Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Lions and tigers and bears

Oh my!

Tangible Work Vs. Intangible Work

There are a lot of dissatisfied law school graduates these days.  The profession is changing, good paying jobs are harder to find, attendance costs have gone up dramatically, and more and more new attorneys are making less money.  Recruiting law students for the office and talking with undergraduates I am increasingly asked, if I regret going to law school.  I have no regrets on going to law school.  It was what I wanted to do, because it was what I wanted to do.  Experience helped me to understand the areas of practice that I enjoy doing and don't enjoy doing.  I have been fortunate in that I have been able to focus on research and training - things I very much enjoy.

But do I have any regrets.  The tangible results of my work are few and far between.  At the end of the day, it is hard to look and see what I have done today.  I have replied to email, emailed, attended meetings and calls, organized and hosted calls, but what tangible change have we made.  I spend about 1/3 of my year planning a national conference, once a year when the ballroom fills with people I know we have accomplished something, but what tangible record is there that we have made a difference in the life of the attendees?  What do we produce.  If I produced widgets,  there would be a box of widgets at the end of the day.  Sometimes I wonder if I would have a greater sense of accomplishment if I had become a blacksmith, silversmith, or house painter.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Top of the Spanish Steps

The Spanish Steps are in-restoro,  there is a narrow section open to climb, and an elevator in the metro station.  We are staying 100 meters from the top of the stairs.

Looked over my shoulder

I  stopped to take a picture of what was in front of me,  and realized St Peters was over my shoulder.  Life is a great adventure.  No WiFi till Thursday,  so postings will be thin.

Transit Woes

I like public transit, more specifically I like subway trains. I like being able to move around the city without having to deal with traffic and parking. There are some great systems around the world, they say the system in Paris will get you within 10 minutes walk of anyplace you want to be in the city, the system in London covers much of the city.  Like DC, or Chicago, the system in Rome does a good job, for where if goes, but is not as extensive as it could be.  Athens greatly expanded their system when they hosted the Olympics.  I understand the most reliable systems in the world are in Tokyo and Moscow. I look forward to exploring the system in Tokyo someday.

The DC system is about 40 years old, 40 years of not quite so begin neglect.  It has become unreliable.  It has suffered through mismanagement, and complacent staff.  In an effort to fix this, it will be undergoing a major rebuild over the next year, it is being described as three years worth of work in one year.  As a result, I don't know how I am going to get to work for two weeks in July.  The line I ride will be closed for rebuilding.  There is not a good work around.  Busses can carry part of load, but there are not enough buses and they will compete with traffic.  I guess I could get up and drive to work before sunrise, and home midday.  Not a good option, but it may be the best option.

I can only hope when it is done, it will work, as well as London, Paris, or Rome - to dream of Tokyo quality service is I fear unrealistic.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

What is around you?

It is Sunday, so I need five questions and answers.  How about your surroundings?

1:  What item within reach or sight, have you owned the longest?  There is a stoneware mug on my desk that I use to hold pencils that I bought when I was about 10 or 12 years old.  I won't say how long ago that was, but it is getting close to getting mail from AARP.

2:  How many ways can you tell the time from where you sit?  I can see five watches, I still wear a watch, my computer, my phone, the cable box for the TV in my bedroom.

3:  Is anyone watching you?  I hope not, there is a webcam on my computer - I hope it has not been hacked,

4:  If you needed to write down a phone number, could you?  Well there are several pens on my desk, but I would have to dig for something to write on.

5: What is the newest thing within reach?  A book I bought last weekend that was the subject of a blog post.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Back Into the Light of Roma


It is Indy weekend.  The Indianapolis 500 was one of the first races that captured my imagination.  I like open wheel racing, Indy car, F-1, and others.  I love bicycle racing - some day I am going to watch a stage of the Tour de France thunder by (I am missing the finish of the Giro d'Italia by a few days this year.)  I enjoy horse racing.  All of these have something in common, they are pure, honest, built from the ground up to be fast, the audience is intelligent - maybe even cultured.

I loath NASCAR - the fakery of calling the cars a Chevy or Toyota or Ford drives me nuts, the current cars have nothing to do with production cars other than a general silhouette.  Silly redneck racing.  

I have been to Indy twice for qualifying and practice sessions.  There is something magic about a car zooming by at 200+ miles per hour.  Go for it!

Friday, May 27, 2016

Has My Cover Been Blown?

For most of the first decade I didn't post pictures of myself on the blog.  The original idea was pictures of Travel Penguin, who still travels with me, but the idea of daily penguin pics was not practical and the blog became more personal and I post selfies from time to time.  Very early on the blog, I posted pictures of travel penguin at the Lincoln Memorial, and someone posted a picture in a comment, of me taking the picture in the Lincoln Memorial.  I was a little surprised, it is a small world.  Recently I posted a picture of myself relaxing in an airport at the start of a great adventure and picked up a comment that the orange shoes confirmed that I had been spotted in an airport - but my reader didn't quite know what to say.  I know the feeling, I spotted a blogger in France 5 years ago, based on the car they drive, and tried to say Hi, I read your blog, turns out their English is as bad as my French.  Wednesday morning I sat next to a national TV journalist, and couldn't think of a single thing to say - I couldn't think of his name - but then I am not good with names and faces - just ask Mrs SW2-28.  What to say, "I think I read your blog?" Bloggers are generally a nice bunch of people.

Heading out on this adventure I had a bit of a circuitous route, DC to Detroit, Detroit to Philadelphia, and Philadelphia to Rome. I am traveling on frequent flyer miles and this routing was 60,000 miles, DC to Philly, Philly to Rome was 120,000 miles.  Airline logic. With the recent news about delays at airport security, I arrived early and breezed through TSA precheck at National (DCA.)  I think there were three people in front of me, and the only delay was the person in front of me not stuffing her things in the x-ray machine fast enough.  I had long layovers in Detroit and Philly, so I splurged on an executive lounge day pass ($50.)  I rarely do these, but with three hours in Philly before a 9 hour flight it was nice to be able to stretch out in someplace quiet.

It was a long flight, about 9 hours.  I am getting better at overnight flights, but I still dislike them.  I arrived in Rome, despite the nearly 4 hour connection time in Philadelphia, my checked bag missed the flight. My late mother in law taught me to always carry at least a 1 day contingency plan in my carry on.  I am good for a day, and the bag should catch up with me by then.  If not I get to go shopping in Rome - it could be worse the last time I had a bag delayed going out I was in god-forsaken Alabama and the only shopping option was Walmart.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Where the deer and the antelope play

This was taken just outside of Glacier, Montana about a decade ago.  At the time I was a contractor for AARP on assignment to do workshops on elder abuse at the Blackfoot Indian Reservation in Browning Montana.   Wow, what an amazing place.  We were on the east side of Glacier National Park.  The reservation is on the hard plains east of the Mountains.

Some day, I am going to ride the train through Glacier National Park,  Amtrak runs through the park, I stayed in a hotel across from the East Glacier station.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016


Sweet Bear!

Bears!  I like bears, four legged and two legged. Big, warm, fuzzy bears. Wouldn't our lives be different if we could keep bears like people keep cats and dogs?  I can just imagine the bear walking area on the condo grounds.  Talk about a great guard animal!

I have seen black-bears in the wild a few times.  The next time I go to Alaska I want to see grizzly or brown-bears in the wild.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Big Show

So I have been waiting for weeks for a notice to be posted for bidding for funding for my work, I work on "soft" money, funding from outside sources.  Technically the funding is available to other bidders, but the eligibility and experience criteria make it very difficult for an outsider to qualify.

The announcement was finally posted today.  Proposals are due in four weeks, I am planning to be out of town for two of those four weeks, so I see some work on the road and lots of long days when I am in the office.  Not the best of timing, but it is for the big show.  Assuming we are successful it is a five year funding cycle.  In nearly 20 years on soft money, I have never had more than 3 years of secured funding.  Five years is a really big opportunity.   Wish me luck and lots and lots of long days in the next month.

Monday, May 23, 2016

A Matter of Taste

It is all a matter of taste, I am sure that this is someone's pride and joy, they have spent a lot of money to buy it and then modify it to look like this.  Not my cup of tea I am afraid, but I have to admit it did catch my attention, it did make me stop and stare.  In case you are thinking, well only in America,  this one was in Stuttgart Germany.  We are not the only country that lacks taste sometimes.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Blog Questions

I don't think I have asked questions about blogging on my blog.  It is time to:

1: Why do you blog?  - I see it as a creative outlet, I get to post pictures and write. Blogging, blogging everyday, forces me to write on a regular basis.

2: About how many blogs do you read on an average day?  About 12, about 8 of them are checked everyday, the other 4 vary from a long list. On Sundays, about 20.

3:  Do you create posts ahead of time or post them immediately when they are created?  I write ahead of time.  Some postings take time to develop and spend a lot of time in draft form.  I normally have a few days ahead ready to post and scheduled to post automatically.

4: How long do you carry an inactive blog on your bookmarks before you drop it?  At least six-months.  Some are friends and have been carried for a year or two - with just a post or two.

5: Have you ever regretted a blog posting?  Yes, I have edited a few and taken down one or two over the years.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Can you interpret my dream?

I woke up one morning recently from a very vivid dream.  I don't often remember details of my dreams, but I woke from this one and it was vivid and maybe kind of funny.  Maybe you can offer me some hints on what it means.

I was arguing with a squirrel.  A common north-american brown squirrel, about 8 or 9 inches tall.  I don't know what the argument was about or what language it was in, I was previously unaware that I could communicate with squirrels.  We were on opposite sides of a tire barrier, and the squirrel kept catching on fire.  When he caught fire he would dance around, I would rush around the barrier and by the time I got there to help, he would have the fire out. First his tale, then he paws, he just kept catching on fire.  At one point he shot arrows at me and I decided that I should put my points in writing and I sent him a note.  He didn't read it, he burned it and in the process caught his paw on fire again. I woke up about that point.

What is this symbolic of in my life?

Friday, May 20, 2016

Death By Powerpoint

A little afternNoon I stepped out of a conference hotel, into 60 degrees, overcast, about 100% bone-chilling humidity, you know the kind of weather where you can't quite figure out if it is fog, rain, or snow?  Yes, it was gloriously wonderful to be out in the wonderful weather, what a wonderful escape from 2+ hours of death by Powerpoint.  Oh-My-GOOOOOD, how terrible.  The speakers were a bunch of researchers from the University of Chicago and the University of Washington, our federal tax dollars at work.  I am not sure if the research they are doing is finding anything worth hearing, by the time they got to the findings, no one in the room was still alive to hear.

All of them started with the history of the subject, then droned on, and on, and on about the research model, data selection, methods, analysis, color of their mothers' eyes, recited the the 3rd verse of Satanic Verses.  Then maybe, got to the findings.  Even then the data was so dense on the slides, no one could read them.  One person was talking about geographic data distribution, she had maps of the data distribution across the entire 50 states, and included two data sets - in other words two maps of the 50 states - on each slide - you couldn't see a bloody thing. Most of the powerpoints were the outline they were speaking from, or maybe it was their grocery shopping list, the content was so dense and the font so small no one could read them.  At one point one of the speakers apologized for a typo on a slide, a slide that had about 500 words on it and NO ONE COULD READ anyway.

When did they quit teaching effective public speaking and communications skills in college, the speakers were all people with doctorates in their field - someone at some point in their education should have forced them to learn effective public speaking.

No power point slide should ever have more than 10 words on it.  If you are going to read it, just print it and hand it to the audience and go to starbucks.  If you don't tell the audience the most exciting or important thing you have to say in the first three-minutes, you have lost them and most will never hear what they need to hear.  Think about the TV series, Law and Order - I like the original New York version best, not the whiners and moaners versions.  In the first 2 minutes, they find the dead body and show and tell you what the mystery is going to be, then they go to commercial break  dumm-de-de-dumm-dumm-dumm.  In fishing they call this setting the hook when the fish first takes the bait.  If you don't do it then, you never will.  In the first 2 to 3 minutes you need to tell the audience why they need to listen to the rest of what you have to say.  If you put them to sleep before you get to the good stuff, they will never hear the good stuff.

Great speakers are informative, inspiring and entertaining.  I love great speakers.  There were none to be found this morning.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Memory Triggers

This stone structure is on South Mountain in Phoenix.  This picture was taken in 2010, it could have just as easily been taken in 1965 the first time I saw it.  The image triggers old memories, memories from when I was in the first grade.  Warm, comfortable, relaxed memories.

When I moved into my office, I remarked to the boss that I would bring in all of the framed diplomas and licenses and put them up. He said to me, put up things that make you comfortable, that make you want to be here. I did.  At first it was travel photos and a couple of posters for important projects I have been involved with.  When we moved to new office space, I put up art that I like, that brings color and brightness to my office.  Images trigger memories and feelings for me.  I have learned the value of surrounding myself with images that make me feel good.

Interesting trip in 2010, J went with me to a conference in Phoenix.  I rented a car, we stayed over and toured the city, drove up to the Grand Canyon.  I have very few pictures from that trip, about six months later my hard drive crashed, with no back-up.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

A Long Journey to Peace

My one and only Uncle died in his sleep Tuesday morning.  Richard, aka Dick was a mountain of a man, with an amazing sense of humor.  He spent decades working the midnight shift in research and development at Ford, perfecting the art of spinning a stories in the small hours of the night.  He grew up on a farm, his father died of a heart attack while Dick was still a teenager.  He lived life, having as much fun along the way as he could, driven by the experience of his father. I don't think he ever expected to live into his 80's, but he did.

He married my Aunt, my one and only aunt, when I was about 5.  I was ring bearer in their wedding.  I can still remember the navy blue suit and red bow-tie.  Dick bought a boat from a neighbor of his mother's, who had won it on "The Price is Right."  He then bought a house on Lake Orion just north of Detroit so he had a place keep the boat.  I spent many fun summer weeks around the boat and the lake.  They owned a couple of Edsels, and later a couple of Mustangs.  Along the way they owned a couple of motor homes, driving one with 7 adults, a 70 pound dog and geriatric cat from Florida to Alaska and back one summer.  My Aunt died suddenly 20 years ago of a brain aneurysm. Dick was older than Edith, I don't think he ever dreamed that he would outlive her by 20 years.

He has been sick for a couple of years.  He spent the past 18 months in nursing homes and hospitals.  He had part of one leg amputated.  I am sure he never expected to have such a long journey through the medical system - a long journey to peace.   I do hope that he has found peace, and a place to spin a long tale.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Taking it seriously

It is the time of the year, that my office requires all staff to take an online class or or two.  Usually ethics, every second or third year workplace behavior.  This year's issue is sexual harassment.  This has drawn the typical jokes, like we don't need training on that, we are pretty good at it without training, and others are offering tips on how to breeze through the 30 minute online curriculum in under 10 minutes.  I want to tell them to quit joking and take it seriously.  It is a very serious issue, I have told few people about this but I was sexually harassed and it is a miserable experience that leaves you feeling powerless.

My harassment came from a licensed clinical social worker, who was the sole expert witness in a case I was court appointed in. He was the social worker at the nursing home where my client lived.  The first time I met him was in his office at the nursing home, his fly was unzipped and he was noticeable aroused.  On the day of the trial he followed me into the men's room in the Court House and stood next to me doing things you shouldn't do in public. Later in the hallway outside the Court Room he made remarks about it. His acts were unwelcome and made me feel very uncomfortable.

I reported the behavior to my boss who laughed and said to stay away from him.  Difficult to do when he is the sole expert witness in the case.  I thought about reporting to the judge, or his employer, but couldn't get the words to come out.  He made me feel debased and powerless.  I am usually very strong, especially when I am angry, but this was different, I felt powerless against a predator.

No one should ever be made to feel the way he made me feel.  Here I am 10 -12 years later and it is still hard for me to talk about.

A year or so later the nursing home closed and was torn down.  I mentioned to a friend that I hoped the staff social worker was inside when it was torn down.  She said, oh him.  Everyone knew he had problems.

Sexual harassment is very serious issue.  It hurts people, it is not fun, or funny.  Don't stand for it, stand up for those who are preyed upon.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Back Home Again

I am back home again, oh that is right I didn't tell you all I was gone.  I left last Wednesday, flew to Chicago and checked into a nice hotel, had dinner with a friend, spoke at a conference on Thursday afternoon, ran to the airport only to have my flight delayed over an hour, flew to San Francisco, checked into one of the top hotels in the country, attended a day long meeting on Friday, had a wonderful dinner with Jay's cousin, and spent all day on Saturday flying back to the east coast.  about 6,000 miles of travel in four days.  I am exhausted and fighting a head cold and cough.

The meeting in San Francisco was hosted by a medical society.  Doctors have better taste in hotels than legal aid attorneys.  They took care of the travel arrangements (and paid the bill.)  I stayed at the Fairmont Hotel on Knob Hill in San Francisco.  It is on most of the top-10 lists of the finest hotels in the country.  The Greek Revival building opened in 1907, a year after the fires from the earthquake of 1906 destroyed most of the original building.  It has been wonderfully maintained, and renovated retaining the incredible detail of the 1907 building. It deserves it's reputation as one of the best of the best.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Sunday Questions - Material Possessions

Another Sunday, keeping up with the theme of the year, another 5 questions must be created, answered and posted for others.  I thought this would be easier than it is, I thought I would find other lists of questions or my readers would make suggestions more often.  No such luck, this has stretched my imagination, and that alone probably makes it a good exercise.  Part of the motivation for blogging is to force myself to write, the commitment to posting every day, forces me to write often.  I stumbled across the book above at Target and couldn't resist.  It is published as a workbook with space to write about the 642 things.  Reading the opening page, it was created in 24 hours, with ideas contributed by 35 writers.  

1:  Have you ever lost anything to a thief?  Yes, when I was a teenager and my family was in Florida for the winter, someone broke into the house in Michigan and stole my stereo.  I had worked most of one summer to buy a nice Panasonic component system.

2: What was the last thing you bought for yourself that was a major splurge, much more than you should have spent?  The 42-inch flat screen TV in my bedroom that I bought a year ago, when I was getting ready for a long recovery at home.  I do like it.

3: What is your spending threshold for a splurge?  More than $200.  This number has really gone up, I can remember when spending more than $50 was a major splurge.

4: What is the most valuable thing that you have ever found?  Hmm, I don't find a lot of things,  I did find a video camera that a tourist had left behind in Union Station in DC, I turned it in, I hope the person who lost it came back for it.

5: What was the most expensive thing you ever threw away?  A copy machine, I had bought it for my office when I was working for homebuilders in a field office. The company didn't think field offices needed them.  As I recall I paid over $1,000 for it. After I bought one, the company decided that they did make sense and started providing them.  I used it for several years, it needed expensive parts and I couldn't bring myself to toss it. I drug it along when we moved to Kentucky and it was in the garage. I finally told Jay, I am going upstairs for a few minutes and if it is gone when I come back I won't dig it out of the trash.  I never saw it again.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Rollins College

Rollins College in Winter Park Florida is an interesting place.  I spent 8 years there finishing a four year degree, most of it taking two classes a semester and working full time.  Winter Park is the Beverly Hills of Orlando - a pretty place where the people with money live.  Rollins sits at the south end of Park Avenue on the shores of a large lake.  Park Avenue has the nicest boutiques and restaurants along it.

Rollins was founded in the late 1800's by protestant ministers.  It has evolved into a fine liberal arts college, consistently a top 10 liberal arts college in the southeast.  Historically a handful of the student body were local, but Rollins has long been pricy.  It became the place that New England families sent their children who desperately wanted out of cold winters, or who were not quite up to competing in the Ivy League. When I was there in the 1980's and early 90's, the student body was still populated with famous names.  We joked that you could tell the student parking from the faculty parking because the student parking was filled with BMWs, Mercedes, and Porsches, the faulty lot with Toyotas and Hondas.  

I enjoyed my time at Rollins.  I learned a lot, I grew as a person.  I became more comfortable with who I am as person.  Rollins change my life and I will forever have a fondness for the place.  

Friday, May 13, 2016

Happy Anniversary

May 15, 2015

A year ago today, I was in surgery, I won't rehash the details, if you want to read about it go back to May and June of 2015 and reread the blog.  

I do have a special request on what for me is now a very very lucky day (never thought I would feel that way about the 13th of the month.)  

If you just don't feel right, go see a good doctor.  Man-up, make the time, spend the money and find out what is really happening. Just do it. 

You see, I knew for a long time before I finally went to see a doctor that "something" wasn't right.  But I put it off, I had lots of excuses, I didn't have a regular doctor, I was busy, I didn't want to spend the money for the co-pays and deductible,  the excuses could go on for pages.  I almost waited to long. A few more days, weeks, months at most and my outcome would have been very different.  I tested the limits of the skills of the best Doctors - because I almost waited too long.  Please don't do that. Pick up the phone and call, go see someone today, or tomorrow, but soon.  If you put it off, you may be too late.  

If you are lucky, they will tell you it is normal and nothing to worry about, if you are VERY VERY LUCKY, they will say, "we caught this just in time."  

Thursday, May 12, 2016

I know the feeling

I took this one morning, 4-5 years ago, walking from Gallery Place to our old office near the White House, it is a window display at Macy's on G Street NW in Washington DC.

Oh I know the feeling, time for rest.  Things have been a bit of a grind this year, a lot of long days and long weeks.  I have never fallen down on the job.  I have a policy, I don't sleep in my office and I don't work at home.  When I start working at home, I will start napping in the office, oh and to do that, I need a larger office.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Name That Airport

This one should be easy.

I travel in and out of here often.  It is the busiest airport in the region in terms of the number of passengers, not necessarily the number of flights.  J and I flew in and out of here the first time as they were building the new terminal.  I recall being delayed flying out because of snow, running through Newark and barely making a connection going home to Orlando.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

These two should get together

I was out running errands recently and I saw these two unrelated signs - without further comment the 17 inch Queen and the Fresh Bottoms should meet one another.

Monday, May 09, 2016


Five year's ago I was in Las Vegas for a conference.  I liked Las Vegas, I don't think I could live there, but I did enjoy spending time there and would welcome the opportunity to go back.  Few conferences in my field are held in Vegas, I am surrounded by lefty-liberals and they rant that Vegas exploits women and poor people.  We ended up there in 2011 because of a labor dispute at a hotel in San Francisco.  I enjoyed it.

I enjoy a little gambling.  I consider the money I put into it, money spent for entertainment.  When I put cash in my pocket for gambling, I consider it spent.  I limit it to what I am willing to spend.  Going to the movies here in DC, with a large soft drink and nachos, will set me back about $30, I can get a couple of hours of fun in a casino for $30.  

As I recall I left Las Vegas in 2011 about $40 ahead.  If I had quit when I was farthest ahead, I would have been about $100 ahead.  But I was not there to make money, I was there to be distracted from life.

Slot machines are the easiest, but also are the most likely to consume the entertainment dollars quickly.  Stand there long enough and the machines will take all of the money.  You are destined to lose in a slot machine.  Now I have had a few fun wins with machines, I left breakfast in Deadwood South Dakota $35 ahead after spending $5 on entertainment while waiting for my eggs benedict.

Video poker or blackjack if my favorite.  There is some skill involved, and the reward increases with the risk.  I can find a quarter machine and play for an hour on $10 of entertainment money.  I have tried card games with a live dealer and I didn't like it.  The dealers are too fast and inpatient with my stopping to think before acting. And most of them have a minimum bet that is beyond my entertainment budget.  I tried roulette in Vegas in a hybrid, the bet was placed on a computer screen and the dealer actually spun the wheel live.  It was fun.  Someplace in the dust on my desk is a $1 chip from the Flamingo, a memento of that experience.    

MGM is building a new Casino just across the river from where I live.  I look forward to it opening.

Sunday, May 08, 2016

Mother's Day Five Questions

It's Sunday, so here are five questions and answers!

1: What year was your mother born?  1927, both of my parents were born in 1927.

2:  What secret do you know about your mother, that you are willing to reveal?  She sent money to her adult kids, against my father's wishes, I drove her to post office a couple of times to do this.

3: Who was the disciplinarian, Mom or Dad?  Mom,

4: What was her life like growing up?  She spent summers on a farm, and a lot of winters - off season from farming - in Detroit where her father would work running a dragline or shovel.  When she was a teenager, her family drove to California and back with a travel trailer.

5: What was the bravest thing she ever did?  Shortly after finishing high school, she left home and went to live with an Aunt in Detroit.  Her father didn't think she should work, just find a husband to take care of her, and she wanted a life.

Saturday, May 07, 2016

The Fastest Two Minutes in Sport

Happy Kentucky Derby Day!

It is the first Saturday in May, the day of the fastest two minutes in sport. The Kentucky Derby will be run at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky late this afternoon. The Derby has a long history. It is the season premier for the best of the best, at what is likely the peak of their racing career. Planning for most of the three year olds running today, started 4 or 5 years ago with careful selection of a mare and stallion.  Tons of cash go into careful breeding of horses that are most likely to be the fastest of the fast. Even there the odds are long that the foal will make the cut for the field three years down the road.  Rarely, does a horse of humble beginnings make it into the field, and even more rarely does the winner come from obscurity.  But it can happen, lightening strikes, people win the lottery, and that chance drives people to try.

Owning top level racing is a hobby for the wealthy.  A lot of it is old money, some of it is new money. The past couple of years there have been contenders owned by people unheard of and struggling to make a living 20 years ago.  Most people don't get into racing thinking they are going to make money at it, they get into it because they love horses and have money to spend pursing that love.  In the process they get to spend a lot of time with like minded people. Some of the big name farms are owned and supported by a single wealthy family, others are business who who breed, keep and train horses for owners who want to be involved in racing, but don't want to own a farm (or shovel horse manure.)  It is rare, very rare, for a humble horse farmer to strike it rich in racing.  But a lot of humble horse farmers make a good living raising horses for others. It is a difficult business, one horse in a thousand will rise to the top and make money.  Horses have to be taken care of in all kinds of weather and 365 days a year.  Much of the front line work is done by low wage workers, many of them immigrants.  The reward, when you have that special horse is the spectacle of racing.

Take a break around 6:00 eastern time this afternoon and find a television.  Watch the pomp and circumstance of racing.  As one lyricist put it, the horses are there for "the chance of a lifetime, in a lifetime of chance."  

Friday, May 06, 2016

How to Know when it is time for a vacation

I love to travel,  - how many times can I start a blog entry with that phrase?  It reminds me of a blogger who often opened with "Guido and I were in bed the other night."  I do like getting out and seeing the world.  Most of my travel is work, I have a grueling work trip coming up soon, 6,000 miles, two cities, in four days - I will spend as many hours flying as I will in meetings - and I also get to spend a couple of nights in one of the finest hotels in the world - I will talk about that later.  I also have all of the plans in place for a nice vacation, airline tickets, hotel reservations, and train tickets have been booked for a couple of weeks in Italy - a vacation for me - and boy do I need it. How do I know I need it?

Little things get me angry - my patience with idiots is nearing an all time low - it is time for a break.

I can't remember the last time I relaxed and forgot about work - it is time to get away.

I am bored with my surroundings - I don't always look up to take in the wonders around me.

I am missing details in the familiar - when did the guy in office next to me become Chief Revenue Officer?

I need inspiration to spark my creativity - travel always does this for me - a vacation really feeds my soul.

So, it is time for me to double check the passport, dig out my stash of Euros, pack a bag, charge the camera batteries, load a couple of good books on the kindle and head for the airport.  My advice to a friend the other day, don't wait until you can to travel, travel while you can. I have worked with a lot of people near the end of life, they have a lot more regrets about what they put off doing and never got to do, than they do about what they have done.

Thursday, May 05, 2016


A farm market in Germany, July 2015

Last weekend I went to the farmer's market in Old Town Alexandria, Virginia.  Located on Market Square in front of city hall, the market has operated continuously since 1753. George Washington sent produce from Mt Vernon to be sold in Market Square. For the first hundred years or so nearby markets sold farmers until the 1860's- a history we still struggle with how to talk about. The market operates year around, but really starts to come alive this time of the year with fresh local lettuce and asparagus coming in.

The Chicken Man, was there selling eggs.  He keeps birds across the river in Maryland.  He takes great care and pride in raising healthy, happy birds.  For the first time he had duck eggs in addition to chicken eggs.  I don't think I have ever had duck eggs - so I bought a dozen.  I may have found a new love.  For several years I have lamented that chicken eggs don't have the flavors I remember as a child.  The variety of hens, the feed, the living conditions all impact the egg.  Eggs in Europe have more flavor.  Don't get me started on American factory farmed - mass produced so they can be sold for 99-cents a dozen chicken eggs - the product is tasteless and the living conditions for the birds is beyond barbaric. I refuse to buy them.  Cage free, free range, organic, words to look for, I want birds that have actually been out in the sun and had their feet on the ground in their lifetime.  

Back to the duck eggs, rich, flavorful.  The shells are tough, I was wondering if I would need to get out the clever to break through the shell. The whites of the eggs are thick.  I slightly burned them, but the flavor stood through.  I hope Duane is able to keep a steady supply of these through the year.

Wednesday, May 04, 2016

Bathroom Politics

North Carolina is all in a fuss about who uses what bathroom.  Sorry North Carolina, I normally spend at least one night per year in a hotel in your state, but I won't until you repeal this silliness.  I can stop 90 minutes sooner in South Carolina, or drive an hour further and stop in Virginia.  I won't risk being legally discriminated against in North Carolina.  I hate to hurt the good people of the NC hospitality industry, if you want me back in your hotels, stop on your way to the unemployment office in November and vote in a new state government.

I don't really care who is peeing next to me in a public toilet - I would prefer it was no-one. Someone said if you know the genitals of the person next to you in a bathroom, you are doing something wrong.  I really don't care if they have a penis or not.  That is not what I am there for.  Men without a penis are unlikely to use the urinals in the men's room, and if they can figure out how to do so, good for them, I am not there to watch.  Women with a penis are going to find private stalls in the women's room. Who really cares what the anatomy of the person in the next stall is?  Who cares? Who knows?  In Europe it is not uncommon to find public toilets with all stalls, with locking doors, with men and women in the same common area, but in private behind closed doors.  Why are we so hung up on this?

I have heard the argument that allowing people to use the toilet they are most comfortable with will only bring out the perverts.  Let me give you a hint, the perverts are already out there. The perverts will find a way to harass, and hurt people no matter what we do.  Passing laws discriminating on gender identity is not the way to deal with people engaged in inappropriate and in many cases illegal behaviour.

Tuesday, May 03, 2016

Ghosts of the Past

Spo raised the specter that ghosts may be our memories of homes we have lived in, my thought is it might be us revisiting past homes in our dreams. So where do I haunt?

When I was conceived and born, my parents were living in a very small 2 bedroom home in North Branch, Michigan - so that was my first home.  When I was about 5, we built a larger home next to the tiny one, actually turning the first little house into a garage - explaining why I grew up in a house with a heated garage with hardwood floors.

When I was in the first grade - the first time around - my family lived in Phoenix Arizona for about 5 months.  We rented a late-50's ranch house, 3 bedrooms, 1.5 baths.  It had a small front porch and built in drawers in the closets. There was a built in bookcase in the end of the tiny dinning room.  I remember the joys and wonders of living in the city, sidewalks and the smell of the high dessert morning on cool winter mornings as I walked to school a few blocks away.

After that it was back to North Branch, Michigan. Back to the farm, the house 1.5 miles from the nearest paved road. I have a love hate relationship with life on the farm.  I hated being isolated and stuck in the middle of nowhere.  I loved the freedom of 80 acres to roam with few restrictions.

When I was in the 8th grade my parents started spending winters in Florida.  The first winter was a rented house in Spring Hill, Florida - on Holiday Drive.  In January of that year, the schools went on split-sessions due to overcrowding.  I caught the bus at 6:30, classes started around 7:00 and I was out before noon and home by 12:30.  I learned to play golf that winter, and bought my first 10-speed bike - a cheapo from K-Mart - but it was wheeled freedom in civilization.   I also learned to speed read that winter.

The next two winters we rented condos in Titusville, Florida.  One winter we on the second floor, the next on the ground floor, in the same building. Mrs. Miller lived in the end on the ground floor, she was a very successful widow, the first husband left her a million dollars, she used that to bankroll the second into a VW, Porsche, Audi dealer - inheriting that left her independent for life. She taught me to paint with oils. Titusville was a metropolis of about 40,000 people in the shadow of the space center and at that time it had two-shopping malls.  Oh what fun.  I bought my first good camera on Valentines day of that second year.

The next fall my parents bought the home in Titusville that they still live in.  I spent two more winters there, and the rest of the year in Michigan until the fall after I finished High School (in Michigan.)  That fall I went to Florida and stayed.  I lived in the house in Titusville for a couple of years.

I won $5 in the McDonalds Monopoly game and stopped for breakfast one morning.  I bumped into an older friend and remarked that I would love to escape to the growing city of Orlando.  He gave me a name and phone number of an old friend in the building business, who referred me to another friend who gave me my first real job. I crashed at my brothers apartment for a few weeks until we moved to a larger apartment on Oak Ridge Road in south Orlando.

A couple of years later, I lived with a girlfriend (yes -female) in a apartment just off South Orange Blossom Trail.  Carlton Arms as I recall.  The police helicopters would land in the shopping center parking lot across the street a couple of nights a week. Against my better judgement and in fear of myself, I married her and we built our first house on Dobbin Drive on the east side of Orlando.  It was a 2 bedroom, 1 bath, with a 1 car garage.  I nicknamed it Taco Bell  because of the spanish arches on the from porch and stucco.  I really grew up living there, made some changes to the house.  We only owned that one about 18 months, I sold it for a 20% profit and built a larger 3 bedroom 2 bath with a 2 car garage near the Rio Pinar Country Club in south east Orlando.  I lived in that one almost 10 years. I kept it when the divorce went through (we had built another property as a rental and she received it as part of the settlement.)  I sold that one when J and I moved to Lexington Kentucky.

When we moved to Lexington we bought a larger two story house.  It is listed as a 3 bedroom, but one room was left open overlooking the living room from above.  It a wonderful open plan, high ceilings, lot of light and bright and the only house I have ever owned with a fireplace. When J retires from teaching we will sell it.

While in Lexington I went to Law School at the University of Louisville, 82 miles away.  The first year I commuted five days a week.  The second and third year I rented a tiny efficiency apartment in Louisville.  It was in the shadow of I-65 about a mile north of the U of L campus.  It was a great place to study, no phone, no television.  I would go to Louisville on Monday morning and back to Lexington when I was done for the week. It was on the ground floor of a big old Victorian house.  The owner lived on the second floor and until the last few weeks I was there, the back half of the ground floor was under restoration.  The owner was quiet, but some of his drunk tricks were not - I could hear when Garry was having a fun night.

When I landed the job in DC, I rented an apartment in Arlington, near Reagan National Airport.  I was there for 13 months and then bought the Condo, in the building above, that I talk about from time to time in this blog.  Wow, I had never listed them all, I have lived a lot of places.

Other homes that enter the picture, my aunt and uncles old house on Lake Orion, Michigan.  My grandparents 120 year old farmhouse in North Branch, Michigan and their tiny winter home in Istachatta, Florida.  After my grandfather died, my grandmother bought a house on Worth Avenue in Titusville that she lived in for about a decade.  All these homes touched my life in some way.  Lots of places for me to haunt, lots of ghosts from my past.

Monday, May 02, 2016

How to Make Mistakes and Survive

Difficult day at the office recently, a mistake was made, impacting about 35 people.  I didn't do it, but my name and face are on the front of the project so it falls to me.  I asked those responsible what they were going to do, and the answer came back nothing.  They didn't see it as an issue (they are sending bills to 35 people who have not bought the program yet.)  I was beyond words, so badly frustrated that I couldn't get mad without getting rude, and I try not to do that in the office.

Now I am far from perfect, I make mistakes every week.  Most of them are little mistakes, sometimes they are major mistakes.  I get a lot done, and I make a few mistakes along the way.  I have a colleague who never makes mistakes, but she also proof reads the photocopies 19 times.  I am okay with making mistakes and I seldom have people mad at me for it.  There is a simple system to making mistakes and surviving.

Step 1: Take ownership of the mistake.  You need to be able to describe the mistake without blaming anyone or anything else.  No excuses. Sometimes you are taking ownership of a problem that involves others, your ownership needs to be "I" or "we."  Saying someone is not good enough.  Until you have taken ownership of the mistake don't move to step 2.

Step 2: Apologize without making excuses.  For little mistakes this can be as simple as oops, sorry I shouldn't have done that.  For bigger mistakes it rises to "forgive me, for I have sinned."  Well not actually those words, but "I am very sorry, please forgive me (or us.)  Make it sincere and heart felt. Apologizing is especially effective if the person receiving the apology didn't expect one.

Step 3: If needed offer a specific plan to remedy the mistake. As one of my old bosses taught me, this is the time to underpromise and overdeliver. If you think you can have it fixed by Wednesday, tell them you will have it fixed by Friday.  Not all mistakes require a remedy.  Even simple mistakes can benefit from a promise to do better, for example I cut in front of another driver in a parking garage the other morning. As we got in the elevator the other driver quipped, we almost met by accident.  I said, I am sorry, I cut in front of you, I will slow down and be more careful the next time.  The three elements are there, I cut in front of you - I took ownership of my action, I am sorry - the apology, and I will slow down and be more careful -  the remedy.  She was apologetic that I felt the need to be apologetic (assuming that I really felt that way and not that I am psychopath who was just manipulating her feelings - think about that - 1 in a 100 they say.)  Either way, she didn't spend the rest of the day saying, some idiot almost killed me in the parking garage and didn't even say boo!

So, Dan, it is simple, you say, "We made a mistake and you may be billed for the conference, that you have not registered for yet, we are very sorry, if you want us to cancel the order, please email me and I will cancel the order within 1 business day, if you are willing to forgive us for the mistake,  you have already been registered, please pay the invoice when it comes in the mail next month, you are all set to go.

Sunday, May 01, 2016

How Old?

Temple of Egina Greece  

I realized the United States didn't have a lot of age, when I was reading the description of a sculpture in the Vatican Museum, and the last line said that it had been in that location since 1776, that chunk of marble had not been moved in as long as we have been a country.  So what is old?  I get frustrated when "historic conservationists" confuse old with historic.  Most things that are old, are not historic, some things that are not old are historic - now don't fall prey to the fallacy of the undistributed middle.

So this weeks five questions are about old?

1:  How old was the oldest person you ever met?  101 - I was her court appointed lawyer and she told me it was all going to be okay and I should go home now.  That was her answer to every question.

2:   How far back has your family tree been traced?  The Mayflower on my paternal grandfather's side.

3:  What is the oldest building you have ever been in?  Hard to say, a bunch of 2,000-2,500 year old stuff in Greece and Italy.  I liked the temple above and you would walk around inside it.  I broke out in a rash from some weed growing around it.  I went into a pharmacy in Athens the next day, the pharmacist took one look at my leg and said, "you have been Egina, I have just the thing for that."

4:  If you could reset the clock to any age, what age would you be?  I like the age I am.

5: How old do you want to live to?  My only wish is to die while I am living, instead of living when I am dead.  I see too many people hang on far past their expiration date.  I'd sooner go out swinging than fade away by the day.