Here’s To The Best Of The Rest

Chip Conley, a former advisor to AirBNB is now guiding people through mid life.

I listened to a terrific podcast recently.

It was about middle age.

Midlife is interesting, isn’t it?
It’s the only part of life that is often followed by the word ‘crisis’.

But we try to stay somewhat positive in this space so let’s reframe middle age as a time to blossom.

As Dylan sang: “It’s not dark yet.”

No, Bob it is not. But it’s fall and you can see winter just over the horizon.

Still, there are some things we can do if we wish to live to a ripe old age.

You need three things to live to 100 according to Chip Conley, the founder of the Modern Elder Academy which helps middle-aged people find meaning in the second half of life.

Purpose.

Community.

Wellness.

Find those three things, says Conley, and you will add years to your life and life to your years.

Let’s take a closer look.

Purpose—well that’s easy when you’re young. You wake up and you build. You build a career, you raise a family, you find your place in the world. But as you age, things shift. Maybe what you were passionate about at 35 doesn’t float your boat at 55. We must reinvent.

I’ll share what Chip Conley says on this subject. He got this from Carl Jung.

“Imagine that you are standing outside on a sunny day. Think of yourself as a sundial. In the morning, as the sun rises, you cast a long shadow in one direction. As the morning continues, your shadow gets shorter and shorter until, at noon, you cast no shadow at all—with the sun being directly overhead. This implies that by midlife we can lose our sense of identity as we strive to live up to others’ expectations. Yet, there is a profound change in the later stages of our lives.”

Jung continues, “But in the afternoon of life, something new happens. We begin to cast a shadow again.”

As author John Tarnoff infers, “the key difference is that the shadow is lengthening away from us in a new, opposite direction from the one it took during the morning. This metaphor encourages us to redefine ourselves, extending into new territories as we mature, which can be seen as an essential aspect of shaping our legacy.”

That’s a lot to chew on. Hey, it’s Carl Jung!

But basically, what he’s saying is that you can stay young by redefining yourself. You can remain vibrant and purposeful by learning new things. I see a few examples in my life.

My friend Joe in Raleigh, N.C. learned to ride a one-wheel. One wheeling has become Joe’s passion. He races and has found a community with those who share his love of speed (and spills).

My friend Randy learned to play guitar and now he sends his friends videos of songs that actually sound like music. I’m not saying he’s Bruce Springsteen, but he’s good and I don’t have to refinance my house to see him play live.

And of course, there’s my wife who learned Mahjongg, and now basically runs a Mahjongg parlor out of our dining room.

Some people try new businesses, some learn new languages and others travel, volunteer, garden, read, write, or learn how to dance.

It doesn’t matter what you do, as long as you have a purpose other than watching TV, which, sadly. is the avocation of so many in middle age.

Community-–I love this one. Find your tribe, Conley advises. Get involved, join Kiwanis, find a group to run/walk 5K’s. It doesn’t matter. Community is essential to long life and happiness.

Wellness—Illness starts with the letter “I”—which is a metaphor for being alone. Wellness starts with the word “we”—which is another way of saying that purpose and community creates well-being.

My friends and I are well into middle-age, which Conley defines as 35 (kind of young if you ask me) to 70 (that’s encouraging).

As close readers know, I have a set of childhood friends that I visit via Zoom every two weeks. I cherish these friendships, our common history, and the fact that we care about each other like brothers.

We started this Zoom “happy hour” during Covid, to reconnect and stay close during a trying time for everyone.

And we’ve kept it going.

We are all turning 60 in 2024, except for one guy who is a year younger but who is an honorary sexagenarian. That’s the honest to goodness word for people between the ages of 60 and 69. I will resist the obvious joke here because this is a serious and G-rated blog.

Pause….

Anyway, we’ve decided to get together IRL (in real life) this year to celebrate. The guys will be coming from New York, New Jersey, California, Wisconsin, Virginia, and North Carolina to spend some quality time with each other.

We have decided what we do not want—and that’s anything that could be considered epic—at least in the traditional sense of the word.

No Burning Man.

No Bungee cords.

No jumping out of planes (a few of us did that; it did not work out well for me) and no places where motorcycle gangs might want to hang out (we did that too and lived to tell stories about the experience so why press our luck).

We just want to be together and laugh, talk, and share.

But even the sharing has been redefined. Back in the day, we roomed together. We used to be able to sleep in cars, on beaches, and one time on a cold hard table in a dorm TV room in Buffalo, N.Y. (Don’t ask).

Happily, those days are gone. They are never to return.

As a result, we are designing this trip around snoring and prostates—-everyone gets his own room and restroom.

This reunion will be driven by conversation, shared memories, and aspirations for the future. That sounds epic to this soon to be sexagenarian.

 

 

 

 

 

Savoring What’s Magical

 

The winners of the first annual Catalyst Award: Sergeant Danny Pacheco and Pastor Bill Mitchell. Photo by Amy Pasquantonio (who is terrific).

I had a magical day last week and I just want to share.

Have you ever walked into a room and gotten swept away by the spirit and positivity in the air?

Luckily, I’ve experienced magic a few times in my life and when it arrives it makes you feel fully alive.

I live for those moments, but they can be few and far between. But when you get swept away you want to live in that moment. You don’t want it to end.

So, here’s what happened.

I co-hosted a lunch on behalf of the Carl Angus DeSantis Foundation at La Cigale where we got to celebrate our grantees and honor two people who are doing amazing work in our community.

People who devote their lives to giving back are very special. I like businesspeople and admire entrepreneurs—their success creates the type of wealth needed for non-profits to address some of our most pressing needs.

But there’s something extra special about the philanthropic world so when you put those people in a room and mix them together, the molecules change.

Our goal at the foundation is to build community. Our hope is our grantees can work together and leverage each other’s strengths if possible.

We are off to a good start, but as the song says, ‘we’ve only just begun’.

A few years back, a colleague and I were asked by Mr. DeSantis to create a foundation. We reached out to friends who connected us to philanthropic leaders across Florida and the country. These leaders were generous with their time and advice, and we built the Carl Angus DeSantis Foundation using best practices that we studied. It was an incredible experience to dig into this world. When we presented our business plan to Mr. D he was all in.

We started modestly with a few quiet grants in December 2022, had a busy 2023 and we are off to the races in 2024. Along the way, we are meeting and supporting philanthropic leaders who are making a difference in our community and beyond. Our areas of interest include health and nutrition (Carl was the founder of Rexall Sundown, one of the leading vitamin brands in history), leadership and entrepreneurship, faith-based charities, and civic innovation. We have a special project supporting early childhood education in South Africa where Carl spent many happy years, and we are all in on tackling Alzheimer’s Disease.

Many of our grantees were able to come to La Cigale to learn about each other’s programs and we saw them interact and partner in real time (thrilling!). It’s natural for these type of leaders to collaborate. It was a room full of optimistic problem solvers with big hearts. I wish I could harness and bottle their enthusiasm for making our world a better place.

We are getting behind “name brands” like the Mayo Clinic and Max Planck Society, but we are also working with promising non-profits such as Delray based Bound For College and The EJS Project as well as established local standouts such as 4 Kids and the Achievement Center for Children and Families. We’ve discovered the amazing people at Boca-based Second Chance Initiative and we are working with FAU on a promising program that will harness services for families who are impacted by Alzheimer’s.

It’s such a joy.

As we were celebrating, I couldn’t help thinking about my friend Carl and what his entrepreneurial talents have made possible. I wish he was here to see it all, we lost him in August, but I believe he knows what’s happening.

When I think of Carl, I can’t help but smile.

My goodness I miss him.

He was really something.

Carl was a man of action, he made things happen.

He was compassionate, generous, and colorful —in a word —he was a catalyst.

To honor that spirit— which led to so much good in the world— we wanted to create an award that recognizes the catalysts in our midst. The people who show us what is possible if we act, never give up and dare to try.

And so, we created the Catalyst Award to honor those in our community who are making good things happen.

This is a no-strings-attached cash award to individuals who exhibit transformational leadership and contribute significantly to their community. You cannot apply for this award; the work you do speaks so loudly that it can’t help but be noticed.

The catalyst award celebrates individuals who inspire and motivate others to excel.

The award recognizes those that go above and beyond to contribute to their community’s well-being.

Just as a catalyst triggers chemical reactions, the recipients of this award spark positive change wherever they practice. They are known for their ability to identify areas in need of improvement, and they take proactive steps to bring about transformational change.

They are impact players; just like Carl was.  And we are blessed to have them working in our communities.

The first ever winners honored last week are Sergeant Danny Pacheco Jr. of the Delray Beach Police Department and Pastor Bill Mitchell of Boca Community Church.

Danny founded “Delray Kicks”, a soccer program that works with children, most of them immigrants who might otherwise run from the police. Instead, Danny, Officer Mark Lucas and others  have created a program that has built relationships, taught citizenship and generally changed the lives of the kids they serve. One mom of a player called Danny an “angel.” We agree.

Danny is a special kind of leader.

He is an immigrant from Peru and he has a special feel for the immigrant experience and what these children experience.

When he said he wanted to become a police officer, people scoffed at him. Danny not only became an officer, but he also became a standout leader and community servant. Hearing him tell his story was powerful and emotional. The value this catalyst creates is incalculable. We can’t say Danny and Delray Kicks are completely unsung, his program made the national news a few years ago but more people need to know, and more people need to take pride in the value he and others in our police department bring to our city.

I shared that sentiment with our Police Chief Russ Mager who was at the luncheon. Chief Mager started his career when Delray was a far more dangerous place…the police department’s work made our community safe for success to take root. That work continues with people like Danny.

Our second Catalyst winner is the amazing Pastor Bill Mitchell, whose Boca Lead program has made a huge difference in Boca Raton and has now scaled to other cities in Florida and the Midwest.

Every month, a sold-out house fills Boca Community Church where attendees get a lesson in life and in business and community. You see corporate chieftains and small business owners, educators, non-profit leaders, elected officials and others gather to listen to Pastor Bill’s lessons. As a longtime “business guy” before entering the ministry, he can relate to anyone. If you haven’t experienced Boca Lead, I urge you to do so. You will leave inspired with tools to help your business, organization, and family. Bill Mitchell is a Catalyst and a man I deeply admire. He’s inspirational and has lived the lessons he imparts.

Leaving La Cigale last week, I felt hope for our world. I won’t let that go. I hope you don’t either.

If you want to feel magic get involved in a non-profit, attend a Boca Lead event, mentor a child, check out local cultural offerings, coach a team, rescue a pet—and celebrate those who work quietly, often with few resources, to make our world a better place.

 

 

Love & Light

 

Today would have been Martin Luther King’s 95th birthday.

Each year on MLK Day, I make it a point to listen to a speech, read something he wrote or take a stroll through his famous quotes. MLK has been a hero of mine, even though I was not quite 4 when he was assassinated in 1968 at the age of 39.

Each year, I think of Dr. King in the context of ‘the dream’ and whether America or my own community is living up to the ideals he outlined during his famous speech.

I think it’s obvious that we aren’t there yet. The promise of the United States remains a work in progress.

And that’s OK, because as Americans we are responsible for working toward a more perfect union and since perfection may be unattainable our jobs are never done. But we are called to never give up, to never stop striving to live up to America’s  ideals.

Those ideals—all men (and women) are created equal, the pursuit of happiness, freedom, Democracy—have inspired people all over the world. Those ideals are to be cherished and protected.

This year, on my hero’s birthday, I fear for America’s future and for MLK’s dream. I don’t think I am alone.

And so, in reading some of Dr. King’s most famous quotes in the wee hours of this morning I was struck by six gems which meet the moment.

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

“We may have all come on different ships, but we’re in the same boat now.”

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

“Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability but comes through continuous struggle.”

“A lie cannot live.”

Yes, that’s only five. But if you stay to the end, I will share the 6th.

When you read MLK two words rise above the others. They are the themes of his life, and they are evergreen. Love and light–those words will never be archaic or wrong.

And yet we are lacking both in our world right now.

We cannot remain silent. We are in the same boat now.

In this new year, I will be looking for love and light. I will strive to help those who are struggling to build a better world.

Last week, my colleague and I visited Boca Helping Hands, a wonderful charity that brings so much light to our community. We heard about programs designed to give people the skills they need to build better lives. It filled our hearts with light and hope.

As you enter the facility, there’s a saying carved into the front desk: “give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, teach him how to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”

Indeed.

As we moved through the facility and saw the bustle of volunteers hard at work, a long line of cars lined up to receive a bag of food and a hot meal. They are the working poor, or as the government characterizes them ALICE (Asset Limited Income Constrained Employed).

They are our neighbors—our brothers and sisters.

Yes, in our “wealthy” community there remains great need.

The recipients of the food were getting sustenance and a dose of love. Another program provides children with nutrition to get through the weekend. Yes, children go hungry in our community. These are our children.

When the kids are given food to take home, they are receiving love and light provided by an army of volunteers and philanthropists who shine brightly and love greatly.

Love and light. That’s the beauty of MLK. A bullet may have ended his life but his work endures, which is why I saved the sixth quote for last.

“We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.”

It’s just that simple.

A Call To Heal

A rendering of the planned Wallach Center at FAU.

We stumbled on an interesting sign during a recent visit to FAU’s Theatre Lab.

The sign announced the future site of “The Kurt and Marilyn Wallach Holocaust and Jewish Studies Building.”

I was intrigued, so I did a little research and learned that the Wallach’s pledged $20 million (with $10 million going to the building) to create an education center dedicated Holocaust Studies, Jewish Studies, human rights, and leadership training.

When looking into the program words like dignity, compassion, human rights, and understanding were peppered throughout the literature.

“This is truly a transformative gift that values the strength of education in combating anti-Semitism as well as hatred and intolerance of any kind,” said Dr. Michael Horswell, Dean of the Dorothy F. Schmidt College of Arts and Letters. “This building will become a living testament and example for thousands of students and community members who pass through its doors.”

Let’s hope so.

As we begin a new year the usual promise of a fresh start is shadowed by an ominous feeling.

Our nation is divided.

Our world is dangerous.

There are conflicts that have the potential to spin out of control. It’s a scary and uncertain time.

When we are faced with these challenges, it seems natural—maybe even logical—to tune them out or try to ignore them. But we can’t.

We just can’t.

We must confront hatred and intolerance. We must step up and defend Democracy, decency, and human rights. Somehow, someway, we must dial down the hate. We have the tools to do so. We just need the will.

There are inspirations and guides everywhere if we open our eyes. People who lead with love and compassion. Organizations that are trying mightily to overcome those who seek to foment hate and divide us.

We must rise above.

Over the holidays, we watched the Kennedy Center Honors which included the great Billy Crystal.

Mr. Crystal was lauded for his comedic chops, his many hit movies and for the longevity of his career. It was great to see scenes from “When Harry Met Sally” (which is the perfect romantic comedy) and “City Slickers” which was a boon to dude ranches everywhere.

But what struck me most was Whoopi Goldberg’s tribute to her friend. She invoked a concept called “tikkun olam”, which is a Hebrew phrase that calls on us to heal and repair the world.

She said Billy Crystal was all about tikkun olam, doing right by people, healing the world in his own way through humor.

My grandparents and parents did not use that term when I was a child. But they encouraged my sister and I to be “mensches.”

A mensch is someone who tries to do the right thing—always.

In a world in need of repair, we need mensches more than ever. I’m hoping the Wallach Center mints mensches.

Here at home, we are heading to yet another election season where voters will be hard pressed to choose amidst the nasty rhetoric and flat out lies about candidates. Lost in the cacophony of mail, social media wars and robocalls are serious discussions about important issues. We don’t debate ideas; we don’t talk about challenges, and we don’t seem to be discussing opportunities either.

What a shame.

Candidates vow to “fight development”, “cut taxes and spending” and find “innovative solutions to traffic.” But we don’t see the details, do we? We never see the details.

You’re going to fight development? Ok, what are you going to do to provide housing? Are workers supposed to magically appear to serve you in restaurants, dress your wounds in the hospital and teach your kids and then just vanish? Don’t they need places to live?

You say you are going to cut taxes and spending? Wonderful! What are you going to cut? Roughly half the budget goes to police and fire, do you want to invest in those critical departments or do you want to lose our best to nearby agencies who are always hiring and always looking for great cops and firefighter/paramedics.

Then there’s traffic.

What are your solutions? More lanes? That doesn’t work.

You’re going to vote to stop that new apartment complex? Great, so our workforce gets to clog our roads driving from elsewhere when they could be living in town close to their jobs.

Everyone one of the challenges I mentioned are real and every one of them can be made better with detailed analysis, strategic decision making and the political will to involve the community and then stick to your guns when the critics fire up their laptops and call you a turd on Facebook. And you can count on that happening.

I know I’ve been rambling a little here…just taking my mind out for a spin. Thanks for bearing with me.

I’ll conclude with something else I saw over the recent break. I opened the sewer they now call “X” and was greeted by some hate-filled hack barking about Kwanzaa. Apparently, this holiday didn’t cut it for this charmer. It wasn’t “real”, it was “offensive” and “fake.”

I feel sorry for this person. I do. She was so unhappy with Kwanzaa that she had to share her venom with the twitterverse.

Like magic, a longtime resident, began posting about Kwanzaa on Facebook. Each day, he explained the principles of Kwanzaa. I had seen them before, but I had forgotten what I had learned. The posts allowed me to revisit the principles and because they were served in daily doses, I was able to think about them and process their meaning.

My favorite was UJIMA (oo – GEE-mah): Collective Work & Responsibility. Here’s how it was explained.

“Collective Work and Responsibility reminds us of our obligation to the past, present, and future, and how that will affect the role we play in the community, society, and world,” he wrote.

“As residents of “The Set.. (a historic neighborhood in Delray) we must make our neighbors’ issues our collective responsibility. By doing this, we can solve our struggles together. Each one, teach one.

To transform into the Beloved Community envisioned by our ancestors, each resident must buy into the principle of “Ujima”. We must care for – our public spaces, children, elders, history, and institutions. The health and welfare of The Set is the responsibility of all residents.

Our personal sense of Beloved Community is the key to successfully transforming our neighborhood. Each resident must love and care for The Set and pass the legacy on to our children. The Set must be recognized as unique and something to be protected.”

Well said.

I like the notion of collective responsibility. I agree we have an obligation to the past, present and future. We are called to heal the world. Let’s get after it.

New Year’s Day


 

Happy New Year!

Hello 2024. Can you believe it? We are almost a quarter of the way through the new century.
Time seems to be moving faster these days. There’s still 12 months to a year, but, to a person, everyone I’ve asked said that last year flew by.
I agree.
Even the holidays were a blur. Suddenly, they were on us and then they were over.
We barely had time to process the year that we just experienced.  And yet, we need to do just that. Life is to be lived, but ideally it should be savored if not fully understood.
Over the holidays, we had a house full of kids and their dogs. It was loud, messy, expensive, wonderful, fun and stressful all at once.
And then most of them left, and the quiet returned.
Thanks to my wife Diane, we took some time from our devices and our busy lives to eat meals together and play some after dinner games, which we haven’t done in a very long time. The games were goofy: “center left right”, ( a dice game not a political test), a card game called “Taco Cat Goat Cheese Pizza” (don’t ask)  and a question and answer game in which we pull a card that asks a question about our lives and experiences. Now that’s a good one.
These games were the highlight for me, I learned a little about my now adult children, shared some memories from my life and after we pushed away from the table we tried out the new Popstroke with my dad and daughter. And that’s what I will remember. The little moments are really the big moments.
We ate too much, slept too little, saw friends and tried our best to disconnect from our worries which, admittedly, is a work in progress for me. I have a hard time letting go. I’m going to work on that in the new year and beyond.
I have a hard time with transitions and I sense one coming on.
But kids are grounding. They arrive and become “the kids” again, with a pecking order, old jokes and a camaraderie that we take pride in because we are a blended family.
When it got too loud and too much, I simply slipped away and listened to an audiobook called “Die With Zero” which my friend Randy has urged all of his buddies to read (or listen to).
It was a enlightening book that urges us to spend our money now on experiences that enrich our lives and the lives of others. It’s a message that’s hard to argue with assuming you have some means.
We don’t know when our lives will end so let’s enjoy life while we are able and let’s give to others while we are here.
Time, health and freedom are going to be my three words for this year and hopefully beyond.
I used to be laser focused on leadership, entrepreneurship and community but now I want time with loved ones, health to enjoy my life and the freedom to do the things I want to do.
I wish these for all of you as well. More light and less noise as Lincoln one said, more love and less hate or indifference, more empathy for others and more unity and less division.
Have a wonderful 2024.

 

The Wish

Peace on Earth in 2024…

“I waited patiently for the Lord

He inclined and heard my cry

He lifts me up out of the pit

Out of the miry clay”- U2 from the song “40”

What a beautiful song.

Beauty beyond exaggeration.

The best songs transport you. This song surely does—the Irish rock band U2 is among the best ever.

‘40’ was the last track recorded for the “War” album. Bono called the song “40” because he took the lyrics from Psalm 40, written by King David.

Psalm 40 reminds us that a higher power holds onto us during the good and the bad days. It’s a reminder that G-d isn’t done with us yet. Though things may look grim now, there’s hope for better days to come.

Not to get all spiritual with you, but hey tis the season to do just that.

2023 has been a tough year…war, terrorism, mass shootings, political division, ghastly weather events you get the drift.

It’s easy to get lost in the miry clay, as the song says.

But I don’t want us to get stuck, I don’t want us to get lost. I long for us to build a resilient community, adaptable to change, proactive, not reactive, empathetic not vindictive.

We desperately need some counterprogramming and that’s what I am going to serve up for my last blog of the year.

We live in an increasingly complex world and yet the keys to contentment are simple: good love, good friends, a safe place to lay your head, health, hope and meaningful work/purpose.

May you have all those things and fun too.

I’ve come to believe in the power of traditions—and recently I had a chance to continue one. The best traditions are something you look forward to, they enrich you in ways that cannot be quantified.

Every year, around this time, I meet old friends at Arturo’s, a wonderful restaurant oozing with old world charm.

We are an eclectic bunch, most are retired Delray cops, a former pro baseball player, a legendary local restauranteur, a has-been former mayor (me) and this year— for the first time ever— we invited a retired firefighter to join us.

Why?
“Because everyone loves the firefighters,” according to my police officer friends. That is true.

We tell old stories, catch up on the new stuff in our lives, eat wonderful Italian food, laugh, and generally bask in each other’s presence.

It’s a brotherhood of sorts. The affection is palatable. There is nothing these guys wouldn’t do for each other.

I love listening to the stories—police officers have the best stories. They have seen so much.

As I listen, I secretly wish there was a way to share these tales with everyone who lives in our city. They would hear about how North Federal Highway was once a “den of iniquity” with prostitutes, hourly motels, and an adult bookstore.

They would hear tales of long-ago closed nightclubs rife with violence and stories of how gory crimes were solved. And I can’t help but believe that if my neighbors heard these stories, they would be amazed at what’s transpired in our village. Those who know… well they know. But there are so many newcomers, so many doubters and so many people who just don’t know where we came from.

I think our story is a remarkable one. That’s what drives me to write every week.

I have so much respect and admiration for what the Delray Beach Police Department brings to this town. The Fire department too. There’s a reason why “everyone loves the firefighters.”

It is because they are there when we need them to protect our loved ones and our property. The profession attracts good people—wired for service and able to make sense out of chaos. They save lives every day. It’s extraordinary and wonderful.

At the end of the evening, we gather for a group photo. We’re closing the place.

Every year, we have a little less hair on our heads and the hair that’s left is grayer. But the camaraderie grows stronger every year. So does my appreciation. Friendship deepens with time if we open our hearts.

Yes, traditions are good.

Men are notorious for bottling up our feelings. We don’t say out loud what we feel in our hearts. But as we get older and we lose friends and see others enter the waiting room so to speak, we begin to feel a sense of urgency. We reach out, we speak out, we say words out loud. And it feels good to do so.

We summarize because we don’t know if there will be another year. We hope the tradition continues until the last man is standing, but we don’t know when that time will come, and we are keenly aware of our mortality.

Everyone at the table last week has experienced loss: Loss of a loved one, personal health struggles, loss of a career or an identity, loss of innocence and loss of infinite possibilities. Life is finite and time is precious.

But the best part of aging is that we let our let our guard down. And so, when we meet, we sum up. This year, I was given the gift—unexpected– of some kind words from a group of men I deeply admire. And that’s the kind of gift that makes someone rich.

Maya Angelou said people will forget what you said, but they won’t forget how you made them feel.

If you make people feel good about themselves and about their contributions, you have given them the best gift possible.

I want to thank you for visiting with me every Monday. Extra thanks to those who read to the end. Have a wonderful Christmas and see you in 2024.

 

 

Two Paths

The guy on the left is a CPA, the dog on the right is a Certified Party Animal.

My son earned his CPA recently.

It’s a proud moment. He has worked so hard.

When Ben went down this road, I didn’t really have an appreciation of how hard it is to pursue a degree and a career in public accounting.

But I quickly learned that accounting is an immensely taxing discipline—pun very much intended.

Earning an accounting degree from the University of Florida and later a master’s at FAU required a huge commitment. Luckily, Ben’s experience at Atlantic High School’s IB program prepared him for the copious amount of studying it takes to make it through.

It was a far cry from my experience at SUNY Oswego in the 80s where studying took a back seat to going to the tavern with my buddies.

When given the choice between the library and pitchers of Genesee Cream Ale, well let’s just say the Dewey Decimal System didn’t stand a chance. I had a group of entertaining friends who went by names like “Tank” and “Large Guy.” There was a kid from Utica who had a blank stare and never said a word and there was a guy who looked like Bob Denver from Gilligan’s Island. I think the quiet guy became an accountant.

Large Guy never went to class, and I found that…well… I didn’t really give it a thought.

My day of classes would be ending, and I would be coming back to my dorm room when I would see him in a robe paddling down the hallway on the way to the showers. He was just waking up when my day of classes were ending.

One year, when my friend Scott and I had a late final before Christmas break, we wandered back to the dorm after our test. It was dark and cold and windy, because it was Oswego and it was always dark, cold and windy.

We no longer lived in the dorm, but we went back to our old floor in Hart Hall for something. We saw Large Guy sitting in the TV lounge, alone in the dark, watching a small black and white television.

He had nowhere to go. It was a pathetic site. We took pity on him and invited him to our off-campus house because we knew the dorms would be closing and we weren’t sure where he would end up.

It was an early act of mercy, not common when you’re a young man focused on things like 10-cent wings and Monday Night Football.

We felt good about our benevolence for about two minutes which is when Large Guy got on our nerves on the long walk from campus to our house on a dark, cold, and windy Oswego night.

I graduated with a degree in political science, which was a decent background for my first career in journalism. But I have to say that my son’s focus on a profession was smarter than my haphazard approach to my formal education.

I’ve learned a lot after leaving school. I’ve had to learn on the fly, reinvent a few times and fake it till I made it more times than I can count.

It’s been exhausting.

I have zero complaints and things have certainly worked out for me. I’m a grateful guy but my son is taking the smarter path.

He’s building the scaffolding first. He’s made the investment and he’s paid his dues. Now he can go anywhere knowing he has that scaffolding beneath him. I wonder what that’s like.

Accountants get a bad rap in our society. They are often the butt of jokes about being boring. But I’ve noticed that many CEO’s have a background in accounting.

They may not have stayed in the profession, but they parlayed their expertise to lead companies and they will often credit their success to the knowledge they gained studying accounting.

Lately, there has been a lot of anxiety over Artificial Intelligence and its potential to possibly replace humans in a variety of fields; accounting being one of those endeavors.

That may be true, but I have to think that the human touch will never go out of style.

At least I hope it won’t.

I’m here to make a case for people over machines. For face-to-face interactions over screens.

Give me a town hall meeting over a social media page and a doctor’s visit over telemedicine. Oh, I get the convenience of computers, but we must never give our entire selves over to bits and bytes.

Recently, I listened to an audiobook on Spotify for the first time. I chose Arnold Schwarzenegger’s new book “Be Useful” because I like Arnold and because it was short. I also love his accent. I’ve been talking to the dogs in my Arnold “Terminator” voice for the past week. “I’ll be back,” I tell them when I leave for the office in the morning.

The book was pretty good—Arnold said a whole lot that I agreed with, and he said some things that made me want to debate him. That’s a good thing. He challenged my thinking.

Arnold repeated over and over that he was not a “self-made” man. He generously credits a slew of mentors who helped him achieve success in bodybuilding, Hollywood, politics, and philanthropy.

I love that he shared his gratitude for those who lent a helping hand to him along the way. Too many famous people subscribe to the “I’m a genius” mindset and that’s why I made it. But we all know that success is a team sport.

And so, Arnold urges us to find mentors and to mentor others. In the age of selfies, we need to look beyond ourselves and connect with others. And that is not only good advice for a happy life, but also a guarantee that we won’t just look to ChatGPT to write all of life’s essays.

So, I agreed with Arnold on that major theme of the book. But I did think he was a little hard on formal education, particularly college. Yes, going to a university can be expensive and student loan debt is a real burden. But there is something to be said about spending a few years learning to live on your own. It’s valuable to spend some time letting your mind wander by taking courses in history, philosophy and in my case creative writing (the only course I ever failed). And there’s certainly value in prepping for a profession such as accounting. Higher education is a place for both exploring and digging deep.

I did one of those…I explored. And I’ve been exploring ever since. My son did both—he had fun and he went deep and developed a skill. I think he made the right decision. We are so proud of him.

Mike Wigderson

Note:
We lost retired Delray Fire Rescue Assistant Michael Wigderson last week. It’s a big loss.

Chief Wigderson was a wonderful man, a believer in Delray Beach and a major contributor to our community.

He was a big reason why we have the very best Fire Department in the state, and he worked extremely well for a long time with Chief Kerry Koen.

When I learned of Mike’s passing, I reached out to Kerry who shared a few stories of Mike’s can-do spirit, his positivity, and his unwavering commitment to Delray.

Chief Wigderson was very involved in St. Vincent’s Church and quietly helped so many people in our community when they needed it most.

We’ve lost a wonderful man.

This has been a very difficult year for our Fire Department with the loss of five (that I can count) key contributors.

When all is said and done, life is a “people business.” If we’re lucky we attract good people who devote their lives to a cause, a community or an endeavor that enriches others.

Mike was a good man. And Delray was lucky to have him. So lucky.

We wish Sue and his family peace during this difficult time. May his memory be a blessing.

The Sky Has Been Falling For 30 Years

Here’s a picture of a buidling you will never see in Delray.

I took a 5-minute stroll through Facebook recently and saw the following written about our town—Delray Beach.

“So glad I moved away.”

“My wife and I live a few minutes from downtown. We wouldn’t be caught dead there.”

“There is no difference between Delray and Fort Lauderdale.”

There was more—a lot more— but that last gem is my favorite; that’s the one trope that jumps off the screen and disturbs every fiber of my being.

I mean have you been to Fort Lauderdale lately?

Have you seen 100 Las Olas? It’s 46 stories and 499 feet tall.

In the last thirty years, the tallest building built in downtown Delray Beach is 6 stories high, and you can’t even build that anymore.

The downtown height limit has been lowered to 54’ from 60 feet and along Atlantic Avenue the height limit is 35’. There’s a big difference between Delray Beach and Fort Lauderdale.

A big difference.

And because of efforts—(mostly forgotten or flat out ignored) to maintain the city’s scale—we will never be Fort Lauderdale.

Let me repeat that, because you are sure to get a blizzard of campaign mail saying otherwise as we enter election season in Delray Beach.

We.

Will.

Never.

Be.

Fort Lauderdale.

We won’t be Boca Raton or Boynton Bach either—both of those cities allow much taller buildings than Delray does.

I apologize if this is personal for me, but I know the people who devoted their careers to creating something pretty special in Delray Beach. So, while people have a right to their opinions, it stings a little when you see criticism that— to put it plainly—is not rooted in facts.

Again, people are entitled to their opinions and if we are wise, we should listen to all views. But at some point, we have put unreasonable fears to bed. We will never be Fort Lauderdale.

Still, truth be told, our downtown, while vibrant, may no longer be everyone’s cup of tea anymore. Personally, I find the crowds to be a little daunting at times, and the feel is less village like and more Bourbon Street these days. Some people like it, some people don’t.

But that’s a different conversation, isn’t it?

That conversation is not about whether a building is one-story or three, it’s about demographics and changes that some may love, and others may loathe.

But the misleading vitriol gets old. And it’s used to scare people and demonize investors. I think that’s wrong. And it needs to be called out.

It also ignores some pertinent facts: Delray Beach is a good place.

And so, I ask, where is the civic pride?

Where is the acknowledgement that in the 1980s, we were blighted, and crime riddled with families looking to flee to other cities because parts of this place were circling the drain?

Yes, we’ve changed. That’s a given. To my mind, change is of a fact of life: death, taxes, and change. You can count on all three.

That said, I think we’ve done well. We’re a busy town. A vibrant place. As Yogi Berra once said: “nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded.”

Indeed.

The sky has been falling for 30 years.

As we embark on yet another campaign season in Delray Beach, you will begin to see and hear a steady drumbeat of misinformation. Much of the noise you’ll hear pertains to the villainization of the development community. The group, which by the way happens to include some of our very best citizens, is a reliable punching bag.

As Yogi also said: “It’s déjà vu all over again.”

To be sure, we ought to care about what gets built here and what it looks and feels like. And trust me a whole lot of smart people have spent a lot of time trying to craft codes to ensure that Delray keeps its human scale.

To wit, we have never granted a waiver or a variance for height, and there is currently no mechanism to increase density beyond 30 units to the acre downtown, unless— and only in some districts—you add workforce housing. Workforce housing is a good thing. We need a place for our workforce to live if we hope to be a real community.

Most places on planet earth do not consider 30 units to the acre overly dense (especially for a downtown) and besides it’s the design that matters. I can show you plenty of low-density projects that won’t win any beauty pageants and a few “high” density projects that look sharp.

Instead, we fight over whether a building should be 3 stories or 4, when we really should be focusing on design and whether the architecture enhances or takes away from the streetscape and the pedestrian experience.

Many don’t like multifamily development, but where are essential workers supposed to live? Isn’t that a better discussion to be having? Also, while we are at it, is it possible that a lot of the traffic we bemoan is the workforce having to drive miles and miles to get to their jobs in our eastern communities because of a lack of affordability?

I live across the street from a large apartment complex called Delray Station.

I’m on Lake Ida Road every day during the morning and the evening rush. I have never seen more than three cars coming out of that development at a given time and I’m looking every day. The truth is that people behave differently these days, some work at home, some work a hybrid schedule, some have odd hours and therefore don’t clog our roads during the traditional rush. Of course, these are all theories, but I can honestly say that I don’t even know those apartments are there. It has had no appreciable effect —one way or the other— on Lake Ida Road. Just my opinion….

It’s also my belief that the big bad developers that we all fear are not all that big or bad.

Like any other profession, there are good developers and there are bad ones. We’ve had some good ones—developers who have done solid work and given back, and we’ve had a few who were strip miners looking to take all the gold out of the ground without giving anything back.

All in all, I think the good ones far outweigh the bad ones.

If you look at philanthropy in our town, you will see developers digging deep to support local nonprofits.

You’ll see others giving their time, which is our most valuable resource. They are not volunteering so they can get a variance, they care about this place. Many of them live here. They are not in business to ruin their hometown.

I see these often vilified and lied about people creating jobs, allowing others to open businesses, and providing much needed housing.

We need more housing not less. For teachers, police officers, firefighters, restaurant workers, etc.

In Palm Beach County, 92,000 non-family households make less than $35,000 a year, according to the Florida Housing Innovations Council; 8,800 of those households are in Delray Beach. In fact, 41 percent of non-family households (individuals, roommates) make under $35,000 per year. Delray is the only city in south or central Palm Beach County where non-family households outnumber families and we have a disproportionate need for both affordable housing and what many call the missing middle; housing that isn’t for low-income people but for working families.

Based on fundamental economics—supply and demand—we can never meet this need unless we increase the supply. And yet…we fight endlessly over height and density.

I find this ironic because there as noted before there is no mechanism to increase either regardless of what your told by some politician seeking your vote by making you fearful that one day you will wake up and Delray will look like Fort Lauderdale.

Waivers and variances exist—for things like sight lines and other stuff that you sometimes need to make infill projects work.

But you can’t build taller or denser than the code allows, period, end of story despite the poop that gets shoveled at us (often anonymously) during our exhausting election season.

So, I think we ought to flip the script.

Let’s remain vigilant about development, let’s keep our human scale, let’s put the screws to developers on design and insist on great architecture but let’s call out the NIMBY’s (Not in My Backyard) types too. The peeps who oppose everything regardless of property rights (we do live in America) and regardless of whether the developer follows local land use rules.

Let’s ask them where our teachers, nurses, children, grandchildren, and young families or middle-income retirees should live.

Let’s call out the “I’m in the boat pull up the ladder” charmers who don’t think about working families or those looking to come back after going away to college or the military. Let’s ask them why the people who serve our community shouldn’t be able to live here.

 

Editor’s note:
We mourn the loss of Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor who passed last week at the age of 93.

Justice O’Connor came to Delray Beach years ago and I had the distinct pleasure of greeting her when she gave a speech at Old School Square.

She was a kind person and as the first female justice, an historic figure in American history. She gave an amazing speech.

What a life. Her service to our nation will be remembered.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Changing Our Corner Of The World

Home grown, a point of civic pride.

It was a wet and blustery night.

The wind was tossing palm fronds like match sticks as we drove through deep puddles on Lake Ida Road toward our destination.

As we got out of the car at the beautiful Aloft Hotel on Federal Highway, we felt the awesome power of nature when the wind almost knocked our car doors off their hinges.

But we were determined to get to where we were going—a celebration hosted by Bound For College– a remarkable Delray Beach nonprofit that is changing lives in our community.

Am I being dramatic?

Yeah, about the storm, but not about the life changing power of Bound For College.

Bound For College is a transformational organization.

We are lucky they are here serving our kids.

It’s my strong belief that Bound For College is important to the future of Delray Beach because we need organizations that are future focused. We need leaders who think expansively, who tackle big issues and focus on creating a better future.

I’ve been watching founder Mark Sauer for a long time now. He’s a big thinker.

When I first sat down with Mark to hear his vision I was impressed. Mark is an impressive guy. As a sports nut, I was taken by his background which includes running the Pittsburgh Pirates and the St. Louis Blues.

Mark understands business, has a passion for kids who need a boost, and he has energy to burn.

Mark told me he saw something special about Delray Beach. He didn’t want to live anywhere else once he discovered our city. He didn’t come here to rest; he came here to work.

Despite a storied career, Mark wanted to do more and through his example I’m seeing that if you have the drive, you can do big things in the later innings of your life. I want to be a Mark Sauer because he wakes up every morning with a purpose. He has a passion to help kids do something with their lives.

Bound For College is hard at work providing tutoring, mentoring and all sorts of other important stuff for kids who aspire to get a degree. Many, if not most of the students Bound For College serves are the children of immigrants and the first in their families to go to college.

The goal is to break the cycle of poverty and give a boost to students who have the desire and the smarts to go to college but often don’t have the financial resources to do so.

Along the way, Mark, his staff, and a dedicated board have crafted what I think is a brilliant business model.

Bound For College works in local schools (including Atlantic High and Village Academy) identifying motivated students early in their high school years and pairing them with teachers and mentors who help them prep for college.

The students must commit, they volunteer for tutoring and are required to stay engaged.

Bound For College hires certified teachers who watch these students during the school day to ensure that every student stays on track. After school, students get hundreds of hours of tutoring to give them the tools they need to get into college and succeed once they get there.

I like the model because it works. But I also like the idea of students “buying -in” and teachers getting paid. This is win-win, and it doesn’t require monies to be spent on a building or transportation because the tutoring takes place at the high school.

Bound For College ensures that students take the SAT/ACT multiple times to create a path for improvement in scores. The organization also aids with applications (for admission and scholarships) and college tours to expose students to what college is really like.

The results are evident.

Consider these stats:

  • Test scores increased by an average of 23 percent in the most recent year measured.
  • A majority of students attend college debt free. (This is huge).
  • And there are plenty of success stories.

We heard a few on that rainy Wednesday night at the Aloft. The students were poised and grateful, they spoke excitedly about their college experience, their aspirations to go to school and their desire to pay it forward which builds community. We heard from mentors and teachers too. I thought to myself, this is an answer—if every community stepped up and let their children know that we care about their future paths,  the world would be a better place.

I saw immigrants—young people who came here after the earthquake in Haiti aspiring for a better life and I was reminded of the value that immigrants bring to this country. That’s my family’s story, it’s yours too, unless you are a Native American.

I’m proud that after years of conversations that in a small way I can help Mark achieve his goal of transforming lives. The Carl Angus DeSantis Foundation invested in Bound For College recently.

We’re sold on the value, we’re confident in the leadership and we want to partner with these wonderful people in our community.

It’s an honor to do so.

The choirs of Temple Sinai and St. Paul’s Episcopal Church joined forces and created a magical moment.

 

The Birth of Something Special

Last week, Diane and I attended an Interfaith Thanksgiving Service at Temple Sinai.

It was a very special night.

Given the times we are in, we were moved to see people of different faiths—Jewish, Christian, Muslim—come together for an evening of fellowship and community.

It was emotional to see the choirs of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church and Temple Sinai sing together.

They sang a beautiful version of “Oseh Shalom” which is a song of peace.

We heard from leaders of various dominations who talked about what they do to serve the community.

Temple Sinai makes and delivers sandwiches to the hungry, churches minister to the homeless, CROS Ministries collects food, the temple gathers clothing and shoes, and the Islamic Center provides shelter during storms among other community initiatives.

It was wonderful to hear the testimony and to see the food bins filling before Thanksgiving.

But for me, it was the feeling in the room that was special and the impromptu interactions between people that gave the evening depth and emotion. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Rabbi Steven Moss walk over to Dr. Bassem Alhalabi of the Islamic Center. The two men smiled, exchanged some words, and shook hands. I don’t know what was said, and it might not even matter. But to see basic human kindness and hear about plans to do more together made us feel good inside.

Our Police Chief Russ Mager was there, along with Assistant Chief Jeff Rasor and the relationship between the faith-based organizations and the Police Department was mentioned several times during the evening.

The desire to be safe in one’s community. The need to connect with our neighbors is basic to the human experience. I’m heartened that in our community, efforts are being made to build bridges.

As was pointed out, there is hatred and violence in our world. But there are more people who yearn for peace than those who live to hurt others. The issues are real and so are the challenges, but you get the sense that love is the answer. We need more love and less hate.

One interfaith service in one synagogue doesn’t change the world. But it’s a start.

That’s why I was most excited to witness the launch of the Anti-Bias Coalition of Delray.

The group is just starting out and I hope you will consider getting involved as they roll out their mission.

The goal is to eliminate bias and to treat all people with respect and understanding.

The evening ended with a benediction from the Book of Numbers 6:24-26. We saw the prayer chanted in Hebrew, English, Arabic and Creole by faith leaders and that was cool to see.

“The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.”

Peace..We long for peace. Even right here at home.

Before we left the synagogue, we sang God Bless America.

At a time of dangerous division, where both sides of the divide view the other as an existential threat, we sang lyrics written by Irving Berlin, a Jewish immigrant, born in Russia, who came to America at the age of 5 to escape discrimination, poverty, and brutal pogroms.

“G-d bless America, land that I love. Stand beside her and guide her through the night with the light from above.”

Amen.

Special thanks to Kristen Murtaugh and Betti Adams for the invite. It was a magical night and the start of something special.

Editor’s note: Last week, I erroneously gave credit to my friend Randy for always reading to the end. Proper credit goes to Scott Porten who actually reads to the end.

 

The Good Stuff…

Thankfulness is the quickest path to joy.

I love Thanksgiving.

I can take or leave the turkey, but I thrive on gratitude.

I think being thankful is essential to life; as essential as the air we breathe.

Think that’s an exaggeration?

Well, there’s enough negativity in our world that if we focused exclusively on that, we would find it hard to move.

A friend of mine once told me that a recipe for unhappiness is to fixate on what we don’t have. Conversely, the key to happiness is to appreciate what’s good in our lives.

Yes my friends, if we count our blessings, we can find happiness.

That may be an oversimplification, but you get the drift.

So, in the spirit of Thanksgiving. Here are a few things to be grateful for.

Love.

Family.

Friends.

Health.

Sunshine.

Cooler temperatures.

Dogs (always dogs).

The love of a beloved partner.

The grilled cheese on multi -grain at Granger’s.

Hey, it’s the little things that count.

In fact, the little things may be the big things.

Let me explain.

Every day I come home and get an amazing greeting from two beautiful dogs and a sweet little bird who whistles at me.

The dogs pin me on the couch, and we wrestle and play and right then and there I can shake the day’s stressors and transition to an oasis I call home.

I live in a beautiful neighborhood where people wave, the kids are polite, and we look out for each other. That’s pretty cool in 2023.

Every morning I wake up and look forward to seeing the same two dogs (and my wife of course). One little guy jumps on my chair (which has become his chair) and the other bursts through the door wagging her tail and looking for a sock she can steal.

You fill up on these little things.

I’m sure you have your own small joys. They are to be savored.

In the spirit of the season, here are 10 things to be thankful for.

  1. Teachers- they don’t do it for the money. But if you’ve had a great teacher you’ve been given a lifelong gift more valuable than anything money can buy.

My daughter is a special education teacher in Wake County, North Carolina. She was recently chosen to mentor other teachers, and we couldn’t be prouder. If she can transfer her passion for children to younger teachers, she will become an even bigger force multiplier. As for me, I’m still in touch with my 4th grade teacher through the magic of Facebook. Every day, I’m boosted by his positive posts, and reminded of his influence on generations of students. It also doesn’t hurt that he’s a Giants and Yankees fan. Wink 😉.

  1. Great police officers and firefighters- I just read an article about how police chiefs are reimagining the culture of law enforcement to emphasize a mission of service. While I was reading, all I could think about was how the Delray Beach Police Department has been doing that for more than 30 years. We are so fortunate to have an excellent PD and FD. It’s been a game changer for this community. I’m grateful to remain close to several officers and firefighters. Many are now retired, but they remain active and involved. Their work built the foundation for our success and their stellar service will ensure our future. I’m so grateful. Most people I know feel the same way.

3. Cool mornings at Lake Ida Park—there’s not enough of them, but when you catch the right day, and you see the birds and wildlife it centers you.

4. Gallagher’s finally opened up in Boca–If you’re from New York, you know about the legendary steakhouse. We now have our own version on Glades Road. My best friend’s uncle— we called him “Uncle T” —used to work at Gallagher’s in NYC. So now I get to think about that great guy every time I visit or drive by.

5. We have a bookstore in town! Welcome Barnes and Noble. If you get a chance, pick up Commissioner Rob Long’s new children’s book “The Great Weather Diviner” written with Andrew Dolberg. Oh, and ask them to stock “Adventures in Local Politics” by that guy..I can’t remember his name but the book was pretty good. The new store in the Delray Plaza is a welcome addition.

6. The movies– Don’t miss The Holdovers with the amazing Paul Giamatti. And see it on a big screen if you can. It was playing at Cinemark in Boca. There’s still something magical about the movies.

7. Impact 100–  based in Boca Raton, this innovative philanthropic initiative started a new program to inspire the next generation of young women to become philanthropists. It’s called NextGen and it’s a brilliant idea.

8. Amanda Perna- I’m grateful for Amanda Perna. The talented co-host of Delray Morning Live is also a gifted entrepreneur and designer. She recently ran into some adversity when she lost an entire collection to a fire. But in true Amanda fashion, she’s going to find a way forward. You can support her by visiting her this holiday season in the Arts Warehouse. She’s on the second floor.

9. New Beatles stuff- here we are in 2023, and the world is still talking about The Beatles. There’s a wonderful podcast McCartney: A Life in Lyrics, a book of the same name, a new AI enabled song and two new remastered albums to savor. I’m enjoying it all!  Oh, and the Rolling Stones just released a great new album called Hackney Diamonds. It’s 2023 and we are talking about new Stones and Beatles music! I’m thankful.

10. The concept of a next season–This is kind of a life lesson. There’s usually a new season to look forward too if things are a little awry in your world. Which makes me think of my New York Giants—there’s always next year. I’ll be grateful when this season ends.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

Thanks for reading, be safe, I’m grateful for all of you. But especially Randy because he reads to the end and always says nice things. And my friend Scott in Virginia who always takes the time to comment. Nothing made me smile more than seeing him on our recent Zoom call with his grandson William. He’s a grandpa! Where did the time go? My friend wears the years well. I knew he would.