What Matters


Do You Have Everything You Need…for Now?

Recently I was at a rather busy outdoor restaurant with friends waiting to place our order.  The waiter came over to our table, poured some water, and asked if we wanted any drinks.  When he returned with our beverages he took our food order and asked if there was anything else we needed for now.  Likewise, when he returned with our meals, he asked, if there was anything we needed for now.  And, throughout the meal, dessert, and check deliveries, he always ended with, “Is there anything else you need for now?”

Several days later, unrelated to the meal or our waiter, I watched the Netflix movie, “Don’t Look Up.”  In it there is a scene where family and friends are sitting at the dinner table together and one remarks, “We really did have everything, didn’t we? I mean, when you think about it.”

Both of these experiences got me to thinking about the quest for more of or a better something to make me happy or content.  And the more I thought about it, the more I recognize that, for now, for this very moment, I have what I need to do what I’m doing, to be content, and to just be.  And perhaps, if I can agree that in just about every moment, when I ask myself if there is anything else I need and I can answer, no, or not really, then in each of those moments, I can be a little more focused, a little more content, and a little more in the moment.  Many years ago, a friend gave me a rather far out book to read that espoused that life would be so much easier and less stressful if I could simply change my expectations to preferences.  So, yes, I still would like to get new things and improve my living conditions and relationships when I can but if I no longer feel I need to and if I can recognize that, for the moment, I already have what I need, perhaps, just perhaps, life will be even more fulfilling.

When I moved to Delaware in August, I stayed with my daughter and her family for about 5 weeks.  During that time, I had only the clothes that could fit in my suitcase and nothing more.  As the weeks passed I realized that I didn’t miss any of my “stuff” that surrounded me for the 21 years I lived in my former home.  I had all I needed.

It is said that change cannot occur without first having awareness.  These recent episodes in my life remind me that I don’t need very much at all.  This doesn’t mean that I will remain in my small apartment or that I won’t continue to seek new adventures and friends.  Perhaps the change that will occur is knowing that I don’t need any of those things…for now.


Hen chose a great topic and described it well: recognizing contentment ‘for now’. It’s those last two words that make the difference.

My kneejerk response to Hen’s piece, was ‘maybe we were not here to be content’. A darker part of myself actually was saying ‘Are you kidding? We’re clearly not here to be content – what’s this “maybe” stuff?’ We’re here to try hard, miss the mark, scramble to recover, and hopefully survive to move on. Contentment is code for ‘sitting duck’.

Contentment — but, what’s in a word? Wittgenstein famously said that if a lion cold talk, you wouldn’t understand what it said. He felt that words make the reality we experience – simply put: you might understand the logic of the sentence, but not appreciate the individual meaning assigned to the lion’s words.

Okay, in my lexicography, ‘contentment’ is different from serenity. Serenity is a feeling you have while in the flow of doing a task; contentment is the feeling you have when the task is finished. Contentment is the temporary rest stop while enroute to a summit. If you stay there too long, you won’t finish the climb. That’s why the leavening words: “for now”, make all the difference. It recognizes the deep breath you take before setting off again. It is the opportunity to take stock of where you are and say “how beautiful”, knowing you’ll soon be in motion. Walt Whitman has a pertinent poem Song at Sunset, which in part says:

Good in All,

In the satisfaction and aplomb of animals,

In the annual return of the seasons,

In the hilarity of youth,

In the strength and flush of manhood,

In the grandeur and exquisiteness of old age,

In the superb vistas of Death.

Wonderful to depart;

Wonderful to be here!

I used to work with a mechanical engineer whose favorite line was “Bask!” It was a reminder to take a moment to appreciate the progress a team had made on a project. It was always a good reset before resuming the journey – he was a wise person. So Hen, I agree: Bask – for now!

Two Little Words

Two little words, six little letters…..FOR NOW!  This diminutive statement carries the weight of the world on those two- 3 letter words’ shoulders! How is that possible?  I have been ruminating on this idea since Henry brought it up.   What is implied?  For Now implies change, usually forward change since the the last Now is gone. For Now questions it’s own life span- when is this Now over and the next Now begins?  If NOW is static like with a pandemic or something NOW could last a very long time.  How do we know when this NOW is over and the next NOW is arriving?  The optimist looks forward to the next NOW assuming improvement or betterment. The pessimist fears the next NOW cause history has told him things can get much worse.  Not to mention all the factors involved in creating NOW.  Factors such as current events, weather factors, one’s own humanity and outlook. Do all those things change at the end of one NOW into the next?  And how many of those factors have to change to label the quality of the next NOW?

Now throw in the concept of “contentment.”  Contentment is one of those emotions that fits somewhere on the Ladder of Happiness.  I suspect it is a high rung of that ladder right below joy and peace.  Lower rungs include comfort, amusement, ease, pleasure, higher up come satisfaction, with happiness and possibly euphoria just below the ultimate rung of peace and serenity-the absolute top! 

We all strive for those top rungs. Some of the rungs are phantomlike.  A feeling lasting only short moments in NOW. They are like the bouquets of flowers in a beautiful garden on a beautiful day.  They boost the spirit and make the Now special but rarely last long.  Happiness is one of those feelings.  We experience moments of true happiness and it enriches us beyond belief but seldom lasts for great lengths of time like peace and serenity do.  And euphoria is just a short sharp blast of bliss too soon gone to even remember how it felt….. but peace and serenity …… they last from this Now to the next and help us get through the subsequent Nows that lay ahead.

My final point right now is that For Now I am truly struggling.  Struggling with the loneliness, the worry for friends’ and family’s health and the fear of normal never returning.  Throw in a little anger for those who have decided their right to do what they want with their bodies supersedes our expectations for this pandemic to end.  So for now, my For Now is strangling me.  Sure glad the waiter didn’t ask me!  


Begin as You End


I am done with the convolutions

I know I’m too old for the revolutions

I am still seeking some solutions

And know I still need absolutions.

I am personally done with evolutions

I have no need for retributions

I’ve lost faith in most institutions

Yet, I continue to make contributions

So, from this simple elocution

I am declaring a conclusion

To each and every illusion

Of my keeping any resolution.

-Tom O’Brien

A New Year! A fresh start, perhaps? Have you made a resolution or two? Like Tom, I don’t make New Year’s resolutions – often my wish exceeds my grasp. But I do believe that how you end the year is emblematic of how you will be in the New Year: history is the best predictor of the future.

So on the last day of the year, I try to sample some behaviors I hope to be doing all year. My list of New Year’s Eve day activities includes:

  1. Being civil. Often I’m impatient to start or finish tasks and my impatience is obvious. While I probably won’t change that condition, I can limit the sphere of toxic Type A behavior.
  2. Prioritizing family time. We’re fortunate to have children and grandchildren close at hand. We will share a dinner this New Year’s Eve and keep the grandkids overnight.
  3. Doing what you love. I will use an hour or two in my shop, finishing a present for one of my sons. Being creative is energizing and carries over to other parts of my life.
  4. Checking in with at least a couple of folks who have had a tough year. We don’t go it alone. I firmly believe that each of us needs to strengthen the ties that bind.
  5. Exercise. I don’t always make time, but miss it when not active. My regimen is to complete a short workout on free weights daily. In a way, it’s a test – a litmus to mark when my body can no longer keep up. (I set the bar very low – no pun intended!)
  6. Mental Acuity: I play solitaire for keeping track of cards and picking order of play. It’s not sudoku or chess, but it’s quick and instructive as a meditation).

Okay that’s mine… what do you do to welcome 2022?

I’m Giving Up Brussels Sprouts

I’m not good at resolutions!  As a kid I would resolve to do something I was already doing to guarantee success.  It was sort of  like what I would give up for Lent.  I would give up brussels sprouts or liver, something I hated so that the task would be easy.  I’m sure I wasn’t the only one to do such a thing!  The purpose of these activities is to improve your being, to make you a better person.  So failing at such a self imposed task is overwhelmingly a failure of character.  I already am good at beating up on myself so I don’t need any catastrophic defeat to emphasize it.  
So bring on 2022 with no promises or self imposed demands!  In fact, if anything has to make resolutions, it is our society.  It needs to resolve to come together,  to accept people for who they are, to care about the well being of our fellow citizens, to address the real needs of our nation and our world…Too much?  Probably! Maybe the country will slip into my old habits and not make any demanding resolutions!  Status quo!  Maybe Covid will stick around and we’ll do nothing to end the damn thing. Maybe we’ll just let our kids get shot in school,  Maybe we’ll keep burning those fossil fuels and continue to burn acres and acres of forests and villages! Hell, it is much easier to do nothing than to actually take a course of action that might improve us.   Don’t let those strangers who look different or worship differently come into our perfect country!  
On second thought,  maybe a resolution or two isn’t bad.  Give it the old college try and if I succeed DAMN I’ll feel good and it just might improve my family, my neighborhood!  And if I fail? Nothing ventured nothing gained!  Maybe if we all made one resolution and tried to work it, we will be in a better place! Maybe 2022 will be the year for trying, resolving and acting to make it a better year than the last!  We can’t do much worse.  What do I have to lose?

Moving Forward

Wal invites us to reset and/or confirm our focus for how we wish to welcome the New Year.  I agree that while we can do this anytime, there is an emotional and perhaps psychological bonus when we do so at the outset of something new or, as Wal does, set our intentions just before the beginning.

Since I’m writing this after the ball dropped in Time Square, I can tell you what I did do on the last day of 2021 and what I’d like to continue.

I spent the day with friends.  We played, laughed, listened to music, enjoyed good food, exchanged thoughtful gifts, and engaged in hours and hours of physical activity.  Although I was so exhausted, I didn’t stay awake until midnight, I felt energized, fulfilled, and happy.  I ended my year full out, used up, and thrilled to be able to feel so alive.

  1. Spending time with family and friends and people who make me laugh and think and who challenge me is something I will seek to include in my life as much as possible.
  2. Eating healthy foods that I enjoy (even those that take time to prepare) will be more on my mind and on my shopping list.
  3. Giving to others with a full heart and often will be a practice I will increase.
  4. Hiking, biking, Pickle Ball, and other forms of exercise multiple times per week will be written into my daily journal.

I’m thankful to Wal for helping me see the last day of last year as an excellent reminder of how I want to live my life more fully and with intention. 




Institutions often set calendar benchmarks for reflection and evaluation.  Workers and/or programs are reviewed annually or semi-annually ostensibly to improve performance or productivity.  While setting arbitrary anniversaries for such reflections may be more efficient, I wonder if they would be more effective if we measured the time for such experiences based on changes in feelings about the work or an observable indicator from regular monitoring.  Such is the case, for me, to review my purpose and performance of these blog posts.

Our first post was on May 21, 2019.  Now, 66 posts and some 30+ months later, I’m feeling a need to check in with myself as I recognize that what was once stimulating has become more of a responsibility.  I am aware that what works at one point in time may not in another.  And while some might say, “ If it ain’t broke don’t fix it,” I don’t want to wait until it’s broken before I make the necessary adjustments to keep it healthy.  Factor in my recent move and challenging transition to relocating and it feels like the right time to take stock of where I am with my writing, where I want to go, and how to reclaim the energy and vitality I initially had.  Of course I am only one third of what makes this all work.  I also owe it to my two very patient and supportive blog-mates to check in with myself.

For the last ten years or so I’ve felt a need to pass along my thoughts, feelings, and what I understand to be wisdom to my children.  Sparked by a lively conversation sometime in August of 2018 with Wal and George in a bar we once frequented many years before, the idea of sharing written thoughts and opinions about chosen topics was kindled.   And so we began this journey, fueled by anticipation of the unknown, a powerful reconnection with former classmates, and the excitement of creating something new from our shared experiences.  As I looked back at our early notes, emails, and outlines I found some possible causes for the change in how I bring myself to my writing.

I read less than I did when we began.  In the early days there was a flurry of articles shared among us as well as references to books and authors that we discussed and debated.  Today I rarely contribute to this process. There are some apparent and some not so obvious reasons for this.  However, this is something I can certainly do more of in the coming months.

For a while, I was journaling on an irregular basis but often enough to keep my writing and ideas and experiences fresh and connected.  This all but stopped as I began the process of selling my house.  Now that I have begun to establish new routines, I have the option of scheduling regular journal entries.  I imagine this would not only contribute to my writing but will serve to help me adapt to my current life style.

Being outdoors and getting abundant exercise and fresh air has always been a major source of energy for me.  Since my move, this has changed dramatically.  Finding ways to do both on a regular basis will take far more effort than in my former setting but I know the benefit will far outweigh the effort.

I am also aware that, for me, new beginnings are easier than sustaining middle ground in any of the projects I’ve undertaken.  The struggle has been how to sustain the energy, momentum, and excitement of the work over time.  Going back to our beginnings has helped me rediscover my original purpose as well as to recognize the important behaviors that helped propel my work.  And while I can and will recommit to some of them starting now, I wonder if there is something else that needs to shift as we close in on three years of posting our blogs.  Perhaps so, but for now, I look forward to putting first, the things that helped me in the past.  Then, after a short period, I’ll look back to today to see what, if any progress has been made and what I can do differently, moving forward. 


Hen’s piece asks us to reflect on writing this blog after 66 posts. Have we strayed from our original goal and have we maintained the same level of enthusiasm?

I guess the answer for me is yes to both questions.

Sure, anything done repetitively can wear thin over time, but I’ve felt that this blog is an evolving enterprise. My original goal was to share advice with my grandkids in mind. After writing a few entries, it seemed to me that my advice is not so cogent – or sufficiently clear — as to spare them the same mistakes I’ve made over time. In addition, it is a slim probability that my skills as a writer will rise to a high level of sophistication. So now what?

Well, there are several aspects of this ongoing conversation which I continue to enjoy:

  1. It is an opportunity to sharpen ideas. One of us writes on a subject and the others weigh in with some counterpoint. How else does a person grow in one’s perspective? It’s pure dialectic. Of course, it would also be constructive if readers at large commented with their views as well.
  2. The above only works if folks with different points of view can find common ground — and the respect to actually listen – genuinely participate: that’s what friends do. We started with the premise that each of we three old guys had a distinctly different style and set of life experiences. I believe that we realized pretty quickly that we were more alike than different. In a season characterized by identity politics and differentiation, we are harmoniously diverse. I find the opportunity for relationship building is more satisfying than mining and exploiting differences.
  3. We laugh a lot. We old guys zoom every week to explore ideas and check in on one another. It’s an easy and spontaneous conversation. We start with a plan and invariably devolve into good natured banter. God only knows where our conversation will lead at any given time.

It’s pretty clear that my goals have changed over time. I think that honing ideas will help me express something of significance to my wonderful grandkids… but I’m not in a hurry, because even as I age, my points of view also marinate. Point of view is, after all, a time-slice of opinion.

There are times when I have no clue as to what to write. Yet, words still find their way to the page, mainly guided by references to writers with greater insight and intellect. The motivation to research and synthesize information from these folks fuels my enthusiasm to connect to this blog.  

So, yep – I strayed from our original goal, but remain pretty satisfied with where our conversations have taken us three old guys.


I journaled my whole life.  Mostly recording places I visited or events that occurred.  Early on I used calendar books just to jot down a daily reminder of what occurred.  Recently I gave a collection of those books to my daughter so she could read what we were going through in the process of adopting her 50 years ago and how we fell in love with her the moment we were first introduced to her at the Ulster County Office Building, more affectionately known, in the early 70’s, as the Glass Menagerie.  Health issues arose and the release papers were withdrawn and we went through an agonizing period for about 7 months when we weren’t sure if she would be released.  I wanted her to know how much she was wanted!

Then I moved on to composition books.  I loved the way a page looked when I was finished, always writing carefully and always using a favorite fountain pen to do the writing.  I just always loved to write!  So, when we three old fraternity brothers met at our 50th reunion and the idea was presented I loved it.  We had a combined life experience of over 220 years’ worth of life experience.  Not having any grandchildren my audience is different than Henry’s and Wally’s.  I had gone through some traumatic medical procedures and wanted to share that with folks our age so they wouldn’t have to go into these situations without some encouragement and advice from someone who experienced this kind of stuff.   So many scary, new experiences face seniors and it is helpful to maybe hear how someone else made it through! 

We certainly each have our own writing styles.  Henry and  Wally write much more scholarly than I do, quoting experts in many different fields whose books they have read.  I read mostly fiction, and quoting Forrest Gump or Holden Caulfield doesn’t carry the same weight as a person with half the alphabet following their names, so my pieces are based only on my own feelings and experiences. 

These other 2 old guys helped me survive Covid.  They gave me a purpose and the knowledge that every week I’ll get to have human contact either in person or video-ickly just to validate there are still other humans around.  Our discussions range from all kinds of things and are always encouraging and thought provoking!  Our process has evolved over the course of our 66 publications, and that’s a good thing!  Things have to evolve because our thinking evolves and that is good also. Let us know what you think!  Share with us your thoughts, disagree with us, yell at us. That’s how we develop and improve. But keep reading us!


The Tyranny of Small Things

Okay, where do you stand on the sliding scale of “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff” to “The Devil’s in the Details”? Lately, I’m beginning to be aware of the tiny bits that portend larger problems; the marginal items that can trip you up. High School English drummed into our heads the notion of Macbeth’s dilemma: ‘we carry the seeds of our own destruction’. Now I’m wondering what’s in my seed library?

Recently, an older friend decided to step on a cricket. Not a great strategy when you walk with a cane – actually, not a great strategy in general. However, the cricket strolled onto my friend’s living room carpet with a small ‘Squish Me’ sign stuck to its back, so my friend complied. Of course he missed – that was just never going to happen. It ‘sproinged’ and he did a prattfall – and laid there for an hour trying to get up. Small thing, big problem. Was that need to squash a cricket one of the seeds of his own destruction?

We’ve heard the sayings ‘for want of a nail, the kingdom was lost’ (James Baldwin, The Horseshoe Nails) and ‘little things mean a lot’ (eponymous song by Lindeman and Stutz). Well they are true! Mama Cass was undone by a chicken bone; Napoleon was unhorsed by a severe case of hemorrhoids at Waterloo. George got up from his chair and broke his foot – who’s next??

Recently, I crammed too much into my morning schedule and was in a rush to get to indoor tennis. Even so, I arrived early – too early to enter the facility. So, I thought, okay: I’ll quick stop at Staples and pick up some office supplies for the business. But wait – I forgot my wallet! Alright, well then I’ll change into my tennis sneaks and walk for a bit until it’s time to play. Yikes! I also forgot my sneakers! There’s not enough time to return home and back to the tennis club. Now what? If I play barefoot, I’ll aggravate the Achilles injury… and the doctor that treated that injury plays on the next court – hmmm… dilemmas, dilemmas. (The “solution” was a pair of a half-size too short sneakers in ‘lost and found’). Is hastiness going to be my downfall – or is it crunched feet?

Engineers have a term for all of this: geometric intolerance. That describes the situation where parts that are each slightly off spec, result in much larger failures when combined over multiple connections.  Perhaps that’s how it ends: one off-spec cell, one ill-timed decision, one turn left, when you should have juked right. Like Colin Powell used to say, “Check small things”.

Yet the enormity of possibilities and the inability to cover them all is just too consuming. I started this piece with my needle sliding toward ‘devil/details’, but it is now swinging back to ‘not sweat/small stuff’, simply due to inadequate energy and lack of attention span. So I’ve concluded that the best course of action is to let the needle oscillate back and forth on this gauge, somewhere between complacency and craziness.

Now, that may sound weird and perhaps it is. I just don’t think the needle ought to stay in one position on that spectrum. Being simultaneously nimble and meticulous is a tough assignment. Can you actually do both? I’ve seen people who claim it’s simply a matter of balance get consistently stuck in one mode of approach. I’m interested to read what others have to say…

Balance is Askew

I like Wal’s reflective query about where we stand on paying attention to details and how we feel about allowing small things to happen without giving them the diligence they often solicit from us.  And while I can see how this can be interpreted as opposing sides of a continuum, I lean more toward seeing them as not so much.  Perhaps this comes from how we define “small stuff.”  As I think about the issues many of us stress over and talk about daily, by week’s end they are replaced by totally different concerns and challenges.  If they can be replaced so quickly, weren’t they “small stuff” to begin with? As we create a passionate story around it to tell our friends and family we deceive ourselves into believing it is significant and until the next bump we encounter it remains in our minds, “big stuff.” until the next bump comes along.  However, if I notice that something that signals a potential danger to my health or home (George’s oil burner maintenance for example) I can pay attention to the details of addressing it.  To me, this isn’t necessarily small stuff.  And, even if it were, I can still take steps to correct it without perseverating and worrying (sweating) about it.  What I’m trying to say is, it is possible to not sweat the small stuff and still pay attention to the details of potentially important stuff to prevent them from becoming big stuff.

At the end of his piece, Wal talks about those seeking the balance of being nimble and meticulous as often getting stuck in one mode of approach.  I agree.  Unlike a level see saw where both sides are of equal weight or one has scooted up or back on the seat to create static equilibrium, I see balance as a range of behaviors that is sometimes a +1 over the midpoint and sometimes a +3.  Similarly, the opposing side also fluctuates between a -1 and a -3 to counterbalance.  Our lives are complicated enough without us trying to remain in a perfect stasis of “middledom.”  To put it another way, imagine the more rigid definition of balance as someone holding out both arms such that they are completely level and in line with each other.  Now picture someone holding one arm slightly higher (+1 to +3) and the other arm slightly lower (-1 to -3).   Is not this relative balance easier to sustain or aspire to?  And isn’t it that we often find ourselves a bit more up or down but still being in balance enough to be productive and even happy?  I have accepted this state of being as a guide to living out my days with less stress and more comfort.

Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda

My life has followed Wally’s essential proverbs with one minor exception.  Definitely, I prescribe to the “don’t sweat the small stuff,” however, instead of the devil quote, I prefer, “Keep it Simple Stupid.”  My dad always said to not sweat the small stuff and lived by it.  Unfortunately, he took it literally and ignored the small stuff ‘til it became large. Why service the oil burner?  It is working fine……until it isn’t!

Small stuff are the seedlings of BIG stuff!  And if addressed as small stuff often the stuff disappears.  But that would be too simple! The half full glass people might ignore  small annoyances because always anticipating the good in each situation it could deceive and lead to bigger problems…. Just sayin’.  Whereas the half empty glass folks, expecting the worst, might conceivably take care of things sooner!  Apparently, I fit in the ‘where the hell is the glass?’ people.  

My entire life was spent looking for problems, expecting them, and usually finding them, but instead of getting right on it, I procrastinated and ignored to the best of my ability.  If you accidentally push it aside it doesn’t exist.  Guess I learned that from Dad, too. The difference being that eventually he would deal with the issue with grace and precision as opposed the hysteria it produced in me.  

This applied to all realms of my life. Mechanical things being the worst yet emotional and relationship issues a strong second.  My emotional knee jerk reactions can be excused by the Italian influence of my DNA, which I tend to take exceptional pride in!   However, with age. All processes tend to slow down, not by choice but due to days on earth and wear and tear on parts. Fortunately for me, it appears to make me look reflective, thoughtful and perhaps even mature.  I like that.  As for the Keep it Simple part, I aspire to that but have yet to obtain the required tools to utilize the concept.

All in all, these neurotic tendencies I exhibit have not interfered in a surprisingly successful life, two outstanding careers, many exciting experiences and wonderful memories.  Sure, maybe the adoption of these beliefs would have amplified the positive results.  Woulda, coulda, shoulda!  Maybe someday I’ll catch on.


Heart to Heart

Fairy tales can come true
It can happen to you…
If you’re young at heart….
For as rich as you are it’s much better by far…..To be young at heart!
And if you should survive to a hundred and five…
Think of all you derive out of being alive…
And here is the best part, you have a head start .. if you are among the very young at heart!!!!*  To which I say……Balderdash!  Everybody says you should be young at heart! Why? What does it even mean? If you are under 50 it is fine to be young at heart.  But after the half-century mark and beyond, being young at heart doesn’t serve us as well. When I was young at heart I had no patience, no empathy, was always in a rush, Life was relatively easy with few heavy life situations.  Decisions were easy because we didn’t think much about them and we were resilient.  Resiliency allowed us the ability to compensate for a hasty decision. Coronary youthfulness served us all well.  But beyond that, we started dealing with situations that require much more than youth can save.   The body starts to respond to the length of time on Earth and so should the heart. Physical resilience slowly dissipates. Patience is necessary to deal with the new adventures and tribulations we are faced with.   My young heart was impulsive, impetuous, and spontaneous. Sure it was attractive back then. But today, in the 70 plus-year-old body spontaneity doesn’t always serve us well.  Impulsivity can actually get a senior in trouble. 

At a time in our lives when our world is tending to shrink, rushing in to resolve an issue may be fool hearty!  Downsizing isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Humans tend to clutter their lives with needless stuff – all kinds of things and then we need to get bigger things to hold all our things.  My kids look at my stuff and shake their heads while they collect their own stuff.  This causes us to look at our lives and contemplate how to sort and decide the best method of downsizing.  The young at heart would rent a dumpster, throw everything in and there, all done, only to miss things later, things perhaps even needed. And it isn’t just about objects.  Our lives are being reduced by loss of family and friends and we are even selectively separating from people who never treated us well but we never took the time to evaluate those relationships.

The mature at heart (euphemism for old at heart) contemplates, considers, and fusses over decisions.  And, why not?  The body is sending signals, important decisions have to be made, friends and family are facing these same situations and experiences.   Our world is shrinking, sadness and heaviness enters our lives far more often than we want, causing additional decisions to be made based on careful consideration and consequences, something the young at heart rarely do!  So, the mature at heart face a quandary. A balance must be reached between how we spend the rest of our lives. Each one of us is different, reacts differently, grieves differently but we share the fact that time continues to pass and experiences change in consequence and nature.  We must learn to adjust, acknowledge, think through and then respond.  My youthful
heart would respond first, regret or rejoice afterwards depending on how things turned out.  I get no joy anymore out of regret and try to act accordingly!  I practice and rejoice in being mature at heart for perhaps, practice does make perfect! Or, as near to perfect as an old curmudgeon can get!

*(Songwriter – Ron Heindorf)

Old Age is Not for the Young

Ursula K. LeQuin chimed in with a similar sentiment in her essay Old Age Is Not for Sissies. She wrote this piece when she was 80 and railed against platitudes like ‘you are old as you think you are’ and being ‘young at heart’. She called them placebos.

However, she saved the worst of her ire for a popular poster which showed two buff 70-somethings with the caption ‘Old Age is not for Sissies’. Her point was that old age is for anyone lucky enough to survive to that point, including sissies. Being buff is no defense against the vagaries of physical decline. As a confirmed ‘sissy’, she believes that kidding yourself about the reality of growing old is dangerous. Ursula would change that poster to show several seniors in meaningful conversation with the caption “Old Age Is Not for the Young”.

While I respect George’s (and Ursula’s) point of view, I see it differently. I do agree that with experience, a person is more likely to weigh the consequences of one’s actions – to consider the effects of a decision and determine the means to carry out a plan. That certainly speaks to being less impulsive. On the other hand, have you noticed the decreasing social control demonstrated by many oldsters? Demanding attention, interrupting, or needing to tell their story NOW, whether or not the time is appropriate.  On balance, I think consideration and prudence are learned and not simply inherited with old age.

In addition, being ‘young at heart’ for me means approaching life with a sense of wonder. In order to do that, we have to cultivate a supple and malleable mindset, even as our sinews shrink and our joints hurt. I picture the Dali Lama when seeing the phrase ‘being young at heart’. It’s the gift of juxtaposition and humor that lets us keep a light touch on the serious business of growing old. 

Peter Pan

While I was certainly not feeling young at heart when I wrote my last post, I am feeling much better physically and emotionally.  The time spent in recent weeks has been filled with family and loving friends and has allowed me to return to a more balanced and positive place.

My colleagues present interesting takes on the way we look at being young at heart.  If it means thinking and acting like young people it can, like most things, be a beneficial asset or a dooming liability.  One of the outcomes of my aging has been an increased awareness seeing not only both sides of a statement or argument but blended interpretations as well.  My thoughts on George’s topic are many but most lean toward the joy of being eternally child-like.

Wal talks about the wonder of things.  The child who sees, understands, and/or feels something new for the first time energizes me.  I love their physical reactions and their request for more.  It propels me to move beyond the knowledge I’ve acquired with age to the quest for something new that will surprise me or cause me to want to learn more.  

I like playful people, regardless of age.  Playing games, sports, or hide and seek keeps me laughing, competitive, and active.  And while we attribute these activities to youth, I find I can adapt them to my diminished abilities and still enjoy their benefits.  Most of the time, I can count on my wiser self to choose cautiously before leaping into a match with my athletic grandchildren.  However, this is not always the case.  This morning I climbed a tree and realized it was easier going up than finding my way down!  (The nickname of Peter Pan has lasted from my college years and still rings true as I just hit the three-quarter century mark.)

I agree that we need to curb our impulsivity to make measured and cautious decisions, and to call upon our years of experience to keep us safe and secure.  I also don’t want to save the special candles for another day only to have my children find them boxed and unused or to keep saving my money out of habit when I could have used it to enjoy a special experience with family or friends.  It’s all about balance, my mother used to say.

I realize I’m growing older and closer to the day when the management of my mental and physical abilities will be relegated to others.  But while I have the ability to choose how to think about my current status, I choose to blend my maturity and wisdom with child-like behaviors and thoughts and to keep an attitude of playfulness for as long as I can.


On Change

I spend very little time with things that trigger pain, upset, anger, or loss.  I often measure it against how much better off I am than most of the people in the world and I move on.  Friends and family will confirm my discomfort with negative talk, self-pity, and complaints about things that are, in my mind, relatively insignificant in the scheme of what’s really important in life.  As I enter the winter season of my life, this has become even more emblematic of my social interactions.  And, for the most part, this has worked for me.  I am surrounded with mostly happy, up beat, positive friends and I spend most of my waking days feeling grateful and happy.

However, I am slowly learning that while this is who I am and how I wish to be, there are trade-offs to my pattern.  There are subtle side-affects that can impact me in not so subtle ways.  I have often been told by those close to me that in my eagerness to be happy and positive, I rush through significant life events in a rather controlling and biased process and without the time necessary to actually feel, adequately address, and meaningfully absorb the experience.  As a result, there are likely unfinished, incomplete, and festering emotions lying just below my consciousness and doing its thing without my awareness.  While I understood this was something that could be accurately applied to others and possibly to me I was convinced my positivity was so strong and helpful that I was least likely to be included in this logic…that is, until now.

Moving is big change.  Depending on which source you use for the top 3 to 5 stressors in life, moving comes up more often than not.  Tether that to an injury or illness and your body is subject to all of the ill effects caused by stress.

So it was for me as I finally sold my home, moved to one place for a few days, then my daughter’s home for 5 weeks, then to an apartment with only my bed for two weeks before receiving the rest of my furniture.  In the interim, a simple tooth extraction turned into severe complications that required two weeks of multiple antibiotics that cured/prevented infection but messed with the rest of my body.  Of course, I argued, it’s all just temporary and temporary doesn’t need to affect how I feel.

Well, I have felt like shit for the last few weeks and it ain’t over yet!  And while I know, the physical pain and discomfort from my dental surgery is a factor, and the lasting side-affects of the antibiotics have been significant, I believe the loss of my connection to my home and the land and friends I so loved has been the largest contributor.  

As usual, when I made up my mind to sell and move, I convinced myself that it was all for the better and being closer to family was more than enough to bring me the joy and happiness I was leaving behind.  With nary a thought or look over the shoulder I focused on the tasks at hand, pushed through the cleaning out of much of what I had accumulated over the years at Brookside, and jumped full throttle into the unknown.  When friends would ask how I felt about leaving, I smiled and assured them I had enjoyed my home for 21 years and that the hiking trails, the peace and quiet of the front porch, and the unending beauty of the landscape had provided all that I needed during good times and bad and that it was time to move on.  And while all of that was true, I didn’t stop to really ask myself how I felt.  I didn’t allow myself to spend time or words alone or with friends, acknowledging the depth of the connection I had with this place I called home.  I didn’t make the time to mourn the loss that I’m convinced I now feel.  

Today I sit looking out of my newly built apartment 4 hours from Brookside.  Duke and I are on the top floor of a three-story complex across the street from a self-storage company and around the corner from a 24-hour, 7 day a week, trucking company.  Noise abounds and is in harsh contrast to the consistent peace and quiet of my former home.  Save for the migrating geese, there is no familiar wildlife to see, and my morning cup of coffee on the porch with Duke curled up next to me on my wicker couch is now on my 100 square foot balcony overlooking commercial buildings, road ways, and apartments.  I now live among large numbers of people and their pets and though they remind me of the friends I’ve left behind my new neighbors seem too busy to pause and connect.  And while I am basically healthy, have ample resources, have more amenities than I had before, and am thrilled to be close to my children, I need to make the time to recognize that this comes at a cost.  I need to spend more time than I am comfortable with to honor my loss.

I look daily for my future home and know that, in time, I will find the right house and property and friends.  And, in time, it will fill my needs in ways that Brookside couldn’t.  But it will never be Brookside.  Yes, Brookside was unique because of its water features, rolling hills, and diverse ecosystems, but it was made all the more special because of the friends who brought their energy and love with each visit. And I know now, that is a loss that can’t be replaced.

Paradise Lost

For some reason, “Paradise Lost” was the first association I had when reading Hen’s piece about leaving his former home. If you have visited Hen’s Brookside, you’d agree that it has been a perfect match of a person and a place. Hen and Duke were in daily communion the land and its trails. He knew this plat like Aldo Leopold (Sand County Almanac) and Wendell Berry (The Way of Ignorance) knew their territories. Leaving Brookside is a bit like the process of disconnecting we wrote about in the last blog piece.

Mix in dental pain and a distinctly new and changing living regime and it seems like the triple witching hour. So let’s hope it abates after Halloween!

It seems to me that Hen’s discomfort contains a little bit of mourning for the loss of a comfortable symbiosis of hearth and home. Mourning needs to be recognized and honored. Consider it an injury that needs as much healing as the dental issues and reaction to medication. Mourning a loss is a prerequisite for dealing with change. In fact, Hen reported that he might have titled his piece ‘On Loss’ as easily as “On Change’.

We each have a bit of paradise lost in our lives. For George, it may have been the Woodstock Inn. I don’t really miss any of my previous abodes, but after living in one place for almost 50 years, I certainly would dread the project of moving! If there were one place whose loss I would mourn, it would be the loss of our camp in the Adirondacks, which has been so restorative.

In any event, given Hen’s positive approach to life, there’s no doubt that he will reconcile the part of change that is loss and embrace the part of change that is opportunity. As Ecclesiastes says: there is a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to uproot and a time to plant. Here’s to happy planting!

Lost and Found

I read somewhere that the average person lives in 12 homes in a lifetime.  Not counting my dorm at college and a half year in an apartment after I retired, I am on home number 8.  Each one of those homes left a distinct impression on me with fond memories.  As a kid it provided cherished crevices to hide in and surprise my brother from an attack with a pillow or something less cushioned.  The main house I grew up in in NYC had this great radiator in the kitchen for the maid to keep food warm before serving it through the pantry to the dining room table.  It was a regular hot water radiator but instead of vertical ribs that heated it had 4 horizontal shelves stacked upon each other to keep trays of food warm.  We obviously didn’t have maid service but I used to climb to the top shelf while my dad cooked. My head could touch the tin ceiling and I could be toasty warm in my jammies!  But leaving that house wasn’t traumatic cause I was heading off to college the year they sold to developers who tore down block after block of old Victorian homes and built attached two families up and down the streets. 

Flash forward, married – into first house as an adult.  Lived there two years and then moved into the big city of Kingston, NY. We bought a beautiful old Sears Roebuck kit house with chestnut woodwork. There for 13 years. Started our family there and had great memories. When we moved from there to Woodstock, NY I felt no separation anxiety. However for a period of 4 months we did own two houses which was pretty scary.  The anxiety would come later as I aged, and the spirit of adventure ebbed slightly. Another 18 years in Woodstock, NY and with retirement facing me I decided to buy a Bed and Breakfast in Vermont.  Was I nuts?  Probably, but that is the home I lived in for 13 years and today after having sold it 6 years ago still pulls my heart strings and has a hold over me that at times still aches.  The 1830 Farmhouse held all kinds of secrets, especially a mischievous old ghostly presence of a previous owner. The farm had been in his family for 155 years and he just wasn’t ready to leave it.  Oddly after only 13 years I wasn’t either! That house came alive like no other I ever owned.  Being an innkeeper is a lifestyle not a job. It is hard work and constant but soooo rewarding.  We got into a good routine, worked out the division of labor- my partner did the cooking and bookkeeping and I served breakfast and cleaned the rooms.  We both shared the schmoozing part willingly and lovingly.  The inn was constantly breathing, new guests arriving, others departing, greeting them at the front door after they returned from dinner, telling stories at breakfast, laughing, sharing a bottle of wine by the fireside at night, laughing, meeting people from all over our country and from all over the over the world. Did I mention laughing?   And finding how alike people are from wherever they came!  The excitement was addictive and palpable.   And we were good at all of it! 

Like Henry felt in the outdoors, I felt it at the inn among the guests and making them comfortable and relaxed.  I liked arranging details for visitors’ stays with us.  And we were part of the lodging community which at that time in Woodstock, Vermont was a special group of innkeepers from about 15 inns.   That abruptly changed with the inception of Air BnB.  Our business began to drop, tensions increased and the relationship came to an end. Running an inn by yourself for a couple seasons became a chore and after a stressful 2 years on the market it sold!  Talk about stress! I returned to where my kids lived just like a Henry did.  I found a great little house that I love but I miss the inn.  I miss the sound of laughter as guests became acquainted.  I missed the stories at breakfast, the laughter, the constant breathing of the inn. I even missed talking to my ghostly friend who helped me clean rooms each morning.  And then in a year or two Covid struck and just added a layer of silence and loneliness.   I tried to fill if with activity- my dog was a savior, but it amplified just how much I missed being a productive person with a purpose.   I am still struggling with that.  After all I worked for almost 50 years straight and then abruptly it was over!  Time to redefine myself.  And Henry will do the same in his new home.  He has the advantage over me because his glass is always half full and mine…….well at least I still have the glass!  Did I mention how much I miss the laughter? 



“I don’t know why you say goodbye, I say hello” –The Beatles

I took a week off and lost a friend.

When I last talked with Steve, he was home in bed, waiting for an acquaintance to pick up the remainder of Rousey’s things. Rousey has been Steve’s dog and boon companion. Arranging for a good home for Rousey was Steve’s paramount reason for staying alive. With that task completed, I knew that only a few pages remained in his book of life.

Linda and I had worked almost continuously at our younger son’s restaurant leading up to my last visit with Steve. I told him of our plans to leave shortly for the Adirondacks with our older son’s family. We talked about the adventures we had shared in the ADK’s: kayaking across Racquette Lake to the Marion River, where a pocket of mica sand turned the water gold in our paddle wake. Or the time we drifted down the middle branch of the Moose River, watching a bear swim across to a farther shore. Steve and I hiked Bald Mountain with his Irish setter mix Beckett and enjoyed quiet twilights listening to loons with another of his canine companions (Jonesy — my favorite).

We met while trying to arrange funding for various rail trail projects. Eventually, this work led to the establishment of a county-wide advisory committee on rail trail development: Steve and I were each in turn designated as chair for that group, so our collaboration continued. Primarily, Steve was an artist who worked in ceramics and egg tempera painting. He taught me how to incorporate graphite and iron oxide into my wood finishes. His day jobs included gigs as artist-in-residence at Mohonk Mountain House and the Williams Proctor Munson Art Institute– as well as a stint as curator of the local Trolley Museum. He was an author and an amateur kayak builder; he established a political party (Red Dog Party – named after Beckett) and ran for mayor. He did large scale fabric art installations on local bridges. Steve was a contradiction in terms: a free spirit with an engineer’s discipline.

While we were on vacation, I called twice, but my calls went directly to voicemail (“This is Steve and Rousey…”). Upon returning home, I went to Steve’s loft and found a suitcase on the curb and the doors open. The suitcase belonged to the Hospice worker; Shelley and Mitch (sister and brother-in-law) were inside talking with two of Steve’s friends. Shelley motioned me aside and said I should say a final farewell: Steve was not conscious and had barely made it through the night. I looked at my friend and saw the ravages of cancer – I bid him an easy passage. He died later that day.

Now, in the days leading up to Steve’s rapid decline, I noticed a new behavior – a tendency to distance himself from mutual friends. He would speak very dispassionately about a person – almost dismissively – as if delivering a bored final assessment. This was very much out of character for a guy who was engaged and loyal to a fault. Kubler-Ross has named this pattern of behavior ‘decathexis’. The term derives from a Freudian view of withdrawing libidinous attachment to an object or person. Essentially, it’s a form of disengagement as energy ebbs toward the end of life.

The process of decathexis seems to me to be an indicator of ‘fading to black’ as systems shut down and energy is diverted to essential life support. From Steve’s vantage point, I imagine that things, people, and ideas he once cared about seemed to recede in the distance, layer upon layer as his battery ran down.

I’ve reached that point in life where there are many opportunities to say goodbye. Steve tried to do that in the months leading to his death, before the cancer sapped his life-strength. That’s a lesson learned – say your goodbyes before decathexis.

After Steve passed, about 25 of us sat in a loose circle in the courtyard behind Steve’s reconditioned warehouse and shared stories at his memorial. As Linda pointed out, Steve’s network of friends, was – in a word: diverse. Present were childhood friends from Brooklyn, fellow artists, college buddies, dog-walking companions, civic activists, trolley enthusiasts, and of course, dogs. Many of us did not know one another. I struck up conversations with an ex-professional boxer, a retired communications executive, and a trolley museum volunteer. People around the circle took turns sharing a memory — many laughs and a few tears. It was a bit reminiscent of The Big Chill in that the various facets of Steve’s life were revealed like new discoveries – and that the folks assembled realized that they had reason to like each other as well as their departed friend. I guess that is the secret of living: to balance your goodbyes with new hellos. 

Disconnecting – Moving Forward

After reading Wal’s piece on disconnection I thought about what it has meant in my life.

Like most things in life, I believe there are varying degrees about what disconnection means. At first thought it implied to me, that you’re either in or you’re out —we are friends or not, we either care or don’t care at all. Over the years, black and white thinking has given way to an array of gray tones and the seduction of a simplicity in choosing one way or another gives rise to the reality of just how complex life can be.

Years ago, an aging, close friend and practitioner of black-and-white theory ended our relationship. Previously we had a bump, a disagreement, but unlike all the other times when connection meant more than any issues we might have had between us, he withdrew and then called to say it was over. It was as abrupt and painful outcome but, as I reflect on it, inevitable.

Beyond our individual tipping points, could it be that age, experience, and wisdom contributes to the courage to disconnect from things we did more for others than for ourselves — from people we tolerated for reasons that no longer hold power over us?  Perhaps we are saying “no” more frequently and with less guilt to the things and people who occupy our time in ways that prevent us from spending it in a more meaningful way.

In one of our earlier posts, we shared ideas about relationships and how there seemed to be those that were more situational, those that served a purpose or need during a particular time in our lives, and those that weathered the years and endured. Everything is ever-changing and so are our connections to others.  Sometimes in parallel, sometimes not.  In the ebb and flow of life, it seems to me that how I spend my energy becomes more of a conscious decision-making behavior that faces me each and every day,  As I measure the guesstimate of how I spend my remaining time I realize it no longer appears to provide the luxury of “time to spare.”  It is replaced with, “if not now, when?” As a result, people and things I still care about may no longer fit into my more measured and deliberate schedule.

So, if I appear to be less willing to spend time and energy with someone, it may be less a function of liking them less but more about focusing my time with things that matter more in my limited remaining days.  It also seems to me that while I may be shifting from my previous behaviors, I can seek to do this as kindly and transparently as possible.  In some cases this may already be too late but perhaps I’ll get better at it over time. As I try to write these thoughts I realize they are not clear and succinct but they give me food for thought and opportunities to test them out with others as I travel this life journey.

The Winter of Our Lives

Wally really got me thinking.  The kind of thinking that hangs heavy on your mind.  I recently read a poem about the winter of our lives. Having just reached the 3/4 of a century mark, the snow has begun to fall metaphorically. I have looked around my house and realized what is going to happen to all my STUFF?  The paintings I have collected, the knick knacks and trinkets I had to have, my model railroad equipment, not to mention the family heirlooms I want to pass down to my kids. Unfortunately, much of which they are not interested in. So I have thought perhaps I should start methodically to disengage dispassionately from my stuff. Perhaps, we have to do the same with the people we have collected in our lives.  The relatives, colleagues and friends we had to have during those same years.  Perhaps, like Wally’s friend did, we have to dispassionately, as much as possible, begin to separate from them, simply because holding too tightly would make the separation too impossible to bare as the season ebbs.

I have had two discussions in my life with close friends who were dying. A close friend and colleague who was diagnosed with a deadly stage 4 cancer told me in one of our last discussions very matter of factly, that at least he knew what he was going to die from which is more than most people can say.   My immediate instinct was to minimize the heaviness and deny him that fact because it made me feel better.  The last discussion was over lunch 2 months ago with a friend in his mid eighties who spent the last year running to NYC for chemo and radiation which after a year did not improve his condition. Over a pleasant lunch he told me that he told his doctors that he was done.  He told me he was just going to wait to die now. Again I wanted to assure him it was a long way away because it made me feel better.  He passed away two weeks later. 

I was 12 when my grandmother was dying, my aunts called my dad to come quickly.  It was after midnight and my mom was at work so Dad woke me and we raced over to their apartment.  It was as if she waited for my dad to get there.  When we arrived we bent over her for her to kiss us and she took my dad’s hand. A moment later she passed and I witnessed the most intimate tender thing my father ever did as he gently, lovingly closed her eyes and kissed her. 50 years later, I got a call at the inn from my Aunt Edna that Aunt Eleanor was dying and I needed to be there.  I was 5 hours away but drove like crazy to get to the same apartment my grandma died in.  When I arrived they were preparing her to go in an ambulance to the hospital but she saw me and  whispered my name.  I took her hand and hugged her good bye.  She passed before they left the apartment at the ripe old age of 99.  Both she and my grandmother waited for us before they let go.  I pray for that kind of courage when it is my turn and I’ll want all my friends to know that any distancing I was doing was because it was so hard to say the final good bye to those I loved during my life.


Do You Hear What I Hear?

I don’t often wax nostalgic about my early childhood.  It doesn’t often pop into my mind.  I imagine it was a pretty average childhood for a kid growing up in one of the lesser urban boroughs of NYC.  We played in the streets, walked to school in groups, played Chinese handball at playground time at school, typical stuff!  But every now and then I will be bombarded by one of my senses that will take me back to a specific time, place and who I was with that will warm those cockles of my heart! Not sure what they are but hey, it is a word I can remember when a lot of words are migrating away from my alleged mind!

Many times my sense of smell will take me right back somewhere.  When I visited my grandfather’s hometown in Italy someone was making sauce in the hotel kitchen and that smell wafting past me brought me right back to my dad’s kitchen, and brought a tear to my eye. When we were looking to buy an inn, we entered one in Vermont and I immediately noticed the same sweet/medicinal smell of my grandfather’s house in Pennsylvania which had been used by my uncle as a tonsillectomy hospital, and we wound up buying it.  Visual memories are easy and frequent but, with the exception of music, which is probably THE strongest memory arouser, sounds don’t often do it.
Which brings me to the point of this rambling walk down memory lane.  Several weeks ago I was walking in my neighborhood, mind not focused on anything in particular, and POW…. It happened.  A loud screeching kind of noise repeated two or three times in quick succession snapped me right back in time.  I recognized the sound immediately and I could smell and see it as if it were right in front of me.  The screeching sound was the sound of my mom hanging a pair of wet pants on the clothesline and pushing the rope out so there was room for the next piece of wet clothing. Mom was there leaning over the railing where the little metal reel was attached to the back of our house.  I was handing her clothespins for her the attach to the cuffs of the pants so that it would dry more easily, then a shirt and I handed her two more pins until the line was full of wet clothes.  And in between each article hanging there was the screech of her sending the wet garment on its way to be dried.  Another way we recycled instead of using more energy! There was a little dirty canvas bag hanging on the line where all the clothespins were stored.  I remember that sound and the feel of the wood clothespins and the sound of mom’s voice as she mused whether the clothes would dry before the rain came! 

I luxuriated in that memory for a while as the screeching continued for a few more minutes as I walked past.   My mind moved to other comforting sounds from my childhood that to this day still bring comforting coziness to my life.  One of the biggest comforters is in the middle of the night when I hear the CSX engines blow their horns as they cross the frighteningly rickety trestle over the Rondout Creek and as it gets closer you actually can hear the wheels of the train on the tracks until the 150 or so cars pass out of ear sound.  It always reminds me of my brother, dad and I setting up the Christmas village with our Lionel trains each year. And there was a particular metallic sound of my back screen door closing as the metal spring did its job to bring that sucker back into position.  I knew my dad was home safely then.  I could go on and on about these memory enhancers like the thunder of a good storm which would scare the living daylights out of me at the time or the milkman closing the lid of our box at 5 AM, but I know you have your own sound memories that I would love to hear about. Please share them with us!

Bird Note

Sound and smell unlock doors to memory – long ago experiences can seem as though they are in the next room. Perhaps you listen to BirdNote on PBS? It’s a two minute program that explores facts about a specific species in each short segment. Here are my three bird notes that bring strong memories:

1. Mourning Doves: I grew up in a house very much like the one I live in now – a one-and-a half storey cape cod. My bedroom had two windows; one facing east overlooking our backyard and one facing south looking down at the small cement patio behind our attached garage. At a regular time each spring, I’d awake to the sound of doves cooing and sunlight filling my room from the eastern window. It was so soothing. The dove calls were clearly magnified by the courtyard formed by the intersection of the garage and the longer wall of the house. The doves must have been happy in their business pecking around the cement patio and calling their mates. But it also made me happy as well: a gentle alarm clock to begin another sunny day.

2. Eastern Thrush: Hands-down my favorite birdcall and most important memory. At twenty-one, I’m in a parking lot, leaning against my Triumph TR4. I’m shaken to my core. The parking lot is adjacent to a doctor’s office – and I’ve stepped outside to get some air and clear my head. In a minute, I’ll go back in to see Linda. It’s an obstetrician’s office: Linda and I have found out that she is pregnant. So many things are going through my head – we’ve no money and the odds are high that the draft will drag me to Viet Nam. It’s overwhelming… but then the trilling sound of a thrush cuts through the morning air. It is so riveting that it could be just the thrush and I alone in the world at that moment. At once, I’m calm. I realize that this is the most significant act a person can perform: to participate in bringing a new life into this world. My life won’t be the same, but my life is not the most important issue anymore. Caring for Linda and our baby is the imperative. Somehow we’ll find a way. I grew into an adult that morning.

Fast forward to the present… our first-born son lives in a wooded area. From his back deck I can enjoy the trees and regularly listen to the thrush in the edge of the nearby forest. My son has no idea of the memories that invokes.

3. Rufous-sided Towhee: Hiking the Shawangunk ridge brings beautiful views and tired feet. We’re on the way to Lake Awosting. Following the Castle Point carriage trail, a high, dry smell of penny royal is prevalent among the small pitch pines. The pines are deceiving – although small, many are over 150 years old. All along the trail, we are accompanied by a towhee, which flits from tree to tree singing its characteristic “drink your tea!”  We imagine that this friendly bird is welcoming us to this beautiful landscape. And we agree with the towhee’s advice to drink our mint tea around the Svea stove later that evening. When I hear this call, it brings those backpacking days back to life!

Sound and Smells of Yesteryear

My childhood memories of sights, sounds, and smells come from living in a newly built suburban neighborhood with lots of open spaces surrounded by acres of untouched woodlands.  We played outdoors at every opportunity and were free to move about between houses and the woods.  The childhood sound that I no longer hear but remember fondly was the ringing of the large brass bell on my back porch when it was time to come home.  It generally carried farther than my mom’s voice and when it rang around 6:00 pm it became a signal for many to hightail it home for supper. It was also a time when the neighbors seemed to collaborate and act as one large parent body.  So, it wasn’t unlikely for an adult to forward the bell ringing message if they saw us so entrenched in our play that we didn’t react accordingly.  So much for “Sorry mom, I’m late because I couldn’t hear the bell!”

The sounds and smell of fresh perked coffee wafted through our house each and every morning.  First came the sound of water just starting to boil in the percolator.  As it increased in speed and volume it brought the water through the tube up into the glass dome in a muted popping sound.  Before long it perked in a regular rhythm obstructed only by the vibration of the entire metal coffee pot gently twitching on the gas burner.  I never enjoyed the taste of coffee until I was in my 40’s but the aroma that greeted us each morning was as pleasing and comforting to me as the satisfaction it gave to those who drank it.  I never realized how the smell permeated my clothing until the morning my friend’s dad, who occasionally drove us to school, asked if my mom brewed fresh coffee each morning.  He could tell, he said, from the aroma each time I climbed into his car.  Several years ago I began making fresh coffee in the same way.  After sipping my coffee on the porch, I’d take Duke out for a walk and was always struck by the flavorful smell as soon as we re-entered the house.

My favorite sound/smell association comes every fall when I listen to the rustle of fallen leaves and the scent they exude after they begin to accumulate in layers.  As a child I had extreme allergic reactions to ragweed.  My hay fever began in mid August and usually lasted until the first frost.  During that time, I was relegated to the indoors as breathing was difficult, sneezing incessant, and my runny noise a dead give away.  When I was finally able to go outdoors fall was upon us and I would spend hours amid the leaves, enjoying their crunching sounds and strong smells without my histamines running amuck.  Delicious memories that continue to this day.


A Reminder to Self

I have always felt compassion and responsibility for the environment.  As a young teacher, I shared my enthusiasm for our planet and her resources with my students.  The books and chalkboards and overhead projector were often obscured by large and unruly plants, an enormous saltwater fish tank, blooming avocado pits suspended above water cups with multicolored toothpicks, guinea pigs, chicken eggs in incubators, and whatever living things my students brought to school.

Mother Earth was always there for me during challenging times.  A walk in the woods soothed my body and my mind.  The wind, sun, shade, rain, sights, sounds, and smells offered all that I needed to feel nature’s healing presence.  I always recognized the difference she made in my life.

In the early 80’s when we braved long lines for rationed gas, I followed the daily reports of the consequences and impact of our dependence on the remaining finite amount of fossil fuels we readily consumed.  I remember looking for ways to regularly conserve, protect, and respect mother earth.  I also engaged, passionately, in conversation and debate with friends and colleagues who seemed to tolerate my concern but not share it.  Somehow it always seemed to be the responsibility of the oil companies, or big business, or the government to do something about environmental issues.  After all, they would say, if they put things in place for us to be better able to recycle, reduce carbon emissions, and heal the planet, we would!  

But over time, in the hectic pace of life, I too slipped in my efforts and became complacent.  Sure, I recycled when I could and followed standard environmental practices.  But I stopped making the effort to do my best.  It became much easier to take the convenient route and to allow myself to forget that my actions (or inactions) mattered.

 I do hope we get to a place where environmental care is the norm and factored into everything we do.  But in the meantime, rather than blaming, I’ve realized that waiting is no longer an option. 

 I have recommitted to making the health of mother earth front and center as I go through my daily chores and to share the intention of my decisions with friends and family.  Somehow, it feels like I am making a difference when I catch myself throwing a piece of recyclable paper in the trash and take the extra steps to the recycling bin and when I remind myself that it’s a minor inconvenience to raise the temperature one degree above my air conditioning preference.  I can only hope it’s not too late.

This is a reminder to me to do my share and to hopefully be a positive influence to those around me.  At some point, every individual effort will become a contributing factor to that one moment in time when we reach the tipping point and spend more time healing, rather than harming, the only home we have.


Hen’s piece is well written and a good reminder to think in terms of Gaia. It’s easy to forget — or ignore — our dependence on a pretty narrow set of parameters for existing on this planet. Cultural anthropologists will tell us that we have been adapting to our technologies — rather than to our environment — for centuries. 

Once, many years ago, I had an epiphany sitting around a campfire with friends. In the midst of pleasant conversation it seemed so obvious that we all were proportionally large in our own minds, but so small in relation to our surroundings. We exist on a thin layer of the Earth’s crust — roads and macadam are simply skinny ribbons running on the surface of the beating heart of the planet. Not exactly breakthough thinking, but the impact of the thought/feeling remains remarkably fresh after all this time. We are fortunate to be alive, in this special place, in this special part of the galaxy, where we can see so many stars (if Earth were situated on another plane of the Milky Way, our sky would look impoverished).

Clearly we need to mind our own patch and personally conserve what we can. This is an ethical mandate. However, I think that our biggest contribution as individuals is to create an appetite for environmental stewardship. Hen’s friends who are waiting for public policy to supply answers are not wrong — we need multipliers to lever the large solutions necessary to maintain balance.

I have been a skeptic in regard to electricity as the answer to fossil fuel solutions, even as my workshop contains more and more 220 volt powered tools and battery powered options. After all, what power plants supply the energy — and how about the lithium-ion mining and production — and what do we do with the billions of batteries in landfills?

However, I’m pretty encouraged about the technology that is adapting to the environment. Three areas seem pretty interesting:

Organic battery technology: I’ve been reading about the “Methuselah quinone”, an approach to separating the electrolytic solution from the electrodes to be able to keep greater amounts of potential energy in storage. Cheaper and safer than lithium-ion, the ‘flow’ battery could also extend battery life significantly.

Residential energy storage and conservation: It has been said that 20% of the world’s carbon footprint comes from residential heating. Recycling EV batteries for home energy storage sounds eminently practical. A new Dutch program offers a re-cladding solution for insulating existing houses. This economical approach uses lasers to model the home in 3D CAD rendering for walls, windows, and doors to produce engineered panels which can be installed in a day. The system is integrated with heat pump and solar panels to literally bring energy costs to zero.

Energy Provider Improvements: It’s difficult to trust monolithic utilities, but In New York State, some progress is being made. Energy derived from coal decreased from 16% in 2001 to less than 1% by 2019.  New York actually consumes less energy per capita than any other state, except New Hampshire according to the US Energy Information Administration. Deregulation has separated Utilities providers from energy generation sources, such that they can pick and choose suppliers. Our local energy provider uses almost no suppliers that depend upon fossil fuel (9%). The state as a whole still delivers a significant amount of electrical power originating from fossil fuel (39%), but objectives are in place to reduce such dependence. These objectives can be met with some improvements in both supply capability and transmission line improvements.

My point is that we each need to examine the data to lend our voice to support new programs which can become everyday solutions. Stewardship is both personal and collective.  

Responsibility and Common Sense

Growing up in the 50’s, we didn’t know the word ”recycle.”  It wasn’t that we weren’t concerned about our planet but we lived more practically and used common sense more regularly.  For example, when the polio scare came, we all got vaccinated, stopped going to public swimming pools at the time, and  listened to the medical advice for how to stay safe. Moms immediately cut off our attendance at the public city swimming pools and schools simply required you to get the shot.  There was no great debate, we understood what polio was and didn’t want it to happen to our families so we responded responsibly and did what good citizens should do to prevent its spread!  Common sense and responsibility were words that people understood and tried to live their lives by.   I’m not saying it always worked but it was an underlying principle of our lives. My cousins in Pennsylvania were doing the same thing.

 Recycling was not a word on anyone’s vocabulary list at the time.  But living with what we had back then, practicality was a mainstay of life.  Our parents had come through the depression where rationing was a common practice. Gasoline for your cars was rationed, food stamps were distributed so that there was enough food to go around for our service men, home heating oil and even candles were rationed to guarantee everyone had a fair share. Practicality and responsibility and our primary concern was to do what was good for our country.  We had other serious problems back then but fortunately the war and polio were ended thanks to the hard work of American families chipping in and doing what was needed.

 In actuality we were recycling and didn’t know it.  There was no real awareness as to why we were doing things but we did them because they were for the common good.  My family never bought milk at the store.  It was delivered to a little metal box next to our front door every morning.  Milk, cream, eggs sometimes two quarts were right there on the front porch waiting for our breakfast needs.  And then when we ran out, Mom would leave a note for the milkman for 2 quarts of milk and a dozen eggs.  She’d put the note in the neck of the glass bottle he had delivered the day before, along with the other empty glass bottles and egg cases he had delivered before. That was the original recycling, we just never thought about it. Our soda bottles went back to the store for the 2 cent refund. All the bottles were glass and were cleaned and reused.

 A trip to the grocery store usually entailed a few blocks‘ walk to the nearest grocery store, usually A&P or Bohacks, pulling a grocery cart behind you so you didn’t have to carry everything home.  After we had collected our groceries we’d pick the check out that had the best packer.  The brown paper bags were made a certain size purposely to fit the cereal boxes and detergent boxes so that a minimum of bags were needed. A good packer would always fit everything in neatly saving the need for unnecessary bags. Upon arriving home and putting the groceries away, we neatly folded the bags carefully and stored them away until they were needed to cover the kids’ school books or other necessary purposes always to be reused. Recycling again!

 I’m not sure when the evil plastic bag came into use or the plastic beverage bottles that began to choke our oceans and landfills but  at time they were hailed as the newest modern conveniences that were easy to dispose of.   We kind of forgot our practical ways and our earth unfortunately is now suffering from our waste and disregard for the planet.  Now recycling has had to be a major movement for everyone to do his or her part. Not unlike the vaccine disputes raging, some people disregard the seriousness of caring for the earth.  A little more practicality and responsibility would be a good thing today!


Thoughts after The All-Star Break

We’ve just had the all-star break in baseball – and if you are a Yankees’ fan, there’s not much to cheer about. The irony of Aroldis Chapman representing the Yankees is hard to fathom. Oh well. Yet, the spirit of the all-star game is meant to recognize the players who have achieved significant results through a good portion of the season. It’s meant to showcase their talents and say ‘steady on!’

It’s got me to thinking that we ought to take the time to celebrate people in other walks of life who have attempted and achieved noteworthy results through this season. Time to pause and give a tip of the cap to everyday people who face hard decisions and have put it on the line.

Who Are Your All-Stars?

So, I’m choosing seven all-stars who have faced tough circumstances with grace. Further, I will try to focus on one quality that each has displayed that is exceptional in my view. They are listed in no particular order: it’s a mix of shortstops and pitchers, outfielders and catchers:

1. George: Bravery is a term that could apply to all my selections, but sums up a feeling that I have about George. Now, I’ve been friends with George for 50 years – and for most of that time I did not realize that he was gay. Clearly, I am tone-deaf – and just as clearly, George is a person who has learned not to show all of his cards. Yet, some years ago, he made a decision to show those cards and come out to all of his family, friends, and colleagues. This takes courage. There was a bit of broken glass and he’s endeavored to repair those shards in the ensuing years.

However, that’s not my main point. We all have proclivities – and I believe we are greater than the sum of all those proclivities. But sometimes, they do set us apart and make life a bit more complicated. I celebrate George for having the gumption to make connections and continue to care about the people in his life during this pandemic. He is a social being who likely had the worst time during our isolation. Through it all, George navigated a long distance relationship and even started (and closed) a business in another state. He keeps bouncing back and I say that takes pluck, even res*l*ence – a word so overused lately that I am ashamed to type it out. Go George!

2. Hen: Fidelity. I like this word! It speaks to ‘ringing true’ and having a clear, bell-shaped tone. It’s better than reliability, regularity or loyalty – it’s about striking a pure note. Hen makes a decision and carries through. In the past year, he’s made a tough decision to relocate. For most people this would be stressful, but after all, it’s just a change of bricks and mortar – right? But rarely do you meet a person who is in such symbiosis with his land as Hen. He has often said that he would have liked to have been a forest ranger. His 23 acres allows him to live that dream, maintaining trails, lean-to’s, and bridges, with Duke tramping along at his side. Leaving this bit of territory is a big deal – I wonder if people realize just how difficult a choice it has been. However, true to form, Hen has weighed his options and concluded that he will continue his life journey in closer proximity to his children. It’s a big jump, but Hen is aimed at seeking the “great perhaps” – and he will make the most of it.

3. OB: Honesty.  In the past year, OB has experienced the kind of grief that most of us would not care to face. Through it all, he has been totally transparent about his feelings and coping with loss. Always the poet laureate of our group, OB has continued to write about strongly held beliefs, always displaying the passion and buoyancy that has been his hallmark – OB leads with his heart. He too, has moved to a new home and started afresh.  I applaud OB for continuing to reach out for new experiences – and sharing with us what he discovers.

4. Jim: Authenticity. Jimmy spent a career restoring historic sites for New York State. Now retired, he devotes his fulltime effort to bringing his 1700’s house to period condition. It’d not enough that he makes his molding plane profiles to match existing trim, the material has to be historic wood, so that the growth rings mimic the 300 year old forest encountered by the original builders. Even the paint is analyzed to recreate vintage formulas. This painstaking labor of love is years from completion – even Jim admits he will likely not live long enough to complete the work. But it is his mission and he does not compromise. He keeps his lifestyle simple: fishing for trout and foraging for mushrooms. Extravagances are few, but he haunts auction sites for Dutch colonial paintings and accoutrements for the house. His discipline is enviable.

The next two individuals have been at the same crossroads, but will likely proceed down different paths.

5. Don: Endurance. A stand-out collegiate wrestler, Don had instant success in the pharmaceutical industry. Way too early in his journey, he got up-close and personal with cancer. As his condition worsened, Don sought out new treatment trials. An experimental trial proved to be a godsend. Not an easy path, however – and others in his cohort did not survive. Don fought hard to maintain a level of health and quiet positivity: he never complains. After two years, he is about to be declared well. All thanks to a new treatment approach and a young donor from Germany. When I last talked with Don, he was about to learn the name of his donor – can you imagine that connection?

6. Steve: Acceptance. Steve also was diagnosed with cancer – a metastasized form of prostate cancer. He progressed through radiation and chemotherapy until his quality of life began to suffer. Steve is an accomplished artist and inveterate hiker. He has cared for three rescue dogs who became VIP’s in his life and the lives of his friends. Steve has often said that these dogs rescued him, not the other way around. Many an adventure have we had with Beckett, Jonesy, and Rousey. In fact, I have a portrait of Beckett done by Steve hanging in our Adirondack camp. Steve has made it clear that life is worth living only if there is the possibility of living fully. Chemo was a half-life for him, so he has decided to forego additional treatment. He is at peace with what will come.

7. Stephanos: Gratitude. His name is really Steve, but his birth father is Greek Cypriot. He has had an unusual life and made some questionable choices early on… choices which presented options of prison or drug rehabilitation. Steve rebounded in rehab and became a certified counselor. Now he spends time daily in meditation and exploring new philosophies of living. I met Steve while working in our restaurant and have been taken by his desire to choose gratitude for his life. While some may talk the talk, Steve walks the walk, even in difficult situations. Constantly singing and joking, his good cheer is catching. He would say (quoting the Dalai Lama) “ Be kind whenever possible —  and it’s always possible”. Steve reminds me that all of us search for the same state of being, but follow many different paths to that destination. Walk on! A paragraph or two does not do justice to the many all-stars in our network of friends and acquaintances. However, I’m not skilled enough to tell their stories. But I am thankful to know such individuals – and more – who deserve appreciation. Perhaps you have more nominees!

All Stars

When Wally wrote his All Stars I was speechless to have been on his list and incredibly flattered and humbled!  I realized that I had  equal admiration for Wally and Henry. We’d known each other for 50 plus years . During those years our lives would collide every now and  then as Wally and I lived in the same town and Henry was farther away. But not to make this response an admiration society I’ll state from the “get go” I have admired both of them for as long as I’ve known them. Wally was to me the abject professional, an upstanding adult.  Henry, bordering on Peter Pan in the most positive sense was always independent and there was nothing he couldn’t do. Their qualities were characteristics I wish I possessed but fell far short!

So who are my All Stars?  I came up with a few celebrities who I admired and then that night around 3AM it dawned on me that the real All Stars are your average men and women who you deal with day in and day out. I wound up with a rather large list and as the night wore on sleeplessly, I honed my list down to 3.

I taught school for 35 years!  As much as I hope I had a positive effect on my students I realized several of them had quite an effect on me.  

All Star #1 is a girl who was in my class for 2 years.  She was a wonderful kid whose parents were going through a divorce and she was struggling. Her desk was right in front of mine and she would crawl under her desk and then tie my shoe laces together. I always knew when she was doing it but I would act surprised when I got up.  I will always remember that. Her mom told me how much she appreciated the time and attention I gave her at a difficult time in her life.  This young woman went on to college, became a teacher, did graduate work and became a principal and got her PhD.   All of this after becoming a hot air balloon pilot. How she balanced all this is miraculous. She is the living definition of adventurous.  I so admire that in her.   A few years back, she and her brother spent a month on a freighter in the Antarctic.  She even swam in the frigid waters.  That is pretty amazing in my book.  I followed her Antarctic journey as well as her weekend hot air balloon flights on Facebook.  Yes, at times I lived vicariously! Shortly I believe she leaves for Iceland. Oh, for an ounce of that adventurous confidence.  I owe her a drink and hope to see her soon.

All Star #2 is my Aunt Eleanor. She was a month away from her 99th birthday when she passed and did it with dignity and grace even though signs of dementia were creeping in.  Her outstanding trait was her devotion to her religion.  She was a devout Catholic, in the true sense of the word.  She didn’t proselytize, or condemn but relied on it for her serenity and comfort.  For 70 years she would hit up all the family to make a donation to an orphanage that she had visited in Pompei when she was a child.   She believed that it was our responsibility to help.  I envied her for that compassion and determination. As she coped with life her rosary was her tool to calm herself.  She had many funny stories about places she worked.  Her first job was as a tatter in a sweat shop in the garment district and later in life she worked in the offices of Horn and Hardart.  They had a Christmas party one year and everyone brought a dish.  She brought her beloved Ricotta Cheese cake and  the next day Mr Hardart came to her and wanted to buy the recipe! No amount of pleading or coercing could get her to give it up!  She was also famous for having a Manhattan after dinner so she would be too “light headed” to do the dishes at Sunday meals! I was fortunate to have three aunts all of whom were my unconditional love sources!

All Star #3 is a friend I made about 25 years ago.  We actually met on line and began a friendship that has lasted all these years.  His name isn’t well known but his All Star trait is. He invented a new language for an award winning movie that  is soon to have sequels in the theaters.   I was in awe of his intelligence.  He majored in mathematics in school and taught at the college level but had an aptitude for foreign languages. He speaks 6, I think plus the one he invented.  How the hell fo you invent an entire language, I once asked, my mouth hanging open in amazement.  I figured you could develop a vocabulary but he explained it was much more than vocabulary.  Not only did he invent the spoken language but the written language as well. Idioms, expressions, parts of speech, grammatical features. Now he communicates with people all over the world who communicate solely through this made for tv(movie) language because it is the only language they all share.  He is incredibly intelligent, funny, not full of himself, and an all around nice guy!  We have become good friends and communicate regularly in English.  I loved the movie but never learned the language.  I speak English and Pig Latin and athay Isay Itay!

Our Public All Stars

It’s just like Wal to put others first and to celebrate the qualities he sees in those of us who have the pleasure and honor of knowing him.  He is a man of faith dedicated to service.  Part Polymath and part Renaissance man, Wal sees his mission as helping others, period.  He enriches my life not only with his ability to fix things, but also with his compassion and insight.

And George, my former roommate, reminds me over and over again why we were so close in college.  He is kind and gentle.  He has the gift of storytelling and can dig deep into his collection to find just the right one that fits into nearly every conversation.  He is a man who brings humor to any situation and smiles to the faces of those whom he embraces. 

I appreciate these men and the conversations we share more than I can say.

I also want to shout out to those who make everyday encounters a joyful event. 

Cheers to the check out woman at Adams supermarket who always has a smile, a moment to listen, the dedication to find or direct me to what I couldn’t find, and the ability to send me on my way feeling lighter, connected, and appreciative.

Bravo to the two women at Town Hall who cheerfully pulled up my property survey, shared my options for getting copies, and all with laughter and good will.  They did this for me despite my walking into their office minutes before closing, with no appointment, and before I even completed the appropriate paperwork.  I left feeling gratitude for the respect and kindness they showed me when they had every reason to ask me to come back another day.

Hats off to the owner of my local sandwich shop who goes out of his way to say hello to me regardless of how long it’s been since I stopped in.  He is always cheerful and genuinely wants to know how I’m doing.  He cares about his food and his customer’s satisfaction and makes his daily work a joyful, social experience.   I always leave feeling nourished by his sandwiches and his smile.


Too Soon Oldt

I’m sitting here on a sweltering hot Sunday afternoon. Old age has given me the right to review my life, and look back on it trying to honestly evaluate it and how successful I was inside of it! My mom, a native Pennsylvanian, always used to quote an old Pennsylvania Dutch expression that has stayed in my mind all these years, “We grow too soon oldt, and too late smart!”  These old world sayings carry a lot of truth in them.  People were more basic back then and didn’t mince words, just told it like it is. Perhaps now, a month before the big 75, I earned my degree. That’s my life degree not my scholastic degree.  The day’s topic is LOVE!  There are different kinds of love.  It starts with your love for your parents and siblings, although sibling Iove is a rough and rugged road! We love some of our toys, and as we age those toys just get bigger and more expensive.  BUT that Is easy love cause they aren’t expected to love you back.  The tricky part is loving someone who chooses to love you in return.  We can’t omit the love of our pets.  Probably the truest form of love, given to you purely because you feed them and are kind to them!  Then of course is the love for your own progeny. They adjust to your quirks and learn to love you in spite of them. But on this hot steamy Sunday my reflection has wandered to romantic love- a whole other ballgame!

Unconditional love

I knew I was different at a very young age-just didn’t know what to call it. Jr High gym classes where we changed in locker rooms helped me clarify my difference.  All through high school and college I pretended.  I didn’t know anyone else was like me.  But I knew what was expected of me and I learned to suppress the longings and urges I was experiencing.  And I fell in love with a wonderful woman and for quite a while had a very loving relationship. Many years passed and life was getting in the way.  My older brother came out to the family and that was a very emotional and motivating moment for me. Our marriage was struggling by then and we separated. I came out everywhere- to my kids, to my school, friends, everywhere and over time met another person to love. I retired and moved out of state to fulfill his dream.  And so it goes.  Now at the 3/4 Century mark do I have the right to experience the courtship, love, excitement, and yes, arousal that such activity brings?  Can I really go through dating again at this point?  At this age what do I have to offer other than arms to cuddle, ears to listen and comfort another with.  And with all the baggage I drag around with me is it even reasonable to ask another to share the rough road ahead? Am I willing to soothe, comfort and console his future through difficult times ahead?   I think I am, to experience one more time the excitement of getting to know a person, explore his body, laugh and cry at appropriate times and just know someone is on your side.  It is a gamble but I guess I am willing to risk it one last time. God willing, I’m ready to chance it.

All Wool and a Yard Wide

Okay – two anecdotes before I get to the point of my rejoinder:

  1. Two nonagenarians are currently building a 10,000 sq. ft. retreat near where we vacation in the Adirondacks. The structure is being built in British Columbia of Sitka spruce, deconstructed and shipped to its new location. It will require oversized trailers to ship the pieces. The trucks and trailer are too big to turn around, so they need to be backed down two miles of a narrow dirt road. The inside completion involves many contractors and the specifications call for a great deal of custom work. Will these folks live to see the completion of this project?
  2. A 95 year-old friend needs a new vehicle. His 22 year old truck has rusted out, such that the structural integrity is in jeopardy. He wants to buy a new truck and won’t consider either a used or leased vehicle. Is this a good business plan?

Both of these stories underscore the life’s buoyancy. Why should these folks settle for something that will disappoint, even if there is a strong probability of limited use? There’s an old saying (since George is into that) “All Wool and a yard wide”. It’s meant to indicate something of high quality. Why shouldn’t life be ‘all wool and a yard wide’? I submit that our need to search for joy does not diminish with age, even if what brings joy might change over time.

And what brings more joy than intimacy? What is more life affirming than expressing or receiving love – whether physical or otherwise? So, I say to George and Hen – Go for It!

Good Things Come to Those Who Wait

George raises some fundamental questions as he/we face our final years.  Have we lived successful lives? Do we have the right, desire, or inclination to love anew or perhaps, rekindle former love?  As with all things in life, there are only the answers we chose for ourselves.

As for the former question, I feel good about how I’ve lived my life and seek to continue to do so with renewed vigor.

And then there’s the question of love at 75!  How fortunate we are to even be able to entertain the question.  To find myself relatively fit and healthy, not having to worry about the basic necessities, and with a multitude of ways to meet and be with others, it is a gift to be able to focus on such a musing.

When I wore a younger man’s clothes, I remember thinking of single people in their 70’s as incapable of romantic interests and focused happily on remaining friends and family as enough to fulfill their need for love.  What was I thinking???

Today I’m in the midst of packing up my home and moving closer to my children and grandchildren.  The love I’ve always had for them and felt from them is compelling enough for me to want to spend the rest of my days in closer contact with them and their friends.  Of that I’m clear.  I look forward to creating new memories, embarking on new adventures, and enjoying more in person time with those who were once part of my daily life.

Of course the need for a more intimate companionship and romantic feelings is not dead.  And while I recently set them aside and redirected my focus from finding the person to fill these needs to accepting the role of single Pop Pop integrating into his children’s families, the desire remained.  There is an old saying, “Good things come to those who wait.” As has happened in my life many times, when I stop trying so hard to make something work and move on with something else, what I once sought seems to find it’s way to me.  Sometimes, it comes directly at me, in just the way I had originally expected.  Other times, I needed to rewrite my story and put aside former ways of thinking about what I wanted in order for it to become a reality.  And, in this time of great change in my life, so it was that I have rethought how I might enjoy the gifts and joys of a new kind of relationship with my former partner by creating a way to live more fully in the present and use the wisdom of older age to speak, as George puts it, more basically without mincing words.  Time will tell if this new construct works for us as we each prepare to move to more distant and separate locations.  Perhaps, as we seek ways to reclaim what was once good and reframe how we look at what appeared to be unsolvable challenges, more in our lives can be resurrected that bring us joy and connection, and love.  As a rampant optimist, I am looking forward to our journey.  

As Francois Rabelais once said, “I go to seek a great perhaps!”


A Letter to My 85 Year Old Self

Good Morning, Hen!

Happy 85!  Remember when you were 74 and you were beginning to recognize the benefits and limitations of aging?  Remember being home in the Hudson Valley for more than a year during the great pandemic?  Remember coming to the conclusion that enough had changed in your life that it was time to make a major shift and sell your house and property and move close enough to the children and grandchildren?  I’m betting that now, in retrospect, it was the right move.  I’m guessing that not only were you able to spend more time with your family but that you were able to be helpful to them in more ways than you even imagined.

Remember when you were worried that letting go of all those hiking trails and all the physical work that your property required would limit your access to, and motivation for, movement and exercise?  Well, I’ll bet you were surprised by how well you adapted.  Maybe now that you’re 85 you’re thinking that being a couch potato is not such a bad idea.  But up until now, I’m sure you’re still giving those young whippersnappers a run…um, fast walk for their money!  Way to go!

And, in the off chance that you’re not as mobile as I thought you’d still be, I know you likely found a way to counter that with lots of other ways to generate good energy, laughter, and happiness.

Remember, 85 is just a number.  Perhaps today you’d like to write to your 95 year old self and wonder, on paper, or computer, or whatever new technology that will exist then, what it might be like for him.



P.S.  Remember, you’re as young as you’ll ever be and as old as you’ve ever been!

Winter is Coming

Hey old Wal,

Hope you are having a wonderful day… it’s good to be alive and experience the joy of simple pleasures that each day brings. Celebrate, because you have exceeded expectations! Who knew we’d live this long?

For the longest time you and I operated on a plateau of reasonable health and function. This last dozen years have brought accelerating challenges. You have experienced diminishment and loss that causes Current Wal a great deal of anxiety and heartbreak to consider. You have lived through difficult periods in the lives of those who you love so much. And yet you have found the strength in that which remains.

If the flames of youth are gone, well, the glowing coals still provide steady warmth to you and the circle of friends and family that gather close. That’s your mission: bring cheer to those you love – and more! Cherish the love of your life. Heart is more important than brain, but keep that sharp as well! Don’t stand still – keep exploring, keep creating. I know you will.

I am jealous of the interesting new discoveries that you have found – and the knowledge of how our grandkids and kids have developed their life stories. I’ll bet you could share some fine news – so be sure to write back to me!

We’ll never figure out whether this dance of energy, frequency, and matter is transitional or has some timeless component, but act as if we have faith in the outcome. We both know winter is coming — let’s show the world how a good man meets his end of days.

Dear Old Curmudgeon

Henry’s topic gave me pause to contemplate some serious issues.  A letter to me 10 years from now left me wondering would there be anyone there to read it!  Perhaps “address unknown” or “return to sender“ might apply.  Not sure there is a post office in the options available.  It made me ponder some scary but rational concepts.  How many more Christmas trees do I have left to decorate?  How many birthday candles, mine or others, are left to blow out?  Will I have the breath to blow them out?  Will I be mobile enough to get around? Will my care worker secretly beat me when no one is looking? How many more car registrations can I arrange? How many presidential elections? How many friends are left to talk to and laugh with and cry with? How many dog licks left?  Well you get my drift and probably can come up with other significant how many mores! But let’s suppose I make it to my 85th birthday.  My letter might be something like this…

 Dear You old Curmudgeon, You,

 Surprised this letter reached you, huh? You did it, you son of a gun!  I know you like to say whatever is on your mind regardless how it may come out!
That glass should be pretty full by now though for most of your life you saw a lot of glass cause it protected you from disappointment!  Political correctness is old news now. You’ve got the scars that allow you to speak whatever is on your mind!  I bet secretly, you are thanking whatever force has helped you through the last ten years. And look, you are still upright, your license has not expired and I think I saw you doing the lindy with the bathroom door knob as your partner! Ok, yes I have been known to do the lindy with various doors when the oldies play.

 I hear your prayers at night and the appreciation comes through loud are clear.  Your appreciation of two careers that you loved, the love of your kids that you experienced, and the world you created with you, your friends and loved ones shared is quite admirable!  It is ok to feel proud of what you accomplished. Former students acknowledged your impact on their lives.  Your humor made people laugh, your sensitivity and empathy for others less fortunate than you have been comfort to others. And remember all that silly stuff you used to worry about- what a waste of time and effort that all was but in retrospect, maybe that was what made you the compassionate, caring person you became.  You love yourself now, don’t you, you old softee? You finally got it!  The world, or at least the part that you occupied over the years,  is a better place because you were in it!  You didn’t hear your friends when they told you that but now, at 85 you can take it in and acknowledge it.  Hey, I love you.




Recently, I made a trip to say goodbye to a close friend – he is moving south. It’s likely the last time we’ll visit face-to-face, so it was a bittersweet episode. But as the time approached to traverse the 85 miles to his house, I found myself becoming apprehensive in a manner that had no connection to our farewell visit. In fact, it felt like the day of a high school or collegiate wrestling match, where I’d turn inward to steel myself for the upcoming contest. Why?

It was the anticipation of the drive. This is peculiar, because my friend’s house is on the route I used to follow for my work commute. I have literally logged over two hundred thousand miles along this track and can recite every facet of the trip – from the blinding sun at mile 6 on Bulls Head Road to the inevitable traffic pile-up at Golden’s Bridge. My commuting trips usually started at 5AM and brought me sightings of coyotes and bobcat that I never would have otherwise seen. There were beautiful sunrises and sunsets and plenty of flowering trees in season.

But, there also is the high speed choreography of flocks of commuting cars and trucks. In good weather I choose the Taconic Parkway, just to break the monotony, starting in an easygoing manner with a clear road ahead. Smooth sailing to Baird Park. However, cars start to pass me and I find myself pressing the accelerator a bit harder, while watching the abrupt merging opportunities from side streets. The shoulders are minimal and road banking is nonexistent, so focus heightens. The truth is, I have avoided rush hour commuting for two decades and a good part of my apprehension is loss of confidence.

By the time I reach the former gas station in the center island ten miles from route 84, I’m driving faster than I’d like, but not as fast as I will be traveling on route 84. The exit from the Taconic to route 84 merges at the bottom of a long hill. This is not traffic genius, because trucks have built up rolling speed and usually stick to the right hand lane in preparation for the steep uphill climb after the merge. In short, you need to time your merge and punch the gas to avoid the behemoths bearing down on you.

By the top of the next rise, everyone is doing at least 75mph at close quarters. My adrenaline is pumping and I’m looking for a bit of breathing room in the crowded field. I’m beginning to get an idea of how sockeye salmon feel on the upstream journey. All of a sudden, the whole experience becomes automatic, plugged in. I’m gliding in and out of clusters of commuters piloted by my autonomic nervous system. “See, I can still do this”, my left brain says. “But, do I want to?” my right brain replies.

The turn south on rt. 684 brings me in sight of the old Pepsi Cola headquarters with its I.M Pei glass pyramids floating on top of its bricks and mortar. Once upon a time, long after Pepsi departed, I had an office on the 4th floor overlooking the southbound traffic on 684. I would have been in my office by 7:30AM, so I say hello to imaginary me watching real-time me speed past. I never was turned on by a “need for speed”, but did respond to a “need to succeed”. Those were the days when my prime focus was work and I was an absentee family member. This drive brings back the guilt I feel for missing so much relationship time.

As usual, Golden’s Bridge slows the rolling hordes down to 10mph and I pass three cars in the median, the product of vehicular Darwinism. There’s no visible damage, so I assume a three car fender bender has taken place. One guy standing by his van is on the phone, no doubt explaining why he will be late to his job. I’m convinced that most accidents on rt. 684 (and maybe most highways?) do not occur at speed, but from inattention during stop-and go intervals. I exit at rt. 35 and breathe a sigh of relief – ‘what was I worried about, anyway?’ True, I’ve experienced worse on the LIE, Chicago, and Atlanta, not to mention California. Yet, none of those drives has the repeated history of travel as does this route. Sometimes I feel like I’ve played the odds too long and a reckoning is nigh. However, now, in the stolid company of landscaper trucks fanning out to Pound Ridge and New Canaan – usually with no sense of hurry – I can relax and coast the rest of the way. A curious fact, I never see any people in their manicured, spacious grounds and large homes – just landscapers. My fantasy circuit kicks in and I wonder if the residents are being held hostage by their groundskeepers – or maybe the groundskeepers now live in the mansions, the elder rich people having passed away unnoticed? Probably, that’s just survivor endorphins talking – it won’t last: I have to think about the return drive.

The Rush!

I just read Wal’s piece about the feelings evoked as he retraced his car tracks along his former commuting route.  The timing of this couldn’t be more perfect as I just finished three days of work in Rye, NY and, during commuting hours, covered many of the roads Wal referenced. 

I left early for my appointment, feeling good about the amount of extra time I allotted for any delays that I might encounter during the predicted one hour and thirty-two minute drive.  This was not normally the case when I was working full time and entering the daily commuter race with hopes and prayers and a belief that I deserved clear sailing and to be at work on time!  This time I was relaxed, and was prepared to stay so throughout my ride.  However, as soon as I entered the Taconic Parkway I soon realized that going 5 miles above the speed limit in the right lane would put me well behind the flow and would make me an obstacle for others to either swerve to avoid or tailgate in hopes I would go faster.  Eckhart Tolle once told a story about his stay in Manhattan.  He awoke and decided to go for a leisurely stroll down some of the many famous avenues.  Much to his surprise, almost everyone was walking at a fast or frenzied clip and walking slowly became a chore rather than a soothing way to spend the morning.  So, rather than quit or bemoan the fact that his plan wasn’t working, he simply picked up the pace and joined the wave of people traveling at a New York City tempo.  And so did I.  Rather than fixate on what I couldn’t do, I matched speed with the flow and continued.  And while it admittedly raised the intensity of my attention as well as my concern to sustain the pace safely it was less stressful and I eventually arrived without incident.

This experience was not unique in my traveling during commuter hours as a senior citizen.  A couple of years ago I was caught up in a similar scenario and I was surprised by the zigzagging and frenetic maneuvers of the cars around me.  I commented to my daughter on the phone one evening about how bad this was and while I couldn’t see her gentle smile, she paused and reminded me of how I used to navigate the daily commute when I was a younger pup.  Gulp!  She was right.  I was just like the people I was now criticizing.  I had forgotten how easy it was to get caught up in “the rush” never making the time to see how I might have looked to a retired senior or someone who had mastered their inner calm.  And while this reminder didn’t make the act of driving during rush hour any easier, it allowed me to better accept it.

Driving Me Crazy

I didn’t get my driver’s license til late.  Growing up in the suburbs of NYC no one had his license before graduation and the public high schools didn’t offer Driver’s Ed or anything like that.  I didn’t get my license til I student taught when I was 21.  Now as a senior citizen I can’t help but think about the day when I have to surrender that license and my mobility and independence comes to an abrupt end.

5 years ago I had a scare. Rushed to Albany by ambulance and 2 stents placed in clogged arteries. I was out of the hospital the next day, sent home, scared to death and my confidence in normal everyday living shot to hell.  But time passed, my life normalized thanks to the care of my daughter, but the confidence needed to drive anywhere longer than a ten minute trip to the grocery store didn’t return so easily.  It was a year before I could even get up the nerve to drive to Albany for a checkup. But it happened and I slowly regained my confidence.   Then, for two years just before Covid struck, I began running back and forth to Vermont every weekend- a two and a half hour trip to my antique store.  It was an easy trip because there was no traffic if I left at the right time.   Part of it was thruway driving and the rest a heavily traveled Rt 4.  In addition to the concerns of an old man losing his mobility, there are other issues that enter the picture.   I would break my journey down into laps.  The first lap was from Ulster County to exit 24 on the NY State Thruway. Like Wally I would experience a dread, well more of an anxiety, about the journey ahead. I would leave at just the right moment to avoid the traffic jam at the end of lap 2- the stretch of outlet stores in Glens Falls just off exit 20 of the Northway.  The logic behind the definition of the laps was each lap ended right near a public restroom. Another age related blow to one’s confidence. The final lap was relatively easy across the state border on Rt 4 into Vermont.  In the last lap the speed was controlled and slower, the intensity of driving was diminished and the road was curvy and hilly so I had to be attentive but even so I was more relaxed. The first two laps I set my cruise control to assure my heavy foot didn’t over step the legal limit.  I always felt a sigh of relief when the second lap was complete and I was no longer on a 4 or 6 lane highway traveling well over 70.  The thruway is 2 lanes in each direction, full of tractor trailers and speeding sedans, and once you’re on the Northway those four lanes expand to 6, with lower speed limits and fewer people following them.  I could just feel the tenseness in my shoulders release as I passed The Log Jam restaurant at the beginning of Rt 149.  It was soothing from there on in to Vermont.  Rolling hills and pasture lands, garage sales and mom and pop restaurants. As soon as I got to Vermont and shut the car off I took a breath, closed my eyes and reaffirmed to myself that I was capable of doing this.  The return trip had to be later in the day to avoid the traffic at the outlet stores, the only place where backups and traffic jams occur.  Timing was everything.  But the anxiety of the trip still loomed ahead of me. God forbid there was snow. That would be enough to drive me crazy!  Covid ended all that.  I didn’t have to buy gas for weeks, and my oil changes became few and far between.  Life has definitely changed!  That anxiety I felt every time I began the Vermont sojourn I no longer experience.  It will probably return as life becomes more and more normal again.


Manana is Good Enough for Me – NOT

Since Covid, no-since childhood, I have procrastinated. I put things off til the last possible minute.  If something had to be done by Monday morning, I did it Sunday night. That has been the story of my life.  My dad called me lazy when he would get exasperated with me cause I needed his help at the last minute.  All through my life I was guilty of such practices. As a young father I have Often felt like a hypocrite when I would chide my kids about waiting til the last minute to do things. They were smart enough to know I should practice what I preach but they never threw it up in my face!  In spite of this I had two very successful careers. Perhaps I had fine tuned my skills enough that they prevented my discovery as a fraud.  Every day in my classroom I expected the principal to come in and say, 

“Aha!   You are not a teacher!”  I always felt deficient!

That’s another story for another blog.  But I digress!  Since Covid, I have been doing a lot of introspection.  I have also been doing a lot of buying stuff on line. I needed a printer/copier and ordered a great wireless one through Amazon.  It sits in the box on my living room floor. I needed a light over my bed so I could read at night and found a nice sconce to hang on my wall. It sits in the box next to my bed. Through Wayfair I ordered a Mid Century TV stand.  It sits in its box in front of my tv.  Then, of course, there is my office, desk piled high, bills begging, pleading to be filed neatly away in their respective folders, tabletops piled high with mail and hearing aid proposals and return address labels from every organization I ever donated to(never end a sentence with a preposition!)  So what is the point of all this?  I said that I have been doing a lot of self reflection.

I sat in my house one day and saw all the boxes, saw the pile of stuff in my office and scratched my head.  What the hell is wrong with me?  Those boxes have been there for months, the office has been this way since the fall. Enough, tomorrow I will get to work on these projects.  But I didn’t expect to be up half the night trying to figure out why I do this.  After running it silently through my head a million times the pattern and the motive became clear.  I wasn’t lazy or afraid of doing the work.  I was afraid of starting the project.  But why?  And suddenly, like the flashing neon lights from the motel across the street, came the reason –  loud and clear.  I was afraid I wouldn’t succeed.  I feared I couldn’t do what had to be done.  I am not mechanically inclined, don’t know how to use all but the basic tools!  By putting it off, I am avoiding the truth about myself as I know it! My confidence is shot!  Actually, I never had confidence in the “manly” world of building things. Put me in a social setting and I have no hesitation to succeed. The realization was miraculous, and it only took 60 plus years to identify what has me frozen.  I am  proud to say I have a beautiful new tv stand, a light over my bed and an office that smells of lemon wax and cleanliness. There are still a few jobs left but I can put those off til tomorrow!

Fear of Fixing

Well, George could have been writing about me – end of (as the British say)! Well maybe not actually end of story, because I have a hypothesis: procrastination = learned helplessness. Yes, I think it’s learned.

When I was a kid, I idolized my Dad – he could do anything! I watched him cut a perfect archway in a blank plaster wall, armed only with a handsaw. Now c’mon, if I tried that it would be an episode of Polyhedrons Gone Bad. I watched him bring a listing brick chimney back in line with the house. There didn’t seem anything he was afraid to tackle by himself.

He had time to teach me baseball, boxing, archery, golf, chess, and all kinds of card games; there was lots of praise and lots of shared laughter during those activities. But repair was a different story – it was dead serious and not an instructable. I was the kid who always handed him the wrong wrench and shone the flashlight in the wrong place. Repair always seemed like an out of body experience for me. My younger brother initially felt the same way – but more about that in a second.

My Dad grew up without a father and worked from an early age. He had no paternal guide, but also no one told him he couldn’t do something, so he fearlessly jumped in. I think that’s important.

Back to my brother. Rich found a group of friends that liked to revamp bicycles and build model rockets. He became a hands-on guy. Somehow that street cred worked for Dad and they both had their heads under cars every weekend. I looked on and just gave up the possibility of being initiated into these mysteries. Truthfully, I did not miss it.

However, the net result was that for years I’d shy away from tasks I did not think I could do well. This was unfortunate, because my father set the example of doing everything himself, so I also felt the failure of not being up to the task. Faced with the choice of attempting something I ought to do, but did not have the confidence to do – or hiring a skilled person to do that task – I would do neither. Lots of procrastination. What was it that Henry Ford said: “If you think you can do a thing or think that you can’t, you are right?” Interestingly, because I didn’t put a high expectation for “fixing” on my kids, both turned out to be amazingly capable of fixing anything. Just like my father!

It took years for me to realize the methods for breaking down a task into bite-size elements – I nudge things to death — that’s my approach these days. Plus, there’s a YouTube for every problem. I’ve also relaxed the standards by which I judge my work. All of that seems to lower the barriers to moving forward with projects.  And the bonus is that I can also call my wizard kids for advice!  

Putting Things Off

Yup!  Guilty!

In my work, as in my life, I learned the value of doing what needs to be done in a timely fashion.  In addition, addressing those things that are most difficult and challenging should take precedence over those that are easier.  However, understanding these important principles and consistently acting on them are not necessarily synonymous: at least in my personal experience.

For me, motivation plays a big role in whether I address and complete things in a manner that allows for interruptions, accidents, or unanticipated obstacles.  If I need to get my house ready for an upcoming home inspection I’m good at planning ahead, targeting a completion date days before it’s needed, and then addressing all those things I didn’t account for in the extra time allotted.  And, I’m getting better at making those difficult phone calls sooner rather than later or never.  But, rest assured, I don’t often identify such things as “important” enough to take care of them when I should.  Take this blog entry, for example.  I am fortunate to be working with two of the most supportive and understanding men I know.  Consistently being the last one to submit my blog original or blog rejoinder, I know they will sincerely accept my delay without question.  But why do I put off my writing?  Sure, I’m going through the process of selling my house and looking for a new primary residence.  But each of them is also, at any given time, going through challenging times and yet continue to provide their entries on or closer to our target dates.  

I’m not sure I understand my procrastination.  Yes, reading their pieces before I respond often inspires me.  Yes, I know they will not pressure me or say anything to cause me to feel guilty.  Yes, I do feel this is not only important but one of the few things over the last few years that has offered me a sense of community, a sense of value, and a source of learning.  And yet, I continue to take a laid back approach to getting my piece done in an equitable and timely fashion.

This is one example of many for me.  And, since I don’t feel particularly good about putting off those things that matter, it’s time to do something about it.  Stephen Covey wrote, “Things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least.” 

Perhaps it’s time to change up some thinking and some poor habits.  Of course this necessitates starting immediately rather than after the sale of my house or after I get some rest or …you know the drill.

George and Wal, get ready for Hen’s new and improved, on-time blog delivery system!


To Give or Not to Give

One of the constants in my life has been the request of others for me to donate money.  An endless list of charities find their way to my email box asking for me to donate to a cause.  Usually, via some internet magic, the requesting agencies are in line with my interests, beliefs, and passions.  More recently, political entities ask for me to support candidates who promise to further the causes I believe in.  Sometimes, I pass people who appear to be either homeless or hungry and ask me directly for a handout. Today, one television commercial showed me starving, mistreated dogs and another, the plight of elephants with babies in tow.  Their messages tugged at my heart and my purse strings.

The quest for financial resources is endless but, since I don’t have an endless supply of “extra” cash, making decisions about what to give is a dilemma.  Even after I develop a process and or guideline for who to give and how much, the question of trust arises.  How do I know if these requests are legitimate and how do I know if the funds are going to the intended recipients and if they are, what percentage may be going for administrative costs? 

Over the years, I’ve asked friends how they make decisions about donating.  As you might guess, it varies from person to person but none have an absolute, clear-cut formula with one exception.  In this case, if he’s asked, he gives. If he encounters a person who is sitting or walking on the street and they make a request for cash, he gives with no exception.  He has chosen to completely accept that if they are asking, they are needy and he gives them money unconditionally.  If they chose to spend it on liquor or drugs or food or clothing, he contends that is their choice.  He is only responsible for responding to the act of one human asking for help, not to bother himself in the affairs of how the individual choses to use the help given.  It reminds me of our conversation about labels and judgments.  I might find it irresponsible to enable someone who is intoxicated to use my money to buy more alcohol so I would likely not give them money. Of course, in that case, I’ll never know whether this was a moment when this person may have chosen to use my contribution in another way to help themselves; all because I speculated that I knew better.  Who is to say?  In the end, if giving this person money that I didn’t need, money that wouldn’t negatively impact my life, might the feeling of giving with the hope of helping, add value to my life?

I enjoy helping others but still hesitate to give out my “hard-earned” money to strangers who may not have “worked hard” and who are “deserving” of charity.  But as I grow older, I am re-examining those old beliefs and am reconsidering the idea of unconditional giving.  I look forward to seeing my own reaction the next time I pass a person who asks me for money.

Giving is a Function of Trust

I’d argue that giving money or donations to others is the same as the decision to place love or trust in a relationship. In a perfect world, the opportunity to ‘pay it forward’ would be limitless. In practice, there is always a part of me that wishes to hold something back — whether it’s trust or donations, is immaterial — but that’s my quirk.

However, one thing is clear to me: I won’t donate without some level of trust having been established. Hen raises the point that perhaps it doesn’t matter if the recipient uses the gift in a manner in which you approve. After all, ‘help’ is defined by the receiver. And yet… remember a few years ago, when the Cancer Fund of America, Cancer Support Services, the Children’s Cancer Fund of America, and the Breast Cancer Society were accused of diverting $187 million dollars to lavish salaries, trips, and perks? In fact it was alleged that only 3% of the donations actually made its way toward cancer research. (NB: these groups are not affiliated with the American Cancer Society). Even in respected charities, the CEO may earn penthouse-level compensation. Charities are big business – and somehow this seems like an oxymoron to me. Ah, there’s me being distrustful! 

We all feel better when we give of our resources. Sharing is an essential part of living with others. It is a recognition of another’s need and our ability to nurture those in need. However, many of us also give as an antidote to guilt. The paid advertisements Hen described certainly appeal to that motivation. Such appeals feel like manipulation and I won’t have it.

My giving formula boils down to this: I will give generously to those I know and love, even if they do not use the resources as I would. I will give regularly to community institutions that are local and I have seen their good works. I will take a chance on giving to an individual I don’t know, if a connection is made that doesn’t tingle my distrust. I will not give to a suspected liar – or to most national fundraising organizations. In other words, I mind my patch and invest in my community, trusting that the investment will help others. 

The Act of Giving

Lately, I have been generously giving contributions to people on the street who ask.  I figure I can afford to donate a ten-dollar bill to someone down on his or her luck.  I know it could be a total
sham but I figure if by chance it is legitimate I could contribute to someone’s getting a meal or paying a bill and that would make their day and mine as well. Of course you just never know.  When I was going to Vermont every weekend I used to see the guys with signs in the entrance to the shopping malls.  The signs usually indicated the guy was an out of work veteran who was hungry, many times small children were holding the guy’s pant leg or something for an additional emotional tug.  The Rutland Journal did a report and followed one guy and found out that he raised over $100,000 in a year’s time.  When you think about it, it is hard work and probably won’t get you a pass at the Pearly Gates!  Sometimes I think I often give to people out of guilt.  How come I had the wherewithal to have spare cash while others can barely make it day to day?

A year ago Christmas I was especially tender for many reasons and watched the shivering puppies chained to an old fence and became a monthly “Guardian” with the SPCA.  I can’t stand to see animals suffering because of human cruelty!  And the next commercial was of St Jude’s Children Hospital and became a “Guardian” there as well.  I chose to believe that most of my monthly contribution goes to helping animals and children but I just have to have naive faith about that!  Don’t burst my bubble please.

But donating money was never a problem for me.  Both my kids worked in restaurants and taught me to give hefty tips as well. However, my shortcoming is giving of my time.  I have never contributed a few minutes to talk to the guy begging on the street or actually going with him and buying him a meal.  The nursing homes are full of lonely people abandoned who would love to have a conversation or a hug.  I realized that this year as the isolation overwhelmed me. People in these facilities live like that from year to year and not because of Covid.  Perhaps it is the sadness factor that stops me. My tears come much more easily now and I’m not sure I can deal with the sadness I would see around me.  I actually feel terrible admitting to this but it has always been a shortcoming of mine.   I should know better, I was that outcast kid in school for several years and knew how it felt.  I need to be as generous with my time as I am with money.  Maybe then the Pearly Gates will open for me!


Russell’s Teapot

Maundy Thursday is a profoundly sad day. It reminds me of our unfailing default behavior of cruelty and self-service. It doesn’t take much to see how that behavior is still present in our DNA. Perhaps it is a collateral requirement for survival that we can justify any action which assuages our fears.

This is a day when I confront my beliefs about faith. After all, faith is about hope – hope that there is a better version of myself and all of us; something timeless and clear, synchronized to a cosmic truth. That’s why I’m thinking of Bertrand Russell’s teapot.

If you missed it, Bertrand Russell stated his reluctance to believe in God and placed the onus on religion to prove that God existed. He put forward an analogy: what if he stated as a firm belief that there was an undetectable celestial teapot traveling in an elliptical orbit in space? Who could prove him wrong? Russell’s argument is that the burden of proof does not fall upon the skeptics, but rather the proponents.

Rare Sighting of Russell’s Teapot

At first glimpse, this seems like a reasonable assertion. It is always a good idea to examine the basis for your own assumptions; what you cannot prove should be placed in that Box of Uncertainties. And yet… that box of uncertainties is pretty large. Sometimes, planks in that box are needed to bridge gaps in understanding how the world works – or how you should work within the world. As you construct your personal bridge, some of the planks are less than solid. So, do you stop your journey, turnaround, or continue on?

I’m reminded of that 1970’s bestseller Don Juan, A Yaqui Way of Knowledge. This was the first in series of books which chronicled the socialization of an anthropologist into the world of a Native American shaman. Don Juan recalibrated the perception of the young anthropologist to identify strong forces at work in the world; how to use that power; and how to identify ‘witches’. Objective proof: doubtful. By the end of the books – which were the basis of the anthropologist’s doctoral dissertation – Carlos Castenada had absorbed the shaman’s worldview to reflect a philosophy which was compelling enough to attract a number of fans. Could it be possible that today’s mysticism is tomorrow’s science?

Every journey requires some degree of faith in assumptions that cannot be proven. The need for proponents to prove their case is only necessary if they attempt to press their assumptions onto others – and I accept that this is pretty common in day-to-day life. Yet, the tyranny of Russell’s teapot argument is that it precludes ‘possibilities’.

If I were to counsel my grandchildren, it would be to rename the uncertainty box as the ‘Box of Possibilities’ and use some of those planks in their bridge construction. I think it’s better to be open to a broad vision when facts don’t connect the dots.

Not A Religious Man

I was never religious.  I always questioned it and asked for proof which I never got.  I considered myself spiritual.  I was raised Catholic, my mom was Congregational, but I went to Mass every Sunday with my dad. That lasted until they dropped the Latin and started saying Mass in English.  My dad stopped going because he said now that he understood what was being said he couldn’t sleep through it!   We still did the no meat on Friday thing, always having macaroni or spaghetti (I never heard the word PASTA til I was married). On Good Friday my brother and I couldn’t play outside or watch TV between noon and 3.  It seemed more like superstition than religion.  My Aunt Eleanor was the only one who was really into Catholicism. She said the rosary every day of her life until her death at 99.  It gave her comfort and serenity and I wanted that for myself but couldn’t find it through religion.

I guess I always believed in God but didn’t subscribe to the rigors and routines of Catholicism.   As my sexuality developed it estranged me even more from organized religion but I didn’t want to give up the promise that a spiritual life provided and I kept questioning and praying that the “All Mighty” would show me, give evidence to me that it truly existed.  Then I kind of gave up the search.  Life was busy and exciting and I stopped questioning and searching. College, marriage, family, buying houses all got in the way and there was no space for my search. 

When all that calmed down I began experiencing things that I couldn’t explain.   My wife and I divorced and she moved out. I think it was the first night I slept alone.  I woke up in the middle of the night, sweating, scared, and crying.   I felt as if I was cradled in someone’s arms and it soothed me.  I heard inside my head a voice that said, “It is going to be okay, everything is going to be ok!”  I woke up in the morning feeling secure, knowing something had happened that I could not explain.  It was years before I ever told anyone about that, even admitting I thought it was Jesus who rocked me. Many years later, after retiring, I experienced two other events that helped me answer my questioning.  My partner and I were traveling through England visiting friends we had met in Italy.  They wanted to take us to the place where paganism and Christianity was supposed to have met.  It was a little island they referred to as Holy Island, but is named Lindesfarne.  We traveled to Northumberland in northern England.  You can only reach the Island at low tide so you have to know in order to get off the island before the tide comes back in.  On that island is the ruin of an old Cathedral where they ancient saints, Saint Cuthbert and St Aidan tried to convert the pagans.  Upon entering that sacred space, every hair on my arms and back stood straight up and a cold rush went through my body. My partner was Jewish and he experienced the same thing.  We prayed at what was left of the altar and escaped the island just before the tide returned.  It was spiritual, eerie and freaky.  I had never experienced anything like that before and never expected to again!  Wrong! Several years later on a trip to Italy, promising my aunts to go to Assisi, we stopped there and visited the churches of St Clara and St Francis only to be disappointed by the touristy nature of the city. We spoke to a local shop keeper who told us if we really wanted to experience St Francis we should go to a little mountain town named LaVerna not far away.  The next day we drove up the mountain and parked outside the little town with the Franciscan monastery.  We discovered that St Francis slept there in the caves and that was where he experienced the stigmata.  I didn’t even know what that meant but it was explained that it was where he bled from his wrists and feet from where the nails held Jesus to the cross. We headed into the caves and without realizing what cave we were in, once again I experienced that sensation of cold rushing through me as all the hair on my arms and back stood on end.  My partner also was experiencing it as well. The guide told us that it was on that rock in front of us St Francis experienced the stigmata. It was a very special experience that I hope to experience once again.  I sure could use that voice telling me everything will be all right once again!

Beliefs Re-examined

Wal begins his piece by confronting his beliefs.  I love the notion that while we can accept who we are, it can be healthy and helpful to challenge what we have learned to believe.  For me, time can lull me into complacency about viewpoints that I’ve adapted and practiced.  As I tell my stories, I inevitably reinforce those perceptions and they become a baseline or context from which I live my life.  But, as Wal mentions in his post, he questions his beliefs in hopes that he can become a better person.  As I think about some of the things I “knew” to be true when I wore a younger man’s clothes, I realize that my thinking wasn’t as broad or open as it is today and some of those beliefs have given way to very different notions.

As I examine and re-examine long held ideas I find I am becoming more comfortable with uncertainty.  Years ago I needed to know.  The answer was important.  Right and wrong were clear-cut and necessary.  Today, like my hair, I find life is much more grey than black and white.  I more often understand multiple sides to an issue or belief and recognize how often I missed opportunities for connection by holding fast to one side or another. 

There is also value in strong beliefs.  To feel passionate about faith, religion, or some form of source energy gives us a foundation from which to make decisions and guidelines for how to live and what to teach our children.  However, even within this commitment to our faith, I believe there is added value to re-examine and question what we hear, read, and practice.  This self-reflection can help us confirm, adjust, or re-align what matters and prevent us from blindly following the wrong path just because it is so well worn.

As I grow older and recognize that each day matters more to me now than it did when I was younger and invulnerable, I look forward to attempting conversations with my grandchildren about what we believe and what we assume, and what limitless possibilities exist for them as they make choices and the importance for them to continue to challenge those choices.


The Family I Never Met

I recently received a package from the executor of my brother’s partner’s will.  In the envelope were letters that my dad wrote to my mom during the war when he was stationed on Iwo Jima.  The picture is a photograph of my mom, my dad, and big brother.  It was taken sometime in 1941 or 1942 in my mom’s parents’ house in Pennsylvania.  My dad enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1942 and because of his age, being 32 at that point, he had to get a Congressional appointment because he was officially too old to be called up.  My mom’s uncle, Uncle Ivor, was a sitting Congressman in the voting district they lived in and he wrote the letter for my dad.  I am assuming shortly after this photo was taken Dad left for boot camp.

I spent one entire evening reading through letter after letter that my dad wrote to my mom during the war.  Needless to say , it was a night of tears and questions.  The tears flowed easily and it was a good cry.  The questions flowed equally but there were no answers and no one who could answer them as I am the solitary living person of my family with the exception of my two kids.  I must have stared at that photo for an hour, talking to it as if it was going to answer me.  I looked at their faces, one by one, and didn’t recognize them.  I was more than 4 years away from existence and I was staring at these three strangers.  These were not the people who raised me!  Sure, I recognized the features but the expressions were so different from what I remember.  I look at my mom in that picture and I see a woman at peace, a strong woman who defied her dad and left home to go to the big city and train to be a nurse against her dad’s will.  I see my dad’s picture and I see a young man with confidence and a devilish, mischievous smile on his face.  And then there is my brother, what a cutie!  I cannot remember a time when he wasn’t intensely overweight.  This was his family, mine was different!

I read each letter in chronological order, from boot camp to shipping overseas, to fighting on Iwo Jima to the bombing of Hiroshima. It was like a personalized history of our lives, our country, our world as it existed at war in the 40’s.  The last letter my dad sent to my mom in October of 1945 was written right after his ship docked in California after crossing the Pacific.  All his letters referred to my mom as “Honey” or “Dearest Mary” and all kinds of affectionate terms for my brother.  His last letter ended with a thought I am sure many service men had as they were returning from combat.  He ended it with, “I bet Little Jerry would love to have a baby sister!  We’ll talk about it when I get home!”  I arrived about 10 months after he returned but to their surprise I was not the sister they apparently wanted.

I was born in Bellevue Hospital in NYC where my mom got her RN degree and worked.  We lived in a railroad flat on East 23rd St and 2nd Ave just blocks away from my Italian grandparents.  Several years later we moved out to Queens and my brother would tell me stories about how he had a different dad than the one we have.  He told me that the difference was significant from pre war Dad to post war Dad.  I listened to that for years as my dad developed a drinking problem and mom worked herself nearly to death.  The serenity on Mom’s face was gone and the happy, mischievous smile was gone from my dad’s face.  My brother gained a large amount of weight and the daily grind became arguments over money every night at the dinner table.  They didn’t know a lot about PTSD back then, in fact I think it was referred to as shell shock.  Dad never told stories about the war and rarely shared any feelings he had about going to war.  Don’t get me wrong.  I knew my parents loved me and my mom was the most loving, understanding mother a kid could have.  My dad did things to make my life and my brother’s life better but the affectionate terms they had for each other were gone.  Our extended family members were always telling us how proud my dad was of us but he could never tell us that- we always had to hear it from others.  So when I saw that photo this week a real sense of sadness came over me.  I wished I had known those people in the picture.  I would give anything to see mom’s face light up with happiness or dad’s mischievous smile come over his face.  Life became hard for them, for us!  I can’t help but wonder if the faces would have remained more like the picture if Little Jerry had gotten the baby sister they wanted…….


I enjoyed reading George’s story of his parents through the lens of his father’s letters. What a fabulous insight into a time of mass upheaval! It’s easy to understand the fascination with the time before your birth to get a clue about the antecedent conditions. It’s sort of “You – the Prequel”.

I’m imagining that George’s Dad was changed by the war, but also returned to a different environment. Women had joined the workforce in huge numbers and no doubt enjoyed the freedom of choice and self-confidence gained through achievement at work. The post war world integrated returning service men into the workplace, but change was already in play. Perhaps that accounted for some of the differences that George described?

I can share my family’s story in part – with some similarity to George in that it seems hard to form an accurate impression of their hopes and dreams. My mother was raised in a warm, but scrappy Italian family – the youngest of five. My father was also the youngest of five in a single parent family of emigrated Londoners.

Both parents were pre-teen during the Great Depression and grew up with a strong understanding of being without – whether that was food, or simply money. Mom lived in a family enclave a block from Rockaway Beach – her fond memories included the “League of Nations” diversity of her summer friends at the beach. She won the art medal at her High School graduation and hoped to attend tuition free Cooper Union – but that was not to be. Her yearbook comments suggested she was friendly and upbeat – -with the nickname Sunny. She took a job at a Grumman Aircraft and was a literal Rosie the Riveter.

My Dad struggled in a dirt poor environment. He experienced abandonment by his father and the deportation of his older brother to Australia. At thirteen, he was shoveling coal in the school boiler, while his mother worked in the school cafeteria. His high school yearbook comments indicated that he was a science whiz. After graduation, he was also hired at Grumman Aircraft, but took a hiatus to join the merchant marine, rising from machinist mate to Chief Petty Officer during the war. Although he did not encounter enemy fire during WWII, he was shot in the shoulder walking the streets of Astoria as a teenager – and was later shot at by striking maritime workers while in the merchant marine. 

I see pictures of my parents at a roller-skating rink and horseback riding during their courtship – activities that didn’t survive past their marriage vows. Mom and Dad did not have the blessing of their families to marry; apparently, Italians thought the English never bathed – and the English apparently had similar hygienic thoughts about Italians.  So my parents eloped. Things eventually worked out, however: soap was in abundance.

Once married, both my parents worked – all the time. Dad had two jobs until my younger brother was born. Clearly money was tight and there simply was not room for many social pleasures. I sense that was the same for George’s family. 

What I appreciate the most about my parents is that they never allowed their tensions and worries to affect the love they showed my brother and I. They coped. Like George’s father, my folks had hoped for a daughter to add to the family – but they were proud of their sons. All in all, I can only hope to do as well as a parent as they did.

I Wonder…

Unlike my blogging partners, I know little about my parents as partners.  Back in my day, very little was shared with children about family and, I would hazard a guess, there was background information that they wouldn’t mention to many adults as well.

I am the oldest of three children and though I’ve been around the longest, I have little first hand knowledge of my father.  In addition, my mother and her parents felt children shouldn’t be exposed to “adult” matters. There is a strong likelihood that there was wrongdoing and legal ramifications of my father’s actions that likely added to the censorship that I was surrounded by.

My mom had two brothers, one older and one younger.  Her father came to this country from Austria and was a musician.  He made a living by playing the bass in the orchestra at the Waldorf Astoria.  Her mother came from Rumania and worked as a seamstress there as well as where they lived in the Bronx.  My mother grew up at a time when many left-handed people were forced to write with their right hand and young women were expected to become housewives, not college students.  With a musical talent for the piano, my mom was accepted to the Julliard School of Music and secretly attended classes for one year until her father found out and ended her studies.  She met and married my father and had three children.  I wonder what her choices would have been had she had the support of her parents to finish her degree and write her own music with the freedom to use her left hand.  Would she then have developed the confidence to understand that she truly had the right to determine the course of her own life?  Would she have married when she did?  And, from all that I can determine, if she did, it would likely not have been my father.

My father was born of Russian Jewish parents but grew up with them and his older brother in Italy.  His father owned a large shoe repair factory, and his mother, (who was educated as a doctor in Switzerland, but was only allowed to be considered a healer at that time in Italy) apparently enjoyed a well to do life until they were abruptly placed in an internment camp.  My father and his brother and his brother’s wife were able to escape to the United States.  Not having finished a formal education my father used his charm and natural intelligence to make his way.  He was adept at convincing people to trust him and to give him undeserved opportunities as well as loans and investments.  However, he would often take advantage of his benefactors and after moving about from one career to another and one part of the country to another, he ultimately disappeared abandoning all who had known him, including his family.  It has been easy for me to judge him from the standpoint of the effect his actions had on my life and that of my mother and sisters, but I don’t really know what it would have been like to follow his path of survival as a young adult.  He arrived in this country knowing he’d never see his parents again.  His brother had made a life for himself and his wife with little room for my father.  He had no degree, spoke English with an Italian accent and had to forage for his twenty-something self, alone in a foreign land.  I suspect meeting my mother offered a path to citizenship and stability more than the lure of young love.  If he had come to America under different circumstances, these two very different people would likely never have married.  Of course in that case, I wouldn’t be around to speculate!

Regardless, my mom managed to raise three children with successful careers, beautiful families, and more happiness than either of my parents likely experienced.  I’m content to wonder what it would have been like for them under different circumstances but whatever they had to struggle with and whatever choices they made I’m grateful for the role they played in helping me and my sisters get to where we are today.



I find it nearly impossible to negotiate in this world without attaching labels.  That labels help us organize and categorize, thus giving us a sense of order, I understand.  It’s the extension of that practice beyond the need for context that causes me to question my reality.

While labels are beneficial they can also negatively impact our ability to objectively enter into a decision about a person or thing.  From an early age, I remember being taught which behaviors were good or bad.  This included labeling a person as good or bad based on their actions or reputation.   Not until middle age, did I soften my opinion enough to question its absoluteness.  I was able to then understand that we all function on a continuum of behaviors and, while some cross the line of what we label as acceptable or not, some are closer to the cut-off than others.  In fact, even if someone fits into my label of good or bad or supports a cause I won’t, the range of differences within that group are often more broad than I would think.  And, the similarities they have with me are also likely greater than I would anticipate.

Yesterday I went to town hall to pay my local taxes.  It was cold and rainy and as I exited the door a man of similar age was entering.  I held the door and said hello and he smiled (at least his eyes did as his mouth was also covered by his mask) and begin a friendly conversation.  As I walked to my car I was quickly reminded of how warm and friendly people are and how this person could likely become a friend if we had more time to get to know each other.  Next to my car was his vehicle with a bumper sticker of the political party I don’t support.  For a brief moment, my perception of him immediately changed.  Then, it got me thinking about how quickly I label people.  What if I had seen the bumper sticker and then met the man.  Would I still see the potential for a friend then, or by grouping him with all the other members of his political party, see that as an impossibility?

For years my business partner and I consulted with school districts and social service organizations.  Part of our work was to help leaders understand and deal with conflict.  In the process we helped participants recognize that even if they had an issue/conflict with a colleague or client, it was usually around a particular behavior or action not with the entire person.  Sometimes we would sketch an outline of a person and then shade in a small portion to illustrate that point.  We hoped to help them understand that the mistake of labeling the whole person as a problem because of a behavior or incident was diminishing their ability to maintain the relationships that were so important in their work and personal lives.  Given a mix of strategies, positive intention, and patience most relationships could be maintained if not strengthened.

As with many things in life, it’s easy for me to understand and even to explain positive principled behaviors.  To consistently practice those desirable beliefs is clearly a work in progress.  Today I’ll remind myself to be more aware of what labels I might use that are unnecessary and replace them with simple observations.  It won’t be the first time I’ve tried and I’m sure it won’t be the last.  And that’s neither good, nor bad!

Tag – You’re It!

Let’s step back from the term “label” for just a minute and substitute the term “metadata”. Sounds more dispassionate. All of us check off little boxes of these attributes – companies have made fortunes using little pieces of information that describe our physical measurements, social affiliations, economic status, spiritual and political leanings, food choices, fashion tastes, and more. Thousands of ways to be assessed.

And we do assess – and make judgments – and rather quickly as it turns out if you’ve read The Tipping Point.  John Hume, the Scottish philosopher, believed that the intellect serves our emotions. And if our passions wish to raise up some while denigrating others, we can use that intellect to select a few specific descriptors to caricature others, as well characterize them. I believe that this is what Hen refers to when he talks about labeling. It’s the root of what some would call profiling – or its sibling by a different parent: cancel culture. Both only need one or two pieces of data to make major assumptions. Tag – you’re it!

Yet each of us has many facets: in any given situation, we could be the goat or the G.O.A.T.; the hero or the jerk; the thief or the benefactor; the lover or hater. Already a lot of labels!  

In my last post, I tried to make a topographical analogy about people: we’re more asymmetric than spherical. We grow unevenly: we feature breath taking mountain views and hide dark crevasses, contain placid lakes and strong ocean riptides. When we make connections with others, we first look for common ground. From that initial vantage, it is easy to assume we know the entire territory – but that would be a mistake. (Now cue in background music from Sting: Nothing ‘Bout Me). The view from 50,000 feet is different than the view from 100 feet. Labelling is the act of retaining the view from 50,000 feet without ever feeling the desire to explore with boots on the ground. The trouble is that the exploration is where all the fun lies.

Label Here, Label There, Label Everywhere

When I was a kid, a teenager, someone got me one of those hand held machines that you could make labels with.  Being a wiseass even back then I went around labeling everything in my house to the chagrin of my parents.  When they lifted the lid there was a label that said, “toilet.”  I labeled our seats at the dinner table.  I even labeled my brother’s Ford (Found on Road Dead) Falcon on the steering wheel.  From childhood we are taught to label things and we are taught that we ourselves have been labeled.  My smart friends in Junior High School in the NYC public schools were selected for SP or special progress completing 3 years in 2.  They were labeled as the smart kids.  My IQ didn’t qualify me for that distinction!  In high school we were labeled “Regents” or “Commercial.” That meant college bound or not.  And our social groups were even labeled.  There were the jocks, the hoods, the beatniks (hippies hadn’t evolved yet) and the clean cut/penny loafer set.  Everyone fit neatly into one of these groups.

All labeling depends on making judgments, placing people into categories that define them. First impressions often categorize people even if it seems too judgmental or spur of the moment.  As a result I grew up being a judgmental adult who feels comfortable compartmentalizing people until they prove me wrong.  It is definitely one of my shortcomings, and I know it.  I chose my friends that way, even courses of study, even the school I was employed by.  All of these decisions depended on my judgment. With judging people, I question myself more than with other decisions.  It is so ingrained in my fiber that it happens automatically and only afterwards do I question if the labeling was accurate or not. 
I have been the subject of much labeling over the years, scaredy cat, momma’s boy, queer, liberal, ad nauseum…  Some labels I wear proudly, some make my skin crawl but all too often I fall back into the old patterns of judging and categorizing before taking the time to evaluate more fully. That’s why I wish I could be more like Henry when it comes to this because most of the time I don’t even realize I’m doing it!


Amicus Brief

I’ve been thinking about friendship, particularly since Jack and Gregg commented about the desire to call a group of friends together after this COVID isolation. Friendship — The ancient Greeks had a name for it: Philia – and they held it separate from affection of other sorts: Storge: nurturing love given to children and those dependent upon you; Eros: erotic, sensual love; and Agape: transcendent, spiritual love.

Taken to a deeper dive, Aristotle declared there were three types of friendship: a) utilitarian friendship based on mutual help, b) friendships that involve activity around mutual pleasure or interests – Birds of a Feather friends, and c) friendships built on mutual respect and admiration: shared principles and goals. I wonder if such strict separation is necessary – doesn’t friendship include some or all of those aspects at different times? Maybe Aristotle was off the mark — he also believed that women had less teeth than men. So who is a reliable authority on friendship?

Well, it may be anthropologist Robin Dunbar. His research indicates that the average human has an upper limit on the number of friends that can be maintained. This number tends to be around 150 individuals – and only includes those folks who you know, and in return, know you. This number is widely known as the Dunbar Number. For the purposes of his research, ‘friends’ are defined as “… people you would not feel embarrassed about joining uninvited for a drink if you happened to bump into them in a bar.” I suppose that would corral everyone in Aristotle’s a, b, and c – and for some individuals it could substantially increase that upper limit.

Now Dunbar went a bit further. He hypothesized that the energy needed to maintain a friend network of 150 must necessarily cause a person to do some ‘social layering’, that is, to group certain players according to the level of intimacy. The research generally supported the conclusion that one individual usually has an inner circle of five buddies, followed by a grouping of ten mates, then thirty-five old faithful’s, and lastly, the centurion pack of 100 friendly relationships.

Hmm… how many friends were in the Rat Pack? I recall it was Peter Lawford, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr. and Joey Bishop. There are other notable quintets: the Jackson Five, the Dave Clark Five, the Spice Girls, the Scooby doo gang, and the Cincinnati Gang of Five. Maybe Dunbar is right? But wait, I guess that if you have five people in your BFF chain, then it is really a sextet, counting yourself. Then Dunbar has to be right, because the cast of Friends included Rachel, Monica, Ross, Chandler, Phoebe, and Joey. Now this is all very difficult to square with the Four Musketeers and Ocean’s Eleven (or twelve, or eight). And what is Rocky VII all about? Very confusing.

Now, I’ve maintained that friends are like asteroids (as opposed to hemorrhoids). There might be 150 of us that kinda fly in the same orbit, tumbling through space/time; sometimes together; sometimes at distance. But more importantly, friends are asymmetric. Each has striking features, majestic promontories and smooth plains. But there are parts of an asteroid that are generally not observed, aspects that are inhospitable, perhaps icy or rough terrain. However, we find some mutually attractive gravity which helps pulls us closer; we celebrate the beauty and help each other maintain stable flight. After all, we are only small entities flying around in a large cosmos. Together we have greater mass … and there is shared laughter in the universe.

And of course, laughter is the key – at our foibles and misadventures; at enjoyment of successes; and mutual discovery of hope after disconsolation. C. S. Lewis wrote this about the joy of friendship and it still rings true:

 “He is lucky… to be in such company [of friends]. Especially, when the whole group is together, each bringing out all that is best, wisest, or funniest in all the others. Those are the golden sessions; when four or five of us [or six?] after a hard day’s walking have come to our inn; when our slippers are on, our feet spread out towards the blaze and our drinks at our elbows; when the whole world, and something beyond the world, opens up itself to our minds as we talk; and no one has any claim on or any responsibility for another, but all are freemen and equals as if we had met an hour ago, while at the same time an Affection mellowed by the years enfolds us. Life – natural life – has no better gift to give. Who could have deserved it?”

Friendship, Friendship, Just the Perfect Blendship…

Friend-  the Miriam Webster Abridged dictionary defines friend as “a person one likes.” I don’t buy it, well I did cause it is on my shelf, but what if that person doesn’t like you back? Is that person your friend because you like him/her even if it isn’t reciprocal?   I think the definition of friend is flexible and evolutionary and varies as one ages (or should I say matures?)

As little kids your friends were whoever was out in the street playing ball, especially the kid who owned the ball! Now he was your friend… there were always kids playing in the street when I was growing up.  Our block had probably 20 or so kids of all ages.  You knew them all as well as their parents because you would go ring the doorbell and ask Mrs. Jones politely and respectively if  Johnny could come out and play.  Occasionally there was a kid from the next block who ambled in to join us which was good cause it evened up the sides. 

Then came junior high and we stopped playing in the streets and started listening to music and going to dances and  instead of friends you were part of a clique, and playing in the street was replaced by going to parties in people’s basement on the weekends and hanging out on the phone.  High school brought changes too.  You were part of a group now-  there were the preppies and the hippies and the hoods.  But it was the first time I had a friend who I would confide in and tell serious stuff to. Things were maturing as we were! You’d tell these people about your secrets, girls you liked, things you were mad at your parents about—and relationships were becoming more precisely defined and specific.  You had friends who shared your interests, and friends who you shared your fears with. 

College was when deep friendships developed for me. Feeling things I never felt before toward people developed. Long talks, and confidential sharing  of who we were, cemented these connections.  And then graduation and a whole new world comes at you.  Previous relationships became a little distant as we geographically separated and the focus changed to professional pursuits knowing that if the connections were strong enough those relationships would last through the expansion of locations and interests and ideas.

All the while you never took the time to appreciate  what these relationships provided you. But as the years pile up you begin to value the connections you made and continue to make in a way you never appreciated before. Through your professional lives you accumulate people into your circle, and then they start to retire and once again you are re evaluating, encircling those people who have contributed to your life.  You re-connect with people who were important to you, kids from the street all grown up, teenagers from junior and senior high school, who are in the same boat as you and also reaching out. And as a senior citizen, all of a sudden you finally realize what you have been working toward your whole life. The people who you still call friends know so much about you, share your secrets and your desires and are willing to be there for you!

I am a lucky man. My high school friend is still my dear friend.  She knows a lot about me  and my family that no one else knows. The painful secrets we shared are still confidential but the burden is gone cause it was shared.  The college friends who reconnect at a reunion 50 years later and decide to write a blog reconnect with ease and grow more connected than before. The new friends you met after retirement with common interests brought you together add to your wealth.  Finally you realize the real value of friendship.  The importance knowing there are people out there who care and have your back if needed, is the currency that friends trade in.  It means so much more than anything measured in dollars!  A wise old man once said that a friend is someone who will listen when you need to talk! That wise old man was not Aristotle, nor Galileo nor Zorba the Greek—— it was me!

On Being a Friend

Wal returns to the subject of friendship.  And while we have written about it before, it is indeed, a topic with multiple facets and ever-changing impacts.  I agree with Wal that even though Aristotle categorizes several types of friends, when we’re in a relationship with them, it’s not clear-cut and, I might add, the overlap often enhances the original interest in the friendship.

George challenges the notion that friendship can be a one-way street and talks about the benefits gained by both parties.  This concept is grounded in most of my experiences and makes perfect sense.  Yet, I was in a very close friendship with someone for over thirty years and even though he ended the relationship, I still refer to him as friend.  He was and always will be my friend, even though I am no longer his.  Semantics, perhaps, but friendship often elicits strong emotions and, for me, emotions often determine the status of a relationship.  George also ends with his definition of a friend that reminds me of both sides of friendship.

While we often give much thought to what we look for, desire, and expect in a friend I suspect it’s not as much as we give to being a friend.  I’m reminded of a book written by Dr. Gary Chapman  (author, speaker, counselor, and pastor) entitled, The Five Love Languages – (Quality time, Gifts, Words of Affirmation, Physical Touch, and Acts of service.)  The notion he puts forth is that of the five ways people often show their love for another, (I will substitute the word caring for the purpose of this post) we typically have one or two that we consider primary. In my case, I know which are most meaningful to me and I tend to give the same ones to those who I care about.

Of course that behavior makes the assumption that what matters to me, must matter to you.  What if, I really like someone and consider us to be friends.  Of course, I’ll want to be there for that person and to let them know that they matter to me.  And what if gifts and words of affirmation are what I need to know someone really cares about me and I give those selfless offerings to my friend who really wants quality time with me more than gifts or kind words?  Over my lifetime I can remember being confused by the lack of response and connection I was feeling from someone to whom I was being extremely caring.  And, the less they were moved by my generosity, the more I increased my efforts.  Duh!  Of course matters only got worse. All of this is to say, that being a good friend means understanding what the other person wants, not what I would want or even what I think they want, or worse, what I think they should want!  Sometimes, I even think to ask what they need from me during times of need or stress.  This is easy to write about but difficult for me to regularly remember when I’m with my friends.  I intuitively offer what I think is helpful, important, or supportive without stopping to think about what they need.  George talks about the importance of listening in a friendship.  I agree completely.  And, even though I might enter into a zoom meeting or a personal interaction with the intention of deeply listening and understanding before I speak, I find it hard not to jump in and even interrupt when I’m reminded of a related story or anecdote.  It’s easy to blame the reduced contact I’ve had with others throughout this pandemic but it still begs the question of how well am I listening and am I being a good friend?


Evolution of a Recluse

I have always loved to be around people.  Coming from a loud, touchy Italian family I rarely was alone.  Actually I disliked being alone and still do. My careers lent themselves to enabling me to be around people most of the time.  A class full of children or an innful of guests was what was comfortable for me.

After retiring from both I found myself for the first time in my adult life living alone.  But I filled my days and evenings meeting colleagues for lunch or dinner, and going out with friends in the evenings.  Shaking hands, hugging, a slap on the back helped me feel connected.  In my family, a regular conversation included touching at various points for emphasis or emotion. That was part of learning to speak.  All of this helps explain why I have had such difficulty with Covid 19 self distancing and the subsequent isolation it required.  At first it was just uncomfortable.  The touching, hugging, shaking hands was adjusted to a fist bump or elbow tap when accidentally I ran into someone. Awkward, it still provided human personal contact.  As the year progressed we all seemed to withdraw more and more into ourselves.  Loneliness crept in especially at night. From a social being I had become a recluse. From a social society we became a society of hermits. 

As the months of masking and isolating passed, I fell into a routine.  My house became my world.  One day just bled into the next and routine became inertia for me and loneliness slipped into depression.  All I wanted was to be with people again and it is still what I want!  What I need.

Then, last week, my daughter and I were going to pick up food and go to her house and watch a movie which we had been doing once a week for several months.  I looked forward to our movie nights.  But then something came over me.  All that day I was resisting the idea of going out. I didn’t even want to get dressed, the effort to get ready to go out seemed overwhelming.  Suddenly, I didn’t want to make the effort to go.  I just wanted to stay in my chair and watch TV. This was not like me.  The other contradiction I realized was that my house was a mess.  The dust was pretty thick, the newspapers were piled by the door to be recycled but never got into the bin in spite of all the time I had on my hands.    I have become the exact opposite of who I always thought I was. 

I’m smart enough to know depression can do this kind of stuff and believe once this pandemic has eased enough to go back to where we were last February, my Italian traditions and inclinations will return.  I like myself much better as a social insect rather than the spider who sits alone in its web waiting for its next solitary meal!  This too shall pass……..

Now, in an attempt to make this pass sooner, last week I was rummaging around in my basement trying to better organize it.  I stumbled upon (not really stumbled upon but forced myself to climb up on the cement shelf) boxes and boxes of my model railroad stuff.  I think I have mentioned before that that particular hobby was the only thing my brother, dad and I ever did together.  Every Christmas Dad would drag out the platform, claim half the living room floor and set up our Lionel Christmas village. The three of us would be crawling around on our knees arguing over whether the Plasticville church should go near the overhead trestle bridge or near the firehouse.  In an effort to feel a little close to them and as a definite distraction from inertia, I started opening up boxes and smiling at what was inside.  Later in my life I actually had a layout in my house in Woodstock, NY at which time I built structures from models and  from scratch. I built a model of every house I had ever lived in up to that point.  Though I have more exploration to do in those boxes I pulled out some very nice structure kits that got me excited and brought many of them upstairs to the dining room table- a perfect work space since I wasn’t doing any formal dinners at the moment.  Naturally, I had to go and buy some supplies as most of the paint and glue I had used some 25 years ago had pretty much dried up.  I now own a brand new Xacto knife set, multiple use brushes, glues of various varieties  and a plethora of acrylic paint bottles and am in the process of setting up my work space. 

Right now the resistance is… which kit to start first.  I remind myself that inertia is a strong force to be dealt with that requires fortitude to overcome and encouragement, mostly from the dog, to get at it.  That is my primary objective for this week…….to get at it!  I have promised myself that I will beat this inertia!  Could someone give me a little push please?  More to follow!

Nil Desperandum

Don’t despair, George – we’re here to nudge! I recognize the feelings you expressed. When you are under duress, the world gets smaller. A body at rest stays at rest… bits of your repertoire tend to disappear; motivation lags. It’s sort of a confinement syndrome.

The lovely aspect of people is that we are so adaptive. We can even get used to our Covid gulag. It’s easy to lose ambition in the process. 

I appreciate Hen’s point of engaging in a new project and taking satisfaction from projects undertaken. When I’m stuck, I break large problems into small packages. Even if it seems to take forever to overcome some of those issues, focusing on limited “wins” keeps me on the right road and helps me avoid becoming disoriented or overwhelmed. 

It’s important to keep on moving, physically and mentally, particularly at our stage of life. Lately, I’ve been more aware that there is limited time remaining for me to engage in activities that have been taken for granted up to now. That is what is so telling about our constrained period of social interaction during the time of COVID: it has stolen a precious year (and more) from our remaining time.

Even if the task is not something I prefer to do, I encourage myself by saying a prayer of thanks that I’m still able to do it. Small wins. Look for areas of enjoyment and set goals that support some measurable achievement.

And, of course, share your victories with your buddies! 

The Big Test

George captures the feelings of many as we sludge along this unknown path of living.  I expect, at times, we’ve all know what it feels like to be uncertain about our future or the outcome of a path chosen.  In my experience, this occurs infrequently and even more rarely when one or two of my network of supporting friends and family were also in the same boat.  However, as we move into year 2 of the pandemic, it feels like everyone is significantly impacted and in need and, to make matters worse, the timeline for managing it to a point of renewed stability keeps being pushed just beyond our reach.  Truly, we are, together, in uncharted waters.

I also have encountered evidence that I might not be as together and happy as I might think.  The other morning I found myself calmly pouring orange juice into my cereal bowl and, as I watched from what seemed to be another being, realized how long it took for my brain to realize I was in control of my hand and could stop at any point.  Yikes!  And then there was the time I texted a friend to wish her good luck on her upcoming workshop, knowing full well it wasn’t for three more days but simply responded to an incorrect reminder from my iPhone.  Duh!  Last, but certainly not least, is how quickly I can turn from a calm, easy-going mood into anger and upset over meaningless, even laughable triggers.  Yup, George, something is definitely out of whack!

To the rescue comes George’s project.  More than just a distraction from daily sameness, it stimulates old and new brain functions and brings back a purpose that results in joy and satisfaction.  Then, the next time we connect with friends via phone, Zoom, email, or in person at the supermarket, we can replace the distancing conversation of politics or COVID with something that is “new” and that brings an energy to our voice.  

I’ve found the time I’m spending with my GoPro camera learning everything from scratch and the continued culling of stuff I no longer need or want in my house, to offer the same effect.  I look forward to the progress I make each day as well as the related (yet unexpected) activities that spiral outward from this work.  It also lends credence to looking beyond to even bigger “new beginnings.”

As with all experiences, if I am able to step back and look at what I’m going through from afar, I get a more comprehensive perspective.  In this case, when I’m not caught up in the negative emotionality that isolation, sacrifice, and limited choice can bring, I recognize that this is just another test that life presents.  A query of how I can continue to appreciate what I have rather than what I’ve lost, to remember it’s temporary, no matter how long that may be, and to learn from these events so that I will emerge even better prepared for the next test.  So far, perhaps a “B” but hoping for, at least, a “B+.”


Putting Down Roots – Pulling Up Stakes

Extending the question of self-reflection from our last post, I wonder aloud if I’m still in the right place.

Putting down roots has been fairly clear and straightforward for me.  It took two years of weekends to find the place I now call home.  As soon as I stepped out of the car I was drawn to a nearby deer path that led down to the stream.  Before I set foot in the house, I knew this was where I wanted to live.  This was the place where I would grow old with my wife.  It was to be the place where family and friends visited often and stayed long.  It was the place to joyfully integrate with nature until my dying day.  And, despite an unexpected divorce, it remains a sanctuary for me as well as a retreat for friends and family and pets.

For nearly twenty-one years I have enjoyed this space.  It has healed me when I needed healing, provided joyful celebration when I wanted to celebrate, and has given me nurturance each and every day.  But with every choice for the many things that matter, comes an acceptance of not having all that matters.  And, it seems to me, as I move into this last season of my life that it may be time to exchange this space for one that gives me more access to those other things/people that matter – my children.  

As I seriously consider whether I still want to live out my days here or consider pulling up stakes and moving closer to my family I am both energized and anxious.  Do I leave what I know so well and what has given me so much, in search of being a more integral part of my children and grandchildren’s lives?  Leaving the comfort of what I know and starting over with a new home, new friends, and all the people and services associated with daily living is scary.  Being able to regularly spend time with family, meeting new people, and blazing new trails, is exciting!  

I’m a firm believer that given careful thought and ample time, whichever decision one makes, will work.  How well and for how long it works depends on keeping an open mind and trusting that we have the power to find happiness and fulfillment in all choices.  So, for now, I’ll explore my options by looking at the proverbial pros and cons, consult with family and close friends, and then decide.  I love where I live and I would love to be closer to my family.  Whichever I decide will be good.  

Leaps of Faith

Often major life changes are accompanied by tremendous leaps of faith.  As we go through life sometimes such changes are brought on through careful deliberation with the hope of improving our lives and sometimes they are thrust upon us.  Significant life changes like marriage, divorce, death in the family, moving, retirement and many other things- seen and unseen, can be very traumatic or wonderful and we strive to make the best of them.  In my life, perhaps the biggest life change occurred at the crossroads of several altering events.  I was in a new relationship, my kids had moved out and I was living alone in the big house, I was retiring at the end of the school year after 35 years in the classroom.  Retirement hung heavily around my neck as I pondered what I would do with the rest of my life.  Anyone of these events was stressful enough and combined it was overwhelming.  One day my partner asked if I would like to join him in following one of his dreams.  Since I had none of my own, I took that leap of faith and agreed to take on his dream as my own.  He had always wanted to own an inn!  I listed pros and cons, read up on innkeeping,  It would give us freedom to travel, visit our families, and be productive professionals.  After 35 years of teaching I defined myself as “teacher.”  It was as much a part of me as my name was.  After much deliberation and conversations I jumped in.  I put my house on the market, we contacted realtors who specialized in hospitality and for a year before my retirement we visited 30 or 40 properties all over the East Coast.

I had purchased 4 houses throughout my life and each time I knew the minute I walked into a place whether that was my new home.  Just a feeling I got, a sense of comfort and safety, and yes – style.  Every weekend during my last year of teaching we went looking at real estate.  My house sold quickly and I moved temporarily into an apartment.  One weekend we went to New Hampshire, the next to upstate, NY, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and in the first week of January we spent the weekend in Vermont.  We were pretty discouraged because the places we looked at were lacking mostly a nice place for the innkeepers to live.  We didn’t want to just live in a spare room that wasn’t rented out.  This particular Saturday, we had almost decided that we would give ourselves a break until spring if nothing materialized.  Our realtor took us to the beautiful community of Woodstock, Vermont and brought us to an old farmhouses, built in 1820.  It had been a 300 acre dairy farm but over the years the land was sold off and a small development off the main road was made into a nice neighborhood for about 10 families. The farm house sat right on the main road across from a babbling brook they called a river.  We met the innkeepers who were selling the place and they toured us through the building.  Great place, they had build an addition in 1985 for themselves, finally a place with owners’ quarters and each bedroom had a private bath   This was definitely a possibility.  As they were walking us up the stairs to the guest rooms I was struck by a familiar smell.  I didn’t recognize it at first but then I was thrust back in time to my grandfather’s house in Pennsylvania.  It was a sweet, country air kind of smell and that was it!  I knew this place was to be our inn.  We made an offer, it was accepted only after we stayed for dinner and met the entire family because they wanted to be sure we were the right buyers for their baby!  We all hit it off, they loved us, we loved them and sometime that night it sunk in… What the (expletive deleted)….am I doing?  And  here is where the biggest leap of faith I ever had to take kicked in.  What the hell did I know about running an inn?  I depended on my partner for knowing about the business end of it.  Are there reasons for people to stay here?  what kind of rates would we charge?  how do we handle unhappy guests……. that was his jurisdiction.  SO the remaining months of the school year dragged slowly by until closing over Memorial Day weekend.

Things were hectic for my last month of school ever.  I raced to Vermont every weekend, back to NY every Sunday.  We were learning the trade from the previous innkeepers.  She taught us her recipes, how to clean a bathroom, haw to take a reservation.  It was  un while she was still in charge..  The next leap of faith came after the closing and we were doing stuff to freshen up the place and put our touches on it.  We worked all day and well into the night painting the living room and hallway and staircase one Saturday.  It was a long day, and as it got dark we turned all the lights on in all the rooms so we could see what we were doing.  Just before midnight we were done.  We sighed with relief and went from room to room shutting off the lights and turning down the heat.  We collapsed into bed as I had to return to NY the next day for the last 2 weeks of school.  The next morning we got up and decided to go upstairs to see what the paint looked like in the daylight.  In Room 3, every light was on in the room and the heat was blasting.  I asked my partner if he had gone up during the night..  He hadn’t and I hadn’t.  Odd, yes but these things happen.  I returned home, finished the school year, had my retirement party and moved into the inn full time the next day.  We had a few guests and were learning the ropes.  David did the cooking, I did the cleaning, we both greeted and schmoozed with the guests.  I was cleaning Room 3 one day after a lovely couple left.  I Vacuumed, changed the linens and cleaned the bathroom.  I placed a nice wrapped bar of soap on the sink and a fragrant boxed soap in the shower, finished up and moved onto Room 4..  I had to go back to Room 3 to get the vacuum and noticed that the nice boxed soap was on the sink and the wrapped soap was in the shower.  Was it me?  Was I crazy?  The previous owner was also our Fed EX guy and he dropped off a package that afternoon.  I asked him if anything strange like that had ever happened to them.  He  said, “OH, you mean the presence?”  The presence?  And you are just telling us now?  He assured me the guy was friendly and mischievous.  By this point I was playing leap frog with my leap of faith.  To make a very long story short I grew to like Mr Kole (it had been the Kole Farm) as we were able to identify who he was.  Everyday when I cleaned his room I would talk to him.  He continued to switch soap bars for 15 years, Occasionally gave the guests foot massages in the middle of the night which led to great breakfast conversation, and became a part of the lure of our inn.  People came requesting that particular room.  The point is we took several leaps of faith and became very successful and had a wonderful span of 15 years.  I discovered that being an elementary school teacher and an innkeeper  used pretty much the same skill set. We were selected innkeepers of the Year in 2010 for the State of Vermont and I loved my life there.  Leaps of faith can be wonderful things if you believe in them.  Changes can be exciting life experiences.

Fast forward to Covid 19 and a major life change would be an exciting adventure.  Henry has some exciting times ahead. Right now the most exciting thing to happen to me is when the dog and I run to the window to see who is passing the house!

A Grand Adventure

Hen is not alone in contemplating a move and starting a new chapter in life. What a grand adventure! If you believe that ‘where you sit determines what you see’, then it’s a good practice to change your seat from time-to-time, if only to gain a new perspective. 

In practice, it’s not easy to walk away from an environment that you’ve worked hard to create – and all the memories that are linked to the bricks and mortar you touch every day. In my case, we’ve spent almost fifty years in our home – it was a starter home we never left. In truth, I have a love-hate relationship with my abode. I know we should have shifted gears long ago and left it behind. I guess grad school and work left me distracted… and even a five year stretch of commuting 200 miles a day should have been enough impetus to address a decision to move. But we didn’t and now the starter house fits us again, even as it ages along with us.

The house has a story which is only partially ours. We bought this place from Mr. K. who was 92 at that time. Quite a character. Mr. K. built the house while he was in his sixties for Caroline, whom he then married. A bit of a scoundrel, folklore has it that Mr. K. went afoul of the law for some type of fraud. I know that Mr. K. blackmailed his neighbors into buying some of his property – basically a drainage ditch – by telling them that he was allowing the fire company to install a siren there. People talk about him with a scowl which gradually turns into grudging admiration for his scheming ways. A character you love to hate.

He made his living as an itinerant carpenter and his houses were simple, but overbuilt. If you needed 10 nails to attach a board, Mr. K. used 20. Of course, if you didn’t have a board the right size, well any two pieces might work, even if one had been used as a cement form. He milled his own walnut wood to use as door trim, but left it plain and poorly joined. Not one with an eye for detail, Mr. K.

However, the main point is that I believe that Caroline saved Mr. K. She had long passed by the time we bought the house. He still grieved. Mr. K. cried when he showed us the bedroom where his wife died. Her touches around the house were evident by the old fashioned plantings around the property: bleeding heart, mock orange, honey suckle and lilacs were well established. I think her spirit still imbues the place. He picked up her deep faith and joined a fundamentalist church (many “Jesus Saves” reminders were pinned throughout the house and workshop). Of course, Mr. K. also enjoyed the attention from the church ladies who knew Caroline. 

Caroline’s bedroom is now the kitchen. Walls have been removed to provide a sense of more space in this small building. The structure is a one-and-a half storey cape: balloon construction. The downstairs is plaster over lath, but the second floor was done quickly with knotty pine and beaver board. And yes, Mr. K. actually rented the second floor as an apartment: a unit with kitchen, living room, bedroom, and bath accessible by a separate entrance. A very strange floor plan for a cape cod design.

I’ve spent years reworking the house: every window has changed, siding, decking, enlarged entry porch – all the services. You name it. Woodshed, chicken coops and dog house have bit the dust. The fieldstone barbeque Mr. K. built in the front yard is demolished – he’d be very unhappy about that, since he gathered all the river stone from the trout streams he fished. 

Unfortunately, all of those changes now need a version 3 renewal. Yikes, there are times when I feel like I’m yoked to Mr. K. toiling fruitlessly to further the project he started – and probably with the same limited skill set. Those are the times when I’d like to join Hen and look for a totally new experience! But Hen is a man of action – he will act on the decision that makes most sense. Me, I just like to dream!


Reflecting on a Lifetime

I have reflected back on my life at several different times.  Taking an honest look at yourself is scary and sometimes dangerous.  As a young kid I often wanted to be anybody else but me.  I saw my friends on the block and was envious for all kinds of reasons.  Stephen and Brian across the street had wealthy parents, Bruce up the block had cool parents, much younger than mine, Adele’s dad was a doctor and I could find a million reasons to be envious.  As I matured that envy morphed from wishing I were them into wishing I could be more like them. This one was 6 feet tall and athletic, this friend was kind and thoughtful.  I wanted to be more like them, a more realistic and mature approach than wishing I were them.

High school and college went by and I was comfortable for a long while pretending I was like everybody else but that pretense had a price attached to it.  I knew I was different  and thought I was the only one.  I pretended way up til my 40’s.  The toll it took was enormous and as the marriage fell apart once again I had to reflect, consider and accept the truth.  I came out at 46 after months of considering and  reflecting.  Knowing full well that if I came out it would have to be all the way out-  to friends, fellow workers, my school district, my kids and they would have to find out from me personally.  It was a tough time, consequences were difficult but surprisingly not overwhelming. Most people said they were wondering when I was going to tell them.  My best friend, over a drink at the Woodstock Pub, asked me when I was going to tell him about my alternative life style. So I did!

Reflecting has always been significant for me!  Just as an aside, to those people who think being gay is a life choice please let me assure you no one would CHOOSE a life style of pretense and denial if there was a choice! Honest!  People of my generation didn’t have a choice!

In spite of all this I have been fortunate.  I had two wonderful careers that I loved, a family to love, I traveled all over Europe, I have had a good life.  I always gave everything I had to my jobs and was rewarded for it.  For that I am truly grateful.  Fast forward 15 or so years and along comes Covid 19.  With so much time on my hands, another opportunity to reflect on my life has arisen. This time it is coming toward the end of my span and with new appreciation for what I have experienced and what I have become as well as with a realistic recognition of how this could be my very last reflection period.  

At this reflection point reality has imposed its heavy hand on an unedited evaluation of a life lived. No more self deception, no more rationalization, just pure and simple honesty.  And surprisingly I have learned some things about myself that surprised me.  As Wally and Henry will tell you, as can just about anyone who is close to me, I am a glass half empty kind of a guy.  That was self defense as a kid and served me well for years to cope with life. Breaking a life habit that was a shield for years is difficult.  But I don’t need that anymore.  I have to stop now before I react to anything and consider how I want to perceive things.  I indeed have a choice!   Yell at me if you catch me falling back.  Life is generally good and before Covid my life was comfortable and fun. I have also been quick to judge and not very forgiving but I have noticed in roads in these categories as well-  unless you hurt an animal or a child  and then you are dead meat to me. But probably the most unrecognizable feature I have noticed in me is patience.  I miss being with people in person.  I miss shaking hands, hugging, patting on the back, kissing on the cheek.  No Zoom meeting can replace that.  I miss sharing meals with friends, and I miss laughter.  LAUGHTER! Living alone I realize that sharing something amusing or comical with another person makes it funnier, and I guess that is true of a lot of things, like seeing a beautiful sunset, or a parade passing by with another person makes it more beautiful or more patriotic.  But what I realize now, is that I can wait for a better time when I once again can shake a hand, share a secret, giggle over some silly thing and the joy that it will bring me will be intensified because of the void we have been forced to experience.  I will be a better person for it….I will feel more compassion, more empathy, more alive because these things have been denied me for almost a year now. Reflecting is hard work!  It makes us accept our shortcomings and file away our accomplishments. Life will be so much richer when this is over!  Patience……

Could sure use a hug now!

2020 Hindsight

George challenged us to write about what we learned about ourselves in 2020 – and here I’ll include  the horrific events of Dec 37th.  Each of us wrote without seeing the others’ responses. It will be interesting to see if our thoughts intersect.

I worked at my son’s restaurant most of the year – thirty hours a week washing dishes and scouring pots and another six doing accounts payable/bookkeeping operations. Last year, via a dozen webinars, I learned to talk PPP, EIDL, and PPE grant language. From this experience, I determined that I have a strong aversion to filling out government forms – but that’s neither original nor meaningful.

Instead, I’d like to share three conclusions about myself that became clear during the time of COVID:

1. My color is now gray. Once, my color might have been wide-open blue or deep green the shade of the holly leaf. Gradually it had morphed into a warm chestnut brown – at times even a burnt orange. But now it’s gray. Johannes Itten, the Bauhouse color theorist, said that in equilibrium, our brains resolve the sum of all colors to gray. Gray is peaceful and soothing. 

This has been a tough year. While trying to keep a heartbeat going in our business, my wife Linda almost relinquished hers. We’ve lost more friends this year (although not to COVID) than would have been imagined. It’s almost as if this past year offered incentives to give up the ghost.

Now, entering a new year, I don’t feel isolated, lonely, or depressed; just beat-up. I need healing and the soothing power of gray.

2. I have stopped taking things for granted. This year banged hard on the reset button. COVID pressure per square inch has squirted excess emotion in unpredictable directions. Imagine people being murdered for requesting facemask usage; police stations burned; swarming the capital of the US. We’ve witnessed a storm surge of acting out. Not to mention that it was a bad year to be a statue.

It’s doubtful the social environment will simply revert to what it had been pre-COVID. Competing ideas always result in a new thought profile. Can’t un-ring the bell. That’s dialectic, baby! We synthesize and move on. Now is not a time to take anything for granted.

In a way, this is healthy. We have the freedom to rethink… which leads to my last conclusion.

3. I need to empty and refill my cup: The question is not whether the cup is half empty or half full – or even whether the cup is overflowing. The question is what is in the cup. I have come to appreciate that I have spent a lifetime both fashioning my cup and refining my drink. It’s time to analyze how I take nourishment.

My cup often contained a measure of anger and judgment when life didn’t offer me what I wanted. A dose of entitlement, preconditions, and control confused a clean aftertaste. While I won’t completely eliminate those ingredients, I intend to add a bit more acceptance, humor, love, and gratitude in the mix. I’m also looking for that small bottle of wonder that used to provide the high notes.

 In order to do this, I need to empty my cup, so that it may be filled once again.

Reflections During COVID-19 Restrictions

Many of us are living in the great “Pause.”  For me this means an interruption in the everyday, automatic, often, unconscious way of going about our daily lives.  George encouraged us to take advantage of this shift and to consider what we’ve learned about ourselves.

In some cases it is more of an affirmation of what I thought I knew about myself rather than a wide-eyed epiphany.  I’ve always loved spending time in nature, especially in the woods.  Given that I spent more time there this year than in my last ten years, I can verify that, yes indeed, I love the serenity, exercise, and fresh air it provides for me.  Encore!

I also reaffirmed how important family and good friends are to me.  It has given me the impetus to make time to be even closer to them.

I learned that I could do without much of what I thought was necessary and still be in a positive and often happy state of mind.  As I continue to discard items from my closets, basement, and garage, I realize that I no longer need what I felt was important.  Lightening the load helps me feel freer.

I’ve learned that more time at home provides me with opportunities for developing new habits.  I have gone from occasional grilling to preparing relatively sophisticated meals in ten months.  I went from finding any meal preparation a burden to looking forward to cooking dinner.  I’m surprised but happy to realize that I still have the capacity to make significant changes in my outlook on things I believed would never change.

I’ve also learned to develop a more critical eye when listening to the news.  The inherent bias of most major television news networks rings loud and clear. Having time to really listen and think about what was reported has given me some pause to consider whether I am as open as I thought I was.  Now that I can more easily separate out judgmental comments and derogatory remarks made by newscasters who promote my viewpoint, I can better monitor my own dialogue.

Finally, I can say that I’ve discovered my capacity for greater patience.  Now, I’m not saying I’m a patient man.  However, I am more patient than I was last year.  The question remains, will I maintain this more desired state, or will I relapse when the more rapid and busy pace of life returns? 

Overall I’ve learned that I can have a smile on my face and in my heart whether I’m out and about or in isolation.  So far, I’ve been able to accept what is and still be content.  Knowing that this is temporary helps.  I prefer to look at this year of pandemic restrictions as a test that I’ve been studying for my whole life.  Luckily, I’m the only one who decides how I did.  And then I can begin preparing for whatever next test comes along. 


It’s Time

We have been trying hard to turn the page of the calendar to a new year, but the bad karma of 2020 wants to linger. The unimaginable events of Dec 37 makes you wish we could skip ahead in time – or go back and change decisions. Usually, when I think about time, it’s from the vantage point of examining time as a commodity, as in, ‘wish there was more time for this or that’. Time usually seems in such short supply. Don’t you wish it could be mined and saved in a repository like a bitcoin?

What really is the nature of time? Can we suspend time, reverse it, or experience an alternate timeline? I don’t have the chops to figure this out — we need a quick trip to wiki! George is going to hate this, but I‘m going to need citations.

Reworked detail from the Persistence of Memory by Salvador Dali

There are a number of definitions that can be found on the web. Some take the easy way out: time is what is measured by a clock, and so forth. Others approach time as a fundamental quantity, experienced as a sequence of events. Hen sent George and me an article which defined life as change. Is change also the essence of time as well: Time = Change? Simon and Garfunkel sang about the “leaves that are green turn to brown” – is that a function of a life cycle – or simply time? Does life depend on the action of time? Some philosophers, including Anne Conway believe that. In the 17th century, she put forward a view that life cannot exist without time… and that time is change.

Stephen Hawking* wrote a book, A Brief History of Time. He concluded that the arrow of time only moves in one direction: forward. In fact, he identified three arrows of time:

  1. Psychological arrow: the inexorable flow of existence – a sequence of events
  2. Thermodynamic arrow: the sense that in a closed thermodynamic system, time is represented by things losing coherence or degrading; the entropy of green leaves turning to brown
  3. Cosmological arrow: time was only introduced at the big bang and is measured by the continued expansion of the universe. If that’s true, then time may not be infinite.

If time is not infinite, what happens when time ends? Could it be that there is an eternal ‘Now’? If life is change, can life exist in an eternal Now? A great deal of meditative discipline is devoted to the goal of being ‘present’ and attuned to the NOW. Where does Now exist? The 6th President of the US, John Quincy Adams, wrote in The Hour Glass:

“…Time was – Time shall be – drain the glass –

But where in Time is now?”

Heidegger used the term “Dasein”, meaning that while we are all in the present, we are simultaneously anticipating and planning for the future. And if you consider that technically, our nervous system has a built-in delay in reacting to stimuli, our ‘present’ is already an artifact of history. The Now balances on a knife-edge.

Not only is time a finite quality, according to physicists, time is also relative. Einstein described it as follows:

“When a man sits with a pretty girl for an hour, it seems like a minute. But let him sit on a hot stove for a minute, and it’s longer than any hour. That’s relativity.”

Dr. E continued that time is affected by gravity, which can bend space-time and slow it down. That is why time proceeds faster at the top of the Eiffel tower, than at its base. Experiments are in process to physically slow time, as well as to measure its speed across quantum particles. These experiments are closely connected to properties of light. One such experiment recently measured the speed of light in zeptoseconds — one millionth of a second. This approach may change our lexicon:  “In a New York Zepto”, or ‘just a zepto, Honey, I’ll be right there’. This could put “one Mississippi” in a bad spot.

However, I’m more interested in the experience of time – Hawking’s psychological arrow. Mainly, I view it as island hopping – from memory to memory. There are no objective time distances among these memories: some old memories seem vivid and close by, while other more recent memories have faded. Research suggests reasons: heightened emotional states can alter a person’s perception of time passages. George wrote about this in an earlier post, As Time Goes By; that for him time is measured in events – not necessarily in a linear progression. He’s in the same line of thought as Heidegger, who felt that time can only be understood as events in the past and only from the perspective of a fixed lifespan. I’d agree that time is only experienced in the rear view mirror of memory. Because so many moments are simply repetitions of daily tasks, they are completed with little ‘present’ attention. So when we talk about ‘being present’, what does this mean to you?

*Funny anecdote about Hawking. He decided to prove time travel was impossible by hosting a time travel party, but sending invitations after the event. Since no one showed up, he jokingly “proved” that the arrow of time cannot be reversed.

Time, Time, Time is on my Side

I’m trying to think of a way to define time without using the word “time.”  I’m not smart enough.  It is a measurement of the passage of WHAT? I can tell what it is measured in-  seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, seasons, years, decades, centuries, eras, ions…..but that doesn’t help with the definition.

My perception of time is more based on experiences in my life. Time doesn’t appear to be a standard measurement.  An hour today is much shorter than it was in my youth.  A day used to be an eternity when I was in grade school but now it goes by so quickly that sometimes I feel I get up in the morning and the next thing I know I’m climbing back into bed.  I find it is variable from day to day.  Some days I can’t find enough time, or there’s all the time in the world and I can take time or I have time to give. Sometimes I’m ahead of time or it’s about time.  Time is very flexible and isn’t consistently the same unit.

Time can be evaluative.  I had a good time last night or I had a great time or even I had the time of my life!  OR, I wasted my time, I had a bad time , or I had the worst time ever!  When I evaluate my time I divide it into sections: childhood, college,  marriage, post marriage, retirement, future. I can evaluate each section. College and retirement are in the time of my life category.  Where other sections were good to great, and fluctuated therein. Fortunately, my bad times faded as good times replaced them. 

That’s another aspect of time-you can do things with it.  You can waste time, spend time, share time, you can even take time and even do things in timely fashion.  Time has a mind of its own.  It can lapse, drag, fly or be sensitive or even stand still, and sometimes it is even on my side, yes it is!  And time is even different from one species to another.  At the end of a year I am a year older but my dog is seven years older, whew!

I guess the point is we can’t live without time.  Try to count the number of times in a day you say the word TIME.  Sometimes you are referring to the scientific definition of time but more often used in different contexts: on time, in time, overtime, time and a half, once upon a time, time capsules, times up, yada, yada. OMG, I’ve had too much time on my hands!  It’s bedtime anyway…

On Time…

Wal has given me so much to think about in his presentation of time.  It seems, as we grow older that its passage gives us pause to reflect upon it more and more.

For me, it is no longer the commodity it once was.  Working full time took, well, lots of time.  As Wal mentions in his piece, there never seemed to be enough time.  Never enough time to get all the work done; to be an attentive parent/partner, or to adequately care for my emotional and physical health.  As I got older I slowly moved from wanting to “find” more time, to realizing I needed to “make” more time for the things that mattered most.  But still, there never was enough time.  But now, mostly retired, single, and easily enjoying my completely independent children, I have all the time I need.  Upon my retirement, I remember being asked by a colleague, what I’m doing differently with more time on my hands.  “I can now change a light-bulb as soon as it goes out!” I replied.  The hurried world I created in which every waking moment was accounted for, was no longer.

I like Wal’s comment regarding living in the now;  “Our present is already an artifact of history.”  I agree.  Now is only here for that Zeptosecond before it’s behind us.  However, can we not flow with the now?  Isn’t our quest for mindfulness and awareness staying with where we are for as long and often as we can?  The present always becomes the past but, not falling prey to thinking of what just past, can keep us one step ahead, in the present.

I had another thought about the notion Wal brings up from Heidegger’s explanation that time can only be understood as events in the past.  Does this preclude the impact anticipated time (imagined time in the future) can have on us in the present?  According to a 2010 study published in the journal Applied Research in Quality of Life, just planning or anticipating your trip can make you happier than actually taking it.  Perhaps the perception of time that hasn’t yet occurred but has had a measurable impact on one’s present life, can expand its understanding beyond past events.

As to the speed of time passing more rapidly for us when we’re older, some research suggests that over time the rate at which we process visual information slows down.  Thus, we end up interpreting less information than we did when we were kids.  As a result it feels like we get to the end of the day faster than we used to.  The March 2019 blog from Harvard University entitled:  No, Its Not Just You:  Why time “speeds up” as we get older, explains this in more detail.  I also remember reading that the more we remain habituated to our daily routines the more quickly we get to the end of our day.  But, if we seek to insert new and creative challenges into our lives, the more the brain has to consciously process and our days seem longer, time seems to slow down.

On a related note, I want to recommend a wonderful four-minute movie created by artist and musician, Prince Ea.  He puts time in perspective by overlapping the 4.5 billion years the Earth has been in existence with the approximately 140,000 years of mankind.  If we were to consolidate that into a 24-hour period, we will have been around for 3 seconds!  The video is entitled, “3 Seconds.”

Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t include my relationship with being on time.  I never was.  I would usually leave for an appointment at the latest possible moment and then hope against hope that nothing would hinder or slow me down.  Life almost always does!  I was late for meetings and late picking up my children, and when I did arrive, I was usually stressed. One day, someone who also kept a calendar with a very busy schedule told me to write down the time to leave, so that I would arrive fifteen minutes early.  Problem solved!  I’m almost always where I need to be with time to spare and in a much more relaxed frame of mind.   


Questions for Reflection

One year ends, another begins.  

According to Wikipedia a New Year’s resolution:  “is a tradition, most common in the Western Hemisphere, but also found in the Eastern Hemisphere, in which a person resolves to continue good practices, change an undesired trait or behavior, to accomplish a personal goal, or otherwise improve their life.”

While the intentions are sincere, more often than not, people find they are unable to sustain the quest to change and the resolution is dropped, reduced, or entirely forgotten.  As a result, it appears that people of my vintage no longer make promises to themselves. One T-shirt I recently saw captured this notion:  2021 – Eat, Sleep, Fail my New Year’s Resolution, Repeat! Another stated their goal simply and clearly:  First Rule of 2021 – Don’t Talk about 2020!  (Yeah, Good Luck!)

However, I like the idea of looking back over the year to consider what worked and what didn’t and then making a plan for moving forward.  Perhaps asking myself some questions might give me the foundation from which to be more successful in my commitment to change.

Question:  What do I want to get rid of?

I’m tired of feeling defeated, deflated, angry, and surprised when I expect life to be fair!  I’m tossing that out and replacing it with fairness as a preference but not an expectation.  If I can remember to chuckle or say, “Isn’t that interesting!” when something turns out unfairly, I might have a chance!

I’m concerned that my children will be forced to sort through all of my “stuff” when I’m gone.  I’m going through file drawers and basement shelves each week and am throwing out, recycling, and donating.  A secondary benefit of less clutter and more room is also appealing.

Question:  What do I want to do more of, less of, and keep the same?

I want to spend more time laughing.  I need to spend more time with people who are uplifting, sincere, energizing, and enjoy a sense of humor!  Applications are now being taken!  Grumps need not apply.

I want to feel more of the creative energy and sense of purpose I used to get from my work.  Recently, I had a conversation with my granddaughter about creating a video collection of daily, interesting experiences.  She is interested in working remotely with me on the artistic and editing end of it.  What a wonderful opportunity to kick off the New Year in a joint venture with Kylie!  Delicious!

I want to spend less time agreeing to situations that drain my energy.  Warning!  If I say no to you for something you may request, I’m really saying YES to me.  

I want to maintain the time I now spend communicating with my children.  (Due to COVID, we talk and FaceTime more than ever before!)  Amen!

Do you have an “end of year” question to suggest?


Before addressing Henry’s questions let me preface this by saying that I always approached New Year’s Resolutions in the same way I gave up stuff for Lent.  As a kid I thought I was so clever giving up homework, peanut butter (which always made me gag), Brussel Sprouts, and the like as sacrifices for Lent.   If you are going to give something up, give up something you were supposed to do but hated doing!  Makes sense, right?  My resolutions were similar.  Mostly they were things I promised I wouldn’t do anymore in the new year.  And I would pick things I hated to do.  In the new year I am not going to make my bed cause I can use the time much more pleasantly, or I’m not going to clean the garage cause I have too much stuff to store in the house and it has go somewhere.  In general, I never thought of these things as ways to improve myself but rather ways to get out of doing stuff I hated.  That served me well as a young adult but alas I, too, had to grow up and with growing up comes the nagging nuisance thought of improving yourself, being responsible and mature. Acting like an adult can be very draining.  One last thought before answering these adult, mature, personal improvement questions is that Henry may not want me for a friend anymore because on my application form it will admit grumpiness is part of my make up!  Ggrrrrrr!

There’s a lot of stuff I want to rid my life of.  Definitely clutter.  For years I’ve collected things. Things that mean something to me but not to those near me.  What will happen to that all?  And that is stressful to think it will all wind up in the dump.  Stress!  The question is for a person who is a habitual stresser, what things could I do to reduce it.  I would prefer if it would just go away rather than my having to do something to cause it’s exit.  Drama, I have two kids so it is hard to eliminate drama which just leads to more stress!  Covid, I’m doing my part but not sure it is working to eliminate the disease which causes me more stress yet again.

There are things I’d like to do more of in 2021.  For years I was an avid model railroader.  It was the only thing my dad, brother and I ever did together.  I have collected mounds of paraphernalia- trains, structures, everything all neatly stored in my basement but the hobby has progressed technologically well beyond my capabilities.   I would love to set up a layout again and play with my trains.  I’d like to write more and make my voice heard.  I’d like to be the perfect dad ( wait, that takes real effort).  And I’d like to get some things accomplished at my house which requires organization, money, and planning, 3 more things I’m not very good at which just causes me more STRESS!

I am truly grateful for the relationship I have with my kids, I have friends who sustain me and actually tolerate my quirks and sense of humor, and I have a constant canine and 2 feline companions that have been with me throughout this entire Covid journey.  I am truly thankful for these things.  

So what do I resolve to do to improve ME in this coming year?  Wait a minute…..last  year I resolved not to make anymore New Year’s Resolutions this year!   Nevermind……

Best Foot Forward

I admire Hen – if he says it, he will do it. His goals for 2021 are bound to be achieved! On a less reliable note, here goes a shot at his very good questions:

Question:  What do I want to get rid of?

First, I share Hen’s desire to prefer life to be fair, but on the other hand I believe that we should continue to press for fairness as an expectation. If we all can imagine it and believe it, I suspect we can tip the scales to get closer to that end result. Sure, we will be disappointed now and again. However, keep in mind that fairness does not mean that there is always a happy ending – or even an ending, for that matter. I think of it as a never-ending thread in the warp and weft.

So what do I want to get rid of? Well, off to Hen’s second point: clutter. Now, if you have ever visited Hen, you realize that clutter is a relative concept. He is so neat and organized that I have a hard time picturing what he is sorting through. You want clutter – I’ll show you clutter!

Among other things, I hoard wood. Slabs, crotches, burls, spindles, blocks or all kinds. All air-drying for potential projects. Beautiful specimens of huge black cherry butt logs, walnut, flame box elder, osage orange, buckeye, kingwood, coyote wood — A to Zed: afzelia to ziracote. I am a wood ho’(arder). My aim is to clear out the excess wood under tarp and under roof and send it to Hen, so he really has something to sort through! Truly, I will reduce the dragon’s treasure of wood in 2021.

Question:  What do I want to do more of, less of, and keep the same?


  • Stay in touch: If 2020 has taught me anything, it’s not to take anything for granted. I’m not alone in losing – or almost losing – friends and dear ones. Strangely, only one loss was to COVID, but this season makes every loss more tangible. So, my desire is to stay in contact with those I care about and be more present and engaged. Left to my own devices, I would normally just stay busy and let the world pass by.
  • Continuing that thought: I tend to believe that while we all are the main characters in our own screenplay, sometimes we forget that at best, we are simply character actors in other people’s movies. In 2021, I’d like to do a better job of performing a supporting role in some wonderful stories.  
  • Creating: Linda and I find we are happiest when we are making things. I think for both of us, it’s a calling vs. a preference. Collaborating with my wife is a win-win! A must-do for 2021.
  • Last, I will work hard to attain an “attitude of gratitude” each day. Starting each morning, I will focus on three things for which to be grateful – and not the same three each morning. I won’t get out of bed until these are visualized.

Less:  (correspondingly, less elaboration)

  • Less time imagining every worst outcome. Boy, does that sap energy. 
  • As above, less time overly planning and constructing narrow definitions of success. Less time building mental labyrinths.
  • Less sedentary activity. Humans are meant to move.


  • See the humor in this existence. I can be intense at times, but the saving grace is always humor. Who could invent some of the situations in which we find ourselves enmeshed? Regarding many of today’s items of obsessive focus, I continue to ask myself, “Who will remember this in 50 years?” If the answer is ‘no one’, well then, ease up.
  • Stay in balance: life IS change – no two ways about it. We experience new terrain every day. When we walk on uneven ground, we shift our weight, juke left or right – but maintain our balance. There’s no telling what new contingencies will be introduced in 2021, but maintaining balance is the key.


Merry Griping

When Christmas and Covid intersect it brings out some strange feelings and reactions. Reflection usually is nostalgic for me.  Pleasant memories waft through my mind.   Smells carry me back to the warmth of grandparents and holidays and the intersection of both those things!  Favorite past times rush back and desire wells up inside me wondering why I stopped doing them. 

But the intersection of Christmas Blvd. and Covid Ave. bring up less reassuring feelings and I want to get things off my chest. Odd even for me at Christmas. Things are annoying me.  They crop up every year around this time and for probably 50 or so years I have stuffed them away but now I want to say them, get them off my chest.  Let me dive into my point….”Keep Christ in Christmas.”  We have all heard this or read it assuming that the X is a way of eliminating Christ from the most revered of Christian holidays and cheapening it.   Somewhere along the way I heard the derivation of Xmas and asked my friend Siri to tell me again.  She confirmed my belief that it does not remove Christ from his own birth!  It seems it was first used in the year 1021 by a scribe.  Back then, parchment was scarce and expensive and because the name Christ was written frequently he came up with a way to abbreviate it.  Greek was the language of the New Testament and X was the Greek letter “chi” which was the first letter in the Greek word for Christ.   The scribe used  X to stand for Christ.  So for a thousand plus years the X has been misunderstood and therefore Christ is in Xmas and in our hearts if we believe.

What about this so called war on Christmas?  Are you afraid to say, “Merry Christmas” or is it politically incorrect?  Hardly!  If I know someone celebrates Christmas I always say, “Merry Christmas.”  If I know they are Jewish I wish them a Happy Hanukkah.  If I don’t know their religious history I will say,  “Happy Holidays,” out of respect.  I remember years ago my parents would send out Christmas cards but to their non-Christian friends the term back then was, “Seasons Greetings.”  It was an acknowledgment of the fact that other people celebrate holidays different from our own.  Nothing political about it!  Respectful, thoughtful, all inclusive!

One last gripe.  For years as a school teacher I would hear how the public schools took prayer out of school and it had dire effects on education.  That, too, is a falsehood.  Prayer was not prohibited in school.  Just the open recitation of a prayer from one specific religion was done away with.  When I student taught my cooperating teacher made the class stand for the Pledge of Allegiance and the Lord’s Prayer. That was years after that practice had been abolished.  I wonder how the Jewish or Islamic kids in those classes felt reciting such a prayer.  Probably no different from the class standing and  reciting a Jewish or Islamic prayer would feel  to a Christian child.  I was never very religious but spiritual and prayed all the time in school.  I have to admit sometimes it was to please make the day be over quickly or even pray that tomorrow would be a snowday. I know that kids prayed at their seats when they were taking a test or as in my case in gym class that I wouldn’t get picked to be on a basketball team or something!  No one was ever told they couldn’t pray in school! EVER!  Ok, I’m praying now that I will regain my more positive feelings for Christmas now that I verbally regurgitated these long standing complaints.  

Incidentally I read somewhere that there are about 14 religious holidays between Thanksgiving and Christmas, and so Happy Holidays doesn’t sound so bad!

Whatever holidays you celebrate this time of year may they be peaceful and enjoyable, happy or merry, but may they lead to a hell of a better new year!

War with the Newts

The first thought I had after reading George’s piece was: Here we go – War with the Newts. This is a dark satire written by Karel Capek just prior to WWII. In a nutshell, humans discover a breed of intelligent salamanders and the book highlights how our unique ability for quarrel and aggravation turns an opportunity into disaster.

There are whole industries based on whipping up contention. Aren’t you tired of the talking heads braying about real or manufactured issues, with less an eye toward solution, than toward retweets or ratings increase? I am. It’s time to give the drumbeat a rest. Let’s heal.

I view this time of year as an opportunity to celebrate the wonder of an existence that depends on faith, because we don’t have all the answers. In fact, I celebrate the faith journeys of any point of view that focuses on achieving harmony. If you focus on the joy, there’s less room for the gripe, Grinch — no Rant-a-Santa. 

It’s a question of balance. As a person following the Christian path, I embrace all the non-religious aspects of Christmastide. After all, it’s a great social occasion – and has had its ups and downs (check out History Channel’s Christmas Unwrapped: the History of Christmas).  Christmas, the holiday, fosters goodwill and generosity of spirit. Good things! Since Christmas has secular and commercial acceptance, some states have even pushed for resolutions renaming their Christmas trees ‘Holiday trees’.

However, since parchment is not an issue, I will still write out ‘Christmas’ and refer to our tree as a Christmas tree. It has nothing to do with Chi-Rho, or Constantine’s dream of military victory (i.e., “in hoc signo vinces”). Rather, it helps me focus on the fact that Christmas is a holy day, as well as a holiday. Shorthand ‘Xmas’ is what I associate with ‘XmasSale!!!’  It’s a preference to avoid a commercial connotation, nothing more.

In addition, I will share the joy of Christmas with my friends, who are diverse enough and nuanced enough to appreciate this is a special time and accept the greeting as it is meant.

Merry Christmas to All! 

Happy Holidays!

While I personally don’t find the challenges George raises as significant concerns, I do agree with his approach to greeting others during the holiday season.  Essentially, if you know what they celebrate, name it, if you don’t, wish them a happy holiday.  It feels respectful, inclusive, and thoughtful.  

As a child, I celebrated Chanukah.  And, while I lived in a neighborhood where fifty-seven of the sixty families celebrated Christmas, salutations of “Merry Christmas didn’t offend me.  However, when kids who knew I celebrated Chanukah, said Merry Christmas to me, I felt more ignored or dismissed than included.  And those who made a point of saying Happy Chanukah or Seasons Greetings gave me a recognition and a visibility that felt like it was okay to be different.  It was never a huge issue to me.  It was just learning how to cope when you are in the minority.

I appreciate the good will that abounds around this time of year.  Gifting lifts the spirits of both the giver and the receiver.  Greetings and smiles (although masked this year) and holiday music wrap me in a warm and joyful feeling.  I am thankful for all those who make an effort to bring a bit more joy and connection to their daily interactions and hope they feel the same from me.

I wish you all a most Joyful and Healthy Holiday and a very Happy New Year!


Words: A Prolegomenal Disquisition

English — you have to love it!  The title comes by way of WordGenius, a daily feed of words you never knew existed — and may never have a chance to use.

My high school English teacher used to encourage us to use “thousand dollar words” in order to expand our vocabulary. I still love to collect such words — they are fun!. Considering inflation, thousand dollar words in the 60’s are probably ‘hundred thousand dollar words’ today. Are they worth knowing — or using? Like rare stamps, some words are treasures, but not meant for the daily mail.

In fact, words can be temporal: usage waxing and waning — or in fact changing. For example, within 100 years the term ‘tory’ morphed from describing an Irish ‘bandit’ to describing a conservative member of parliament!  The popular use of slang, like carbon dating, can place a word squarely in a timeframe. Today’s lol was yesterday’s belly laugh. BTW, isn’t it time for lol to FITS (fade into the sunset)?

It’s no coincidence that groups of words are called passages — a conveyance for understanding. However, choice of words can create distance and draw more attention to the author than to the subject. A learned pastor — and excellent speaker — I know used to rail on about people who ‘bloviate’ and inserted the word frequently in sermons.  Whether you find this ironic or irenic will say a lot about your communication philosophy!

Yet at times, arcane words do fit the need. ‘Mellifluous’ sounds like what it is — and it’s easy off the tongue. Unfortunately ‘ratiocinate’ sounds like the starter is failing in your car. So, I must confess a bias: a preference for words with lots of vowels vs. the chitinous sound of consonants clicking together.

Words can speed progress or slow you down to a crawl — try again to read the fine print and boilerplate in legal documents. After reading hundreds of scholarly articles in professional life, I grew a bit tired of third person passive, densely packed language. It’s not that written discourse needs to be pointed to the lowest common denominator, it’s just that reading — and then rereading — passages seems inefficient. Lately, if I invest time in reading (or listening), I’d like to get to the point, particularly if the information appears useful. So, accessibility is key.

Accessibility is important, but so is precision. No one benefits by vague descriptions that declare people or efforts are “fantastic”, “beautiful”, or “nice” (or nasty). Some politicians prefer that type of 50,000 ft. explanation, but other than providing a blue or pink litmus test, what do you really learn? Descriptions long to be clothed elegantly!  Why are results ‘fantastic’, the person ‘nice’, the program “beautiful”?

If I were to give my grandchildren advice, it would be: choose your words to suit the subject, the audience, and the medium. Mutual understanding is the aim. Realize that words have their moment. Don’t be afraid to show off a special word, if it is a precise modifier — but a little goes a long way. Conversely, verbal shortcuts or initialisms may be a long-term trend, but consider the depth of information conveyed. Verbal shortcuts are your acquaintances, but your real friends are words that make your thoughts come alive.

Parting Words. Food for thought: what is the word you would most like to hear initially — and the last word you would like to hear? (Mine — for both — might be “welcome”). What’s yours?

The Spanish Disquisition

I must admit I had to reread Wally’s piece a second time with my dictionary just to figure out the title.  True confession…my title has nothing to do with what I am writing.  Just a play on words.  Words have always been a favorite of mine.  I’m generally good with words, hmm…. does that mean I know a lot of them or perhaps I’m just kind to them when they are struggling?  Interesting conundrum!  Well at least to me it is.  To you it may be neither interesting nor a conundrum, if you catch my drift.  Drift being used in the slang sense,  not being pushed around by the wind. OMG I am very confused.  I have to clear my head- what the heck does that mean?  If I clear my head what happens to my nose and eyes?  Where do these expressions come from?

Words develop over time as Wally said.  Can you imagine George Washington telling Martha that Mt Vernon needs WiFi or tech support for their computers? So new words have to be invented as society progresses.  “Martha, you are interfering with my digital networking!  I’ll burn the garbage later!” 
Each day in my classroom for many years I would write a new word on the blackboard with its definition  before the kids arrived.   The kids knew they would get extra points if they used that word in their speech or writing that day.  “The Word of the Day” became popular and sometimes kids would bring in words for me to use.  

My brother and I growing up in Flushing  invented words for specific situations.  Goodhumerical, an adjective used to describe a hot summer day when a nice ice cream bar from the Good Humor truck was in order started our private word development.  He and I developed quite a few adjectives to describe many of our relatives.  “Nissengnat” was how we would refer to our uncle from the Bronx because he would always finish his sentences with the expression, “ and this and that….” but with his heavy Bronx accent it came out as, “And nis an nat.”  My brother used to tell me I was being cataclusional, when I would come to a cataclysmic conclusion as I usually did about most things.
So I too always thought of words as being fun.  And the combination of words into phrases even more enjoyable.  I’m feeling very scatter brained as I write this rejoinder today.  Does that mean parts of my brain have been scattered around my house? Maybe, like Maria, who the nuns couldn’t even deal with, I’m just a flibbertigibbet!  I have no idea where that word came from derivatively speaking!   Not sure how you speak derivatively but it just rolls off your tongue, actually made me giggle inside.  Sometimes I giggle outside but it was too cold this morning! 

Oh, I almost forgot.  Probably the first word I heard in my family was, “d’yu eat?” And that probably will be the last thing I hear as well!

On Words

I was immediately taken with the word knowledge and wit of my blogging partners.  They keep me on my toes and always in learning mode as I read their posts and listen to their stories.  This is yet another reason why I appreciate them and what they bring to my moments of thought and reflection.

For a period of time, words served me well.  Fortunate to have intelligent colleagues and family, critical friends, and a love of my work, I readily found the words I needed at the right time and delivered in the right tone.  Clearly I’m not, nor ever was a grammar maven.  I was adequate, at best.  Yet, as well as I can recollect, I was usually able to find just the right word or phrase to help express what I meant or to affirm what I heard.  It was critical to my sense of value and good work.  However, that capacity is now diminished and continues to decline as the years advance.  I feel the loss of words I can’t retrieve, shorter moments of clear focus, memory confusion, the list goes on.  I appreciate what I can do but am inexorably aware of what I do, less well.

Early in my career a student came to me at lunchtime and asked if I could help her.  She wanted to know why she didn’t have any friends and wanted to know what she could do about it.  She was bright, as cute as any of the girls in her class, and mostly upbeat.  And, she loved to talk.  She spoke of her vacations, her adventures after school, and about the books she read.  Together, we came to the understanding that perhaps one of the most important things people want is to be heard.  She agreed to practice spending less time talking about herself and more time listening, really listening, to the words of others in the hopes of making friends.  Later on, we formed a small group of students with similar needs and focused on using “words of connection” to help them address their needs.

I often think about what word to use to capture, with absolute precision, my feelings at a particular moment.  And while I know the feeling, I cannot find the words to do it justice.  You know, the feeling that is a bit more than one descriptor but a bit less of another.  Sometimes we find words in other languages that aren’t directly translatable and that seem to better convey what we mean.  They can be described in English but the native speaker will tell you there is no way to explain it accurately.  The Yiddish word Kvell, is defined as a state of being extremely proud.  Yet to me it’s more than that.  It is a feeling that comes from within that goes beyond pride.  It is like an act, a feeling, and a thought, intensely combined. 

Wal challenges us to identify a first and/or last word we find meaningful.  I choose delicious!  I often use that word beyond the context of how food tastes.  It’s how I sometimes feel about a morning walk, a loving friend, or a perfect moment.  Delicious!  I would also use Thank You!  Some days, I find myself so appreciative of what I have, where I am, and what I’m doing that I shout out, “Thank You!”  Most often only Duke hears it as it’s usually when I’m with him in nature but sometimes I do so with a trusted friend.  It’s an expression of gratitude to whomever or whatever in the universe might be listening.


Where Do We Go From Here?

Most of us desire to be in community – a place where people feel valued, accepted, and connected.  And, while communities are often founded around common goals and interests, they vary greatly in regards to their openness and collaboration with other communities and with society as a whole.  It appears that we are currently experiencing more entrenched attitudes and behaviors within and among these groups and fewer opportunities for open dialog toward the common good.

The “ends justify the means” seems like the present mode of operation by many groups.  And, while it may lead one collective or another to a temporary victory, is the long-term cost worth it?  In our righteous indignation and justification for winning at all costs, is the angst, corruption of our principles, and the constant attention we give to defensiveness and negativity how we want to live?

Even when we feel we have no other options, we are often avoiding the hard work of finding or creating alternatives.  Sometimes, rather than picking one side/approach or another, we can merge the two into an even more effective one.  Martin Luther King spoke at the 10th annual meeting of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in 1967 about two approaches that often provoked one choice, the path of love or the path of power.  His stance was that we couldn’t be effective without both.  Perhaps it’s time for us to reconsider where we stand and whether the communities we align with have the best interests of long-term goals and those of our children.

Is our community behaving in ways that illicit trust?  Do we act in ways the make it difficult for the other side to challenge our civility, dignity, and authenticity?  If we don’t because they don’t, how will we ever get there?

Where do we go from here?  Isn’t it up to each of us to decide how we act to bring about the future we want for our children and ourselves? And isn’t that future dependent on how we respond and embrace other communities?


Dear Santa

Dear Santa,

After reading my friend Henry’s blog post I have to confess I have been naughty this year, well these past 4 years.   You see I have had very strong political views that often crossed the “being appropriate” limits.  I was often angry, outraged even and vociferous in my expression of that outrage.  I said mean things on Facebook and listened to only one tv station news coverage- the one that I agreed with.

I always considered myself a reasonable, intelligent person.  But I just couldn’t accept imitating a handicapped journalist or calling people names based on their appearance or physical features.  In my heart I knew that was wrong but our leader was displaying this behavior publicly, snd I saw our interaction between people becoming caustic and aggressive.  Santa, I gave into those feelings I had and expressed them instead of trying to find common ground. 

We now have an elected leader who is trying to model appropriate behavior and I promise to follow his lead.  I will do things to try to bring our country together again.  I won’t say mean things or cause disagreement to intensify.  I promise to try to reconnect with people I may have upset.    That way my letter to you next year can tell you that I have been a good boy and have everything I need so give my stuff to kids who are more needy. This pandemic will certainly cause people to need things that they normally would have.  Hopefully by next December this Covid thing will be gone but if not I will ask for enough masks for everybody in our country and the general acceptance that masks help!  Please forgive me Santa.  I tried but just couldn’t live up to my wish to be a good boy.  My friends Henry and Wally were gooder than I was this year so you should give them what they ask for.  Well, maybe they were a little naughty too!
Your friend,


I suspect that we each have an urge to assimilate and an urge to be distinct. We try to solve that tension by finding a reference group (or several) that allows us to do both. In a healthy society, just as in a healthy individual, affiliation in various ‘communities’ is fluid enough to help us practice seeing different points of view. I tend to think about this condition as one which features permeable boundaries – like a biologic cell wall — allowing traffic of ideas (like RNA) through the walls. This allows analysis and accommodation among varying points of reference.

 When ideologic boundaries harden, it’s no wonder that commerce between particular communities tends to stop.  So for me, it’s about permeability – allowing flow. Carrying the analogy a bit further: if we each act as a unit in a living entity, our function is to pass nutrients throughout the system and keep it thriving. It’s also our job to defend against threats to our ability to do so. 

If the body encounters a destructive virus, it tends to attack anything which looks like a threat. Sometimes it overreaches. Hen describes a situation where our communities seem to be ill – and some functions are not working well. A healthy community, like a healthy body – should rebound from most infection. However, that rebound depends upon various organs working in concert, not shutting down. The individual’s essential job is to continue to pass nutrients through the system. Now I know that I’ve set the stage for some to liken our current state of affairs to a cancerous growth. Okay, maybe we need chemotherapy – maybe our living entity will die. Or maybe our society is suffering from a malady that can be treated with an injection of common sense and affection. Either way, I believe that our boundaries need to be permeable enough to receive both familiar ideas and new ideas and pass along the useful bits of both which allow the whole body to thrive. 


Go Back Where You Came From

I did!  One of the most incredible experiences I ever had was going back to where I came from.  My entire life I was surrounded by the crazy Italian Family that I came from- or at least half of me!  Holidays consisted of people yelling at each other, all at the same time.  Half in English,  half in a bastardized Italian that was spoken in southern Italy.  I should refer to it as a dialect but if you speak ITALIAN you might agree that the dialects were bastardized.  The area I came from in Italy is Basilicata.  The arch of the boot.  Calabria was to the west (the toe of the boot)and Puglia to the east(the heel).  The minute you drive south of Naples you begin to feel the difference!

Planning the trip was a trip in itself.  My partner called the only hotel in the area but they spoke no English.  So he called an Italian friend of his to call for us.  She arranged a conference call and within moments we realized they were speaking 2 different languages.   A subsequent call with someone on their end who spoke “English” resolved the issue and we were all set to go. 

The trip was phenomenal. As we flew into Rome I became very emotional. We drove from Rome south to the little town of Pietrapertosa, a little mountain town in the Dolomities(Little Dolomites).  The drive was incredible.  Dirt roads through the mountains, pigs blocking the roads, rock slides to drive around and then miraculously the town was right in front of us.  As we drove up the cobblestone street the emotion overwhelmed me.  Here I was on streets that my grandfather played on. 

We pulled into the only hotel  in town and parked.  It was 2 pm in the afternoon and judging by the lack of anyone around it was the traditional siesta time.  But the smell was unmistakable . From the kitchen wafted the smell of my dad’s sauce. I broke down!  The owner came out and introduced herself. When she heard my name it was as if the world erupted. Moments later we were in a car driving through the village to “commune” which we learned meant town hall.  Once there the mayor introduced himself snd obviously knew who I was as he went to a closet and from an old waterlogged shoe box took out my grandfather’s birth certificate from 1881.  From that point on the trip was out of our hands.  We went to every household in the town where my family lived, had grappa everywhere, then to the mausoleums.  In that part of Italy the dead are not buried but placed in mausoleums and I met many of my dead relatives.

To make a long story short, all of the living relatives in the village are teachers, and  our guide whose great great  grandfather was my great grandfather’s brother, had been a teacher but left teaching and like me became an innkeeper- Coincidence????

This does not do justice to the incredible feelings and emotions that I experienced, about the story of my Aunt Eleanor as a young girl, walking with Bartolo Longo who has become a saint since my visit, about having to eat at every relative’s house still there.  This is a case of not really being able to express the depth of emotion and love that overwhelmed me in this little mountain town from which I had originated.  We all came from somewhere else.  Ellis Island has all our names engraved there.  If you EVER get the chance to go back where you came from, GO!

NoWhere To Go

I envy George’s sense of place. But what do you do when there’s no specific place in which to return? Like George, my grandparents came to the United States in the early 1900’s. However, where they came from is not clear. Technically, my grandfather and his brother left a farming village somewhere near Rome and struck out for a new life in America with the idea of sending for their wives and family. Two years later they both returned to Italy and only my grandfather returned with his bride via Ellis Island in 1904. 

On my father’s side, my grandparents emigrated from Walthamstow, UK in 1924. The area in Walthamstow where they lived was devastated by Nazi bombing during WWII and was significantly redeveloped. Unlike George’s story, there are no memories and close family to investigate. I did recently learn that my grandmother was one of twelve children; it appears that this cohort was involved in railway occupations and distributed themselves far and wide. One granduncle left for South Africa, got into some trouble as a result of a railway accident and hightailed it to Argentina, then Uruguay to work in the railroad industry. A cousin now living in Mexico City has filled me in on their exploits.

Now, my grandfather (who served in the RAF) may have come from Edinburgh, Scotland, but since he sort of disappeared shortly after arrival in the US, there’s no way to confirm. My father’s older brother Alfred went with my grandfather when he left – soon after, it seems like Alfred may have stolen a car and was deported to Australia. He later died during WWII serving in the Australian Airforce. I do sense that the English side of my family tree had a strong sense of adventure and were not afraid to strike out boldly. My father used to say “scratch an Englishman and find a pirate”… seems like this could sum up our family tradition. 

Honestly, I don’t have any desire to search out places near London, Rome, or Edinburgh – I sense that these are places my forebears really wanted to leave behind. I did not grow up with fond retellings of life in the old country — I don’t feel a connection. That is not to say that I don’t appreciate and honor the effort it took to transplant a family in an entirely new country. It’s simply that my good non-piratical memories sit in this little corner of the world.

Going Back – Moving Forward

George’s piece likely triggers different memories and emotions for each of us.  His desire to go back to his family roots and the feelings that were evoked for him, brought up another kind of “going back to where you came from” for me.

My father rarely lived at home due to the nature of his business.  One day, when I was in my teenage years, he stopped coming home altogether.  For a short while there was some correspondence and financial support, but then that ceased as well.  Except for one ambiguous letter from him while I was in college, I knew nothing more about the man, his history, his intentions, his beliefs, or his rationale for abandonment.

When I turned forty, I felt the urge and found the courage to seek him out.  All I knew was that he had left the New York area due to legal issues and was absorbed into some other part of the country with no address that was made available to me or my mom and sisters.  I knew someone who knew someone who could, for a price, get me my father’s location.  The source turned out to be sound and one summer’s day, I found myself on a plane bound for Houston, Texas, with an address, a phone number, and a load of questions.

Good fortune was on my side.  After settling into my hotel room, I called the number and told the woman on the other end of the line that I was looking to talk to Joe and that I was an old acquaintance who would like to surprise him without giving him my name.  He was indeed surprised, and after a few awkward minutes where I could hear my heart beat louder than his voice, he agreed to meet me at a diner I had noticed on the way to my hotel and not far from his home.

I remembered my father as an imposing figure.  He was six feet tall, always confident and self-assured, and always in control.  Now, as I watched through the diner window, I saw an old man struggle to get out of his weather beaten sedan and lumber up to the door.  He was in his late seventies, just a few years older than I am now.  His gait was slow, his posture slouched, and he was clearly not in control as he walked in the door and I went up to introduce myself.  Uncharacteristically, he went for a hug but I offered my hand.  We shook and I took him to where I had been sitting.  I asked my questions and received vague responses, deceptions, and mostly evasive language.  In truth, he had no answers for me, nothing of substance that could help me understand how he could leave the four of us without explanation or support.  I felt little to no empathy from him when I told him how the man he had sold our mortgage to, foreclosed on our house and how we lost all of our possessions and had to live in a motel until we could reclaim my grandmother’s 800 square foot cottage from a reluctant tenant.  For whatever reason, I don’t believe he was capable of truly feeling another’s emotional condition and, time, it seemed, hadn’t changed that part of him.  As he spoke of his hardships I recalled he had always told us stories of his heroic efforts to ward off injuries and illnesses, injustices done to him, and fantastic tales of survival.  Most, we later learned, were fabrications and exaggerations.  It’s just who he was.

Since he had shown no interest in contacting my sisters or me over our adult years, I chose to answer none of his questions about my mom, or us other than mom was still alive despite what he claimed he had heard.  In less than an hour I confirmed what I had suspected about this man.  I had given him a chance to prove me wrong, to hear the other side of the story but, for me, there was none.  I shook his hand and wished him well as he ended our meeting with another one of his woe-is-me stories about an upcoming surgery that was critical for his survival.

On the flight home I reflected on my journey.  Meeting my dad as an adult I realized that despite our shared DNA and many similar characteristics, I was not, nor would I become, my father.  

It was also fortuitous that I chose to “go back to where I came from” when I did.  As it turns out, his last story was indeed true and his surgery, six months later, was not successful.

I’m glad I got to see him and was able to address the issues that were on my mind.  And while I would have preferred a different kind of reckoning, it provided the closure I sought.  

Afterthoughts: Today my reflections of that time include more questions than answers. Was I really interested in listening and understanding or did the anger and fever of the moment keep me from hearing? If we had established any kind of relationship, would he have been able to be more honest? Can I ever truly understand the intentions and choices made by another, having had only my experiences and not theirs?


Falling Down

George hurt himself. He was simply trying to put out the garbage one evening when his dog, Devin, body- checked him and proved once again that stone is harder than face. George wound up with a boot on his foot and luckily did not need one for his face. Devin was apologetic, but Devin was a hockey defenseman in a past life, so he was doing just what came naturally.

George and His New Boot

George felt bad about this accident, but it was dark and wet – and hey! – unplanned. George’s incident was on my mind when I took a wrong pivot during a tennis serve return and heard about it from my hip. It was the final point in our doubles match and I was still talking to myself about being a clumsy idiot as we all gathered our stuff to dress and leave the court. In the process of limping back to my chair, I managed to spill my water bottle into the tennis bag and knock the open can of balls back onto the court. Naturally, bending down was not on my bucket list at the moment, so I expressed some displeasure. (Well, that might be a euphemism for my actual words).

Rich, one of our foursome, said: “You know, Wally, we are old enough to forgive ourselves for these kinds of things”. That brought me up short. He is absolutely right! We talked in the last post about asking for and accepting, help. Forgiveness – particularly self-forgiveness – is a necessity as one ages. (Of course, you could make the argument that it is essential at any age — but you might also figure that younger folks at least have a longer runway left to learn this lesson). If you can’t achieve a reckoning in later life, what a tortured soul you will have been. Don’t ask me how I know this.

I confess to storing a long list of my gaffes that remain unforgiven – well, at least by me. Most are not blockbusters, but rather insensitive sins of commission and omission over the years. These items, like the Ghost of Christmas Past, often impinge on my consciousness at pretty inopportune times – you can tell by the sudden scowl on my face while involved in some otherwise pleasant conversation. My wife calls me out on this (rightly) and suggests that I have on my ‘Isabelle-face’ (my good-hearted mother was also similarly afflicted). Rich’s comment brought home that we ourselves have the tools and ability to come to terms with these silly aggravations. Items that no one will remember in 5 or 50 years. He was giving me permission to forgive myself for not being always at my best. It felt good!  I’m going to start giving myself some mulligans… why not?

Feeling Forgiveness

The Ho’oponopono Prayer is an ancient Hawaiian practice of forgiveness.  It goes like this:

I’m Sorry

Please Forgive Me

Thank You

I Love You

I remember reciting this once at a large Thanksgiving gathering at my home. 

I said I was sorry for anything I had said or done to offend any of the guests seated at the table.

I asked for their forgiveness for those shortcomings.  (I also added that I forgave them for anything they may have done to offend me.)

I thanked them in advance for forgiving me and for being significant in my life.

I told them all that I loved them.

One person came up to me afterwards and shared her appreciation of the sentiment.  However, it mostly made the rest of the family uncomfortable, if not bewildered.  Several wondered if I was referring specifically to them, some became defensive, and others had no idea why I chose to share this piece on a day of giving thanks.  It was one of my greatest miscommunications in a group setting.  This time, I was able to smile and quickly forgive myself for causing more disconnect and confusion than the sense of closeness and clarity I had sought to create.

Wal reminds me that I haven’t always forgiven myself so readily and even when I did, the occasional flashbacks and corresponding emotion – – feeling like I was just punched in the gut, still lingered.  I wonder if there will always be a consequence of a wrongdoing that while forgiven, is permanently linked to guilt.  Or, if I am able to truly forgive myself, is the connection broken and I am free from ongoing remorse. 

Of all the words I value, acceptance is number one.  Indeed, if I accept things (people, incidents, actions) as they are then I would have no reason for forgiveness.  If I never judged something or someone to be lacking or wrong, or a mistake, it was just as it was supposed to be.  Thus, there is nothing to forgive.  And while I subscribe to this concept and practice it when I harken to do so, it is not yet (and likely never will be) a consistent habit.  So, for now, I’ll use Wal’s story and my age to remind me to allow myself more forgiveness and perhaps find it easier to forgive others along the way.

Reflections on a Brittle Body

I’ve said before that during this pandemic isolation a lot of reflection happens.  Thinking occurs when there isn’t a lot of activity to distract and I have had some very pleasurable moments reflecting.  I took time to look around and see things I never noticed before.  However, sometimes reflection can go south and stir up concerns that may never have surfaced otherwise.  Such is the case when I  collided with my pup. The night was dark, the ground was cold and wet.  I had taken out the garbage and recycling bins and was headed inside to chill. Just at the moment  as I was headed up the path to my back door, my devoted companion came charging around the back of the garage and at top speed came 60 lbs of muscle .  It happened too quickly for either of us to dodge and in an instant there I lie on the cold wet stones on the path to my house.   I fell forward and was worried I had hurt my face so just for a moment, stunned, I stayed put and took inventory.  

It’s incredible what you think of when your head is under an evergreen bush and you feel the wetness of the ground soaking into your body.  Immediately feeling foolish, I took stock of any pain that would need attending to and all felt good til I tried to stand.  I realized my left foot was most likely broken. Carefully I climbed up the brick steps on my knees and crawled all the way into bed.  There was little doubt in my mind that indeed a bone had snapped . The dog, feeling guilty and repentant, kept licking my foot saying he was sorry. 

I began thinking how in a moment things can drastically change.  My body, which years ago would have sprung back with a little bruise,  had become brittle and rigid with time.  While lying in bed looking up at the ceiling all kinds of fears came rushing in.  Will I need surgery, will this be another part of my body forever aching and causing pain?  Is this the moment where I am no longer able to care for myself and live alone?  Will I no longer be mobile, able to get upstairs to the bathroom, drive my car?  All these thoughts came rushing in during this forced reflection,  things people my age have to consider.  Did I do something stupid to cause it? If I am more careful in the future can I prevent accidents from happening.   My imagination was running away with me and not in a good way.  I remember saying out loud, “All right!  Knock it off”. Tomorrow I’ll have it checked out and do whatever has to be done!

But the feeling still lingered that as we age we become more susceptible to silly little accidents that could cause a drastic change in our lives.  So, do I spend the rest of my life carefully studying the landscape for mine fields or just dismiss the whole thing with the …whatever is going to happen will happen… attitude?    Hopefully, somewhere in between is middle ground that doesn’t inhibit my lifestyle or cause it to come crashing down.

I guess I will have to think on it!



Asking for help has never been easy.  As a child I believed that working hard, persevering, and striving for independence was the way to be. And since my mindset has always been to do it myself, asking others to lend a hand, especially with something I could somehow figure out on my own, is not easy for me.  Even though I could save time, attempt challenging tasks more safely, and end up with a more refined end result, I almost always chose the solo route.  My belief has always been that if I could accomplish a task by myself, I would be seen as successful, capable, maybe even better than those who needed assistance.  I’m not sure how I developed that belief but it’s been part of my thinking for a very long time.  Whatever the psychological underpinnings, I’m not very good at asking others to help me. 

I am a fan of Stephen Covey. In his work on defining the behaviors of highly effective people, he talks of an evolution from dependence to independence and finally to interdependence.  It is not enough for us to be independent and expect to live well in society, especially in this global society.  He contends that we must collaborate and recognize how we need each other to grow into our best selves and accomplish our best work.  From personal experience the beginning of a most successful business partnership began when a friend asked me to co-present a topic with which he was less familiar.  This collaboration led to almost a decade of some of my best work and I’m convinced, could only have happened through the interdependent relationship we had developed.  It all happened because of a request for help.

I actually enjoy helping others and appreciate when friends and family ask.  It enhances my sense of connection, I feel good being there for others, and it sends a message that I have value.  If I receive these benefits from helping others, it is likely that others will feel similarly if I ask them for help.  My hesitation though, comes from a rationalization that everyone appears to be so busy dealing with the challenges of their own daily lives, that even if they gain something from helping, they are still being inconvenienced and I’m still adding more to their list of things to do.  As I think about it though, perhaps this is a way of justifying my old habits and beliefs.  Perhaps I can have faith that if they are too busy, they will simply say so.

I truly value the idea and practice of interdependence.  I love the idea of Amish barn raising.  In an article in the Family Handyman, Alexa Erickson writes, “Barn raising combines socializing with a practical goal of building or rebuilding a barn, and allows for everyone involved to feel helpful. With all hands on deck, no one has to work too hard, while also getting an opportunity to catch up with friends and family.”

In fact, for a period of time, many years ago, my family joined with two others to cut and split enough wood to feed our wood stoves for the winter season.  Each of us ordered about eight cords of uncut tree trunks delivered in sixteen-foot sections.  We would spend entire weekends together at each home cutting, splitting, and stacking. The children played with each other, we ate meals together, and we were able to get more work done than any one of us could have accomplished alone.  And, we had fun in the process.  I’ve tried to replicate that over the years.  More recently,  I asked a group of friends over to help me with the spring tasks of weeding, pruning, and mulching my gardens.  I provided the meals and the after party!  Once again, we got a tremendous amount of work done and had a great time doing it. A few weeks later, one friend asked us to help her start a garden.  In one day about a dozen of us turned over the soil, built a fence, and planted her garden.  

I cherish those times.  For me they were brief but powerful experiences of being in community.  And each one began with a request for help.  Perhaps this is as good a time as any to begin to think of ways we can help each other.  

Help Me if You Can

“When I was younger, so much younger than today…
I never needed anybody’s help
In any way…..” so go the lyrics of the famous Beatles’ song and they are so not true according to my experience.    I have always needed help from infancy to old age.   Asking for it?  Well that’s another issue!  In my early years I discovered if I played coy around the right people someone would say, “Do you need a hand with that?”  Of course I did so once it was offered I jumped at the chance.  Funny expression about needing a hand.  I guess it is derived from the concept that most situations require lifting or carrying things hence additional hands are always welcome. 

My situations were usually more involved.  As the years progressed that coy technique became a little counter productive as I was supposed to feel a bit more self assured (borrowing another lyric from Help).  I think that is the root of difficulty for me to ask for help.  It would show my weakness, my insecurities at a time when I was maturing into adolescence and supposed to be coming independent.  HAH!  So I struggled.  I had great ideas but many went unfulfilled because I just couldn’t get the words out, “could you help me out here?”

I wonder if it is a guy thing?  Or I just know many insecure guys. When I have asked for help I have always been rewarded not just by the actual project but by the camaraderie and friendship that it enhances.  But why is it so difficult to get those few words out?  Other things are easy to say like, “I’m sorry,” “I Love you,” “Could you please leave me alone?”  et al.  But those “I need help” words just won’t come out easily.

Funny thing is, I love being asked to help somebody.  Oftentimes just offer help before being asked.  Love being asked for advice because that means somebody thinks enough of my intellect or opinions to seek it out.  Makes me feel important and smart.  Much more important to me than physical help as I carry the remains of a scrawny little kid around with me who couldn’t do much physically or mechanically, or technologically as Hen and Wal will attest to.  Anyway, you get my drift!  Let me know if I can be of any help!

Codgers United

Well George, the rest of that stanza goes: 

But now these days are gone, I’m not so self assured 
Now I find I’ve changed my mind and opened up the doors 

That hones in on an interesting point. As we get older, what’s our greatest fear? A survey of seniors indicates that it is the fear of being marginalized – because we are no longer instrumental. Here’s the dilemma: we’ve reached a point where we realized that it’s not a crime to ask for help, but worry about the consequences of being seen as incapable or ‘past it’. Those consequences for older individuals can result in real life changes (such as how much independent living you may be allowed to engage in).  

So when do you ask for help? Laurne Sanderson nailed it: 

I need help 
It’s so hard to admit when I ask myself 
If I need help 
I need help 

The question is HOW to ask for help. Now I had an elderly friend who sort set the right tone. He looked at asking for help as not “doing for me”, but rather “doing with me”. The focus is participation – helping one another. He would invite folks to work with him. Another friend adopted a “home and home” approach where one visit is devoted to a project of his choosing – and the next visit is the partner’s project choice. These are effective ‘guy-solutions’, due to the reciprocity inherent in the activity. No one feels indebted or inadequate. (Actually, most of the time, we are inadequate together, but in a good way)! In fact, struggling through projects with someone else — or several ‘someone elses’ — is a terrific opportunity for learning and laughing. At the least, it establishes a basis for later legends.  

George mentions that he feels good when asked for his opinion. Of course! That just underlines the fact that he is still instrumental… the problem is when you are never asked for your opinion.  That’s why I think it is important to build a social network of friends who can be asked for their opinions. It’s as important for them to be asked as it is for you to get the feedback. 

It takes a village to raise a codger, so start early! 


Take Time to Smell the Roses

During this time of sadness and concern due to the intersection of this horrid election season and COVID-19, a time when little is happening to be positive about I actually became surprised.  In fact, when I think of these last 7 or so months, where days pass by almost unnoticed, one sliding into the other without much distinction, it is hard to list anything good to take note of.  We’ve been living more in our own minds and inside our homes oftentimes cause a kind of negative reflection and poor me-ism!  I have been stuck in that space for a longtime until just recently. 

I think it started about midweek last week.  I was staring out my bedroom window as the sun was rising and I noticed something on my neighbor’s lawn that I never noticed before. It was always there I just never noticed it.   There is a clump of white chrysanthemums in full bloom but the shape of it looks just like his white SUV parked next to it in the driveway.  It hit me like a brick and I began to scan the whole neighborhood that I can see from my bedroom.  It was amazing what I saw for the first time.  Door decorations, a broken window, a package on Gail’s stoop that I realized has been there for at least a week.  I was always too busy to look closely at things right in front of me.  And that began some soul searching about what else I may have overlooked.

Last night, Sunday night, as is our ritual, my daughter and I had dinner at a favorite restaurant, sitting on the side deck, lit up by white lights and heated with towering propane heaters.  It is our “check in” time and we share feelings and events of the week.  We have been doing this since restaurants reopened.  But this time I realized that as a result of these Sunday night meals together we had become really close.  There it was in front of my eyes but I just never saw it til now.  In this case it wasn’t just seeing something that was there but there was an incredibly warm realization of our connection and how important it was to both of us.  We laughed and cried.  We relived events that went on in the family over the years. We talked about my relatives and things she remembered about my parents and her uncle.  She reminded me of times I embarrassed her as a teenager and chided me that she’s almost 50 and how I shouldn’t treat her like a teenager still….point well taken!
When I drove her home and said good bye last night it was different.   We hugged and kissed good night, but held on longer and looked into each other’s eyes and we were both tearing up!  We both acknowledged who we are today, how life is different but how our bond grew a little tighter and closer because of what we are currently experiencing.  Guess I have a lot of things to be thankful for that I wasn’t even aware of and may have never seen without the current situation we are all experiencing. That old expression, “take time to smell the roses” may apply.  Glad I did!

Surprised by Joy (Apologies to CS Lewis)

My wife and I have vastly different modes of experience. Linda can sit on our deck and enjoy the birds, flowers, and outside awareness, becoming refreshed and renewed. Me – I usually see this as an impediment to finishing one of those tasks that I’m woefully behind on completing. So, when we sit together in an idle moment, my impatience usually trumps enjoyment.

Except last week. 

On an enforced hiatus after returning home from my colonoscopy, I helped Linda disentangle a wild grapevine from a forsythia bush. We pulled out the invasive plant and in the process noticed the tendrils that wrap around host branches in order to support the climbing vine. The tendrils are tough, forming spirals and curling shapes. Hmmm, perhaps they could be used in a woodturning project that I’ve had on the back burner? 

Well, I started unraveling the tendrils and cutting them off the main vine. After a small space of time, I realized a real peace of mind and enjoyment in harvesting these little guys – hence, the title of this piece: the feeling of joy sort of snuck up on me. Of course, the title of CS Lewis’ autobiography dealt with something far more significant, but I hope he would not mind me stealing his turn of words.

I kept at it for the good part of an hour, resulting in a box full of curlicues. I was having such a good time that I hardly noticed that it was raining. It resulted in a bit of an epiphany: ‘you don’t need much to be happy’. Even in this time of isolation and tension, happiness is literally right at our feet.

Part of my joy had to do with the anticipation of how the grapevine could be used in my project. I felt in the creative flow — and that is where I find my best self. Linda achieves that state much more frequently; I admire her capacity for joy. 

Perhaps, I’ll try sitting on the deck for a while each day…

The Positive Side

 “The bad things in life open your eyes to the good things you weren’t paying attention to before.”― N.M. Facile, Across The Hall

It looks like George and this author have much in common.  And what I like most about George’s piece is that he uncovered this understanding naturally.  It wasn’t like he read the quote and then told himself to pay more attention.  He fell into it on his own, perhaps without even looking for it.  I find it rare to “wake up” to those experiences without prompting, searching, or following the guidance of others.  But when it does occur, it becomes something one owns and feels rather than something one learns and understands.  Here’s wishing us all, such awakenings!

It is not easy to see joy and beauty and normalcy lately.  If we’re fortunate to have friends and family who spend more time being and less time focused on the heavy and threatening issues before us, we can be uplifted when we spend time with them.  

Thanks to George, I’m even more aware that looking deeper at what I see and do each day can be a powerful antidote to the toxicity of the negativism that surrounds me.  And, like George, I’ve found my relationships with family have gotten stronger.  Even the close connection I already enjoy with my daughter has changed.  We have more honest and open conversations, I feel more accepted and appreciated (a term that carries much meaning to both of us), and I’ve gained a new-found respect for the way she juggles the additional pandemic challenges of a working wife and mom with humility, perseverance and love.  My son and I have more contact than ever before. Our conversations are deeper and more thoughtful as we talk face to face via FaceTime on a regular basis.  His care and understanding were always there but I’m more aware of the feeling behind his words and we smile and laugh together more than ever.  And while they both live too far to enjoy an in-person weekly meal together, I recognize how much I have to be thankful for as they fold me into their busy and often overwhelming lives, with sincerity and love.

Recently, the Three Old Guys discussed what we thought would become the new normal following the pandemic.  Many thoughts were offered and analyzed.  But if those new normals include an increased sense and appreciation of the present moment and the maintenance of those meaningful relationships we’ve grown to further appreciate and nurture over these many months, perhaps the post pandemic future will be even better.


One Sigma

Once upon a time I won an award for achieving outstanding quality in an organizational context. I also taught six sigma concepts to managers in the company for which I worked. If you missed the six sigma effort, it had to do with reaching 99.99966% accuracy in deliverables or products by engineering efficient and repeatable processes. Sigma, of course, represents one standard deviation from the mean in a normal distribution (bell curve). Six sigma exudes absolute confidence in (close to) perfect achievement, all of the time.

Now you might suspect that the discipline of six sigma would also seep into the personal life of its practitioners, but sadly, that is not always the case. My workshop motto is “Oops!” and my crooked headstone will read “This Will Have to Do”.

How could a person sink so low?

Well, as I age, the goal of perfection seems further away. It’s like the Big Bang: the universe is expanding faster than my ability to keep up.  Certainly there is a red shift in my ability-to-aspiration ratio. Pursuit of excellence has been replaced by pursuit of ‘okay-ness’.

Social psychologist Gordon Allport used to say that individuals generally adjust their goals, based on a recent track record of successes and failures. This concept was strongly brought home in a recent project I attempted – installing a planked ceiling and crown moulding in my second floor stairwell. Naturally, I researched different methods of cutting compound angles and I built a stair box to support my ladder. However, try as I might, I could not envision the correct method of cut… and due to a long standing reversal problem, one third of my stock was wasted. However, despite uneven walls, ladder balancing, and (what is the opposite of ambidexterity? – well, that), it got done.

In retrospect, I wonder if pursuit of excellence is at times hijacked by a simple desire for personal control – a goal that is usually self-defeating. In that regard, it’s easier to understand the artists who intentionally mar their work as a recognition of impossible standards. Clearly, my work embraces this wabi-sabi approach.

So these days, I’ve attuned my goals to pursuit of small successes… anything more falls into the category of ‘minor miracle’. But you know what – that’s okay. Maybe one sigma is enough…

Pursuit of Perfection

As Wally suggested, I’m one of those people who missed the Six Sigma program.  But after admitting my lack of knowledge in this area I  think in my field of work,  perfection is rarely achieved and we settle for doing our best, at least the conscientious ones do!  I can’t imagine what perfection even looks like in education, or in my second career of innkeeping, for the simple reason that our final product is people and I don’t think there is anyone perfect (to the chagrin of those who think they are!)  How is perfection measured when you don’t know the results of your input for years to come? 
But loving what you do makes the striving for excellence easier.  And when success is reached the pleasure and pride is shared with those who are benefiting from your hard work!  That is a feeling that is unlike any hallucinogenic drug can deliver.  And it propelled me to do it again tomorrow, maybe with modification or maybe not. I did that for 35 years and it never got old.  Don’t get the wrong idea.  As much as I would like to think that level of excellence was reached everyday in my classrooms, I know there were low days and bad days interspersed with the good ones but there was always tomorrow to win my respect back!

Innkeeping is similar.  The end product is a happy tourist.  I was good at that too.  We always went out of our way to please and delight our guests.  If they mentioned something they were looking for, kind of off the cuff, we arranged it for them to their delight.  Cleanliness and good food are requirements in hospitality so that was a given.  Excellence came in the trimmings.  One of us met them at the door after dinner every night just to see how they enjoyed it.  The fire was always going in the living room for late evening schmoozing with a glass of wine, and a willing ear to listen to their stories.  But once again we were doing what we loved so striving for excellence was an achievable goal not an obligation to merely get through the day!

Now, however, with advancing age and social distancing the trouble is I have lost my purpose, my definition. I was a teacher, then an innkeeper, but now I’m a lonely old man with inertia.  I do believe I’m probably pretty good at inertia, too.  After all my entire life I strove for perfection.  I know I’m good at it cause when I try to get out of my chair, there is this weird groaning noise and I realize there is no reason to get out of my chair.  Looking for purpose is hard, and I’m not really good at it now,  but hopefully as the world opens up new purposes may provide themselves to me and I will find another one I love and strive for perfection once again!

The Stigma of Perfection

I am a firm believer in personal growth and self-improvement.  I have a dear friend who displayed a quote on the wall in her office that said, “If you’re not working on yourself, you’re not working.”  But even the six sigma model allows for a small degree of error affirming that perfection is not the goal.  And if the quest is for improvement in efficiency and effectiveness then doing the best we can under the circumstances can be pretty darn good.

I’m also a firm believer in “good enough isn’t.”  Let me explain.  I once worked for a boss who would often challenge my idea and requests, especially if they exceeded standard norms and resource distribution.  Her response would usually boil down to, “Can you live with what you have?”  Even now, I feel a visceral reaction to those words.  Of course I could “live” with it.  We don’t need even what we already have to “live.”  But to excel, to improve, to energize, and to engage my staff and colleagues to provide excellence, good enough just wouldn’t do it.  So when I talk about doing the best we can, I mean, doing the best we can which is definitely more than okay or good enough or even the infamous – “I’ll try” which, of course, allows for failure.

But none of this implies perfection.  Early in my career, I would hear the wise words of my senior colleagues who would remind me that I’d never get it all done because no one is perfect.  And while I understood them, I secretly strove to prove them wrong.  Even when, at times, I may have reached a six sigma level, it not only didn’t last, but it took its toll from other parts of my life.  Later on I would learn that balance and working to be my best self were necessary companions in living a good life.

Today my best isn’t what it once was.  And while it’s better in one or two areas that have unfolded from the wisdom of many years of experience and self-reflection, it cannot, nor should it be, compared to days of yore.  “Oops!” and “This will have to do” accompanied by an understanding and accepting smile may also be a sign that not everything that used to matter, still does and what didn’t appear to carry much significance, now holds more of our attention at doing the best we can.



My red-tinged maple 
Duke by my side 
The sharp line of shadow and sunlight on my garden

My own schedule 
Freedom of choice to do as I may 
Time to wonder while I wander

The gentlest of breezes 
Perfect coolness 
Endless blue sky

Learning to be in stillness as an end in itself 
Accepting the rush of others without judgment 
Trading later for now as well as I can

I am 
We are 
This is – enough.


Simplicity is a word I have not been familiar with for most of my life.  Simple does not exist in my vocabulary, well at least my pre Covid Vocabulary.  My life has always been complicated and I have succeeded in surrounding myself with other “complicated-lifed” people.  I know there is no such term but the condition exists.  See, maybe this is why my life has been complicated. Plus my progeny also learned to be complicated and so the cycle continued!  

Then slowly at my increasing age several goal posts were reached. 35 years in education and then WHAM- retired.  And immediately 25 or so lives were out of my jurisdiction but no, I opened an inn in Vermont and suddenly groups of people regularly entered and left my life.  I loved both occupations but , come on-  simple?  Huh uh! 

And then……Covid 19 came to

my house!  At first there was the scramble to figure out how to socially distance and self isolate.  Do I barricade my front door and move heavy objects in front of it?  Worry and confusion muddled my life until I found a routine to follow and the realization that I would be spending most of my time alone, which immediately eliminated a huge portion of anti simplicity in my life.  

I first was uncomfortable with the quiet.  Initially people stayed off the streets. There was very little traffic noise in my area. Even the dog stopped barking because there was nothing for him to bark at!  Simplicity was seeping into my life a little bit at a time.  And I didn’t like it!  But like a numbing gas seeping under my door I was getting used to the quiet and the simplicity of life.  The biggest complication was what to have for dinner.  Hell, I can always have pasta!  Simple!

Then at night I began sitting in the dark on the back porch.  My neighborhood is quiet at night and dark.  I can feel the gentle breeze and the cool air and I have learned how to sigh. It sounds like this, “Aaahhhh!”  My dog and I are pretty much in sink and often our sighs are synchronized!  He gives me a lick on the face and then goes and cuddles in a pile with the two cats.  I watch, feeling a little left out and wonder why we as people can’t get along as well.  My wine glass is getting a little empty so I refill and sit back in my rocker and just as I close my eyes to chill and listen to the silence.  I hear the train whistle as it comes over the trestle across the creek and I smile.  I imagine hoboes hitching rides in the boxcars taking them to new adventures and I let my imagination go wild.  Simplicity has its advantages!

Simple is a Reprieve

Simplicity is a reprieve. It is a respite from the daily ‘busy-ness’ and complications of daily life – I sincerely doubt it is a steady state. But, hey, I’m no expert – so a quick survey of the internet was in order. I checked out a paper from the Journal of the History of Ideas, called Simplicity, a Changing Concept. Unfortunately, it turned out to be too complicated to easily apprehend.

Next steps: poems, quotes, and sound bites – my go-to’s (now there’s simplicity in action)! Usually, poetry expresses larger concepts in fewer words… however, I found no real affinity in the poems that I looked up. Again, they were not delivered in the shape of simplicity. In fact, one poet wrote about morning: “Whether it’s sunny or not, it’s sure to be enormously complex—“(William Meredith, Poem About Morning). He goes on to suggest, why take it on again (i.e., the complexity), when you were duped yesterday. Yikes!

The philosophers have more succinct quotes. Lao Tzu wrote that he had only three things to teach: simplicity, patience, and compassion. I’m pretty sure that Lao Tzu did not write the pictograph instructions that came with the ‘shed-in-a-box’ that I just constructed to store my woodturning logs!

Even Thoreau, the prophet of the Walden Pond, may have been seeking refuge from more than life’s usual complications (although working in a pencil factory wouldn’t appear to be like a telenovela at first glance). Apparently, two years before he moved to the Concord woods, Mr. T almost burned it all down by starting a forest fire (the consequence of trying to barbeque a fish in a hollow stump). Perhaps he relocated because he was tired of being called ‘Hank the Skank’ by the angry townspeople. It sort of gives new context to his quote: “We are happy in the proportion of things we can do without”.

Even Albert Einstein weighed in with his three rules: a) out of clutter, find simplicity, b) out of discord, find harmony, c) in the middle of difficulty lies opportunity. To test this out, I reposed to my messy office, but after two days – dehydrated and weak from hunger – my wife showed me the path out of the room. Strangely, I did find some measure of harmony in the disorder, as though that was meant to be my steady state. However, in regard to Einstein’s third rule, I found that in the middle of difficulty lies more difficulties. (Try filling out a grant application for COVID Personal Protective Equipment).

In sum, I learned that my state of harmony lies smack in the middle of chaos — not apart from it. In homage to Hen, however, I found a quote I think he would like from author Sharon Salzberg:

“We can travel a long way and do many things, but our deepest happiness is not born from accumulating new experiences. It is born from letting go of what is unnecessary, and knowing ourselves to be always at home.”

Sharon Salzberg


As the World Turns

This past winter slowly, almost imperceptibly melted into spring. Winter temps were very mild and snowfalls almost negligible.  But as spring arrived so did Covid 19 and the accompanying isolation. Spring, usually accompanied with people spilling out of their houses, going to yard sales, nurseries, flea markets with their friends were stifled by the need to socially distance ourselves from one another.  Spring temperatures revved quickly up to the 80’s and days became indistinguishable from summer. 

The Spring months were lonely, solitary, fearful months as we began to learn more about Covid.  Instead of spring clothes we adorned masks and carried hand sanitizer whenever we dared venture out of our domiciles.  Days flowed one into the next unnoticeably, I lost track of the day and the date and it really didn’t matter.  Because of the heat of this past spring I hardly noticed when the solstice arrived and the season changed.  The brightest day and longest day of the year was hardly discernible because sequestered inside the house, little seemed different.  Perhaps the only recognition of the change of season was the sound of mowers more frequently resonating around the neighborhood.  Little social interaction between neighbors occurred cause we were all trying to feel our way safely through this pandemic.

Now with Labor Day over we are about to slide into the next season.  As a kid, autumn was always exciting.  In NYC we used to rake all the fallen leaves into huge piles on the edge of the road and jump in them.  Running, leaping, screaming into the piles. Then our dads would light the pile of leaves at the curb and we would all stand around and watch them burn.  That’s something you can’t do today but on any fall day, on any block in the suburbs of NYC,  you could find a pile of burning leaves to warm your hands with. The smell of the burning leaves is emblazoned in my nasal cavity for life and the thought of it, not it’s presence, still warms the cockles of my heart!  Autumn was for kids, for artists who tried to capture the incredible colors of the leaves, for bakers, with apple and pumpkin pies in the oven and their aromas wafting through the neighborhoods.    

During my teaching years, fall brought the first day of school.  I loved the excitement of setting up my classroom, loved decorating it for fall and meeting all the new students.  During my innkeeping years in Vermont it was the start of “leaf peeping” season and dealing with a month straight of full houses and   welcoming new people from all over the world.  It was exciting, special, I was surrounded by people in both experiences and loved it.  At the inn in the evenings it would mean schmoozing with guests in front of the raging fire and bottles of red wine.  There was joy and laughter and incredible conversation with people from all over the country and around the world.

So how am I going to distinguish the arrival of fall this year?  Of course, it comes with the 19th anniversary of 9/11,  an event emblazoned in my mind  and heart.  We are at the beginning stages of socializing and I have noticed a red tinge on some maple trees.   The light in my house has shifted slightly- the light from outside entering with a slight yellowing tinge.  I am grateful for that.  My dog and I wake up to a dark sky now which I can deal with because it is the natural progression of the world and it comforts me.  But little else is different from summer.  I suspect soon I will smell the wood burning stoves and fireplaces as they come into action and rubber gloves and masks will be replaced with knitted gloves and scarves, or at least I hope so!  I’m too old to do flips into piles of raked leaves and you can’t burn them anymore at the curb.  I’m ok with

those traditions passing but I would like to find a way to celebrate the autumn and would appreciate any suggestions as to how we can acknowledge the world turning during a smothering pandemic and once again discover some joy and youthful excitement.   Suggestions greatly appreciated!

Time Passages

The lead in to autumn is my favorite time of year and September my favorite month. George is right — this has been a time devoid of social landmarks that help keep track of the seasons. It is a shame, because we like to celebrate the seasonal transitions: winter into spring, spring into summer, and the coming of fall. The sameness of limited activity through the pandemic has dampened our collective activity. Unless you are a potential super-spreader, you have likely narrowed your social outreach. Schooling, zooming, or working from home has you staring at a screen of one sort or another for a good portion of the day. Is it possible to get a “blue tan”?

Yet, there is something about the fall which you feel in your bones. The high pressure weather systems and cooler temperatures encourage me to move, finish projects, and prepare for winter. Autumn is large muscle time – outdoor projects and sports take center stage. Growing up, the Fall Classic was the World Series which was played out in September. It was football weather in October, marked by homemade confetti and the smell of oak leaves. These days it’s the start of the indoor tennis season. I don’t see this time of year as the end of summer so much as the beginning of a new round of events. 

If summer is the celebration of flowers, the fall is celebration of leaves – and the harvest. Vegetable gardens are bountiful. Nothing better than fresh tomato sandwiches! Farmers markets share the bounty. It’s time to plant mums! 

This year has dulled the social aspects of the seasonal celebrations and looking back, it seems as though we have been robbed of our preparatory rhythm. Rhythm is important. Many of my friends are having difficulty remembering the day of the week, so it’s no wonder the weeks have passed in homogenous similarity. George asked for suggestions… I’d offer these:

  • The nights are cooler. Take advantage open windows and regular sleep patterns
  • Buy new shoes. Go for a walk in your new shoes… be aware of the new bounce in your step
  • Pretend you are starting school – get up at a regular time; dress for the day
  • Prepare your garden for winter rest – spend an hour a day outdoors
  • Start an indoor project
  • Take vitamin D – less light, more Seasonal Affective Disorder
  • Less TV, more book
  • Celebrate the bounty of the season with fresh foods, a new coffee, a different tea

We can make our own seasonal markers. Make your kitchen table the center of the celebration. As Joy Harjo writes:

The world begins at a kitchen table. No matter what, we must eat to live.

The gifts of earth are brought and prepared, set on the table. So it has been since creation, and it will go on.”

Moving Through the Seasons

My blogging partners raise the question of how the pandemic influences our movement through the seasons. Certainly the transition of summer to fall is most noticeable to those of us who have connections to schools. Whether we have children or family and friends who are school employees, the summer vacation typically comes to an abrupt halt after Labor Day and marks a shift from more leisurely living to more rigorous schedules

The pandemic has certainly impacted this tradition.  While children and staff are back to school, they are returning in new and untested ways.  Hybrid models of in-person to full time virtual learning have unfolded with uncertainty as each district and state interprets the data and readies their school communities for potential shifts and adjustments over the coming months.  Add to that the challenge for working parents, who may or may not be working from home, to supervise their children when they are not in school, and we have a fall season like no other.

Yet autumn still signals us with diminishing daylight, cooler temperatures, changing leaves, and flowering grasses.  The days no longer sit heavy with heat and moisture and the cooler temps and falling dew points encourage us to get up and out, to breathe deeply and to enjoy our natural surroundings.  Duke and I have more energy and a quicker step during this time of year.  In this pandemic fall season I am still able to hike, garden, split wood, and sit on the porch with my laptop.  What’s changed is the lack of group gatherings around the fire pit and visits to see my grandchildren and to help out with their online learning while their parents are at work.  Not being able to help is my biggest challenge and not knowing when this will change, adds yet another layer.

However, fall only lasts so long.  Right now I am still able to have a friend or two over to sit on the porch for a meal or for a walk in the woods and to play outdoor pickle ball in the local park.  When winter arrives, these options will no longer be available and I must ready myself for a season of solitude (SOS). While the last few ideas Wal offered can apply, like George asked in his opening post, I welcome suggestions for those indoor days.



I’m sitting at the dining room table with my grandsons. We’re discussing the use of semi-colons. Yikes, why? Well I read a squib in The Week, indicating that young people find it hostile when older people, such as myself, use a period in a text message. I wondered why and asked my two young consultants. My youngest grand said that periods are called for at the end of a thought and are not a signal of hostility; my older agreed with the The Week, feeling that the period expressed a position of stark finality – in the vein of a proclamation from an adult — and possibly too strong for a short informal text. He felt that lack of a period leaves a sense of open-endedness in the exchange.  That led to a discussion about other punctuation, including the misunderstood semi-colon. I mined Wikipedia for its guidance on the “;” and we had a lively conversation on punctuation. Who’d a’thought?

Let’s segue to the well-used pronoun “I”. It is used four times in the paragraph above – four times in nine sentences. If we add the use of ‘my’ or ‘myself’, that is nine times in nine sentences. Sounds like it’s all about me, doesn’t it? Sometimes this is called ‘self-reference’ writing. Does it seem to you that self-reference is an over-used trope in both writing and speaking? Perhaps it is a sign of the times that one’s point of view overshadows all forms of communication. When was the last time you heard a reporter simply read the news, versus opine about it? Maybe it’s time to consider a different approach.

A book (Wake Up and Live) written in 1936 explores the idea that self-reference discourse freezes a person in their own opinions and hardens his/her/they/one’s point of view. Sure, describing a personal experience requires the use of personal reference, but perhaps that need not be dominant form of daily communication. The author, Dorothea Brande, suggests avoiding the use of “I” or “my” as an exercise in damping down the subjective or egocentric nature of our thinking. Her thesis is that substituting “we” in our conversation nudges a person to find common ground with others – and may in fact make a person a more interesting communication partner.

Since common ground seems like a diminishing resource these days, it might be worth a try. As a homework assignment, she asks her readers to write an essay or report without using any self-reference – no “I” or “my” or “me”. Sounds like a tough task for us who are members of the “Me-generation”. But there’s help. Check out ‘Avoiding the “I” Trap’ https://www.livewritethrive.com/2015/12/09/writing-mechanics-avoiding-the-i-trap-and-other-irritants/ and ‘3 Methods for Avoiding Personal Pronouns’ https://www.wikihow.com/Avoid-Using-Personal-Language-in-Writing.

But enough about me….

Beyond the _I_

Walther Conkite was the trusted voice of reason.  In an article written by Scott Simon for NPR, Simon says:

“Cronkite was a great broadcaster. He spoke to masses, not niches. He grasped that when the news was urgent, people would turn to the broadcaster not only for information, but for sincerity and calm.  Millions of people felt better to hear from this man who seemed experienced, but not jaded. He had a visible sense of grief in tragedies, and a little boy’s delight in the glory of space shots. He had gray hair and hound-dog bags under his eyes, but ageless sincerity.

Wal (another Walter) nudges us past what is, to what might be, and in the case of Walter Conkite, what was)

The notion of speaking and writing from “I” is something well practiced, especially in the United States.  Emily Landon, the chief infectious disease epidemiologist at University of Chicago Medicine writes:

“In all honesty, if we say, ‘This is like the flu, we’ll be all right,’ that attitude is going to harm other people,” Landon told The Post. “And it’s really hard to wrap your head around that, especially in American culture: We’re individualistic and we pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and find a way to make it through. And that’s not going to work right now.”

On April 1, 2020 Jane Hyun wrote an article for Fast Company about the impact of culture on how we approach the current pandemic.

“Geert Hofstede, renowned social psychologist, measured the differences in individualism vs. collectivism across nations. The “hugger” approach is a prime example of American individualistic culture. It is expected that each individual act for him or herself, make their own choices, and that individual needs take precedence over the group’s. In South Korea, Singapore, Taiwan, and China, where the collectivist orientation is prevalent, preferences are given to the rights of the community, team, or organization and standing out is not encouraged; therefore decisions are made that take into account the best interests of the group. Employers (and institutions) take responsibility for their employees and recognition is given to groups and teams as a whole. In times of crisis where we need to move quickly to contain a pandemic, the collectivist orientation perspective has its benefits.”

We are a country that fiercely celebrates independence, so it is not surprising to find the “I” influence in our communications.  Earlier in our culture, it was more common to find families living in closer proximity and each member accepting responsibilities that contributed to the greater good.  It could also be argued that family elders were looked upon for their life experiences as well as the stories that bound the kinfolk.  This interdependence was often necessary for the survival and success of the family. Perhaps this is a seminal time for us to consider a shift in our way of thinking that goes beyond the “I.”  Perhaps, in addition to the benefits of independence, there are significant consequences we wish to avoid and the bygone benefits of interdependence are worthy of renewal.

Me, Myself, and I

I am the oldest member of this blog group.  Henry won’t be my age for another 2 or 3 months and Wally, well he’s much younger!  So, I’ll just say that if wisdom comes with years,  I should receive respectful deference for my opinions!  I’m glad Wally didn’t talk to his grandchildren about the use of exclamation points cause I use them all the time!  Not that everything I say requires emphasis because of it’s value but I’m old and need humoring!   I will,  however, adhere to the concept: one sentence, one period at the end.
I am not very cerebral.  I think with my gut.  I often use wrong parts of my body to do different functions than were intended.  But I digress!  After several readings of  both Wally’s and Henry’s pieces I began to understand the concept of I-dentity.  I slept on it…I contemplated over late night snacks on it,  I mused over how to write without using it.  And(never start a sentence with “and” nor end one with a preposition) I questioned what the heck was I going to write about!  After several failed attempts I realized my writing was about my personal feelings and experiences.  I always value hearing other people’s personal experiences and feelings about those experiences.  In a political time when social discourse is mainly “them” vs. “us” I would rather hear about you personally. I am comfortable reading an entire story about someone in the first person. I don’t feel that the decline of western civilization is based on our ending I-dentity in our literary genre.
I commiserate with 3 important people in my life I this time of pandemics,  Me, Myself, and I.  Therefore,  I will write in the first person. For me my ideas, experiences, and struggles are valuable to be shared. If something I write gives someone an idea how to deal with something, I have done a good thing.  If you are experiencing something that I may have already gone through, it may make you feel good to know you aren’t alone!  I know that has happened to me. If just for a moment something I said put your mind at ease, I have succeeded!  If something I said gave you an idea of how to deal with something, I have succeeded.  If you chuckled, I have succeeded.  It has to do with authenticity.  This IS who I am.  But now, one must stop and get one’s butt into bed!


When We Struggle

We all have different thresholds for what moves an inconvenience into the struggle category.  And, because words have different meanings for each of us, to acknowledge struggle doesn’t mean the same thing for everyone – anyone for that matter.  

Some define struggle as  “work hard to deal with or overcome a difficulty or challenge.”  Notice this is written in the singular, which implies that we perhaps “struggle” with one thing at a time.  But wait!  It has been my experience that when one thing stands apart from the many, I am more easily able to marshal my energies to focus on a solution or best choice scenario.  In fact, I am often energized in this case because most everything else is in synchrony, relative harmony, and in alignment.  I have the luxury of allowing an unrelenting focus on my issue.  Yum!  Nope, that doesn’t define struggle for me.

For the purpose of this post, I need to pluralize the definition to include the feeling of being bombarded by multiple difficulties and challenges for a significant period of time.  Add yet another factor of not always being able to clearly identify all of the assailing projectiles, and you might better understand where I’m coming from when I say, I’m struggling.  And now add the component that there is no convincing evidence to support an end-date by which most of these trials will resolve.  Ugh!

I recently went for my physical exam.  Prior to and throughout the process, I was asked as a matter of a new standard protocol, if I was feeling depressed.  Is this not a sign of that many of us are struggling during these times?

It’s one thing to know about struggle and how to address it.  It’s another thing to be able to step back to see yourself more objectively as others may see you.  But it’s an entirely different thing to be able to apply what you know and what you’ve learned to move forward toward improvement and out of that almost seductive black hole that spirals downward into an emotional abyss of despair.

Throughout my life I’ve ridden the roller coaster of good and bad, happy and sad, fulfillment and desire, success and failure.  When I look back though, I realize how thrilling it has been, how much joy I’ve felt, and how many people I’ve interacted with and with whom I’ve influenced and been influenced by.  The bumps and bruises of the wildest part of the ride have left scars, yes.  But they also taught me when to pull the seat belt tighter and when to loosen it, when to hang on tight and when to weave and bob and be more flexible.   Each incident gave me more reason to keep at it.  It always, always, got better.

One of my secret weapons against struggle!

If you asked me last week, I would have told you the current events in my life during these extraordinary times have given me good cause to say I’m struggling.  Today I would say I’m not!  Not so much has changed since last week.  But the few simple things that did, allowed me to remember to have faith, that life is good, it all works out, and the struggle makes me stronger.

Some things that help me with struggle:

  • Reach out to friends, especially those who know how to listen.
  • Nature heals, even when it’s too damn hot to feel it.
  • Exercise, keep moving, motion is lotion (for my old achy joints)
  • Laugh
  • Hug – thank goodness for my dog Duke.  (He’s much softer than the trees.)
  • Get back up – every time
  • Keep an attitude of gratitude, even when you’re not feeling it.
  • Drink chocolate ice-cream sodas with whipped cream.  (My two secret ingredients are a splash of heavy cream and a squirt of raspberry syrup.)
  • Be helpful to someone other than yourself.
  • Life is uncertain so eat dessert first. (Did that last week with George and Wal!)
  • Let go
  • Accept

A Struggle Snuggle

I’m glad Henry raised this topic.  I’ve struggled my entire life for all kinds of things, mostly trying to hide who I really was.  That was a struggle that took somewhere upwards of 40 years to resolve.   It was a struggle I had to manage all alone and without help, advice, or encouragement from anyone.  That’s probably why it took so long!

Historically, I have always had trouble asking for help from anyone.  For most of my life there have been unresolved issues that were easier to let sit and fester than to resolve by asking for help.   Simple kinds of things, decisions about career and family, daily life stuff.  Just let time pass, they will work themselves out.  Of course my internal worry system would have time to kick in and often built the struggle way out of proportion from what could have easily been resolved yesterday. 

But I notice now we all seem to be struggling.  Not just from the virus and the quarantine but the news cycle as well. The struggle is an internal struggle.  How do I deal with the loneliness, the isolation, the news of hardship and pain, the inertia that months of separation have allowed to set in?  Things are easing a little and I find it becoming an effort to get out of my chair and do things.  I miss people and touch. Reaching out isn’t easy.  Each evening as I climb into bed I have an overwhelming feeling of sadness oftentimes driving me to tears. The sadness is sometimes brought on by something I saw or read about someone else’s misfortune but sometimes it is just a heavy dark sheet that covers me in self pity! The cause undetermined other than these crazy times in which we live and the lack of knowing if letting time pass will bring back NORMAL!

Things are so strange.  The other day my neighbor introduced me to someone who was working on his house.  I reached out automatically and we shook hands.  Immediately we both apologized but it was automatic, sincere and comforting to do it. Something so natural has become another struggle. Common daily practices become part of the problem.  

Living alone now has intensified my struggles.   Not because I would have asked for advice or help but because my struggling is always easier with a snuggle when someone just understands you are going through something that a hug, cuddle, or pat on the back could help.  I, like Henry, have a dog to hug who isn’t a bad snuggler and seems to have a sixth sense about when the dark sheet starts to cover me.  We are all dealing with our own demons, and I’m afraid each of us has to find our own way to slay them!


Struggle — whether you oppose, contest, fight, endeavor or find yourself in a conflict, encounter, or skirmish – means you are rubbing against the grain. 

I admire Hen’s ability to profit from a struggle involving multiple and/or serial difficulties, but I can’t seem to embrace a positive position on this subject. Mandy Kloppers writes: ”With struggle there is no joy and rarely any reward. In fact, for some people struggle is the reward. They are a little lost without it. There is comfort in what you know.”(mentalhealthnet). 

Perhaps that better describes my position – I expect to struggle, so I do. I expect to contest, churn, and endeavor – but not to enjoy it. When it seems like a flight of arrows forces you to tuck and roll – my primary focus is simply to survive. Generally, I put my head down and grind through it. When it’s over, the overwhelming feeling I have is relief – and the satisfaction of remaining somewhat intact. And perhaps a little lingering adrenaline high.

Hen says what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. The Jamaican version goes ‘what doesn’t kill you, just gives you gas’. Struggle is a case of indigestion with a heartburn topping. Struggle is roadwork on your metaphysical highway. Struggle of any kind looks just fine in the rearview mirror, but there are plenty more visible in the road ahead. What’s to like?

I suppose I’m a big fan of inertia in the sense of moving in a straight line at a constant speed, unimpeded. Inertia isn’t laziness – it’s the need to channel energy to stay on track to reach a targeted goal. George is right: most of our struggles are internal. My guess is that many internal struggles are manufactured distractions. Perhaps that’s why Matthew Wilder’s anthem sings:

Ain’t nothin’ gonna break-a my stride
Nobody gonna slow me down, oh no
I got to keep on movin’
Ain’t nothin’ gonna break-a my stride
I’m running and I won’t touch ground
Oh no, I got to keep on movin’

Granted that presumes a limited amount of self-reflection. But I can identify with the aspect of powering through some internal doubts or struggles in order to face the basic conditions of life: we do our best in the moment, understanding that we have limited control of all the variables and we may not make all the right choices, but we move on and hopefully live to fight another day. In the end, it is not clear that ‘struggling’ improves the choices that we do make. And yet, I’ll likely continue to struggle with this concept.


Holy Mary, full of grace

During this quarantine and period of reflection my daughter and I have been ordering in food on Sunday evenings and the three of us(my dog) enjoy each other’s company for a couple hours.  We sit in her living room and watch movies on her super gigantic Smart TV screen.  The movies we have watched are mostly historical in nature and have led to some very interesting conversations afterwards.

Let me preface this by explaining that I am the sole survivor of my family with the exception of my kids.  I regretted not asking a million questions of my aunts, uncles, parents and grandparents. Not to mention my brother who for the last few years before his death was the verifier of family lore and associated historical family events!

Last Sunday we settled down with Mexican food and watched a movie called, “Motherless Brooklyn.”  It took place in the 50’s in Brooklyn and Queens and dealt with racial discrimination and unethical politics.  Very timely and appropriate to today’s conditions.  After the movie ended my daughter asked if that was what it was like in the 50’s in the boroughs.  Of course the cars and the architecture took me back to my childhood, but so did the politics of the time and the accents.  And at that moment I had that “AH HA!” realization.  I said to her that I regretted never asking my family about so many things.  Did my grandparents ever become citizens?  What was life like in the little hill town of Pietrapertosa in Basilicata?  What happened to Gramma’s brothers when they arrived in Ellis Island and had their names changed from Matiacchio to Madison and why did they lose touch?  And a million other questions that I am still sorry I never asked.

unanswered questions about grandpa’s family

I then told her, with tears in both our eyes, to ask away.  Now is the time!   We don’t know how long we have together to fill in the blanks, and I don’t want her to regret living with all those unanswered questions like I have to do.   Her questions began to spill out.  She had heard stories all her life about Holy Mary,  better known as Aunt Mary, who we would always laugh about because she would always tell us to say a Holy Mary, meaning Hail Mary,  after we prayed each night.  My brother and I coined that name for her and would laugh whenever we thought of her.  She was my dad’s uncle’s wife.  My daughter never met her but heard about her her whole life.    And who was Muddy Ette?  Another name she had heard about her entire life and had no idea who we were talking about.   That was Aunt Eleanor’s best friend in NYC who grew up with her.  Her parents came from the same town in Italy as our family.  Her name was Marietta but with our regional accent it sounded like Muddy Ette! 

We sat that night laughing and crying together as her questions kept coming.  I know there will be more thoughtful questions coming and I welcome them. I look forward to sharing whatever I know about our family with her.  It was a significant moment in our relationship and so glad I had thought to open that door for her.  It was apparent she has a lot of questions to ask.  I savor the opportunity to share these moments with her!   We said good night and gave each other a long overdue, real, long lasting, unmasked hug for the first time in 5 months.  Covid-19 be damned!

The Story of Us

I took away two major conclusions from George’s piece: a) the sweet need to connect to a story and b) the importance of making the story interesting.

After all, we are simply the latest product of a long line of forebears – we’re one chapter in a very large book. In a world that hungers for prequels and sequels, it’s no wonder that we dig in to our origin stories – the story of us. What’s really nice is the closeness it can bring to the teller and the listener. It says you are not alone in the wide world – and we have special stories that should be handed down, so that ‘our’ people are not lost. How many of us have boxes of old photographs that are not labeled, featuring individuals we can no longer identify? I know that I do. Seems a shame.

Of course, our stories need to be interesting in the telling. Carl Jung called this myth making – in a positive sense. A friend of ours – possibly, the best story-teller I have met – explained it this way: she read a book which detailed a series of dramatic events in an elderly woman’s life. However, the book did not develop the characters very well; the facts were simply stated. So, even though the events were compelling, the reader remained disengaged, because it was hard to care about the central character. She said that it could have been an excellent multi-generational saga, if the author had spent some time putting the events in a larger context, making the character more three dimensional.

George uses the story teller’s hook to make his history interesting: providing monikers that have a back story. It makes Holy Mary and Muddy Etta special. They have earned a brand for which they are remembered! They are elevated into heroes and heroines – legends of a sort. Our story teller friend also populates her tellings with individuals whose Damon Runyon sobriquets include Wayne the Flame (alleged arsonist), Lancer the Romancer (local playboy), and Dead Betty’s house (used to be Live Betty’s). Now, here are characters who are larger than life (except poor Betty)! It makes you want to know more about them.

How do you pass along your family stories?

Tell Me a Story

When my grandchildren were younger, the first thing they would ask me as soon as we got into my car was to tell them a story.  It didn’t matter if it was something I recently remembered and hadn’t yet told them or if it was one of the stories that they heard me tell dozens of times before.  Over the years we’ve spent hours laughing at my childhood and family adventures and mishaps.  They especially enjoyed hearing stories of their mom when she was a little girl.  

As they got older and it was harder for me to infuse my energy and silliness into stories I’d told over and over, so I introduced them to a new approach. We began to use “…and then!” to mix fantasy with family memories.  We took turns starting a story, usually made up, and after a few minutes of developing a character or plot the speaker would stop at a critical juncture and turn to the next person and say, … and then!  Of course it was then that person’s turn to continue the story in his or her own way. It provided wonderful opportunities for us to share ideas, our fears, and, of course our silliness, while passing the time and having fun.  

More recently, we would play “farm.”  Each of us assumed a role as a member of a family who lives on a farm and, while tending to our animals, had to prepare for a town festival on our property.  Either we were driving to pick up materials or food or delivering horses or pigs, or we would scatter about the property of whose ever house we were at, pretending to set up booths and parking areas, etc.  I’m wondering if these times will be the family stories my grandchildren will tell when their children ask them about the “old days.”

George reminds me of the importance of family connection and history through story and conversation.  While my playtime with my grandchildren is now limited, I do spend more time with my children on the phone or in weekly video-chats.  Perhaps the next time I speak with them, I’ll ask them if there are any questions they have or stories they might want to hear of days gone by.


The Ties That Bind

We’re sitting in our truck, parked along the periphery of the church parking lot. It’s a hot morning and we’re taking advantage of the shade provided by the catalpa trees. There are a number of vehicles around the lot, spaced like a string of pearls. Only two brave souls are in the middle of the asphalt field.

Each of us had options: we could have stayed home and ignored a call to worship. We could have stayed home and participated by Zoom. Or we could drive to the church and park. The folks who drove to the church are listening to the pastor broadcast from the sanctuary on our FM radio… his broadcast range is about a quarter mile radius. We are listening to the organist sing and play from her Zoom connection.  I look at the other folks, all gray headed and think: how many more years can this last, before we all die off and leave the church without a congregation? What would be the consequence?

When we three old guys started this blog, one of the main objectives was to express how we experience the aging process – things that you aren’t taught when young. I would tell my grandkids that you might expect that worship in a group is an act that you may find more pleasing as you grow older. If you are wise, you may realize it sooner than later.

Certainly, I didn’t. The idea of attending a worship service seemed a waste of time when I was a teenager and young adult. There were better things to do than spend time in a boring service with hypocrites that prayed in one fashion, but acted in an entirely different fashion. Besides, who has a monopoly on the ‘real truth’?

So, why are we at this service in the hot sun? I think there are two reasons: a) the act of exercising faith is important personally and collectively b) we are community-building.

My opinion is that by worship, one humbles oneself before the great unknown. In addition, it is part of a compact to improve oneself morally. It is a discipline that is common to all faiths. It is a visible act, witnessed by others that says I’m willing to do better, to be better — to think of others. Worship in a group multiplies the effect in my mind – it’s an implied public commitment. Participants are joining in common purpose, if only for an hour or so. Is it perfect – are we perfect? Of course not. But it is brave. And what would be the consequence of never honoring the possibility that we are purpose-made? The consequence would be the negation of the second reason: community-building. As an example, our congregation is a mix of people with all kinds of varying opinions. Yet we put all that aside for a weekly meeting to focus on spiritual matters. People chose to drive to this place of worship to sit in hot cars – because we have a need to see our neighbors and recognize a common purpose. Showing up expresses mutual respect. I call this community-building. It is quiet affirmation that the larger community in which we live still binds us together, regardless of our political persuasion, personal pursuits, or aspects of our lives where we miss the mark. We are not here for a party, nor for protest – but rather to remind ourselves that there is a great beyond which deserves homage.

Note: the image is from a 1945 painting by Marianne Appel, who was a member of the Woodstock School of Art. She later focused on puppeteering with Bill Baird and later, the Muppet Show. She remained active in the arts community in Woodstock. I wanted to reference a local artist who depicted a community working together — what better than a barn raising? Although this Indiana community is pretty homogeneous, it shows inclusion of all neighbors, regardless of age or sex. In other words, I value the spirit of people working together to build something; doing the heavy lifting made easier by many joined hands. Do you have a favorite piece of art that represents your view of community building?

Being in Community

I appreciate this message Wal leaves for his grandchildren.  Faith, self-improvement, and community are words that hold great meaning for me.

I no longer worship as a member of a religious congregation but I once did.  I fondly remember an instance when we were all singing a well known, uplifting prayer and my friend glanced at me and smiled.  It was a look that said, isn’t it great to be standing here with all these people, giving thanks and feeling good?  It was a powerful moment that could only happen in community.

Years ago I was a member of The Caring Community.  We defined our community as a place where people felt valued, accepted, and connected. We came together regularly for two reasons: to participate in personal growth and to provide service to others.  I never thought of it as a religious organization but it served similar purposes.  We were a diverse group and while we did not live in the same area we were committed to each other and to our intention.  We had lots to celebrate despite (or because of…) our challenges and struggles.  For five years we endured and when we realized we could no longer sustain the rigors and responsibilities of our group, we met in solidarity to honor what we had learned and experienced and then went our separate ways.  I am wiser, more self aware, and a stronger person because of this amazing collaboration of people.

For fifteen years I was part of another extraordinary community – my place of work.  And because we built this union of some seventy-five people around respect, hard work, cooperation, celebration, and fun, it never really felt like work.  It was, in many ways, a second home for me.

Recently, I was part of an Alliance created to provide support and guidance for a friend at her request.  It was an example of a brief but powerful community of service.  I hope to be part of one again in the near future.

And finally, during this time of continued isolation and restrictions due to risk of exposure to COVID-19 I realize how fortunate I am to be in community with two remarkably wise and caring men, Wal and Geo. Working, serving, and playing with groups of people continue to be, as Wal puts it, the ties that bind.  I always feel more complete and fulfilled when I am part of such a community. 

The Need to Belong

Ever since I started school I always wanted to fit in.  Even at a young age I knew I was different but didn’t understand it.  (That just intensified my need to be accepted.  Later on, I would define that difference and still struggle to be a part of a group).  I was too small and too skinny to be much good at sports.   In school it was hard to be a part of a group if you couldn’t make a  basket because of your skinny arms and lack of muscle structure.  Team sports was an opportunity to fit in with a group that was denied to me.   And, though I was popular in high school, I never had a clique to belong to. 

Finally, in college I was accepted into a fraternity and for the first time I had a group of friends with a common purpose and a place to belong.  It made me feel special and accepted, and made friends that have lasted a lifetime.

The need to belong followed me into my adult life and I became a part of groups with common purposes that changed as careers and interests evolved.  I became president of my kids‘ PTA,  president of my local teachers’ union and active in regional teachers unions.  When there was no professional group to join I helped organize one for innkeepers to talk out common problems and encourage tourism to our area in Vermont.  I even fulfilled a lifelong dream and auditioned for a part in local community theatre where I achieved the official part of Salesman #1 in “The Music Man“ and suddenly I was a part of a cast of some 40 people working together to entertain our community.  That further led to joining the Northeast Chordsmen, a barbershop chorus out of Dartmouth College.  All of these organizations had the common purpose requirement that I so desperately needed all my life!

Now in retirement, that need is still present.  Unlike Wally, my faith has always been individually practiced, praying silently or out loud at bedtime!  It gives me comfort in that I usually pray when something is eating away at me and it forces me to focus on the prayer rather than the irritant until the irritant lessens!

Today I belong to two very important groups in my life with common goals that help me find purpose.  I have a community of LGBTQ friends where I finally fit in like the last piece of the puzzle waiting to be positioned to create a beautiful landscape. The other and  equally important group is this 3 member blog that has become all the more important to me  due to this crazy pandemic with which we are all infected.


The Pets in My Life

The Pets in My Life

I’ve always been drawn to animals.  When asked what animal I would choose to be other than human, I immediately think of wolf.  But, since I can’t become a wolf or have one in my home, I’ve enjoy the companionship of dogs.

When I was eight and my father still lived with us, he brought home, what he said, was a direct descendant of Rin Tin Tin, a dog hero in a 1950’s family western TV series.  We named this beautiful German Shepard, West.  He was a perfect pet with one minor exception; he hated children.  And, since my sister and I were children as were our friends, having a dog that growled at us and bared it’s teeth every time we approached, didn’t bode well for anyone.  West was returned shortly after he arrived.

Mickey came next.  My parents got him from a nearby farm when he was a puppy and he lived with us until he wandered off to some unknown resting place when he was seventeen.  He was a beautiful Shepard Collie and while he was no relation, he was the spitting image of Lassie.  In addition to his kind and playful attitude, he was a problem solver.  We had an outdoor kennel for him but he dug tunnels under the fence and would sit on the front porch as if to say, sorry, I need to be free.  When we tied a long rope to his collar and the other end to a stake in the ground, he turned around, backed up until he slipped the collar off, and headed to the front porch.  So, we replaced the collar with a harness.  And then we watched him from the window as he turned around, backed up, put one paw through the strap, then the other, slipped the entire restraint off and, well you know, proudly walked to the front porch.  Finally, we would put him in the garage when we needed to keep him in (my mom didn’t allow dogs in the house).  This seemed to work until we arrived home from shopping one day to find him sitting on the porch.  The two-car garage door was closed and no one was around.  The second time this happened we decided to see if Mickey had enlisted the aid of another or if one of my friends was playing a prank.  We put him in the garage, closed the door, and peered through a crack in the basement door that led to the garage.  He walked over to the side of the double door, grabbed the rope that hung to the side, backed up with great effort pulling the double wooden door up maybe a foot off the ground and then, released the rope and dove though the opening, as the door came crashing down.  I enjoyed his antics but what I loved most was the companionship Mickey gave me. 

While I was in college I met several dogs that came in and out of my life (and other dog loving students) at different times.  Thor was a jet black German Shepard who would often come to the pond behind our dorm and loved to fetch the puck as we attempted to play hockey.  He soon realized we wouldn’t follow him if he left the ice so he learned to run and slide, as he stayed close enough for the chase but never close enough for us to catch him without great effort and coordinated teamwork.  

Wazu was a campus beagle who wandered daily for food and hugs and seemed to be one of the happiest creatures I’ve known.  He would often join me on short local hikes.

Sam was a large mutt who would find me, often, and who would walk me to classes, wait for me to come out, and walk me home.  In the extreme ups and downs of college life, it was comforting to know Sam and Wazu seemed to be there for me.  I assume he gave many college kids a similar gift.

In my senior year, I happened upon Josh, a small, white, terrier mix who belonged to someone I knew but can no longer remember.  For some reason he needed to find a home for Josh who had a personality that was compatible with everyone who met him.  My future wife’s parents and Josh were a perfect match and home he went to live on Long Island.  Josh was so friendly that when my in-laws’ house was burglarized, he remained in the house throughout the experience, with little to no trauma.  In fact, we’re convinced he either unlocked the door for them or at least showed them around the house.

Soon after beginning my teaching career, the parent of one of my students offered me one of the kittens from her cat’s litter.  My wife and I were both working and traveling about an hour each way so the idea of a self-sufficient cat seemed to fit the bill.  Mew (short for Bartholomew), was jet-black, full of piss and vinegar, and used his claws, often.  We were given the name of a retired vet who would neuter Mew for far less than the usual fee.  You know the phrase “you get what you pay for?”  With his shaky hands and uncertain manner and Mew’s fierce dedication to independence, we witnessed what looked like a movie scene where the mad scientist was chasing the cat from hell all over a large cluttered room with a hypodermic.  Finally, in desperation, the former doctor (we wondered if he was ever a licensed vet) threw the syringe like a dart into the cat and then pounced on him to plunge the tranquilizer into his system.  As fate would have it, it wasn’t enough and now we have a groggy but angry wildcat stumbling through the room as the determined doc reloaded for another dose.  By now we decided it was too late to grab the cat and leave so we sat horrified as Mew was knocked out and neutered.  After the surgery, the vet announced that our cat might not survive and needed to stay with him overnight.  Convinced that this man who was nursing his bloody hands from the scratches Mew induced, was determined to seek revenge and make sure recovery was not an option, we put some money on the table, grabbed the cat and ran for the car.  After a night and a day of care and attention, Mew awoke and went on to live a long and even more fiercely independent life.

Years later, I took on a second job managing an after-school center for elementary aged children.  It was there that I met Cocoa, a beautiful bronze colored collie mix. 

He lived in a small apartment with one of the kids in the program and the child’s mom.  She would often bring him to the center to pick up her son and it was there that she mentioned she needed to give up Cocoa for numerous reasons.  I brought him home for a weekend on a trial basis and while he and Mew had little to do with each other, Cocoa was hit with our two children.  He was a mellow, gentle soul who loved everyone, including the neighborhood bully dog that would frequently beat him up every time Cocoa approached him.  Not necessarily what you would call a quick study, but he added many years of pleasure and love to our lives.

Josh, who had been living with my in-laws, joined Mew and Cocoa after my father-in-law died and my mother-in-law moved to an apartment.  The three got along well and each, in their unique way gave us joy and affection that would last beyond their years.

Fast-forward to a time when many things had changed, all three pets having lived twelve, fifteen, and seventeen years were gone and our children were now adults.  My wife and I were no longer together and I was once again ready for another pet.  My adult children came to visit to help me find an appropriate rescue dog at a local shelter.  The match was instantaneous as we all agreed that Jeb, a three-year old black scrawny mutt who was a mixture of Shepherd, Newfoundland, and Rottie was the one for us.  After we brought him home the kids went to visit their mom.  When they returned they gave me a newspaper clipping of a rescue dog being advertised as needing a new home that their mom had clipped for me knowing I was in the market.  Unbelievably, it was Jeb, the same dog we had just brought home.  If it’s meant to be, it’s meant to be.  Jeb, who grew to over one hundred healthy pounds, exceeded his life expectancy and died well into his seventeenth year.

Now there’s Duke.  His alluring photo on a dog-rescue website captured my interest and that of my partner.  He was being shipped up from a kill shelter in West Virginia to a pet supply store for adoption on a first come, first served basis.  The doors opened at nine but we were advised to come early, as there might be a crowd.  So, despite the heavy snowfall that morning, we arrived shortly after seven only to find twenty-six other pet lovers waiting on line, in the snow and cold with almost two hours left until opening and more and more people arriving every few minutes.  When we were finally allowed in to meet the dogs, we waited while one of the hopeful adopters was getting to know Duke.  When she stepped aside we sat by his side and were hooked.  A member of the adoption team approached and asked if we wanted him, we were clear in our desire to have him but mentioned there was another who had expressed an interest and we didn’t know how the process worked.  After a quick check of the list of visitors that was written in order of arrival time, it turns out we were one place in front of our competition.  We later found out that the person second in line had also come for Duke but fell in love with another dog.  Another case of Karma?  


Now it’s just the two of us as we give each other comfort and companionship during these limited times for social interactions.  I am so thankful for this guy.  And, so is my former partner who Duke happily gets to visit from time to time.

I Paws for a Moment…

When we moved into Queens I was 5.  My dad and mom got us a dog.  We named him Tim and he was a sweet mutt.  But never having had a pet he scared me cause he moved fast and licked everything!  Shortly after that my brother “found” a puppy and brought him home and now we had Tim and Tiny. I got over my fear and picked up a few cats over the early years.   Tiny and Tim died when I was entering high school, and my dad bought a pedigreed German Shepard he named Baron Ludwig Von Vlushinger, better known as Sarge!  I picked up a few parakeets along the way and several goldfish.  One lived in a round flat bowl for 6 years and was big enough to eat by the time he passed.  We called him Goldie.  That was the story of my early years through high school. 

In my senior year of college I snuck a puppy into my apartment every night for 4 months who moved with me to my first teaching job and our first house.  He met a rather unfortunate demise at the hands of my neighbor who shot him one day and never told us.  We found out months later and moved into the big city of Kingston immediately after.  My wife surprised me with Dagmar when I got my masters degree. She looked like a black Irish Setter.    Dagmar lived with us for 17 years.  She was a sweety and learned to love the kittens and strays my kids brought home, including a great chocolate lab mix called Daisy!  He came along with a beautiful all white kitty named Pegasus who lived a long and healthy life many years after moving to Woodstock.  All my pets were family members!  My last dog came after my wife and I split.  Julie was a Shepard mix and I found him one day driving through the country when I saw a sign saying, “PUPPIES.”  How can you pass something like that!  

Fast forward- years go by, the dogs passed of old age, I retired and was moving to Vermont to own and operate an inn.  Couldn’t own dogs cause they wouldn’t insure you if you did.  But I managed to adopt two beautiful little kittens who loved mingling with the guests!


Fast forward again to the present.  Sold the Inn, moved back to NY and for the first time EVER I am alone with my two kitties.  But I missed having a dog!  So I began my search.  I went online, visited shelter after shelter , nothing!  After over a year of searching I had given up but had some quilts from the inn that I wanted to donate and went to my local SPCA to help them out and just casually asked if they had any puppies.  I was told they just took a mom and 3 pups in the day before.  They let me into the play room and released all of them.  I sat on the floor and this one guy came over to me, crawled in my lap and laid down.  The rest is history!  But this time is different.  In the past there were other people playing with them and feeding them, usually my dad.  They were always his dogs.  Then my kids were there and played with them and I was at work.  Suddenly there was no one but me and my little pup!  Nothing took me regularly out of the house.  Devon followed me everywhere, if I sat down he sat on me.  If he was hungry he let me know, if he had to go out he pulled my hand.  Suddenly we were reading each other’s body language.  He began to sense my moods and knew when to stay away and when to cuddle. It was a whole new experience with my dog.  I never shared this with my previous pets because there were always other distractions.  Then came COVID-19 and Devon and I have become the best of friends.  We finish each other’s sentences!  Without him I’m not sure how I would have made it through the sheltering in place.  I will forever be grateful to him.  He is my buddy!


Well, I love pets, but dislike the term ‘pet’. I prefer ‘companion’ – or even ‘familiar’, if we can get past the supernatural subtext — or ‘partner’, if the animal is purpose-bred or used for a functional project, such as hunting or herding. The point is that there ought to be an implication of choice, mutual benefit, and some autonomy in the relationship. Pet seems entirely too one-sided.

That said, a healthy relationship with an animal companion is amazing. For a young kid, it teaches respect and responsibility – but more important: empathy and love. At least that’s how it worked with me through a succession of cats, dogs, guinea pigs, turtles, chameleons, and one surprisingly large lab rat (Rosemary). But my favorite companions have been dogs – and I’ll focus on three.

The first was a slap-happy, peripatetic Boxer provided by my uncle, after my Dad’s German Shepard (Dick) passed away. My parents asked me to name her – and without any hesitation I said “Juno Virginia”. I don’t think they expected that moniker from the four year old sitting in the back seat of the 1950 Plymouth. They laughed and the name stuck. Juno was an outside dog who was generally tethered in the dirt floor, detached garage. Letting Juno off the leash would result in a neighborhood manhunt – she was an official flight risk. Happy to follow her nose, she would have reached the Pacific quicker than Lewis and Clark – I should have called her Juneau, Alaska! Over the years, we have received postcards from Juno in a number of exotic places.

A longer term companion through grade school and college was a Dachshund titled Baron Dach von Spritzen, AKA Doc, AKA Rug Rocket.  Doc’s last appellation was derived from his habit of sliding across the carpet on his belly. He would rev up, tuck up his front legs, and surf the rug, sliding past my brother and me as we watched TV or played a board game. Doc literally rubbed all the fur off his chest. When we took Doc out in our small runabout in Great South Bay, he would launch himself like a canine dolphin through the shallow water, leaping rather than swimming. Doc had a zest for life and lots of affection to share — how could you not love such a being? He was both friend and confidant. I’m reminded of the Kingston Trio song, ‘Speckled Roan’: “I used to ride a little old speckled roan. I told him lots of things I wouldn’t have told at home”. I shared all my thoughts with Doc as he laid his head on my leg in-between surfing sessions. 

One Thanksgiving I came home from college and called for Doc – but no Doc appeared. My Mom confessed that she had let Doc outside to run instead of walking him, as was our custom. He ran into the road and was killed. It’s hard to tell which of us felt worse. I missed the old guy terribly – and the subsequent animal boarders did not begin to fill his absence. There was a succession of nasty, abused rescues my softhearted Mom brought home: Chico (AKA the Couch Cobra), Charlie, the four-legged prostate (AKA the Urinator), as well as the canine formerly known as Snarl – who didn’t stay long enough for a naming ceremony. 

However, good things eventually happen. After Linda and I were married, we rented the first floor of a house overlooking the Hudson. Our next door neighbor was an elderly lady who was in the process of moving back with her children – she begged us to take her dog, a Collie-Shepherd mix she named Beauty. We rechristened him Toby and he was a pleasure. Toby was likely between a year and two when we received him and subsequently moved with us through several relocations over twelve years. Initially, Toby stayed outside in a fenced-in area, until our upstairs neighbor came home drunk and left the gate open – and then backed over poor Toby with his truck (he later confessed what had happened). We came home to find Toby huddled on the open porch, quietly enduring the pain. The vet reset and put a plaster cast on one broken leg, but his tail was permanently damaged – no more wagging to signal his mood. Toby made up for that by swinging his hips when happy… playfully batting our three year old son – and us around. 

We had plenty of adventures… our second move was to a farmhouse near a large forested ridge and next to a stream. Toby and I tramped the many deer trails, hill and dale, summer and winter. Old Toby thrived — he loved to be outdoors. Yet he stayed close and showed no urge to follow Juno into the great beyond. However, as he aged, he began to have fits: epilepsy was diagnosed. When he started to meander in confused, tight circles, we knew he was pre-seizure. Phenobarbital would usually do the trick. Toby seemed restless with our last move to a more constrained neighborhood — whether it was the increasing bouts of epilepsy or lack of woods to wander, I’m not sure. He had moved indoors during cold weather and one day pushed the porch door open and vanished. Two weeks later the NYS Thruway Authority called to say they found his body miles away.

Old Toby

Perhaps he made a decision to exercise his freedom – maybe, he was in the midst of another confused seizure. Either way it was a heartbreak. We had a family pow-wow and reached consensus that we would not try to find another dog. The end game was just too rending.

However, that did not stop us from enjoying our friends’ animal companions. Without a canine companion, I’m so aware of the number of household dogs. Many are professional yardbarkers and I wonder if they are trying to say “Set me free!” These days I’m partial to animals who can find their calm like Hen’s Duke or my friend Steve’s Jonesy. I miss sitting on the outside steps alongside an alert, but peaceful dog, the two of us augmenting our senses in the early morning or late evening natural world.


A Special Place

I have always lived in old houses. Not historical old houses just old.  Since I was a kid I have lived in 7 houses.  I always found comfort in each house by finding a place that made me feel safe and invisible.  As a kid those places were away from the family usually in the attic.   The attic was a place for boxes filled with previous life stuff that for some reason was not needed in whatever house I was in at the time,  but it was great for searching through stuff that used to mean something to somebody.  And in every house there was always something left there by the previous family and when I found a treasure like that I could spend hours looking through the box or examining the item and wondering why it was left behind.  Each time we moved I was sure to take something left behind by the previous mortgage holder to the next house we were moving to. 

 I felt safe nestled between the eaves looking through old boxes often mislabeled and tossed aside.  I was safe from my brother finding and taunting me, from my parents yelling at me for some chore I failed to do and the treasures were so rewarding.  As a young teenager I found a box of my parents’ love letters from the war.  They were from before I was born and I could not match the two lovers in the letters to my parents at all.  There were sweet names of affection used for each other that I had never heard.  Seemed like two different people but there they were in black and white. They were in those funny envelopes with the barber pole stripes around the edges and airplanes on the stamps.  Years later I shared them with my brother.  We sat on the floor in the cold attic and read through every single one.  He remembered some of those pet names and I remember seeing him shed more than a few tears.  Years later after my parents passed away that box wound up in my brother’s attic. 

Probably the most treasured treasure I found and kept, other than the love letters, is an old clock that was left in our very first house by the previous occupants.  It was an old two faced wall clock, a Perpetual Calendar Clock.  It was left in a corner of the attic by a window, lying on the floor with its back against the wall planks and leaning to one side.  It fascinated me because not only did it tell the time on the large face but it also told the day of the week. Underneath that was a smaller face that told the month and the date.  It is a Welch, Spring & Co. clock dated 1864.  What I didn’t know at the time and didn’t learn til many years later, it actually kept proper time and dates even in leap years!

When developers came and bought up our entire block I made sure the clock moved with us to the new house and then eventually to my first house.  It never worked and there was no key  but I had a friend from college whose dad loved to fix old clocks and offered to fix it. That was over 50 years ago and it still works today with a minor adjustment of the hands needed which I am afraid to try for fear of breaking them.  It has hung in every house, including my inn, that I ever lived in.  I have to get the hands fixed professionally so I can again enjoy its company. 

As an adult that special place evolved to sitting on the floor in front of a raging fire in the fireplace late at night staring at the flames.  I guess I no longer need to hide but it still makes me feel safe! 

Funny what your mind conjures up when you have a lot of time on your hands and nothing to do. With this crazy virus still attacking us I could sure use to feel safe again! 

A Spectral Place

George and Hen’s discussion of special places – particularly in regard to their homes – brought up a different type of recollection.

My formative years were spent in an old two family house my parents owned. It’s difficult to picture a special place in this structure, because the house was always in flux. Early days, we had a variety of boarders and my father was constantly making changes – my brother and I had at least three different sleeping arrangements, including a stretch where the whole family slept in the same room. 

Eventually, we took over the second floor and my brother and I had separate rooms… but we never felt comfortable being in this space alone. The second floor bathroom was located at the end of a very narrow corridor. It had room for one large window looking down on the backyard.  My brother’s bedroom connected to an unused upstairs kitchen through a passage that likely was a pantry in past times. All the windows in the top two floors were large and seemed to grow up from the floor, providing the sense that one should not approach too closely.

However, unlike George, the one space that we never came to grips with was the attic. It was special – but not in a good way. Access was gained through a door which was always closed. A narrow staircase led to the two-room attic. All, including the staircase, was clad in floor-to-ceiling wainscoting – likely varnished spruce. At the top of the stairs was a spacious area with cathedral ceiling tapering to six foot knee walls. Large, rattling double hung windows had sills which were knee high ((for a kid). When looking out the window, I had the feeling someone was right behind. Piles of boxes populated the main room, complete with porcelain dolls peeking out, showing cracked faces. The effect was not conducive to exploration – it rather screamed “Touch me and die!” A second room contained a bed and mattress, unused for years it seemed. Our attic gave the sense that this space had been long abandoned and never contained a happy spirit. Stephen King would have been very comfortable here.

On a number of occasions, my brother would rush into my room and beg to sleep with me because of the sounds. Oh yes – the sounds. We would lay awake listening to the footsteps walking back and forth across the attic above us. We were frozen in place, too scared to run downstairs to our parents’ room. We dreaded the time when those footsteps would find their way to the staircase descending toward the closed door. It would not be good to be asleep in that eventuality.

Naturally, we reported this activity to our parents, who comforted us. They even moved their bedroom upstairs. The sounds seemed to go away after that – except one night when our parents were out for the evening and our babysitter (Cousin Paula) was sleeping downstairs. That evening kicked off a marathon of wandering above us. I t was an episode where you felt your own pulse in your ears and you tried so hard to be small and undetectable.

Years later my parents admitted that they too, did not venture much into the attic; that the boxes belonged to the prior owner; and that the folklore was that an elderly person had died in that bed in the attic.

A few years later we moved to a smaller, more modern house – with no attic!

Places of Comfort

George describes the attics of his old houses as places of sanctuary and exploration.  As a child I lived in a two-family house in the Bronx that was shared with my grandparents, a relatively new ranch house in central Westchester when I was eight, and then my grandmother’s two-bedroom cottage throughout my college years.  I would have to say that in each instance, the place that gave me the most comfort, was in the kitchen.

My mother and grandmother were both extraordinary in their ability to prepare delicious meals and create tantalizing baked goods. The kitchen sourced the aroma of comfort foods and was the place to go if you were feeling down, or happy, or celebratory, or bored.  There was always something yummy to taste and, it was the place where I could most often find my mother or gram.  Either they were cooking or baking or cleaning up.  It seemed they spent most of their time in the kitchen; clearly it was their “happy place.”

Meals were always eaten together at a table tucked in a corner within arm’s reach of the stove.  We rarely used the dining room or went out to a restaurant and take-out was an occasional pizza on special occasions.  At the table we shared the stories of our day, tried to remember what we learned in school, renewed our membership to the “clean up plate club”, and always had room for dessert.  It was a ritual I could always count on.  And despite how routine and boring it may have seemed at the time, it provided a place of safety, nurturing, and comfort.

My place of solitude was (and still is) the woods.  There, I could stretch the boundaries set by my mom, knowing my dog Mickey would never tell on me.  I could take chances climbing a dangerous tree, set rabbit traps with a box, a string, and a carrot, jump off of high rocks, and even utter bad words!  It was a place to be comfortable with myself.  On rainy days, I was drawn to a section under a thick canopy of leaves where I felt particularly free and yet secure as I remained protected and dry while the rest of the world seemed to be relegated to their houses.  Even today, I enjoy the feeling of being in a tent in the rain especially when I’m playing with my grandchildren.

And, like George, I am most comfortable in front of a fire, inside or out.  Alone or with friends and family, it is always my “go to” place.


Friend – For a Lifetime

Fiercely independent!
Enjoys his own company
Shares moments with others on his own terms
He is authentically his own person

A biker, a hiker, he enjoys the outdoors
Windows wide open on an aging, weathered face
Like a moth to the flame, he is drawn to the horizon
A modern day cowboy, he rides solo into the sunset

A husband and father
He values loyalty, compassion, and connection
He enjoys a great love with his late-in-life mate
Wrestling with acceptance, he struggles as a dad
Tenacious and loving, he has not given up
Disappointed yet proud, discontented but fulfilled

A mentor and teacher and coach par excellence
A master trainer/presenter, he shared what he read, what he learned, what he loved
He dug deep into the why and how and challenged my growth along the way
Much of me, is because of him

A friend for many seasons
We rode, vacationed, debated our readings
We shared family, friends, and secrets
We bumped heads and rebounded, often, until the end

Strong personalities, leaders, and men often clash around things that matter least
They jockey for recognition and value around superficial triggers
Recognized or not, the core issues often go untouched, until it’s too late
For one, when the plug is pulled, there is no turning back
For the other, the friendship remains, celebrated alone

Haiku for Jerry

Press the steel softly
Peeling delicate shavings
Like downtown

Hen did such a good job with his poem… but I needed a shorter venue. Reading up on Haiku, it seemed a better alternative for me. Haiku is typically measured in syllables: five in the first line, seven in the second, and five in the last verse. The twist is that in Japanese, syllables ending in “n” may count as two. The essence of Haiku is juxtaposition, which I tried in the last line… but is explained at the end of this piece.
The Haiku is for my friend Jerry who died this week from cancer. We were woodturning partners for years and I always sat behind him in church. Not sure why, since he was a big man and hard to see around. I think it was the solidity of Jerry – I enjoyed patting him on the back – it was reassuring. A gentle man with a bone crushing handshake. He was a rock. It’s hard to believe that strength couldn’t withstand any assault.
Jerry was a Pittsburgh native, Korean War vet, Penn State alumnus, and retired math teacher. He lived 90 years and his presence blessed us. I learned from Jerry, that learning truly is lifelong, that one can have strong convictions, but still keep an open mind for new ideas. He did not press his opinions on others, but rather enjoyed an open discourse about topics. Our woodturning group on Thursdays explored many such conversations.
His favorite saying, when something turned out well, was “just like downtown”. Apparently, this was a popular saying in Pittsburgh in the 1950’s – and lived on in Jerry’s vernacular. I guess this could be a good description of his life – a life that was well lived.

The Cane Lady

She wore a long tattered woolen winter coat that almost dragged on the ground.  A black knitted cap covered her head.  She had old lady black shoes and was never seen without her cane and shopping cart- the kind people used in the city to bring their groceries home from the market.   

Everybody on the block knew her but no one knew her name.  She lived in the alley behind our building, situated under the first fire escape platform, sleeping out on an old mattress someone had discarded and covered with blankets people from the buildings had donated .  All of her worldly possessions were in that frail wire cart! The first Mobil home!

She could have been in her 40’s or 80’s, like her name, no one knew her age either.  She never spoke and many believed she couldn’t. She would beg on the street indicating her hunger by coming up to you and pointing to her mouth.  I gave her a bag of pretzels once!  My brother called her the Cane Lady and the name seemed to stick.

She scared me and most of the other little kids in the neighborhood.  Some parents even resorted to telling their kids if they didn’t get to sleep they would call the Cane Lady!

Maybe it was a more forgiving time just after WWII, but people seemed concerned for her and would give her miscellaneous foods at various times.  My brother would taunt me that he was going to bring the Cane Lady up if I didn’t do what he wanted.

The long and the short of it is that as much as I was afraid of her I had admiration for her and wondered how she could survive on the street.  I was afraid of the dark and didn’t even want to be outside after sunset but she lived out there.  She was brave! She was independent- sort of!  And I worried about her!  I hadn’t thought of her for years but then the quarantine came and with all the time on my hands and the loneliness, she came to mind. I don’t know what happened to her as we moved to the country when I was 6.  But thinking of her struggle to live, my quarantine was nothing. I said a prayer for her that wherever she is now is better than her earth life and thanked her for the gratitude I felt for how fortunate I have been.  Thank you, Cane Lady!


People Who Need People

From early on in my life I have had people come into my life.  Some came in, stay for a while and then disappear.   Some others come and pitch camp here.  Some of those people had a heavy impact on my life intentionally or not.  Sometimes they were the people you would least expect who impacted you the most. 

When I started PS20 in Flushing in 1952 I loved school.  I soon became the teacher‘s pet until the last week of school. Anyone who knows me has probably heard this story!  As we all remember, at the end of the day you put your chair up on the desk before leaving.  I don’t remember if I put the seat on the desk upside down or simply stood the chair on the desk top but whichever way I did it was the wrong way!  Mrs. McNulty, maybe had a fight with her husband that day, but she was not happy with how I did it.  As she was reading me the riot act she probably accidentally hit the chair and it fell back and hit me.  I ran home the 8 blocks devastated. I refused to go back to school for the rest of that last week and my parents didn’t push it cause it was the last week of school.  Fast forward to the Fall and second grade.  Nope, not going! We had a round dining room table and I remember my mom chasing me around it trying to get me dressed.  I was determined not to go!  Poor mom, she would get home from the hospital from the midnight to 8 am Shift and had to deal with me.  Dad had already gone to work.   This went on for weeks. Finally the school stepped in and said I had to be home taught and assigned Mrs. Duncan To me.  Mrs. Duncan was a large robust lady with a big flowery hat, very little patience, and a stern demeanor!  Everyday though she would bring a dozen Dunkin Doughnuts with her.  She made my dad put up an American flag in our dining room and everyday I had to say the pledge to myself and sing My Country ‘Tis of Thee…..by myself! I went through most of the year that way- hating every day of it but too afraid to go back to school!

They didn’t have psychologists in the schools then but there was a thing called Child Guidance and the school insisted I go.  So every Thursday my mom and I took the Q 65 bus to Jamaica to Dr. Arciary at Child Guidance.  The funny thing is the person who affected my life was not Mrs. Duncan.  I liked Dr. Arciary (it wasn’t him either) cause we played games together and I could talk to him about anything.  At one visit he asked me if I would mind another one of his clients joining our session.  I did but he had been so nice to me I agreed. 

The following week Edward L. joined us.  Just so happened Ed was a kid who had been in my first grade class.  He was pretty severely disabled and developmentally behind.  He was a nice kid but the kids at school always made fun of him.  I don’t remember how the session went but it had a profound effect on me.  When we got home that night at dinner I asked my parents if they and the school thought I was like Edward.  My mom asked me what I thought.  I said I didn’t think I was like that but why were Edward and I going to the same place for help?  I went to school the next day. Already mid June.  My parents had to fight with the principal to make sure I was promoted to third grade instead of repeating 2nd.  To this day I attribute my success in school and my emotional well being to Edward L.  I never got to thank him!  But he turned my life around and I am forever grateful! 

I Need Thee Every Hour

I loved Hen’s organizing principle of people entering your life for a reason, season, or a lifetime. George met Edward L. for a reason, resulting in a life altering decision. Hen made a friend for a season in Bob – and experienced the vagaries of childhood loyalty. So, I will write about a person who entered my existence for a lifetime.

Of course, this will be about my partner, lover, and friend of fifty-one years. In fact, I’m writing this on our anniversary … all the more meaningful to us, because Linda almost didn’t make it. Three weeks ago, the emergency room doctor told me that they could not treat her and she needed to be rushed to a more specialized hospital. He said that in the ambulance, Linda’s heart stopped for 45 seconds – her condition was serious, he said. I needed to confront the possibility that our limitless horizons were in fact approaching rapidly. (Spoiler alert: Linda is making a fantastic recovery).

I first saw Linda on the main quad at college – -she was racing some other girls across the green. They looked happy and laughing. A couple of years later she was assigned to help costume me for a contest the college was running. We married at twenty-one and had absolutely no idea what we were doing. We simply had a resolve to co-author a life together. I guess there’s a learning lesson in that act: if you make that vow central to your being and subordinate other impulses, well, you become part of a new creation. Together we make a statement. Our shared history defines us. Sure there is plenty of yin and yang in the installation art that is our life – and times when it unravels a bit. However, our temperaments meld well on all the important aspects of our lifework. Linda is spunky, buoyant and wise, when I am dogged, dour and doubtful. I keep us grounded, she lifts us up.

Whether the time that is left to us is measured in decades, years, months,  weeks or days,  my sweet wife, — as the old hymn proclaims —  “I need thee every hour’.

People Who Leave People

George’s title immediately reminded me of Barbra Streisand.  And yes, I need her.  Unfortunately, she’s married, but this post is about people who need people, not about availability…  but I digress.

It is said that people come into your life for a reason, a season, or a lifetime.  When you know which one it is, you will know what to do for each person.

I have often confused reason and season with the idea that each positive encounter must undoubtedly be for a lifetime.  I now know better.  Not in a bad way as if, now I know not to trust that someone will always be there for me and I must always be guarded.  But in a peaceful acceptance way of understanding that life (and relationships) is fragile and there is no way of knowing in advance, how long we have to enjoy what’s before us.

When I was a young boy, I had a neighborhood best friend, Bob.  Neither of us fit into the athletic, “with it” social groups.  Both of us listened more to our parents and followed the rules than the other kids.  We rode bikes together, played in the woods, and confided in each other about the things that were on our minds.  I trusted him.

There was another group of kids in the neighborhood who were way cooler and, because we weren’t, had nothing to do with us.  One summer they built an underground fort in Pete’s backyard but still within eyeshot of the road.  One day, walking along the road with my dog Mickie, I saw Bob go into the fort with a group of them.  The feeling of betrayal swept through me. Had he been hiding his friendship with them, had he told them my secrets?  Later, when I asked him about it, he lied and told me it must have been someone else.  Now, I not only felt betrayed but began to question my sanity.  I know I saw him, yet how could my best friend lie to me?  Shortly afterwards, he confessed and explained that they enlisted him in a plot against me and threatened to beat him up if he didn’t cooperate.  While I understood his dilemma, I knew I could no longer trust him. That was my first but not the last example of how people come and go into our lives. 

What’s interesting for me is that each time someone has changed the rules and left or caused me to leave, despite vowing never to be like the others before them, I expect it to be different.  I guess being labeled a rampant optimist holds some truth.  Regardless, I try to use each of the experiences with the people in my life, past and present as a way of reminding myself to appreciate their impact on me.  Each left or continues to leave a gift.  How I choose to view those gifts is up to me. 

For me it’s letting go of the notion that “for a lifetime” is the goal and accepting that each connection, no matter how brief, adds value to my life.  Perhaps that’s what it is about after all.


Tower of Song

Hen suggested the topic of diminishment — particularly of physical decline. We wrote about a similar sense of aging in George’s earlier post The Golden Years. However, this topic is a bit more pointed. George ended that post with a poem that fits the bill – about the inevitable crankiness of the body… or as Leonard Cohen sang: “I ache in the places where I used to play”.

Ending on a poem was a nice touch in The Golden Years, George. I drift toward poetry when confronting life issues. Somehow poets seem to capture large thoughts with few words. Three poems catch my fancy in this regard:

1. Dylan Thomas’ Don’t Go Gentle into that Good Night

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night… (and further verses)

Dylan Thomas kicks it up a notch! Some years ago, this was my anthem. Thomas not only wants to resist the acceptance of diminished ability, he wants to fuel his energy with anger. Go out with a flair! In addition, this poem conjers up the lament that one feels not just at physical decline, but the accompanying despair that life is too short and accomplishments too meager to meet the first rank. Thomas wrote this lyrical poem for his father, but he himself raged so at the loss of youth that he drank himself to death at age 39. Thomas spent his energy rubbing against the grain. He never came to peaceful terms with the inevitable arc of life.

2. Alfred Lord Tennyson’s Ulysses

…Though much is taken, much abides; and though
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

This is the stoic solution – head down, keep moving forward. Marcus Aurelius would have endorsed this sentiment. If you ever followed Rumpole of the Bailey, that aging barrister used to quote these verses to pump himself up to face difficult circumstances. The context of the poem chronicles poor Ulysses, forced to wander for many years and fight battle after battle, who finally makes his way home and finds he has to fight one last battle to reclaim his household. It’s a call to marshal one’s infirmities and soldier on. However, I’m not sure that it encourages a person to find new solutions, but rather to make good use of what you still possess – work with what you’ve got.

3. Emily Dickenson’s We Grow Accustomed to the Dark

The Bravest – grope a little –and sometimes hit a Tree

Directly in the Forehead –

But as they learn to see –

Either the Darkness alters –

Or something in the sight

Adjusts itself to Midnight –

And Life steps almost straight

I find this portrayal by Emily Dickenson most apt, most human. My friend Lee recently pointed out that we are bound energy… energy can’t be destroyed, but it can be transformed. As our physical presence transforms over time, we learn to adapt.  We find a way. Senses and abilities previously dormant begin to bloom. We compensate. And perhaps we better appreciate the skills still remaining in our tool bag.

Oh – so why is this post entitled Tower of Song? Well, it’s a song by Leonard Cohen. I consider him more of a poet than a performer. If you chance to listen to this wistful song, it might touch a chord. I’m pretty sure that Cohen was contemplating something other than a jukebox. Perhaps eventually some remnant of our energy will reside in a Tower of Song.

Accepting My Diminshed State

Wal’s invitation to reflect on diminishment as we age provides, as one might expect, a range of perspectives.  And offering it through poetry and song only enhances the number of interpretations. 

Refusing to go quietly into the night reminds me of my friend Bill who once told me that when his time comes, he wants to be completely used up, having lived fully, without compromise, until there was no more left to give.  I get that, I too, fueled by a youthful spirit and sense of adventure, welcomes the adrenalin rush when I can.  But influenced by life’s experiences and the ever-increasing limitations of the body, they are less spontaneous and more measured.  As Wal, continues in his post, the wisdom of working with what we still have and consciously honing skills we may have barely acknowledged allows us to adapt to our new normal and still live fully.

For me, it’s about acceptance.  Not acceptance of defeat.  Acceptance of what I can still do, with or without difficulty, and recognizing when it’s worth it and when it’s not.  Acceptance that it’s time to shift my tempo, or ask for help, or be more forgiving (of my limitations.)  Acceptance that it may be time to let go and revel in the joy of watching someone else dance wildly into the night.  So easily said, so challenging to practice.

I came across the two following poems that represent many of my feelings.  I also liked I Still Matter, by Pat A. Fleming but didn’t include it in this post.

The Little Boy And The Old Man by Shel Siverstein

Said the little boy, sometimes I drop my spoon.
Said the little old man, I do that too.
The little boy whispered, I wet my pants.
I do too, laughed the old man.
Said the little boy, I often cry.
The old man nodded. So do I.
But worst of all, said the boy,
it seems grown-ups don’t pay attention to me.
And he felt the warmth of a wrinkled old hand.
I know what you mean, said the little old man.

I like the parallel that we end in similar ways to how we begin.

Maya Angelou wrote:

“When you see me sitting quietly, like a sack upon a shelf,
Don’t think I need your chattering. I’m listening to myself.
Hold! Stop! Don’t pity me! Hold! Stop your sympathy!
Understanding if you got it, otherwise I’ll do without it!
When my bones are stiff and aching and my feet won’t climb the stair,
I will only ask one favor: Don’t bring me no rocking chair.
When you see me walking, stumbling, don’t study and get it wrong.
‘Cause tired don’t mean lazy and every goodbye ain’t gone.
I’m the same person I was back then, a little less hair, a little less chin,
A lot less lungs and much less wind.
But ain’t I lucky I can still breathe in.”

Lucky indeed!

Diminishing Returns

Getting old sucks- sure it beats the alternative but it causes us to watch the demise of the persons we used to be.  Sure medication helps- Blood pressure, cholesterol, and other old age conditions can be controlled with pills but the one thing that can’t is the mind.  The mind remembers how it used to be and wants to be back there but the body says, “No way, Jose,” unless you aren’t Spanish and don’t know the expression.  Things hurt, slow down or function differently than in the past.  And you remember how it once was and wonder why it can’t be the same as it was.  But intellectually you know that things wear out.  Tires go bald, mower blades dull, plumbing breaks down.  Same thing happens to our bodies.  The only difference is there is no technician who can come and service your furnace, repair the elimination system in your body, or even fertilize the hair on your head.  You know what I mean!

But we are complex!  Our bodies consist of organs that break down, but we also have senses and sensitivities.  My ears have diminished. Tinnitus and hearing loss have cause me to say, “What?”  My eyes have deteriorated so I have to have my glasses on my forehead at all times so that I can see clearly.  Fortunately smell and taste have not deserted me. I don’t know what I would do if I couldn’t smell the lilacs or taste the sweetness of an apple pie!  But touch- now that is a different case.  Living alone during the pandemic I don’t get to touch another person.  I crave the feeling of someone’s head on my lap or a good foot rub!  Sure I can feel the dishes while I am washing them, the soap when I am washing myself in the shower but I can’t feel the human touch!  The feel of a hand touching my face tenderly or shaking my hand or brushing the dirt off my arm after I come in from cutting the grass.  My sensations have been diminished!

In general my world has diminished.  No poetry can express it!  My family has diminished.  From a large Italian family we are reduced to 3.  My son moved south but my daughter is nearby, thank God.  In the last two weeks I have lost 3 friends.  I didn’t lose them, I know where they are…. they died!  So my sphere of people who make up my world is diminishing as well.  It is hard for me to be optimistic in this limited environment.  In my youth I could always say things will get better.  In my senior status I know more than likely my world will continue to diminish so I have to accept it and find a way to be comfortable within this circle of life. Life can still be comfortable!  I can take comfort in the fact that over the years I have gained experience and wisdom that merely passing through years afford us.  It feels good knowing that wisdom can be accumulated over the years IF you are open to it.  Some people never gain wisdom.  It is just who they are.  I am fortunate in that I have accumulated positive information that I can apply when needed.  And at this time in my life and this time in a country full of unrest I guess I have to take comfort in the fact that it may be all I have left to give and that has to be enough!  As the body deteriorates, that isn’t such a bad thing!



Continuing George’s topic of random thoughts, I wanted to share some musings about my grandmother.

After the death of my grandfather, gram came to live with us and became an integral part of our family.  At sixty-nine, she was still a great cook, mobile, and strong-willed.  She could also sew everything and anything having been a seamstress in Bucharest Romania as a young girl.  At the time, we lived in a comfortable 4-bedroom ranch in a small but growing town in Westchester, just north of the Bronx where Gram and Grandpa raised their family.  Gram had her own room as did I.  My sisters bunked together and my mom had the master suite to herself as my father had disappeared from our lives leaving behind nothing but his empty side of the bed.

Gram was always there when we came home from school.  Food was her love language and there was always a snack or treat for us before we went out to play.  

In the summer of 1960 we lost our home to whom someone my father had sold the mortgage and we temporarily moved to a motel until the lease was up on my grandmother’s cottage.  In the fall, I went off to college, gram went to stay with my uncle in Long Island, and my mom and sisters rented a summer bungalow.  With only a kerosene heater for warmth, they managed and eventually moved into Gram’s 650 square foot, 2-bedroom, one bath cottage in mid-winter.  This is where I called home through college and into my first two years as a teacher.  Gram had one bedroom, my mom and sisters shared the other and I had the fold up bed stored in the living room closet.

Throughout my college years, grams health declined and she eventually became bedridden with rheumatoid arthritis.  She was no longer able to move around much and was unable to cook.  However, she could still hold a needle and thread and would often mend a tear or put on a button for us as needed.  It gave her great pleasure to be able to help us despite the struggle it was for her to use her fingers.

Gram had few things that motivated her to sit up or venture off her bed and into the kitchen or living room.  She loved good food and looked forward to my mom’s meals.  Of course it always needed a pinch more salt or slightly more sweetener, but she always ate it up.  And, every day at 3:00pm, Gram would will her body, aided by her small wooden cane, into a chair in the living room.  She would lean forward and pull out the on/off button on our 15” black and white TV and watch General Hospital.  How she loved that show.  She would laugh, get angry, call a particular character names, and become completely involved in the story as if it were really happening.  Her eyes would sparkle as she spoke aloud to them as if they could hear her warnings or displeasure with a decision they made.  I loved watching her watch her show.  Then, when it was over, she would use the tip of her cane to push in the button to turn off the TV and amble back to her bed hoping someone was home who wanted to hear what had just happened in the lives of those doctors and nurses.

Gram also loved money.  She loved seeing cash, feeling the bills in her fingers, and counting them one by one, over and over again.  This was the ritual every two weeks after I would get paid.  I would cash my check and bring home the bills for Gram to count.  She was thrilled that I had a regular job and was able to bring home what she considered to be a considerable amount of money on a regular basis.  But somehow it wasn’t real unless she could see it, feel it, and count it.  I still remember how animated she would get as I watched her lick her fingers to be sure she didn’t allow any bills to stick together as she checked and rechecked the amount.  

We didn’t have much during that time, but somehow Gram always gave us something to smile about and something to feel good about.  


Baby Girl: Maria Matiacchio  ……Born June 21, circa 1881(birth records a little sketchy back then)  …..Cirigiliano, Basilicata, Italia.

A.K.A.— Gramma

Definition- unconditional love

Where do I start?  I never knew my grandfather.  He had had a stroke and was bedridden from before i was born til he passed away when I was 2.  My first memory of Gramma was when I was maybe three or four.  Gramma and my two aunts lived on the corner of 1st Ave and 23rd St on the Lower East Side in a 6 story walk up apartment building.  We lived a few blocks away then and every Sunday we would walk to their apartment for Sunday Dinner. I remember turning the corner and we could see Gramma sitting in her fire escaped kitchen window waiting for us to get close enough to throw down sugar cubes for my brother and I.  As silly as it sounds it was very exciting for us.  She said it gave us the strength to make it up the 6 flights of stairs!  I question the science there but if Gramma said it it had to be true!

She was unconditional love and I would feel totally safe wrapped on her lap, she in her house dress and b old lady black Italian shoes.  For some reason my dad was the patriarch of the family and relatives from far and near would come to see him to get permission to get married, or buy a house or move out of the area.  The only person who had any kind of authority over him was Gramma.  She was a tough old broad, and I mean that in the best of ways.  She loved American tv!  Her “shows” were sacrosanct and everything had to stop when The Millionaire came on and she would keep listening to hear someone walking up the stairs to the apartment with Mr. Anthony who she was convinced was going to give a check for her a million dollars.  She would always remind us that John Bears Fatipta would provide for us.  You have to be old enough to remember that show to know what that was.  And above all shows was her all time favorite….Hopalong Cassideetch!  You could not make a sound when good old Hoppy, as she called him, was on the tiny 13 inch screen with the rabbit ears on top.

Life was pretty simple back then and routine was rigidly enforced so we saw Gramma every Sunday til we finally moved out to the country when I was 5.  My folks wanted me out of the city before I started school and we bought a house in Flushing, Queens.  My dad soon after found an apartment for Gramma and the aunts two blocks away from our house, so I could now stop in and visit on my way home from school to see if they needed anything from Bohacks or the A&P just around the corner. 

She and I had a special bond.  On my 12th birthday, a few months before her death, she got me a miraculous medal.  Most Catholic kids in the city had miraculous medals, but this one was special.  My dad worked for a prominent doctor in NYC who had high end clients.  One client that my dad became very friendly with was Bishop Fulton J. Sheen. (He is currently up for saint hood).  He had a TV show called One Life to Live and he was a very controversial, sort of liberal, Catholic Bishop who was expected to become the next Cardinal for the city, but he did something to tick off the powers that were and Cardinal Spellman got the promotion.  My grandmother insisted that my medal be blessed by Bishop Sheen and so my little MIraculous Medal that to this day still hangs around my neck was blessed by Bishop Sheen.

Several months later, just before midnight we got a call from my aunts that Grandma was having one of her spells.  Dad and I rushed over to the apartment and even I knew as a 12 year old that this wasn’t just a spell.  Gramma was trying to hold on but I remember her saying good bye to my two aunts, my dad and then me.  She took my hand, squeezed it as bet she could and said good bye.  My dad got on the phone and called Bishop Sheen and within 45 minutes a limo pulled up in front of the apartment and His Eminency came rushing up to the apartment to give Gramma the last rights.  She passed quietly shortly after he finished and I saw my dad close Gramma’s eyes for the last time.  It was a very intimate moment and I will never forget my dad’s face, my aunts silently crying in each others’ arms and Bishop Sheen’s hand on my shoulder.  But for the last 52 years that medal hangs around my neck and at difficult times I still hold it in my hand and conjure up the one person who always made things better for me!


I envy Hen’s relationship with his Gram.  My maternal grandmother died when I was three or four and for a number of reasons we did not have a close relationship with our paternal grandparents. Luckily, our paternal grandpa was a treasure.

My grandfather was a man small of stature, but solid. He led a physical life – as a farm worker, shepherd, navy cook, iceman, and masonry contractor. He was an orphan, unschooled, who taught himself to read and write, both in Italian and English. As a young man, he prided himself on his luxuriant handlebar mustache – bright red. No wonder he loved my red-haired, blue-eyed brother so much! By the time we knew him, the mustache was trimmed and gray.

This man was always cheerful, whistling and singing Italian folk songs. But perhaps this was not always the case. In early pictures, you could sense a steely-eyed gaze. Grandpa had one distinguishing physical mark: his nose was crumpled with a pronounced scar, the result of a fight. Supposedly, his opponent had tried to bite his nose off. That had to be painful! I read somewhere that a guy had bees sting him all over his body to measure pain – and he reported that the nose was clearly the most painful place (thank heavens for such pioneering research).

Well, this is the stuff of legends — and hard to reconcile with the gentle, happy-go-lucky guy everyone call ‘Pop”. And when you think about it, what kind of fight results in someone trying to bite off your nose? I mean, seriously, who gets close enough to do that? Sounds like a last act of desperation. Let me ask you, would you want to bite off someone’s nose? Food for thought. Okay, enough about that…

I have many memories about Pop, although we did not see him regularly. He lived with my aunt, cousins and second-cousins in a stucco three story block building in Rockaway Beach – two blocks from the ocean.  The place looked like a white fort, built flush to the sidewalk with a courtyard behind the building. You entered the rear of the building through a stucco arch, which is generally where we would be greeted by Pop with an orange and a dime. He had an apartment in the back where he kept his fig tree and goat. 

So many stories: Pop was the one who had his own method of potty training (taught me to pee in a bottle – a habit I’ve since broken, but may be revived in further old age). He considered wine quite healthful, so he started my brother on 8 oz. glasses of wine – at seven years old (‘Mom, come quick!’). We had our first taste of raw goat’s milk from Pop’s goat. I remember him staking out the codfish on a board in the sun to make Baccala – salt dried codfish (another taste sensation – not!)

Pop used to make coffee in an open pot on the stove. He’d bring the water to boil, then add coffee grounds to the pot and liberally pour in Four Roses whiskey to make sure it all went into solution properly. I guess that’s how the pre-WWI Italian Navy rolled…

However, what I remember most about this man is how he took my brother and me aside for a discussion one day. In his broken English he told us “You be good men”. This was not a throw-away line – it was a moral imperative which we took – and still take — very seriously. It’s the prime value I assign to people: is this person a ‘good person’; am I acting like a good person? I hope so, because I’d like to please him. 

Anthropologists talk about the strength of the ‘skip-generation’ relationships. It makes some sense in that grandparents can be life coaches without the day-to-day authority issues parents have to deal with. My life coach kept it simple: ‘Be a good man’. I still have his beat up fedora and briar pipe…


Random Thoughts while Quarantined

Thinking for me was always a form of worry.  Even as a kid I used to worry about my dad coming home late a night after drinking with the men at the Knights of Columbus.  Or wondering if I would have to go to Mc Auliffe’s Tavern to bring him home for dinner.  But whenever I had a spare moment there would always be thoughts to fill the time.  It wasn’t all bad! I was a creative kid which would sometimes get me in trouble like the time Steven Bell from across the street and I decided to play mailman and we collected all the mail from the entire block and redelivered it to other people’s mailboxes. It was fun and we were just trying to see what it was like being mailmen. Unfortunately, our neighbors didn’t see the humor and Steve and I and my father redelivered the mail to the 30 or so houses on the block along with sincere apologies!  I decided I wouldn’t be a mailman even at age 6!   I did dumb stuff like this growing up, even after much thought that at the time seemed very logical!

Now some 70 years later I am still thinking a lot cause during this quarantine there isn’t much else to do.  My thoughts go back to those years sometimes and sometimes they look foreword.  There is a big bay window in my living room that looks over the neighborhood.  I stand in the window each morning just checking things out.  I have observed things I probably would not have noticed without this down time.    Everything is viewed through the lens of a street kid who grew up In NYC.   The first thing I realized is kids don’t play in the street anymore. We used to play catch or stick ball in the street, and when a car came somebody would yell, “Car,  Car,  C-A-R” and everyone would scatter to the sidewalk til it passed!  We picked sides by doing Boo Boo Boo, One Potato, Two potato…..we Used Spaulding balls and we always had a bucket attached to a pole to retrieve the ball after it rolled down into the sewer.  But the streets are quiet now and  empty.  There isn’t even much traffic!

Today,  I look for neighbors to wave to or yell to.  Just a connection to make me feel like part of the neighborhood- any kind of connection to help me feel like I belong.

Then my mind wanders to my family.  They have all passed except for my kids but now, with all this
time on my hands I have a bunch of questions for them.  Like I wonder if my grandparents ever became American citizens.  What made them settle in NYC?  I have a hundred questions for my dad about being on Iwo Jima during the war.  And how did he get to write a column in Semper Fi Magazine.  He never talked about the war.  And my brother who was 8 years older than I ( pre and post war babies)  said that he wasn’t the same dad who came home. They called it shell
shock back then not PTSD!  Later, he wrote a column in a little local magazine called The Gramercy Graphic in NYC.  My mom used to play the banjo!  I never asked her why.  My aunt was a tatter in a sweat shop on the lower east side. And another aunt, my mom’s sister, had a wing in the Mahanoy City Public Library named after her..  And I don’t know the answers to any of these questions!   

The remainder of my day’s thoughts move to life after Corona!  What will school look like?  Maybe kids will start playing in the streets again?  I imagine a world where people are kinder, more neighborly, helpful and friendly to one another. Unfortunately, the answers to these questions will be played out in the future.  I hope when it does that younger generations can look back and remember with fondness the way I remember stoop ball or I Declare War!

Ode to A Spaldeen

George’s memory has gotten me to thinking about street play. Perhaps many of us share the memory of playing stickball in the street… if the ball went two telephone poles it was a homerun… in a fly past the second baseman (if there was one) it was a double – and so on… Sometimes we would walk to the park a couple of blocks over and play two person stickball, using the cement wall as the backstop – drawing the strike zone in chalk. 

The one thing in common with many of the games – stoopball, stickball, or handball – was the gold standard Spaulding (or should I say the “pink standard”?). It bounced the best and felt just right in the hand – neither too hard nor too soft. We never bothered with the marketing name ‘hi-bounce’, but did call it the ‘spaldeen’. 

When we used the spaldeen for handball, it was usually Chinese handball – that is bouncing it once before it struck the wall. Sure I know, a real handball is black and much harder, but we used the Spaulding. However, we did watch the ‘old men’ play American handball (hit the wall on the fly) with their gloves and hard little black sphere rocketing around – looked fierce and painful to us eight year olds.

You could bring a Spaulding to school and play against the brick wall at recess or after school. I mean, the Spaulding wasn’t the be-all and end-all – it was simply a requirement. You had to have one. And of course, inevitably they would get lost.

Each week, my brother and I were granted a 75 cent allowance (do you realize that there isn’t even a ‘cents’ key on my qwerty keyboard anymore?) and our aim was to trek two miles into the hobby shop and buy a plastic WWII airplane model to build. The two of us would sit on our front stoop and glue it together. However, when the Spaulding was hit into the undeveloped lot, rolled into a storm sewer or landed in unfriendly territory – well – we’d have to divert part of allowance (was it 15 cents?) to getting a new one at the hobby shop and possibly forego the airplane model. I guess the Spaulding was like a utility for kids… we didn’t pay electric bills, but we had to have bounce energy.

I have read that the pink Spaulding ‘hi-bounce’ was discontinued in 1979 due to decreased popularity of stickball (or maybe it was the rise of disco), but it was reintroduced in 1999 in a variety of colors. Amazing that such a simple object can be the source of such enjoyment.

The New Thinking

George opens up another facet of this pandemic that also affects the majority of people around the word; what are we all thinking about during our minimal interactions and limited options for mobility? Are some of us simply contemplating more of the same kind of thoughts? Are some of us more reflective, now that we have fewer distractions and obligations? Are we turning to the past for comfort and guidance, or are we thinking this is the opportunity to break old habits and move forward?

Depending on the day or my mood, I can accept responsibility for being in each of these categories. Most of the time though, I’m inclined to use this experience of isolation to rid myself of actions/reactions that don’t feel good. It is a perfect time to reflect. I find it easier to focus on what I’m doing and being present. My daily mediation (from The Daily Stoic – Ryan Holiday) is devoted to paying attention to a habit or behavior you wish to diminish or eliminate. The process involves setting your intention and then marking off each day you can accomplish it, extending your streak for as long as possible.  My progress is painfully slow but moving in the right direction.

But, like George, I also find myself drifting back to my childhood.  I recall many days of wandering about in nature, more often with my dog than with friends.  And today, as a senior citizen living in New York during the Coronavirus pandemic I spend my days wandering about in nature and only with my dog.  However, unlike my childhood, instead of sprinting down a hill or climbing a perfectly laddered sapling, I stroll down the hill and simply gaze up at the tree. Every once in a while though, as my boyish sense of adventure wells up in me, I smile and think, maybe tomorrow I’ll sprint and climb. But then I remember that I haven’t yet taught Duke how to fetch the first responders from my driveway and bring them to my side if I should fall and break a bone or two. Maybe tomorrow, I’ll teach Duke, or take a chance like I did when I was a kid.

I also think about how much I miss sharing my space and my adventures with friends and family. As much as I receive intense satisfaction from my daily escapades, it’s never as grand (this word’s for you Laur!) as sharing them with others.

And again, like George, I think about post stay-at-home life. I try not to think about my re-emergent world without hugs and handshakes. I remind myself to be grateful that I’ve lived a long and happy life without restrictions, extreme cautions, and with great freedom. And now, I’ll prepare myself for appreciating what remains.   At least that’s what I think right now.


Rinse and Repeat

I’m re-reading Ecclesiastes.

Even if you haven’t picked up a Bible, you know Ecclesiastes. You know it if you have listened to ‘Turn, Turn, Turn‘ by the Byrds, or have heard ‘there is nothing new under the sun’, ‘vanity — all is vanity’, and other familiar quotations which have come from this contentious book in the Old Testament. I say contentious, because it lays out the case for existential despair, without a clear message of hope.

I’m reading this now, because of an article written by Douglas Groothuis in Touchstone magazine. Dr. Groothuis is a professor of philosophy with a keen interest in epistemology: “the study of the nature, means, and scope of knowledge.” His thesis is that Ecclesiastes is an excellent treatise about obtaining wisdom and a good pivot for understanding our ignorance within a larger structure of knowledge.

The main voice in the narrative of Ecclesiastes is Qohelet, the Teacher, who claims to have been a king of Israel in Jerusalem (a ‘son of David’). He chronicles his search for knowledge and meaning, but concludes that it is all “chasing after the wind.”

In sum, Qohelet declares that there can be nothing new in this world (under the sun), where we all toil endlessly, live briefly, and are forgotten quickly. The old sun “pants” across the horizon in exhausted labor. The wicked may or may not prosper; the good may or may not suffer – all meet the same end. Individuals obsessed with material goods will never be satisfied with the goods they own.  In fact, there is no reward that can fully satisfy in this earthly existence.  He sees humankind as endlessly cycling through failed behaviors — rinse and repeat.

Qohelet describes his disappointment in chasing wisdom through either work or pleasure-seeking – and concludes that it might be better to have never lived, than to try to make sense of this world. He has no hope for succeeding generations — and seems resentful at God for instilling the concept of ‘eternity’ in the human mind, when our lives are so truncated.

Yikes! Not much to hold onto, here…

Yet, he is not entirely clear that his search was wasted effort. For instance, he settles for the conclusion that it is better to earn some wisdom, than to be a fool. He urges an epicurean approach to life by moderation of desire, cultivation of companionship, and enjoyment of daily bread. He says that although none of our existence makes sense, we should find joy in what is available – after all, it is a gift from God. He also says that what you turn your hand to – “do it with all your might”.

In other words, make your own meaning. Make it count. Live morally and purposely, even if God’s overall plan is inscrutable.

Happiness may be just under our feet

Qoholet tried to achieve ultimate understanding and determined it was an exercise in vanity. His fallback position is to find happiness in everyday activity. This starts to make sense for me. The happiest folks I have known find joy in all the ordinary things they experience. I used to play golf with a man who obtained delight in finding an unbroken golf tee on the grass. Don wasn’t a fool – he knew the difference between small and tall travails. But he chose to be open to all gifts under the sun. The interesting part is that the rest of our foursome delighted in his delight – he lifted us up. It’s catching. And maybe that is the hope for us who struggle under the sun.  James Oppenheim said:

“The foolish man seeks happiness in the distance

The wise man grows it under his feet.” I can live with that.

Fallback Position

Wal’s piece is timely.  In this moment of extreme caution and reduced freedoms, it is so easy to fall prey to feelings of loss and powerlessness.  Those of us with silver (or is it “slivers of”) hair, who have arrived at the point in our lives where we can travel, spend more time with friends, watch our carefully planned investments grow, find ourselves suddenly quarantined, fearful of catching germs that are more fatal to us than our children, and worried if we’ll be around long enough to recoup our financial losses.  Everyone’s world was turned upside down in a matter of weeks but with the hope and belief that in time we will return to the lives we knew.  But we “Over the Hill Gang” members are wondering if it will happen in the time we have remaining.

If our goal in life was to live mainly for this retirement period so that, after a life of hard work and frugal practices we could finally enjoy, we feel robbed, certain that life is unfair, even worse than Quohelet espoused.  (At least we had a plan and hope that in the end, we’d catch up and all would be sandy beaches, warm sunshine, and comfortable living.)

However, if we considered his fallback position to find happiness in every day choices, we’re in a very different place.  We have memories of times well spent and of contentment and joy.  Even now it’s not too late to initiate a mind-shift and focus on what we have rather than what we lost.  Whether it’s a temporary loss or long term, we can all find gains if we really want to. 

Many years ago I had cause to look back on my life to put in perspective whether it was a life, if ending, was well lived and complete, or found wanting.  I found peace in knowing that what I was able to accomplish and who I was able to be, was enough.  And while I am most happy and grateful that my time continues, that experience helped me shorten my moments of struggle with those things of which I have no control, and to spend more of my time with those things that I do.

Perhaps the response to Quohelet’s findings that seeking knowledge and meaning is all “chasing after the wind” is to adjust what we bring to the meaning of seek to allow for discovery along the way and not fixate on uncovering the source-answer to life.

Pessimism at It’s Height

I am not a Bible person.  That doesn’t mean I don’t believe in God.   It is clear to me that the Bible is not the word of God but was written by worldly beings as imperfect as you or I. They were almost like reporters of their times recording what was going on and trying to explain it.  Some of it even sounds like real fake news and preposterous to me.

But this guy, Quoholet, is the penultimate pessimist!  I thought I was pessimistic but I wither in comparison.  I am not claiming to have any stature like he had but come on!  Ultimately cycling through failed behaviors and nothing new under the sun?  Really?  That may fit if one lived forever but we know that isn’t true.  Our existence, if lucky, lasts for maybe 8 or 10 decades, a relatively short time in the scope of the age of the earth and the prehistoric record of life on it.  So perhaps cycles repeat themselves but we rarely live long enough to see that happen so to me, anyway, things seem new when they happen for the first time in my experience.  Is this sheltering in side and social distancing that is going on now not new to most of us?  It sure feels that way to me.  And what is new anyway?  To me it is something that I have for the first time or never experienced before.

And perhaps the reason we cycle through failed behaviors is simply because this all seems new to us and we have to find our own ways way through them.  This can’t be any more relevant than right now as we all sit in our homes and try to figure out what on earth are we supposed to do to protect ourselves, our families and our society.  So we try things…. we wash our hands for two Happy Birthdays every couple of hours because we may have touched something contaminated.  We use sanitary wipes to wipe off the gas nozzle, the steering wheel, our doorknobs and counters.  We avoid crowds.  Living alone I wonder if families sit at night 6 feet away from each other watching TV.  Thank goodness my dog isn’t human because he is on my lap most of the time.  Are these “failed behaviors?”  I wish I knew because my hands wouldn’t be as coarse and flaky as they are if this is just a failed behavior.  But we try things to see our way through.  We take the advice of people who have experienced similar things and hope they are right.

And as for material goods, I have to admit I like collecting stuff, too. I have several collections in my house of material things that I covet, I know you aren’t supposed to covet either, at least certain things!  But I do!  I have a Jeep that I treasure, a house that I love and a collection of paintings that I enjoy daily.  And will more than likely continue to collect until my time here is spent.  

Should people our ages not get excited when their first grandchild is born? Isn’t that new to them?  Or should they just shrug it off and say, “Oh well this has happened before!  No big deal!”  Or when the autumn leaves turn bright colors should we not be amazed at the beauty just because it happens each year?  Or when a piece of music touches your memories and your soul should it not bring us to tears because it is just another piece of noise?  I am exaggerating of course, as I also do along with my pessimistic ways.  I have left most snarkiness out of this though, which is also characteristic of me.

I am usually the one in this group accused of pessimism but this guy makes me look like Shirley Temple.  I see myself in a whole new light.  Join me as I tap dance down a flight of stairs now!



Lately, I’m increasingly aware that many of my daily routines have taken on added significance and meaning beyond the need to get them done.  They have become rituals.  Perhaps it’s the reduction of distractions during this time of sheltering in place that has allowed me to be more mindful.  Or, it could be that without regular stimulation of ideas and interests I seek them from within the confines of my home.  For example, rather than allowing my mind to wander while rushing through the task of raising my window shades, I now often think about, well, just raising each shade and welcoming first light into my home as I begin my day.  As I slowly pull the cord of my kitchen window, I watch the shade fold into itself as it reveals the unique perspective it affords of my backyard.  Then I move on to the next window that will allow additional light and a slightly different view.  It sets in motion an action that often impacts how I feel about my day.  This routine and others, now receive more of my intention and deliberation.  They have taken on a level of significance that positively influences my initial disposition.  They are new rituals.  They are no longer chores to be completed, but actions that add significance to my life. 

In an article written by author, writer, and coach Steven Handel, he describes routines as things we need to get done on a regular basis but that are not necessarily meaningful.  Rituals tend to have a sense of purpose and their meaning is often symbolic.  He further illustrates the difference in this table:

Minimal engagementFull engagement
Tedious and meaninglessSymbolic and meaningful
Externally motivatedInternally motivated
Life as a dutyLife as a celebration
Dull awarenessBright awareness
Disconnected series of eventsTells a story
Little sense of belongingSense of belonging
Focus only on completion of tasksFocus on performance of tasks

As I thought about the things in my life that are chores and that are now taking more of my attention and thought, I remembered the notion of the Japanese Tea Ceremony.  The tea ceremony in Japanese culture represents purity, tranquility, respect, and harmony.  It is a great illustration of the singular focus given to the performance of serving a simple cup of tea.  It is a grand collaboration of art, discipline, attention, and care.  Philip Stanhope 4th Earl of Chesterfield said, “In truth, whatever is worth doing at all, is worth doing well; and nothing can be done well without attention.”

I also thought about the commitment of the Samurai in their attention to detail and purpose in everything they did.  There was an unrelenting focus on mindfulness in even the most basic actions and routines. 

Zanshin is a word used commonly throughout Japanese martial arts to refer to a state of relaxed alertness. Literally translated, zanshin means “the mind with no remainder.” In other words, the mind completely focused on action and fixated on the task at hand.  In practice, though, zanshin has an even deeper meaning meaning. Zanshin is choosing to live your life intentionally and acting with purpose rather than mindlessly falling victim to whatever comes your way.  It was as if everything in their lives was a ritual.

Now, as I spend more time in silence and thought, I’m able to better recognize the significance of preparing food, letting light into my home, and attending to things that require my attention.  Of course, my mind still wanders…often.  But I’d like to think that this time has afforded me a way to elevate at least some routines from tasks that must be done so I can get on with my life, to appreciating the things I do in my life because they matter.

Have you noticed any shifting of routines or rituals in your life?

Traditions, Rituals, and Routines

Hard to know where one ends and another begins!  Perhaps the definitions intermingle and have very subtle differences.   Perhaps it has to do with what Henry said, that rituals have an importance that routines don’t.  Traditions may then define the need for rituals.  For example, my family had a tradition at Christmastime of setting up the Christmas village which necessitated the ritual of laying track and checking out the engines and cars of the train and organizing the town.   The routine then became sitting down in the evenings and my brother and I running the trains around the village, while the engine smoked and the whistle blew.  We had other rituals associated with the Christmas tradition- like hanging stockings on the fireplace, and decorating the tree.  Routinely we hung the tinsel one strand at a time or my mom would yell at us.   

When I taught school for years I had a tradition of wanting the kids to know the day and date.  Every morning ritually, I wrote the day and date in the upper right corner of the blackboard and the kids routinely wrote it on their daily assignments.  I also had a tradition as an educator of wanting the kids to expand their vocabulary so each day I would write a new word and its definition on the board.  It was a ritual that helped me as much as the class. The routine came when the kids used the word either in their writing or in discussions each day. 

Right now, when I’m not sure what my purpose is anymore in the time of COVID-19, tradition and ritual have pretty much been pre-empted solely by routine.  Wake up, shower, take pills, which helps me remember what day of the week it is, let out the dog, eat, wash yesterday’s dishes, eat, nap, eat, nap, eat, nap!  Tradition now is out the window.  Without some direction old traditions don’t necessarily apply and new traditions can’t start because they may not have the time to develop.  Without the traditions rituals devoted to the traditions can’t find air.  Routines are all that is left and in my case they tend to be diminishing!  I may be going crazy but this makes perfect sense to me!  And I didn’t have any author to quote so this unfortunately was entirely concocted by me during the routine boredom I face daily during this crisis!


I am seventy-two years old and a dishwasher in a restaurant. I am looking at the pile of skillets in the deep sinks and preparing to start the process of transformation. Today, I have driven for four hours to return to my post and I’m an hour later than expected – I like to keep ahead of the curve, but the chef has already started to prepare sauces. So it’s catch-up time.

Surveying, the scene, there are remnants of carbonara sauce, Thai chili sauce, a large pasta colander, and several pans with a series of brown sauces for schnitzel, and a garlic laden food processor. Okay: Carpe Scrubber! Wait — a drop of water bounces off my bald spot – and then another – What the… It has been raining heavily for a good part of the day; looks like a leak in the roof over the kitchen. All right – note for tomorrow, get on the roof. I reach for the faucet and — no water. This is irony for sure: unwanted water dripping on my head, no water from plumbing. What’s the old saw: the opposite of irony is ‘wrinkly’. This is wrinkly. Life is wrinkly. The topography of our lives is full of wrinkles. That’s why we have rituals: to smooth out those crenellations.

A ritual is structured behavior in support of a magical or symbolic result. ‘Magical’ being a placeholder for all those things we don’t quite understand… like the Pacific Islander cargo cult. My ritual actually begins much earlier than reporting to the job. First, I must shower. This is less about cleaning than it is about cleansing – starting the day like a fresh page in an old book. Consecrated.

Then, as head (and only) dishwasher, I assemble the mise en place at my work station: wet and dry towels (from Morgan Linen – remember them from college?), gloves, washing tub, spray station, stainless steel scrubby, long brush, and putty knife; prep the dishwasher and lay out the drying station. Our dishwasher has sliding doors and trays that carry objects through infeed and outfeed. The pots, pans, containers, spatulas, stirring spoons, tableware, and dishes all go through the washer for the extra cleaning and sanitizing cycles, but first anything that experiences direct flame is separated: cleaning the carbon on the bottoms is a parallel process and uses different cleaning aides. When this is complete they join their comrades through the main process. 

So, the main process involves soaking the pots, pressure spraying, brushing, and then scrubbing. All the detritus goes into the 1000 gallon grease trap. The restaurant ware is sanitized in the dishwasher, air-dried and returned to its station. Routine or ritual? It is necessary – and it is done mindfully. I fantasize that I am the director of a halfway house for skillet rehabilitation. I am a social worker for the stockpot family. My goal is to return each cooking implement in better condition than I received it. Some of these old boys have dents or loose handles – or are a little crowned due to direct heating over an open flame for years. I clean them up so that thirty or so skillets and a dozen assorted stockpots greet the next meal with a fresh face and new sauce. That’s what it’s all about! I say it is Ritual – with magical results!

Now to prepare for the next day’s ritual: water pump repair and preventive maintenance.  


New Normal ???

As sheltering and snacking in place is becoming routine I sometimes find myself on my knees and leaning my head on my arms resting on the windowsill like the cartoon where the guy says to his dog that he now understands why he always barks as people pass the house. It is an event! I don’t have many events about now unless getting the cookies or chips out of the cabinet classifies as an event!

But recently I have been trying to figure out what it is going to be like when the quarantine is lifted. At first I thought we’ll all race to the local establishment and drink a toast to the death of the virus, clinking glasses, shouting “salud!”, slapping friends on the back, hugging and kissing folks we’ve missed for months. But I don’t think it’s going to work that way now.


Our Governor, who has become a guiding light in leadership through this darkness, uses the term “reimagining” how it is going to play out. The thought of returning to post quarantine life as being a return to normal is probably far from actuality, hence reimagining.

So my thoughts go to how will young love be expressed? New emojis online? Pulsating red hearts and lips after each text. We probably won’t be kissing anyone soon. Kids playing on the playground won’t be playing tag cause we can’t have kids touching each other! How will detectives catch criminals cause fingerprints will be a thing of the past! Rubber or polyethylene gloves have replaced skin So DNA must be encased on the body. I worry that a generation of kids who don’t play outside much anyway will have even fewer experiences interacting with humanoids. Will we just keep to
ourselves and be reduced to written communications with LOL’s and OMG’s expressing our emotions?

Life is going to be different. But hopefully with time touch will return as a venue for interaction. Human contact can once again comfort people in need. Laughter and tears will return as ways of expressing our emotions. And maybe even a renewed urgency to put the electronic technology down and reach out to those we have desperately missed. My reimagination I’m afraid is limited but I long for an earlier time when my scraped knee could be healed by my mom or dad’s hug. I hope our grandchildren will experience this again and future generations will talk about the time when people had to isolate as a dark spot in history they have only heard about!
However, we can’t forget that the air over LA is breathable again, the canal waters of Venice are clear enough to see the sea life that lives in them. That’s part of the reimagining that we have to take advantage of and protect. I’ll take one from column A and several from Column B! Call me old fashioned!

The Macro

Both George and Hen focused on the intimate details of person-to-person interaction in a possible “new normal”. I think their comments are cogent. The effect of the virus on physical closeness will certainly outlast the current edition of the corona. For instance, we can imagine that hand, mouth and nose coverings will morph into enduring fashion accessories. Perhaps grooming and fashion styles will gravitate toward the easily cleaned and maintained – maybe lapels and pleated layers give way to smooth lines and treated fabric.

If we look down from 5,000 feet, the macro influences of surviving a pandemic – and the fear of the next one — says the future is a less tolerant society. Individual choice vs. the ‘summum bonam’ is in constant tension. As we experienced during the New Deal and World War II, the tendency for central control and larger government seems like powerful leverage to attack economic – and perhaps social — problems… and I don’t speculate in this manner as a fan of big government.

But, after all, will we be able to tolerate not having universal healthcare in some form or another? If we cannot assure that every citizen will have effective access to health services, how can we assure the containment of future outbreaks? When the dust settles, our infection tallies will show large discrepancies by race and economic variables. Will this place more emphasis in future on large, homogenous public policy solutions? Certainly it is doubtful that piecework approaches will be encouraged, when disease crosses borders and governments. 

It’s probable that we won’t return to past behaviors quite as readily as we’d like, but we will move forward. Even now, dating apps have apparently been successful in hosting virtual dating experiences. I’d guess this fad subsides, but lingers as a bit of dating rehearsal while individuals try to ‘qualify’ one another before investing in a more physical relationship… unless we can have virtual careers, babies, and parenting experiences all from the comfort of your own couch? (Sounds like the old ‘Second Life’ application experiment). 

At the end of the day, I sign up with George and Hen – soothing behavior is a basic need — and that behavior is an experience of touch that is unlikely to be abandoned for long. We are smart enough and resilient enough that solutions will be invented to allow kids to be kids, friends to be friends, and loved ones to all come together.

It’s How We Respond

I’m with “Old-Fashioned” George when it comes to physical touch.  If I’m suffering from anything these past two months, it’s likely from hug withdrawal.  Of course, there is an old fashioned way of forgetting the hugs that I miss.  It’s called a bourbon old fashion!  I’ve had one or two of those “quarantinis” over the last few weeks.  They helped!

I appreciate the notion George brings up of reimagining what our new future will be.  At first, my thoughts go directly to what I’ve lost: not necessarily a positive or proactive endeavor.  After all, transitioning from no direct social interaction to spending time with others in groups will take a very long time and will likely require a transition phase of wearing masks, no touching, and physical distancing.  I can easily equate this to a negative.   But if I push past the loss, and, as George reminds us of some of the gains we made, we might be able to reimagine a way of being that can benefit us and future generations.  And without this global “pause,” the idea of exchanging old habits for even better ones, would have been near impossible.  In his New York coronavirus briefing this morning, Governor Cuomo reminded us that it often takes a crisis to wake people up.  And Dave Pelzer, a contemporary American author, said, “Something good comes out of every crisis.”  So how do we revise our behaviors and spaces to make life even better?  I believe each of us begins with what we can control:

The evidence of a healthier environment for all living things is enormous.  I will continue to make changes to use fewer fossil fuels, create less waste, and to be more aware of my purchase power regarding products and their environmental impact.

I will be more aware of the direct contact time I have with family, friends, and colleagues.  I will work harder at being more present and attentive when I am with them.  I seek to remember not to take any handshake or hug lightly.

I will create a set of reminders for me to continue the relationships I’ve re-established during this time of remaining at home.  

I will strive to remember that it’s never about what happens to me, but how I respond that grants me to happiness and contentment.

And you…?

I’d like to end with the essence of a story I recently read written from the perspective of a senior citizen who was a child during the COVID-19 pandemic.  He was responding to his grandchild who had just studied in school about this horrific time in history and how difficult and troubling it must have been for him.  His response was something we can still create as we live out this moment in time.  Grandpa said it was a difficult time for many indeed, but in his case he remembered it differently.  He remembered more time for playing with his mom and dad.  He remembered baking with his mom and fishing with his dad.  He remembered having movie nights three or four times a week rather than just once.  He remembered his mom coming up with new ideas for him to try and without the need to rush or to put them off until a better time.  He remembered impromptu games of tag, barbeques, and peanut butter and jelly picnics when the weather turned warm.  I hope many of today’s children will remember this episode similarly, when their grandchildren ask them about it.


On a Scale of…

We’ve all heard the jokes about weight gain during the shelter-in-place phase of life — COVID-19 lbs. and such.

It’s gotten me thinking about a seven year period in which I measured life in quarter pound increments. This was during high school and college, while participating in wrestling. I would have told you then that I was an expert in weight loss. Like a jockey, I weighed in several times a day – but without the saddle – and monitored before and after bathroom visits. I knew the expected weight in ounces of my waste products. Each September, I’d lose up to 20% of my mass in four to six weeks and keep it off until April.

I’d dream of the chocolate milk dispenser in Parker dining hall for seven months a year.

All of this would be executed in order to qualify for the weight class in which I would be most competitive. Actually, this was mostly a byproduct of fear: I didn’t want to face larger, stronger opponents! To maintain this weight, many of us would sojourn to the “hot box” in plastic suits. The hot box was an insulated room that could be cranked up to 120 degrees F. The objective was of course to sweat out any excess water. It wasn’t weight loss, it was desiccation. I remember taking the GRE exams in Potsdam in between wrestling matches at SUNY Potsdam and Hobart College. I donned the plastic suit and ran the aisle in the team bus enroute to lose the half-pound I was overweight – that was good for a quarter pound. The security guard escorted me to the exam room and I suppose the GRE was responsible for losing the additional quarter pound I needed.

Once, I dated a person who during a postseason April, asked how much I weighed. When I replied, she said ‘Well you look good right now, but I think you will run to fat in middle age’. Hmmm, she was right. At that time, we wrestlers would call anyone whose six-pack was undefined, a ‘bloat’. Clearly, I am a bloat.

However, I owe her a debt of gratitude. Her words have been a rallying cry for me to not let weight gain get beyond control. Unfortunately, most of the diet prescriptions I’ve tried were not lifestyle regimes, but short term efforts: Fit for Life, South Beach diet, Bullet-Proof diet, Body Fuel diet, etc. All had different premises: eat fruit, separate complex carbohydrates from other foods, avoid white foods, trick your metabolism by fasting. My Dad lost over 50 lbs using Dr. Dean Ornish’s rice diet. He had the discipline to keep his weight down – but yikes!

These days, it’s hard for me to envision weight control without exercise and eating dinner before eight o’clock. That’s it – I have to keep it simple to remember. And worse luck, my diet must include pasta, baked goods and ice cream! What about you?

In for a Penny, In for a Pound

Good time to write about this as covid19 is causing many of us to snack in place!  Weight has been a struggle I have dealt with my entire life but from the opposite end of the scale.   I was the scrawny kid first in line in school.  Short and skinny! Really skinny!  I hated going to gym in high school.  Aside from the embarrassing red and white gym suits we had to wear which on me looked like a cute little red skirt ballooning out over my tooth pick sized thighs, I was the brunt of high school bully humor in the locker room.  And to add insult to injury, we were given spots on the gym floor so the coach could take attendance.  In Flushing High in the early 60’s, you could have 100 kids in gym class.   First day of class we were lined up by size places and given our spot numbers. Across the front of the gym were the letters of the alphabet and 15 spots behind each letter! Yup, you guessed it.  I was A-1 for all 3 years in high school!  The only good thing about those large classes was that once attendance was taken I could slip back into the locker room until the team sports were over.

But even before that as a little kid my family tried to fatten me up.  I was a finicky eater and wasn’t big on meat and veggies so my dad made a bowl of macaroni for me every night for dinner.  Back then it was spaghetti or macaroni.  We never had pasta.  I never even heard the word.  My Italian aunts would bribe me with quarters if I would eat more.  Of course they would only “pick” themselves until there was nothing left in the serving bowls.  So I was a skinny melink.  I would have to get on the scale in front of them to get the damn quarter.  So while Wal was trying to lose a quarter pounder, I was praying to gain one. Through college and for the first 2 decades of teaching I didn’t weigh as much as the average kid in my 6th grade classes.  It was always an embarrassment for me.

Then the magic happened.   My wife and I separated, I came out of the closet and miraculously I gained about 20 lbs.  With a new sense of self pride I strutted into school finally at ease with myself and how I looked!  I was proud of my girth for the first time in my life.  I hadn’t anticipated the problems it would bring on like high blood pressure, and a little pot belly. But I carried that proudly too because unless you were ever skinny you don’t realize how that can be as painful as being fat.  And now with snacking in place, I get panicky if my supply of cookies and jelly candies get low!

I hope Wally only dated that woman once!

Pillsbury Doughman, No More!

On my first birthday, I weighed in at 30 pounds and was obese.  By grade school, I was in George’s weight class and could have been a poster child for the kid who needed weight gain supplements.  Eventually, I found a relative balance between intake and calorie burn, and my weight offers little to conjure up a story.   However, over the last six weeks of sheltering in place, food has taken on a significance I’d not noticed before.

My mom was the most fantastic cook.  It seemed as if she was always in the kitchen preparing meals that were filling, delicious, and nutritious.  We didn’t order out, and the rare visits to a restaurant were reserved for special events.  For example, at the end of each school year, my mom would take us to a local Chinese restaurant to celebrate our promotion to the next grade.  That being said, tasty food prepared just the way we liked it, was always available.  My mother couldn’t give us much in the form of things money could buy, but she never held back on food.  The time and devotion she gave to her cooking was her currency: her gift of love.  The whole experience created an anticipation of what awaited us at dinner each evening.  The clatter of pans and the sounds of mixing and pouring were following by the aroma of onions or sauces drifting throughout the house.  It seemed like each meal that began promptly at 6:00 pm, started with an appetizer and/or soup, the main course with two or more side dishes, and finally, if we joined the “cleanup plate club” and finished everything we were served, a sweet dessert.  I used to marvel at how long everything took to prepare, how everything finished cooking at just the right time, and how quickly we devoured it.  And while I noticed all of this (and the cleanup afterward), I never appreciated it in the way I do now.

My sisters learned to cook from my mom, but I didn’t.  And, over the last several years, after just getting by preparing the same few dishes I begrudgingly mastered, I ate reasonably well and relatively healthy but never really appreciated it.  However, in the last month and a half, much of that has changed.  With even more unhurried, alone time at home I made a conscious effort to look at cooking and eating with more purpose and intention.  I’ve tried many new dishes each week and found the entire process of planning, preparation, cooking, and cleaning up a rewarding one.  And I’ve also taken the time to taste my food, wondering what it would be like if I added more of this or substituted some of that.  It is a new form of self-care that I intend to continue long after we can get back to our busier, more collaborative lives. So far, I haven’t noticed any weight gain.  However, my sisters always said that if you are a fat baby, then, when you get old, you’d eventually explode into that previous pudgy version of your younger self.   (Hmm, I have this awful vision of myself in six months slogging through the woods looking like the Pillsbury Doughman!)


A Time for Collaboration

Napoleon Hill developed the term Mastermind Alliance to identify the concept of bringing two or more people (minds) together for a singular purpose in a friendly, trusting, and harmonious environment. The outcome of this focused collaboration often yields extraordinary results that could never be reached alone or in loosely connected partnerships.  This synergy has been the secret ingredient for many successful people and organizations. I believe it offers a timely solution to many of the challenges facing individuals and small businesses during this global pandemic.

I am currently a participant in such a group, gathered to help a friend and small business owner decide how to move forward when business has all but stopped.  As we are all sheltered in place, we are using one of the many programs available for video-conferencing.  This solution to overcoming the restriction of not being able to meet in person provides the added benefit of collaborating with people who can offer invaluable experience and wisdom but who live hundreds of miles apart.  These digital gatherings are energizing, thought provoking, and highly interactive.  They regularly bring people together who would not have this opportunity to share knowledge and offer support.  And not only does the recipient benefit, but so do each of us.  Just today, while listening to a suggestion made to the facilitator, I realized a need of my own that requires action.  We also get to see and talk to people, which mean physical distancing doesn’t necessarily mean social distancing.  And we always get when we give.  This feeling of contribution and helping others feeds our own needs to be of service and to feel valued.

So I’m wondering aloud if this is way of coming together online in small groups might be something all of us could offer a friend or colleague who is facing a challenge brought on by the Coronavirus pandemic.  There are many references to the concept you could find using Google or other search methods.  Of course if you have any questions I might be able to help with, feel free to reach out in our comment section.  I will be happy to respond.

Wishing you all good health and strong connections.

No Downside!

Henry’s idea is difficult to respond to because what ‘s not to like? The concept makes perfect sense. An individual struggling to make important decisions regarding business or future has the opportunity to consult with a group of people all focused on that one situation or problem. I love the idea. I could use some masterminds right now to help me deal with the forced isolation I am experiencing because of this awful virus. By myself, my imagination runs wild, and I come up with the worst-case scenarios and doom and gloom. A group of people focused on helping me deal with that situation would provide a great opportunity. It seems like a win/win situation. I am sure they could come up with ideas and solutions I cannot even conceive of.

I can see this being an incredible add on to therapy and constructive goal setting and achieving. I guess you have to pick your advisors/collaborators carefully, but beside picking people who aren’t focused on the problem or who have even less common sense than I do, I can’t see any downside to this idea. What an opportunity to socially undistance ourselves through technology at a time when we have too much time to contemplate, fret, and worry. The process sounds great, and seeking others’ advice through a group effort where ideas can be discussed and kicked around is a great opportunity to define your problem with razor-sharp clarity. I really find the concept perfect for people like me whose minds race during the early morning hours when my imagination gets locked on a pessimistic solution to a problem that won’t go away. That is when I have no sensible, realistic conception of what to do, whereas if I had had such a gathering, I would be able to replace my worry and concern with ideas presented by the group. But what is more significant is that I would feel responsible for seeing the solution put into action so as not to let the other participants down. That holds much more weight than doing it for myself! Imagine having a team of intelligent people all addressing your needs over time. What an opportunity to succeed!

Great idea and a great piece to discuss. I do, however, worry about Wal’s reading list as a teenager. When I was in my teens, I wasn’t reading books like Hill’s. I was reading The Hardy Boys and Ralph of the Rails, along with magazines that I had to hide from my parents, but hey, to each his own!

Lateral Allies

Hen suggests that the Mastermind Alliance can serve several goals: a) help others b) help yourself, and c) maintain positive contact with a group.

I read Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill when I was a teen. This book, published in 1937, is one of the all-time best selling business books. Hill describes 13 principles that are the foundation of a philosophy of success — the Mastermind concept is one of them. 

When I read the book, the principle I focused on was ‘auto-suggestion’… still use it as a matter of fact. Hill said you don’t need an alarm clock; simply look at the clock when you lay down and say out loud what time you wish to awake. Works like a charm! Your internal clock wakes you up. That alone gives Napoleon Hill some street cred. 

The Mastermind Alliance principle is an example of lateral thinking in a group. While individuals certainly can succeed on their own, collaboration can increase our favorable odds. It end-runs our tendency to define a problem within a narrow frame of reference and therefore limit the boundaries of a solution. It’s interesting to listen to Hill’s account of how Andrew Carnegie came up with a Mastermind Alliance to understand how to make and market steel – (see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tuGW8ZCJUDE). Although the Mastermind Alliance concept is over 80 years old, it is still remarkably fresh.

In fact, there’s a Facebook community devoted to spinning off new products and ideas that uses the Mastermind approach: The Inventor’s Mastermind. Rules are simple:

In a Mastermind group, the agenda belongs to the group and each person’s participation is key, your peers give you feedback, help you brainstorm new possibilities and set up accountability structures that keep you focused and on track.

In order to use this concept effectively, preparation is important. Hill emphasizes that a person needs to know exactly what they want and be ready to work diligently to attain it. What does diligent mean, exactly? I think it means examining the details that surround us. Being observant. Being aware of the world around us and being ready to enter into new situations with an open mind.

But it is also about being ready to go beyond the bounds of common expectations. To stretch out laterally – creative confidence. To connect dots in different puzzles… to synthesize.

In order to do this, it helps to cultivate a diverse set of connections. You need to form an alliance with others so that you are not trapped by your own perspective. This is well illustrated in Dr. Tina Seelig’s, (What I Wish I Knew when I was 20). She describes the ‘$5 Challenge’ she assigned her students at Stanford. Each team was given $5 and asked to increase the investment within two days – and present their results to the entire class. The most successful teams never used the seed money, but rather brainstormed solutions to problems they observed around campus — solutions that could be monetized. One group offered to check bicycle tire pressure for students and simply asked for a donation. Another team noting the long lines at restaurants, secured reservations at several restaurants and sold them to folks waiting on line. They made over $600. She makes a fine point about being a “T” individual: deep in one specialty, but reaching out to other areas to seek out connections – an alliance.

The most successful person I ever met didn’t work the hardest and was not the smartest individual I ever knew, but he had a super optimistic attitude – he expected to be lucky and he was. He was open to new ideas and rewarded people for creative approaches. He connected an array of colleagues to dig up good ideas – a Mastermind Alliance. Even if he did not have expertise that was deep in any one field, he did have the motivation to stitch ideas together and get others to mine the rich resources of information. Essentially, he mirrored the approach Andrew Carnegie used. Many new projects flourished in this incubator. Was that luck? I don’t think so. All I know is that it seemed to permeate all areas of his life… he was one of those people who found more lost golf balls, made more good friends, avoided the sporadic consequences of mistakes, and lived a long, healthy life. Perhaps the fruits of a Mastermind Alliance?

The Late Late Show

Henry, Wally and I had our weekly Zoom call yesterday morning.  Our discussion rambled over several timely topics.  We argued politely but nonetheless passionately and ended the discussion with respect for the others’ viewpoints.  At least I came away feeling that.

It is now 3:30 AM and I have been awake for about an hour and not the least bit sleepy.  That will hit around noon today!  My mind is racing. Jumping from our zoom call to the darkness, the sound of the rain, house noises- the purr of the furnace, an electric clock motor, the dog’s groan as he changes position and the loneliness creeps in.  Is it the darkness or quietness that has let the loneliness creep in and intrude on my rest?  My mind is racing, bouncing off unrelated ideas like a ping pong ball.  I was going to write about people who entered my life for very brief moments and yet have occupied a corner of my mind for decades. A little girl named Maureen is who came to mind. When I was 4 years old we lived in an old railroad flat on East 23rd St and First Ave.   It was an old apartment building, 6 floor walk up.  On Thursday’s the dumbwaiter would arrive at our floor, and my mom would open the little door in the kitchen, put our garbage in it and send it up to the roof for incineration and there would be Maureen, peeking over our respective garbage, and waving as her mom added garbage from her side of the dumbwaiter.  I never played with her, never even knew her last name, never even heard her voice but for some reason she has been hiding in my brain for over 70 years.  That is what I was going to write about this time around but the loneliness tonight overwhelmed me.  Sitting in the dark with only the glow of my phone emphasizes that incredible insecurity and hesitancy I experience a lot.  And now, here it is staring me down face to face and no one to pat my shoulder or take my hand and offer encouraging words.  That’s probably what I miss the most, and this is probably the time I am visited by my worst demons.

I am resting my head on my hands and looking out my living room window into the dark houses and empty rooms of my neighbors. Their houses are as dark as mine and I can’t help but wonder if they have demons that haunt them, too.  I figure they probably do but I can’t empathize with them right now cause I am too absorbed in how to deal with mine.  Health issues loom among the biggest demons right now.   What late life decisions will I be forced to make.   Here we are going into Christmas week and I forced myself to decorate just so my daughter wouldn’t worry.  After years of large family gatherings, food everywhere, even in our stockings hung by the chimney with care (the stockings were always filled with oranges and walnuts and candy as well as little gifts) we are reduced to just the two of us.  My son moved away which left yet another empty chair in my life.

But, a car just passed the house, my hometown will be waking up soon, and even a hint of daylight will break through the darkness. I’ll probably fall asleep for an hour or so thinking how fortunate I am to have friends I can talk to about this! How thankful I am for my kids and my dog. The demons will subside with the daylight, things will make me laugh, the worries will disappear just as the house sounds do and be replaced by the neighborhood awakening.  I am sure there will be other nights like this but for now the promise of daylight comforts me as my mind begins to slow down and cry for rest!

Night Terrors

Boy, lots of possible rejoinders in this post. George writes about the vulnerability he feels on some nights, when darkness rules and minor issues grow into golems knocking at the door. Hen relates a childhood story about a boa constrictor slithering across ribbed vinyl. Wow – I can imagine that sound –scary!!

While Hen has come to terms with the darkness and embraced the gentile quiet and star-filled panoply of the evening sky, I tend to relate to George’s troubles.

Nightfall signals the time of winding down and reflecting on the day. While I’m active, I make plans for the next day: sticky notes with tasks to be accomplished. That’s all fine until bedtime. Generally, I fall asleep immediately, but wake up 3 hours later. That’s when the troubles can start. Overlooked issues, past mistakes, and seemingly insoluble problems slither up my bedpost like Hen’s boa constrictor.

Sigmund Freud felt that while we are asleep, our consciousness magnifies minor discomforts several-fold. I always assume that some physical discomfort initially wakes me, but once alert, it’s the worries that keep me awake.

Most of the time, I can dismiss the problems. When I can’t, I get up and write down every problem that is the source of anxiety. Funny, but once these issues have been named and recorded, I’m ready for sleep again. However, George’s wonderful description of the aloneness that you can feel at night – the anxiety over what cannot be controlled (which – let’s face it – is a lot), can make you uncomfortably aware of the existential void.

That void may be the real night terror: measuring your life, it’s inevitable ending and underlying meaning aside from the busy-ness of daylight routine. Your wants and fears are more clearly reflected in the dark. That’s why the act of writing down my anxieties and worries frees me up. The items that bother me are so generally pedestrian as to be laughable in the cosmic perspective. So in the end, I wind up reminding myself what a little being I am in this big world. Rather than making me more anxious, it makes me chuckle. 

The Power of the Mind

George raises an interesting question about darkness and light and their relationship to how we carry our demons.  With the coming of dawn he felt comforted and his mind slowed perhaps enough for him to regain control of what he allowed in, what weight it carried, and how long he would allow it to last.

As a child, I remember being awakened one night by a sound that I was convinced was a huge boa constrictor slithering across the vinyl, slightly ribbed kitchen chairs listening for my heartbeat so as to know where to find me.  It was as if everyone in my family disappeared and I was alone in the house with only this giant hungry snake.  To this day I have no idea why I conjured it up. At first it was a game and I began to play with the idea knowing full well the noises I heard were likely the oil burner or refrigerator motors.  But soon, it was out of control as it took over my mind in the dark and quiet of the night, and try as I might, I couldn’t shut it off.  Sometimes the power we give to our mind can evolve into a force of it’s own.  Scary!

These days I have a different relationship with the dark.  The darker my bedroom, the better I sleep.  When I lived in the country, I would often go outside at night and gaze at the stars.  The darker it was, the more I could see.  For me he dark has less to do with triggering my concerns or fears as does more situational things like a conversation, an article, or a distant memory.  Yes, from time to time they may keep me from sleep for an hour or two as I puzzle through solutions, next steps, or strategies for letting them go. But most of the time I’m planning how to keep myself entertained with things I want to do and am still able to do which leaves me little time to spend with the demons.

However, I must share a brief story of the power of mind over matter and the influence George seems to have over my thoughts.  When the three of us began working together on this blog, he once complained about the aches and pains he felt each morning when he awoke.  Although we are the same age, I explained that I hadn’t noticed any such thing when I got up each day.  The next morning I paid attention to my body as I woke up, swung my legs to the floor and walked to the door.  I was shocked and saddened to realize that my joints were full of aches and pains as well!  Every since, I thank my friend George for bringing this reality to my attention, each and every morning!  Somehow I had grown accustomed to them and never realized they were there.  Of course now I’m afraid to find out what happens tonight when I shut off the light and try to go to sleep.  Ugh!