Stay Positive

Stay Positive

Some Ways to Stay Positive

Staying positive is something that seems obvious to be happy, but it’s hard for some people to do. Harder for some than others, and I believe that’s because of constantly training ourselves to either think positively, which is hard and must be consciously done sometimes or think negatively. Thinking negatively is easy and I’d even say lazy, and it’s poisonous to ourselves and to relationships. No one like to be around or associated with someone that always thinks negatively, whether it’s about others, events in life, themselves, situations they find themselves (which are typically no different than any others people find themselves in at some point), or any and everything that comes their way.

Either way, we condition ourselves to think one way or another. And after time goes by, it becomes the routine way our brains travel when we have to ponder a matter. Do we look at it with optimism and trying to think of good things about it, and try to see the positive, or do we curse it and look at it woefully and how bad it is is how helpless it makes us change it? I know people that do both, and I prefer to be with the optimists. Everyone has negative events that occur in their lives but it’s how we learn to manage and cope with them that I think makes us stronger and able to hand even worse matters, that, unfortunately, do lie around the corner if you live long enough.

Learning to be grateful is one way to change yor way of thinking positively. Keeping a list of things you have to be grateful for work for me, and I still write down things I’m grateful for. Gratitude goes hand in hand with happiness. And everyone has something to be grateful for, no matter how dim life might look at times. I wrote down 10 things each day I was grateful for, and it changes your perspective. It conditions you to be more positive.

I’ve also found it’s easier to be more positive when you’re more down and out that when you’re on top. When you have more to worry about losing or are up on top, there’s a long way down to fall and the footing sometimes feels unsteady. When at rock bottom, things feel like they only get better, so it’ easy to be optimistic. It’s ironic, really.

People that have a negative outlook on life are corrosive and have an anchoring effect on your soul. They drag you along, tire you out and drain your resources. Miserable people love to commiserate (misery loves company is true) and they’ll pick at you until they find a spot to saturate and infect you with their cancer until you quickly die. So I tend to stay away from negative people because it’s as unhealthy as smoking, eating poorly, drinking alcohol and being complacent. All things I coincidentally did when younger and have quit and never been happier and both mentally and physically healthier as a result.

Everyone’s different so I don’t have specific answers for everyone can achieve that outlook, but I can list some ways that have worked for me:

  1. Keep a gratitude list
  2. Exercise. Get off your butt.
  3. Go for a walk. I don’t really consider this “exercise” exactly, but it gets you outdoors and gets your blood and chemicals pumping, which is good for you.
  4. Change your playgrounds and playmates. The people and places we choose to go to have an impact on us, good or bad. And if you struggle with keeping a good outlook, it may be due to these things.
  5. Music. Music can instantly change the mood I’m in and the things I think about. I find it’s one of the most powerful influences in my life, which is why I embrace it the way I do and play guitar and go to live performances. Bonus: Live performances also put you among lots of other happy people who share the same love of the music you’re hearing.
  6. Pets and animals. They have unconditional love, which goes a long way. They are appreciative of everything you do for them, which lifts spirits automatically. Dogs especially have a profound impact on my life. Good dogs, at least.
  7. Read good books that have a positive message or make you stronger somehow.
  8. Listen to a Ted talk. (Not a TedX talk. There’s a difference.)
  9. Help others. There are always people that need a hand, and everyone can help someone else somehow.

I’m sure there are a lot more I’m overlooking but that’s a good list for starters.

You may ask: why bother? Because being positive allows us to be happy. It makes us happier and healthier. People want to be around us more, which has a snowball effect with regards to happiness, and I’d say even success. You become a magnet for positivity and a repellant for negativity, which draws negative events and people to us, which I doubt many people welcome. When you’re happy you want to help others, which I’d say is a big reason to live. If you want fulfillment in life and are trying to find a reason we exist as people, one is to help others, which being positive helps us do, and want to do.

 

 

Why Parades Are THE WORST

Why Parades Are THE WORST

Louisville Bardstown Rd. Halloween Parade 2019

Let me explain firstly, this is not a complaint. It’s more of a rant. The difference being that rants are truthful observations. Complaints are when you’re letting off steam because you feel like you’ve been wronged somehow and are seeking justice. There’s no justice for what parades take from our souls and I have no skin in this game to feel wronged.

I try to stay away from public gatherings because at my age I’ve experienced them to every degree imaginable, and they seem to characterize more of what I have less patience for as I get older. Yes, I’m changing, but so are the factors that comprise “The Public.” And if you think I sound snobby, then you probably are part of the problem. But my daughter and I went to this “festival” and parade because she should experience what these things represent, for good and bad. Even she had enough at a point and wanted to leave early. I’ve never liked parades, and fairs and public gatherings give me hives. They’re too much of everything that makes me roll my eyes. And as I get older, that’s more and more stuff.

There’s also a difference between the crowds when you talk about “the public.” What you experience at Disney World, for example, is different than what you get at, say, today’s Halloween parade my daughter and I attended. Disney World filters out 99% of the riff-raff through its pricing. It’s so expensive for an authentic Disney vacation that most people, being more than 50% of America, simply can’t afford it without some subsidy. I know people that have six-figure salaries that have to use time-share scams and University conferences as ways to go spend just a couple of days at Disney World. And you need probably a week to do it there right without having a nervous breakdown, which for a family of 4, easily would cost close to $10,000. So it’s not exactly caddy day at Bushwood country club. My freshman year I went to Rollins College in Winter Park Florida, just outside of Orlando. The number of times I went to Disney World: zero.

Juxtapose that with going to a free parade on a Saturday afternoon that’s held along a street that’s nothing but bars, tattoo and piercing parlors, head shops, shuttered commercial spaces that represent shattered dreams of the stupid variety(which I’ll discuss later), burrito counters, vape/CBD stores, cell phone stores, and little stores that have somehow stayed open defying all odds, like vinyl record stores, comic book stores, vintage high-end guitar shops, and nail and beauty salons. That street in Louisville is Bardstown Rd. It’s around the corner from methadone clinics and runs through the bluest area of a blue city, The Highlands. High-crime as well, which shouldn’t need to be said.

Bardstown Rd. is a place that many cities have, like little 5 points in Atlanta, and where the “counter-culture” hangs out. Lots of restaurants and nightlife. Except the counter culture doesn’t exist anymore. In the 1970s and 1980s and for a bit of the early 1990s, yes. But the internet and shifts in mainstream culture and music and the arts all changed forever. What was “alternative” became mainstream. And it hasn’t changed. The people that are being “different” and “themselves” are doing nothing more than copying what they see online, at the mall, at school, parades, and with the general public and the other mainstream places the public at large dwells. in the 70’s, having a tattoo, a body piercing, a mohawk, short hair if you were female or long hair if you were a male with unique facial hairstyles, colored hair, wore ironic, vintage, ill-fitting, donated clothing, and listened to bands no one else had even heard of, then you were counter-culture. That’s all mainstream in 2019, and it’s not ironic, and the music is pop music. I feel more eccentric going out in public here with no tattoos, dressed well, hair neat and myself groomed, than a man would with a bun in their hair and wearing a skirt.

Counter culture in 2019 is conservative. No tattoos. Pressed, collared shirts tucked in with belts, wearing styles that buck trends and have been worn since the 1950s and 1960s with hairstyles to match the gender. Cuffed pants and shoes with shoestrings. And knowing exactly what gender we are and proud of it, and even try to accentuate the fact via taking care of our bodies and maintaining a reasonable amount of self-esteem. Self-esteem has been thrown out the window in 2019, proven by looking in any direction when attending a parade as we went to today. In every direction were people that were morbidly obese, with clothing that was 10 times too small, showing off the inner-tube-like physiques struggling to stay within the overworked fibers of their t-shirts, tank-tops, jeggings and spandex pants, pajama bottoms, and whatever they found on the floor when they rolled off the couch. Self-esteem seems to the controlling factor of why we see what we do today versus what we saw a few decades ago. Americans used to have some. No more.

What white skin that was unfortunately visible to the naked eye was graffitied with a landscape of colors, but no telling what they comprised. Names of common-law spouses, maybe? Some motorcycle badge perhaps? Who knows, and who wants to look at it long enough to try and find out? No one. I don’t know what tattoos cost these days, but I imagine they aren’t cheap, which makes one wonder.

I don’t have anything against tattoos per-se. I know plenty of people with them, and I know why, when and where they got them. Getting a butterfly on your ankle in 1987 when you were following the Grateful Dead is a lot different than a massive skull, snakehead and knife blazoned across your back above a tramp stamp and below a tribal around your neck in 2017 because you saw it on “Dawg the Bounty Hunter.” It’s become nothing more than monkey-see, monkey do. I’ve hired designers with tattoo sleeves and on their necks and heads and God knows where else. I can appreciate that people who love art and design see it as an extension of their own love of art. But beyond that, you’re losing me. Men that get them to look tough, women that get them to look sexy….no. It doesn’t happen that way.

So back to the Halloween gala today. My daughter and I waited patiently for nearly an hour in a spot I chose so we could see the parade well, maybe get some candy that was tossed and have a good time. “The public” had a different idea in store.

What we experienced sitting there with the world passing by around us was: people so overweight they have been placed on motorized scooters to haul their blubberbutts around, playing bumper cars with people and obstacles in a heavily crowded parade route. Many of these whales were smoking cigarettes, just to punish their bodies and those unfortunate enough to come into proximity of them further. And then the people sitting on the curbs smoking, with children lining up all around them to watch the parade. It’s hard for me to believe anyone still smokes in 2019, but to do it smack-dab in the middle of a family crowd is beyond inconsiderate. And most of these people were eating some type of fried street food they found, and leaving their litter on the curbs for people to step in and swerve around when ther were trash cans all over the place. I hate litter and people who litter blow my little mind.

People would constantly mosey up and stand right directly in front of me and my daughter, sitting in her stroller, taking up 1-1/2 feet horizontally and maybe 3 feet vertically, like we weren’t even there. We grabbed a choice spot for viewing and grabbing candy, which my daughter wasn’t aggressive enough among the other children to get the little treats being tossed out. I wasn’t sure to be glad or worried about that fact, but in the end, I think it’s best she doesn’t try to fight strangers for road candy. I will give her better, and her hesitancy to engage in battle for sugar is probably a demonstration of manners, restraint and consideration, which I try to instill.

Speaking of Strangers with Candy

So I mentioned Bardstown Road is a street lined with pubs and bars and places people go to imbibe every hour of the day each day of the week. It’s our own little Bourbon Street. And not surprisingly, it’s where you can find the homeless, the shady, the unwashed, the barflies and the down and out. I saw several children on their own out along the parade route, while daddy was back in the pub knocking back a few while little princess was standing alone out in the street with her plastic grocery bag waiting for candy to be thrown her way. Warmed my heart. Every now and then they’d stagger out and make sure everything was OK and stumble back up to the bar. The vision of someone walking by, scooping up the child and moving on back to their van with their prize and driving off forever playing over and over in my mind. The children’s’ mothers somewhere nearby with their noses in their mobile phones in another world.

Bardstown Road is a street where there is an endless number of storefronts that house the dreams of people who have an idea, some savings to start it up, but no business sense. And a year later, it’s out of business for the next dreamer/tenant to move on in. Boutique chocolate cafes. Dog treat stores. Stores that cater to cat owners. Small bookstores. Indian vegan street food. If you can dream it, it’s been tried and failed on Bardstown Road. I think every city has a street or area like this. It’s where liberals congregate to throw their savings away. Cafes, bookstores, record shops, concepts that soothe the liberal mind and sound great at the book club and on NPR but make no sense on paper and are an accountant’s nightmare.

It was often hard to tell who was dressed for Halloween and who was just there for the parade.

bardstwon road halloween parade louisville

Louisville – Bardstown Road Halloween Parade 2019

 

 

Gratitude and Humility

Gratitude and Humility

We often hear that we should be grateful and be humble, which is true. Humility is a lack of ego. Some people confuse it with “humiliation,” which is totally different. But I wonder if everyone really takes that into consideration as much as it should be, which is enough to actually practice them consistently. They aren’t natural ways to be, and for some people, it comes much harder than others.

I know a lot of people who I’ve known for nearly my whole life that have grown up demonstrating a facade that they have and are the way they are because of entitlement or some God-given grace. They’ve never had to show gratitude or humility, and to do so in the least would be as mortifying as standing in Times Square at noon naked. Admitting that would be impossible, which comes with the attitude. But through life, I’ve gotten to know many people who are gracious, grateful and humble, and they are some of the people everyone wants to strive to be like and want to know. It’s the difference between people that give and people that only take. It usually takes some twist of fate that puts us in some compromising position to begin thinking about what we should be grateful for and how to truly be humble. I know in my case that’s true.

But I don’t think it has to be that way. Empathy and the ability to put ourselves in other people’s shoes allows for it. Men like Robert E. Lee understand humility and haven’t been down and out like some people have. Although “down and out” is relative, generally speaking. What seems huge now might seem laughable at a later point in life. I know I’ve faced what I thought were some hard times, but in retrospect, they were pretty easy comparatively. And although I’ve been what people would certainly consider “broke” I’ve given my last $5 to a man standing out in the Summer heat on the corner of a highway asking for help because obviously, he was in a worse spot than I. I at least was sitting in an air-conditioned car, driving to a house with water and food.

R.E. Lee

Whenever we feel great about the position we’re in life and proud of where we find ourselves, it’s a perfect time to reflect and try to think of all that we should be grateful for, and not proud of. And remember that it can all be taken away in the blink of an eye. Usually, the easier it comes, the easier it goes. But not always. And to remember that we’re all human and imperfect is something to keep in mind. No one’s better than anyone else. It’s easy to judge someone else based on perceptions we have thanks to the experiences and gifts we’ve had and been given that others haven’t. I don’t think it has anything to do with “luck” or fortune or misfortune. It’s that everyone takes a unique, complex set of routes through life that makes us see things differently, and make choices to the best of our ability that differ from others because of what we’ve been exposed to and learned from our past.

At the very least we need to be able to be grateful to be happy. They go hand in hand. And when the cards are down, being humble makes life much easier when you have to reach up and out for help. There will be many more hands available than if you need to reach down for help from the pedestal you’ve maintained, and turns out you’ve borrowed the whole time.


Definition of a Gentleman

Robert. Edward Lee


The forbearing use of power does not only form a touchstone, but the manner in which an individual enjoys certain advantages over others is a test of a true gentleman.

The power which the strong have over the weak, the employer over the employed, the educated over the unlettered, the experienced over the confiding, even the clever over the silly–the forbearing or inoffensive use of all this power or authority, or a total abstinence from it when the case admits it, will show the gentleman in a plain light

The gentleman does not needlessly and unnecessarily remind an offender of a wrong he may have committed against him. He cannot only forgive, he can forget; and he strives for that nobleness of self and mildness of character which impart sufficient strength to let the past be but the past. A true man of honor feels humbled himself when he cannot help humbling others.

 

 

How Humans Cope with Stress

How Humans Cope with Stress

I’ve been noticing some interesting things recently as I deal with a number of stressful issues occurring in my life. They are separate and related, and vary in scope and scale and how they were injected into my life and relieved. They’re dynamic, in other words, but persistent, and lately, sizable in any way someone looks at them. They’re relative, I know. Everyone has problems, and I know there are people with greater problems than I have, and others with less. But to each person, the stressor is relative to the amount and type of coping skills they’re armed with, the amount of time they have to devote to them, and all the other resources needed to deal with each one separately, in conjunction with one another, and often compounded by each other. I don’t mean to compare my situation with anyone else’s because they’re all unique.

So I’m not writing about this as a complaint; more like a clinical observation about how my own person, physically and mentally, have reacted to what I’m experiencing. I think nearly anyone would agree that what I’m experiencing, knowing the details of it all, is unusually high-stress in any context, however. “Measuring” it seems pointless and futile because of what I described above. I’m just trying to impress the fact this isn’t your everyday “I got into a car accident” or “my power was cut off” type of problem that’s being dealt with.

So what initially happened when I was hit with the sudden news that my wife left me and my family was destroyed, dreams shattered, the dog died, etc… was that I lost a lot of weight quickly. My cortisol levels went off the chart. I lost over 25% of my weight in two weeks, and I wasn’t overweight. That was from about 175 lbs to less than 152 pounds, and then it kept dropping into the 140s, to about 145 and then to 135 when I stopped weighing myself because it was frightening to see myself turning into a skeleton and not being able to stop it. Even though I was eating normally and living as I always had. Eventually, after gorging myself for months and time doing the work time tend to do, I put the weight back on. Yes, I went to the doctor, and he just said it was because of stress, which is what I already knew and why I dismiss most doctors to begin with.

fight or flight

Fast forward to now, about 2 quick years later when I’m experiencing a resurgence in stress from some of the same issues that remain unresolved, or have become worse, plus a number of new ones. I had financial stresses removed temporarily, and then the rug pulled out from under me and me crashing on the ground even harder than before, which I’m working on getting back up from now.

But what is interesting to me is my body’s response this time. I went through a period of sleeplessness where I would go days without sleep until my common sense and biology made me get some sleep. And then I’d rest very hard, and find it hard to even move a muscle in the direction out of bed, to shower and tend to the numerous obligations I have. I don’t drink or smoke, and I exercise when I can, but I’m not on a regular exercise regimen. My daily chores typically provide quite a bit. Just mowing my nearly vertical yard is more than I believe most men my age could do, and I do it every week, plus chasing my daughter nonstop around gets the heart pumping. I’ve never worried about becoming Mr. Universe but I’ve always been active. Always.

What’s more, I find that I have an insatiable appetite. I’ve never eaten for comfort or as a coping mechanism. I consider food fuel and eat healthily. I tend to graze throughout the day and night instead of eating big several full meals like most people I think do. I don’t wait until I’m starving to refill my tank. I’ve never been a snacker. But I do have a sweet tooth and will eat dark chocolate or ice cream as a rare treat.

But lately, I have been eating non-stop, which I think is due to our fight or flight instinct. I stay awake forever as a fighting stance. And my body wants me to bolster my energy sources by eating a bunch of food and resting, once I give in and lie down. It tries to keep me down to rest, to be prepared to fight, although to me when I’m lying there, it feels more like flight. I keep getting bad news which is body blows that also tempt me to hide from the world as well. But I know that’s the least productive thing I can do and will only make matters worse, so I fight it. I’m a fighter, not a quitter, and I’m a doer, not a talker, which is are facts that will remove me from this pit eventually one way or another. People have had to face far worse circumstances than I am, and have emerged so much stronger than most people on Earth as a result. I don’t think that I fall outside that group of people with the background and fortitude I have. And although nearly everyone has turned their backs to me, I still have a group of people that I know live me and care about me, which will always be remembered and helps lift me up when I just want to lie down and give up.

This time, despite my ridiculous appetite, I’m not putting on any weight, but it’s especially noticeable when juxtaposed against my daughter’s appetite. She is 4 years old and eats like a bird, to begin with. And she’d rather play than eat. I have to force her to focus on settling down and eating, and even then she’s picky, so she’ll only eat a few bites at a time and then it’s back to work for her. She reminds me of myself in that regard, where I will often neglect myself in the name of finishing something else I’m focused on to the point of being manic. When I did consulting work, I’d stay up for 3 days straight to finish a project and not come up for air until it was done. That’s always been my ethic, and I recognize it and recognize it’s crazy, but that’s another post. I also notice stress compels me to want to create/produce, like writing, building things, fixing things around the house, playing guitar, and being artistic. And it’s the reason I’m up typing this at nearly 2 am instead of getting sleep. But I’m not crazy, so goodnight.

When You’re Out of Answers

When You’re Out of Answers

I’ve come to a point in life where I’m truly between a rock and a hard place. My whole life I’ve been able to come up with solutions to some complex problems, but I find myself suddenly stuck with no way out.

I have no one to turn to, no safety net and no one but myself to save me. I’ve tried to prepare myself for any emergency, but this one is stripping me of all my resources and leaving me completely vulnerable.

I’ve asked my tiny family for ideas to remove me from this position, and it has resulted in nothing more than a pat on the back. So now I’ve decided to ask the world, via the internet, for solutions.

Here’s the problem that needs to be fixed:

I am a recently divorced father of a wonderful 4-year-old who has found himself in a city where he doesn’t belong: Louisville, KY. But this is where we landed so that my ex-wife could begin her teaching career, and is where my daughter was born, and will likely have to stay, unfortunately. Away from family, away from where I grew up in South Carolina, and away from my reality.

All savings went to divorce lawyers and staying alive.

I’m 50 years old and have spent much of my time learning to prepare myself for the working world. I’ve held a lot of jobs along the way to make ends meet so that when I entered the workforce I had some experience.

So, I’m educated and experienced. Perfect. Not quite, apparently.

I’ve pulled every string and applied to every company in a 30-mile radius, and remotely, and the response has been chilly. Lots of nibbles thanks to having an MBA. But no curious interest beyond that. It makes a person wonder.

It leaves me with no income yet I still have responsibilities, such as taking good care of my daughter, paying weekly rent to a very gracious landlord, utilities, food, toilet paper and so on. So I systematically relinquish my limited and cherished possessions in exchange for money to survive. But I’m quickly running out of road and I can only see three exits, which is always the good, better, best scenario:

  • Best case: Job falls in my lap from my hundreds of applications. Unlikely.
  • Better case: I find a job that will allow me to get back on my feet and move along. Although I’m willing to do anything, there are areas that I’m trained in (marketing) and I must earn at least enough to pull me out of this pit. Because of circumstances that are now out of my control, I’m fixated in a lease that requires $2000 per month, which I’m paying weekly, so my daughter and I at least have shelter. I’d like to move to another house that’s less expensive but I haven’t the necessary funds to do so. That’s a tight knot.
  • Good case: No job is found, I’m evicted and cannot see my daughter anymore. Homeless wretch, a possible suicide.

So that’s where the puzzle presents itself and I turn to the world for solutions. What says the world?

Michael and Cecelia

Cecelia and her Daddy

POSTSCRIPT EDIT OCTOBER 7, 2019:

Well it’s been a week and I have my answers.

It was interesting to see who responded. This post was a distress signal. An emergency SOS cry for help, for anyone that couldn’t figure that out. When you open yourself to the entire world and plea for some help, there’s no road left and life has become dire.

Who came to help were my longtime friends from boarding school. No one from my family popped up to see what was the matter. No ex-wives who pledged to be by my side through thick and thin and obviously didn’t mean it. No drinking buddies from decades past when such things bound men together. I’m not mentioning them to shame them. That’s their decision and I try not to judge others when I don’t know what they’re thinking.

But the men who came to my rescue didn’t surprise me. And the way they did was no surprise either. When someone’s drowning, giving someone your phone number and telling someone to call you who’s going down for the third time isn’t going to save them. You have to reach out a hand, as hard and exhausting as it may seem because you don’t know what you’re going to be grabbing. It may be an easy lift up, or it may require all your resources and then some. But usually, it’s somewhere in-between those two extremes, of course. And how much it taxes the person reaching out is a measure of how strong they are and how prepared they are to handle such a rescue mission, from staying fit in the ways that matter leading up to the save. For men, it means a display of character. I didn’t expect any women to come to offer real help, because it’s rare they do. That may sound very sexist, but in my 50 years of life, that’s what I’ve experienced. You’re free to change my mind.

The men that answered the call all grew up with the same sense of honor and commitment that I did. It’s no surprise that we all went to the same boarding school, and shared the same life experiences, and learned to become a man the same way. We learned through teamwork, playing sports. We learned through leadership. We learned through having to be independent, away from our families. We grew to learn how to respect each other and how to behave in a healthy society and be there to help when another schoolmate needed it. It was a tight-knit community and always has been. It’s why it will always remain all-boys, all boarding, and relatively small, with 400 boys in 3rd through 6th form(9th-12th grade).

We learned that when times get tough, the tough get going. You don’t sit around and ask questions and talk, you start acting and doing. It’s what separates the men from the boys. I’ve known the guys that responded to my question for around 35 to 40 years+ now. And although none of us live in the same cities or even states, they didn’t think twice about being there when the alarm sounded. It’s truly amazing and demonstrates what a strong bond was formed back when we were boys. Our school’s mission was to transform us into honorable and respectful men of moral purpose. Something to think about.

 

Robert Hunter

Robert Hunter

Here’s an ironic bit of foreshadowing I stumbled across tonight. Something I wrote obviously about 2 years ago prior to my stepdaughter’s mother divorcing me. There are 2 passages that are particularly ominous, which I still hold to be true. And has become reality, as I haven’t seen my previous stepdaughter since June, 2017. I wrote this when she was 14. I last saw her when she was 15.

A Shoutout to All the Stepparents

One of the most thankless jobs in the world is that of a step-parent. Sure, praise is awarded when she or he goes above and beyond expectations from time to time, but generally, the role is status-quo. And the expectations are usually pretty high to begin with. At least those of the biological parents. And, of course, those standards vary wildly from person to person, but most parents at least consider their own parental standards to be high, even if in the scheme of things they aren’t.

I don’t write this to pat myself on the back, having been the surrogate father for a girl from age 4 to age 14. If you’re accepting the role for the accolades, you’re going to be highly disappointed. And that isn’t what the job is about anyway. The job is its own reward. Or at least that’s how I view it. You really have to, anyway. It’s a critical and very important job that has been awarded and should be viewed as a privilege. Same as I view my role of parent.

Stepparents have no legal rights regarding the children unless for some reason there’s adoption involved. That’s rare, however. So your input can be viewed as ancillary by some of the legal parents if that’s the view they’ve chosen to take. I’m sure every situation is different in what the agreement is as to how much influence the stepparent’s opinion and decisions have in the arrangement. It’s a discussion that must be initiated, an agreement must be made, and the situation evaluated, reviewed and tweaked as necessary through life as the child gets older and family dynamics change.

One of the most challenging aspects of being a stepparent is not having legal rights. So you don’t have any skin in the game to begin with but you’re doing at least all the work of a legal parent. You’re doing the job for the sake of wanting to help raise a child properly, in a home with a stable family consisting of a mother, father, and child. So it’s a rewarding job in that respect.

Depending on the age of the child, that aspect can be extremely important, and in the case of divorces, is a horrible reality the child must face day-in and day-out. There is no father in the house along with a mother, and the fact the parents don’t show affection or love towards one another surely causes psychological problems, or will cause relationship issues of their own when they get older. A small child sees nuclear families as the norm everywhere they look, except for their own new set of houses(they have no one place to consider “home” any longer), and they aren’t a part of such a traditional arrangement. There’s a lack of love that exists in the triangle. But that’s a whole different post.

Depending on the age of the child, that aspect can be extremely important, and in the case of divorces, is a horrible reality the child must face day-in and day-out. There is no father in the house along with a mother, and the fact the parents don’t show affection or love towards one another surely causes psychological problems, or will cause relationship issues of their own when they get older. A small child sees nuclear families as the norm everywhere they look, except for their own new set of houses(they have no one place to consider “home” any longer), and they aren’t a part of such a traditional arrangement. There’s a lack of love that exists in the triangle. But that’s a whole different post.

So not only is the child not genetically yours, which may even be a fact you’re reminded of from time to time by the child, parent, or other parties for any number of reasons(sometimes just to be rather rude), but you perpetually must walk a fine line with what type of input you give. Even figuring out if the input is needed or wanted can be difficult. As a natural parent, of course, you give it. But as a stepparent, it may be crossing certain unspoken or spoken lines. What you deem as support can be viewed as criticism or in any number of unexpected ways by the other parent and/or child. And then relationship problems may emerge between husband and wife where there were none. Minefields everywhere for the stepparent.

In addition to that problem, the stepparent doesn’t just have inlaws. He/she now has a whole, strange family to contend with in addition to her/his in-laws. The biological father/mother may be a fine person, but because of the disposition of the divorce(in most cases – you may have married a widower/widow, but that’s a rarer case) that led to the child being separated from one parent for at least half their lives, there’s usually some friction that exists already which you’re now a part of. Differences of opinion and arguments arise between the biological parents that you get stuck in and must help mediate, and some tricky negotiation often is necessary.

And it’s not just the other biological parent. Their parents, or the other, 3rd set of grandparents(at least, depending on your spouse’s family’s family tree), are involved. So you have two sets of in-laws, one of which you had no intention of dealing with. Can it get any better?

As you help raise the child/children as a stepparent, you have to keep a focus on the reality of the bond that’s established as well. You obviously can’t love the child to the degree a natural parent would, and even trying or allowing oneself to would be dangerous. That’s a bond that will be destroyed in a catastrophic way if you get divorced. That child or the children suddenly are no longer part of your life. It’s as if they’ve died since your involvement has suddenly been reduced to zero, and you likely won’t see them much again, if at all. And once again the piece of the family puzzle you’ve existed as in their life has been removed from the child’s life suddenly, and not in a loving way, to say the least. Needless to say, this has negative consequences for the child.

That’s a bond that will be destroyed in a catastrophic way if you get divorced. That child or the children suddenly are no longer part of your life. It’s as if they’ve died since your involvement has suddenly been reduced to zero, and you likely won’t see them much again, if at all. And once again the piece of the family puzzle you’ve existed as in their life has been removed from the child’s life suddenly, and not in a loving way, to say the least. Needless to say, this has negative consequences for the child.

These are all factors that the biological parent may realize but probably doesn’t dwell on much. Why would they? But for a person to accept the role of a stepparent, as much of an honor as it may be, is agreeing to add a whole universe of strangeness to a marriage. I don’t mean the child is strangeness, of course, the role of substitute is unchartered territory.

father daughter dance

Apples

Apples

As we head into fall, there will be no lack of pumpkin-spiced everything and fall harvest motif junk at every turn. But apples become a big thing and are a big thing year-round. They’re cheap and plentiful and can be used, like pears, as a base for a lot of juices and recipes. And when you walk into a grocery store or market, you’ll see a dozen different varieties offered. And I’ll bet most of the time, if not always, most people just walk over to one section and ignore the rest: Red delicious. That may be untrue in parts of the country where apples are grown a lot, but in the South where I grew up, Red Delicious was the standard and staple in every lunchbox and used for everything, no matter what. The rest were exotic.

Which would make a good behavioral study, as to why we go decades, if not our whole lives entrenched in such a decision when there’s absolutely no reason. We’re creatures of habit, but this would seem extreme. Nonetheless, hopefully, this post will change that.

Different apples are good for different purposes, from baking with to eating as a snack. And adventuring out of the Red Delicious routine is something that should be done immediately. It’s probably the lamest of the apples, once you start trying other varieties and seeing what you like better. There are sweeter ones, and ones whose cell composition are better-suited for cooking with. And the prices don’t veer that much, meaning you aren’t going to have to pay a fortune for a Gala, which is what I prefer for eating.

Here is a graphic which outlines the different types from most sour to sweetest. But again, their crunchiness and composition are slightly different as well, which should be considered when baking or cooking with them.

apple types

Something I plan on making with my daughter this fall are baked apple doughnuts, which I’m sure involve brown sugar, which she’ll like. She’s part hummingbird, I’m convinced.

Potatoes are another pantry staple that I think people don’t venture out of their ruts with. Most everyone grab a Russet potato, and that’s that. But the differences between the many potato types make all the difference in the end. Some are more starchy and some are better for mashed and for stews and so on. It’s worth taking the little amount of time to learn the differences for what will change your cooking for the better forever, I think.

 

 

The Power of The Internet

The Power of The Internet

The Power of the Internet

Everyone knows how huge and powerful the internet is, to a degree. It’s so large in scale and scope it has gone beyond most people’s understanding, which is no surprise. And it’s only just begun. It’s in its infancy, which is scary and exciting.

I got online in the mid- 1990’s with AOL and Netscape and a dial-up modem. It didn’t take long for us to get things up and running so that we could access it with decent speeds and tools that made it usable in ways we only dreamt about. I’ve learned how it works and how to use it probably more than most people, and I spend a lot of time using it, looking for ways to optimize my life and those I love, like my daughter. I’ve seen some things on it I’d rather not have come across, and discovered some things that I would have never been able to see, or “experience” otherwise, even if it’s not first hand. It’san amazing learning tool. And for someone who’s insatiably curious like me, it’s a wonder to behold.

I laid in bed at night as a child wishing with all my heart and dreaming for things to exist, like being able to listen to a song or view a cartoon whenever I wanted, and the internet has made that possible. If I wanted to see a Christmas Peanuts cartoon, I had to wait a year for when it came on at a certain time on a certain channel, and if I missed it, I’d have to wait another year. People of this age will never know what it’s like to go without. Just to be able to hear a certain song or read a certain book when I was growing up took some work and a lot of time and cost. Now you just go to the internet archive, Spotify, Youtube, or any number of websites to pull it up in any number of formats. It’s unbelievable. It’s magical.

So I appreciate what’s possible now and use the internet to fill the voids I had growing up. When I want to know something I go find it. When I was young, I had a set of 1965 encyclopedias at home which was the best resource at hand.  Our school library was meager, and the city library was decent but nothing like what Google offers by a longshot.

I have a Google Home speaker that you can ask questions to, and my daughter thinks it’s amazing, which it is. You can ask it anything and get an answer immediately, to any question you have. In any language. And I think I paid $20 for it. Incredible.

You’d think with such tools and resources available, society would be brimming with knowledge and we’d be speeding through the galaxy at full intellectual speed. Instead, we’re arguing about petty superficial issues and worrying about things that have been long-solved. We’re burying history we don’t like only to try and repeat it with different results. We’re forgetful. We’re lazy. We’re complacent. We’re human.

Every now and then I find something or someone online that makes me stop suddenly and reassess things. I find it’s becoming rarer and rarer as time goes on that I discover such things, however. That’s for a few reasons I can think of, but when it happens, I love it. It’s like finding a new band that is unlike anything you’ve ever heard, or a new jewel or creature in the sea that you never knew existed. It’s a pivotal moment, in other words, and you can recognize it, and it’s exciting. That’s what happened when I came across this guy one night, out of the blue.

It’s nothing that will really change the course I’m on, but it’s fully reassuring that I shouldn’t ever stop believing or give up hope. He and I share a lot of traits and have had a lot of the same obstacles in life. His optimism and faith and “damn the torpedoes” attitude is what some people like me need during times like I’m currently facing. And interestingly enough, he’s in Atlanta, where I was born and have lived along the way and consider a home of sorts. But we share the same love of music, type of music, and appreciation of life and have a similar perspective that allows us to keep going through the bad times.

 

And this is the song that you should always remember:

Tidying up The Office

Tidying up The Office

My daughter, who is now 4 years and 2 months old, has been making some noticeable strides in her development, both mental and physical. It’s a joy to watch and be astounded when she, for example, takes the DeWalt electric driver from my hand and removes the battery cover from an old broken-down Little Tykes play table, then removes the batteries and tries to replace them, and then screws the cover back on to test the unit out. No luck, as expected. So she removes the cover again and digs out the new 4 AA batteries we tried and put the cover back on.

That might not seem like much, but she overcame her fear of the “loud” noise the electric drill/driver makes enough to actually hold and use it, correctly, and I stood by her quite impressed.

Then today she decided to organize her “office” which is a workspace I carved out for her in the den. It’s just a play desk and until today, has been where piles of half-cut-up construction paper and lots of writing, drawing, and coloring utensils have been randomly dumped. No more!

She suddenly decided that she needed a proper workspace and went and got a wastebasket, cleaned and organized everything laying around her desk.

Cecelia's workspace

She also decided to straighten up her kitchen, which was no easy chore. It’s a small space with a lot of stuff scattered about. But she did it:

She runs the kitchen with a store on the right with the ice cream counter and has a cash register. It’s something to watch her in action. She has the whole operation down pat. Those are lemon play-dough cookies she made in the blue Tupperware container in the bottom right of the photo, for sale. She has menu boards up, a pantry, little lights and decorations up around it and sweeps it to keep it clean. 4 years old. I’m impressed. When I was 4 I was still trying to eat rocks and frogs. Next, she’ll be trying to Six-sigma the thing.

Deep Dish Chocolate Pie

Deep Dish Chocolate Pie

Mmmm….chocolate….

omg - chocolate pie

Southern Living posted a recipe for an “Ultimate Chocolate Pie” that looks pretty good: https://www.southernliving.com/syndication/ultimate-chocolate-pie

 

Not bad. But it made me think of a chocolate pie my mother used to make that I think may be even better, and easier. There’s nothing wrong with making your own chocolate mousse of course and creme fraiche is easy enough to make, but a lot of southerners opt to use Cool Whip and chocolate pudding when possible. Don’t get me wrong. I think creme fraiche is better. But it doesn’t keep nearly as well as Cool Whip does. It tends to break. SL’s recipe would be preferable if you’re serving guests and it’s going to be eaten immediately. But that’s not how things are eaten at my house. If you are going to impress guests, I’d use creme fraiche instead of Cool Whip in the recipe.

DEEP DISH CHOCOLATE PIE

  • Melt 1 stick butter
  • 1 cup AP flour
  • 1 cup chopped pecans(toast them if you want, or use pistachios)
  • Mix all together and form a crust with this mixture. Bake 20 minutes at 350 degrees, allow to cool completely.
  • Mix 8oz cream cheese, one cup confectioner’s sugar one cup Cool Whip. Blend thoroughly and spread over crust.
  • Mix 2 small packages of instant chocolate pudding with 3 cups cold milk. Pour over cream cheese mixture.
  • Add 1 cup Cool Whip to make finish layer. Garnish with chocolate chips, shavings or powder.

 

This is a pie I grew up on and it’s super-rich, so no need for big helpings. And that’s coming from somebody who can put away the rich stuff. My grandfather had a pecan grove in Georgia, so we always had tons of pecans on hand. But you can use whatever nuts you want, or even a graham cracker or Oreo crust. Nothing’s written in stone when cooking or baking. Well, some things are, but a lot isn’t.