Yesterday, they started singing Christmas songs at church. The people who live behind us have had their trees up since the first week of November.
And I have to be honest–I’m not feeling it this year. Some of that is personal. Our son moved out into his first post-college apartment yesterday. As a result, when even he comes over, he’ll have to stay outside while we’re hanging out in the driveway, just like everyone else. Our daughter will be a continent away in Los Angeles.
The holiday will come and ago against the backdrop of the Covid and fights over whether it’s real and the never-ending Trump-focused food fight. It’s just not festive. It’s almost a foregone conclusion that the ongoing dumpster fire will crowd out peace on earth and good will toward men.
It never really seems like the holidays to me in Florida. We miss the bite in the air, the crispness. Bundling up in a jacket, and feeling your cheeks turn red when you come inside from a cold outside to a cozy, warm house. The absolute quiet that happens when you’re outside in a snowstorm.
This year doubles down all of that for me.
But what the Christian faith celebrates wasn’t huge and brash and amazing. it happened in a stable, according to the story. Only the shepherds noticed it. The people next door went on as if nothing had happened. They were living life, dealing with whatever happened that day..
It’s an ongoing theme in the Bible. Even in the old Testament, when Saul and then David were anointed as king, no one noticed. They didn’t become kings until years after.
So what’s gonna happen this year that no one notices? What’s the thing that we’ll look back on in the coming years that we didn’t notice this year because life was happening?
Quite a number of years ago, when a relative of my wife’s died, we were all given tulip bulbs. I don’t know if those tulip bulbs still come up at my parents’ house were we planted them because we lived in an apartment, but someplace, one of those tulips still comes up.
It’s okay to say that this year, the holidays suck, relatively speaking. If that’s reality for you, then accepting that reality allows you to acknowledge it and then go onto the next thing.
You never know what the next thing will be, or where it will start. You just need to be present enough to recognize it when you see it.
I didn’t want to run this morning. Although it was supposed to be a rest day, there’s a cold front coming through early tomorrow morning that’ll mess things up. So I swtiched.
My legs were already sore from the last two days–I’ve pushed myself a bit as I return from yet another set of injuries, and then helped my son move yesterday.
As the first mile turned into the second mile, the thought of achieving my goal–5 miles (a push goal)–wasn’t an exciting prospect. So I listened to a couple songs and checked the mileage–1.94. It seemed like it should’ve been 19.4
So I figured I’d just check the mileage after four songs. Except four songs would leave me with too much left to do. I wouldn’t finish. So I jacked it to eight songs. But even then, I knew I’d look at the distance, which I figured was a little less than four miles, and crap out before five. I figured if I ran three more songs, I’d be around five miles.
In reality, at the end of the third song, I’d gone 5.63 miles.
Tomorrow is the start of another work week after some time off for most people. It’s easy to look at that the way I looked at this morning’s run–something you know you need to do, but really don’t want to.
Honestly, the run wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be–they rarely are. Same with the work days and weeks.
Sometimes they really are a drag, and you have to outlast them, but sometimes you exceed your goals and it winds up being a pleasant surprise.
Here’s hoping this coming week is the latter for you.
Note: If your reaction on reading this is “God he’s so wrong!” I hope you’re right. I’d celebrate your being right. I don’t think you are, though.
As I write this, about 1 in every 25 people has been found positive for the Covid at some point since this dumpster fire started. And there’s hand-wringing and concern that Thanksgiving get togethers will spread the disease beyond its already high levels.
Let’s assume for the minute that those concerns are justified. If that’s true, December is shaping up to be a dark, dark month. And there’s another holiday looming less than four weeks away.
If infection rates go up from where they were, that’ll lead to some hard choices for people when it comes to gathering around people outside their bubble.
For us, it’s easy. We live in Florida. We can gather outside and stay socially distant. It’s hard to do that when it’s 12 degrees outside and snowing.
Over the coming weeks, people will make decisions about gathering and not gathering. And those decisions, one way or the other, will piss off friends and family.
It could be you know there aren’t that many Christmases when they’re little and we’re going to Florida. It’s not gonna hurt anything to have the entire family for Christmas; it’s tradition.
Or You know my wife is diabetic; which makes her high risk. Yes, she has a job where she has to engage with people, but that’s all the more reason to reduce the other risks,
Given the context of the disease and the political currents that run around it, these discussions could become incendiary. They could blow up into the events that strain relationships going forward.
As trite as it sounds, maybe the best gift anyone can give this year is a mulligan. Whatever actions your friends and loved ones take, maybe treat them as a one-off, an aberration.
After all, you probably don’t know any of the handful of people who were alive the last time this happened. We’re all making this up as we go.
In the Christian tradition, Christmas is the celebration of Jesus’ birth. He’s the guy who could’ve justly called down firepower that would dwarf the death star as the early Romans and Jews tortured him to death.
Instead, he asked his father not to kick ass for the murder of his beloved son. I’m not sure I’d be so forgiving if someone did that to one of my kids.
The 2020 Mulligan. For Christmas. Unlike that Lexus or diamond show piece you always see on TV, this gift costs no money, but it might be the most expensive thing ever.
Given the meaning of the holiday, it seems appropriate.
I’ve never met or spoken to Pari Noskin Taichert. When Murderati was a big-deal mystery blog, she was one of the people who wrote there. Somewhere along the line, we became Facebook friends.
I know enough about her to know that she’s had some pretty significant bumps along the way. And that most days, she posts something on Facebook that identifies something she’s grateful for.
Going into 2015, I was in shape. I mean really, really good shape. Fitness was a baseline in my life and one of the ways I’d deal with stress was to pop in exercise DVDs until I was too exhausted to have any stress. Then one day, I woke up and felt nauseated at workout that wasn’t physically challenging for me at the time. That day was February 16, 2015.
I’ve told the story here before, but within three weeks, I couldn’t sit up at meetings without bracing myself against the table I was seated at. Before the summer was over, I went from not being able to walk across a parking lot to not being able to cross the living room without resting to having to work in bed, flat on my back because anything else was too much.
Work was the other part–my colleague–a good friend–and I were on a runaway project from hell. If I crashed and burned, she’d have no one to finish it with her, so I stuck it out and quite honestly, she carried me through the project. I like to think I did my share of carrying, too.
One Friday, I felt decent enough to leave the house to work with her at a place called Burger Monger. Our project was crashing and burning. She had another project and it crashed that day.
And then around 4:15 that afternoon, we got word that our boss had died of brain cancer. That was late June. July was just a blur of ridiculous complications and long hours. One afternoon, we were working together and my colleague asked me a question–one I needed to know the answer to–and I froze. My mind was blank.
Somewhere along the line, I got diagnosed with Myalgic Encephalomyelitis, which is commonly known as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. People who have ME hate the CFS designation because inevitably, someone pronounces that they’re tired, too, but they find a way to keep moving.
They can usually go pee without stopping for a rest on the way. I wasn’t tired; I was literally exhausted, but sleep wasn’t much help.
The product we rolled out was horrible and most days my job description varied between pinata and javelin catcher.
That September, I finally went on partial disability. My employer was great about it. The paperwork was done quickly and I was on a 20-hour schedule. The goal wasn’t to recuperate; I just couldn’t do it anymore.
At the time I had a rheumatologist and I asked him one afternoon what I had to do to get better. He looked at me, his eyes sad, and he said, “You don’t understand. You don’t get better from this. You only get worse. There’s no going back. That’s done.”
A few weeks later, the insurance company denied my disability request. ME is a disease of exclusion. it’s what they diagnose when they have no clue what’s happening. There’s no single test, no reading that comes out of range. No x-ray or MRI you can point to.
So now, I was stuck. I could work 20 hours and get paid for 20 hours. I had no way off getting paid completely–in fact, I owned my employer for half my pay from the time of my claim until the time I was denied. My daughter was out of college, but my son was getting ready to start. I had no way to pay the mortgage, let alone tuition.
The appeal dragged on and with each day, my hold on sanity become looser. October turned to November and my mood darkened. I saw Pari doing this daily gratitude exercise and I started because she was doing it. It was one tiny positive thing I could do while being buried in an avalanche of shit.
I’d be lying to you if I said it caused a huge difference in my life. Some days, especially early, it was hard to find something.
Five years ago this week, I won the appeal. The guy who made the decision said he’d never seen an appeal better assembled. He said I made it as easy as it could be.
The gratitude practice continued. Because I number them, as she did, I know there are more than 1600. That’s a lot of things to be grateful for.
I’m grateful for the example Pari showed. I’m grateful that I took it on. I’m grateful that my view changed.
There are levels of gratitude. Changing your life to an orientation of gratitude is like watering a desert plot. The clay has baked hard and needs to be regularly irrigated for the water to even start to soak in. More than five years later, I feel like I’m just starting to get it.
We’re all on a journey and you start where you are. You can curse yourself for being there, but that takes away from the effort of going where you want to be.
Gratitude isn’t a Pollyanna act. To be grateful, you have to accept reality as it currently exists. And sometimes, like in 2015, reality is a sore that’s been scraped raw that keeps being irritated.
Pari helped me see a practice I could use, a tiny little thing that would provide a pinprick of light, even in darkness so thick it makes you feel like you’re suffocating.
As I write this, I’m enjoying a glass of spicy V8 out of a Yeti tumbler that I picked up at a work conference I attended in Las Vegas a couple of years ago. It could be a glass of water out of a paper cup I picked up at Publix last week and the equation would be the same.
Although drinking something is a relatively simple task, in order to complete that task, a nearly infinite number of people that I’ll never see had to do something.
If you take the V8 into account, someone had to grow the 8 vegetables juiced up to make the V8. In order for that to happen, someone had to manufacture the materials required so the ground could be tilled and the vegetables could be effectively grown and harvested. Someone had to do the harvesting and get the vegetables to the plant that processed them.
Then someone had to do the processing, or at least oversee it, and make sure the vegetables and spices and such are all put together safely, according to spec. That doesn’t include the people who built the processing plant and the equipment in the plant and everything else that had to happen just to turn the raw veggies into the V8.
And that’s before you get into the packaging and the supply chain that got that processed bottle of spicy, healthful goodness to the shelf at my local Publix, so I could buy it. Then you have the glass I’m using and all the people who were part of that chain. And the people who had to produce or do something so I could get to Las Vegas to make the conference happen.
In all, thousands of people had something to do with my enjoying a glass of V8 today.
I’ll never meet these people and I may never consider them. After all, you can’t know all the people who make your life better without your knowledge.
It’s the same for all of us. For us to enjoy even the most simple things, thousands of people had to do what they do first.
When you consider it, it’s a little overwhelming to think that the most basic things we take for granted wouldn’t be there if there weren’t so many people working to make it happen.
And that’s before you get to the things that stand out–the things that really add color and meaning to your life.
Sure those people get paid and they’re at it to build and have a life, just like everyone else.
So take a second to consider those people you’ll never know, whose existence you aren’t even exposed to, whose existence makes your life just a little better.
I went to a Catholic High School for three years, starting in 1978. For those who weren’t around, the 1970s were a precarious time. The country was coming out of the 1960s–a turbulent time where things must’ve seemed like they’d shake apart.
But that was just preparation for the 70s, which saw runaway inflation, the Arab oil embargo (featuring long lines to buy gas on a regular basis), the slow-motion disintegration of a corrupt President, and the country driven out of southeast Asia.
The conditions under Jimmy Carter got so bad that the misery index–the sum of the inflation rate and unemployment rate–became an issue in the 1980 Presidential election.
Against that backdrop, my parents sent me–and then my sister–to Bishop Scully, a private Catholic High School. We did okay, but my dad was a power lineman. He liked the work and felt like he made a difference, especially when he worked storms to put peoples’ power back on.
Countless nights, he was out working while we were home watching television and sleeping. The times my dad caravanned to wherever the power was out, working 20-hour days sometimes. The time my mom had to put up with two kids without someone to more or less take over in the evening, if necessary.
The overtime helped us have nicer things and certainly contributed to my parents’ ability to send us to Scully.
This is hardly the only thing my parents did for me. But it’s indicative. In a family where my aunt was the first to attend college–a story in itself–paying to send your kids to school must’ve seemed irrational to some. It cost a ton of money–and there was a free alternative just a few miles away. But they thought it was important, and it enriched my life and, I believe, my sister’s too.
It was a huge thing that’s paid dividends for decades.
There are a thousand other things, from the trips to Disney (twice) to stopping for ice cream once in a while when we passed a place. Trying to make the money work so we could have a vacation and a nice Christmas. The times spent dealing with kids who morphed into stinking little brats and sullen teens who might give you a grunt if they were feeling expressive.
I am what I am, in large part, because of them.
I’ve said thank you a mess of times, but not publicly. Not like this.
So today’s gratitude post is for them. They did what tons of parents do, which makes it ordinary. But to me it made all the difference, and that makes it extraordinary.
Earlier this year, a very dear friend became a former co-worker when she quit her job to work on Double Doxie Boutique. Her online business includes costumes, clothes, and gift baskets. Since she started it, first as a side hustle and now as her regular gig, she’s had more than 2300 listings on Poshmark and also has sites on Etsy, Mercari, and Vinted.
She loves what she’s doing and is excited to do the work. She transitioned to this job just before the world shut down. And she’s still doing it, and still excited by it.
If you’re looking for costumes, gift baskets, or just something interesting to wear, that’s place for you to go.
A more recent friend will be busy at the grand opening of her running store today. The store started out of an avocation to run that’s built her into a fit person who’s now completed two marathons. And now she’s helping other people move down the same path. My commitment to running is built, in part, on the running community that she’s created in my subdivision.
Her store’s called Runfit and it’s available online, or you can check out the image below for location.
As much as I’m thrilled to pimp my friends’ businesses, the purpose of this post is to be grateful for their examples and the examples of everyone who bets it all to go after their dream.
I remember what it was like the day after I ran Tough Mudder. Through my entire life, I’d never been athletically advanced. I was months into doing P90X before I got past the I don’t belong here syndrome. After a lot of hard work, though, I completed an extreme, very difficult obstacle race that included a big dumpster of ice water and live electrical wires.
A year and a half before my first Tough Mudder, my knees hurt so much I was in physical therapy. That’ll happen when you’re grossly overweight. As I told the therapist that I would do the exercises and she’d never see me again, an expression of disgust crossed her face for the briefest of instances.
Eighteen months later, I completed my first of four Tough Mudders. That’s the extreme obstacle course that includes a big honken dumpster of ice water and live electrical wires.
For those four years, Tough Mudder was a highlight of my year. It made me feel like I’d accomplished something amazing. Something like quitting a job to go after a dream.
It doesn’t have to be opening a business or purposely running through live electrical wires. Peoples’ dreams come in all shapes and sizes.
I’m online friends with people who’ve published multiple novels, who take pictures of pretty things, and who do any number of things that make them feel fulfilled and validated. Some do these things for a living, and some as an avocation.
It doesn’t matter which–all of it motivates me.
Charles Barkley was wrong. He is a role model. My boutique friend and running-store friends are both role models. My online friends are role models. Maybe even I am to someone.
They all inspire me. I look at them all and say “Yeah, I want to be like them.”
With all the horsecrap going on in the world right now, that kind of inspiration is precious and definitely worth calling out and appreciating.
I’ve kind of had it with the Covid and the election and all the other crap, so this week is all about gratitude. Because why not?
Work is a four-letter word.
I’ve lived most of my adult life as if this were an unalterable fact. I wanted to work in radio, and I started in that. And then, after I graduated from college and the best job I could get was a minimum wage offer at station with no benefits, I sold out. Since then, I’ve made a series of tactical moves, primarily based on going where the money was.
That’s a crappy way to work at working and it leads to a horrible view of work.
I’ve been re-assessing a lot of things since the Covid shutdown. One of them has been how I approach work. So much of it seems pointless, just playing the game.
As a side effort, I took some time to articulate a purpose statement. I’ve always found these to be trite. An opportunity to articulate what our vision is, to quibble over whether it should say happy instead of glad and then it’s never referenced again. But I did it anyway.
Mine is this: To extend love and respect to everyone; to make the most of my skills; and to act with conviction and consistency.
This is a universally applicable purpose. I can apply this purpose even if I don’t feel like I’m doing the thing I love most in return for money. Even if I walk into a meeting and get my ass kicked for something I can’t control. Eve if someone decides going in that they’re going to steamroll me to get what they want. Even if I fall short at applying it, which I do (and will).
It took a long time for me to arrive at a place where I can articulate this mission statement. A lot of rough edges had to be worn off. The majority of that happened at work. The greatest periods of personal growths in my life happened because of roadblocks and setbacks I encountered and overcame (or I’m still overcoming) at work.
A picture came up on my Facebook feed this week of me wearing the ugliest shirt I’ve ever owned while eating. I was forced to wear this shirt after losing to a colleague’s fantasy team in a league we played in. The bet was that the loser had to wear a shirt picked for them by the winner.
On a Thursday night, we met and had a drink, then went to Goodwill to pick shirts. She was going through a tough time. One of the candidates for me was the worst shirt ever. It was ugly, cut poorly, and it was two sizes too small for me. I came out wearing the shirt and she laughed so hard she almost fell to the ground. It was the best thing I did that day to make her laugh like that.
We met together to work and I wore the shirt that afternoon. (She lost to my team a few weeks earlier, so we both had ugly shirts–hers was a neon yellow parrot sweater that could light an entire city.)
I still have that shirt, and that woman is still a dear friend of mine.
So yeah, I still listen to Gary and Shannon and mourn what could’ve been. But the choices I made put my life in my path and created two amazing kids who will leave the world a better place than they found it.
Those choices gifted me a wife I love, whose work is directly in service at a school that serves disadvantaged kids.
They gifted me a giant flashlight that forced me to see and adjust my approach to weaknesses. They put me in a position to make a difference to that one person that one day, and maybe to others.
So today, Monday, I’m grateful for work–even for the parts I don’t like. Those parts have made me a better person and put me in a position to really help people going forward.
It might not’ve been the path I thought I deserved, but it was the path I needed.
This week 22 students were found to have the Covid at Sunlake High School, about a mile from my house. As a result, 385 students are now on quarantine. That’s about 20 percent of all the cases in Pasco County (Florida) schools. That’s probably about 350 households in the area that have elevated Covid potential for the rest of the month (assuming some of the students locked down are siblings).
Last night, my wife, son, and I ate outside at a local sports bar not far from either our house or Sunlake High. Inside, at the bar, there were about a dozen people at the bar, all unmasked, hugging and climbing on each other as they drank.
Its ridiculous to expect people to mask up between sips. But these people didn’t appear to have masks with them. Several came out to talk during a smoke break for some them, and the only social distancing that occurred was that they stayed outside each others’ clothes. The woman working the bar sometimes had her mask off, as well.
Earlier in the week, I stopped at a local New York pizza place that had people working on the food without masks. In fairness, the pizza oven’s going to kill whatever germs fall on the pizza. But they aren’t wearing when they take it out, either. Nothing’s gonna kill that viral load.
We’ve already covered the manager at a local Publix, whose mask is regularly below his nose. While the majority of employees follow the rules, a few don’t. And beyond posting a sign on the way in, they don’t seem to hold customers to the mask requirement.
Maybe I’m living in fear. But the number of positives in Pasco schools has risen by a factor of 21 (from 5 to 106) since the end of August. In fairness, the number’s been exactly 106 for the past three weeks, so maybe it’s leveling off.
In my county, one in every 41 people have caught the Covid at some point. that’s not a lot, but an eighth of those cases happened between November 6 and November 20.
The people at the sports bar are going home to families. Based on their behavior, there’s a good chance, they’ll act similarly at Thanksgiving. If one of them has it–still not a statistical likelihood–yet–they may all have it.
While most people are acting appropriately, the numbers are already higher than they’ve already been. And the holiday this week doesn’t bode well for what’s coming before Christmas.
There’s an easy solution to this, short of closing everything. Businesses need to think bigger than what’s in the till today. They should tell customers to wear their masks. They should back their employees if they insist on a mask.
It’s not just about the greater good. Though Governor DeSantis has proclaimed he won’t shut the state down again, he may not have a choice, depending on what happens in the next three weeks. A shutdown would be a death sentence for thousands of small businesses already barely hanging on.
More to the point, when people are climbing on each other, drinking and yelling without masks, they’re putting other customers and the staff at risk, too. What if a staff member has an immune deficiency? What about them? Don’t they deserve a level of protection while they try to pay their bills?
Earlier this week, I called out California Governor Gavin Newsom for his unmasked dinner for 12, including lobbyists, at an expensive restaurant called The French Laundry. While it’s true Newsom was out of line, the restaurant allowed it. It even shut the door making his party an indoor event after a patron sitting outside complained about the noise.
I won’t be returning to the pizza place at least until the pandemic is over. I may not go again. I won’t be going back to that Beef’s any time soon. And I’m on the fence about Publix.
I hate being one off those guys, but if you want to keep your business open, you need to do what you can to keep the cases down. So far, the mask rules are really suggestions, in that there’s no real enforcement.
Maybe that needs to change. Maybe if you don’t enforce rules, you lose your liquor license for a year. Maybe it’s a severe health code violation. It’s certainly a bigger deal than some of the things they get written up for.
Meanwhile, I’m voting with my wallet. As much as I don’t want to shop for groceries at Target or Walmart, one of each is a reasonable drive away. It’s not as convenient as Publix, but maybe that’s necessary right now.
How do you support businesses that knowingly put their patrons’ and employees’ lives at risk?
I tried to enter feedback on the sports bar’s website, but can’t get past the prove you aren’t a robot tool. I did send a note to Publix on their corporate website. The pizza place doesn’t have a contact-us button.
I’m simply going to tell them that they’ve lost my business at least until the end of the pandemic, maybe beyond that.
Depending on how that goes, I may identify the businesses.
Because life works that way, I had to make multiple trips to Publix this week for various things. (Way to limit exposure, eh?)
There’s one manager in our Publix who refuses to wear the mask over his nose. And I’ve seen at least one person each time who wears it the same way or, my personal favorite, as a chin strap. Or not at all.
Every day I would come home and be angry about the stupid damn schmucks who wouldn’t follow the stupid damn rules. I didn’t give a thought about every other person in the store who was doing the right thing.
But the vast majority of us are doing that. We’re being reasonable. We’re scaling back our social gatherings. We’re giving people extra space in public. We’re wearing the stupid damn masks.
The Publix manager and the woman in the greeting card aisle with no mask and chin-strap guy stand out because they’re anomalies.
Those people aren’t doing the right thing. The rules are the rules and they’re there for a reason (and that reason isn’t so Bill Gates and George Soros can take over the world). It’s hard to frame passive-aggressive mask games as anything but in-your-face acts of selfishness (your mileage may vary on that point).
It’s about to get really, really dark. If people follow Gavin Newsom’s example of gathering because it’s not a big deal, infection rates could go through the roof in early to mid December. And that’s on top of the high baselines we have now.
There’s a vaccine light at the end of the tunnel, but the next few months could be pretty hard.
The key to surviving a hard thing is to look at the good parts, too.
Every single other person in Publix this week did the right thing. There were maybe six I saw who did the wrong thing. The people who have Karened about this whole thing stand out because of the contrast with the throngs doing the right thing.
That’s a big deal. Because we’re a hypercritical people, when we look back in a few years, we’ll concentrate on the people who acted like pinheads.
We should be focused on the face that the overwhelming majority of us weren’t pinheads. We did the right thing.