A Bridge (Plan) To Nowhere

Bridge Repair

Pennsylvania, as I have noted on occasion, is a very old state in many ways. It is not unique in that regard – there are other ancient states in the United States – but in fact a lot of stuff we use each day here is…old.

No shame in that…unless we’re talking bridges.

For as long as I’ve been alive the subject of aging bridges has been at the top of the agenda each year when the Commonwealth annually reviews what needs immediate attention.

It will be staying at the top of the annual agenda for a long, long, long time. At least as long as some of these bridges have been around…bridges I need not (but will anyway) remind you a lot of people drive across daily.

The residents of Chester County (a group including my wife and I) were recently notified vehicle owners will be required to pay a $5 additional charge each year – per car or truck –when annual Pennsylvania vehicle registration comes due. This is to help fund bridge repairs and reconstruction within the County. No problem there. Not a lot of money. Always glad to help improve our quality of life. Sounds like a plan.

These additional funds collected by Pennsylvania on Chester County’s behalf will be set aside in an account exclusive to County use. The County will then use those funds, estimated to be just north of $2 million, for those bridges deemed as “structurally deficient” or “functionally obsolete.”

It should be noted we’ve been reassured these classifications don’t mean the bridges can’t support traffic. A curious choice of words if that’s the case. I need not (but will anyway) remind you those definitions apply to bridges a lot of people drive across daily.

I don’t know about you but “structurally deficient” or “functionally obsolete” works much better for me when we’re talking a line of dominoes or Legos…instead of a line of cars or trucks.

According to information compiled by the West Chester Daily Local News:

Chester County has 94 bridges (including two shared with other Counties).

The life span of the bridges is generally considered to be 50 years.

The County Facilities Department previously had a goal of restoring or replacing two bridges per year.

As they “stand” 57 of the bridges are over 75 years old and 31 are over 100 years old. Of the 94 bridges…34 fall into the “structurally deficient” definition while 61 rate “functionally obsolete.”

And as for the Facilities Department performance…Chester County has only been able to meet its goal of restoring or replacing two bridges per year 12 times since 1980.

In 12 other years no bridge work was done in the County at all.

Even with this new influx of cash the goal for these bridges has to also cross a bridge of rising construction costs. Therefore the new goal is now to restore or replace one and a half bridges in the County per year. (I don’t even know where to take this with a “half” a bridge…)

Forgive us if we start diverting around these structures. These numbers don’t support our lifespans being extended by driving over these spans.

We’re quite behind on all this but at least there’s a new plan. How do we ever catch up?

Well…let’s cross that bridge when we get to it.

Posted in Culture, Humor, Life, News, Opinion, Politics, Society | Tagged , , , , , , | 31 Comments

Supreme Court Squares – Republicans (And Democrats?) For The Block

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

(Image Credit Wikipedia.org)

In my last post I noted how the trend towards straight-ticket voting was helping to polarize politics and make it more “Us Versus Them” than ever in the US.

And then Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia passed away over the weekend…

(Sidebar – he was 79. As for references to his “sudden passing” this isn’t the first time I’ve noted such language in obituaries and other articles about a man his age. Folks, that’s the life expectancy for males in our country. There is an expiration date on us all even if we aren’t living in a hospital or care facility. By all accounts Justice Scalia lived a full and rewarding life. RIP.)

If you thought the country was split into two before…watch what happens next.

The Republicans didn’t wait but minutes after news of his death before predictably screaming how we should wait for over a year for the next President to be able to make the all-important nomination of his successor.

The President and fellow Democrats simultaneously, predictably screamed back they most certainly will make a Justice nomination and seek a successor immediately in order to continue to ensure the integrity and performance of this all-important branch of the US Government.

The first irony that comes to mind is the main reason (I think) of having Supreme Court appointments for life is to insure the integrity of the power of the Court and protect against interference from either the Legislative or Executive branches. That being said it should be noted a President nominates Justices and the Legislative branch approves or disapproves.

That sounds like interference to me…checks-and-balances to others, I suppose.

The second irony is you hear Republicans indicating we have to hold off on replacing Justice Scalia because the American people should have a say in who sits on the Supreme Court. Please. All we’re going to be doing (in November mind you) is electing a President who upon taking office (in January mind you) will make a Justice nomination (sometime next year mind you) and have it vigorously contested (immediately afterwards next year mind you) by the party who loses the Presidential election.

I would be remiss if not interjecting on this whole “job for life” thing I’ve always wondered how in touch Justices are as they advance in age…not only with present-day USA…but in general? And what if they did something really stupid or illegal while serving at any age…can you imagine the political circus of trying to impeach a Supreme Court Justice?

Good thing we’ve had Justices behave…and often retire without dying while serving.

The third irony is even if Republicans are rock-solid on locking out the vacancy being filled to see if they can reclaim the White House the President and fellow Democrats might be better off letting them take that position.

A divided court – and by all accounts the Court now is as “balanced” as can be based on prior decisions – favors the President and his party in that with only eight Justices split decisions are inevitable. A divided Supreme Court leaves prior lower court rulings in place…and a large majority of the U.S. Courts of Appeals holds a majority of Democratic appointees. Further, there apparently is no law or policy about what the Supreme Court should do with cases already argued and voted on when a Justice dies. (Yes, you read that correctly – nada…)

If we take all the rhetoric out regarding either party’s desired timing for a replacement…and whether or not Justices even deserve a lifetime achievement award…the bottom line is a vacancy is now open on the highest Court in the land and the world doesn’t stop spinning.

Cases have been argued and voted on, heard, are to be heard and are to be argued and voted on. Important cases.

It is a disgrace of American politics we are possibly now going to leave the Supreme Court short of having a full complement of Justices for over a year regardless of whose “strategy” prevails. Political gridlock at its ugliest…over a unique position that helps shape, define and clarify the law of the land.

It is also a disgrace of American politics the nomination process for quite some time now has been about parsing ideology first, qualifications second. Whoever eventually gets this seat – assuming someone gets appointed someday – will do so primarily because of party leverage and/or because of how it is perceived they will rule on key issues more so than on whether or not their careers have truly distinguished themselves to be worthy of the lofty position of a Supreme Court Justice. The President and the Legislative branch members will all get their crystal balls out and first try to figure out who’s the “surest” bet to advance their respective agendas well before then considering a nominee’s true ability to honor and carry out the position on behalf of all Americans.

All. Americans.

Qualifications are unfortunately guaranteed to not be the top priority when considering our next Supreme Court Justice.

A job mind you…guaranteed for life.

 

Posted in Culture, Life, News, Opinion, Politics, Society, Supreme Court | Tagged , , , , , , | 38 Comments

Split Tickets Or Split Country – Straight-Ticket Voting Probably Polarizing

Political Discussion

(Image Credit MinnPost.com)

I rarely wade into the political pool but a column I read over the weekend provoked deep thought and consideration of others. Deep thought and consideration of others is not normally associated with our daily political news and hasn’t been for some time. Quite frankly I think many people are interested in politics more so now for the reality show aspect.

You come across an accident scene…it’s admittedly hard to turn away.

People seem to be watching the Democratic and Republican Presidential debates but it can’t be because they care about the issues of the day because the candidates rarely discuss the issues of the day. They’re way too busy insulting and yelling at each other…and most certainly degrading the other party at every opportunity.

Anyway, whatever your current take on politics is there has been an interesting trend which may help explain why we can’t seem to get compromise or agreement towards moving forward with issues in Washington and have instead become consumed with ripping everyone involved…about why we can’t seem to get compromise or agreement towards moving forward with issues in Washington.

Terry Madonna and Michael Young are highly respected political analysts who have pointed out we have become a nation of “ideologically driven, politically polarized partisans who increasingly eschew the bargaining and compromise that have historically lubricated politics. Not only are moderates gone from American politics; moderation is gone as well. Nothing illustrates this better or explains this more fully than the enormous decrease in ticket-splitting.”

For those of us doing it without even knowing it had a name…we’re talking here about the act of voting for a Presidential nominee of one party while also voting for one or more Congressional nominees of a different party. Madonna and Young report ticket-splitting dropped to a record low in the 2012 Presidential election. One study estimated at least 8 of 10 voters voted a one-party, straight-ticket. As recently as the Presidential election in 1972 more than 4 of every 10 Congressional districts – 44 percent – were characterized as ticket-splitters – voting for one party’s candidate for President and one or more candidates from the other party for the Senate or House.

In House districts alone now…the most recent number stands at 5 percent.

This straight-ticket voting – whatever cause you would like to attribute it to – positions our nation perfectly for a polarized political landscape.

And with no compromise or agreement towards moving forward with issues in Washington the true irony is we voters who have become completely perplexed with our government’s stalemate have potentially had the power all along to jump-start movement…injecting checks-and-balances in government by electing people…not parties. Or as Madonna and Young put it…

“Straight-ticket voting produces elections that only increase the virulent polarization infecting our politics. Worse perhaps, it undercuts ever further the compromise and accommodation so central to our intricate governmental system of checks and balances – inevitably unleashing more of the divisive and dysfunctional governance that increasingly alienates American voters from their government.”

Something to ponder as this 2016 Presidential reality show rolls out across America…and for future Washington-eligible elections thereafter.

Sounds like those of us looking for Washington to get things moving again might consider examining each and every contest carefully that sends someone to Washington and considering there are more qualifications to consider aside from just one – which party they belong to.

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Birthday, Every Day, Forever And A Day

Cottage

In honor of my wife’s upcoming birthday (which also gets me out of having to find a parking spot among three-foot high mounds of snow…):

I was all set to seek a card,

To tell you how I feel,

But I say it to you every day,

And you know that it’s real.

 

We’ve been together all this time,

Years now approaching thirty-five,

But know that as they’ve rolled along,

My love grows deeper, more alive.

 

We cannot know tomorrow’s plan,

We cannot know of future things,

But know this my love for it is true,

Forever we’re one with what life brings.

Posted in Faith, Family, Home, Life, Love, Marriage, Personal, Relationships, Religion, Spirituality | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 38 Comments

Drone-ing On

Drone

(Image Credit HuffingtonPost.com)

A few days before Christmas a World Cup slalom ski competition in Italy was racing along quite nicely when a drone, carrying TV equipment through in the air in an attempt to raise the intensity level for the viewing audience, leveled off, fell from the sky and exploded into pieces on a section of slope crossed a micro-second earlier by Austrian ski star Marcel Hirscher.

No sooner had the wreckage of the drone and its camera been scraped off the snow…the International Ski Federation had banned television drones for good.

This whole drone thing perplexes me. I have not been able to figure out in this age of heightened security and concern of terrorism how drones have been readily made available to anyone with little or no regulation. One day Amazon just up and announced delivering packages to people’s properties via drone was not just something for the day we all ride like “The Jetsons” to work…but for the here and now.

That must be one powerful lobby drone-ing on about drones in Washington.

Anyway, we finally appear to be on the road to regulation in the US via a lawsuit filed this month by the owner of a drone who saw his blasted out of the sky by a homeowner in Kentucky last summer. Originally, a judge ruled the homeowner was well within his rights to shoot down the $1,800 aircraft because it was over his property and he had no knowledge of its owner…or its intent.

The Federal Aviation Administration has always said it has sole authority over the national airspace. (They say a lot of things, don’t they?)

Kentucky state law provides for landowners the right to use force if necessary to prevent trespassing on their property.

According to a recent story in USA Today the Supreme Court has not addressed air space issues since 1946 when a North Carolina farmer was ruled able to claim property rights up to eighty-three feet in the air – and get compensated by the military – for aircraft flying so low they were annoying his cows and chickens. (Eighty-three feet is awfully specific…but it’s a start…)

The problem is these drones just showed up and were embraced by a number of groups…including law enforcement…ironically under the premise they would help make all of us “more secure.”

This drone privacy issue is very much up in the air right now but I’ll say this. The fact there is a drone industry and the average man or woman is able to buy one and send it aloft without significant checks and balances is one of the great embarrassments of this so-called Homeland Security effort we allegedly have in place in this country.

Boggs (drone owner) vs. Merideth (“drone slayer” – he calls himself that) will likely be the start of a flight to the Supreme Court…not a minute too soon. Boggs’ lawyer, (in the understatement of the New Year…or any Year for that matter) citing Amazon’s master plan to have drones deliver packages onto people’s lawns…

“If every property owner has a right to take a shot at them that pretty much ends that business model.”

Do you recall the Secret Service recently went on high alert after one guy flew a drone over the White House…while another crash-landed one on that same property owner’s lawn?

What is the world of our nation’s common sense is happening here?

I refuse to drone on because we’ve got a long way to go until this gets settled…and considering the way drones just showed up one day it’s now guaranteed a portion of the populace will steadfastly declare their right to bear drones…oh yeah, we’ll be hearing much more about this going forward.

Fasten your seat beats…it’s going to be a bumpy flight fight.

 

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Movies Need Supported Not Awarded

Print

(Image Credit FreeDesignFile.com)

According to my trustworthy daily Peanuts desk calendar January 19th is National Popcorn Day. That’s appropriate for this post for a couple reasons. One, popcorn’s association with movie going is well-known and two, everyone has their individual preference as to how much butter and seasoning is required to satisfy their personal taste.

So you may have heard this year’s Academy Award nominations are out. Some are not happy with them. Well, that’s every year…but this year is a little more intense with talk of a boycott due to a lack of diversity among the top contenders.

I don’t know about you but while I watch the film Award shows – including the Oscars – I don’t put stock in any of them. That is to say I don’t feel we should single out such subjective works as worthy or not, better than others or not, etc.

I would much prefer, like paintings in a museum, we wander in and out of the cinema and just enjoy or not enjoy what we saw. It’s good to hear other’s opinions of movies after we’ve seen them because we may learn something we didn’t see or some theory about a film we didn’t consider. But even reviews after our views need to be cautiously considered because to me…movies remain very personal experiences…and even a seasoned film critic trying to be objective can’t help but bring “life” into their opinions. The reactions we all have about movies can’t help but be intertwined with our prior, unique experiences.

This stretches back to my college days where I took courses on Film Criticism. That’s where my painting analogy originated. Films are art that get “one shot” with me…just like a painting would.

Can you imagine what I think of all these alternate endings they stick on films when releasing them after their days on the big screen have come to an end? A travesty.

Coloring black and white films? An abomination.

Movies certainly don’t need to be benchmarked against each other. Film making (and TV too for that matter) should not be reduced to these pseudo-competitions.

This protest stuff is nothing new for the Academy. You know, if you insist on having these Award things in the first place at least be inclusive. Maybe that diversity issue is never going to change when it comes to the Oscars…whose voting block is 94% white and 77% male.

They did hire Chris Rock to host the ceremonies.

I believe this nonsense helps make my point. If we didn’t insist on having these faux competitions in the first place we wouldn’t have these types of faux pas situations.

My wife and I met while both working at a movie theater. We’ve never lost our love for film and try when possible to see movies the way they are crafted to be seen…in a movie theater. We calculated we were fortunate enough to see forty-seven films on the big screen in 2015.

I hesitate to say which movies I enjoyed the most or liked the least because I really don’t get any of these “Best Of” or “Top Ten” lists or rewards when it comes to film making. I am a true purist who believes each film should stand on its own merit and people should either love ‘em or not.

Everyone has their own taste towards what makes a great movie (as well as great popcorn).

I enjoy dishing about movies. I respect other people’s opinions and most often learn from ones that differ from my own take. Discuss this year’s films in the comments if you like. Ones you liked, ones not so much. It’s always interesting to me to hear others’ tastes towards film.

Do take in all the Award shows, even the Oscars, for they ultimately celebrate the art of film making and that’s a good thing…but my opinion is to not take seriously the nominations or the winners. But do see the movies you want to see regardless of what anyone else “rates” them.

Movies are a truly subjective experience and I don’t believe we need to rank, rate or reward them.

Just enjoy them…along with some popcorn if you like.

Made to your own taste of course…

Posted in Cinema, Culture, Entertainment, Film, Life, Media, Movies, News, Opinion | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

The Challenge Of Tweaking Twitter

Twitter

It is my belief the fundamental charm of Twitter is as much its brevity as its immediacy. Writing in 140 characters or less has become an art form for users. A skill. The national news, entertainment, weather and sports media can’t get enough daily Tweets to put up and across their screens and sites.

The powers-to-be at Twitter have floated the idea in the media this week of doing what they apparently have already been allowing on Private (Direct) Messages since July…a 10,000 character limit where users simply click a link to expand a Tweet and see the rest of the Tweet’s text.

Why change? Why take such a risk alienating users?

Well…to turn a profit for the first time might be at the top of the list. It appears growth has slowed and its stock has subsequently declined some 40 percent from where it stood last summer.

Twitter – and some in the media – claim at least part of its user base truly want this. They want to eliminate having to design “Tweetstorms” where users are forced to send out multiple Tweets to get one thought or message or whatever out.

My guess is the powers-to-be wish to make room for advertisers to more easily use the service. And make more money.

I had two “runs” on Twitter. One several years ago when it first came out and one a couple of years back. I didn’t stick with it either time for a variety of reasons. But in those moments of participation I did get a big kick out of the challenge of sending out a well-crafted, brief message.

So why post about a service I don’t use now? Because as a Journalism Grad (albeit in a galaxy far, far away) and having a continued interest in all things media I am eager to see what happens if this comes to pass. So many media organizations show Tweets.

Reporting Tweets has become a way of life.

Now, if the character limit is expanded to this extent and someone sends out a gigantic Tweet someone at each of these media outlets will have to parse through it all, deciding what to pull out…and put out.

When quoting Tweets now there are no editorial decisions to be made. Sure…a chance the user saying post-Tweet they were taken out of context. Some users even say someone took over their account when things don’t go favorably. But the point is just like fast food, the media can pretty much take a Tweet and run with it. Unlike fast food, at absolutely no cost.

What will happen if this actually happens will fundamentally have to change the way media reports on Twitter activity. They’ll have to read the entire Tweet, “edit” it, etc. and at that point you then have yet another example of the media dictating what is newsworthy and what is not. And in fairness to all Twitter users, a great case for saying if they send out one exceeding the current limit and it isn’t shown in its entirety they were quoted out of context because…drum roll here…their entire Tweet wasn’t presented.

I don’t particularly enjoy being bombarded with Tweets as part of my evening news, entertainment, weather and sports coverage. But I do think doing this will rob Twitter of its very soul.

I wonder how the majority of users really feel?

I will be interested to see how the media reacts if this goes down…and the character limit on Twitter goes up.

 

Posted in Business, Culture, Entertainment, Home, Life, Media, News, Opinion, People, Politics, Society, Television, Thoughts, TV, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 24 Comments

The Concept Of Last Christmas

happy new year 2016. holiday background

The seed may admittedly been planted for this post by a combination of factors, most notably being the cashier at our local movie theater suddenly starting to give me a Senior discount in the last few weeks without my asking for it…or from my claiming to be a Senior.

I’m not.

Yet.

Anyway…let’s give Christmas a proper send-off shall we?

First off…farewell until next year for Christmas music. I know it is a passionate, love/hate thing for a lot of folks. Some people work in retail or restaurants and have to listen to the same rotation of a dozen songs for five weeks. That would likely make you prefer a root canal. Others have the opportunity to throttle Christmas music in and out of their daily routines as desired. But love it or hate it…it’s with us. I happen to love it from Thanksgiving until New Year’s Day…in moderation, of course.

One of my favorite analytics sites is FiveThirtyEight. They use numbers and math to locate trends and make projections and predictions on just about anything…including politics. Well worth a visit.

They recently published an article called “The Most-Covered Christmas Songs Ever.” The column consists of three lists – one ranks the most-covered Christmas songs of all-time along with the year they were each released – another lists the most used Christmas songs in movie soundtracks – the third ranks the most-streamed Christmas songs on Spotify at a certain point into this Holiday. If you’re into Christmas music on any level you should check these lists out. You may even find a song or two…or three…you’ve never heard and wind up adding it to your collection.

I also found on FiveThirtyEight an article titled “The Charlie Brown Christmas Special Dancers You Most Want To Party With.” They have snippets featuring each one of the kids in the beloved Special on stage dancing to “Linus And Lucy” with comments by two of their columnists as to…based on their animated, animation dance moves…who would be the most fun to hang with at any party. A cute column worthy for any Charlie Brown/Peanuts fan to check out. I’m not going to spoil the fun of finding out for yourself who was determined to be the kid judged most likely to best liven up a gathering.

As far as that whole “Senior at the cinema” thing that got me thinking about mortality…which is what I’ve been led to believe one does when it becomes apparent you are closer to the end of your days than you’d like to admit. While that sounds a tad morbid for this time of year let me explain within such thought lays – I think – a grand opportunity to re-appreciate life.

I am not a “Doctor Who” expert in any way. I have only seen, say, twenty episodes or so. However I did recently watch binge-watch the TV series’ Christmas episodes…including one called “Last Christmas.”

The concept of “Last Christmas” (not restricted to this episode at all – it is a Who-ism) poses the notion people get together at Christmas because there is always the chance it might be the last time they do so. Christmas is a special, magical moment in our lives, one often consisting of emotional reunions with people we love and cherish. There is often a Sleigh-ful of memories that pour out of each of us from prior Christmases that accompany these gatherings.

I saw a commercial just last night for AT & T which does not “get” Christmas at all. The narrator said AT & T knows the best kind of Holiday is the one where everyone gets what they wished for.

Wrong.

The best kind of Holiday is the one where everyone appreciates and cherishes what they already have…who they already have…and who gave us all life in the first place.

I did not easily “shake off” this concept of Last Christmas. I do vow to tell my wife how much she means to me every single day as I will family members and friends. I know. It sounds like one of those well-intentioned New Year’s Resolutions that by mid-January will have literally flown out the window and be long gone.

The thing is…after reflecting on the concept of Last Christmas I’ve become more determined to get to…Next Christmas. I admit I can’t manipulate and travel through time like Doctor Who. But regardless…I will strive to keep in mind 1 Corinthians 13 where it speaks of love.

Love never fails. It never fades out…or becomes obsolete…or comes to an end. And…isn’t Christmas…love?

Last Christmas?

Nope.

Never.

 

 

Posted in Blog, Blogging, Christianity, Christmas, Culture, Death, Doctor Who, Entertainment, Faith, Family, Health, Holidays, Home, Life, Marriage, Movies, Music, Opinion, Personal, Relationships, Religion, Society, Spirituality, Television, Thoughts, TV | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 27 Comments

Christmas Is For The Innocent

Lamb

(Image Credit New York Daily News)

Several years ago I came across this story published in the New York Daily News by Karen Zautyk. She is a former Editorial Board member there who originally wrote this for her father, John. I think it captures the essence of Christmas being – most of all – for the innocent. Regardless of your religious beliefs I believe there is a life lesson within for all of us that cries out…we are all unique…and not alone.

O, Little Lamb…Who Made Thee?

It was cold in the stable that night and the animals were huddled together for warmth. The cows and the oxen and the donkeys.

And one little lamb.

Sad, scrawny little lamb, born lame and frail. Too frail to be out with the flock in the fields. The shepherds had carried it into the stable where it would be safe from the wind and the wolves, for both the wolves and the wind came down from the hills with fierceness in the wintertime.

The lamb had food and shelter but that was not enough. It was lonely. Separated from its mother, it felt unloved. The other animals tried to be kind but they had no time. During the day they were busy working. The cows had milk to make, the oxen had earth to plow and the donkeys had carts to pull.

At night they were all very tired. They’d feed upon the fodder and then go right to bed. None would talk, none would play. None would even sing a lullaby to a lamb that needed comfort. Every night the lamb would cry, and be told to hush, for its bleats disturbed their sleep.

Thus, that night, the lamb cried without making a sound as it had learned to do. And it looked at the strangers who were sharing the stable.  At the man, who held the woman’s hand and spoke to her so softly. And especially at the woman, who spoke not at all.

Huddled together, the animals slept, and eventually the lamb slept too.

And the night was silent.

But then, in the darkest hour, there was no more darkness and no more silence. There was the cry of a baby. And the stable shone with the brightest of lights and there were voices ringing in the air.

The animals, shaken from their dreams, were frightened. They stamped their hooves and tossed their heads and made their frightened-animal noises…but the light was so lovely and the voices so beautiful it wasn’t long before they quieted and began to lose their fear.

And when the light had dimmed to a glow and the voices were only an echo, there in the manger they saw the baby…and their eyes went wide with wonder.

The animals murmured but would not approach until the woman beckoned. Then, one by one, the beasts came forward. All, that is, except the lamb…which was only a baby itself and still terribly afraid. Forgotten by the others it trembled in a corner and tried to hide beneath the hay.

But the baby in the manger was trembling too. The cold of the night had returned and the baby had started to shiver. When the animals saw this they huddled closer about the crib.

The man took off his cloak and made a blanket of it, but the cloak was thin and threadbare and provided little warmth. The woman held the baby to her breast. He shivered still…and she began to weep.

And the lamb, which knew what weeping meant, lifted itself from the hay. Though it was still afraid…it left its hiding place. It made its way among the legs of the bigger beasts until it stood beside the woman…and it laid its head against her knee.

And the softest of hands reached down and stroked its wool.

And the gentlest of hands picked it up and tucked it into the manger straw…and tucked the baby in beside it…and covered them both with the cloak. The baby snuggled near and smiled…and closed his eyes.

And the lamb was very glad it had learned to cry without making a sound. Because it was crying now and didn’t want to wake the child.

But the lamb wasn’t crying because it was sad. It was crying because, at last, it didn’t feel alone. Or afraid. Or unloved.

Then the lamb closed its eyes too.

And the woman sang a lullaby.

Posted in Blog, Blogging, Christianity, Christmas, Culture, Faith, Family, Holidays, Home, Life, Opinion, People, Personal, Relationships, Religion, Spirituality, Thoughts | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 18 Comments

Thinking Past And Presents As Holidays Begin

Christmas farm dog wearing Santa hat sitting on top of haybale

In May 2013 a columnist by the name of Craig Wilson took his final bow after a buyout from his employer, USA Today. He wrote a Wednesday column called “The Final Word” for more than sixteen years. His weekly writing – regardless of subject matter – provided readers a unique, thoughtful take on even the most take-for-granted aspects of daily life.

Two of his columns have stood the test of time…especially at this time of year…even though one was published after a New Year began.  As we begin the Holidays I thought it would be enjoyable if I dusted these off. One is about the emotion we feel this time of year…how the simplest of decorations can create the most profound feelings. The other speaks towards the (in)sanity of materialism. It gives perspective as we prepare to exchange items accompanied (hopefully) with emotion. Both columns will hopefully bring a smile to your face and a reminder of what really matters not just at the Holidays…but every day.

A Glow In The Darkness Is The Best Gift Of All

Every December, a neighbor of ours opens his dining room shutters and lets in the world.

A floor-to-ceiling tree, laden with ornaments and white lights, fills the bay window. Underneath it is spread an assortment of antique toys. Original Raggedy Ann books, a model train engine from the Pennsylvania Railroad, a fire truck and an assortment of old stuffed animals. An elephant. A bear. A well-loved floppy-eared rabbit sporting a winter sweater and seated in a wicker sleigh, ready to glide.

The window, which is right on the sidewalk and perfect for viewing, has become a holiday tradition in the neighborhood. Like many, I make a detour on my nightly dog walk just to pass by.

I know there will come a Christmas when the display won’t be there, but until then, I happily take in the annual offering, just as I used to take in the mesmerizing holiday windows years ago at Sibley’s department store in Rochester, N.Y.

The magic of our neighborhood window, however, is that there’s nothing commercial about it. My neighbor offers up the display every year purely for the joy it might give a passerby, not to make a sale or hype a product.

It’s perhaps the simplest of Christmas gifts, which also makes it the best.

When I was walking Maggie the other night, I watched as a young mother and father pointed out the various toys to their daughter. She was maybe 3 or 4 and in her father’s arms. From the look on her face, you’d have thought she was in another world. Maybe she was.

And then the trio strolled away, happy perhaps in the belief that they’d just had one of the most pleasant and innocent experiences of their hectic holiday. A serendipity of the season.

When I was growing up in the country, Christmas displays like my neighbor’s window were not abundant.

But I remember being impressed that someone would take the time and effort to hang, say, a single strand of multicolored lights around their barn door. Or wrap a lamp pole with lights, aglow at the end of the lane. A lonely beacon in the night.

My dad did the same.

Christmas after Christmas, he would run the world’s longest extension cord across the snow-covered front yard, down to a tiny fir tree that proudly stood sentinel by the side of the road.

He covered the tree with what seemed like thousands of lights, and every night at 5, he turned them on with all the flourish of lighting the tree at Rockefeller Center.

I’ve often wondered what people thought as they drove down this country road, in the middle of nowhere, and came upon a solitary tree glowing in the December darkness.

Maybe they thought it was the prettiest thing they ever saw. Maybe they saw it as a gift.

Maybe they realized someone was just sharing his joy. Nothing to sell. No agenda in mind. Something done just for the joy of it. Like my neighbor’s magical window.

And maybe that’s what it’s all about.

Merry Christmas.

Think You Need More Stuff? Just Say Baaah

By now most New Year’s resolutions have bitten the dust. Lose weight. Stop smoking. Get a new wife. All just memories.

But one remains for me: to simplify my life.

It’s an ongoing quest, not so much a new resolution. I’ve written about it before. Buy less, play with the dogs more, let the Type A’s zoom by in their BMWs on their way to their McMansions. I’ll just be content with what I have.

Easier done, of course, when you have enough. Money, that is. But how much is enough? The March issue of O magazine asks that question.

Since I had written about the same topic not that long ago I was curious to see what Oprah’s take was. She invited a number of “writers, thinkers and financial experts” to share their thoughts.

One said materialistic people were more likely to be depressed and anxious. Never having been a big consumer that made me happy.

One said Europeans have the right idea by using more time to play than work. Never having been a European that made me sad.

And another said the first question everyone should always ask about a purchase is this: Is it a “need” or a “want”? It’s almost always a want. Put it back on the shelf.

But what I thought were the most interesting comments came from George Kinder, founder of the Kinder Institute of Life Planning, who says we earn three times as much as our grandparents did, yet we’re not any happier. He then asked two simple questions:

If you had only 24 hours left who did you not get to be?

What did you not get to do?

I found the questions almost cruel. He says they hit bedrock because what they really ask is: What’s profoundly meaningful to you? Have you been wasting your life making money when important things such as your family, your community, your “spirit” have been ignored?

Most of us don’t think about our “spirit” on a daily basis. Sad but true, we always use the excuse that we don’t have the time. We’re too busy making money, making deadlines and making sure the kids are wearing matching shoes, the groceries are bought, the bills paid, the bed made.

We always seem late for an important date.

We are also fools.

One of my Christmas presents this year was a little toy lamb that stands on four spindly black legs. On its white and curly side is written but one word: Simplify.

I put it on the windowsill above the kitchen sink so I could see it every day. And there it stands, spreading its message morning, noon and night, It’s the loudest lamb I’ve ever heard. It seems to know when I’m about to do something stupid, buy something I don’t need, keep something I’ll never use.

Simplify.

It has become a daily mantra. It follows some advice a reader shared with me. She attached it to her e-mail, as if an afterthought:

If it doesn’t breathe, it doesn’t matter.

Posted in Blog, Blogging, Christianity, Christmas, Culture, Faith, Family, Holidays, Home, Humor, Life, Opinion, People, Personal, Religion, Spirituality | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 26 Comments

Supernatural – TV Worth Riding With

Supernatural

(Image Credit YouTube.com)

If you follow the television industry behind the scenes in addition to watching scenes you may have heard back in August the CEO of the FX Network, John Landgraf, stated he believes there are simply too many TV shows being made. Mind you his comments came during the Television Critics Association Summer Tour so they raised more than a few eyebrows (that were otherwise watching television no doubt). A month later he expanded on his opinion…

“I’m sensing a little bit of a malaise to tell you the truth. There’s this other notion that you reached something called the paradox of choice, which is you give people too many choices and it breathes discontent because ultimately it’s very hard to pay attention to all the choices. It becomes work to sort through every opportunity that you’re giving them. So you get this vague sense of malaise that even when you’re watching something great there could be something greater that you’re not watching.”

So the last thing you, dear TV devotee, likely needs is another person suggesting you should be watching a show. But what may surprise is I’m recommending a show already well-established in its eleventh season…”Supernatural.”

My wife and I were watching when this series debuted on the WB Network (extra credit for anyone who remembers the WB) back in 2005. After the first couple of episodes we were split on continued viewing and the verdict was to pass. Perhaps it was divine intervention (devotees won’t be surprised by that notion) but we reversed course not long after…and now we’ve probably seen each of the 225-plus episodes produced at minimum a half-dozen times each. It has been appointment television for us for a long time now. (New episodes air Wednesdays at 9 PM Eastern on the CW Network)

So now you’re thinking…how can I possibly take on a show that has not only logged so many miles but is still traveling new roads? (“The Road So Far” is a common theme fans live by…the series’ lead characters log a lot of miles)

Well…my timing of this post coincides with – as long as current scheduling is legit – the “rebooting” of syndicated reruns on the TNT Network. Tuesday, November 24th TNT is scheduled to air Episode 1 of Season 1 at 10 AM Eastern. If you have the opportunity during Turkey Week that’s one way to sample the series. TNT runs several hours of “Supernatural” daily and has helped build the show’s fan base significantly over the last handful of years it has done so.

DVD and Streaming options are also readily available. I should note in particular on the Season 10 DVD release there is a special feature, a mini-documentary if you will, of what extraordinary lengths fans of “Supernatural” go to in not only showing their devotion to the show but for each other. It is one of the better-produced “extras” you’ll find.

Unfortunately it is difficult to suggest you can just dive in anywhere. In a show with this many hours in the rear view mirror multiple, season-long arc back stories obviously exist. Our always-on-the-road heroes, brothers Sam and Dean Winchester, have been to Hell and back.

Multiple times, in fact.

Why should you invest time carving out more time for “Supernatural?”

For starters it’s about determining and honoring your destiny in life, the strength one can draw from within even the most dysfunctional of families, Angels and Demons, Heaven and Hell…and even what lies in between those two far-from-final destinations. It’s got a little bit of everything. It’s violent. It will make you smile. It will make you cry. There are bad guys you root for on occasion (for the greater good). There are good guys you root against on occasion (for their own good).

The bottom line is you have two brothers hitting the highway and following down their dad’s path fighting all things evil. And there are a LOT of evil things out there that need fighting, I assure you.

I am not delusional enough to think I can do adequate justice in this confined space to the stellar work of stars Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki (both of whom are also – I’m told – considered to be “easy on the eyes.”)…co-stars Misha Collins, Mark A. Sheppard and Jim Beaver…and the tremendous line-up of guest stars, directors, producers, designers, etc. that have all executed their craft over all these years to provide you any kind of “Best Of” list. I’ve already risked your ire proposing you undertake taking on this series in addition to the ones you are trying to keep up with. To torture already-rabid fans reading this post of “Supernatural” with a “Top Episode” ranking would also be blogging suicide…not that I couldn’t come back from Death (another common theme fans relish).

So…instead I’ll just concentrate on newcomers who want to sample the show before making a formal commitment. Take a peek at the following episodes I find among my favorites, presented in order of appearance and admittedly front-loaded from the early seasons under the assumption you don’t want to be trying to figure what the show is all about too far in. And another very important disclaimer for long-time fans…my taste here runs towards episodes mixing horror and humor more often and more so than our “mythology episodes.”

Season 1, Episode 1 – “Pilot” – Watch this episode first. Do it. It truly sets the stage for what will follow about as good as any pilot episode you’ll ever see and, if you indeed want to jump around, the baseline provided will come in very handy. It also features one of the more shocking scenes you’ll see in a television show’s initial episode.

Season 1, Episode 11 – “Scarecrow” – If you need an example of the “Monster Of The Week” strategy the series cut its teeth on you can likely do no better than watch this episode which deals with an investigation of disappearing couples within a small, truly creepy town in rural Indiana.

Season 2, Episode 18 – “Hollywood Babylon” – The Winchesters go undercover as production assistants on a haunted movie set. “Supernatural” likes to play behind the Fourth Wall of making television and movies…letting us all know this is all just make believe…right?  Right?

Season 3, Episode 11 – “Mystery Spot” – The show pays homage to the classic comedy “Groundhog Day.” How many days – and in how many ways – can one die? Turns out a lot…because of the “Trickster.” One of the best time-loop hours ever.

Season 3, Episode 13 – “Ghostfacers” – Our heroic brothers investigate a case Dad couldn’t crack years earlier and stumble into a wannabe ghost hunting reality show pilot the likes of which after sampling you’ll never, ever take a show on paranormal studies seriously again.

Season 4, Episode 5 – “Monster Movie” – An Oktoberfest effort with polka bands, big beer and bigger pretzels where Dracula, the Wolfman, the Mummy…and a pizza delivery guy…all wind up stealing the show as the cause of the mayhem within a Pennsylvania town’s celebration is far from black-and-white…but this episode is. A tribute to classic creature cinema.

Season 4, Episode 17 – “It’s A Terrible Life” – We don’t know how it happened but the Brothers Winchester have landed in an alternate reality where they don’t know each other…yet. Working at the same company they eventually wind up working a case of sorts…mysterious suicides are all happening under the same roof. And then an Angel appears…

Season 5, Episode 8 – “Changing Channels” – The “Trickster” once more enjoys playing tricks on Sam and Dean. Winking at its audience about the making of hit television shows “Supernatural” takes its shots at parodying series we all love whether we’re able to admit it or not. You’ll never take a drug commercial seriously again either (not that you did to begin with…).

Season 5, Episode 9 – “The Real Ghostbusters” – I have mentioned how fanatical fans of “Supernatural” are. This episode explains that better than anything. A hilarious send-up staged within the confines of a “Supernatural” fan convention it is also a “love letter” to the hard-core fan base this series enjoys.

If you have room…invite the Winchesters in from the road for a spell. They don’t stay in one place for very long…but they might stay in yours.

Posted in Entertainment, Life, Opinion, Review, Reviews, Supernatural, Television, TV | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 31 Comments

A Veterans Day Thought – One With Honor

(Image Credit Susannah Smith/Associated Press)

There is a Veterans Day story I want to share in case you haven’t seen it already…but my disclaimer up front is it is hard to do so. The reason I decided to go ahead with this post is because I am tired of seeing our fellow Americans who chose to serve our country be put in harm’s way.

I am pro-military but I am equally, very much anti-war. My father was in the military during the Korean War. I know it changed him. How could it not?

I long ago grew weary of our leaders looking to kill every person who doesn’t like this country at any cost to our own people. I would bring all our service men and women home tomorrow and no one from this country would be at war ever again unless truly, honestly provoked into defending our nation. God knows we’ve spent enough taxpayer dollars on all this technology we keep hearing about. Government and military alike…if you want to keep tabs on anyone perceived to be a threat have at it from a distance.

This is about one veteran, Wade Baker. He died on August 19th because after a quarter-century of trying to counteract what war did to him he simply couldn’t take it anymore.

He was given a beautiful service dog named Honor three years earlier. Honor did everything in his power within that time to try to turn his tortured master’s life around…and he made noticeable progress at one point…but in the end the cumulative horrors Wade Baker experienced in the Gulf War engulfed him and…too weary to fight anymore…staged his own death at the hands of police responding to an alleged gunman/hostage situation.

Wade Baker was the gunman…and the hostage. He made the 911 call which would not save his life…but end it.

The entire AP story describing Baker’s service, his fight to become normal once again…and how his service dog Honor tried to keep him alive…is here.

Honor attended his master’s funeral and curled beneath the casket as the service went on.

The good news is Honor was then allowed to stay with Wade Baker’s family. He continues to provide much more than just service to Baker’s widow and their sons now as they grieve.

In the story it describes after Baker was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder he wrote a poem which he felt spoke for others as well:

“They convinced us to fight for honor and glory,

But when they were done with us, the same old story,

Here are trinkets and medals – oh wow, a parade!

Now just forget all the promises made.”

We’ve all heard about the continuing shoddy treatment our returning troops receive. The system was broken from the start and has yet to be fixed. But here’s what I am egotistical enough to believe is an even better idea…

If we don’t want any more broken Veterans…let’s stop creating them in the first place.

Posted in Animals, Family, Honor, Life, Military, Opinion, Pets, Service, Thoughts, Veterans, Veterans Day, Wade Baker, War | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 15 Comments

The Peanuts Movie – Good Grief You’re In 3-D Charlie Brown – A Review

(Image Credit Mashable.com)

I know we hard-core fans of the comic strip “Peanuts” were shocked and dismayed when we learned Hollywood couldn’t help itself from sucking in even more revenue by scooping up and sending off our innocent, timeless beloved characters to the big screen (with the appropriate corporate tie-ins, of course) in computer animation…and in three dimensions no less.

Rest easy those of us nuts for Charles M. Schulz’s “Peanuts.” You can put down the pitchforks and plunk down the money to see “The Peanuts Movie.” And if available to you…do see the 3-D version.

You probably can’t find one positive review to this film that doesn’t allude to it being a “love letter” to all fans that have followed Charlie Brown, Snoopy and the rest of the gang for sixty-five years plus now. I believe this is considered the fifth theatrical movie featuring the “Peanuts” gang. I remember seeing the first with my Dad…1969’s “A Boy Named Charlie Brown.” (The last one shown in theaters was 1980’s “Bon Voyage, Charlie Brown”)

USA Today writer Bryan Alexander noted in a recent column Producer Craig Schulz (Schulz’s son) was determined if any new project was going to be made in this day and age it would be done the Schulz way – timeless and classic. Blue Sky Studios said they would honor his challenge.

They met their commitment and then some…guided by a screenplay carefully and lovingly crafted by Schulz, his son Bryan and Cornelius Uliano. Just about anything you associate or remember from this historic strip or its iconic television specials is stuffed into a film that only runs ninety minutes or so. Flying a kite, playing losing baseball, that Little Red-Haired Girl, the evil Red Baron, the jazz themes of Vince Guaraldi, trying to kick a football, paying five cents to see a shrink. It’s all here. It pretty much plays out like a longer version of the television specials that have meant so much to so many for so long. However…make no mistake it is indeed enriched and enhanced by the modern technology we fans originally feared.  All the characters…they jump off the screen (especially in 3-D).

Mind you this is not “Star Wars.” (There are some aerial fight scenes but let’s not give too much away here)

Director Steve Martino understood quite well he was dealing with a global fan base already on edge a film was even being done. Martino as quoted by Alexander, “It was not the time to be reinventing (these characters).” Martino was likely selected for how critics believed he preserved the sensibilities of Dr. Seuss’ Horton in his 2008 adaptation of “Horton Hears A Who!”

This is a G-rated, wholesome children’s movie…for adult fans of “Peanuts.” It is a newly-generated form of artistic expression designed to pay tribute to what this comic strip has meant to the world. I highly doubt a new generation of youthful followers will spring forth. That would be great. I hope everyone who has loved these characters has passed them down through the ages but in an era where your four-year old can show you how to turn Wi-Fi on and off on your smart phone…well, this quiet, simple film is likely not going to take over their lives. I don’t know how many kiddies we can expect to leave the theater with a burning desire to learn more about the richness and quality of Schulz’s long-running strip and its stars.

Indeed…there are a couple new “twists” added for veterans of “Peanuts” including a pop song by Meghan Trainor. But none of the new takes from the familiar.

The release of this movie in conjunction with the 50th anniversary of the first airing of “A Charlie Brown Christmas” on TV later this month will surely leave an indelible, memorable impression on every fan.

Stay patient and wait for the credits to end. I promise you’ll get one more memory (and smile) to leave the theater with…on top of all the other memories and smiles you’ll take home…

I am positive Charles M. Schulz would have put his stamp of approval on this hi-tech take to his classic characters.

So shall I.

Posted in Cinema, Comics, Entertainment, Family, Film, Home, Humor, Life, Media, Movies, Opinion, Peanuts, Review, Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Finicky Fussy Philly Ficus

What is affectionately known as the “Finicky Fussy Philly Ficus” a year ago…

And now…

The backstory to this ficus tree is it was a present from the in-laws several years ago and kinda looked to me like it was rather DOA – I didn’t know a thing about them. It was only a foot or so high. I (gently) suggested putting it out of its apparent misery but my wife suggested we give it a little more time…we even hung a few small ornaments on it at Christmas.

And here we are a few years later. We were warned these are finicky, fussy plants but never expected this.

At the rate of growth building on an addition is not yet on the table but you never know.

Maybe it was those Christmas ornaments? (We still decorate it…)

Maybe it was simply because we never gave up on it. A good lesson that can be applied to a lot of areas…not just a corner of a room within a home.

Ficus likes us.

Posted in Christmas, Faith, Family, Flowers, Gardening, Home, Life, Nature, Plants, Spirituality, Thoughts | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

The Best Laid Plans Of Mice And Men Often Go Awry

Our title comes via the poet and lyricist Robert Burns (whom my father either was or was not named after).

Some background. I have another WordPress web site (sportsattitudes) where I remind readers on occasion why I rarely make predictions. Posts there often are a mash-up of life (reality) with sports (far removed from reality) with intriguing results. (I am not above self-promotion…try it…you’ll like it)

For those who are brave enough to venture into the world of planning sports results…or predicting results of anything for that matter…let me offer this true story of events eight miles from my home a few months ago. It should be noted no one was injured during the making of this life lesson of how the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.

More background. Two years ago my wife and I were at the dentist for our six-month check-ups and noticed work had begun across the road (roughly 75 yards away) for an ultra-modern, state-of-the-art fire station. We had heard the local fire company had outgrown their existing facility in town and was relocating directly across the road from the strip mall shopping center our dentist was working out of. The station under construction already looked quite impressive. The dentist and her personnel assured us we were far from unique in making jokes about what happens if someone is having a delicate drill procedure done when those sirens start wailing. Trips to the dentist are nervy enough without wondering if your nerves…or the dentist’s…will be compromised by that sudden sound to service. One thing we could all agree on was it was comforting to know if any fire did happen in the immediate area help was so close you could throw a rock at it. The location in fact made it more flexible for the fire company to get to all the territory they normally cover instead of being in the center of town as currently located.

A great plan all the way around. And…you could easily predict our dentist office couldn’t be more safe.

You know where this is going don’t you?

On May 12th our dentist and her personnel stood outside with the other occupants and visitors of ten businesses as they burned. To the ground.

If that mall had an “evacuation area” like large companies do it would have surely been the ultra-modern, state-of-the-art fire station that had been in operation for some time.

There was a fire that erupted across town. The station dutifully responded to the call and raced its resources to that scene. And the ultra-modern, state-of-the-art fire station across the street from the shopping center was temporarily vacant…as a fire broke out within one of the businesses in the center. The structure was older and did not feature a sprinkler system.

I would suggest sending flowers to the business owners…but the fire began in a flower shop.

The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.

Some of the businesses have already found new office space to relocate to. In fact the pizza shop that was forced to relocate found a great location that will allow them to expand their menu and even offer outdoor seating.

Our dentist is currently looking at a more-spacious property than she previously worked within also.

However…it IS a little farther from the fire station.

Posted in Blogging, Business, Family, Home, Humor, Life, Personal, Thoughts | Tagged , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Death? I’ve Got Options

For whatever reasons a couple of days ago…after all the years living where I do…I noticed there are three funeral homes all within but six miles of my residence.

Heck…two of them are directly across the street from each other.

Perhaps it came to mind because two of the three were concluding services at the same time and trying to assist traffic out onto the main street.

Perhaps it came to mind because it was a miserable weather day…making sending the dearly departed off in style a bit more challenging.

Perhaps it came to mind because I remembered I’m dying.

We all are you know.  Whether we’re judged to be 100% healthy or not.

A day lived…is a day closer to all our end of days.

Now that may sound like I’m a glass half-empty guy but I’d like to think quite the opposite. For if we all truly embrace no day is guaranteed and it is up to us to fill it up…then I become a glass half-full guy…don’t I?

The point is we all have an unknown yet finite time in this world. We should strive to make the most of it.

“The greatest possession you have is the twenty-four hours directly in front of you.”

And it is comforting to know when my glass finally reads “E” I’ve got options.

At least three.

Posted in Blogging, Death, Family, Health, Home, Life, Personal, Spirituality, Thoughts | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Pope Francis Makes Eternal Impression

Pope silhouette

Pope Francis’ visit to our Philadelphia region has ended but for me one aspect of his tour will stay with me forever.

I’m not Catholic…I am a Christian. But one quote attributed to this Pope should always be cause for reflection regardless of Faith…regardless of whether you even believe in any higher power at all:

“A little bit of mercy makes the world less cold and more just.”

Yesterday as local stations continued their coverage I paused to watch his visit to the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility in Northeast Philadelphia. Attending the Pope’s speech were male and female inmates from across the Philadelphia Prison System, their families, prison staff and local officials. Also present were relatives of Patrick Curran and Robert Fromhold, the former Warden and Deputy Warden for whom the prison (formerly Holmesburg) is named…murdered in the line of duty by inmates in 1973.

Prison reform is one of this Pope’s top priorities and he relayed that by including himself in saying, “All of us need to be cleansed, to be washed. And me in first place.” 

He continued, “I am here as a pastor but above all as a brother, to share your situation and make it my own.”

The message was clear during his fifteen-minute speech he feels strongly there is a critical need to emphasize hope and rehabilitation for and in every punishment. “He wants us to keep walking the paths of life, to realize that we have a mission, and that confinement is not the same thing as exclusion.”

Further, “It is painful when we see prison systems which are not concerned to care for wounds, to soothe pain, to offer new possibilities.”

But indeed on this day – as often we find so true in life – actions speak much louder than words.

At the conclusion of his speech the Pope made it a point to wade through the audience and meet with each and every prisoner and family member.

Seeing him interact with those incarcerated – and their families – was a wake-up call for anyone watching him move slowly and patiently among those in attendance…those behind bars are human beings. Their family members are human beings. We so often mentally throw away the key for all concerned when we hear of someone sentenced to serve time.

The local press reminded us the United States houses 25 percent of the world’s inmates but only 5 percent of the world’s population. That fact should indeed demand our immediate attention.

I saw the peaceful and hopeful looks on the faces of those inmates and their families as they met with Pope Francis and was embarrassingly reminded – forever now – regardless of whom or what you believe in these people are human beings.

Human beings can do a lot better making the world less cold and more just.

The Pope highlighted yesterday one aspect of our society where we should start.

Posted in Catholic, Christianity, Culture, Faith, Family, Home, Personal, Pope, Religion, Spirituality, Thoughts | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Four-Way No Way For Highway

This post continues the “lifeattitudes reprise series”…a fancy way of saying it appeared a few years back and is refreshed now for those who missed it the first time around…enjoy.

I come before you today to plead my case for outlawing all four-way stop intersections in America.

I can’t speak for the rest of Mother Earth but having driven over a good part of the U.S. I feel we can agree on the fact our citizens are completely unable to process the requirements of successfully navigating the Mother of all driving dilemmas… four-way stop intersections.

All my wife and I were trying to do was get home with our beloved Chinese food. We were not in a particular rush as our local establishment manages to pack out our order at a temperature equivalent to the surface of the sun…which is fine because we do like the food hot…and it does re-enter the atmosphere of safe eating by the time we get it home.

Yet there are these multiple four-way stop intersections without lights in our community…lots of them. Why this is I don’t know. Some sadist in charge of “transportation planning.” You’ve surely seen many fine examples of what happens when road engineers get approval for a project they claim needs to be executed. Drivers usually wish to be executed shortly after these people get their paws on our highways.

On the way home as we were carefully negotiating and navigating our way across a couple of these four-way stops I actually said to my wife how people just seemed incapable of knowing who was next to go, who had the right of way, etc. I usually have my guard up as we traverse this minefield of madness. Little did I know I was foreshadowing one of my all-time incidents at one of these heinous highway requirements.

As I approached the final four-way stop of the evening I encountered but one car out of the possible three. Sweet. I felt comfortable my wife and our flaming food would conquer this last hurdle and allow us to have a relaxing dining experience in the comfort of our own home…just a 1/4 mile away at this point.

However while I clearly was the first of the two cars to arrive at my stop sign, the driver of the other vehicle pulled up…stopped briefly…and then rolled into the intersection.

It was MY turn. (Instant replay would have confirmed it) I was already at my stop sign and was only waiting for that other car to come to a stop. It was MY turn.

Having been violated for the umpteenth time at this particular locale I rolled out into the intersection as well. I mean…if you don’t at least try to train these people what hope do we have? The other car stopped.

Success.

At this point I felt they had learned their lesson well and I proceeded forward once more…but alas…they did also.

It was like a small child was toying with me. I hadn’t even bothered to see who was piloting the opposition vehicle…yet.

Both cars are now practically parked in the middle of the intersection.

The first obscene gesture was made by the driver of the other car. I point that out with a sense of great pride because what I did immediately thereafter will not go down as one of my finest moments. My wife will verify this.

I returned said foul hand gesture with one of my own. I then locked eyes with my intersectional enemy (a woman who looked to be about our age with a cell phone attached to her head) and rattled off a stream of obscenities clearly audible regardless of the windows being up and the A/C on. Regardless of the decibel count you did not have to be a lip reader to get the context of my speech.

Having completed both the requisite opening hand gesture and follow-up remarks I then took the lead and sped off, clearing the intersection first.

And then…flush with adrenaline and filled with the sense of victory…the honk of a horn in the distance.

Having vanquished the other driver I guess it was her way of trying to win her war even if her battle was lost. I was about to take the high road on this one…but I…just…couldn’t.

I honked back.

Needless to say the discussion during the consumption of the now-cooled Chinese food was how I needed to be cooler at these intersections. Take it in stride, don’t get so upset. This from a woman who has come home from many a drive with the same exact stories of frustration and fury…well, ok…without the gestures and cursing.

I’m not a road rage fellow at all. I wave people along all the time. I take pride in not posting pedestrians on my hood. I’m a good guy at the wheel.

However I have come to the conclusion we all need to see the light…and install a light…at each and every four-way stop.

With these lights…maybe then I’ll lighten up.

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The Grocery List – I Have No Reservations

This post begins the “lifeattitudes reprise series”…a fancy way of saying it appeared a few years back and is refreshed now for those who missed it the first time around…enjoy.

Each week my wife and I compile a grocery list. It is carefully crafted and designed to efficiently go to no more than a couple of food stores on the weekend. We have to go to at least two because one doesn’t have what the other one does. After 32 years of marriage and more time solo as a pro grocery shopper I have (sadly) learned this to be true.

The grocery list construction starts mid-week and is “finalized” by Friday night.

More accurately however it is only in its “final stages.”

After conferring with other married men…some who shop with their wives…but others who do not…there is a universal consensus this is standard operating procedure in any relationship and to be accepted without fail. The grocery list we men think is the final list is not the final list.

The final list very much remains a work in progress…even while in the act of shopping.

Reminds me of the “Seinfeld” episode where Jerry is picking up an auto he thinks is waiting for him at a rental car location. They don’t have the car. They insist they know how to make a reservation. I don’t think you do. If you did, I’d have a car. See, you know how to take the reservation, you just don’t know how to hold the reservation…and that’s really the most important part of the reservation, the holding. Anybody can just take them.”

I have come to accept we know how to write a grocery list…we just don’t know how to complete a grocery list.

And to stay happily married the most important part of our final grocery list is my not having any reservations at all …about it being not final.

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I Brake For Pumpkins

Pumpkin

It is Pennsylvania state law to stop when there are pedestrians in a crosswalk. The same protection is not automatically afforded pumpkins.

The area in front of our Wegmans superstore is not super. There are literally thousands of cars daily crossing in front of its entrance…as are customers navigating getting groceries.

The crosswalk is the safe haven where shoppers can align themselves when taking those final, fateful steps in and out of the store. In theory everyone seeing pedestrians stops politely and allows them protected passage.

In theory.

Older folks, who can sometimes melt ice with their heated dialogue when playing the role of pedestrians and are not honored with safe passage appear to strip their gears in anger when having to brake for pedestrians. If they don’t see anyone (and in their eyesight I trust) they’re often mashing the pedal straight ahead at warp speed.

The younger, technology-distracted drivers don’t seem to mind bringing their cars to a stop when they come up for air and notice where they actually are. They usually meander at a low speed and admittedly don’t stop talking or texting…but that’s fine for pedestrians as long as they stop.

Harried homemakers, driving vehicles big enough for both lanes, are resigned to stopping but often disgustedly gesture you across…even though as a pedestrian it’s already your right-of-way.

Which brings us to pumpkins. My wife and I decided to grab a cart and pick up three large pumpkins this morning to eventually decorate our front porch. We carefully and lovingly determined which ones looked the best and would stay stout throughout the season.

After checking them out…and checking out…it was off to the crosswalk.

It should be noted as habit I put my sunglasses on just as I step outside the store. This does require me to take my hands off the cart just briefly but, even with a small incline ahead leading into the crosswalk I never have any issue getting the cart firmly under control with sunglasses firmly in place.

Until this morning.

When I underestimated the overall weight of the three pumpkins in the cart.

And the cart started to roll.  Away.

At the point I estimated the pumpkins would arrive in the crosswalk before my wife and I the split decision was made to abandon fitting my sunglasses perfectly and focus on saving the pumpkins from having the shortest life span of any decorations in our history.

I got both hands on the cart just before its wheels entered the crosswalk.

Blessedly there were no cars driving in either direction.

I thought I was out of the woods at that point but there was soon a second, unforeseen crosswalk to navigate.

Walking with my wife…who was cross with me about not having cart in hand at the crosswalk. Indeed we had a cart-crashing close call. And it’s barely safe for us crossers as it is.

I gladly brake for everyone in the crosswalk. I would hope everyone else would too.

Pumpkins included.

Posted in Crafts, Family, Food, Halloween, Home, Humor, Life, People, Thoughts | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments