Monday, February 29, 2016

Lunch with Edith

Every year, at least once, Debbie and I have lunch with Edith.  We have been doing this for a number of years.  Now, I have known Edith all of my life.  Edith and her husband were close friends of my grandparents.  After my grandmother died, my grandfather remarried.  His second wife died around the same time as Edith’s husband.  Next thing we know, these two are hooking up and decided to get married.  My grandfather put it this way, at this point in their lives, they both have known each other a long time, have many shared memories, have traveled together and have enjoyed the time they shared.  They were a cute couple, always walking hand in hand and they did enjoy being together until my grandfather died. 

Who is the oldest person that you know?  I do not mean met in passing, but actually know?  I remember as a child thinking that our grandparents were old (in their 60’s or 70’s).  As a young adult, there used to be a local weatherman that would give a shout out to someone when they reached 100.  In 2010, the US census record over 53,364 centenarians.  In 1990, there were 37,306 centenarians and in 1950, only 2,300.  My father is 80 years old, an age that when I was a child I did not know anyone that lived “that long.”  My mother and both of my grandmothers died in their 60s.  Today, it is common to know someone in his or her 80s.

After lunch, we went back to Edith’s apartment where she played a song that she has been learning on the piano.  Yes, she plays piano and looks forward to her weekly lessons.  She then asked me to play for her.  In the middle of one of the songs, Edith was up singing and dancing along.  It is great to see Edith healthy, happy, still living life with a great positive attitude, able to walk around and crack jokes.  Oh yeah, Edith is 96 years young and planning to be around for many more years.

We all come across many people, who are younger and less healthy, and some that are younger, healthy, but miserable.  As we get older, we unfortunately lose some of our abilities, are not as spry as we once were and might need some help in getting around.  Having a positive attitude, believing that when life hands you lemons, you can make lemonade is preferable over the less positive feelings.  Edith still has out her favorite and most inspirational book, “The Power of Positive Thinking,” by Norman Vincent Peale.  I lift my glass to glass – Here’s to an inspiration to living a long and happy life.  As the old Jewish blessing goes, עד מאה ועשרים שנה‎; "Ad Mayah Ve-essrim Shana", May you live until 120.

Monday, February 22, 2016

One Day, You Too Shall Pass

This past summer, while we were in Dublin, we were waiting on a street corner for a tour bus to take us on the adventure for the day.  About a foot away, in the street, was a group of pigeons pecking happily at the street.  The cars drove around the pigeons as they went by, until all of us watching (and not watching) heard a loud popping sound.  Gab and Bec went pale as it took a few seconds for the entire crowd to realize the sound went along with what we saw – one of the cars rode over one of the bird, and the popping sound was its body.  The other pigeons scattered immediately, and then about 5 seconds later flew back to their same spots and continued pecking at the ground as if nothing had happened.  We tried to make light of the situation, but there was nothing humorous about seeing a life blotted out in that manner.  The short-term goal was for this not to become a traumatic event and ruin the day. 

In the midst of all of this, a little child walked to the end of the curb, pointed at the mess on the ground, and began to ask innocent questions, fascinated by what happened.  The “adults” all tried to hide the child’ eyes and change the topic, only to have the youngster break away and look at the dead pigeon.

The interesting thing is that child most likely saw death for the first time that day.  There was no tempering of society, religion or family to dissuade the child from being aghast at what they saw.  Here was a circle of life event, natural all living beings on this planet, yet minimally discussed.  We have a tendency to make up euphemisms for things we are uncomfortable to name outright.  For example, we have a friend that referred to a certain body part as a WooWoo, where the “oo” part rhymes with mu-mu, instead of the longer train sound.  Euphemisms for death / dying / dead include:

  • He’s in G-d’s hands now
  • She has passed
  • They’ve gone to a better place
  • Rode off into the sunset
  • They are with the angels now
  • Sleeps with the fishes
  • He bought the farm
  • She is on her last legs
  • Take the last train to glory

Really?  If you look at that list, or any similar one, the phrases, taken at face value, would be humorous. 

Last Tuesday, Debbie and I went to a panel discussion with her mother on how to discuss death.  The basis for the panel was that we tend to avoid this conversation.  I have made no bones about it (pun intended) to our girls that when I die, put me in a plain pine box and stick me in the ground.  However, we did not have a discussion on where I end up, how the ceremony should be held and the what-ifs related to me being hospitalized and unable to make decisions for myself.  Most of us do not want to die.  Most of us do not want to see other people die.  Most of us do not want to focus on death.  We value life, so death, as the absence of life, is not desirable. One point that the panel made had a big impact on me – when faced with heroic measures / resuscitate decisions, do we decide what is our best interest or the patients?  At some point, we all have to face that tough question.

Monday, February 15, 2016

The Importance of Date Night

“Remember when we were young?” Sounds like the beginning of a Pink Floyd song (bonus points if you know the song).  Part of being a young adult was going out on dates.  Now, I am 53 years old, married with children in college and my last “official” date that I asked a girl to go with me became my wife.  BC, as in before children, we used to go out frequently, with friends, for dinners, for parties or just to the movies.  AC, after children, we went out less frequently in general.  Yes, we did have babysitters, but there was now an additional cost to going out.  Going out could be an expensive night out; in fact, there was a time all we could afford was the babysitter, so we would hang out at my brother’s house.  And as our children got older, to be 100% honest, we enjoyed doing things more as a family; for we knew that the day would come when we would reach the EN, empty nest, part of our lives.  We have friends, we have gone out, but rarely refer to this as a “date night.”

We went out with a group of friends a few weeks ago to a local show and dessert after.  The week before, we went out to dinner with a different group of friends.  At this point in my life, I need to redefine what a date is, as I am no longer a young adult trying to woo some fair young damsel (I will leave it at that and up to your individual imaginations).  At that point in my life, there was a level of excitement, maybe even a giddiness to asking out someone you barely knew, or being asked to go on a date.  There was something fresh about meeting someone new and getting to know them.  I have known Debbie coming up on 27 years, or put differently, we have reached the point where we have been together longer than the time before we knew each other.  I still owe some excitement to my wife, even though we know almost everything about each other.

BC was learning about each other and enjoying the time with just the two of us.  AC was time spent raising children and being a family.  EN is still new and an adjustment to our lives.  So then how do I approach redefining “date night”?  Maybe it is just a chance to take a break from the week, check our brains at the front door and enjoy time together in a more social environment.  We definitely have our weekday routines, our weekend routines and our holiday routines.  Maybe, “date night” is a chance to mix things up, an opportunity to try out new things together (I do not know what that is), revisit something we had done years ago when we were younger (going to a utensil-less dinner) or an old fashioned dinner and a movie. 

Since I started this article, I have gone and asked my date, Debbie, if she wanted to go out for dinner and a movie.  The following night, we went out for dinner and a few drinks.  After all of this time together, it still felt like asking someone on a first date.  I went through the old thinking – “Will I sound stupid?”, “What if she says no?”, “What if she says yes.”  Of course, she said yes.  It was exciting, and we went to a new restaurant and had a great evening.  I realized that “date night”, for now, is just a label for spending time together with someone I love, doing something we can enjoy together and sharing experiences.  For the first time in many years, I have to be honest, probably since BC, I am looking forward to Valentine’s Day, and have made some fun plans.  Bottom line – Spend time together with the one you love, it does not necessarily mean spending money on them, but something of real value…your time.

Monday, February 8, 2016

We Have a 21 Year Old!

 “Come on this way and stay on the blue paper...”

“Get your camera ready…”

“You have a girl…”

“You ready to cut the umbilical cord?”

Things were happening fast.  I wanted to take everything in so that I could remember this moment.  I looked down at Debbie, arms strapped down and out to her sides.  “I am my Dad” snuck into my brain from somewhere.  In my arms, I held a tiny, living, breathing thing and held her forward so that Debbie, kept immobile, could touch our first child.

“We have to take her now.  You can go tell your parents. Then, bring your parents and meet us to watch her first bath.”

I find reliving this moment very emotional – the change in our lives, the desire to parent and a step into an unknown future.  I went to tell our parents that they have now become grandparents and we all shuffled in to watch Gab’s first bath.  She was so small…

It seems as if that was such a short time ago.  As I start writing this today, Gab turns 21. TWENTY ONE!  Where did the time go?!?  When I talk to young parents, I always suggest to them to enjoy their children while they can.  Through each phase of their childhood, once that unique phase passes, it is gone forever, and never to be recaptured again.  We had the various cameras and video recording devices to “capture the moment.”  It is never the same as living in the moment.  When Gab was little, I did miss some events due to earning a living to support our family, and Debbie did record the events I missed.  I was happy to see my child shine, but not the same as being the proud beaming parent at the event I attended.

At 21, you get your “adult” drivers license in New Jersey.  Of greater significance is the ability to hold your head high and walk into a bar to ask for an alcoholic beverage or stroll into a liquor store to buy a bottled or canned beverage.  In the olden days, this age was 18, when I first went through this ritual.  21 is the new 18.  I remember the rational given at the time for the age change, but still do not understand why you can vote, you are deemed an independent adult and can go to war to “kill” our enemies at 18, but drinking – you are not old enough. 

As I finish writing this article, it is almost a week later.  Last night, we celebrated as a family and with some friends with dinner and, of course, the alcoholic beverage, so that we could properly toast our 21-year old.  No one got drunk, there was no rowdiness and no acts of stupidity to regret the next day.  Just a fun night to celebrate one of our little girl’s last step in her passage to adulthood.  As parents, we are happy to be able to celebrate this milestone, watching our children grow into adults, proud to see how they are developing their own lives and blessed to be a part of it.  It has been a great journey so far for her, and we wish her all the best in the years to come!


Monday, February 1, 2016

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

One of my favorite movies, and listed in some of the top 100 movies, is The Good, The Bad and the Ugly.  This is great Western, starring Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef and Eli Wallach, as gunslingers, leads to a climactic three-way shoot out.  If you have never caught the film, it is worth the watch (it does include acts of violence).  I am not writing a movie review today, but using the film more as a metaphor.  I know that we are only one month into the New Year, but want to provide the early update on our goals.  Last year, late in the year, I provided an update of ZERO, as it is impossible to provide any measurement on achievements if we do not take the time to measure our achievements (or lack thereof). 

In Project Management, we have to be able to identify barriers to success.  Identifying these hurdles at the beginning of a project helps prepare on how to handle them once they appear.  With the correct planning and foresight, we can mitigate the barriers once they rear their ugly heads.  The barriers to success of my personal goals are easier to identify than at work; all I need to do is stand in front of a mirror.  I have always felt that if one stands naked in front of oneself, there is nothing (and nowhere) to hide.  At that point, we can see the truth, or keeping in theme, the good, the bad and the ugly of where we are in life and what we truly are.  If we take the time to take stock in ourselves, we can see the positive directions we are taking (the good), the negative directions we are taking (the bad) and the truth of where we are at in life (the ugly).  It is easier to look away then to face our greatest foe – ourselves.

I am sure that I am not alone when I say that I hear the phrase, “we’ve always done it that way.”  Whether at work, in a social setting or in our personal lives, we become accustomed to our daily rituals, our monthly activities or our annual events.  In other words, we find comfort in our habits (be they good, bad or ugly).  Change is hard.  I make no bones about the fact that last year, I failed in achieving my goals and I did not change any habits.  Taking action is important.  Sticking to the action is more important.  Even small actions might be too big in one shot.  Whether you believe in the philosophy in “The Slight Edge,” written by Jeff Olson, or “The Compound Effect,” written by Darren Hardy, or other thought leaders’ writings on improving our habits, the truth is small changes made over time can have big impacts.

The moment of truth, do I look into the mirror every day and stare down The Good, The Bad and The Ugly?  Not every day, but, maybe weekly.  This way I can review / measure how I have done.  For example, by developing new habits, sticking to a plan and measuring how I am doing, I am within a half pound of my weight goal and exercise 10 – 15 minutes five times a week.  Yesterday, for the first time, I went to the gym with Debbie.  I am not patting myself on the back, yet.  I would like to lose a few more pounds, then maintain my weight, and continue transforming my body (no upper body pictures yet).  As Walt Kelly’s cartoon character, Pogo, pointed out, “I have met the enemy and he is us,” or in my case, me.