Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Whatever Will Be Will Be and You Can Dream It Into Reality

On one hand, the title of this post tells the whole story.  On the other hand, I’ll expand on it a bit.

New Year’s Day is my favorite day of the year.  For me, January 1st is the beginning of a new chapter of life, a day to visualize the coming 365 days (or 366 in the case of 2016).  It is a day to take stock of where one has been during the past year, how much of the year worked out as planned twelve months earlier, how much didn’t.  New Year’s Day can open the door to new possibilities, new dreams, new accomplishments and more.
Every year I write about my ‘process’, which basically involves thinking through what I want for the coming year.  I do this through the whole month of January, from New Year’s Day at the beginning to my birthday at the end.  I look into the coming year and map out what I want to do and accomplish.  It’s like goal setting and New Year’s resolutions but a bit more involved.  I also pick a keyword that symbolizes my goals for the year, a word triggers or reminds me of the whole plan.

Like most people who make and break New Year’s resolutions, I often forget my keyword a few months into the year.  In fact, I don’t remember what word I chose for 2015.  However, I do know that I carry over some of my keyword choices and continue to use them.  Previous words include simplify, focus, renew and balance.  If you know me in person, you know that those four happen to guide many aspects of my life year after year, especially balance.
Hold on a second while I look something up.  Look at this picture for a moment.  I’ll be right back.

 


OK, I just looked up last year’s word.  It was discipline.  Wow, I surely messed that one up.  I’ve had very little discipline this year, especially with my finances.  Maybe I’ll focus on that one again.  I also realized that I picked ‘fun’ as a keyword a year or two ago and I did live up to that one.
So my ‘process’ will begin in earnest in 48 hours.  Whatever will be during the coming year will just be, but I believe that visualizing and thinking things through can have a profound influence on what really does happen.  Goal setting, both conscious and subconscious, has served me well for decades.  Remember that movie quote “if you build it, they will come”?  For me, if you dream it, it will happen.

Happy New Year!

Monday, December 28, 2015

To Be Or Not To Be

I recently took one of those silly quizzes on Facebook.  The challenge they posed was that they could tell my highest level of education by my answers to 25 questions.  I do not believe those quizzes amount to much, other than to funnel targeted advertising to the participants.  That was certainly true for this one: every question was surrounded by ads for educational entities.

Of course I can’t resist the urge to take a quiz like that.  I seem to know a lot about a little. 
How did I do?

I scored a 71%.  Actually it should have been slightly higher because I accidentally clicked the wrong answer on one of them.  Most of the questions were easy for me, such as ‘in what year did WW1 end’?  There were 4 choices and only two of them were even close, although I did happen to know the answer is 1918.  Some of my other answers were totally good guesses.  And there were a few in which I had no clue.  In fact, I missed the very first one, which was about a Shakespeare character.
The commentary that goes with scoring 71% says they think I have a PhD and spent many years in Grad school.  I’m still laughing at that one.  I didn’t even finish college.  No graduate degree, no masters, no doctorate.

However I am very curious and I read a lot.  I know a lot about a little.  In some ways that serves me well and qualifies me as a fairly well educated man.  But I do wish I had finished college; it remains a bucket list item for me.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Wow I Must Be Very Popular

Apparently I am very popular.  How do I know this?  Because I receive dozens of email a day on both of my personal email accounts.  It appears the volume of email has grown exponentially during the past two months, which must mean my popularity is growing.

Or maybe I get more email because it was Christmas shopping season.  Naw, that can’t be it.
Email is a blessing and a curse.  The speed and convenience of email communication is undeniable.  Letters take a day or more, email is instant.  That also means junk mail is instant.  Of course, I still get junk mail in my physical mailbox. 

Some people measure their personal popularity by the number of Facebook friends they have.  Some people don’t even know their Facebook friends but that high number makes them feel good.  And connected.  I have ‘only’ two or three hundred FB ‘friends’ but I know all of them on some level, either personally or professionally.  I’ve met most but some I know via email.
Does being popular even matter?  I’m thinking it is more important to have a network of friends and family that serve as a support system.  It doesn’t really matter how many are in that network, does it?  Who can you really count on when you need help?  Your Facebook friends?  Who among your friends can count on you when you need help and emotional support?

Being popular doesn’t really matter much to me.  But it is kind of cool to have 65 people ‘like’ a Facebook post.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Is That the Best We Have To Choose From

President of the United States is one of the most important and most thankless jobs on the planet.  The pay and benefits are good ($450,000 annual salary for life, free transportation everywhere, 24-hour security, a personal staff and a rent-free 54,000 square foot residence, just to name a few).  But the responsibility is frightening.  A President’s decisions and power affects hundreds of thousands of military personnel, millions of citizens and world history.

The job application is relatively easy and the minimum requirements mostly involve age and citizenship, but successfully candidates for the position spend millions of dollars to impress the ‘boss’ … we the people.  Whoever gets the job knows the exact start and end date, accepts that it will last four years initially and there is the possibility for a four-year renewal, after which they can never hold that job again.
Who’d want a job like that?

At this point, with about eleven months remaining before the hiring decision is made, at least a dozen applicants have announced their desire to get that job.  Many of them already make more per year than the job’s starting salary, so money is not their goal.  Power, fame, legacy, ego?  A desire to make our great country greater?
Are any of them qualified?

The leading Republican contender is a narcissistic, pathological liar, followed until recently by a delusional doctor.  The leading Democrat is someone many don’t trust, followed by someone who is probably too liberal to get elected. 
Is this the best these parties have to offer?  Most voters are moderates.  We might lean left or right, but most of us are somewhere in the middle.

Where is OUR candidate?

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Time

Time is our best friend and worst enemy.  We have twenty four hours each day to get things done but sometimes that’s not enough.

Time flies.  Where does the time go?  It’s bed time; wake up time.  Time to make the donuts.  Hammer time.  Time is on our side, yes it is.  Time marches on.  Time keeps on slippin’, slippin’, slippin’ into the future.
“Lost time is never found again.”  Benjamin Franklin

“To everything there is a season, a time to every purpose under the heaven: a time to be born, a time to die, etc.”  Ecclesiastes
“Time is money.”  Benjamin Franklin
“Lost time is never found again.”  Benjamin Franklin

Wow, Ben must have had plenty of time on his hands; so many time quotes are attributed to him.
I apparently do not have time on my hands.  There is so much I want to do in life, even on a daily basis, yet I never seem to have the time to do it.  Or I just don’t make the time.  How did we (or I) get so busy?  Three years ago I cut my daily commute time in half and some days I can work from home, thus cutting my commute time to zero.  But it seems I still don’t have time to pursue two of my biggest passions, writing and photography. 

Writing?  A dear friend and fellow blogger pointed out this week that she has posted roughly twice as many times as I have this year.  Our friendly competition reminded me that I haven’t devoted much time to this passion.  Photography?  I had to search through piles of stuff in my guest room just to find my camera to take some new photographs for a neighborhood contest a few months ago.  Ironically, the one photo out of my five submissions that won something (Honorable Mention) was taken three years ago, when it seems I had more time.

I love music too and started taking guitar lessons a couple of years ago but I don’t seem to have time to practice.  The afore-mentioned guest room is so cluttered right now that it has been renamed ‘the scary room’.  I’m off work this week and actually found time yesterday to start decluttering the scary room.  I opened some boxes that had been unopened in the closet since I moved here three years ago.  Last week I unearthed a few boxes of family relics that survived the Hurricane Katrina floods, boxes that hadn’t been opened since my sister sent them to me in 2005.
 Well, I decided when I woke up this morning that I would find time to write at least one little blog essay.  Wish me luck finding time to write more.

Time’s up.  Time to end this and post it.  See ya next time.

Friday, October 16, 2015

I’m Not Drunk, I Just Have …

Balance is my favorite word, but I have a bit of a balance problem.  I usually use the word balance when talking about contrasting work with non-work or left opinions with right opinions or the need to lose weight with the need to eat a gallon of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream in one sitting.  But the balance I have a problem with right now refers to walking up or down stairs without holding onto the railing or attempting to navigate a narrow sidewalk on a crowded street without bumping into somebody or trying to carry a box to my car without tripping and falling.

I’ve been very healthy most of my life.  Three years ago, however, I discovered numbness across a third of my body, all on one side.  My first thought was stroke, but that was not the case.  I also had a balance problem and weakness in one leg.  Doctor visits with four new docs plus tests, MRIs, CT scans, a lumbar puncture and a colonoscopy ruled out everything except my neurologist’s first thought: Multiple Sclerosis.  That diagnosis wasn’t really official, however, because the MRI only showed one lesion and nothing multiple.  She prescribed treatments for the symptoms and the numbness and some of the balance issue went away … for almost two years. 
Last year the balance and right leg weakness returned and early this year, after many more tests, the MS diagnosis was officially confirmed.  Geez.  Most people living with MS are diagnosed in their 20s and two thirds are women.  I’m a 60-something man with good health habits.  How can this happen?

Sadly, there is no definitive answer to that question. 
But here I sit, writing about and living with a mysterious disease that everyone’s heard of but not everyone understands.  Recent medical thought leads to the idea that some kind of bacterial incident early in one’s life can lead to this.  There is plenty of research going on and the meds and the treatments are significantly better than they were just ten years ago.  If you’ve got to get MS, this is the time to do it.  There is no cure but there is plenty of optimism.

My symptoms are devastating to me because of my track record for good health but are very mild compared to most people living with Multiple Sclerosis.  My balance sucks and my right leg is much weaker than my left.  I literally have to think about every step I take.  I have only fallen once, on a sidewalk during a vacation last year, but I’ve almost tripped several times a week.  Fatigue is another symptom and I do experience that more now than a few years ago.  Leg spasms are in the mix too and the little bit of running/jogging I used to love is now in my past.
There is more to the story and I’ll write about it soon.  My incredible good luck and positive attitude, mixed with fate and a few select, awesome friends, leaves me very optimistic.  You won’t believe the ‘small world, isn’t it’ stories about people I know and have met who live with or have experience with MS.

Walking is my main issue and there’s a chance that’s the only problem I’ll ever have.  Meanwhile, if you see me walking/stumbling down the street, even if it’s near my neighborhood wine bar, think about the message on a t-shirt I’m about to order:  I’m not drunk, I just have MS.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Random Gun Observations

 The mass shooting episode in Oregon this week led to the predictable public reactions from the White House, the NRA, the pro and con gun control advocates and the various biased and unbiased news outlets.  I’d like to hear from the mental health experts.  Did they get any coverage?

I hate guns and wish they didn’t exist, I will never own one and they are not allowed in my apartment.  On the other hand, I don’t know that stricter gun control laws would prevent all the mass shootings.  The President’s emotional speech after the Oregon incident was great and I wish we’d see his angry side more often.  But he predictably called for more gun control.  Yes, I think it should be difficult to get a gun but I’ll also note that several of the mass shooting incidents during the past decade involved legally registered guns.  Correct me if I’m wrong, but ALL of them involved some level of mental illness.
Various gun rights activists claim that we need more guns, arguably to protect ourselves.  Parents, do really want your children’s teachers to be packing heat?  Where would they keep their guns?  In their desk in the classroom?  In a holster like a cop or John Wayne?  Locked in a gun safe?  Think that through and tell me any of those options would have saved lives.

I’ve said this a hundred times too … Bible quoting conservative Christians advocating gun use are, in my opinion, spewing contradictory statements.  “Thou shalt not kill” is which commandment again?  I forget.  Or maybe there was a second amendment to the Big Ten that I missed in twelve years of Catholic schooling.
Back to the mental health part for a minute … that is probably the root of these killing sprees but that issue is at least as complicated as the gun issue and neither has a clear path to being the answer.  But at the very minimum we should be studying mental health problems more and trying to figure out sensible approaches to that piece of the puzzle.  The White House should make that a priority.  The NRA should make that a priority.  The media should make that a priority.

OK, I’ll get off my soap box, for now, before someone shoots me.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Hey Bernie, Where Have You Been?

Photography and writing are two of my passions, but as is the case with many creative endeavors, day-to-day life gets in the way.  I love writing for this blog and shooting pictures for my photo blog, even though only a few people read either, but I have a job, a traffic-infused commute, a divorce that drags on and a new medical condition, all conspiring to rob me of the time to write and shoot photographs.

My usual response when someone else whines about not having time to do things is, “keep trying.”  Every time you get knocked down, stand up.  I usually take my own advice on this matter so here I am, standing up, writing again, hopefully on a regular basis.
It’s also time to find my camera.  I did take 200 photos on a beach week trip.  Oh wait, that was in June.  More recently, I entered a neighborhood photo contest.  Three days before the deadline, after the tenth reminder from a neighborhood photographer friend, I walked around and shot some pictures.  As I began to choose my entries, I realized I had better shots from my first few months here, taken two years ago.  So one of my five entries was from that series and that is the one that got an Honorable Mention.  I need to shoot more. 

So plenty is going on in and around my life, inspiring many potential blog posts.  The random list: forgetting my cell phone before a weekend in New York, getting diagnosed with a medical condition usually associated with youth, taking a month off from guitar lessons while simultaneously acquiring a new guitar, winning a last-minute trip to Vegas.  And of course I have opinions:  Trump is a clown, what’s wrong with sensible gun control, extreme right wing politics is annoying and dangerous and so is extreme left wing politics, aging isn’t for the faint of heart, ‘here ya go’ is no substitute for ‘thank you’, be yourself no matter how weird you or others think you are.
With any luck at all (and with a lot of will power), this will be the first is a series of regular blogs.  Thanks for stopping by.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

One Small Step for …

Yesterday was the 46th anniversary of the first human landing on the moon.  I used my calculator to subtract 1969 from 2015.  Seems like I should be able to do simple math in my head.

Has technology helped us or hurt us?  Calculators and calculator apps on our smart phones, tech that was unheard of in 1969, is almost a necessity now.  Do you reach for a calculator for even simpler math problems, like determining how many days between today and Tuesday?
There is more computer power in a flip phone from 2010 than there was in the lunar lander in 1969.  I guess you could say boomers invented this time-saving, convenient technology, but did we intend for it to replace our brains?

I just read a newspaper article about maps; more accurately, an article about how teens in the GPS era might never have seen a map and probably wouldn’t know how to use one.  I grew up on maps, love looking at them, folding them, writing on them.  My road trip rituals used to include ordering maps and guidebooks from AAA.  Now I don’t even own a map, but I definitely know how to read one and I prefer larger format maps on a laptop to the tiny ones on my iPhone.
I don’t trust GPS voice directions, however.  I prefer north, south, east and west to left and right and I am silently horrified when travel companions can’t relate to compass directions.  A very smart travel buddy on a recent vacation didn’t realize we were south of our destination at one point; and his GPS routed him through the middle of a city on the way home, adding miles and time that I saved by mapping my own route.  He is much older than the teens mentioned in the newspaper article but he has also become dependent on modern tech.

By the way, when is the last time you read a newspaper on paper.  I read the afore-mentioned Washington Post story on my iPhone.
Am I a tech boomer?  Not so much.  I respect and use technology but my four year old phone is ancient by iPhone standards and I wrote the first draft of this post on paper.  In cursive.

One small step for man, one giant leap for my brain.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Generations Politics and the 4th of July

I spent Independence Day weekend with four generations of a family that is close to me. The age range was a few months to 82. One was celebrating an 80th birthday.

A few more statistics: three Democrats and 30+ Republicans. Two Marines. Seven trips to the grocery store over three days. Wine is 20-40% cheaper in this county, which is only 90 minutes from my county in the same state. Fireworks are illegal in my county but not in this one. Vaping is replacing smoking. Kids scream a lot. I am Uncle Bernie to the youngest kids, which is kind of cool. Some kids bang on the table when they can't get their way; so does the 80-year-old at times.

Independence Day weekend is an important time for many reasons: celebrating the birth of the greatest nation on earth, gathering of friends and family, taking a 3-day break from work, enjoying the mid-point of summer.

The people in this group are friendly, patriotic, loud and opinionated. They are not diverse; they are mostly white, Christian, republican and southern. I don't like to judge or label but this group is somewhat redneck. I understand the mentality and background but it is not really 'me'.

Why am I here? This is the extended family of a 'friend' (all I'll say about her at the moment). They love me and I love them but I am a fish out of water here and even though I can get along with and have a conversation with nearly anybody of any background, I have to take a break for a few minutes every few hours. I'm from a large extended family myself, but I've lived a large part if my adult life either alone or with one person and this large group is at the edge of my comfort zone. I don't have kids, so that adds to the out-of-sync aspect of this weekend.

On the other hand, I am getting more comfortable around kids, especially now that some of them know me by name. My diplomatic skills serve me well during conversations with the adults too. I am smart enough to keep most of my political opinions to myself, although I did get into a borderline argument over the meaning of the Confederate flag.

Most touching moment of the weekend: while 30 people in the room are simultaneously having ten different conversations, the National Anthem comes on the TV at the beginning of a Washington Nationals game. Two of the youngest kids walk over to the TV and stand at attention in front of it, the boy saluting and the girl placing her hand over her heart. Halfway through the song the adults notice this and we stop our conversations till it's over.

Four generations, wildly differing political views, all part of one nation. It works. Happy Independence Day. God bless America.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Watching Them Cry and Sing

Bad ass music legends shedding tears over being honored, then playing their signature songs.  That’s how I’d describe the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame special I’ve been watching on HBO for the last two hours.  It reminds me why I love music, all music, all forms of music. 

Rock and roll is an umbrella term that encompasses an incredibly wide range of sounds and messages.  I’ve been mostly listening to Country and Blues for the past decade but I grew up on everything from the Beatles and the Stones to Motown to doo-wop to classical to jazz to Frank Sinatra.  Along the way I added Sting, U2, Madonna, Maroon 5, Van Halen and a lot more to my mental playlist as well as the collection on my iPhone. 
Miley Cyrus inducting Joan Jett, Stevie Wonder inducting Bill Withers, Fall Out Boys inducting Green Day.  Zac Brown playing Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Stevie singing Withers with Bill sitting next to him.

Joan effing Jett!  She made the most passionate acceptance speech.  “It’s about the music.”  I had dinner with her once, with some other people, backstage the night before a multi-artist festival in Dallas. She was quiet, unassuming, watching a boxing match on a big screen TV and having a friendly conversation with me, the anonymous promotion director of a local rock radio station.
Stevie Ray Vaughn!  John Mayer, Gary Clark Jr and other contemporary blues artists jamming with the remaining members of SRV’s band on “Pride and Joy” and “Texas Flood.” I saw Stevie play at a bar in my Dallas neighborhood in 1982.  He’s the reason I fell in love with Blues.  Saw him again as the opening act for B. B. King on a river boat during New Orleans Jazzfest week a few years later.

Green Day.  I thought I knew nothing about their music yet I recognized every song they played on this show.  Hmmm.
Paul Butterfield Blues Band. I’ve known their name for decades but never heard their songs till this show today.  I’m about to download some music.

If you hit shuffle on my iPhone, you could possibly hear Keith Urban, Rolling Stones, Frank Sinatra, James Taylor, Mozart, U2, Miranda Lambert, Pitbull, George Strait, Maroon 5, Shinedown and the Temptations, all in a row.  It’s all music.  It’s all part of my life.  And yours. 
Twelve freakin’ notes.  A, B, C, D, E, F, G and some sharps and flats.  That’s it.  Yet is it an integral part of every culture on the planet.  It makes us laugh, cry, think.  Happy, sad, love, anger, addiction, redemption, family, friends, sex, love of country.

And now I’m watching drummers and Paul McCartney talking about Ringo; and that’s making me cry.  Geez. And laughing because Ringo is doing a Shirelles song with Green Day.  That’s what I’m talking about … it’s about the music!  All of it.

---------------------------------

Some blues from some of the people I mentioned.  This is not from the show, but it’s good.  This is the kind of music I’m studying a little during my guitar lessons.


Sunday, May 10, 2015

Mother's Day Reflecting

Mom died ten years ago this summer but two personality traits I learned from her seem to be with me every day. 1) I'm a story teller and, like her, I repeat stories a lot. 2) Being over 50 is no excuse to stop learning. She took art lessons in her 50s and 70s; I started guitar lessons last year.

Now that I'm writing this, I remember more similarities. She loved to travel and loved to track hurricanes. Her death was partly related to a post-hurricane evacuation to another part of her state. Today I am watching the weather channel reports of this year's first named tropical storm. You can tell where I learned some of that.  My curiosity about people and my sense of humor are also similar to those characteristics of Mom’s personality.

My mother didn’t always approve of the things I did, especially of the multiple marriages and divorces, but she always loved me and accepted me.  I think she would like a lot about my life right now and I wish she was still here to have a conversation with.

I certainly adopted many of my Dad’s personality traits too, but I am a lot more like Mom on a day to day basis.

To any mothers reading this today, Happy Mother’s Day.  And if your Mom is alive, call her today.  Better yet, visit her.  You both have something to gain from that.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Really?

Is it really May 2nd?  And I haven't blogged since March?  What happened to April?

I probably can't really catch up, although much has happened during the past six weeks.  Basically, life is good.  A few medical developments that I'll mention later and work is busier than ever, but my personal life is awesome.  More about that another time too.

It's a warm, sunny Spring day in my part of Maryland this morning.  Even though I am at work as I write this, waiting for a huge audio file to download, I am happy and at peace.  I will return home in about two hours and spend the rest of the day enjoying sunshine and music.  A friend's folk band is playing at a very cool joint in the Georgetown part of DC this afternoon, so I will head down there, check out the music, have some food and adult beverages and maybe stay in that neighborhood a little longer for a walk around the Potomac River.

Yesterday I spent the afternoon on a deck overlooking another river in Maryland, sharing food and conversation with my GF's mother, step Dad, sisters and others; an advance Mother's Day gathering.  I've known the Mother and step Dad for more than a year but this was probably the most time I've spent with them.  We provided the transportation, which meant thirty minutes each way in the car and plenty of one-on-one conversation time.  I enjoyed that.  Great perspectives. Of course, I miss my own Mom, who died ten years ago.  I don't really remember the last Mother's Day I spent with her but I do wish there were more ahead.  I will certainly be thinking about her next Sunday.

OK, the file download is done, time to work.  Many blogs begun in my head and on my computer, so drop by soon for more.  Cheers.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Some Catching Up

I’ve been a little busy lately with medical crap.  I feel like my Honda … runs great for having 163,000 miles on it but it’s in the shop more than it used to be and needs lots of tests.

I’m not going into a lot of detail here yet, but some of the health issues that have come up recently (and some that have returned from three years ago) now have been diagnosed.  That means I can at least call it something and takes steps toward managing it.  More tests and doctor appointments are in my near future plus some new meds I’ve never heard of.
Did our parents prepare us for this aspect of aging?  That question is mostly for boomers.  My parents were in generally good health till their 70s and they seemed to accept health issues, weight gain, etc. as a natural and expected part of aging.  I’m a bit of an idealistic rebel, however, in that I expected to have the great health I’ve been blessed with until my 90s.  Delusional, I know.  Although I call it optimism.

The particular medical issues I am dealing with right now are not really age-related.  In fact, they aren’t related to anything; no family history, no behavioral patterns, just random shit that can happen to anyone.  Or so it seems.  As advanced as medical science is, these issues are hard to diagnose and difficult to treat.  The diagnosis is more or less accurate but my symptoms are very mild compared to most people living with this thing.  I am almost embarrassed to sign up for a support group I know of; others might look at me and ask why am I there.
Speaking of catching up, I had a two-and-a-half breakfast catch up with a former boss this morning.  He actually works mostly in North Carolina these days but still has a residence here in Maryland, close to where I live.  He was a very influential person when we worked together about ten years ago and I am so glad we kept in touch.  He has even returned to my company, which I never thought would happen, and has a great job.  I take every chance possible to remind him how much he helped with my career development and I tell the story about a specific conversation he and I had just months after he became my boss, in which he gave me advice that I still use to this day.  That conversation probably saved my job too because it started with me recognizing that he wasn’t satisfied with my work at that moment.   That advice, shortened to one simple thought:  don’t give me problems, give me solutions.  And you don’t have to reinvent the wheel.

Well, it’s a sunny Sunday afternoon and I will now post this and go out and play a little.  Thanks for visiting.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Ahh, Depression, My Old Friend, Welcome Back

My depression is probably not the same as clinical depression.  I have some of the symptoms, I’m sure, but I am not in therapy (although it probably would help) and I’m not on any drugs.  My life is generally awesome, I am generally happier than I’ve been in years, yet there are days like today during which I feel depressed.  My idealistic view of the world collides with disappointing reality and I fall into an emotional slump.

I encounter this scenario a few times a year.  I hike through the valley for the better part of a day, then return to the mountain top.
Sometimes this feeling occurs as the sum of several small factors that on their own merits would not bother me, but when combined, lead to depression.  Unexplained health issues + unfair divorce-related issues + a cluttered apartment = today’s depression.

Simple, right?
The solution? I’m getting more medical tests this week that might lead to explanations.  I’m using my usual positive attitude to deal with the divorce situation, including emails to the ex.  I started to straighten out my apartment.  I feel better tonight than I did through most of the day.  A good night’s sleep will help too.

The clash between my idealism and my reality are regularly a source of depression for me.  I am an idealist, I believe things should be a certain, positive way.  Reality dictates that this will not always happen. 
Like I said, I’ll feel fine after a good night’s sleep.  Just wanted to write about this.  It helps me get through it.  Thanks for visiting.  Good night.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Fundamental Irony

A Montana State Representative recently introduced a bill that would change the state’s indecent exposure laws to ban yoga pants in public, among other things.  The law would regulate various types of clothing, mostly women’s clothing, but would also ban men from showing their nipples … in other words, men would have to wear t-shirts at the pool.  This proposed law would, as I understand it, give police the power to arrest women and men for violating certain clothing regulations, and not just for nudity or skimpy thong type clothing.  People who violate the law would be subject to fines of up to $10,000 and life imprisonment after a third offense.  Wow!!  Sounds a little like the Middle Eastern laws we regularly ridicule.  I thought Republicans stood for less government interference in our personal lives.  This particular Republican seems to want his state to mimic some Islamic countries.  Am I the only one who sees the irony in this?

 Another irony that bothers the hell out of me … gun-toting bible thumpers.  A relative of a close friend recently posted something on Facebook that basically said we should start bombing people because of the ISIS killing of an American aid worker last week.  The wording went something like “start bombing and let Allah sort it out.”  I do believe ISIS needs to pay dearly for killing the American.  But exactly WHO should we be bombing?  The implication in that Facebook comment is we should bomb everybody in the Middle East, all Muslims.  The person who wrote that comment is a devout Christian who wears t-shirts bearing Bible verses.  Am I the only one who sees the irony in this?  I have chosen, for the moment, to not comment on the comments in person, but that is only because the commenter is in my social circle.  I hope I am never drawn into a conversation with her about this topic.  People are entitled to their opinions in this country, but I am entitled to vehemently disagree and to point out the irony and inconsistency. 
Do you remember all the new coverage of then President Clinton’s affair back in the 1990s?  There was such moral outrage.  One of the most outspoken people ridiculing Clinton then was Congressman Newt Gingrich.  Years later we learn that Gingrich was having an affair at the very same time.  Irony?

There are some fundamental beliefs about morality and right and wrong that transcend formal religious structures.  We are all taught it is wrong to kill, for example.  And many religious traditions claim that their belief is the only correct one.  If all religions claim to be the ‘only’ one, then which one truly is the only one?  Whose morality is the right morality?  Whose laws and beliefs supersede other’s laws and beliefs?

I would not be surprised of that Montana congressman has something to hide.  I would urge the ‘bomb them’ acquaintance to rethink that statement through a conversation with her minister.  And I guess this post indicates that I am sometimes judgmental about judgmental people.  Another fundamental irony?

Friday, February 13, 2015

No, I Didn't

Oh well, I did not win Power Ball.  You didn't either?  The odds were against us anyway.  In fact, here are five things that are more likely to happen than winning Power Ball ...

Dying from being struck by lightning
Being attacked by a shark
Becoming President of the United States
Being crushed and killed by a vending machine
Hitting a hole-in-one on two consecutive, par-3 holes


Wednesday, February 11, 2015

I’ve Got Two Words For You

Two words … Power Ball.
The 3rd largest Power Ball jackpot amount is on the line in tonight’s drawing … an estimated $500 million.  The cash lump sum payout for a single winner is around $337 million.  The odds of winning are 175 million to 1, but who’s counting?

Five hundred million dollars.
Three hundred thirty seven million dollars.

Nice numbers, right?  And the ticket is only TWO dollars.
Two questions:  Did you buy a ticket today?  What would you do if you won the jackpot?

My answers … Yes, I bought a ticket.  Actually, I bought two tickets, one for me and one for a friend.
What would I do?  I’ve actually thought about this a lot, even though the odds are against winning.  As soon as the check cleared, I’d pay down all of my debt, all of my sister’s debt and all the debt of my two closest friends.  I’d contribute money to many of my favorite charities.  Then I’d buy a car … I know, everybody says that.  Ultimately I’d buy a few properties in places I enjoy visiting, but I might stay in my current apartment development for my primary residence.  I would NOT quit my job, at least not soon.  And I’d look into starting a charitable foundation.

What would you do?  Think about it.  The drawing is only a few hours away.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Adjustments

A question for boomers: Have you kept up with technology?  If you’re reading this, you’ve heard of the internet.  Smirk.  Are you on Facebook?  Twitter?  Instagram?  Snapchat?  How do you hear your music?  Movies?  Where do you get your news?

Adjusting to technology is a daily thing for me because I edit and produce audio for a living.  By my observation, I am ahead of the curve in boomer circles but barely keeping up when compared to Gen X, Gen Y and Millennials.  How about you?

This topic hit me as I was making a playlist on iTunes.  This particular 12-song list includes everything from Frankie Valli to Blake Shelton to Bruno Mars, a very small representation of my diverse music tastes.  What hit me, however, are the adjustments I’ve made in how I hear recorded music.  Thanks to my sister, who is even more of a pack rat than I am, I still own the very first record I ever had.  It’s a kid song on red vinyl and if I had a 50-year old turntable with the 78 rpm speed option, I could play it.  I don’t. 

Vinyl was the only form of recorded music in my youth and the most popular format was the 45 rpm single, that seven inch diameter record with the large hole in it, requiring an adapter to play it on a typical turntables of the era that could play that speed and 33 1/3.  If you know what those numbers mean, you’re probably a boomer or a history major; if you don’t, you probably have no idea what I’m talking about.

During my college years and at the beginning of my 40-year radio career, I amassed a vinyl record collection numbering several hundred albums and a few hundred 45s.  The heavy duty shelves on which these gems were displayed covered an entire wall of the living room of every place I lived.  I moved many times, which meant transporting this collection was more challenging than moving my furniture.  At some point I began buying music on cassettes, mostly skipping the 8-track years.  Switching to cassettes resulted in re-buying many albums and the corresponding technology on which to play them, but the portability was worth it.  And I kept the albums and turntables.
Then came CDs, those wonderful, allegedly indestructible discs with perfect sound.  No more pops and scratches, no more wearing out albums, no tangled tape.  Of course, that meant buying some albums for the third time, or 4th or 5th in the case of those I wore out, like Carol King’s “Tapestry,” the Fleetwood Mac album and the Rolling Stones Greatest Hits.  My CD collection grew to more than 500.

Fast forward to 2015.  Do you know the derivation of the term ‘fast forward’?  Just wondering.  My vinyl collection went from 600 or more in the late 70s to 10 today, my cassette collection shrunk from 200 to 0 and my CD collection is probably down to 200.  But I still have plenty of music.  And the music I listen to the most fits in my pocket!  How’s that for an adjustment?  My iTunes library currently contains 1337 songs.  They are all on my phone and also on the laptop computer I’m using to write this post.
If the average album contains twelve songs, a 500-CD library has about 6000 songs.  The average hit album of most popular genres spawns two or three ‘good’ songs and many impulsively purchases albums end up with one good song that you tire of listening to within a few months.  Hence the trend back to the ‘single’.  I think most music bought online these days is done one song at a time.  “Uptown Funk” is this month’s most popular pop song; can you name another song on that album?  All of this means that the 1337 songs on my phone are nearly all the songs I want from my 200 CDs anyway.  Time to ditch those too.  All but 150 of the 1337 songs were imported from those CDs.  By the way, I think I regularly listen to fewer than 250 of those songs, but sometimes I really am in the mood for Mozart … or Van Halen… and those songs are there when I want them, without an exhaustive search for a CD.

I recently reconnected with an old high school friend, asking him for an update on retired life.  In my email correspondence I also asked him if he was on Facebook and if he was aware of the iHeart Radio or Pandora apps.  He said he heard of al that but didn’t have any interest in any of it and the only reason he even has a cell phone (an old flip phone, by the way) is so his wife wouldn’t worry about him when he was out on long bicycle rides.  His adjustment to technology is to stay away from most of it.  I will not criticize his choices because simplifying life can be a very positive was to age.  I could learn something from that.  I’m glad he has email, otherwise we’d never be in touch; I don’t remember the last time I wrote and mailed a letter.  Do you?
Facebook has been a remarkable method of finding old friends and relatives and I am grateful for that aspect of it.  I have Twitter and Instagram accounts so I know what my coworkers are talking about, but they are not especially useful to me.  I love the potential of technology but I am not compelled to have the latest and greatest.  My iPhone 4 is fine for now and I can’t quite justify spending hundreds of dollars on a tablet.  Yet.  And what the hell was wrong with Windows 7?  This laptop has 8.1, which has numerous features I don’t like or use; and it seems they were hell bent on fixing problems that didn’t exist.

I have adjusted to technology just fine.  It is the speed and sometimes uselessness of ‘technological advances’ I am having trouble adjusting to.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Boomer Blues Man and the Learning Curve

I’ve been taking guitar lessons for just over a year.  I still don’t play very well and I struggle to find time to practice, but I enjoy it and I am starting to make progress.  I have learned some things about music and about myself.

One thing I already knew before beginning this musical journey is that older people learn differently than younger people.  We process things in a different way.  Our brains run a little slower, of course, but I think we also learn in smaller bits of information at a time and we often over think things.  Or maybe that last part is just me.
There are many components to learning guitar, especially if you want to read music as well as play it: where individual notes are on the instrument, where they are on the sheet music, what each is called, how to play chords, what each of those is called, tempo, technique, etc.  My brain can absorb a couple of those things at a time, but not all.  I think that is partly due to aging.  The second-guessing and over thinking part results in being afraid to make a mistake; I know what the song is supposed to sound like and I cringe when I play a wrong note.

Mistakes are how we learn, however.  Given that, I should be a musical genius by now. 
My first guitar teacher last year is around 40 years old and my current one is under 30.  Both are talented and patient.  The first one was more academic in his approach and that helped me start to relearn reading music (I played music in high school).  But I thought I was progressing slowly, although it was mostly because my brain struggles to process all of those things at one time.  That teacher’s schedule changed and I was briefly concerned that my new guy’s youth would be a problem; but I am actually having more fun with him, in part because I’m spending more time learning songs and technique.  Both showed me some interesting scales and chord progressions.  Both of them have suggested methods for me to get more comfortable with guitar and both taught me ways to play more and think less.  Just play!  There is time to ‘get it right’.  Have fun with it.

My favorite music is blues and I have discovered that the rock music I loved in my youth was actually blues.  Some of those Led Zeppelin and Eric Clapton songs are famous blues standards and many others written by those artists are rooted in traditional blues.  I’ve also been a Stevie Ray Vaughn fan since my days living in Dallas in the 1980s, when I actually saw him play in a bar there.  So far this year I’ve been learning Crossfire (a Stevie song) and Spoonful (a late-60s Clapton song that is actually a Willie Dixon song from the early 60s based on a Charlie Patton song from the 1920s.).  Some new chords and blues scales I learned today can also be found in music by Deep Purple and Jimi Hendrix.
And today I played an electric guitar for the first time in my life.  My guitar is an acoustic but my teacher has a nice Fender Stratocaster electric.  We switched instruments for a few minutes.  OMG!  Electric guitar is much more suitable for blues.  I might just have to get one.

Meanwhile, I’ll continue to carve out more practice time and work hard to learn the music part and the fun part.  And I seem to play better when wearing a hat.

Here are a couple of songs I’d like to learn:

“Crossfire” – Stevie Ray Vaughn



“Stormy Monday” - Buddy Guy, Carlos Santana and Barbara Morrison from "Carlos Santana presents Blues at Montreux 2004” (I’ll never be able to play it like this, but it’s an incredible version of my favorite blues song)


Sunday, February 1, 2015

How Do They Know or Do They?

When an elderly person dies, do they know it's coming?  I don’t mean that they are old and know they will die some day; I mean do they sense the end within a few weeks or hours before it happens?

Two relatives of a close friend have died within the past two months.  One of them, a 96-year old woman, was in frail physical health but incredible mental health.  She was smart, aware and communicative right up till 15 minutes before taking her last breath.  Of course she knew she would die one day, but she seemed to be wrapping up her life during her last few days.  My friend called her to say she’d be over to visit one afternoon and the woman told her she had really done plenty and she should take time for herself that evening.  The woman died the next day.  It was as if she knew the end was about to happen and wanted my friend to remember her the way she had last seen her a few days earlier.
One month later, this friend’s ex-husband sounded very sick during a phone conversation.  The friend urged him to call the doctor but he said he was feeling better and refused to make the call.  He was found dead in his kitchen the next day.  Did he know the end was coming?  Had he lost the will to live and decided to not take any action that could keep him alive?

I’ve been wondering this kind of stuff ever since my dad died a decade ago.  I watched him take his last breath.  Parkinson’s disease had robbed him of mobility and eventually communication.  He was unable to talk during his last week and it was difficult to tell if he realized what was going on around him.  My sister, mother and I were in his nursing home room when he passed away.  It was as if he saw we were all there, he knew we were all in good hands and he decided ‘OK, I’m done’.
Do they know?  I think in some cosmic way, they probably do know.  Some would say God tells them.  I am a bit skeptical about that, but maybe it’s true.  Or maybe the evidence is so obvious at times that a dying person would naturally come to the realization that the end is here.  

I guess I won’t really know till that time comes for me.  My own strong premonition is that I will live to be 100 and will die a few days after that birthday party.  If I’m still writing this blog then, I’ll let you know.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Family Friends Faith and Funerals

During the past five weeks I have witnessed the most incredible combination of grief, loss, friendship and support, all centered around the deaths of two people I don't even know.

A dear friend's ex-husband's mother died in December.  Exactly a month later (yesterday), the ex-husband died.

The timing is remarkable. I don't know if it's God or fate, but the mother (age 96) died before having to see the son (age 64) die, then the son dies a few months before his own son's wedding.  It all seems to have lined up is some cosmic sequence. That whole 'blessing in disguise' thing.


I'm spiritual but not religious, but many people in this family have strong religious beliefs and their faith is helping them get through it. What I do have faith in is the ability of people to come together and help each other solve problems; and I have faith in the power of friendship, family and community.
Tears were shed, of course. Most were from sadness, loss and shock. My tears are both from the joy of seeing all of this support and my sadness because my own circle is so small and somewhat remote. I have friends, good friends, but nothing like this. Most of my best friends live hundreds and thousands of miles away and most of my family lives a thousand miles away. My involvement with the family I'm writing about is growing and they have made me feel like I am part of their circle. At the same time, I am sad that I have done so relatively little to maintain my own circle.

The friends and family of my dear friend have rallied in extraordinary ways ... food, phone trees, 'stay here tonight', 'what can we do', taking donations to help pay for the funeral ... it goes on and on. I'm teary eyed just describing this.
I view nearly every observation in my life as a learning opportunity, so what have I learned during the past five weeks?  Alcoholism robs people of their goodness then it kills them, close friendships can develop quickly but deep friendships take decades, friendship and family relationships are priceless, funerals cost a fortune.

What actions will I take, based in what I've learned? I will reach out to far-flung friends and family and stay in touch with them better, I will set aside money for my own end, I will write up my will and advance directives and I will concentrate more on living for today. I will also try to find a way to help others get through situations like this.

I also think it's time to revisit my view of faith.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Name Trends and more

Autria, Jacqui and Jummy are the first names of three local TV anchors.  All three are female, all three work the same morning shift on the same station and all three have unique names which are non-traditional to those accustomed to American English. Jummy’s heritage is Nigerian and that is probably a more common name in that culture, but I don’t know where the other two got their names or what those monikers mean to their family or heritage.

I am both sensitive and curious with respect to names.  How do parents choose the names and what impact do those names have on children through their lives? I’ve lived my whole life with the first name Bernard, which is more familiar than Autria but still unusual.  In fact, I have only met seven other Bernards in my whole life and I was related to two of them.
The most popular names for girls born in 2014, according to babycenter.com, include Sophia, Emma, Olivia and Emily.  I know a 26-year-old named Emma but the only other Emma I ever met was my Mother’s sister who was born in the early 1900s.  The most popular boy names for 2014 include Jackson, Aiden and Noah.  I know a 50-year-old Jackson and a 19-year-old Noah.  Autria, Jacqui and Jummy are not on any list.

To further torture myself about my own name, I dug deeper into the list.  Bernard is not even on the top 100.  Some names like Michael, John and David seem to be popular over decades, even centuries.  Others from the distant past make a comeback, like Henry and Oliver.  Why?  I don’t know.

Jennifer is the name of my favorite female, yet her name is not on the top 100 girl names for 2014.  I know at least six Jennifers, but the youngest is in her 40s; I guess that name will make a comeback some day.  Some names that I associate with older women are on the list, however … Amelia, Hannah, Isabelle and Claire.  I know several women named Lisa and Linda, yet neither is in the top 100.  Another great friend is named Leahe (non-traditional spelling of Leah); that name IS on the list, in the middle of the top 100.

What’s in a name?  I looked up a few names on behindthename.com.  Michael means ‘who is like God?’  David means ‘beloved’, Noah means ‘rest, comfort’, Sophia means ‘wisdom’ and Emma means ‘universal’.  Jennifer is derived from Guinevere, which means ‘smooth, fair’.  Interesting.
I’ve never really liked the name Bernard and I’ve gone by Bernie since high school.  As I age, however, I feel better about my name because it is uncommon, like me.  I am named for my Dad and another relative.  If I had had a son, would I have named him Bernard?  No.  I did pick out names once and Jason topped my list.

So what does Bernard mean?  ‘Brave, hardy’.  Well, that’s not so bad.  I guess I’ll keep it.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Grammar

I took one of those 'quizzes' on Facebook a few days ago; the topic was grammar. There were fifteen questions, each asking the participant to select the correct sentence or phrase from a choice of three. My score: 13 of 15 correct. Not bad.

However, shouldn't a 'writer' score higher? Truth be told, I regularly question my grammar proficiency. Writing a blog such as this is a hobby but I write commercials for a living. Blogs have no rules and my style, described by an old writer friend as 'breezy', is suitable for blogging. Some commercials provide evidence that good grammar is not required for them either.


One grammatical pet leave of mine involves the words fewer and less. I regularly hear incorrect usage of 'less' in conversation and in commercials. I heard a commercial this morning with the line, "and that means less cavities."  Incorrect!  It should read "fewer cavities."  I am also annoyed by the regular misuse of their, there and they're.


The sad truth about bad grammar is that these incorrect words and phrases get used so much that they are eventually accepted as correct.


I wish the grammar quiz I took revealed which two questions I answered incorrectly.


I am no grammar expert but I do believe in clarity when it comes to writing, especially in memos and instructions. I think clarity is important in commercials too. Every time I hear the local casino ad that ends with "must be 21," I ask my radio, "what if I'm 50?"  I know they mean "must be over 21" but that's not what they said. So if I'm not 21 (because I'm 50, which is not 21), then I can't go there, right?


Is anyone still wondering why immigrants have so much trouble learning English?

Sunday, January 18, 2015

One Eighteen and Other Random Musings

As I started to write this post, I noticed it is 1:18 pm on 1/18.  That is pretty random, isn't it?  I have many random thoughts and observations floating around in my brain; some end up in random places on this blog.  Here are a few more random things.

I usually write these posts in a Word doc, make adjustments and corrections, and then copy to the blog.  I have saved all of them with the idea that some will end up in a book.  By the way, this is post # 1153 on this blog.  I've written a few hundred more on other blogs.  Writing is both a passion and a hobby for me, although I sometimes think I'd like to make a living at it.  My practical side reminds me to keep my current day job.  Another random note:  I am writing this one directly onto blogger rather than in Word.  Trying to be spontaneous.

I am engaged in a friendly (and fiendly) competition with another blogger (who also is now one of my best friends) ... last year she wrote more posts than I did, which sort of started the counting.  So far this year I am ahead.  I look at this competition as an additional incentive to keep writing.  She is a good and thoughtful writer and our friendship began with each of us reading each other's blogs.  Cool, ey?

There are now three restaurant/bars within walking distance of my apartment that feature live music at least one night a week and a fourth that has music once a month.  No cover charge for any of them.  I love live music. 

Back to blogs for a second ... I have begun writing at least five blogs on my iPhone.  Hopefully I will complete each of them soon and post them.  Stay tuned.  All for today.  Thanks for visiting.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Day Eleven

Today is Day Eleven of the new year, the 11th day of my annual 'process', just over a week into my year of embracing 'discipline' to achieve what I want in 2015.
How am I doing so far?
Not bad.  I chose 'discipline' as my keyword for the year and I am already making progress in increasing the discipline I apply to my daily activities and goals. 
I had hoped to have a more detailed plan for 2015 at this point but I'm a little behind in that endeavor. But the month is young. Stay tuned.