If this is your first time visiting, welcome. If you are returning again, welcome back. While this blog was originally not going to be about me or my life, it seems to be morphing to include more of myself and experiences. I will still strive to add a different perspective to the news and events around the world that impact everyone's life,however, I will focus more attention on issues that relate more tangibly to our personal lives. We all live in a world that is increasingly interconnected yet it seems a lot of people are turning inwards, shying away from human interaction. Lets step away from ourselves and see what we can do to make a difference. There are ads on this page and 65 cents of every dollar earned will be donated towards helping the homeless. If you like what you are reading, please share it with your friends.

Friday, November 30, 2012

A Super Long Week

Well, its Friday morning again and I am exhausted.  Once again I had my weekly dart match last night and it went fairly well.  The match ended in a 9-9 tie with every game being pretty close right up until the end.  By 10:45 in the evening we had finished, but that was not when I left.  Our entire team decided to remain afterwards and continue to practice.  I didn't look at the time again until it was 11.45 and I had not left yet.  By the time I got home, ready for bed and actually in bed, it was somewhere between 12:30 and 12:45.   And yes, my alarm clock went off at exactly 3:50 this morning and I was not ready to get up, but I did.  So today will be a long day.  My brain is operating very slowly and the coffee has not yet started to kick in.  I must now get my son out of bed, breakfast started, and my day going somehow.  Good luck to me!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

No Powerball Jackpot for Me

I rarely if ever by lottery tickets.  The only times I do is when, like yesterday, the jackpot reaches an absurdly high number.  I know if I played it regularly that I would probably get addicted to playing and waste my money away.  However, on those occasions when the jackpot would literally enable me to stop working for the rest of my life, I take a chance and buy a few tickets.  I never even pick my own numbers because that would require me investing too much into a game of chance that in reality, I know that I have very slim odds of winning.  I guess the part that drives people like me who never play, to play, is the dream of possibly winning an enormous amount of money.  Now, for the majority of us, the jackpot would take care of us for the rest of our lives.  I know that there are a select few, the rich, for who winning would not mean very much.  Such is life, dreaming never hurt anybody unless it gets in the way of reality.  Getting addicted to playing the lotto would be a prime example of dreaming getting in the way of reality.  So enough of why I played and didn't win yesterday, I did get to have some nice day dreams as a result of my purchase, however short lived those dreams may have been.  The final jackpot for the Powerball drawing reached close to $575 million dollars.  That's a large chunk of change to have some fun with.  There is one downside to winning, however, in that you will never actually see the entire $575 million.  If you were to take the lump sum, one time payout, you would receive about half that amount.  Then come the taxes which are assessed on the entire $575 million, not the half that you would take home.  Ultimately, you would probably end up with about a third of the $575 million.  Even if that came to $200 million dollars, I wouldn't complain one bit.  Over the last few days, I started my hypothetical planning on what I would do should I win the Powerball jackpot.  I know everyone has different dreams of what they would do with the money, but following are some of the plans that I hatched on how to use the winnings (which I didn't get and as a result will have to keep on working).

So in planning my future with the Powerball money, the first thing I would do with my estimated $200 million that I would get would be to take $150 million to a financial planner and have them ensure that I didn't have to work for the rest of my life.  That would leave me with $50 million to play around with.  The next thing I would do with the money would be to pay off our house which would be around $200K.  Following that, any remaining debt we had would be paid off.  Going with the high end of our debt, I would guesstimate about $50K should cover it.  With no more debt, we would have about $49,750,000 dollars left.  Damn, now what to do with the money.  Well, I would take care of any debt that our parents had so that they could live comfortably without worry.  I don't know what their total debt between both my parents and my wife's parents is, but I am guessing that $750K should take care of it.  Then, I would take probably a million and donate it to my church to build a gathering space that they have been wanting to build for years.  I would also probably give $500K to my old grammar school and $500K to my old high school just because.  After all that I would still have $47 million left to do something with.  In all honesty, I would then probably have my current house completely fixed up, not to sell, but to rent out.  That would probably run me about $200K on the high side.  I would buy another house closer to my parents and my home town of Milford.  I am going to go high here and say a $1 million should cover it.  I would then spend $1.8 million on buying all the land surrounding my property in Vermont and build a nice large house in the woods.  The remaining after all that would be about $44 million.  Part of me would want to buy investment properties to rent out.  I would probably spend about $3 million on that to ensure that I would have some sort of income coming in (not that I would need it).  With $41 million left, I would go to Italy and buy a Castello Turfuri in Porto Palo Sicily.  That would cost me probably close to $10 million, but it would be worth it.  I would still have $31 million left.  After that, I would buy a nice care for my wife and I, probably spending $500K.  Then I guess I would have to do some traveling spending probably $500K on that.  With $30 million remaining, I guess I would just sit on it and enjoy my life.  With all those plans, I still couldn't spend a quarter of all the money. 

Needless to say, I don't have to worry about the aforementioned plans as I did not win the Powerball.  In fact, I wasn't even close.  Not a single number I had on the two tickets I bought matched up.  I guess someone is trying to tell me that I still have to go to work.  That's life though.  There are very few people who actually win a large amount in the lottery and what it all boils down to is luck.  There is no magic wand you can wave to get the winning numbers.  There is no psychic that could tell you your numbers to play.  In fact, I probably have a better chance of being hit by lightning, getting into a car accident, or flying to the moon than I do at winning the lottery.  At this point, I want to invite others to share what they would do with $200 million dollars.  For most of us, that is a large amount of money that wouldn't be very easy to spend.  Share your plans on here or on Facebook.  Just for fun, lets see what people would do with their money.  As for me, I must go get ready for work because I will not be receiving any money today.  Nope, I must get my son up now, get my but in gear, and get ready to go climb ladders in the cold to try and finish painting this house I am working on.  Till tomorrow, don't get depressed if you played and didn't win, just get back to work and keep dreaming of the next large jackpot that we probably won't win either. 

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

A Day in the Life

Whenever people hear that I wake up at 4 in the morning, often times the first question out of their mouths is "why?"  I normally go into my morning routine for them, describing what I do that necessitates my waking up at 4.  While I now wake up at 4 out of necessity, I used to wake up at 4 for the peace and quiet that you can only find during the wee hours of the morning.  Soon following the question of why I wake up so early comes the statement "you must go to bed early!"   Well, that's not always the case.  While there are times that I will pass out at 8:30 watching a little TV on the couch, more often than not I get involved in a project at home that keeps me busy till 10:00.   I have found that my body only needs 6-7 hours of sleep a night.  If I shoot for 8 hours, I just wake up earlier than 4 which is not my idea of fun.  So following on the heels of all the Facebook posters who like to narrate every second of their life for the general public, I figured I would go through my day, start to finish, and give people a little insight as to what an average work day is like for me.  Mind you, the weekends are excluded from this as I normally wake up late, meaning 5 o'clock, and my schedule isn't nearly as hectic as a regular weekday. 

3:50-4:00 I usually wake up before my alarm goes off (which actually goes off at 3:50 as I have my alarm clock set 10 minutes fast to speed along the wake up process should I need assistance.  Maybe once or twice a week I need to turn my alarm off, but overall its not that often.  I won't put in a time for the next step of my day as it is not overly interesting, but immediately after waking up, I use the porcelain throne.

4:05 Grind coffee beans fresh for the first pot of coffee for the day.  I usually end up drinking about two thirds to three quarters of the pot of coffee.  Depending on the day, I sometimes make a few extra cups to keep me going and to ensure that I reach my proper state of wakefulness.

4:10-4:35 Take dogs (Princess and Aspen) out for a walk.  I usually have a set route that I walk every morning, which according to my guesstimating would be between three quarter of a mile and a mile.  I was actually just thinking the other day that if you add up the amount I walk just in the mornings over the course of year it would be around 365 miles.  I surprised myself with that.  In any case, in addition to the coffee, the walk helps clear my mind and usher in a more acute attention to the world around me.  With life almost at a standstill at 4 in the morning, it is nice to be able to walk in the middle of normally busy roads and not have to worry.  I might see a car or two during my entire walk, but for the most part, the world is still sleeping. 

4:40-5:30 Feed the dogs, pour myself the first cup of coffee for the day and break open the laptop to start writing my blog post for the day.  Despite the one interruption I will mention next, I usually write almost non stop for a half hour before sometimes proofing what I wrote and posting it.  There are times when I will have an idea in mind as to what I want to write about in which case it goes a little quicker while other times, I stare blankly at the computer screen waiting for any iota of inspiration to take hold and infect my typing fingers. 

4:45 Go upstairs and coax my wife from dreamland into the world of the waking.  The coaxing comes after I turn the light on which she hopefully isn't facing.  Some days takes less time than others but I am her alarm clock she often times tries to hit the snooze button on my head with never any success.  If need be, I drag her to a sitting position to get the blood flowing.  As of yet, I have not been seriously injured in the process of waking my wife up.  Once up, I head downstairs and pour her a cup of coffee so she can get the juices flowing. 

5:30 Head upstairs again to get my son out of bed.  Depending on the day, he normally wakes up sometime between 5 and 530.  He never starts crying.  Instead, he just starts his babbling, quietly at first with little moans of effort to scrub the sleep from his head that soon escalate into full out "I'm up, come get me, I'm having fun but getting hungry" type of babbling. 

5:45 Once I get my son's diaper changed and hand him off to my wife to be fed, I head into the kitchen and start making breakfast which is always the same to make it easy; scrambled eggs with muenster cheese, spinach, and black pepper.  Every morning I end up making 9 eggs which we split between the 3 of us.  Obviously my son doesn't eat quite as much as my wife and I do, but we all share them.  Sometime during my breakfast making extravaganza, my son walks in, plays for a few minutes in the kitchen, and then wants me to pick him up. 

6:05-6:15 Breakfast is ready and we all sit down at the dining room table (my son in his high chair) and eat breakfast together.  My son always feeds himself now, not with a fork, but simply by fitting as much scrambled eggs as possible into his little fist and shoving it in his mouth. 

6:30-6:35 I leave for work with the cooler full of food that my wife packed for me while I was cooking breakfast.  It really is a team effort in the morning at our house.  There is a system that we have down and it runs quite smoothly most days. 

7:30-7:45 Depending on traffic and where I am working, I arrive at work between these times.  Over the past few months as I have been working in Norwalk, the commute has taken me between an hour and an hour and fifteen minutes.  If I am working closer to home, the morning schedule changes somewhat with me leaving the house closer to seven.  All in all though, I rarely leave the house after 7.

7:45-12:00 Work.  I don't think I really have to explain this as I am a painting contractor and it is not that hard to figure out what I am doing during my day.  While it differs slightly depending on the day, it is usually pretty much the same. 

12:00-12:30 Lunch.  This usually consists of a salad with home made salad dressing.  I usually snack throughout the morning on home made trail mix and a banana.  Mixed in with all this food is a copious amount of water that I drink to remain hydrated.  Once I finish eating, I either make phone calls that need to be made or just relax for a few minutes before getting back to work. 

12:30-4:00 Work.  I find that if I don't get up within a half hour of eating, I will start to get tired and lose my motivation to work.  I must keep going or I won't go at all.  Depending on the day, I usually start cleaning up around 3:30 so I can be on the road by 4 to the next job.  During this time, I continue snacking my way through the afternoon on trail mix, a pear, and occasionally an apple. 

4:30-5:00 Arrive at second job for the day, set up quickly and start working.  My second job for the day is usually a smaller one that I can chip away at over the course of a week without the homeowner minding too much.  Almost all my customers don't care when I work so this works out fairly well most of the time. 

5:00-7:00/7:30 Work.  Since I just explained what I did, I will not explain it again.  However, clean up for my afternoon work normally only takes about 15 minutes.

7:30-8:00 Arrive home.  After getting myself quickly unpacked, I try and help out a little around the house.  I either help with cooking dinner, cleaning dishes, putting random stuff away, picking up our son's toys, or any other household chore that needs to be addressed.  If I am not helping out at all, I simply talk to my wife while she is cooking dinner. 

8:00-8:30  Eat dinner with my wife either in the dining room or in front of the TV.  Most times, we watch a little TV as she is getting tired by this point and I just want to sit on a comfortable couch and relax for a while. 

8:30/9:00-10:00/10:30 Once dinner is done and the food put away, my wife returns to the couch to relax some more and wind down before going to bed while I usually head to our garage and begin working on a project out there.  For what seems like the longest time now, I work on my kitchen cabinets.  Since I only get a few hours every evening, it is taking me quite a while to get them done.  I am currently working on the doors for the lower cabinets and they are moving along quite well.  I get a little more wood cut and glued together before beginning to tire myself out.  I normally finish cleaning up by 10:30 the latest as I know that 4 o'clock will come too quickly if I stay out any longer. 

10:30-11:00 I head inside, get myself ready for bed, and hit the pillow only to repeat in 5-6 hours. 

So that has been a typical day for me for the past 3-4 months.  There are times when I will be home earlier due to weather or some other mitigating circumstances, but in general, this is the life I have lived recently.  Also randomly interspersed in there are crazier days when I don't make it to bed till midnight but those normally happen only once a week.  There are times when I don't know how I do it and still have energy to do it all again the next day, but I manage somehow.  For some reason, I enjoy what I do and my schedule doesn't seem overly crazy to me.  I know what I need to get done and do my best to get it done.  This will probably be a one time deal about my life.  I am sure whoever is reading this would get bored if I related every detail of my life, every day.  We all lead different lives with different schedules and different stresses.  This is a glimpse into my life for whatever it is worth.  Hope you enjoyed it and if you didn't, fear not, for tomorrow I will move on to another topic. 

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Coming Full Circle

I went to go visit Baba (my grandmother) yesterday at her new home at the Westport Health Facility or whatever the exact name of it is.  When I got there she was sitting in her chair next to her bed reading a book.  It seemed like she had a pretty good day all things considered yesterday.  While she didn't remember my name right off the bat, she did remember her relationship to me and of course, my son.  I still think its a little funny that she remembers my son's name before she will remember mine despite the fact that he has only been around for a little over a year.  It is what it is though.   She looked healthier than she did when I visited last and her memory even seemed a little bit better if only because the story she got stuck on wasn't quite as repetitive as it was before.  There was still the circling back to the basics of the story, but there were more additional details added and she seemed more in tune to what had happened.  The story she was telling yesterday was about the sugar factory that was built near her family's house in the Ukraine.  She recounted how amazing it was to watch the factory being built and then to work at the factory and see all the high tech, modern machines that were in place to make the sugar.  She also told of how after the factory was built, most of the sugar being produced was being sent to Germany, mostly to make explosives for use in WWII.  Finally, she recounted the hardship that settled in when the war started, how everything got put on hold, everything shut down, and life was essentially in limbo.  Essentially, the war destroyed and changed everything.  But it is not her story that I want to talk about today even though I just did a little.  While I was visiting, I was also thinking about life and our materialistic tendencies that we have in this country.  As my cousin wrote on my Facebook post when I last wrote about Baba, "So much is brought to question in the deepest ways."  I couldn't agree more, provided that one is willing to face those questions and dig deep enough to find the answers.  I don't know if I found any answers yet, but there are plenty of questions. 

The question that came to mind yesterday was why we as a people spend so much time and effort accumulating "stuff" when in the end, all we are left with is a bed, chair, and night table.   That bed, chair, and night table we are left with aren't even ours in the end, they belong to others.  We start off in a similar fashion, born into the world with nothing and starting with a crib, rocking chair, and night table, none of them ours to start with either.  So why then do we spend the majority of our life working to buy stuff when all the stuff we buy won't mean squat in the end.  Everything we can buy is only temporary and in the end means nothing.  We could buy 50 cars, have the nicest watch, enormous house, with acres upon acres of carefully manicured lawns and gardens and in the end, we would still most likely end up in a bed, with a chair, and a night table next to us, wondering what happened.  Life happens.  We start with nothing and end with nothing, so what is the in between really about?  Why do we waste our time and effort on stuff that isn't important?  Ultimately, what is important?  To me, there is nothing more important than those around you.  Regardless of what kind of "stuff" you fill your life with, the only thing that matters is the people you deal with on a daily basis.  As I sat yesterday with Baba, I couldn't care less about any of her possessions she used to have.  In fact, none of that even came up in conversation.  She never mentions the "stuff" that she was able to buy throughout her life, rather, she mentions how she has nothing left.  Yet, despite her soft lament about having "nothing", she also realizes that she doesn't need anything at this stage.  She knows her life is coming to a close, her last chapter currently being written, and I think she is OK with that.  There is no longing for that TV she used to have or the car she used to drive, the only thing she talks about her is her memories about family and her life.  Seeing her life reduced to half a room with only a few possessions makes me think about what the focus of our lives "should" be.  I think that in general, most people don't get it, and even if they say they do, they are so drawn into our materialistic world that they can't extract themselves from it. 

To me, the ultimate purpose that we are here to fulfill is to have the biggest positive impact on others that we can.  The more we focus on impacting others in a positive way, the more we contribute to the well being of others.  By contributing to the well being of others, we perpetuate goodness on this earth and what can be more long lasting than that?  We have a choice, either float through this life focusing on material things or live our life focusing on others and how best to interact with them.  The more we focus on the relationships in our lives instead of the material things we seek to possess, the more meaningful and full our life will seem.  If we simply fill our life with material things, it can often times feel quite empty leading us to fill it more and more with useless contraptions and trinkets.  However, the relationships we have and foster can fill our lives with purpose and meaning.  There is nothing more we need than to focus on others in our life, our relationships, and our family.  When everything else is gone, our family will still be there.  Just as Baba has nothing left material wise, she still has her family that fills up her last chapter with meaning.  She can still impact those around her in a positive way (if she chooses to on any particular day) and have her life filled with meaning and purpose.  There is nothing she needs at this point material wise that will make any difference and she knows it.  If only we could all realize that everything we possess will be gone someday and not be worth a damn, perhaps we would all be better off.  Why get attached to "stuff" when it is never really ours.  Everything we own will either break down and be destroyed or get passed on to others ad infinitum.  I only hope that I can keep my focus on what is important, my family and friends, and not get caught up in the material world.  I think I am doing a pretty good job at it compared to where I used to be, however there is always room for improvement.  I recognize that everything I "own" doesn't matter.  If it gets destroyed, it gets destroyed.  Nothing, however, can destroy the bond I have with my family and friends unless I let it.  While my questioning still persists, the answers coming slowly, it is well worth it in the end.  If we only take time to consider the questions presented to us, we can improve our lives exponentially.  The issue comes with questioning our motives and the willingness we have to do that.  Many don't want to inspect their own lives, just other's.  I, however, always question my life and seek for ways to improve.  I don't know.  As Baba still says, "Life is not so simple."

Monday, November 26, 2012

The Cardboard House

The day was yesterday.  The time was mid morning after our son went down for a nap.  My wife and I had just started cleaning up the house, organizing the mess from our second Thanksgiving dinner on Saturday, when lo and behold, there appeared a cardboard box in our kitchen that was destined for the recycling bin.  OK, so the box didn't just appear in our kitchen, rather, my wife placed it there after removing it from its temporary home in our sun porch.  It was simply time to get rid of the box.  This wasn't just any old, normal sized cardboard box.  Nope, it was a larger box that months ago held a car seat within its confines.  Unlike some boxes these days that come in sections, this was one solid piece and fairly sturdy.  After letting the box linger in our kitchen for a little bit and with me still struggling to keep my weary eyes open, I started studying the box.  It was a little bit shorter than our son but fairly wide symmetrically.  Almost instantaneously my mind went drifting back about 27 years to my youth and my time spent with Baba (my grandmother).  While most memories from that time are a little hazy now, I have a handful that are still quite vivid and capable of being called up from the depths of my memory.  One of those memories that I still remember almost clear as day is a cardboard house that Baba and I made together.  The cardboard house that I had 27 years ago came from a refrigerator box (yes, refrigerators used to come in boxes).  In the metamorphic process of turning that cardboard box into a house, we let no detail slip through the cracks.  The door was cut nice and square into the side.  We had a pitched roof complete with a faux chimney.  There were double windows on either side and to complete it all, we drew and colored in bricks along the whole exterior so that what used to be a cardboard box took on the aura of a perfect little house suitable for a 3 year old.  I absolutely loved it.  Looking back now, I think I loved the process of building the house more than I actually loved playing in the house.  I have more memories of coloring the bricks on the outside than I do of any activity I engaged in within the cardboard walls of the house. 

That house was special, built with love, and obviously not meant to last.  Yet, looking back now and at the continuously changing interests of a boy that age, it made more sense to build a house out of cardboard than it did for my parents to buy me one of those plastic houses you can play in.  On top of that, I firmly believe that building a cardboard house fosters the use of creativity much more than any plastic house can ever do.  Take a second a look at it from the perspective of a 3 year old.  You have this enormous cardboard box, essentially a blank slate upon which to do almost anything you want, and all you need to do is figure out what you want out of it.  So perhaps those decisions are a little advanced for a 3 year old and I am quite sure that I didn't make the decision to build a house out of the box, but watching a box being transformed from just a box into a house is quite the event for a boy that age.  With a plastic house bought from the store, you know exactly what it will be and there is no potential for it to be anything other than a house.  Yes, it requires creativity to figure out what you want to do with the house and how you want to play with it, but that is about the extent of it.  So having a son that is fast approaching 14 months, I wanted to create something for him that would at least entertain him for a few days, maybe a few weeks.  So standing in my kitchen yesterday morning, I decided that our son needed a smaller version of my cardboard house.  Not having a vocabulary as yet and with no real attention span for creative activities lasting more than a few minutes, I took out my utility knife and blue painters tape (a stand in for duct tape yesterday) and got to house building.  Mind you, this process of mine took place while my wife was running around doing other things.  Yes, I decided to put all cleaning on hold and build a cardboard house.  Yesterday, I kept it simple.  There were no pitched roofs or chimneys being built.  There were no bricks being drawn on the outside.  But there was a door and windows.  I figured this house would be his starter house, the one that needed work, and if need be we could find a bigger box later and build a more elaborate house. 

So the first step of my process was to cut him a door for entry into his new castle.  Three cuts, tape the edges, done.  With the door cut, I proceeded to insert myself partway into the house (essentially just my head) and tape the loose flaps of cardboard on the top and bottom so that our son didn't get caught on them when entering or exiting.  Once all loose cardboard was secure, I pulled my head out and began work on the windows.  I decided that there should be one window per side on the remaining three sides of the box.  With our son still pretty young and not attune to the necessary height that windows should be made at, I cut the windows at all different heights to add an element of fun.  They were simple double windows, one cut down the middle and one on the top and bottom respectively to allow the windows to open.  The windows were also rather small in size, big enough to open and peer through, but not quite big enough for our son to stick his head through (although it wouldn't surprise me if he tried).  And with the last window cut, my work was done.  With gathering my materials and the whole cutting process, I probably spent about 5 minutes on the house and spent a total of 0 dollars. 

 When our son woke up from his nap and first saw his new house, he didn't immediately know what to do with the house.  It didn't take long for him to figure out he could crawl inside through the door, close it behind him with the little finger cut out I made, and play with toys inside.  As he would throw toys out the windows, I would throw them back in a different one.  What he really enjoyed though was playing a version of hide a seek with the windows.  With him inside, I would open a window a peer through at him, occasionally reaching in to tickle him.  He would giggle and squirm at which point I would close the window and move to a different side of the box and do the same thing.  After a few times, he started picking up on a pattern that I was following as to which window I would go to next.  Every so often I would throw a kink in, however, and go to a different window than he expected me to.  As I peered in through the different window, I would see him opening up the one I should have been at and peering through.  When I surprised him at a different window, the giggling and laughing continued.  We did that periodically through the day yesterday and every time the game lasted for at least five minutes.  I think I had just about as much fun as our son did with his new house except that I couldn't join him inside.  In any case, I can't wait to find some other cardboard boxes and create additions and passageways that connect to this original house for him.  Yes, I am reliving my childhood to a certain extent, but isn't that part of what parenting is all about, being able to place yourself in the shoes of your child and play with them on their level?  I think it is and regardless of what anyone else says, I am still a child at heart and know how to let that inner child out.  (If anyone sees me acting like a child, however, please kindly point it out to me, thanks)

Friday, November 23, 2012

Second, First Thanksgiving

Technically speaking, this year was our son's second Thanksgiving.  However, as his Thanksgiving meal last year  consisted solely of milk, I am calling yesterday his first real Thanksgiving with Turkey, stuffing, and all the sides.  Let me tell you (which I obviously am right now), he is following in the role of almost all Americans before him and absolutely loves Thanksgiving dinner.  The only side dish that he didn't eat was the mashed potatoes.  I know, it is a horrendous day when a toddler doesn't like mashed potatoes (note sarcasm), however his dislike of the dish probably had something to do with the consistency.  While he is not a big fan of regular potatoes in general, he has eaten them before and we are chalking up yesterday's non potato eating incident as an anomaly.  But enough about the mashed potatoes and on to bigger and better foods like the big flying bird skillfully cooked in the oven that he loved.  Yes, our son is a big fan of Turkey.  He is also a big fan of green been casserole, turnips, parsnips, stuffing, sweet potatoes, gravy, and cranberry relish.  An eating machine he is.  The biggest surprise that I had was his enjoyment at eating the green bean casserole.  While it is one of my favorite Thanksgiving meal dishes, I had my doubts as to whether or not he would actually eat it.  My doubt stems from the fact that if given green beans alone, our son will immediately push them out of his mouth with his tongue, a nice half chewed green mess that slips and slides down his chin and onto his bib.  I guess the only reason he actually ate the casserole was because the green beans were not plain but mixed instead with cream of mushroom soup and the wonderful crispy onion strips that decorate the top.  Whatever the reasoning, he absolutely loved them and all the other food.  The tradition of stuffing ourselves as a family on Thanksgiving continues.  On a side note, perhaps the most amazing part of the day yesterday is that almost all the food was cooked by my wife's grandmother who is approaching 90 years old.  All of it done with minimal help from others.  (I did get to cut the Turkey, however, and of course make sure the skin was OK by sampling massive amounts of it). 

This year there were 9 of us gathered around the dinner table.  Every other year it alternates between 9 and about 14 people, depending on who alternates attendance.  With only 9 people, you would think there would be less food at the table.  You would be wrong in your thought however as the Turkey was a whopping 23 pounds and the sides looked like they could feed an army.  When dinner was over and every one sitting around the table looked halfway bloated, the dishes on the table looked like they had hardly been touched.  Talk about excess.  The good news is that we probably won't have to cook for a few days as we took plenty of leftovers home with us.  Then came desert.  This year desert was kept to a minimum.  There was one pie, cookies, chocolate covered pretzels, and a pumpkin type desert that looked like a pie but wasn't a pie.  So yes, we stuffed ourselves again after a while and proceeded afterwards to filter out of the house, find our way home, and wallow with our overly gassy, bloated stomachs we had created over a few hours of stuffing our faces.  All in all, it was a good day.  So enough about dinner and all the fixin's and back to my son's second, first Thanksgiving.  I noticed a few things yesterday about our son that are big steps for him.  Let me correct myself before I go any further; I have been noticing these things about our son for about a week now, however, it was yesterday that they really started to show themselves.  The first is that his walking is becoming more and more steady.  He is "toddling" less and less and actually starting to walk without his upper body swaying back and forth precariously.  This steady walking of his is not a permanent feature as of yet.  He still gets his moments when he looks like a drunken sailor circling the house, it is just that now he looks like he knows how to walk.  It is the cutest thing to watch him from behind, walking away, his little feet moving steadily underneath him as he explores every nook and cranny of a house.  In addition to walking more steadily, he is coming to understand that he can't just propel himself willy nilly towards a set of stairs sans concern.  Now he actually gets to the top of a set of stairs, stops, and looks to grab a hand for assistance.  Once he has an adult hand, he gets down stairs one of two ways; either trying to take the steps like a big boy or dropping down onto his but and inching forward till his feet hit the step below.  He even does that on small curbs and any type of step, whether it is one step or ten. 

The other major advancement that I have noticed is his understanding of certain objects.  I have mentioned before that he absolutely loves being outside whether it is 35 degrees out or 85.  It doesn't matter to him, he just wants to be outdoors.  With the colder weather, however, he has come to realize that he can't just go outside any way he wants to.  He needs his coat, his hat, and in his mind, his shoes (although they are a little more cumbersome than he would like and we normally opt to have him walk around just in socks or bare feet.)  Yesterday as we were sitting around the table, he walked up to the sliding door leading to the deck and stared desperately at the outdoors.  My wife and I both said, "Go get your coat and we can go outside".  Without even a moment's hesitation, he went right over to his travel bag and looked for his coat.  Not finding it in the bag, he looked on the couch, saw his coat, grabbed it and brought it to us.  Keep in mind that he is only a little over 13 months old at this point.  To me, it is amazing that he is putting all these little pieces together in his mind and learning about the world.  Not that I expected it to be any other way, I have just never experienced this before, so to me, it is amazing.  He has also begun trying to put his shoes on by himself.  Currently he has very little success in this arena, however, the attempt is being made so I guess that is all that counts.  It is not only his shoes that he tries to put on, but also our slippers and any other type of shoe he can find.  It is the funniest thing when he walks up to us and tries to take the slippers off of our feet so that he can put them on his.  So that concludes the big steps he has been making in his development and while his vocabulary is still almost non-existent, his babbling is becoming more nuanced in his pronunciation of different consonants and vowels.  He is trying to talk, it just isn't there yet.  All in due time.  Today, I am off to work and as such, must end here so that I can go get our little muffin out of his crib for breakfast.  I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving and got to spend quality time with their family. 

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Subconscious Meanderings

Our subconscious is a fickle beast that lies just below the surface of everything we do.  Freud posited that our subconscious played a big role in governing our every day actions, thoughts, feelings, and emotions.  While some don't buy into this, I feel that our subconscious plays a bigger role in our lives than most would like to admit.  For the most part, we have limited ability to tap into our subconscious and all that it contains, whatever it contains.  We know its there, we see and feel its effect through our dreams, and we are also driven to a certain extent by its movement and force, however, as to what actually lurks within our subconscious, we are blind.  One of the most tangible ways I feel that we can get a glimpse at our subconscious at work is when we make automated decisions with no notion as to why we chose what we chose.  Whether it be driving down a road, faced with a decision as to turn left or right, and without thinking we turn right, or those off the cuff decisions we make while shopping to grab a random item without having planned to get that item   These types of instances show us that our subconscious is working, yet we still don't know what motivates or drives our subconscious to act the way it does or drive us the way it does.  There are a few ways in which we can get a glimpse at how our subconscious operates.  One of these ways is through exhaustion.  I am not referring to any specific scientific study that has been done, rather, I am referring to my own experience with it.   One of the benefits of working mainly by myself all day is that I become more in tune with the way my mind operates.  I am more aware at how it pushes and pulls me, drives me towards certain things while pulling me away from others.  Never is this push and pull more noticeable to me than when I am overly tired.  I am talking about those times when it feels almost impossible to keep my eyes open or after I have caught my proverbial "second wind". 

During these times of exhaustion, my conscious guard gets let down and I begin to operate more on auto pilot than on actual conscious thought.  There is a certain impulsive drive that reveals itself and begins to take over my actions, thoughts, and feelings.  I attribute that solely to my subconscious playing a bigger role in driving me during those times than my conscious self.  As my brain is tired, my body weak, there is very little to restrain the often times manic and volatile subconscious from revealing itself and to a certain extent taking over all bodily function.  There is never a complete surrender to the subconscious, however I have found that the more tired or exhausted I am, the more perilously close to the surface my subconscious comes.  Thus far I have been treating my subconscious almost as this monster that lurks beneath the surface waiting to destroy me.  I don't think that's the case at all.  Our subconscious is a driving force, yes, but it is also a depository for everything we see, hear, smell, taste, think, etc.  With all that is contained within our subconscious, our conscious mind is literally a filter by which our subconscious is tamed, drawn from when needed, yet always present.  In fact, most times when I am exhausted and I feel my subconscious inching closer and closer to the surface of the conscious world, I am accepting, if not actually glad that I can get a little glimpse as to what is operating below the surface of my mind.  As I mentioned, my subconscious tends to be a little manic and volatile from time to time, but there is also a distinctly random and creative side to it that inspires me, drives me, and is at times breath taking.  That random, creative, impulsive side is one that I actually admire and wish that I can tap into more regularly at such deep levels.  I feel that I have a certain ability to tap into it on a regular basis, but it those times when I am tired, it really shows itself.  It is all about letting our guard down, attempting not to filter anything, and letting our mind go where it needs to go. 

Often times in our daily lives, we get so caught up in everything going on around us that we can't actually tap into our subconscious.  I used the times when I am exhausted as an example because my thought process during those times is minimal. I find that it takes all the energy I have to focus on the task at hand, never mind putting a filter on my mind and trying to control myself.   It is only through quieting the mind and letting our instincts and gut reactions take hold that we can access our subconscious and some of what it contains.  Waxing Freudian here, I don't think we can ever access every aspect of our subconscious except through our dreams.  It is those times, when our conscious mind is shut down can our subconscious take hold and come fully to the surface.  Similarly, if one is adept at meditation, then the subconscious can be tapped through those means as well.  All that is needed is a quiet mind, void of all thought, and our true self can come to be revealed.  While true access to our subconscious can only be had through meditation or through dreams while sleeping, I think that certain people have more access than others do to what lies beneath the surface.  In part, I feel that those who operate creatively in their lives, (whether it be through the arts, personal expression, or some other means) are capable of accessing more of their subconscious than the average person can.  Some have no interest in seeing what lies beneath the surface, no interest in tapping into their driving force, and most probably shouldn't have that desire.  For others though, tapping into our subconscious is their ultimate goal and once capable of doing so, can get a greater understanding of who they are and why they do what they do.  For me, I waver.  There are times when my subconscious astonishes me, amazes me, and drives me to tap into it even deeper.  Then there are those other times when a darker side reveals itself and I just want to shut down the subconscious and push it deep under the rug.  Whatever the case may be, more often than not I would rather tap into my subconscious than not.  It is a fascinating beast to me (for my subconscious literally is a beast) and one that for the most part that I would love to get to know better.  Guess I better just get exhausted more often so my subconscious comes to the surface more often.   

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Time With Family

Every year, the week of Thanksgiving becomes pandemonium in the United States.  Mostly a U.S. tradition (shared also by Canada), Thanksgiving was originally celebrated to give thanks for the first harvest by the pilgrims in 1621.  It was, and still is, a time for families to gather together and give thanks for not only the harvest, but for each other, and anything good that has happened in their lives.  Yet, there is a darker side to Thanksgiving that often times casts a long, dark, shadow over the events of one day.  With families gathering together, stress runs high while trying to prepare all the food, travelling to visit families becomes a chore, and for many, their thoughts pass right by Thanksgiving to Black Friday and the money they can save while shopping for Christmas.  Don't get me wrong, the essence of Thanksgiving is still largely present, families everywhere gather with each other to share food and give thanks for one another, yet the actual time spent with families seems to be diminishing.  The Wednesday before Thanksgiving is lauded as the busiest travel day of the year.  Thousands upon thousands of people pack into their cars, storm the airports, and largely freak out in their attempt to see their families.  As a result of this, I personally never travel far for work on that day as getting home could take hours if I traveled far.  One has to think, is all the stress of traveling on that one day worth it to see family?  If it is that worth it to see family, why not take the whole week off, make it easier, and start the travels the weekend before Thanksgiving?  I know, its the loss of work for a few days and the fact that most people don't want to spend an entire week with their family.  Luckily for me, we never travel out of state for Thanksgiving and as such, are able to reduce our stress somewhat.  Once we get past the travel, we can actually settle down on Thanksgiving and celebrate with family.  Of course, that is unless that family is hell bent on attending a foot ball game in the morning followed by an afternoon of football watching on the good old boob tube. 

I witness it every year at Thanksgiving, however, I for one never take part in the football aspect of Thanksgiving.  I personally think that it takes something away from the actual Thanksgiving day in that it distracts families from spending quality time with each other.  After the Thanksgiving meal, it is usually the men who retreat to the couches, sofas, and lounge chairs to let the food settle, their eyes close halfway, and watch the game unfold.  I can't help but think how hard it must be for those who play football to leave their families or not even celebrate Thanksgiving because they have to play a game on that day.  Wouldn't it be easier, especially for the players, to move those games to Friday?  Just a thought that I know will never happen, but it would be nice if those players got to spend a little more time with their families instead of suiting up to play a game.  But I am biased as I never really cared for football.  It almost seems as if the actual day of Thanksgiving has been whittled down to just a meal.  Both before and afterwards, families get involved in other activities whether it be football, running 5K's, or something else that detracts from the time spent with family.  It seems a large complaint of people is that they don't get to spend enough time with their families.  Yet, when you have a whole day to do just that, people get pulled away and end up spending only a few hours with their families.  I guess what I am saying is that if you are going to spend a day that is meant to be spent with your family involved in other activities, then don't complain about not spending enough time with your family.  And that leads me to perhaps the most detracting element of Thanksgiving, can you guess it, yup, its Black Friday, the dreaded day where stores are mobbed, fights over items commence, and people turn into wild animals. 

The unfortunate part is, people start planning for Black Friday on Thanksgiving, flipping through flyers, finding the best deals in town, and plotting their route from store to store to store.  Black Friday, to me, brings out the worst in a lot of people and just goes to show how crazy people can be when it comes to buying stuff.  That is exactly what people buy, stuff.  A lot of it is presents for Christmas, but many also simply head to the stores to fill up their houses with stuff they think they need but really don't.  With so much on people's minds, how can they honestly take time to enjoy their family and get to know them a little better.  Maybe this year we can all spend a little more time with family instead of getting distracted by everything else going on in our lives.  On Thanksgiving, lets all hit the pause button on the rest of our lives and focus our energy on listening to and being with our families.  There is nothing more important than family.  When all our friends, customers, clients, acquaintances, and others are gone, our family will most likely still be there for us.  Is it always easy to deal with our families?  No, but the more we spend time with them, the more we understand them, and the closer we get to them.  Lets all take a step back and really consider what is important to us, give thanks for that, and relax on the day of Thanksgiving.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Part Painter, Part Therapist

I can only imagine what a true therapist or psychologist would pay to be in my shoes for a day or two.  After all, these professions rely on people visiting them to sort through their issues, receive at advice and counseling, and hopefully fix whatever problem they are dealing with.  Yet, people must bring their issues and problems with them and be able to communicate them clearly to these professionals in order to receive any meaningful help.  Sometimes, due to situational blindness, they can't or won't communicate everything exactly the way it happens.  This is where I bet a therapist or psychologist would love to be a fly on the wall in any one of their patients homes.  Not so much to continue their work beyond what they are getting paid for, but rather to see the truth behind what their patient is saying, whether it is accurate or a little skewed.  Those in my profession have that unique ability to be a fly on the wall of people's homes, not literally obviously, but figuratively.  This is especially applicable with painters who often times spend more than 1 or 2 days in people's homes.  I have found that the first 1 or 2 days (the amount that most other contractors will spend in a home) is always a little more quiet if the homeowners are present.  Those first two days are like a vetting process almost, seeing what I or someone else will be like in their home.  Will I listen to loud obnoxious music, be ornery and spiteful, or will I rather be quiet and taciturn, respectful and polite.  For the most part, I like to place myself in the latter category, more times than not opting to work in relative quiet, just me and the room.  After those first few days, it seems like the imaginary wall of non-communication between family members in the home is lifted and that is consequently when the life for the homeowners returns to normal.  That is, normal for them, for me a window into their lives.  I don't mean to imply that I eavesdrop on everything that is happening in the house.  If a couple are whispering in another room, I will not go out of my way to move closer and try to elicit what is being said.  Rather, as I am working, I hear the normal activities and conversations that occupy a home owner's life.  Have you ever tried to work in a silent house and not listen to a conversation that someone is having?  It is incredibly difficult. 

Yet, there is a part of me that enjoys listening to people's conversations amongst their own family.  I am like a super absorbent sponge that takes in everything and disseminates nothing.  Every conversation that people have while I am working in their homes does not pass the walls of their homes.  I hear, I absorb, and then when I walk through their door to go home, I am silent.  I was going to say I forget, but that would be a lie.  I remember a lot of what I hear and to be honest, it helps paint a better picture of who people are but even more importantly, it shows me the different ways in which people act and react.  I use this intel when dealing with others every day.  I see a plethora of different personalities and the intricacies that accompany them.  I hear people dealing with doctor's about an illness they or a loved one are dealing with.  There is sometimes raw emotion that is revealed, mostly unbeknown to the homeowner.  You see, after those first few days, it is almost like I become part of the house, part of the daily happenings, and in the blending of me and their house, I in effect disappear to a degree.  This doesn't mean that they will never come in and talk to me, rather, they sometimes forget that I am there while talking to their loved one in the house or to a friend or relative on the phone.  I have seen both positive and negative ways of dealing with children, some that repulse me, some that necessitate my emulation of them to a degree.  I have also seen relationships between spouse, again some positive and some negative, that either turn me off to the way they are dealing with one another, or give me insight as to what I might be able to do with my wife.  All of that is mostly from conversations that I happen to hear.  That doesn't even begin to touch on the conversations that I actually have with the homeowners.  Often times, the homeowner will watch me work and strike up a conversation.  As they are watching me work ( I rarely stop working to have a conversation with a homeowner, not out of spite or inconsideration, but out of a necessity to keep on working) they get engrossed in my method and patterns and start talking about themselves and their lives and after a while, I start to get a really good picture of who they are, what makes them tick, and the struggles that they are having. 

Most times, unless asked, I don't offer my opinion on their personal issues.  After all, I am simply there to improve the interior (or exterior) look of their home, not to offer counsel or therapy for their lives.  Yet sometimes it feels like I am a therapist or psychologist.  When those questions come, asking me what I would do in their situation or what my thoughts are on an issue that they are having, I respond almost as a therapist or psychologist would, respectfully, yet with complete honesty.  I never communicate everything that I am thinking for sometimes I think they would probably throw me out of the house if I did.  I have a tendency to be blunt and if I already don't necessarily care for the way they operate their household, I am not going to make it evident or reveal those thoughts to them.  That is simply bad business and my response is often, "I really don't know".  For the most part, I enjoy every conversation I have with a homeowner, however revealing it may be about them.  I believe that in most cases, what I hear and what I talk about with a homeowner improves who I am as a person.  In dealing with all different types of people, I learn the best way to deal and communicate with others.  I have dealt with the downright weirdest and kindest individuals, the vindictive and the complacent.  Every new job brings with it the prospect of getting yet another glimpse at humanity at its most basic, in the home.  Everyone's home is their sanctuary of sorts, their place where they can be themselves and not worry about what other's think about them.  As a painter who enters into this sanctuary, I take it upon myself to be indifferent to what that sanctuary is like.  Every home owner's sanctuary is different, no two are the same.  The aspect of dealing with the homeowner is one of the favorite aspects of my job.  Every day brings a new adventure and I never know what I will learn or take away with me. 

Friday, November 16, 2012

Rush Hour Delirium

There used to be a time when I could beat rush hour traffic heading towards New York.  That time was pre-fatherhood for me, a time when leaving between 6 and 6:15 in the morning was a piece of cake.   The responsibilities I had in the morning were less than in my current AF (after fatherhood) state.  Now, even though my son is only 13 months old and not nearly ready for school, I find that leaving before 6:30 is a challenge.  No matter how much I prepare in advance, no matter how much I try to rush in the morning, 6:30 is about the earliest I can get out of the house on a normal day.  While that 15 to 30 minutes might not seem like a big deal to non-commuters, anyone who travels the I-95 corridor (which includes the Merrit Parkway) between New Haven and New York knows how much of a difference even 5 minutes can make.  With my earliest departure being at 6:30, I can not make a trip that without traffic takes 35 minutes in less than 50 minutes.  That is a good day.  On most other days, the trek takes me at least an hour or more.  If by some chance I don't leave till after 7, I might as well take back roads the entire way because otherwise I would be sitting on the highway for probably close to one and a half hours.  No matter which way you look at it, rush hour traffic is a bear, especially when travelling alone.  However, I do occasionally find ways of occupying myself.  Most importantly for me is a good radio station, normally 99.1 WPLR, which has a talk show in the morning that is mostly comedic.  Laughter definitely helps pass the time as I stare blankly at a serpentine line of red brake lights.  A majority of the time, I just day dream while listening to the radio, vaguely paying attention to what is going on around me.  There are other times however when I try and study traffic flow, figure out which lane is better to travel in, and decipher people's motives in choosing the lane that they do. 

In terms of deciphering people's motives, I have come up with way to many to list here and they are, for the most part, mundane and trivial.  The lane choice, however, is of more importance to me as it greatly helps my state of mind while driving.  In general, I have found that there is no overall advantage to lane choice during rush hour traffic (at least on the Merrit in the morning).  For those of you who don't know, the Merrit is a two lane scenic parkway (the first built and designated as such in the United States) that has a ban on large trucks, trailers, and commercial vehicles.  I-95 on the other hand is a 3 lane highway, most times during rush hour a parking lot, that occasionally offers scenic views of the shoreline, but for the most part, is quite the boring ride (and there are big rigs).  I find that the Merrit always moves a little quicker in the morning, while in the afternoon it is a gamble as to which one will move quicker.  Lets stick with the Merrit in the morning, however, as that is the favorite part of my daily commute.  I was talking about lane choice, which for the non-commuter probably seems like a stupid thing to think about.  Take a walk (or drive) in my shoes, however, as I describe the advantages and disadvantages of both.  The right lane on the Merrit is a tricky one.  For the most part, it seems to move a little bit slower than the left lane, however, having travelled in both lanes extensively and also having tracked cars in opposite lanes to see if there really is an advantage, I have found that there really isn't.  You might get lulled into thinking that the left would move quicker almost continuously due to the fact that no one is exiting or entering the parkway from that lane, however, you would be wrong.  A major factor that goes into keeping the left lane in tune with the right is the amount of people who think that it moves faster and as a result move from the right to the left.  With enough cars on the roadway, however, all this does is slow down the left lane to a similar speed to the right.  At times, it almost seems like the right lane is cursed when you witness a mad exodus of cars fleeing the dreaded right lane for the left.  With all the cars moving over to the left lane, one might consider moving over to the right to get a slight advantage in traffic.  That is normally not a good idea as you still must deal with all the traffic entering the highway on the right.  That in and of itself slows everything down leaving you with no choice but to stay in the lane you are in.  The right lane, at least for me, is the more aggravating of the two to drive in.  On almost every on-ramp, there are a slew of impatient and hurried individuals who must try and get as far ahead as possible before merging in, even if it means driving onto the grass.  When I am in the right lane, I have a rule that I always let one car in front of me and say screw off to all the others.  This brings about the frustration as I feel that if everyone let one car in front of them, traffic would move a little more smoothly.  It never happens though, which leads me to move into the left lane.  There are times, however, when the right lane seems appealing due to traffic exiting from the highway which leads to a little burst in speed in that lane.  It never lasts long and before long, both lanes go back to being equal.  The left lane, I have found, is good for spacing out while driving.  If I leave enough room between myself and the car in front of me, I have can coast along pretty well at 5 miles per hour and letting my eyes wander to the scenery around me.  Yes, traffic is complicated, but that's what I think about in the morning.  I could go on and bore you with more insights and observations, but for now, I will relinquish my traffic detailing. 

If you can manage not to get frustrated while driving in rush hour traffic and manage to look around a little, you might notice cool little occurrences that without traffic, you might never see.  One such instance occurred this week during one of my drives to work, I can't remember which day because after a while, the morning drives seem to blend into one another becoming an amoebic blob.  The instance I speak of occurred as I was coming down a slight incline on the Merrit and could see the string of brake lights extending in front of me for probably a half mile before they disappeared around a curve in the road.  As I was making my way down this little hill, I noticed what looked like little LED lights flashing on the passenger side mirrors on all the cars.  I quickly realized that the sun was dancing lazily through the barren branches of the trees as it rose from its slumber.  With the sunlight dancing at just the right angle, it was being caught and thrown in reverse by all the passenger side mirrors.  It was a really cool sight to see, little specks of sunshine blinking and flashing for all traveling to see.  It is little moments such as the sunlight dancing that help to take the edge off of the morning drive.  It drove me to think about how if I was even five minutes later, the sun would have been at a different angle and I wouldn't have seen the flashing light show.  Even if I was traveling a month a few weeks earlier I might not have seen the show due to any remaining leaves on the trees that might have blocked the sun's early morning extravaganza.  There are more cool instances, but for now, I must get my day started.  My extended daily commute should be coming to an end soon as I am getting close to finishing a job down county, but till I do finish and my commute ends, I will continue to look for those little gems in the traffic that help to alleviate the extensive ennui that settles in during rush hour traffic. 

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Addicted to Scandal

There seems to be a trend growing in the United States in which more and more of our high profile citizens are being caught in scandals of their own design.  Thus far, there seems to be a 1-2 year cycle in which we have a glut of scandals discovered and reported on, and then a break for a while before the next one pops up.  This latest one is somewhat disturbing if only because it involves high level officials in the CIA, military, and FBI.  Reading through the news and hearing the latest reports on the radio, you would think we were living in some sort of twisted romance novel complete with affairs, stalking, investigations, but as yet, no conclusion.  One might attribute the latest set of affairs/scandals to these men having a sense of invulnerability due to their position of power.  Or it could just be that these men have no self control and would rather just risk their jobs and married lives for a quick fling of a few years or less.  Perhaps what is most worrisome is that the main individual implicated in this latest scandal is, or should I say was, the head of the CIA.  That means he is in charge of all the covert operatives or spies in this country.  Yet he couldn't figure out how to keep an affair hidden.  On top of that, you have reports of a four star general being implicated in another affair and to top it all off, an FBI agent sending pictures of himself shirtless to a woman.  It all speaks of stupidity to me.  Maybe it is the fact that these men operate with a certain feeling of impunity, allowing them to do what they want without getting caught.  Unfortunately, it seems these men forgot they are living in the 21st century with technology that stores and holds every little bit of information you transfer through its far reaching tentacles.  Whatever the reason, these men were caught, and should certain information come to light that they compromised the security of the United States through their romantic trysts, then they should be prosecuted as such. 

Their affairs, in and of themselves, are destructive only to their families.  However, with the case being made that potential security secrets and information were passed through these affair channels, the destruction they might have caused is far reaching and of great cause for concern.  It seems what these men failed to realize  in their positions of power is that anything they do could come under scrutiny.  Heaven forbid they click on the wrong file when sending an email to their "lover" and military plans are suddenly passed along to ordinary citizens.  That is not acceptable.  Thus far, we don't concretely know if any of that happened, but it is entirely possible given their positions.  As this whole affair/scandal is still developing, we must take a little time to look back at other instances of affairs and scandals over the past few years.  The first thing anyone should notice is that the main perpetrator in all of these high level affairs are men.  Noticing that brings to mind a very important question, namely, why is that nearly all of the affairs and scandals we hear about involve men as the "cheater"?  As I was listening to the radio on the way to work yesterday, one of the radio show hosts offered a possible explanation.  He said that men, since the beginning of time, have been programmed, or have it in their genes, to hunt and reproduce.   That drive to reproduce is what causes these men to turn to other women as a source of pleasure or potentially to reproduce.  Now we all know that their intention is not to reproduce, rather, it is to engage in an act that brings them pleasure.  However, with that underlying drive to find a suitable mate and fornicate, it seems that some men can't deny the urge and despite the cost to themselves and their families, will proceed with said action.  I partly agree that that urge to find a suitable mate and reproduce is inherent within men, but as we have progressed in society, most of us have learned self control.  Namely, we don't need to reproduce in order to keep our species alive.  I think we are pretty well established and quite frankly, don't need offspring from extramarital affairs.  That self control, I think, is something that most men learn, yet some can not help disregarding.  If we look at the latest individuals involved in these affairs, we will notice that the main 2 are military. 

Before I go into my last potential explanation, let me first state that I respect men and women in the military for what they do.  I don't necessarily agree with it, but I respect them.  That being said, when someone goes through military training, one of those base instincts which most of us have is nourished and made to inhabit the core of who these people are, namely, the instinct to hunt, kill, and defend.  Is it any stretch of the imagination to think that with the fostering of this one basic instinct, the other instinct to reproduce and find a suitable mate is also fostered?  It may or may not, but I do think that by training men and women in the main task of killing another human being, we are bringing a basic instinct embedded in almost all humans to the forefront of who they are and by doing so, probably bring along with it other basic instincts.  Regardless of why they did what they did, it happened and now they have to deal with the consequences.  I am still shocked that these high profile individuals, trained to keep secrets, were caught.  Does that speak to the state of security in our country?  I sure hope not because if their actions, or inability to keep their actions secret, says anything about the current state of our intelligence agency and military, then we have great cause to be worried.  I will lean towards the optimistic side on this one and say that I think that while these men were caught, I don't think it is necessarily indicative of the general security for our country.  In essence, it is just another affair/scandal that is being thrown all over the news.  My heart goes out to these men's families, not them, and hope that their families are able to move forward without too much disruption.  I guess we will have to wait another year or two for the next big affair scandal to come to light.  I can guarantee one thing, it will happen.  Men in power in this country have no ability to control themselves.  OK, most do, but there will always be the stupid ones who like to philander around and will eventually do something stupid and get caught.  Needless to say, they deserve to get caught.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Emotionally Drained

Its only Wednesday and it feels like it should be Saturday with myself laying fast asleep in bed.  Alas, it is not.  This week has been emotionally draining and trying for me.  I could say its been an emotional roller coaster ride, but that would normally imply that you can see the ups and downs coming before you get to them.  My experience has led me to feel as if this week so far has been more akin to walking a catwalk greased with butter, no handrails, and no light.  Every step forward brings with it uncertainty.  I never know if there will be a small pebble lodged in the butter, waiting for my foot to step improperly and send me tumbling into the chasm below.  The little annoyances that are normally easily brushed aside sting more now.  With all my effort focused on moving forward, essentially blind, I can't see the little pin pricks and mosquito bites advancing in the dark.  Sometimes, it is all I can do to just pause and gather myself together before proceeding, unknowing.  Thus far, I haven't fallen off yet, despite my desire at points to just give up and jump.  I know the end is somewhere, I just haven't found it yet.  Unfortunately, this catwalk of emotional fluctuations will probably continue for some time before vastly improving, the lights slowly coming back on and the grease thinning somewhat.  What has led to this precarious walk I dare to take on every day, rising from my bed not knowing how the day will end?  It is a confluence of different events that has thrown my emotional life asunder.  If you read my blog somewhat regularly, you will know that my grandmother was placed into a short term care facility late last week due to her rapidly advancing dementia.  That was the event that turned off the lights and greased the catwalk for me.  On top of that, my son has been a little trying lately and on top of dealing with my grandmother, it has taken all my effort to remain cool, calm, and collected amidst the turmoil. 

I went to go see my grandmother Monday evening on my way home from work.  Luckily, it was a good day for her and she remembered my name upon entering the room.  She didn't look particularly well just after a few days in the place.  Her skin is starting to sag a little more and she is losing some of the vivacity from her eyes and muscles.  Despite the fact that she is mentally deteriorating, she was in relatively good spirits and her voice was still filled with pep and vigor (as much as can be expected for a woman in her early 90's).  Yet, despite the good signs, there were many more that indicated she was rapidly losing her wits and her mental capacity.  She couldn't figure out who a picture of my son and I was even with me in the room until I pointed out that it was in fact me in the picture.  Before that even happened, she forgot that she had a little photo album in her nightstand.  In fact, she thought someone had hidden it on her when it was in plain sight as soon as you opened the drawer.  While there, her dinner arrived with one of her favorite fruits as a side dish, apricots.  That one fruit got her started on a story from her childhood in which a house she lived in had an apricot tree as well as a one or two cherry trees (depending on which version of the story you believe).  Once she got started on that story, it was like hitting the repeat button on a CD player, the story kept on getting retold and retold, probably 8 times at least.  Each time, there were different facts added or changed in the story.  Towards the end of the story, she would trail off, only to return to the beginning, starting with her apricot tree that her parents had in the front yard.  I want to believe that the story is true, only because I have heard parts of it before her dementia take hold, however, I can't know if all the facts are true anymore or if they are just being mixed in from other experiences that she has had.  To see a tough woman, still largely full of life (albeit a different life now), reduced in mental capacity to where she is now is hard.  Having much time to think about it, I think the part that makes it the hardest is the fact that some of the first memories I have are with her when she was watching me while my mother still worked.  Overall, it was good to spend time with her while she still knew who I was.  The hardest part for me was saying "I love you" to her when I was leaving, not knowing if the next time I see her it would be me or me "the stranger" saying "I love you" to her. 

Having my grandmother decline is the hardest issue I am currently dealing with.  It seems to occupy most of my thoughts throughout the day which makes it even harder to deal with anything else that comes up.  Which brings me to my son and the day off I had with him yesterday.  With all the reading we have done on parenting, what to expect, how children develop, and so on and so forth, we have come to the conclusion that our son is quickly moving into the crankiness of an 18 month old at 13 months.  This could either be an indication that he is developmentally advanced or that by the time he reaches 18 months he will be a veritable terror.  Don't get me wrong, I love him to death, just right now he is trying.  He is getting to the point where he wants to get his hands on everything and if we don't get it for him (which we don't), he starts getting fussy.  On top of that, he is teething again.  On top of that, he wants to get picked up, then put down, then picked up, then put down ad nauseum.  After most of the day trying to keep my cool and not get frustrated, I finally found a solution that worked to keep from getting overly worked up.  It involves holding him (which gets tiring as he is getting heavier) and telling him about everything he points at and wants to touch.  I have been literally describing everything in our house to him and if the object is not dangerous, letting him touch and feel it.  It works, it is just draining physically and emotionally draining to be "present" to him and not let anything else cloud my time with him.  Yesterday was probably one of the hardest days I have spent alone with him.  I know its not going to get easier, I will just have to adapt and proceed.  All in all, I still greatly enjoyed spending the day with him, it was just different than normal and more taxing.  There are other little issues that pop up day in and day out that tax me even further, but for the most part, it is the big things that are draining me.  I am writing this not to get sympathy, but partly in an effort to sort through what I am dealing with in hopes that I can put some of it behind me as I proceed through my day.  We shall see what today brings, hopefully for me, it will be a good day.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Grossly Unprepared

Its been 14 days since Hurricane Sandy blew through the North East and there are still areas that need serious help.   There are still communities that have not had their power restored which, for some, means that there is no running water.  With no running water means no flushing toilets, trips upon trips upon trips for fresh water, and of course, the trek to a charging station to bring life back to dead cell phones, laptops, and other devices.  Granted, for the majority of storm victims (except those that lost their houses), life has returned to some sort of normalcy.   So what am I getting at here?  Despite the fact that this was one of the worst storms this region of the country has seen in a very long time, there was still a lot that could have been done in terms of emergency preparation and storm response.  This was the third major storm to hit the region in a little over a year and you would think that after the first two which happened within 2 months of each other, we would have had a better response time and reaction from utility companies, the government, and other agencies assisting with clean up and restoration.  All this goes to show that in cases of wide spread destruction as we saw two weeks ago, our government and those that support the basic necessities are unprepared for a storm such as Sandy.  Regardless of whether you believe in global warming or not (I personally do), you can't deny that these large, damaging storms are occurring more frequently.  Many will point to global warming as a potential cause, which I would agree with, and if that's the case, then we will probably see many more of these types of storms in the coming years.  Yet nothing is being done to bolster our emergency preparedness or to hold companies responsible for restoring power and utilities to homes in a timely manner.  What does our government need to do?  A lot of work, essentially.

First, lets deal with the utility companies.  They had a year since the last major storm blew through to put measures in place to deal with a large loss of power.  However, it seems that the measures they did put in place didn't go far enough.  At least in Connecticut, which wasn't hit nearly as hard as New York or New Jersey, it took over a week for some people to get power back.  Most areas did have their power turned back on within days, but for some, that is too long.  In my mind, if a company has x amount of customers that depend on their service for every day living, than that company must be prepared for an event in which all their customers lose power.  Luckily we have not had such an event where a utility company had 100% of their customers lose power, but if a big enough storm hits at the right time, it is entirely possible.  Yet nothing is changing.  They hired some more people, put measures in place to deal with these situations in a more expedient manner, but they are still lagging.  Moving on, another issue that needed to be dealt with more quickly than restoring power was ensuring that gas stations had enough fuel and that those stations had power to pump gas.  Yes, ports in New York and New Jersey from which gas is distributed were either damaged or temporarily shut down, but there are ports outside the heavily damaged area that were not called upon to assist in bringing in excess fuel to the heavily affected areas.  Some of those ports are New Haven, Boston, Providence, and Baltimore.  If there was extra gas from those ports trucked in to the New York/New Jersey region, then we would not have had the run on gas, the long lines, and the rationing that we experienced.  Without power, many people were relying on generators to power their homes and essentials.  Yet without gas, most generators don't work (unless they run on propane or natural gas, but those are mainly standby generators) so it complicates matters even more.  It could have been avoided if there were plans in place to expedite gas transportation to the areas that needed it, but there weren't. 

Lastly, while our government, federal and local, did an excellent job of warning people about the storm and following through with evacuation plans, the overall response was slower than expected.  This storm created over a billion dollars worth of damages and I wonder who is going to pay for all of that.  I am sure that the government will chip in and offer large amounts of assistance to affected states, but if we keep on experiencing these types of storms, how much more can we afford?  I am sure that the government does not have an adequate rainy day fund in place for events such as this.  If these storms keep on occurring on a regular basis, we the taxpayers will be feeling the pinch as our taxes go up just to pay for more restoration and clean up.  So where does this all leave us?  It leaves us hoping that those in charge of utility companies, gas companies, and the government start re-assessing their plans and improving them so that life can return to normal more quickly after a storm of this magnitude.  Trust me, I know that for some, restoration and recovery will take far longer than a few weeks as there were many who lost everything.  For those people unfortunately, there was nothing that could have been done to prevent against the type of destruction that they experienced.  I only hope that as time progresses, their lives return to normal as quickly as possible.  For the rest of us, we need to keep in mind that things could have been a lot worse.   These are the times when communities need to band together to help those in need, and for the most part, they are.  We can not always rely on the government to help us out.  There are times, such as these, when the best help comes from those who live around you.  Let us do our best then keep our communities strong and to help one another in these times of need. 

Monday, November 12, 2012

Advancing Dementia

Dementia is perhaps one of the worst diseases to afflict a person and their body besides cancer.  In some ways, it is even worse.   While all diseases affect both the afflicted and their families, dementia seems to have a greater effect on the afflicted person's family than on the afflicted themselves.  I don't want to say that one disease is worse than another for all diseases in their own right are bad, however, as I am currently dealing with a family member who is living with dementia, I will say from my own perspective, it is the worst.  This person is my grandmother, Baba, whom I have talked about before in my blog.  Over the past week, her dementia has taken a serious turn for the worse and she now seems to be on a very steep, slippery, downhill road.  In some ways, I almost wish that another disease would have taken hold, leaving her brain in tact, even if it meant that she would pass more quickly.  However, life has dealt her an ugly hand to deal with, in fact our whole family, and now we must struggle through.  The downward spiral really took hold the day after her birthday a little over a week ago.  According to my parents, when they arrived home from being out and about, Baba had set the table for dinner and told my parents that her family was coming over, most of whom are either passed away or not even close enough to come for dinner.  After their real dinner, my dad was playing the piano and Baba had no idea who he was or who my mother was.  Needless to say, the whole evening was a mess and ended up with Baba turning aggressive, waving her cane around and threatening both of my parents.  The night culminated with my parents restraining her and taking her to the hospital.  Two days later, it happened again where she turned aggressive and had to be taken to the hospital.  It turned out that last Monday was her last day at my parents house.  After a few days in the hospital under observation by a few doctors, psychological evaluations, and a slew of tests, it was determined that the best place for her going forward would be in an assisted living facility. 

She was moved to a short term care facility in Westport late last week until the whole situation could be sorted out.  According to my parents, she is comfortable there and it looks like they might opt to have her stay there as more of a long term care situation instead of moving her again.  I personally can't imagine what it must be like for my grandmother going through this.  Part of me wants to believe that she knew this was happening to her a few years ago and perhaps that was the reason she had such a desire to die at that point.  Perhaps she wanted something else to take her life instead of going through this nightmare of a disease.  From an outsider looking in, it seems like dementia is akin to a slowly creeping toxic fog, lurking in a forest.   It comes and goes, reaching in to snag a piece of your memory or to take you over and debilitate you in such a way that you are unrecognizable to everyone else around you.  Like that fog, creeping insidiously along the forest floor, there are times when it is clear, you can see the forest around you, the trees both in front and behind you until you pass a point where it suddenly encompasses you, leaving nothing to be seen, only distorted images of a forest that you think you know, but often times don't.  It must be frightening on some levels, not knowing when that fog will overtake you again, dragging you down into a pit of emptiness from which it is harder and harder to climb out.  Over time, the trees begin to lose their definition, the fog becoming more and more permanent until one day, all you see is fog and nothing else.  There are no distinct forms to be seen, no memories to bring you back to your former life, only a fog swirling and swirling and swirling.  I wouldn't want to go through that and hope I never have to.  From someone looking in from the outside, the perspective is totally different.  Since I am on a forest and fog analogy, I will continue to use it. 

For those family member close enough to witness this decline, it is like standing on top of a fire tower in the forest, in ways on omniscient fire tower that rises just above the fog.   From that tower we can see Baba stumbling through, attempting to escape the fog and grab hold of the trees, her reality, her life.  As she continues on, despite our shouts of direction to her, the fog becomes denser and denser, killing any sound that we might make, keeping it away from her.  To see her stumbling from our fire tower is like watching a baby waddle towards a busy street with a bus coming, all while standing in a packed store with no exit.  No matter what we do, no matter how hard we bang on the glass or shout out warnings, we know that it will not make a difference.  All we can do is simply hope that the baby stops, or in more matter of fact terms, we hope that the fog will dissipate and relinquish its grip on Baba.  Yet for all our hoping, for all our shouting, for all our direction we try to give, nothing will stop the fog.  No spot light we might shine from the tower will penetrate the fog, there are no stairs to reach her, all we can do is watch and hope for the best.  Don't get me wrong, the fog of dementia has not reached the point where our family is completely un-recognizable, but it is getting closer and closer with every passing day.  Unfortunately, there is no stopping the fog, there is no ability to turn back time and go back to better times, there is only dealing with the advancing disease and its effects.  However long it lasts, it will not be easy, in fact, it already isn't easy.  There is no easy way that I know of to deal with the veritable loss of a family member while that family member is still around.  I wouldn't wish this upon anyone.  It is one thing to hear about another person's experience with a family member and dementia and it is a whole other thing to actually deal with it yourself, to see the slow disappearance of a person that you have known your whole life.  As it is, I will probably be writing more and more about Baba and her slow decline as time progresses.  I still hope that one morning I will get the call that she passed away quietly in her sleep.  More than myself, I don't want her to have to deal with this disease any more than she has to. 

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Quality Time With My Son

Yesterday was my long awaited for day off with our son.  Last week was a little skewed with the super storm we had roll through.  I didn't end up taking my usual Wednesday off.  Instead, I ended up spending a little more time at home on Monday and Tuesday because of the storm.  That being said, I couldn't wait for yesterday to roll around.  According to my mother-in-law, our son declined to nap on Monday and Tuesday at all.  Well, he might have gotten 20 minutes here, 30 minutes there, but compared to his normal 3 hours of napping during the day, he really didn't get much.  Even the 20 and 30 minute stints are suspect as we do not have a video monitor in his room and as such can't tell if he is really sleeping or just lying in his crib with his eyes open staring at the ceiling.  Every time he went down for his nap on Monday and Tuesday he decided to babble, shake his crib, and essentially just have a good old time by himself in his room.  So yesterday I was determined to get him down for a nap.  Its not like it is my decision, but I was all set to do whatever was necessary to make him sleep short of feeding him alcohol or a sleeping aid (which we don't have by the way, just alcohol).  In any case, my wife calls me the nap king as I can usually get our son to go down fairly easily most of the time.  Granted, every time is different and owing to the fact that our son has developed his own strong willed personality, nothing is certain anymore.  So after his breakfast of scrambled eggs with spinach and cheese and his subsequent morning snack of pears and yogurt, I decided it was time for his morning nap.  I changed his diaper, brought him upstairs, and proceeded to rock and sing to him for about 10 minutes.  He stared at me most of the time with his thumb lodged securely in his mouth.  After a few minutes I saw his eyelids start to flutter and I knew that a nap was definitely in his immediate future.  Once I was done going through my set of songs, I placed him in his crib, kissed him on the forehead, and left his room.  What I thought would be an immediate nod of to sleep actually took 40 minutes before the sandman reached him and tapped him on the head, sending him off to dream land. 

He slept for about 2 hours and 15 minutes, much longer than his usual nap time of an hour and a half.  He probably would have slept longer, but I wanted to get him to Baby Rhyme Time at the library, so I woke him up.  I know, I know, never wake a sleeping baby as my wife told me later, but hey, he didn't wake up as Jekyll, so I guess it was OK.   I loved waking him up despite the fact that I probably shouldn't have.  As soon as I opened his door, he started stirring.  I snuck in and waited by the head of his crib as he slowly came around to the world of the waking.  At first, he didn't see me and just stared at the door, probably wondering why it was open.  After a minute or so, he finally saw me and a big smile burst out on his face.  It was absolutely priceless.  With that, he was up and ready to go.  It is funny whenever you get him up from a nap or his night's sleep.  At first he just lays there for a few seconds, staring at you or the door before popping up to a sitting position.  He usually follows his popping up with a resounding "ado".  After I got him up, brought him downstairs and changed him, it was time for his bottle of milk.  We have heard from numerous people about how they are breaking their baby of the bottle habit and trying to get them over to sippy cups or straw bottles.  Well, our son has his own agenda.  He will only drink milk from its source (my wife) or the bottle.  We have tried putting the milk both in a sippy cup and the straw cup and he wants nothing to do with either.  Yet, despite that, we are not overly worried because he loves his sippy cup and straw cup for drinking water out of.  He will even drink water out of a regular cup as long as we hold it for him.  If we didn't, as I'm sure most parents could imagine, it would get everywhere.  Regardless, I was talking about feeding him his bottle.  I don't know what it is, but whenever I feed him his bottle, I can't just put him in his high chair and hand him his bottle while I do other things.  I simply hold him on my lap on the couch and have him drink his milk that way.  Call it whatever you will, I call it my little bonding time with him. 

All in all, his is babbling more and more and starting to study our lips as we talk to figure out how to properly formulate words.  He is getting closer, although I have a feeling we are still a good ways off from full out talking.  I love watching him study our lips though.  Its almost as if you can see the gears grinding away inside that little head of his trying to figure out the English language.  I can tell you this much, he is quite the chatter box and talks more than most other babies that I know (not that I know too many).  In any case, his personality is flourishing and he is perpetually curious about anything and everything.  Needless to say, I couldn't ask for more.  Through all his curiosity, he is getting more and more adept and dexterous with his fingers and hands.  Its amazing to watch every little development and see him grow and change.  He is a mover and a shaker and I can only imagine what will come next.  For now, as always, I will enjoy every minute I have with him, not push him beyond what he is capable of, and let him explore the world that he knows.