Thoughts and Prayers

“Thoughts and prayers” – it’s become a meme; words which have suffered from ‘semantic satiation’ (as reported by CNN). That is, a phrase repeated so often as to lose any significance.

But I have some thoughts about prayers.

I believe it is justifiable to view the ‘thoughts and prayers’ incantation in a cynical way, when the sentiment is simply a substitute for action. However, when we gloss over the power of communal prayer, I think we lose a vital medium for change.

It is documented that we humans have come together in prayer for over five thousand years. At its root, prayer is a quest for connection to the ineffable, an act of supplication. All faiths practice a form of this connection – no one religion ‘owns’ prayer. People pray as individuals or in groups. Whether it is the ‘two or more gathered in my name’, the minyan of ten, or formal call to worship, communal prayer strikes a cosmic chord. Deepak Chopra calls prayer ‘applied consciousness’.

While prayer itself may not immediately change outcomes, it does change us. We—being changed – can affect outcomes. An author I admire, C.S. Lewis, has said: “I pray because I can’t help myself. … I pray because the need flows out of me all the time, waking and sleeping. It doesn’t change God. It changes me.”

Action is a necessary concomitant of prayer. To offer thoughts and prayers without commitment to deeds is ineffectual – it’s only half the process. This is not just my opinion:  Pope Francis has said that prayer without action is useless. However, my favorite quote is from Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo:

“This isn’t a time for prayers, and study and inaction, it’s a time for prayers, action and the asking of God’s forgiveness for our inaction (especially the elected officials that ran to the cameras today, acted in a solemn manner, called for prayers, and will once again do absolutely nothing).”

Think about a prayer vigil asking supplication and forgiveness for our inaction to effect change to quell violence. Think about the power a citizen group – with many points of view and diversity of faith – can accomplish by gathering for communal prayer about our inaction in living out our ideals in a way that helps our shared community. Would our elected officials join or disown such activity?

What if every citizen meeting started by reciting something like the following:

I pray that harmony may prevail in my community. Help me to be an instrument of peace. Help us in this community to come together to resolve the issues that affect us all. Help us cooperate in overcoming violence, health issues and prejudice. May we each bring our experiences and our expertise to the table and work out solutions together. Help us to listen well, to empathize, and resolve the best path for our community. Amen.

Some may say this would violate the separation of church and state, because the word ‘pray’ is included, yet there is no mention of a deity – and of course, ‘amen’ simply means “so be it”. In the spirit of discussion, would you see this as just a naïve wish or essential pledge to any meaningful change?

What follows is reported to be the Dalai Lama’s favorite prayer – attributed to Shantideva:

“May all beings everywhere
Plagued by sufferings of body and mind
Obtain an ocean of happiness and joy
By virtue of my merits.

May no living creature suffer,
Commit evil, or ever fall ill.
May no one be afraid or belittled,
With a mind weighed down by depression.

May the blind see forms
And the deaf hear sounds,
May those whose bodies are worn with toil
Be restored on finding repose.

May the naked find clothing,
The hungry find food;
May the thirsty find water
And delicious drinks.

May the poor find wealth,
Those weak with sorrow find joy;
May the forlorn find hope,
Constant happiness, and prosperity.

May there be timely rains
And bountiful harvests;
May all medicines be effective
And wholesome prayers bear fruit.

May all who are sick and ill
Quickly be freed from their ailments.
Whatever diseases there are in the world,
May they never occur again.

May the frightened cease to be afraid
And those bound be freed;
May the powerless find power,
And may people think of benefiting each other.

For as long as space remains,
For as long as sentient beings remain,
Until then may I too remain
To dispel the miseries of the world.”

What If…?

Once again, Wal presents us with a well thought out and carefully articulated discourse on a timely issue.  Even more, he offers up a suggestion and asks each of us to consider what might happen if we, collectively, took it seriously.

I am moved by this question and Wal’s insightful views.  Would I see this, as he puts it, “… as a naïve wish or essential pledge to meaningful change?”  I suggest that it doesn’t have to be one or the other.  For me, naïve wishes, in the minds of action-oriented thinkers, become essential pledges to meaning change.  Yes, if we are caught up in the meme of “thoughts and prayers” and generally feel hopeless about how things are, this suggestion could become just another “naïve wish.”  But what if we bring ourselves to these things with hope and enthusiasm about what could be?  Even if it begins as another innocent and as yet unsophisticated idea, could it not spiral into an unexpected but highly effective action?  Absolutely, I say!

Wal plants this seed for all of us to witness.  We can pass by it and notice it’s beauty and smile or shake our heads and see it’s futility, we can stop and hold it in our hand for a while and consider it’s potential, or we can pick it up, feel it’s possibilities and decide to adopt it, plant it and nurture it.

Why not advance Wal’s question from query to an outright challenge?  What if we accept the premise that simply feeling badly and once again thinking about and praying for the victims of violence is no longer enough and worse, is eroding my capacity for honest empathy?  What would happen if each of us took the recitation* Wal assembled and brought it to the organizations to which we belong and asked them to consider using it to begin each gathering?  Or, what if you brought it as a working construct to be modified and adapted so that it engendered more ownership?  Can you feel the energy that could bring? 

“I Go to Seek a Great Perhaps”

Francois Rabelais * I pray that harmony may prevail in my community. Help me to be an instrument of peace. Help us in this community to come together to resolve the issues that affect us all. Help us cooperate in overcoming violence, health issues and prejudice. May we each bring our experiences and our expertise to the table and work out solutions together. Help us to listen well, to empathize, and resolve the best path for our community. Amen.

Time to Put on My Old Man Pants

I believe in the power of prayer; I must believe in it because I do it all the time.  Sometimes I pray out loud, sometimes I pray silently.  As a kid growing up Catholic, I knew all of the usual prayers by heart…. The Our Father, Hail Mary, Act of Contrition, Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep…To this day, when I begin to pray I go through the entire litany of memorized prayers before I get to the real substance of what I am praying about, just out of habit!  I remember as a kid  when my parents were arguing loudly, I used prayer as a way of blocking out their anger and the length of my praying was in direct correlation to the length of the argument and saved me from hearing what was being said.  I used prayer as a way of drowning out anything I didn’t want to hear.  As I aged, I often would pray as a way of allaying my fears.  The physical act of praying blocked out my fear and apprehension and allowed the time to pass with as little worry and anxiety as possible.  It still works for me.  The saying of the prayer in my mind distracts me, barricades outside noise, and allows the time to pass by without having to replay the reality that initiated the prayer in the first place.  It doesn’t bring me the peace and comfort I would see on my Aunt’s face when she would say her rosary but i was always envious of how successfully that worked for her.

I came to realize that my mind is never quiet.  Maybe if I practiced yoga I would be able to shut it down for periods of time but honestly there is never a moment when I am not talking to myself in my head.  I don’t hear my voice in my head but I perceive every word as clearly as if I were speaking it out loud.  I also came to realize that more often than not those head conversations present themselves as prayers,  asking for help  or hoping for a solution to some kind of problem.  Sometimes I am not even aware I am doing it but my mind is never silent.  I have incredible internal conversations when I am driving, or eating alone, or anywhere and in any activity where directed thinking is not required. Sometimes I may be asking for help, imagining a dream I would love to see come true, sometimes a hope that I could win the next argument with someone.  But it always includes a wish, a hope, a different outcome, all of which I perceive as prayer.

There are times when my prayers are less than questioning and more out right angry. Can there be an angry prayer?   If there is an “All Mighty,” omniscient being why are innocent children dying in schools, why are there tornadoes and earthquakes to add to our suffering? Why are there bad people shooting up schools snd malls and churches.  Why can’t the omniscient one prevent this pain and evil.  At those times my thoughts get quite agitated and angry and yes, even challenging! What does the Almighty one get from our pain and suffering.  And if nothing, why not stop it.  Teach us how to live harmoniously and get along, after all the Almighty Omniscient one has the power to stop it and the knowledge that it is going to happen.  Those thoughts usually enter my head after a school shooting, having been a grade school teacher for 35 years!

I believe that prayer benefits the pray-er more than the object of the prayer because it can drive that individual to action.  And action is often what is needed to answer prayer. I guess it is time for me to put on my old man pants with the suspenders and step up to the plate.  Who knows,  if enough of us take action, change might just occur! I sure hope so!


Unsafe and Insecure

I remember growing up and well into my adult years when someone rang my doorbell or knocked on my door, a kind of rush would go through me in anticipation of guests arriving. Often it was the Jehovah Witnesses, but hey, it was unexpected, it was a change in routine, and offered an unexpected surprise- usually a positive or pleasant unexpected surprise.  I don’t know when the change in me occurred but recently, if someone knocks on my door, it sets a tension filled, fearful reaction even if in the middle of the day.  If it happens in the night hours, I tend to be really hesitant and concerned for safety.  After living in my house for almost a year I had a suspicious experience that sat like a rock in my shoe ever since.  I had been away for the weekend and returned on a Tuesday.  There were four days of newspapers scattered across my lawn.  A neighbor had already warned me about that and advised me to get someone to pick up the paper for me but I didn’t heed his advice.  A surprise knock on the door occurred in the middle of the day.  Apparently the knocker was expecting no answer and was surprised when I opened the door.  A middle aged woman was standing at the door and said with surprise ‘OH!”  I asked if I could help her and she stammered and asked if a judge lived here.  “A judge never lived in this house, I responded and as I looked past her there was a stopped car with three men in it waiting for her.  She apologized for bothering me and returned to the car.  I didn’t think much about it until a few days later when the neighborhood was buzzing about a break in just several blocks from here.  The “looking for the judge” excuse was used all over and when no one was home, the house was broken into.  That is when I first began to get that foul taste in my mouth of distrust.  Now if there is a knock, my first instinct is to go to the front window, pull the drape back a little and peer out to help me decide if I should open the door.  My dog goes to the window now automatically and waits for me to pull back the drape all the while growling and barking.  If this knock happens after dark, I get a little chill up my spine.  The front door is the only protection I have and being a senior citizen living alone it can be a little threatening.

This feeling of insecurity has been building over the last few years.  I remember the day of the Sandy Hook shooting.  I was driving back to my Inn from having been with my kids that weekend and literally had to pull off the road because the tears were affecting my vision.  I could not conceive of anyone doing that to little kids and their teachers. Columbine already happened while I was still teaching but that seemed long ago and far away.  I tried to imagine if I would have been as brave as those teachers –some of them using their own bodies as shields for their students.   That scared me to my soul and still has me in disbelief every time a group shooting happens.  The school ones are especially difficult for me.  Then in 2019 Covid came along and we all became isolated, living in the safety of our own cocoons, praying to be spared the inevitable infection that being among other members of our tribe would cause.  For over 2 years we lived in fear of Covid, adjusting to talking to the few people in our households and yes, our pets!  As the virus began to wane, we had to learn how to be among people once again.  Our masks separated us from others but once again we were facing personal fears we all shared.  My life of being safe and secure had changed.  Before Covid I was dealing with the fear of personal safety and the safety of people I love against physical harm.  Covid brought on the fear of sickness, pain and discomfort.  My personal comfort quotient continued to slip.  With society opening up after two long years, mass shootings began to spring up again in grocery stores, concerts, schools and more schools, universities, Sweet Sixteen parties.  I wasn’t aware of the effect this has had on me til last week. I was going to meet teacher friends for dinner at one of our old familiar haunts.  I pulled out of my driveway and about two blocks away from home I realized I didn’t have my phone. I   turned around thinking what if there is a shooting I would have no way of letting anyone know if I was safe.  Very matter of factly, I acknowledged that and returned home, got my phone, and headed to the restaurant.  On the way there I began to realize that my thinking had changed and I was concerned about my safety.  When I got there I was telling that to my friend and she said she always carries her phone wherever she goes for that very reason, so I guess I am not alone.

This whole thing saddens me, and I worry about my kids’ safety, friends, everybody!  So last night I am sitting alone at home watching TV and my son calls from South Carolina.  Up until that phone call I had an obviously false sense of safety and security driving around in my dependable Jeep Wrangler, I feel very safe in it.  Perhaps the last bastion of safety for me was my car.  My son proceeds to tell me that down there there has been a rash of car thefts.  No break ins and jump starts but new technology that can use your key fob remotely from where you keep it in your house, as most of us keep our keys near the back door.  With this new technology, a thief can aim this device at your fob and open the doors and start the car and off they go.  No fuss no mess!  So now they have a device that you can get to cover your fob, like a coat or armor, to protect your fob from falling predator to this new car theft device.  Call me old fashioned but I miss the days of feeling safe in my house, at school, grocery shopping, eating in restaurants, going to the movies and just living life the way we used to.  Some of the solutions are easy but we just can’t seem to have the desire to bring safety back into our lives. What aspect of our lives is next to be violated?  We won’t even protect our kids!

Fear Itself

Last week, Linda and I went to our local grocery store. Because I am oblivious to details, she pointed out that the fellow who entered in front of us had a machete strapped to his back. Certainly, a cool fashion accessory, but — unless he was shopping for coconuts– I’m guessing that here was a guy who believed himself to be under constant threat. 

According to Bureau of Justice, we in the US are at the lowest rate of violent crime since 1993. Indices of crimes including assault, rape, and robbery are all downward trending. However, perception doesn’t always follow data, does it? Why is that the case?

Is it the media, which relentlessly brings every report of violence to your doorstep via radio, tv, phone, internet, and the newspapers strewn across George’s front lawn? No wonder these topics are always in our conversations. According to Randall Munroe in his book, Thing Explainer, “gun”, “kill”, “attack”, and “shoot” are in the top 1,000 words that people most frequently use.

Or is it the aging process that leads us to focus on our safety? Do we feel more vulnerable as we age? Perhaps, this is the reason that the largest percent of gun owners are the age group 65 or older (36% of our cohort owns a gun)? A girl enters the wrong driveway and is killed by a 64-year-old. A young man knocks on the wrong door and gets shot twice by an 85-year-old? No wonder the lady knocking on your door seemed nervous, George – she was probably afraid of you! Old folks are dangerous!

Do we fear for our safety because we don’t understand our constantly changing society? Neuroscientist Daniel J. Levitin reports that as we age, our dopamine receptors and hippocampus shrink. The consequence of this age-related deficit is that we are chemically less motivated to look for new experiences. In addition, our accumulated memories act in opposition to the acquisition of new points of view. Such a condition leads a person to back away from initiating change in their personal circumstances and can promote social isolation and “hypersensitivity to threatening stimuli.” 

Yikes, is that us? Is brain chemistry leading us to focus more on threats and safety?

I subscribe to the theory that what you focus upon is more likely what you will bring into your life. Rumination reinforces the aspects of life you ruminate about. Whether you choose to call this selective perception, self-fulfilling prophesy, or the law of attraction, it works the same way. Therefore, the key is to focus on what moves you ahead. But how?

Professor Levitin encourages older folks to learn new skills both for brain health and to maintain a feeling of well-being. He argues that embracing a mindset of curiosity and openness not only empowers us to feel more in charge of our lives, but is actually good for the brain’s neuroplasticity. In other words: ‘Keep Up’. Hmm, sounds right. Maybe there’s room in that macramé class, so I can learn how to weave a sheath for my machete… what do you think, Geo?

Freedom from Fear from NikkiGsPoetry – poet at allpoetry.com


The twisted truth
hidden inside every human,
chemically charged,
hypothetical noose,
effects booming,
Like steel it’s forged,

From the deepest parts,
of the heart,
of the subconscious mind,
created to blind,
created to distract from reality,
to drag you towards fatality.

irreparable damage,
brain analyzing,
deciphering the disadvantages.

The path,
overcome damnation.
The truth,
swallowed by isolation.
The remedy,
chase your aspirations.


Fueled by fire,
diminished by desire,
overcome the obstacles
keep faith in your arsenal.

Fight your fears,
take the cotton out of your ears,
lift the veil so you can see,

Set yourself free.

My Freedom to Choose

George openly shares his feelings about how he sees life today with regards to safety and security.  He remembers his earlier life as far less worrisome and his present existence as great cause for concern about his (and his property’s) safety and the safety of others.  He presents examples as well as conversations he has had with others that validate his feelings.  None of us can understand the depth of another’s emotions, especially those evoked by fear.  Nor, can any of us tell a person not to feel that way and expect that to happen.  I believe I understand how George arrived at his current perspective and accept that this heavily influences his present reality. 

While I sometimes share similar feelings when faced with the issues George mentions, they don’t influence me in quite the same way.  As a result, I arrive at different point of view.  My rejoinder is not intended as a rebuttal or an attempt to foster “my view of life” as better.  It is simply my perception of how I feel about present day life and how I choose to allow it to influence me.

Any time I hear of another mass shooting, violence affecting children, and crime in general and the inability of policy makers to come together to address these issues collaboratively, I feel a host of emotions.  I experience frustration, anger, sadness, disappointment, and sometimes helplessness.  I wish these things were different. Never the less, at this time, that’s not the case. 

My impulse and past practice has been to immediately replace the negative thoughts these events invoke with the positives in my life.  I have much to be grateful for and so why would I want to dwell on things that aren’t going well in the world, especially if I unable or unwilling to do anything directly about them?  I’ve acted similarly with personal loss and hurt.  And while this seemed to help keep me from sinking into despair it has had its drawbacks.  Recently, I’ve adopted a hybrid practice that is not yet measurable but is appealing enough to me to continue on in this fashion.  Rather than brush aside or replace the anguish caused by terrible news, I’m learning to sit with it and accept it for what it is.  While I don’t much like how it feels, I now believe it’s necessary to let it in and experience the resulting emotions.  Then, I ask myself what I can do or what I’m already doing, directly or indirectly, to counter whatever anger or hatred or negligence is behind this news and act accordingly.  Finally, I remind myself that, on a day-to-day basis, I regularly meet kind, thoughtful, peaceful people despite the fact that they struggle with the challenges of life.  I remember that in this day and age where the communication of horrifying news is instantly and directly transmitted to our phones I believe they are outliers of what over 8 billion people experience on a daily basis and not representative of our daily lives.  On a regular basis, I feel relatively safe and secure as I go about my daily routines.  Yes, I exercise caution and avoid certain areas and conditions that might compromise those feelings.  But they are few compared to how and where I spend my time. 

 I usually start my day with a journal/planner.  The first prompt asks me to list the things that I’m grateful for.  Along with my family and my health I always acknowledge my freedom to choose.  For now, I choose to spend more time with what’s working than with what’s not.

Life is good!   

“Watch your thoughts; they become words. Watch your words; they become actions. Watch your actions; they become habits. Watch your habits; they become character. Watch your character; it becomes your destiny.”— Lao-Tze

“Life is what we make it, always has been, always will be.” — Grandma Moses

“You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty.” —Mahatma Gandhi 


Moving Forward!

I love spending time moving through nature.  Before I relocated to Delaware I had the advantage of hiking daily from the front door of my house as well as driving to known hiking trails to join several area Meetup groups whose leaders and regular members were familiar to me.  In November of last year, I decided it was not enough to walk around my apartment complex or at the nearby park alone with Duke.  First, Duke has his own pace.  Duke is part Shepard and part Elkhound.   The latter breed is known for their instinct to track and hunt.  And so it is with Duke to sniff out the scent of every animal that has gone before us.  Thus, with this walk and stop and sniff and pee and repeat pace, I was getting fresh air but not much aerobic exercise.  Second, while Duke is friendly and handsome and is, at first-look, a people magnet, while on a leash he feels obligated to bark and act more protective than welcoming.  As a result, the odds of meeting potential friends during these outings are greatly diminished.

Last November, I decided it was time to join a local Meetup group.  It was a bit of a challenge at first to show up to new locations and without knowing any of the people with whom I would be spending three hours over a six or seven mile course.  However, as I quickly remembered, being with others who share a common interest and having the opportunity to chat with multiple folks throughout the experience, feeling comfortable and at ease comes quickly.  Six months later, I now hike with a group every Saturday and Sunday (and sometimes on Tuesday), take advantage of social gatherings during the week, and find I form new friendships along the way.  Of course, even though I show Duke the mileage I’ve already covered on my health app, he still expects me to join him for our regular outings.  Needless to say, I’m doing well in the suggested daily steps category.

In addition to making the commitment to increase my physical activity and to improve my socialization interactions, I’ve been focused on letting go of a lifelong mindset that no longer serves me.  Replacing the belief that life (people, weather, pets, etc.) should be fair, with the nonjudgmental acceptance of life as it is, removes (for now, reduces) the triggers for upset, disappointment, and anger.  Inspired by Living Untethered, by Michael Singer, I have been making a daily effort to transform my old way of thinking to an approach that not only makes me feel better but also, when I stop to think about it, makes more sense.  

A couple of weeks ago, I took Duke to Lums Pond State Park, a nearly 1800-acre site brimming with activities and adventures to be had.  The focal point is Lums Pond, which I had been to before.  During those times I had kayaked briefly with my family, hiked short distances along either side of the boat dock, and explored each end of the pond. On this day, I decided I would take advantage of the warm temperatures and walk with Duke around the full perimeter.  I had an hour before I would need to leave to meet my grandson as he arrived from school and even then, there would be time to spare.  As I began the trek, I took note of what parts of the pond I should be able to see from the other side and when.  I didn’t bother to look at any maps as this looked rather straightforward and relatively easy compared to the many hiking adventures I had experienced during much larger and more challenging excursions in NY.  I also took time to remind myself that we’d be traveling at a “Duke Pace” and I was there to simply relax and enjoy, come what may.

Little did I know that this would be a test day.  My one-hour walk turned into a three-hour struggle.  Unable to see the full shape of the pond, it turned out that I had underestimated the size and even though I tried some shortcuts (that weren’t), we had exceeded Duke’s capacity to keep walking as his body absorbed the heat of the sun through his yet remaining winter coat.  I became confused and not sure of where I was and felt all of my former habits of thinking flooding my mind.  Fortunately, I had cell service and was able to let my grandson know that I wouldn’t be there to greet him; something I wasn’t happy about.  And while I went through each stage of this ordeal, slowly realizing that I was not in the kind of control I wanted, I began to blame not only myself but poor Duke.  At one point late into the afternoon, he ran out of steam. Panting and with no water nearby (we were now well out of sight of the lake-sized pond) he found a shady spot on the trail and lay down.  He would go no further without resting.  Duke weighs 70 pounds so picking him up and carrying him was clearly, only, a last resort.  So, I sat with him.  And, slowly, I realized that I was in the woods on a beautiful day with my dog and even if we had to inch our way forward, we’d eventually find our way out, whether I worried, or fretted, or got angry or not.  I also began to think more clearly and discovered that where there had been no access to Internet service previously, I could now see where we were on a map on my phone.  After about 10 minutes of rest, Duke was willing to push on.  Shortly we found a small stream into which he walked, cooling his feet and drinking its refreshing water.  Less than an hour later we were back at the car.

It will take me many more such experiences before I no longer default to my old and practiced habits of panic, anger, and blame.  And while I expect I’ll fair better and better, especially while doing what I love, which is to spend time walking in nature, I will also have an added advantage.  That night, I subscribed to the version of AllTrails, which allows me to download interactive maps!  Maybe, I’ll even invite a friend or two to travel along with us.

“All who wander are not lost.”  

 (the second line of J.R.R. Tolkien’s poem “The Riddle of Strider”)

I Wonder as I Wander

I have always wanted that adventurous spirit and a constitution to support that.  But unfortunately I never was afforded those traits.  As a kid I would watch adventure shows on TV and imagine myself as the main character. However, I couldn’t even sleep out in a tent in my backyard at night.  I was afraid of everything, especially darkness.  So nighttime adventures in the wild (or even in my dark basement) were totally out of the question.  I am not clear on why the woods seemed so frightening to me.  Perhaps as a city boy, growing up in the urban wilds of Manhattan and then the suburban forests of Flushing, Queens may have contributed to my fears.  Streetlights and sirens were more comforting to me than crickets, and far off coyote cries.  l had never even heard of peepers til I went upstate to college, which up until that point was the most adventurous step I ever took.   By 18 years of age I had to try and shun that part of me that was afraid of my own shadow.  Leaving the safety of home seemed like a good way to start shedding the old fears of youth.  I actually hid my acceptance letter to City College from my parents hoping that I would be accepted by one of my State School choices.  Going to City College was like transplanting my entire high school just in new buildings.  I was starving for adventure and had no idea if I was up for the task.

When I was a kid, I had a friend named Adele. She lived up the block from me and  was quite adventurous.  Her mother was a local realtor and she and Adele would go around the neighborhoods at night and enter into vacant old houses up for sale.  Adele always wanted to drag me along and as per usual I was scared but would swallow my fear cause i couldn’t let a little girl show me up.  I remember one house in particular just on the next block from my house.  It was dark out and probably around 8 pm.  Her mom had the keys and wanted to preview the house so in we went. It was dark and cold, empty and scary.  There is something eerie and spooky about a cold empty house.  My goose bumps were already preparing to pop as we went from room to room on the ground floor of this old Victorian 3 story house.  Adele challenged me to race her up the stairs so off we went.  I made it to the top step a few seconds before she did. We turned around to head to the front of the house and I let out a scream that made my own blood curdle, Adele also screamed and  we ran down as fast as possible.  Her mom came running to the stairs to see what was wrong.  Adele explained there were people upstairs.  Her mom said that was impossible so she headed up with us following carefully behind.  She reached the landing before we did and started laughing.  It seems the “people” were Adele’s and my reflection in an old mirror on the well.  That was the last time I went with them on their adventures.

When I met Hen back in ’65 I admired his adventurous nature, his easy way with trying new things and adjusting to whatever challenge he faced.  He was comfortable in the woods and with night animal sounds.  I was easy with people, but a cry in the night would make my skin crawl.  I enjoyed meeting new people and being in situations where I was forced to introduce myself and to make me and the other person comfortable in a short period of time.  Just as an aside, I think it was Henry who introduced me to peepers on the pond behind Capen Hall at New Paltz State. Add to my fear of the woods, I was blessed with the worst sense of direction ever so unlike Henry being lost that day but knowing he would make his way back, I would have been trembling in fear that the bears would find me before the search party would. Even now at almost 77!  But like Henry, over the years I have learned to love nature.  I love now the call of coyotes at night, peepers are my friends, I even get a thrill when I hear the scary screech of the fisher cat around midnight, but unlike Henry, I enjoy them from the safety of my screened in porch, somewhere where I can escape behind a closed door for safety.

But I digress, I do like to wander, but unlike Hen I enjoy wandering through flea markets, garage sales and antique shops.  I love looking at the old brown furniture ( the new term for furniture in a natural wood finish).  Brown furniture is no longer in demand as the younger generations are not into it anymore.  Slap a coat of milk paint on it and that makes it desirable today. But I like to look in the drawers, open the cabinet doors and imagine the room that it was located in.  I take in the smells from the open drawers, sometimes even finding a treasure left behind by the original owner allowing me to wonder who this person was and imagine the circumstances that led to this treasure winding up in an old yard sale. I love finding small personal trinkets that may have been carried around by the owner, a money clip,  a locket, something that would help define who this person was.  I found a handmade wooden toy train in an antique shop once and rolled up in the cabin of the engine was a short written note from the kid who once owned it saying it belonged to him in 1927-28.  I could picture this little kid playing with this beautiful toy made especially for him by his grampa!  There is so much history in these places but because it isn’t spelled out clearly, it allows my imagination to spin and invent the whole story of these artifacts. I can spend hours in such places and without the worry of darkness setting in or monsters coming out from behind a tree.  So I have grown up a little, not quite as afraid of the dark as I used to be, and open to new challenges, as long as they are safe!  As I wander from aisle to aisle, up one and down the next, lifting objects, studying them, imagining how they were used, who they belonged to, I always know my way home.  I do admit to one unpleasant feature of these places.  Wally and I have talked about this over the years.  I stumble upon a bowl or a box of old photographs- wedding pictures, babies, groups of people, their pets and I am saddened that this is where a family wound up, thrown carelessly into a pile to be looked at or ignored by total strangers.  That makes me very sad!  But though it doesn’t help me with any of my fears or personal struggles, It allows me to wonder as I wander through these museums of the common people.

Roads Go Ever On

Hen’s piece really strikes a chord – it not only got me thinking about the times when I was really tuned into hiking as a pastime, but also as a reminder that I need to rededicate myself to the walking culture. Well, hiking, trekking, walking, strolling — whatever – but moving mindfully through nature is the important feature. 

It’s been said that walking is the way we measure our bodies against the earth. That’s a great sound byte, but I think it misses the point. The point is that activity and exploration are the real benefits. Some studies indicate that the complex stimuli of being in the great outdoors are helpful for fostering neuroplasticity in the brain, especially for older individuals. Others simply say that it clears the mind for creative thinking. 

The grand European walking culture has benefitted people for generations. Making nature observations, collecting mushrooms, bird watching opportunities, and discussing ideas with walking mates are traditional. Two of my favorite authors, C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, were walking enthusiasts and their writings abound with references to being on the move in the woods. Here’s a quote from George Sayer (a friend and student of Lewis) that is descriptive of their different walking styles: 

 “You should have seen Jack (C.S. Lewis) trying to walk with J.R.R. Tolkien! Once Jack got started a bomb could not have stopped him and the more he walked, the more energy he had for a good argument. Now Tolkien was just the opposite. If he had something to say, he wanted you to stop so he could look you in the face. So on they would go, Jack charging ahead and Tolkien pulling at him, trying to get him to stop – back and forth, back and forth. What a scene!”

Many a philosopher and scientist worked out seminal thoughts while on the trail. However, I am really impressed by the walking badges affixed to canes and hiking staffs – and the stamps of kilometers walked in special ‘passport’ style books that are encouraged by the European walking culture.

I kept one of my own for years, logging hikes and reminisces for each walk. While I never engaged in long treks, my notes eventually filled up an entire journal. Occasionally, I will consult the pages, but sadly have not added any in quite some time.

An organization dedicated to the continuance of the walking culture is the Internationaler Volkssportverband (the International Federation of Popular Sport). The stated purpose of the group is

  • To encourage public health through non-competitive physical activities in a natural setting. 
  • To provide opportunities for social engagement, voluntarism, and community leadership. 
  • To contribute toward peace and understanding among people and nations by fostering international friendship.

Sounds like great goals! In order to reach those goals, the organization sponsors ‘volksmarches’ or group wanders – generally in the 10km (6.3 miles) range. Some are family traditions. Recognition is provided through points provided, as well as ribbons, pins and certificates. However, comradery and exercise are the main prizes. Hen’s meet-up group sounds like an entity on the same family tree.

Hen and George both reference the possibility of becoming lost while on a walk in the woods. But a little risk is part of the draw for exploring – it wouldn’t be fun if the route held no surprises. Being lost is not fun, but being resourceful is. Hen has already thought of methods to reduce the probability of issue. Preparation of course is the key – always.  

I’ll just say that the times I remember most from walks are 

  • The smell of pennyroyal on the Shawangunk ridges
  • The friendly chirp of a towhee that seems to follow along with you
  • Friendly banter along the walk, each friend picking up the other’s energy
  • A warm rock to sit on during nice weather or a dry rock during not-so-nice weather
  • The taste of mint tea after a tiring walk (interestingly, it’s the only time I like mint tea)

These aren’t spectacular moments – not even breath-taking views. They are just quiet features of a nice walk away from the hustle-bustle.

Hen ended with a quote from Tolkien… and I’ll end with a few selected stanzas from one of his longer poems:

Roads Go Ever On: JRR Tolkien

Roads go ever ever on,
Over rock and under tree,
By caves where never sun has shone,
By streams that never find the sea;
Over snow by winter sown,
And through the merry flowers of June,
Over grass and over stone,
And under mountains in the moon.

The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way,
Where many paths and errands meet.

Still ’round the corner there may wait
A new road or secret gate;
And though I oft have passed them by,
A day will come at last when I
Shall take the hidden paths that run
West of the Moon, East of the Sun.


No Doubt

Linda and I were dining at our son’s restaurant, when something caused me to tune into a conversation at a nearby table. A person at that table was discussing my family and the circumstances under which we had purchased the business.

I did not recognize the voice… and when a sneaked peek was possible, I also did not recognize the individual. This person, clearly unknown to my wife and me, talked with confident familiarity about details for which he had absolutely no knowledge. As I listened, he shifted the conversation to other topics, but his tone remained the same: he was an expert on a variety of issues.

I was sorely tempted to go to the four-top where he was seated and introduce myself. Two things stopped me: a) I was embarrassed for eavesdropping – everyone has a right to privacy, and I had violated that right b) nothing offensive was said… in fact, he and his guests complimented the food. Why fix something that ain’t broke, I thought.

However, I could not help thinking about this situation: why would strangers elaborate on stories that involved my family – I mean, why bother, since he does not know any of us (I confirmed that my son also did not know this person)? I concluded that he had a strong need to be perceived as a ‘person in the know’ and we were simply ingredients in a larger narrative.

It seems to me that more and more people hold opinions that have a loose grip on actual data. I was going to say ‘facts’, but I’m reminded of a social psychology professor who informed me that “there are no such things as facts; only perceptions”. (I guess this conversation was pre-Snopes). True, it’s unreasonable to expect that the perceptions of others will match your own – the probability is larger that given the same set of circumstances, perceptions will vary greatly. The bothersome part of the restaurant episode was the tone of complete certainty expressed by the individual.

So, who are these people who spin elaborate yarns that travel far beyond the limited information they are based upon? Turns out there is a term for such individuals – and I thank Word Daily.com for this:


A person who expresses opinions on matters outside the scope of their knowledge or expertise

In other words, people who are full of ‘crep’. Doesn’t it seem to you that there is an abundance of such folks these days, particularly on social media? Well, if I did such any soul searching, I’d have to confess to being an ultra myself on occasion. This will cause some self-examination on my part going forward.

The problem with ultracrepidarian behavior is that it adds to the noise in the world. Yet there is already plenty of noise to go around. And it is usually delivered confidently – with no doubt, whatsoever. I find that problematic, because I believe in doubt. I have no doubt about doubt. (Actually, I do have some doubt about that). However, I’m in good company: Richard Feynman agrees with me.

I’ve just finished Feynman’s book, The Pleasure of Finding Things Out, a collection of his short works. Feynman was a Nobel laureate, celebrated for his work in quantum physics, but also as a wonderful teacher. A constant theme in his works is the definition of science as a process of ‘doubting the experts’ and objectively rechecking accumulated wisdom. He concluded that the spirit of science rests on the ability to define meaningful questions and the predisposition for adventure. A priori opinions are held in check or tested as hypotheses. First-hand discovery is the joy, but uncertainty is a constant delimiter – there is always more to learn and always room for doubt. Feynman expresses a humble philosophy and a perfect antidote for the ‘creps’!

I guess the larger question is how we deal with our feelings of certainty and doubt in our lives. Here’s an interesting suggestion for responding to an ultracrepidarian:

I Will Have to Look That Up by PinkFaerie5 (from allpoetry.com)

I have no knowledge of that I say.

She continues speaking “facts” that are


I will have to look that up I reply.

She gives me a sigh full of exasperation.

Letting me know that she thinks it is


That I do not believe her “facts” like others

To whom she has spouted these fabrications

Prior history has dictated that I can’t.

Related Thoughts on Doubt

Some related thoughts on Wal’s excellent post on “No Doubt.”

When I was young printed information was taught and taken as fact.

If it wasn’t fact, it was, for me, considered to be a lie.

I was raised believing that if you spoke with certainty, you knew from first-hand information or trusted your source or researched it yourself.

Another thought I had after reading Wal’s blog post is that we tend to lean more heavily on believing what is said that is congruent with our views and doubting or denying that which opposes our perspectives.  Shouldn’t we give equal question to all communication that is splashed about, especially on social media?

When I was working full time, a person who showed up as knowledgeable, confident, and certain was more frequently sought after for leadership positions than someone who didn’t.  Of course, in personal practice, this often required thorough background work that would provide me with the moral permission to speak to parents, teachers, students, colleagues, and others with a sense of confidence in my discourse with them.  I also knew when it was prudent and honest to admit when I didn’t know.

While I’m not someone who joins organizations that work toward changing the world, I do believe that holding myself accountable to the behaviors I believe are universally important, makes a difference.  Now that Wal has raised the issue of an ultracrepidarian, I’ll seek to pay more attention to how I pass along information so that I’m at least, not contributing to the problem.

Regarding the idea of questioning current wisdom, Don Miquel Ruiz, author of The Four Agreements and co-author of The Fifth Agreement, concludes with the last agreement as “Be Skeptical but Learn to Listen.”  I find this to be an effective way to lead with strength, curiosity, and respect.

Stephen Covey, another favorite author of mine, wrote The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People as well as The Eighth Habit.  The last habit he describes as addressing the crucial challenge facing individuals and organizations today, which is “to find our voice and inspire others to find theirs.”  Perhaps we’re so eager to find our voices that we inadvertently sacrifice true knowledge and validated perceptions.   And, unless we “learn to listen” how will we inspire others to find their voices?

“I like the scientific spirit—the holding off, the being sure but not too sure, the willingness to surrender ideas when the evidence is against them: this is ultimately fine—it always keeps the way beyond open—always gives life, thought, affection, the whole man, a chance to try over again after a mistake—after a wrong guess.”
― Walt Whitman, Walt Whitman’s Camden Conversations


A cultivated gentleman meanders into an alcoholic establishment and acquires a place to recline adjacent to a man already savoring a beverage from a capacious ceramic container.  The Sesquipedalian admonished the ultracrepidarian for his over indulgence of the beverage.The ultracrepidarian replied that according to medical research if the liver and kidneys are strong and the individual is not subject to various addictions there is no danger of side effects to the body drinking.  The sesquipedalian retorted, “Oh beloved celestial transcendental father figure, you think you ascertain all erudite data!” 

 Needless to say these men were talking past each other!  A situation that often occurs when people are talking to someone who may possess an alternate view or set of facts depending on his individual experience or the channel on the TV that he usually watches.  Facts are hard to verify even when we see things with our own eyes and hear with our own ears as evidenced by the two diametrically opposed views of what happened at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021!  One version was an insurrection but others who viewed the exact same visual saw it as a peaceful demonstration.  Those people are actually talking past each other and there is very little that can be done to convince the other of the alternate interpretation. Social discourse is difficult when debating politics right now in this environment and as a result we rarely expend the energy to actually hear what the opposing view is, because we are already embedded in our own opinion and nothing is going to dissuade us from it.

As Norris Clempfire wrote in his book, “It is Raining, No, it is Sunny!” different people can see the same information and can interpret it entirely differently!  And as Sargeant Friday often said, “Just the facts, Mam!”  There is no such author and no such book but Wally and Henry always quote from some authority from some lengthy tomb of a book that they read over breakfast.  I am a very slow reader and more often react from my gut than from my brain.  I try to interpret what I experience and develop my own facts from those experiences.  And as Wally’s ultracrepidarian did in his restaurant that evening,  I, too, have expounded confidently on subjects I wasn’t always well-versed in.  And I really don’t know how we can ever prevent this kind of discourse to stop because it is a human characteristic that develops during early childhood, and we revert back to as dementia sets in.  As Herbert Lostit said in his book, “You Already Ate, Dear,” you will never convince me of something that goes against my impression of what I experienced.PS-No such artist or book … or is there?



As far back as I can remember, I was a collector.  As a kid, I collected baseball cards, electric train paraphernalia, plastic airplane and automobile models, even ceramic dogs for my knickknack shelf.  That “hobby” never diminished over the years and as I grew into adulthood, it just got more expensive and my collections became more sophisticated and larger.  I have always had a love of roaming through an antique shop, flea market, yard sale or anything else where a person’s life may be up for sale.  I always found it sad when strolling through an antique shop and finding a bowl on the table with family photos piled up inside.  I found it so sad that this is where our lives end up and eventually those old photos of mom and dad, or grandma wind up being disposed of in the trash.  I owned an antique shop for a short while after I retired from teaching and innkeeping and I refused to take the photos when people brought objects in for sale.

Actually, I furnished much of my homes with furniture collected this way, and have pieces that I really love.  Unfortunately my children aren’t quite as interested in “old” furniture as I am and will probably wind up donating my collections to the Salvation Army or Habitat for Humanity.  Brown furniture, as furniture in natural wood finishes is called, is no longer in demand.  Slap a coat of the newest paint on it and voila, it is chic and desirable.  But I digress from what I wanted to talk about.  As I aged I started becoming interested in Folk Art.  In my case my interest was in the kind of thing a grandfather would make for his grand children.  Something so personal within a family shouldn’t just be disposed of at the curb and I began collecting these homemade toys that were the work of love from one generation to another. I admit I added to my collection at times from curbside objects offered “free to a good home.”  I guess because of my personal connections to model trains over the years that I began collecting incredible home made wooden toys of trains, boats, planes, and trucks.  And now at my age when you enter my house you will see all kinds of vehicles made of wood or metal on the floor lining the rooms. I also have, as my pride and joy, a jazz band made of papier mache that I found in a small antique shop just north of Albany and paid a small fortune for- but the workmanship is worth every penny to me.  These objects bring me joy every time I see them!

Over the years I have accumulated a very nice collection of homemade wooden trains, airplanes, ships and other wooden sculptures of anything that caught my eye.  These items are not always easy to find.  I can’t understand why a family would dispose of one of these works of art created with love for a grandchild or child.  When you find one in an antique shop they aren’t inexpensive, nor should they be.  The painstaking care that went into the execution of this work of art far exceeds any price tag that you could offer it for sale.  The handicraft required to create these toys is exquisite, the painting and detailing truly identify these ageless toys as works of art.  I guess I collect these for all the people who have created such things over the years to be acknowledged as artists and lovers of humanity, so they don’t end up in someone’s fireplace or trash can.

So as the years continue to fly by, I am always on the look out for one of these treasures and I never hesitate to purchase one if it is available.  My house still has room for many more collectibles but I don’t want to earn the label of hoarder because my kids can’t get into the living room without knocking over one of Dad’s toys.  I am guilty of a huge original watercolor and photo collection that covers my walls in every room so they understand I could have the potential of filling the house with stuff.  I prefer to think of my collections as tasteful displays of folk art!

Artifacts and Fictions

Well, I can relate to Geo’s predilection for collections, although I’m not as well organized. By the way, he forgot to include his impressive gang of Santa Claus figures in his inventory of collectible items!

We explored the theme of minimalism and maximalism in an earlier post, In Defense of Magpies. Some would argue for the joy of a spare habitat, but heck, even Marie Kondo has relaxed that view after her third child! 

I can see how compulsions start. You find one item that piques your interest. Just one item – it’s absolutely unique, so you gather it up. Then lo and behold, you run across a similar item a year later. Well, you can’t just ignore that, because it’s probably the only other one in existence. You do a little research and find that there is a bunch of these items in existence, not just two. And you discover that they have a history and a score of ardent admirers. It’s a whole genre that has its own vocabulary and back stories. There are people who scour the universe for these items. So, now it is a scavenger hunt: how many can I find?

This has been the way many of my collections have begun. Some are an acquired taste, like the brass images of the Lincolnshire Imp. I found one in an antique store years ago and found it irresistibly repulsive! The store owner had no idea of its provenance, but a few months later I found a similar image as a knocker on a museum door. Now I was hooked. No one could identify the object or its origin story. Start the scavenger hunt! Investigation revealed the legend of the Lincoln Imp and its role as the mascot of the Town of Lincolnshire. The result is a fair number of imp-ish door knockers, toasting forks, spoons, and horses’ brasses sleeping in a cabinet in our house (although, I’m the horse’s brass for collecting all these objects for which there is no useful application).

I blame it on my childhood desire to become an archaeologist. Collect and classify! I can’t walk away from artifacts. However, what struck me in discussion with Geo, is that a real purpose for some collections is simply to honor the maker of the object. George has walls of original art – and a connection to many of the artists. I feel the same way: my collection of wood-turnings represents makers I know, and most of them are counted as good friends. Unfortunately, a growing number of these makers have passed beyond. Now these artifacts are living connections to folks I miss.

Along those lines, I also collect Ainu carved bears. The bear represents the soul in the mysteries of this indigenous people. The bears are carved in archetypical forms – that is, the forms are mainly repeated. However, each artist brings a subtle difference to the completed work. My preference is for the form of a standing bear carrying a fresh-caught salmon. The anthropomorphic statue portrays a worker bear bringing home food for its clan. The ethic appeals!

The carved bears and the woodturnings are always out for display. I will regularly handle them and add a drop of lemon oil and wax to each, in order to honor the art and their makers. Now, the imps – well I guess they represent a far different part of my nature…

Ran across this poem by Meredith Gollomb in the blog of the Ernst Mayr Library of Comparative Zoology which captures the endless quest to collect and classify! Thanks, Meredith!


Yesterday I went collecting
Lord knows what I was expecting –
Dampness, yes, a toad, a frog,
I’d never really seen a bog.
Who knows just what I was thinking
Soon I found that I was sinking
To the thigh, and then the waist
In mud, the bog was making haste
To swallow me, net and all
(Although I am quite wide and tall).
I struggled free and struggled forward,
Struggled up and struggled toward
Where the salamanders played
Where the hungry herons preyed
And scooped and swung with my net –
No, no salamanders yet.
Further on, I did tramp
Through the wet and through the damp
What, am I still really newtless?
Could this tramping all be fruitless?
Then I looked down in my pail –
I thought I saw a little tail!
A newt! At least I caught a one –
Now if I could only catch his son,
Brother, wife, daughter, aunt,
All the newts that one could want
But all his pals went into hiding
They fled quite soon after deciding
To leave their dear friend in the lurch –
I suppose they don’t care for research.

Collecting Memories

Unlike George I am no longer a purposeful collector.  When I was a young boy, I saved and traded baseball cards, had an accumulation of stamps from around the world, and amassed a pile of those blue coin collection folders filled with dimes and pennies.  No longer.  I’m not sure why.

Yes, I still have almost all of the books I’ve ever purchased and read.  The exceptions are the ones I loaned to friends or acquaintances who must have loved them so much that they kept them.  I also have jars full of coins.  Those grew in number simply because I don’t like to carry around change so I’d drop them into whichever container had room.  I’ve promised myself that when I get my house, I’ll make time to cash them in…(after I examine each one to see if any have some value beyond their obvious denomination.)

However, as I thought more about this topic, I recognized that the memories of times I’ve spent with those special people in my life, could be considered a collection.  Fortunately, I’ve always enjoyed taking pictures, especially to remind me of those moments when I felt close, connected, in awe, inspired, and/or blessed.  Years ago I used to make the time to arrange these photos by time, event, and location into albums.  As I grew older time spent to keep them organized was redirected to other endeavors.  So, eventually, these physical photos found their way into boxes or slide trays and lay dormant in the basement.  Once smartphones came on the scene, I found it took less time to capture and organize those special moments as well as to be able to see them instantly!  And while the technology soon after, offered a way to place them into virtual albums and allowed me to import all of those 35 mm slides and prints I had stored, it still required time and patience to make them into a collection (or subsets of the collection) that allowed me to view them in the context of a particular memory.  Then, sometime around 2017, some programmer enabled my iPhone to search my photo collection and create themed slide shows with music!  These daily snippets of my life pop up each day as a reminder of the things I chose to save.  And every once in a while, one is so wonderfully reflective of a special time gone by that I choose to not only watch it over and over, but to forwarded it to those who were also part of that memory.  

Like my colleagues, I look forward to adding to my “collection” over my remaining years.  

 “A picture is worth a thousand words.”

Fred R. Barnard


The Quest for My Next Sanctuary

I’m going on two years now in my attempt to find and buy my next and likely last, home.  Each week, when I participate in my Zoom call with the other two “old guys” my blog partners inquire about my search.  The last time we spoke, they suggested that this might be a potential blogging topic or at the very least, the experiences I’m going through as I decide which houses to pass, which to consider, and which to finally make an offer.

The first thing I do upon waking and the last thing I do before turning off the nightstand light is to check my online sources for new or adjusted listings.  Throughout my life I’ve subscribed to the belief that keeping a sharp focus on what I want often to the exclusion of other things and people, yields results.  Over the years, my rather arrogant and singular viewpoint has shifted into more of an understanding that while setting and keeping a goal front and center is a powerful and positive factor, I have less control than I once believed.  It will happen, but not necessarily when and exactly where I want it to happen.  Thus, I do what I can to take advantage of daily opportunities, but then sit back and let the universe do its thing.  This approach is not without some drawbacks.  While I would prefer to spend a portion of my winter days with Teresa in Florida, I accept that I may need to readily available when the right home presents itself.  Therefore, I remain ready and present, (fortunately with Teresa’s support) albeit 915 miles away from where I prefer to be.  In the interim, I remind myself to enjoy where I am and to appreciate what I already have. 

My quest is not a solo one.  I receive regular notices of properties for sale within my parameters of price, house size, acreage, and distance several times a day from my real estate agent.  In addition, my daughter and granddaughter send me possibilities from alternate sources on a regular basis.  My son is my voice of reason and is a perfect sounding board and advisor when it comes to tweaking buying preferences, financial considerations, and keeping me level headed when my emotions kick in.  My blogging buddies, check in regularly, offer alternative suggestions, actively listen, and offer good old-fashioned support despite the same old story I tell them week after week.  (Somehow they haven’t yet figured out that if they each gave me a couple hundred thousand dollars, my search would be over and they wouldn’t have to hear my boring Monday night monologue.)  Finally, Teresa, who is in the most difficult helping position as she has extraordinary real estate experience and expertise but is also my partner and has a vested interest in whatever I end up buying, parses her advice well and tells me what I need to hear even if it’s not what I want to hear.  So, when I start to feel sorry for myself as I drive by a property or go on a tour, alone, I’m reminded how fortunate I am, that not only am I living near my family and in a beautiful apartment, but I have so many caring people only a phone call away.

Like so many things we seek in life, despite our best planning and disciplined focus, there is always that subjective ambiguity that comes into play.  The questioning of whether to present an offer or not reflects a combination of my desire to finally be in my house with property to explore, a woodpile from which to fuel my fire, and a house with charm and character with my uncertainty that this is as close as I’ll likely get so should I settle?  Should I practice my gratitude mantra and be patient a little longer or do I grab what’s in front of me before the mortgage rates go up yet again and the investments I’ll use to make my home another welcoming retreat, continue on a downward spiral?

Of course here’s where I take a deep breath and remind myself of two things.  First, it will all work out whatever I decide, it always does.  And second, as I look around me near home and around the world, I realize this is a blessed choice that I have before me, not a problem.  The journey continues…

“There have been few things in my life which have had a more genial effect on my mind than the possession of a piece of land.” – Harriet Martineau

Home Sweet Homes!

Since I left my parents’ house in 1964, I have owned 5 homes.  Each and every home that I owned I have loved with all my heart.  We moved out of Manhattan in 1951 when I was about to go to kindergarten.  My brother was 8 years older than I and he had to pay 25 cents a week for protection to and from school to one of the local gangs and  my parents did not want their kindergartner to have to do the same thing.  They decided to move to the country, which at that time was Flushing, Queens.  As a result I don’t remember much about apartment living and very little about the railroad flat we lived in other than the dumbwaiter in the kitchen which would take our garbage up to the roof every week on garbage day to be incinerated.  The house we moved into in Flushing was a big old majestic home with plenty of charm and hiding places for a little kid to get lost in.  That has always been one of the features I looked for in a home.  Not to get lost in but perhaps a place to curl up with a book and get lost in that!  I actually measured all my subsequent houses against it.  The year I left for college, developers came in and bought up all the homes, demolished the beautiful architecture and put up brick two family houses all up and down the street.  The architectural diversity of those old homes was lost forever.

College years came and went, I began my teaching career in a small, rural community in upstate NY.  As  a wedding present my parents gave us a check for $2500 to use as a down payment on a house.  We finally found this old cobblestone house in the middle of nowhere but only a short distance from my school.  The purchase price was $11,500.  What  a bargain!  I remember our mortgage payment was $71.00 a month which included  our taxes.  Life was very simple then.   A year round stream ran down from up the road a piece, just  a few steps away from our beautiful side stone porch.  Another feature I have   always looked for in a home.  That  brook lulled us to sleep at night for the two short years we lived there.  The house needed work inside but we were young and naive and felt we could do all that needed to be done.  The living room fireplace was the center of our life there.  But as we came to find out, city folk were not always welcomed and accepted in the mountain towns of the boonies and an episode involving our dog who was shot by a neighbor became the deciding factor to get the hell out of there!  So much for home #1!  We were in the process of adopting our first child and felt our location would be a hindrance rather than an advantage to the process and so we began our search for Home #2.

This time we were a little more realistic in our capabilities and desires and after a fairly easy and quick search stumbled onto the perfect house.  Home # 2 was situated in Kingston, a nice small city in a neighborhood that had a local school and a lot of young families like ourselves.  The location was perfect and one step in the door we both knew this was going to be our house.  Original chestnut woodwork, pillars between the foyer and living room, and a split staircase.   The only thing missing was a fireplace and we decided we would put on a room with a second bathroom, laundry room and a wood burning fireplace surrounded by book shelves.  It even had our required rocking chair porch and several nooks and crannies that we loved.  We had the usual inspections done and everything seemed to be up to snuff and within two years we had saved enough to put on the additional room with all the character we wanted.  It seems we were more concerned with how the house felt and looked than how efficient or secure it was.  We were looking for a home rather than a house, and that particular structure provided us with that home.  Come to find out it was a Sears Roebuck Kit house and there were many of them in that area of Kingston.  We lived there for 13 happy years and loved that house.  Life has a way of getting in the way every now and then and we decided it was time to move closer to my work and the search began again.

This time we had expanded to 2 adults and 2 kiddies.  We thought it would be nice to have a little more property for the kids to play on without fear of the traffic on the road.  And with all of our usual “must haves” like a fireplace, modern kitchen, porch, etc. the search began again. I got a call at school from my wife telling me that our realtor found the perfect house for us but we had to see it that day. Right after work I drove over and met her at the house. Didn’t even have to go in!  It just “felt” right. Beautiful side porch, wood burning fireplace, 2 acres of lawn.  It checked off all of our boxes.  So what if it had a 1956 GE oil hot water Furnace.  I was 10 years older than that and still going strong.  That burner was still operating efficiently when I sold the property 18 years later.  The only thing  missing was the   built in bookshelves in the living room which my son and I added soon after moving in.  Home # 3 was just perfect for us  Sunlight streamed in  to all the rooms and I had a favorite spot that would heat up from the sun next to a large window in the living room where I could read the paper and relax.  Life couldn’t get any better than that and we felt very fortunate to have found the place.  Once again life comes rolling in and says it  is time!  My daughter went away to college, my son had moved into an apartment near his work and my wife and I divorced. The house was just too big for me.  Retirement was looming in a year after 35 years in the same little school.  I didn’t need all the rooms and all the maintenance and was starting a new relationship with a person whose dream it was to own and operate an inn.  So for the year prior to my retirement, every weekend we were gallivanting around the northeast looking for the perfect inn.  Our only requirement that was a true necessity was that there would be separate owner’s quarters.  We quickly discovered that that was a rare commodity and most innkeepers just lived in one of the rooms.  No way, no how!  So the search took several months.  One bright Saturday morning we walked into the Deer Brook Inn in Woodstock, Vermont and fell in love.  Not just with the 1820 structure but with the people who were selling it.  It had everything I always wanted.  Beautiful large front porch, wood burning fireplace, an outdoor dining patio for breakfast in the nicer months.  The Ottaquechee River whispered right across the road from us. We made an offer and were waiting for approval and when it didn’t come right away we began to get worried.  Finally we were invited up for dinner one Friday evening to discover their entire families were present. What we didn’t know was that the inn was owned by all of them and we had to be approved before the offer could be accepted. Apparently we got the nod.  They wanted to make sure that we would love the place and care for it he way they did.  The place was incredible.  We did all the work ourselves, 5 guest bedrooms all with private baths, a lovely 2 bedroom owner’s quarters  separated from the inn by the kitchen.  It was just perfect.  Even Mr Kole, our live in ghost was mischievous but pleasant.  We became good friends.  He built the house and ran the  dairy farm back in the mid 1880’s so I had to be respectful.  We ran that beautiful inn for 14 years.  Living in Vermont was very special and until life began getting in the way again we were very happy.  AIR BnB came along and destroyed all the small hospitality businesses in the area and our business began to fail and our occupancy rate just dropped right off.  We sold the inn at a loss but that was ok.  We felt relieved to be out of Home # 4 and I went off to search for Home # 5 alone once again.

I decided to head back to NY to be near the kids and started the search.  By this time I was running the inn all alone which was no fun at all.  After viewing somewhere around 30 possible houses with no    success my realtor and I were walking down the street of a house we had just looked at and I said to her, “See that house on the corner?  If that ever comes up for sale call me immediately.”  Two weeks later I got that call, raced down to NY, walked inside and fell in love.  Beautiful small brick cape cod, on a corner lot, oozing charm and coziness.  I was hooked.  Within a month I was moving all my furniture and belongings from Vermont to NY.  1300 square feet seemed like nothing compared to the 3800 square foot inn.  But I have come to appreciate the reduced size and maintenance required.  I love this home, the light coming in through my window on the world, the back porch that is totally private and all my neighbors who are there when I need them and fade into the world when not.  This time if life gets in the way again, at my age I imagine I will have to ignore those features that made me love the place and look for where i can get the most help needed, perhaps a communal living situation,  with meals included, a small apartment and any kind of care required.  But still a wood burning fireplace would be nice in the community room for me to share with the other residents.  Also a nice glass of red wine to complement the surroundings.  So much for Home # 6!

House Hunting

I admire Hen’s patience for waiting for what he wants. He has criteria which are specific; which must be met before he engages in a new household. And he does the due diligence to be as certain of the facts as possible. This what a rational person does. I am not that person.

My bar is set low. I believe that I could adapt to almost any house as long as safety, privacy, and sanitation issues are met. But that’s easy to say, because I have no intention of house hunting. We’ve lived in one house for almost fifty years. This house is small enough to be maintained by older people (us!). It’s a house my father-in-law recommended – and being young and inexperienced, we quickly made an offer. Certainly, this house is not ideal… sometimes this house irritates the bejesus out of me, like a suit jacket that doesn’t fit or the complaints of a needy acquaintance. It wants my attention; it is a dependent entity. Hen would not choose to live in this house.

When we moved into our house, we cherished the independence of being in a space we controlled. We bought the house from the man who built it when he was in his 60’s… and he had lived in it for over thirty years. His wife passed away in this house; at 92, he cried every time he mentioned her. Her touch was evident in the lilacs bordering the property; the bleeding hearts by the back door. This edifice had a presence – and memories of a good person. So whenever, I get frustrated, I think of her and how she made this home a happy place.

Perhaps house hunting is a metaphor for what a person wants out of life. It’s about choosing and acceptance.  I’d look for promise: what potentially could be made in concert with a new place of living. After all, it is a partnership – there’s give and take in what opportunities the structure and you are willing to provide to one another. Acceptance is key, but also is the willingness to create something better — within the framework of your energy reservoir.

After all, charm is where you find it. Even the least attractive structure will have nooks and crannies where dreams can fit. That may be enough of a basis to build upon. Of course, give me a house with good joinery: nice moldings and trim, sunny windows and some clear north light — and that would be a bonus. 

Even at our modest living quarters, we felled trees, knocked down walls, changed each and every window, rebuilt the small barn; paved the driveway, resided and reroofed the house, added a new porch and deck, put in a new well, furnace and oil tank, water heater, electric service… and of course, after 48 years, it all has to be redone. I have a friend who is restoring a home built in the early 1700’s. He realizes that the work will not get done in his lifetime… and I guess I feel the same way. I do not plan on looking for a new home, but if I were, I would not look for a finished product – even at my advanced age. I’d be looking for a structure whose personality I could partner with. Because every page should leave some room to write additions to the story.

House-Hunting: Edgar Albert Guest

Time was when spring returned we went

To find another home to rent;

We wanted fresher, cleaner walls,

And bigger rooms and wider halls,

And open plumbing and the dome

That made the fashionable home.

But now with spring we want to sell,

And seek a finer place to dwell.

Our thoughts have turned from dens and domes;

We want the latest thing in homes;

To life we’ll not be reconciled

Until we have a bathroom tiled.

A butler’s pantry we desire,

Although no butler do we hire;

Nell’s life will be one round of gloom

Without a closet for the broom,

And mine will dreary be and sour

Unless the bathroom has a shower.

For months and months we’ve sat and dreamed

Of paneled walls and ceilings beamed

And built-in cases for the books,

An attic room to be the cook’s.

No house will she consent to view

Unless it has a sun room, too.

There must be wash bowls here and there

To save much climbing of the stair;

A sleeping porch we both demand—

This fad has swept throughout the land—

And, Oh, ’twill give her heart a wrench

Not to possess a few doors, French.

I want to dig and walk around

At least full fifty feet of ground;

She wants the latest style in tubs;

I want more room for trees and shrubs,

And a garage, with light and heat,

That can be entered from the street.

The trouble is the things we seek

Cannot be bought for ten-a-week.

And all the joys for which we sigh

Are just too rich for us to buy.

We have the taste to cut a dash:

The thing we’re lacking most is cash.


Age Rangers

Surely, our development follows an arc. We germinate, bud, and blossom; we may produce wonderful fruit along the way. We have many productive seasons. Then slowly we whither; our flexible stems turning woody. Fresh flowers find second beauty as dried arrangements; eventually we will all enrich the soil in some manner.

Who tells us what to expect along the way? When we are young, there are a variety of local guides: elementary schools, cub scouts and brownies, 4-H, Future Farmers of America, boy scouts, girl scouts, sea scouts, Key Clubs, Future Business Leaders of America, ROTC, Outward Bound – you name it, there’s a preparatory organization.

But what happens when you are old – and getting older? Who are your role models, teachers, and guides?

I’m thinking that we have an untapped resource — our nonagenarians. After all, these are the folks who are scouts ranging along the untamed wilderness of Age. They are the folks who are experiencing the changes we only anticipating. I propose we start an organization called the Age-Rangers!

Within this cohort, recognition is given to those who have achieved certain milestones: knee replacement, well there’s a merit badge for that! Dental implants, new hips, kidney stones, cataracts, prostate cancer, spinal stenosis – they’ve survived them all. These should be our go-to consultants.

Wisdom gained by absorbing the slings and arrows of life’s surprises, our nono’s have seen it all. Been there, done that – and still remember a good deal of it. Who better to be in focus groups with younger oldies to shed light on what’s to come?

I think uniforms would be tacky, but perhaps a copper and gold bracelet would be in order – to commemorate elite level life skills as well as an amulet against arthritis. We might launch a social media presence dedicated to graceful maturation (“The Age Spot”?) and how-to publications designed to help our younger oldies (e.g., Pruning, and Other Laxative Strategies; Raising Cane – And Lowering Cane, etc.). Don’t forget our bumper sticker: Who’s Your Granddaddy?

It’s great to have a little fun with the idea, but in all sincerity, nona’s would make wonderful mentors. The discourse and recognition allow the appropriate respect that the elderly deserve for navigating the Scylla and Charybdis of life’s waters, while at the same time providing some comfort to younger seniors: that while much has diminished, much also remains.

N.B.: Since the artificial intelligence app, Chat GPT has been the focus of a lot of articles and commentary, we decided to try it out. Hen has added a rejoinder of his own, but also one from Chat GPT. Here’s a poem written by Chat:

On Achieving Ninety – A Poem by Chat GPT

Ninety years of life, a journey long and bright,

A tapestry of memories, woven with delight,

Each thread a story, each color a hue,

A masterpiece of moments, shared with me and you.

Through times of joy and times of sorrow,

You’ve faced them all, without a hint of tomorrow,

With grace and dignity, you’ve navigated life,

A shining example, of how to live it right.

Ninety years of laughter, love, and light,

A treasure trove of wisdom, shining so bright,

Each day a new adventure, waiting to unfold,

With every step you take, a story to be told.

As we celebrate this milestone, let us raise a cheer,

For all the joys and blessings that you’ve brought us near,

Ninety years of life, a true testament of time,

A legacy of love, that forever will shine.

On the Birth of Age Rangers

Wal temps us with a futuristic venue for evolving seniors to receive beneficial guidance from thoughtful and experienced elders.  After all, he argues, we provide coaching, training, and “how to” instruction from childhood through adulthood; why stop at the geriatric stage?  I agree!

While living in the nuclear family, we are given direction and ideas about what to expect as we age, from parents, scout leaders, and teachers.  Most of them, however, haven’t yet experienced their senior years.  And, by the time they do, we are old enough to move away and are on our own: often guiding others younger than ourselves.  Our “life-learning” training is cut short and becomes incomplete as we leave the role of student learning from those who came before us to that of teaching those who follow.  Perhaps, this would not be the case if we remained living in community with our families and were exposed to the day-to-day stories, experiences, and behaviors of our elders as well as our parents and children.  However, in most of the cases I’m familiar with, this is no longer the case.  So, we aging citizens fumble forward, making our way as best we can with limited resources, fading memories of the experiences of our grandparents, and whatever advice finds its way to our anxious questions about what to expect next.

But wait!  Here comes Wal to our rescue!  The Age Rangers, masked or unmasked, ride into our lives with knowledge and wisdom gained from experiences we’ve yet to encounter.  Surely, the physical issues, conditions, and limitations to follow, can be explained from their first hand dealings.  Helpful!  But there’s more.  What if, they could guide us toward a shift in how we think about aging?  What if those who used the time they found in their latter years to understand how to let go of those things that cause us unnecessary anxiety, pain, and suffering, could share these learnings with us.  What if they could guide us toward a more gentle and freer life in our golden years?  What wouldn’t we give for signing up for that course?  Can you imagine the energy as we sit together listening to our elders once again, sifting through our experiences, asking and answering the questions we were never asked, we never asked, or never made time to consider?

Sign me up!

“It’s been true in my life that when I’ve needed a mentor, the right person shows up.”

– Ken Blanchard

Guest Rejoinder

From Hen: The following was written by a newly tested artificial intelligence, Chat GPT with only a few guiding words from me on “Age Rangers.”  It was written in less than a minute with no further input after my first few prompts.  Who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks?

In a world that often prizes youth and beauty over wisdom and experience, it’s easy to forget that there is much to be gained from the insights of our elders. That’s where Age Rangers come in. This organization of wise elders serves as mentors and coaches to younger senior citizens, providing guidance and support as they navigate the challenges and opportunities of aging.

The Age Rangers are a diverse group of individuals, all over the age of 75, who have lived rich and varied lives. They come from different backgrounds and walks of life, but they share a common passion for helping others. They are trained to offer guidance and advice on everything from health and wellness to financial planning and retirement.

For younger seniors who may be struggling with the realities of aging, the Age Rangers can be an invaluable resource. They offer a sympathetic ear, a wealth of knowledge, and a deep understanding of what it’s like to grow old. They provide a safe space for younger seniors to talk about their fears and concerns, and offer practical advice on how to address the challenges of aging.

The Age Rangers also serve as role models for younger seniors, demonstrating that growing old doesn’t mean giving up on life. They are living proof that it’s possible to age with grace and dignity, and that there is much to be gained from a life well-lived.

But the benefits of the Age Rangers program extend beyond the individual seniors who participate. By bringing together younger and older seniors, the program helps to build stronger, more connected communities. It fosters a sense of intergenerational respect and understanding, and helps to bridge the gap between different age groups.

In a world that often seems focused on the next big thing, the Age Rangers remind us of the value of experience and wisdom. They offer a reminder that growing old is a journey worth taking, and that there is much to be gained from the guidance and support of our elders. For younger seniors looking for a way to navigate the challenges of aging, the Age Rangers are a valuable resource, and a shining example of what it means to age with dignity and grace.

“Age Rangers pave the path and light the way for the newly emerging senior citizens, showing them that age is not a limit but a badge of honor, and that with experience comes wisdom and the power to live life to the fullest.”

– ChatGBT

The Lone Age Ranger

I love Wally’s idea of Age Rangers!  Boy, could I use a few of them now. I imagine the requirement for membership into the club consists of blood pressure above a certain number, several joints disfigured from arthritis, late night reflux requiring antacids in the night table drawer and several post-midnight excursions to the lavatory nightly.  What I wouldn’t give to have a personal sponsor in this club to talk to about what to expect.  Everything was fine ‘til I turned 70!  I was feeling good and active and hadn’t experienced any of the symptoms that come with elderhood.  I was feeling lonely because with the passing of my brother several years before I had become the sole elder of the family which had shrunk over the years from a large Italian family with siblings, parents, cousins, aunts and uncles and even a grandparent or two.  Everyone who I depended on for advice, encouragement and empathy had passed and that big family had shrunk to me and my two children.  Nobody had my back.  There was nobody I could consult when my kids came to me with their problems, so I had to wing everything and pray that somehow I had absorbed enough knowledge and life experience to advise them with an assurance I never really felt.

Along with age is supposed to come wisdom and patience.  Unfortunately, confidence doesn’t seem to tag along and with no one to consult on a personal basis, misguided advice and poor judgment can seep into the psyche and lead you on the wrong path to problem resolution for yourself and those depending on you.  As my 70’s progressed I began to experience symptoms that come with advanced age.  The first experience I had that took me to the ER was two clogged arteries and as I was being rushed up via ambulance to the heart center in Albany. I just kept imagining that I was on an adventure and tried to think of it as an experience over which I had no control and I would observe it from afar.  They installed 2 stents to allow the blood to flow again and less than 8 hours later I was back home and trying to adjust.  2 months later my dog alerted me to a problem with my neck that I mentioned to my cardiologist who then did an ultra sound of my carotid artery to discover a 99% blockage.  The next week I was on to my next adventure.  They scraped my carotid artery clean, a procedure you are awake for the entire time and once again I imagined myself on another adventure and that actually worked well for me for those two procedures.  Hopefully my adventure days are over for a long time!  But with no one to commiserate with about what happened I just clung to my adventure fantasy and slowly recuperated from both procedures!

The interesting thing though about Age Rangers is I should have taken advantage of my 3 elderly aunts and my brother to ask a million questions about what their lives were like, and general information about our family history and what life was like in the old country.  I feel like I missed out on a piece of my history that I never thought to research until it was too late.  I kind of feel like the Lone Age Ranger now because no one is recruiting me to pledge this important society.  But that also is a part of my personal history- always a day late and a penny short!  I will have to continue to stumble alone through these incredibly lonely years.  I believe that is why dogs were invented!


All Aboard…

Feeling very nostalgic lately.  Always, after Christmas, the ritual of taking the tree down is bitter sweet.  Since the kids are grown that job is left for me to do all alone and stirs up the memories quite strongly.  I take the ornaments off one at a time and by categories.  The home made ones always the most precious come off first.  The little clothespin angel my daughter made in kindergarten out of a clothespin and a paper doily for angel wings, colored with crayon in art class is always the first on and first off.  The little woolen teddy bear my son dragged home from school one day is next and this ritual continues till all of the homemade decorations are down and counted.  The routine goes on til the tree is naked.  But with each one that the tree sheds, there is a story attached and as I hold it in my hand and look down on it the memories come flashing back.  There is no one there with me to share it with so it often brings a smile to my face or a tear to my eye.  Each ornament has a significance.  It might be one of our beloved pets, something from my parents, car replicas, a souvenir from a place we visited, anything that was a piece of our lives throughout the years. And when viewed in these moments of undecorating they actually tell the story of our life together as a family.  Nothing else chronologically tells this story the way the dismantling of the Christmas tree does every year. No doubt an arduous task but one that causes moments of pleasant reflection and nostalgia, laughs and tears, only to be boxed and put away til the following Christmas season. This was what I wanted to write my piece about this time but while in this process something else came to the forefront.

Those memories are precious and tender and I value them tremendously but there are other profound memories that come to mind that have much deeper impact.  Perhaps those impactful memories might best be described as traditions.  Memories that do more than just call to mind pleasant times from the past.  This year one of those traditions occupied my mind for pretty much the entire season bringing me back to my childhood.  The 1950’s and early 60’s were perhaps a gentler time personally for me.  Christmas didn’t even enter the psyche until the second week of December when stores would begin to be decorated.  The expectation of its arrival made it special and exciting, unlike today when right after Back to School displays are often replaced with hints of Christmas to come, elongating the Christmas season from the beginning of October taking away the mystery and special nature of the season.  Stores were open week days til 6 and on Friday til 9pm.  Nothing was open on Sunday.  Life was kind of slower.  I think I have mentioned before that the only thing my brother, father and I did together was centered around our model railroad.  I guess it started when my brother, who was 8 years older than I was born and my dad bought him a pre war Lionel train set.  My dad went away to war and I was born about 9 months after he returned and about 4 years later I got my Lionel train set.  Due to our age difference, my brother and I had very little in common and by the time I could run around the house and talk he was already in intermediate school and I was just a pesky little brother.  It wasn’t until one Christmas that my dad decided to build a platform for our trains on the living room floor that we began to work together on anything.

The platform took up half the living room floor 8 ft deep and about 12 feet long.  It stretched from one end of the living room to the other.  The tree never went up til the last minute.  My dad would go out just before Christmas Eve and buy 2 trees for 50 cents each, cut all the branches off one and drill holes in the trunk of the other where branches were needed and plugged in the cut branches.  My brother painted roadways on the platform and he and dad laid and secured the two sets of tracks on the community.  I was too inexperienced to be much help but that changed pretty quickly in subsequent years.  The wondrous thing about this memory/tradition is that it was more than just a function of the brain.  I remember the smell of the electric engine running around the track, the puffs of smoke pouring out of the engine as it came around the bend.  I can hear the sound of the wheels on the track and the sound of the whistle when one of us engineers would make it blow.  The little neighborhoods came to life for me as the structures became real and the little plastic figurines became families.  I could almost smell the exhaust from the small metal 1950’s Oldsmobiles and Fords traveling through on the painted streets my brother invented.  It was a thrill and there we were, my dad, my teenage brother and this little skinny 6 year old lying down on the floor watching for the engine headlight to come out of the tunnel in the pretend mountain in the corner.  For brief moments we were locked together in that little community imagining living in that little cottage or visiting a friend in the Plasticville Hospital.  lt allowed the three of us to escape reality for a brief moment and be imaginary citizens of this little make believe town.

Of course, as brothers, as the years passed we would fight and as a little kid at a disadvantage I would say to my brother, “Well I think this year I will put the church over in this corner and the 5 and dime can go across town and he would get pissed off!  But every year as the season approached Lionel and Plasticville would have a whole new line of structures and railroad cars for us to add to our village.  The local Woolworths was a treasure chest of trains and model buildings and it was always a big deal.  We did this every year til I went away to college and my brother no longer lived at home.

This is more than just a great memory, partly because all my senses were involved in the tradition and I can still bring them to mind and relive them!  Years later we did an abridged version around our tree with my kids and turned a bedroom in my house into a train room.  But even today, I go down to my basement and see all the boxes and accessories and the tradition comes rushing back and warms my heart.  Half of the pleasure was doing it with my dad and brother and to do it now seems overwhelming but that is not out of the question!


As George talked about what he proposed to write – The Memory Tree – I had staked out a rejoinder based on our own Christmas tree. It brought to mind that the tree is a story of our life: saved ornaments from childhood and those added as our family grew, and finally from our departed parents. Our tree seems more like a legacy than a tradition. Linda has a cheap plastic reindeer that must go on the tree each year – a holdover from her toddler days. I have grown to love that ornament as well with its pure red luminescence. My favorite is a three dimensional, anodized gold star that was purchased at the Little Red House of Gifts for the first Christmas we spent in our new apartment; that always has a place of honor. Decorating the tree always brings back memories of my brother and I as kids laying under the tree looking up at the reflections from three large glass balls, each separately colored a beautiful deep green, blue and red. When I think of my favorite colors, these deep, true colors always come to mind.

But then George widened his aperture and described his train set and the wonderful exchange among his family when constructing the layout every year. That’s a special memory!  However, it got me off-track (pun intended) in considering what to write.

When George, Hen, and I later discussed George’s piece, Hen said that the broader perspective was about tradition and perhaps that would cause him to think about – and possibly write about — the traditions he has enjoyed. Hen’s traditions did not include a Christmas tree, so that also widens the parameters we might use to generate a response to George.

Tradition isn’t something I fixate upon, although I have many repetitious behaviors! Sure, we have Thanksgiving turkey, Christmas Eve services and Merry meatballs, New Year’s Eve herring, and New Year’s Day pork roast – wait! – are all my traditions food-related? Maybe, but it’s really who you share the meal with that’s most important…. And that can be accomplished in non-traditional venues.

So, I don’t wish to catalogue traditions just now. But in thinking about George’s piece, I realized how ‘one-track’ my mind really is (okay, I’ll stop with the RR connections).

 I once attended a seminar conducted by two professors from Bowling Green University. They declared that each written communication in the business world ought to have only one topic. If you have two subjects to bring up, then write two memos. Made sense to me… and I’ve tried to follow that dictum ever since.

However, I am no longer in the business world. And sharing a story is different than goal-oriented writing. Stories are rarely about one subject. They may have one title, but all kinds of details and sidebars attach themselves to the main narrative. Some may say that is the essence of a good story. I think George is a good story-teller. Me, not so much. But one thing George’s writing has taught me is that a widened aperture takes in a greater field of pleasure.

On Memories and Traditions

George writes about the “sentimental gallery” of ornaments (thanks to my friend and songwriter Leo for the phrase) that brings him to a yearly celebration of the symbols and gifts that came from a life well remembered.  As we grow older, it seems we spend more time remembering than perhaps looking forward.  The memories we place in the fond category, help us make sense of the life we’ve lived and maybe even guide us toward using our remaining days to fill any uncovered voids we discover during our many journeys down memory lane.

My mom was fond of traditions.  Every Halloween, our house was more than a pit stop for costumed candy grabbers.  It was the place most youngsters stopped to enjoy some hot cocoa and dunk for apples and get extended oohs and ahhs for the costumes they wore…especially if they were hand made!  

In our neighborhood of some 60 families, only three of us celebrated Chanukah instead of Christmas, yet it was a yearly tradition for all of us children to go house-to-house singing Christmas carols, hand in hand, with a joyful sense of togetherness. 

We lived with very little money and so vacations and going out to dinner, while common for our friends and neighbors, were not something we could afford.  However, at the end of every school year, my mom would take us out to the Chinese restaurant in the neighboring town to celebrate our promotions to the next grade.  I can remember climbing the steep stairs to the restaurant, the aroma of food as we passed by the kitchen on our way to our table, the waiters standing by ready to fill our water glasses every time we took a sip (it seemed), and the enjoyment of eating foods that were not served at home. Oh how we looked forward to that day each year.

There were other great memories that happened regularly.  Every spring we planted and tended our vegetable garden.  It seemed we always had a successful, ongoing harvest of tasty greens and too many tomatoes.  One of my sisters and I continued this practice but it didn’t catch on with my children or my nieces.  That’s the way it goes, I suspect.  Some behaviors and practices are kept, some modified, and some seem to disappear.  Perhaps they will resurface down the line, perhaps not.  But for sure, there are new traditions established and new memories made.

“Every man’s memory is his private literature” – Aldous Huxley


Car Story

I have always enjoyed driving.  Car selection for me was as much for the style and fun factor as it was for function.  Each purchase provided me with a host of experiences and stories, some of which I find interesting enough to share.

My first car was a used 1957 Volkswagen that I bought in 1967.  It was a rear engine bug with a full sliding sunroof and a center stick shift.  It was in that car that I invented the first mobile phone!  For fun, I attached a big clunky home phone receiver to the console and, at red lights I would pick it up and start talking into it.  I loved the look on people’s faces when they saw me chatting away in this old beat up VW.  Of course the rest is history.  By 1973 mobile phones became a reality.  Just sayin’.  Because it had a sunroof that could inadvertently be left open during a rainstorm, the floors were outfitted with two large rubber plugs that one could open for drainage or, to watch the road go whizzing by as you drove!  The other unusual feature was that it had no fuel gauge.  What it did have was a lever on the bottom part of the firewall just to the right of the accelerator.  When I would run out of gas, all I had to do was to turn the lever to the right with my foot and that opened up a one-gallon reserve for me to get to the next gas station.  Of course, on more than one occasion, I forgot to manually reset the lever after fueling and when I ran out of gas…well, I ran out of gas!

My first new car was a 1968 green VW Fastback.  It was unique in that it gave me a shallow trunk as the engine was underneath the rear storage area and a frunk, which also appears today in the Tesla cars.  Unfortunately if you closed the rear trunk gently, it didn’t latch as I discovered one day while driving my sister back to college and watched, through my rear view mirror, her unstapled term paper get sucked out of the trunk, page by page all over the Bear Mountain Parkway extension. She still hasn’t completely forgiven me. L

Then followed a 1972 blue Pontiac LeMans Sport and a 1963 used Austin Healy Sprite.  The Sprite had neither door handles nor any way to lock the car.  In order to enter, one slid the plastic window to the right and reached in to open the door from the inside.  Another interesting option to this canvas-topped convertible was that not only could you unscrew the windows but also a large Philips screwdriver could detach the windshield!  In size and design it was more of a toy than a safe transportation vehicle.

Around that time I graduated to a used, yellow 1970 Triumph TR6.  It was a two-seater British made sports car convertible.  I traded that one in in 1974 for a new blue one that continued my cruising pleasure for a short time.  By the end of that year my daughter was born and cruising around in a two-seater was a luxury I could no longer afford.

In 1978 I bought a Toyota Celica Fastback in the late fall.  One day in June, I was driving home along route 684 from White Plains to New Fairfield, CT.  It had been a hot day teaching in a hot classroom and as I drove in traffic with my windows wide open but doing little to keep the perspiration on the back of my shirt from sticking to the car seat I watched in envy the many of the cars around me with windows closed and their drivers enjoying air conditioning.  As I looked over my dashboard I noticed a single blue button labeled “AC.”  As I had never owned a car or a home with air conditioning and when I bought the car temperatures were in the 30’s, I had forgotten that my car came with air conditioning.  I remember pushing that button and feeling like I had just hit the biggest jackpot of all time!

Next came a secondary car that was a used white, VW that served more as a gasoline storage tank during the gas crises of the late 1970’s than for primary transportation.  At the time, one could only get a gas on alternate days depending on the last digit of your license plate.  Odd numbers were allowed fill ups or rationed gas (depending on the availability of the local gas stations) on odd-numbered days and even plates on even-numbered days.  When filled (it was either a 12.5 or 14.5 gallon tank), friends from Long Island could visit us in Connecticut and be sure to have enough gas for the return trip home!

Meanwhile, my family car, the Pontiac LeMans gave way to a Chrysler “woody-looking” station wagon that eventually became a black 1987 Jeep Cherokee.  My first Mustang a 1976, 3-speed, was a used purchase and served me well until I bought my friend Ralph’s 1982 blue 4- Speed Camaro.  This one came with a high-end sound system that allowed cassette tapes to create my first intense music experience in a car. 

In 1986 I bought a black Nissan 5 speed 300ZX.  It featured twin glass T-tops and remote controls on the steering wheel for changing the radio station and volume.  It also included a recorded voice that alerted me to low fuel levels as well as when my right or left door was ajar.  It was another first for me to have a talking car.  It was my version of the Knight Industries Two Thousand (KITT) as portrayed in the 1980’s TV show, Knight Rider!  This one lasted many years and eventually went to college with my son, nearly 200,000 miles later.

In the early 1990’s I bought a Nissan Pathfinder with off road capability. I not only explored wooded lots to collect firewood but enjoyed several vacations that permitted four-wheel vehicles on miles and miles of beaches.

In 2000 I took possession of a new black, Nissan 4X4 Frontier Crew Cab.  This enabled me to drive through the woods to collect firewood and generally go where I didn’t think possible.  Once, I tree I cut got hung up on another tree as it fell.  I tied a towrope to the base and the other end to the front of my truck and threw it into reverse to pull the tree down.  Unfortunately, as I pulled, the base of the tree struck a large root and stopped moving as the top of the tree continued, falling forward rather than backward.  With no room to back up any further I sat in the truck and watched this rather large tree come crashing down on the hood and roof of my Nissan.  Yet another lesson learned at an age when I surely should have know better.  

After I paid this truck off in 2005, I decided to treat myself to the newly redesigned Mustang GT convertible.  At the time, they were in extremely high demand and not only were they going above list price but there was a six-month wait for them.  Thanks to the Internet, I was able to locate one and put a deposit on it provided I picked it up by the end of the week.  I lived in New York and the car was located in a showroom in Los Lunas, New Mexico.  I called my good friend who lived in Bronxville at the time and was always open to an adventure and two days later we were on a plane heading to New Mexico.  We literally drove the car out of the showroom on a Friday afternoon and headed east.  Unfortunately, my buddy had to be home by Sunday so we tag-teamed driving the roughly 2100 miles back like two 20 year old kids on a road trip.  At the time, I was pushing 60 and he was 66!

My Frontier Crew Cab gave way to a white, automatic, new version in 2011.  By 2019, my awareness of driving vehicles that were continuing to contribute to the worsening climate crisis was growing.  One day as I was visiting my family in Delaware, I mentioned to my then, 13 year old granddaughter my need for a more environmentally friendly car.  She asked if I would consider an electric car to address my concerns.  The next day, while in the Christiana Mall, Kylie, Ben and I visited the Tesla showroom and scheduled a test drive for the next day.  Meanwhile, the dealership sent instructional videos (mind you there are no brochures or manuals to look at in a Tesla showroom) to watch prior to my appointment.  The test drive was more impressive than I could have imagined and a few months later I took possession of a black Tesla model 3.  There are too many features and attributes to write about but several are noteworthy.  The car comes with regenerative braking which acts as if you are downshifting every time you let up on the accelerator.  As a result of this one-pedal driving, I feel much more in control in traffic and around curves, it’s continuously adding additional charge to the battery, and I almost never need to use my brake.  Plugging the car in each evening assures I’ll have as much mileage in the morning as I’ll need and I only stop at charging stations for long road trips.  I also bought the full self driving feature and am now using the beta version which, takes me from my home to the destination I’ve entered, requiring me to only keep my hands on the wheel. (And, if I’ve already entered my destination in my apple calendar, it extracts it from there and I don’t need to do anything!)  Yup, it speeds up and slows down, stops and goes, signals and turns all by itself.  This is a fascinating but yet unnerving experience!  Tesla also makes the car playful which appeals to my inner boy.  It has built in whoopee cushions that can be directed to any seat an in a variety of styles, a light show that turns lights on and off, opens and closes windows, fold and unfolds mirrors and the charging port orchestrated to a complementary musical selection.  It even has a “dog” mode so when I need to leave Duke in the car while I’m at a store, it presents a large screen display that verifies that I (his driver) will be back shortly and he is sitting in the car at a comfortable 68 degrees!  Did I mention the summon feature?  The other day, Teresa and I left a restaurant with my granddaughter, Kylie.  She took my iPhone and held the target button.  We watched as the car drove itself out of the parking space and over to where we were waiting by the front door.  When I think of my first car and look at my current one I can’t help but think of the old ad for Virginia Slims cigarettes, “You’ve come a long way, baby!” 

Did I mention that I’ve already put down a deposit for the Tesla Cybertruck?  

Soon, one will be able to address the following quote by giving both the proper focus!

“Any man who can drive safely while kissing a pretty girl is simply not giving the kiss the attention it deserves.” ~Albert Einstein

True Love

It all started as a young lad attending New Paltz State and preparing for a spring semester of student teaching.  Coming from NYC I only had one friend who had his driver’s license because anywhere we had to go we went by subway or bus. So here I am in my second quarter of my junior year preparing to student teach in the fall.  Then suddenly it occurred to me that a) I didn’t have a car and b) I didn’t have a license.  A generous friend patiently taught me how to drive in her big 5 speed Buick on the mountain roads around Mohonk, including the S curve which was difficult to maneuver in her Buick.  And furthermore she let me take my test in her car and I remember having to drive up the steep hill on 44/55 in Poughkeepsie and praying I could stop at the light without sliding way back if I slipped off the clutch prematurely.  Anyway, she was a very good teacher and I passed the first time.  One major issue resolved.  Now this young lad had to cajole his parents to get him a cheap car for student teaching.  All that summer my parents discussed and lectured me about the responsibility that goes with car ownership.  I all but signed in blood that I would be a responsible adult.. First weekend of fall quarter my brother, mom and dad delivered my very first car- a 1962, it was now 1967, tan Studebaker Lark.  It was considered a compact car but once inside it was like a taxicab. I could have easily fit the entire floor of my dorm in it.  This was a new kind of freedom I had never experienced before and it was intoxicating.  I loved that car but unfortunately after attending my fraternity’s rush party and feeling less than clear headed I looked for someone to drive us home in my place.  My judgment was obviously impaired as he was worse off than I was and on the way home on the Post Road from Gardner, he drove off the road, flew into the air and we landed between two trees.  No one was hurt except I could hear my parents’ rebuke.  And now I needed another car to student teach the next quarter. I will spare you the details of dealing with my parents!

Car #2-1964 Plymouth Valiant.  Silver with an imprint of a tire on the trunk and a push button transmission. Loved it!  Occasionally it wouldn’t start but all I had to do was open the hood and play with the rotar and magically it would start.  Loved, loved that car.  One morning on my way to my student teaching assignment I had stopped for something in a parking lot in New Paltz, got back in and drove off.  When i go to my school I didn’t have my briefcase and realized I had put it on the roof of the car  when I stopped and drove off with it up there, never to be seen again. I passed student teaching anyway!

Car #3-1968 Plymouth Valiant- brand new- dark green.  Served me well- great dependable, practical car but small. Started really liking Chrysler products by then and Car #4 was I think a 1970 Dodge Dart, hard top convertible (which simply meant there was no bar between the front window and the back window).  Light green with a white top.  Loved that car too, but by then the family was growing and we had problems with the Dart so we traded it in for a used Buick Wildcat.  Monster in power and L A R G E.  From there we moved on to used cars rebuilt by my neighbor across the street.  We had 2 Volkswagon 411 station wagons which were constantly breaking down and in his garage for repair and then 2 Chevrolet Citations.  Nice roomy cars but not as gigantic as the Wildcat.  Those were cars 5 through 8.

My dad passed in 1975, so after that point we expanded our catalog of vehicles to non American made cars. The first was a Toyota Tercel Hatchback.  Fun little guy, great on gas, followed by a sequence of Honda Civics.  Drivers in the family were beginning to expand both in girth and number  and the Hondas were a little tight and therefore passed down to the kids.  I moved up to a Nissan Sentra Wagon, my first 4 wheel drive vehicle. and then from there moved on to a Nissan Frontier, their small pick up. From there to a Nissan Xterra which was a great car.  By then I had retired from teaching and opened our Bed and Breakfast in Woodstock, Vermont.  I needed a workhorse for the inn and switched to a Daytona Pickup and eventually to my all time love of a vehicle- a Jeep.

I needed a car that we could lug things in for the inn but I had had enough of pick ups.  I had developed a relationship with our local Chrysler/Jeep dealership and the salesman, Don, knew me better than I knew myself.  He called me and said they had a new product coming out that he thought I would like.  He was right, the 4 door Jeep Wrangler.  It was the size of a pick up but had the comfort of a passenger vehicle.  I had a supernatural experience when I sat in it.  I had to have it.  That was in 2009. Each year new features were added to make it even better, sound systems, heated steering wheels and seats. Traded up to a 2011, lifetime extended warrantee, who could pass these things up?  Stereo radio with free Sirius/XM radio, navigation system, blue tooth, then 2015 Wrangler then followed by a 2018 Jeep Wrangler Sahara.  This is the best car I have even had!  It greets me when I approach by blinking its lights hello to me, and unlocks my doors so I don’t have to put my packages down to get inside.  On cold days it starts while I am still in the house and warms my seat and steering wheel so by the time I get in it,  it is cozy and comfortable.  Who could ask for anything more?  Oh wait, that’s Toyota!  Scratch that last line.  And the best part is everywhere I go friends wave at me with that special wave and sometimes when I go to get in my Jeep there is a little rubber duckee waiting for me!  How cool is that?

P.S.- During our Zoom call Wally and Henry reminded me that I had a few more cars than I described.  Somehow I totally overlooked them during the writing of this piece.  While driving through Europe in 2008 in our little rented Smart car, I fell in love with this tiny little motor car that got incredible gas mileage and felt like you were wearing a glove while driving through the beautiful country side. I said to my partner driving this little toy, how cool it would be to have one in Vermont.  At that point they weren’t available in the States but I just never forgot how cool it was driving around in this cozy, comfortable pretend vehicle.  But shortly after returning home it was announced that the 2009 Smart car would be available in the States through the Mercedes Benz Company beginning in the Fall of 2009.  I could not contain myself and justified ordering one to complement my new Jeep so that we could scoot around Vermont   and conserve gas.  We drove that little guy everywhere.  And I felt like a big man owning two vehicles!  Two years later when I was turning in my 2009 Jeep for a brand new Wrangler, a guest at the inn offered to buy the Smart car at a price I couldn’t turn down.  That January we were in our condo in Florida and going through one of the malls and on display was this beautiful Fiat Cinque Cento in Red with a white racing stripe down the middle of it and it called my name.  I drove it back from Florida in absolute comfort.  To make a long story short, when I turned in my 2011 Wrangler in 2013, once again in Florida I turned in my little red Fiat and purchased a beautiful 2013 Fiat 500 S, which was a station wagon in a dark racing green.  Kept that little beauty until we sold the inn and I traded in both the Fiat and the 2013 Wrangler for my  2015 Jeep Wrangler which I kept until I purchased my present Jeep that I absolutely love and will probably keep for a long time to come.  But I can’t emphasize how much I loved touring the country side in those tiny, 5 speed standard transmission little European roadsters.  That was during my second childhood and I am much more mature now and no longer need as many toys as I did back then.

Arc de Triumph

I really enjoyed Hen and George’s recollection about their vehicles – and I hope to ride in Hen’s cybertruck one day, assuming Elon actually delivers one after all this time! Spurred on by my two old compatriots, I created a list of cars/trucks/vans that I have owned: eighteen up to the present day. How do you write about each of those machines which have provided immense freedom — and sometimes, immense headaches? I think I’ll just focus on one of them – the first!

Before doing that, I need to give a shoutout to my father, who really knew how to pick cars with panache… and could actually fix them as well. This is kind of a backstory to the car he gifted me when I was a college sophomore. My Dad loved British sportscars, so my growing years were spent as a passenger in a variety of British imports: MGA, Austin Healy MK2, TR4, and finally – the epitome – a 1961 XK150 jaguar drophead coupe convertible. The XK150 was a short-lived specimen which bridged the XK140 to the XKE classic sportscar. XK is the Jaguar motor type and the 150 was the miles per hour of the max speed. White with red leather seats and wire wheels, it sounded like a pocket jet engine… I remember being awestruck looking at the speedometer where the 80-mph marker appeared at the middle of the gauge!

Thanks to my Dad I went to my senior prom driving a 1961 Cadillac convertible (which I drove over a median on the way to the restaurant) and departed our marriage ceremony in a 1964 ½ Mustang (which my buddies decorated with white shoe polish). I was a living testimony to his trust – and patience.

Eventually, I inherited the 1963 TR4 – and like Hen – really enjoyed this ride. The TR4 was a step up from the MGA, which featured canvas convertible top and side curtains attached with snaps. The Triumph engine evolved from tractor motors and required constant tuning. While my father and brother dedicated a portion of each weekend to home auto shop skills, my interests lay elsewhere. Cars have always seemed magical to me (how on earth do they work?) and I fully appreciated the magic carpet ride of the TR, particularly up the hairpin turn approaching Mohonk Mountain House, where George learned to drive – what exhilaration! Until the door wouldn’t shut, or the engine wouldn’t start. Luckily, Dad and Bro would fix the window track and replace the burned exhaust valve – and other ailments brought on by my clueless mistakes. 

The TR served me well through college. Once I went to the parking area behind my dorm to find that someone had pried out my gas cap and filler tube! I did remember seeing a TR3 driving around with a rag in the gas tank (a rolling Molotov cocktail). Accompanied by my friend Gube, we drove around college parking spaces until I spotted it – with a new filler cap, which looked remarkably like mine. I confess to prying it out with a long screwdriver and replacing it in my vehicle – does that constitute theft or auto repair?

Well, my British Racing Green TR lasted right up to my first day at a real job in 1970. We drove from Long Island to our new apartment. Linda held our infant son in her lap the entire trip (infant car seats were not mandated until 1986 and the TR had only had jump seats in the back). We pulled into the parking lot and the steering wheel actually disengaged from the linkage. At that moment we realized it was time for a safer, more practical car (which turned out to be a hair-raising saga with a $400 VW411 squareback – a story for another day). 

You can never forget your first love – and I have kept the original gearshift knob and instruction book from my heroic TR!


No Laughing Matter

No Laughing Matter

Not too long ago, we three old guys playfully started to imagine a restaurant that only catered to old people – old people like us, but perhaps more elderly – perhaps more like what the future holds in store for us. Well, we got to laughing about all the absurd possibilities and every comment elicited more laughs and excitement to press on with even more outrageous suggestions. We were on a roll! We even named our restaurant the Waiting Room, stacking up a rapidly escalating list of clever ideas.

A week or so later, Hen suggested that we revisit the concept of the Waiting Room, since we had such a good time brainstorming the idea. But – we couldn’t! The jokes just wouldn’t come and somehow didn’t seem so funny, anymore. We were all disappointed. Has this ever happened to you?

The inability to call back the humor of the moment really stuck in my craw, so I decided to do a little research on why things like this happen. I know, I know — it is a probable mistake to delve too deeply into a humorous situation. E.B. White once said: “Analyzing humor is like dissecting a frog. Few people are interested, and the frog dies of it”. Nevertheless, I pushed forward.

E.B. White was right!

My first step was to read a book on Enjoyment of Laughter, written in the 1930’s. After all, humor is timeless – right? This book described all kinds of jokes and humorous situations and explained why they were funny. Not one instance in this book made me laugh. In fact, it was generally cringeworthy – the humor just did not translate to the present. In itself, that produced one conclusion: context is everything! That old rejoinder, ‘You had to be there’ is right on target.

Switching focus to current research, I learned the following:

  • There are two kinds of laughter: Duchenne and non-Duchenne. Duchenne laughter is spontaneous and developed from forms of primate play. Non-Duchenne laughter is calculated behavior used to navigate social interactions. These forms of laughter actually invoke different neural pathways (Duchenne- brainstem; non-Duchenne- frontal lobe).
  • Laughter is important in social bonding. Humor ‘tokens’ act as invitations to further bonding. Humor may spring from impropriety and follows an arc of making a semi-outrageous statement which tests norms, to acceptance (or non-acceptance) by the listener and then to affiliation between the participants.
  • Humor = Tragedy + Emotional Distance. Maybe we three old guys were just whistling past the graveyard when we envisioned our Waiting Room restaurant?
  • Humor which builds upon each succeeding punchline is called an escalating joke. When done in a group, it is called co-constructive humor. People are 30 times more likely to laugh in a group, than when alone. Laughter is invoked more easily when participants can see or hear each other… even on Zoom.
  • Laughter releases endorphins (peptides) which target the opioid receptors in the brain. The more opioid receptors, the greater the amount of social laughter. The consequence is the ‘feel good’ areas of the brain are triggered.  This is beneficial for health and has some benefits associated with exercise.
  • People are starting laughter meet-up groups to take advantage of the positive effects of laughing. They meet and laugh. No kidding…

While all these data points were rattling around in my head, I was drawn back to the Thanksgiving table by the laughter of my family. They were involved in their own restaurant gag and laughing up a storm. It seems that the group was riffing on what they would do with a ‘horror-themed’ eatery. They named their restaurant ‘Stake-n-stein’ with ‘stein’ pronounced as ‘shteen’ in homage to Gene Wilder in the Young Frankenstein movie.  Looking at them, I came to another conclusion: spontaneity beats reconstruction!

Rock on, I say! Free the endorphins and save the frogs!

Laugh    F. W. Sanderson

'Tis by the heart the secret's told,
'Tis by the smile we're young or old,
'Tis as the life its joy shall hold,
It is the laugh reveals the soul.

Deep Laughter

It isn’t often enough that I remember laughing so hard that my cheeks ache and tears come to my eyes.  You know, the deep down, automatic, self-generating kind of laugh that builds to a point where you can’t control it no matter how hard you try.  Wal, reminds us of one of those times when not only was I unable to stop laughing but I was on a free roll, feeding more ludicrous lines of humor that build on those from Wal and George – that co-constructive humor Wal mentioned in his piece.  I love being in that moment when my body and mind react together pumping out whatever electro-chemical reactions that make one feel good, happy, alive, joyful, and so absorbed in the moment that I don’t want it to end.

Hence, during one of our following weekly Zoom sessions, I asked if we could attempt to recreate the experience by recalling the specifics. One reason was that in the moment of its creation, it felt so clever that I wondered if the idea, which I thought was a brilliant design concept, had a chance at reality.  That is, if we organized it into a proposal, with a detailed layout of how each area of the restaurant would look and replicated the menu we brainstormed, it might actually have a chance of catching someone’s attention: someone who might want to put it into a working model.  The other purpose of my request was to simply relive the experience of this highly creative and deep laughter.  The idea of revisiting that positive and upbeat place was enormously seductive.  But, as Wal already wrote, we couldn’t replicate it.  The door had closed, and we could barely remember the descriptors we used that triggered such a lasting experience.

Perhaps something so intricate and complex as what each of us brought to the conversation on that particular day during that specific time connected to each of our unique experiences, needs, and emotional states of being, could never be recreated and we will have to live with the idea that it was synchronous for only that moment. 

I love to laugh.  Sometimes, I fall prey to fits of convulsive laughter from an unintended behavior, usually mine.  Such was the case about six years ago when Teresa and I were staying at a hotel in New Hampshire with Ellen and Mark, my sister and brother-in-law.  The elevator door opened while we were all engaged in conversation so when I stepped in and the others didn’t, I decided to make believe an unseen occupant hiding in the front corner was yanking me in.  I turned, placed my own arm around my neck and jerked backward hoping to disappear behind the section of elevator that was off to the left of the opening.  When I lurched backward into what should have been empty space, I inadvertently hit the corner of the wall with my head and knocked myself down on the floor, stunned!  As I looked up into the now horrified and silent faces of my family, I couldn’t help but crack a smile.  The way Mark looked at me when he asked if I was having a seizure coupled with my total embarrassment escalated my smile to full blown laughter.  It was one of those moments when everything was just right for it to spread and continue for the entire ride in the elevator and into our rooms.  When one of us would think about the incident later at dinner, we would all laugh so hard some of us would have to leave the table.  The next morning at breakfast, Mark told me he didn’t sleep much because Ellen woke up at 2:00 am hysterical after remembering it.  And so, it continues to this day.  Whenever I think about it, like now, I easily fall into the kind of laughter that makes my cheeks hurt and causes tears to pour from my eyes.  Just now I had to stop and collect myself before I could continue.

For me, it’s the memory of all of us laughing, of seeing their faces at the moment of my insanity, and notion that after all of this time, the experience so easily triggers this automatic, compulsive, deep laughter.  While I hope not to take any more blows to the head, I do hope I find more opportunities to laugh with reckless abandon.

“If you wish to glimpse inside a human soul and get to know the man, don’t bother analyzing his ways of being silent, of talking, of weeping, or seeing how much he is moved by noble ideas; you’ll get better results if you just watch him laugh. If he laughs well, he’s a good man…All I claim to know is that laughter is the most reliable gauge of human nature.” — Feodor Dostoyevsky

Sore Bay

Humor is a very personal thing. What I find humorous others may not.  On that particular day, Henry, Wally and I just in the course of normal conversation about folks our age, hit a chord where all of us bought into the joke and ran with it.  Wally and I had just been to lunch with another fraternity brother and were preparing for a reunion at the college. We were trying to come up with a contest and the winner of it would receive an old baseball-style cap as reward.  We started with basic questions to ask that we could somehow score. One of the categories was how many “ists” do you see?  Cardiologist, urologist, dermatologist, neurologist, endocrinologist……therapist, psychiatrist, ventriloquist, mixologist —well you get the point.  And we were laughing out loud in this college hangout developing this list.  The winner I think had something like 15 “ists” that he saw.  We left lunch that day feeling really good cause we had shared this laughter and it did the body good.  This is a different kind of laughter than when someone tells a joke.  That is a short giggle to laugh, which ends relatively quickly and has little therapeutic value.   The other thing I realized is that solitary laughter is short lived and kind of empty. I think the value of laughter lies in the sharing of the common experience that caused it.  Once the sharing occurs, the laughter takes on a life of its own. I start to laugh and then when you respond with more laughter, it eggs me on more and louder transitioning from the giggle to the hearty laughter to downright guffawing which causes biological responses.  A guffaw is usually accompanied by facial distortions, belly bends, hand motions to cover our mouths or hold our bellies.  The verbal part of humor expression or laughter often leads us to choking or coughing as one tries to get a grip.  But all of these body convulsions just add to the humor and allows it to continue far longer than necessary and long enough to draw attention from innocent passersby.  The benefit of this sharing is a feeling of euphoria and good will toward all at least temporarily.

So, on that day Henry and Wally and I had this out of body experience we all needed.  We began somehow talking about a restaurant for senior citizens where the menu was directed at ailments we have all experienced in our lives, or as Henry calls these discussions, organ recitals.  We began by coming up with specific menu choices and the restaurant itself.  Wally came up with the name “The Waiting Room.”  As an aside, we have tried to remember the things that broke us up into hysterics that day, several times and they eluded us.  But to give you an idea I did a sample menu of the restaurant:

The Waiting Room

-a senior dining experience- relaxing and curative cuisine, soft organ music in the background; blood pressure cuffs and oxygen at every table

The Whine List: Cham Pain and Prosicko always available intravenously

Main course:

  • Bed Panini
  • Fish n Hips
  • Heart-o-Tacos (idea stolen from WC)
  • and for that special elderly gentleman, Cease Hair Salad

Desserts- to top off the evening meal with an after-dinner drink of Creme Dementia and a large bowl of Sore Bay

Well, it was much funnier when it was spontaneous, and the humor of one of us built on the humor of the other two.  It is one of those things you just can’t duplicate and when you try to tell others how funny it all was it falls flat.  But on that day, at that time and place it was the best, belly grabbing, snorting, throw your head back and let go laugh I have had in a very long time and boy did I need that!  I’ll have the Sore Bay please.