Monday, August 31, 2009

Late Nite Survey

I saw this on another blog (Eliz in Asheville) more than a year ago and decided to answer the questions too. But I don’t think I ever published it. So I went through the questions again and changed a few answers from my original attempt. And now I am actually posting it.

1. Where do you wish you could be right now? Walking along the beach on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, holding hands with a woman, enjoying a sunrise.

2. What is one thing that you’ve always wanted to do/try but were always afraid to do? Snow ski.

3. What makes you feel good about yourself? When something I do helps someone else feel good about themselves.

4. What are you most proud of? Being involved in an annual radiothon for the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

5. What are you not so proud of? I don’t really have an answer for that one.

6. What do you do to relax? Photography, write poetry, listen to music.

7. What makes you laugh? Good friends. Also performances by Bill Engvall, Jeff Foxworthy or Bob Newhart

8. What is your dream job? I already have a dream job in which I create audio magic for radio stations, play country music DJ on Saturday mornings and host a weekly community issues radio show in Washington DC. But if I couldn’t have that one, I want to host a radio show on a national network (which I’ve sort of done) or be a professional photographer.

9. What is the worst job you ever had? Stocker at a car parts warehouse

10. What is one quality about one or both of your parents you wish you had? My Dad’s ability to save money for the future and my Mom’s near fearlessness when it came to asking personal questions.

11. What is one quality about yourself that you’re glad that you have? I usually really am the nice guy I seem to be.

12. What is the air speed velocity of an unlaiden swallow? OK, I totally don’t get this (although I believe this is a Monty Python reference, which would explain why I don’t get it)

13. What is the happiest memory you have from childhood? Summer vacations with the family.

14. What is the happiest memory you have from adulthood? It’s a tie between my trip to Arizona/Utah a few years and my road trip to New Orleans this year.

15. Neil Diamond or Barry Manilow? Neil Diamond, if those are my only two choices

16. What is your favorite kind of music? Blues and country! But I really like every kind of music.

17. If you could see anyone in concert, past and/or present, who would it be? Present: Garth Brooks again. Past: Hendrix

18. What was the first concert you ever saw? The Beach Boys

19. What was the last concert you have seen? Keith Urban

20. Who is the most interesting person you have met? I can’t pick just one, so my list would include these people, in no particular order: Gavin MacLoed (the captain on Love Boat), singer/entertainer Roy Clark and my friends Farimah, Linda, Sherry, Melanie and Leahe.

21. If you were to throw a party with a ‘theme’, what would your theme be? Something tropical or something musical

22. How do you ‘take’ your coffee? Cream or half n half.

23. Which was scarier: Poltergiest or Amityville Horror? OK, I’m the only person who has never seen either.

24. Do you like spinach? Yes!

25. What is your favorite kind of fruit? Peaches

26. What are you currently reading? “The Last Lecture” by Randy Pausch

27. Most embarrassing moment? I was an altar boy and for some reason I stopped short just as we were walking out at the beginning of a Mass, causing the priest to bump into me and drop everything he was carrying. He had to pick it all up and start over.

28. What annoys you? Inconsiderate drivers.

29. What is the most ridiculous question that you have been asked? (doesn’t necessarily pertain to this survey) I don’t really know.

30. If you were to come back in another life, what would you want to accomplish, do or be? A successful photographer, musician or songwriter who could touch people’s lives and make a great living at it too.

OK, you should answers these on your blog and tell me where it is.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

End of an Era

Gen-Xers probably get tired of hearing Boomers talk about the Kennedys. I’m sorry, but: too bad. I don’t think Gen-Xers have any political heroes, at least not at the moment.

You certainly didn’t have to agree with Kennedy politics to be captivated by the power and mystique surrounding that family. It was a generational ‘changing of the guard’ that began with John Kennedy’s election to the presidency in the early 1960s and continued with Robert Kennedy’s presidential campaign of the late 1960s. If Bobby hadn’t been assassinated, he probably would have become President. Ted Kennedy had personal demons that ultimately ended his bid for President before it really got started, but clearly he continued the political dynasty with his 47-year tenure in the Senate.

Ted Kennedy was unabashedly liberal but he also respected and was respected by conservatives. The best eulogy at his memorial service a few nights ago came from political enemy and personal friend Senator John McCain. They rarely agreed on political matters, but McCain pointed out that Kennedy knew when to give certain things up in the name of acceptable compromise for the betterment of our country. Isn’t that the way it should be?

I won’t idolize the Kennedy clan, but I certainly will say that I had respect and admiration for them and what they accomplished. Ted’s death is the end of an era.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Life Lessons in Lyrics 1.2

You can spend your whole life building something from nothing
One storm can come and blow it all away
Build it anyway

You can chase a dream that seems so out of reach
and you know it might not ever come your way
Dream it anyway

Martina McBride

Friday, August 28, 2009

Four Years

This weekend marks the fourth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina’s assault on my original home town.

My recent visit to New Orleans showed me two things: 1) residents are resilient and stubborn and 2) the city is still a shadow of its former self.

My sister’s house, the one we grew up in, has been rehabbed and looks great. The structure survived the flooding in Lakeview and the changes she was able to make have truly turned the house into hers.

But there is now a vacant lot on either side of her and I counted at least a dozen houses within two blocks of hers that are still boarded up, still look like they did when we first went back to access damage six weeks after the storm. Those houses have been gutted, as required by law, but remain unoccupied and unlivable.

October 2005 with water-logged belongings awaiting removal

July 2009 after elevation and much rehabbing

Many neighborhoods are worse off. The poorer sections of town have blocks and blocks of vacant lots, with the occasional partially rehabbed house sitting in the middle looking like an island. There is ongoing local debate about whether or not those neighborhoods should be resettled or gentrified by developers who have swooped in to cash in on that possibility.

If you’ve ever visited New Orleans, you know it is unique, unusual, funky … the food, the music, the architecture, the accent. It is a cultural icon and unlike any other city. But most estimates say only half the pre-Katrina population has returned and the rest will never go back. People, not structures, make a place unique.

July 2009 view of the levee break

Tourism was always one of the two biggest industries there, but every time I visit, I see more evidence that New Orleans will one day be a commercial reproduction of a historic site, with buildings mimicking the originals and re-enactors playing the part of the original citizens.

Right now it is still the real thing, still funky, still authentic. Visit while you can.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Life Lessons In Lyrics 1.1

Funny the way it is, if you think about it
one kid walks ten miles to school, another’s dropping out
funny the way it is, not right or wrong
on a soldier’s last breath, his baby’s being born
funny the way it is, not right or wrong
somebody’s broken heart becomes your favorite song

Dave Matthews

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

We’re All Afraid

Have you ever had a completely open conversation with someone? A friend? A spouse?

I mean a conversation where you can say absolutely anything that’s on your mind, without reservation, without concern about the other person’s reaction? Difficult, isn’t it?

We are afraid to hurt the other person by saying something they might not want to hear. Or we are afraid of revealing some inner aspect of our own being because we’re afraid of how that revelation will make the other person think about us.


Part of it comes down to the power of words. Conversation can lead to hurt feelings, vocabulary can start an argument.
- Do I look fat in this?
- Go Cowboys!
- Damn liberal.
- Damn conservative.

Part of it comes down to an aspect of human nature: we all want to be loved or at least liked.

Some people have a knack for saying what is on their mind without offending someone or hurting their feelings. Some people have the ability to accept that kind of direct statement without feeling hurt, even if it is something they don’t want to hear.

I think I live in both camps, but I believe I am better at receiving the information than I am at giving it. I am usually diplomatic and thoughtful about saying things, but sometimes that means I’m sugar-coating what I am saying. I want people to feel good about themselves, so I am afraid that what I say might not do that. As far as getting information, yes, I can be sensitive but usually I get over it. I am realistic too.

I’m not going anywhere with all of this; it’s just on my mind today and I decided to share. If you are a close friend of mine, don’t read anything into this; I’m just thinking out loud. Feel free to comment on how you feel about this kind of fear or this kind of hypothetical conversation.

I am lucky I have some friends, both old friends and new friends, who I can have a very open conversation with. Completely open? Hard to tell.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Life Lessons in Lyrics

First in a series of posts in which we can learn something about life from song lyrics.

Life's not the breath you take, the breathing in and out, that gets you through the day, ain't what it's all about.
You just might miss the point if you don't slow down the's not the breaths you take... but the moments that take your breath away.

sung by George Strait

Monday, August 24, 2009

… health … makes me sick

The full title of this post is “all this angry debate over health care reform makes me sick.”

First of all, how can anyone who has ever attempted to make a medical insurance claim think our country doesn’t need health care reform?

Second, the same brand of politician who jumped at approving legislation allowing our country to invade Iraq when Iraq wasn’t really the threat now says we have to take our time with health care reform. Take our time? Who are they kidding? Health care reform was ‘priority one’ for a newly elected President in 1993 and sixteen years later we still don’t have it. We’ve taken too much time already.

On one hand, this President’s goal to pass health care reform before the August Congressional recess was unrealistic and some of his proposals shouldn’t be part of the reform. On the other hand, setting an aggressive goal accelerated the pace of discussion and means that an acceptable compromise might actually happen this year. Waiting another sixteen years is not an option.

Third, how dare Rush Limpbough compare any action by this administration to nazis! This is the same a-hole who wants the administration to fail. That is a very un-American attitude if you ask me. But he does have the right to say those things in public ... which reminds me that fighting to uphold the concept of free-speech is definitely a challenge sometimes.

Fourth, some useful government-backed programs we now take for granted began with controversial proposals and heated debate … Social Security, Medicare, etc. Those programs began with good intentions and have had largely positive results. Problems with those programs involve bureaucratic mismanagement more than philosophical issues. It seems that no administration has figured out how to efficiently manage those programs – there is an opportunity for reform!

The good news about all of this debate is that Representatives and Senators might actually read this legislation, word for word, start to finish. That increases the possibility of getting it right.

I’m not suggestion we stop the debate. I am suggesting we address the issues in our debates and stop attacking personalities.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

REALLY Getting To Know Someone or TMI?

One of my ‘Facebook friends,’ a co-worker, offered an interesting challenge on her page recently: “ask me anything, one time only, any question about anything, and I’ll answer it.”

I decided to pose the same challenge on my page. Only two friends responded, both have been friends for more than 25 years and both hinted at a question but didn’t actually ask one. I’m not sure what to make of that.

I was totally serious about answering any question and was disappointed by the lack of response, but it occurred to me that if given the opportunity to ask them or anyone else any question, I’m not sure I’d do it either. And what would I ask?

In my twenties, I would ask anyone anything and I probably asked inappropriate questions. Funny thing is: I usually got answers. My intense curiosity about the littlest details of people’s lives, thoughts and dreams remains but my sensitivity about satisfying that curiosity has increased to the point that I now ask fewer questions.

There is such a thing as TMI – too much information - but deep down inside, I’m not sure where the line is. I have no real limit on what I want to know about other people, but I might have a limit on what I’ll reveal about me. I am often an open book, but there are aspects of my personality and thinking that even my closest friends have never seen. I think that means I know where my line is. So I wonder what I would have said if someone had actually asked me a sensitive question that crossed that line.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Totally Random 2.5

Here is another round of random stuff I've been thinking about:

- I don’t feel the least bit guilty that I’m spending a four-day weekend home alone this weekend. Well, not totally alone; the oldest dog is here too. The rest of the ‘family’ is at an out-of-town dog show.

- Wow, I’ve posted several times a week for several weeks now. Seems like the less I try, the more I succeed.

- A friend told me just last week that I seem to be trying too hard (my self-discovery project). She’s right.

- Keith Urban is one of my favorite performers of any music genre. He a singer, writer, exceptional guitarist, decent pianist, cares about the music and the fans, women say he looks good, men say ‘damn, he wakes up with Nicole Kidman every day.’ Saw his concert last night in DC – great show!!

- Car brands and models come and go, but you can still buy a brand new Mustang, Charger or Malibu, which are all models from boomer youth. Of course, Mustang is the only that has been in continuous production since then.

- I’m usually such an easy-going guy that people are surprised when I’m pissed. Even more surprised when I don’t back down in an argument or change my mind about a decision.

- My favorite Santana song is “Oye Coma Va.” I heard it in a VISA commercial yesterday. I hate when that happens.

- If salaries were based on the importance of the job, teachers and nurses would make a lot more money than they do; bank executives would make a lot less. Teachers of math, science and music would get a bonus, as would nurses who work with children and anyone with the patience to work with patients in a psych ward.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Funny Stuff for Smart People

A friend sent me this months ago and I forgot to share it. Very, very funny stuff!!

Here is the Washington Post's Mensa Invitational which once again asked readers to take any word from the dictionary, alter it by adding, subtracting, or changing one letter, and supply a new definition.

Here are the winners:

1. Cashtration (n.): The act of buying a house, which renders the subject financially impotent for an indefinite period of time.

2. Ignoranus : A person who's both stupid and an asshole.

3. Intaxicaton : Euphoria at getting a tax refund, which lasts until you realize it was your money to start with.

4. Reintarnation : Coming back to life as a hillbilly.

5. Bozone ( n..): The substance surrounding stupid people that stops bright ideas from penetrating. The bozone layer, unfortunately, shows little sign of breaking down in the near future.

6. Foreploy: Any misrepresentation about yourself for the purpose of getting laid.

7. Giraffiti: Vandalism spray-painted very, very high

8. Sarchasm: The gulf between the author of sarcastic wit and the person who doesn't get it.

9. Inoculatte: To take coffee intravenously when you are running late.

10. Osteopornosis: A degenerate disease (This one got extra credit.)

11. Karmageddon: It's like, when everybody is sending off all these really bad vibes, right? And then, like, the Earth explodes and it's like, a serious bummer.

12. Decafalon (n.): The grueling event of getting through the day consuming only things that are good for you.

13. Glibido: All talk and no action.

14. Dopeler Effect: The tendency of stupid ideas to seem smarter when they come at you rapidly.

15. Arachnoleptic Fit (n.): The frantic dance performed just after you've accidentally walked through a spider web.

16. Beelzebug (n.): Satan in the form of a mosquito, that gets into your bedroom at three in the morning and cannot be cast out.

17. Caterpallor ( n.): The color you turn after finding half a worm in the fruit you're eating.

The Washington Post has also published the winning submissions to its yearly contest, in which readers are asked to supply alternate meanings for common words.

And the winners are:

1. Coffee, n. The person upon whom one coughs.

2. Flabbergasted, adj. Appalled by discovering how much weight one has gained.

3. Abdicate, v. To give up all hope of ever having a flat stomach.

4. esplanade, v. To attempt an explanation while drunk.

5. Willy-nilly, adj. Impotent.

6. Negligent, adj. Absentmindedly answering the door when wearing only a nightgown.

7. Lymph, v. To walk with a lisp.

8. Gargoyle, n. Olive-flavored mouthwash.

9. Flatulence, n. Emergency vehicle that picks up someone who has been run over by a steamroller.

10. Balderdash, n. A rapidly receding hairline..

11. Testicle, n. A humorous question on an exam.

12. Rectitude, n. The formal, dignified bearing adopted by proctologists.

13. Pokemon, n.. A Rastafarian proctologist.

14. Oyster, n. A person who sprinkles his conversation with Yiddishisms.

15. Frisbeetarianism, n. The belief that, after death, the soul flies up onto the roof and gets stuck there.

16. Circumvent, n. An opening in the front of boxer shorts worn by Jewish men

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Caffeinated Mommies

The Starbucks closest to my office is in a family-friendly strip mall which stages kid-friendly events on a regular basis. The first time I stumbled onto one of these events was a day I was running later than usual, but I H-H-HAD TO HAVE MY ST-ST-ST-STARBUCKS, if you know what I m-m-m-mean.

The line was long, geometrically speaking. It stretched from the counter to the door, not because there were all that many people in it but because each person in line except me was pushing a baby stroller. Ten moms and ten baby strollers take up a lot of space. I guess mommies need all the energy boost they can get.

Each mom ordered something complicated – caramel macchiato half caf with a shot of whatever, blah blah blah with extra whip, latte this latte that – that took time, further d-d-delaying the feeding of my own caffeine addiction.

Finally it was my turn. I’m fairly confident around groups of women, but at this moment I began to feel just a little inadequate. “Grande coffee, please.”

That’s it. Nothing fancy, nothing special, no specific exacting combination of ingredients. Ordinary, great-tasting, kickass coffee.

“Room for milk?” “Yes, thanks.”

OK, so I do actually put something in my coffee.

But ordering is the easy part on ‘caffeinated mommies’ day. The hard part is navigating this particular small Starbucks when each customer is attached to a baby stroller containing one or more babies. As I struggled to make my way to the impossibly tiny milk-sugar-stirrer counter carrying a hot cup of coffee, trying not to trip over a stroller or a mommie, I wondered if my movements would qualify me for So You Think You Can Dance. An even bigger concern, of course, was the possibility of spilling hot coffee on one of the aforementioned babies. That would be horrible; but even worse if one of these mommies was a lawyer on maternity leave.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Unwanted Guests Are Coming

Unwanted guests are standing in line, waiting for the chance to visit us.

They have pleasant enough names – Ana, Claudette, Bill - but every time they visit, they leave the place a mess. Not just dirty floors or unwashed dishes, I mean they knock over stuff in the yard, break windows, leave water everywhere. They are noisy. And they can wreak havoc day or night during their visit.

Yep, hurricane season is in full swing. Throw away the welcome mat.

Monday, August 17, 2009


There it was, on the top shelf of the end cap at checkout 4 at Safeway last Saturday, sandwiched between the Slim Jims and the latest Cosmo, daring me to point out that it's only August 15th … Halloween Arts & Crafts, a guidebook for fun family projects.

Halloween projects!! August 15th!!!

Yes, it's nice to plan ahead and yes, craft projects take more than a day to complete. But August?!?! Isn't Halloween still on October 31st? When did Halloween become such a big deal? When will it become a 'day off of work' holiday - cause you know that's coming.

Halloween is already a Hallmark holiday. I know this because I actually get a couple of Halloween cards each year. Really. And the craft stores start stocking up on decoration and costume supplies months ahead. Paradoxically, Halloween has also become a significant adult party holiday; I know this because statistics and studies indicate that it is now the most dangerous holiday of the year for alcohol-related traffic deaths.

I remember trick-or-treating as a kid but I don’t remember if we wore costumes. I also remember a haunted house in my neighborhood. Real people lived there, two very old ladies. We thought is was a haunted house because it was old, not well cared for and appeared to be falling down. My parents would not let us knock on their door until we were old enough to not be afraid yet still young enough to trick-or-treat.

In high school, my friend Stan and I turned the tables on younger kids at his house one year. We found a sheet of blue cellophane – similar in appearance to a blue recycling bag – and connected it to a string. When a kid rang the door bell, we’d open the door, tug on the string and out popped ‘the ghost.’ Most kids probably said, “oh look, blue cellophane.” But one kid was so scared he went screaming all the way back to his parents without even taking any candy. That one kid’s reaction made it worth the effort. I bet that ‘craft’ idea isn’t even in the Halloween Arts & Crafts book.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Appreciating What You’ve Got

I preach appreciation, much to the dismay of those who politely endure my rambling about how they should acknowledge the positive aspects of their lives even when negative things are swirling around them like a tornado.

Do I practice what I preach? Not always.

That occurred to me as I was walking around my back yard today. Note to self: yes, my commute sucks but I should try to appreciate what is at the finish line.

So here are a few things I observed this morning … and appreciate:

- The dog who accompanied me on my walk loves me unconditionally.

- Sunday mornings in this combination neighborhood/farm land are very quiet; the dominant sounds were the rustling of squirrels, the flapping of blue jay wings and the panting of a happy Border Collie.

- My acre-and-a-half is a pleasant balance of manicured and natural. My wife gets most of the credit for that; I appreciate her efforts and I know I don’t tell her that enough. For all the things that are wrong between us, landscaping is not one of them.

- Connecting with nature is healthy for most humans and I get more of that here than just about any other place I’ve ever lived.

- Living here takes the edge off my obsessive behavior by slowing me down.

- There is something for each of the senses here: woody textures to touch, intricate natural sounds to hear, clear well water to taste, foliage and fields to see and cow manure fertilizer to smell. (OK, so 4 out of 5 ain’t bad).

Appreciating what you have doesn’t mean you should ever stop dreaming of things you don’t have or don’t have yet. But isn’t it nice to regularly stop for a moment to just soak in what you do have? To spend a moment in the present moment?

Friday, August 14, 2009

An Intense Week in Music

A death, a break up and two significant anniversaries converged in the music world this week.

The death:

Les Paul, the legendary guitarist who pioneered the design of solid body Gibson electric guitars that bore his name, died at age 94. He still regularly performed at a New York nightclub until just a few months ago. His guitars were used by everyone from Guns N’ Roses guitarist Slash to Eric Clapton to members of Kenny Chesney’s band. He was a recording artist with his wife Mary Ford in the 1940s and 1950s and developed some of the original multi-layer and multi-track recording techniques that are common today.

The breakup:

Brooks & Dunn, one of the most successful duos in country music history, have decided to end their musical partnership. Fortunately it’s on a good note. They believe their music has run its course and they want to quit while they’re on top. They’ve had a twenty-year run of hits, including two this year. A new CD called “No. 1’s And Then Some” comes out next month and “The Last Rodeo” tour hits the road next year. I’ll be in the crowd for at least one of those shows.

Click here to see them talk about it on CMT.

The anniversary 1:

Thirty two years ago this Sunday, Elvis died. But for many people, Elvis lives. His image is instantly recognizable to most people in most age ranges. Almost anyone can identify his voice in a song, even if they’ve never heard that particular song before. His music, movies, tragedies and rumors are still a subject of great interest. His is still ‘the king’.

The anniversary 2:

Forty years ago this weekend, the largest and most storied music festival in history took place on a farm in upstate New York. It was a unifying event for the ‘counterculture’ segment of baby boomers and a launching pad for countless musicians in all variations of rock.

If you mostly know Santana as the artist who collaborated with Rob Thomas, Michelle Branch or Chad Kroeger in recent years, watch this clip from his performance at Woodstock. Although it’s one of those rambling jams I dissed in my Dave Matthews post, it’s still a showcase for some great musicianship.

I won’t draw any meaningful conclusion to this observation other than to say it reminds me of what the incredible role music plays in our lives.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Destination Dating

Back in the day (I'm talking way back), dating was the journey, marriage was the destination. That might not be true anymore, but I don't really know.

By my observation, twentysomethings mostly hang in groups and usually 'hook-up' as couples only for those needs that can't be met in groups … until those hook-ups become exclusive … seconds later their Facebook status changes to "in a relationship" - a public celebration and declaration of something that looks a lot like a marriage. They reached their destination.

Thirtysomethings seem to take a more 'mature' approach (whatever the hell that means). They appear more cautious about hooking up and about getting involved, but most thirtysomethings I know are married. Go figure.

Fortysomethings are all over the place and fiftysomethings are talking about the '529 college savings' plans for their offspring and what they want to do in retirement.

All of that to ask this: does marriage matter anymore?

If you know me in real life, you're laughing right now. I'm on #3, so I'm an expert. Clearly I like the "idea" of marriage but honestly, it's more about my upbringing and parental role models than it is about actually being married. I grew up watching a marriage that worked, so deep down, I think I can replicate it. The evidence would prove otherwise. My parents did genuinely love each other. They were totally matched in beliefs and expectations that really mattered to them and they accepted each other in areas where they might not have agreed. But one thing that made marriage a lifetime commitment with no possibility of parole was the generational expectation of their era. Many people in their age range might not have had the great marriage my parents did, but they stayed together anyway "for the children" or for religious or societal reasons. Divorce was not an option.

Today, divorce is almost the norm. Yet, marriage does still seem to matter and it still appears to be the destination. Humans are social by nature and biology fits in somewhere, as does psychology.

I've been paying a lot of attention lately to modern-day marriages that are successful, searching for modern-day role models. Married couples who are couples because they want to be, not because the government or clergy said they had to be just because they promised to do that forever during a ceremony attended by witnesses. The few I've found have some of these traits in common: the couples share many parts of their individual interests and beliefs, but remain individual. They give each other space to pursue interests that are not in common and they give each other 'alone' space too. They share duties, friendships and bank accounts. They speak of their spouses in loving terms. They have decent conflict resolution skills. They hold hands in public.

More than once I've convinced myself I had all of that with someone and more than once I've been wrong. Currently I'm flying down a two-lane backroad with no map and no clear destination. I'm not the only Boomer in this position, but I seem to be the only one I know. No, no, no, I’m not dating, despite my earlier analogy; the marriage commitment still looms over me like a dark raincloud daring me to walk under it without an umbrella. Further analysis of this is a personal matter and not for this blog; I've said too much already. But I'll hit 'publish post' anyway and share this because part of my self-discovery mission demands that I present all sides of me, not just the optimistic parts or the expected parts.

Deep down, I'm the most grounded person I know, solid as a rock, but sometimes pieces can chip off even the hardest boulder.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Squirrels and Sunshine

Have you noticed the days are getting shorter? Do you know this because you can feel it or because you saw the sunset time on the Weather Channel?

The squirrels in my back yard know a new season is coming and they’re already gathering nuts (or whatever it is they gather) in preparation for the end of growing season. Clock-addicted urban dwellers are often oblivious to changing season and other natural cycles of life and we need calendars and clocks to remind us of these things.

When did we lose our naturals instincts?

After moving out to the country a few years ago, I began to notice things I hadn’t noticed before. I started to feel longer and shorter days, not because of cues from my clock-based schedule but just because I could feel a difference. I could see changes in habits of birds that visit feeders in the back yard; in fact I learned that different birds visit at different times of the year. I can feel subtle temperature changes too.

I’m not a naturalist by any stretch, but I appreciate my newfound better connection to nature. I still want to move back to a city, but if I ever do, I might be one of the few people on the block who can sense seasonal change without hearing about it from Jim Cantore first.

Monday, August 10, 2009

New Orleans Photos

I finally posted some of my New Orleans Photos on my Photo Bernie blog.

Dave’s Music

Music is a universal connector, a time machine, an instigator, a soother, a social commentator, a romantic, a collection of vibrating sound waves identified by twelve notes. I watched all of that come together Saturday night at a Dave Matthews Band concert.

I will not proclaim him to be the god of music and he is not and probably will never be my favorite artist, but my introduction to his live show has opened the door to explore for more. His style is a seamless integration of many styles and influences; those I could identify include rock, pop, jazz and classical. The audience at this particular concert was younger than I expected and included mostly those in their thirties and twenties. There were times when it seemed as though the entire crowd of 20,000 fans were singing along, connected collectively by his lyrics and individually to a time point in each person’s past.

The crowd would leap from their seats at the sound of the opening notes of one song and a little while later a smooth, soothing melody would wash over the pavilion settling everyone back into their seats.

I know only a handful of his songs, so what impressed me the most is his and his band’s pure dedication to music. During their long, signature jams, the musicians would often pair off in what appeared to be an improvised back and forth interplay. Unlike the old jam bands of the 70s who took off on tangents that went nowhere, this bunch takes the audience on a meandering journey while at the same time never losing a single beat of the relentless groove of the song; and no matter how far they stray from the original song structure, they always resolve back to where they started. Damn!!! How do they do that?!

My usual favorite music is blues and country because the heart and soul of that art form is a simple story. The music in a country song is often great, but it plays a supporting role to a tale of real life.

DMB music is mostly complex and the lyrics seem to play a supporting role to the music. I could be wrong about that, however, and I’m going to explore his songs for meaning.

But what this concert mostly did for me is was to remind me how central music is to my life and how eclectic my music taste is. Set my iPod on ‘shuffle’ and you could hear Garth Brooks, Aretha Franklin, Mozart, ZZ Top, Sinatra, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Zeppelin, Mirabal and Dave Koz. Soon you could also hear Dave Matthews.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Live Long and Prosper

I just read an interesting article that claims personality can be factor in successful aging.

Here are a few highlights (the parts in italics are quoted from the article):

- “Successful older people are willing to branch out,” … “They keep engaging with the world -- expanding, not constricting.”

- conscientiousness is directly related to better health and therefore better longevity

- high extraversion levels raise life expectancy in part because such levels are associated with strong social circles and looking after oneself. … These are people who surround themselves with people who really matter to them -- and the extrovert has the sense to best make and maintain those relationships.”

- This one surprised me: no studies have definitively linked disagreeable types to diminished health or higher early mortality.

- Neurotic people live shorter lives … These are the people who interpret a friendly comment as a cutting criticism and a small complication as an impossible challenge.

One of my ‘bucket list’ items is to have a huge party on my 100th birthday. Although I am not especially extroverted and I am sometimes neurotic, this article tells me there is a decent chance that I'll hit that goal.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Still Positive

The post-vacation positivity is eroding just a little bit, but this is still mostly present and for the longest amount of time it has ever lasted for me, even longer than after my Grand Canyon trip eight years ago.

The whole point of a vacation is to take a break from the norm, to give yourself a chance to recharge. But sometimes the smiles turn to frowns in the middle of the first day back at work. I’ve experienced that many times.

But this ten-day jaunt represents some kind of turning point on my self-discovery journey. My general confidence level about life has been on the rise for several years, but I have still struggled to be the ‘me’ I want to be. I’ve locked myself into other people’s limited image of me and often hesitate to break out. During the ten days since I returned home, however, I’ve maintained much of the ‘new me.’

As long as I’m being totally egocentric in this post, let me say one more thing about me … actually this is a self-description from my Facebook profile:

Simple yet complex, clear yet confusing, idealistic and practical, close and distant, equally at home picking a flower or wielding a chainsaw ... what you see is usually what you get but expect surprises.

Kind of sums it up. I’m just trying to show more of the whole range, so people aren’t so surprised when they see something they didn’t expect.

OK, next post will be about something else. I promise.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Bill Did a Jimmy

United States Presidents face an interesting challenge when comes to deciding how to spend their post-presidency.

In 1977 President Jimmy Carter rode into office as a populist outsider and was defeated after one term, leaving office with a failed economy and botched attempts to rescue American hostages who were held captive in Iran for more than a year. But he refused to remain a footnote. In later years he established a global reputation as an effective American statesman, often helping, as a private citizen, to negotiate international solutions to problems that elected administrations could not solve.

In 1993 President Bill Clinton entered office as a populist outsider and lasted through two terms. In spite of acting stupidly in personal behavioral matters, he left the country in better shape than when he started. But in the years since, he has struggled to find his way as something other than just a mere former President.

Yesterday Bill did a Jimmy.

He went to North Korea and helped negotiate a “special pardon” for two American reporters who had been jailed by the North Korean government. Clinton acted as a private citizen, as Carter had done several times, but his actions were presumably sanctioned by the current elected administration.

Clinton and Carter are two former Presidents who have made a name for themselves in ‘retirement’ and will likely be remembered fondly in history.

Ronald Reagan stayed out of the spotlight after his wildly successful presidency, in part because his Alzheimer’s started to kick in by then. But he was regarded as an effective statesman during his office. The first President Bush has also avoided publicity to a large degree, but we have seen him doing good deeds generating awareness and financial generosity after disasters around the world.

The second George Bush may face a different challenge. He has numerous talents, particularly in the business arena, and may find some history-friendly role to play in his post-presidency. But will he ever become a respected American statesman on the global scene in the mold of Carter and Clinton? Not likely.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The Long and Winding Road

I went to the Paul McCartney concert Saturday night at Fedex Field, in the Washington DC suburbs.

On virtually any list of the most influential music artists of the 20th century, the top three would include Elvis Presley, Michael Jackson and the Beatles. Drugs and tragedy were ultimately involved in the lives of Elvis and Michael. Drugs swirled through the lives of the Beatles but weren’t related to their tragedies; John Lennon’s tragedy was being killed by a mentally ill gunman; Paul’s was losing the love of his life to breast cancer.

With those thoughts as a backdrop in my own mind, it took awhile for this thought to sink in: a 67-year old music and culture icon was performing legendary 45-year-old songs as well as new songs with both joy and humility before 50,000 fans. His stage banter was informative and humorous; he told stories to the stadium crowd as comfortably as if he was sitting on your living room sofa.

Crappy cellphone picture from the concert

Baby You Can Drive My Car, Jet, Band on the Run, Michelle, My Love, The Long and Winding Road, Back in the USSR and on and on and on.

I saw more gray hair in that stadium than I’ve ever seen at a concert. Yet young people enjoyed the show too, including my ‘non-date’ date (she is younger than many of the Beatles songs).

Paul McCartney has certainly travelled a long and winding road in his life, but he is still out there having a good time and sharing it with the rest of us. An additional connection noted during this show: the first Beatles concert of their first American tour was played right here in DC.

I’ll add him to my list of role models for creative aging.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Totally Random 2.0

- I had a convertible once … for a month back in the 80s … a restored 60s era GTO that was grand prize in a contest. I was in charge of the contest and part of my job was to drive the car around and show it off. Cool job, ey?

- Sometimes I open the windows and sunroof of my shiny black sedan and pretend it’s a convertible.

- A lot of guys see T&A first. I see eyes, lips and legs first. Everything else is a pleasant bonus. Personality trumps looks; if both are present … mmm mmm mmm !

- The walrus is Paul.

- I don’t like grumpy grocery store checkers at my local Safeway and will often get in a different line to avoid one. Their job isn’t glamorous, but it is a job; stop complaining. That is the only grocery store in the area that doesn’t have self-check … yet.

- This is my first full work week after the totally awesome vacation. Let’s see if the good mood continues. I’m optimistic it will.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

It Is What It Is

This living in the moment thing is still new for me.

A Boomer habit (or is it just my habit?) is to make everything mean something. But sometimes (maybe many times) some things should just ‘be.’

Here is a paragraph of perspective that caught my eye in Richard Carlson’s “Stop Thinking, Start Living”:

You can’t enjoy your life if you are analyzing it; you can’t smell the roses if you are running past them; you can’t enjoy new people if you prejudge them; you can’t have fun doing simple things if you are thinking about how stupid they are; you can’t be relaxed if you are worried about what might happen; you can’t enjoy your work if you are comparing yourself to others; and you can’t even enjoy your weekends or holidays if you are walking around generating concerns all day long.

Another way to look at life can be summed up in this simple sentence that I’ve heard often from my boss Meg and more recently from my friend Leahe: it is what it is.

No excuse for not smelling these roses - they're in my front yard!

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Road Trip Photos

I've just begun to go through the 400 photographs I took on my recent road trip. Here is one of them. I've posted a few more at my Photo Bernie blog.

An archway in Asheville