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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. 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

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 the expense of the greater 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.