What Matters


Thoughts and Prayers

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

But I have some thoughts about prayers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What If…?

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

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

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

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

“I Go to Seek a Great Perhaps”

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

Time to Put on My Old Man Pants

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

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

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

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


Unsafe and Insecure

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

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

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

Fear Itself

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Freedom from Fear from NikkiGsPoetry – poet at allpoetry.com


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

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

irreparable damage,
brain analyzing,
deciphering the disadvantages.

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


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

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

Set yourself free.

My Freedom to Choose

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

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

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

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

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

Life is good!   

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

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

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


Moving Forward!

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

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

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

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

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

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

“All who wander are not lost.”  

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

I Wonder as I Wander

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

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

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

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

Roads Go Ever On

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Roads Go Ever On: JRR Tolkien

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

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

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


No Doubt

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

I have no knowledge of that I say.

She continues speaking “facts” that are


I will have to look that up I reply.

She gives me a sigh full of exasperation.

Letting me know that she thinks it is


That I do not believe her “facts” like others

To whom she has spouted these fabrications

Prior history has dictated that I can’t.

Related Thoughts on Doubt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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



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

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

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

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

Artifacts and Fictions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Collecting Memories

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

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

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

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

 “A picture is worth a thousand words.”

Fred R. Barnard


The Quest for My Next Sanctuary

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

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

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

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

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

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

Home Sweet Homes!

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

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

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

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

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

House Hunting

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

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

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

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

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

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

House-Hunting: Edgar Albert Guest

Time was when spring returned we went

To find another home to rent;

We wanted fresher, cleaner walls,

And bigger rooms and wider halls,

And open plumbing and the dome

That made the fashionable home.

But now with spring we want to sell,

And seek a finer place to dwell.

Our thoughts have turned from dens and domes;

We want the latest thing in homes;

To life we’ll not be reconciled

Until we have a bathroom tiled.

A butler’s pantry we desire,

Although no butler do we hire;

Nell’s life will be one round of gloom

Without a closet for the broom,

And mine will dreary be and sour

Unless the bathroom has a shower.

For months and months we’ve sat and dreamed

Of paneled walls and ceilings beamed

And built-in cases for the books,

An attic room to be the cook’s.

No house will she consent to view

Unless it has a sun room, too.

There must be wash bowls here and there

To save much climbing of the stair;

A sleeping porch we both demand—

This fad has swept throughout the land—

And, Oh, ’twill give her heart a wrench

Not to possess a few doors, French.

I want to dig and walk around

At least full fifty feet of ground;

She wants the latest style in tubs;

I want more room for trees and shrubs,

And a garage, with light and heat,

That can be entered from the street.

The trouble is the things we seek

Cannot be bought for ten-a-week.

And all the joys for which we sigh

Are just too rich for us to buy.

We have the taste to cut a dash:

The thing we’re lacking most is cash.


Age Rangers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On Achieving Ninety – A Poem by Chat GPT

Ninety years of life, a journey long and bright,

A tapestry of memories, woven with delight,

Each thread a story, each color a hue,

A masterpiece of moments, shared with me and you.

Through times of joy and times of sorrow,

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

With grace and dignity, you’ve navigated life,

A shining example, of how to live it right.

Ninety years of laughter, love, and light,

A treasure trove of wisdom, shining so bright,

Each day a new adventure, waiting to unfold,

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

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

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

Ninety years of life, a true testament of time,

A legacy of love, that forever will shine.

On the Birth of Age Rangers

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

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

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

Sign me up!

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

– Ken Blanchard

Guest Rejoinder

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– ChatGBT

The Lone Age Ranger

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

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

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


All Aboard…

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On Memories and Traditions

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

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

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

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

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

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


Car Story

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

True Love

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

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

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

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

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

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

Arc de Triumph

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


No Laughing Matter

No Laughing Matter

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

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

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

E.B. White was right!

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

Switching focus to current research, I learned the following:

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

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

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

Laugh    F. W. Sanderson

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

Deep Laughter

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sore Bay

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

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

The Waiting Room

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

The Whine List: Cham Pain and Prosicko always available intravenously

Main course:

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

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

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


In Loving Memory……

Even as a youngster I was always interested in going to antique shops and what we called junk shops back then.  My friend Adele and I would go through old deserted houses with her mom to see what was left behind.  In the darkness of an old house we would go from room to room to see what was left of the family that used to inhabit the place.  It was kind of scary and I remember one time going up a flight of stairs and in the hallway of the second floor was a floor to ceiling mirror.  As we got to the landing with Adele ahead of me, she saw her reflection in the mirror, jumped and screamed thinking she saw a ghost!  We were able to laugh about it later but that night we ran out and sat in the car.  I can even remember the smell of the antique shops and vacant abandoned houses and getting comfort from them.  I remember rummaging through things at a favorite shop and if I found a piece of furniture that I liked I would close my eyes and try to imagine where this night stand, or whatever, was located in the owner’s house and tried to imagine the family that used it.  I would imagine the members of the family and give them names and I imagined them using the night stand in their lives.  I always had a very active imagination that way. Even created stories about the family- what the father did for a living and where the kids went to school and had this whole scenario of these people. I felt at ease in these places and among the old treasures I discovered. The only thing that would interrupt my pleasure in such a situation would be a box of old photographs of people’s weddings, or family photos of little kids.  I find it incredibly sad and invasive into the privacy of people’s lives that all these prized family mementos are just dumped in a box for total strangers to view until eventually they are disposed of in the trash.  Very sad!   I think it must be some kind of sentimentality that I suffer from and explains a lot about my entire life.

As a senior citizen who is currently the oldest living member of his family I treasure such things as those photos of my family but also I have coveted certain family objects and pieces of furniture that I love and could never part with.  My home is furnished with many family heirlooms and many antiques I have purchased over the years.  On my twelfth birthday my Italian grandmother gave me a Miraculous Medal to wear on a chain around my neck.  She was a devout Catholic, purchased the medal and had it blessed by Bishop Fulton J. Sheen. He was a patient of the doctor my dad worked for and a good friend of my dad. We all had to sit around the tv and watch his show, One Life to Live, every week.  Anyway, to this day I still wear that medal around my neck and have never taken it off except once, 6 years ago when I had to have my carotid artery scraped.  Even then I held it tightly in my fist while I was being roto rootered!  I remember my dad always carried a money clip for his paper bills. He had probably gotten it as a promotion from Manufacturers Hanover Trust Co. when he opened an account with them sometime in the 1950’s. It isn’t very valuable, probably made of tin with the bank’s name on it but he always carried it.  He never put his bills in his wallet, always in the money clip.  When he passed in 1975, I searched through his belongings purposely looking for that clip.  I found it and have used it to hold my bills ever since. It has to do with continuance. By my using these items I am acknowledging and continuing the existence of the people who meant everything to me.  My mom was a graduate of Bellevue Nursing School in 1933 and worked there from her graduation til 1951 when we moved from Manhattan to Flushing.  She was incredibly proud of what she had achieved and I have a cameo pendant from Bellevue that she always wore on her uniform and the distinctive Bellevue nursing cap which was part of her uniform.  Back then each nursing school had a distinctive cap that was worn wherever the nurse worked as part of her uniform.  It identified the school that she attended.  She treasured both items. When she passed in 1986 I knew I had to retrieve them both.  I gathered them up and brought them home and kept them safely tucked away until my daughter graduated from college.  I knew she would want them and now she has them to remember her grandmother by.  Those are cherished items from my family that are constant reminders of where I came from. I also have collected a few items of my own that I also cherish.

When I got married, my brother gave us an original water color painting from a Long Island artist and that started a love affair with original paintings.  I wound up purchasing another 10 original paintings by the same artist.  My brother gave my mom a painting by the same artist for her birthday one year that she absolutely loved and I also have that painting in my collection as well.  I started reaching out in search of original water colors, attending local art fairs and galleries and amassing quite a collection of over 100 original paintings.  I made it a point to try and meet every artist whose work I owned and succeeded with the exception of original artwork I purchased in Europe during several trips there.  These paintings bring me sheer joy.  When I see a painting I like, I squint and if I can imagine myself in the painting, I have to buy it.  I was telling that to an artist one time at our inn in Vermont, and I told him how I imagined myself in the painting and he was so impressed and had never heard anything like that, that he gave me a huge discount.  I said I couldn’t ask him to do that because i understand the work and love that goes into the artistic expression of an idea and he said , “You didn’t ask, and I would rather the painting  be with someone who loved it than to sit in a gallery for weeks.”  That day, I purchased 4 beautiful paintings of his.  The walls in my house are literally covered with artwork and when I enter each room I am reminded of the artists who created all this beauty and the circumstances that led to their purchase.

One more thing I want to mention in my charm bracelet of memories- an 1864 Welch and Spring Co. Perpetual Calendar Clock.  It was left in the attic of the house we moved into in Flushing by the previous owners.  It sat in the attic leaning against the eaves for 14 years from the time we moved until the day we moved out.  My dad would refer to it every now and then with a great deal of respect saying he was going to get it fixed and hang it in the living room, but he never did.  When they moved to the new house in 1964, after I went away to college, I came home for Thanksgiving and discovered my dad brought the clock with him and of course he was going to get it fixed and hang it.  Well, when I graduated 4 years later the clock sat in the same place on the sun porch.  I brought it to my new home.  I had a friend from college whose dad worked on old clocks.  He fixed it in no time and said it was a pleasure to work on such a beautiful instrument.  I absolutely love that clock which tells the time, the month, the date, the day of the week and even knows when leap year is and adjusts accordingly. I haven’t found the exact right place for it yet but I will.  At least I got it fixed!  

I can’t explain why I am so attached to all of these “things” but I confess I am.  I love all of them, enjoy having them on display or on my person to give me daily reminders of who I am, what is important to me, and where I came from.  They are silent pleasures that I love being surrounded by. There is that old biblical saying….ashes to ashes, dust to dust.  I wonder what will become of all my prize possessions.  I know my daughter wants a few things and my son has his name on a couple of things but neither has expressed much interest in my paintings so I guess they will find their way into odd antique shops and random yard sales sometime in the future.  That is how the life cycle works and in the scheme of things perhaps it is how it is supposed to work.  As the artist at the inn said, I would rather the paintings be hanging in the homes of people who love them than stored and stacked somewhere in a basement.  There are a few other things that could be listed on my attachment list – the thousands of dollars of model railroad equipment boxed and stored in my basement, and of course, my 2018, 4 door Jeep Wrangler…………but that is for another time.

Sentimental Journey

In an earlier post, In Defense of Magpies, I detailed why I’m a devout collector even in this season of minimalism. It’s not about compulsion, hoarding, or simple greed. It’s not about material insecurity and fear of being without. It is about remembrance and esteem, when objects become markers for honoring people you admire and love. It is as though part of their essence is attached to a particular object. When you handle that object, it rekindles the memory of a significant time or individual.

Do you recall that in the movie, The Quiet Man, Mary Kate tries to explain to her husband why her ‘fortune’ (her dowry, which is being withheld by her brother) is so important to her? She says:

” Haven’t I been tryin’ to tell ya? – …that until you have my dowry, you haven’t got any bit of me – me, myself. I’ll still be dreamin’ amongst the things that are my own as if I had never met you. There’s three hundred years of happy dreamin’ in those things of mine and I want them. I want my dream. I’ll have it and I know it. I’ll say no other word to you.”

Three hundred years of happy dreamin’– George hits it on the head when he talks of ‘continuance’. After all, what is there to a life, if there’s no shared memory of what preceded the current moment? Sometimes, an artifact is a bridge to those that went before you. Even your own objects from a younger vintage make a connection to important times: markers along a sentimental journey that led to the place where you are now standing.

One might say that objects are not necessary to remember and honor important people – and I won’t say they are wrong. But the memories are richer when you have your father’s money clip or the miraculous medal gifted by your grandmother. Among my prized possessions are my grandfather’s well-worn fedora, my dad’s tobacco pouch, my mom’s high school art medal, and my brother’s small, unfinished sailboat model – they have no practical use, but I wouldn’t be without them and the memories they evoke through touch, sight, smell or feel.

Now, I don’t for a minute believe that all these items will have the same meaning for my children – or their children. Nor do I wish to saddle my kids with the obligation of unwanted objects. However, I do believe that it’s up to me to pass along the stories associated with the objects around me and to help them curate those items which hold some significance. They no doubt will preserve a few, as well as select new ones as markers on their journey – and to enjoy for many years of happy dreamin’. 

Essentials – Oskar Leonard

In comfortable life, one might
find artifacts, of a kind,
spreading upon dusted surfaces:
amassing an army over the years.

Not incredibly valuable, on their own—
a half-used candle, half-full stapler,
nearly empty Christmas deodorant
and three unused money banks—

but they bring thought to one’s mind,
soft memories, tinged with kindness,
a bright, youthful joy, and therein
lies their true value, these essentials.

On Remembrance

In this piece George reflects on his relationship with antiques and their importance to him.  He also talks about the notion of continuance and what it means to him and what it might mean for his children.   

Like George and Wal, I have a few articles that remind me of my mom.  However, one stands out from the rest.  When my mother died, my sister took pieces of her unused sewing fabrics as well as some of her dresses and had quilts made from them for each of us and our children.  In each one, there was a cup of coffee, a thimble, flowers, and music notes.  Each represented the things in life that brought her joy and contentment.  With the simple act of brewing and enjoying a small cup of coffee with a splash of cream, each morning she began her day with peace and calm.   A replica of her tiny one-cup percolator sits on a shelf in my cupboard.  I remember how she gently lifted her cup of freshly brewed coffee with her hand leaving her pinky finger outstretched as she savored the flavor of each sip through closed eyes.  The thimble stood for her sewing and quilting prowess, her patience, and her devotion to detail and excellence.  The flowers remind us of the beauty she brought into our home from homegrown fresh cut flowers to the most gorgeous and tasty vegetables.  Her connection to plants and her love of nature and gardening live on in me.  The musical notes symbolize her love of classical music and her extraordinary talent and passion for the piano.  Writing about this quilt reminds me to be sure to tell (or retell) these stories to my grandchildren so, in time, they will be able to pass along a piece of their family history.

What is not in the quilt but is significant to me is a symbol from the kitchen.  My mom’s rolling pin resides in my kitchen cabinet.  It reminds me of how extraordinary she was at baking and cooking.  And although I rarely use it, this is the item that brings me closest to my memory of her.  The smell of her cooking and delicious meals were a daily occurrence when I was a child and the cakes and pies she baked were so good that I still can’t find the right words to describe the overall experience.  

I don’t know what items I have that might remind my children and grandchildren of me.  But what I do have are stories.  When I lived four hours from my grandchildren I would often pick them up and bring them to my house for a long visit.  Before we got to the end of her street Kylie, my granddaughter, would ask me to tell her a story.  Sure, she enjoyed my made up stories or stories from books we had read, but her favorites were those from my life.  I remember wishing I could understand what she was thinking as I glanced at her expressions though the rearview mirror while I told and retold adventures from my childhood through present day experiences.  What I do know is that she absorbed them and through thoughtful questions gained an understanding of who I was and what I learned.  Both Kylie and Ben are engaging, entertaining, and humorous storytellers.  I suspect that if they choose to have children, they will continue their knowledge of our family through the stories they tell them.

Each of us, it seems, will remember those who have gone before us in our own way.  While I will continue to tell my family stories when the opportunity presents itself and I will have this blog of personal beliefs, stories, and reflections to leave them, I suspect they will pull from their time with me what they decide was important to them and how and what they feel will be worthy of passing along to future generations.

“Good bye may seem forever. Farewell is like the end, but in my heart is the memory and there you will always be.

– Walt Disney


On Time

How good are you at estimating time?  That is, how accurate are you when you guesstimate how long it will take you to finish something or arrive somewhere?

Teresa and I spent one day last week visiting nearby Pennsylvania.  Our plan was to visit Kennett Square, known as the mushroom capital of the world for growing and distributing 500 million pounds – half of the total mushroom crop in the US, and then spend the late afternoon and evening in nearby Longwood Gardens.   We arrived around 2:00 pm with plenty of time to explore the village and mushroom venues before driving the ten minutes it would take to get to our 4:30 reservation at the Gardens (after all, they allowed a 30 minute flex time for arrival.)   We enjoyed a leisurely walk through town and it’s quaint shops and explored The Mushroom Cap store/mini museum on the main drag.  Finishing early we found a splendid nearby park with hiking trails and spent one of those ideal fall days walking over streams and through fields and stopping at a playground to remember what it was like to swing as high as we once did as kids.  As we neared the time to leave, we remembered there was one more mushroom farm/store we had heard of that was about a mile out of town but, based on Apple Maps, well within range of getting there and then out to Longwood Gardens on time. (after all the latitude provided by the reservation guidelines allowed us to arrive as late as 5:00!)  Who knew how fabulous the store would be or how friendly and accommodating the proprietor was as we arrived just after closing time but were welcomed in to explore, just the same.  Yup, you guessed it, we found lots of mushrooms and other items to buy as gifts and for ourselves, listened to the history of the farm and received numerous recipes and ideas for cooking with mushrooms whose names were both common and unknown to me.  What seemed like a few minutes turned out to be more than a half hour and all of a sudden, we found ourselves reading a GPS arrival time of 4:51.  Fortunately, the reservations allowed that 30-minute delay; unfortunately, we found ourselves enroute at the height of tourist traffic.  You likely know the scenario regarding what we were thinking and feeling as we realized we were possibly going to miss the water-light show we had been planning to see since July.  We arrived, were directed to park in the lot furthest from the gate and proceeded to fast-walk/run past 50 or so slower paced walkers to get scanned-in just minutes before our time limit. Not the best way to start a garden walk…

More often than not I underestimate how long something will take.  My research on the subject tells me that this is likely the result of two factors: we fail to consider how long similar tasks have taken us in the past – we ignore past and recent history, and we remain optimistic that obstacles and unanticipated hindrances will not interfere with our timeline.  Guilty and Guilty!  After all, I reason, I’ve taken the route before, I’ve painted this room before, I’ve run this many errands before so surely I can do it faster this time because I’m more experienced and clearly today nothing will interfere with me getting them accomplished on time, last time was a fluke!

Yes, I’ve gotten better about leaving extra time for travel and I’ve also been more conscious of saying no to squeezing in an extra chore or errand into my plans.  But the allure of doing more, especially when I’m with others, still pulls me quickly into the abyss of missing my mark when it comes to accurately estimating how long something will actually take.  

Some thoughts on the subject that I used to believe but have relegated to the trash bin of things I’ve let go of…

If I don’t try to fit everything in, I’ll miss something.

If I overestimate the time it takes, I may end up sitting idle and wasting time.

Life is short, there’s no time to waste.

Where do you fit into this conversation?  Don’t worry, you’ve got lots of time to write it down and send it in to the comment section!!  J

“The trouble is, you think you have time.” – Jack Kornfield

Time is on My Side……No it’s Not!

I have always had a very specific relationship with time from the time I was a little kid.  This might have been due to having to wait for everything and everybody, whether it was a friend to go bike riding or a doctor’s appointment where I had to sit in a waiting room for 20 or so minutes getting nervous.  Early on I decided I would never make anybody wait for me. But I overcompensated by getting to scheduled appointments at least 15 minutes early but often as much as  half an hour.  I didn’t want other people to feel the way I used to feel because of me.  As a result and to this day, I always allow time for me to get to a meeting place or an appointment that will allow my arrival a good 15 minutes before the scheduled time.

Add to that, is the problem that I still have trouble with the estimation of how long things take. If I am meeting friends for dinner, especially if we are going to a place I have never been to before, I have to estimate how long is it is going to take for me to get there. I not only figure in the travelling time but what about traffic? What about unexpected events lengthening the time, and yes, even parking?  Then I have to add on the additional 15 minutes early that I want to arrive.  Very complicated but I go through the process everywhere I go. If it is a far distance, like to a city or out of state there are other factors I have to consider.  Traffic jams, tolls, not knowing where I am going and the possibility of getting lost. It sounds complicated but it is a process I go through silently in my head before I am prepared to leave my house.  I have gained the reputation of always being early.  When the doctor’s office calls to remind me of my appointment and request that I arrive at least 15 minutes early for me that means a half an hour.

One would think that at my age, I would relax and chill but I have discovered something with old age.  Time goes much faster than it used to.  Some mornings I wake up and the next thing I know I am tucking myself in bed and wondering where the day went.  I make an appointment with the doctor, annoyed that it is so far in the future and the next thing I know, it is tomorrow..  Days go by so quickly and weeks go by even faster.  Not sure when that started to happen but somewhere around 70 I began to take notice of it..  I will sit down with my phone to read something on the  internet and I look up and an hour has passed.  It just seems to slip away, slip being the operative word. It suggests you lost control of where you were walking and your foot lost its traction.  Same is true of time.  Our lives have lost traction and things just happen before you know it.  We use that expression all the time. Before you know it, it will be Christmas.  This flu shot won’t hurt, it will be over before you know it!  Calm down, you’ll get your driver’s license before you know it!  And it is all true but in youth time, “before you know it,” seems like an eternity.  Unfortunately, that eternity lasts for decades until one day you hit  elder time like I did around 70.  Suddenly, before you know it really happens before you are aware of it. And year by year, that time squeezes itself more and more into imperceptible moments.  Just look at your kids. Somewhere between college and now, my daughter turned 51…….51, how the hell did that happen so fast?  It probably wasn’t fast for her, but I blinked and it happened.

I guess what I am saying with the time speedometer on high, at my age it gets harder to estimate the time it takes to do anything. Time seems to speed up but the body seems to take much more time to accomplish the usual activities we do each day- showering, getting dressed, feeding the dog, yada yada yada!  So now into the equation of all the surprises that can occur on your way to reach an appointment now you have to add in extra time for the extra time required to get the old body to move.  Damn, life is complicated..  Maybe I don’t have to be early anymore. After all, I’ll get there before I know it!

The Planning Fallacy

Hen tackles the issue of why we tend to ignore history when we estimate the amount of time needed for a particular task. In his example, Theresa and he planned to be at a venue at a certain time, but got sidetracked with other interesting activities. Of course, you could say that they simply amended their original plan to accommodate a more attractive alternative. That’s the way I’d look at it, anyway. They added one more item of enjoyment to the plan.

If you consult the literature, there’s all sorts of research as to why we tend to gloss over history and underestimate time demands. It seems that this is a common occurrence – one which each of us would find it easy to relate. Psychologists Kahneman and Tversky called this the Planning Fallacy. In experiments, subjects consistently underestimated the time needed to complete a task. One result showed that students estimated the average time needed to finish a senior thesis was 33.9 days – they actually took 55.5 days on average and only 30% of the students finished in the time that they had predicted for their thesis. 

George weaves in the theme of aging in the propensity for underestimating time. Despite Geo’s self-professed bias toward “glass half-empty” outlook, some have pinned the blamed for poor time management on a different bias: ‘optimism bias’. Buoyed by enthusiasm, we tend to assume that we can brush aside typical obstacles, because we have been there before. Despite the fact that folks usually recognize that their past estimates have been overly optimistic, they still believe that their new (optimistic) estimates are realistic. Unfortunately, ‘we don’t know, what we don’t know’ – those new variables that tend to be attracted to our easy-peasey, straightforward plans.

I’ve spent a good chunk of my working life as a planning manager or consultant to international projects. Delays and unforeseen problems are always expected, be it budgetary, resource turnover, or internal/external political conflicts. Mitigation is an oft-used term in project management. In these circumstances, a team of capable folks is on hand to catch problems early and provide opinions about realistic plan revision. Feedback from others is an excellent tool for modifying overly optimistic time estimation.

However, I’m always surprised that the approaches we use professionally do not necessarily become integrated with our personal tactics for estimating time. Like Hen and George, I’m a hawk on arriving early. I agree with George that the steps required for punctuality seem to multiply the effort. Oscar Wilde noted that “Punctuality is the thief of time” – maybe he’s referring to the extra overhead assigned to early arrival?

So why am I frequently racing for a self-imposed deadline? I’ll assign two reasons, of which the root cause is inadequate preparation.

The first has to do with dependence on other individual’s priorities. Rarely do my plans involve only myself. Loved ones, vendors, and service providers may not buy into my timeline. Worse, their plans may conflict with my vision of successful task completion. Time management always involves negotiation with others.

Second, I will agree with George that aging is a factor. But not because time moves faster. Rather, it’s because aging has introduced a certain brittleness in my task management approach – a bit more anxiety in executing. In turn, this task-anxiety reduces my ability to stay with the flow and I forget things. Halfway to an appointment, but forgot my wallet. Arriving at the tennis court without my racquet. You get the picture.

Linda says, make a checklist. Um, I’ve currently got six different checklists active: one for the restaurant, two for properties, and three for organizations. Add to this, a separate daily checklist (‘One list to bring them all, and in the darkness bind them’, as they say in Mordor). So many checklists, that I forget to consult them. My method of dealing with this has been to overcompensate. I’ll break a task into component parts (‘work packages’ for you PM 101 enthusiasts) and knock off each smaller task in turn. It works, but takes considerable energy. How I look forward to simply going into my shop and creating something! I don’t use checklists there (although I could – and maybe should). But, it’s my checklist-free zone.

In short, I find that it is in the doing where I’m happiest. And in those situations, I don’t worry about estimating the time needed – it takes what it takes!

Fly Like an Eagle: Steve Miller Band

“Time keeps on slippin’, slippin’, slippin’

Into the future

Time keeps on slippin’, slippin’, slippin’

Into the future

I wanna fly like an eagle

To the sea

Fly like an eagle

‘Til I’m free….”


I Spy (Rarely)

Linda and I are doing our monthly drive to the Adirondacks, and she says, “Did you see all those turkeys by the side of the road – there were eighteen of them along with two jakes?” and I reply: “Nope, I’m watching the road.” She says, “Look at where those wildflowers used to be in the median, did you notice that they were mowed down.” I reply: “Nope, I’m watching the traffic.” She says, “Those guiderails are out of date, I wonder why the DOT hasn’t changed them?” I reply: “What guiderails?”

Now, the significant part of this interchange is that Linda is driving and I’m in the passenger seat. She notices every license plate and every person using their phone. She has stories about each of them. She spies every live creature. Our running joke is the vast amount of activity she takes in while driving — and in almost every other situation, actually — leaving me to wonder if I need new glasses or a brain transplant (where are you, Igor?). In my defense, I argue that one of us ought to be looking at the highway (but I know this is simply deflection – Linda is a good driver)!

Now, I am talking about observation while in motion… not the watchful stillness that challenges you to keep still and take in all the detail around you without reacting. I’m also not talking about forest bathing (which until recently I thought was washing in the woods). Most of the time, I am in motion – rushing to get something done, planning ahead, because I’m always behind. I miss a lot. For instance, Linda and I are on a walking path in Old Forge and we pass a property sprouting garden gnomes under a copse of old pines. When she stops to look, I remind her that we trying to achieve an aerobic experience. She replies: “Details are important – and you miss them. How many gnomes were there?” I say: “Seven… and Snow White was in the tree?” She says: “There were four gnomes — I really worry about you!”

Well, true dat! Then I read this contribution in Quora… and it got me to considering….

As Told by Jay Matthews in Quora:

A student visited a Zen master and was shocked to find him naked in his cabin.

The student said:

Why don’t you put on some pants?

The master replied:

The world is my body and this cabin is my pants.

What are you doing in my pants?

“This cute story is designed to get us thinking about whether awareness is actually located in the body.

When you look at a tree, where exactly does your looking stop and the tree begin?

What we call “the world” is a collection of sense-impressions. Beyond and apart from these impressions, there is no world. The Vedic sages had a brilliant way of describing this:

They said what we think of as the body, mind, and world can be better described as a series of layers, like Russian dolls.

The world” is visual, auditory, and tactile sense-impressions.
[I’d add gustatory and scent as well– wc]

The body” is impressions of pleasure or pain.

The mind” is emotions and thoughts.

When we don’t have any impressions, there is no world, body, or mind. When we have impressions, all three arise together.”

Linda clearly is open to the world-impressions. So what impressions am I working with? It seems to me that I tend to retreat inside mind-impressions. When I’m driving a distance, I either drift into daydreams or focus on counting regimented items, e.g., how many Walmart vs. Target trucks we pass. If I’m really inspired, I add Dollar General, Family Dollar, and Amazon. (If you’re interested, Walmart trucks generally out-number the rest of this group two-to-one). In order to remember the count, I keep repeating the count to myself (e.g., ‘28-9-5-3-1’) and so forth, upping the count with each new truck. Well, this becomes a mantra while I drive and after a while, I fall into a frame where the flow of traffic and branded highway haulers become a drumbeat.  My mind flows to another place. Is this meditation – or just a mind-numbing trance? Maybe I’m just an enumerator? Who knows?

Now, I’m curious — what do you spy, when you are in motion?

Return to Sloansville by LL Barkat

I close my eyes,
blot out one hundred
and fifty shale driveways
pickup trucks, Ford
pintos, trailers barely
tied to this ground
by wires, gas lines
cable TV.

I can still see
dirt road, Queen
Anne’s Lace, goldenrod
blue chicory,
field mice nesting
under leaning timothy
and the apple orchard
rooted beyond tall firs

where a woman
in navy sweat pants
and red Budweiser t-shirt
is just now hanging laundry
to drift upon the wind,
sing with ghosts
of spring white
blossoms, honeybees.

Observation in Motion

This topic has me puzzled.  I tried doing some research on how one makes observations while in motion; more specifically, what equips an individual to make accurate and lasting observations of unrelated objects while attending to the priority of safe driving?  Other than the scientific explanations of the role of neurons in the frontal section of the brain, I was unable to find any useful information.  This is likely due to my inability to construct a meaningful (to Google) question that gets at my intention.

In Wal’s scenario, Linda is able to read license plates, notices drivers talking on cell phones, and sees turkeys on the side of the road while safely driving but Wal, a passenger with no obvious responsibilities for arriving safely at their destination, does not.  Now one could infer that noting the license plates indicates where the cars are and how close, drivers on their cell phones could become distracted, and turkeys on the side of the road could decide to cross the road.  All of these are potential threats to safe driving and we could conclude that Linda is using her powers of observation to support her defensive driving mode.

I am rarely a passenger so I easily defer to my lack of seeing what my partner Teresa sees while we’re driving because I’m clearly focused on driving.  However, she too, observes far more details when driving than do I.  And, she too is a good driver.  So, in this sample of two – Linda and Teresa – one might point to a gender-based difference.  After all, based on Jose Mathew’s very clever and funny explanation (in my humble and biased opinion) of how men and women’s brains are wired, the explanation is quite evident! (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JQJTbCAAc6w)

Or is it possible that Wal and I notice different things to inform us to also drive safely?  Or, could we see the same things but send a latent message to our brain to ignore the details and focus only on the big picture of how any of these might impact our driving?  Is one style better than another in terms of driving safety? In a NY Times article written by Nicolas Bakalar on April 27, 2020 he states,  “Women tend to be better drivers than men — much better, judging by the number of deaths they cause on the road.”  And, in an article in The Blog, written by Rebecca Shambaugh in March of 2016 she states, “Women tend to absorb more information through their senses and store more of it in the brain for other uses than men do. Therefore, women generally have more interest in details and pay more attention to them than men do.”

While I don’t know if there is a direct correlation between safe driving and attention to details, based on these findings, I may want to spend more time training myself to use both sides of my brain more often than does a typical male!

I also suspect age may play a role here.  I process things much more slowly and tend to remember less, especially details.   Perhaps I used to see many more things while still paying attention to the road.  Of course, in my over-confident youthdom I may have done so without paying the attention I should have to my driving and was just lucky.  Unfortunately, I’ll never kqnow because…I can’t remember!

On the positive side, I’m grateful to Wal for posing this topic for consideration as I now find myself spending a little more time looking around at my surroundings while appreciating even more, Teresa’s ability to notice so much.

“All of us are watchers – of television, of time clocks, of traffic on the freeway – but few are observers. Everyone is looking, not many are seeing.” Peter M. Leschak

Do You See What I See?

I never gave this much thought until Wally brought the topic up. But since then, every time I drive now I’m paying attention to what I am observing.  I should start by saying that in general I am observant.  I usually observe the little details as opposed to the big picture! If I’m sitting on my porch looking out over the yard, I tend to notice not just visual things but noise as well, and smells.  But they usually aren’t the predominant visual, sound or fragrance.  I see the mole hole in my grass but not the gully formed by the rain running off the gutters. I hear the mourning dove on the garage roof before I hear the ambulance siren going down the street.  It must be just the way I’m wired! 

So now when I drive away from my house I am trying to catch myself observing things without purposely trying to manipulate what it is I am observing.  I haven’t had a ticket in 7 years so I am assuming I am an ok driver.  For two of those years I was driving to Vermont and back every weekend so I was putting quite a few miles on my jeep. What I have discovered is I study the cars around me. I don’t always identify the make as many of the models today all look similar.  But what I realized is, I study stickers and decals from places visited.  I get annoyed at the “Baby on Board” ones like if there aren’t babies can I crash into your rear end?  Or the cute little mommy and daddy with 5 or 6 little stickers next to them and maybe a pup or kitty.  I had to laugh the other day seeing such a sticker with 7 little stickers following them and someone finger wrote on the dust of the trunk, “how do you have time to even drive around?”  Something I might have written myself!   I also read license plates, especially the vanity plates and if I can’t figure out what it is supposed to be saying I invariably remark to myself, “What the hell is that supposed to mean?”   Unfortunately, I don’t notice the big things, just the details! 

Now, here is something I realized I go out of my way to do when I am driving after dark and on local roads in my neighborhood.  I discovered I do it all the time when driving alone.  I look into people’s houses. Into windows that have lights on just to try to imagine what their lives are like. I like to see how the room is decorated and imagine their lives and then I develop an entire history of the family.  The husband is a school bus driver and his wife is a registered nurse. They have one daughter who is an honor student in high school.  Christmas times is especially fun to see the Christmas trees and decorations as I drive passed the bright windows.  If there is a silhouette that I can see from the car as I drive by, that is an added bonus and helps me fill

in the details of their boring or exciting life bed judging from what I observed as I passed by.  Making up stories about their lives just prevents me from getting bored while I’m driving.  If I am not near any buildings then I have to check out who is in the car next to me, assign a destination for them and a story as to why they are going there. 

Thanks Wal, I never realized how weird I am until now.  The observations are important but creating the stories that go along with them is really fun.  I’ll go away now!


ASDF…JKL, Semicolon

In junior high school, a concept that no longer exists, we were required to take a course in typing, to prepare us for the future.  We each sat in front of a typewriter, a machine that no longer exists, that had no letters on the keys.  Instead we had to look up at the blackboard, replaced by white boards, with a chart that had all the letters on the keys. We were not allowed to look down at the keyboard but had to learn which fingers were used for which letters.  Home base was “a,s,d,f—j,k,l,;” The thumb was only used to hit the space bar! I got pretty good at it and could type a lot of words a minute- which was how we were scored- words per minute and accuracy, another obsolete concept.  You always indented 5 spaces to start a new paragraph, and after a period you had to have 2 spaces.  Simple, easy to understand and easy to read!  All that has changed over the years.  My life is like the typing class!  Things were simple and consistent giving me a sense of security and comfort. 

     But just lik….ooops

But just like typing, life as changed as well.  Things that I used to feel comfortable with and safe have evolved to things that are not as comfortable for me today.  I would like to say Change is my middle name!  But I would have to change my first name to Can’t!  Of course I know change is inevitable, I grew taller, went through puberty, my voice changed, hair styles changed, friends moved on and new ones entered my life, I couldn’t wait to be older!  Sorry I spent so much time wishing for that one!  Life goes on……and most of the time we don’t even realize it is happening.  The changes just get incorporated into our lives and we don’t even realize it.  

I have been thinking about my Aunt Eleanor, who was born in 1907 and lived to be 99. In her lifetime there were incredible changes, advances in every possible field and life in general. I wish I had asked her how she dealt with it. From horse and buggies, to motor cars, from walk up apartments to elevators, ice boxes to refrigerators, it is mind boggling.  But through it all she survived and prospered.  She went from being a tatter in the garment district in NYC to being a key punch operator for Horn and Hardarts.  No such jobs exist today.  Things are constantly changing. As kids we used to make crank calls. Picked a number from the phone book (remember those?) called the number and when the person answered we would ask, “Is your refrigerator running? and when they would answer yes we would suggest they better run after it!  Harmless!  Today I get crank calls all the time that there is a problem with a bill but they can fix it if I send them $200. in gift cards. I’m too smart for that, but there are many people, especially seniors who get scared and do it.  I guess my point is that change isn’t always good.

I wonder what Aunt Eleanor thought when a man walked on the moon?

I have adapted to change out of necessity!  Can’t say I like it all but I have to learn to live with it.  At my age now, with my body working slower and my mind in rhythm with my body, things can sometimes be difficult.  I have a lot of friends who are pretty technical and can ride with the tide all of these computer advances, while a smaller group of us have to be pulled along into acceptance whether we like it or not.  My friends schedule activities and say they have to check their phones.  Phones are for calling people not for keeping track of stuff!  I, however have to wait to get home and check my wall calendar to see if I am available on that date.  Laughter and jeering subside after a few moments.  I also get all my bills through the US Post Office, an admirable institution and neatly pile all my bills on my desk until it is time to write the checks and record them in my little register to make sure I don’t over draw my resources.  You should hear my friends then……guffaws, you still write checks????  Yeah! I still write checks and still balance my checkbook, how else do you know how much money you have?  I can take being the dinosaur of the group and being the brunt of all the jokes but it is one place where life slows down and I can comfortably deal.  I will let you in on a little secret… I still double space after a period and no amount of joking will make me change.  And even though I have learned to text on my phone, I can never do it with my thumbs.  My one pointer finger sends all my messages and I’m proud of it.

Call me old fashioned, I have been called a lot worse.  I sit on my back porch with a glass of wine and my dog and in that peace and quiet, I take solace from that one brief moment where nothing seems to change, and all is good with the world!

Doing the Two Space

It’s interesting how we all criticized our elders’ resistance to change – until we became them! Is it possible that each generation enacts change partially to distinguish themselves from their forebears?

A lot of change is effective technical or cultural enhancement, but a portion is simply fashion…  like demonizing punctuation (and maybe the two-space guidance after a period). That sort of change for change’s sake leaves me cold if I can’t see a tangible benefit. In fact, I see a degradation of information by eliminating periods or other markers which help stage manage communication. A continued trend toward simplification in language increases the speed of communication, but not the quality. If you figure that George has inserted those two spaces between sentences at least 100,000 times in his life, you have to conclude that it is a pretty well-worn behavior – and that he’s really good at it. So why change? 

Needless change distracts from other important tasks – and it’s made more difficult by ‘proactive inhibition’. That’s when the old behavior competes with the new resulting in a lot of inconsistency. It’s worse, when the change is not much different than the old behavior (one space after a period). Change is also practice. The temptation is to stick with the tried and true (e.g., adding two spaces after the punctuation). It not only (literally) makes a statement, but it also expresses homage to those who taught you – a mark of loyalty. And it sets the azimuth of reality at a comfortable angle.

Yet, there are plenty of innovations that are worthy of adoption – perhaps even necessary for safety and survival. Years ago, I took a class with Margaret Mead titled Culture and Communication, in which she underlined the speed of cultural acquisition – the ability of disparate cultures to integrate breakthroughs introduced in far-away places. Good ideas travel quickly! However, she also believed that the rate of change was rapidly accelerating, leaving some individuals incapable or unwilling to make the leap that cultural change demands. Her example (at that time) was how the children raised on TV differed from their WWII predecessors who lived in a world of radio and print communication. I wonder what she would have thought of the generation raised by the holy trinity of internet, wi-fi and cell phone?

To large degree, we all tend to stick with the tried and true, but what might work at low-tide, is a losing proposition at high-tide. Settling-in can also mean sinking under. Some of my older friends eschewed computers and internet service as unwanted complications — and found that neighbors knew more about their children’s activities (through social media) than they did. They discovered that vaccination appointments had to be made online. One could rightly argue that there should be safety nets for the vulnerable (or simply stubborn) segments of our society, but the message is clear that it is unwise to ignore the tidal influence of change.

“We’re Only Haunted…” by Bridgett Devoue

we’re only haunted

by the things

we refuse

to accept

Embracing Change

Experience has provided the opportunity for me to understand and embrace change.  Like George, I don’t always seek it or relish that which is thrust upon me, but I accept that change is inevitable and ongoing.  Nothing really stays the same.  Just like the saying that you can’t step into the same river twice, everything around us, including us, is in a constant state of change.

I remember watching my grandmother forcefully resist change.  What she was taught and what she taught her children was the right way.  She was certain that her definition of manners and discipline were everlasting and the modern, more casual behaviors with dress, how children treated adults, and dating outside one’s religion would lead to society’s downfall.  Her children’s taste in music was questionable but listening to and watching such wanton people as Elvis Presley convinced her of the demise of my generation.  And when Russia launched Sputnik in 1957 she knew that climatic anomalies were the consequences of dabbling in areas we weren’t meant to be.  She knew what she knew and no logic or other forms of reasoning were going to change that.  When I entered my twenties, I vowed to remember the things I so loved about my grandmother but not to close my mind to an ever-changing world and isolate that part of myself from my children and grandchildren.

Fast forward to today and I find myself better understanding from whence she came as well as George’s happy place on his porch, with his dog and a glass of wine.  But I also appreciate that my high school typing class allows me to use the computer with relative ease and my enthusiasm for learning new things has endured these many years so that I look forward to the latest IPhone, the software updates on my Tesla, and learning the sport of pickle ball in my seventies.  I admit I sometimes vacillate between the “simplicity” of the good old days when there seemed to be fewer choices that then seemed limiting but now feel less complicated, and the wonders of today’s limitless technologies that help make our lives easier and medically, more repairable.  And I also realize, that it’s how I bring myself to each change that I face, that helps decide whether it is friend or foe.

Change is inevitable

Growth is optional

– John C. Maxwell

“Change is the law of life, and those who look only to the past and present are certain to miss the future” -John F. Kennedy


On Listening

The need to be heard is deeply embedded in me.  When I feel the listener gets what I’m trying to convey (even if they don’t agree) a physical sense of contentment comes over me.  On the flip side, when my words are ignored or replaced with the listener’s own story or interests, a combination of anger, upset, and frustration consume me.  It’s the way I’m wired.  

As a result of being this way, I purposely remind myself (because I still forget to follow my preference for being a good listener) to use one of the seven habits of highly effective people created by author Stephen Covey: Seek first to understand, then to be understood.  I actually prefer to listen first.  It helps me determine whether it is a good time for the other person to engage in an open dialogue or not.  What I hear gives me clues about what they are interested in and enables me to make a connection before I enter into a dialogue that might be important only to me.  Often, I’m not even aware that I’m doing this.  Only now, as I develop this piece on listening, am I cognizant that this seems to be what I do and why.  

I’m not sure why I get so frustrated by those who appear to be disconnected from what I say or disingenuous when they ask me a question and then choose to ignore my response and follow a strand that leads them to tell their own story.  I remember vividly, being in a meeting with about 15 school administrator colleagues and the topic was an issue that I felt was extremely important to the future of the district.  We were asked to prepare our comments ahead of time and we would all be given a chance to present them for discussion before a decision was made. When it was my turn, I spoke with what I felt was intention, clarity, and passion.  When I finished the facilitator simply said, “Okay” and when on to another person.  There was no asking if anyone had any questions, how they felt, the pros and cons of my proposal on the issue, or even a thank you for my thinking.  It was as if I hadn’t even spoken.  I didn’t know it at the time, but my friend and colleague seated next to me said he felt me rising out of my chair and, sensing my immense frustration, rubbed my back as one would do to a small child who was about to explode with rage.  The final decision appeared to be a fait accompli and therefore, in the end, none of our ideas or suggestions seemed to matter.

As I thought about that incident throughout my career, I vowed never to allow any of my constituents to feel dismissed or unheard.  Of course I had no control of how people might feel and even though I worked hard at getting to understand what my staff and teammates might be saying, I’m sure I missed some along the way.  But I realized that as long as I tried to understand and acknowledge their meaning and intention, they should never feel as dismissed and unheard as I did at that meeting.

I have known both extremes to the behavior of listening.  I once worked with a woman who had developed such a devotion to listening to others that she never spoke of or about herself.  She deflected questions with one or few word answers and immediately defaulted to asking about the other person.  She remembered details about their last conversation and quickly engaged them.  People felt heard, cared for, and valued by her.  Somehow, for me, there was a void in not knowing her opinions or more about her own life.

There are others, of course, who have such a need to share or vent or explain that they often dominate a conversation or take what I say and link it to their own story.  Sometimes, it enhances what I was trying to illustrate but much of the time it misses my point and becomes more about them.  It is in those times that I become quiet.

I’ve learned a few things about myself when it comes to listening:

  • I need to increase my tolerances for listening, interruptions, and storytelling             
  • Less talk and more thought make conversations more fulfilling
  • Blogging gives me all the time I need to tell my stories and share my opinions

“When we listen, we hear someone into existence.”― Laurie Buchanan, PhD

The Wise Old Owl

I have a problem.  Ask Henry or Wally and they will tell you.  But there is a reason, and I know I have used this excuse before in defense of other bad habits, but it is fitting.  I am Italian.  As Henry and Wally let me know every time we are together, either by a roll of eyes or a forced cough, I interrupt, break into their discourse and have to share an idea. A jury would find me guilty. But back to the Italian thing.  My extended family consisted of about 15 free ranging Italians all hungry and waiting for dinner to be served.  Momentarily while the food was being placed on the table there was a hush that came over the dining room.  As soon as my dad sat down at the head of the table all Hell broke loose.  My aunts would announce that they weren’t really hungry and they would just pick, as they filled their plates with everything in sight.  At first the conversation was, “please pass the macaroni” and then evolved into ,”Gimme the Italian bread!”  This wasn’t done in polite courteous discourse, it soon became cruder and louder and all at the same time.  As a child I learned that I couldn’t just wait for a pause in the chatter because there was never a pause, so you had to raise your voice and as a kid occasionally stand up and point to what you wanted.  If I just waited for a pause in the conversation I would starve plus after a few minutes my mom, my dad or my aunts would shout across the table to me with, “What’s the matter, why aren’t you eating anything? ” So with that as my background it is a hard habit to break.

On the other hand, my Welsh grandfather would quote the wise old owl (not sure what scholar really came up with this so I can’t include his name in the credits) and tell my brother and I that we were born with one mouth and two ears, so we were meant to listen twice as much as we spoke. Not bad advice at all.  But being a little kid and a snarky one at that, I would always say he should come to one of our Sunday dinners and bring that owl. But Grampa would just say, “When in Rome……” which I didn’t really understand because we lived in Flushing  So breaking the habits of interrupting and speaking loudly has been a life long goal and obviously one I have not yet achieved.  I don’t do it to be rude, much of the time something that was said got me excited and I wanted to contribute and having no vocal boundaries I just jumped right in. I do admit that sometimes during a conversation, a pretty bird or an insect or something attracts my attention and I want the other people to see it too so I interrupt again.  Habits are hard to break and having little self discipline interferes with my success.  To this predicament aging is also a contributing factor. If I don’t tell you my idea right now, by the time you stop talking I may have lost it…….just sayin’.

I was a teacher for 35 years and a union president for the last 10.  So I had to listen. The union position was especially difficult because I had to listen to a teacher’s problems. If I was sitting at my desk in the office I would be pinching my knee beneath my desk reminding me not to interrupt.  And that worked for the most part.  Everyone wants to be heard. I know that and it is probably because of my insecurities that I force myself on others to be heard.  It isn’t because I’m not listening or not interested, it is just that I am convinced I have something so important to share that I just can’t wait for the pause so I watch very closely to see when the person takes a breath and jump in.

I have a lot of work to do still and I’m running out of time.  Old dogs take a lot longer to learn new tricks.  Shiny objects always attract my attention and I am so sorry to hear about your broken leg, but Look, an army tank just drove passed the house!

Vocal Boundaries

I think George is onto something in raising the issue of vocal boundaries – and crossing them in order to be heard. I suppose that in a competitive environment, you need to be assertive to make a point, even if that means interrupting or changing the topic of conversation. But is all conversation really competitive? Is conversational space a scarce resource?

George and I kid about interrupting Hen before he can say 25 words.  It’s a joke, because Hen does not blather on, but rather gets to a point pretty efficiently. We can tease Hen, because he is generally pretty tolerant about being conversationally short-sheeted. Similarly, I might roll my eyes at George, whenever he jumps in to take the conversation in a different direction. The eye-roll is not meant to be demeaning:  I (and Hen) appreciate George’s spontaneity and wit – and the conversation usually becomes more interesting. The bottom line is that we are comfortable with each other and realize that we all care enough to eventually give one another the opportunity to express a point of view, despite eye-rolls, interruptions, and lots of laughter.

Caring is the key. George’s family could cross vocal boundaries, because they demonstrated in a hundred ways that they recognized each other as people that mattered. It seems to be a different story when someone demonstrates that you are not valued enough to be allowed conversational space – and worse — gloss over your ideas without really listening. Unfortunately, I’ll bet we’ve all been on both sides of that discourse!

It seems to me that the urge to dominate the airwaves increases with age. Many of my senior friends feel compelled to share their stories — either before it’s too late, or before they forget. There is rarely a drop-the-mic moment, because the mic is held in a death-grip. I don’t buy George’s point that the urge to share doesn’t interfere with listening (sorry for the double negative!). Of course it does: the teller is focusing on the next point instead of asking questions for clarification. 

To go even further, I suggest (as many others have suggested) that the inability to repeat back what another person has said to you – in a manner that causes the other to signal that you heard correctly – is a major national problem these days. Wonder what would happen if we took a rule to share stories, one-for-one and asked as many questions as we used declaratives?

excerpt from Please Just Listen by Jessie Swick

…”Perhaps that’s why prayer works—because god is mute,
And he doesn’t give advice or try
To fix things,
God just listens and lets you work
it out for yourself.
So please listen, and just hear me.
And if you want to talk, wait a minute
For your turn—and I will listen to you.”



When we started this blog, it was our goal to depict a first-person record of our thoughts for our friends, children and grandchildren. Maybe this record could start a conversation or provide an insight that would benefit someone. Sometimes this writing is tough for me, because I’m just an ‘everyman’, whose experiences are mostly alike to just about all the folks who read our posts. So, here’s a recent dilemma – perhaps you’ve felt the same.

I believe that most people make decisions with their heart and then rationalize why they are logical decisions. However, there are times when logic and doubt put the brakes on that decision, rendering a full-hearted decision into a half-hearted enterprise. I tend to do that frequently. A case in point:

An acquaintance asked me for a favor, a man in his later nineties. Would I act as the executor for his will as he had no family or close friend to help him? Sure, I said – of course. “Whoa”, my brain’s executive function replied – “What are you getting us into?” Well, said I, it’s the right thing to do, after all, he’s alone and I’ll just provide the administrative work to satisfy his last wishes, which were to donate his estate to a charity that helps burn victims – and to ensure that the ashes of his deceased dog get buried with him.

It started off with some bumps. I realized soon into the process, that my friend (I will call him friend, because we now have a certain relationship) has a communication style which tends to alienate quite a lot of folks. If asked a question he does not wish to answer, he simply refuses to acknowledge the query, stares straight ahead, and pretends he doesn’t speak the language (yet English is his only language). If the question is repeated, he may deflect by becoming antagonistic. This pattern makes it very difficult to deal with lawyers, who want to define the set of assets and stipulations in his will and funeral directors, who attempt to identify the conditions of being laid to rest. Later, I found out that this style also doesn’t help medical professionals who are trying to determine what hurts and under what circumstances. Clearly, his needs were less for an executor, but more for a care-giver and public relations specialist.

It became starkly apparent when my friend slipped in his steep driveway and had to go to the emergency room. From there, he was shunted to a rehabilitation center for two months. During this time, we worked through his bills and arranged a safe return to his house, with added handicapped assistance and occupational therapy. Bill-paying took some time, because my friend only pays with a credit card and only by telephone, and only when his hearing aids worked. His philosophy is that if creditors didn’t make it easy to pay (e.g., no checks, no computer, no long telephone menu, no foreign accents), well, then they didn’t need his money. Shopping also became an issue, because he has specific – and limited — tastes which are distributed among several grocery stores.

Around this time, I became half-hearted. Although I wanted to help, nothing seemed to satisfy my friend. Every problem had a particular – and not quite obvious — acceptable solution. Also, running around to different stores for special cereal, orange juice brands, bread, and non-dairy creamers is just not my thing. In addition, desired brands were not always available due to stocking and supply chain issues. Bananas with absolutely no spots, white bread with expiration dates of two weeks or more, one brand of cheese, two types of cereal in a particular volume, razor-thin sliced angus, and one type of non-dairy creamer – a gallon at a clip, were judged to standards beyond my enthusiasm level. Products and people all seemed to be sources of irritation to my friend, even those people who were helping him in some fashion. I found myself parlaying excuses for delaying my visits. I kept saying to myself, I’m supposed to be learning something from this situation, but I could not figure it out.

I was mad at myself for not really engaging; resentment was weighing me down. Being half-hearted is bad for your health. The Bible has a relevant verse about this:

“I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.”

Boy, that fit. Yoda also has a verse:

“Do or do not. There is no try.” 

Well, that pinned me – either do or don’t. I realize that I needed to see this as a situation where I should be happy that I’m able to do something to help my friend… and lucky that I have a wife who is game to assist. Finally, I became content with understanding that I may never figure out what I’m supposed to learn from this experience. And as soon as that happened, I learned some things!

  1. People, particularly seniors, want to be recognized: they are afraid of becoming irrelevant; want to be seen and understood. But that’s not enough
  2. People want you to care. You cannot do that in a half-hearted manner. Showing up isn’t enough: you have to listen to their stories and be invested. Regularity and attention to detail will also help
  3. Understand that even if help is required, it is rarely welcomed. Folks may not show their best side, particularly if that have reason to come from a position of general mistrust. In my case, being judged for shopping skills was not the point. It was to ensure that I listened to my friend’s needs. Once that was satisfied, he compromised on his brand requirements
  4. Those abrasive and judgmental behaviors could easily be my personality style in similar circumstances. Look at yourself and learn to age with grace.  

Age with Grace

I was having trouble trying to connect with Wally’s half-heartedness.  I have never been in a situation like that where I have been tested.  Wally is his own worst critic and I admire how he stepped up and helped this guy out.

I aspire to be like him, Wally not the cranky old guy.  Perhaps I have never been in that position because I have been too afraid to make that leap of faith and people recognized that in me and never approached me. Wally has shared his experiences with this gentleman, and I often thought were it me I would be stomping my feet, throwing things, and cursing at the moodiness and abruptness that Wally’s generosity was dealt with by this guy. I just couldn’t ‘relate until the last three words of Wally’s text….. Age With Grace.
I immediately was enveloped in the snarky state that I am known for…. But Wally, your wife is named Linda!  Sometimes I do that because the topic of discussion is too painful to address intellectually.  I have accomplished much in my life that has made me proud but doing it with grace is not one of my strong suits.  To age with grace is quite a concept., and quite a task to accomplish.  Those of us who are fortunate enough to age, do it in various ways. Our culture doesn’t revere aging the way other cultures do, and as a result we are often taken advantage of, teased, or discounted.  Aging gracefully may be more an aspect of how those around us treat us rather than anything we do “gracefully.”  I often joke that I have earned my curmudgeon license and enjoy using it. Old people are known for their crankiness, and ornery-ness.  Our society doesn’t always treat seniors with patience and respect, and as a result many seniors respond to society without that value and respect, they/we expect.  Just look at all the hackers and computer thieves who prey on seniors to get our money over the phone or through the computer because we aren’t smart enough to know better.  Throw in some fear and add confusion and we are easy prey to these crooks.
I fear growing older more like Wally’s friend than Jimmy Carter and that troubles me.  Being alone late in life is very difficult.  Sure, I have caring kids who will always take care of me but I don’t want them to have to do that.  And having kids is different than having a partner.  You can’t talk to your kids the same as you can with a spouse or close friend.  At least to me it seems inappropriate to talk about certain things with my kids that I could easily share with someone who has known me intimately for a long time.  I guess I am quickly approaching the category of cranky old geezer and leaving behind the helpful younger caretaker who graciously gives his time to help out someone in need.
I turned 76 a few weeks ago and suddenly felt old.  Nothing changed from how I felt the day before, but the number was scary.  Sure, 76 trombones led the big parade but I don’t have a parade in me anymore.  I have friends around my age who are dealing with problems with their hands and feet, pain and numbness like I do.  I am waiting for the day to come when my kids decide dad shouldn’t be driving anymore- one of the last strongholds for seniors to feel independent Thank goodness for back up cameras because I have trouble turning my head around to see what I am backing into.  The camera allows me the security of signaling if I am in danger of crashing into anything.  But there are so many little reminders like that that seniors experience in a day, and the indignity that accompanies them.  You really have to be brave to get older, the body slowly deteriorates and so does the mind.  In the course of a conversation, we lose words.  That bugs me most of all, when you have to use the definition of a word because you can’t retrieve the word itself. I went to the, ah, you know, the heart doctor….. right the cardiologist.  So, I understand what Wally’s friend is going through.  Sometimes I wonder if he gives Wal a list of things just to see how far Wal will go to get everything.  But you can tell even with this gentleman his recent life has been very lonely and having a human to talk to every now and then is essential. I know the guy has a good heart because he wants his best friend’s ashes to be buried with him.  I know how deep that connection is.  I wouldn’t have made it through Covid without mine.  I will strive to age with grace…….or Rick, or Mary….or Fred, but perhaps that aspect of life will escape me.

With a Full Heart…

In this thought-provoking piece, Wal asks us to think about how fully we bring ourselves to the task of helping others, how we respond to those things that get in the way of making it a fulfilling experience, and what we can learn from the entire experience.  These questions also apply to relationships and work. 

There have been numerous times when I did the right thing for the right reasons but not with a positive attitude.  I was unhappy about my commitment and wished I was somewhere else, but I had given my word and felt I needed to honor it.  And while I’m sure it was apparent to everyone around me, I still felt that they should accept my unsmiling face with appreciation since, after all, I was doing what was expected.  This was not how I wanted it to be, but, at the time, didn’t feel there were any viable alternatives.

I remember one time when I was to accompany my former partner and her daughter to the wedding of her friend.  I hardly knew the friend or the groom and it was a weekend long affair.  To add insult to injury, it was one of those spectacular fall weekends when the weather was perfect for hiking, biking, or anything outdoors and I was really unhappy.  Then, I realized that I had a choice!  I decided that it would be better off for everyone if I stayed home and excused myself from the wedding event.  My partner and her daughter could enjoy the event and they wouldn’t have to worry about me sitting indoors with people I didn’t know and wishing I were somewhere else.  I assumed that this was a legitimate request as my partner had excused herself from an outing or two that she wouldn’t have liked and that had been acceptable to me.  I was wrong.  Even though I was clear and direct, they both were adamant that I should come, that I would have a great time, and they would be extremely unhappy if I didn’t.  So I went…begrudgingly, angrily, and more moody than I’ve ever been.  I was miserable and so were they.  We arrived, they got out while I parked the car, and when I entered the venue, I discovered it was actually a surprise party for me for my fiftieth birthday!

Eckhart Tolle offers three healthy ways to address such issues that move us closer to acting with a full heart and with less suffering.  He suggests that when we are faced with a situation in which we are a participant who is struggling with the conditions or circumstances of what we are doing, we can actively seek to change it, completely accept it, or leave.

In the case I described above, I did first seek to change the situation by offering to stay behind and supporting their interest in going.  However, instead of accepting the situation after I agreed to go, I feel back into a less than half-hearted position.  I made myself miserable and those around me who were, in fact, trying to surprise me with something I would truly enjoy.  I have never forgotten that lesson.  All I had to do was take a deep breath, let go of where I wanted to be, and enjoy the ride.  Instead, I not only lost those hours of living well but numerous minutes and hours regretting it.

“If you’re willing to give me
Give me your all
I like things whole and imperfect
So don’t give me perfect halves
For I don’t like to go for things
and I don’t like to be gone for

― Sherihan Gamal


Lunch Anyone?

Not long ago, while meeting friends for lunch in uptown Kingston, I happened to park where I have many times before. Kingston is known for its old stone houses, In fact, the “Stockade” four corners is an intersection whose claim to fame is that it is the oldest four corners of original stone houses from the late 1600’s in America and survived the burning of Kingston by the British.  I parked on a side street not far from there in front of one of those old stone houses, abandoned and roofless with grass growing inside the walls.  Normally I park the car and head to wherever I’m going, but this time I really looked at this skeleton of a house.  It captured my attention.  Perhaps it was the stonework, or the sun shining inside the empty rooms with dirt floors and vegetation growing between the rock walls.  I decided to invite myself inside and sat in one of the rock chairs placed awkwardly around the structure.  I sat silently for a moment and just looked around.  I could identify the boundaries of a few rooms and tried to imagine the kitchen, living room and whatever other rooms might have been in the floor plan.  The floors were rocky also and covered in grass and weeds.  My imagination was running wild as I purveyed the scene and imagined what life was like In this house 400 years ago. What did it look like, what sounds did they hear back then! 

I could see the remnants of two chimneys, and as I looked out what once were windows I imagined what the view would be like.  Certainly different from the firehouse next door and the parking lot of a popular bakery and restaurant across the street. I imagined fields of corn, maybe a few barns or sheds.  Maybe a plow or two strewn in the barnyard. I imagined settlers tending the crops, women preparing food and doing chores.  But what I tried to imagine the most were children. We’re they out playing games in the yard or helping dad with the crops.  Those were the boys of course because the girls were helping mom in the kitchen.  My mind went to an image of today’s kids with video games, phones, and tv, not helping their parents but just obsessed with the technology.

I looked around more and wondered what life was like back then for the family.   I was always interested in history but never really thought about how different life was.  For example, were they worried about money, was there money?  They worked the farm and “sold” their crops or did they barter for what they needed. Did they have bills to pay, and how did they do that? When the day’s work was done did they all sit by the fire and talk, did they read and chat about the neighbors or the kids?  I imagine a much quieter household than we are used to.  I suspect the children listened better and knew better than to question their parents’ words. A much different vision than today’s homes with everyone on some device or other without any interaction. What was hanging on their walls, no photographs obviously, but did they decorate the walls? I can visualize the kitchen but the other rooms are harder to picture.  The kids probably lived in a loft tucked under the eaves, with small wooden beds and mattresses of straw, all home made.

Then the judgments started.  Were they better off than we are today?  Life was definitely harder, people had to be self sufficient, independent and families had to care for themselves without the help of specialists.  They had to be carpenters, stone masons, and any other skilled laborer that was needed. I think about it and wonder how I ever would have survived in a culture like that. I forgot about lunch and kind of woke up from my stupor.  I politely excused myself to the gracious hosts of this long ago thriving household and joined my friends in the noise and rush and clutter of today’s world and wondered once again who was better off!

Past Tense

I’m pretty familiar with the remnant of the stone structure that George describes. It does lend itself to thinking about times past and how people lived, particularly, since it was also the site of the Esopus Massacre. 

Imagine a great fence of upright poles surrounding several blocks of the settlement where this house stood: basically, a fortress. The stockade was built by Peter Stuyvesant in 1658 to protect the fledgling settlement of Wiltwyck, now Kingston. During the day, the men went to work the fields near the Esopus River and the gates were closed. However, there were also days where the Munsee tribe of the Lenape were admitted for purposes of trade.

On one of those days, a coordinated attack of the settlement of Nieuw Dorp (New Town) and within the stockade of Wiltwyck was commenced. Nieuw Dorp was burned to the ground and eighteen inhabitants of Wiltwyk were killed. Forty-four women and children were abducted. Thus started the Second Esopus Indian War in 1661.

It was a pretty dangerous and difficult existence 350 years ago! 

While I do believe that happiness is relative – people will find purpose and satisfaction in any given time period – I don’t have any yearnings to live in earlier times. Eric Sloane chronicled the diary of fifteen-year-old Noah Blake, originally written in 1805. Circumstances still do not seem so appealing:

March 27:  Father was wrong about the weather, for it snowed again today. We kept within the house, sharpening and making ready tools for the year’s farming.

March 28: Snow stopp’d during the night, but it is very cold. My window glass is frosty and my ink froze.

April 9: Flooding all but washed our bridge away. Father says the new bridge beams are seasoned and ready. When the waters subside, he shall begin to erect it. We are shaping up the abutments.

Focus tended to be on the many tasks that needed to be completed: plowing, mending, transporting stone for the bridge, building sheds and mills. It’s clear that neighbors needed to stick together to finish larger tasks – a real positive, given the reality of today where folks might not even know their neighbors. 

Kids like Noah had friends – and helped their parents with tasks. Faith was a social glue as well: many of Noah’s entrees highlighted church services and the opportunity to visit with a girl his age. I have a church pew taken from a demolished church which dates to 1804… I know this because children carved their names and dates into the back of the pew – likely during a service. I was struck by the neatness and skill of the graffiti. 

While I admire the craftsmanship that was in the DNA of folks 200 years ago, I would not want to live in that time: if for nothing else, think of the learning resources we have at our fingertips – we are ignorant only if we want to be. So, thanks for the efforts of our forebears – they had challenges and enjoyments suitable for their circumstances – but I’m happy to be in this present… even with its problems.

Excerpt from The Present by Adelaide Anne Proctor

Do not crouch to-day and worship

   The dead Past, whose life has fled

Hush your voice in tender reverence

   Crowned he lies, but cold and dead:

For the Present reigns, our monarch,

   With an added weight of hours;

Honor her for she is mighty!

   Honor her, for she is ours!

Hard But Simple

I often think of living life in the days described by George’s visit to the late 1600s “Stockade” in uptown Kingston.  It generally finds its way into my thoughts when I’m cutting and splitting firewood, repairing a piece of furniture, or working in my vegetable garden.  During these physical exercises, I find myself more focused.  I am less distracted from the daily interruptions, less likely to daydream, and more attentive to the task at hand.  However, I do wonder what it would have been like to conduct these chores without the power tools I use to carry them out or the consequences of failing to cut enough wood to cook and heat the house or to successfully grow enough vegetables from the garden to feed the family.  Never-the-less I get a great deal of satisfaction feeling I am capable of managing to provide the bare essentials for myself if I need to.  

Fourteen years ago, I built a run-in (a roofed, three-sided shelter) in the woods at a campsite I created behind my house. The process entailed getting lumber from a local lumber mill delivered to an area near the front of my house.  From there, beams, flooring, siding, roofing, hardware and tools had to be moved to a location 700 feet away.  The traverse was down a very steep 300-foot hill, across a 18-foot bridge spanning a small creek, and up a 100 foot hiking trail that included two switchbacks.  At the time, I didn’t have any vehicles that would assist getting the materials from the bridge to the site.  Occasionally, I enlisted a friend to carry some boards with me.  Most of the time, I pulled, dragged, and rolled each item inch by inch to the designated target. It reminded me of what life might have been like, back then.  Fortunately for me there was no pressing deadline and I had battery powered tools to use at the site.  It was a most rewarding and instructive experience.  In fact I often felt more personal satisfaction during this project than in the work I did as an educator.  I loved teaching and being a principal but the good work we did was always the result of a collaboration of people.  This experience allowed me to feel a sense of individual accomplishment but also to understand the value and necessity of working as a team.

And, from time to time I would fantasize what it would be like to have to provide myself with food, water, and winter warmth, if the modern systems we all use would suddenly become unavailable.  Before I moved, I had a cadre of friends, each of whom had unique skill sets that would enable them to manage through such a scenario.  I often thought of the interdependence that existed during the time period George describes.  I’d like to think that those friends would see the value in setting aside our drive to function independently and would band together to help each other through challenging times.  As much as I enjoy my lack of dependency on others there is a strong appeal for communal living that seems ignored today.  I wonder if we were all forced to provide for our basic needs, would we seek to work in concert.  I can only hope we would.

Living with our wits and our hands is hard work.  Knowing that our work is to provide food, clothing, and shelter while living in community with others, seems simple in determining how to live our lives.

“It is not more bigness that should be our goal. We must attempt, rather, to bring people back to the warmth of community, to the worth of individual effort and responsibility, and of individuals working together as a community, to better their lives and their children’s future.” – Robert F. Kennedy



Even when you’re ready to look deep inside and to make the commitment to do what’s necessary to be your best self, it doesn’t necessarily mean you really are.  In my case it was only the beginning of a very long process that took thirty-five years for me to realize significant change.

Around the time I turned 40 I was an assistant principal in a small city district and was part of a team of administrators who had been frustrated with the traditional professional development experiences which often lacked substance and follow up.  As a result, little if anything in our behaviors or work procedures ever really changed.  Rather than simply complain, a few of us decided to search for consultants who had the reputation for developing highly effective leaders and creating opportunities for systemic change. That’s when I met Rod Napier.  He sat before our small committee and made his presentation.  We were truly impressed and felt he was the one who could provide us with a unique experience and one that would not only guide us into a more cohesive organization but in a way that would invite authentic communication between and among our more than 50 administrative members. 

When we told him he was our choice candidate he looked at us and asked us a question.  “Do you really want to change?” he said.  Of course we replied; that’s what this is all about.  He smiled and said we didn’t understand.  “Do you really want to change?”  We smiled back and said yes we do.  He then stared into our eyes with a look of seriousness that was almost threatening.  “Do you really want to change?” he said a third time.  This time, we had no immediate response.  We wondered; Were we simply looking for better professional development that would be exciting and helpful but that fit neatly into our existing way of doing things or were we willing to commit to something that would rock the boat, take far out of our comfort zone, and bring us on a journey few leaders in any organization had taken before?  After much discussion and time to think we decided to move forward and, with Rod’s help, convinced the Board of Education to sign a three-year contract that would surely shake up the status quo and quite possibly put our district on the course of a great and unknown adventure.  And before we could begin, I was hired by another district to lead my own school as principal.  Ugh!  Was this to be a missed opportunity?  I called Rod and explained my situation.  It was then that I learned about The Temagami Experience.

We landed on Langskib Island on Lake Temagami in Northeastern Ontario in a small seaplane in early August. Twenty of us were flown in, five at a time, for the purpose of learning about leadership.  We were twenty strangers known only to the three guides who led the program.  We left behind our names, our occupations, and our family status.  Each of us knew nothing about each other except what we looked like and the pseudonym we had chosen. The setting was a one-mile perimeter wooded island with several bunk buildings and outhouses, a rustic building where meals were provided, and the lake for bathing, swimming, and fishing.  The approach was to participate in Native American rituals that would enable us to uncover our authentic selves, reveal our strengths, weaknesses, and blind-spots, and to create a plan to transition our newly learned insights into positive action upon our return to families and work.  The training was intense.  We worked non-stop individually, in small groups, and as a whole depending on the activity.  

For ten days and nights we stripped away preconceived notions, experienced the extreme vulnerability of a sweat lodge, the deep inner journey during a forty-hour vision quest, the infinite beauty and raw harshness of nature during a multi-day canoe trip, and the power of clear and direct feedback about how our words and actions impacted others.  I went into this experience pompous and self assured and emerged with few affirmations but acutely aware of my self-deceptions and narrow views of people and the world.  At the same time I felt fear and support, uncertainly and conviction, and immense sadness and joy.  At forty, when I thought I had arrived and finally grasped how life worked and ought to be, I now knew I had just begun to understand. Thus began a process that would continue to upend what I thought to be truth, over and over again.

I went back the following summer to a part two experience with some of the same participants but mostly new strangers from former years.  The experience further pushed our physical and emotional limits with a fire walk, honest reflections on how we were able to act, or not, on all that we had learned the previous summer(s), and with more individual intensives.  My solace was that all of this took place in nature.  We essentially lived and worked outdoors in a place where descendants of the original natives to the land still lived and practiced their way of life and where the untouched night sky was so completely filled with stars, silence, and wonder that there was no sense of, or connection to, the civilization we had willingly left behind.

In truth, while I believed I was drawn to Temagami to affirm my well being, the fact was I was quietly struggling with who I was, the choices I had made, and the underlying question of wondering if I was enough.  I don’t believe in coincidences.  I believe that opportunities present themselves at just the right times.  And, if we’re ready and willing to seize them, we get to continue the process of moving toward the best versions of ourselves.  For me, the journey continues…

“I Go To Seek A Great Perhaps!”

-Francois Rabelais-

A Gaia Moment

George and I were initially unsure how to respond to Hen’s post, so the three old guys met over coffee to discuss. Hen elaborated on the week’s experience that he had at Temagami. It clearly was an immersion event, aimed at obtaining a sharper personal assessment. During the week, participants did not disclose their names or professions, but adopted pseudonyms. Various physical trials and exercises were presented — as extreme as walking on a bed of hot coals. 

Yet Hen, while hinting at these activities, focused mainly on the personal growth he achieved and the worth of the group feedback sessions. He arrived with a certain view of himself – and left with a challenge to change a particular behavior. In fact, each participant had to post a “bond” against a pledge to incorporate a stated change: be it becoming less judgmental to completing a doctoral dissertation. The bonds were forfeit if the behavioral contract was broken. 

Now, neither George or I had any similar experience to write about. But Hen’s discussion mainly elaborated on how this immersion week – and other experiences – acted as a tipping point in altering the way he views what is meaningful in his life. Now there’s a handle that both George and I could use!

George describes a journey that took years to reach a tipping point. However, once tipped, change happened very quickly. Like Hen, he was freed up to approach his life in a way which gave him a sense of authenticity.

My story is far more modest – and I’ve not had a great deal of success trying to explain the sense of impact that it had on me, even to this day. It only took an evening, but perhaps it was the result of a longer process, so perhaps the context is relevant.

When you are young, you are like a stem cell: open to grow into a variety of possible outcomes. During such a time, Linda and I bonded with a group of folks who lived in an apartment unit: four females, four males, two newborns; two straight couples, two gay couples. All of us the same age, making the transition from college to … who knows what? We weren’t an extended family, but a somewhat tribal unit living in the same place.  We hung out, shared dinners, listened to music, went on a number of hikes and camping events.

One night, we started a camp fire in the midst of an easy interchange of conversation and ideas. The darkness and the fire served to bring us all into sense of connection. There is an African term for ‘dreaming the fire’ – and that is what I was doing. Then – a Gaia moment – an epiphany that we were all hurtling through space on a living entity. I could picture all of us and our structures as shallow overlays and thin macadam ribbons on an animated Earth. Each of us so tiny on this greater being, whose heartbeat could be felt so strongly through the ground: how could I have ignored that vibration up to this point? I could sense the energy shared by all objects. Full disclosure, there might have been THC in the air… but no difference… it was a visceral insight, one that I can vividly recall even now.

Now this small — and perhaps obvious – perception changed my ordering of reality in a couple of profound ways. Most important, it brought home that what I process intellectually is not as potent as what I learn viscerally. Logic and analytic skills are grafted onto older and more mystic roots. Sometimes the combination results in conflicting beliefs: what is deduced versus what is felt. I have come to believe that it is okay to ask pointed questions, but not to form a firm conclusion.

Secondly, if quantum physics is correct, what we call “we” is a part of an energy field that includes everything we perceive/measure as objects. Perhaps we are all connected in this sense. If so, I would find comfort in this thought. 

Except from Upon a Star’s Wish I Live by Travestygirl

We know Gaia’s voice, spirit evoked,
the earthen one, saliently silent, felt
as soil, fecund. We know the song
of the sun, brilliant, permeating all life,
sentient, non-sentient, in all ways
and always heard. The Universe’s,
beckoning, solemn, somber, longing

Hide or Seek

Henry’s post was a tough one for me to relate to. I was a small skinny  kid growing up.  In grade school we used to line up in size places and I was always first in line all the way through grade 6.  I was always picked on and bullied and made fun of…you know the “Georgie porgie puddnin’pie….” thing! Anyway, I kind of avoided anything physical and even as an adult a challenge to my body was unthinkable.  I just couldn’t depend on it and to put it to a test was out of the question.  I also knew early on that I was different from the other boys.  I didn’t understand how til around 7th grade when we started changing in the locker room for gym, and realization began to seep in.  In the 50’s it wasn’t acceptable, so I learned to play the game and hide to stay out of trouble.  

My point being that I could never have a life changing experience like Henry had where my stamina and strength was challenged in such a way.  So when I read Henry’s piece I couldn’t relate at first.  Reflecting back on my life, after that rough start, I went away to school, met a woman I fell in love with and lived the American  dream.  I had a career I loved, we bought a house, had kids, dogs, cats.  Life was good.  23 years went by and we started having problems, due mostly to different goals and life directions and we separated.  Why am I writing this?  After days of stewing over how I could respond to Henry, I realized some people choose to be challenged to purposely learn things about themselves and others have the challenge thrust upon them. It isn’t always a physical challenge but an emotional one can help us learn as well. It was a sad time, life required me to go on- work, kids, even the dog had to be walked and fed.  I was trying to find my way, being gay was certainly more acceptable in the early 90’s than back in the 50’s, but it was new to me.  After sleepless nights and a great deal of anguish, I decided I could no longer play act.  I finally decided to be authentic.  I subscribed to the old adage, “In for a penny, in for a pound.”  I was going to come out all over. I called my principal and told her. Over the next few weeks, I started coming out to my friends and colleagues. Some of them were not surprised, others were shocked, and still others just couldn’t deal with it.  That’s when I began to learn things about myself.  I was stronger than I ever imagined.  I had to learn to be patient.  My son had a very difficult time with it and expressed it in a typical 17- year-old manner.   I took the abuse for about 3 months until one night I just couldn’t allow it to continue and suggested he move out of my house.  I had to develop respect for who I really was before I could expect others to respect me. I learned a great deal about myself during that time.  Identifying the friends and relatives I wanted to keep in my life required acceptance of the pain and conviction that I had the ability to actually do what was necessary.  Those close to me who couldn’t accept me, I had to distance them from myself.  I would get through the pain of separation, but I could no longer live the charade, so I plowed through it.

Authenticity was the goal, acknowledgement to myself and others became my purpose, and hiding was no longer an option.  It was probably the most important decision I ever made……To thine own self be true.  I grew as a result in ways I never anticipated.  Shortly after coming out I ran for union president and was elected.  The teachers knew who I was and elected me anyway.  I began to feel comfortable in my own skin. Physical ailments I had had for years disappeared.  I relaxed, I sighed, I enjoyed things differently than ever before.  I developed a confidence I never had. And I began to live bigger than ever. . Life was good! I was comfortable in my own identity and I looked forward to new experiences like at no other time in my life.


Friends Bearing Books

Having been laid up recently, I’ve had some time to survey my nightstand: it’s really just a landing pad for books. It points to an inescapable conclusion: friends nourish friends – and what better way to do that, than by exchanging books?

Fresh insights, new experiences, and a few laughs keep friendships alive. This post honors those friends that have chosen just the right diversity of publication to keep the conversation interesting. An archaeological ‘dig’ of the strata of printed material on my nightstand yields the following:

  1. A bedrock layer of faith-based and philosophical insights. Lee has sent an unpretentious gem of a book, Making Sense of the Bible by Adam Hamilton. I love this type of book which puts ideas in a larger context. Little did I know that the Judaic Tanakh and the Protestant Old Testament include the same material, just reordered – and that the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Catholic versions differ among themselves, as well as varying from the Tanakh and Protestant Old Testament.  Hamilton charts the process of how collections in the Bible were chosen to be in the canon: sources and timeline of the writings.

    Henri Nouwen was a world-class intellectual and steward of a Canadian institution for developmentally challenged adults. Dave provided me this slim volume, Our Greatest Gift, A Meditation on Dying and Caring. The book was written when Nouwen turned sixty and experienced the passing of several key individuals in his life. He decided to write on the theme of preparing for a ‘good death’ and introduced the idea of befriending death, rather avoiding or denying the subject. Written in his usual caring and transparent manner, Nouwen describes his journey of facing the dependency we will experience in old age – and the freedom that ‘letting go’ brings to a person of faith.

    Another Henry – my blog buddy – sent me The Daily Stoic by Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman. I love this book of daily meditations/exhortations! Various stoic philosophers present ideas to ponder. Marcus Aurelius is now my hero. The depth of character and insight this leader displays in his private diary are exemplary. On the other hand, I read Seneca with a little reservation, as he was Nero’s ethics teacher – it makes me wonder why Seneca’s lessons did not take root?
  2. Adventure and true crime still rules! Friend Brigitte passes along niche volumes associated with general interests in fly fishing and sailing. Two recent books have been The Feather Thief by Kirk Wallace Johnson and A Voyage for Madmen by Peter Nichols. The first story chronicles the theft of hundreds of rare bird skins from the British Museum of Natural History. The thief is a Dutchess County resident – a classical musician and nationally noted trout and salmon fly-tier. The theft destroyed the historical record of certain rare birds simply to satisfy his obsession for using their feathers in tying traditional streamer fly lures for trout. A great read with an ending I would not have predicted. ‘Voyage’ recounts the 1968 inaugural Golden Globe sailing competition of nine individuals who compete to sail — single-handed and without stopping — around the world. Building and outfitting the sailboats is difficult but facing the loneliness and extreme weather in the “roaring forties” rounding Cape Horn proves to be a psychological crucible for these sailors.
  3. The odd and unusual. I’m so glad that Brigitte has an eclectic reading palette! Two recent deliveries I never would have picked are The Official Dictionary of Sarcasm by James Napoli and Today I Learned from the Willow Creek Press. Naturally, I will pass on the Sarcasm tome to George, along with its definition of Senile: “A word whose definition you will no longer be able to recall by the time it applies to you”. From Today I Learned, I learned that Allodoxaphobia is the fear of opinions… so I’ll refrain from providing one. I’ll simply close with thanks to my friends and a poem by Emily Dickinson:

There Is No Frigate Like a Book

There is no Frigate like a Book

To take us Lands away

Nor any Coursers like a Page

Of prancing Poetry –

This Traverse may the poorest take

Without oppress of Toll –

How frugal is the Chariot

That bears the Human Soul –

The Evolution of a Home Library

I wish I could use the term evolution regarding my taste in books but that would suggest an ever-improving collection of literary works.  I learned to read with Dick and Jane, and Spot, too, but I missed all of second grade (long story), so I became a very slow reader!   My taste has definitely changed but I can’t really say it has evolved!  Growing up I read comics- sometimes Classic comics.  As a slow reader it was always tedious for me to finish a required book in a required time limit.  So I improvised!  In my early adulthood, fresh out of college with a major in Elementary Ed and a minor in Anthropology, I read every book I could find about human evolution, Lucy, indigenous peoples and their civilizations and migrations. I ate this stuff up. And for about 15 years I was on a steady diet of anthropological literature.  Then something happened.  Several teachers in my group and I got interested in this Whole Language idea where the curriculum was taught around literature.  Exhaustive work for a year before the program was to start  was needed for us to present it to our Board of Ed  I started reading every kids book that was published.  We were doing away with our traditional reading groups and basal series so we had to do research to see what reading skills were taught at the 5th and 6th grade levels in traditional reading programs,  We discovered that most basic skills had already been addressed and that at this level it was mostly inferences and more sophisticated skills  and finally presented to our superintendent.  We were given permission to proceed! It was so much fun. I began to realize how rich children’s literature is.  And it is rich without the sex and violence that so often is needed to hold adults’ interest.  We picked fiction books that coordinated with our Science and Social Studies curricula.  PEN, a writers organization heard about us and invited us to apply for a program they sponsored in elementary schools.  We applied and were approved and had a parade of children’s book authors coming in and working with our kids — not to name drop but we had Paula Danzinger, Gary Paulson, Ann M. Martin and several other big names in the industry back more than a few decades ago.  Anyway, the kids loved it.  I did a lot of reading to them.  I still hear from former students about how much they loved it when I read to them.  Of course every character in the book had a different voice including accents when necessary.  To tell you the truth, when I read for my own enjoyment I silently read in different voices and accents and also create visual images of what the characters look like. To this day I cannot read a book that I already saw in the movies because it destroys my imagination of what their voices and appearances were like.  I treasure my children’s book collection but I have moved on (better choice than evolved).

Today my reading selections are consistently fiction, choosing to live in the make-believe world than reality. Perhaps my all-time favorite book is by an author I vowed I would never read because I despised his horror stories, but I picked up Stephen King’s book, 11/22/63, and a week later I had read all 800 or so pages and was spell bound. Best book I have ever read.  Since then and after traveling several times to Italy I have been reading Italian detective stories by a woman writer, Donna Leon and her series called Commissario Guido  Brunetti Mysteries all taking place in the mysterious city of Venice which everyone should visit at some point. Then I began to hook onto a favorite fiction writer and read everything that was published by that author. Who knows what will be on my night stand next week but for now I have been pretty consistent!  And now you can see why I have no scholars or intellectuals to quote when I am trying to make a point!

The Power of Shared Reading

I always enjoyed a good comic book when reading for fun and fantasy.  Superman, Spiderman, and Daredevil were my favorite fallbacks in which to retreat and re-emerge as an offshoot of their powerful selves.  A firm believer in mind over matter and the idea that if we can conceive of it, it is possible, I always hoped to develop some – if not all- of the powers these heroes held.

In my junior year of high school, my English teacher would read to us throughout the second half of the period every Friday afternoon.  Her enthusiasm and love of the stories and their characters absorbed me and I became fully engaged and enchanted in the experience. 

Years later, like George, I would find myself reading to my fifth-grade classes a favorite children’s book at the time, David and the Phoenix, in which each character had a distinct voice that would vividly portray its character.  I remember going home each Friday afternoon with a sore throat from straining to reach deep gravely sounds and impossibly high screeches as I mimicked Sea Monster, the witch, griffins and, of course, the phoenix!  The original book sits on my shelf with partially laminated pages to keep them from falling into further decomposition and a plastic bag for good measure.  Most of the students were caught up in the story and the characters while others liked to watch the principal sit on the floor and act more like a child than a responsible adult.  You can imagine my dismay then, when I read the same book to my own children (and grandchildren) and they found none of those behaviors engaging and politely asked me if I knew of another book or story I could find the next time I offered to read to them.

Of course none of this speaks directly to Wal’s title and premise.  Most of my reading is on leadership and personal growth.  Early on it supported me in my work.  Later, it enhanced my work as a coach for those who guided schools and social service agencies.  I now realize how much these readings fueled my passion for bringing self-awareness, open-mindedness, and acceptance to all of my relationships.

For a period of ten years or so, I was fortunate to have two friends who shared the same reading interests.  We shared titles, read the material, and made time to get together regularly to discuss our interpretations in great depth.  At the beginning of each New Year, we would book a trip to a warm island location, agree on several worthy books to read, and meet for a week of beach, cocktails, and conversation.  The affirmations we gave and received as well as the disagreements we had were powerful connectors for our friendship.  I will always cherish those times.

More recently, I developed a close relationship with an educator who was and is a voracious reader.  I shared my library with him and he enriched and extended mine ten-fold.  Today we still send each other titles and summaries of what we found to be engaging and occasionally brainstorm possible venues and strategies for sharing these ideas with others.

“Good friends, good books and a sleepy conscience: this is the ideal life.”

Mark Twain



I seem to have lost something very important to me.  For decades, three quarters of a century, I had a patriotic pride in our country, drilled into me by a Marine father who served on Iwo Jima and two uncles, one Navy and one Army.  We marched in parades, put playing cards in our spokes held by a clothespin to ride in and out of the marching groups in every Memorial Day parade.  We were taught to take off our hats or place our right hand over our hearts as the American Flag passed by.  The flag was proudly displayed outside our house every national holiday, brought in at night if not illuminated from below!  And always folded, placed safely in its storage spot never ever touching the floor.  I continued this tradition until just recently.

That patriotic pride has been fading gradually but recently accelerating to the point of “why bother!” On Tuesday, May 24, 2022, I put it down and can’t find it!  I couldn’t see it through my crying jags, my disbelief, my head shaking and don’t know where to look for it anymore. My dad convinced my brother and I that we lived in the best country in the world.  He fought to make that true.  I loved the thought of that but somehow I can no longer accept that idea. How could a country that regularly shoots its own citizenry be the best country?  Let alone murders it’s own children.  19 second, third and fourth grade kids and two teachers murdered in their school! I’m a little sensitive having taught elementary school for 35 years and wondering what we would have done had it happened to us, to my friends and colleagues, and my students.  And I cried!  And at that point I realized I had lost that very precious thing- pride in my country.  We’ve been here too many times before and we do nothing to stop the carnage.  We could, but we choose not to, over and over again.

My pride has been slipping away more and more of late.  So many things are anathema to being the best country.  So many citizens are uninsured, great countries provide that for their citizens.  All makes and models of citizens are equally revered in great countries- all nationalities, races, genders, gays, straights all revered equally- that is what makes a country great.  Books aren’t banned and history isn’t erased due to discomfort in great countries!  Women control their own bodies in great countries, and words aren’t outlawed in states in an attempt to erase people who make others uncomfortable.  Laws aren’t passed to make it harder for certain parts of the citizenry to vote in great countries!  

Our thoughts and prayers are fine but won’t prevent the next shooting from occurring.  We have to take action. When I misplace my keys and just sit on the couch my praying to find them won’t help until I get up off my fat ass to look for them.  Praying that another school, church, mosque, synagogue, grocery store, concert won’t be shot up will do nothing if we don’t get our legislators to protect us first and their corporate sponsors after!  A good guy with a gun does not prevent a massacre, more guns in the population does not reduce the massacres.  We know what to do, we must convince our representatives to DO IT!  And do it NOW!!!

I hope I can find my lost patriotic pride.  But right now, with the history we have with literally avoiding doing anything to help, I am afraid pride is a lost art in America.  

Got Patriotism?

George has misplaced his patriotism, because America seems to be a disappointment. Yet he fondly recounts the patriotic tradition of his family as he grew up in the fifties and early sixties – a time that produced McCarthyism; a time when all abortion was illegal; a time when homosexuality was illegal; a time that where segregation and voter suppression were default conditions; a time where fewer people had health insurance; a time when there was no gay or interracial marriage. Honestly, I’m surprised that George looks back on this time as his incubator of patriotism. It was a time that highlighted the antithesis of George’s progressive goals. He was patriotic then, but not now?

Maybe it’s the word. I think patriotism is a loaded term. People use it to justify all sorts of opinions and actions. However, if meant in the simplest sense, it’s about loyalty to a society that provides safety to its citizens and allows opportunity for self-realization.

Clearly, the carnage in Uvalde showcases an inability to provide safety to our most vulnerable — all those sweet kids! In that sense, loyalty to a government that does not take the steps to effectively prevent such episodes does strain credulity.

But patriotism is a relationship and a commitment – a commitment to pursue continual improvement. You don’t just throw in the towel and walk away. Gun violence is a problem of our own making and we can fix it.

When George was a kid, he fell in love with the ideals that America stood for. Perhaps he didn’t read the fine print that it is a work in progress. But we’re all grown up now and realize that our compact depends upon putting in the work to achieve a more effective republic – that means listening to diverse voices and differing opinions, electing action-oriented representatives, and navigating solutions which do the greatest good for the greatest number. This is constructive patriotism – and I don’t think you have lost that feeling, George.

Patriotism by Segun Adekoya MMabogaje

A man of the heart you are!

A man that agreed with the earth,

With all his being,

To love, cherish and be,

Faithful to his home

The home that houses you

At the time of plenty,

And supports you during

The time of scarcity.

Reciprocal is the law,

For a citizen that gets;

All his rights from the,

Country he is a citizen of

By birth and other ways,

To be ready to be patriotic

Pay back in the same coin,

The dividend he has enjoyed,

The right enjoyed,

In form of duties

Inclusive Patriotism

George’s loss of faith and pride in our country is understandable.  Of the civilized countries in the world we are among the youngest, least experienced, and fastest developing.  And, as with newly forming collectives where growth exceeds measured practice, we will stumble and fall, move forward and backward, and seek to gain our footing while on unchartered ground.  We are in a time of instantaneous – worldwide information sharing.  There is little to no time to process and integrate what we hear and see into manageable bites that can then be tied to prior experience from which to make sense of it all.  We act and react often in ignorance, confusion, and with misinformation.  Remaining patriotic and maintaining a sense of pride amid such chaos is hard to achieve.  Unless we blindly follow others, it is hard to bring our authentic thinking to each and every event and know whether a decision or policy or behavior is patriotic or not.  

As Wal said, we are a work in progress.  We need to recognize that in order to move forward we sometimes must step back.  We need to understand that what is so clearly right and moral and best for our country appears so through our filtered eyes.  Other viewpoints don’t necessarily mean those that oppose don’t care.  Each opinion-holder has their own feeling about what is needed and important for the good of our nation and claim their beliefs and actions reflect true patriotism. Somehow, we must find ways to stop the divisive talk and begin to listen to each other with the intention of finding common ground.  Only then will we regain our footing and move, together, toward building the country each of us will be proud to call home.

“Patriotism is not a short and frenzied outburst of emotion but the tranquil and steady dedication of a lifetime.”

Adlai Stevenson II


Defensive Living

When I learned to drive I was taught to be a defensive driver.  My interpretation of that was to be on the lookout for unexpected events that could impede my safety.  Of course when I was sixteen I believed my lightning fast reflexes and gift of invulnerability were enough to keep me safe without much need for caution.  And now, at seventy-five, after almost sixty years of driving experience and with slightly less reflex time and visual acuity I must say that driving defensively has become more and more of a daily practice.  And lately, I realize that it also applies to my daily living.

I’m fortunate to have the gift of time.  I am no longer in a rush to fit an endless and overwhelming number of “must do’s” into my day.  I am able to make the time to get up and out of the house each morning with intention and calm.  Often I’m up before my 6:00 am alarm (usually because Duke’s automatic clock sends him to my bedside just before the buzzer.) This gives me sufficient time for my morning routines before we set out to my daughter’s house to help get the grandkids off to school.  By 8:30 I have the time to journal and workout before we head off to the dog park for more exercise.  All of this is to say that I can pay attention with less distraction.

Many years ago, when my daughter was first learning to drive, one of her former classmates was involved in a fatal car crash.  In this case, she was making a left turn from a stop sign.  She looked left and saw that the oncoming car’s right signal light was on so she pulled out in front of him.  Unfortunately, he had no intention of turning and had unknowingly left his blinker on from an earlier lane change.  A similar experience, (without incident) happened to me just the other day.  Fortunately, I left plenty of room and time to avoid a collision.  I was driving defensively.  I’ve noticed that the more I let go of what “should be” and simply be prepared for things to not necessarily go as planned, helps me in day to day activities as well.  Follow up reminders, double-checking times and numbers, and taking more responsibility for getting things done, leaves me less stressed and more productive.  Of course moving from an “it’s unfair!” and blame mentality to accepting what is without all the drama, is not an easy shift for me.  It’s takes daily reminders and practice to make progress. 

Another example of this acceptance of how things are without judging them to be wrong or bad happened to me in the supermarket last week.  I often have little tolerance for people who appear oblivious to other shoppers when they leave their cart in the middle of an isle or block a section of shelf while they chat away or text on their phones seemingly uncaring about those around them.  After all, what excuse could they possibly have, I surmised.  Well, I use my Anylist app on my phone when I shop.  It has all of the items I need to buy and all I need to do is glance at my phone for my list of groceries.  So here I was at the end of the dairy aisle, checking my app and realizing I hadn’t checked off the items I had already put in my cart.  I proceeded to update my list thinking how happy I was that I actually found all the things I needed and reviewing the menu for that night’s dinner.  What took seconds to write about this experience actually took a minute or so.  As I was about to finish I looked up and noticed I was completely blocking an entire section of cheeses and a man was quietly and politely waiting for me to move so he could continue his shopping.  For all he knew I was texting my blogging buddies about an epiphany I just had in the dairy section of the supermarket (it could happen…) but he simply smiled at me.  I apologized profusely and told him how I hated when others did that to me.  He waved it off and said it was not even an inconvenience compared to all the other things he could be upset about.  I was humbled.  From now on I will seek to rethink my first response to supermarket blockers, drivers who cut me off, and desk clerks who make billing errors on my invoices and consider what I need to do to move on with a minimum of upset or “poor me” attitude.

I’ve also found that this kind of defensive living is not the notion of expecting everything to go wrong and worrying about every action I take.  It’s more about acceptance of the way things are without fixing negative labels on others for mishaps and unwanted outcomes.  I find it easier to embrace this philosophy now as an older man than I did when I was younger.  Perhaps it’s another perk of the aging process!


Hen writes of a discipline of practice: to approach the day without assigning a limited number of acceptable outcomes and to be present in the decisions that he makes. All of which argues for assessing the consequences of the actions that one takes. Both Hen and George remember the headlong rush that life can be when we were younger. I’m sure that each of us has particular cautionary tales.

What popped into my head was an incident that occurred when I was eight years old. A group of us were playing in a friend’s front yard with balsa airplanes. Do you remember those models where wings and stabilizers slipped into slots in the fuselage – and could be launched with a rubber band attached to a stick?

One of ours had a great flight but landed on the roof of David-Charles’ house. We weren’t sure how to retrieve it. Being kids, we thought ourselves ace problem solvers. I came up with a prudent plan that we all agreed would work. It went like this:

  • Find a heavy, round stone we could throw onto the roof.
  • The stone would roll down and bring the plane with it.
  • The stone would fall down, but the plane would glide away unharmed.

Now the quality of the stone was important. It needed to be round so it would roll off the roof. We did not want to leave flat stones on David-Charles’ roof. It had to be heavy – well, because it should be a consequential stone.

Okay, so the idea was that I would hold the heavy stone in two hands and run up to the pachysandra garden that was in front of the living room picture window and fling the stone with all my might onto the roof. 

We examined the plan and could find no flaw. Brilliant, right? What could possibly go wrong? 

That was the last time David-Charles and I were allowed to play together – I mean, after the tree fort ‘elevator’ disaster, requiring stitches for David-Charles, I could understand his mother’s point of view. And I accepted full responsibility for the consequential stone laying on the living room floor, surrounded by the glass shards of the picture window.

It seems to me that I’ve had a number of those plans through the years. They seemed based on well-grounded assumptions – at least, at the time. 

I read somewhere that the parts of the brain that marry action to consequence do not fully develop until the twenties. (Now this would certainly explain the college years). And even so I have always strived for a well-ordered life. But whether the fault is in our stars, morphology, or a few slippery peptides on the DNA chain, I have some reservations about my ability to apply a strong over wash of rationality to all my decisions. 

Jumping in the Shower

In my youth, i.e. up to ago 50, I did everything in a hurry.  In fact our language reflects this youthful energy and idiomatically reflects our hurry.  Each morning I would “jump in the shower.” Then I’d “grab something to eat,” probably “gobble it down,” and then “run to the store.”  Our culture encouraged us to speed up and our youthful energy matched the expressions we used to indicate our hurry. 

At 76 (I always round up my age in hopes someone who thinks I look like an old 75 might just say that he doesn’t look bad for 76!) But i digress!  I, as Henry suggested, have time now to digress, it allows me to plot my next move. Impulsivity is no longer my friend.  So at 76, I no longer jump in the shower but rather carefully raise my leg over the edge of the tub holding on to the secure towel rack while carefully testing for the slip factor of my foot on the porcelain surface of the tub.  No longer can I grab something to eat, it requires thoughtful concentration and review of whether or not it is healthy, or redundant (didn’t I have that yesterday?) or in need of intensive preparation!  And forget about running to the store- start the car, let it idle for a few, buckle my seatbelt, check my rear camera and thank the manufacturer for that gift, as turning my head far enough around to see out the rear window is no longer an option!

Defensive living today requires thought about most things.  I no longer carry my laundry basket down the cellar stairs cause I don’t want to wind up like that lady who fell down the stairs and can’t get up.  So I use a soft laundry bag and toss it down from the top of the stairs, hold the railing and proceed down the stairs carefully.  I had a friend who had just retired from teaching, was taking her laundry down to the basement, missed a step and hit her head on the cement floor and unfortunately passed away.  That had a profound effect on me. Having broken my foot twice in a year in the same place also causes me to do some defensive moves to prevent self-harm.  I am especially careful on frozen winter mornings where I place my feet on my carefully thought out and executed journey to the store!  

I guess I still do the same things I did in my youth but with consideration for aging moving parts that have become brittle over the years!  It isn’t so much worry as it is an awareness of what could go wrong with one careless move.  Cautious consideration of what I am about to undertake is always a good move.  I now avoid the poison Ivy growing in my shrubs that I am trimming rather than forge ahead full steam, consequences be damned. But I sure do miss the swashbuckling nature of jumping in the shower, grabbing a bite and running off into the sunset!  At least, as Henry suggested, I have the luxury of time to allow myself this privilege!



“I am very impressed”, said the surgeon – “about how much damage you’ve managed to do to your hip. “You need a full replacement, so let’s see how soon we get you scheduled”. Two thoughts occurred right on top of one another: a) boy, am I lucky to have an option to reduce the pain, b) wow, I am officially old.

I admit to being a surgery rookie – fortunate to have avoided hospitals since my tonsils were removed, so many years ago. So many years ago, that Robbie the Robot was the toy of the year. But now, I am joining the Society of Waiting Room Junkies, an exclusive club of seniors who inhabit a labyrinth of calendar conflicts almost totally devoted to medical service. I figured to be pretty good at this, as my working life taught me to wait productively in airports, but I have to admit that doctors’ waiting rooms have their own vibe. Mostly, older and infirm individuals emit auras of fading energy, but I have witnessed some full-on, call the cops outrage with the administrative process.

Problems tend to arise when patients do not understand insurance-speak or waiting room ethics… and some admins tend be unaware that folks may need to be ‘socialized’ into appreciating the specialized tasks assigned to various members of the medical team: front desk reception (‘what is your birthdate, please’), intake nurse (what is your birthdate, please’), medical history admin, phlebotomist, x-ray tech, surgery scheduler (‘what is your birthdate, please’), co-payment processor – oh, and the physician or PA.

Since western medical practice is a symptom-oriented approach, specialists exist for every symptom. Your medical team wants to know (in addition to your birthdate) the names of your urologist, cardiologist, nephrologist, neurologist, oncologist, physiatrist (yes, that’s a thing), psychiatrist, ophthalmologist, dermatologist, proctologist, and pharmacist. In addition, your team will be pleased to hook you up with an anesthesiologist. Look at all the new friends! We may have not found the cure for COVID, but we have certainly cured loneliness in our lifetime!

Obviously, I speak with tongue-in-cheek, observing a rite of passage that people of a certain age must cleave to, or not survive past that certain age. We are fortunate to have excellent healthcare, even if at times the process gets in the way of the service. How nice it is to encounter the upbeat nurse, the skilled practitioner, or the pleasant fellow traveler… they keep us keepin’ on!

Organ Recital

When I was in my forties I had a phone conversation with my colleague Jack.  He asked about our health insurance coverage to see if I had any knowledge of reimbursement for a procedure he had scheduled.  One thing led to another and soon we found ourselves immersed in a completely health-obsessed exchange of body parts, broken bones, previous illnesses, and surgeries.   He paused, chuckled, and then said we sounded like two old men who talked about little else than their medical conditions – he called it the Organ Recital!

Ever since that day I remain observant when I find myself pulled into such a conversation and seek to make it more about gathering information rather than enjoying it as a new mode for social entertainment.  And now Wal’s post reminds me that, in fact, I am an old man who will have more and more medical issues waiting for me on the horizon.  The question remains how much of the “concert” I choose to participate in and/or listen to.

As Wal points out the challenges that lie ahead include more than just the condition of eroding body parts; they include the endless stream of paperwork, administrative error or incompetence, and waiting rooms that bombard us with a myriad of conversations and germs!  I’m thinking that George’s approach from his previous post will likely serve him well; expect the worst and you’ll likely be surprised that it wasn’t as bad as you expected.  And, as Wal reports, sometimes these conditions can lend themselves to pleasant surprises when we might experience highly respectful and efficient check-in and follow-up services and the opportunity to make a positive connection or two.  I try to combine my optimism for the latter with preparedness for an experience that might require much patience and a Zen mind.  After all, if this is the new normal for “Old Guys” then it makes sense to adapt and accept it.

I think the part that I have control over is whether I make these medical interventions a symphony I play in regularly or an intermittent recital I can leave behind when the visit is over.  Perhaps if I choose to bring my playful and curious nature to this venue rather than become an organist playing and replaying the same old song, I might just continue to enjoy the music!

“We don’t stop playing because we grow old. We grow old because we stop playing.”

-George Bernard Shaw

Relatively Speaking…

Everything is relative! I just had a major revelation about everyone’s fixation about my glass being half empty all the time.  It just occurred to me to get a smaller glass and pour my concerns into it and magically my glass is FULL!  Not half full but all full (say it slowly and enunciate so it doesn’t sound like ‘awful’) See?  Relative!

In our youth our social life consisted of parties, big events and social gatherings!  Every weekend was filled and work took up our weekdays!  Life was busy and full (not half full), fun and laughter were the currency of those gatherings.  Life was good!  In our mid-life prior to the crisis, our social engagements quieted down slightly. Our social calendars were filled with weddings, christenings, work related parties, road clean ups.  Life was getting softer, quieter and cozier.  Life was comfortable if a little quieter.

The Golden Years, which sneaks up on you mercilessly, changes the nature of our social calendars.  The weddings and christenings are finished for the most part, gatherings become less frequent but the one commonality we all face at this stage is the maintenance of our physical bodies.  Life can become concerning.  They say in your mid-fifties your ‘check engine light’ comes on and predicts the ailments and medications soon to be arriving at an organ in you! The friends you maintained over the years are in the same boat and remain faithful at your side, sympatico to what you are going through.  Hence the conversations Henry refers to as organ recitals.  Now here’s where my new revelation about my glass kicks in.  You begin to see your week is filled with blood work, X-rays, appointments with specialists, Medicare physicals where you get extra credit if you remember the four special words in their right order! But as Wal pointed out, the new socializing opportunities are in the waiting rooms of all these new and exciting locations.  New friendships develop as you run into the same person you met at your general practitioner’s office pops up the following week at your cardiologist’s office! “How is your son doing with the divorce?” Or “Social Security thinks you died?  I have a friend that was declared dead by them and he had to be resurrected!”  Meeting new people is always fun and the conversations are so much more interesting than in our youth.  So you see, everything is relative!  Just a little digression.  Wal and I have the same general practitioner so I had to fill out that list of specialists as well, so after I listed my Cardiologist, Nephrologist, Dermatologist, Therapist, Orthopedist, in my snarkiest printing I added one that wasn’t on his list….I figured since they want to know everything about me I listed my Veterinarian too!  The doctor asked me if I was trying to be wise and I told him I didn’t have to try, it came with old age…


Peter Pan is Alive and Well!

I love to play!  Always have and hopefully, always will.  Somewhere along my boy to adult years I acquired the nickname, Peter Pan.  I liked it and took it as a compliment.  Too many of my friends were too much in a rush to “grow up” and, whatever that meant, to me it clearly lacked the notion of play and fun and energetic satisfaction.

In my latter years, someone told me I was child-like.  Again, without hesitation, I embraced the intent.  Being playful is a part of who I am.  It’s the time when I feel I’m most alive and vibrant.  Immersed in play, I feel free and light and without care or worry.  It is as if I’m in a meditative state of being.  I’m so focused on whatever I’m playing, I think of little else.  I exist for the state of playing whatever the game may be.

Young children and pets inspire my playfulness and somehow, they sense that in me.  In my mid forties one of the 8 year-old boys in the neighborhood rang my doorbell and asked if I wanted to ride bikes!  As principal of the best ever elementary school, I would be sure to check (several times) if the sleigh riding was safe for the kids by trying out the sleds on the playground hill.  Once my “kid-at –heart high school principal colleague also joined me! (Go Susan!) Several weeks ago as I walked back from my grandson’s bus stop with a mom and her preschool age daughter, the child whispered into her mother’s ear and asked if she could invite me to their house for a play-date. It’s the same with dogs.  They seem to know I’m up for animated roughhousing and, somehow their owners (my sister in particular)  are certain I am to blame for getting the dogs to a state of noncompliance.  (Of course they’re(she’s) right but I think her dog actually started it!) 

I enjoy all sorts of play.  I love many sports and still would rather play them than watch them on TV.  I like many box/card games.  I still play hide and seek with my grandson and his friends.  Earlier this winter, after a sizable snowfall, I went over to his house to join the kids, ages 10 -15, in a snowball fight.  Of course last winter I was still rushing down my hill on my sled trying to beat anyone who would agree to race with me.  

Recently, I realized that my men’s poker group which met every other Thursday night for some 11 years, was really a gathering of grown up kids finding an excuse to tell jokes, act silly, and otherwise shirk off the cloak of responsible adultness for a couple of magical hours.  We laughed more than we frowned and found renewed energy in our play even though for most, it was the end of a long workday.

Since being playful comes naturally, I never really thought about the value it brings to my life.  And while some of my friends and family are tolerant but not especially fond of my childlike ways, I can’t help but wonder if they were to view play as a means of balancing the challenges of the day rather than the irresponsible actions of an adult, if they might consider embracing what they once felt as children.

Tonight I’ll raise my glass (perhaps a chocolate ice cream soda) in a toast to a sense of play, whatever age we may be!

Fun and Games

People say that growing up in the 50’s was a completely different experience than our current times. Perhaps that’s accurate. But I will say many of the stressors were similar: struggling to break into the middle class, gang violence (remember zip guns?) cold war tensions and fear of nuclear war. Despite this, my parents placed a high priority on family interaction, as well as personal freedom if I could be shown to keep my word.

And games – lots of games. 

Both my parents worked at least one job all the time. When my dad got home, my brother, he and I would play catch, wiffle ball, badminton, Pluto Patters (the original frisbee) and – you name it. While my parents were at work, I was responsible for my little brother, so we would play stoopball, flip baseball cards, and make up games using baseball cards and bottlecaps. Bottlecaps were a big thing, because once a year our local park sponsored an annual bottlecap carnival, where bottlecaps were the currency to play arcade games or enter foot races or other contests. Luckily, my aunt owned a candy store in Queens and saved all the caps that fell into the cavity of the opener embedded in the Coca Cola ice chest. We separated the bottlecaps based on the color of the foil inside the cap: silver foil were usually beer bottles, while white plastic and plain cork were sodas like Ni-Hi, Hires Root Beer, and Orange Crush. Battalions of caps would be assembled to recreate the Revolutionary war: the white caps were Americans, but silver caps were Hessian troops. We’d bang them together on the carpet – those that flipped over were designated KIA.

Evenings could find our family playing card games and board games: Chess, Risk, Game of Life, Monopoly, and Clue were favorites. We learned to play Gin Rummy, War, Blackjack, Canasta, Hearts, Spades, Poker, Cribbage – and even Bridge. 

In our spare time, Rich and I would head down to the local park for pick-up games of baseball or, stickball against the handball wall. In fact, I have spent most of my life with a ball and stick in some level of sport.

All of these ‘play’ activities developed a good sense of dealing with others, building trust and coalitions, as well as honing strategy and tactics. Seems like play is a bit of rehearsal of life skills with some humor, improvisation, and joint discovery thrown in. However, somewhere along the age spectrum, play morphs into industry as we begin to value counting coup more than the fun itself.

Simply put, industry can bring satisfaction, but play brings delight. So, I admire Hen’s ability to stay emotionally supple and value opportunities for play… Roll on, Pan! And although George bemoans his ability to have fun, I remember a guy who looked just like George who loved to dance during our college mixers. Hmmm, I also remember George look-alike at a particular marshmallow eating contest – and I remember George being the center of many social gatherings. Even today, his sense of wordplay is nonpareil (Ha! Look that one up, buddy!). Play is where you find it.

Fun Through the Ages

I met Wally and Henry in the spring of ’66 when we all rushed the same fraternity.  We became friends then and have remained friends throughout all of these years.  Henry and I were roommates for a while in Capen Hall.  I first remember meeting Henry coming out of the dorm which had a railing around the doorway and instead of walking out through the opening he would do this thing where he would hop over the waist tall railing and depart.  I always envied that and secretly tried to do it frequently when no one was looking to no success.  I even think I may have been the one who gave him the moniker of Peter Pan. He refused to grow up if growing up meant it would be against his dignity to climb a tree……I admired that childish energy. Growing up we all played.  I’d get home from school, change clothes and join the group already playing in the street.  We would run and yell and scream CAR CAR C-A-R when a car had the nerve to drive through our games.  We all knew that when the streetlights came on that was our signal to rush home.

As adulthood approached, and maturity (which is highly overrated) crept in I became an elementary schoolteacher which allowed me to play all day while hopefully the kids were learning.  I had license to regress and relate to them the way I used to with the kids on my block.  To get their attention I would write on the blackboard backwards, or upside down and they would start to giggle and quiet down. When teaching the three kinds of adverbs, manner, time and place, we would do the adverb congoline- Manner, Time and Place….UUUHHH as we danced bunny hop style around the classroom. It was fun, playful and made an impression on the classes.  Grammar didn’t have to be deadly.  Being a classroom teacher allowed me to have fun, I could read great children’s lit to the classes in different voices and with different accents and it was fun.  We did fun things but always with a learning purpose in mind.  And the fun continued til retirement (after 35 years) loomed.  But then I owned an Inn in Vermont and all my teaching stories would entertain our guests at breakfast and even though it was a different kind of fun it was still fun.

That went on for another 14 years or so and then real retirement happened and things were still fun.  I loved sharing lunch or an afternoon drink with former students and colleagues but then Covid struck and I pretty much forgot how to have fun.  Isolation for me isn’t fun and today I still haven’t gotten my fun quotient back to where it should be. I envy Henry and Wally cause they still know how to have fun. Both seem to have the admirable quality of having fun while alone and by themselves.  I can’t do that for some reason. and I realized that my entire life for something to be fun I had to share it with others.  I also came to the realization that right now, and probably always I got fun out of using my words to make people laugh- snarkasm and pun- ishment became enjoyable when shared with other sharp tongued individuals.  Puns are only as good as the  loudest groan accomplished after it is spoken!

Two years of inertia has taken its toll on my energy and stamina and it seems like too much effort is needed to get off the sofa.  But I am working at it and am looking forward to having fun again.  I promise, before my ride on this roller coaster is over, I will have fun again!


The Art of Perception

The Art of Perception

”Where you sit determines what you see”. I was reminded of this nostrum during dinner with friends in mid-December of last year. I had presented Marc and Deleah with a Christmas ornament that I made – a hollowed and dyed maple ball with a wooden final.

Marc said ‘What is this?’

“A Christmas ornament”, I replied – “or just an ornament if you don’t celebrate Christmas”.

“No, it isn’t,” he said.

Now Marc was not playing word games. He is a man with serious chops as an artist, professor, and businessman in the world of artistic enterprise… so, I listened. I believed that he was making the point that my labeling of the object presented limitations, both on the work – and maybe in life as well. He viewed the object as a mini-sculpture.

Photo by Marc B.

As a follow-up to our conversation, Marc sent me two items: a) a picture showing the ‘ornament/sculpture’ in a different presentation and b) a discussion of one of Rene Magritte’s paintings. The painting was “The Treachery of Images”, which presented an object (a pipe) with the painted words “Ceci n’est pas une pipe” – “This is not a pipe”. In this work, Magritte was declaring that the image of the ‘pipe’ was not an actual pipe, nor the drawing of the words themselves, actual words. He is challenging the audience to make a distinction between representational art and the object itself. His piece is a philosophical argument.

The philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein followed a similar line of thought: he believed that the object that a word stands for does not convey the meaning of the word (or, I assume, its image). He is famous for the line “If a lion could talk, we would not understand it.” Bottomline, our language and communication of ideas is very much dependent on context and use, not simply pointing to an object while saying its label. Therefore, Magritte says his painting is not a pipe. (I think Freud would agree, even though he felt that ‘sometimes a cigar is just a cigar’).

There are lots of ways that context and/or use can be altered. It occurred to me that another method of underlining the difference between an object and its representation, is by varying the angle of view – or its scale. After all, art is essentially juxtaposition – allowing the viewer to see something in a different way. To that point, two sculptures highlight the same utilitarian object – a clothespin – in a vastly different context.

Claes Oldenberg’s Sculpture

Claes Oldenberg created his work in huge scale in urban Philadelphia – and it is certainly representational! It’s easy to see that this piece distinguishes itself in context from a run of the mill clothespin. Yet another take on the clothespin theme was completed by Mehmet Ali Uysal for a park in Belgium. Now this is also an installation of grand scale, yet I think we’d all agree it is more ‘clothespinny’, because it speculates a use in line with a conventional pincer. 

Mehmet Ali Uysal’s sculpture

So now we come full circle. Where you sit determines what you see. The labels we use are rooted in the context of our experience. Sometimes a simple challenge will cause you to change where you normally sit and realize a different field of view.

Note from an Impressionist

Perhaps because it was December when Wally presented his friend with his beautiful handmade gift, he assumed it would be perceived as a Christmas ornament.  In spite of Christmas carols playing on the radio, Wally’s intention to make it an ornament to decorate a tree was not enough to prevent his friend’s perception to wander.  Perhaps his friend was planning his summer vacation or planting his garden, Christmas just wasn’t on his mind. Because of the situation, location, time of year, what he had for breakfast, when he opened the gift his first impression was not that of a Christmas ornament.  I’m not sure of the shades of difference between impressions and perceptions, but first impressions are strong persuaders of how we react.  Impressions and perceptions can change over time.  Fortunately, time allows us to adjust first impressions based on additional information, change of mood, time of day and degree of hunger!

Having owned an antique store for a short time and having been an avid antique hunter for most of my life, I always looked for alternative purposes to the items I purchased.   What I perceived as an end table, with a little creative thought could be repurposed as a plant stand, an aquarium stand, a book shelf and whatever one’s creative mind perceived it as regardless of its original intended purpose.

Perception is a critical process we experience daily.  It is essential to life.  It deceives us, comforts us, endangers us, supports us, and the list goes on… We all perceive constantly.  When Wally approached the topic. my first impression was not about objects and how they are perceived but rather about people.  I am an impressionist!  First impressions are my life blood.  More often than not, that protects me from behavior I might regret while giving me time to adjust my impressions ’til I feel comfortable with my perception of the person.  I think most of us do that.  When I go to a new doctor that first impression dictates what I will share.  That reaction more than likely changes with subsequent visits.  What about that crazy driver in front of you who is driving at a snail’s pace?  I have two friends (who shall remain nameless) who perceive that person to be someone on the spectrum somewhere between common criminal and mass murderer (slight exaggeration here).  But perhaps over a beer or glass of wine could be fine company.

I guess my point is perception is everywhere- all the time- an essential life skill.  I wish I could quote some world-renowned expert in the field, but I mostly read fiction.  I trust my first impressions and adjust my perceptions as time passes and I get to know more about those people who impressed me!

The Power of Embracing Perspective

After reading Wal’s story about perception I was struck by his ability and willingness to be open to listening to his friend’s interpretation of the gift that was given.  Despite the fact (reality) that he intentionally crafted this wood-turned Christmas ornament, he was still able to accept that his friend perceived it differently.

I have often heard, and used the phrase, “perception is reality.”  However, as I spent more time thinking and reading about perception, I realized that perception is not reality.  In an article in Psychology Today, Jim Taylor, Ph.D. suggests that, by definition, perception (“The way of regarding, understanding, or interpreting something; a mental impression.”) and reality (“The world or the state of things as they actually exist… existence that is absolute, self-sufficient, or objective, and not subject to human decisions or conventions.”) are not the same.  However, because our perceptions come from a myriad of personal experiences and influences and since these are often strong enough to create a sense of certainty within us, it is may be more accurate to say, perception can (and often does) become an individual person’s reality.  My “reality” isn’t reality.  It’s just a construct of what I believe, based on everything I’ve assimilated over these many years as fact and right and good.

Therefore, when one’s beliefs are challenged, ignored, or replaced with another’s opposing thought, it is understandable for the common response to dig in, defend, and spend time creating a convincing argument to help the other see the “error of their ways” and counter with the value of one’s initial viewpoint.  It is my belief that we are seeing this kind of behavior more than ever before.  And, more than ever before, there appears to be less trust, less compromise, and fewer examples of collaboration and community.

But there are a few exceptions! Case in point, Wal who reminds us that despite the inarguable fact that he intentionally made an ornament, he was willing to listen to another’s immediate challenge to his label (his reality) and substitute it with a term/realty of his own.  And, in doing so and by asking questions, Wal was able to understand his friend’s point of view.  Furthermore, he seized the opportunity to think more about art, perspective, and philosophy.  I would venture to say that he likely enhanced his relationship with this friend, as I know few greater needs than the need for people to feel heard.

Wal closes his piece with words worth repeating:

“So now we come full circle. Where you sit determines what you see. The labels we use are rooted in the context of our experience. Sometimes a simple challenge will cause you to change where you normally sit and realize a different field of view.” If we could learn to practice what these simple, but powerful words suggest we might be open enough to realize a different field of view, which in turn might allow us to better understand each other.  If we understand each other better and feel heard, then perhaps…  (I’ll let you finish this piece with your own perspective.)


State of the Union

I have had to rewrite this several times because my purpose was not to push my political leanings but they somehow leaked out anyway.  In an effort to be more balanced I have attempted to compose my heightened feelings without my personal perceptions clogging or distracting from my ideas.  These last two years have been very difficult.  The isolation and the threat of disease has overshadowed our lives.  And, just as things seem to be easing up, a war starts. Hard to find a half full glass around now. I have been in a constant state of unhappiness if not depression for over 2 years, exacerbated by the loneliness and isolation demanded by a virus that spreads through social contact.-  the one thing that affords me enjoyment and purpose.  But there are signs of change and hope. A new administration that seemed to know how to handle not only the pandemic but also how to raise the civility and respect in a country suffering horribly from rudeness and lack of proper social behavior.  Yes, even I was feeling the weight lifting a little as restrictions eased and infection slowed.  I noticed a few more drops of water were added to that glass unexpectedly.  Things were looking up and hope was rising as the voracity of the disease was slowly ebbing.

And just as that ray of hope was entering our homes, the threat of war became more real as attacks on the Ukraine slowly began to tear apart the new found hope.  It was difficult to watch the destruction being committed on the civilians of Russia’s neighbors and see my glass being filled anymore. Yet, I held onto glimmers and was waiting to see what our next moves would be.  Our president was preparing for the State of the Union Address and I was anticipating it with less than exhilaration and more with same old same old blah blah blah platitudes and promises that usually don’t come to pass. The country is so divided that nothing is getting accomplished other than one side blaming the other.  The President is being accused of being senile due to his stuttering which occasionally makes his words a little difficult to understand.  I have known stutterers in my personal life and in my career and know that techniques they use to pronounce words sometimes elongates sounds or clips off words in an attempt to avoid the repetition associated with stuttering.  Stuttering itself in no way suggests feebleness or academic deficiency.  With all this running through my head, I sat down with a glass of wine and prepared to be less than awestruck.  I was sort of half listening and sipping my wine when I sensed the need to listen more closely, impressed by the manner in which he presented his intended information.  You could sense his integrity, and his empathy for a nation in pain. He was encouraging our nation to come together and addressed some of the issues that have separated us for the past 5 years.  His language was encouraging, comforting and yes, even hopeful.  He laid out what he wants to do for us average folk in America, things that everyone would benefit from.  Democrats and even Republicans were standing and applauding.  I hadn’t seen that recently, and for a few moments we were united in the common good for the United States.  My eyes teared up and suddenly I saw my glass filling up a little more with my tear drops, slowly perhaps but surely!  I was feeling good, I believed him, I trusted him, and I was reveling in the fact that the Republicans were not cat calling or booing but instead seemed to be in agreement with much of what he was proposing.  I heard shouted ridiculing of President Biden as he talked about his son’s cancer, but that didn’t bother me much because of the source.  That is sad and highly inappropriate.  I realized about 40 minutes into his address that not one discouraging word of ridicule or self promotion was articulated and that in itself was so refreshing because President Biden realizes his job is to promote what is good for us and it is not about him.  I smiled when he honored the little boy who was invited to attend the presentation and a few more drops were added to the glass.  

For a fifty or so minute presentation I felt good about us!  I felt we can work together and was thankful that he was the man in charge of dealing with the epidemic, a possible war and perhaps even pestilence as that seems to be the one thing missing in our experience so far.  I felt good……I felt positive……..I was energized and hopeful and am attempting to hold on to that positivity for as long as I can.

And then my glass tipped over a little and some spillage occurred as the days passed and the war intensified.  The images were horrifying. I watched bodies being thrown into unmarked graves just because the bodies had to be buried and families were separated all over the area.  I am in awe of the Ukrainian people and their commitment to protecting their land.  I am comforted by our reaction as well.  The world will be suffering consequences but the consequences of higher costs can’t compare to the terror these families have faced and continue to face.  Humanity has to return as a natural value of decent people.  More and more I think the world is rising to the challenge and is refusing to be bullied by a rogue nation that just wants MORE of everything for itself. That alone adds drops to my glass!  The faucet isn’t open yet but the degree of tragedy might just be enough to wake people up the dangers of dictatorships and bully authoritarians who want everything for themselves and their cronies and the rest of the people just don’t matter.  Mr Putin, WE DO!

*Ya Ye Ukrayinskyy

Fifty-nine years ago – almost two generations past — John F. Kennedy gave a monumental speech. It was during the depths of the cold war, at a time when the Soviet Union controlled the German Democratic Republic and built a wall to around East Berlin to prevent an exodus to West Berlin. In essence, West Berlin was a free island in the midst of a communist ocean. Addressing this situation, Kennedy proclaimed to an audience of 120,000 West Berliners:

“Two thousand years ago, the proudest boast was civis romanus sum [“I am a Roman citizen”]. Today, in the world of freedom, the proudest boast is “Ich bin ein Berliner!”… All free men, wherever they may live, are citizens of Berlin, and therefore, as a free man, I take pride in the words “Ich bin ein Berliner!”

The wall stood for 28 years – almost a generation.  It represented the prison mentality of a regime that detained its citizens, rather than winning their hearts and minds. In fact, the concrete and barbed wire barrier was officially named the “Anti-Fascist Protection Rampart” by the GDR: a wall to keep out the fascists. 

In 28 years, it is estimated that only 5,000 people managed to escape East Berlin past the ‘death strip’ and over the concrete wall patrolled by the GDR. One of the folks who managed to escape East Germany is a close family friend. It took him two attempts. On the second try, he made his way to South America; then Canada; and finally to the US. A man of irrepressible humor, he’s had an interesting life – including the accomplishment of recreating the Columbus voyage to the Americas in his 38 ft. sailboat. He was recruited by the New York Cosmos soccer team, but decided to ply his craft building circular wooden staircases.  You would be hard pressed to find a person who was more proud to be an American citizen. He is a ‘Berliner’ in the sense of the Kennedy speech.

It is of note that Vladimir Putin was in East Germany during the fall of the Berlin Wall – fluent in German and assigned as a KGB agent. As things came apart in the GDR, Putin was credited as saving the files of the Soviet Cultural Center in Dresden, which included KGB files. It has also been suggested, but not proved, that he liaised with the terrorist group, The Red Army Faction, during his assignment. 

One wonders how this early experience has affected his outlook and decision making. It certainly appears that the soviet siege paranoia hasn’t changed much in sixty years. The current Russian president seems willing to create a wall of rubble in Ukraine to act as another ‘Anti-Fascist Protection Rampart’. 

Ukraine is one of the poorest nations in Europe, yet it has battled mightily to maintain its sovereignty in the face of overwhelming blunt force. Their bravery and steadfast loyalty is rightly celebrated. Perhaps we have not yet missed an opportunity to update the sentiment of ‘Ich bin ein Berliner’ with ‘Ya Ye Ukrayinskyy’ – I Am a Ukrainian. 

*With apologies for the phonic spelling!

On Hope

I appreciate George’s offer of hope in his most recent post.  His words convey the struggle he faces as he parses through the highs and lows of pandemic, war, extreme weather, disconnection and more.  And yet, despite how overwhelming the daily bombardment of discouraging news is, finding hope in and between the stories, keeps us going.

Oxford Languages defines hope as, “a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen.”  George goes beyond the wishing stage and helps us see, through his eyes, where we can see evidence of hope.  He provides a path for us to steer through these tumultuous times by modeling a way through to address feelings of helplessness, sadness, and hopelessness.  

Hope speaks to the future, to what is optimistically, yet to be.  It doesn’t look back or flounder in the past.  Yes, it draws on our earlier experiences and what we learned from them.  But it then allows us to take that knowledge and wisdom and see what is in front of us from a broader perspective.  It allows us to see how people and countries have recovered after horrific events and came back better and even stronger as a result of their struggles.  I suspect we must look past the short term and hope the longer view will see the pendulum swing back toward more peace and calm and health and unity.  In the interim, how we face the present will determine how prepared we’ll be to recognize the telltale signs of change for the better.

Today I donated to the children of Ukraine.  Earlier this week I spoke with friends and family about various ways we could help and how we could maintain an awareness of the plight of those suffering the effects of war beyond the time spent watching and listening to the news.  And while it doesn’t help those in need that I remind myself to be thankful for all that I have and often take for granted, it does prompt me to feel gratitude and give greater value to how I spend my time each day.  I’m hopeful that more and more, people all over the world will make time to do what they can to make life more harmonic despite the challenges thrust upon us.

Sending warm hugs to all! 


Slowing Down

When I wore a younger man’s clothes I noticed that older people slowed down.  As I reflect on that presumption it appears I was correct, but more often, for the wrong reason. 

Gray-haired folk drove more slowly, walked more slowly, spoke more slowly, did fewer things, and made decisions more slowly.  At the time, I believed it was for obvious reasons.  Essentially, they couldn’t move or act more quickly because well, they were old!  Their bodies and brains were no longer capable of executing physical actions and mental calculations at the rate of a younger person and they were lazy and lacked the energy to chase each and every adventure and challenge set before them.   I further reckoned that those who were the exceptions put in more effort to offset these limitations.  Of course, I promised, I would be one of the few who would “keep up the pace” despite my years.

However, today I doth protest the notion that slowing down is primarily a function of physical and cognitive decline.  I surmise that it is more often a purposeful result of recognizing the benefits of measured steps and reasoned choices and the oft-ignored limitations of filling every moment and doing so with speed!  Now, at the ripe young age of 75 you might be suspicious that I’m simply conjuring up some defensive rationalization that justifies my shift from rabbit speed to turtle pace…and perhaps there may be a part of me that began this thinking process to keep others from judging me now as I once judged those like me, years ago.  But I do believe that my story holds merit and thus, I’m sticking to it.

In an article entitled, “The Art of Slowing Down” by Karen Horneffer-Ginter, a psychologist and co-founder for the Center for Psychotherapy and Wellness, the author talks about her realization of the price of the everyday hurried life when she was granted a sabbatical and felt a dramatic shift in her pace and how it impacted her.  She mentioned the reaction of patients who, coming to see her for reasons of feeling overwhelmed by the fast pace of life, felt a huge sense of calm and release when they sit down on her sofa simply because they were given the chance to slow down and be present.  

The author’s commentary triggered two of my own experiences that were eye opening for me.  The first was when I was in the middle of my career as a school principal and trying to be as perfect as possible as I attempted to balance work and family.  And while I loved the energy I got from my work and relationships, I was shocked when I found myself in the dentist’s chair for some extensive work feeling an overwhelming sense of mental and emotional calm.  In the dentist chair!  With painful work going on in my mouth!  Afterwards, I realized that I was unable to deliberately allow myself any “time off” from thinking about work, etc. unless someone else (the dentist) forced me into a much-needed distraction.  (Interestingly, this also happened to one of my hard-working friends who shared a very similar dentist story.)

The second experience was at the end of my career.  Shortly after retirement, I came in contact with a group of my former staff members.  One of them asked what I found most different in my life now that I was not working full-time.  (I was then working as a consultant only when and with whom I wanted.)  What came to mind was that the previous day, a light bulb had gone out in one of the rooms of my house and I stopped what I was doing and changed it.  I told her that I now made time to change a light bulb when it went out, and didn’t need to plan it (or similar daily happenings) for some future time when I could squeeze it in to my impossibly hurried schedule.   I had just started learning about letting go of getting everything done that appeared before me and I could chose what and when I wanted to do it.  Yes, it is easier when working part time.  But I wonder if I had begun to deliberately slow down in the middle years, how it would have impacted my life.

As I continue to “slow down” I realize that doing so gives me more time to enjoy my active but less complicated life more fully and with less stress.  After all, I am one of the three “Old Guys” who made the time to write this post and who looks forward to Zooming time with my two seasoned colleagues as we nurture ideas of what has been and what may yet be.

Time Stamp

What is nice about sharing a blog with two other friends is that we have an opportunity to discuss different points of view – or the same point of view in different ways.  I usually look to Hen for an aspirational and analytic viewpoint and to George for connecting on a heart-to-heart basis. In this case, I subscribe to the thoughtfulness of both my friends regarding the need to slow down and sort through what is important and to ‘level’ our reactions to life’s issues by applying some mellow consideration.

My head supports this; my spirit is objecting. Perhaps you’ve seen the TV commercial where Ewan McGregor asks the question, that at the end of our lives, will we regret the things we didn’t buy, or rather the places we didn’t visit? While the commercial is sponsored by the travel industry, it is just as meaningful by substituting the “experiences we did not have”. In other words, when should we slow down our explorations?

Lately, I feel the urgency of the moment. So little time, so much to do. A good deal of the problem centers with the catch-up needed to settle affairs that have lain fallow for too long: such as house renovations and estate planning. A second set of tasks revolves around pledges of assistance given to family, friends, and organizations that need to be upheld. A third area of attention is personal physical and mental maintenance: sustaining the ability to function effectively. I view all of these as necessary responsibilities – time-consuming responsibilities all of us share… and responsibilities that should not be reneged.

But there is also a fourth imperative: exploring new ideas and experiences. No matter how old one becomes, no matter our increasing physical limitations, our spirits are built to grow. Whether you call it self-actualizing or being in the flow, there is no better feeling than following a calling. In my case, it is a strong need to be creative and to collaborate with my partner in that enterprise. The realization that each of us has an expiration date adds to the urgency.

Perhaps folks will disagree with my opinion: which is that responsibilities take precedence over exploration. The piper must be paid. But responsibilities get in the way of exploration. So, my spirit rebels – there simply is no time to slow down! 

Speed Dreaming

“Slow down you’re moving’ too fast” the song lyrics go! If you have to make the morning last the best way is to seal it away in your memory cause slowing down won’t do any good. I used to rush through everything I did. When I was young, you know early 60’s, if I was out walking in the winter and came upon a patch of black ice, I would accelerate my pace and slide across the ice!  That’s just how it was.  Stupid?  Sure but I never thought of that until finally in my 70’s I began getting daily notifications that perhaps things like that weren’t in my best interest.   Ice is slippery, your bones are more brittle,  you do the math!  After a couple of defiant experiences where I lost, it dawned on me… yeah-  slow down, you’re moving too fast!

That festered, and I constantly tried to dismiss the concept but the reminders were becoming too frequent and too medically damaging!  Several visits to ER’s for accidents, falls and stupid mishaps occurred.  Ok, I’m intelligent- what are these experiences trying to tell me?  Slowdown!  I kept rejecting that til I synonymized the concept and referred to my need as mellowing. Yeah, that’s it, I needed to mellow .  

Hmmm, how are they connected. My body didn’t know how to slow down.  Sure, body parts hurt when I moved the way I used to, but it is what it is!  Slowly, over time I began to realize that movement can pause until thoughtful arguments are resolved within my mind.  Hence… mellowing.  Example-  Oh look, black ice-  let me slide over it!  Mind- You jerk, fall on that now, break a hip, or a foot, or an arm. OR, carefully navigate your path across that ice and get to your destination without any distress!  Mellow…. Use your thought process to help you survive old age! 

Mellowing not only works for physicality! It also helps with judgment calls and decision making.  I used to make decisions by running at them and sliding over the ice to a decision.  Now with conscious mellowization, decisions and judgments occur, yes it is true, more slowly but less dangerously and with more support documentation behind them.  If I meet a person who kind of annoys me, I run it through my brain.  Why does this guy annoy me?  Yeah, he says crazy stuff that opposes everything I stand for… he can’t string words together into a sentence but I can understand what he is trying to say, which I really don’t agree with, but he just gave that homeless guy on the street $10 so obviously he has some humanity.  Maybe we share other things in common.  Definitely mellowing!

I still speed dream however, and that is ok cause I wake up with no broken bones and not in jail!


Icing Penalty

I had another topic in mind for this post, but the recent ice storm is too present. Our neck of the woods was ambushed by a severe weather event – an ice storm – that seemed to put everything on hold. Forty-eight thousand of the fifty thousand people affected are in the county where I live. A quarter to a half-inch of ice coated branches until trees were too heavy to remain intact; massive self-pruning occurred on each property and roadside. White pines shed limbs accompanied by sounds like gunshots and the glaze of ice made walking hazardous.

And of course, electric power became something you remembered once upon a time. On the day following the storm, wires were down on every road I drove. Service connections were ripped off folks’ homes and it was clear that restoration would not be quick. Boy, I sure wished I had planned for a generator!

Time for an assessment of remaining assets: power- nope, water- nope (we have our own well, reliant on a submersible pump), toilet – nope, heat- nope, food- enough, but no refrigeration, internet or tv- nope, telephone – YES, thank goodness for cell service. How is the battery life? Good thing you got that car starting battery pack with the USB connections. Back to heat – how about the fireplace? Yep, but you never stacked a supply of fireplace wood, since you don’t use the fireplace. Okay, but there is the wood you saved for woodturning – lots of that!

Oy, this is like human sacrifice, choosing which of the fine-grained beauties will go up the chimney. I will draw the line at burning burl wood – that is an apostasy of the highest order. But that beautiful cherry, quilted maple, and figured walnut – oh dear! They could have been bowls or platters of distinction. Now they are warm memories (literally).

Once the immediate safety of the interior is determined, a review of the outside is undertaken. Large pine and maple limbs brush block the driveway on both entrances. The cherry and crab apple have lost half their mass.  Days of chainsaw work will be necessary. However, the electric service is still attached to the house. In that respect we fared better than my two sons, who both have live wires laying across their driveways.

Oh, and our restaurant has no power – a weekend without business is a huge hit these days. We all proceed to the restaurant with 5-gallon containers of water (luckily, my son is on municipal supply) to fill the 10-gallon sauce pots on the gas stove in order to keep the place from freezing. We’re already looking at food loss, as well as revenue we counted on. My son calls the lady who has the funeral party booked at our facility, in order to inform her that we cannot host the event. Surprisingly, she does not seem to understand the problem. My son explains that a restaurant cannot legally open without power; there is no heat; that there is a state of emergency and many of the connecting roads have been closed.  She says that the funeral director up the line has not called her – it is suggested that perhaps their phone service is out and a call to follow-up would be in order.

On the drive home from the restaurant, our mood is lightened. Without the distraction of tv, appliances, computers, and phones, you notice the beauty all around: sparkling trees and fields. We stop by our local version of buttermilk falls and water is rushing over the rocks. Everything is covered in ice. A willow tree presents its branches as a curtain of glass. The old corn fields look like a shining carpet. We remark how the sunsets have been spectacular lately. It’s great to be alive!

It really is a marvel how there is regeneration in disasters. I stop by my elder friend’s house – he just celebrated his 96th birthday this week. His neighbor has already shared his generator with a 200-foot extension, so that he can have heat-or-water-or-refrigeration (but not all at once!) Our jerry-can of water will allow him some flushing capability. Another friend provided a warm shirt and honey for him. Neighbors are helping neighbors all over. We have gotten offers of water and food, heaters and generators – a friend has dropped off fresh greens for salad and soup. Folks do what they can. It is too bad that it takes a real reversal of fate to showcase how connected we are as a community.

Of course, by day four, the adventure wanes. The daybed by the fireplace has rearranged our spines and hygiene has a whole different meaning. Yet, there are some aspects which strangely stand out: wearing a watch cap to bed, motion-activated battery lights in the hall, how well Doug Collum’s stick candles burned (look up his product – great product, great guy).

When power is finally restored on the evening of day four, it seems almost unbelievable. The crew parked in our driveway comes from Indiana. They are up and down the poles in the dark – day after day, surfing the power grid. Well, it’s twenty-five years and out for them, they tell us. We wish good things in their lives.

The last four days have seemed like two weeks. Everything is topsy-turvey. But the hot shower is calling!

Baby, It’s Cold INside!

The urge struck Friday morning around 2 AM.  Immediately upon opening my eyes I just had a sense something was wrong.  I have several nightlights around the house so there is always a low glow emanating from the hallway that was missing. A slight chill hit me as I threw the covers off and headed for the bathroom.I caught on real fast that the power was off.  No big deal, climbed back into bed, pulled the covers up over my head and figured by morning the power will be back!  except it wasn’t…….The chill in the house intensified.  Too cold to shower even though I still had hot water.  Could only eat a cookie for breakfast as there was no heating anything or making anything.  That was the moment the loneliness hit, realizing that there was nobody around to run suggestions by about what to do in this situation.  I ran it by the dog just to hear my own voice but he wasn’t much help.  Progressively the day got colder, the house got colder, I got colder. 

I piled layers of clothing on just to be comfortable in the house. and took my first look outside.  My trees were encased in ice, bowing down and touching the ground as if greeting royalty.  I may have said “at ease” but the trees didn’t chuckle .  The tree limbs were encased in a smooth layer of ice but at the end of each branch was a little ball of ice that would catch the sunlight and make it sparkle.  It was a fairy land and wherever I looked it was the same.  Many trees had broken with the weight, the street was eerily silent.

The day got lonelier and colder.  I didn’t know what to do with myself , FYI pacing is totally unproductive.  Luckily my cell phone had a partial charge and I called my daughter hoping she had power and the dog and I could head over there and warm up but no dice.Texting began and soon I realized the entire area/county was affected.  Now what. My fingers were freezing…..the CAR!  I used my remote start feature and let the car warm up for a few minutes before going out. When I finally slid to the car, my broken foot healing nicely, I was worried about rebreaking it from the crusty uneven ice covering the lawn and sidewalk.  My car was humming away, however, I was unable to get into it.  The handle was caked in ice and the remote lock wouldn’t work. I was beginning to see how the day was going to roll out.  Back in house, back to car, several attempts to get inside no luck.  Next attempt I brought a hammer and a chisel, cracked the ice off the lock, got in and cranked the heat up.  Headed over to daughter’s house, picked her up and went in search of an open diner.  When I got home later that afternoon, the house was cold.  Several more visits to the warm car with the dog and then way too early to bed- flannel sheets, comforter, 3 blankets, bed spread.  Add to that the heat of a canine body under those flannel sheets with me, covers over my head —it was actually cozy and warm.  Surely by tomorrow morning the power would be back on.  But it wasn’t!

That’s when all the insecurities came back to haunt me.  It was the first time since the power died that I felt fear.  Am I going to get through this?  The cold was encasing me, hindering my movement, even the dog was shivering. The car became our safe haven.  We drove around a little, grabbed some food and returned home…..back to bed!  Feeling slightly like a helpless child.  All kinds of insecurities surfaced…..I wanted it over.  Then I began to worry about what kind of damage had been done to my house- broken pipes, what about the yard and the trees.  even my electric toothbrush died- what next?

Honestly, I had trouble seeing the beauty.  I was in awe of Mother Nature but no way would I allow myself to be calmed by the beauty as my anger was growing proportionately to the drop in the temperature inside my house.  Surely by tomorrow morning the power would return………But it didn’t!

Struggles and Gratitude

Having recently relocated, I was untouched by the recent ice storm and resulting disruptions endured by my colleagues.  Several years ago, I found myself in a similar predicament.  Due to heavy snowfall and high winds my home was without power from the electric grid for four days.  Fortunately, I had a manual generator that needed to be wheeled out of the garage and was fueled by gas but once plugged in, provided me with all of the necessities and then some.  I happily housed a friend and his family until power was restored.

I remember some of the feelings Wal described.  The community around where I lived, came together to clear a fallen tree that blocked our road and had taken down power and phone lines.  We checked in with each other, offered firewood to those who were running low, and warm showers to those who sought to remain in their very cold houses.  Despite the hardships for some and inconveniences for others, it was a time of support and caring and selflessness.  It was also a time of beauty for the drifting snow created natural sculptures and had muffled the usual din of traffic, chainsaws and distant shouts of children playing to a soft, indistinct decibel hardly noticed above the quiet.

I’m glad my friends are safe and warm and showered!  This experience will no doubt be fodder for many stories and tales passed along to those who were not affected and to generations yet to come.  And I’m glad that Wal reminds us that in the struggle can be found beauty, community, and gratitude for what we do have that makes our lives so comfortable when the power is on. I can’t help but think that we have embraced technology so fully that we are dependent on it for not only comfort but also for survival. Perhaps it’s not a bad idea to build in some back ups for when the systems can’t provide for us and we’re left to our own resources.  


Bartender, Can I Have a Refill?

For the last two Covid years the isolation has caused me to do a lot of reflecting.  Most of it while waxing nostalgic.  I spent way too much time wishing things were back the way they “used to be!” If I were being honest the “used to be” wasn’t always that great but being deprived by a pandemic can make everything that came before it look rosier than it actually was.  Lately, I guess I have had enough of looking backward.  There’s nothing to be gained from it. Now I have to look forward to get out of this funk I have been in.   It isn’t as if I haven’t had to look toward a new future in the past.  I retired from teaching on a Thursday and on Friday my new life began owning and operating a bed and breakfast in Vermont. The difference being that I knew one phase of my life was coming to an end and had time to prepare for the next one, fully recognizing and acknowledging the accomplishments of the past and looking forward to a carefully planned out new experience.  Covid gave us no warning, neither to its arrival nor the end of our previous existence.  My half empty glass kicked in big time!  

Enough!  The last couple of weeks I have been trying to shake the negativity.  Every time I mourned the loss of my previous life I tried to look ahead. I needed to find things to look forward to. Which brought another dilemma in that I had to come up with ideas that brought me some joy. And honestly that was difficult. One crazy thing that stood out was that ever since I was a kid I have been collecting model railroad equipment.  At different points in my life I had layouts in my basement and with every move the boxes and boxes were moved as well.  I have decided that as soon as the weather permits I am going to build a layout in my oversized garage, which will not only necessitate cleaning it out but will have the added benefit of allowing me to park the car in one half and construct the layout in the other half.  Great.…That brought a smile to my face. But what else?   Part of the problem is trying to envision what the new normal will look like.  And then, will any of the things I loved about the past be part of this new era?  Will the skills that I had before and succeeded with be useful in a revised world?  

Probably the most significant thing missing for me today is the social interactions I used to have regularly with friends, former students and colleagues and the fear is that for two years we went into our shells, locked the doors and shuttered the windows.  It has become habit.  I hope there are a lot of other turtles out there who want to come out of their shells again and socialize but we are creatures of habit and I pray that habit hasn’t been broken for good!  I am learning slowly that the unknown can turn out for the better just as easily as it can go sour.  Not sure I fully believe that yet but Henry and Wally say it does!  At this point in my life, what used to protect me from disappointment as a young person doesn’t serve me well anymore, but the local community college doesn’t have a free course for senior citizens to teach them about positivity so I guess I have to try the hit and miss method.  I am slowly trying to fill that glass!  Where’s the bartender?

All Aboard!

Here you go, George – let me top off your half full glass! Your thoughts gave me a lift… it is good to see you expressing forward movement that will bring some satisfaction. People are tired of living under the shroud of COVID. It’s as though we have been living defensively for two years – well there’s no ‘as though’ about it, it’s been bunker-mentality. Time to move on.

I used to work for a psychotherapist who suggested that one treatment modality for a certain type of depression was for the therapist to act depressed. After a while, the client may try to find something positive to talk about and each instance would then be encouraged. I’m not so sure about this approach with really distressed individuals, but there is some truth in the thought that most folks can only stand to be ‘down’ for just so long. Sounds like you’ve reached that point, George!

The immediate future will certainly be different, but we are made to change and adapt. Handle future issues in the future and don’t let your worries cramp your creativity. I’ve got more HO-scale kits that I will happily donate to your effort! It makes me smile to think of you building the layout with plenty of room to be inventive. Let me know if you would like some company in building the structure that will hold the train set.

As Hen points out, anticipating the project is as much fun as doing it. It is nice to have something to move toward, whether it’s model railroading, planning a garden – or woodturning (my favorite)! I’m looking forward to exploring texture and surface embellishment in my next woodturning projects. In order to  prepare, I’m squeezing in You Tube videos to learn more about approaches that work with wood: knurling tools, chatter, sandblasting and pyrography. One excellent byproduct of the pandemic has been the proliferation of live remote demo’s by expert woodturners!  Here’s to the momentum of the human spirit!  Wonder what other projects folks are looking forward to doing? 

Glancing Back But Moving Forward

I like George’s approach to move forward, commit to a project for which you have a passion and loosen up with a libation or two.  He also reminds me that if we hold the right frame of mind, the unknown can turn out better just as easily as it can sour.  Good advice in the time of COVID.

Looking forward to something you want or like or care about can lift our sense of happiness or contentment as if we were actually there or more!  According to a 2010 psychological study about the connection between anticipation and happiness that was published in the journal Applied Research in Quality of Life, “ just planning or anticipating your trip can make you happier than actually taking it.”  

George also talks about being fed up with looking back.  He realizes that in these almost two years of altered (normal) reality we likely remember the past more positively that it actually was and that pining for what we had (or think we had) isn’t doing us any favors.  I think he’s onto something!  In a related study that was published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology in 2007, it was found that people are happier during the planning stages of a vacation than they were after taking one. In other words, we just might delight in looking forward to trips more than reminiscing about them.  It also goes on to say that if we actively plan our trips or projects over time, we more readily smooth over the unforeseen bumps we will encounter that if we didn’t prepare and will have a more positive experience.

Of course the trick is to not only recognize what George has brought to our attention but to act on it.  I hesitate to look at the happiness studies of people who planned to do things and then never did. L  I recently read that it’s easy to think (believe), harder to act, and hardest to act on what you think (believe).  

For me, I’d love to saddle up to the bar at a local pub with close friends and continue this conversation over a couple of drinks.  Of course, I’ll have to wait until COVID takes a back seat.  In the meantime, there’s always my laptop, MS Word, and tomorrow morning’s Zoom call with Wal and George.


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.