Thursday, December 10, 2009

Holidays and New Year - Auld Lang Syne

A good way to send out the old year and boot up a new one. A long-standing tradition, the song dates back to a Scottish poem by Robert Burns in 1788. I had to write something to end the year on a high note and bury last month's post. So I started with this traditional end of the year song.

"Auld Lang Syne"

One of the things I have is too much time. My main challenge is to find something that keeps me motivated and positive about the moment. Isn't it odd that when we're going through tough times, we feel the pain of the moment. It's only later on, sometimes years later, we reflect back and think fondly of the same period in our lives.

A very nice tradition is the way our calendar year is punctuated by gift giving and family gatherings at the end of the year. Some of us celebrate Christ's birth by decorating our homes with an evergreen tree and mistletoe to go along with the seasonal baked goodies as the temperatures dive outside. Fewer attendees at the aerobic exercise class in the community outdoor pool this time of year; a result of the changing climate and season.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Being Thankful

The year is winding down with Thanksgiving tomorrow. Wow, what a year! For a time, nobody at my house had a job or income. That's not a fun feeling. Now our health insurance is "iffy" or non-existent with changes happening all the time.

My scanner won't convert scanned images into text. The OCR software is not working. The "g" keycap came off the laptop so I glued it back on with Elmer's. Now the key is just a clump of glue. My camcorder gave out after the trip to Laguna Beach so I had the Canon repair folks put it straight for $150. My computer boots up with a red screen and the monitor cable is flaky. My ink jet printer crapped out so I had to get it replaced $175. My medical coverage has expired and I'm between insurance companies so to refill two of my prescriptions was $580. How is your day? Are we having fun yet?

I am very thankful for having friends. I really appreciate the few I have because I know how "fair weather" they can be. When I was working, I thought I had quite a few friends and I really appreciated them. After I lost my job, my friends were scarce. Now I admit I am not the most pleasant person to hang with when things are down, but I really didn't think I would fall off the map. With some of my old friends, I did.

My newer friends are online friends for the most part and I am blessed to have them. You would be surprised they are much younger than I am. That really doesn't matter to me at all. They live all over the planet too which is fun. I also have a couple of buddies in my aerobic aquatic class and I look forward to seeing them every week.

You should always be thankful for your health. Mine is not the greatest, but I manage to get out of bed on a regular basis. My sister just got out of the hospital after a week in Intensive Care for blood clots. So we should be thankful for our families too.

My son is in Afghanistan and while his mother and I worry a lot we are extremely thankful that he is alive. My wife's parents are having their medical problems too and we are thankful to still have them around. On one hand, I quarrel with my brothers and sisters but on the other, I am happy to have them. My children are responsible for considerable heartburn, but they too are surviving and doing their best and I really appreciate that.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Ying and Yang

It was the old "what goes down must come back up" summer. August and September were particularly painful but here we are in October and things are looking bright again. I actually got out of the neighborhood last weekend and traveled to southern California for my nephew's wedding. Here are a couple of photos. Had a great time when all was said and done. To no one's surprise, I demonstrated that I don't travel well. We flew Jet Blue from Oakland to Long Beach and back again and we rented a new Ford Flex for the drive down to Laguna Beach for the wedding. The ocean air was fantastic. I noticed the difference on my skin which is usually pretty itchy. We stayed at a very nice secluded motel in very nice accommodations.

The ceremony was outside on the golf course with a string trio playing traditional wedding music. It was invigorating to be out amongst the young Turks and meeting new relatives.

 It is a bit difficult modifying my diabetes schedule around special occasions like this one. Dinner on both Friday and Saturday were very late and I couldn't pass up the opportunity to have a glass of wine with dinner and a beer before. The net result was a few gained pounds and higher than normal glucose levels for a couple of days. Then when we got home Shelley began her new job routine which includes getting up at 0500 hours every morning, so by the end of the first week, I was pretty tired and rundown.

While I would consider our lifestyle frugal and meager, we are thankful we have the blessings we have and hope to continue to have a positive attitude.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Spiritual Enlightenment - a topic worth reading about

My Mind Trip

I read another book about Spiritual Enlightenment the other day. This one was written by Jed McKenna called "Spiritual Enlightenment - The Damnedest Thing." Actually, I listened to it since my eyesight is not so good just now. It came on 8 CDs and it took me a couple of days to listen to the whole thing. The message was pretty much the same as Eckhart Tolle's and Werner Erhart's, get off your ego (survival stuff) and start living anew, being alive. Of course, that's a lot easier to say than to do.

My ego is intertwined with my mind, my memories, my desires and most of the stuff that I sometimes think I am. These books help me realize I'm not any of that, but I keep getting caught in the trap of thinking too much, worrying too much and dwelling on the negativity of it all. Thankfully, those are just symptoms of the process of moving through my stuff. The more present I can be, the more I can let go of petty judgments and resentments I have been holding on to. My baggage, so to speak
It isn't easy for me. Now I know it's good for me, like exercise, but getting moving and really unloading the stuff is hard for me to do. Even though I want to and am in agreement with it, it still comes back in a variety of ways. I notice it when I get angry or disagreeable, anxious or apprehensive. To rid myself of this dreadful disease, I am going to have to stay present and be here now more often.

You would think memories would be useful. Unfortunately, you live in the past when thinking of memories. That's just as bad a wishful thinking, although I think many who try to 'stay positive' are just spinning their story and burying themselves deeper with future delights.

Anyway, back to the book. So this guy Jed McKenna, the author, who may or may not be a real person, goes along on a narrative answering questions his students ask him about Zen, Buddha, Religion, Spiritual Enlightenment and anything else they have questions about. He does all this from a nice house in Iowa in the midst of farms near Iowa City in the middle of no place particular. His observations are interesting and as you might imagine, his students struggle with the notion of letting go of their ego selves. It's so simple he says, "It's all about no self." He uses analogies quite a bit. 

He talks about a modern version of Plato's "fire in the cave" only equates it to a movie theater. He compares our life efforts to that of vampires and caterpillars morphing into butterflies. Interesting, no? He tells of a time when he went on a skydiving jump and almost everything went wrong, so stuff happens even to those who are spiritually enlightened.

I liked the book and it rekindled my interest in Eckhart Tolle so I bought his first book called "The Power of Now." More about this later
My son Kevin who is a hero in my eyes, just deployed to Afghanistan and will be gone for a 12-month tour of duty. We all miss him very much and pray every day for his safe return.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

I Never Met a Man I Didn't Like

Will Rogers used to say "I never met a man I didn't like." I've pondered this statement for far too long and have come to the conclusion that either he just liked everybody or he just said that to be nice, or he never met the people I've bumped into in my life. I do know someone who says he never met a stranger -- but I must tell you he is not well liked by everybody. He's loud and obnoxious and I've seen people avoid him like the plague in social situations.

I think Will Rogers was trying to make a point. I think he meant to say to the rest of us that everybody deserves respect and their opinions count too. I just can't believe he liked everybody he met. It isn't humanly possible since we all have bad days.

Now Jesus loved everybody but I don't think he was a big fan of Pontius Pilate. It is more likely he was setting an example for the rest of us to follow and he knew that forgiving even one's enemies is better than harboring a grudge because that's self-destructive. The idea that it's easier for a poor man to get into heaven than a rich one through the eye of a needle implies that having little does not distract you from the goal of doing good. Having so much you think it needs protecting, makes you greedy and less likely to selflessly do the right thing.

Will Rogers was a political humorist. You could say he was an early stand-up comedian but ran more one-man commentator on the events of his day. He wrote many newspaper columns and was a movie star in both silent and early talking movies. He died in a small plane accident in 1935. Although he is credited with the statement, I've heard he used to append it with a "yet." I have also heard stories others have told who refute Will's ability to like everybody. Once when invited to join a newsman's chat he told his host to "get lost kid."

One of my greatest regrets in life is that I cannot say I never met a man I didn't like. Being a shy person, I find myself avoiding situations where I might lose my inhibitions and start liking people more. At least knowing I am doing that is a step in the right direction.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Patience Is a Virtue

There once was a monk who lived in a monastery with several other monks. The head monk was called the abbot. Now these monks had taken a vow of silence so each day they did their tasks in silence. They read in silence, did their chores, worked in the garden, and prayed in silence. Every seven years the abbot would take a census of each monk and called them one by one into his residence where he would ask them a simple question. One day as it was the custom, the abbot called a monk in to speak to him on this special occasion. "How are you doing brother," the abbot asked? The monk replied, "I'm alright brother superior, but my bed is very hard and uncomfortable when I try to sleep." The abbot thanked the monk and sent him on his way. Seven years passed. Again it was his turn to speak to the abbot. When asked how he was doing, the monk replied, "Everything is fine, but the food is foul and leaves much to be desired." The abbot thanked him again and the monk went back to his cell to pray. Seven years passed. The monk was summoned to speak with the abbot on the day of his census and the abbot asked how he was doing. The monk replied, "I've given it a lot of thought and frankly abbot I'm thinking of quitting the brotherhood." And the abbot responded, "I'm not surprised, all you do is complain."

I am reminded of this (borrowed) story when I think all that I think is bad or negative. I have to deliberately say and think things that are positive and uplifting. It seems to be my nature to go the other way. Far too many judgments, upsets, and frustrations. I make myself say "hello" to my cat Marvin, every day. It's one of the nicest things I do. My wife always says it's a nice day, or beautiful trees, or something that is positive. It's one of her good habits. I must confess, I don't have many good habits. I have a bag full of bad ones, though. I'm a nice enough person, I don't wish anyone any harm. I don't go way out of my way to be nice, though. If you're familiar with 12 step programs, you know there is a step where you are supposed to go back and make amends as long as it wouldn't hurt or upset anybody. I am haunted by people and things for which I need to make amends but cannot connect. Can I forgive myself? I'm not sure. The ways I have in the past seem more like denial than acceptance.

Today I heard some musical tunes I hadn't heard in quite a while. I recognized Telstar, an oldie instrumental from the early 60s. The Star Wars theme brought back some good memories of the movie and waiting in line to see it, and the theme song from Hill Street Blues TV series reminded me of the time in Las Vegas when Hal Miller got on stage and "covered" for the piano player who was tardy. That was about the same time as the series and I remember Hal playing it for the cocktail crowd. If I could just get as big a kick out of right now as that. It's just beyond my grasp, but I keep working on it.

I've seen a couple of television programs on PBS recently of Eric Clapton and Steve Winwood 40 years after Blind Faith and about the last days of Fillmore West. Where did the time go? Will I ever get it back? What is the meaning of life? How do I fit in the universe? What is reality?

I saw a video of Steve Jobs commencement speech to the 2009 graduates of Stanford University. I learned a lot about Steve I didn't know. Funny isn't it, two of the most influential men in the new millennium never graduated from college. If you've got to be something, be lucky.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Why are the French so… French?

I think I may have stumbled on to what makes the French so contrary when it comes to Americans. We would be hard pressed to go without the French. They spawned so much of our culture, our food, even our language. Where would we be without French fries; or French toast; or French dip? How could we survive without the Statue of Liberty; or all the French cooking by French chefs in all those French restaurants? We borrow from the French when we want to invite people to a party we ask them to R.S.V.P. We even serve pre-meal treats and call them hor d' oureves. There is much about the French that has permeated our culture so they can’t be all bad.

What occurred to me is why the French loathe Americans and it goes back to the days of the Revolutionary War. We would not have won that fight for independence against the British if it hadn’t been for the French who loaned us a large sum of money, and some of their Officers and naval vessels. Then the French had their own Revolution and got rid of the King and Queen. Our congress decided we didn’t have to repay the war loan since our contract was with the King and he was dead. That must have made some Frenchmen very angry and mistrusting. Then after the War of 1812 in which we failed to take Canada from the British, the Brits, and the French went to war and who did we support? That’s right, the British. Kind of like rubbing salt in the wound.

Fast forward to World War II when the Vichy French fought on the side of the Germans. When we trundled ashore at Monaco in North Africa, it was these French soldiers who fired at us and killed our troops before we could find a French General who ordered them to stop. Now either they were confused or still carrying a grudge. After WWII, the Allies put together the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and included the French. I think we thought it would hurt their feelings if we didn’t. The ungrateful French dropped out of NATO in the 60s and politely kicked the American soldiers out of France.

By now you may be thinking I don’t like the French, but you would be wrong. I do like the French. They introduced spice to the human sexual experience. There’s French kissing, and the French must have claimed the rights to the disposal of human waste. We call it a toilet, right? Or a latrine; a loo - not to be confused with the museum; there’s even something called a bidet (pronounced bo-day) and all I can say is “merci boco” for the indoor plumbing. Personal sanitation and hygiene are always a good thing.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Thank You for Not Smoking

My brother-in-law, Ed has been a smoker for many years. He’s tried to quit on several occasions but has just had a heck of a time stopping for good. Well, last Monday the doctors got his attention when they performed a triple bypass surgery to get the blood flowing back into his heart. He has been in the hospital now for almost a week and no cigarettes, no smoking, no joke - no butts. I think they got his attention now.

Having been a smoker for 25 years, I know how difficult it can be to give up the habit. I’d be smoking today if it hadn’t been for an employer who would not allow it. He called UPS and asked for a different delivery driver after smelling smoke when he came to pick up a package. Bless his heart. Quitting was the hardest thing I’ve ever done and the sickest I’ve ever been.

Ed had a couple of minor heart attacks in the weeks leading up to his surgery. I thought the first one happened at my son’s wedding 3 weeks ago, when my sister-in-law, Carol locked her purse in her trunk in the church parking lot, forgetting the keys were in her purse. Ed and Carol had to call their insurance company who sent someone to get the trunk unlocked. They made it to the reception in plenty of time but I thought Ed was going ballistic. He was smoking like a chimney. He says he was unfazed; he’s been married to Carol 30 years now so I guess he wasn’t all that surprised.

We’re all very happy Ed made it through the surgery and we hope he will have an easy time giving up the nicotine.

Friday, April 24, 2009


If you have seen the movie Hook, you probably recall Dustin Hoffman decrying three times, “I hate, I hate, I hate… Peter Pan!” Irascible Robin Williams plays the part of Pan whom we all love of course. Hook is probably singular in his opinion of Peter. Unless I am terribly na├»ve, we all love Peter Pan. He is the hero of fairy tales.

I used to do a newsletter for a Mortgage Broker client and confess to “borrowing” statistics and data from the local newspaper for his newsletter. I had the opportunity to speak with an English teacher from a nearby Junior College and feeling a little bit guilty, asked her opinion of plagiarism. “From my students there is no such thing,” she said. “It’s so rare they write anything at all, I’ll gladly take it plagiarized or not.” Now this was a dozen years ago but I’m not all that certain things have changed that much. One of the shortfalls of the internet is the temptation students are confronted with to use another’s ideas rather than their own. I’ve been there and done that.

This self-imposed deadline of writing something for my blog once a month gets me to come up with something to say without borrowing. Usually, we’re too busy and have too many other things to do than sit down and write something intelligible and comprehensive. I notice the kids today have no problem texting themselves into oblivion; I’m not sure how intelligible that stuff is, however. It appears more like socializing than communicating or sharing ideas. Even what I write here is probably coming from my ego; not myself. As human beings, we rarely sit still long enough to really know what’s going on with ourselves. We’ve adapted to a faster-paced society that springs into action, responds proactively, and really never takes the time necessary to digest what is happening and apply common sense and manners we used to have and our parents worked so hard to teach us.

I’m just too slow to keep up. I usually have to read the instructions two or three times to get the message. My wife will ask if I saw a commercial on TV that just went by and the truth is I have to see it three times for it to sink in. Most movies today are so full of explosions, crash scenes and suspenseful dialog I just can’t follow them in real time. It could be middle age slowing me down. It may be those good manners are working like a drag chute, slowing my mind and making me face the right and wrong of what I am experiencing and we are all about.

I must confess that I work at a much slower pace these days. I am guilty of watching too many news hours and politico talking heads offering their philosophy to us, the gullible audience. It is apparent that I am not alone in these troubled waters of morality and decision making. At least, I still have a moral compass or, at least, know what one is used for.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Update on what's happening

For starters, this is going to be a busy week. Kevin and Natalie are coming home and getting married on Saturday, April 4th. Kevin has been to the National Training Center and has lost a few pounds living on MREs. Michelle took a CNA class and passed with flying colors, so she has landed a new job. Brian continues to look for work. Shelley has been beating the rug so to speak around the house getting everything tidied up for guests this weekend. We will, of course, be taking many photos and videos this weekend and I'll come back and post a few here.

Wednesday Kevin and Natalie fly in from Seattle. I believe they have to squeeze in their final paperwork that day. Friday is the rehearsal at the church and the rehearsal dinner at Cattlemen's afterward. We're expecting 47 to attend the rehearsal and I've been thinking about my toast to the new couple. I feel like Luca Bratzi in the Godfather rehearsing his lines for a talk with the Don. Saturday is the real deal and a wonderful opportunity to get all the family together at one time. Natalie comes from a pretty good sized family too so it will be splendid. Many of Kevin's friends will be in uniform and there will be a "Saber arch" for the bride and groom to walk under. The dinner after the ceremony will be a wonderful experience with over 150 attendees. The bride and groom have arranged to have a DJ who will play everyone's favorites and I'll have to dust off the rust and cut a rug.

Sunday the newlyweds are off to Jamaica for a romantic holiday before flying back to Seattle.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

My Philosophy is Fine, What's Your Philosophy?

It's not what you say, it's how you say it.

Continuing on the negativity theme, I am reminded of an interview I did when I was at Hewlett-Packard Company for a job which I was well qualified. I didn't get the job so when I followed up I was a bit surprised to hear the interviewer say "I detected some negativity." That's all it takes. I do appreciate her honesty. She detected what she perceived as negative and I was no longer a candidate for the job.

I have a lousy habit of saying things better left unsaid. We had a "Style Guide" at HP and it said to always assert things in a positive manner. It had tons of examples of how we speak naturally and often it is negative. We provide advice by saying "Don't, or You Shouldn't, etc., and the style guide made a point to put things in positive terms.

I grew up with parents who used sarcasm in their humor all the time. So most stories were riddled with negativity. I have found self-deprecation to be a useful humorous tool as well which is why I have way too many negative, bad habits.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Purging the Negativity from Oneself

A doctor friend of mine suggested I read a book called “A New Earth” by Eckhart Tolle and I’m really glad I did. In it, Tolle explains how we are creatures of habit and have evolved into a state of ego sponsored insanity, which explains why we behave the way we do, even when we know better and don’t want to. I have to admit I have struggled all my life with the unconscious negativity that springs eternal from within. I have come to realize that this negative trait is the sponsor of most of my problems which, unfortunately, are self-created. “We are our own worst enemy” and the reason we are is our egos run amuck.

So Eckhart gives us the keys to reversing this plague and I have found myself benefiting immensely from my new found awareness. I haven’t arrived at perfection or the absence of negativity yet, but I have noticed the improvement. Just last night I woke up in the middle of the night and began stressing about my year-end statement from my mortgage holder. Many deep breaths and a bothersome stomach ache later, I went back to sleep. So I too recommend the book and one of the reasons I do is it doesn’t make one a preacher of the new found faith, although you could argue I have been here. Most of what we learn through his teaching we already knew. I know that sounds funny but most of what he says in the book seems very familiar.

So if you are tortured from within and looking for a way out, read what Eckhart Tolle has to say about being present and embracing the now. He even explains in very simple terms how to enjoy what you are doing when you are doing the most mundane tasks of your day.

While I watched the presidential debates last year, I was struck at how little Barack Obama was driven by his ego and how much John McCain was. You can see it in people once you know what to look for. I don’t suggest you do that to observe others; the real benefit is in self-improvement.

Have you had the experience where you go somewhere and have a fitful reaction to something said or not said about you? It’s a big deal to watch your own ego go through such gyrations. The feelings are real too. I’m sure my face was red. I was able to calmly be aware of what I was thinking and be detached at the same time. You come to a realization that you shouldn’t feel the way you do. You might not even really care. But somewhere deep inside -- your ego has an agenda and you go through some severe emotional turmoil. We all do. Well, now at least I notice that I am doing it and I’m getting a handle on controlling it. I’ll be a much more positive, enjoyable person when I do.