Tuesday, December 30, 2014

My Process

For the last five or six years, I spent time between New Year's Day and my birthday, essentially the whole month of January, thinking through what I want for the coming year. I call it my 'process'. I also pick a 'keyword', one word or phrase that I use to remind myself of what I expect for the year.
I probably didn't pick one last January, but in retrospect the word 'fun' symbolized the year. Of course you were at the heart of that.
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Past keywords include focus, renew and balance. I have since made balance my ongoing keyword. My process is already underway and on the ride to work this morning, some things fell into place in my head. One is my 2015 keyword: discipline.

During the next few weeks I will get more specific about what that means and how I can define it and measure my progress. But I know today that I need discipline to make the coming year what I want it to be.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Aging, Health, Friends and the Holidays

“Have a Holly Jolly Christmas” is playing in the background as I write this.  The Burl Ives version.  I used to get the holiday blues during this season; sometimes it was pretty severe and debilitating.  Holiday depression dominated the season.  Fortunately it has been several years since that happened.  I still feel a little more like “Blue Christmas” at times, but that condition usually lasts hours instead of weeks.

Deck the halls with boughs of holly, ‘tis the season to be jolly.  Sometimes acting happy leads to actually being happy.  I adopted that attitude a few years ago and it continues to serve me well.  I urge you to consider it for yourself.  Part of why I am playing Christmas music right now is because it puts me in a joyful mood.  Some of the older songs help me reminisce, even at the risk of leading me back to the sad mood; generally the songs make me smile.
I have also begun some new holiday traditions.  The best one is to see “A Christmas Carol” at Ford’s Theatre in DC.  For two years in a row now, I engaged in this activity during Thanksgiving week and it successfully set the tone for the rest of the holiday season.  I have shared this with someone very special to me and that enhances the experience in ways I can barely find the words for.

Chestnuts roasting on an open fire … those are the opening words to my favorite Christmas song.  Did you know the song title is actually “The Christmas Song”?  The Nat King Cole version is the most famous, but Mel Torme wrote it and his version is pretty good too.  I know almost all the words and I asked my guitar teacher to show me the chords.  Hearing that song always puts me in a good mood.  Sometimes the melody and message leads me to shed a tear.  I’m emotional … wanna make something of it?! 
I often write about aging in this blog.  In fact, that was the original idea.  The older I get, the more confident I get about life and about myself, and the more I experience little health issues that remind me that I am aging.  Usually I am a ‘half full’ guy, looking at things in a more positive light, even when some things are negative.  The challenge is to remain positive in the face of the realities of aging.  I am in very good health with respect to things I can control, but I am experiencing an as-yet-unexplained abdominal issue and the recurrence of a neurological problem from two years ago.  These unexplained issues piss me off. Some might be the inevitable result of growing older.  None will stop me, but they do challenge my normally positive outlook.

Friends … where do I begin?  Friendship and the holidays are the perfect match.  My most significant friendships range in length from forty-seven years to one year.  All mean a lot to me and I celebrate them all at this time of year.  They are here, as well as spread across the planet … New Orleans, Asheville, Milwaukee, London, Kona.  I think about them often.
‘And so I’m offering this simple phrase to kids from one to 92; and though it’s been said many times and many ways, Merry Christmas to you.’

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Bartenders

I didn’t really think much about bartenders till I became friends with a former bartender.  I didn’t know her when slinging drinks was her occupation, but she and I have been to many bars together and I learned a lot about the profession by absorbing her observations as I absorbed wine with her.

A bartender is often a blend of mixologist and psychologist.  Bar flies will tell their bartender deeply personal things they wouldn’t even tell their spouse or best friend.  A good bartender is also a sales person, suggesting food or maybe premium versions of the patron’s initial order. 
My favorite local hangout provides the perfect model for the right way to be a bartender.  Each staffer introduces themselves to new customers, they pay attention, engage in conversation, make suggestions.  They know their products.  These bartenders make newcomers feel as at home as regulars.  As newcomers become regulars, the staff remembers their preferences.  Another local establishment I frequent presents an entirely different experience.  The food is good and the bar is well-stocked.  The bartenders are friendly … when you can get their attention.  Customers have to flag them down like hailing a taxi to get a second glass of wine. 
I’m a pretty good tipper when the service is good.  Twenty percent is my minimum in those cases.  When the service is average, as in the case of my second example, my tip is exactly 15% to the penny, sometimes a fraction less.  Funny that the name of my second example includes the word ‘average’. 

A bartender’s job isn’t easy, but I consider their role to be an integral part of the bar experience.  If all I want is a drink, I’ll stay home and make it myself.  I go to a bar for socialization at least as much as intoxication.
Maybe I should say something to some of these barely-adequate barkeeps.  Maybe they just don’t know.  Or maybe the expectations of customers is low.  Mine are high.  Cheers.