Monday, December 25, 2017

My Year in Review – 2017

As we approach the end of 2017, it is time to look back and see how the year went.  I do not mean how politics progressed, the state of technology, nor the world arena.  This is the time to self reflect, evaluate how we did personally and did we meet the challenges that the last 12 months threw our way. It would be too easy to point my finger at different events and highlight external forces that stood in my way, or point to others that added to my hurdles and make all kinds of excuses.  If I did that, I would not be taking the time to see whether or not I have grown, I would not evaluate my handling of situations, and I would not gain any new lessons that the year had to offer.  As the holiday season wraps up, based on this year, I should be in a position to set realistic goals for next year and not treat the year in isolation.  Whatever experiences I had this year - positive and/or negative - have continued to define who I am and who I am becoming.

This year, there were two major events that had a huge impact: Gab graduating college and the loss of my sister-in-law.  The high point was the graduation.  A graduation from college is a milestone in anyone’s life, yet this was the first time I had the opportunity to experience this as an adult.  Proud? OMG, more than you can imagine!  Gab had a laser-like focus to finish on time with a degree in music education.  This meant she learned music and teaching, taking more courses per semester than I took when I majored in Accounting.  This was followed by looking for a job and helping her move out.  Milestone in her life?  How about the milestone in our life and the changes to our household?  This was a great experience (and a little sad).

The other major event was the loss of Magda.  When a family member is ill, we always rally together to help out.  Death is something that we picture in our minds as happening to someone older; that has lived a long life.  When you lose someone, the passing affects those that are close, and everyone’s lives that person touched.  We learn to face the next day and realize that tomorrow the sun will rise again.  The ability to rally together and come out the other end was a lesson about facing our worst moments, figuring out (together) what meaning we can gather, and, standing tall.  I am proud that as a family, we stayed tight, lived through extreme sadness, and faced our tomorrow together.

This year was filled with travel:  Debbie and I to Nashville and Memphis, Bec to Africa and all of us to Jamaica.  We saw the realization that our parents got a little older this year, yet we are blessed to have them still in our lives.  We replaced our falling apart kitchen.  I took up a new instrument.  We got a chance to buddy with an Israeli Vet.  While life is good and has many lessons to still learn, the year is drawing to a close.  I find it interesting that we, as humans, mark time in segments.  At least, this way, we can see how we have done, see how have (or have not) improved / developed during the year.  And, as is human nature, look forward to the wonders of tomorrow!

Monday, December 18, 2017

Do Unto Others…

“Do you want to help at the food pantry this year?” Debbie asked me.  The easy answer, of course, is no – but that comes from a place of laziness and selfishness. 

“You know you should, it would be good for you to help,” she followed up and was 100% percent correct (…again).

As I stood in my kitchen, I looked around.  Next to me was a refrigerator full of food, beside a stocked pantry.  I live in a nice town and I am thankful and blessed to be able live the life that I have.  Living in my own little bubble, my world is doing well (for me).  In a conversation recently with someone that I know, they talked about a recent trip to Cuba, highlighting how there is nothing new brought in and that they have to maintain whatever they have from the 1960s; they have veritable no income and no money, so they have to maintain what they had prior to “the Revolution.”  She said it made one appreciate what they have back in the US.
The place we would help at, The Center for Food Action, in 2016 provided the following locally (from their website

  • Distributed 63,615 Emergency & Holiday Food Packages.   An emergency food package consists of seven days worth of food; the amount of food a household receives is based on family size.  On average, an emergency food package consists of 6 bags of groceries.
  • Provided Thanksgiving food packages to 3,162 households–9,453 people
  • Helped 1,174 households with other basic needs: rent-224 households, security deposits-283 households, utility & heating bills-665 households, miscellaneous assistance – 2.
  • Distributed more than 20,000-weekend snack packs to children in eight area elementary schools.

 “What do we have to do?” I asked.

“Help sort the food for distribution,” Debbie said.  “And you will be helping those less fortunate.”

“Yes, please sign me up…I want to participate.”

During this holiday season, while we can afford to give gifts to our families, remember to lend a hand to help other that are less fortunate than yourself.  Hope that you and your families have a joyful and meaningful holiday season!

Monday, December 11, 2017

Awesome Evening Activity - Baking Cookies

“I am participating in a cookie exchange.  Do you want to help bake with me?”

I like to cook, as there is a certain creative aspect to coming up with a rub, or a flavoring, or even a sauce.  However, I am not very adept at baking.  Generally, I would say that I have something else to occupy my time.  As I was thinking about possible answers, Debbie added, “I am going to bake Black and White Cookies.”

I did a double take…who does not like Black and White Cookies?!  She had my attention!

“I’m in!” I responded, probably a bit too quickly.

Together, we read over two different potential recipes.  Debbie had purchased the ingredients to make either one a success.  Baking, especially for me, is all about following the directions.  I kind of understand that certain ingredients combined together can have, as a whole, a different impact than separately.  We put the batter together, then we worked on creating the homemade icing (yup, both vanilla and chocolate).  Once the cookies were out of the oven, we ooo’d and ah’d over the way they had the shape of the cookie.  Next, we each took an icing and did our halves, making sure that the icing met neatly in the middle.

“Boy, it got quiet in here,” Debbie noticed.

“I have to concentrate while putting the icing on,” I responded.

I also got to thinking; part of the fun of this cookie is that it has the two parts.  Many times, I have eaten one side, then the other.  And, sometimes, I go right down the middle.  I realized, that like the cookie, Debbie and I were no different – we were working together to make something as one.  Yes, technically, I mean the cookie…but, symbolically, we work well together as a team.  After all this time together, while we are each individuals, we work well as a whole; in some cases, we are able to accomplish more together than as two separate beings.  The importance of the two halves took on new meaning…

Finally, the icing was applied to the last cookie.  The long moment we had been waiting for had arrived – did this awesome looking treat taste as good as they looked?  We both manned our own cookie and, true to past eating, tried one side, then the other.  Mmmm – that was great!  The time and effort together in the kitchen had yielded a most tasty treat.  Together, we baked; together, we had a fun night; together, we created magic…

Monday, December 4, 2017

The House Is Empty…Again

Gab and Bec have left New Jersey, which means that the long holiday weekend is over.  For once, I can honestly say that the house feels “empty”.  Do not get me wrong, between Debbie, the two dogs and myself, the house is not “quiet”, it just feels empty.  Maybe it is because the past two years have had many challenges, that this might be the first time I really had a chance to notice.  Logically, I know they will be coming back soon, but it is a feeling that I seemed to have not noticed before.

Thanksgiving weekend is a great time, where in the middle of nowhere; we are celebrating a definitively American holiday.  Purposely avoiding any political correct landmines, we celebrate the arrival of freethinking individuals that landed in this part of the world, survived a harsh winter and lived amongst (or near) the Native Americans.  We supposedly recreate the festive meal they shared in thanks for survival in this new world.  Even as a child, I remember getting together with family to celebrate (by eating copious amounts of food).  We used to travel out to Long Island, sit in massive traffic (sometimes a three-hour trip) to spend this family event together.  Today, we celebrate locally, but it is still family time.  In fact, one of my brothers commented that this is what this day is about.  Agreed – being together (Dad did a Face time call to be with us for a while) and remembering what we have to be thankful for. 

And, just like that, the long weekend was over.  Maybe it was because there were many challenges faced this year.  Maybe it has to do with me getting older.  Maybe it is the thought that we are only a few years away from this particular dynamic changing as the girls head out more into the world.  This year I looked forward to being a complete family unit.  I enjoyed being that family unit.  It was good to have the house full, knowing where everyone was and what was happening.  Either way, during this Thanksgiving season, I am grateful for Debbie, Gab and Bec (yes, and Lucy Lou and Sadie).  I am grateful for my entire family, and thankful for all that I have.  Hope that you had a great Thanksgiving holiday and shared your gratitude with those around you.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Opportunity of a Lifetime

Back in September, while we were on vacation driving from Nashville to Memphis, Bec excitedly texted:

Bec had just sat down for her first class of the new trimester and had just received her class assignment.  These were three countries to not only learn something about, but to visit!  I think Debbie and I screamed in the car when Debbie read this to me – this was the “class field trip” of a lifetime.

Let me take a step back – Bec is in college studying Travel – Tourism and Hospitality Management.  She has reach the point in her curriculum where she is taking a course on Tour Management Operations.  You know that you need to walk the walk, before you can talk the talk.  So, the cornerstone of the class is a Familiarization (FAM) Tour — where you learn the first day of class what country, or countries, you are going visit, to experience the components of traveling and spend a day leading the class in discussions related to their experience.

OMG – Bec is going to Africa!!!  We screamed again in the car! 

The beginning of November, it was a few days before the trip and Bec, who is usually reserved, was extremely excited.  She wrote out her exciting itinerary, which included visiting Nelson Mandela’s house, going on a Safari, visiting Victoria Falls and white water rafting down the Zambezi River.  I screamed again and posted the trip on my wall at work.  Our little girl was going off on a unique trip.  While they were focused on the trip, they were not heading off to the calmest part of the world.  While in Zimbabwe, a lady from New Jersey was incarcerated for tweeting something negative about the president Robert Mugabe.  After the group returned, a quiet coup happened in Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe, where they had traveled through, ending Mugabe’s 30+ year reign where poverty became the norm as he held the majority of the country’s money.  “Toto, we are not in Kansas anymore…”  We screamed again…and a valuable lesson was learned about how we take for granted the freedoms we get to enjoy here. The students were made aware of the situation and understood how to act when visiting another nation.

OK, I would be remiss if I did not share the highlights, which Bec held close to the vest until she showed us a video presentation of her trip, through her pictures, on Thanksgiving.  We were thankful for her to have this opportunity and thankful she is back safely with having had a wonderful experience!
Safari in Botswana

Soweto and Nelson Mandela's House

White Water Rafting - That's Bec's foot as they flipped!

Victoria Falls

Monday, November 20, 2017

I Come from NJ with a Banjo on my Knee

A few weeks ago, I commented that I was going to learn the banjo, which included a picture of the banjo that I was gifted.  We all know someone that says they are going to undertake a goal, spend money towards that end and then, how can I put this delicately…they get distracted.  A simple example is how gym membership increases in January, the gym is crowded in January and maybe mid-February; yesterday afternoon when we went – it was empty.  I have the banjo, purchased two books and found some YouTube videos to help me – yes, I have opened and used the books; yes, I have used the video training.  Most importantly, to learn an instrument, one needs to practice.  While I have not practiced every day, I am able to practice at least 4–5 times a week for at least 15 minutes.  The result?  I am starting to develop calluses on my fingertips!

You might ask – does already being able to read music and the ability to play various instruments help?  The answer is yes and no.  Knowing how to strum guitar helps…only a little, since I am learning the 3-finger picking method.  While a string instrument like the guitar, the tuning of the 5-string banjo is different and the method of playing is completely new to me.  As with anything that is new in our lives, we tend to find the similarities to the things that we know to make what lies before us easier.  There are many times where I hear, “That is going to be a problem,” or, “That cannot be done because we could not do that the last time.”  As Henry Ford was famously quoted, “Whether you think you can, or you think you can't--you're right.”  If one changes their mindset in a small way, to look at things differently, the “problem” becomes merely a “challenge.”  Hurdles placed before us = opportunity to learn something new. 

My opportunities, in this case, are multiple.  I am enjoying listening to the great Earl Scruggs, who redefined the banjo with his three-finger picking style.  I am listening to some Béla Fleck, who pushes the boundaries of banjo usage into other genres outside Bluegrass.  I am learning to play a fun instrument, and trying to figure out what songs to play with the band where I can introduce the banjo.  For now, I am learning some basic chords (G is the easiest), and some rolls (right hand picking patterns).  I have to admit, having played guitar beforehand, it is a bit confusing, but like all challenges/ opportunities, it takes some time, practice and a desire to learn. 

Here is a clip of me playing Cripple Creek, a simple beginner banjo standard: