Tuesday, October 10, 2017


I was about 10 when I first started thinking about death, not in the abstract, but my own death. I wrote a will, I told people what sort of memorial I wanted. My parents thought me morbid, I was just being practical. I have never feared death, despite the best efforts of Catholic churches and schools. ( Thank you Confirmation classes!!! O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee, and I detest all my sins because I dread the loss of Heaven and the pains of Hell; but most of all because they offend Thee, my God, Who art all-good and deserving of all my love. I firmly resolve, with the help of Thy grace, to confess my sins, to do penance, and to amend my life. Amen.)

I was about 12 when my grandfather died--- my first experience of the death of someone I REALLY loved .
I remember how incredibly angry I was at all the empty words and euphemisms--- I got in lots of trouble with my parents for saying to some adult "he didn't 'pass away" he bled to death because the cancer destroyed the arteries to his lungs Dead is dead. just say it;" (yeah, I was that kind of kid. Even at 12. But that's a story for another day)
By the time I reached adolescence, my friends and the friends of my older siblings would die in Vietnam, Some came home breathing,but destroyed. A teacher would suddenly suffer a heart attack and die. A classmate would suffer a cerebral hemorrhage. By the time I was 18, my grandmother would die while I was away in college. A favorite colleague of my father's would commit suicide. I had parents older than most of my friends parents. As their youngest child, I fully expected them to predecease me. I never expected my sister to die before my 30th birthday. Still the same empty words, still the same euphemisms. I am in my 60's now. My brothers are in their 70's. Nothing ever change

Sunday, July 30, 2017


Accepting reality has a cost, but provides an opportunity

I have avoided any comment on the Charlie Gard case unyil now because I wasn't sure I had the facts straight. Having long ago been a part of a family who had to accept the painful truth that there was no cure and no effective treatment for my sister's condition, I know the impulse to grasp at straws and deny the inevitable. Little Charlie Gard wasn't condemned to death by any doctor, court or system. It is an incurable congenital disease. If you believe in a "directly interventionist" God, then you have to hold that God responsible. Charlie's disease is fatal . Period. There is no way to win this battle. For anyone. All you can hope for is that the end comes with as little suffering as possible.
Like Charlie, my sister was probably born with the fatal flaw that led to her death. It went undetected for many years, and then one day the situation came crashing down around us and we had to accept that her life was effectively over. It wasn't for lack of healthcare or awareness. -- my sister was a medical professional and under the care of excellent physicians for other unrelated conditions up until her last days. There was no reason to suspect she had a time bomb inside her. My sister's death changed our family forever, each of us in different ways, My mother never fully recovered. She was really uneasy with the decision to turn off the ventilator and let nature take it;s course. (despite the fact that my sister's feelings on the subject of a DNR were well known. She taught Cardiac Intensive Care Nursing) That was probably why, when my father developed cancer, she insisted that the doctors pull out the stops and try treatments that they told her were unlikely to help. given the kind of cancer and the advanced stage. He had to beg her to stop .

My father first became more devout, then lost hos confidence in medicine. When his own diagnosis came, he didn't trust it.

There was anger and guilt and fear and helplessness and hopelessness all around.

For me, it forced me to continue questioning the whole nature of faith (a process that had begun years earlier-- story for another day) It was the final straw that broke this camel's back and robbed me of my ability to casually talk about prayer as a solution to human problems, (because if you insist that God can change the specific course of events, then you have to acknowledge that God makes conscious and specific decisions NOT to at times, for reasons we can't know or understand.
So while I understand and empathize with both sides here, I can tell you from experience that no one involved will ever find peace until they stop trying to place blame or understand why this nightmare began. And when they do manage to find your own peace, we are all hallenged to use that energy wasted on frustration and recriminations more productively.

Tuesday, May 03, 2016

Commence rant. (This week is Mother's Day.  Indulge me.)

I was told today that it's unfair to stereotype millennials, and was reminded that (although I am not really a boomer or Gen X, but something between the 2) before we created a generation well educated but hip deep in student loans, they have become a generation spending more time on line and less time interacting with flesh and blood people, and dependent on social media for everything from pizza delivery to spirituality.   There have always been slackers, burnouts and disaffected types. But we created the folks you see sitting side by side in a coffee shop texting each other and sending LOL emoji's instead of actually just laughing.  Posting stupid stuff that should never see the light of day for everyone to see.  For the life of the Internet. We didn't mean to, but we did it nonetheless.

So, yes, Andrea, there **are** flakes in every generation, but in my world the flakiness differences between boomers, Gen X and millennials (particularly in terms of how they approach the entire concept of work and learning) are so clear that everyone and their brother has written (or is writing) a book on how to engage them, keep them engaged, and how to tell if they are learning anything useful. etc.  (I'm a technical instructional designer.  We talk about this stuff as nauseum.)  And even if you aren't a cranky old fart, you have to admit it is true. Millennials aren't necessarily worse, but they are DIFFERENT. Particularly in the US.  It's part of the reason why other countries are kicking our butts on standardized tests.

And most of the differences can be laid at the feet of -- not just the millennials themselves, but the folks a generation or 2 back-- so the biggest reason it makes me sad is that we created the issues with all the best intentions, and now we are bitching about the unintended consequences.

--Part of the shift is due to the changes in institutionalized educational processes from preschool on to grad school. (AKA "no child left behind" "common core" and the rise of homeschooling, and the holy grail of standardized testing, to name a few) (all pretty much ineffective in their own way)  And my rant on homeschooling will be reserved for another day,

--Part of it is the ubiquity of information--- most of it unvetted (which is a pedantic way to say "not everything on the internet is true or correct." Yet despite being inundated with "stuff" we no longer teach students critical analysis.  I was explicitly taught how to learn beginning at the primary level-- in a session called "study skills" -- We learned how to look things uphow to problem solve, how to validate information, how to identify opinion vs. fact.  Yes, I went to private schools selected for their academic results, rather than social status, religious affiliation or convenience, and they did a lot of stuff there that is no longer PC, but I got an excellent education.
--Another part of it is that the democratization of the classroom -- while done with the best of intentions, this has become a disaster for social learning. Kids are kids and teachers are teachers. They are not equals until you get to grad school, and maybe not even then.  Teachers, dress like you have an important profession and are in charge, not like you are going to a club or the gymn. You can be comfortable and still display respect for your self, your job, and your students. You can also be relevant and use proper grammar and an adult professional vocabulary.

There is a natural social order to classrooms and offices and factories and military units and football teams and every other group of people engaged in group activity.  If we don't teach young people how to interact with adults who are in positions of leadership, they leave school expecting the world of work to be an extension of the idealized family, where everyone loves you for the special little snowflake you are, and they make infinite adjustments for your quirks.

Unfortunately, that's not the real world in 98% of workplaces.

and... well, for all that to happen, someone has to be in charge and make and enforce some arbitrary rules to make sure that the water that comes out of the tap is safe to use, the bandwidth is available when you connect to the net, etc.

Sucks, but  it's just the way it is. 

When parents routinely criticise teachers in front of their kids, it undermines the teacher's authority in the classroom. When a student has a problem with something happening in school, the adults in charge need to work it out together, and then explain to the child how they are all going to work together to implement the agreed-upon solution.

Kids need consequences proportionate to their mistakes as much as they need encouragement for doing well.

It's really not the fault of the millennials...Their parents -- whether left or right leaning-- rebelled against traditional education processes, because it wasn't meeting their immediate needs.... but they threw the baby out with the bathwater and applied quick fixes to complex issues.

When folks like me say that millennials are "different" we need to accept our responsibility for making them that way.  They learned the lessons we taught them--- we just didn't think it through when we decided to change the curriculum.  (And before anyone of an older generation says "I didn't change the curriculum!" remember that 1. In public policy, silence is consent   2. You consented every time you complained to a teacher, principal or school board that "my kid's teacher is "old fashioned" or "arbitrary" when they gave Johnny a C because he only missed a few math problems, and most of the other kids missed them too" (ummmm...a C is average. The curve.) or complained that the dress code was too strict.  Or that getting detention or another punishment for repeatedly being late was unfair. Or that Janie will be embarassed if she is reassigned out of her AP class, because you know she can do the work, but she just forgets to turn in her homework. (Turning in your homework on time is part of the lesson she needs to learn.)

Once in a while you run into parents who get it and realize that the system isn't completely broken, but it does require some serious work and even more hands-on parental involvement (You can't outsource your kids' education to the public school system-- it has to be an adjunct to the hands on work YOU are putting in on an everyday basis)

The worst thing previous generations have done to millennials is that, now that they are becoming adults with kids of their own, we didn't prepare them to parent--not with hokey classes where you carry a doll or an egg around-- but by teaching them by example that learning is not something you go to a school building to get, like bananas at a market or discard when it is past the expiration date. That the lessons start when you rub the sleep from your eyes in the morning and never stop.  

My parents were complicated people and not perfect, but they were awesome when it came to education. They not only supported us academically, but they taught us how what we were learning in school applied to the real world.  Admittedly, Dad taught statistics and averages at baseball games and at horse races, geometry on a billiards table and percentages learning how to calculate a tip. Mom let me read trashy historical novels on the beach, and then made me pick out any anachronisms of language or setting or timeline.  I learned practical applications of physics, chemistry and algebra taking recipes for 4 servings and adjusting them to our much larger household.

None of this was stuff you learned to pass a test... it was stuff you learned to live your adult life to the fullest.

So, millennials, if we say "Sorry, we screwed up. We didn't mean to, but we were young and foolish and had the best of intentions." And if we promise to help you, can you please try to fix this before your own kids send your Mother's Day and Father's Day cards directly to the chip embedded in your brain in waveform because keyboards and voice to text have become "so early 21st century!" ? Because if cursive handwriting disappeared because people stopped putting real pens to real paper, when we lose our keyboards and voices, we could lose music, poetry, drama, and so much more.

Sunday, May 01, 2016


Random memories of an outsider

It's odd what you remember sometimes.

From childhood’s hour I have not been

As others were--I have not seen

As others saw--I could not bring

My passions from a common spring--

From the same source I have not taken

My sorrow--I could not awaken

My heart to joy at the same tone--

And all I lov’d--I lov’d alone--
What I wanted--what I always wanted-- was to be accepted. To be seen and not found wanting when compared to my siblings, cousins, or my mother's friends' children. It never, ever happened.

On the last day of her life, I sat on the side of her bed, trying to keep her calm so she wouldn't struggle against the oxygen and palliative medications as she had been earlier in the evening. 
Having been with her every day for 5 years, I had accepted the inevitability of her death. It was different for my brothers. 

She had put my brother through the wringer on the late night shift, and his wife had insisted he go home, grab a shower, some breakfast and some sleep while I took the next watch. He was in need of a break

Mom wasn't a warm and fuzzy person in the best of times, and when upset she could be tough to take. 

I make dark jokes about it, but this really was our very last conversation.

Me:  "You know, Mom, I know I was never the kind of daughter you wanted, but I think in the end I was the kind you needed."

Her response was classic Mom. "You were always so strange. I never understood a goddamn thing about you." 

 I am 62 years old. My mother died almost exactly 15 years ago. . .just a few days before Mother's Day 2001. The older I get, the more I understand and accept about my mother. She wasn't cruel, but she was distant and demanding. With me. She was probably rather damaged by a tough and unforgiving childhood of her own. As the oldest, and without a consistent presence of her father in her life, she had to grow up much too quickly. Having BEEN her mother's favorite child, she never experienced the feeling that her mother wished she had never been born. And, while she never used those words directly, she would tell young women "have your children when you are young... if you wait too long, it's not good for you or them" So the sadness has never really left me. When I found that poem in the box of papers and photos, I realized that she always knew I felt like an outsider-- but she was unable or unwilling to deal with it. I got over the anger years ago, but around Mother's Day all the missed opportunities and misunderstanding, and unasked and unanswered questions still make me sad.

Thursday, January 07, 2016


Getting off the car payment treadmill

Here's how *I*, personally, got of the car loan treadmill. When I got divorced, I needed a car and couldn't afford to pay cash. So I bought what I could afford and kept driving it well past the time I paid it off.... and then I never stopped making car payments--Not to the bank, but to a designated "new car" savings account.  

When the car eventually reached the end of its useful life, I had a subtantial down payment on the replacement--- not enough to pay cash, but enough to only have to finance about 30% of the cost. 

I repeated this process with each subsequent vehicle --- I havent had a real "car loan payment" in about 20 years. I paid cash for every subsequent vehicle. 

The key principles behind this process are: 
1. You have to remember that your car is a machine for transportation, not an object of worship. That may be a seriously pragmatic concept, but I find very little romance in cars. I drive and purchase the best tools I can afford to meed the current needs in my life. You need to treat a car well so that you get maximun useful life from it, but you shouldn't forget it's a tool. Use it as long as it serves your needs--- nobody makes money on trade ins or used car sales except dealers.
2. Committment to the process and discipline. And this one is tough when you are young and broke. You cannot allow yourself to fall prey to the "now that I've paid off the car, I can use that money to....." temptation.  Or the temptation to raid the new car fund for other purposes.... the one time I let myself do that, my current car committed suicide weeks later and I had to either settle for a lesser replacement car or get back on the loan merry go round.

It's not sexy, or revolutionary, but it works.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015


College as vocational school?

I read an article the other day about how few people really work in the field they studied in college.

And, after I stopped laughing, I realized that this article must have been conceived and written by someone quite young. It wasn't until post WWII that college was ever supposed to be a "vocational school." 

Oh, there were nursing schools, and teachers' colleges. and postgraduate "professional" schools for engineering, art, music, medicine and law, but a bachelor's degree was designed to prepare you for LIFE. To provide you with the background and language to solve problems, lead others, and become contributing members of society. To see the world in a larger perspective so you could understand and adapt to change. Ask any lawyer and they will tell you that law school doesn't teach you how to be a lawyer. (Or, you could just watch My Cousin Vinny) A degree in Medicine doesn't make you a working physician--- residency and internship does. A degree in music does not turn someone into a composer. 

Then, in the post WWII era, we began offering mainstream degrees in Business.  Oh, Wharton has been around since 1881 (the US' oldest b-school) and Harvard Business has been around since 1908, but, according to Forbes, he number of MBAs issued has jumped 623% since 1970; (education master’s degrees increased only 103% during that time.)  Suddenly, there are lots of MBA's out there, all shooting for the same jobs.  And suddenly, all those MBA's said, "well I have the credentials now, so I must be ready for the corner office and the golden parachute."
 But an MBA isn't-- and shouldn't be thought of-- as a vocational certificate.

The business world is changing faster and faster every year, and, if you treat your degree as "one and done" vocational education, your education cannot keep pace with demands.

When my grandfather was a young man, he learned a vocation-- he was a baker -- and he went through an apprenticeship and perfected that skill and became more competent, but, when he retired, the way he did his job was pretty much the same as it was when he was 20, or 40, or 50 or even 60. The best cinnamon buns ever made still took flour and sugar and raisins and yeast.

When my father was a young man, he learned many different skills--(so many, my grandfather despaired he would never find a career)  He worked in restaurants, he learned to hang wallpaper, he was a salesman, he worked in a jewelry store, and he worked in a steel mill. Then he went into the army, and discovered he had another set of skills-- he was a great leader, strategist and planner-- and when he came home from war he took the steel mill experience and the military experience and he took some GI Bill money and went to college, and he became a manager for a multinational company.

He worked at that job until he was fully vested in his pension-- 30 plus years-- and then he retired. He grew bored with retirement, and he took the people and logistics skills he learned in his corporate life and spent another 10 years trying to make government run like a business.

The world my grandfather and father worked in was not bequeathed to my brothers and I.
EJ started out studying engineering, then realized his calling was the law. He became an attorney, and has been practicing for  very long time, but though his title remains the same, the nature of the practice has changed as technologies and markets have changed. If he hadn't adapted and contunued to learn and grow as the world changed, he would not have been even a fraction as successful as he has.

My other brother began in the Telecom world, when that meant a landline phone in your house or office and offices still had switchboard operators, and everyone got their service from Bell.  If you think he didn't have to grow and change to remain viable, remember that when my brothers started college, there was no NASA, there was no internet, and even IBM didn't know why on earth private citizens would ever want a personal computer. (let alone one a wireless one you could carry in your pocket) 

I am a bit younger than they are  Bill Gates and I are contemporaries. Do you think the work world has changed a bit in OUR working lifetimes? I was in the computer bay today, waiting for my new laptop to be imaged. I handed the technician a 512 GB flash drive about the size of a tootsie roll midget, and watched him insert it and hit "run." At times like this I am reminded of the 3GB hard drive I replaced in my SOTA IBM desktop PC with a 12 GB drive, and wondering how I would ever come up with enough information to fill it.  Changes?  Constantly. Not just

Do you know anyone who is still working for the same company they were hired by right out of college?  If  you do, is the company still doing the same thing? Probably not.  

We typically hear that people will make 3 to 7 major career shifts over the course of our working lives. Personally, I've made about 4. Did I imagine this is how I thought I'd make my living when I was 20? Are you kidding me?  The career I have today didn't even appear as a separate option in college catalogues or HR manuals at the time.

So, if you (or your kid) are about to "complete" your education and are out in the job market, stop thinking of education as a thing you complete in order to prepare for a career. It hasn't worked that way for a couple of generations.  

Sunday, September 13, 2015


I must be a trial to my right-wing Facebook friends.

Get Your Facts Straight!

Church and State


Medical Matters

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