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Sunday, December 31, 2023

Time Time Tickin', Tickin' Away

The title of this posting comes from a wonderful song by Don Henley called The Last Worthless Evening.  Well worth listening to (see below), although it has very little to actually do with the topics at hand.

Anyway, it's nearly New Year's Day as I write this, and over the past few weeks I've been full of thoughts related to the year that's coming to an end, my getting older, and just a sense that things in the world are spinning a bit more out of control than they are normally (if there is such a thing as "normal" these days).  These thoughts aren't all bad, mind you, and I'm not sure why some of them are only recently coming to mind.  Yes, I am having thoughts about thoughts...not exactly productive...but not completely out of character for me either.

As for the year that's coming soon to an ending near you, well, I'm glad.  That would be "glad it's almost over".  There are a few themes to the year if you want to think of it in those terms.  Themes like... priorities were sometimes very wrong in 2023.  The time and mental energy I spend at work has gone up quite a bit.  Part of that isn't all bad, as I think I'm good at what I do, and certainly I think many seem to appreciate my efforts, but at what cost?  My physical health has suffered in that I'm almost perpetually locked to a desk.  My mental health has suffered because after 9 to 11 hours a day of work, plus often work over the weekend, there just isn't anything left for me.  I can point to a few things, for example, in our yard that I didn't get around to this year because I was either too physically or mentally tired.  It's a kind of negative cycle that's easy to identify but very hard to stop.  But stop it I will.

...there's also the idea that my life is going to be changing pretty dramatically over the next few years.  This is because, having entered the workforce full time in 1986, I have far, far less time working in front of me than working behind me.  I am not complaining about this, by the way.  If anything, I have been incredibly blessed as I get older in terms of financial security, general health, my home life, etc.  It all seems just so, well, "big".  It's worth reminding myself that I'm actually pretty good at doing big things. this country, the very nature of our political system has become mired in the worst of both parties, although much of the blame falls to one man who doesn't read books, can't admit that he's ever wrong, engages in Olympic-sized fear mongering, views immigrants not from Norway (or apparently Slovakia) as being evil, and treats the Seven Deadly Sins as personal goals.  You do know who I am talking about.  My hope is that when this person passes along one day, some may recover the parts of their humanity that seem to be broken.  If you support this man, then I feel badly for you.  A phrase like "may they rot in Hell" in a social media Christmas message says far more about this person than I...or anyone else for that matter...ever could.  Ask yourself, "Would a decent human being say such a thing?".  You do, by the way, know the answer to that question, and quite frankly, he's not worthy of your support. our world, well, there's a shortage of simple, basic caring.  In fact, it sometimes feels as if caring for others is viewed as a kind of weakness best left to idealists and others not "living in the real world".  No one needs to die because a bunch of folks in power simply want more of it.  Yes, I get it...fighting things like injustice sometimes require difficult decisions, but if those "difficult decisions" involve killing children (be they Israeli or Palestinian, for example), well, call me suspicious.

I wish 2023 were a better year, but it happened as it was supposed to.  What's left for us is to learn what we can so we can make tomorrow a bit better than yesterday.

Speaking of tomorrow (as in 2024), I do have a few thoughts.  Some of them are basically kind of antonyms of what's noted above, so I'm not going to waste time with repetition.  What I will note though is this:  It's important for me (and I suspect all of us, to one extent or another) to remember that we have far more control over the things in our life than we recognize.  That's not to say that exercising that control is fact, sometimes it is incredibly difficult...but that doesn't negate that sense of control's very existence. 

So for 2024, here's my wish:  May we all...

Dare to do big things

Show compassion (not just for others, but for ourselves as well)

Always ask the question "Am I running away from...or towards...something?"

Take time to smell flowers, listen to good music and pet a cat (or dog, or both)

Cultivate friendships (I especially need to work on this)

Honor those who serve us, be they restaurant staff, healthcare workers or first responders

Be humble

Live for today, but always plan for tomorrow


2024, bring it on.

Monday, December 11, 2023

Kate Spade for Christmas

Before I started actually writing this, I had to check and see what I had previously written about (the late) Kate Spade.  This post...

...came up.  So, what made me think of it again?  It's a bit of a winding journey.

Today was the annual "drive a bit to go shopping" trip with Ms. Rivers.  We do this every year before Christmas, with the trips ranging from the Philadelphia area to the Poconos.  A few times we've gone to the Lehigh Valley Mall, which was where we ended up today.  There is no grand plan to this, and truth be told, most of our shopping (for Christmas gifts) is already done.  It's more the idea that we are heading out to go Christmas shopping, which is the real gift I suppose.  I say "gift" as it's just been too damn busy this past year.  Even the weekends are full of stuff, and on more than one occasion, I think I'm more tired on Sunday evening than Friday.  First World Problems, I know.

Anyway, while at the Lehigh Valley Mall, we stopped in the small temporary Barnes & Noble bookstore (the "real" one is being remodeled) and while wandering around, I came upon a section of stationary related gifts with the Kate Spade New York brand.  I'm sure it's high-quality stuff, but nothing I would buy, mind you.  In an odd sort of way though it made me stop and think.  A moment, if you will, of clarity.  See the above link for context.

Life can be hard for some.  I've struggled a bit this past year between my desire to make a difference at work and still maintain a healthy balance with the other parts of my life.  That's been a losing battle; as evidence I offer the fact that I haven't really been writing much.  And, by the way, I haven't been reading much either.  Basically, I've just been working (as in the paid variety + working on my stepson's recently purchased home).  Yet, as much as I can bemoan my minor struggles, Kate Spade reminded me of the importance of perspective.  

At the risk of repetition, the Kate Spade story tells us, in part (at least according to me...) that you can be very attractive, physically healthy, smart, hardworking, wildly successful, popular and have all the things...and yet be deeply troubled.  For me, this is genuinely difficult to process.  I can though, as I get older, process a part of this, in the sense that the seeming tangibles of our lives sometimes matter far less than the intangibles.  In the middle of a consumption-fueled holiday season, it seems like an important lesson.

While I do my best to give myself credit for climbing (figurative mountain) summits, sometimes the even steeper summit someone else manages to climb is out of a hole.

I think the latter is worth more admiration.


The shopping experience today was underwhelming.  Like most indoor shopping malls, Lehigh Valley seems like it's struggling a bit.  That plays out in empty store fronts (no Williams Sonoma for us today) and in bathrooms that look like they time traveled from a 1970's vintage of a Port Authority parking garage.  Realizing that much of our shopping has been done on-line, Ms. Rivers and I have sadly contributed in a small way to this decline.  We'll do better next year.

Monday, October 9, 2023

If We Only Had Time...

"If we only had time, only had time for you" - Gone Hollywood (Supertramp)

Sometimes it seems like time isn't this fixed thing that we seem to think it is.  Maybe that's the "relative" part of "relativity" in action.  Such things may be a bit above my paygrade, and while they are sometimes fun to ponder, in the end, it's a bit like shoveling water:  A lot of effort but little practical result.

It's been a bit since I've written, but things have been busy.  On the professional side of things, I have been working harder than ever before:  Not exactly for more money, but it's now at the part of my life when my desire to do good work sometimes exceeds any sensible reasons (to be working this hard).  On the non-work side of things, well, I have plenty of other work to do, including helping out with my older stepson's new home.  One has not experienced sweat until you are steaming wallpaper off in a house that is in the 85+ degree range.  That work is mostly done, and things have now moved to the wall prep for paint phase.  Mind you, there is a bathroom that still has wallpaper in it, but I'm waiting for those marching orders.  My work at the house extends beyond wallpaper removal, although I draw the line, as usual, at plumbing*.

Anyway, this summer has been something of a blur.  And now it's October, a month that has provided more than a few challenges for me over the years (many, many related postings here over the years).  I won't tempt fate...or October...with any further commentary, other than to say, "let's just be friends October, okay?".

These past few days have provided a kind of late punctuation to the summer of 2023 in that Ms. Rivers and I have been spending time with her parents in Cape May, NJ.  In fact, tomorrow we head home, with Ms. Rivers stopping in The Philadelphia on the way back (we took two cars).  I'll note that I've never really spent much time in Cape May, but I would come back in the future, as long as it was either before or after the summer season.  

Speaking of Cape May, it is an old place, saved in so many ways from the kitsch of the 1950's/1960's motor inn phase that became something of a statement for New Jersey shore points.  Many of those motor inns have gone the way of the early 1970's land yacht cars, but certainly a few of them still remain.  Just not in Cape May.  Here, well, it seems that efforts have been made to keep something more distinct, at least from an architectural (and possibly larger cultural) basis.  While I didn't bring any camera gear with me, my Google Pixel is more than capable of taking some wonderful pictures.

There's a real kind of beauty to be found in older places that have been well maintained and remained purposeful over the years.  In a way, that's something (well maintained & purposeful) that we should all be striving for in our own existence.  Being here with Ms. River's parents puts an exclamation point on this overall sentiment, as how they are now, we will all be, more or less, if we are blessed.

The above noted, this has proven to be a very difficult posting to write.  I find it more and more difficult to take the step back required to actually think about these kinds of things in a way which can translate to rational thoughts that make some written sense.  In other words, writing is hard sometimes, and my lack of it speaks more to my own life priorities than anything else.  I'm not just failing to make time for writing, by the way...there are several other (non-work) things I am not doing these days that don't seem to be making the cut.  That needs to change.  

Here's to cool Fall evenings and better life priorities to come.

(*) Reasons why I despise plumbing work, in no specific order:  A) I have big hands that don't fit well in small spaces.  B) It's dirty work.  C) It always leaks after round one of the repair.  D) You often need specialized tools that make no sense for non-plumbers to actually buy.

Sunday, July 30, 2023

Reach the Beach

“Don’t waste the time. Time is the final currency, man. Not money, not power - it’s time.”
- David Crosby

I say, with no disrespect to the memory of the late David Crosby, that the whole money/power thing is an interesting sentiment when you have had money and power to begin with.  This noted, he was right, and  the older I get, the more I understand the point.  This is a good way to being today's travel post.

So it's thinking about time that I'm here outside of Ocean City, NJ for an extended weekend mini-vacation.  We spent yesterday on the Ocean City boardwalk in the morning, and then later in the day at Longport and Margate City for the late afternoon/evening.  About 12,500 steps into the day, and it seems like it was a long day.  But yet, in the true spirit of David Crosby, it also seemed to pass by quickly.  And I have been thinking a lot about time lately.  

One of the traits that Ms. Rivers and I share is a tendency towards being planful.  We try to think things through and do what's right for the longer term, the bigger picture if you will.  I think that a point of commonality between our very different upbringings is the fact that neither of us grew up in households where there was a lot of money, which probably play a role in the whole security/planful thing.  Nowhere is this more evident than when it comes to retirement planning.  

As I've likely (I am not 100% sure, and I'm too lazy to check...) said before, this is the part of our life when we can see retirement on the horizon.  Not imminent, but not far away either.  The good news is that the whole planful stuff means that we will be financially ready.  So says our financial advisor.  For most folks that would be a relief...and for me it mostly is.  However...and you knew a "however" was coming...I often wonder if I'm ready in other ways.

I will note that physically, I am something of a wreck.  A "hot mess" and the younger folks would say.  While I have a good job that makes use of my skills, it's pretty demanding on my time, and while in years past I could make time for exercise, that hasn't been happening for years now.  Between the extra weight and a very actively lived 58 years behind me, the parts are starting to show some wear.  The point of discernment for me is trying to understand just how much of this just comes with the territory (i.e., something like my arthritic right big toe), and how much of it is actually self-inflicted.  The former I can't do all that much about, but the latter?  I'm feeling some guilt about that part.  The trick, if you want to call it that, is turning a fairly useless feeling like guilt into some concrete actions.  So far, I'm not doing so well.  But I have time...or do I?

One of the reasons why I enjoy the beach, in addition to the childhood memories associate with Atlantic City vacations, is the fact that the ocean is this hunkering big-a$$ed reminder of how large the world truly is, and how small the machinations in my head probably are.  Someone with the gift of brevity would says that it provides perspective.  I personally think it's actually more than that, although I can't come with reasons to exactly say why.  The saltwater smell hitting my nostrils is a kind of gentle reminder to me of a world that surpasses my dismay at physically aging and fears of forgetting, at some point, how to tie my shoes.  

I try to think about things like this from a 95/5 perspective.  This means that if I can take away some deeper sense from this (or other) experiences, even if it's just a small thing, then it's a good thing.  On the other side of the coin, as a wise person I know would say "why can't you just have a good time Steve?".  Maybe that's the 5% this time around.  Suffice to say, the jury is still out in the enlightenment department.

As for Ocean City NJ, well I was here once a long time ago.  In addition to being a typical Jersey beach town, it's simply and impeccably clean.  I also appreciate the whole "no smoking anything" policy that keeps the boardwalk not smelling like much of Atlantic City these days (see THIS posting) i.e., what I image to be the odor of Snoop Dog's limo. 

Today brings a trek to the beach in Brigantine, a spot we enjoyed when we were last in Atlantic City.  There's also this hotdog/ice cream joint we found that calls our names.  Loudly, and robustly, I will add.  I'm hoping to also finish one of the books I brought with me.  Yes, this is what passes for fun.  And this is okay, by the way.

Saturday, July 29, 2023

Wet Your Fanny (in the Susquehanny)

Each summer, Ms. Rivers and I do some kind of water trip, either a canoe or kayak(s) down the Susquehanna River.  I readily confess that this is something Ms. Rivers really enjoys, as it evokes memories of prior times.  Me?  I like being on the river and seeing the beauty that it offers.  I don't like getting into or out of a canoe or kayak.  That latter part is mainly due to two factors:

  1. I am admittedly uncoordinated.
  2. Canoes and kayaks are, by design, tippy.  And I am not talking gratuities here.
The above noted, I glad to go, and each year of going presents its own version of an adventure.

(note the ankles)

This year we were on a group trip from Mehoopany to Tunkhannock (PA), which is about an 11 mile water trek.  Our vehicle of choice was a double kayak, with me in the back and Ms. Rivers, as usual, in the front.  This, by the way, seems to be the logical arrangement of these sorts of things.

Before I go any further, a big shout out to Susquehanna Kayak and Canoe Rentals, who we have used for our paddle trips for several years.  They are wonderful folks and highly recommended.

Normally we just take a solo paddle on the river, but this time around we opted for a group trip, where "group" was something like 50-ish people.  What was wonderful about the trip was the age range of participants:  Some were older than us (a nice thought...), some were our age, some were younger.  There was even a very young man (more to come on that...).  We did chat with some of the other participants, and everyone seemed to have a good time.  

This is the inevitable part of the posting where I add some weird element to the trip. To that point, we had three special paddle participants.

First, there was "Old Man Playing Loud Music".  One of the attractive parts of paddling in the Susquehanna are the sounds.  These include paddles in the water.  Birds overhead.  The sound of the water flowing.  The wind through the trees.  Things like that, all of which have a certain calming charm about them.  This year?  We had an old dude playing loud, crappy music from a speaker bungie cord tied to his kayak.  Yes, you got that right.  So we are paddling down the river and see four bald eagles flying over head.  It was a spectacular vison.  What did we hear?  That would be "Old Man Playing Loud Music" insisting that the entire group listen to Foghat (instead of the eagles overhead).  Other notable artists included Charlie Daniels, Journey, Boston and a few others I have tried to blot out of my head.  Had he been a bit younger, I'm sure there would have been some Nickelback thrown into the mix.  We did our best to paddle ahead of "Old Man Playing Loud Music", but every once in a while he would catch up and we would be forced to confront, for example, Separate Ways by Journey.

Second, we had "Standing Man".  This was the guy who had his own special kind of kayak that he could stand in every once in a while.  It was actually kind of interesting watching him.  Think a cross between an older Tom Sawyer and a skinny biker dude.  I want to state for the record that there is no version of Steve Albert in any version of any multi-verse that could ever muster the coordination to do such a thing.  While "Old Man Playing Loud Music" was annoying, "Standing Man" was weirdly kind of inspiring. 

Third we had "Little Man", who apparently was the son of "Standing Man".  "Little Man" was probably 8 or 9 years old and even had his own little version of his father's specialty kayak.  I didn't see "Little Man" actually do the standing thing though.  What did see was "Little Man" getting towed by his father towards the end of the trip, which was cool.  "Little Man" very much reminded me of my late brother Chris when he was that age...both in how he looked and his seemingly boundless energy.  This was nice.

Other than the characters on the river (see above), the two other notable parts of the trip involved how wet we got, courtesy of one too many speeding-boats-n-resulting-wakes and the fact that I badly burned by ankles.  Yes, to that latter point, I took reasonable precautions to prevent sunburn.  Except for my ankles.  One lives and one learns.

There may yet be another paddle this year.  We shall see.

Sunday, June 25, 2023

The S Word

This is not the word you may be thinking of when you read the title.  Instead, today's word is "sobriety".  

Here's a useful definition:
Sobriety refers to the physiological and psychological state of being unaffected by the presence of an intoxicant. For people who are in recovery from substance or alcohol use, the definition of sobriety is similar to the definition of abstinence. It means living a life free of drug or alcohol use.

As a practical matter, I have practiced sobriety since about 1999 or so, with the exception of the rare glass of champagne (such as at a wedding) or a sip of wine.  Even prior to that I was not a substantial drinker.  Since 1999, I have gone literally years at a time without drinking any alcohol.  When you consider the social and cultural aspects of alcohol consumption in this country, I'm definitely the odd person out.

I don't, by the way, advertise this fact (well, this posting is an exception), as I am definitely not the person who wants to draw attention to himself...unless I am getting paid to do it.  The drinking thing mostly comes up during family, work, or social gatherings.  The reactions I get range from...


(an astonished) "What? How is that even possible?"

"What kind of freak are you?  Come on, have a beer!"

"Oh, you poor soul, you must be a recovering alcoholic."

I've definitely felt the second and third comments a few times in social and family gatherings, and I will be honest, it has made me uncomfortable.  Mind you, am not always comfortable to begin with in these situations, so the sobriety thing just compounds the matter.  The final comment seems to more occur when I am dealing with co-workers; in fact, I am reasonably sure that I have not been invited to certain functions mostly because I don't drink (the perception likely being that I am "Mr. Buzz Killington").

So then, why is this important?  Why don't I just go with the flow and have a beer or three?

Since we are dealing with me here, the answers will of course not be all that simple.  But I will try.

First, I genuinely don't like the taste of alcohol.  And yes, alcohol has a taste.  Outside of maybe some red wine, I've never felt that drinks with alcohol actually tasted all that good.  I have a theory:  I don't think most people like the taste of alcoholic beverages, but instead, they learn to like it because they actually like how it makes them feel.

Second, I don't like how alcohol makes me feel.  Now more than one person reading this is going to be thinking to themselves something like "But I like how it makes ME feel" or "It doesn't affect me much at all".  Alcohol definitely impacts humans in both physiological and psychological ways.  One of the more interesting concepts out there is that of alcohol tolerance (read more from the NIH HERE), which I summarize as simply this:  Over time, the more you drink the more you have to drink in order to get the same buzz.  The practice apparently makes the perfect.  Anyway, none of the feelings I've gotten from drinking over my lifetime have been positive.  In excess?  Well, let's just say that I see nothing all that great about vomiting booze into a toilet (or gutter, or hotel wastebasket...I've done all of those, and more).  

Related to the above, I discovered that I would drink at (work-related) events because it was so hard for me to engage in all the related social stuff after hours.  It wasn't long before I realized, in addition to how drinking in excess made me physically feel like warmed-over dog crap, that I was using alcohol as a kind of crutch.  Looking over my lifetime prior to 1999, this has been a repeating pattern.  In the end, let's just say that this is a big enough red flag to cover my Silverado, with room to spare.

Third, alcoholism runs in my family.  I'm not smart enough to know truly whether this kind of thing is inherited (my sense is that the answer is complicated, but you can read for yourself HERE).  For example, one of the few memories I have of being with my father was when I was very young and sitting in a bar on Adams Avenue in Scranton.  Just typing this brings back the smell of cigarettes, beer, and pee.  It's pretty sad that for some reason I've held onto this memory.  I will also note that my brother Chris had significant issues dealing with alcohol, and towards the end the front-row seat I had only reinforced my feelings about consumption.

All told, there's no real compelling reason for me to drink, and I am perfectly fine being in that place.  As alluded to above, the more interesting (and sometimes very frustrating part) is how this plays out with others.  In some respects, I think there are folks who genuinely don't know how to react to someone who does not drink.  Given the value society places on this particular practice, I kind of understand that point.  

Speaking of "points", now is when I'll break down my reactions to what's noted above:
  1. The [Nothing] reaction, "How is that even possible" & those that assume I am in recovery camp.
  2. The "What kind of freak are you" and "Come on, have a beer" crowd.
I am good with #1, even if the sentiment is somewhat misplaced.

#2?  One of the few things that can make me angry (and I am not an angry guy) is when someone who knows that I don't drink insists on my trying an alcoholic beverage.  As if I am this little kid who can be goaded into doing something I don't want to do.  More than once I've had a kind of Walter Mitty movie play in my head where someone insists that I have a can of beer, so I take the can, dump it out in front of them and then crush the can against their forehead.  NOTE THAT I WOULD NEVER ACTUALLY DO THIS...but I will admit that, at times, the thought of it has been a bit satisfying.      

Well now, this post has gotten a bit exciting, which means that I should probably finish things and call it a night.  To end on a positive note, I'll state for the record that I am glad some people find pleasure in drinking alcohol.  I really and truly am.  If it makes someone happy and it isn't an addiction, then it truly is a good thing.  My hope though is that maybe some of these same folks will afford the same positive affirmation to those who do not drink, regardless of the reason(s).

A Final Word
In case it isn't really clear from what I wrote, above, I have absolutely no problem with the consumption of alcohol by others.  It's just not for me.  If you ("you" being anyone reading this) enjoy a beer, wine, or a mixed drink, then I am glad that is a positive thing in your life.  As it stands, life really is kind of short, so it's important to have things to enjoy.  It's equally important though to realize there is a line between "positive thing" and "harmful thing".  With that noted...

(SAMSHA - Confidential free help, from public health agencies, to find substance use treatment and information.)

The Really, Truly, Honest-to-Goodness Final Word
Writer Anne Lamott is, to me, an inspiration for many reasons.  I've read several of her books, and I actually have another one on the way.  Every year she posts about her sobriety anniversary.  The posting below (from her public Facebook Account) is worth taking the time to read, and it is as good an ending to this posting as I think is possible.


Saturday, June 17, 2023

Council Skies

The title comes from a song by Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds, which I really enjoy.  Have a listen...

I don't normally listen to much newly released music, but I gave this one a try and am glad for the decision.

I found the song after reading about the Gallagher brothers from the (former) group Oasis, namely Noel, and Liam.  For those that may be unfamiliar with the Gallagher brothers, they are mostly famous for:

  1. The above-referenced English & defunct band Oasis, and...
  2. Hating each other's guts.
While in Scotland I was talking to one of my stepsons and asked him if he was familiar with Oasis and the Gallagher brothers; his response was something along the lines of "Yeah, they hate each other, one of them writes songs and plays the guitar (Noel), and the other is bat$hit crazy (Liam)".  That answer had the benefit of being both eloquent and pretty much factually correct as far as I can tell.

A few articles and an hour or three's worth of video interviews and I now know far more about the Gallagher brothers than what is actually required for any practical reason.  There is, of course, a bigger thought and story here, over and above Noel and Liam:  Namely family dynamics between siblings.

Thinking back over my life, I realize that I have been pretty lucky in the sibling relations department.  Perfect?  Hell no.  It feels as if I haven't vested nearly enough time in keeping in touch with my sisters, which I own, and I need to do better.  As I approach the end of my primary working years, it's pretty clear that other parts of my life up to this point have been pretty much all-consuming, at least as far as my physical, mental, and emotional energy has been concerned.  Some of this is unadulterated ambition:  I desperately wanted to have a better life than I had growing up.  I think that, when it comes to that last point, I've been more or less successful.

When it comes to maintaining relationships with my brothers, I think that I've tried...probably more so since my brother Chris' passing in 2017.  As for Chris, I wish I would have spent more time with him.  Like me though, he also had a kind of inherent ambition, which made connecting doubly more challenging.  Then there were a few squabbles, of which 99.87% always had to do with politics.  I still, for example, recall the seeming mix of hurt and disgust in his voice after I repeatedly referred to Rush Limbaugh as "Pumpkin Head".  This was because Chris adored Limbaugh and he (Limbaugh) truly had an enormous head.  I think though that, for the most part, we both knew that the political arguments were more of a sport of sorts, and neither one of us liked to lose. 

I'll also note that, in retrospect, it's clear that my brother Chris was a deeply conflicted man who was fighting an ongoing (and losing) battle against self-medication.  I wish I could have helped more, but I also know that I did what I could at the time, including listening.  Among the many things I am grateful for is the fact that we were in regular contact before he passed.

Getting back to the Gallagher brothers, it's painful to think that two siblings are so disconnected.  I don't pretend to understand all the dynamics between them, but I know that our siblings understand our story better than others do.  That's true for the children of my parents as well as rock musicians from Manchester.  Denying the benefit of that connection...not having that person in your life who has some sense of your story and tragic.

My ongoing hope is to not make that mistake.  

Monday, June 12, 2023

So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish

I wanted to come up with an interesting and engaging title for this posting, but I more or less failed.  The result is noted above.  If you don't get the reference, well then that's okay.  It probably means you have something of a life (reference HERE).  On to the real business of this posting stuff.

We've now been back from Scotland for going on three weeks, so I'm thinking an update is due.

The traveling back was hell.

Yes, thanks to something of a British Airways meltdown (HERE), our initial flight from Edinburgh to London was canceled.  Luckily, we got a very competent agent, who was able to book us on a later flight.  That's the good news.  The bad news?  We had to spend 8 hours at Edinburgh airport.  Many of the gate seating areas at the Edinburg airport look like this...

The benches scream, in a loud Scottish accent, "Laddy, don't even try to get comfortable".  I suspect that Edward Longshanks probably used something like these benches to torture William Wallace.

The really bad news?  The new flight was leaving at 3pm local time, meaning that we would not get back to the U.S. until 10-10:30pm.  Note there is a 6-hour time difference to figure into all of this.  True to form, that happened, and the net result was Ms. Rivers and I took turns with the drive from Newark back home.  Honestly, we are lucky that there wasn't a lot of traffic.  Put another way, had we still been in the U.K., we would have been up for something like 20+ hours by the time we got home.  

Oh, and British Airways lost one of our bags, which we got back...a week and a half later.  Given the reach of British Airways, there's no way of knowing what happened to our bag during that time. I told my younger stepson to smell the suitcase to see if it had an odor of "curry and despair".

All well and good, and certainly first-world problems, for sure.

It took me days to fall back into a regular sleeping schedule.  And I was absolutely buried with stuff at work.  Ms. Rivers and I both agree that there won't be any Atlantic crossings for a few years to come.  Come to think of it, I'm pretty good not flying for a while, truth be told.

It's important, or at least it seems like it should be important, to separate the travel from the destination.  In that case, the destination is wonderful.  British Airways is not.  Enough said.

So here I am back to more life as usual.  A bit wiser and more worldly for the wear.  Now I feel somewhat compelled to pay more attention to my flowers, especially my burgeoning honeysuckle forest.  Pictures to come at some point.

Saturday, May 27, 2023

Scotland - Day 8: Mar sin leat

The above is my feeble attempt at saying goodbye in Scottish Gaelic.  Given that my language skills are somewhat lacking, even in English, the title is about as correct as Google can make it.  Anyway, today is our last day in Scotland, and tomorrow, bright and early, we return home.  

As for today's activities, well, things were intentionally kept on the light side.  The first stop this morning was to the Edinburgh farmer's market, where a few things were purchased.  From there, it was off to the National Museum of Scotland, which we barely made a dent in before deciding to call it a day.  Our plan from there was to head off to Arthur's Seat and do some hiking, but two things got in the way:  1) It was a bit chillier than expected and 2) We were just tired.  To that second point, I'm glad we stayed here as long as we did, but by now, the hiking miles upon miles a day is wearing a bit thin for all of us (myself especially included).  If there is ever a return trip, Arthur's Seat (and one or two other places) will be first on the list.

Back to the National Museum of Scotland...this is a must-see.  The fact that it's completely free only adds to the coolness of the place.  The museum itself has a bit of everything, from fossils to religious artifacts to weapons of a thousand years ago.  

The interior of the museum.

A copy of Mary, Queen of Scots's casket.

A precursor to the French guillotine.

Ms. Rivers and I also had a final stroll in the city before things get too dark, and we get too tired.  Of course, this somehow ended up involving a cemetery.

Here's to Catherine, being remembered again.  May she be resting in peace.

View of St. Cuthbert's cemetery and steeple.

On that note, that brings "the big Scotland vacation" to an end.  I suspect that we will be back, at some unknown point in the future.  As for me, I confess that it will be nice to sleep in my own bed, not walk up quite so many hills, and having the time to plant flowers on Monday.  There is a certain serenity in routine, but yet in leaving, I'm hoping that some of those routines are forever changed.  We shall see.

I'll end this with my favorite song about Scotland.

Friday, May 26, 2023

Scotland - Days 6 & 7: Winding Down

We're on the back end of our Scotland vacation, so I'm going to combine activities from Thursday (May 25th) and Friday (May 26th).  This is mostly because, at least for me, things are dialing down a bit.  No big tours, and no tight schedules.  I am good with this, by the way.  While I have thoroughly enjoyed what we've done so far, I'm starting to feel as if my vacation insights cup is almost full.  This is less of a writing thing and more of a mental/physically tired kind of thing.  

Homesick?  Not really.  It's probably more of a function of my incredibly short attention span.  I've seen wonderful things here, and I've learned a thing or two.  And not just about Scotland.  Big things like this...and traveling to a different country is a big thing...create a tremendous opportunity for growth, I think if we're open to it.  As I'm looking at one full day left, I'm still trying to sort out some of what I've learned.  This is a wonderful thing by the way, namely, the fact that, at age 59, I readily confess to learning new things about myself and the world.

Something I will note is that the night before we flew out here, I had something of an incredibly troubling dream.  I wouldn't use the word nightmare, but one of those sleeping cerebral movies that just sticks in your head like old gum on the bottom of a movie theater seat.  The kind of thing where the emotion of it all makes you think there must be some deeper meaning to it all, even though there probably isn't.  Flying out here that quickly evaporated.  Indeed, there was no deeper meaning.  It was just a dream.  This is, however, one of the examples of how travel can impact us:  It takes us outside of our own heads for a period of time.  The sheer difference of it all reminds us that there is much more to the world than what we think (or dream) or see in front of us every "normal" day.  

In the end, seeing the "bigness" of the world is both humbling and incredibly insightful.

I wish there was some way to expose younger folks of all economic conditions to overseas travel.  I think the world would be a far, far better place.  As it stands, this kind of travel is an example of a kind of privilege in action, which, growing on the lower socio-economic side of status, I fully appreciate as an adult.  I also appreciate the fact that Ms. Rivers is far more keen to undertake these kinds of things than I naturally am.  Granted that I do enjoy this kind of travel, but left to my own druthers, I'm not sure I would do it.

As for the last two days' worth of travels, well, as I noted above, it was a bit less scheduled.  On Thursday, we did an hour-long tour of some of the vaults that are found under the King's Mile (in Edinburgh).  It was interesting, and the guide did a good job of conjuring up some spooky mojo with her stories, in addition to talking about the real hardship of living at a time when 1) There wasn't enough housing for everyone, and 2) Actually being homeless was a criminal offense.  

The vaults we visited were off of Cow Gate, which just so happens to have the backside of a cow displayed in one of the nearby buildings.

One of the vaults was used by a local religious group for many, many years.  After their leader passed away, the group broke up, up but allowed the owner of the vault they used to be maintained, provided that no one could enter.  By the way, the vaults in this area are owned by different folks and are used for everything from nothing to storage to a bar.  

You can read more about the Edinburgh vaults HERE.

After the vaults, we had a rather uneventful dinner at what we think was a chain restaurant of sorts.  Ms. Rivers tried the beet sauce.  I didn't.  

Today (Friday) we did some more walking (surprising!) and found the beginning of a canal, complete with canal boats.

We also found a very neglected cemetery in of all places, Coffin Lane.  We would have gone down the explore, but the encampment of folks who looked like they may be been using some illegal substances was there already.  Discretion was the better part of valor.

Ms. Rivers and I went for a walk further down King's Mile later in the day.  A few things caught my eye:

Note for those with agoraphobia:  Edinburgh is a very crowded place.

Yes, I could not help myself:  Another picture of the turd building.

I'm not sure about the significance behind the locks, other than I am sure there is some significance.  

At this point, I am pretty damn tired.  Tomorrow we will be seeing a few more things that we don't want to miss before flying out bright and early on Sunday morning.

I'm thinking I have one more post in me. 

More to come.

Wednesday, May 24, 2023

Scotland - Day 5: There's Something In The Air

I mentioned fairly early on that there is a certain smell to this place.  Since that initial olfactory observation, I've been able to fine-tune things a bit.  Specifically:
  • There is a distinct Edinburgh smell.
  • I also got a whiff of it in a smaller town we visited (see below).
  • It reminds me of when I used to live in York, PA, and was downwind of a paper plant.
  • Said smell goes away when you leave the city; in fact, the countryside here smells wonderful.
I'm reasonably sure I'm smelling some Scottish version of sewer gases.  Now that this mystery is solved, it's time to move on to bigger and better things.

How about a few random facts?

Sheep outnumber humans in Scotland by over a million.  Reference HERE.  That's easy to see, literally.  Some of today's sheep...

(Those white things towards the left horizon?  Sheep.)

There's a lot of smoking here.  Interestingly enough though, according to Scottish government statistics, it's the tourists, not the locals.  In fact, the smoking rate in Scotland as a whole is 11% as of 2021.  Reference HERE.  In Pennsylvania, the most current rate I could find was 17.9% (reference HERE).  Why bring this up?  Well, today's trip was the Hadrian's Wall, which I'll get into in a moment.  The tie to smoking is that Ms. Rivers and I sat at the back of our tour bus today, behind a group of folks speaking Italian (Ms. Rivers seems to think they said they were from Switzerland, but I'm not so sure...).  These folks were lighting up constantly every time they left the bus, leaving us to deal with the smell when they returned.  I know, first-world problems, for sure, but it does remind me of how much things have changed for the better in this area since I was a kid.  For the record, if you smoke, please try to's simply a horrible thing to do to your body, and you deserve better.

What we haven't smelled much of is marijuana.  That could be because it's illegal in Scotland (reference HERE).  I'm not complaining.

On to the business end of today.  As noted above, we visited Hadrian's Wall*, and it was wonderful.  Well worth a day in Scotland.  Prior to arriving at the wall, we stopped at a town named Jedburgh, where there can be found the ruins of a large abbey.  It was actually really interesting.  

This is also a place where Mary, Queen of Scotts stayed at one point.  From here, we visited 4 different sites related to Hadrian's Wall.  Here are some of the better pictures:

None of this, by the way, does the wall...and its related ruins...justice.  This is just something you need to experience.  It felt kind of unique to sit on a section of the wall, knowing that over 1900 years ago soldiers from the Roman Empire were doing the exact same thing.  It's also rather marvelous to experience something so old yet created by humans, particularly in an age where it seems like everything is disposable.

I'll post more pictures on the Facebooks.

Finally, I saw this stone at the border between Scotland and England (Hadrian's Wall is in England).  It tells its own story.

I (obviously) have skin in the Scottish Independence game, but it seems to me that this is a culturally distinct place.  

(*) You can learn more about Hadrian's Wall by linking to:

More to come.

Tuesday, May 23, 2023

Scotland - Day 4: King For A Day

Maybe, quite possibly, I might have gotten enough sleep last night.  Granted that sleep is sometimes more of a concept for me than an actuality.  That's a fancy way of saying sleep and I don't always get along.  Anyway, I actually got something along the lines of 8 hours of sleep.  That's a good start to the day.  This was needed as today we spent a few hours at Edinburgh Castle.  

As we were waiting outside St. Giles Cathedral, we heard an actual Scottish street preacher doing this thing catercorner to the church.  

I almost feel guilty burning up a posting photo on the guy (due to posting size limits, I can typically fit about 5-6 high resolutions per posting), but it's worth it.  There's something unqualifying interesting about a man yelling the name of "Jesus Christ!" in a thick Scottish accent at one of the busiest corners of Edinburgh.  He was literally fighting a losing battle against traffic.  Some nice soul in a passing taxi was even kind enough to take of one his pamphlets.  All in a day's work I suppose.

On to Edinburgh Castle, which is many things, including amazing.  A few points of interest.

St. Margaret's Chapel is one of the oldest buildings in the U.K. dating back to around the year 1130.  It's also the oldest surviving building at the castle, here basically because King Robert the Bruce was afraid of creating bad mojo with the Pope.

You can get married in the chapel, which is why I couldn't take any interior photos, as that was actually happening during our visit.  Congratulations to the groom and bride, whomever they are.

I didn't go into many of the castle buildings, mostly because it was nice outside and many of them don't allow interior photography.  I did, however, get to see the changing of the guard.  Fun fact:  Edinburgh Castle is a real U.K. military base, with a garrison of troops stationed there at all times.  One of the places they guard, in addition to the actual castle entrance, is a building dedicated to those from the U.K. military who lost their lives during their service.

The above was right before the changing of the guard.  A side note:  One of the other tour groups had a guide that was speaking loudly as the ceremony began. Very, very disrespectful.  Thankfully, I think she got the hint and stopped.

I have about a dozen castle exterior shots that I'll post on the Facebooks, but here's one of the nicer ones.

The view from the castle can best be described as jaw-dropping.  Here's a sample:

If you look carefully at the photo, towards the top right, you'll see a rather new-ish building that is actually shaped like a turd.  I am not kidding.  Said building is not on the graphic at this location of the castle that points out city landmarks.  This could be for two reasons:
  1. The building came after the graphic was installed.
  2. No one wanted to actually include in the graphic the description of the "Turd Building".
Either explanation seems plausible to me. I'll post a larger picture of the Turd Building on the Facebooks.

Our day of exploration ended with a second trip through the cemetery where Greyfriar's Bobby is buried.  And yes, I get that it seems like we're spending a lot of time in cemeteries during this trip.  Actually, I'm not quite sure what to make of that myself, come to think about it.  In any event, here's one more cemetery picture.

Finally, when I was thinking about castles and kings, the Thompson Twins song "King for a Day" came to mind.  That's a fine way to end things...

More to come.

Monday, May 22, 2023

Scotland - Day 3: Authenticity

I don't try to explain, after the fact, what these bordering-on-ridiculous blog postings mean.  There are a couple reasons for that, none of which are entertaining enough (for me...) to write about.  This noted, what I do find fascinating is how easy it is to read intent into written words.  That's both a curse and a blessing for folks that write things, even hacks such as myself.  Anyway, I'm going to make an exception to the blog posting interpretation rule.

For example, in my Day 1 posting, I compared how Edinburgh is, well, gritty, dirty, and kind of smells like the Scranton I knew as a kid.  I get that this certainly sounds bad...unless you are me, and you grew up in Scranton in the '70s.  Granted that other folks, outside of fans of the U.S. version of The Office, probably have a negative impression of Scranton, but I don't.  In fact, that gritty/dirty/smells description is, in a word, authentic.  While there are tons of tourists here in Edinburgh, as I noted in the Day 2 posting, this is a lived-in kind of place.  The tourists just seem to be here for the ride.  

Another way to think about this is to consider Edinburgh as a kind of anti-Disney.  This isn't a magic kingdom; this is a place where people work, sieges have been had, and more than a few people hung and/or otherwise dispatched.  In the words of our tour guide on Sunday, Edinburgh had for the longest time a reputation for being one of the most disgusting cities in Europe.  The magic in this kingdom is that people have called this home and fought for it over centuries.  

The above noted, my quota for actually explaining blog postings has been met.  Since this is about the first time since 2008 that I've done this sort of thing (explaining...), if I do the math then I won't have to do it again until sometime in 2038.

On to the day's festivities.


Today we did the quasi-common bus tour of the countryside thing.  It was fun, based partially on the fact that my knees appreciated that they weren't responsible for all of the day's locomotion.  To be a bit more specific, the big stops today were Loch Lomond and Stirling Castle.  See the links for more (likely & possibly) factual information.  

As we were headed to Loch Lomond, we stopped to see an attraction known as the Kelpies.  For purposes of picture set-up, know that this is a very large metal sculpture. 

As I alluded to in the first paragraph or so of this posting, Scotland pretty much does what Scotland wants.  Giant horse heads?  Sure, why not.  There actually is some mythology about the Kelpies, which you can get from the horse's mouth HERE.  

From the Kelpies we headed to the Loch, for an all too brief visit.  Photographs don't do it justice, but here's one anyway.

This is an old place, well-used, yet still incredibly beautiful.  Something else to mention?  It smelled wonderful.  Actually, the Kelpies smelled wonderful too.  Just the right combination of flowers were in bloom I suppose, creating a scent that would rival a stand of honeysuckle.  

By the way, I am reasonably sure that there are more sheep in Scotland than there are people.  Without any exaggeration whatsoever.  The sheep we saw driving around the countryside were legion, for they were many.

Granted, I don't want to think too hard about Scotland's sheep, as that results in thoughts about what becomes of the cute little guys (re:  Haggis).

After the Loch and countless sheep-spotting opportunities, we stopped for lunch.  That was something of an adventure (for mundane reasons I will not get into), but what was really cool was the fact that we stopped at a town that was literally at the border between the Scottish lowlands and highlands.  

Foreground = Lowlands.  Background = Highlands.

Our final stop was Castle Stirling, complete with a larger-than-life statue of Robert the Bruce.  Yes, that was a character in the movie Braveheart, and yes, the locals are keenly aware of how inaccurate Mel Gibson's movie really was.  Regardless, it's an impressive statue.

I didn't do the castle tour (Ms. Rivers did), but instead went wandering around the castle grounds, which were beautiful.  The history of this place literally permeates the air.

Finally, I can't let the opportunity pass to take a few critter shots, and today was no exception.  

With apologies for the off-center shot, but in all fairness, 1) He was moving a lot and 2) I was using a cellphone camera.

All of the above noted, it was a long but interesting day.  Now to get some rest.  I think I slept for something like four hours last night, due to a variety of reasons.  I need to do better,.  Tomorrow will be more castle touring and maybe a ghost* bus tour.

More to come.

(*) Ghosts don't exist, but for the purposes of this vacation, I'll play along.