Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Musings On a Literary Giant and the Nature of History

Undeniably, one of my favorite authors is James Michener, whose novels are vast sagas spanning centuries, and even millennia.

There is really something to be said about a work of literature that not only draws you in and relentlessly rivets your attention but also educates you in the process.

Not only was Michener an excellent story-teller, he was also a historian, educator, social commentator, and cultural observer. His novels were extremely well researched with pages of notes and acknowledgements.

In reading Michener's works I have learned about the history of the Holy Land; the politics behind NASA and the space program; the histories and colonizations of South Africa, Colorado, Texas; the origin of the word "buccaneer;" the mystique behind bull fighting; the Spanish obsession for maintaining pure Spanish blood during Spain's colonization of Mexico; and many more interesting historical and cultural tidbits.

Never before I had known how significantly high school football and cheerleading figured in Texas culture. Nor was I aware that Alaska was once a Russian colony.

I was drawn into the lives of fictional characters and their intertwinings with historical figures such as George Washington and several other U.S. presidents, Davy Crockett and Buffalo Bill, Francis Drake, Werner von Braun, Carl Sagan, and Frederick Douglass, just to name a few.

And I learned some new vocabulary words such as "manumission" and "acidulous."

Right now in Chesapeake, I have been learning about the persecution of Quakers and the slave trade in colonial America.

Reading Michener's works has given to contemplation about the nature of history.

Generally history is viewed as a chronological record of events.

But what is the underlying motivation behind those events? And what part does attitude and belief play in the unfolding of events?

Take for instance slavery during U.S. colonial times up until Lincoln's presidency.

Slavery played a major economic role in the early part of U.S. history, particularly in the south on cotton and tobacco plantations.

Even though the cost of obtaining numerous slaves, feeding and clothing them, and providing for them shelter and medical care was considerable, it was less than the cost of hiring labor.

This was especially true since slaves were viewed as livestock. A plantation owner would have to buy just 2 slaves ~ a male and female ~ and later be assured of a lifetime "herd" more slaves with the breeding of the 2 original slaves.

In addition to the economic benefits of owning slaves, slave owners justified the unwilling bondage of other human beings by dehumanizing them.

The blacks from Africa were not considered to be human. They were classified as dirty and ignorant savages, more animal than human.

Among the more inhumane slave owners, this gave them reason to heap vicious cruelties upon the black slaves.

The more enlightened slave owners ~ those who never beat their slaves ~ firmly believed that the blacks were not intellectually capable to looking after themselves and that they needed to be kept as slaves for their own protection against the harshness and challenges of everyday life.

And the general belief was that blacks lacked the intelligence and intellectual prowess to withstand the rigors of academic life.

Also, there was much to be feared with an educated slave who could read. Knowledge is power.

Thus, it was forbidden for blacks to learn how to read. Severe punishments were meted out to slaves caught with books as well as to those free white people ~ Quakers usually ~ who challenged current social conventions by teaching slaves how to read.

This is just one example of how attitudes and beliefs shaped history. And I am sure that this same argument could applied to other events in history.

For instance, take Hitler.

Granted, he rescued Germany from the ravages of a poor economy. But his obsession with the purity of the Aryan race and his belief in the inferiority of Jews and other ethnic and religious groups led to the extermination of 6 millions Jews and countless others, such as the Gypsies, Armenians, Catholics, etc.

Scratch underneath the surface of any historical event and you will discover fear and ignorance as the driving forces.

Even a seemingly positive event, such putting a man on the moon, or an event that improved the quality of life, such as the discovery of penicillin, have had their basis in fear ~ fear of one nation losing its position in the world to a nation of differing political ideologies and fear of losing lives to bacterial infection.

Really, have there been any historical events that weren't driven by a fear of the loss of national/cultural identity, the loss of quality of life, or the loss of life itself?

Friday, February 20, 2009

Freezing Friday

After a several-day run of mild weather, Jack Frost was back nipping toes this morning.

If it hadn't been for the penetrating wind, this would have been another mild day. But the wind was a continuous blustery blast. I could feel it coming into the house through the cracks.

The house has been cold all day. And I had to break down and not only put on a pair of socks, but also turn on the little heater and aim it at my feet.

Today I worked on the crocheted afghan, which I hadn't worked on in about a month.

Slowly the gaps are getting filled in. Soon I'll be able to start crocheting around the outer edges.

I'll be glad when that afghan finally gets done. Then I'll be able to "play" with the scrumptious and delectable yarn that has been taunting me with its yummy colors and textures.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Secrets Anonymous

Last week, while catching up on videos on Maniac World, I came across this Valentine's Day video:




Now typically, I am not one to go ga-ga over Valentine's Day. But because I was curious about the videos that I missed by not checking in with Maniac World for several days, I felt obligated to give this video a quick look-see.

OK, it had some interesting art work, but the video was still not something that really excited me.

However, what did pique my curiosity was the medium behind the message.

With that video, I was introduced to the PostSecret Community and its blog.

Post Secret is the brain child of Frank Warren.

It all started with a dream that Frank had while on his first trip to Paris in December 2003.

From there, Frank launched the Reluctant Oracle Project, where created art work composed of countless glass bottles containing double-sided photographic images of a left hand printed on thick paper hanging from the cork. On each hand was a cryptic message more profound than that found in a fortune cookie.

These bottles were released a large Pennsylvania lake with the intention of their being serendipitously found by others.

This project created an international media sensation.

Immediately after that, PostSecret began.

What is PostSecret?

PostSecret is a community art project where people anonymously send their secrets ~ secrets that they never shared with anyone before ~ on the back of a postcard to an address in Maryland.

From there, the secrets may be posted on the PostSecret blog. Those that don't make the blog have the possibility of finding their way into an up-coming PostSecret book.

Secret sharers are encouraged to be creative when revealing their secrets. Most postcards are works of art with minimal wording.

So, what is the point of PostSecret?

Obliviously there is more to it than just narcissistic catharsis of the creative sort ~ more to it than just a community art project.

The burden of releasing the weight of a deep secret can be healing ~ not only for the person originally burdened by the secret, but also for a complete stranger looking at that secret.

One woman actually got the courage to leave an abusive relationship after reading a postcard where the secret sharer wrote: "His temper is so scary, I've lost all my opinions."

What I wonder is if PostSecret has ever received secrets that were appallingly criminal, like, "I sexually abused my girlfriend's 18-month-old daughter."

And if so, what did Frank do with those secrets?

Did he turn over those postcards to the authorities or rationalize that not all secrets revealed are true?

Still, PostSecret is an intriguing and provocative concept. And it is following through with one of the major purposes of art, which is to make people stop dead in their tracks and think.

So, what is your secret?

And are you ready to anonymously share it with the world?

Chomping for an A

Four Birmingham-Southern College boys ~ Art "Captain" Richey, Will "Billy the Kid" Foster, Jeff "Blinky" Vaughan, and Matt "Bus Driver" Lee ~ have gotten themselves into a plum class assignment, traversing 5 states on an odyssey in search of the perfect barbecued ribs.

(You can read about their adventures in the AP article by Jay Reeves. Or better yet, check out the boys' website, 'Southern BBQ Boys.)

For a foodie who happens to go nuts over ribs (though I prefer beef ribs as opposed to the pork ribs that are very popular in the south), that would be my kind of assignment.

There's more to good food than just the food itself.

Food is not just fuel and nutrition. It's also a sensuous enjoyment as well as a balm for the ravaged soul. Just think about why we call certain foods "comfort foods."

Not only that, there's a rich culture that surrounds and permeates each dish.

Nations and cultures invest a great emotional attachment towards their specialty dishes. After all, certain foods serve as gastronomic ambassadors and are representatives of a specific country or culture.

Each dish carries the weight of cultural pride.

When you think of France, you think of fine wine. Italy has its mind-boggling variety of pastas. Russia has its borst. And the South has its special barbecued ribs.

So the boys weren't just sampling great ribs and fixings, they were also getting a taste of the various southern cultures that they encountered on their not-so-typical college boy road trip.

These boys were also getting a education, and having fun in the process.

Just reading about the boys' adventures makes me want to adjust our potential route to Lubbock so that I could sample the fare at some of the places that the boys visited, like Neely's Bar-B-Que in Memphis.

Why, I may even be tempted in trying their barbecued spaghetti, which supposedly tastes far better than it looks. (Click on the link for the recipe.)

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

From One Bug to Another

I spoke too soon.

I thought that once the stomach bug had left me, I was golden.

Wrong!

I am now dealing with a different sort of bug.

It's not serious. But it's enough to make me want to spend a good part of the day under the covers.

Let's hope this one won't last long.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

One Up, One Down

It's been 2 days since my stomach bug went away.

However, now that I am feeling better, another member of this family has gotten sick.

Ariana has been stricken with one of the bugs-du-jour.

She doesn't have the stomach bug that I had. However, she is coughing her head off and basically feeling like doo-doo.

It's tough being young and being sick. What a crimp in one's social life.

And with someone like Ariana, a social life is a very hard thing to give up. She would rather extend the length of her illness and discomfort than miss a day being without friends.

Real Estate Update

I met with MaryBeth, my real estate agent, 2 days ago.

While my house had received many hits on-line, not one hit had resulted in a phone call.

So MaryBeth, knowing that we are anxious to move, met with me to discuss what the next step could be.

That next step involved a price reduction. Big surprise ~ not.

With the way the real estate market has been lately, it was expected that we would most likely have to reduce the asking price of our property.

In addition to the price reduction, we discussed other strategies.

So, come March 1st, which is a Sunday, we'll be having an open-house.

Now open houses have not generally resulted in sales. The only advantage to having an open house is that it brings extra free advertising.

In addition to the open house, MaryBeth is going to take out a quarter-page ad in the Wanderer. And she will be using part of the ad copy that I wrote when I had written awhile ago.

That ad copy was borne of that bold insight that I have blogged about on the
27th of January.

Back then I did not reveal what that insight was.

And since then, I found out that my crazy scheme was not going to be do-able, in the town by-law manner.

So what was that crazy scheme?

That crazy scheme involved putting up a huge sign in front of my house that was to bring attention to this house's great potentials ~ whether it was to create a beautiful and comfortable home that reflected the buyer's unique tastes or to have a grand, rambling gift shop like the
Ansel Gurney House in Marion.

Basically, my intent was not to sell a house, but to sell a dream.

However, 2 Sundays ago, I happened to run into the town's building inspector at the CVS in Fairhaven.

I asked Andy about the town's by-laws governing the placement of a sign on ones property. Andy told me that the town allows only one sign on any given property, and that a "for sale" sign counts as that one sign.

Oh well, there goes my crazy plan for doing some guerrilla marketing of my home.

However, MaryBeth, who formerly worked in marketing for the former Compass Bank, liked my idea of selling a dream. And she asked if she could take my ad copy to incorporate into the ad that she was planning on placing into the Wanderer.

In addition, we talked about adding a plastic pocket, which would contain flyers listing the details of this house ~ along with my ad copy ~ to the "for sale" sign in front of my house.

(By the way, the "for sale" sign was moved this week from in front of the embankment to on top of the embankment. Apparently, the town objected to its placement, and said that the sign had to be moved 8 feet back.)

Also, because the weather was getting warmer, I suggested to MaryBeth if we could change the picture of the house from the snowy one that she took to a more attractive one that had lots of greenery in front. She agreed that it would be a good idea.

In addition to discussing marketing/sale strategies, MaryBeth calculated what our rock bottom selling price would be.

Hopefully we could get the house sold without having to lower the price to its rock bottom. After all, we would like to get a bit more money from the sale than just barely enough to cover relocation costs.

Let's keep our fingers crossed.

Piano Wunderkind

My friend, Sue, sent me an email with a very fascinating video.

The video was of a Jay Leno show featuring Ethan Bortnick, a 6-year-old piano prodigy.


My first, somewhat jaded, impression was, "Oh, not another exploited talented kid who does not not know what it's like to be a kid."

However, when I watched the video, I was surprised and heartened to see a young boy, who despite his great and obvious talent, was still a young boy, and not some wizened old soul trapped in the body of a little kid.




The interview with Jay Leno was a hoot.

It's very obvious that Ethan is a "normal" 6-year-year old boy ~ albeit a precocious one ~ with a delightful 6-year-old's take on his worldly experiences.

And it's obvious that this kid does indeed have a very special gift.

What really impressed me with Ethan's musical genius was not so much his flawless and spirited playing of Joplin, Mozart, and Bach, but the sophisticated playfulness of his own composition, "The Tiger Ran Away At the Zoo."

Intrigued by this young master, I wanted to find out more about him. In doing so, I came across this video, which gave further insight into Ethan's life and development.



Aside from being surprised that Ethan's Russian parents spoke perfect English with nary a trace of a Russian accent, it was heartening to find out that his parents, while acknowledging their son's exceptional gift, were doing their best to make sure that Ethan was not robbed of the delights and joys of childhood.


All parents have great and serious responsibilities ~ to establish boundaries, to protect their children, to love and nurture them, and to encourage them.

However, when that child is a prodigy, there are many more mind-reeling responsibilities thrown into the mix. And it becomes a delicate balancing act.

Too many prodigies become exploited by parents whose intentions may not be in their talented child's best interest. And too many prodigies burn out.

According to Psychology Today, "the majority of childhood prodigies never fulfill their early promise."

This is further explained in Psychology Today's article, "Why Prodigies Fail."

I sincerely hope that Ethan will avoid the fate that has tested many young prodigies and that he will continue to develop his amazing gift without sacrificing his childhood and that he will continue to share his blessings with the rest of the world as he grows and develops into an adult.

And I sincerely hope that after Ethan gets older, when the world has stopped giving him the attention that it normally reserves for very young talented masters, he will hold on to the spark of joy that was ignited within him, and that he will hold onto the values that his parents tried to instill in him.

Years from now I hope to see Ethan Bortnick not only as an accomplished musician infecting the world with the love of music, but also as a well-balanced, respectful, and compassionate individual who has not lost the joy of being alive.

Back In the Groove

Shortly after I woke up, I started feeling tired. But this time ~ especially since I was no longer afflicted with the stomach bug ~ I made myself stay up instead to going upstairs to take a nap.

After all, I wanted to break that pattern, which had established itself when I was sick, of napping during the day.

Still, it took awhile before I was motivated to do some work.

In fact, I stayed in my PJs all morning and part of the afternoon.

It was already mid afternoon. And usually, if I haven't gotten any work at least started by this time, I would have spent the rest of the day in various permutations of sloth.

But after getting killed off in
Zuma, I forced myself to go take a shower. No way was I going to spend the whole day in PJs. Besides, I didn't like feeling grubby.

After my shower and getting dressed, I started a load of laundry.

And from there, I needed to decide what my project was going to be for today.

Seeing that the appearance of the library was bothering me, I figured that would be a good place to start.

I moved all the packed boxes out of the library and into the studio, where I had stored a lot of packed boxes.

The empty cartons and the 2 clothes racks went into the studio as well.

I cleaned all the wall shelves and swept up the floor. Stuff got tidied up.

After the library was all spiffed up, I brought in the 3 large plastic bins that Ariana and I used to store our clothes. I figured that the library, due to its close proximity to the laundry room and bathroom would be a better place to store these bins.

Now the bins themselves have been in quite the disarray. They were in serious need of organizing. In fact, it took far more time to reorganize the clothing bins than it did to clean out the library.

Ariana's 2 bins were the most challenging because of the sheer volume of clothing. Frankly, does one person need to have that much clothing on hand?

I have been able to get by with just one large bin of clothing. And my clothes, being many sizes larger than Ariana's, take up a lot more space than hers do.

Ariana complained that she had no more socks except for that one pair of formerly pink socks. Yet, when I was going through all of Ariana's clothing, I found several pairs of socks ~ enough to stuff into 2 large one-gallon zip-lock baggies.

In fact that's what I did with all of our socks, underwear, bras, scarves, accessories ~ stuff them all into large zip-lock baggies. That way, we would no longer have to go rummaging through piles of clothing to find a pair of socks or undies.

Anyhow, the library looks the best it's looked in years. And I can once again feel good about having some productivity in my day.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Fresh Air



February may not be the time most people are thinking about summer, however the folks at the
Fresh Air Fund are already hard at work planning for their 2009 summer season.

For those of you who are not familiar with the Fresh Air Fund, it's a non-profit organization that has provided free summer vacations in the country for New York City kids from disadvantaged communities since 1877.

That's a darn good track record, if you ask me.

The great thing about the Fresh Air Fund is that you don't have to live on a farm in order to give a kid a memorable time. Suburban environments also have a lot to offer these kids, many of whom may have not seen a tree, let alone a rabbit bounding through a backyard.

Just last year, our local communities hosted 28 Fresh Air Kids.

This is a great program to be involved in.

And there are more ways for involvement that just hosting an inner-city kid.

For one thing, the Fresh Air Fund is currently accepting applications for camp counselors and staff for the summer of 2009. They are seeking college-age men and women who love working with kids.

To apply for a position, or to find out more about this wonderful opportunity to make a big difference in the lives of disadvantaged children, please click on this link:
http://freshairfundcounselors.smnr.us/.

It's not just the kids who reap the rewards of this program. The young men and women who worked as staff and counselors found their lives changed for the better in more ways than one can count.

So if you, or someone you know is looking to spend the summer in a meaningful manner, please consider hosting a Fresh Air Kid or participating as a counselor in the Fresh Air Fund Summer Camp Program.


Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Tummy Troubles

For all of you who have been wondering why I have not been posting any blogs for the past 4 days, it's because I have been under the weather.

My stomach has been feeling sore and bloated, leaving me with very little energy.

I would be up before 7:00 AM. But withing 2 or 3 hours, I would start getting very tired. So I would go upstairs and read until I could not keep my eyes open any longer.

Hopefully this malady will pass soon and I will be back to blogging again.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Follow-Up On a Genuine Class Act

As synchronicity would have it, the same day I wrote my blog on Chesley "Sully" Sullenberg, a friend of mind sent me an email of a story written by a survivor of that fateful Flight 1549 ~ the same one that was piloted by Sully when it went down in the Hudson.

This email is worth sharing.

Here it is:

This is a first-hand account from a passenger on Flight 1549. It is an internal memo to the members of his firm. It is very well written, is descriptive, and gives this man's honest reactions to the events around him. It's from a Partner at Heidrick & Struggles, an executive recruiting firm, who was on Flight 1549. Gerry McNamara (New York/Charlotte) was on US Airways Flight 1549 last week. Here is his account of the event:

Thursday was a difficult day for all of us at the firm and I left the Park Avenue office early afternoon to catch a cab bound for LaGuardia Airport.

I was scheduled for a 5pm departure, but able to secure a seat on the earlier flight scheduled to leave at 3pm. As many of us who fly frequently often do, I recall wondering if I'd just placed myself on a flight I shouldn't be on!

Just prior to boarding I finished up a conference call with my associate, Jenn Sparks (New York), and our placement, the CIO of United Airlines. When I told him that I was about to board a US Airways flight, we all had a little fun with it.

I remember walking on the plane and seeing a fellow with grey hair in the cockpit and thinking "that's a good thing... I like to see grey hair in the cockpit!"

I was seated in 8F, on the starboard side window and next to a young business man. The New York to Charlotte flight is one I've taken what seems like hundreds of times over the years. We take off north over the Bronx and as we climb, turn west over the Hudson River to New Jersey and tack south. I love to fly, always have, and this flight plan gives a great view of several NY landmarks including Yankee Stadium and the George Washington Bridge.

I had started to point out items of interest to the gentleman next to me when we heard a terrible crash - a sound no one ever wants to hear while flying - and then the engines wound down to a screeching halt.10 seconds later, there was a strong smell of jet fuel. I knew we would be landing and thought the pilot would take us down no doubt to Newark Airport. As we began to turn south I noticed the pilot lining up on the river - still - I thought - en route for Newark.

Next thing we heard was "Brace for impact!" - a phrase I had heard many years before as an active duty Marine Officer but never before on a commercial air flight. Everyone looked at each other in shock. It all happened so fast we were astonished!

We began to descend rapidly and it started to sink in. This is the last flight. I'm going to die today. This is it. I recited my favorite bible verse, the Lord's Prayer, and asked God to take care of my wife, children, family and friends.

When I raised my head I noticed people texting their friends and family....getting off a last message. My blackberry was turned off and in my trouser pocket...no time to get at it. Our descent continued and I prayed for courage to control my fear and help if able.

I quickly realized that one of two things was going to happen, neither of them good. We could hit by the nose, flip and break up, leaving few if any survivors, bodies, cold water, fuel. Or we could hit one of the wings and roll and flip with the same result. I tightened my seat belt as tight as I could possibly get it so I would remain intact.

As we came in for the landing, I looked out the windows and remember seeing the buildings in New Jersey, the cliffs in Weehawken, and then the piers. The water was dark green and sure to be freezing cold. The stewardesses were yelling in unison: "Brace! Brace! Brace!"

It was a violent hit - the water flew up over my window - but we bobbed up and were all amazed that we remained intact.

There was some panic - people jumping over seats and running towards the doors, but we soon got everyone straightened out and calmed down. There were a lot of people that took leadership roles in little ways. Those sitting at the doors over the wing did a fantastic job...they were opened in a New York second! Everyone worked together - teamed up and in groups to figure out how to help each other.

I exited on the starboard side of the plane, 3 or 4 rows behind my seat through a door over the wing and was, I believe, the 10th or 12th person out. I took my seat cushion as a flotation device and once outside saw I was the only one who did....none of us remembered to take the yellow inflatable life vests from under the seat.

We were standing in 6-8 inches of water and it was freezing. There were two women on the wing, one of whom slipped off into the water. Another passenger and I pulled her back on and had her kneel down to keep from falling off again. By that point we were totally soaked and absolutely frozen from the icy wind.

The ferries were the first to arrive, and although they're not made for rescue, they did an incredible job. I know this river, having swum in it as a boy. The Hudson is an estuary - part salt and part fresh water - and moves with the tide. I could tell the tide was moving out because we were tacking slowly south towards Ellis Island, The Statue of Liberty, and The Battery.

The first ferry boat pulled its bow up to the tip of the wing, and the first mate lowered the Jacobs ladder down to us. We got a couple people up the ladder to safety, but the current was strong pushing the stern of the boat into the inflatable slide and we were afraid it would puncture it...there must have been 25 passengers in it by now. Only two or three were able to board the first ferry before it moved away.

Another ferry came up, and we were able to get the woman that had fallen into the water on the ladder, but she just couldn't move her legs and fell off. Back onto the ladder she went; however, the ferry had to back away because of the swift current. A helicopter arrived on station (nearly blowing us all off the wing) and followed the ferry with the woman on the ladder. We lost view of the situation but I believe the helicopter lowered its basket to rescue her.

As more ferries arrived, we were able to get people up on the boats a few at a time. The fellow in front of me fell off the ladder and into the water. When we got him back on the ladder he could not move his legs to climb. I couldn't help him from my position so I climbed up the ladder to the ferry deck where the first mate and I hoisted the Jacobs ladder with him on it...when he got close enough we grabbed his trouser belt and hauled him on deck. We were all safely off the wing.

We could not stop shaking. Uncontrollable shaking. The only thing I had with me was my blackberry, which had gotten wet and was not working. (It started working again a few hours later).

The ferry took us to the Weehawken Terminal in NJ where I borrowed a phone and called my wife to let her know I was okay. The second call I made was to Jenn. I knew she would be worried about me and could communicate to the rest of the firm that I was fine. At the terminal, first responders assessed everyone's condition and sent people to the hospital as needed. As we pulled out of Weehawken my history kicked in and I recall it was the site of the famous duel between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr in 1804. Thankfully I left town in better condition than Mr. Hamilton who died of a mortal wound the next day! I stayed with my sister on Long Island that evening, then flew home the next day.

I am struck by what was truly a miracle. Had this happened a few hours later, it would have been pitch dark and much harder to land. Ferries would no longer have been running after rush hour and it would not have been the same uplifting story. Surely there would have been fatalities, hypothermia, an absolute disaster!

I witnessed the best of humanity that day. I and everyone on that plane survived and have been given a second chance. It struck me that in our work we continuously seek excellence to solve our client's leadership problems. We talk to clients all the time about the importance of experience and the ability to execute. Experience showed up big time on Flight 1549 as our pilot was a dedicated, trained, experienced professional who executed flawlessly when he had to.

I have received scores of emails from across the firm and I am so grateful for the outpouring of interest and concern. We all fly a great deal or work with someone who does and so I wanted to share this story - the story of a miracle. I am thankful to be here to tell the tale.

There is a great deal to be learned including: Why has this happened to me? Why have I survived and what am I supposed to do with this gift? For me, the answers to these questions and more will come over time, but already I find myself being more patient and forgiving, less critical and judgmental.

For now I have 4 lessons I would like to share:

1. Cherish your families as never before and go to great lengths to keep your promises.

2. Be thankful and grateful for everything you have and don't worry about the things you don't have.

3. Keep in shape. You never know when you'll be called upon to save your own life, or help someone else save theirs.

4. When you fly, wear practical clothing. You never know when you'll end up in an emergency or on an icy wing in flip flops and pajamas and of absolutely no use to yourself or anyone else.

And I'd like to add: Fly with gray-haired pilots!

Thank you, Robin, for sharing this fantastic and inspiring story!

Time Paradox and the Rolling Stones

Just as one can find conflicting messages in the Bible, the same holds true in other media that carry a message.

In 1964, the Rolling Stones sang "Time Is On My Side."




Yet, 10 years later, the tune changed to "Time Waits for No One."




What happened during that 10 year passage of time jade Mick Jagger's perception of time, where time went from being his ally to being an indifferent enemy?

So what is it about time where one day it's a ally and the next day an enemy?

How can time both stand still and rapidly pass without notice?

So, what is time?

We all know what time is, but we would be hard pressed to give a description of time that did not involve clocks, watches, or calendars.

Even St. Augustine had this to say about time:

"What is time? If no one asks me, I know; but if I wanted to explain it to one who asks me, I plainly do not know."

All through the ages, philosophers have pondered the meaning of time, as well as that of space.

This is what
Aristotle had to say about time:

"Motion must always have been in existence, and the same can be said for time itself, since it is not even possible for there to be an earlier and a later if time does not exist. Movement, then, is also continuous in the way in which time is - indeed time is either identical to movement or is some affection of it. ... The entire preoccupation of the physicist is with things that contain within themselves a principle of movement and rest. ... there being two causes of which we have defined in the Physics, that of matter and that from which the motion comes. ... It need hardly be pointed out that with things that do not change there is no illusion with respect to time, given the assumption of their unchangeability. "

And
Spinoza had this to say:

"No one doubts but that we imagine time from the very fact that we imagine other bodies to be moved slower or faster or equally fast. We are accustomed to determine duration by the aid of some measure of motion."

So, according to at least 2 philosohopers, there is a major connectiong between time and motion.

Science seems to support this, or at least make convenient use of this principle, in its use in that it uses the
vibrational frequency of the cesium atom to measure time.

But time is more than just a physical phenomenon of a specific atom.

Time is also a perceptual concept that influences our state of mind.

While researching the time paradox, I came across a website to a
book bearing those very same words. I invite to click on that link and learn more about this book, authored by Philip Zimbardo & John Boyd. Maybe there would be something in that book that may prove useful to you.

One of the videos that I found interesting on that site was one called "Time and Punishment."




In the video, John Boyd postulates that the ones who get into trouble are the individuals who get into trouble are people who maintain a "present orientation" and are unable to plan for and avoid future negative consequences. And he maintains that the cruel paradox is that society restricts the "future orientation" of that person (i.e., having that person put in prison, time out, etc.), when in actuality it's that future orientation that keeps the person out of trouble and enables the person to live a more productive life.


But wait a minute.

That brings up another paradox. That contradicts a popular spiritual teaching that states that living in the present is what brings about peace and, ultimately, success in life.

I wonder if John Boyd and Philip Zimbardo address that point in their book.

So all in all, the subject of time and its paradoxes is a loaded subject, both in terms of physics and metaphysics.

What does "time" mean to you?

A Genuine Class Act

He's not a hero on the silver screen. Nor is he a sports hero with a 6-figure contract.

He's just a regular Joe, doing a job that he is passionate about, and doing that job really well. In Capt. Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger's case, that job is flying passenger jets for US Airways.

Yes, Sully is just a regular Joe doing his job, and he's also a hero as evidenced by his dramatic saving of US Airways Flight 1549, on January 15th, when he landed his craft in the Hudson River after striking a flock of birds, and saving the lives of all 155 on board.

It wasn't just luck that enabled Sully to save the lives of all those people, it was also his extensive training and his passionate commitment to the people he served by doing a job well done.

Some say that Sully was a "pilot's pilot." That may very well be the case.

Not only was he a damn great pilot, Sully was also an air accident investigator. In addition, he was pursuing additional training in the psychology behind keeping a crew functioning in an air crisis.

And above all that, he was a caring and compassionate human being who met with his passengers to assure that they were alright. He even gave one passenger a $20 bill out of his own wallet after she lost hers when the plane went down.

All these qualities led to Sully being a hero.

And the point of this blog is that all of us can be heroes just like Sully. All we have to do is follow his example:

  • be passionate about your job,
  • learn all that you can about the different facets of your work and integrate them into your performance,
  • strive for excellence, not perfection,
  • and have a deep honor, respect, and compassion for the people you serve.

Sully was a genuine class act. You can be one, too.

While not most of us can attain the quasi-mythic heroic status of a TV/film celebrity, a major league ball player, or even a great politician like John F. Kennedy, we can all be heroes in our own lives by following the formula used by Sully.

Our own brand of heroism may not make the front page in the dramatic way that Sully's did, but it will make a positive impact in the lives of the people we meet and interact with.

We all have the capability of being a hero.

And with the more heroes we have amongst us, the world becomes a much better place.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Six More Weeks

I did not like Punxsatawny Phil's prediction this past Monday ~ 6 more weeks of winter.

I am weary of this frigid Siberian cold.

A busy morning of packing and cleaning did nothing ~ absolutely nothing ~ to warm up my freezing body. Where's a hot flash when I need one?

Yup, I actually did some work this morning.

I packed 5 boxes in the workout room, most of them containing Neil's power and hand tools. I also packed a 6th box containing CDs and Windows XP software.

Also, I cleaned out and organized the electrical closet in the workout room. And I did a load of laundry.

However, even after all this activity, I still could not get warmed up.

Finally weary of being cold, I went upstairs where I could get warmed up.

But even there, my body was having trouble generating some heat.

So, after not finding any relief while reading, I decided to crawl under the covers to nap, even though I did not feel at all sleepy.

Under the covers I shivered, until finally, after about an hour or so, I managed to drift off into a blissful and cold-oblivious nap where I was a super-hero-type character in a Star Trek-type dream.

I got awoken from my slumber by Ariana's cell phone conversation. She was not aware that I was sleeping.

Well, I may as well have gotten up at that point. It was close to the time to feed the animals. And I figured that I would make some tapioca as well as my dinner, which was a furnace-stoking oatmeal and tapioca concoction of my own invention, with strawberries and passion fruit syrup.

Though not a traditional type of food for dinner, my gruel was what my body craved on this cold day, where the inside temperature downstairs was only 55 degrees.

I'm still cold, sitting in the living room with 4 layers of clothing, woolen fingerless gloves, a polar fleece hat, and a pair of thick felt-lined winter boots. (The floor was way too cold for slippers.) I even have a small electric heater going, in hopes of warming up my still cold toes.

This kind of cold does not endear me to New England. And more than ever, I am anxious to leave this northern coastal ice box to the warmer land-locked plain in western Texas.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

More Snow

Yesterday positively smelled of the beginning of springtime.

Today winter has reasserted itself. It has been snowing all day.

Yuck.

Snow or no snow, Ariana and I had to run up to
BJ's Wholesale Club to pick up a couple of cases of Arizona Iced Tea, cat food, and coffee. That was pretty much going to be it.

But while driving to BJ's, Ariana commented that her cell phone turned itself off twice in the car on our way to North Dartmouth.

So before going to BJ's, we decided to stop at the Verizon store at the mall in order to have her phone looked at and serviced. We figured to stop there first because I knew that there would be a waiting time before Ariana's phone would be ready.

At Verizon, the service tech determined that Ariana's phone was going to need a software update. And because I decided to have my phone updated too, the wait was going to be about 2 hours, especially since Ariana's phone had a memory chip, which meant that she had A LOT of stuff on her phone.

I have this one thing to say: going to BJ's and needing to kill time is a deadly combination for the wallet. The grocery list expanded to include 3 books and a Bonsai plant.

And we still had an hour to kill.

So then we went and had lunch at
Old Country Buffet, where I proceeded to stuff my gut so that I would not have to eat for the rest of the day. (So far that's working.)

When we were done eating, it was time to check on the phones.

Both phones were done. Not only that, they were polished up nice and spiffy.

In the meantime, the temperature dropped a few degrees and the snow still continued coming down.

Even though we still had 2 more stores to go to, both of us were already feeling a bit sleepy from too much food. We would just go to the pharmacy to pick up a prescription. There was still plenty enough dog food to put off for another day.

As soon as we got home, Ariana went upstairs to take a nap. I dumped the cat food into the storage bin before the dogs could get an opportunity to rip open the bags and then went upstairs to take a nap myself.

The combination of a very full stomach and a very dreary day inspired that urge to nap. I was even too pooped to work on the crocheted afghan, which would have been a prefect project for a cold and snowy day.

Already the roads turned treacherous, so we're camped out at home for the rest of the night.

The snow is supposed to continue tomorrow.

This has been a winter of no mercy.

Monday, February 2, 2009

A Minor Bit of Accomplishment

As you can tell, I spent the morning and part of the afternoon blogging ~ more than making up for the 2 days that I did not blog. (Neil, my Number One blogging fan, should have plenty of reading to do tonight.)

However, I also managed to get a few household things accomplished.

For starters, I did wash that load of very stinky laundry that had been sitting in the washer for a week, along w/the 4 towels used to mop up the dirty water spill when the exorcist from Sears worked his mojo on the washing machine.

I cleaned out all 4 litter boxes.

I washed part of the laundry room floor.

And I packed 2 cartons of loose stuff from the library and my studio.

So, I guess I can feel a tiny wee bit righteous and pious for having been somewhat productive today.

The Spell-Checkers Are On Their Toes

Wow!

Those spell-checker gurus and geeks are mighty quick.

It was heartening to see that the word "Obama" passed spell-check muster, both in Blogger and Microsoft's Word.

That's a good thing, for that word is going to be around for a good long time.

Hat's Off to Obama

My last birthday present to Ariana finally arrived in today's mail. She was excited when she saw the box, and with the help of my pocket knife, she eagerly cut open the box.

The cap is a limited edition 59Fifty fitted cap put out by New Era. The number "44" right under Obama's name signifies his place as the 44th President of the United States.

The back of the cap sports the word "Change," something that we're all hoping for in this post-Bush era.

Exorcising the Washing Machine Demon

While there was no wailing, shrieking, or gnashing of teeth, while the was no infernal sulphurous stench, there was a labored grinding noise and the smell of raw sewage.

Such was the state of my washing machine since a week ago today.

Finally the exorcist from Sears arrived. And with his powerful magic he forced the washing machine demon to give up the clothes that it had taken hostage a week ago.

The demon had grudgingly complied, but not before spewing some filthy water on the floor and polluting the air with the gagging smell of raw sewage.

As I had expected, the pump to the machine had been shot. The exorcist removed the damned device and replaced it with a new pump.

The exorcism was complete. My washing machine was working again.

All to the tune of $287.13.

Ouch!

But at least now the washer is demon-free. And the laundry that had been held hostage in stagnant, foul-smelling water is now fresh and clean and tumbling in the dryer.

Jeremiah's Disco Inferno

While the Talking Heads sang:

This ain't no party, this ain't no disco, this ain't no fooling around . . .

The tune here was:



Burn baby burn - Disco Inferno!


Jeremiah was outside having some pyrotechnic fun, yesterday, as he and Ariana were cleaning out the garage.

The fire served as a source of heat, a source of getting rid of scrap wood, and a source of fun.

The kids did a pretty good job in cleaning the garage.

Equal Time for Emi

Well, Emi did not appreciate all the attention Stevie got in the previous blog, and she demanded equal time.


After all, to some Emi is a Princess and to others she is a Bitch. And very often the lines between both are so blurred that you cannot tell where one begins and the other one ends.

I got Emi from the same shelter where I got Stevie.

Emi was caught as a stray, wandering the streets in the south end of New Bedford in December of 2005.

Her original dog tags said that she was from Puerto Rico, and it was obvious that she was not used to the cold of December as she shivered in the frigid holding kennel in the shelter. She was barely 9 pounds at the time, and that certainly was not enough weight to keep a dog warm, especially one that came from a tropical climate.

The shivering wasn't just from the cold, Emi was also very scared. Thus, during her holding period, I kept her in my office, which was warm and a lot less intimidating than the large and loud concrete holding kennel.

Pretty soon I fell in love with her.

Emi was a such a sweet doll. I especially loved the spikes on top of her head, which unfortunately never grew back after a careless groomer had shorn them off.

As such, I had to adopt her.


Emi became the Puerto Rican Princess. And she had to have a coat befitting a princess. It was too bad that the big dogs thought Emi's pink leopard-spot coat was a toy to be torn apart.

After I adopted Emi, I would bring her to work. And sometimes I would bring Gypsy, too.

Whenever I let both dogs outside, behind the shelter, to go to the bathroom, Emi would bound off after Gypsy, who pretty much ignored her.


Being from Puerto Rico, Emi's first New England winter was rather rough on her. For one thing, she could not walk in the snow. She would venture a few steps and then lay down in the snow, not being able to go any further.

I am glad to say that since then, Emi had adapted to our winters. And now, with her sweater on, she will bound outside in the snow with the other 2 big dogs.

When I first had Emi, she was very quiet and reticent, like a proper princess. But as she became more familiar with me and my office, her boldness started emerging.


After awhile, I had to tether Emi to my desk because she would go after the pit bulls and rottweilers that the animal control officers would bring in. This especially created problems since the ACOs had to walk by my office to get to the holding kennels.

The shelter had a rottweiler that gave birth to 10 pups. Mom and the babies were put in a private room, away from the stress of having to deal with other dogs in the kennels.
A towel had to be laid down at the bottom of the door because Emi would got up to the crack in the door and start antagonizing the mom and her pups.

It did not matter to Emi how big a dog was. She thought she was King Kong, just like most Chihuahuas did.

Even at home Emi ditched her previously reticent role and assumed the role of ├╝ber-serious watch dog. Not only would she bark her head off at people coming into the house, she would continue barking, and even chasing as people passed from one room to the next. And if they passed through a door, Emi became even more agitated.

It was becoming obvious that Emi was asserting her ambition to be the bitch of the house. And it very quickly became apparent that she had targeted Big Fat Stevie to be her own personal bitch.

(We have yet to capture Emi's molestations of Stevie on video and put it up on YouTube. I'm sure it'll get a lot of hits.)

As mouthy and bitchy as she may get with other people, Emi has never bitten anybody except for one person. And that one person is now serving time in the Norfolk prison on a murder charge.

So now, when Emi expresses a strong and immediate dislike toward someone I had just met, I make sure that I pay extra attention.

But when it comes to her own human family, Emi is the sweetest thing ever who loves to cuddle and snuggle close when it's time for bed.

Everybody Loves Big Fat Stevie

Everybody wants to take Big Fat Stevie home with them. Everybody loves him ~ loves him so much that her really does deserve his own TV show. And believe me, there is a lot to love in Stevie.

There is no friendlier and more laid-back kitty than Stevie. That was quickly apparent at the animal shelter where I used to work.

When I first met Stevie, 5 years ago, he was as big as he is now. In fact, I thought he was a pregnant female, only to find out that he was a very fat male.

For the first 6 months of his stay at the shelter, Stevie had to be confined to a cage. He had a wound of unknown origin, and state law subjected all non-inoculated animals with a wound of known origin to a mandatory 6-month quarantine.

That was because ~ depending upon where on the body the wound appeared ~ it could take 3 to 6 months for rabies to manifest. Once the 6 month period ended and the animal showed no signs of the disease, that animal was assumed to be free of rabies.

Even when being stuck in a small cage for 6 months, Stevie's delightful personality shined through the bars of the cage.

Shortly after he was declared rabies-free and put up for adoption, Ariana fell in love with him.

There he was in the cattery, casually lounging among all the frisky felines. Stevie was comfortable in his surroundings, and he was comfortable in his own somewhat ample skin.

Stevie came home with us, weighing a good 20 pounds. He was so big that be could not squeeze through the baby gate to get to the cat food and litter boxes.

When Stevie was eating ~ and he was ALWAYS hungry ~ it quickly became apparent that Stevie's access to the bowls of cat food had to be limited.

Stevie got his own bowl, from which he got fed a small handful of kibble twice a day.

The other cat food bowls went up on the high shelf in the library which Stevie could not reach. I figured that once Stevie became able to reach those bowls, then he would deserve to eat from them. But until then, he had to eat from his tiny bowl at the appointed feeding hours.

After awhile Stevie lost some weight, and was actually able to squeeze through the bars of the baby gate ~ though not without some effort (or entertainment value).

The lowest Stevie got was down to 18 pounds.


This morning he tipped the scale at 19 pounds.

Stevie was the most laid-back cat that anybody has seen. He was so laid back that not even the dogs would bother him.

Stevie loved everyone equally. And often he would show his love by rewarding the object of his affection with a series of very pinchy love nips.

Ariana had described Stevie as a "stoner kitty" in that:
  • he was very friendly and loved everyone
  • he was very laid-back
  • and he constantly had the munchies.

Not only did Stevie love everyone, everyone also loved Stevie. We have lost count over the number of times people told us that they wanted to take Stevie home with them. Some people even asked us to give him to them or even offered outright to buy Stevie.

Maybe Stevie's immense size is part of his appeal. But big or little, Stevie has a wonderful and warm personality ~ "catsonality" ~ that enchants everyone who meets him.

Unlike the other cats in the house, Stevie enjoys mingling with people ~ even people he does not know.

When we had our gigunda moving sale 2 weeks before Christmas, Stevie was in the thick of things, greeting people as they came into the house. People were delighting in picking him up. And of course, there were many who wanted to take him home.

But sorry, Big Fat Stevie was not for sale.

However, there are some challenges in being a super-sized kitty.

For one thing, Stevie cannot reach very far in order to wash himself thoroughly. And his stomach very often comes in very close contact with the ground. As such, he gets called "Big Fat Stevie Brown" because the once white belly fur turns to a dirty brown.

Stevie's had more baths than any other cat I have known. In fact, he's long overdue for one now.

In the summer, Stevie not only gets a professional bath, he gets his fur stripped down to the bare wood so that he can remain cleaner longer.

Besides, he looks rather cute with his fur buzzed off. With Stevie's fur shorn off, you can no longer see his black tiger stripes. Instead, what you see is a rotund white body covered with large grey patches.

Also, unlike the other cats, Stevie does not travel in a cat carrier. Instead, when he goes places ~ like the vet's office or to church for the Blessing of the Animals service ~ Stevie wears his red harness and leash.

Stevie is always very popular wherever he goes. People don't expect to see a cat on a leash. And Stevie is one cat who does not mind being on a leash. He can make himself comfortably at-home anywhere.

Stevie even gets along well with the dogs, very often sharing the couch with them as they all take a snooze.

But sometimes he will get on Gomez's case with his kneading of Gomez's body and occasionally trying to give Gomez a love nip on his ears. During times like these, the normally friendly and laid-back Gomez will firmly let Stevie know who's boss while totally remaining ignorant of the fact that nobody can be the boss of a cat.

However, there is one dog who does do a pretty good job of letting Stevie know who's boss. And poor Stevie very patiently puts up with Emi's many and frequent molestations. However, there are those rare occasions when even laid-back Stevie has to tell Emi that "enough is enough."