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Archive for January, 2017

I did it my way

Screw you, Jenny Craig; drop dead Weight Watchers; buzz off Dr. Atkins; kiss my butt Caveman Diet, and take your Cabbage Soup Diet with you. I did it my way!

Whoa, harsh words coming from the 82-year old who last May weighed in at a whopping 261 pounds on his six foot, one inch frame. Of course it was also a far cry from the six three, 145 pound beanpole when he got married in 1957.

Today, there is a new me. Last evening as I prepared to take my shower, I decided to check the scale once more. Hadn’t done so in a couple of weeks, and I have to admit that some of the six pounds of chocolate that we received at Christmas had found its way in between my lips and over my gums, but then…well, let’s just say that I was pleased to see that since May I had dropped a full 50 pounds. I now weigh 211 and have no plans to quit what I’m doing until the scale registers 200…although a buck ninety-eight is looking pretty good to me right now also.

“What the hell happened?” you may ask. Go ahead, feel free. Even if you don’t, you’re gonna hear the story anyway.

I didn’t care too much for myself last May. I had a beer gut although I don’t drink beer. I looked to be about seven months pregnant, but as you know, that just ain’t happening. I was beginning to struggle just to get up to go to the gym and was having a really tough time holding five minute miles on the recumbent bike for half an hour. Since I’ve already been through four heart attacks and wouldn’t care to go through number five, I thought, “Things have to change around here.”

The first thing that changed was my eating. No more taking big 24-ounce bottles of Gatorade to the gym. From now on, the bottles contained water. No more having a Danish or two before heading off for the workout. Instead, a Kellogg protein bar replaced the lemon or raspberry or both pastries. Now, about an hour after I get home from the gym a skim milk hot chocolate with…yep, you guessed it…real whipped cream…enough to satisfy, but not a foot high above the cup. When 10:30 rolls around, I may – please note that word – I may have a whole wheat cranberry nut muffin, no butter. Next is where the biggest change of all occurs. Lunch is dinner. It may be at noon or an hour after, but it is a full meal, including bread or rolls, meat, starch, and veggies. Around 2:30, another snack is called for. This may be a refill of the hot chocolate or just a piece of candy. After 4:00, nothing but water. Surprise, surprise, I don’t go to bed hungry, and I sleep like a log.

During this whole process, I’ve noticed an increase in my energy level, my knees don’t hurt as much as they did when I was much heavier. Riding the bike is now a joy, not a hardship. The thirty-minute ride is now up to forty minutes. Ab crunches are now well over one hundred and mat exercises have been added to my routine. Better yet, people I know only to nod at have come over and said, “You look great. What have you done?” and those who know me well, just say, “Keep it goin’ man!” With that kind of encouragement, you can just bet that I won’t be changing my eating habits anytime soon.

Will my weight stay off? At this stage, I have to say that it will. The gut is gone. I’m learning more about what I need in terms of nourishing foods. The doctors are pleased, and what the hell, I’m 82; who wants to gain that much weight back in the time that I have remaining? Will what I did work for others? I don’t have a clue. I have been asked, as I mentioned, what I did to lose the weight. The minute I say, “No food after 4:00,” everyone with whom I’ve spoken has said something to the effect of, “Ah, I always have a big dinner.” Last week, one woman told me that, then added, “…but not tonight. I’m going to try what you did and see what happens.” Truth to tell, I’m not certain that holding a full-time job, as Susan does, will work for her, but then, what do I know? All I can tell you is that right now I’m feeling pretty damn proud of myself. Eleven or twelve pounds left…piece of cake! Oops!

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Spoke with an old friend today. We generally miss each other at the gym, but we reconnected today and it was damned good to see him. Fact is, I remember him when his wife was first pregnant.

“Gee, the kids must be in high school now,” I said

“Yeah, Jeannie’s in her junior year, and we’re starting to look at colleges,” he responded.

Since I’m quite certain he doesn’t read this blog, I didn’t bother to ask him if he’d read To Go or Not To Go [January 18, 2017].

“What does she want to do?” I asked, knowing full well what the answer would be.

“She’s not really sure,” he said, adding, “One minute she’s talking about nursing and the next minute she thinks she likes forensics.”

“Watching a lot of CSI, eh,” I laughed.

“That’s probably about it,” he frowned, and went on, “She talks to the counselor at the high school, and we’ve talked with her too, and their big thing seems to be not the courses or the majors, but the price. Counselor told us last week, ‘This is a very fine school…and it’s $60,000 a year.’ “I don’t know, but I sure as hell can’t afford to spend that kind of money over a four-year period.”

Let me give you a little history on this man. He’s a dedicated teacher and therapist who works at a school for special needs children. He does not make a great deal of money. I don’t know his salary, nor do I need to know, but I’m will to bet that it’s way, way, way below six figures. He has another child who’s not too far behind his daughter, so he and his wife will have two in college for some part of the four year curricula. It’s tough.

He told me that he’d read some studies by psychologists and psychiatrists that indicate the human brain is not fully developed until 24 years of age, “And yet they expect us to send our 17-year olds to make decisions about where, when, and what they’re going to do while their brains are still not fully formed. It doesn’t make any sense,” he correctly interpreted.

“Tell her to go get a job until she makes up her mind,” I suggested.

“That doesn’t work,” he said. “There’s some kind of a social stigma, at least in this town, if a kid doesn’t go directly from high school right into college.”

“That’s not limited to this town,” I told him. “It’s actually a great marketing ploy that’s been pushed by the high schools to show how well they’ve prepared their students, and by the colleges who want to keep their doors open by filling enrollment quotas. When you throw in on top of that these standardized tests that they all have to pass, I begin to wonder what the hell is being taught these kids in the first place. I’ll bet that some of those psychological studies about brain development were even written by academicians…and it probably pissed off a whole lot of administrators!”

He just laughed and said he had to get back to the machine he was working on. We shook hands and bid each other goodbye, but our conversation bothered me. When I returned home, I Googled the development of the human brain. Here’s what one study at the University of Rochester had to say: “It doesn’t matter how smart your teen is or how well he or she scored on the SAT or ACT. Good judgment isn’t something he or she can excel in, at least not yet. The rational part of a teen’s brain isn’t fully developed and won’t be until he or she is 25 years old or so.

“In fact, recent research has found that adult and teen brains work differently. Adults think with the prefrontal cortex, the brain’s rational part. This is the part of the bran that responds to situations with good judgment and an awareness of long-term consequences. Teens process information with the amygdale. This is the emotional part.

“In teen’s brains, the connections between the emotional part of the brain and the decision-making center are still developing. That’s why when teens are under overwhelming emotional input, they can’t explain later what they were thinking. They weren’t thinking as much as they were feeling.”

The Young Adult Development Project at MIT adds, “According to recent findings, the human brain does not reach full maturity until at least the mid-20s. The specific changes that follow young adulthood are not yet well studied, but it is known that they involve increased myelination and continued adding and pruning of neurons. As a number of researchers have put it, “the rental car companies have it right.” The brain isn’t fully mature at 16, when we are allowed to drive, or at 18, when we are allowed to vote, or at 21, when we are allowed to drink, but closer to 25, when we are allowed to rent a car.”

So, you parents of teenagers who are getting ready to make the big leap from high school to college, let me ask once more, “What the hell are you thinking when you’re preparing to send a child with an underdeveloped brain off to the tune of God-knows-how-much-money-you’ll-be-pissing-away when the kid doesn’t have a clue in hell about what he or she wants to do for the rest of his or her life?” Are you that insecure that you can’t stand up to the next door neighbor and say, “My kid’s not ready for college, so he/she is going to work for a while until she/he understands what it is he [generic] understands more about when he wants to do with his life.

Are some students more ready to tackle higher education than others? Of course they are. Are their brains more ready to face the challenges of higher education? Eh, that’s open to debate. If studies have shown definitively that waiting a year or more before beginning a complex program of study or a curriculum that requires a certain amount of maturity, what is lost by allowing that childhood brain to develop in the frontal cortex and a few other areas of the brain?

Hey, the call is yours, parents and children. As for me, I’m just happy that we didn’t have to pay tuition for any of our kids, and so far, they’re doing just fine.

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Did I not get the memo? Am I, perhaps, being left out of the loop? It just appears to me that we are going backward toward the 19th or 18th Century with the way in which some of our politicians are behaving. First, we’re going to build a wall to keep people from what is now Mexico, out of the land which we stole from them in the first place. Okay, I can accept the stealing part, what the hell, we did that with France with the Louisiana Purchase, Manhattan with Peter Minuit, and Russia with the “purchase” – yeah, sure – of Alaska, but building a wall? Come to think of it, we immigrants from other lands stole the entire country from the peoples who had populated it and lived in some kind of peace. They had their own territories and appear to have treated each other with some degree of respect. We come along, shoot the hell out of them, round them up, put them on pieces of land that we thought were useless, and when we found that some of that land did have value, we rounded ‘em up again and put them on land that was even more useless. And we’re supposed to be the good guys? Seems to me that those matriarchal tribes of people were doing pretty damned well without our interference, but nope, we had to go and interfere. We had to make “them” be like us. We didn’t even understand that their leaders were actually the women in the tribe. Hell, who ever heard of such a thing? Certainly, the English, French, Spanish, Dutch, Germans, and others who trod early on our shores thought that was an absolutely ridiculous idea. The men are supposed to be charge. The women were nothing more than baby-makers and chattel for the men folk…what bullshit!

Somewhere along the way, we traded in our white hats for black ones. We built huge walls around our property, and we put women back in the kitchen where they belonged. Along came the 20th Century and with it the Nineteenth Amendment to the US Constitution that allowed the women to vote…right up there with the men folk. Why, heck, even former slaves were being allowed to vote, although the Jim Crow laws in the South did everything possible to try and put a stop to that…at least for a while.

It seems to me that when the Constitution was written, Hamilton and his brethren forgot a few things, first and foremost, that all men and women are created equally, regardless of race, creed, color, religion, or place of national origin. That might have been a few too many words, but it sure would have solved a world of problems that have confronted us since.

Now, in the 21st Century, a technological age of robots, animation, computers, and nuclear warheads, we Americans appear to be taking backward steps. We’re now building a wall, not around our forts, but around one border of our nation. What next, a wall to block of those pesky Canadians from entering our hallowed land. Seems we’re developing an immigration policy that will prevent some of those people from other lands to join the rest of our immigrant population, so many of whom built this nation on by their sweat and toil. Think this one over: Nearly five percent of the doctors in America are Muslim: people, age 25 and older, who identify themselves as Asian have the highest proportion of college graduates of any race or ethnic group in the country, more than fifty percent as compared with 28 percent for all Americans 25 and older. Or, try this one…Hispanics comprise 17.6 percent of America’s population, and that is the largest single ‘minority’ group in our nation, and no, those 56.6 million people are not all illegals who are “criminals, selling drugs, and murdering innocent people” as one political leader would have us believe.

Let us, however, get back to how we have dealt with women in our population. It wasn’t until August 20, 1920, that American women were even allowed to vote. Prior to that time, women seeking to be allowed to vote could be jailed, tortured, and force-fed. Even today, in too many cases, women are not compensated equally for the work they do right alongside men doing the same work. In addition, under the new administration, women will probably lose the right of choice over their own bodies. I can only guess that if men were to be so biologically arranged that they could become pregnant, there would be no question about abortion rights.

It’s truly disheartening to see the direction in which our country is retreating. Prayer in schools…uh, huh, sorry, out of the question…someone will be offended. Pledging allegiance to the flag of the United States of America…oh, gee, I dunno, that has the word ‘God’ in it and that, too, could be found offensive by some. Didn’t get picked for your Little League team? Well, we’ll just see about that…we’ll sue Little League and all of the coaches and families of the kids that did make it just to ensure equality! What, you didn’t get a medal or trophy for just participating? Why that’s dreadful. And on, and on, and on it goes.

‘They’ tell us ‘they’ are going to make America great again. What, by returning us to a time that we now laughingly call ‘the good old days?” ‘They’ tell us that climate change is a hoax, scientific research to the contrary. ‘They’ tell us that new pipelines, under water resources, won’t leak. Well, gee, how am I to believe that when I’ve seen so many leaks take place where I was told there would be no problem…fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me. ‘They’ say that 5,000 more border patrol agents will help protect our southern border. Where will ‘they’ find that many people who want to become targets?

America cannot be made great again. It is already great. Do we have problems? Absolutely. Is building a wall going to help solve those problems? Absolutely not. Do we need to become more aware of the power and ability of women? Absolutely. Do we need to reduce their abilities by telling them how they can use their bodies? Absolutely not. Do we need to eliminate street gangs and violent criminals from our population? Absolutely. Has any political leader addressed how we are going to do that? Never. Do we need to be more selective in our choices of Senators, Representatives, and other political leaders? You bet your ass we do, but most Americans are so stupid that they will accept any amount of bullshit promises made by the crooks who run for public office, not for the good of their constituents, but for the good of lining their own pockets!

Forget making America great again, let’s make America smarter again!

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Norbert Fullington was a terrific European History teacher. As one of the questions on his final exam, he presented a blank map that looked something like Europe. Our job was to outline the countries and to then mark the approximate location and name of each country’s capital. The nice thing about Professor Fullington was his consideration for our time. This particular question was to take us no more than 20 minutes…yeah, right, good luck, Norbert. The funny thing was that after you stared at this piece of paper with the single funny line for about five minutes, everything began to fall into place. I told you he was terrific. Okay, so maybe it took 25 minutes to half an hour, and maybe there were a few erasures along the way, but he was one hell of a teacher.

Norbert is dead now but I still remember him as one tough SOB who could really make you think and think hard before you answered any of his questions. He was interested in the facts behind what happened in Europe. Had we presented him with “alternative facts,” his first question might have been, “And what are your sources?” He was very persistent. Had we the temerity to cite something from an “alternative” history text, he probably would have read it, and countered with, “And the author went on to state what?” and eventually we would find that the hole into which we had dug ourselves was nigh on impossible from which to emerge. Norbert would just smile, shake his balding head, and ask, “Anyone else care to contribute?” It wasn’t so much frightening as it was…terrifying! Fullington was one of those faculty members you loved to hate and hated to disappoint.

Today, “alternative facts” appear to be a hallmark of the spokespersons for the 45th President of the United States. I don’t know what they call “alternative facts” where you come from, but in Norbert Fullington’s classroom and in my own personal life, we called them “lies.” A lie is not an alternative fact. It is an untruth. It is not a fact because it is fiction. If you would care to tell me that the white stuff falling on a winter day in New England is ash from some distant mountain in Japan, I would have to say that you have just presented me, a native New Englander, with an alternative fact. Although, to be frank about it, I would probably say, “You’re full of shit. It’s snow!” You see, I’m not as tactful as my dear, departed professor. I have more of a tendency to cut right to the heart of the matter.

It’s really not so much the lies that are coming out of the Trump administration when a week has yet to pass since the inauguration, it’s what they are lying about. Who really cares about the size of the crowd at the inauguration, whether it was bigger than Obama’s crowd? Who is truly interested in the fact that Clinton won the popular vote? It doesn’t matter. The fact – not alternative by the way – is that Donald J. Trump was elected to the Presidency of the United States in a peaceful transition of power. If the size of the crowd or illegal voters are of such great concern to the President, what the hell will he do when something of consequence actually happens? Since, to date, his tactic appears to cast blame on someone other than himself or anyone in his administration, perhaps he will blame the mayor of the city or the governor of the state where that ‘something of consequence’ took place…and that would be wrong. Example number one is blaming Chicago’s problem on Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Certainly, the buck stops at the mayor’s desk, however, to say that he bears the full responsibility for creating Chicago’s “war zone” is a bit of an exaggeration.

Another “alternative fact” coming from the new administration is to believe that it will be possible to recruit 5,000 new border patrol agents. When police departments in the country are hiring people who actually have minor offence police records, what makes us think that we can just grab 5,000 good and honest people to guard our borders? Perhaps we would be wiser to invest in technologies to limit the number of illegals crossing our borders.

I find it difficult to believe that others cannot see through this alternative facts malarkey. The only world leader who seems to be having some fun with this at Trump’s expense in German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, who said in a recent speech, “There needs to be an understanding of persuading people with facts instead of fakes.” It appears that we have entered the “post-truth” era in which objective facts and candor are being replaced in shaping public opinion by appeals to emotion and personal belief. We must make every effort not to allow another leader to achieve supremacy by telling the big lie.

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Old Number 45

Okay, it’s time to stop the bitching and wailing and marching and protesting and yelling and screaming, and all that other bullcrap. Donald John Trump is the 45th President of the United States. He was fairly elected in the same way that other politicians have been elected in this country for the last 200 plus years. That is, he told a certain group of people what he was going to do for them. He told others that he would do something for them. He promised to make America great ‘again,’ and no one ever asked him to explain precisely what he meant by that. He said he was going to build a wall, probably not realizing that a wall wouldn’t do shit because tunnels, planes, trains, boats, and automobiles have all been invented and can bring illegals, drugs, and other contraband in a hell of a lot easier than climbing through, under, or up and over any wall. He promised to repeal the Affordable Care Act and replace it immediately, but now it appears he doesn’t have a clue about what that replacement will be except to say that the insurance companies will take care of people…uh huh. He promised to bring jobs in the manufacturing sector back to America from other countries, probably not understanding that the jobs were not lost necessarily to other countries but because automation and robots took the places of many workers in this country.

The 45th President assumed his office with the lowest approval rating of any United States President in the history of the country. The people with whom he has surrounded himself are either clones of himself or fools who have been brainwashed into thinking that his glittering generalities might possibly make some sense, if only he can get Congress to agree…which they should because his party holds a majority in both houses of Congress. However, that doesn’t guarantee anything.

When the tornadoes ripped through the South, killing 30 or more people, old number 45 said, “We are going to do everything we can to help the State of Georgia.” Excuse me, sir, but Mississippi was hit also. And what do you mean by “everything we can,” and “…the State of Georgia.” How about “the people in the State of Georgia?” You could even be more specific and name the counties or communities that were hit. Where were your staffers to brief you on this or did you, again, not bother to listen to them? Broad brush strokes may be great in business, but they don’t work. How about mentioning Cook and Dougherty Counties where the worst of the devastation appeared to be. People respond to those kinds of detail. Even if you don’t have a clue that they’re in the southern part of the state, when you mention one tiny detail like that, others believe that you might care.

I can hardly wait for him to meet Prime Minister Theresa May. Instead of shaking hands – which he doesn’t like to do – is he going to just reach out and grab her…nah, nah, he wouldn’t do that…nah, nah, or would he? After all, he is Number 45, the most powerful leader of the free world [Whew, glad I had an emesis bowl handy]. Perhaps he’ll have lobster on the menu for Benjamin Netanyahu when they get together to discuss moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem…or maybe just ham and cheese sandwiches. However, if he ads one “eh” to the end of a sentence while speaking with Canada’s Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, we just might be in trouble with our neighbors to the North…Whoops, there goes another country bye-bye!

Yep, old 45 is just like every other pol on the hill. They say that he has no political experience. He actually flaunts that. However, what he said on the campaign trail and what he does while he’s in office had better be pretty closely aligned. It’s amazing how quickly Americans can forget some promises, but they don’t forget all of them, particularly the ones that affect them the most. In addition, we are a very forgiving nation, but if you screw with my family or our values, we can also be very unforgiving in a short period of time. “We’ll get around to it,” is not something we wish to hear.

Take heed, 45, and don’t forget…Americans first!

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How do you define integrity? Some would say, “It’s the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles; moral uprightness.” So what, then, are these morals of which we speak? To me, it’s not only a sense of knowing what is right and what is wrong, but it’s also a case of doing right and not doing what is wrong. My boss used to tell graduating seniors, “No one can take your integrity. They can’t buy it. They can’t steal it. They can’t threaten it. The only way you can lose your integrity is if you give it away. Don’t-give-your-integrity-away,” and then he would pause and stare at the graduates for a few seconds. You could, under a tent of about 3,000 people, hear a bloody pin drop.

It’s very easy for me to sit here at the keyboard and expound on integrity…easiest thing in the world…but I’m not so certain that I have the right to do that. As a kid, I stole a couple of baseballs from Peterson’s Drug store. I’d hardly call that “moral uprightness.” As a high schooler, I probably cheated on some tests…I can’t remember that I did, but in all probability it was so. Perhaps once I began this thing we call “work,” my moral compass changed for the better. I think it did. I know that I certainly never stole baseballs from the athletics departments or cheated by short-changing my employers on the work I was doing. I do believe that I cheated my wife on the amount of time I should have spent with her, as well as with the kids, but I’m not as certain about having any decline in my moral principles or my moral uprightness. So yeah, I’d like to believe that my adult integrity is still intact…more or less. If you’re going to get on me about swearing like a sailor, or the smoking and drinking I did before I wised up, or the fact that I have an appreciation for the female form, then sure, I’m a damned reprobate, but you have to have some diversions in your life. Hell, I’m not looking for canonization or anything close to it. We’re probably all flawed in one way or another. That doesn’t mean that we can’t try to become better than what we’ve been in the past.

I’m not going to embark on a tirade about our 45th President of the United States. That’s not the purpose of this little essay. If you, I, or anyone else ever wanted to see the antithesis of integrity, strong moral principles, or moral uprightness, we have only to look toward the new occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue as our model and adjust our lives in the exact opposite direction.

I have a friend who happens to be a Boston uniformed police officer. He is damned proud of that uniform and the responsibilities it connotes. Ernie and I have known one another for going on 15 years now. We don’t see each other much anymore because we go to different gyms. He came to my wife’s wake, and when he walked in, in uniform, in a short-sleeve shirt that was straining at the seams because of his size – all muscle, I might add – he caused heads to turn. Because his patrol area is in the same district as that in which one of my sons-in-law grew up, he was already well known to some of the folks in attendance. My son-in-law turned to my daughter and exclaimed, “You Dad knows ‘the prick?’” It appears that Ernie is known as an extremely straight shooter in that neighborhood…tough but fair. How well known is he? He’s known to have written up members of his own family for speeding…including his wife…twice! It’s also known that he’s a fair and honest cop who treats everyone with respect and dignity. Because he’s Dominican, he’s often called on by dispatch to go to scenes where situations need a Spanish speaker to de-escalate potentially bad situations. Does he see everything black and white? That’s hard to say. I know that he’d never ask me to lift the same weight he was lifting…if that counts for anything.Is he as flawed as the rest of us? Heck, I can’t answer that one either.

Does all of this mean anything? Does it have anything to do with your integrity, my integrity, Ernie’s integrity? I’m not 100 percent certain. Oh, but let me tell you one other thing: Remember my boss of whom I spoke in the first paragraph of this essay? Well, in all of the time that I remember him giving his integrity speech to graduating seniors, I remember one other thing…there was always an alumnus or alumna waiting at the back of the graduation tent to greet my boss. Since graduation was my show, I’d usually see him or her waiting to see Bill. Their reason? Every single time, it was to tell him that they had either left their job or they were considering leaving their job because someone was trying to take their integrity. They remembered, and they bought in. How about you?

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Make a better life

And so…in keeping with the philosophy that Mother – with a capital ‘M’ of course – always knows best, I am pleased to inform you that I have now been on this earth for 82 years, three month, 19 days, seven hours, and 27 minutes, give or take a second or two here or there.

In all of that time, I have gained a little wisdom, lost a lot of knowledge, loved in many ways, made a number of very good choices as well as several that left something to be desired. I have learned that every time I wish to speak is exactly the time when I should keep my mouth closed and listen. I have learned that the person you love the most is, all too often, the person you will lose all too soon. Only then, after that person is gone, and I mean…is dead…only then will you realize precisely what you had held in your arms. And it hurts. No one can ever describe to you the pain of loss. Unfortunately, it is something that you will experience, and for that, I already feel badly for you. The pain of suffering that loss does lessen, but then, there will come times when the pain comes rushing back and you find yourself having to urge it back into its place in your heart and in your memory, and move on.

This is not, to use the old cliché, “life’s a bitch and then you die.” No, no, no, no, it is nothing like that. For one thing, the loss you suffered is the last thing that person would ever want for you. Every minute of every hour of every day is worth living and worth living to the greatest extent possible, no matter the memories or the pain of those memories. Maya Angelou wrote, “My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.” Amen to that.

To those of you who still have your parents, I would offer this bit of advice: Use them as a resource. Ask them the questions you think you or they will be too embarrassed to answer. Ask them anything. Ask about growing up. Ask about ugly Aunt Hilda they always whisper about. Ask, ask, and ask. My parents are long gone, and even today, there are questions that I have for them that I should have asked when I was younger. One of those questions is, “How did you guys make it through the Great Depression with two children under the age of five?” That may not seem like a very important question to you, but then, you weren’t a Depression-era kid. Your folks probably never stood in bread lines or had to seek work when there was no work to be found…anywhere. I remember a young woman from Hanover (MA) who borrowed by pocket tape recorder because she wanted to interview her elderly grandmother. It’s impossible to tell you the gratitude she showed after learning so much about grandma’s life. Older people are the raw jewels, polished to a fine finish, who can both enlighten, brighten, and increase the wisdom of the young merely by speaking a few words.

American actor, Bradley Whitford said, “Infuse your life with action. Don’t wait for it to happen. Make it happen. Make your own future. Make your own hope. Make your own love. And whatever your beliefs, honor your creator, not by passively waiting for grace to come down from upon high, but by doing what you can to make grace happen… yourself, right now, right down here on Earth.” You don’t have to accept every word, but accept this: To the best of our knowledge, we only pass this way once…that we know of. Why then would we want to do anything else but make it the very best ‘once’ that could ever be?

Kevyn Aucoin was an American make-up artist, photographer and author. In his forty short years on this earth, he lived every moment as if it was his last. His mantra was simple: “Today I choose life. Every morning when I wake up I can choose joy, happiness, negativity, pain… To feel the freedom that comes from being able to continue to make mistakes and choices – today I choose to feel life, not to deny my humanity but embrace it.” Aucoin died, officially, from a prescription drug overdose. His pain came because of an undiagnosed tumor, yet, he still embraced his life.

If every morning you get up and look in the bathroom mirror, be certain that you smile. That person looking back will carry that smile the entire day if you let it. Take it from an old man who has learned to love life, even through the pain of loss. Oh, yeah, one more thing…while you’re having a great time with your own life, try to make life better for someone else. You’ll make for yourself a better life by what you give rather than what you get.

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Is a college education really worth the cost? Ha, you might as well ask, “Can tea leaves really predict my future?” As far as the answer to the question about college is concerned…yes…and no. A college diploma isn’t worth the powder to blow it to hell unless (a) you worked your ass off to earn it; (b) you recognized immediately upon entering the hallowed halls that every decision made by you would influence whether it was worth it; (c) you understood all of the advantages of gaining a college education; and (d) you were willing to put in the effort to gain that degree. Let’s face it, if you aren’t ready for college, it’s a friggin’ waste of money whoever may be footing the bill.

“You’ll make a million dollars more over your lifetime than someone with just a high school diploma,” has been said enough times to make me want to puke. It’s pure, unadulterated bullshit. Why? Because it’s just too broad a statement. If you are planning to attend a state school in your own state, you can figure on tuition, room, board, and fees at approximately $125,000 for your four years. If you attend a public institution outside of your own state, you’ll have to increase that cost to about $175,000 over the four year period. Want to go to a private college or university…good luck…you’re looking at well over $200,000…and that’s the low end of the scale. How long will it take you to make that money back and to begin to turn a profit? Sort of makes you stop and think a bit, doesn’t it?

Yet, despite all of this negativity, colleges and universities pour out thousands, perhaps, tens of thousands of newly-minted B.S., B.A., M.S., MA, MBA, and a whole pile of other initialed pieces of paper each and every year. President Calvin Coolidge said, “Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not: nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not: the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.“ Therefore, if you are insistent that you are going to get a college education, you’d also better be persistent in your willingness to sacrifice yourself and persist as you move from level to level.

What does all of this mean? It means you’d better have a damned good reason about why you wish to attend college, what it is that you wish to study, where the best opportunities lie for you to gain the knowledge you need, and how it is going to help you reach the financial goals that you damn well better already have set for yourself. Wow, gee, golly, that makes the decision of whether you go to college or not a bit more difficult, doesn’t it? Most people don’t really talk about college that way, do they? Well, I’m not most people, and I’d hate like hell to see you piss away one hundred, two hundred or even more thousands of dollars just to get a piece of paper that does nothing for you if you haven’t paid your own dues. Remember, a degree is nothing more than a license to hunt for your dream…and too few of you will reach that dream because you really have no idea of what a college education really is.

I’m going to assume that a junior in high school is interested in attending college. Mother and Dad are college graduates. Mom worked until the kids came along, but decided to stay home after the third child was born. Dad must have a good job because you go to the Cape, the mountains, the lake, wherever for a week or two in the summer…or perhaps go skiing in the winter. There’s the stage, but what about this junior? What does he/she want to study in college? Has he or she talked to teachers or counselors in addition to talking with parents? A high school student I knew wanted to be a doctor…but passed out when he saw blood. Sorry, don’t think that’s gonna work for ya! Making a decision about what you want to do for the rest of your life is hard! I don’t care how mature others think you are, this is a really tough decision for a 16-or 17-year old to make. All of this makes the question of whether to go to college or not even more difficult.

Career decisions or not, college is a good choice for many people, not for all, but for many. There are many fields that require not only a baccalaureate degree, but further education and training, and even internships before one is ready to become a part of the field. If our junior wishes to become a doctor of some type, a lawyer, an engineer, pharmacist, minister, or any other profession that demands additional training beyond the typical 12-year education, then college is a necessity, and expense be damned. If our junior doesn’t have a clue but is going to college because Mom or Dan went there, they have great athletic teams, it’s where the person of the opposite sex in whom you have an interest is going [whew!], then forget it and get a job at Walmart or elsewhere, while you are making some money, growing up, a reaching a decision on how you will achieve the American Dream.

What everything comes down to is that being a college graduate does give one a leg up. Holding a degree, particularly from a prestigious institution, does crack open a few doors that would otherwise be closed. If our junior plays his or her cards right, he or she will achieve a couple of other benefits. Independent living “grows you up fast.” Residence hall living is a world apart from living at home, and exposes you to an entirely new group of people, customs, and cultures…some good, others, eh! But, you, our junior, will learn who and how to get along. You may or may not discover a BFF but you will mature. College teaches one how to learn, how to perform research, how to become a member of a team…or not. Finally, if our junior goes to college and has to work hard to get that degree, he or she is going to develop a feeling of “can-do-confidence” that will last for the rest of his or her life.

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How do we believe?

How do we know that the earth was formed 4.6 billion years ago? Why couldn’t it have been 4.5 or 4.7 billion years ago, or even 5.2 billion years ago? Some argue that it was formed 4.54 billion years ago. I mean, how do we know these things? Oh, sure, scientists postulate and theorize and hypothesize and do their “by-guess-and-by-gory” thingie, but how do we really know? The answer then, is that we must take certain things on faith, right? I’m quite certain that if one were to use the word “faith” around many scientists that they would go into shock and drop dead immediately. “It’s facts man, not faith! Are you out of your mind…you bloody fool?” Or some shit like that anyway.

I sometimes think about these things when I’m trying to go back to sleep after one of my many excursions to the bathroom in the middle of the night. Often, these thoughts are very helpful in inducing blessed sleep’s return, and I don’t have much time to ponder. Other times, these thoughts actually serve as more of a stimulant than a sleep narcotic. For example, who even created the idea of time? If we say that the earth was formed…whenever…how do we put a measurement on that, and what is that unit of measurement anyway? In addition, why should we believe anyone who tells us when the earth was formed? What special powers of thought do they have that entitles them to give us data that we should just accept? Are we now back to this “faith” thing?

Man, in theory, evolved from a single-celled organism. But what gave that organism life. Biochemists and other researchers are certain yet uncertain of just exactly how life began. Well, that’s not quite true either, because “Using computer models and statistical methods, biochemist Douglas Theobald calculated the odds that all species from the three main groups, or “domains,” of life evolved from a common ancestor—versus, say, descending from several different life-forms or arising in their present form, Adam and Eve style. The domains are bacteria, bacteria-like microbes called Archaea, and eukaryotes, the group that includes plants and other multicellular species, such as humans. The “best competing multiple ancestry hypothesis” has one species giving rise to bacteria and one giving rise to Archaea and eukaryotes, said Theobald, a biochemist at Brandeis University.” Theobald’s study was published in 2010, and I really don’t know if anyone’s done anything more recent.

All of these questions and a little bit of research came about because of the word, “faith.” We’re supposed to have faith in what these ‘brilliant’ scientists tell us because they are, supposedly, much brighter than we are in their particular area of expertise. I accept that. I accept that because I have some faith in what they are doing. They might have a difficult time planning a graduation exercise, throwing a football 60 yards or even running a marathon, but when it comes to telling us how life began and how old the earth is, bingo, they have down to a science, so to speak…and we have to take that on faith.

What an interested word that word, “faith” is. Having complete confidence and trust in someone or something is the way it’s defined. As children, we have faith in almost everything our parents tell us, until, that is, we find that our parents can be wrong. Wow, how does that blow our faith out of the water…our parents…wrong? Lately, I find myself putting my faith in something or someone I can’t see, feel, touch, or even hear. You know the old expression, “Let go and let God…”? That’s what I’m trying to do with more and more of my life. Oops, this is where some folks get really turned off and stop reading, but that’s okay, because my life isn’t their life, and they’re free to do as they wish. Anyway, getting back to this whole God and faith thing, the way I figure it is that there has to be something beyond what we experience while we are here on earth – however old it is – because I don’t believe that when we die, it’s like turning off a light switch. I have absolutely no justification for saying this. I just have faith that there is something beyond life. I like to think of it as a “soul.” It’s something within one that goes on living after the whole death thing takes place. You may ask, “Without scientific evidence, how can you be so certain?” and it’s a damned good question. However, that brings us back to the word, “faith.” If we can have that faith that says man came from that single-cell and became what he is today, why can’t I say that I have a thing called a “soul” that doesn’t die when I do?

Perhaps I’m talking about the whole chicken and egg problem, but I believe that (a) there is a higher power that exercises some control of our lives; (b) that we are both natured and nurtured to be the way we are; (c) that death is not the final step in the evolutionary cycle; and (d) that this higher power recycles our souls in new life that may very well not be the life we knew before.

Our youngest child was born shortly after her paternal grandfather died. I distinctly remember my late wife saying to her one day, “Oh, I wish to could have known my father. You are so much like him.” Janet, who was only about five or six at the time, replied, “I met him on the way down. He was nice.” Factual or fictional? I don’t have a clue. Is it possible…or not? What does your faith tell you? Are the scientists right about the age of the earth? How about the single-celled organism? What about “faith?”

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