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.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

A Girls Work Ethic

The argument or debate about women in the work force is still raging, not in terms of them actually working, but about the pay they receive and how it is normally less than what a man working in an equivalent position would make.   My opinion is that pay should absolutely be equal and not gender based.  Many women work just as hard if not harder than men and they should be afforded equal opportunities to show their skills and receive ample compensation for their work.   I have seen the bias of men versus women first hand.  In my industry, myself being a painting contractor, it is almost a given that men do the work.   How do I know this?  Well, years ago, perhaps 5-6 at this point, my wife was working for me over the summer and one of the jobs I received was being subbed out to me by another contractor.  When I told him that I was planning on bringing my wife, he asked politely that I not do that because the customer wouldn't "like" it.  Now, I don't know if it was the customer or just his "old school" mentality that drove him to suggest that my wife shouldn't come.  But it did happen, and I am sure it still happens to a certain extent now.  Granted, some of the ladders and equipment that I have to move and use on a daily basis are cumbersome and heavy, but that doesn't mean a woman couldn't move them, it just might be difficult.  My wife was always a hard worker and was one of the few that I could trust to work to my standards.   That has always been one of the trickiest aspects of hiring someone to work for me; finding someone who can learn and execute what I ask and work to my standards.  There have been many people who have tried working for me and could not pass muster.  So, for the most part, I work for myself.  This year, however, my wife who is a high school teacher asked if I wanted to be part of the internship program at her school.  I figured why not.  I would get a high school senior looking to work and on top of that it would be essentially 120 hours of free labor.  Both my wife and I figured that one of the high school boys from the tech ed department would take the internship.  Well, we were both wrong.  Instead, one of her students who will be going to art school in the fall took the internship and she has so far proven herself to be a harder worker than all the young men I have hired.  

It has only been a little over a week, but so far she listens well, works hard, and if there is every any down time, she is always asking if there is anything she can do.  If she notices there is something that needs to get done, she asks and then executes.  Even young men years older than her have had trouble working as hard as she has.  Her skill level isn't where I need it to be yet, but it is a learning process and being an intern, I can take a little extra time to show her how to execute certain aspects of the daily work without worrying about losing money.  Even after just a week, she has already asked if I need help over the summer and if she could have a job.  Talk about motivated.  She is only the second woman to work for me, my wife being the first.  Comparing those two women to the other men I have hired, I am not sure if I want to hire another man to work for me.  I know that not every woman would be willing to work as a painting contractor, but the same obviously holds true for men.  There is just such a vast difference in work ethic that I don't know if I could go back to having some guy working for me.  

I have never been one to discriminate based on a person's gender.  I didn't grow up surrounded by the type of people who placed men as more important and harder workers than women.  I was never subjected to the cultural stigma that women should not have certain jobs because they are women.  At this point in my life, I am glad that I never had those discriminatory aspects in my life.  I can now say I will afford equal opportunity to both men and women, but honestly, I might actually favor hiring a woman over a man now.  In my world, the pendulum is swinging the opposite way.  I won't discriminate against men for any reason, but I will now be more inclined to look for a woman to work for me instead of a man.  My intern has obviously just started and time will tell if she can keep up, perform to my standards, and continue learning about the painting business.  I have a feeling she won't have a problem though.  This may be all new to her, but it would be new for any high school student.  For now, I am relishing my free labor and seeing how girls can work harder than the boys.  

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Logic and Potty Training

So I'm going to jump from one end of our life cycle to the opposite; from losing logic and faculty, to gaining and learning everything.   I'm going to talk about our son today.  Potty training is one of those activities that, as a parent, I have absolutely dreaded and still take no joy in.  I'm not gonna lie, even from the outset, potty training sucked.  There was nothing I liked about it at all.   Give me a temper tantrum with objects being thrown and feet being kicked and I will gladly jump right in and deal with that over training any child to potty, let alone our son.  Despite all that I am saying, I do love our son very much, however, potty training I can do without.  But, lest I jinx myself now by saying this, the days of potty training our son are nearing the end.  (Yes, we still have our daughter to deal with, but at least we get a little reprieve.)  The last time our son had an accident was weeks ago.  Every so often he will still have an accident, but his muscle control has grown leaps and bounds and the periodic accident I can handle.   Whenever he announces to the household that he has to go poop now, I want to jump for joy, run in circles shouting at the top of my lungs in celebration, and break out the party music.  I don't do any of that despite a burning desire to do so, I just usher him inside quickly and tell him how proud I am of him.   It is even getting humorous at times.  Yesterday, we were outside starting up the charcoal for dinner when he announced that he had to poop.  He ran inside, grabbed his mommy, and had her help him out on the potty.  The poop went well.  On his way back outside, according to my wife, he stopped at the door, turned to announce, "I have to poop some more", and started running back to the potty.  Before he was even out of the room, he stopped, turned, and said "uh uh, Mommy, there's no more poop, I just had a little gas".  That was it, but hearing it from a child is hilarious.  Everything must be announced and broadcast to the household.  I absolutely love the up front honesty of a child.  It puts a smile on my face and makes me laugh more often than not.  

Going along with mastering his potty training, our son is now gaining a new tool in his arsenal of manipulation.  Logic, or at least the early stages of logic.  Yesterday, the same day where he mistook gas for poop, we were unloading the car from the grocery store.  After asking him to grab the cheese, he instead headed to the front of the car.   Curious as to what he was doing, I follow him and see him standing in front of the car, pants and underwear dropped, peeing on the driveway.  Of course, my first question is, "What are you doing?"  "I had to pee".   "Yes, but if we have to pee outside, we pee behind the shed, right?"  "Yes, but I was staying close to you Daddy."  At that point, I stopped and thought to myself about our son, "Your good you."  Seeing as we try to get our son to stay close when we are at a store, he employed that in his desire to pee on our driveway.  So amending my earlier statement, I proceeded to tell him that I appreciate what he did, but next time he can just tell me and I will accompany him to the shed so he can pee back there instead.  You see, I an effort to speed along the potty training, I taught him how to pee outside so he didn't have to run inside all the time.  Sounded brilliant at the time, but now he pees wherever he wants outside, including the occasional time at daycare.  Yes, we get chided for that, however I would much rather have him pee outside than have to clean him up and change him after he peed in his pants.  Now it is just a matter of teaching him peeing etiquette.   As for the logic, it just means we need to tread ever more carefully in what we tell him and say to him as he will not begin attempting to use our words against us.  He is a joy, regardless, and between him and our daughter, I couldn't be happier.  I just hope our daughter is easier to potty train than he was.  We are not completely in the clear yet with him, but the end is in sight and what a beautiful end it will be.  

Off topic briefly, yesterday morning my son and I decided that we needed to cut our hair, so yesterday afternoon while his sister was going to bed, we broke out the clippers, and began cutting.  I cut his hair first, nice and short for the summer.  He sat still through the whole process and periodically ran to check his hair in the mirror.  When I was all set with his hair, he said, "Alright Daddy, my turn to cut your hair."  What could I say?  I handed him the clippers, and he went to town.  I proceeded to check my hair in the mirror periodically, and overall, he did a pretty good job.  There were a few tufts that he missed here and there, but he insisted that we were done and he put the clippers away.  I didn't argue at that point, I just finished cleaning up my hair after he went to bed.  Its funny how life works.  I was talking to gentleman a few weeks ago about kids and he was saying that as kids grow older, it just gets better.  I would have to agree at this point.  Every time I think we have reached a point where I enjoy our kids as much as possible, they get a little bit older and I enjoy them even more.  Can't wait to see what's next with my two little ones.  

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

A Self Destructing Mind

Last weekend, the weekend before Memorial Day, I decided that I needed to go see my grandmother, Baba, again.  She is my mom's mother, and lives in a nursing home in Westport.  She has been there for the past two years and is dealing with dementia that is slowly unraveling her mind.  Her personality still comes forward, but she rarely remembers who people are and most of the times when she talks, it is very hard to follow what she is saying.  That is how it was last Monday when I went with my mom to go visit her.  Her pin straight gray hair is longer than I have ever seen it, past her shoulders, and her face looks simply tired, partly from being in her 90's and living a long life, partly from the meds that they keep her on to mediate her volatile temper.  When we arrived, she was napping in her wheelchair just outside her room which is visible down a long hallway immediately after disembarking from the elevator.  With Baba, you never know exactly how she is going to be when you visit, although according to my mom, these days she doesn't really remember much of anything.  So, we approached her down the long hallway, watching her nap in peace with not a care in the world.  We woke her up when we got to her and as would be a typical response from her when asked if she was napping she said, "No, I just closed my eyes for a minute."  She was periodically coherent in what she was saying, but most of the time when she tried to convey a thought of hers, she jumped around so much that my mom and I couldn't follow.  I'm sure that it made sense in her mind, but to us, it was a jumble of words that she struggled to put together in three different languages, English, Spanish, and her native Russian.  At least she was happy to see us and have us as visitors.  And when I showed her pictures of my children, a huge smile came over her face and you could tell she was excited to see pictures of little children.  We had to explain that they were my children, but that doesn't matter at this point.  The only thing that does is that it brought a smile to her face.  Despite the fact that she didn't know who my mom or I were, she is still a mom and a grandmother to us respectively and we won't forget who she is.

Part of me wonders if the medications she is on has contributed to her trouble in assembling coherent thoughts and communicating them to others.  Even with her unraveling, self destructing mind, I would like to hold on to a glimmer of hope (even though that is probably long gone) that she still has some of her faculty left.  I understand completely why she is on the medications she is on.  Before she left my parent's house where she used to live, she would get periodically violent when she would forget where she was or when she thought that my parents were breaking into their own house.  Even in her earlier time at the nursing home, she would get extremely upset if someone touched her in an effort to help or if she had a roommate she did not agree with.  Her temper would ramp up to the point where they would have to sedate her in order to calm her down.  It wasn't good for her or those around her and unfortunately in order for her to stay there, she had to be put on medication.  Dementia, unlike Alzheimer's, seems to be more of a disease where the connections in the mind come undone and re-assemble themselves in weird and distorted ways.  Its almost like a person with dementia has taken an ungodly amount of hallucinogenic substances and is incapable of seeing reality the way the rest of the world is.  There are still areas of overlap, areas where there is a mutual understanding of the reality at hand and a comprehension of what is being said, but mostly there is no overlap.  It is a weird disease, it dementia even fits into the category of a "disease", and unfortunately there is no cure.  Its like watching someone travel down the rabbit hole, still being able to communicate with them, but not understanding what they are seeing.  Our reality is understood based upon what we all agree on.  We, meaning all conscious humans, agree that a tree is a tree based upon the fact that it is made of wood, surrounded by bark, is tall, has branches at the top, and unless it is winter in the northern areas, has leaves that help it to grow.  Baba, whose mind has traveled down the rabbit hole, might still see a tree, but where we would see only a tree, Baba would see a tree from her childhood, with notches in it from children climbing it, perhaps with a tree house in it, and that tree could even be Russian, in her back yard from her childhood.  A grossly simplified example, perhaps, but not being able to see what Baba sees, that is the best I can surmise.

What I do know is, Baba is still around, she is still my grandmother, and while life is hectic with two children running around the house, I still owe it to her to visit as much as my schedule allows.  After all, I only have two grandmother's left.  Out of those two, one can see me but doesn't know who I am, the other is blind and knows who I am but can not see me.  An interesting situation when you think about it, but I still love them both.  Seeing my grandparents get old as made me resolve to never get old myself.  I am not sure how I will accomplish that yet, but that is my goal.  OK, so that might be a little beyond my control, but what I will do is do everything in my power to stave off dementia and diabetes, the two diseases that my two grandmother's have, and the two diseases that have rendered them incapable of caring for themselves.  How I wish things were different sometimes, but alas, these are their lives and at this point we can do nothing but visit them, love them, and let them know we still care....even if one of them doesn't know it is her grandson and daughter who visited her.  

Wednesday, May 20, 2015


Hey everyone, be back Friday with a new post. Internet is down at our house and won't be back up till Thursday sometime.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Post Funeral

My grandfather's (Dziadziu's) funeral was on Saturday.  It was a long, emotionally draining, beautiful day.   It was nice to see all the family and friends who came to pay their respects and it was good to catch up with many family members who it seems we only see at weddings and funerals.  When family disperses, that's how it goes sometimes.  Regardless of how infrequently we see our extended family, its nice to know they still support us as we would support them in both good times and sad.  I was a wreck on Saturday, but I expected to be after spending so much time with Dziadziu.  It was a blessing to me to be able to help them more when they got older, especially when they moved closer to my parent's house.  Not everyone gets the opportunity to be close to their grandparents and I am lucky that I had that great opportunity.  As a friend shared with me online, "A grandfather holds his grand children's hands for a while, he holds their hearts forever."  I believe that to be true and felt it to be true at the cemetery on Saturday.  Being a veteran of World War II, Dziadziu received a military burial.  It was one of the most beautiful ceremony's I have witnessed.  There were no guns being fired off, just a lone bugler playing taps in the quiet of a cemetery.  And then the flag, being expertly folded, end over end, tucked tight into a triangle, and handed to my grandmother (Babci) by a young military man.  Simple, reverent, final.  It was a beautiful day and despite the many tears that flowed, it was good to say goodbye one more time.  

The night before the funeral, my wife and I went over a friend's house to hang out for a bit, sit by a fire, and have a few beers.  After sitting there for a while, he offered his condolences after seeing my post on Facebook earlier.  He asked about Dziadziu a bit and then asked a question that got me thinking.  It was, "have you ever thought about what your grandfather was doing when he was your age?"  I had never put Dziadziu's life into perspective like that.  As a grandson, it seems we always perceive our grandparents as always being older.  Most people, I would imagine, never or rarely look at their grandparents as people who could have lead different lives when they were younger.  I think its more an issue of the frame of reference we come to know them in.  While we hear stories of their younger days, and see pictures of them, we never take that moment to picture them in a different milieu.  So, sitting there on Friday night, I started thinking.  Doing that math, Dziadziu was born in 1924, in the height of the Great Depression.  I heard the stories about how he grew up with next to nothing, on a farm, and how he went to war when he was old enough.  He didn't get married until he was 27, after he got back from Europe, and as it turns out, that was a little after I was married.  It was unusual for that time to be married so late, but being in the war, there was no other option.  My dad was born a year later, and by the time Dziadziu was 32, my dad was 4 years old, almost the same timeline that I am on with our son who is three and a half.   So when Dziadziu was my age, 32, he was raising a little hellion like all little Polish boys are.  As to what else he was doing at that time, I don't really know, but it definitely makes me want to find out.  I know he worked at Pratt and Whitney for a long time and he also owned his own welding business, I just don't know which came first or if they overlapped or how it all worked.  The question that got me thinking of that was definitely thought provoking and necessary.  

So what to do now that the funeral is over.  Well, get back to living with Dziadziu taking his place with the rest of my family that has passed.  They are both in Heaven and my heart.  He was the only grandfather I got to know in my life.  My other one, my mom's dad, passed away young when my mom was only 14.  I have pictures of him, and I know that him and Dziadziu are getting to know each other now.  So for now, its good bye, but we will all meet again.  The sadness will fade, but the knowledge that they are watching over our family sits deep within my heart.  I am blessed to have the family that I have and know that they will always be there for me as I will be there for them.  So looking forward, its on to happier times, watching over Babci, and keeping a smile on my face and a joke on my lips.  Thank you again to all my friends and family for their kind and thoughtful words over this past week.  

Thursday, May 14, 2015

My Grandfather's Trip to Heaven

A little while back, around Easter weekend, I wrote about my grandfather (Dziadziu in Polish) not doing well and our family not knowing how long he would be around for.  Well, yesterday morning, he passed away.  He went in for hip surgery on Tuesday, presumably because he fell once again and did some serious damage, and while the surgery went well, the recovery did not.  They couldn't get his blood pressure back up to where it should have been, his breathing became labored, as him and my grandmother had decided, they didn't want any extra measures taken to revive him or prolong his life.   At that point, the only thing the doctor's wanted to do was intubate him (put a tube down his throat to help him breath).   So, instead of dealing with the pain of a tube down his throat and the pain of recovery, he passed away.  He had managed to hold on for quite a while after this last Easter, but we all knew it was just a matter of time.  The last time we saw him, he could barely stay awake for 5 minutes at a time without dozing off for a few more minutes.  He lived for 90 years and what a life it was for him.  

He was a veteran of World War II, a truck driver and no where near the front lines, and he used to love telling the story of how he brought a little dog back with him from overseas.  They weren't supposed to bring any sort of animal back, but he was small enough that he was able to hide him in his accordion case and bring him back anyway.  Dziadziu was a welder, owning his own business in Chicopee, Massachusetts for many years.  Most of all, though, he was a loving husband, father, and grandfather.   He loved life, took every opportunity he could to break out his accordion and play music, and loved to dance the polka with his wife, my grandmother.   Two of my fondest memories of him date back to when I was a little boy.  In Chicopee, where they lived, an old train track ran behind their house, unused by the time I was around, and perfect for walking along and seeing what we could find.  Seeing the old side track where they used to deliver coal and hearing the stories about it, the factories just across the river from the tracks, and best of all, searching for the railroad spikes that had shimmied loose and lay strewn about as if in due time, the train tracks themselves would disassemble.  I don't know where those spikes we collected are today, but that memory is seared into my mind and is one I will never forget.  The other memory that sits fondly in the recesses of my mind, never to be forgotten, are the Thanksgivings we spent out on Cape Cod at the house they had there.  I used to help stoke the fire in the fireplace with Dziadziu, play cards early in the morning betting for pennies, and run little toy cars through a patch of dirt that we had made roads in.  Those memories will last forever with me and I often think about them to this day.  

I am thankful that I got to know Dziadziu like I did and spend the time with him when I was younger.  Yes, the tears are coming now for despite the fact that I know he is now without pain and in a better place, I still miss him.  I am glad that I got to see him Easter weekend and spend time with him and I am glad that at least my son will remember him to an extent.  He was a good man, faithful, and always ready to crack a joke at a moments notice.  Everything was sacred to him, and yet every situation could always be filled with a laugh.  It will be those moments of laughter I remember, his all encompassing smile, and his love of family.  So while the tears come, I am happy that he is now without pain and I know he will be looking over us now, especially my son and daughter.  Rest in peace, Dziadziu, rest in peace and know that one day we will share jokes again.  

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Little Princess in the Dirt

So far, and I am happy to report this, our daughter loves everything that her brother does.  From little cars and trucks, to coloring on the easel, to playing outside in the dirt, she is taking after her brother's interests...to an extent.  I am not by any means saying that she is exactly like him, for she is not.  Her temperament is completely different than that of her brother.  Where he is the more emotional, shy, one, she is the outgoing, opinionated, throw it in your face little girl.  And she is only 15 months old.  Yet while she may be obstinate and opinionated, giving me flashbacks of my youth, she is also adorable and quirky in all the right ways.  Simply put, she knows what she wants (or at least she thinks she does) and will make you smile right after she throws a fit.  Seeing her now, at her age, I know I am in trouble.  But I will love every second of it.  Especially the fact that she loves to try and eat topsoil right now.  Whenever we are out side, which happens to be whenever it isn't raining, she and her brother take to playing with the dirt in their wagon.  Our son has filled it up with dirt and brick, to "build his house" as he says, and with a little addition of water, they have mud to play with.  Our daughter absolutely loves the mud.  Its fun to sit back and watch her stick her fingers right into the mud, relishing the cool, squishy feeling, and then pulling them out wondering if she should feel disgusted by the dirt on her fingers.  There are times, I swear, when she almost has a desire to shaker her hand in disgust that she just got it dirty, but she never does.  She will, however, grab a handful of dirt, and if we are not quick enough, turn her back to us and shove it in her mouth.  While she may almost get disgusted by the dirt on her hands, for some reason whenever she sneaks that dirt in her mouth (which isn't very often once we figured out she likes it) a smile erupts on her face as if she has found gold.  

Just like her brother, our daughter loves being outside.  Whenever she is ready to go outside, which happens to be quite a bit, she will head right to the back door and try to get out herself.  She even tries to get her own shoes on, which while a noble effort on her part, usually leads to her getting frustrated that she can't do it herself.   Once outside, aside from attempting to eat dirt, she loves following her brother around and attempting to do whatever he does.  If he is riding the tricycle, then she must also ride the tricycle and will waddle after him as he cruises along.  And thanks to her Grammy who showed her that she can sit on the tricycle and be pushed around, she now loves for the adults around her to be her chauffeur and drive her around our driveway.  Yet, the fact that she loves being on a bike outdoors is all that matters to me.  The fact that she now has one more object to share with her brother when she doesn't understand the concept yet makes it ever more interesting.  Our son has become excellent at sharing.  So much that he expects our daughter to share with him just as much as he shares with her.  To be honest, his version of sharing is a bit on the selfish side, but at three and a half, I'm not complaining.  Its comical to watch at times.  He will bring over one of his toys to "share" with his sister, just so he can have whatever toy she is playing with.  Ah, the joys of childhood and learning.

While our daughter will follow her brother around much of the time, she also heads off on her own and wants to go exploring different areas of the yard.  She will reach for either my wife's or my hand and take us on a journey.  She waddles along, perfecting her gait, and taking in all of the outdoor world.  From sticks and stones to rocks and random seashells left in the yard, she has to touch it all, feel it, get to know what life outside is all about.  She even has taken to trying to throw the ball to one of our dogs.  We have one of those Chuck-It objects, the ones that hold a tennis ball and are essentially an extension of your arm to make throwing the ball easier.  She has figured out what needs to be done in order to throw the ball, even if she can't do it yet.  She picks up the tennis ball from our dog Aspen, places it in the Chuck-It, and half throws the entire Chuck-It with the ball onto the ground.  It is cute to watch.  Other times, she will try putting the ball from the Chuck-It right into Aspen's mouth at which point Aspen glances at me wondering why she isn't throwing it.  The important thing is that she is trying.  I don't care if she doesn't always like dirt, but as long as she loves being outside, the world will continue to turn.  And if she doesn't, than I will still love her, I will just have to drag her outside periodically.  

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Additive Free

Additive free.  What exactly do I mean when I say "additive free"?  I am referring to all the products that we use on an everyday basis.  And not just products that we would apply to ourselves, but also to the food that we ingest.  Yesterday I talked about the wonders of the Internet and globalization and how they have brought the far reaches of the world to our fingertips.  While in many ways, it is beneficial to have the world at our fingertips, it can also be a curse.  And how we interpret it as a curse is all dependent on how we view life and the food and products we use every day.  There are many people who simply disregard what goes into their food and how it may affect them in the long run.  I used to be one of those people, eating anything and everything regardless of the ingredients contained in a given product.  The change didn't happen overnight, but it was a slow eye opening experience that, while I absolutely love the way I feel now, I sometimes curse the day I started looking at the back of packages and what ingredients products contain.  Its not that all additives are bad, but I now live by the motto that if I can't easily pronounce an ingredient, it probably shouldn't be either ingested or applied to my skin in any manner.  Once you start doing even just a little bit of research into what the ingredients actually are that companies put into products, you start realizing that maybe they aren't as safe as they are said to be.  A big one is aluminum.  Almost every sunscreen you buy has aluminum in it.  So what is the big deal with aluminum?  Well, aluminum, once absorbed into the body, builds and can increase your risk of getting Alzheimer's.  I for one, never want to get Alzheimer's and will do everything in my power to keep aluminum away from my body.  So does that mean I just walk into the sun every day without applying some sort of protection from the sun?  No, it just means we have taken to making our own.  I know, it might sound a little crazy, but making sunscreen at home is incredibly easy, especially with the availability of products on the Internet.  (If your interested and want to know the ingredients, leave a comment and I will get back to you).  The same goes for deodorant.  Almost all deodorants have aluminum in them.  The good news is, they actually sell deodorant that is aluminum free.  It is simple things like altering buying habits that just might add a few extra years to our lives and make us healthier in the here and now.  Sunscreen and deodorant are the big ones when it comes to products that we apply to our bodies.  So what about foods?

Foods are the tough one.  In our household now, we are striving to keep all products that contain GMO's, chemicals, and preservatives out of our cupboards and drawers.  GMO's seem to be the big ticket item that is brought up in many debates these days.  There are those that say GMO's will do no harm to a person and those that say they will.  We are part of the group that say they have the potential to do harm, and not just because they are GMO, but because of the reason they were genetically modified to begin with.  The trouble with any food that is genetically modified is that it was done so to prevent that plant from being killed by herbicides and pesticides.  That is not the only reason, but that is a major one.  That means that any plant that is genetically modified probably contains at least trace amounts of the pesticide or herbicide they were sprayed with.  If you eat enough of these pesticides and herbicides, you could harm your body in unimaginable ways starting with your stomach which has to process all the food.  So what kind of pesticides and herbicides are we talking about?  Take the product, RoundUp.  We all know it kills weeds, and around the house it is best known for killing poison ivy and other pestilent plants.  The key ingredient is glyphosate.  This means that all the corn that is genetically modified is usually done so in order to be sprayed with RoundUp and not die.  Pleasant.  That means every time we eat corn (90% of which is GM), we are probably eating RoundUp, especially if that corn came from a big farm.  Its scary once you start learning why things are done and what the effect is.  That is only the GMO side of the additive equation.  I haven't even touched on chemicals or preservatives (usually one and the same).  In terms of preservatives, I will give you two examples that floored me when I read them.  (Disclaimer:  if you like the cereal Lucky Charms, read no further).  I used to love Lucky Charms when I was younger.  The little marshmallows made the milk taste so much better and I always tried to save the marshmallows for the end so I could eat them by the spoonful.  About a month ago I was working in a customers house and saw a box of Lucky Charms sitting on the counter.  (I haven't eaten them in years by the way).  Curious, I picked up the box and started going through the ingredients.  There were a lot of ingredients that were puzzling to me, but the one that really stuck out like a sore thumb was TSP or Tri Sodium Phosphate.  As a painter, I use TSP as a cleaning agent (which is actually its main use).  It is an excellent cleaner for removing soot, grime, and grease and leaves walls ready for painting.  It is also an excellent floor cleaner.  Now why would they put TSP in my favorite childhood cereal.  I don't know, but according to the FDA, it is "generally recognized as safe".   Yet, after having used it to clean floors and walls with, I don't really want to be ingesting it.  The other one is lemon juice.  We used to buy it at the store until we found out that it had a preservative that is a known carcinogen.  Now ask yourself, why would a company use a carcinogen as a preservative.  Probably because it is the most cost effective way for them to operate.  Needless to say we don't use that product anymore.  There are many products that we don't use anymore for exactly these reasons.  Once you start reading about what the chemicals are and what they can do to a body, you start not wanting them in your body.  Since eliminating as many preservatives and GMO's as possible from our diet, I have felt healthier than ever.  I could go on and on, but I will end it here for today.  My advice, do your own research and come to your own conclusions.  This was not meant to tell you how to eat and live, but to suggest that you look a little harder at what you are consuming.  

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

The Trouble With the U.S. and Iran

As I grow older and somewhat wiser, my views of the world change.  I have started to look at the bigger picture differently.  It is not due to any one source, but rather a slew of outside influences and the shrinking of the world due to globalization.  Globalization I feel has had the greatest impact.  It has brought the far corners of the world to my finger tips and allowed me to learn about different cultures through different avenues without even leaving my home.  It allows the unbiased information from across the world to travel almost instantaneously to my lap top.  This allows me to sort through what I feel is bull shit propaganda versus what may actually contain some grains of truth.   Everything is biased to a degree, but that is not a topic for here nor there right now.  The information we have at our fingertips is not meant to be wholly absorbed as is, but rather to be processed and verified using whatever tools we have available to us.  One tool we have that brings the world closer is the news.  As I mentioned above, everything is biased to a degree, and while the news is supposed to take a neutral stance, there are many times when it does not.  Yet, what other tool do we have that can bring such a vast array of information instantaneously from around the world?  None.  So, as I normally do every morning, I read the New York Times and peruse their different columns.  Currently reading the paper online, I have access to the videos that are produced either via the paper or their correspondents.   A while ago, I stumbled across a series that is still on going, called "Our Man in Tehran".  This series is about a news correspondent, Thomas Erdbrink, who delves into the lives of everyday Iranians and the issues they face.  Some of the topics addressed so far are those of radicals, the death penalty, marriage, and drought.   In each segment, a small picture is painted of life in Iran.  The only time it deals with the government or people in power is when they are talking about radicals and the effect the government has on those radicals.  When you start to look at the world through the lens of everyday life, things start to look very similar to everywhere else, albeit with a different cultural twist.  People have similar struggles regardless of where they live.   Everyone has to put food on their table.  Everyone has to deal with family members.  Everyone has a government that they either like or dislike.  The human condition varies from country to country, but if you start to identify with people as people and not "Iranians" or "Americans" or "pick a country", then it is easier to start seeing that their lives matter just as much as ours do.  Just because our government casts a country in a demonic light doesn't mean that every person living there is demonic.  Rather, the people living there probably have more in common with us than we would ever think, if we only took the time to look at their lives.  "Our Man in Tehran" does just that.  It takes everyday life in Iran and makes it accessible to the rest of the world.  Writing this now, I wonder if any other countries would watch a series on the United States and the people living here; their struggles and how they live.  Perhaps it would be useful for Iranians to see that we in the United States, while half a world away, deal with similar struggles.  

The accessibility we have to other countries today, even if they may be our governments' ardent enemies, is astounding and can do more to pull down barriers than anything prior.  The more we see how similar we are to those around the world, the more we realize that it is government propaganda that we must fear the most.  It is our governments and their power play for the upper hand that ultimately casts a shadow on certain parts of the world.  Scarier still, it is the people who buy in to that propaganda who ultimately create the larger problem.  The people who refuse to look past our governments' picture are the ones who perpetuate feelings of hatred towards other countries and who become the unwitting foundation of our governments' actions.  If our governments did not have people to support their actions, those actions (in the form of sanctions and wars) would fail.  It is the people who follow our governments blindly, without questioning them, who take away the humanity of people living elsewhere.  If we react solely to a government, an entity, we are relinquishing any possibility of seeing the people behind that government.  If we peel back the layers, we start to see the same human emotions that are universally shared; love, hate, fear, hope, etc.  Those are basic emotions that we all possess.  The more we can pull back the veil of government and see the people behind, the more we can relate to them and begin to pull down the barriers constructed decades ago.  As FDR stated years ago, "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself".  If we are afraid of a different culture for whatever reason, we immediately begin to construct barriers, and those barriers stoke the unwarranted fear.  Most times, there is nothing to be afraid of.  Most times, fear comes from a lack of understanding.  That fear is played upon by governments to control a people and perpetuate their reasoning for their actions.  We must begin to look past our fears and see the other side and seek to understand.  Now, with all my writing against governments, I am not saying that governments are not useful.  We need a government to keep order and to run a country, but in most cases, government goes too far.  If more people began to look at the broader picture and the humanity contained within that broader picture, our governments would have less traction and might actually re-align themselves with the will of the people.  I know, lofty ideals and hopes for our governments, yet it has to start somewhere.  All we need is to relate on a human level, forgo religious denominations, political alignments, racial prejudices, and simply see others for what they are.  For we all are "human, all too human."

Monday, May 4, 2015

The Open Road

I love driving.  Regardless of what gas prices may be, I never give a second thought to getting in a car, van or truck, and starting to drive.  Whether its going to a job and finding a different way of getting there, going for a Sunday drive with the family and exploring new areas of our state, or traveling to a distant locale, the sound of tires rolling over pavement (and sometimes dirt roads) is music to my ears.  I feel like I have written about driving before, but if I have, it needs revisiting.  This past weekend I drove up to Vermont to cut some firewood for the summer camping season and make sure our property was set and ready to go for when our whole family goes up on Memorial Day.  The drive up on Friday was glorious.  My goal was to time it perfectly so that I didn't hit any traffic.  For once, it worked.  Most times, I will hit at least five minutes of traffic somewhere along the route, but not this past Friday.  I left around 8:30 in the morning and 3.25 hours later, I was in Vermont.  I enjoy driving with other people because it makes the drive seem to take a little less time.  Yet I also enjoy driving by myself with my two dogs in the back of the van.  Driving is soothing to me.  I let my mind wander as my eyes take in the road ahead of me, and I can think.   I know, I can think at any point in time, but when I am in a vehicle driving, thinking is made easier with fewer distractions.  On the way up to Vermont, I must confess, my though process wasn't extravagant, deep, or other worldly.  I thought about my weekend ahead and what I wanted to get done at our campsite.  Still, that 3.25 hours was relaxing in a way that driving to work amidst crazy Connecticut drivers is not.  So I thought about the campsite, cutting down wood, and building a nice fire.  I watched the quaint little towns along the way fly past and thought about the highway system in our country and the immense foresight it took to create the network of roads linking every corner of our country.   Running a four lane highway through Vermont and its mountainous terrain must have taken a long time.  For surveyors to figure out the best route; where to cut through mountains and where to build bridges, is beyond my comprehension.   And to have those roads, built over 60 years ago at this point, is a testament to the skill and drive it took to build them.  I applaud those surveyors, builders, but most of all Eisenhower who came up with the enormous interstate highway system.  And yet, while highways are an excellent way of getting from one point to another in a shorter period of time than it would take to drive all back roads, there is a lot that can't be seen from the highway.  The small towns and the people who populate them, are missed.  We can now bypass the base upon which our country was built.  How often do we forget about those towns and the treasures they possess?  Too often it seems these days.  

My ride home, after a long weekend of downing two sixty foot trees, cutting, splitting, and stacking them, was a different animal all together.  I never leave Vermont to come home earlier than lunch time.  As much as I try, cleaning up the campsite and packing things away always takes a while.  So tired and dazed, I loaded up on caffeine around lunch time, and began the journey home.  I didn't drive quite as fast as I did on my way up, but still made it in about the same time.  I only hit about 5 minutes of traffic along the way.  Not too bad.  Watching the world go by at 70 mph, I sat dazed through Vermont and it wasn't until I was about to enter Massachusetts that I believe I had my first conscious thought of the drive.  I saw a sign that said, "Entering the Pioneer Valley".  I do not know the significance of the Pioneer Valley or what historical event took place there (if one even did).  But it did spark a thought deep within the recesses of my tired mind.  I began thinking about history and the amount of history that our part of the country has.  The Northeast is where the roots of our country as we know it today were planted and from there spread south and west to encompass all of the current United States.  From the Mayflower and its settlers who crossed the Atlantic to Paul Revere and the infamous Minutemen, New England has it all.  I thought then about California and how relative to the North East, their history doesn't run quite as deep.  After thinking that, I paused and reflected on how unfair that statement really was.  California has just as much history as the North East, it just may not be "our" history.  By "our", I mean the United States history as we know it, not the history that preceded our country.  Many times people will forget that "history" means "the continuum of events occurring in succession leading from the past to the present...".   This means that history doesn't start when we settled this country, history reaches farther back to the native American tribes before us, the Spanish from Mexico who lived in California, and everyone else before us who had an impact on the land we now call our own.  While I can not speak for other countries, in the United States it seems as if we consider history to encompass the time from when our ancestors settled here to the present.  We rarely consider what was here before us and how that may have impacted the lives of people centuries ago.   So when I had the thought that California doesn't have the history that the Northeast does, I more meant that it doesn't have "our United States history".  Ultimately, I was incorrect in my thought process, but had the time driving home to think it all through.  The wonders the open road has to offer us are plentiful if we take the time to enjoy them.   Till my next road trip, whenever that may be, I will take my short drives and enjoy them to their fullest.