscle, we need to stretch and push ourselves emotionally in order to get stronger, to become more resilient.  That's the best argument I can think of against the notion of emotionally running away from our troubles or sitting on the figurative couch while the world passes us by.

Finally, we can't fall into the trap of believing that we need to go it all alone.  That's another lie of epic proportions.  There is always help if you need it.  Always.  Sometimes that help can come from places we don't expect.  Many times there are people in our lives who are just waiting for us to ask them for help.  We just need to have the courage (and/or humility) to ask.

I'll close this posting with a few resources that might be helpful.

NAMI - The National Alliance on Mental Illness (1)

Suicide Prevention Lifeline - 800.273.8255

VA - Mental Health Assistance for Veterans

Mental Health


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention - Mental Health Resources

Thursday, September 27, 2018


7 is the exact number of unique page views my last posting received before I pulled it off-line.  Quite frankly, that's 6 too many page views.  I'll afford fellow blogger Sean Gowden the difference between the 6 and 7 views, as I owe him a debt of thanks.  More on that in a moment (or two).

I'd like to say that I never take down postings, but that's simply not true.  Between late 2016 and early 2017, when I was in full job-search mode, I actually took down a large number of postings, 98% of which had to do with former Diocese of Scranton Bishop Joseph Martino.  This is a deeply Roman Catholic area, and I didn't need to hamper my job prospects with social media content that may have upset a recruiter or hiring manager.  As a side note, I could bring those postings back, but then they would all appear as new (all be it very dated) content.  Anyway, while I've taken down postings for practical purposes, I've never taken anything down because I was embarrassed or ashamed of what I wrote.  Until now.

Words like "ashamed" and "embarrassed" are maybe a tad bit too strong in totality, but they do describe how I felt about the content after the fact.  Even more surprising is the fact that what I posted was actually a watered-down version of something that was, well, even worse.  Yes, that was the *edited* version.  For one of the few times in my life not being popular has been something of a blessing.

So, what's behind all of this?  Two things really:
  1. I'm struggling a bit on the career front.
  2. I'm the person who gives, not gets, advice.
"Struggling" is not a term of art here; my struggle could be someone else's day of sunshine, smiles, kittens, and rainbows.  To paraphrase many guests at Rudy Guiliani's first wedding, "it's all relative"(1).  What's more, my career has always been a refuge, a place where I knew what I was doing and could control my destiny to a great extent, even when the rest of my life was in shreds.  This fact makes it all the more difficult for me to acknowledge that, at this very moment, that refuge no longer exists.  In a sense, I feel a kind of loss.

As to the second point, well, I think it speaks for itself.  As a statement of absolute fact though, it's pretty much rubbish.  We all need help from time to time. Sean was kind enough to point that out to me in a posting comment.  Suffice to say, "Physician, heal thyself" is far harder to execute than you think, even when you're not an actual physician.

What to do about all of this?  Well, I did debate(2) the idea of simply closing up the blog shop, but I just don't want to do that, especially after nearly 10 years.  Then there is the whole blog hiatus thing, but I've always found such proclamations to be silly:  Either have a blog and create content or delete it.  All told, simply owning up to things and pressing the reset button made the most sense.  Hence this posting.

What's next?  Well first and foremost, get this posting out of the way.  Second, I'm officially funneling any career-related-angst-fueled energy I may be experiencing into other activities.  Being transparent and authentic is good and noble, but in reality, there needs to be a (more thoughtful) time to every purpose under heaven.

Cue the music...

* * * * * *

(1) The former mayor of New York and current POTUS advisor's first wife was actually his second cousin.  Honestly, she was (citation here).
(2) In my head, for about a day.  Side note: I don't like odd numbers, which means that I'll write pretty much anything in order to have an even number of footnotes.

Sunday, September 16, 2018


Being something of a Beatles fan, I've read several interviews with the late John Lennon where he is asked "what's the best song you've ever written?" or "what's your favorite Beatles song?".

Something of a surprise is the fact that Lennon has answered "Help!".  

The surprising part of that answer is that "Help!" is from what could be described as coming from the early Loveable Mop Top era of the band. Remember, John Lennon has written some, shall we say, significant songs in his life. Titles such as "Imagine" and "Strawberry Fields Forever" come to mind.

Side note: Contrary to what's noted in the songwriting credits, for most of their career together John Lennon and Paul McCartney wrote separately, with the other simply helping in spots.  How can tell the songwriter of a Beatles song? Outside of material that was written for Ringo or George, it's the song's lead singer.

Anyway, I never really thought that much about the song Help!, well outside of the fact that it's a catchy tune from a fun movie (of the same name) until I heard/read John Lennon talk about it.  You see, Lennon was literally crying for help in (and with) the song. That's why it was among his favorites: It was honest.

Oh, and just to make all of us feel just a bit inadequate, Lennon wrote the song in his early 20's. In my early 20's I was still in school, with not even the raw ability to comprehend just how deep a sentiment a simple song like Help! could convey.

So, what's the connection here? Why even post this?  Well, I am not very good at asking for help. In fact, I hate it. I was always afraid to ask for it growing up, lest it is perceived as being some kind of weakness that my mother could then exploit.  That carried through to my adulthood, especially so after losing my job in late 2016.  If there ever was a time when someone should ask for help it is with a job search, but yet by and large I didn't.  Maybe that partially explains the career pickle I now find myself in, which is another post for another day.

I am trying though.

The loss of both a 28-year employment and a brother in short order have had a profound impact on me, more so than I have ever truly admitted.  It got to the point where, after several very difficult months in 2017, I really did need help.  Sometimes circumstances overwhelm our abilities to self-correct, a fact that I should have realized far sooner than I actually did.  In any event, I'm still availing myself of help, and it has been (at the risk of being duplicative) helpful.  

The first moral here is that the biggest lies we tell are those that we tell ourselves. Just ourselves.

The second moral is that we all need help from time to time.  All of us.  There is no victory in trying to solve problems that are above our emotional and intellectual pay grade.  And there is always a pay grade above us, no matter who we are and what we do.  This is a lesson I'm likely to continue to learn for the rest of my life.  Luckily though, I have a secret weapon:  A wife who knows me and cares enough to tell me the truth when I'm too stubborn to admit it to myself.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Fear of Having Peaked

I don't readily admit to being afraid of anything.  In fact, I think I've noted this point in many prior postings.  Yet something has been nagging at me for the past month (or probably longer) that I've only now begun to understand.  That revelation?  I'm afraid that my best days, from a professional perspective, are behind me.

Side note:  I've already established that (physically) my best days are behind me, but that's okay because that's true for all of us who are over, say, age 40.  

This fear isn't completely unfounded, as I can point to several things that prove I've been on something of a professional decline of late.  A decline that exists at least in my head, which is probably the point of this whole posting.  Maybe I have peaked, and maybe that's okay.  Well, that's what I want to tell myself.  The more positive alternative is something along the lines of "no, your best days are in front of you".  Kind of like a tree-lined street in Stockholm, Sweden.

(Just an excuse to share a picture of Stockholm)

I honestly don't know which of the above (past peak/peak is yet to come) is actually true.  I do know what statistics tell us.  That answer is, by the way, 48.  At about age 48 men typically reach their earnings peak(1).  There's even a chart:

(From the website

There are, by the way, multiple sources that point to this very same set of conclusions.  As something of a "science guy," I do find some comfort in this finding, the kind of comfort that comes from not feeling entirely singled out.  In case you are curious, that comfort, at least for me, lasted about 12 hours.  

I'll note that this really isn't even about money.  In addition to having married well, I've tried to live responsibly, keeping most of my expenses (excluding expensive, once-in-a-lifetime cruises) to a minimum.  No, this is more about pride, about the sense that I have capabilities that may be withering.  It's about circumstances, not economics.

In the terrific book Drive(2), author Daniel Pink makes the case that personal and professional satisfaction hinges on three things:
  1. Autonomy - Being able to act independently
  2. Mastery - The sense that you know what you are doing
  3. Purpose - The idea that what you do has a deeper meaning

I actually had the opportunity to hear Daniel Pink speak on this very topic a few years ago at an ATD conference.  Assuming again that this whole mental pickle I find myself in really isn't about money, then is it about missing one of the three things noted above?  That's a question I can't fully answer at this stage.  If anything, maybe this is about purpose (or lack thereof).

Like much of the more introspective stuff I write (and speaking of purpose), the process is as important as anything else.  Just typing this out has a kind of purpose to it.  Hopefully, that purpose isn't seen as seeking pity or anything of that sort.  The interest on my part is simply getting this set of thoughts out of my system.  It's about maybe someone reading this and thinking "yeah, I've felt (or feel) that way too".  It's about trying to organize, make sense of and give another voice to the incessant thoughts in my head around this topic, one that has been occupying too much mental real estate of late.

The intellectual and rational me know that this whole mess is far more in my control than it is out of my control.  It knows that success is more than just what you do to pay the mortgage.  It knows that I could get run over by a bus tomorrow morning and it would still be noted in my eulogy that I came from little and did well for myself.  I'd like to think that part of me...the intellectual and rational ultimately what rules the day.  That's just not how we human work though.  It's simply not that simple.  Maybe the underlying fear here is less about being past my peak and more about a sense of lacking control over this part of my life(3).     

Maybe I should have been an electrician. 

* * * * * *

(1) Citations:

(2) More on Daniel Pink's framework can be found at:

(3) See a related posting here:

Monday, September 3, 2018

Road Apples, #175

Road Apples
I haven't written a Road Apples posting in almost a year.  Part of it, I have to confess, is the fact that I tend to view them as being less interesting.  The hit counts tell me that they are less interesting to others as well, not that (in theory) I care about such things.  Anyway, and who cares, for here goes.

"Body Shaming"
I put the term in quotes because, in part, the whole premise of the activity is questionable, at best.  In point of fact, none of us should care less what anyone else looks like, period.  Now if someone is in your family and, for example, you are concerned that their excess weight may create health issues, well then, by all means, do talk to them about it.  But to criticize some person you don't know because they don't meet your standards of beauty?  Simply ridiculous, on many levels.  

About 4 Years
That's the amount of time I think I have left in me for serious, middle-of-the-day in the summer yard work.  One outcome from this weekend's work?  If my heart were truly bad, I would already be on a slab at this very moment, so I guess that's a good sign.  

They Love Me
Mosquitos, that is.  I was using the pressure washer on Saturday afternoon (a gas one...strong enough to strip the skin off your feet if you're not careful), and when all is said and done, I think I easily got at least six mosquito bites from the endeavor.  Granted that popularity has never been something I've been good at in my lifetime, but it would be nice if what little I did have wasn't wasted on invertebrates.

The ten-year anniversary of this blog occurs on October 27, 2018.  I know this because I put it on a label that is plastered on the monitor from which I actually see this text as I am typing.  I guess I should save the deep (and other) thoughts until then.

Sign of the Times
Fall is, in theory, my favorite time of the year, and as today is Labor Day, it's not too far around the corner.  In as much as I don't enjoy the really cold weather once it arrives, I do enjoy the change from the really hot stuff that July and August bring.  I'm already starting to go through my warm weather clothing, figuring out what I haven't worn so that it can be donated.

The Upcoming Schism
The Catholic Church is, in my estimation, nearly at the point of a major schism.  There's a longer post in that topic, but if you are at all interested in religion...from a spiritual or an academic perspective...then pay attention over the next few years.  Deeply conservative Catholics are leveraging the abuse of children as a means to force Pope Francis to resign.  This isn' about the abuse of children, by the way, it's about a Pope that they feel isn't doctrinally conservative enough for their tastes.  Case in point:  If this were about the clerical abuse of children, then John Paul II would never have been canonized.  More to come.

Conference on Youth
Philadelphia Catholic Archbishop Chaput has asked that the Church's upcoming Conference on Youth be canceled and in its place, a synod should be held on the life of bishops.  You can read more at this link.  While I understand the sad but ironic twist that accompanies a conference on youth has for the Church, simply being more internally focused isn't the answer.  How about a synod on the culture of a church that, for some bishops, fostered the abuse of children instead?

During our recent cruise to Northern Europe, I took about 1600 photographs.  Two of my favorite photographs are of doors.

I think there's a bigger meaning to this, but I'm at a loss to figure it out at the moment.

Labor Day
Today is Labor Day, and regardless of one's political orientation, I think we can all agree that our country sometimes devalues hard work and labor.  There is a nobility to be found in working with your hands to accomplish something, be it constructing a house or cutting your grass.  As a wise person once told me, the most important person in the world isn't a political or a corporate's a plumber when you have blocked up toilet on a Sunday.  

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

The Bon Ton...I'm Afraid It's Time For Goodbye Again

"Life is a series of hellos and goodbyes
I'm afraid it's time for goodbye again"
 - Billy Joel, Say Goodbye to Hollywood

The Bon Ton, as in all Bon Tons, will be closing for good soon (if not already).  As I've mentioned in the blog before, my first real job after graduating from college was working for the Bon Ton.  Back then it was known as S. Grumbacher and Son, and my tenure lasted from May of 1986 until December of 1988.  I actually worked in three different stores during this time with the company, with the final assignment being at the Bon Ton store #9, Carlisle Plaza Mall.  See This Posting for stuff I'm basically too lazy to re-type.

Also in the category of "Things that I'm not going to write about" is why the Bon Ton ended up failing.  If you are keenly interested in such stuff, watch This Video, which does a great job of dissecting the company's financials in a way that anyone can understand.  In summary, the company's reach exceeded its grasp.

I actually owe a debt of gratitude to the Bon Ton.  When I was graduating from college, I had two job offers: The Bon Ton and Kmart Apparel.  How ironic is that?  Two offers to work in two different companies that (in the case of Kmart) will be sharing the same fate.  Anyway, the folks at the Bon Ton believed in me and provided me with some much-needed structure and stability in my young adult life.  They also gave me an opportunity to stay outside of northeastern Pennsylvania for a few years, which I do think was truly a good thing.  In point of fact, I don't think you can truly appreciate a place until you've been away from it for a while.

As a bit of a side note, I visited the Bon Ton in the Midway Shopping center as it was closing.  While the trip ended up with me acquiring a new pair of jeans, there was something even better to be had:  Shelving.  Much shelving.  Slightly used laminate shelving that I'm going to be using around the house for various projects, including one where I installed a folding work surface on our second floor enclosed porch.

Expect some porch written postings in the not-too-distant future.  By the way, one piece of the shelving was used on the porch (above); I have nine more available for the "other stuff".

Moving beyond the creative use of former department store hardware, I can't help but feel a tinge of personal sadness in the closing of the Bon Ton.  I've seen this kind of thing before:  Icons of my life that I think should be outliving me, but yet haven't.  My high school...

(The former Bishop Hannan H.S., now some kind of nebulous Diocese of Scranton center for stuff.)

(My high school yearbook photograph. Note the hair helmet.)

...and the parish of my youth...


(The demolition of Holy Family Church in Scranton.)

...are but two other examples.  I'll note that neither place offers what I would consider as being "fond" memories for me, but they were fixtures in my life never the less.

In the final analysis, I suspect that this is all a part of growing older:  Namely experiencing a kind of loss that may seem trivial but yet still touches you at your very core.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Faith of My Fathers

I actually didn't know all that much about the late Senator John McCain prior to his running for President many years ago, so I read his book, Faith of My Fathers.

The book is engaging, and I recommend it to anyone wanting to learn about the late Senator and the service of his family in the United States Navy.

I ended up not voting for Senator McCain, mostly because of his selection of Sarah Palin for a running mate.  I understand the reasoning behind his choice, and while it cost him a vote, I never lost respect for the man.  A shocking idea in American politics today:  I can disagree with him, but yet still respect him.

In any event, American politics has been diminished today with the passing of Senator John McCain.  He was, in spite of what some may say, a true American hero.

Rest in Peace Captain McCain.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

A Church in Crisis: Silence is Complicity

The words "Abuse Scandal" and "Catholic Church" are becoming all too synonymous these days.  Nowhere is that more on display than in the recent Pennsylvania Attorney General's report on clerical abuse that covered all but two of the state's Catholic diocese.  You can find a copy of the report, in all of its 1356 page glory, HERE.

For the record, I'll start right off by asking the following question:  How could I not comment on this?  How could any of us, where "us" represents that group of adult humans who seem to actually care about what's going on in the world around us, not care about this?  Granted, thinking about what to write when it comes to this issue does give me pause, if only because a good part of my life has been steeped and shaped by the Catholic Church ("the Church" for the balance of this posting).

My Faith Journey
Before I get too deep into the current events, I have some compulsion, valid or not, to actually talk about my connection to the Church.  Maybe this is a reflection of my wanting to somehow qualify myself to comment; maybe a better way to look at this is something a chronology of my own faith journey.  Here goes:

Early 1960's - Mom.  My Mother was a convert to the Church, having been raised, I believe, a Baptist.  Her sponsor/mentor as she was brought into the Church?  That was, at the time, Father James Timlin, who would later on become Bishop Timlin, prominently featured in the Report.  My Mother made sure all of her boys were raised in the Church.

1970's/1980's - At the Altar.  All four of the Albert young men were Altar Boys (as opposed to the more inclusive "Altar Servers" these days).  In fact, I was an Altar Boy for approximately 10 years, from right after receiving First Communion until after I graduated from high school (a Catholic high school).  Speaking of high school...

1970's/1980's - Catholic Education.  Three of the Albert Boys attended a Catholic high school in Scranton.  That was a choice, by the way, on our parts.  We all attended public school up through 8th grade, meaning that we were socially and religiously unprepared for what awaited us in the parochial education system.  For me, going to a Catholic high school was mostly born out of a desire to not attend the public high school I was deemed to be attending by my junior high guidance counselor.  I can't speak for my brothers.

1982-1986 - College.  I actually attended Mass with some regularity throughout college.  In fact, I was the president of the Catholic students group at Penn State Harrisburg during my senior year of college.  I got that title mostly because no one else wanted it; regardless, it looked good on my resume and I got a nice gift from Fr. Anthony Miller for my service.  That gift, a cross, hangs in my home office as type this...

1987 - 2011 - Marriage.  Well "marriage, part 1" is a better description.  My first marriage was an official in the Church affair, complete with mandatory martial education (Pre-Cana, as it is known).  That education, taught by celibate religious and a couple that was too perfect to be real, was useless as a guide to the real-life business of being married, especially to someone in their early 20's.

1988 to Present - Children.  All of my daughters were raised in the Church.  That was important to me, and, I believe, to my ex-wife as well.  This meant regular church attendance and even participation in church activities as they were growing up.  It was my belief that the girls should receive Confirmation in the Church and then from there it was their decision as to what they wanted to do with their faith.  I won't speak to their individual expressions of faith these days, but what I will note is that none of them are active members of the Church (similar to many members of their generations).

2011 - Divorce.  As my children got older and life changed for me (you can go explore the blog archives in 2010 for more if you're so inclined), I basically separated myself from the Church.  That part was made easy by the fact that the Church isn't exactly kind to those members who divorce, instead insisting that, in order for such a thing to occur within the confines of the Church's rules, it needed to be proven that a valid marriage never, in fact, existed (the term is nullified, also known as receiving an annulment)  While my divorce wasn't exactly an easy time, I had no desire to make that process even more complicated or difficult for myself or my ex-wife, and in fact we had a perfectly valid marriage for many years, so an annulment was never in the cards.

For more information about civil divorce within the Church, you can click HERE.

2015 to Present - Re-Marriage.  In the eyes of the Church, since I have not received an annulment (again, basically saying that my first marriage never actually ended, at least from a "sacramental" perspective), my getting re-married officially represents an act of adultery.  For the record, there is no one I would rather commit adultery with than my (current) wife.  Anyway, my wife was raised an Episcopalian; in fact, she was a super-Episcopalian, given that both her father and her grandfather are/were Episcopal priests.  I was honored that my wife's father actually performed our wedding ceremony.

I will note that, as something of an endpoint to the above chronology, I do not regularly attend any church.  On occasion, I have attended services where my father-in-law has been the celebrant, but since he is now officially retired, that's not likely to happen again any time soon.  I will also, on occasion, attend services at a Presbyterian church, where a good friend of my wife is the pastor.  My wife and I have talked though about eventually joining a church at some point in time in the future.  Because of the whole "the Church still thinks my first marriage is valid and I'm now committing adultery" thing, that will not be the Catholic church.

In totality, the Catholic Church has been a part of my life...all of my life...and will remain so basically forever, even if I don't attend Mass.  I have been blessed by those who I have encountered in the Church and by what I have learned.  I have no regrets.

The News
Getting back to the abuse scandal, you can find a listing of those priests and religious who have been credibly accused of abuse, as defined by the Diocese of Scranton, by following THIS LINK and clicking on the names of each individual; the links associated with each individual take you to a resource hosted by the Diocese of Scranton.

I personally have never been abused, harmed or even subject to inappropriate suggestions by any priest or religious in my lifetime.  I will note, however, that I interacted with three priests on the above-referenced list.  The specific names aren't important, but one of the three did take me and a friend to see the movie Friday the 13th, followed by a visit to his room at the church rectory.  Again, nothing happened, other than chatter about the movie.  In retrospect though, I will say that I'm re-thinking that whole encounter.

This was, by the way, three out the dozens of priests I have encountered in my lifetime.  In fact, some of these individuals were/are truly wonderful human beings, including, I might add, my cousin (who happens to be both a wonderful priest and a thoroughly decent human being).  Speaking of thoroughly decent priests, I can still recall, from my youth, getting a ride to school by (the late) Fr. Yarrish in his Mercury Capri after saying morning Mass at Holy Family Church.  At the time, Fr. Yarrish was the secretary to (the late) Bishop McCormick, which to me seems like it would have been a hell (no pun intended) of a job, but yet Fr. Yarrish was an incredibly nice man.  Then there was also Monsignor Lewis, who always made me laugh at the ungodly hour at which weekday Mass occurred at Holy Family Church.

The bottom line?  Most of my experiences with priests have actually been very positive.  This noted, the abuse of minors and seminarians was and is real.  While it's easy for some to try and soften the scandal (you can Google Bill Donohue from the Catholic League if you truly want to get disgusted), the fact remains that even one instance of abuse is too many, let alone thousands.  Now, are there false claims being made against the Church by grifters in search of a fast buck?  Absolutely yes, and I will also note that every accused priest/religious has a right to be treated as being innocent until proven guilty.  However...and this is a big however...there are also many valid instances of abuse that remain unmade as well.  Again, this scandal is real, and it is self-made by the Church.

Probably the most visceral aspect of the scandal, at least for me, lies in the fact that many cases of abuse were aided and abetted by the bishops within the Church.  That point is made incredibly clear in the Report.  While outside looking into the Church it's easy to be disgusted, it's important to realize that the Church is an ecosystem unto itself; its universe is more or less self-contained and it is ruled by a rigid male hierarchical structure that puts the United States military to shame.  Central to the ecosystem are bishops, who technically report to the Pope himself.  Given that there are thousands of bishops in the world, actual supervision becomes more or less a function of Church bureaucracy.  Catholic bishops yield significant power within this ecosystem, and while it's easy to focus on the pastoral aspects of their job, a reality is this:  Protecting ecosystem in which they exist...the central to what they do.  I firmly believe that, in viewing the actions of bishops in the Report, you need to keep that point of reference in mind.

In decades past, bishops could completely exist within the ecosystem, particularly in deeply Catholic areas such as Northeastern Pennsylvania, where the Church, in fact, wielded significant social and political influence.  They controlled who knew what and they didn't view themselves as being accountable to civilian authorities.  Their accountability was just to the Church, and the Church alone.

So what changed?  I think the world has gotten smaller and information, long guarded by the Church as a closely held asset, has now become a commodity that is very easily shared.  The Church can no longer operate within its own ecosystem, and by extension, bishops are suddenly no longer just accountable to a Church bureaucracy.  The Roman Catholic Church has never liked scrutiny by outsiders; heck, it really doesn't even like scrutiny by women, laity and many others within the Church itself.  Now we have an entire world peering into the business of the Church, and what we see isn't always quite so pleasant.

The scandal is also happening in a world that is dramatically changing with respect to how it views organized religion as a whole.  Initial reporting regarding clerical abuse by the Boston Globe (link HERE) in 2002 was just the beginning of a series of events that proved to a younger generation that religious leaders may not, in fact, hold the moral authority they claimed.  The Church's failure to act boldly when these initial stories came out only created a template that guaranteed even greater scandals in the future.  Why?  Again, because the Church viewed itself as operating outside of the world at large, operating in its own ecosystem, in a place where it controlled everything.  Now, well, the Church may have run out of opportunities for bold action on its own, precisely because it no longer has the ability to control the facts surrounding the larger abuse scandal.  The genie has left the bottle and is never going back.  This is going to get worse, and in fact, it may never get better.

Sometimes in life we get to experience a nexus, a time and place where things shift dramatically and diverge around us.  The fall of the Berlin Wall is a good example.  We may not always realize the shift at the time though.  This isn't one of those instances; if you're attuned to this story in the slightest way you're going to be all too conscious of what happens to the Church the years and decades to come.

By the way, consider me somewhat ambivalent regarding what the future holds for the Church.  Why?  Well because the abuse scandal isn't just about the actions of's about the behavior of an entire ecosystem.  You can replace individual parts of the ecosystem, just as individual bishops are replaced over time, but unless the very fabric of the ecosystem changes (the culture of the Church, if you will), well history will simply repeat itself.  The failure of the Church to date to create a meaningful mechanism to deal with the discipline of bishops... a great example of ultimately how resistant the ecosystem of the Church actually is to change.

If there is a silver lining to all of this sadness it's this:  Those who were victims of abuse no longer have to suffer in relative silence.  What's more, I do think this will force many Catholics to re-think their participation in the Church, which may not necessarily mean a change in their actual faith, but rather a reckoning and realization that while the Church may be "of God", it is run "by ( we all are) Men".  While my faith in the institutional Church certainly has wained in my lifetime to date, the actual faith I hold in something bigger than myself (as opposed to an institutional church) has only gotten stronger over time.

* * * * * *

Some postings are easier to write than others; this posting falls decidedly in the difficult camp.  I'm not sure why.  Maybe it's the ingrained respect I have for the Church that resists any and all attempts to offer criticism, valid or not.  Maybe it's a fear that I would offend someone who knows me.  Regardless, I think this needed to be written.  In fact, I think we all need to take a stand when it comes to these events.  If recent history teaching us anything, well it's this:  Silence is complicity. 

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Filling the Bucket: "Med Mange Takk"*

(*) "With Many Thanks", in Norwegian

How can I end a series of postings about a trip that I never really imagined I would ever take?

I actually pondered the above question during the trip and ended up with the following idea:  Gratitude; I'll end these series of postings with gratitude.  So with that in mind, I have a lot to be grateful for, and I'll do my best in the text that follows to try and express that gratitude.  With exception of the last item in the list below, this isn't intended to be in any particular order.

Thank You - The crew of the Viking Star
"The great difference between voyages rests not with the ships, but with the people you meet on them." - Amelia Barr

(The Viking Sun, sister ship to the Viking Star)

Viking Cruise Lines must be a terrific company to work for because every single crew person I encountered on the Viking Star was positive, focused on the guests of the ship, and (most importantly) seemed to be having fun.  Whatever they are doing from a Human Resources perspective is working; perhaps the folks that run WalMart need to pay them a visit.

I would HIGHLY RECOMMEND a Viking cruise to anyone interested in taking an unforgettable voyage.

Thank You - To the Tour Guides
I'm convinced that, once you leave the Russian military special forces, you become a western tour group guide in St. Petersburg.  We had terrific tour guides at all of our stops, especially so in Russia.  While Russia was a somewhat challenging place to visit, it's clear that our tour guides took their work...and the well-being of the groups they are leading...very seriously.  Another reason to choose a Viking cruise.

Thank You - To my Brother Rich
For the pick-up service in Philadelphia.  I don't want to imagine just how much it would stink to undertake a  2+ drive after 7+ hours of air travel, at night, when my body thinks that it's actually well into the wee hours of the morning.

( Steve & Rich in1981; I look like a q-tip)

Thank You - The Rivers Family
David, Elizabeth, Julie, Mark, Diana, Kyra, John, Fran...thank you for the honor of being part of your family, especially so over the past two weeks.  Special thanks for tolerating my incessant photography (for the benefit of the curious, I took about 1,600 photographs during the trip).

Thank You - Most Especially - To My Wonderful Wife
I wouldn't have made this trip without my wife, Ms. Rivers.  In fact, the absolute best part of this trip was being able to see so many different places with my best friend in the whole entire world, the person that I miraculously get to call my wife.  There is a world of difference between being on a trip like this alone vs. making it with your partner in all things. 

(Near Copenhagen, Denmark)

Along those lines, I can think of no better song to express how I feel than following...

Finally, I'll note that " can I end..." is something of a misnomer, in that I'm pretty sure I have one more posting in me about the trip.  A kind of re-cap of places if you will.   That one needs a bit more time, plus I have laundry to do.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Filling the Bucket, Day 15 - Stockholm, Sweden

At the Port of Stockholm

Prior to July 28th, I had never taken a vacation this long (in this case, 16 days).  I had also only barely left the country (sorry Canada, but you're basically a big...and nicer...version of Minnesota).  Since July 28th, I have:
  • Visited 7 countries
  • Visited two national capitals
  • Taken my first ever trip onboard a cruise ship
  • Visited countries where a majority doesn't speak English
The list could go on, and on, and on, but I don't get anything out of boring others or myself, so I'll leave it at the four items above.  Suffice to say, it's been a long and sometimes strange trip.  I'm grateful for the experience (more on that in a future posting) but also glad to be going home.  I have some business there to attend to for which I am glad to report I have some new-found clarity.  Anyway, on to some pictures.

Pictures of Stockholm, both from the ship and from our walking about the town.

Stockholm is a beautiful city, a place where you can walk down just about any street and see a magnificent older building.  This is a place worth visiting.

Vasa Museum
You can read more about the Vasa HERE.

(The exterior of the museum)

(The bow of the Vasa)

(The stern of the Vasa)

ABBA Museum
A fitting coda, at least for me, to a bucket-list trip.

Okay, I confess:  I didn't take any photographs at the museum.  Basically, I don't think they wanted visitors to take pictures.  You can learn more about the museum HERE.  This place is worth visiting if you are an ABBA fan.  If you're not, well, go next door and enjoy the amusement park.

  • Time.  Stockholm, like every place we've visited, uses a 24-hour clock, where, for example, 1pm is 13:00 hours.  It makes sense to me, which is probably why the United States sticks with the whole AM/PM thing (along with avoiding the metric system).
  • Unisex.  The Vasa museum featured unisex bathrooms, as in two bathrooms that just consisted of fully enclosed stalls and sinks.  It was odd seeing a woman coming out of a bathroom space I was entering, but in the end, what did it matter?  It's not as if I saw any "naughty bits".
  • Dry.  Northern Europe has been very hot (as noted in other postings) and very dry, so much so that some of the trees in Sweden have started to drop their leaves.  I guess I didn't need that colder weather coat I brought on the trip after all.
  • Cars.  The Swedes love their cars, and although there is public transportation a-plenty (we even took a ferry today), it's clear why SAAB and Volvo are both Swedish companies.  What I didn't see was anything that was old or otherwise in bad shape (as in my first few cars).
  • Sunset.  I could never get used to sunset being after 10pm, especially when it comes at the cost of extremely shortened daylight during the winter months (our guide in Helsinki said that typically in January, it's light between 9am and 3pm).  For the record, it also looks like twilight at around 3am.
Soon the very the long trip home begins.  We'll be moving backward in time by 6 hours, so while leaving Stockholm at 2pm, we will magically arrive in Philadelphia at 7pm (ish) after many more hours in transit.  Hopefully, the trip will be more comfortable than what we experienced coming out to Bergen.

Finally, I wanted to say thank you to all who took the time to read these dispatches from the field (if you want to call them that...) and provide me with feedback.  This really wasn't work for me, which does beg the basic question of why don't I find a way to do this for a living if, in fact, I enjoy it so much.  That's a bigger question for another day.  Anyway, my plan is to package these postings, along with some photographs and other assorted paraphernalia, into something of an album.  Something to give a certain dimension to the memories that will no doubt grow foggy over time.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Filling the Bucket, Day 14 - Helsinki, Finland

On-Board the Viking Star

I expected Helsinki to be, well, bigger.  You hear about the city in the news of the world all the time, but when you get down to brass tacks, it's a city of little over 600,000.  Like Tallin, it's impeccably clean and cosmopolitan.  I'd best describe it as being, well, nondescript.  First thing in the morning we went down to the harbor market.

(Near the Harbor Market)

(Helsinki Town Hall)

(The Cathedral of the Finnish Lutheran Church)

In the afternoon we were on a small boat cruise of the waterways around Helsinki.

(An old fortification)

(A complex on one of the islands)

Finally, a few shots from the trip out of the Port of Helsinki.

(Basically the Helsinki skyline, all be it from pretty far away)

(On one of the many little harbor islands)

  • Streak Broken.  The streak has been broken, as I saw my first real pick-up truck in Europe in the Port of Helsinki, a late 70's/early 80's vintage full-sized Ford (the badge read "Ranger", but it was more of an F-150).  Gaze upon it in all of its splendor -
  • English.  As somewhat expected, the English language skills I encountered in Helsinki were simply outstanding.  In fact, I vendor I spoke to at the harbor market spoke perfect English.
  • Signs.  Most signs in Helsinki are written in both Finnish and Swedish (which is the largest minority in Finland).  Honestly, I couldn't tell the difference and in fact, thought that "gee, the place names here are really long here". 
  • (Not) National Anthem.  Monty Python fans have probably heard the "Finland" song, but for those who have not...all together Fin-a-philes -

Tomorrow is our final stop, Stockholm.  This is a place I've always wanted to visit, literally, since I was a teenager.  It's the "bucket" in "bucket list".  Stops will include the Vasa and the ABBA museum.