Four-Minute Span

I listen to NPR a lot; I enjoy the depth of their stories and news features.  I usually listen to NPR as I drive – it presents me with the opportunity to learn about my world instead of listening to crap commercial radio stations.  NPR gives me a different perspective that I’m not sure I would get otherwise.  The stories are such that I would not likely hear them on commercial television or radio.  That being said I don’t always agree with their take on things but it is always educational and provocative.

So the other day while I was driving I listened to this brief story on NPR.  It was a StoryCorp piece (  ) about the believed first single man to adopt a child in California.  The elapsed time of the story was less than four minutes.  In that four-minute span, Bill Jones tells the story of his initial encounter with Aaron and his decision to adopt this little boy. In that four-minute span, Bill tells of his son’s mental and emotional struggles and Aaron’s ability – sometimes – to let his loving, kind nature shine through the darkness of addiction.  In that four-minute span, Bill tells of Aaron’s succumbing to the disease of addiction at the age of 30.  In that four-minute span, Bill’s story has me in tears; had me in tears because that could have been me.

Bill was able to see deep into Aaron; he was able to see with his heart.  Bill was able to separate the person from the disease.  Bill was able to freely share God’s love for another human being – one who desperately needed to know that he was worthy of receiving love unconditionally.  In return, Bill received Aaron’s love right back.  He told of the time that Aaron, upon hearing Bill’s voice, came running up to him as a little boy and latched onto his legs with a vise-like grip. 5397213636_c7af2a4597_m

Aaron died due to his addiction just like countless others.  I almost did too.  There is no hell on earth like the hell of addiction – despair, hopelessness, loneliness, separation, degradation, worthlessness.  I am one of the fortunate ones.  I am in recovery.  I have been in that hell and, through the grace of God working through people in my life, I have been on the path of wholeness with others and with God.  It has not been an easy road, this road to wellness, but it is oh so worth the struggle! If you struggle with addiction of any kind or if you know of a family member or a friend who struggles please know that there is a better way.  Seek out the help of professionals in recovery centers, self-help groups like AA or NA and rehabs.  You’re not alone! 5057210527_b5d69ae811_m


It is a cold Sunday afternoon.  As I sit here the wind howls outside and drives the already single digit temperatures to below zero.  A perfect time to reflect on gratitude.

All too easily the sordid, the ridiculous, the ugly and the dark can carry us away and swallow us up; sometimes it swallows us whole and we can feel like our soul is leaking.  We lose sight of the beauty around us for the darker side of things sweeps us away like a flash flood, a veritable torrent, it seems.  Before you know it you wind up miles down stream and completely off the map.  I know, I’ve been there and it is not a fun place to be (more about that some other time).  It took me a few years to get back to a healthy, whole relationship with God and with others and it was a painful journey at times.  I’d like to think that I’m a better man for the journey but to be honest, I coast at times and slide down stream a bit.  But only for a bit.

It was suggested to me many years ago by people who possess more wisdom than I do, that I periodically make a gratitude list as a way to keep from slipping down stream and going over the falls.  The key is to give it some thought, some deep reflection.   I find that making the list serves me well on several key points: it keeps me positive; it reminds me that I have much to appreciate in life; it causes me to be mindful of the beauty in everyday things and the beauty in these “common” things are almost imperceptible unless I look for it.

Ugliness, hatred, evil, darkness and fear seem to scream loud and flash in neon lights but beauty … beauty is more subtle. It whispers. It is often shrouded in mist. You have to be open to, present in the moment, it in order to see it’s magnificence in all it’s glory.

So, here are my five things for which I am grateful on this day:

  • Francis Albert Sinatra – there is no one whose voice can turn a song, an arrangement, like The Voice.  No one!


    The Voice from an open source

  • Baseball – the greatest game ever invented; it is poetry and ballet on grass, teamwork and also individualism when batter faces pitcher. Today marks the opening of Spring training camp and soon enough there will be cries of “Play ball!”

From an open source

  • Language – as limiting as it is at times the ability to express ourselves, to try to be understood and to understand is priceless.
  • Music – it’s a variation on language but oh how it touches parts of our inner selves – parts that we thought were impenetrable – and suddenly we are connected with others who are touched in the same way.

From open sources

  • The cosmos – the magnificence and beauty of the universe … leaves me humble and in awe.

For a good read on the considered practice of mindfulness and appreciation of beauty (and the joy it brings) check out this little ditty:

The Sailor and his First Mate

We come across so many influential people in our lives, don’t we? Sometimes their presence is loud, obvious and boisterous and at other times it is more subtle and gentle, like a summer breeze. Those subtle presences are sometimes so barely perceptible that we don’t even realize how they permeate our lives, influence our thinking and mold our character that it is often years before we are abUJ and Angelle to realize their impact. Such is the case with my aunt and uncle, Jerri and Joe.

Jerri is my Mom’s sister.  She was a kindergarten teacher in the Bronx for over thirty years.  When we left our Bronx apartment in 1965 she moved into it; it was in the same building where by paternal grandmother and grandfather lived and about six blocks from the apartment on Addams Place where she grew up and my maternal grandparents lived.  She grew up in the Belmont section – the Little Italy of the Bronx – where the neighborhood was rich in Italian heritage and culture.  It remains an enclave of history and an oasis of exquisite Italian food, music, festivals and tradition.  Anyone who knows anything about Italian culture in the Bronx knows about Arthur Avenue!!!

I remember trips to the Botanical Gardens and the Bronx Zoo, both of which were within a few minutes walk from the neighborhood.  Aunt Jerri would accompany us on many of those excursions.  I also have fond memories of being in her apartment with friends of hers from the neighborhood and from college.  There was always lots of singing, laughing and camaraderie!  UJ and AJ 1996

She married my Uncle Joe in the early 1970’s.  Uncle Joe loved the sea.  He served in the Coast Guard in WWII (he lied about his age). They were always game for adventures – taking trips up to Cape Cod or Florida or upstate New York. After my parents split their role became evermore important in my development.  I recall trips to the dunes on Cape Cod with Uncle Joe and my siblings spending hours exploring and running up and down the giant dunes.  There were also adventures to Pelham Bay and exploring various ships that wrecked and washed up on the shores.  There was snorkeling in the Florida keys and building model rockets and firing them off into the sky at the high school football field.  I particularly relished the times when we would sing his favorite Irish sea shanty at the top of our lungs! (

Both were very strong in their beliefs, both politically and spiritually.  I didn’t always agree with tUJ and AJ Reunionheir points of view but I always respected their positions.  I always knew where they stood and I appreciated that steadfastness.  I knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that they were one of the few people in the world that I could count on.  In fact, Uncle Joe once told me that if I was lucky, I would be able to count on one hand the number of true friends I would have in life.  I never forgot that.

They now live in the Keys and we keep in touch every so often.  Uncle Joe is very hard of hearing now due primarily to an injury sustained in WWII.  I got the chance to speak with him over the phone not too long ago – a rarity these days.  It was oh so nice to hear his voice.

Aunt Jerri and uncle Joe are, for all intents and purposes, my second parents. I love them with all my heart.UJ and AJ West

Take 5

Yesterday I did not write.  I consciously chose not to pen anything on the blog.

Instead I chose to use my fingers for other forms of exercise.  I played a little guitar.  Nothing really extravagant … just noodling around on the fret board trying to learn “Bookends” and “Move It On Over”.  No mash-up there; just some fun.  It was relaxing and enjoyable.  I later joined some people from church to practice the set for the gathering on Sunday morning.  Good times indeed.


Copyright Pamela Stopfer. Used with permission.

I turned pages in a book and exercised my imagination and fed my hunger for spiritual/scientific things.  I finished reading a marvelous book by one of my favorite public radio personalities – Krista Tippett.  She has a show called “On Being” where she interviews a variety of notables and not-so-notables on subjects involving spirit.  The book, Einstein’s God, is an abbreviated collection of some of those interviews with notable persons in various scientific fields.  Together they explore mathematics, biology, physics, medicine, etc. and how those fields touch on spirituality and God.  I found it quite interesting and would recommend it to anyone, particularly those who feel that science and spirituality are akin to oil and water.

Einstein's God

I make no claims to this image. All rights reserved in the author, publisher, etc.

For more stimulating discussions, articles and posts check out

I wrapped up the day by meeting up with some of my church family in Lifegroup.  Had some really nice discussions about writing, some suggestions for my writing career and offers of help in that regard.  We talked about how we can get annoyed so easily in life for a host of reasons but most likely it is due to our being caught up in ourselves thinking the world revolves around us and our plans. We lose sight of the world around us including others who also occupy this planet and we tend to lose perspective on our “issues” and their insignificance in the grand scheme of the things.

We also chatted about Christianity, crabgrass and how the two are similar.  You should check out “Crabgrass & Oak Trees” by Jonathan Almanzar yourself to fully understand the connection.   Suffice it to say that the church needs to be more like crabgrass, spreading out everywhere and surviving in all types of environments including sidewalks!

Check out a video by David Foster Wallace that we watched here:

Teacher’s Pet

Today’s writing prompt is for me to tell what teachers had a positive or negative impact on my life.  While I don’t think any one teacher in my life had such an impact as to rise to the level of “inspirational” there were a few who definitely left their mark.

Ted Reiss taught physics at Monroe-Woodbury High School.  Up until that class I had only the faintest of notions of what physics was all about.  But once he started discussing the laws that govern the universe … well, he had my attention.  He inspired a fascination with all things physics, even to today – string theory, alternate universes, the stars, galaxies and planets.  He unleashed the “science nerd” in me.  I am still awe-struck by all the discoveries that continue to made in our universe.

Robert Filie taught Trigonometry and Pre-Calculus in high school.  I know what you’re probably thinking – “Boy! This guy is a real geek.”  Honestly, I can’t say that I have ever really used Trig or Calc in my life but Mr. Filie made learning fun.  He was such a sweetheart of a guy and I think all of us in that honors class loved him.  When it came time to learning Calculus we all were so upset that he would not be our teacher.  I learned a lot about what to expect in college and life in general from the discussions in class.

Gloria Smith taught American Government and History.  She made history exciting and challenged my preconceived ideas about politics without ever being judgmental.  She always pushed her students to think for themselves and i was no exception.  She taught me to question authority and to hold elected officials accountable.  She fanned the flames of admiration and respect for our form of government but always insisted that we never let them trample on our liberties – particularly that of free speech.

I can’t really think of anyone who “scarred” me – except for Miss Geraci in 2nd grade; even then she was just mean and twisted.  On the whole my teachers inspired me to learn and to never stop learning.  Of course all of their inspiration would have fallen on deaf ears had it not been for my parents who instilled the utmost importance on education.

To all my teachers and Mom and Dad – thank you!

Next Door

Time it was, and what a time it was, it was …

A time of innocence, a time of confidences …

Perhaps it is because these two people unknowingly played such an important role in my early life.  Perhaps it is the fondness of looking back on a time when i10945655_10205115657027541_9203176891511721601_nnnocence abounded.  Maybe it is my belief that the good Lord placed this family right next door and He knew that we needed them long before we knew.  Maybe it because this woman next door was my Mom’s best friend.  That could be why I am getting all choked up.  I seem to be drowning in a flood of rich, warm memories.

Jack and Jeanette Pulsifer, and their kids – John, Nancy, Karen and Kevin – lived next door to us in Highland Mills, NY.  Our two families spent a lot of time together.   There were countless days at the community pool together, dinners and backyard barbecues and cub scouts and girl scouts events.  There were picnics by the streams at 7 Lakes Park near West Point.  There was even a vacation at their cabin at Chateaugay Lake in upstate New York.  Most of all there was the love and friendship.

I remember Mr. P smoking his pipe, swirling entrails of cherry-scented smoke making their way from the pipe to the ceiling.  Sometimes he would thrill all the neighborhood kids when he would drive his new car carrier truck home on the rare occasion. We were in awe of the sheer size of it and the fact that Mr. P got to drive it!1005792_791907814160366_1615309082338346649_n

Mrs. P  would talk in her down-east Maine accent as she would knit or crochet.  She loved to chat with Mom.  They seemed to talk about everything and anything and never run out of things to say.  Oh my goodness could she laugh.  She would throw her head back and laugh, laugh, laugh.  She was my Mom’s best friend, for sure.

It is so hard to put emotions and impact and lives into words.  The words are just too limiting.

Mrs. P passed away several years ago – a few years after Mom passed.  Mr. P left us earlier this week. Both of them were such sweet people and filled with love and genuineness.  They will be sorely missed but their legacy lives on i1238815_651987608152388_471995484_nn our hearts.

I think Simon and Garfunkel got it wrong.  The photographs are not all that is left … there is the deep etching of love, friendship and kindness carved on our very souls.  Unerasable no matter what the world throws at us or the passing of time.

Thanks for being part of our lives Mr. and Mrs. P.  See you in the hereafter.

Long ago, it must be, I have a photograph …
Preserve your memories, they’re all that’s left you.

They’re Listening

I am a Dad to a teenage son. His name is Kristofer. Here he is: IMG_0903

This is not my first time around the block with parenting teens.  I raised a step-daughter during my first marriage. Yeah, that was real fun (he says with lots of sarcasm).  Springing from my step-daughter came four grandkids – all before I was 40!  At various points of time I was responsible for raising all of them as my own kids.  Not like the storybook version of family life but it was family nonetheless.  Looking back I wouldn’t trade it in for anything else.

Sure it was hard.  Being a parent is the hardest job there is.  There is no one-size-fits-all way to parenting.  Everyone is unique and I made and continue to make mistakes along the way.  It’s a lot of trial and error, lots of apologies, lots of tears, some regrets but always lots of love.

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Parents try to instill values in their kids.  Honesty. Hard work. Courage. Faith. Responsibility. Self-confidence. Integrity. Self-worth. Forgiveness.  I am no exception.    I tried not to just tell them about values but to show them values in the way I lived.  I wasn’t always successful but I think I did an okay job at it.   Honestly, there were times when I didn’t think I had gotten through to them. I wasn’t sure that they heard the message. But they did and he does.

Case in point: Kris’s English teacher was telling me about an incident in class a few weeks ago.  Kris had unintentionally hurt another student’s feelings.  Kris looked at the kid, took a deep breath, apologized for hurting his feelings and shook his hand.

And all was right in the world.


Next time you get all excited about the newest iPhone or the latest gaming system or the latest and greatest whatever … watch this.  This makes all that man-made sizzle … fizzle!  Meet the new definition of … Wow! or Awesome! or [there are no words]!

A Moment in Time


Through the Windshield

This photo was taken on Sunday.  While it may look like a typical day on the moors – foggy, bleak and dismal – here in Bethlehem it was rainy and cold … with a smattering of bleak and dismal thrown in for good measure.  No Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson searching for the Hound of the Baskervilles.

I was sitting in my car outside the ice skating rink.  Kris was having a ball on the ice and Eileen was home recuperating from her last visit three weeks ago when she fell and broke her arm.  So it was just me in the car and the combination of the rain drops, the fog and the bareness of the tree struck me – the starkness of it all.

Winter in Bethlehem.

<a href="">A Moment in Time</a>

Tweaks and Updates

This won’t be such a big post in word count but it is big for me. It’s big because I’m gaining more confidence with each new tool I use or skill I learn.

The big work was done to my main web site –  I added a a few new pages over there as well as a few widgets.  Just a little clean up to make it flow better.  I also tweaked the looks of this blog based on the prompts of Blogging 101.  I’m starting to get the hang of things here.  I hope you’ll check out the web site and let me know what you think.

News from the writing front: I continue to plow through research on one of my projects in preparation for an upcoming meeting with a client.  I’ve got the seeds for a post about my boy Peter.  Be on the look out for it by the weekend.

Finally, I’m preparing to visit my Dad down in North Carolina.  He needs some help going through some papers, trinkets, etc after my step-mom’s passing a few months ago.  It will be good to see him again.  More reports will come in from the Southern front over the weekend.

Dad and I

Vintage! Dad and I