Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Happy New Year to You and Yours! 
Once again, we will spend New Year’s Eve, home where it is safe and comfortable. 

A year ago, I posted the following:
New year's resolutions? 
·                  be more aware of what I eat
·                  ride the bike more, move more
·                  read more (turn off the TV) 
·                  write for 30 minutes per day
So how have I done? 
I seldom eat anything by accident, and I think I have actually become more nutritionally responsible.  I balance that with having as much fun as I can along the way.  I have never heard anyone on their deathbed say; I really wish I had skipped that chocolate chip cookie.
The first seven months of the year, I rode the bike a lot more, and moved a lot.  The arthritis in my knees started really bothering me over the summer and I have had a couple of bad falls. It really slowed me down. There are advantages to moving slower, I am noticing the roses along the way. I am back climbing stairs and moving more, but I have a lot of work to do to stay active. My knees have been an issue for a long time, and I always said if I quit moving it would be hard to get back going again.  I am reading more, averaging a couple of books a month and I think watching a bit less television.  I have written a lot more. I did 183 blog postings this year, submitted two chapters for publication, and wrote a major policy paper.  This is a nice blend of fun and serious writing.  I should start writing fiction – I kind of enjoy it – though I don’t know why people read it. Other than Harry Potter- truth is stranger than fiction. 

What is up for 2015
I have a bit more scheduled travel. In late January I have a meeting at a resort on the beach just south of Los Angeles and from there I am going to Hawaii to work for a week.  I will be on four islands, with five days of work to do before I fly home. Overall I will cover about 12,000 miles in 11 days. In May, I have another double city trip that will take me to Austin Texas and onto Orlando, Florida.  In August we are planning a couple of weeks in Europe, likely Germany, Switzerland, Luxembourg Lichtenstein, and Austria. I am thinking about flying Iceland Air with a change of planes or a stop-over in Iceland.  In September I need to go to Portland, Oregon.  I will likely make another trip to Florida in November.  I will likely make a trip or two to Kentucky, and we need to go to Cleveland sometime over the summer.  My office travel budget was slashed by the Federal sequester cuts or I would be traveling even more.  I am down to three states left to have visited them all, by the middle of February I will be down to Idaho and Wyoming left to visit (I will get those in the next couple of years.)

New Year’s Resolutions for 2015
  • ·        Eat better, focus on quality and taste
  • ·        Move, remembering that it is a journey not a race
  • ·        Write more fiction, dialog or narrative
  • ·        Do something new every week, visit a new place, try new food or drink, challenge myself in a novel way.
  • ·        Not shy away from opportunities (we regret most what we did not do.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Merry Christmas to All 
From the Traveling Penguin and 
His Helpers

Monday, December 22, 2014

What Do I Want for Christmas?

The is always a hard question for me to answer.  There are not a lot of material things that I want, that anyone can afford.  Given unlimited resources, I’d like a boat I could travel on, travel on charter jets, and a Ferrari.  But I really don’t need any of that.

There are a lot more intangibles that I wish for in the coming year.  I hope for security and growth in my work.  There are opportunities and risks on the horizon I hope to make the right choices and be in favor when it counts.  Mom is a mess, and I hope that over the coming year she will be happy and comfortable for as long as possible. My father is slowing down, I hope he accepts the changes in his life and continues to find peace and happiness. I have spent the past 55 years rushing from place to place, I am slowing down I am noticing things I stormed past before.  I have two desires here, I want to enjoy going slower, and I want to get back on the bike. To ride not to race. My racing days can be past, but I still want to move.

See nothing complicated like world peace, and ending world hunger, those would be nice to.  

Saturday, December 20, 2014

That Magical Time of the Year

For many of us Christmas is a season of complicated expectations. What we want to do, versus, what is expected of us.  As an adult, I have grown to enjoy the holiday, home with my sweet bear and no pressures.  For decades I bowed to the family and social pressures and traveled here and there, especially complicated when there is his family and his family both competing for attention. For a couple of years we did Christmas with my family and New Years with Jay's.  After his mother passed, we stopped doing that. There were still expectations and for me a lot of stress.  After one particularly stressful travel season a decade ago, I decided that the next year I was going to do what I wanted to do, so we did, we went to Paris for a week for Christmas.  We stayed in a comfy hotel on the left bank about 4 blocks east of the Eiffel Tower.  We wandered the museums, ate in some nice restaurants.  We had Christmas Dinner on the middle level of the Eiffel Tower at was then known as Altitude 95 (95 meters above ground level.)  I hadn't made reservations, and succeeded at out pouting the  Maitre d'. It was a major triumph, my French was at it's peak for that trip.  We had a delightful week, stress free and refreshing.  

Paris has always had a special place in my heart. I have been there a couple of times, it is a magical city, great architecture, art, shopping an incredible subway system and wonderful food.  Give me a billion dollars and I'd live there for the rest of my life.  

One of my favorite songs, is a little known recording by Don Potter, titled Paris Without You, 

Friday, December 19, 2014

Friday Musings

OMG- it is Friday again.
Time flies when we are having fun and some say any day you wake up on the green side of the sod is a fun day.

I was thinking about good decisions and bad decisions.  As adults, we are allowed to make bad decisions. Some of them are real fun. Let me offer a couple of examples:

The first time I went to London, May of 1990, I rented a car.  I needed to get from the Gatwick into Hammersmith and a week's car rental was not much more then what the guidebooks said round trip cab fare would be.  I left the airport without a decent map.  The airport was not on the map.  I am driving on the left side of the road, shifting with my right hand and trying to find my way into the city. I did.  I have driven through Piccadilly Circus (there is no circus there by the way) around in front of Buckingham Palace, and around Trafalgar Square.  I was lost for an hour or so in the city before I paid a taxi driver 50-pounds to show me the way to the hotel.  It cost me more to park the car for the week then it did to rent it and I didn't dare take it out of the hotel car park, I would have never found my way back.  Renting a car in London was one of the silliest things I have ever done. And I am so glad I did it.  There is no way I would ever do that today, but I will spend the rest of my life telling tales of driving in London.

About 10 years ago I paid off my student loans from law school and decided I wanted a car that fit my expanding middle aged behind.  I had bought a little economy car to get me through, but it was never comfortable.  I put the word out, and kept asking if anyone knew of an older comfy car with not a lot of miles on it.  One day the response was, well I just got court approval to sell a seven year old Cadillac out of an estate, it only has 12,000 miles on it.  The minute I settled my behind into the 12 way power leather seat and looked down the football field of hood, I was sold.  The test drive was about 500 feet and I pulled up, rolled the window down and asked, "who do I make the check out to?"  The Eldorado was a silly car.  It had lots of room in the front, and about as much luggage space a bicycle - without a front basket.  It had a backseat, but you had be a gymnast to get in and out.  I actually climbed in the back seat once, it was physically painful to get in and out.  When I mashed my right foot down on the accelerator, the first thing you could hear was the premium only gas being sucked out of the tank, then the roar as it launched me into orbit.  It would squeal the tires at 70 miles per hour if I jammed my foot into the plush pile carpet, and in two blinks of an eye I would be doing 90 miles per hour.  It got about 12 miles to the gallon in town, and 90% of my driving was in town.  It had no luggage space, it was exorbitantly expensive to maintain, repair and insure. Buying it was a bad decision, and I am so glad I did.  It was a passionate car to enjoy, and everyone needs one of those at sometime in their life.  I have owned 15 or 20 cars over the years, the Eldorado is the stand out most fun I have ever owned.  Eventually I came back to senses and traded it on a sensible hatchback that gets twice the millage and hauls twice as much stuff for half as much fun.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014


Snippet of a conversation,
Me: we have about $4,000 in past due payments on this account and we haven't sent invoices in two months, I know because I owe $50 and have never received an invoice.
Idiot: I am not worried about, that is financial services problem.
Me: Don't you think we should let them know that the invoices have not been sent
Idiot: No, it is financial services problem
Me: But they aren't taking care of it, likely it has slipped through the cracks, we just need to remind them
Idiot: Dan is not worried about, so I am not worried about it
Me: But it is our money, our departments need it, if we send out invoices my estimate is at least half of it will be paid, can't we ask them to send the bills
Idiot: If Dan is not worried about it there is nothing I can do,
Me: Don't you see what the issue is here?
Idiot: No
Me: I am speechless - I will just email Dan's boss
Idiot: Okay
Me: Just because Dan isn't worried about something, it doesn't mean you shouldn't be.

I have a limited tolerance for idiots. I have a lazy idiot reporting to an idiot.
Save me!

Monday, December 15, 2014

How do I respond to this one?

A dear old friend, a brilliant and committed social worker has posted a couple of cryptic messages on Facebook recently, then this morning posted that she has been diagnosed with lung cancer.  From the tone of the message she does not expect to live more then a few months.

What is the appropriate response to a message like this?  I posted back that love and warm thoughts are headed her way.  I urged her to stay in charge of her life and her care, and to live, love, laugh and do the things she wants to do.  I don't know what else to say.

I wish I was there to give her a big hug and take her out to lunch with all the Manhattans she wants to drink.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Calling All Fruitcakes

It is that time of the year, when I develop urges, deep needs.  Maybe it is habit, maybe it is the colder weather, but I need a good fruitcake.  I don't know what is happening here in northern Virginia, but I have been out two weekends in a row trying to pick up a good fruitcake without any luck.  I like them dark, the fruitier the better, with big nuts.  This is a seasonal thing, I only crave a good fruitcake at this time of the year.  For years my mother supplied them.  When she started to slip she talked my father into procuring my winter fix for a couple of years, he was never really enthusiastic and she was critical of his results.  I have to admit they were a bit dark, not fruity enough.  With J still in Kentucky grading finals, it is up to me to pick up something satisfy my needs.  So far the only thing I have picked up was at Whole Foods, and it was so little, it would never satisfy a man.  And it was wet, I like to be able to booze them up- like mom use to do - and you can't do that if they are wet to start with.

Now get your minds out of the gutters.  I am looking for a nice dark fruitcake, the kind my mother use to make, that I can soak in brandy, and bourbon.  I like the candied cherries, and  lots of walnuts and pecans.  Usually they are easy to find, but this fall nada.  One small one at Whole Foods, nothing at Harris Teater,Trader Joe's or Balducci's.

The noble fruitcake gets a bad wrap.  There are bad jokes about them lasting forever, and being re gifted year after year.  Some town does a fruitcake toss.  Really sad.

To appreciate a fruitcake you have to start with and understanding of what it is. To start with it not really very cake-ey. Now there are two fundamental styles, yeast leavened and baking powder/baking soda leavened. A yeast leavened fruitcake is more cake-like, think of an Italian Panitone.  A baking powder or baking soda leavened fruit cake is dense and heavy, more like a brownie then a wedding cake.  There is just enough cake to hold together the fruit and nuts.  The fruits are raisins, candied cherries, candied peels, maybe dates, or prunes. The candied cherries get a lot of bad press, they are not very cherry like. They are made by candying, a process or replacing most of the moisture in the cherry with sugar.  Candied fruits have a very-very long shelf life. Candied cherries are dyed in unnatural colors, they lose their natural color in the process of candying.  They are wonderfully moist and sweet, and most important for a fruit cake they will soak up booze like a college freshmen.  The thing that sets light fruitcake apart from dark fruitcake is the mixture of sweeteners.  I like dark, probably because that is what my mother made.  She made them for about 25 years until the work became too much for her.  I have made them a couple of times.  I try not to, the recipe makes several pounds of them, and if I make them, I am likely to eat them.  Fruitcakes do get better with age, if I was going to make them, I should have done so 4-6 weeks before I need them to give them time to absorb the booze as they age.  I miss mom's 90 proof fruit cake.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Friday Update

What did I do for fun this week? 
I commuted in and out of a major world capital. Metro had a typical week.  Wednesday morning I got to Gallery Place to change from the Yellow to the Red line, went up the escalator and walked into a wall of humanity.  That station is almost always crowded, but this was beyond standing room only.  The announcement was single tracking due to a train experiencing mechanical problems one station east of there, at the moment trains were running in the other direction.  I went back down stairs, took the train two stops south, changed lines and came into a station two blocks south of the office.  Tuesday morning the train from Gallery place was so crowded, I couldn't find a seat, but no worry, it was so crowded you couldn't fall over if you tried.  

I wrote a couple of reports.  My December end of the month activity report was due, by the 12th.  The only place I have ever had an end of the month report due 2.5 weeks before the end of the month.  I finished my semi-annual project report.  I have it down to a format, collect the data, fill in the blanks, attach a three hundred pages of documentation and it is ready to go. 

I booked an airline ticket to Hawaii.  It is all work - well nearly.  I have three days of free time.  Then five workshops to present, in five days, on four different islands.  Five hotels, five airline flights. A ton of work, but it will be a week in paradise in the dead of winter.  

Friday morning I had a Dentist appointment.  Three chips in the enamel to be repaired, and one ancient amalgam filling to be replaced. That was the last of the amalgam fillings.  I had a dozen or so of them done in my teens and twenties.  This was the last one.  I understand that the FDA says they are safe and effective in my mouth, but when they are removed the debris is classified as hazardous waste by the EPA.  I was glad to be rid of the last of them.  I never thought I would say this, but I trust my dentist. I have a long and checkered history with dentists, some real hacks, mostly my father's flying buddies, better pilots then dentists. I had one give up and refuse to finish the filling he had started when I started whimpering.  This morning Dr Z did three fillings, no needles no pain.  Very comfortable.  

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

I Like to Watch

Who is looking at you? What are you looking at?  As an observer on this planet in this life, I like to watch.  I like to watch people and places.  Living and working in a world city, I get to see all kinds of people on a daily basis.  Just this morning I surrounded by the fiercest beards. A cute little ginger with blue eyes and the nicest full beard.  I have been watching a crew tear down an office building, not an old building.  They started gutting it over the summer and using a wrecking ball a month ago.  I can now see through what is left standing, it looks like a stiff breeze would topple what is left.  At the same time, and almost on the other side of the train tracks, there is a new building going up for the National Institutes of Science. I have watched it go from four stories below ground level, to five stories above.  I like to watch people when I travel, we have a lot in common and a lot of differences.  Differences in how we walk, talk, dress and view life and those around us.  I like to watch places when I travel.  I have seen a lot, and there is still a lot to see.  I seldom notice if people are looking at me. A strangeness in my personality, I can be observant and oblivious at the some time.  Occasionally I encounter someone who is sensitive to be observed. If I sense that they notice me noticing them, I try to look away. But being oblivious, sometimes they move away before I realize that I am making them uncomfortable by observing them.  Who is looking at you, it might be me, you never know what I am looking at.

Monday, December 08, 2014

Grand Spaces

I am not easily impressed.  I have been there and done that, and outgrown the T-shirt.  There are few places or spaces that take my breath away.  Some amazing spaces St. Peter's in Rome - amazingly large, Norte Dame a wonderful sense of scale, the Golden Gate Bridge - fits so wonderfully into the landscape.  DC has it's share of impressive buildings.  An interior that really stands out, is the main reading room at the Library of Congress.  It is ornate, well proportioned, has wonderful natural light. 363 days of the year, you can peer into it from the top but only gain access to the floor if you are granted permission as a reader of materials that need to be viewed in that room.  Twice a year, the main reading room is open to the public.  In October I took advantage of one of the two days for 2014.  It was worth it.  Wow, I was impressed. Seldom do we build such wonderfully proportioned and intricate spaces. The finishes are rich and detailed. 

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Pearl Harbor Day

December 7th, 1941, a date that my parents and grandparents all remembered, where they were, and what they were doing when they heard the news from Pearl Harbor. A milestone in history.  1,000 year’s from now war historians will remember that date, school children may encounter it on an exam.  

From time to time I think if the historical milestones of my life.  

The earliest would likely be July 1969 and the first human landing on the moon.  I was not quite 11 years old, living on the farm in Michigan. I remember the landing, and late that night the first moon-walk.  I was allowed to stay up very late - way beyond my bedtime until we LEM door was closed. I have vague memories of the orbital flights leading up to Apollo 11.  I remember the pad fire early in the Apollo program.  There are several more space related memories.  I slept through the last Saturn V launch, we were in Florida, the launch was delayed into the night.  I watched the launch of the Apollo 1b launch for the Apollo Soyuz mission from right across the river.  I was in High School across the river from the Kennedy Space Center.  They didn’t close the school, but they didn’t take roll until an hour after the launch that morning.  I was standing on the river front for the first space shuttle launch.  I saw several shuttle launches and one landing.  I was working in Orlando when the shuttle Columbia exploded, I was talking to a client on the phone who was watching the launch from his office window and said, “that doesn't look right.”   

I remember that Bush-1 bombed Baghdad on a Wednesday night in January 1991, I flew to Amsterdam on Friday night of that week on a nearly empty 747 - a lot of people didn't think it was a good time to fly. The flight coming back 9 days later was packed with US embassy staff being called home for safety.

On September 11, 2001, I had finished one workshop in Lexington, Kentucky and was getting ready for the second one when news broke of the terrorists attacks.  The second show went on, but it was different from anything I have ever done.  

I was in Frankfort Kentucky for cabinet meetings when the Concorde crashed in Paris.  We had adjourned for lunch, I was trying to find a parking space at McDonald s when news came over the radio.  I was fascinated by the Concorde, I saw the nearly simultaneous landing of two of them in Orlando for the opening of EPCOT (one from Air France one from British Airways.) I wasn't at EPCOT for opening day, but I had been there two weeks before - the park was open for a couple of weeks by invitation only to employees and their families (my middle brother has worked for Disney since the late 70’s.) It was great fun, the paint was still wet, the World of Energy shut down because of a software glitch in the middle of the dinosaurs and they let us walk out a side door.   I didn't seize an opportunity to ride on the Concorde in time.  Sad that we seem to have given up on faster and larger air transport.  

Back to Pearl Harbor. Pearl Harbor was a pilgrimage that my parents made, the events there so shaped their coming of age.  I have twice visited Normandy to understand the D-Day beaches, my parent’s and grandparent’s WWII experienced shaped them, and by understanding that time in history I better understand them. (And it helps that I love France and the French.) In February I will see Pearl Harbor - I suspect that it will help me to further understand the history of the last 100 years.  

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Have They All Risen to Their Level of Incompetence

Back in the 1960's a book was published called the "Peter Principle." The premise of the book is that people who are competent at their jobs are promoted, until they are promoted to a job that they are incapable of doing, then they are never promoted again because they are incompetent.

I offer two examples from today.

I was in a meeting this morning arranged by a meetings and travel professional. One of the items on the agenda was the establishment of a task force on assuring that workplace and meeting facilities are accessible to all.  The meeting was held in a hotel conference room with six stairs from the entrance down to the conference room floor. The entrance was in the middle of a staircase that was 15 or 20 feet wide. The only hand rails were at the outside of the stairs. There were chairs on a landing at the top of the steps. Once you maneuvered past the chairs to the railing and carefully made your way down the steps, there was a row of chairs on each side at the bottom of the stairs, where the steps along the hand rail met the conference room floor.  The meetings and travel professional who agreed to hold that meeting (any meeting) in that room has reached his terminal promotion.  The person in charge of arranging the chairs in that room, has also gone as far in the hotel meetings business as the Peter Principle says they will.  They are going no farther.  Unfortunately it likely also means that they will be doing their bone-headed-best for the remainder of my working life.

Example number 2.
I had a call about a project that ended in 2011.  Accounting can't close out the account, because there is 14-cents left in a $168,000 budget.  At the hourly cost of my time, we spent about $50 of my time today talking about 14-cents. There was also the accounting person on the other end of the line, who I suspect costs about what I do.  So we spent $100 talking about 14-cents.  14-cents that by the way they won't let me have - they want us to falsify report saying that we already have it.  To make it more ironic, this is the same 14-cents that we spent $200 of my time discussing several months ago. Several accounting people have reached their plateau - I hope they aren't planning on a promotion to put the kids through college.

Sometimes you just want to slap your forehead and go D'oh!  

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Wednesday Updates

How can it be Wednesday night already?  This week has flown by, and I have half day meetings the next two days.  Lots to do in the office. Don't they know it is December and nothing should happen this month?

I made a change in an airline ticket today, I changed a round trip ticket into a one way ticket. Then the math.  The round trip that I had paid for was $391.  The one way trip is $280. Today I paid $235 in change fees. I received a travel credit with the airline for the $111 in difference in ticket cost.  When the dust settles, assuming that I fly another trip on United Airlines in the next year and remember to use the travel credit, I will end up spending about $100 more to fly one way, then I would have for the round trip.  Only airlines can come up with that math and stay in business.

This change was needed as part of scheduling a trip to Hawaii in February.  I am scheduled to be in LA for a meeting in late January.  The airline ticket I exchanged was arranged for that trip.  Rather then fly back to DC and then to Hawaii, I am flying from LA to Hawaii, and back to DC from Hawaii.  The savings on the airline ticket to Hawaii more then offset the extra costs on the one way ticket.

Hawaii, I have three days of mini-vacation, and five days of intensive work scheduled.  Five workshops, on four islands in five days.  I will have been there, but not seen much of it  I  have to remember not to grumble about sending a week working in paradise. Surprisingly I had a hard time finding a co-presenter for the workshops, two people turned me down before someone said yes.

By Valentines day I will be down to two states left to visit.