Thursday, November 28, 2013

Three things for which I never expected to be thankful: The Thursday Afternoon #MINI post, #Thanksgiving edition, #8

Happy Thanksgiving all! I hope you are spending it with friends and family, and that you don't need to unbutton your pants before dessert--because that's bad form. For starters, (in our house, that would be the olive/pickle/cheeseball tray--my late mother-in-law's tradition--and we miss you Nanni!) let me say that I am #thankful for my family. I have been blessed, and there is nothing in this world more important to me. Having said that, let's get to the turkey of today's post: three things for which I never expected to be thankful.

Number 1: the broccoli and cheese casserole (borrowed from my sister-in-law, with whom we used to spend Thanksgiving before our kids got too big to travel). I am thankful not to be working today. Who works on Turkey day, you say?  I remember a Thanksgiving about twenty years ago, staring out at the grey and bleak Syracuse skyline from my call room in the top floor of the hospital, thinking about my loved ones back at home as I chased around the hospital, doing what an intern does--all the scutwork for the residents, fellows and attendings in exchange for them teaching me how to doctor. I can remember almost feeling sorry for myself--until I remembered the boy in the floor below me was being killed by leukemia. And so I trudged down and held his hand so his parents could get a cup of bad coffee, and watched the blood seep out of his eyes as he slowly died. When he passed away the next morning I felt like Chuck Norris had kicked me in the stomach a dozen times. I can only imagine--and pray never to know--how his parents felt. I have thought about them a hundred times in the last twenty years, and admired their fortitude, their bravery, and their courage to wake up in the morning and watch the blood seep out of their son's eyes. God bless you both.

Number 2: the stuffing (my personal favorite). I am thankful for the Carthusian monks living in the Charterhouse of the Transfiguration in Arlington, Vermont. (You never expected that one, did you?) From where I live on top of Blueberry Hill, I can see Mount Equinox to the south, towering over 3,000 feet into the Vermont skyline. Just below the summit, tucked into a little valley on the lee side of the mountain, lies a large stone monastery where several dozen monks spend their lives praying for you and I. (And I really need and appreciate the prayers.) God bless all of you.

Number 3: the sweet potato casserole with the marshmallow topping. (A tradition my wife started, borrowed from someone whose name I can't recall). I am thankful not be living in a foreign country on this truly American holiday. I feel this way because I spent three Thanksgivings in Austria, and, although I loved it, it was a rough couple of days. One year, I hiked up the Untersberg and met my friends at a Gasthof at the bottom of the mountain: fun, but not the same. Give a shout out to all the Americans who are overseas today, especially the military, Foreign Service personnel, Peace Corps, Jesuit Volunteer Corps, Jewish World Service, and all the others who are away from home serving their country and/or their ideals. God bless all of you.

I could go on, but--thankfully--I won't: the #MINI is an unforgiving master. And thanks to all of you; I appreciate your support.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Book Review: Olen Steinhauer's AN AMERICAN SPY; The Thursday Afternoon #MINI post; Edition #7

Good afternoon #MINI fans. I recently finished Olen Steinhauer's An American Spy, and I'm in the mood to write a book review, but don't worry, this is Thursday and the rules of the #MINI are etched in stone: short and without an excess of verbiage. (Actually, it's more of a guideline than a rule.)

The first spy I ever met was James Bond, and all the others I have met since have had to live in his shadow, because James Bond has no equal. That said, spying is a shadowy business and Bond is way too fond of the limelight to be a real spy. (But he has swag, mind you: #SWAG). So, the following generations of fictional spies went to the other extreme. John LeCarre's George Smiley was the perfect foil to Fleming's Bond: quiet and demure whereas Bond was brash; clever, not blunt; subduing his prey with intelligence and guile as opposed to gunplay. Countless other secret agents have been forged in the intervening decades, most splitting the gap between Smiley and Bond. (Frederick Forsythe's Jackal comes to mind; meticulous like Smiley but charming like Bond--and good with a gun.)

So you thought this post was about An American Spy? It is--I'm almost there, I promise. The problem is that all of the characters above are currently in their nineties. We need some new blood. Daniel Silva's Gabriel Allon is a clear choice, and--in my opinion--is the most interesting spy since Alistair MacClean's Captain Mallory. Steinhauer's Milo Weaver is another candidate. It would not be fair to compare Weaver (in his third novel) with Allon in his tenth, but the bones are there and Steinhauer will undoubtedly flesh him out with his fluid prose and unflinching dialogue. Espionage is a murky, complex world and Steinhauer paints it with subtle brush strokes. And his balance is commendable, portraying the 'bad guys' as sympathetically as the 'good guys:.' (So well does he do this that it became impossible to determine who was who, good or bad.) The plotting is precise and meticulous (George Smiley would be proud) and keeps you guessing until the last page.

Pick up a copy at your local bookstore, or download one on your reader. I would love to know what you think so drop me a line when you do. I can always be reached via my WEBSITE.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Saturday Evening blog Post presents: A Place in the World; GuestBlog by Thomas Cosgrove


Another first from The Saturday Evening blog Post: a guest blog. Our first guest blogger is my cousin, Thomas Cosgrove, who grew up down the street from me in Clinton, New York, a quaint little town tucked into the low foothills of the Adirondack Mountains. Thomas and his family ran a dairy farm on the outskirts of town, The Spring Grove Farm, which is still in operation today. Whenever we ran out of milk, which, with a family of six, happened every night after dinner, my father and I would grab the silver milk pail and head down Fountain Street towards the farm. The first order of business was always to stop in at the farmhouse, where my father would always sit down and drink a Utica Club--our local beer, affectionately referred to as 'Uncle Charle'--with my Uncle Tom, while Thomas and I occupied ourselves at the kitchen table. Our favorite pastime was Stratego, possibly the best game ever invented--and still available, Christmas shoppers--although we also used to sketch, airplanes and layouts of golf courses, mainly. On the way home we stopped at the barn to draw a pail of whole milk from the huge stainless steel tank that dominated the milkhouse. And then we walked home, trudging up the hill with the pail of fresh milk swinging from my father's long arm. I always used to wonder why we just didn't take two or three pails with us and fetch enough for a few days, but now that I am a married father of four I know the answer.

So, without further ado, the inaugural guest blog on The Saturday Evening blog Post, fittingly written by Thomas Cosgrove, my cousin, lifelong friend, fellow blogger, proud Cornell alumnus, and forever a Tarheel. (Did I mention he can sing?)

 A Place in the World

Could be right before your eyes / Just beyond a door that's open wide / Could be far away or in your own backyard / There are those who say, you can look too hard / For your place in the world – Mary Chapin Carpenter – “A Place in the World”

When my cousin Peter asked me to write a guest blog, he said the topic was my choice but mentioned he has a regular feature on travel.

His suggestion reminded me of his recent post about traveling in Arizona <> and his dismay at locals who had not explored the wonderful places in their backyard, so I thought that might be a good place to start.

His post really wasn’t about travel per se, but the places it takes you.  It made me think about the concept of place, whether it's a nation, a region, a state, a town, a neighborhood or the corner of a room.  And as sometimes happens when an idea sparks, one thought sets off a chain reaction.  This one started with travel and its cousin, place, but it ultimately brought to mind the concept of home.

When the chain reaction started, I thought of Mary Chapin Carpenter’s lyrics and how a place can feed the soul regardless if it is a place you’re visiting or the place you call home.

One reason the topic hit home is that I travel a fair amount for work.  I’m not well suited to being in the office five days a week so it’s probably a good thing I’m not.  Certainly my colleagues would agree, but the travel sometimes takes a toll being away from my wife and son.

In our town of Longmeadow, Mass, I'm basically known as Jen's husband, a moniker I wear proudly as she’s earned a stout reputation in the community as a go-to leader in the volunteer corps.  I sometimes joke Jen and Will live in Longmeadow, and I just visit them there, but hey, “it is what it is.”  (Just kidding, see Peter’s well written rant on that phrase, <> ) In all seriousness, I choose to have a job that requires travel -- I own it if you will -- but sometimes it’s a challenge to manage.

But that quip about visiting Longmeadow, while a decent one-liner, has begun to feel stale.  Making the rounds Halloween night with Will was the first time I’d seen some of our neighbors since the previous Halloween.  I still have strong ties to Peter’s and my hometown of Clinton, NY, but in almost 25 years since graduating from college, I’ve never grown roots in any of the four places I’ve lived.

So although I agreed with Peter about the poor souls in Arizona who haven’t explored their own backyards, I wondered if I was any different sometimes feeling like a stranger in my own town.  But I’ve begun to rethink that based on a couple recent events.

In our eight years here, Jen has typically participated in our town meetings, a New England civic tradition where citizens serve as the town legislature.  But she had just finished co-chairing a major school foundation event, and I was in town for a change, so it made sense for me to participate.

This particular town meeting had a number of routine items on the agenda (or warrant), but the main issue was debating the town’s position regarding a possible casino in the neighboring city of Springfield.

As I listened to the spirited debate about a Springfield casino, people were really asking a philosophical question about the nature of our town and how the casino might change it.  I wasn’t focused on the fact I didn't know many people. I followed the debate intensely, considered my vote carefully, and felt like I had a stake in the debate even if I didn’t know that many people there.

The following Saturday we participated as a family in a Veteran’s Day 5K run/walk to benefit the Wounded Warriors project.  It had a special meaning as Jen’s dad is a Vietnam Veteran, having spent over 30 years in the Marine Corps and I was proud that Will ran almost the entire 5K.

A ceremony preceded the 5K, and as speakers honored the service of our military, it occurred to me that members of the military don’t know everyone they’re serving, and we certainly don’t have to know them in order to honor their service.       

The takeaway here is not for me to rationalize staying under the radar in my town.  In fact, that’s something I hope to change, and there’s nothing like showing up for a few events to start the process.

But standing there at the Veteran’s Day ceremony, it reminded me of a broader sense of place that extended beyond our town, and that I didn’t need to know anyone’s name to realize we shared a common appreciation of the place we call home.

The trouble it might drag you down / If you get lost, you can always be found / Just know you're not alone / Cause I'm gonna make this place your home – Philip Phillips – “Home” <>

Thursday, November 14, 2013

The Thursday Afternoon #MINI post: #Vermont in #November--an essay in pictures

Fall, Interrupted

Ten Shades of Grey




That's the #MINI for this week, hope you enjoyed it. Make sure you tune in on Sunday, as the Saturday Evening blog Post features the first in a series of guest blogs. Thanks for your support.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

The Thursday Afternoon #MINI post: The number 1 most annoying cliche of all time--and why I hate it.

Something new on the #MINI (about time, you say?) Let's call it--A short essay on popular culture. Today's inaugural post will be about one of my favorite things to harp about: how much I cringe when I hear "It is what is is."

It is what it is. This cliche ranks highest on my cringe meter, with a straight 10/10. I could go on for hours about this one, but the rules of the #MINI post are clear: short and to the point. So, let's use an example of how this 'expression' might be used.

Man talking to glum-appearing friend: "What happened to you?"
Glum-looking friend--let's call him Dave--replies; "My wife left me because I slept with the cleaning lady, my brother won't speak to me because I stole money from my parents, and I lost my job because I was in a bad mood one day and told my boss to bugger off."
"I am sorry to hear that, Dave."
"It's okay. It is what it is."

See my point? Perhaps if Dave had made better choices, It might not be what it is. Perhaps Dave might learn from his mistakes if he didn't blow them off as existentially fated blather. Maybe Dave should hold himself accountable for his torment, and stop trying to pass it off as some kind of inevitable calamity over which he had no control.

Still not convinced? Here's another 'hypothetical' scenario. Woman--named Dolores--talking to her doctor: "So, Doc, how are my labs?"
Doctor--let's call her Taylor--glances at computer screen and barely avoids scowling. "Well, Dolores, your cholesterol is at an all-time high, your blood-pressure is high enough to work a hydraulic lift, and if my IRA was up as high as your blood sugar, I could retire tomorrow. I can see you haven't been following your diet."
"You know how I love my ice cream and martinis."
"Yes, you've mentioned that before. But do you also love your children?"
"Oh sure, they're pretty good too."
"Then perhaps you should lay off the martinis?"
"With my job? I don't think so! Look, Taylor, I appreciate your concern, but (wait for it) It is what it is. Just give me some more pills."

And know you why I hate the most annoying expression ever--and why the healthcare system is teetering on the brink of insolvency. Dolores isn't about to put down her Grey Goose martini--shaken, not stirred--or push aside the Cherry Garcia, not when she has such a clever expression to make her feel better. Besides, her health premiums are all paid up and she only has a ten-dollar co-pay. A night at home without Grey Goose and Ben and Jerry's? Don't think so.

Thanks again for your support--and sorry about the tardiness of this post. But (list of weak excuses) It is what it is. 

Sunday, November 3, 2013

The Saturday Evening Post presents: One Night in Boston (unlike any other in 100 years.) #bostonstrong

When I look back on it--three days later--the St. Louis Cardinals never really had a chance. It wasn't one particular thing, like the pitching of John Lackey--good though he was--but a combination of factors, almost all the kind of intangible ones never to show up in a box score. The first sign was the national anthem, sung by the Drop Kick Murphy's wearing Red Sox uniforms and kilts. When they finished that and started singing "Shipping up to Boston," the crowd went ballistic, and I could smell history in the making--as well as hot dogs, missing the performance as I did waiting in line to spend twenty bucks on two Fenway franks. By the time I worked my way back to where my son was standing atop the #GreenMonsta, I was treated with the sight of Luis Tiant throwing the first pitch to Carlton Fisk. The last time those two played together it was Game 6 of the 1975 World Series, a game in which Fisk hit the most iconic home run in Fenway history--until Steven Drew hit his in the fourth inning. (For Steven Drew to make contact with the ball--much less hit a home run--is worthy of history.)

Now, I am a big believer in home field advantage and karma and all that, but this seemed almost unfair. (Did I say unfair? I'm sorry, I meant unfahhh.) The red birds may well have been--and probably are--the better team, but the Sox had so much more. Mike Matheny starts Michael Wacha, the rookie phenom, and the Sox counter by not shaving since the advent of Spring Training--in March. Advantage bearded ones: pitching is good, but beards are better.

And, no, I am not saying the Sox aren't a good team, they are. But this World Series was won by Johnny Pesky as much as by David Ortiz, by Pedro Martinez as much as Jon Lester, by Ted Williams as much as Dustin Pedroia. Karma was the MVP of this series. What do I mean? Look at the box score. The Six didn't hit well, but they hit when they needed to. Shane Victorino had very few hits, but his Grand Slam and his 2-out, bases loaded double in Game 6 (which hit the wall right underneath me) prove that winning is about coming up big at the right moment. That's Karma, or chemistry, or beards; call it what you want, the 2013 Red Sox had it.

As a fan, standing in the midst of it all, I felt like history was the bride and the baseball game the--less pretty--maid of honor. One couldn't help but think of the Boston Marathon tragedy, the Boston Tea Party, and the Boston Massacre. Michael Wacha must have felt like he was pitching to Paul Revere (who is almost as old as David Ortiz.) When Koji struck out Matt Carpenter to end the game, no one headed for the exits--not even when Bud Selig started speaking. It was as if the game was just starting. It wasn't really a baseball game after all, it was a night in Boston unlike any other in 100 years. This was a win for the ages, for history, for a beleaguered city.

And my son and I were just happy to be a part of it.