Failing to plan is planning to fail.

June 25th, 2010 by John Morris

I just read a blog from . The writer’s messages are mostly on-point with the solid research shining through. This one was about trading money for labor* to get more time in your busy day. Will hiring an assistant or outsourcing mundane chores actually give you more time or just add another iron in your crowded fire?

To help me decide, I also read the usual readers’ postings following this article. There was a lot of hair splitting over what to do with this newly captured time. Why spend time waiting in a Jiffy Lube when you could be making sales calls or planning an upcoming meeting? But wait, isn’t your steel stallion on a lift being drained of fluids. The argument swayed back and forth with no clear consensus, but it made me think.

What’s a better way to spend time then with yourself? A blank sheet and a pencil helps your trapped thoughts spring forward. Finding a quiet spot to meditate will reboot your mojo to mellow. Writing a message no one will read is not wasted time, it’s creative writing practice.

I now find time to play a self-indulgent game with no name. Its goal is write down things to make my life the slimmest percent better. It may be about buying clothes; eating better; or listing unfinished work. Even if I’m ill prepared for the exercise and it comes up empty, its is not wasted time. I’ve become more in touch to what’s going on in my life.

So far, I’ve decided I don’t want an assistant to be part of how I go through life.

Doing it myself is too much fun.

* this article:

Father’s Day gives me back my swagger

June 20th, 2010 by John Morris

Father’s Days don’t usually create memories with legs. One thing I remember about this day is Jim Bunning pitched a perfect game on it when I was younger than young.

Most other years are not marked by anything the world remembers. We Dads remember these days because our little ones would give us tracing on construction paper of their hands made at school. Or maybe we’d open a gift we knew came from the other parent on behalf of the kids. Or maybe it was a Sunday when we went out to eat followed by a stop at the ice cream store.

For some reason, this Father’s Day makes me feel more special. It could be because I got a card and a call from my NYC based daughter, Beth along with a call from my son, Adam in Saigon.

These contacts make me wish they were closer to home and my company. I like the adults my children have become. They’re both doing what they want to do which makes me admire them more.

When we were raising our children, my wife, Lyn and I often would say, “Roots and wings” to outline what was important to give our children.

On this day, I am reassured our efforts have borne fruit. I walk around with a bit more swagger today than normal.

This is the gift our children give us that really matters.

Teacher’s husband’s duties

June 15th, 2010 by John Morris

As the husband of an elementary teacher, I have done some interesting outings supporting  my wife. One year while she was finishing another teacher’s sabbatical, my wife, Lyn needed adults to help supervise a bus trip to Washington, DC. I was a last minute fill-in and was glad to help out.

My reputation for dealing with small kids was not good. This happened before we had our own children, and I wanted to improve in this department. 

The adults were sprinkled throughout the bus so we each had a zone to watch over. It didn’t take me long to realize who was the one boy who was the target of the bullies. He was small, withdrawn and reminded me of me at his age.

When I had enough of the bad treatment this poor lad had endured, I sat next to him. This immediately stopped the overt bullying, but I had a different game plan.

I trotted out my arsenal of bar tricks and taught them to my new student. When he was confident enough, we went live with our little show.

One by one, we played these tricks on the other boys. Many of them were the bullys he dealt with today and on a regular basis. As he was able to pull off the stunts, I could see a new level of respect grow for my protege.

After about an hour of truly stumping the others, one student insisted on learning how the tricks were done. I had prompted my young assistant this would happen and to not reveal the answers. To do so would be to give away the power. He held his own, and said simply it was magic.

By the time we reached Washington, our little show was long over, but I noticed a change in the way the little guy was treated now and how he seemed to have a new sense of empowerment.

I hope he remembered the tricks and has entertaining others with them. Maybe he’s even helped another little guy gain some much needed confidence.

I’m not that guy

June 15th, 2010 by John Morris

You know that guy or gal. They breeze effortlessly through their projects. All they need is always within their reach. They are always finished on time and often early. They are able to forsee unforseen problems. It’s as though they are not affected by physics or  Murphy’s Law. And on and on.

Then there are people like me or maybe you. Doorways are always 1″ smaller than whatever I plan to transport through them. I search endlessly for the same supplies I’ve been pushing around for months. When I need ten #8 x 2″ screws, there are nine in my tool cabinet. And on and on.

Do I spend any time trying to become the first guy? Not really. I’ve learned obsessive planning and a burning need for order drain too much of my energy.

I use the “ready, fire, aim” method to guide my efforts. Here’s an example of how it works. I have two keys but only one will open the door lock. As I try one key, I have a 50/50 chance it’s the right one and a 100% chance the second one will open the lock.

Why do I prefer this approach? It’s born from action and not just thinking. I learn as I go and adjust my efforts until I’m successful.

 When Thomas Edison was developing the electric light bulb, his failing attempts numbered over a thousand. When he was asked about these crushing failures, he’d respond, “We now know a thousand ways not to  build a light bulb.”

Edison plowed ahead, and found the missing element.

I don’t think Edison would have been as successful if he had to have all the ducks in a row before he acted.

You may want to try “ready, fire, aim” not because I use it, but because of why I use it. It worked for the world’s greatest inventor: Thomas Edison.

Italy day two part two: Rome with family

June 9th, 2010 by John Morris

So far this day, I had successfully dodged beggars in Florence; rode the train to Rome; taxied to my new hotel and spent a fortune writing emails at the hotel.

I found a place to conceal myself from my family when they arrived from an impromptu Vatican visit. I waited for a power move to make my presence known. After ten minutes of waiting for them to say something to cause a memorable moment, I stepped into the lobby where Shirley Klunk saw me.

Shirley is my brother Bernie’s lady. She was there with Bernie and my cousin, Masch (Anthony Mascherino). I saw new energy return to their bodies. We decided to check in and visit the nearby street market for a taste of Rome. 

We strolled to the marketplace where Masch informed me to keep a watch on my wallet because these street markets are a haven for pickpockets. Okay, Masch. I buttoned my wallet pocket.

He also taught me to keep an eye out for the “umberlonis”. These are large umbrellas outside of wine bars. These are there for the sole purpose of stopping, sitting, and having a bit of wine. He told me if he winds up missing to just look for these umberlonis to find him.

It was easy to get lost in this maze of tables and tents. Shirley and I split away from Bernie and Masch and in no time, lost contact. After a short time of wandering in staged directions, Shirley and I returned to the hotel.

Masch and Bernie did return to our rallying point. Bernie however was past concerned about Shirley’s welfare. It was agreed by all to make a better effort not to break away from the pack. This mentality is important when you travel with others. It really is unfair to cause others to worry about you whether they should or not. They’re on vacation after all.

This evening’s anchor event would be dinner with a third cousin I’ve never met: Monica D’Adamo. She had done some solid background work on our behalf with our distant cousins here. Her skill arsenal includes speaking English and being internet savvy. Her work was indispensable to us during the planning time. This night, we would meet her and share a meal.

We waited for Monica in the hotel lobby area. At one point, Masch went outside to check on the weather since it has been overcast and chilly all day. He barely cleared the front door when an umbrella hawker was in his face. The guy had focused on his prey and moved in whatever direction Masch went. In exasperation, Masch just reentered the hotel with a brief weather report: cloudy and starting to rain.

Monica’s car was able to drive to the hotel since the owners of the triple parked cars had driven them home. I looked at my third cousin and looked for similarities to our family women. Closest one was niece, Jodi Bugliani. Monica was a charmer from the jump. She had that musical sound in her voice as she spoke English.

The five of us fit nicely into her mid-sized car and off we sped to her choice for the evening’s meal.

The parking jam had moved from the hotel region to the restaurant region. Monica found a spot near the restaurant that in America would not be a place to park. Note: in order to park on these streets, drivers must put euros in a nearby money box. It’s about 2 euros per hour with a 20 euros fine for failing to do so.

The restaurant was nicely appointed and had a welcoming spray of sunflowers in the lobby. At the table, the waiter and Monica spoke briefly. Almost at once, the wine flowed. Let the good times roll.

We got caught up with this distant cousin’s life. She’s a Doctor in Rome. She was pleased to tell Masch she has a “boyfriend now”. This was not surprising to hear since she’s a lovely woman.

She told us our Teramo cousins are waiting for our visit. We confirmed the travel plans with her, and she offered to update those waiting for us. Masch and I told her we planned to stay at a Teramo hotel rather than bother any of them. Her response bordered on, “Good luck with that!”.

The wave of food started with seafood goodies like steamed clams and mussels. The food seemed to never stop. It is hard for me to describe how good it is. I knew then my stay in Italy would be marked by many wonderful meals.

Following the meal, Monica offered to take us on a car tour of Rome. Sure thing; sounds like fun. Monica skirted the usual avenues, and we found ourselves taking night photos of the Colosseum and a grotto overlooking the Vatican.

All too soon the evening ended and Monica needed to get home. I asked her to teach me the Italian kissing greeting. It goes like this: two people place their hands inside each others between them; they press cheeks and do an air kiss. The right cheek goes first and then the left. The embrace is ended with a squeezing of the hands and smiling looks into each others’ eyes.

What we did with the rest of evening is lost to me. I do remember Masch and I trying to find a car to rent, and we may have done this on this night.

Before we got seperated at the street market, our foursome sat under an umberloni for a little wine. Our waiter look like he  was from central casting. He brought us two small dishes of munchies. I asked Masch if he had ordered these treats. He said no. These places serves goodies in an effort to get people to stay and drink more. It was a nice little touch.

It was good to connect with my family and settle into a typical tourist mode with them. My role has changed from lone wolf to member of the pack. I could no longer do things just because I wanted to do them. I would need to adjust for the good of the pack. It’s worth it to spend this time with my family in Italy.

How I like to travel. Day 1: Florence, Italy

June 6th, 2010 by John Morris

My “follow your nose” traveling style was developed in concert with my son, Adam. Our first time was in China, but we’ve honed our skills in Vietnam too.

We’d watch where the tourists went and head to another direction. While they planned days ahead, we’d plan at the moment of need. The genius is you are reacting to circumstances rather than spending your vacation making your plans work. You’ll also spend more time with the people of the country you’re visiting.

During my trip to Italy, I followed this edict but only when traveling alone.

On the day I arrived in country, I chose to travel to Florence from Venice by train only because it was halfway to Rome. I dragged my bags from the train to the depot where hotel representatives gather. It was here where I met Nollo, who with his wife, runs Mary’s House    He sold me with these words: it’s less than two blocks away, and it’s a scant $64.00 per night.

Nollo and I did the short walk to Mary’s House where I discovered it was a small collection of rooms on the top floor of the building. The first floor was a restaurant and the remaining two floors were a different hotel.

Mary’s House was clean, well built and neat. Its decor was early 60s but wasn’t worn down. While meeting with Mary and her daughter, Francesca, I got a ten minute lesson on where to go in Florence. This was a freebie with real value. Example: visiting the statue, of David was a 20 minute walk followed by a three hour wait in line. I nixed that idea: too many tourists.

I had lunch at the lower level restaurant, La Grotto di Leo. Here’s where I first heard the phrase, “Setta qua” or sit here. It came from my young waitress. I used my poor Italian by asking, “Parla englise” or speak english. The waitress shot back, ” I should; I was born there – America.” Since I was eating at an off hour, she spent a lot of time with me discussing the joys to be found in Italy traveling as I planned. Another cherished freebie.

My time in Florence was spent eating and walking around the city finding plazas where the locals spent their leasure time drinking wine and capachino.  There were artists, musicians and street performers. Later, I’d walked down their charming neighborhoods and nondescript streets only to turn the corner and run smack into stunning cathedrals.

I could have stayed longer in Florence and enjoyed the beauty of its regions, but I needed to get to Rome by the next day. This is where my vagabond ways collided with the rigid planning of others. I would catch up with my family and spend the next two days there. I would put my preferred traveling style on hold because I choose not to inflict anyone but Adam with it. Example: I would definitely not travel my way with my wife.

Some of the things learned while traveling by the “follow your nose” method.

  1. Work within their system. Visit the information station and talk to authorized hotel representatives only.
  2. Try not to look so much like a clueless tourist. This make you a target for the bad guys.
  3. Travel defensively: carry money in three locations; never let anyone handle your bags.
  4. People want to help you. Act politely, and you’ll get all help you need.
  5. Public restrooms are scare. Use them when found or buy a meal and use one there.

Next blog: two day in the Eternal City of Rome with my family including a distant cousin I’ve never met.

Caio for now.

Far too crowded a club

June 5th, 2010 by John Morris

In just three days, two more people I know have been diagnosed with type II diabetes. The wife of one was as full of questions as the other, a Nurse. After I threw out my best advice, I realized what it really is.

I spent two years fighting the introduction of insulin into my life. I was willing to try and do anything to avoid it. Now that I’ve spent about three months on insulin, my advice is to try the oral meds first but don’t delay your use of insulin based on hubris and misconception.

Right from the jump, insulin gave me back my life. I could now eat, drink and live like most other folks. By giving my body insulin, I kept my blood glucose number in line. Oral meds didn’t do this for me.

Don’t just take my word for this. After all, I was wrong about insulin for a long time. Check with your Doctor on what is best for you. If he/she says take insulin, embrace the thought.

What I learned about Italian wine.

June 5th, 2010 by John Morris

Crawling from wine stores to wine cafes, I learned the state of wine in Italy. It is bon (good), and it makes sense.

How it works is a tribute to the market place. Vineyards make the wine and monitor its quality from month to month. When ready for the discerning Italian palate, it is sold in bulk glass containers to cafes and restaurants. They sell their best results to the upscale locations so they can, in turn, demand a better price. The quality of the wine sold diminishes and the price matches it until the poorest efforts are shipped off to back alley dives.

In this way, the wine is fresh and tasty even at lower prices.

Oh, you can order wine by the bottle at restaurants. They’re good quality stuff – they have to be. But why order it this way when the house wine is so good.

Note: to read more on Italian wines, see previous blog.

The long journey into night

June 5th, 2010 by John Morris

Antoinette Mascherino Morris is my Mom. She is 88 years of age and is spending her final years in an Alzheimer’s ward. Her decline into dementia has been a decade long event and had all its milestones. The hardest time for me was when we didn’t know what was wrong when she acted oddly. Her diagnosis, and our resulting education about it, provided a road map to follow.

There are times now when I’ll remember past conversations about these very situations. The words were usually along the lines of questioning why God would allow the suffering to continue. The agreed thought is that it may be better that it end rather than facing the suffering.

I have my answer to this ponderable of life. I believe my Mom is still with us so her family members can become better persons.

I have discovered I have a new level of patience. I can sit for the hours it takes now to feed my Mom and not rush the process. I find joy in watching her smile even though I don’t understand why she does so.

There is dignity in all life.

Update: I visited my Mom today. She ate well; was in good spirits and laughed easily. It was a good visit.


The old boy writing this blog wears many hats: Vietnam Veteran, husband & father, salesman and techno-dude. After my service with the Army Security Agency, I operated a sign company for nineteen years, The sign industry changed after CAD/CAM machines made the task easy enough for the non-talented. I sold my company and never looked back.

Life has granted me a life partner better than I deserve. My wife, Lyn is a transplanted Kansas gal. Her bliss is teaching kindergarten and first grade.

I am the most proud of my children. My son, Adam lives an international life teaching English and living in Sozhou, China. He is married to one of life's truly lovely women, Yuri Kim. My daughter, Beth grew up in a small town and found her way in life means working and living in major cities like Chicago and New York. She and her life partner, Julie Sterling married in LaJolla, California in 2010.

I like getting the newest gadgets, but also I like to use things until they are useless, i.e., my last personal car was an 88 Honda Prelude Si.

I wrote a Vietnam Veteran newsletter for nine years. During this journey, I learned I like to write. It is a harmless exercise that rewards honest effort while tolerating failure gracefully. I been away from it for too long. My son gave me the blog, and it was a lifeline back to writing.

My best advice is to show the world what you can do but to accept only your opinion of who and what you are.

Update: In August 2008, my job became one of the half-million jobs that went away that month. I took the following year getting the home ready for my official retirement.

In October 2009, I took a part-time job as a saleman at the vaulted Maxwell's Hardware.

On November 29, 2011, I reached my 66th birthday, and I officially started Social Security. I intend to stay with Maxwell's as long as I can contribute.