Richard At The Trib

This week Richard started an internship at the Chicago Tribune, on the business desk.  He’s living in Hyde Park, just across the street from the President’s old house.  If you’re interested you can follow his work through the Tribune website, here.

Internships often are derided these days, but they have gotten Richard some wonderful experience.  Between San Antonio, Pittsburgh, and now Chicago, he’s gotten a real taste of what it’s actually like to work on a big-city daily newspaper.  In the process, he’s covered some great stories and compiled an impressive set of clips.  He’ll get a chance to add to that set this summer; Chicago is one of the best business cities in the country.

Richard has always had a strong affinity for Chicago, and now he’s back in the Windy City, working for one of America’s finest newspapers.  This will be an exciting summer for him!

(Morning) Walking Again

After three months of being laid up after foot surgery, today I took a morning walk around the Yantis Loop.  With my doctor having cleared me for increased activity, I’m going to make the two-mile trek a normal part of the daily routine again, just as it was before my toes went under the knife back in March.

IMG_6122It is such a pleasure to be walking again in the morning!  I’ve missed hearing the chirping birds and the thrum of the bullfrog as I walk past the creek, and I’ve particularly missed the quiet time where I can let the mind wander from topic to topic, think of things that I should do today, and let the fresh air push my thoughts wherever they might go.  We have so little undirected time in our connected worlds; it’s wonderful to let the brain roam as the body is doing likewise.  And when I get back to the house and pour myself a cup of freshly made, steaming coffee, I feel like I’ve already accomplished something good

My doctor cautions that I not overdo things.  He says too much activity might cause my foot to swell, and I know that standing for long periods still causes my foot to ache a bit.  My goal is to build up my tolerance to the point that I can once again hit the golf course without worrying about my foot looking like a five-toed balloon.  Starting today, I’m doing it one step at a time.

In the Board Room, At Portage Country Club

IMG_2275Today Kish and I visited Portage Country Club in Akron, Ohio for the first time in almost 20 years.  It’s a grand old Tudor-style club that was the center of many activities for our family.  We’ve had wedding receptions there, it’s where I learned to swim, and today it hosted a memorial service for Uncle Gilbert.  He would have liked the fact that the occasion brought all the cousins together again at such a familiar location.

One of the most familiar places at Portage is the Board Room.  For years, Grandpa Neal would hold an annual family luncheon around the time of his birthday.  Everyone attended, and as spouses and babies joined the family the size of the gathering grew.  After we’d had our lunch Grandpa would give a little speech about what had happened to everyone during the year, and the lunch would be capped off by Baked Alaska (Kish’s favorite).

It’s been many years since we had one of those dinners, but the Board Room still looks the same.  Seeing the room and the pictures of the past country club presidents, I could almost hear Grandpa’s voice and see us all gathered around the table.

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Hotel Shampoo Economics

It’s been, literally, years since I have paid for a bottle of shampoo.

WhyIMG_20140608_080658?  Because I have to travel regularly for my job, and I always use hotel shampoo when I am on the road.  I long ago realized that hotel shampoo does a perfectly satisfactory job of cleaning my hair.  If it does a perfectly capable job on the road, why not use it at home?  So, for years, I have taken a plastic bag with me when I travel, keep the used shampoo — because I never need more than a fifth of the little bottle — and bring it home.  Now we’ve got a drawer in our bathroom that is full of little bottles of shampoo, conditioner, and hand lotion.  I’ll take this bottle with me when we leave the Fairlawn Hilton today and add it to the collection.

For me, shampoo is a generic, wholly fungible product.  I don’t have any special shampoo needs.  So if I can avoid buying shampoo, why not save the money I would spend on a product that I can otherwise get for free?  Not buying one bottle of shampoo might not be a huge amount of savings, but over the years it adds up — and in any case I’d rather keep the money than needlessly give it to some large corporation.

Shampoo is a good example of ways in which people can exercise discipline over their personal finances.  Are there products that you buy that you really don’t need (or don’t even use)?  Would a generic product serve just as well?  Do you really read the magazines or newspapers you subscribe to, or have to have a landline phone?

Personal economic freedom is the product of many such little decisions.

Get Some Sleep!

It’s hard to imagine that we need scientific studies to encourage us to sleep, but the evidence is mounting that getting enough shut-eye at night has crucial, lasting benefits for human beings.

The latest study examines the role of sleep in improving memory and learning.  The study found that sleep promotes the creation of brain synapses — the connections between the brain’s neurons — that are essential to learning.  That study follows countless others that demonstrate the physical and mental benefits of sleep — a state that allows the brain to discard toxins formed by daily activity, helps us recharge and reduce the risk of many different diseases, and restores the body to the ancient circadian rhythms that human beings have followed since the dawn of the species.

I’ve always tried to make sure that I get enough sleep.  In law school, on the day before our final exams when some of my classmates would stay up until all hours cramming, I  put my books aside and went to bed early so I could be fresh and ready for the big test tomorrow.  I always felt like my rested state gave me an advantage in terms of energy and mental focus, and I’ve tried to carry through that practice in my career, too.

Many of us — in our zeal to be SuperMom, or our focus on our jobs, or our desire to cram every conceivable bit of activity into the waking hours — have cut significantly into our sleep time.  Obviously, it’s a mistake.  If you want to help your kids do better in school or on the job, make sure they get a good night’s sleep.  And instead of staying up to watch a late night talk show or another Seinfeld rerun, why not hit the sack yourself?

My Periodic Glimpse Of The Aging End Game

With Mom in an assisted living facility, my visits to see her have exposed me to the impact of old age in ways I’ve never seen before.  It’s been an eye-opener.

Typically my interaction with the residents happens in two scenarios — coming and going, and in the dining room.  When you enter the facility, you pass outdoor benches and rockers.  If the weather permits, there are usually some residents outside.  Most of them are smokers.  It was a bit jarring the first time I saw 85-year-old women dragging away on cigarettes, but the smokers probably figure what the hell — why not, at this point? Curiously, the smokers seem to be among the residents in the best overall shape.

IMG_1147Many of the other residents are congregated in the large common room near the entrance.  Some of them are in wheelchairs, and most of the rest use walkers.  Some are sleeping — usually deeply, often with heads back and mouths wide open — and others are just sitting.  Although there usually are many people in the room, there typically isn’t much conversation.  Even when I walk in on an event, like a bingo game run by a chipper assistant or an accordion performance, many of the residents are disengaged.

Some residents still get dressed up and take care with their appearance, and others have just let it go.  You’ll see women in make-up and jewelry and coordinated outfits and others who just wear loose shifts.  Some of the people clearly are with it, and others aren’t.  Recently, when Mom was still down in the dining room when I arrived, I sat at her table with a cheerful woman who, upon being introduced, immediately told me that she had no short term memory.  Within a minute, she repeated herself several times.  She clearly was aware of her condition, but there was nothing she could do about it.

Mom’s assisted living facility is a nice place, as such facilities go.  It’s kept very clean, the meals are well-prepared, and the staff members are friendly and attentive and work hard at what has to be a very tough job.  Most of the residents seem to have accepted their situations and are . . . waiting, and trying to make the best of things.  They can’t take care of themselves, their spouses are gone, and they really don’t have any good alternatives.

Even though I’ve been visiting the place for more than a year, I’m still sorting through my reactions to the very complicated issues raised by the end-game scenario.

Section 8 In Pittsburgh

Richard’s internship at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has ended, but his last story for the paper wasn’t published until after he had left.  It’s a really good and interesting piece about Section 8 housing vouchers and their limitations.  The story obviously struck a nerve with many people, because it provoked a lot of social media reaction, including 46 comments.

Richard is a talented writer in my humble opinion, but the neat thing about this story is that it combined traditional journalism — finding and interviewing people on all sides of the story, learning about the subject matter, collecting quotes, and then writing the piece itself — with some investigative journalism techniques, including obtaining and analyzing data from the Housing Authority of the City of Pittsburgh and then using the data to demonstrate how Section 8 recipients are concentrated in high-poverty neighborhoods and seldom used in wealthier neighborhoods.  The map at the bottom of the story is the product of those efforts and really drives the point home.

Our family journalist has now moved on to the Chicago Tribune, where he will be working on the business desk and becoming reacquainted with the Windy City.

That Morning Email Fix

For nearly 50 years I lived comfortably without a mobile phone.  I could go out to eat without needing to check constantly on social media, see whether I’d received a text, or take a photo of my food and post it somewhere immediately.  Now I seem to be as addicted to my handheld device as a heroin addict is to his daily fix.

IMG_6119I check my email first thing in the morning, check it routinely throughout the day, and typically do so again the last thing before I head upstairs for bed at night.  I am in a business where client service is crucially important and I want to be promptly responsive to any messages from those clients — but I know that is, in part, just a rationalization.  If I check my phone for email, I can get back to my clients in impressive time and always will seem to be in touch — but I’ll also see whether any other messages are waiting for me.

Why is this so?  I think it’s driven in part by ego and in part by the natural curiosity of the human brain.  We want to know if people are responding to us or thinking of us, and we are easily bored.  Rather than just take a walk down the street, why not check in on Facebook, too?  I suppose there’s no significant harm in missing the simple pleasures of a walk that you’ve taken many times — only to get another message that you’ve been invited to play some unknown Facebook game — but when referring to your handheld begins to interfere with actually living your life it seems like it’s time to reconsider what you’re doing.

I thought of this increasingly during our trip to New Orleans, when I encountered people who seemed to be focused on tapping things into their handheld to the exclusion of everything else — even if it meant stumbling into people on the street because they weren’t paying attention to where they were going.  The point was driven home when Richard, Russell, UJ and I were sitting on the second story balcony of a place on Frenchmen Street, enjoying a beer and the view, and we noticed a group of 10 or so young women who appeared to be part of a wedding party at the next table over.  Virtually all of them had their eyes locked on their phones and their thumbs flying.  They weren’t really in New Orleans, they were in cyberworld — so why physically be in New Orleans in the first place?

It was sad, and I’m embarrassed to say that I’m not much better.  I like blogging and feeling like I’m connected, but I need to make sure that I’ve worked out an appropriate balance between the real world and the virtual one.

Frenchmen Street

Tomorrow Richard, Russell, UJ and I are heading off to New Orleans.  On this “boys weekend” trip, our needs are few.

We want to watch live music at every venue on Frenchmen Street, from the Blue Nile to the Spotted Cat Music Club.  We don’t really care what kind of music it is, as long as it is live.

We want to visit the New Orleans Oyster Festival and eat oysters until we just can’t stand it anymore.

We want to eat Cajun food that is so hot and spicy that the collars of our shirts ignite spontaneously, without the need to add Tabasco sauce.

We want to drink Dixie beer that is so cold that it hurts your teeth to chug it.

We want to smoke cigars that are as long as a man’s leg.

Yes, New Orleans is in our future.  Our needs are few.

Grillin’, Now Chillin’

IMG_2113Last night was the grilling.  We lit the charcoal and put some burgers on the faithful Weber.  They were fantastic:  juicy, thick, with just a hint of crust.  Served on toasted buns with the required slice of Velveeta cheese, they were absolutely delicious.  We had corn on the cob, too, and fresh strawberry shortcake with vanilla ice cream for dessert.  We ate on the patio, drinking beer as the sun set and the stars came out and the neighborhood grew quiet.  It made me remember why cooking out is so great.

Today, we’re chilling.  It’s been a busy weekend, and tomorrow it’s back to work.

The Three-Day Weekend Fence Line

IMG_2111It’s a beautiful Sunday morning in New Albany, smack dab in the middle of a glorious three-day weekend.  As we contemplate what to do with all of this fabulous free time on a beautiful day, we’re like the traveler trying to decide which path and fence line to follow.

Me?  After taking care of some work, I think there’s grilling and a craft beer in my future.

Happy Birthday, Richard!

00019880Richard’s here to celebrate his birthday, which brings back a lot of memories.  Posting this classic birthday party photo from the early ’90s, with little kids galore, seems like a good way to celebrate the occasion.  Little kids know that a birthday is a big deal!

Richard is third from the left in the bottom row, with Russell in the striped shirt next to him.

The Hospital Of The Future

Richard has a splendid story in today’s Pittsburgh Post-Gazette about the hospital of the future.  Appearing on the last day of his internship there, it’s a thought-provoking think piece about what the hospital of the future might look like.

IMG_1112I would expect communications technology to change hospitals, as it has changed law firms, retail stores, and just about every other business you can think of.  To me, the most interesting part of the piece was about the physical design of hospitals, and specifically how hospitals are striving to make their facilities more inviting and capable of being “branded.”  Rather than the institutional, brightly lit corridors most of us know, the new hospitals are warmer, gentler in their design and lighting, and chock full of things like gardens and coffee shops.  They’re bound to be less depressing than the sterile, wholly functional designs of the past.

In that respect, Richard’s article made me think of colleges, and how their focus has changed from the professor and the classroom and the curriculum to the posh student centers, rec centers, and health clubs that so many schools have built to attract more applicants.  We can bemoan the decline of serious scholarship on campus, but colleges clearly have recognized that they are competing for paying students and are willing to build what is needed to attract them.  As hospital systems become more competitive for patients — and in Columbus, we’ve got three gigantic ones duking it out — they’re bound to follow suit.

AIDS And Alzheimer’s

The New York Times has a thought-provoking piece contrasting the public health reaction to AIDS to the public health reaction to Alzheimer’s disease.

The article notes that this year AIDS has fallen out of the list of the top 10 causes of death in New York City — replaced by Alzheimer’s.  In fact, the article reports, research now indicates that deaths attributable to the latter disease are grossly underestimated and that it may be responsible for nearly as many deaths in one year as AIDS has been in the more than three decades since its terrible emergence.  And yet, while AIDS research remains a public health focus supported by a robust social movement, there is no similarly active movement lobbying for increased Alzheimer’s research, prevention, and treatment.  Why?

IMG_2947Although the article correctly points out the success of the fight against AIDS as a public health movement, it was not always that way.  In the early days of AIDS, there was a lot of denial and politicization of the underlying health issues, discussed in appalling detail in the excellent book And the Band Played On:  Politics, People, and the AIDS Epidemic, by Randy Shilts.  It wasn’t until people got past the denial and politicization and focused on the awful public health cost of AIDS that effective education, prevention, and ultimately treatment programs were developed.  The fact that the disease was so terrible in its toll, and cut down our friends and family members in the prime of their lives, helped to drive the public health effort.

With Alzheimer’s, the toll of the disease is great, but the catalyzing circumstances that energized the fight against AIDS seem to be lacking.  Alzheimer’s is an affliction primarily of the elderly, who are regarded as already in their twilight years.  It’s a painful and somewhat embarrassing disease for surviving family members to deal with, as the victim gradually loses his mental faculties and all memories of loved ones.  So far as we know, Alzheimer’s is not readily communicable, and we’ve already got facilities in place where those unfortunate souls who become debilitated can be kept and cared for while the disease does its grim and inexorable work.  Those different circumstances, perhaps, explain why Alzheimer’s simply doesn’t command the same kind of attention that AIDS received.

Or, alternatively, it may be that these factors have simply kept Alzheimer’s in the denial stage for a much longer period, and only now are people finally confronting the disease and its awful consequences, which leave formerly vibrant people empty, haunted shells of their former selves.  The aging of the Baby Boom generation no doubt will help to increase awareness and attention.  I hope so, because the clock is ticking, and the prospect of contracting Alzheimer’s should scare the hell out of us.

On 24, It’s All About Family

Most people think of 24 as an action show on steroids.   Poor, misguided wretches!  They obviously have missed the deeper subtext of this gripping drama about Jack Bauer — which is that 24 is all about family, and the deep emotional ties that bind us together.

Consider last night’s episode, for example.  A mother and a daughter are enjoying a conversation in the kitchen of their London, England flat.  The mother puts a kettle on the burner so that she and her daughter can enjoy some tea and conversation.  What a warm, moving family scene!  The mother learns some disappointing news about the daughter’s husband and decides to talk to him about it — because on 24, the families know that you need to talk about your problems and issues.  Unfortunately, the husband won’t change his mind, so the mother has to order her henchmen to — lovingly — chop off one of her daughter’s fingers using a chisel and hammer.  The husband then demonstrates his love for his wife and honors his elders by thoughtfully agreeing to his mother-in-law’s request.

This continues a long-standing theme on 24.  Jack Bauer has always been motivated by family, whether it’s to save his wife from peril (unfortunately, she is nevertheless murdered) or to save his daughter from peril (as she is chased by a mountain lion in the wilds of southern California, for example) or to help his errant brother return to the path of righteousness (by smothering him in a sheet of plastic and torturing him).  Other characters, too, must deal with the pain of loss as their spouses and friends are gassed, poisoned, shot, and killed by rampaging terrorists.  Even the President of the United States must wrestle with the family issues caused by having a wife who is exposed as a cold-blooded, homicidal maniac.

Of course, some might say that 24 really isn’t about family at all, and instead just uses family characters and situations to create drama and promote mayhem.  Ha!  If you read the news these days, who’s to say what’s more realistic — a huggy, simpering melodrama on the Hallmark Channel, or the blood-spattered family carnage on 24?