Last winter, I instituted a room by room cleaning project. I emptied closets and cupboards. Nothing was untouched. Nothing uncleaned. I got rid of boxes of stuff. 

In Brad Warner’s fantastic book, Sit Down and Shut Up, he writes this about things:

Every object you acquire comes with a certain degree of responsibility for that object. Most of us don’t realize this, which is why we treat the stuff we own so incredibly badly.  You need to take care of these things. When you don’t, you cause yourself and others a heap of trouble.

The only way to really be happy is when you desire as little as possible.

I keenly felt the burden of things during my clean out, but since then, I’ve continued to acquire. I was unable to give it up then, but I’m coming around. I just bought a new computer and deliberately let go of some files. I purchased Spotify and stopped buying music. I’m thinking of dissolving my CD collection. 

Technology helps as certain technologies go away like VCRs and DVD players, those relics left behind lose their meaning. Streaming services mean you no longer have to own your movies or your music and thus the burden of caring for it.

It’s sometimes noted with a sneer by older generations that millennials don’t want to own things like cars. I think owning things comes with a certain complexity that this generation has decided to avoid. I think we need to, perhaps, applaud that thinking and re-examine our own.


It’s been a year of change at my job, and at some point, one of our executives came by and told me that the door was open if I needed a dose of radical honesty. I appreciated that and indicated as much. “You strike me as the kind of person that empties your bucket for other people.”

Yes. I. Do.

If you project enough concern for others, eventually people will feel confident that your well of goodwill is an underground spring that never runs dry.

Mine does, but I don’t often show it.

As an introvert, I fill myself with alone time. When the bucket is running really dry, I hole up in my house like a shut in. I paint. I fix things. I wear giant headphones. I fill my day with tasks. I cross things off my many lists. I’m short with those close to me since those begging for my energy are not around. I hate this, but it passes.

I envy those who seem to have a bottomless well; although, I imagine they’re needful as well. We all are. 

The View from My Neighborhood, Week of Sept 24 edition

“As I was posting some free furniture, I saw a number of posts of pets for free. This made me feel uncomfortable. Hope if people are looking for a good home, they can reach out to some of the local adoption folks, like Lost Paws or PAWS, both of which operate out of the local Pet Smarts. They do a very good vetting process to make sure pets are going to a good home.”

“Looking for the owner of a Siamese type light fur cat. I was informed by a neighbor that it was hit and killed by an unknown vehicle on Oak Lane on the North side of Columbia Avenue. Happened today, not sure if it is still there. If you know the owner or are the owner, sorry for your loss.”

“My name is Timmy and I’m looking to walk any dog at any time. I’ll also make sure to do a great job!👍”

New Construction

This is my garage. This is my house. The Amish crew builds it on weekends.

House that is all garage


Work begins at my neighbor’s house.

This house on State Street burnt in April of 2017. It’s slowly coming back to life. This is the current iteration.

Burnt house is slowly coming back to life


This house on Marietta Avenue constantly displays this sign offering free water for thirsty horses passing by. 

Water for Horses sign at house on Marietta Ave.


Rosa Rosa is a beloved pizza place on the corner of State and Harrisburg Pike. It burnt in November 2016. It is scheduled to open next month.

Rosa Rosa reopens November 2018

The advantage of being a student for life

I began my graduate work a few weeks after receiving my undergraduate degree. I knew I didn’t want to leave school, and I kind of never have. You shouldn’t either.

Here’s why.

I work in technology. Everything changes all the time. Being ok with being a student turned out to be a huge advantage, and it will continue to be as the world of work changes in nearly every field.

Those who learn will flourish

Tom Peters recently noted on Kara Swisher’s Recode: Decode podcast that the ability to be dedicated to reeducation will allow you to flourish in a time of change:  

I believe that the 40-year-old who is totally dedicated to reeducation every single day of the year is gonna make it and is gonna flourish. I think that they are going to flourish by being a value to some customer set, for God’s sakes.

It’s not new. It is not new. My wife and I have a sub-zero refrigerator and the compressor went out. The guy came to fix it. I chat with everybody. Here’s a guy who I would guess is 40, 45 years old. He has a little utility company that helps do appliances, six people. He had just gotten back from a two-week training course that he had paid for out of his own pocket on the Internet of Things. You know, when refrigerators start ordering your stuff for you.

I think he’s gonna survive, and I think he’s gonna thrive. I think there’s a good chance that his six-person company will be a 16-person company. I am incredibly optimistic about people like that.

This is an era of rapid change, and Swisher’s podcasts have focused heavily on the world of work. Peters contends that being dedicated to reeducation means survival. It sounds drastic, but is it? 

How many things have changed in your job since you started 5 years ago, 10? If you just started, what do you think your occupation will look like in 5 years, 10?

Different? Yes. Radically different. Very possible.

Online or in class

My degrees are in English, but a good chunk of my work is in print and web design. To bolster my career, I earned a design certificate from The Pennsylvania College of Art and Design about a decade ago. I’ve taken classes there ever since for both professional development and for personal growth.

I also use,, and for access to specialty courses, world class instructors, and general training.  They’re great resources and very affordable. Lynda and Skillshare have low introductory offers. Some Coursera courses are available to audit for free. 

Classes can also bring about interesting changes in perspective that enrich your life outside work. I’ve written about a Buddhism and Psychology Class that helped me think differently about the world of stuff. 

In some ways, it’s never been a better time to need a constant education because the resources are available and plentiful. Choose carefully. Get recommendations from others, and fire up that web browser or get thee to a classroom. You’ll be glad you did.

My completed courses at I’ve used this site for both professional and personal development. 


My mom called last Sunday. She got the self-portraits I sent for their 45th wedding anniversary. She cut her trip to the Oregon Coast short so she could say goodbye to her dad. “The pictures were a really nice surprise. Thanks for that.”

My mom’s parents are divorced. They separated when she was 12, and her dad moved to Idaho. We’d get to know him really well only when we moved there…when I was 7 and my brother was 5. He and his lady, Doloras, had a lovely split level home with a pool in the old part of Boise. We spent hours in that pool. Hours. We lived within walking distance. I used a lifetime’s worth of pool time up in those five years.

My brother, Eric, is named after my grandfather, who was the youngest of four children born to Paul and Elizabeth, German immigrants from Dresden and Singen respectively. They would meet in Chicago.

Their third child, Billy, died as a two-year old when he chocked on a chicken bone at a family picnic. We’d take my great grandmother to visit his grave in Pottstown regularly when I was a kid, and my mother and I would find a locket of his blonde hair when we cleaned out her dresser after she died.

Eric was born soon after. 

All three boys were entrepreneurs. My grandfather owned a repair shop that fixed outboard motors and propellers. His first employee, Mark, bought the business when he retired. He was a gregarious and easy-going business owner who would take a boat or car in trade for work completed. His shop was always full of interesting things — motorcycles, classic cars, a commercial-grade rotisserie.

He liked to eat and drink and entertain, and his waistline showed it. His older brother Woo called him “Schmaltzy.” He was the kind of person utterly unbothered by such a nickname.

My grandfather was one of the few relatives that frequently came to visit Jeff and I in PA. He stayed at our house and always slept on the couch even though we offered him a bed. He’d watch tv all night and nap with his computer in front of him on the coffee table. He was an early adopter of technology and left three laptops behind.

My mom said a year ago that his heart was failing. The family in Idaho was tag-teaming to take him to his doctor’s appointments — my brother even showing up for one in a pickup truck filled with his goats.

My mom said she had a nice conversation with him just before he passed. He told her he knew he wasn’t leaving the hospital, and he didn’t. He went quickly but with time for a kind word for everyone who visited. You can’t really ask for more.


I’ve written about my attached neighbor, Al, here. The short version is that he left this earth in early June in the same week and in the same manner as Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain. I watched the coroner carry his body bag out of the house with the help of a young funeral home aid dressed entirely in black. 

The house fell to his cousin and an aunt, who alternated between bewildered, angry, and ashamed at the acquisition. They hired an auction company, which was a wise choice as the house was filled to the rafters.

Al’s father, a veteran, died the year prior, and Al hauled what seemed like all his father’s possessions into his house usually at night when he wouldn’t be questioned. Occasionally, he’d show me a war memento — a photo of a beautiful Japanese woman, an old newspaper, a medal. “Those are worth keeping,” I told him. He must have thought I meant everything.

July 4th weekend is State Street Garage Sale Day in our neighborhood. It’s legendary. Al hatched a plan to sell some of the things he acquired. “Can you help me put them in the yard?”

Sure thing.

“You can’t keep everything. You know that, right?”

He sold quite a few things that day — mostly fishing and hunting gear — a few outboard motor parts and tools. The spread extended into my yard and included an alcove in one of his cars, which was parked on the street. The four battered hardwood school chairs with attached desks didn’t sell. “Can you believe that?”

Yes. Yes, I can.

He never made it to the next garage sale day, and the stuff clearly never moved. When the auctioneer showed me the house, I felt the walls close in while I wandered around and nervously ran my mouth — his house a hoarder’s mirror image of my own.

The only room that was orderly was the basement. He liked to fix things, and all his tools had their place on the wall. Bars extended from the beams carried neatly hung hip waders and Carhartt jackets. This was the stuff that was clearly his.

Neighbor Dawn told me that Al felt alone in this world without his dad. Clearly the concept of impermanence had no place in that house as he carried the past around like a Sherpa. Everything fixed to a point in time.

When the bidding was going on, I asked about a lot number for the wind chime on the front porch. The family gave it to me. I put it in a side porch I intend to renovate soon. The partially screened walls mean no wind hits it. Unlike when it was his, I never hear it now. This week, the auction company finally hauled his two boats out of the back yard and erased the last daily reminder of him.

Al's house on State Street
Al’s house

Anniversary Photo

My parents will celebrate their 45th Wedding Anniversary later this month. I took some photos for them, so they would replace their photos of me at 18. 

Photo Shoot Day
Tools used: A Canon 5D Mark II, 16-35mm f2.8 Canon lens, two Canon speedlites, Pocket Wizards, a tripod, a light stand, an umbrella.

The Secrets of Choke

I learned about Choke through a Freakanomics Podcast that featured author Sian Beilock. Since the episode centered heavily around sports, I was hoping to learn more about keeping my cool during a tennis match when I purchased the book. However, in reality, there are all sorts of high pressure situations that are ripe for choking – musical performances, business presentations, public speaking, and test taking to name a few.

One of the most interesting concepts was on awareness of negative performance stereotypes. If you remind women that they’re bad at math before they take a math test, even women who are good at math will score lower. 

Likewise, if women see other women in leadership roles, they’re more likely to say that women are capable leaders. This same research was done with African Americans around the election of Obama. In short, diversity in leadership matters because it inspires others.

The pressure of a clock tends to degrade tests scores for those with demonstrated ability in a topic. In a world where tests determine who is “in” and who is “out,” that’s a real problem.

What can you do to avoid choking? Distract yourself. When I play tennis, I sometimes focus on my feet and the pressure of the court surface. Don’t slow down. Don’t give yourself too much time to think. Practice under stress. This way the moment will be more familiar when it comes. Don’t dwell. See your failures as a chance to learn and improve. Focus on the outcome, not the mechanics. Thinking about your arm when swinging a racquet or putting can cause you to seize. Think about where you want the ball to land or something outside your body. Find a key word. A one word mantra can keep you focused. Focus on the positive. If you focus on the negative, you’ll feel out of control.

Choke by Sian Beilock