Another Lottery Jackpot – Another Life Changed?

As much as my friends, family and I prayed, we did not purchase our recent Mega Millions tickets in Maine.  By now everyone probably knows that the winning ticket of over $1.3 billion was purchased at a small little store in a probably small little town in Maine. 

If you are like me, you experienced a moment of disappointment when discovering the winner was someone else, but could it be that I am the only one who was secretly happy that it wasn’t me?  While the dream of winning a lottery jackpot big enough to change our lives is shared by millions, for some of us, that dream could easily become a nightmare.  Why?  Well, I’m glad you asked.

Even though Minnesota recently changed the law so that lottery winners may remain anonymous, winning life changing amounts of cash would be difficult to keep a secret.  What’s the first thing most people do after getting their winnings?  Quit their job, buy a new vehicle, shower cash on people they love?  Yup, yup and yup from me.  I’m close enough to retirement that quitting my job might not be a red flag…maybe just a pink one.  My car is beginning to rust out which throughout my life has been the trigger for buying a new one so another pink flag.  Showering cash….whatever way I look at it, that would be a red flag. Not because I’m not generous, but more so because a “shower” as opposed to a “trickle” would more likely cause family members to think I am dying and giving away everything I own!

But the biggest reason why it would never be kept secret has to do with human nature.  That’s big news.  Massive in fact and someone in my family, whether it be immediate or extended, would be sure to blab and suddenly the nice life changing experience would turn into a nightmare.

Money changes people and not always in a good way.  Scammers would be locked on a lottery winner like white on rice.  People would knock on the door or blow up the winner’s phone with requests for money.  Even the most generous of winners would struggle to sort out the people who really need and deserve help with grifters who just want a handout.  Friends may suddenly consider themselves deserving of a share of the money and when not given, those friends may turn into jealous spiteful people.  Relatives you never heard of may come out of the woodwork and suddenly even a simple trip to the grocery store would make the winner fair game for someone with a hand out.  But, here’s a statistic that is frightening…many lottery winners end up bankrupt within a few years.

My Dad, wise man that he was, always prayed equally hard for us to NOT win on our tickets for he knew that as careful as we might be, winning the lottery was dangerous especially for people who had no experiencing managing large amounts of money.  Some of you may remember a man named Jack Whittaker.  Back in 2002 he won about $315 million in the Powerball lottery; certainly cause for excitement and happiness, but he ended up being robbed several times and his family experienced multiple tragedies many of which seemed related directly to his sudden wealth.

Winning the lottery, especially the astronomically high jackpots we have seen recently, is not for the faint of heart.  I hope that the billion dollar winners in 2022 and 2023 were won by large groups of people and not just a single person.  I hope that all of those winners take their time to collect their winnings and get their house, and personal safety, in order.  And I hope that they will be kind and generous with their fortune.

Money changes everything and when you go from having little to having more than you will ever need, life changes in ways you may never expect or wish for.

The dream of winning will always be there, but when the money is astronomical, I hope to be sharing that winning ticket.

Be well my friends…

~BAL

Every Day Is A Good Day

It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day, it’s a new life for me and I’m feeling good.

I woke up this morning thinking of the line and as it is the first day of a new year, a day many of us choose feeble attempts to fix what’s wrong in our lives, I suppose it is to be expected. After all, I’m one of those who have made, and broken, more resolutions than I can count only to resort to old habits by the end of the month.

Considering the daily bombardment that tells us what we should or shouldn’t be and how we should or shouldn’t act, wanting to be better is embedded in us, for by improving ourselves, the chance of being accepted by those we perceive as somehow being better than us will increase, right?

If there is any lesson to be learned in our yearly self-improvement resolutions, might it be that resolutions should be made for ourselves? My past has shown repeatedly that resolutions made to improve conditions or behaviors that others may find objectionable are the ones that fail first and lead to further self-condemnation.

Consider someone who loses weight. Socially unacceptable to be overweight, losing enough weight for others to notice becomes fair game to comment on the weight loss. The now slimmer person feels great about themselves until their resolve slips and the pounds creep back. Suddenly everyone who had provided such comments is watching what the person is eating and, behind their backs to be polite, commenting about how fat they are getting again. The Yo-Yo dieter is themselves consumed with disappointment, anger and self-loathing at their lack of willpower to maintain the weight loss.

Or consider a smoker who takes their last puff at 11:59 p.m. on New Year’s Eve. It might be a few days before those in the smoker’s world notice the lack of tobacco, but when it happens and they comment on it–they all do you know–their comments lead the ex-smoker to non-stop thoughts about how much they want a cigarette which increases the odds they will smoke again. Like the dieter, the minute they pick up a cigarette, people will watch and comment. Once again, the smoker is left with self-hatred and disappointment for succumbing to their addiction once more.

Alcohol abuse, drug addiction… it’s all the same. Changes made because of others are doomed to fail, leading to a spiral of disappointment.

Self-improvement doesn’t happen just because it’s January 1st. There is nothing magical about that date. Whether your resolution is to stop swearing or to lose fifty pounds, a lifetime of bad habits and behaviors may take the rest of your lifetime to control.

What is magical about January 1st is that we believe a new year is a new chance to be better. It’s a reminder that we have the power to change what makes us feel not so good. We, not family, friends or society, can choose to be happy and we have the power to do what it takes to make that happen.

Why should my thoughts matter? Because I have lived it every January 1st for most of my adult life with resolutions made at the new year only to fail soon after. Yes, there has been success on occasion, but looking back, I realize those successes happened because whatever unacceptable behavior I sought to change, I changed for myself. Which leads me to this year’s resolution and my resolve to feel good about myself even though I am far from perfect.

January 1, 2023. It’s a good time to feel good about yourself. January 2, 2023. It’s a good time to feel good about yourself. January 3, 2023. It’s a good time to feel good about yourself. Every day is a good time to feel good about yourself and don’t let anyone tell you differently.

May 2023 be filled with happiness, love, and contentment for you and your family, my friends!

~BAL

CHRISTMAS IS MORE THAN JUST A DATE ON THE CALENDAR

December 24, 2022

As my family has grown and spread out across Minnesota and even the country, holidays have taken on a life of their own and are often celebrated on days other than the official holiday. In the beginning it was due to my brother’s (Navy veteran) deployment and leave schedule, but these days it has more to do with the much younger generation work schedules, in-law commitments and babies.

Such was the case, at least in the planning stages, this year. Nieces, nephews and their respective immediate families now have to travel longer distances to arrive at the Christmas host and so the plan was to celebrate our family Christmas today – on Christmas Eve. As a child we had always spent Christmas Eve with dinner and presents at my maternal grandparent’s house where my immediate family made an early exit to attend church services. As the only religious group on that side of the family you can imagine how disappointing it was for us children to leave the fun of Grandma’s house to go to a dreary church service, but sometimes church can surprise you. More on that later, but for now back to this year’s celebration.

Presents were all wrapped, my contributions to the Christmas meal purchased and ready to bake and then Mother Nature stepped in with a rare but ultimately deadly December blizzard.  Most years it’s a toss-up as to whether we will have a white Christmas in Minnesota, but this year Mother Nature left no doubt of it as snow began falling before Thanksgiving and never stopped.  Just days before Christmas, the southern third of Minnesota (my frame of reference), was catapulted into a winter storm watch, which changed to a winter storm warning, which then changed to a blizzard warning.  To be fair, the weather folks had been warning about the event for days in advance, but it’s Minnesota and I live in town where usually blizzards are just an annoyance.  What started as 3-5 inches of snow was followed by brutal wind chills (-30 to -400F) which was then followed by two days of 40-50 mile an hour winds. 

For those not familiar with blizzards, a combo of blowing snow and freezing cold are the basis of a blizzard. The subsequent white out conditions make it super dangerous to be out on the roads. Still most Minnesotans think they can still be out and about, but this storm was different. City, County, and State plows were pulled from the roadways and almost every highway in the southern-third of Minnesota was officially closed. To travel on the road meant that you were on your own and if you had to be rescued, the emergency responders would charge you for having to risk their own lives to come and save the dumb person who ventured onto a legally closed road in life-threatening weather conditions.

My weather obsessed truck driver father didn’t raise any foolish children and the decision to cancel Christmas was the right one. Dinner ingredients went into the freezer, presents will remain wrapped under the tree, and we will now all stay home in our respective houses and watch the Vikings game today. It’s not how we would choose to spend the day (other than the Vikings game which would have happened no matter where we were gathered), but it is the safe option and after the game is over, or maybe before for those who are more ambitious than I feel right now, snowblowers will be fired up, shovels primed and we will begin to dig out from the mountains of drifted snow that blocks driveways and sidewalks. It will be another winter day in Minnesota, but one that we will talk about for years to come. The great Christmas blizzard of 2022 will take its’ place right alongside the Halloween blizzard of 1991.

So that’s Christmas for my family, but we all know that the real reason for Christmas is something much more important. Even though Christmas falls on a Sunday this year, the highlight of the holiday will always be Christmas Eve church services; the services I left my cousins and grandparents for on Christmas Eve as a child. Young and self-centered, it was something the kids in my family dreaded because while the cousins were still having fun and playing with their new toys, we were dressed in our church finest sitting in a hard pew trying to be quiet and respectful. Let me tell you it didn’t always happen! I resented the heck out of having to go, until one service that I will never forget.

In our church, most sermons were relatively staid affairs that children tended to tune out. I remember spending a lot of time doodling on the bulletin waiting for the Christmas hymns that I loved to sing. But the year when I was maybe eight or nine was different. That was the year Reverend Gayle Miller changed my life.

On this particular Christmas Eve, Reverend Miller’s sermon was a story and maybe that’s why this author was so enthralled with it. He told the story of Jesus’ birth from the perspective of one of the wise men and he painted such a vivid story I will never forget it. Starting with the wise men leaving their families to travel through the hot desert on uncomfortable camels in heavy robes in the middle of the night to some dinky little village because a baby was being born, his descriptions of their trip were detailed and at times funny making the story captivating. Looking back at what was such a departure from his normal sermons, I realize Reverend Miller was determined to capture the attention of every member of that congregation who were more used to hearing bible readings.

I sat up straighter in my pew and hushed my sister and brothers, hanging on every word coming from the man in the pulpit in front of me. And even though I knew exactly how the story would end, it was as if I was hearing it for the first time. That night, and truthfully every Christmas eve service since, as the congregation held lit candles in our laps singing the words of Silent Night to end our service, there were tears in my eyes. New toys forgotten, church finally had true meaning for me. It took a few more years before church was translated to faith, but Reverend Miller had laid the groundwork for my life.

Reverend Miller was a nice man with a nice family and we loved him in our church, but in time, as so often happens in any church, he had another calling and he moved on to another congregation. He passed away in 2006 and I never had a chance to tell him how much that one sermon had meant to me.

Why do I share this with you all?  It’s so you understand that Christmas is more than just a date on the calendar.  It is a reminder of what is good about our lives; a reminder that the true reason for Christmas can and should be celebrated every day of our life.  Reverend Miller opened my eyes to that.

If you are lucky enough to be with family and loved ones tonight and tomorrow, please take a moment to stop and, whatever faith you believe in, say a prayer of gratitude for the many blessings you have received.

For whatever part you have played in my life, even if it is just through social media, thank you for being one of my many blessings. Merry Christmas to one and all!

~BAL

Would But For…A Destiny Fulfilled

Many years ago, more than I like to admit actually, I traveled to England with a friend and came home a certified Anglophile. Growing up with the understanding that my maternal relatives came to this country on the Mayflower, I had always felt ties to England, but that trip cemented it and I spent the years since following the royal family, cheering on their milestones and grieving when tragedy struck.

When Queen Elizabeth II passed away, I mourned along with the country, but then moved on and thought my time following the royal family was gone with her.  That is until this morning when I woke up thinking about her and how extraordinary she was. 

Would but for the abdication of her uncle David, King Edward, she would not have been Queen.  Would but for the early death of her father, King George VI, she would not have spent over 70 years on the throne.  Would but for fate making her the first born, she would not have been Queen.  Would but for her being born a girl into a family with no brothers, she would not have been Queen.

There were so many things that could have prevented her from ascending the throne that it seems miraculous that she became Queen at all and yet, as the longest serving Queen in what some believe to be any country, I believe Queen Elizabeth was simply fulfilling her destiny.

How many of us can say that?  Was it my destiny to be a writer and if so, why did it take so very long into my life to fulfill it?  Was it my father’s destiny to be a truck driver or my brother’s to make a career in the Navy?  Destiny is not fate, at least I don’t think it is, but I can’t help but believe that some people are truly destined to be the person they become while others are not.

Can it be called destiny when hard work, a good education, and a tenacious drive to achieve our life’s ambition leads to success?  While Queen Elizabeth’s lengthy reign will be remembered not for how she ascended the throne, but for what she did while seated on the throne, her drive to be the best Queen for her country had nothing to do with her becoming Queen.  What happened after she took the crown was on her.  She was destined to become Queen, but it was her hard work and dedication that made her a good Queen.

Certainly many of us can look back at our lives and find any number of “would but fors” that in part shaped our own destiny, yet we can only imagine what our destiny would have been without them. Does that leave our destiny unfulfilled? That’s a question for a higher power, but as someone who discovered the ability to be an author later in life, I can verify that it’s never too late for find your true destiny. It may be like a love that finds you when you aren’t looking for it. Those who have yet to find their destiny may simply need to remain open to the possibility and let that destiny find you.

Whatever your destiny, whatever the “would but for” that stand in your way, whether your destiny is grand enough to change the world or just your little corner of it, I wish for you to be open to it and when it comes, to make the most of it just as the young girl Elizabeth did when destiny came calling for her.

Be well my friends and may your destiny be fulfilled!

~BAL

A Single Step…

Have you ever heard the saying “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step?”  It’s from an old Chinese proverb and I’ve always interpreted it to mean that I can do anything as long as I take the first step.  As a writer, that couldn’t be more accurate.

This past week I was invited to speak before a group of book lovers at the Appleton, Minnesota public library. Other than an author panel at my local library, where I wasn’t the sole focus of the evening, it was my first presentation as an author even though I have now published my second book (“I Carry Your Heart”). COVID and the resulting shutdowns prevented any public appearances after “Remembering You” was published. The entire drive to Appleton, and it was a long one, I kept asking myself why I ever agreed to stand up in front of strangers and talk about myself. What was I thinking?

I’m no stranger to speaking in front of groups, but in the past when I have done so, it’s to instruct the audience on election law and procedures – something I am intimately familiar and comfortable with. Promoting myself, even in such a small way when they invited me to speak, is as foreign to me as speaking Swahili. I wrote my speech, rewrote my speech and then practiced it over and over again trying for just the right balance between self-promotion and entertainment. But would it be enough?

It was a small group, but engaged, and while the Librarian apologized over and over again for the small number of attendees, that actually made me feel more comfortable.  The group was small enough that I didn’t feel overwhelmed and the fact that many of them had both of my books already in their hands meant they had read them and something about my writing made them want to hear me speak.  (It didn’t dawn on my until the way home when I realized they might have come simply to chastise me for wasting their money on bad books!)

After a couple of hours later my trusty sales manager (sister) and I were on our way home and all my fears and worry evaporated.  Looking back I did a lot of things right…made direct eye contact, offered a few funny quips that had the crowd laughing, and while I didn’t give my prepared remarks exactly as written, I had practiced enough that my story flowed well.

It was a long night, but I was proud that I had taken that single step towards furthering my writing career and now, days later, I can honestly say that I hope there are more events like Appleton because I know that each time I stand in front of a group, I will feel more comfortable and become better at self-promotion.

During the times when book sales are stagnant and the hard work and sometimes expensive attempts at advertisements, social media posts and other too numerous to count attempts to market the books don’t seem to be generating much interest, visits with readers, whether big groups or small, may be unlocking doors that I can’t see and sending me further on the journey of a thousand miles.

That’s the way of life is it not?  Dipping our toes into the sea of possibilities.  Taking that one giant leap for mankind.  Being brave enough to try something new even if we are going to stink at it.  Progress in anything, whether it be inventing new technology or becoming a successful writer, requires just one thing….taking a single step. 

I can’t wait to see where this journey takes me, but for now, be well my friends!

~BAL

Fall Fabulous Fall

It’s fall in Minnesota and while the same is true in all parts of the United States, the northern part of the country experiences fall in a way unlike the rest of USA – in an explosion of color.

Minnesota has suffered through a drought for most of the summer and that led many of us to believe the colors would be muted and dull this year, but in reality, at least in my neck of the Minnesota River Valley, quite the opposite has occurred.  It’s been an abundance of color the likes of which we haven’t seen in several years.  Those with drones have been up almost every day documenting nature’s palette, but we don’t have to go much further than opening our curtains to see the glorious change up close and personal and my yard, full of maple trees, is no exception.

Following a tornado in 1998, my community lost thousands of mature trees that created a dense canopy.  It was one of those things we loved but didn’t think much of until it was gone.  The City worked closely with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and other government agencies to provide and plant thousands of trees to replace those we lost.  Of course the chance of my being alive to see those trees reach the maturity level of the trees we lost, trees that towered over homes and roadways, is slim to none, but twenty plus years into our tornado recovery, many of the new trees are over twenty feet tall and sporting vibrant shades of reds and oranges as fall progresses.  What nature destroyed man is slowly rebuilding and it’s a sight to behold.

Of course the changing colors get a lot of attention when fall rolls in, but there’s so much more that I love about fall and I experienced most of it in one day on a recent weekend.  It’s a time for starting a day with a warm cup of coffee or cocoa; getting out and doing things with friends; walking through leaves and hearing the satisfying crunch beneath your feet; baking and cooking all those cold weather favorites from family recipe boxes; and even working outside in the sun in a light sweatshirt and not sweating one drop.  Having windows open and the sun streaming in while watching tiny specks of dust float in the sunbeam is wonderful even if it means I need to dust more often!  We sleep better and deeper and wake up earlier as the days get shorter so we can get in every activity possible.  It’s invigorating and rejuvenating for me even though it all occurs just when nature is preparing to become dormant. I love every moment of fall.

People often ask if I will go south for the winter as I get older.  In Minnesota we call these folks snow birds and they often land in Florida or Texas or Arizona.  But even though winter means shoveling and driving on sometimes snow or ice covered roads, I can’t do it.  Minnesota is in my blood and living where there are four distinct and equally lovely seasons (yes, winter is wonderful!), is necessary.

Fall to me is football, the hint of smoke from fireplaces and backyard fire rings; the sound of cheering at a sporting event that wafts over the valley from the high school and local college; digging up comfy winter clothing that feels like spending the day in your pajamas, seeing frost on the blades of grass first thing in the morning; airing out the house after a summer of air conditioning; watching the squirrels in the yard work tirelessly to gather their winter store of food and providing a free lawn aeration; lawn mowers going quiet and road construction shutting down while decorating for the season becomes big business

Fall is pumpkin everything from lattes to pies to cookies to creamer; chili and homemade soups (something I am especially good at); Friday nights spent at high school football games and Sundays watching the Vikings; and most important of all from a sports point of view for this Minnesota Wild fan – it’s hockey season again! 

All of this begins before we tuck away our outdoor valuables and plants; winterize our vehicles so there are no winter surprises; button up the windows and doors; and prepare to nest with family and friends for three months of crisp chill air, the whitest of white landscapes, and the peace and quiet winter brings.

It’s life in Minnesota and I will never be without it.

To wrap things up, I invite you to experience it for yourself. If you are in my neck of the woods this fall, take a drive through the Minnesota River Valley or along the north shore in Duluth and have your camera ready because you will need photos to describe the gorgeous views you will experience.  You’ll fall in love with Minnesota too!

Be well my friends…

~BAL

Gobsmacked

Have you ever had a moment when reality hits you gobsmack in the face?  Where the fantasy world you have built in your mind shatters? 

That was me recently. My sister and I have a penchant for attending concerts by bands that were top of the charts when we were growing up. REO Speedwagen, Foreigner, Rod Stewart, Little River Band to name a few. This time around it was The Doobie Brothers. Those of you with a few less years around the sun are probably scratching your head (or more likely googling) that name, but they were a big deal back then and judging by the number of people who were willing to sit in the rain to rock with them, they are still a big deal for many of us.

Sharing the news that we were going to see the band with co-workers led to the inevitable statement….”They must be a 100 years old by now!” They had to be right? Since I was just young and in high school/college when they were big stars, they were probably old back then. Convinced that most in the crowd had much more grey hair than I and were most likely wearing sensible shoes, I laughed at how old the band must really be until I googled it myself. Shock and horror set in as I passed the phone to my sister to show her.

The original band members were in their early seventies. Not young, but not ancient. Shocked by that realization, we started checking out the ages of the members of other bands we have seen. Most of them were right in that age group and, in the years since we have started our bands of our youth tour, we haven’t had a single one where the band didn’t sound great, the music wasn’t rockin’, and we weren’t left feeling as pumped up as we did the first time we heard their music.

But here is the gobsmack moment…..for me to consider them old, I have to start thinking that I’m old too.  But I don’t.  You’ve heard the phrase “age is a state of mind”?  It really is and like so much else in our lives, if we are programmed to respond in a certain way, we succumb to the negativity of it. Birthdays with a zero at the end signify another step to old age.  The Medicare threshold of 65 means you should pack up your bag, retire and head off into the sunset.  Don’t climb on that ladder – you’re too old.  Knees hurt?  Old people have achy knees.  Sitting in the rain in the dark at a concert?  Oh my goodness, but you’ll catch pneumonia and you know that can be fatal for old people!

You know what though? I got home in the middle of the morning, well past my bedtime and yet buoyed by the exciting evening, I stayed up until dawn. Pneumonia? Never happened because although we sat in the rain waiting for the concert to begin, with age comes wisdom and we were prepared for the weather. We were dry and comfortable and when the rain stopped, we stripped off those rain ponchos and enjoyed an evening under the stars. We stood, we danced, we clapped, we hollered, we hooted along with the 10,000 or so other fans in attendance and when it was over, I felt even younger than I did the day before after watching those old guys on stage for over two hours doing what they loved. I hope they do it until they are a hundred.

The morale of this story? Don’t be gobsmacked into believing that age is a limitation to what you want to do whether you are young or old. You are what you allow yourself to be and expectations or limitations imposed by others should not define you or your abilities. Sit out in the rain and sing your heart out my friends!

Until then, be well….

~BAL

A Marriage Unlike Any Other

Fall is a wonderful time of year.  Change is in the air and in the beautiful Minnesota River Valley, everywhere you look is a brilliant palette of color.  It’s also my favorite time of year for weddings like the one I attended yesterday.

A beautiful bride, a beaming groom, and smiling faces everywhere you look would lead one to believe it was a perfect day, but like every wedding before it, there were problems. For this couple it was a DJ who suddenly took ill and a frantic attempt to find someone to fill in. They were lucky enough to find a replacement and while there were certainly other little hiccups throughout the day, the guests experienced a seamless celebration of joy, happiness and love.

Having participated in any number of weddings over the years, I know that when you plan a party that big, something will always go wrong. A missing wedding ring (thankfully found as the bridal party was walking into the sanctuary); a wedding ring dropped during the ceremony that rolled rather unceremoniously down the uncarpeted center aisle with a metallic “clink, clink, clink”; a reception where they ran out of food before half the guests were served; a minister being more than a little drunk; a minister marrying a bride to herself rather than the groom; and my personal favorite…. a groom’s mother who burst into great heaving sobs as the bride walked down the aisle.

That last one deserves a bit more explanation.  The groom’s mother burst into sobs when the soloist started singing.  Full disclosure?  That soloist was me and my heart broke thinking that somehow I had become a really bad singer overnight and ruined the couple’s special day.  It took about halfway through the reception, with me hiding as well as I could in the corner to minimize my shame, before someone told me the woman had cried because the song was so moving for her.  Whew!  Shame erased and I could enjoy the rest of the reception.

Every bride worries about what will go wrong, but here is the thing that was told to me by a very wise minister a very long time ago.  On the surface every wedding is the same and it’s those little things that go wrong that make each wedding special; those things are what the couple will tell stories about for years to come. 

Those little things are what make each wedding ceremony unlike any other, but after the pomp and circumstance is over, when all the guests have gone home with tired feet and a belly full of cake, that couple begins to make their marriage unlike any other. Two individuals who became one on their wedding day will now create a lifetime together that is unlike any couple before them. They will face individual and sometimes daunting challenges. They will make memories between them that no one else will ever know. They will decide when and how to start their family, where to live, how to spend their money, and maybe more importantly for their family, which of their in-laws they will visit on Thanksgiving!

Their journey together will be unlike anyone else because it is theirs together. Family and friends may offer advice, but in the end, the decisions the new Mr. and Mrs. make will lead them through a life that is as unique as their love story.

Ashley and John, the sweet couple who joined together yesterday, have only begun to carve their path in life, yet they share one thing with every other couple….the love of family and friends and I wish them a lifetime of love as they set out on this exciting road to discovering and creating their own that is unlike any other.

May each of you be part of a marriage unlike any other. Until then, be well my friends…

~BAL

The Net

January 1, 1983 – the day the world and our idea of how to be kind changed.  For many of us, myself included, the day was New Year’s Day.  A day to recover from a late night or to sit in front of the TV glued to bowl games and wonder how long your commitment to the hastily vowed resolution of the night before would truly last, but for the world, it was so much more.

Development of the internet as a global communication and transaction tool changed everything.  Financial transactions were completed before you left the store; people you hadn’t seen or heard from in decades now were just a click away; the hard cover encyclopedia so many of us grew up with began its descent into oblivion; we could communicate with people around the globe without having to worry about international long distance charges putting us in the poor house; and, much to the chagrin of people in the television and newspaper business, the way we shared news began to change.

Along with this great invention came warnings. With their noses in an electronic device, people would lose the ability to talk to each other and the art of diplomacy and compromise would become a thing of the past.  Those who believe the world is ending were happy to share doom and gloom predictions to a much bigger audience while most of us just laughed it off.  Yet, when you stop and think about it, they were right; maybe not to the extreme of the world ending, but much of it is happening today as people have learned that hiding behind the computer screen allows them to say and do most anything they want.  People are becoming meaner and generally unkind and even though it seems trivial, the entire world seems to be following suit. If it was just someone spouting off that would be one thing, but people are being hurt by the acts of others that without the internet would have been easy to stop and even easier to condemn.

This weekend I watched a documentary about Notre Dame football sensation Manti Te’o.  If you’re a football fan, you know that this young man captured the world’s collective sympathy when his grandmother and girlfriend died on the same day.  Te’o had talked often in the press of his girlfriend and he was crushed by the two deaths, but with Notre Dame in the midst of a championship season, he soldiered on and earned the respect of the country and accolades from politicians to hard-nosed journalists. 

But here is the thing. The girlfriend never existed.  He had been catfished and the world immediately began to condemn him. Some believed he had made the whole thing up. Some believed the “fake” girlfriend was a means to hide something else. Some even blamed him for being naive enough to let himself be catfished.

In reality he was nothing more than a victim. He had given his heart to someone he thought he had developed a relationship with. But that someone was playing a game and in the end Te’o, the victim in the whole bizarre story, was looked on with scorn, laughter and suspicion. Few if anyone outside of his immediate family offered him the sympathy and support he should have received.

When the whole sordid and sad affair was revealed, the fake girlfriend was exposed as a man and Te’o’s personal and professional integrity was left in tatters and he suffered emotional and psychological damage that would last a lifetime.  The man who perpetuated the fraud?  Well let’s just say that in this case, justice was lacking.

Catfishing and Te’o’s experience are extreme examples, but they are an unintended consequence of the internet.  When bad people can sit behind a keyboard in anonymity and post things that are damaging to others, the internet becomes a weapon and not the beneficial invention it was intended to be.  Memes, harmful language and posts can spread unchecked to thousands of people in seconds and by the time the internet police realize that something so harmful has been spread, it is too late.  The damage has been done.

The internet will never be like old fashioned journalism with unbiased reporters who double and triple checked their facts; where publishers were too afraid of being sued for publishing something that was untrue that didn’t publish until they were sure they had all the facts.  The internet is a free for all with few people held accountable for causing pain or sorrow for others. Posting a bald faced lie with no consequence is becoming the norm rather than the exception.

Freedom of speech allows me to post these thoughts and for that, I am grateful.  However, our government realizes that the freedom to express our beliefs is tempered by the need to protect the innocent with laws against slander and libel.  It’s unfortunate that as the internet has propagated along with the unkind and downright mean people who use it, it’s becoming nearly impossible to police and punish those who have chosen to be hurtful and deceptive.

If I am going to complain about something I strive to offer a solution to the problem, but on this topic, I can only pray that parents will teach their children to be kind and that spreading hate and vitriol through the internet is never okay.  We need to teach those who are growing up with the internet that they must not live in the bubble of the faceless internet.  It’s okay to come out from behind the blue light and learn to interact with others face to face, to learn the art of compromise and to learn how to be kind to everyone. 

Today and every day you wake up with the choice on the type of person you want to be.  Please choose to be kind.

Have a wonderful day my friends…

~BAL

Elections

A big part of my non-author life is administering elections.  Years ago, it wasn’t such a big part, but as the country has grown divided over politics and as our State legislature in Minnesota changes laws regarding elections, elections seem to have become more of a year-round job rather than just once or twice a year.

Tomorrow is State primary election day in Minnesota and, in my role as Election Official for the city I work for, I have been preparing for this day for months. In fact, due to an unexpected special election back in May, the normal timeframe to prepare was compressed which just makes it more difficult to make sure every “i” is dotted and every “t” is crossed.

Every election starts the same with recruiting Election Judges. While it has never been an easy task because I just don’t know enough people that owe me a favor, (Ha!) the drama surrounding elections in the last few years has made recruiting Judges even more difficult. It seems no one wants to be under that kind of pressure. Nonetheless, by election day we usually have enough folks wearing the Election Judge lanyard so that regulations are met and the public experiences a well-run election.

Seems simple right? However, there is so much more that goes on behind the scenes for all Election staff. Checking and learning new election laws; finding polling places (hopefully the same ones we always use); working with a vendor to program election media; testing that media to make sure every name is pronounced correctly and every single word on the ballot page is correct, in the right order, and as required under statute; then pre-testing that media to ensure that every single piece of election equipment correctly tabulates the votes before we – with witnesses of different political parties – before we run those same tests all over again in public; printing ballots; posting and publishing notice of candidate filing and then never leaving your office for that two week filing period in case someone comes in to file; posting and publishing notice of public testing and the election itself; preparing for Election Judge training by developing a PowerPoint presentation 200+ slides long and copying 2” stacks of training materials for each and every Judge and practicing that presentation so that everything is correct and to the point; training those dozens of Election Judges in what the State thinks is a two-hour training session but actually lasts three hours to cover all the different components of election law and then having to do it all over again sometimes multiple times when Judges that you need to meet State requirements forget to show up for training; arranging for Judges to do health care voting and then providing each of those who will do so with an extra hour of training; providing an additional hour of training for each Head Judge; putting together great big green supply tubs with every possible thing the Judges may need in their precinct on Election Day; working with our staff to deliver those impossibly heavy supply tubs to the precincts the day before (and not to mention deliver those tubs back to me the day after) the election; making last minute work schedule adjustments when Judges pull out the day before the election; handling calls from the public wondering where they vote, when they vote, what’s on their ballot, and whether or not they are registered; and…..if you work for the County in my area, receiving and processing thousands of absentee ballots by folks who wanted to vote early.

The days leading up to the election get longer and longer as last-minute details must be attended to and on election day, it is a guaranteed minimum 18 hour day and sometimes even more.  Sleep in the next day?  Not a chance.  There are post-election deadlines to meet and things to do and paperwork to complete.

There is of course more that goes on behind the scenes, but my fingers are tired from typing it all and when all that is put on top of my normal work duties that keep me busy for more than 40 hours every week, election season is a drain.  I always say it’s like throwing a party for 10,000 people and praying that someone shows up.  Because that’s the thing.  We never know if anyone is going to show up on Election Day and if they do, how many voters will show up.  We plan for thousands and sometimes struggle to attract 500 throughout the City.

Sounds like whining right. I get it. I’m paid to do this job and for the most part, I like it and do it very well. But when 9,500 people don’t show up on election day to vote for their Mayor and Councilmembers and School Board members; when 9,500 people don’t show up to vote for the person who will represent them in Washington, it seems pointless.

Yet, those people who don’t show up to vote are the ones who want to complain about everything. Those people think their taxes are too high or the City is using “their” money frivolously. Those people, the ones who don’t exercise their right to vote, are usually first in line to find fault and that’s not whining. That’s frustration.

The United States of America is a democracy and democracies need citizens to participate in the most basic of rights – the right to vote for those who will represent us. When we don’t take the few minutes it takes to vote on each and every Election Day, we are failing our country and everyone around us. Voting is essential for our way of life to survive. It’s the core principal of democracy and without voters, without those 10,000 people showing up to the party I am throwing on Tuesday, we lose our ability to function as a democracy. The will of the people can’t be a valid premise if “the people” are too busy to participate.

If you live in a jurisdiction that will be holding an election, please get off your couch and vote. Tomorrow may be just a primary and you’ll have another chance in November, but whose name do you want to see on that general ballot in November? And, when November rolls around and the entire nation is voting again, your number one priority on Election Day must be casting your vote for the person your research has shown will best represent all of us and then proudly wearing that “I Voted” sticker.

Then and only then, will all my hard work have been worth it, no matter who wins!

Be well my friends….

~BAL