Tag Archives: Commentary

I Meet My Match

Many years ago, we lived in the mountains of western North Carolina. A long ridge rose up on the outskirts of the small town in which we resided. From where it began, the rise to its highest point was around 3 miles in length. There, the ridge abruptly ended with a rocky outcropping, rapidly dropping away several hundred feet to the valley below. Along the ridge, a meandering and relatively steep two lane road led to the top of the ridge.

It goes without saying that any self-respecting town in which such a geophysical feature is found is also the home of a legend relating the sad tale of a young maiden whose true love had gone off to war, or to sea, or on some such quest.

You probably know the rest of the story. When fate, in one form or another kept her true love from returning, the young maiden, overcome with remorse, met her demise by flinging herself headlong off of said geophysical feature.

The ridge in our town was known as Jump Off Rock and the maiden in the legend associated with it; a Cherokee Indian whose warrior soulmate never returned from battle.

It’s interesting to note that over the last few generations, your average young maiden appears to have been made of tougher stuff or to have come up with more constructive strategies for handling any remorse they may feel in relation to absentee true loves. That’s probably a good thing.

That aside, I had taken up cycling as a means of keeping myself fit. I’d been a jogger for several years, but a hip injury had caused me to cut back on running. When I discovered that pedaling a bike didn’t negatively impact my hip, I hung up my running shorts and replaced them with a pair of black spandex cycling pants and away I went.

The ride up to the top of Jump of Rock became one of my favorite cycling routes. From my home, the round trip to the top of the ridge and back was about 15 miles. The climb up to the rocky outcropping wasn’t comparable to climbing the Pyrenees Mountains in the Tour de France, but I’m not ashamed to admit that it would cause one’s thighs to burn before the top was reached.

One spring afternoon, I completed the climb to the top, pulled my bike over to a grassy area near the outcropping, and was sitting there basking in the internal glow of having once again made the 3-mile assault to the top without having to stop anywhere along the route to catch my breath.

It was then that I noticed an old man hobbling toward me from the other side of the road. He was 85 years old, if he was a day, and was relying heavily on a weathered wooden cane which looked like it had been handmade from a crooked tree limb.

He slowly walked over to where I was relaxing in the grass. For some time he stood there silently gazing at my bike as it lay in the grass between us.

Abruptly, he reached out and began hitting the derailleur on the back wheel of my bike with his gnarly wooden cane. For the uninitiated, the derailleur is the device that allows for the multiple gear changes typically found on modern road bikes. For the record, my bike had 12 gears.

Then in a heavy, guttural German accent he shouted, “What’s that? What’s that!

That’s the derailleur. It allows me to change gears on the bike which makes it easier to pedal when riding up steep slopes like this one.” I explained.

He paused for a moment, shook his head slightly from side to side, and shouted, “One gear! One gear! When I was a boy, my schoolmates and I rode our bicycles from Zurich to Lyon, over the Alps, with only one gear!”

He paused momentarily to catch his breath and clear his throat before adding, “One gear!

Believing that he had sufficiently made his point, the old man silently limped back across the road to his car and drove away; all the while shaking his head.

I sat there for a few moments pondering whether or not I should go over to the rocky outcropping and hurl my bike, myself, or both my bike and myself over the edge.

But realizing that I didn’t want to be found laying at the bottom of the cliff in those spandex biker shorts, I got back on my bike and rode home; a more humble man than the one who had just ascended Jump Off Rock.

Technology is my Friend

A couple of nights back, my wife and I were watching a show on the TV when she made a comment about my aging Apple iPad Mini 2 which happened to be laying on an end table between us. I can’t remember what inspired that topic of conversation, maybe it was a commercial, but to my surprise, she said something along the line of, “You know, maybe it’s time for you to upgrade to a better iPad and then I can have the Mini 2?” She even suggested that I should get one like that which our youngest son had recently acquired.

To be honest, I had been feeling a bit constrained by my iPad Mini 2’s somewhat minuscule 16GB of storage. So it didn’t take a lot of persuasion for me to pursue that line of reasoning. You might say that my reaction was similar to that of the old firehouse horse who, on hearing any alarm, immediately springs into action!

To make a very brief story even shorter, in less than 36 hours, I had in my possession a shiny new iPad Pro with 256GB of storage. I’m still trying to figure out what I did to have been granted such amazing good fortune. If I ever do, I’m going to bottle it and save it for use sometime in the future.

I became a techno-geek years before that terminology was even imagined, so it’ll come as no surprise that I keep up with the latest advancements in computer/tablet technology. I also knew that my son had indicated that since acquiring his, he was now securely joined at the hip to the iPad Pro.

As soon as I opened the box and extracted my copy of this amazing device, I immediately felt it interfacing with my hip as well. I’m fairly confident that I also heard a monotone voice whispering, “Resistence is futile. You have been assimilated.

By itself, going from 16GB of storage to 256GB is a life changing event. It put an end to the revolving door of apps coming and going on my Mini 2 as I came across new, untried applications and uses for that device. With the iPad Pro, I’m now able to install and utilize apps with impunity. But that’s merely scratching the surface of its capabilities.

Some reviewers have indicated that the iPad Pro, along with a Bluetooth or Smart keyboard, can replace the need for a laptop computer. I’m not sure that I’d go that far, but it is a computing powerhouse. For those so inclined, countless reviews of the iPad Pro can be found on YouTube.

Suffice it to say, that I’m thoroughly enjoying the process of getting mine configured for my usage and learning about all that it can do.

Once again, I find myself in techno-geek heaven!

Learning from Past Mistakes

Well now, it’s been entirely too long since my last blog post – which seems to be a common complaint among the WordPress faithful.  But one of the major problems with being retired and having a very large number of interests is in finding the time to satisfy the demands that all of those interests place on your schedule.

But I digress. The topic of today’s post came to me about a week ago as I was working out; something I now do 3 to 4 times per week.  I was doing my cardio workout, pedaling to beat the band on a LifeCycle and keeping my heart rate well up into the cardio range, when I noticed a news report on one of the 14 or so TV’s hanging from the ceiling just in front of me.

Through the magic of subtitles, I learned that medical researchers have now determined that the commonly held belief that there are health benefits to be gained by consuming one or two glasses of red wine per day is now believed to be without merit!  Shocking!

The reporter strongly implied that the belief that red wine consumption, in moderation, is good for you has possibly been the work of elements within the French government who are interested in promoting that nation’s wine industry.  Doubly shocking!

I’ve never been a big wine drinker, but if I do drink the stuff, it’s the red variety that I go for; so I’m not overly disturbed by this revelation.

All I can say is, “Don’t be funding any studies into the health effects of dark beer! ” Just leave all of those Stouts, Porters, and Brown Ales well enough alone.

Dr-adThis whole episode reminded me of some advertisements that I came across years ago during my college days.  I was holed up in the university library and for some reason, now lost in the mists of time, I was looking at old Life and Look magazines from the 1940’s and 50’s.  Particularly at the full page cigarette advertisements in which doctors, as in physicians and MDs, were extolling the benefits of smoking cigarettes!

It’s hard to believe in our sanitized and now virtually smoke-free world that doctors could have believed that smoking cigarettes, especially the brand that they personally preferred, was an activity to be so strongly promoted.  But there you have it.dentistreccomendedL

I wonder how long it will be before new research pops up which causes us to rethink our views on the use of tobacco, or the consumption of heavily sugar-coated breakfast cereals.

Hang on Fruit Loops, Sugar Pops, and Frosted Flakes; your day may yet come again!

Retirement = Free time …. not necessarily

Before I retired, I never really gave much thought to what I’d be doing with all of the “free time” which retirement was supposed to place at my disposal.  Based on the number of hobbies and pursuits that I have: such as ham radio, reading, photography, writing, etc., I suppose I assumed that I would occupy most of my time in the pursuit of those activities.

After nearly six months of retirement, that’s not been the case.  Bummer? Well, maybe.

raquel-martinez-96648-unsplWe all know that those two evil twins, Accountability and Responsibility, will raise their ugly heads when and where you least expect them!  Paying bills, balancing the checkbook, buying groceries, doing laundry, cutting the grass, running errands around town, and other mundane, yet very necessary tasks, fill as much of my “free time” as those aforementioned hobbies and pursuits.

Quite frankly, I believe that’s the way it should be.

It turns out that retirement is not like being set free on a giant playground with no responsibilities and no time constraints.

That said, I’ve recognized that retirement grants you, and you alone, a great deal of freedom in determining when and how you choose to address those things which still demand your attention and for which you are still responsible.  It’s a tough job, but somebody’s got to do it.

It took a while, but over the past few months I’ve come to the conclusion that the greatest reward of retirement is simply having:

           Freedom of choice when it comes to the deciding when to do those
           tasks you need to do versus those activities you want to do.

toa-heftiba-362237-unsplashIf you manage that freedom properly, it’s still possible to find yourself with an abundance of free time to do whatever it might be that you want to do each day; or conversely, to elect to do nothing at all!

And what a joy that last option can be!

I’ve come to believe that success in having an enjoyable and rewarding retirement will be determined by how well individuals balance this new found freedom with their on-going responsibilities.

In retirement, you really do become your own boss and take it from me, that’s real freedom!

That’s why, when others ask how I’m enjoying retirement, I tell them that I feel as if I’m residing in a very pleasant Alternate Universe from the one in which I existed during my working life.

And make no mistake, it’s a very satisfactory universe at that.

Photos by Toa Heftiba and Raquel Martinez on Unsplash

Principles vs Personalities

In church this morning, our minister asked us a very straight forward question, “Can you name someone who you look up to?”

I’ve been thinking about that question ever since, for the simple reason that I have a difficult time thinking of anyone who I can easily single out for that honor.  It’s not that I haven’t had people in my life who have had a significant impact on me.  It’s just that my life experiences have led me to place more value on the principles which people regularly practice than on the individuals themselves.

During my career, I spent several years working in a long-range planning and development role with the objective of not only ensuring business success by focusing on the things all businesses seek: ensuring product quality, profitability, and customer service for example; but perhaps more importantly on building an organization which would support and sustain long term, on-going world class performance.

Over time, we recognized that we were attempting to develop a Principle Centered organization, rather than one which was Personality Centered.

TeamworkOur model of a Principle Centered organization was one in which all employees knew, understood, practiced, and embraced the values and core principles of the organization; as well participated in the identification and achievement of the organization’s long term goals and objectives.

By contrast, a Personality Centered organization was one in which business success was largely a function of the ability of a limited number of key individuals to determine its goals and objectives and then to lead the rest of the organization in achieving them.  The problem with Personality Centered organizations is that it’s not often clear to the rest of the organization what, if any, principles guided the decision making process.

In a nut shell, we recognized that well defined and understood Principles can have an extraordinarily long life, whereas the Personalities within an organization typically change with surprising speed and regularity.

In other words, the goals, objectives, and vision of Principle Centered organizations were more likely to remain in tact in the event of personnel changes, while those of Personality Centered organizations were very likely to change as new leaders exercised their managerial prerogative to take the organization in a different direction.

You might be asking yourself, “Were we successful in building this organization?”  The answer is, “Yes and No.”

We were working within a single division of a very large corporation made up of several other divisions.  The Personality Centered model outlined above was successfully implemented within that division and for a span of 10 or so years it resulted in significant performance and productivity improvements, as well as the development of a workforce which felt very empowered.

the-bossOver time however, key individuals within our division who had participated in the creation of the Principle Centered organization moved on and were replaced with individuals from other divisions who had not.  As they began to implement changes, the focus on our core principles began to erode, productivity and performance began to lag, and the organization slowly shifted back to the Personality Centered model.

So where does that leave me?  Well, if I’m faced with having to make a choice between principles or individuals, I’ll go with the principles that I embrace every time!

(And also with the individuals who practice them!)

Photos by RawPixel on Unsplash and Lukas from Pexels

Residing in an Alternate Universe

As I’ve mentioned in other posts, I retired recently after being continuously employed for something like 42 years.  I recognize now that while I was actively working, I really didn’t expend much effort in considering the passage of time.

timeDuring those years, management of the here and now aspects of time was a much more immediate concern.  Time was a tool which I carried on my left wrist.  It reminded me that I needed to get to work every day by a certain time.  That I needed to arrive on time for meetings, to find time for lunch each day, to ensure that results were delivered prior to deadlines.

You know the drill; like sands through an hour glass time marches on and there’s no rest for the weary.

There were only a few periods during my career when I felt like those 42 years would never end.  I guess I just didn’t have time for such contemplative, non-value adding musings.

Now that I’m retired, all of those working years seem to have gone by in a flash.  Clearly the perception of time is based on where one is standing as they are considering its passing.

Looking back at my working years, time was very rigid taskmaster populated with a maze of ever expanding benchmarks, most of which were very securely set and which demanded strict adherence.

Now that I’m retired, time has become very fluid, extremely malleable, and only occasionally demanding – and then in a most friendly and wonderfully passive manner. These days I no longer think of time as being carved in stone.  It’s more like having an amiable Pillsbury Dough Boy who looks after my schedule.

I still have things that I plan to do each day, but I hesitate referring to those events as being “on my calendar“.  That implies far too much structure in how I manage my days.

If I want to go to the gym later in the day rather than first thing in the morning, so be it.  I can just as readily sweat at 11:00 am as I can at 7:30 am.  The stamps on those envelopes that I need to mail won’t expire if I wait until tomorrow to go by the Post Office.  And since the local grocery store no longer gives the Senior Citizen discount on Wednesdays (how dare they), I can just as easily restock the pantry on any day of the week!

I’m slowly recognizing that I’ve become a resident in an alternate universe where I control time, rather than it controlling me.  And it’s really quite a nice place to be.

I haven’t broken contact completely with that other universe in which I used to reside, but I find that I’m merely an observer of it, rather than an active participant.

traffic-jamAs I drive around town, particularly during the morning and afternoon rush hours, I realize that I’m awash in a sea of folks dressed in the now standard business casual attire and tightly gripping their steering wheels as they frantically search for any opportunity to gain just one spot ahead of where they find themselves in the endless lines of traffic.  No doubt their minds are swamped with the plethora of reports, meetings, and tasks that are dictating their schedule for the rest of today, tomorrow, and next week.

I suppose that once in a great while one of the residents of that other universe may glance over at me and momentarily wonder, “Why does that old codger look so relaxed and content?”  Apparently, they can’t see the Pillsbury Dough Boy sitting in the passenger seat whimsically wondering what we’re going to do with the rest of the day.

Photos by Rawpixel and Evgeny Tchebotarev on Unsplash

Another of Life’s Little Surprises

Have you ever had the opportunity to know, or as in my case, to work with a really memorable character?  One of those rare individuals who stand out from the crowd due to their life experiences, their sense of humor, or their easygoing curmudgeonry?

Well, I have.  His name was Bill and I had the good fortune to work with him for about eight years beginning in the late 80’s.  Bill was a human warehouse of humorous anecdotes regarding things that he had seen and done, the source of countless limericks learned in his college days, and wellspring of unique descriptive phrases which I came to realize were mostly of his own creation.

Bill was 15 or so years my senior and as he moved closer to retirement age he began to describe his problem with weight control as “Creeping Obesity“.  It’s a concept with which many folks who are in, or moving beyond, their middle years can readily identify.

Two events that I’ve experienced over the past two days caused me to recall Bill’s Creeping Obesity and to recognize a parallel condition that I’ll identify as Creeping Dotage; dotage being a nice word for senility.

Like most people, I have a smartphone, an iPhone in my case, and I carry it with me for nearly 100% of my waking hours.  If it’s not in my hand, it’s in one of my pant’s pockets, or sitting on a table or desk in front of me.

Two days ago, I was walking through my kitchen when I thought of something that I needed to check on.  I’ve known for some time that the answer to any and all questions can be found with a quick and simple Google, so I reached into my pocket for my phone.

But it wasn’t there! No problem, I must have left it on the desk beside my computer. Nope, it wasn’t there.  Maybe I left it downstairs when I was checking the weather on the TV.  Nope.  Did I leave it in the laundry room? Nope.  The bedroom? Nope…… and on and on and on!

I walked through and searched every room in this house at least 3 times without finding the phone.  As I was approaching total exasperation, I walked for a fourth time into the den where I had been watching TV.

As I was approaching the chair in which I normally sit, something in the deep recesses of the back of my mind told me to look down. There, laying in plain sight on the Persian carpet, but perfectly camouflaged, was my iPhone.  The phone, in it’s jet black case, presumably had fallen off of my lap as I had gotten up from the chair and had landed face down in an area of the rug which was equally dark.

Fast forward one day to yesterday.  Sitting in the living room, I remembered that I wanted to check on a baseball score from the previous night, so I reached into my pocket to get my phone, but wait, it’s not there!

Two days in a row!  Surely not! This can’t be!

By this point, I’m confident that you know the drill and will understand that after 3 or 4 circuits of every room in this house, my iPhone was still AWOL.

Equally concerned with the sieve that my mind was apparently becoming and with my inability to locate the missing phone, in desperation I walked one last time into the room which serves as my office.  I scanned the desk and moved everything that was on it.  No phone.  Then that same remote place in the back of my mind whispered to me, “Move the office chair!

iphoneI reached down and grabbed the arm of the chair.  But wait!  What’s this?  As my hand wrapped around the chair’s arm rest, I realized that it had also wrapped itself around my perfectly camouflaged iPhone which had been hidden in plain sight resting on the jet black arm rest.

I’m pleased to report that it’s after 2:00 pm.  It’s been over 24 hours since the last unfortunate incident and the iPhone is resting peacefully on a piece of lily white paper just to the left of my computer as I type these words.

Yes, Bill.  I hear you.  Undeniably, it’s Creeping Senility.

Photo by Tyler Lastovich on Unsplash