Restaurants

When I decided to start my blog, I jotted down some ideas to write about. The thought crossed my mind that maybe I’d run out of subjects and ideas, but then another thought crossed my mind. I was lucky enough to have had a huge variety of experiences in the army. But that’s not all! After I retired, my luck continued. I managed to get a job managing a local restaurant, and that job was just as rewarding, with many challenges and a huge learning curve for me, since I was now in charge of something I knew nothing about. I had gotten hired because of my management experience, but that was all I knew. Retail? Profit and Loss Statements? What the hell are those? Bit by bit, with lots of help from a good company, I started figuring it out, and got promoted to general manager. Uh oh. Ever heard of being promoted to your level of incompetence? Anyway, so began the next exciting chapter of my life.

I totally loved it! The best thing about it was working with the crew. Teenagers! No job experience! Boyfriend/girlfriend drama; showing up for their shift crying! But that was the challenge, and I was fortunate enough to hire good people. I mean good people. They were bright, eager to learn, fun to work with, and we learned from each other. They weren’t all teenagers though, there were older folks as well, some supporting families with the relatively low wages inherent in the business. But I depended on them to help me run the restaurant, and they depended on me to pay them! Same as the army, except their wages weren’t decided by congress.

Did I say I loved it? I enjoyed coming to work; I enjoyed learning business stuff; and, most of all, the crew was like family. I cared about them, and I suppose I sounded like an old geezer when I gave them advice, but I think they listened sometimes. I learned new things, like new words! It was like a new language to me. I can speak young people now, if you need a translator. I heard about MySpace; then, a year or two later, all I heard about was Facebook. Sure, lots of families have teenagers, but I had dozens of them.

I really miss working with them. I miss the connection we had. I hired kids who were freshmen in high school; worked with them for years, watched them graduate and go to college, and hired them back to work during their summer break! But there are always a few who are special. Those few who had that extra drive, that extra measure of integrity and character. The young folks who make a difference. When you go to a “fast food” restaurant, remember that. There are a number of CEOs who will tell you about their first job working in fast food restaurants. They will tell you how it helped them in their future careers. In our economy, it’s difficult to get any job, and no matter what job you have, you can learn from it. It can teach you something. I thought I was a good manager, but boy did I still have a lot to learn!

Because of my COPD, I had to quit working. The crew would tell me to go sit down. I couldn’t help close the restaurant. I couldn’t deal with the fast pace during a lunch or dinner rush. I had to go outside and take a break; smoke a cigarette or two (I finally quit smoking soon after that). I miss them, I really do. I go back every once in a while and visit. That really brings back the great memories. The great friendships I developed with some of the crew. The company and other managers. I’ve been lucky in my two careers. I had the best of two completely different worlds. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

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Fantasy or Reality?

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No, the photo isn’t really me, silly, it’s one of our dogs. His name is Pippin, and he doesn’t like it when my wife packs her suitcase to go somewhere. So he does his own version of Occupy Wall Street. So, if that isn’t me, who am “I”? Or who are “You”? If you were asked to describe who the “real” you is, how would you answer?

I don’t mean a general description of your job, or your favorite color, or even how much you love your significant other. What I ask you to describe is your way-down-deep, ideal, what-you-really-want-to-be description. Your “ideal” self. For instance, let’s say you just read the Ten Commandments (like you do every day, right? You don’t?) and you think to yourself “Oh, good, I’ve never broken a single one of those commandments! I’ve never even coveted my neighbor’s ass!” Your neighbor’s ass aside, most of us aren’t perfect.

Ok, I’ll go first: My “ideal” self is honest; I don’t judge others; I respect and honor all living creatures; I show compassion at all times; I aid those in need, etc. So, immediately my “bullshit radar” just lit up! Those may be parts of my “ideal” self, but I can guarantee I’m not that way all the time! How about you? I’ve still got my radar on, so be honest. Actually, I hadn’t really thought about my “ideal” self until I came across that little exercise in a book some time ago. We all have a somewhat vague sense of the concept, but I hadn’t ever specifically written down or thought about what my ideal self was. And it can change. Mine did, anyway. I’ve done LOTS of stupid things in my life. I’ve criticized others hurtfully, been judgemental, shown disrespect, rationalized my prejudices, etc. The thing is, if we can learn from each mistake, if we can forgive ourselves as well as others, that’s a good thing.

One thing I’ve learned is that I should think before I open my big mouth. Before I speak, I try to remember these things: Is what I’m about to say true and honest? Even if it is, is it worthwhile or helpful to say? And even if it’s true and may be helpful to say, can I say it without hurting someone else’s feelings? That one exercise is one I violate more than I wish to admit. Just ask my wife! I may not even know it at the time, but at other times, as soon as it comes out of my mouth, I think “crap, why did I say that?” It can be something simple, like my opinion of something she just purchased. If I think it’s ugly or whatever, why not just keep my mouth shut? Or maybe a “white lie”. Or think of any redeeming quality, like maybe “that’ll go really good with the other one!” (The other ugly one).

I try to learn from mistakes; so you’d think I’ve learned a LOT!! And you’d be correct. So who is the “ideal” you?

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Perceptions

imageThat leads to the subject of this blog entry. How important are “perceptions”? Think of yourself in a dark room. Over in the corner is a coiled piece of rope, or a belt, or whatever. In the dark, it looks like a snake. So, you look over at this “snake” and immediately your mind takes over. Fear! Extreme fear! So your body starts preparing you for action. The “fight or flight” response kicks in, and your body begins to produce chemicals such as adrenalin, dopamine, etc., the end result being that you now have an increase in strength, concentration, etc., just like the stories you hear about a mother flipping over a car to save her child. You’re an “Avenger”, ready to do battle. As long as your mind can’t tell the difference, it doesn’t matter. A snake is a snake, as long as you think it is. So, you can’t escape, there are no exits. Your options are to fight or get bit. Your survival depends on fighting this threat to your life!

Can this situation relate to our normal everyday lives? What if, instead of a snake, you perceived another person as a threat? What about a group of people? How about an entire country? If you perceive it to be true, your mind can, and will, prepare you for action. Sometimes, this can result in an argument with a friend, a rift in a marriage, or even a major armed conflict with another country. All because of perceptions or misunderstandings. You might remember an old “Saturday Night Live” skit where the late Gilda Radner would come on “weekend update” and present her argument on a subject, and would ramble on for a while, until the “news anchor” would correct her; telling her that she misunderstood the concept or word. She would then pause for a moment and then say “Oh. Never mind!”

All of a sudden, you discover you have a cigarette lighter in your pocket! You flick it, and the “snake” is revealed to be a rope. Your body is still shaking, your adrenalin is still coursing through your body, but you’re slowly reverting back to normal. You feel kinda dumb, though, because you had a gun with you (legally registered, of course), and you just managed to shoot many holes in many nearby objects, including your TV. So you think “never mind,” and carry on with your day, possibly including a trip to the store to purchase a new TV.

How do you prevent a situation like this? One way would be to not act upon insufficient information. Gather all the facts, look at alternate viewpoints, be more objective, shed some “light” on the subject before acting on mis-guided beliefs. Look at the painting again. Still ugly? Well, sometimes you just can’t change a person! So, I’ll just say this: if you perceive the painting a certain way, and you like it, we’ll, that’s exactly what I meant to paint!

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My Morning Dyspnea

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This morning I went downstairs, very slowly, to close the blinds on one of our windows. One of our dogs was barking at the maintenance men who were outside our condo cutting the grass, and usually he’ll stop barking if he can’t see them. Same principle like if someone came in my room and changed my TV channel to “Toddlers and Tiaras;” I know for sure that I would get an immediate headache, which I’m also sure would go away as soon as I turned it back to a baseball game. Anyway, by the time I got back upstairs, I had a breathing attack (dyspnea). Next time…slower. More breaks. Or maybe more barks. So, after I got myself back in working order, I was reminded of something interesting.

You know how you sometimes hear the phrase “calm down and take a deep breath”? Good advice! First of all, it’s almost always beneficial for us to just try and calm our nerves and slow down our busy thoughts. Reduced to a very basic level, that’s what being mindful is all about. Meditation takes it in another direction, and can even be tailored to meet certain needs or obtain specific results. Still, lots of folks look at meditation like it’s only meant for people like me (read: weird). More on meditation when I’m not so damn busy.

The breathing part is more complicated. Our brain regulates our breathing based on different factors, and one of the primary methods is the amount of carbon dioxide in our bodies, not just oxygen. Actually, it’s a lot more complicated than just too little O2 or too much CO2! End result is Way too much chemistry for me; there are various combinations of blood alkalinity, acidosis, respiratory vs. metabolic, etc. That’s why if you have breathing problems, the next stop is to see my doctor! Well, you can see your doctor if you want. Suffice it to say that it was easier for me to get COPD than it is to explain it!

Looking back over what I blogged, it should be pretty clear that the medical profession has better direct evidence when dealing with COPD (and a host of other disease models) than it does with conditions involving the brain/mind. At the very least, there are more tests available to compare empirical evidence. If you want some interesting reading, google about the new Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). There is a new battleground of sorts between the Psychiatric and Nueroscience camps, according to what I’ve read in numerous sources. I read that under the new guidelines, lots more folks would meet criteria for having a mental disorder, including kids with disorders we called temper tantrums back in my day. Hopefully, all the new brain-scanning procedures coming out seemingly every week will soon make it possible to make more accurate diagnoses. Antidepressants are given out like candy it seems! And to young kids.

So, calm down and take a deep breath. Just don’t do it wrong!

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Revelations!

What a great day! The sun is shining, the Seattle Mariners haven’t lost yet, and I got a new oxygen concentrator. First of all, for those of you who didn’t smoke for 40 years, I’ll explain how they work. Don’t stop reading, it’s very simple!

Our atmosphere is composed of 79% nitrogen, 20% oxygen, and 1% other stuff (the other stuff comes from the breath of vampires, Bigfoot, NJ Devil, etc.). Anyway, an oxygen concentrator sucks in room air and passes it through a molecular filter, and it comes out as 90% oxygen. You’ll have to Google to find out which parts of that are true; I told you in my first post this blog would be educational! So, when the guy delivered my new machine, I decided to read the instruction manual (I do that a lot). Imagine my surprise when I found out the following:

1. The tube that I connect to the machine is a cannula , not a catheter. No wonder I was in such pain.

2. The instructions also said that it wouldn’t use up all the oxygen in the room. That was good to know, because I went all winter long with the window open.

3. Bad news when I found out I’m not supposed to smoke in the same room.

Anyway, this is the really cool part, and this part is all true. As I was at the end of the first paragraph of this post, the machine’s warning alarm went off! At first, I thought I was sitting on the tube, or it got twisted up or something, but we couldn’t find anything wrong, so my wife had to call them back (he had just delivered it about two hours ago). The reason my wife had to call was that I was moving around too much (which wasn’t really that much). For those of us with severe Emphysema, sometimes moving fast or exerting yourself too much will result in big-time shortness of breath. Plus, I was freaking out. So, that was my day so far. And to top it all off, the Mariners are winning (also true).

Word of the day: Dyspnea (shortness of breath; air hunger; I can’t f*****g breathe)

Update: Mariners ended up losing. Also, after input from a few sources, I guess I should tell you that I no longer smoke. That was supposed to be funny. So, for those who wondered how stupid could I possibly be to still smoke, you can go back to wondering how stupid I was to smoke in the first place!

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Rattlesnakes…

IMG_0913[1]Back in the early 90’s, while in the Army, I was stationed at Fort Huachuca, Arizona, which is located about an hour or so south of Tucson. If you don’t like deserts, you wouldn’t have enjoyed it.

I loved it. The desert has a beauty all its own, and to me it was a majestic collection of mountains, cacti, sage brush, and lots of critters. One of my interests in life was herpetology. Snakes especially. And rattlesnakes in particular. Imagine my delight, to be sent to a place with rattlesnakes everywhere! So I bought me a snake stick, drove out in the desert, and started hunting for rattlesnakes. It was kinda like one of those TV shows you may have seen, except for no cameras, no commercials, and no possibility for emergency medical care.

The first time I went out, I didn’t see a single snake. I saw lots of tarantulas, scorpions, coyotes, and other creepy-crawlies, but no snakes. I probably walked at least five miles or so, and it soon became apparent that there weren’t any vending machines, either. I was getting pretty thirsty, too. So I went back to my apartment. Back then, you couldn’t google where to find snakes, but I knew from reading books that they came out at night to hunt. So that night me and my snake stick got in the car and drove down every road I could find.

SNAKES!! Crossing the road on their nightly quest for dinner. So I’d stop the car, got out and caught the snakes (I probably caught about a dozen; probably saw two dozen). I measured them, checked whether male or female, and let them go.

OK, maybe I took a couple back home and skinned and tanned them, but mostly I let them go. Back then, I was a hunter, and there were rabbits, quail, and doves all over the place. (I’m no longer of the hunter mindset. Even if I could, I wouldn’t).

I’ve still got several beautiful rattlesnake skins. I also have the memories of way too many close calls with very angry rattlesnakes. And memories of the desert sunsets, which were as pretty as any sunsets I’ve ever seen (and I’ve seen sunsets all over the world during 26 years of moving around in the army). If I hadn’t met my wife before I retired out of Ft. Lewis, WA, I would have retired in Arizona!

If there’s a point to this post (and there may not be), it’s that beauty is everywhere. Every dry ravine, every valley, every abandoned farmhouse: They all have beauty. If you look at a flower in the desert, it’s just as amazing as any flower on earth.

I’m reminded of something I read about a Rabbi. He asked his disciples “where does God exist?” “Everywhere” said his surprised disciples. “No”, said the Rabbi, “God exists only where man lets him in”.

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Hospice

Hospice is a blessing for me.

Far too few people enter hospice, because it focuses on ensuring comfort, not cure. Unfortunately, many patients don’t enter the program because they’re hoping for that cure and don’t want to “give up”. Without successful treatment, they can end up in ICUs, with anxious family members watching as they suffer. At that point, hospice becomes the last resort, and physical comfort is delayed until the last minute. I’ve read that some folks in the medical profession have started leaning toward palliative care and hospice, and I certainly support that view. Studies have shown that patients often live longer in a hospice program compared to going through the debilitating effects of chemo.

Other than a lung transplant, emphysema has no cure, and only gets worse with time. Shortness of breath, which, at its worse has been the scariest thing I’ve ever experienced, is a daily occurrence. Even with medication, Panic attacks and anxiety are a constant companion. My wonderful Pulmonologist put me on palliative care toward the end of last year. In February, I suffered another exacerbation while in the hospital. Looking back, it was quite a scene; I was gasping for breath, flailing my arms about asking for help, nurses were running into my room to help me, and they called some sort of urgent response team. I was lucky to have had such a dedicated group of medical professionals to help me. Anyway, the next day I was accepted into the hospice program. My Mom had been in hospice, so I was at least familiar with how it worked. She passed away in peace, in her home, where she wanted to be.

With hospice, I have a fantastic nurse, Kathy, who visits twice a week to assess my condition, and calls to see how I’m doing. My new buddy, Dave the Chaplain, also visits regularly. They’re a bright spot in my life; something to look forward to, something to make me happy. My wife is always there for support. As I said in a previous post, happiness can be found anywhere. I know that whatever time I have left, I won’t feel alone or scared.

All that being said, this past weekend was not a good one. My appetite disappeared, and I had a half-dozen breathing attacks, mostly as a result of walking to the bathroom, or bending over to pick something up. Before hospice, I was admitted to hospital every single month for almost a year. I’ve been “hospital free” since February, mostly because of being prescribed liquid morphine to calm my breathing attacks. It sounds very counter-intuitive, but just google it. Basically, 30-40 breaths a minute is not good! After a few drops of morphine, it’s calmed down to a normal 15-20 or so. Stick your head under water until you can’t possibly stand it, and that’s what it feels like, except that the airways of a person with emphysema are dead or dying, which makes it even harder to “catch your breath”.

Accepting my condition has been relatively easy; not the yucky parts, but just knowing that my time is shorter than what I had planned when I was 21 years old! As the saying goes, “wherever you go, there you are”. So all you can do is make each present moment a gift from God. I may not be where I thought I’d be, but I’m here now!

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Windows and Doors

Without going out of my door
I can know all things on earth
Without looking out of my window, I can know the ways of Heaven

Tao Te Ching

For those of us who find it hard to get around, this quote may lead you to a better place. And, best of all, you don’t have to go there! Yeah, sometimes Eastern philosophy can seem a little odd. Much like the 60’s, for those of you in my “hippy” age group. But isn’t it true? Whatever your religion or belief, you can find happiness wherever you are.

Here’s a good subject for meditation, or to just ponder:

Things are not what they seem to be, nor are they otherwise.

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