Reason To Believe

In the land of 24/7 media coverage and real time responses from faceless Internet critics, no one would blame you if you questioned every belief you’ve ever had. Prowl on-line long enough, and you can unearth a shadow of a doubt on any subject.

Be it video, text, or photo, there’s always a source for you to question your beliefs.

I have a strong faith that there is a God, an eternal being who created us and watches over us now. This belief was instilled within at a young age, by a family full of immigrants whose Roman Catholic faith was unshakeable.

If I wanted to, I can read articles every day that could make me ponder the question, “What if there is no God?” It may have to do with getting older, being in the second half of your life. Wanting to be sure that there is, in fact, something more that we can look forward to.

I have a strong belief in family. That blood is thicker than water, and that the ties that bind the family are the most powerful you’ll have anywhere. That family comes first.

You can have your doubts here, as well. Friends can become enemies, family become strangers. How well do you really know your loved ones, anyway?

I have a strong belief in country, and I know many will share that view. Whether Democrat or Republican, your main wish should be that our country succeed, no matter what. For the most top of the line belief in country, watch movies like Lone Survivor. Discover the individuals that will go to any lengths for love of country.

There is nothing wrong with questions about God, other people, the environment, conservatism, your country, your government. Questions about truth, lies, sex, videotape, and whether 80s music was as good as it seemed (looking back, I’m having my doubts here).

It’s fair to question your beliefs about any aspect of life happening around you.  Except one.

Your belief in yourself.

Now, I’m not here to tell you that my self belief, or confidence, is unwavering. Just the opposite, in fact. I’ve been the recipient of mega self-doubt, not knowing what to do, where to go or how to think, depending on the situation.

Nowadays, the self doubt usually creeps in the subjects of career, financial, home improvement (you’d understand why if you’ve ever seen me use a power drill). But, there’s a difference between “the now” and even just a few years ago.

If the self doubt does make an appearance, it’s short lived. Lasting hours, or even minutes, rather than days or weeks.

And there’s a reason for that. I know who I am. I know what I stand for. Things can change, my opinions can vary, but the core “me” remains what it always has been. That attitude is the very essence of old-school.

People experience self doubt because they compare themselves to others and, more importantly, they don’t do anything that they really enjoy for work or play.

Do you sarcastically say “Just another day in paradise” when asked “How are you?” Is life joyless, devoid of thinking with the curiosity of a kid, intent instead on collecting “things” that add nothing to your identity?

Think about it. About what you liked to do before age eighteen, before life was ruled by higher education, relationships, unsatisfying jobs, mortgages, kids, responsibilities, and the subsequent questions that may create doubt.

Are you doing them now?

Anything? Why not?

When I was younger, it was easier to be plagued by doubting myself. But I had people that believed in me. Like my grandmother. My godmother. I’ll throw my grandfather in there, although it was hard to tell back then. He was an Italian immigrant who was very selective in using his words. His actions did the talking.

Now, I have distinct reasons to believe. There are two kids who will look to what I do, rather than what I say, for examples of how to live. That’s part of being a parent. At ages of 18 and 14, it’s a critical time, and for me, there is no room for prolonged self doubt. They need to know that when doubt is removed, the world can be your oyster.

My immigrant grandparents and their family could have been the champions of self inflicted doubt. Instead, they brought a fire to their duties, putting together their American story and creating future generations of entrepreneurs, doctors, musicians, recording artists, writers, and keepers of the traditions they developed through their years.

The concept of tradition is sinking into a wasteland of trends and media obliteration and saturation. It’s hard to see what’s real anymore, if you don’t look closely. But what’s real is this – my son will play baseball again, launching rockets into sun drenched skies. This summer, my daughter will walk across a stage to shake with one hand and receive a high school diploma with the other.

Cape CodWhen she’s done, we’ll carry on our tradition of wandering Cape Cod beaches, exploring, collecting rocks and shells, watching the waves crash and swell. Modern world, and its incarnations of belief killing, be damned.

No room for self doubt. There are reasons to believe.

How To Bury Your Time Wasters

In the last post, I said that resolutions were a non-factor for me – that I only had a recurring one concerning traditions that need to be kept, and that was it. Frankly, I had no desire to join an army of “resolutionists” whose numbers would dwindle by each passing week.

But that wasn’t true. I lied. I’d actually like to add one resolution, if you will, that would boost all other resolutions if I decided to make them.

acquavivaStop wasting time.

All around us, you can hear the cry of the chronically overwhelmed.

“I have no time.”

“I’m just sooooo busy.”

“Ain’t nobody got time for that.” (A personal favorite)

But when you tell the truth, a high percentage of people who declare they are too busy for the important spend a good chunk of their days on activities that add zero to their lives. And I’m as guilty as anyone else.

As a newly proclaimed resolutionist, I intend to step up my game where I’ve begun, and to start in the areas that I need to. That means burying time wasters. And there’s plenty of them that we can shovel some dirt on.

Let’s get crackin’. Here are examples of time I am no longer willing to waste. Starting….now.

The Evening News – Walter Cronkite and Peter Jennings are long gone. There is no longer a reason to immerse yourself in the time wasting activity of the news. Most of it is sensationalized to bring in more advertising revenue, and it seems the only purpose is to increase the American public’s “worry factor”. About things most of us don’t have to worry about.

Stop watching stories about derailing trains or tornadoes touching down. Unless it’s happening in your house or neighborhood, the long term effects on you are minimal.

The Local News – Indulging in this is worse than watching national news. Want to hear about stabbings, shootings, and car accidents in your surrounding towns and cities? This is the place to be! Ugh. Serious waste of precious time. The only saving grace for our local news is the personality of a couple of very good meteorologists in the area, one in particular that helps animals in shelters.

Now that the Polar Vortex is upon us, they are even more excitable.

Other Television – This one may prove a little difficult. My wife and I are big Seinfeld fans, notably fans of the syndicated re-runs that are on every night. So easy to lose an hour to this one.

And sports programming can wind up being a giant time suck as well. Between football and baseball, I know I spend hours in front of the TV, soaking up all the athletic entertainment that I can.

My television habits will be a work in progress. Stay tuned…

Email – let’s face it, there are emails, meetings, and more emails – the majority being a complete waste of everyone’s time, but that never stops it from happening. In my line of work, the only activities that matter are helping clients and pitching prospects. End of story. Everything else will add little value to what my customers do, or my bottom line. These two activities must take up the majority of my day. I will no longer allow this line to be crossed. The email black hole must be stopped.

Social Media – Facebook, with its unlimited potential for negativity, political bickering, and general pointlessness, is actually useful for me keeping up with friends and family that don’t live in the area. What was once the ultimate time suck for me is now a medium that I’m logged in and logging off for 10 minutes every couple of days.

To stop wasting time I want my usage to drop even further, with the exception of sharing posts like this one. It’s a beautiful thing.

While I still plan to get notifications from people that a) live far away, or b) actually say something worth caring about, I really don’t have that many Facebook “friends” to begin with so it should only take me a few minutes, tops.

Other Minutiae Of Life – Small talk. Chit chat. Idle gossip. Feeding the rumor mill. We’ve all done this, right?

Time waster. Time waster. Time waster.

Have you ever been in the middle of a conversation and just wanted to walk away?

But you didn’t, because you were taught to be polite?

I’m going to start walking away. And not perpetuating negativity. Not letting anybody waste my time.

Because time is finite. There’s only so much left.

I’m going to turn my TV off. Brian Williams will become a stranger to me. Jerry Seinfeld may, as well. It will be so hard to say goodbye.

The time to just “watch” has passed me by. I’ve said it before – life is short. The game has nearly been decided. The clock is burning down. It’s hard to take action on the truly important because of the little things. And if that’s the case, don’t let those little things include the evening news and mindless internet surfing.

The quality of your life depends on it.

Another Auld Lang Syne

Tucked away amid waves of string arrangements and woodwind solos, Frank Sinatra’s vocal in “It Was A Very Good Year” is both melancholy and hopeful. He runs through the lyric chronologically, first at age 17, then age 35, finally seguing into a time when life is “like vintage wine, from fine old kegs”.

As you might expect, this favorite song from my youth has taken on a different meaning a few decades later.

Hitting the age of 50 here in 2013, I can echo the Sinatra sentiment. Yes, it was a very good year.

The non-conformist in me dismissed the thought of writing an article about the subject of gratitude during the Thanksgiving season. As one year passes on and the new one begins, I feel gratitude especially now for what God has blessed me and my family with in the previous twelve months.

Foremost, my wife and I have two kids that are strong and healthy. If there is a greater gift than your own health, it is the health of family.

My wife and I recently celebrated being married twenty years. Staying married in modern times is not an easy task, and it takes more work and effort than most people think. It’s been easier for us because we have similar tastes and interests, and hold important the goal of always stoking the fire of romance that we started with.

2013 reflected good times for my wife’s side of the family, as well. Relatives with medical complications have been given clean bills of health, and there has been a massive baby boom this year. One cousin born recently, another (a little girl) more recently, and my wife’s nephew will be on the way shortly here in 2014.

This year brought challenges, no doubt. But most of what happened could be called “good stuff”.

If you spied the title of this post expecting a declaration of New Year’s Resolutions, I sincerely hope you’re not too disappointed. I have but one, and it’s recurring: upholding the ritual and traditions of the Italian American lifestyle that I experienced growing up. You can read about it here.

Although the ritual of the ‘making of the meatball’ has fallen off recently, I finally (with some prodding from the family) served up a traditional Christmas Eve Feast of the Seven Fishes, right here in my home. I cheated a little bit, cooking five of them at once in a slowly simmered tomato based stew, but my wife said it still counted.

This is also the opportunity most bloggers take to show you their “best of” lists, where they showcase their finest work published in the previous year. While you can see all of what was “epic” here in 2013 just by scrolling down, I’d actually like to share with you two articles that I wish I’d written.

Although the focus of these particular sites is along the lines of social media and content marketing, the articles here focus on the authors’ grandfathers, and the wonderful lessons that were revealed while just living their lives.

Demian Farnworth – 10 Productivity Tips from a Blue Collar Genius

Mark Schaefer – A Rant: In Praise of The Unremarkable

Read both of these posts, because I think they’re awesome. Then read them again. If you take away some or the majority of the points in both, and apply them to your own lives, you will be in pretty good shape. It is useful Old School thinking at its finest, presented with class by a couple of fine writers.

If you do this, I dare say New Year’s Resolutions will be the last thing you need.

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Creating Your Black Friday Traditions

Welcome to the holiday shopping season. Where the same thing happens every year.

The same damn thing.

While the crazed and wild eyed stampede into the late night/early morning hours to acquire their iPads, TVs, handbags and other assorted crap no one needs for a successful and happy life, I was doing the same thing I always do this time of year.

Namely, drooling on my pillow. Watching the back of my eyelids.

The previous night at my in-laws was another Thanksgiving success, breaking bread with family and overindulging a bit on the turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes, and assorted vegetables and appetizers.

And don’t get me started on the pumpkin pie.

Whether it was the food, or perhaps that one extra cocktail, the morning came slowly. As I opened my eyes, the digital clock across the room read 9:30.

9:30?? WTF?? I have to get the dog his breakfast, and then outside to do his business. It’s late!

One problem. The dog was still sleeping as well. Thanksgiving can be tiring to our canine counterparts, too.

When Black Friday Comes

Cooper - the last member of the family I expect to over sleep
Cooper – the last member of the family I expect to over sleep

And so begins the biggest shopping day of the year in our house. In typically tardy fashion. I’m not sure if you’d call what we do traditions, but my family spends the post-Thanksgiving day pretty much the same way every year. For example:

After rolling bleary-eyed out of bed, it’s coffee time. After Cooper is taken care of, we’re ready for our morning ritual. If you’ve read this blog before, you’ll know we rarely go out for coffee. Not with our full size steel espresso pot on the stove top, standing at the ready.

Strong, creamy, and just like my Nonna used to make. We enjoy this every day, but today, it’s a special cup.

After some chatting in the kitchen, and a couple of phone calls to relatives, my son decides he wants to start a new Black Friday tradition. A little game of hoop in the driveway, on this sub thirty degree day.

It’s a new tradition because we just got the basketball set-up this summer, found on Craig’s List for a fraction of its original cost. Thank you, nice neighbor.

Researching new portable basketball hoops with full size backboards, the prices ranged from $300 to $800 to start. We got our slightly used one for under $120.

Boom! How’s that for savings? And I didn’t even have to wait in a line. Take that, Black Friday!

Relaxation And Entertainment

After a half hour of exercise, I decide to come back in the house and burn a little time on-line by entertaining myself with tales of Black Friday stupidity.

Did you know that fifteen thousand people waited in line for Macy’s flagship store in New York City to open its doors?

Fifteen thousand!

Horrified by what I was reading, I shut the laptop down to go to another Black Friday tradition, house hold chores. Since I’m still a little groggy from my overload of turkey, I’m not going to do much, just vacuum the hall stairs that need cleaning. That one task wears me out.

Physically, I’m not worth much today. A perfect opportunity to write a blog post. And here we are.

Winding It Down

As I write this, my wife is watching a quality show on PBS, which is commercial free. Good thing, because the Black Friday ads on other channels attempt to make all of us look like total jackasses who are concerned with nothing but shopping, over consumption, and greed.

Since we’re not contributing to traffic jams on roads and in stores, there obviously won’t be an over indulgent trip to a restaurant, either. We’ll be eating at home, with a mouth watering rendition of homemade macaroni and cheese, made with rigatoni, cheddar, swiss, and parmigiano reggiano.

Decadent. And again, a fraction of the cost of the Olive Garden meals that shoppers will consume today after their exhausting marathon. After all of their “savings” goals have been met.

After dinner, we’ll probably relax again after the dishes are done. I may take my son to my Dad’s house for a visit, or we could just wind down with an old movie. Hopefully, with as little advertisement as possible. I’m mentally scarred from the limited ads I’ve seen already.

Another year, another Black Friday passed. We’ve lost out again. No big deals, no rude shoppers, no shoulder to shoulder jostling for the latest designer labels. No stress. No generous savings from inflated retail prices.

Unless you are of the mindset that saving 100% is absolutely the best deal you can get.

Winning at the Lottery of Life

diceWhether fair or not, there’s a lingering stereotype that Italian Americans can be fond of the activity of gambling. While I will admit to playing an occasional football game, poker match, or horse race in the past, wagering my money is not something I do anymore.

However, when the Powerball or state lottery here in New York rise to obscene dollar amounts in prize money, most of my office mates (and myself) pool our money and go buy some tickets for the win.

When I was younger, I used to take my Grandfather to the local mom and pop grocery where he could play his lottery games. He liked to win (and he did hit big a couple of times), but he mostly liked to play for fun.

We play for fun as well, but I find it interesting how people can become overwhelmed with an urge to play all the time, for the remote chance at millions. Because that one big score will change your life and make all of your problems disappear.

If we could only win.

That one prize takes all of the issues of life, the ones that consistently beat you down, and makes them go away. Forever.

I’ve heard it from people who don’t have two nickels to rub together. And from people with asset portfolios in the seven figure range. Interesting, right?

For most, the lottery is nothing but a pipe dream. We can play, but we won’t win. We can fantasize about the new house, fancy car, and exotic trip, but chances are we’ll be going to work the next day.

Should that depress you?

The answer to that question should be “no”. Because in the lottery of life,  you have already won.

You live in America. As much as our government tries to make a mockery of our systems, it’s still the best country you can call “home”.

We are in a time of unprecedented technology. Our every need and desire can be met. You, and you alone, can determine the level of your prosperity. All you need is hustle.

Here’s my favorite quote, that I will take credit for and believe to be the truth:

Any day you are above ground, in good health, and able to enjoy the company of friends and family, it’s a good day.

See? You have officially won the lottery!!

I can tell you, now at 50 years old, I have hit the lottery numerous times. You’ll guess that I’ll mention my wife and kids here, and you would be right.

How and when and where I met my wife was truly a lottery score. Nothing but total blind luck. I can only thank the alignment of the planets that night for finally getting me that “right place, right time” moment.

If you go back through the archives of this site, and read about other members of my family (especially the Sicilians), you’ll know that I practically owned the lottery growing up.

And the “friend lottery” is an example of where I continually cash in. My buddy Mike and I hung out for nearly 30 years before his passing in 2012. I can’t emphasize enough what a wonderful friend he was, and how fortunate I was to know him.

Lottery winners just don’t get that lucky.

Many of us will rate ourselves and our level of importance by the things we collect. The titles we acquire. The promotions we achieve. The time spent at the companies we work for.

The trinkets and toys that fill our lives. The stuff that lottery dreams are made of.

It all would be easier if our numbers would just come in. Life is a game of chance, God’s game. We already have the best of luck if we’re here, and get the chance to play.

You already know the truth. A lottery cash prize would be the icing on an already extraordinary cake.

Just play for fun. Because you’ve already won.

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