A fight over convenience

It’s the throwdown to end all throwdowns.

In one corner, you have the street-smart bruiser, who worked the streets of Philly and surrounding Southeastern Pennsylvania countryside to become a rock-hard behemoth with fists made of steel and punches as powerful as bolts of lightning.

In the other corner, you have the rural up-start who used the hills and mountains of Western Pennsylvania and West Virginia to grow biceps as thick as an ox and a towering one-two punch that leaves others shivering in fright.

Their title fights to date rank right up there with the greatest of all time: Godzilla versus King Kong, Superman versus Batman, the New York Yankees versus the Boston Red Sox, Microsoft versus Apple.

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Oh what am I talking about? A return to prominence by heavyweight boxing, not seen since the glory days of Muhammad Ali or even Mike Tyson? The next Mixed Martial Arts fight of the month?

Of course not, I’m talking about the winner take-all, no-holds barred fight between the Wawa and Sheetz convenience stores for consumers’ everyday spending dollars on gas, coffee, soda, and the small little things we all stop for on our way to-and-from work. Continue reading “A fight over convenience”

Goin’ country

As the writer of a personal blog, I tend to reveal a lot of information about myself. I’ve written about my mother’s Amish roots; my feelings sending my daughter off to college, my obsession about being on time, and even a close-call with depression.

Some would say that I’ve revealed too much information about myself. However, I have a confession that has been boiling to the service for quite some time.  Regular confession is said to be a healthy spiritual exercise and cleansing for your soul, right?

If that’s the case . . .  my confession today is that I like country music.

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Continue reading “Goin’ country”

How I carved out my own place in the world

As a young boy I watched my father take a chunk of wood and hold it in his calloused hands. Others would see it for what it was: a throw-away piece of wood. My father saw something more, something hidden below the surface.

He’d analyze the wood, examining it for imperfections or knots and turn it over-and-over in his hands. When he was finally satisfied, he put the piece of wood down on the table and outline in pencil a rough image of a mallard duck; a bloodhound sniffing the ground; or, more often than not, a hobo, carrying a sack. The image wouldn’t have much detail, but he’d be sure to include enough so that you could make out the general shape and design. He would then pull out of the front pocket of his shirt a small chisel or more often than not, a small pocketknife. He bought the knife from a five-and-dime store years earlier when he was a young man and the knife showed years of use. He’d open the blade and start by sharpening it against a sharpening stone until he could easily shave away fine hairs on his forearm. And then and only then, when everything was just perfect, he’d make his first cut.

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Continue reading “How I carved out my own place in the world”

Missing the Big Valley

The kid couldn’t have been older than 15 or 16. His jeans were ripped and his backpack looked like it had seen better days, but he was giving a monologue in the convenience store on all the reasons why he couldn’t wait to leave town to his friend behind the counter.

“There’s nothing ever to do. It’s just dead. It’s a dead community,” he said, pausing to pay his friend for his Monster Energy drink. “When my band takes off, I’m going to move to Center City and I’m never coming back. I don’t care what anyone says, I’m never coming back. Period. End of story.”

I live about 50 miles from Philadelphia. On a good day without traffic, you can make it into Center City in about 50 minutes. In the heart of rush hour traffic, you’re looking at an hour-and-a-half to a two-hour drive. The community is a mix of old timers, who’ve lived in the area for decades and two income families trying to keep ahead by commuting to jobs closer to Philly, Allentown, Reading, Lancaster and the surrounding region.

Farming, once a staple of the area, is a distant memory. It was kicked out to pave the way for housing developments full of brick McMansions, bigger and wider roads that amazingly still look like massive parking lots, and big box retail stores. All-in-all, it’s your typical East Coast bedroom community.

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I doubted the teenager in the convenience store had really thought-through his plan, but I wished him well in my head and went about paying for my gas and soda. “You go kid, you knock’em dead,” I whispered to no one in particular. Continue reading “Missing the Big Valley”

The wisdom of age

I celebrate my birthday in a few weeks. (Important note: Large, expensive presents are encouraged and accepted.) I’m not one to get caught up or agitated by the number on my birth certificate, but it has been a strange experience to see the number of years start to add up. I question how that’s even possible. I’m still 21, right?

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Madison Avenue and our intense cultural focus on youth makes us think the world belongs to the young. It treats age as something to be avoided, like we could somehow put it off,  and, quite frankly, as a bad thing. I’m not buying it. On a whim, I googled the ages of some great accomplishments. I take solace in seeing what others have accomplished well past their so-called prime: Continue reading “The wisdom of age”

Bouncing back takes work

My legs felt like they were weighted down by 20-pound anchors. With each step, my lower back sent violent spasms of pain that fanned out to the rest of my body. My lungs felt even worse. I took in big gulps of air, but they burned and I couldn’t seem to get my breath under control.

My running GPS app let me know that I had passed the seven-mile marker.  I groaned at the reminder that I still had four more miles to go on my run.

I cursed myself for being too aggressive in my weekly long run. I could’ve turned around earlier, but had gone too far and now I had to make my way back or, God forbid, be forced to walk. I cursed myself too for posting on Social Media my goal to run a few races and possibly a marathon in the fall.

I really wanted to stop and walk, but I also had a goal of no walking. “Why did I do that?” I questioned. “You idiot, you can’t stop now.” A clear catch-22.

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Continue reading “Bouncing back takes work”

You’ve got a friend!

My friend had barely picked up her phone and greeted me with a hello and I was off to the races on my mini-rant. “Did you see the note I just sent you? Did you see the latest change?”

Without missing a beat, my friend picked up right where I had left off and we were soon catching up on the latest work news, business school assignments, and everything else going on in each other’s life. I would start one topic and she would chime in leading us in an altogether different direction. We were located several miles away from each other, but we just as easily could have been sitting across the table from each other.

My hands were flying every which way and we were both talking a mile-a-minute over and around each other. If someone were trying to follow our conversation, their head would spin, turning from one side to the other trying to keep up with the two of us. “Oh yea, that’s a great point,” I jumped in quickly when my friend gave me some advice on a work issue that had been nagging me for the past three weeks.

Friends like that are special. Business author and consultant Simon Sinek describes true friends like that as “someone with whom protocol is no longer necessary.” We all know that about friendships — especially in today’s online Facebook friend world — but good friends are still hard to find.

Despite my sometimes standoffish ways, I’ve been fortunate over the years to have a handful of friends whom I’ve been able to call-up on a spur of the moment without reservation and trade opinions and advice.

They are the type of friends that you may not see for months on end and then pick-up and chat on the phone for hours, sharing long forgotten stories and experiences. They are the type of friends who know instantly your foibles, flaws and idiosyncrasies and like you anyway. And for me, these have been the trusted friends that I’ve been the most open and vulnerable in showing them the drafts of my written work for their review and opinion.

The safety zone

Despite all that, when I picked up the phone to call my friend, I knew that I could chat with her — even though we come different races and backgrounds — about any number of challenging topics, including the types of subjects that usually are off-limits at work or in mixed company: politics, race, crime, or even family to cite a few of them.

I knew that if I wanted to, I could bring up and ask: Where does President Obama rank on the list of Presidents, one of the best or one of the worst?  Is Donald Trump a crazy liar or exactly what the U..S needs? Is Hillary a devious career politician or someone who cares deeply about the American dream? Was neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman guilty in shooting African American Trayvon Martin or was it case of bad timing?

These are all meaty subjects that deserve serious consideration but are rarely brought up in the workplace or public square. We Americans love to talk about our First Amendment rights and the Freedom of Speech. We’re experts on our rights, but we usually run away from these heavy, highly opinionated discussions. I understand why: one word slogans or responses fail to cover these topics.

And most important, the fire burning underneath rages so deeply that these conversations usually go from zero to sixty with the snap of a burning twig. They offend. They anger. They tend to throw you off-guard in a sweaty panic. If taken the wrong way, they can turn father against son or daughter and brother against brother. You may as well forget about friend against friend, the chances of the relationship surviving are limited, very limited.

Stand-up and be counted

I have the deepest respect though for my friend because she rarely lets me off the hook, forcing the two of us to face these conversations head-on and in direct manner. For example, when I touch lightly on a particular topic,  probing but too scared to bring up whatever is on my mind for fear of offending her sensibilities, my friend will tell me to shut-up and tell her what I really think.

Yes, I note the irony too.

As I’ve gotten older,  I’ve come to place even more value on these friendships. I’ve recognize how rare they really are. I value them because they allow me to let my guard down and to admit that, despite my best of intentions and all the bluster that I can muster, I don’t have all the answers.

No, I don’t have all the solutions, but these conversations help me to open my eyes and see an issue or challenge through the eyes, or better yet, the shoes of another person.

We need more of these conversations. I know I do. Here’s hoping the rest of world recognizes that they need these conversations too.

Thank you friend!

‘Welcome to my parlor,’ said the spider to the fly

I pulled into the driveway recently exhausted from a long day. I had one of those days where I was running the minute I got into work, right up until the minute I left.

Unfortunately for me, my day wasn’t done. I left work and ran to several afterschool events and errands that kept me out well into the evening and left me physically and mentally exhausted.

I was ready for the week to be over and for the weekend to start. I felt like I had been gobbled up and spewed out by the events of the day. When I got home, I grabbed a glass of milk and stood in my kitchen flipping through the day’s mail.  When I looked up, I happened to notice a large imposing spider outside the kitchen window. The spider was attracted to the light coming from the kitchen and looked to be the king of its castle, strolling up up-and-down each side of its massive web.

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My first thought was to make a mental note to clean the outside window over the weekend. Prepare to say goodbye Mr. Spider. My second thought was to acknowledge the massive web the spider had created and the work that went into making it. I half expected to see “Some Pig,” straight out of the book, “Charlotte’s Web,” scrawled in it. The web was quite impressive, to be exact, it was an engineering marvel. 

While I stood there, a moth flittered against the window. I tapped on the window in an attempt to scare the moth away, but that only made the moth flitter even more. Before it knew what happened, the moth was caught in the spider’s web. The moth desperately tried to flee, but it seemed to get even more entangled.

Soon the spider looked to be playing with its prey. I learned later that spiders literally vomit digestive matter on their prey, tenderizing its food so-to-speak, before they eat it. Yes, I know pretty disgusting. 

Watching this scene play-out, I quickly lost my appetite. A small part of me, though, felt thankful, even appreciative that my day hadn’t been as bad as it could have been. My day was crazy, but certainly ten times better than the moths. When I started thinking about it, I stopped feeling sorry for myself and started to think about all the things I was grateful for, including being busy.

Yes, I like to be in more control of my day, I like calmer, smoother days, but I’ll take a busy day over being the moth any day of the week. I remain no fan of spiders, but I have new perspective and am grateful for the spider for helping me to see the light at the end of the tunnel. I reminded myself that I would soon have the weekend to recharge my batteries and get me rolling again.  

Now about that spider’s web in my window. Mr. Spider, let me grab the outside water hose, some window cleaner, and let’s talk about the “circle of life.”

 

Five old school things that still rule

My sons finish-up school this week. They’ll hand in their books, clean out their lockers, and get ready for the summer. It will be a fun week for them. We live now in a society controlled by the web and social media. For all the change this has meant, one big end-of-the-year school activity has stayed the same.

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Students still purchase school yearbooks. There’s no app they need to download. They don’t go online to see what their friends wrote about them. They simply need to buy a real live, in the flesh book. And very much like my own experience, they’ll spend the week browsing through the pictures between classes — laughing at some, cringing at others — and getting their friends to sign their yearbooks.

The old phrase still rings true: “the more things change, the more they stay the same.” Continue reading “Five old school things that still rule”

When photos come alive

I think kids today are missing out.

They’re missing out on one of my all-time favorite hobbies. When I was young, my mom kept a large, green shoebox full of family pictures in her bedroom closet. When I was bored or felt blue and needed a pick-me-up I’d pull the box out to look at and reminisce about past vacations and family milestones.

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We weren’t a big photo family. We didn’t have any natural photographers in our family and this obviously was well before the age of the selfie. However, I used to love looking over the photos we took and had packed away.

Continue reading “When photos come alive”