Category Archives: Personal

No Left Turn

On the road where I work, there is a bridge over a main interstate artery for our city. The area around the bridge has been under construction for almost two years. There are two traffic lights on the bridge to allow left turns from both sides to access the artery below. The traffic on the bridge was always congested. On my way home each evening, I would wait in line to turn left. It was not unusual to wait two to four cycles of the traffic light to execute the turn. Yesterday, they finished building the new ramps to allow both lanes to turn right to go either north or south. No more left turns! Traffic today moved much smoother and much faster. This will make my commute home each night much easier.

Speaking of new traffic patterns, I survived yet another layoff from my work. The department I worked in was outsourced to a third party contractor. I am in the process of learning what my new duties and responsibilities are in the new reality of my job. I am exploring the paths that define my new work. It is an interesting adventure. On top of the new duties, our overall processes have changed because of the off-site processing. This is giving me the opportunity to learn the new system and develop efficiencies around them, trying to avoid the left turns that create difficulties. I am enjoying the challenge. I see both the road work and work changes as positive. Both are efforts to improve and enhance their respective purposes.

I am saddened that some of my co-workers are losing their positions because of the changes. They were good at what they did and they worked earnestly and honestly. Of course this leaves fewer people to do the work, but the new procedures places many of the stresses on the contractor and away from the employees.

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Changes for the better

Last week, my wife and I helped my son move from our home to his own apartment – his first. He was dealing with the nervousness and excitement of the prospect of living on his own. He now would be making his own decisions, preparing his own meals and taking care of his own place. It was a task that he was looking forward to, but at the same time, just a bit unsure of himself.

We all go through times like this, whether it is a dwelling place move, a new job, or opening a new business. These opportunities mix nervousness, fear, excitement, and joy. Each time we overcome even a small obstacle it boots our confidence. It can boost our self-reliance, and if we do need help, it can shine a light on who can help us and who really cares. It is a very broad learning opportunity.

My wife has been an empty-nester before, but this is the first time for me. I am very proud of my son for making this leap. We did our best to set him up with the basics that he needed to help ensure that he would succeed. I went on a strenuous hike with him yesterday at Stony Brook State Park in Dansville, NY. It is a beautiful park and very well maintained. We had a chance to talk while we climbed up and down steps more numerous than I cared to count.  My son told me that he is excited about his new life but that he missed me. I admitted, gladly, that I missed him too. But I assured him, that no matter where we were geographically, I would be there for him. This was especially true since just the night before, I went to the hospital with Brandon as he cut his finger with a knife so deeply that he required stitches. He was preparing a salad for his work that night. I am so glad that he is carrying on good eating habits. I know that he will do well. Knowing that will make my transition to becoming comfortable as an empty-nester that much easier.

Who am I?

In my workplace, they have announced that there will be layoffs soon. This will be the third time in 4 years. This time it is a little different, the previous layoffs were for staff reductions. The current layoff is due to outsourcing the department that I work in.

We still don’t know when, just why. As I try to uplift my fellow employees, as I was their supervisor until the last layoff, I try to focus on their talents and potential. During one very serious discussion, we spoke about who we were. There are lots of long term employees who are nervous about the upcoming cuts. I have 30 years in service. With so many years in service, many are unsure what they might do, or even can do. I reminded them that they are not what they do. Something I had to realize several years ago.

I shared with them that I once was very ill and that I felt that I could not continue working the position that I had. I told my manager at the time that I could not continue in that position and understood perfectly that he would need to replace me. I was ready to move on to whatever path awaited me, but my manager offered me another position that was less physically demanding and I remained with the company.

I came to grips that what we do isn’t necessarily what we are or who we are. Employers will find others to fill our positions. But the person we are cannot easily be replaced. I am a: father, son, brother, husband, friend, citizen, uncle, nephew, cousin, student, teacher, mentor, mentee, worshipper, and even a sinner. I am all these things. So even if I am chosen to leave my employ, I am still me. I will just have to seek other ways to use my energy and talents. I’m thinking about going back to school. But I will have to wait and see what will happen. Until then I will concentrate on who I am, my potential, my talents, my passions. I am me.

What’s Different?

What is the difference between my current diet and the ones that I tried before? First of all, only time will tell how successful this diet will be. The purpose of this diet was to improve my digestive symptoms. I am currently in my tenth week of Gluten free dieting which includes a month without any grains. My stomach is finally beginning to feel better.

But one additional effect of this current diet is that I am losing weight. I again, emphasize, this was and is not the main focus of this diet. But, hey, I will take it. Since I need to lose weight anyway, it is a most welcome addition.

My previous diets were just a lessening of the volume of food and calories that I was eating before. Even increasing whole grains and fiber were part of those diets. I now understand the effect of glucose spikes in the blood caused by wheat and other grains. Two slices of whole grain wheat bread raise your blood sugar levels higher than a Snicker’s bar. This in turn creates an insulin reaction that ends up storing the sugar as fat.

Even though I was tracking my calories and eating less of them, I felt deprived. The wheat and grains caused me to be hungry and stimulated my cravings for starchy foods. I would lose weight for a short while, but as soon as I began eating again, the weight would come back on, and sometimes even more. I was caught in the same endless cycle that many people are in.

So what makes this different? Removing the wheat and grain from my diet has caused me to seek out other sources of nutrition, namely fresh fruits, vegetables and meats. Vegetables, especially, are low in calories but high in nutrition. You can consume several cups of baby spinach and broccoli and barely break 150 calories. I have purposely tried to keep my carbohydrates below 100g per day. I am eating between 90 – 150g per day.

Again, what’s different? Because of the food that I am eating, I feel fuller on less calories. I am not hungry as often. Since my blood sugar is being kept stable from the naturally low glycemic effect of most of the foods I eat, I avoid the sugar crash and subsequent cravings that come with it. I am simply not hungry all the time as I was in the past. That is be big difference when it comes to hunger.

My past diets made me hungry or feel deprived. I really didn’t feel much better, even when I did lose some weight. Since I have stopped eating grains, I have experienced many benefits, many unexpected. I knew about the brain fog, as it happened to me before almost after every lunch. I did not expect my energy levels to go up as much as they have. I did not expect my arthritis pain to go away. I did expect my stomach pain to go away, but it did not while gluten free, but is now much improved as I am grain free.

Yesterday, I took a 5.5 mile ‘forced march’ hike with my son. My joints did not bother me. I was a little sore when I got home but it wasn’t arthritis pain, it was a ‘dang, that was a hell of a workout’ kind of pain and it felt good!

Benefits so far: more energy; more alert; no arthritis pain; less hungry; less cravings; fresher foods; cooking adventures; better mood; and better sleep.

When I tell people that I am grain free, they sometimes ask, “Then what do you eat?” That is a very fair question. It is a question that I would have asked myself if someone told me they were grain free. Wheat, corn, soy and rice is in the majority of foods in the American diet. The diversity in the store is actually based on a limited set of ingredients. So once you explore the outside aisles you can begin creating vegetable and meat dishes that are not only delicious but very nutritious and healing to your body.

Is there a difference this time? You bet there is. I am feeling better in so many different ways; it is absolutely amazing how diet affects your overall wellness. Of course we know what you eat is important, but until you experience such a change in your life, you will never understand just how important.

My wish is for a better health, better foods, and a better life for you.

Is Messiness a Character Flaw?

Hi. My name is Harry and I am a slob. If you were to compare my life with the Odd Couple of years past, Felix Unger and Oscar Madison, I am very much like Oscar. Also, like that same couple, the other side of the relationship, my wife, is neat and organized. I do not go out of my way to annoy her with my disorganization but it happens that way.

For some people, a bed freshly made in the morning is the perfect beginning of the day. It makes all things right in the world. Humanity can continue on its journey forward. But it really makes no difference to me if the bed is made or not. It doesn’t even occur to me that an unmade bed has any impact in my day.

Clutter does not bother me. I do not like filth, but I do not mind clutter. I have always been disorganized. I was always scolded by my teachers for being disorganized. I could never remember the combination to my locker (so I jammed the lock, so it wouldn’t fully lock). My desk at work is a mess, but I get my work done, meet deadlines and exceed expectations. Albert Einstein quipped, “If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?”

“We have a tendency to think of messiness as a character flaw, but these people are generally more productive than neat people since they spend more time getting things done than they do straightening up,” David H. Freedman explains. “Plus, they’re often more imaginative than neater folks, since creative people usually find a bit of clutter to be stimulating and expressive.” David Freedman and Eric Abrahamson were co-authors of the book, A Perfect Mess: The Hidden Benefits of Disorder – How Crammed Closets, Cluttered Offices, and on-the-Fly Planning Make the World a Better Place

So, is messiness a character flaw? Maybe, but I do not think so. Are messy people immoral? You know, the whole cleanliness is next to godliness thing. I do not think that is the case either. I honestly think it is just how my brain works. It just may be that I am constantly distracted by more interesting things, at least more interesting than tidying up. Or, maybe, the cost of tidying up may be less than the potential benefits. On one occasion at work, an employee was filing daily order papers, in order, after entering them into the computer system. The organizing, sorting and filing took about an hour out of her day. Almost no one ever needed to see those papers. I changed the system to a 31 day file, where she simply stuck all the papers in the file, unsorted, by day. Searching once in a while took a few minutes to half an hour, but it saved 20 hours of filing each month.

Neat people are fine too. The organizations help them feel in control. I know I control very little and I am in no way interested in being the general manager of the universe. My wife has files and places and she likes to know that everything is where it should be. I depend on her organization skills and am very glad she has them. As a side note, almost everything I put in a place so it would not get lost ends up never found. I almost always forget where that perfect place was. Oh well, it certainly is safe from me.

I think the difference is personality and how our minds are wired. I have accepted that I am messy. I am happy to be me. If you are neat, then I am happy that you are. It would be really great if we were accepted as we are. Sure, we have flaws, we all need to improve. I do make the bed because it makes my wife happy, not because it means anything to me. Making the bed really is an act of love. Besides, I’m just going to mess it up again later when I crawl into it. Such is life. This is Oscar, signing off.

Choosing Joy and Contentment

It is cold here in upstate NY. I don’t like the cold. It had snowed for a week. The snow ended yesterday. Am I thankful for the snow? No, not really. My wife ran off the road last Thursday night and we had to get a tow truck. I am thankful that she is okay. I am thankful for all those that stopped to offer assistance. I am thankful for the tow truck driver who extracted the car. But I would rather that she did not have to go through the event.

I still don’t like the cold. It causes my joints to ache and my legs to hurt. But I am thankful that I am still mobile and still can work. Looking at the bright side of things, just like the spin doctors in the public relations arena, can help us choose joy.

Choosing joy is not easy. It takes lots of practice. I am still and always will have to practice choosing joy. Even though it is our own responsibility to choose joy, outside influences can certainly make it easier or harder. There are those, whether intentionally or not, seem to relish stealing our joy. Sometimes they are having a bad day. Sometimes they just want to share their misery. Sometimes they just might be jealous. And sometimes, it can be me.

We often can be disappointed if we have expectations as to the outcomes. We can impose our expectations on others based on what we believe, our experiences or our sense of right and wrong. We can also impose our expectations on others because of the way we think. What seems logical to us ay not be logical to others. Understanding that we control precious little can also help us choose joy by not allowing ourselves to be caught up in things that we cannot control. This is where contentment comes in. We can choose to be content by living within the control of our situation. We can control our responses. We can choose ways to cope with our situations. We can be in control of ourselves while realizing we cannot necessarily control what happens around us.

Again, it isn’t easy. It is a journey. Mother Teresa demonstrated to us that even when she placed herself amongst the poorest, the sick, and the dying, she could find joy in the love and caring she brought to others. Her example inspires others to do the same. I am sure she struggled and faced her own frustrations. She held on to her faith and hope.

Looking for Joy

   We all experience things that steal our joy. Fear, worry, anger and stress are common elements in our lives that steal our joy. Our economic stresses can permeate every part of our lives. We worry about job security and adequate income. Constantly flowing bad news from our televisions and radio cause us to fear the world we live in.

The Affordable Care Act has caused worry for many and relief for some. My medical coverage has had to change because of the ACA. Because of my zip code, I was offered an equivalent policy that did not include my doctors or hospitals. To keep the care that I have grown comfortable with, I chose a less efficient policy.

The stress that steals our joy the most is that over situations that we cannot change or have no control over. These things can be anywhere in our lives. Work policies, school policies, new schedules, pressures at home can all cause stress.

Sometimes, the joy stealer comes from within us. We might feel inadequate, just not good enough. We are all different. We all have our own skills and gifts. None of us is great at everything. We all deserve to give ourselves a break. Do we have flaws? Of course. If  it something we cannot change, then we need to accept that it cannot change. If it can change, then we can work towards improving that. This gives us the confidence and self-esteem that we need to defeat the things in our life that steal our joy.

Anger gets in our way. Sure, people and even family push our buttons. But we have to realize that anger can rob of us of our joy, our relationships and even our health. Anger is not always bad. Sometimes it is good to be angry. But mostly, it does not solve anything and usually makes bad situations even worse. Forgiving those that anger you frees you from the control that they have from pressing your buttons.

So how do we get our joy back or find the joy we have lost? Instead of focusing on what is wrong, we should seek out what is good. Look for the good things in life, in others and in ourselves. We are responsible for our own joy. It is our choice. Always do your best, but even the best of us cannot live up to other people’s expectation. You always want to improve but you still have to be yourself.

Know what you can and cannot do. Try new things out of your comfort zone. If you succeed, you improve your confidence. If it didn’t work out, you still have improved your confidence because you know you tried, you learned that it was difficult, and you learned where you need to improve if you want to tackle it again.

Life will sometimes let you down. That is just the way it is because there is so much that we cannot control. We can learn from all these times, both good and bad. Having expectations of how everything should be will definitely lead to disappointment. Again, even if people don’t live up to your expectations, be patient with them. They may need nurturing, guidance. It could even mean that the person cannot meet your expectations. Your expectations may have to change.

Bottom line, your joy can be be stolen by others, but joy is found within yourself. You don’t have to let others steal your joy. This is a difficult skill to learn. It is one that I struggle with. Even those of us that try to stay positive all the time allow others to steal the joy we have. It is up to us to return the joy to our hearts and minds by trusting in ourselves, trusting in God, and being thankful for all the good in our lives. Look for and find the joy in your heart.

Struggles and Triumphs

A son was born. Freshly arriving in this new world of ours. Eyes bright and in wonder of everything he saw. His mother held him close to her chest, beaming with pride at the incredible miracle she held. Young parents, inexperienced in the ways of these kinds of miracles, were happily concerned with the welfare and safety of this frail little human.

A little more than a year later, a second child was born to this couple. Again, seem as a blessing and gift, but it was a challenge to keep up with these two small boys.  As both boys grew, it seemed that the second son was progressing more quickly than the first. This observation and later concern was borne to be true. The oldest son was diagnosed with a developmental delay, learning disability and a turned leg that mildly affected his walking. This was not good news. What did it all mean? How would they cope? What did it mean for their son? What would his future be like? And where would they turn for help.

The parents found help through a local organization called the Happiness House. The staff at the Happiness House assured the parents and helped them with the necessary paperwork to petition family court to provide the necessary services for their son.

Later their son was diagnosed with ADD, OCD and suffered tics under the tourette’s umbrella. Braces were fashioned for his leg to straighten out his walk. Again the questions peppered the minds of the parents. Physical and occupational therapists, speech pathologists and other professionals worked with their son.

When this young boy was old enough to enter the educational system, he received a new team of professionals. He had difficulty learning school basics. But with steadfast persistence by his team, patience by his parents and, at times begrudging cooperation by the young man, he did learn.

‘Leo the Late Bloomer’ by Robert Kraus was a favorite book used by his teachers. The book carried a powerful message of hope. This young man continued to struggle all through school. Eventually the most visible tics subsided. He had learned to read and write. He enjoyed video games, riding bikes and taking walks.

Unfortunately, before he graduated from high school, his mother decided that she needed a different life away from her family. This was an incredibly difficult adjustment for the boys and their father. But with patience and courage, they moved on.

His high school counselor helped his parents find continuing services after school. New York’s VESID (Vocational and Educational Services for Individuals with Disabilities) provided referrals to the ARC of Ontario County. Their services placed him in a work program where he earned some money, learned to socialize with co-workers, and helped to develop his self-esteem. He blossomed there.

Along with his experiences in working, he wished to extend his life adventure by learning how to drive. After several years with a learning permit, he finally received his license. He continues to explore his growing independence.

It had been incredible to watch this young man push against these difficulties. Even though these conditions still exist, he still pushes gently against them. I am very proud of him. I am not sure of all the potential within this young man. But I hope that he knows that I will be in his life as long as I can to witness his further victories. This young man is my son, Brandon.

Brandon, if you are reading this, do not be angry about the challenges you face. Be proud of yourself, like I am proud of you, for all that you have accomplished. You are an incredible young man.

It’s Always Been That Way

As humans, we usually look for patterns. Even if we go out and look for the exotic, we still find comfort in the routine. We feel comfortable in knowing that things will be as we expect them to be. Life is challenging and ever changing. Events and relationships have a way of upsetting our comfortable setting.

Many times at work, I question why we do things a certain way. The answer I usually receive is that it is just the way it’s always been done. I might even hear, it works, so don’t change it. I like to try to streamline reporting and tasks to make it easier for everyone involved. It usually works, but sometimes what is easier for me, isn’t necessarily easier for someone else. What I change might make someone else very uncomfortable. I am sure that you have had this happen to  you as well. What makes perfect sense to me might befuddle someone else and vice versa.

This can happen in relationships too. We rely on our experiences from our childhood. Our family worked in a particular way, whether we liked it or not, that is the way it was. Sometimes we don’t think it could be different because it’s always been that way.

In a family relationship, especially in a blended family, bringing all these expectations and traditions together can result in a confusing mix of priorities. What is very important to one person may not be important at all to another. It isn’t right or wrong, it is just different. We bring with us our own understanding of what is normal and natural and how it should be done.

What might be very important to one might make another downright uncomfortable. Usually out of love, we genuinely try to respect and honor the differences. But it is difficult to always be mindful of what is important to someone else when it might not hold such gravity with us. It is part of being selfless, but our minds and bodies will remind us of our own needs.

I think the difference between work and home is that we expect work to dictate our actions and activities even when they don’t necessarily make sense to us. We usually do not practice that same flexibility at home, which is both good and bad. It is good that I can be myself at home but sometimes being myself might irritate others, just as they might irritate me. Any time you bring two or more people together for any reason; there is a possibility of conflict. It takes concerted effort to agree to goals and actions and move forward. It’s always been that way.

So we need to be mindful that everyone comes from their own series of experiences that colors their behavior and beliefs. In a work environment, it is to recognize the talents and strengths of those around us. We need to offer our own strengths and talents to lead to success.  In our family relationships we need to recognize that each of us have traditions ingrained in us by our childhood. It is up to us to decide which traditions to keep, which to discard, and which to meld into the tradition of others. In a sense, we need to make new traditions that not only work for us but for those around us.

Change is tough. Challenges are real. Opportunities to be better exist. It requires us to be mindful. It requires us to be present. But then again, it’s always been that way.

Remarriage Statistics

The US is the most remarried country of the western nations according to a study by Cherlin in 2009. In another study by Deal in 2005 found that one third of all weddings in America formed step-families.

I, myself, am in a remarriage. Being over 50, I am part of the statistic that 25% of people who remarry are over 50 years old.

Now, you would think that being married a second or third time, you would have the maturity and wisdom from your previous experiences. I would think that and do think that. However, even though I believe that a second marriage would be better, the Census Bureau in 2006 found that 60% of second marriages, and 73% of third marriages end in divorce. But the challenges of remarriage are different. You deal with complex relationships made even more complex with differing backgrounds.

In most remarriages, I believe the main drivers of frustration are money and children. Expectations differ greatly, especially in the way children were raised.  What was totally acceptable and a non-issue in one household nearly commanded the death penalty in the other. This can definitely cause some tensions when you try to blend the two households. It is not that anyone is wrong, it is just different. This exists in first time marriages as well, but I believed it is amplified in further marriages.  It definitely take time, patience and trust to build newer, stronger relationships with the spouse’s children, remembering that it is a new dynamic for them as well. This is true for both minor and adult children, even grandchildren.

Both partners may have established careers and their own nest eggs.  This can be a concern of the children as well as the partners. Communication about goals and comfort levels can help alleviate money differences. It is also wise to determine in advance how monies are to be dispersed if one spouse passes away.

A 2002 study by Hetherington showed that on average, couples in step-families have three times the amount of stress of couples in first marriages during the first few years. But with time, stress levels for couples in step-families can fall to normal levels found in first marriages.

I said earlier that I believe that I can use the lessons from my first marriage in my first marriage to improve the happiness in my second marriage. I will admit, that I was not prepared for the some of the unique challenges that have arisen. I plan on working hard in my relationship and working though the challenges. Love and marriage takes lots of hard work and its worth it.

Are you in a step-family relationship? What kind of challenges did you experience that you did not expect. How did you overcome those challenges. It may be true that 60% of second marriages fail. That means that 40% make it.

I know that the statistics are scary, but couples do make remarriage work. Marriage always has challenges and it is overcoming those challenges as couples and families that make relationships stronger.

Take care, stay well and be safe.