Gut Check: Making simple sense out of life
By Lenore Skomal Erie Times-News staff blogger
Lenore Skomal is an award-winning author and veteran journalist in all forms of media. She is a weekly columnist and daily blogger for the Erie Times-News. She’s authored 17 published books, including an anthology of her columns, Burnt Toast available on her website   Read more about this blog.
Posted: April 23rd, 2014

New York City thinks so. But apparently, the practice is being eyed with some ambivalence and after yesterday’s request from the NYPD for followers to post photos of average citizens with New York’s finest went viral thanks to 70,000 posts, that city might be rethinking the idea.

The request from NYPD’s Twitter page was meant to act as a form of positive public relations, but it clearly backfired when it blew up with all kinds of photos of police brutality and less than flattering photos of policemen handling difficult situations–many of the photos from Occupy New York. The department was most likely looking for shots of policemen helping people, showing them in a favorable light.

The campaign came on the heels of a decision to allow a handful of top cops to tweet from the job, which was also met with some skepticism. Police departments have their own rules about social media. By and large, the majority ban the practice, much like corporations ban employees from representing their employer on social media.

While some criticize the NYPD for even putting the request out there, I think otherwise. Police provide a vital function, regardless of your personal beliefs or experiences. And I have a simple guideline when it comes to criticizing–unless I have done the job myself or am willing to, I’m cautious about jumping into the fray.

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Posted: April 22nd, 2014

I went to college near Boston and the marathon was always a big deal. Friends of mine ran the 26-plus mile race and I always wondered why. This was over three decades ago when running wasn’t nearly as popular as it is today.

In fact, it was just around the time Jim Fixx’s book “The Complete Book of Running” hit the bestseller’s list, sparking what would later be called the Jim Fixx Phenomenon–a surge of people immediately interested in the sport, which propelled it into poularity. The book, which I didn’t read, extolled the health virtues of jogging and running and clearly came at the right time and place to make Fixx a celebrity. (Fixx, as you may remember, died less than a decade later at the age of 54, from a massive coronary.)

After the Fixx book hit, I was caught up for a brief while in jogging–mostly swaying to peer pressure from my friends. After a few horrifying shin splints, I gave it up. But I do recall never being able to get past focusing on the physical discomfort of it all–something runners routinely do in order to get into the zone. I didn’t stick to it long enough to experience hitting the wall, either, something that fascinates me every time I listen to long distance runners talk.

So while I don’t understand why people run, I do admire that they do. I’ve never claimed to have the mind of an athlete, though I often wish I did. I’m jealous of what must be the profound determination it takes to put one’s body through such a physical and mental test.

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Posted: April 21st, 2014

Yikes. It’s happened again. Another stowaway in an airplane wheel hub. Does anyone else find this shocking?

This time it was a 16-year old who ran away from home, hid in the wheel well during a flight from San Jose, California to Hawaii–which is mostly over the Pacific Ocean mind you–and made it unharmed. Officials found him alive on the tarmac of Maui airport.

The flight took 5.5 hours and he suffered through frigid temperatures and lack of oxygen, which left the boy unconscious for most of it. But he beat the odds and made it.

Apparently, he’s not alone in his chosen mode of surreptitious travel. There have been 96 documented cases of people stowing away in wheel wells since 1946, according to the Christian Science Monitor.

96 people…but less than a quarter survived. The risks you run include being crushed to death by landing gear, hypothermia and oxygen deprivation and falling out of the wheel well careening downward to your death.

I didn’t even know what a wheel well looked like, so I had to look it up online. Be warned if you do google it. Along with images of the interior of the wheel housing, which does appear plenty large when the wheel isn’t retracted, are horrific photos of those who weren’t as lucky as the 16-year old boy.

I just couldn’t picture how someone could hide in one. Now I know. And what the gruesome results often are.

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Posted: April 18th, 2014

Not too hot and not too cold. In keeping with my personal promise to myself to never complain about the weather again, I am presented with the challenge of repackaging the climate to my liking on a daily basis.

This winter, simply and brutally put, kicked my behind. I found myself wrestling with feelings of depression and futility with every dark day that dawned. And I don’t have much practice with depression, not the clinical kind, any how. Pulling myself out of the house and forcing myself to interact with people every day helped a lot. Especially because I work at home and could easily hermit myself up with my words–which trust me can get pretty easy when it’s freezing cold and gray outside.

But isolating is one of the signs of depression, I’m told. So, even with the wind whipping and the snow drifts piling up, I went out. And I honestly think it saved my sanity.

With that weather behind us–and I predict this with great hope–I will never complain again. This winter has been a fantastic lesson in the power of a positive attitude. Whether the sun is shining or hiding; whether the rain is pouring down in sheets or it’s as parched as the dust bowl, it’s all good with me.

And today, I don’t even want to complain, because it’s a Goldilocks day–not too hot, not too cold. But just right.

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Posted: April 17th, 2014

I always feel bad for the guys I see hanging outside the dressing rooms at women’s clothing shops, looking emphatically bored to the point of numbness. I can only assume it’s their wives or girlfriends they’re waiting on.

I thought of them when I read the brief in today’s paper about the man who attacked his wife at Walmart because he was fed up with her shopping. Apparently, she rode one of those motorized carts aimlessly around the store, provoking him to excess violence.

Of course, there is no excuse for choking your wife, or husband for that matter. I happen to love shopping, under most circumstances. I also have been blessed with a husband who enjoys it, too. But I’m careful not to abuse that by dragging him along on every shopping spree.

I also know a lot of people who hate shoppping. One of them is my son, who has had the luxury of having me shop for him for his entire life and trusts me implicitly with buying his entire wardrobe.

When he was really little–like confined-to-a-stroller little–he didn’t mind it in the least. As long as he had something to eat or preoccupy him, he stayed in a general good mood. I recall the day all that ended. He was eight, and even though our shopping day was peppered with fun stores for him, half way through J. Crew, I heard him moaning. There he was, stretched out on a small bench, face down, his legs flopping in loose kicks. “I hate shopping. This is sooooooo boring.”

I wonder if that’s the internal dialogue of the blank-faced men I see holding their significant other’s purses, suspended in the vaccuum of time, waiting. Always waiting.

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Posted: April 16th, 2014

My husband’s first day of retirement is today. After 50 years almost to the day in the same career, he’s decided to start his vacation. That’s what he calls it, anyway. The word retirement doesn’t roll that easily off the tongue yet.

Retirement used to scare the wits out of him. For years, he’d ponder aloud how anyone who suited up and showed up every single day of the week–he had perfect attendance at work, by the way–could just stop doing it one day.

Now he knows. And this morning, at least, he’s found it quite easy. Much of the ease of this transition he’s embracing has occurred thanks to his transformation over the last several months. It’s required letting go. A job, afterall, like a marriage, is a nontangible possession, but a possession nonetheless. And it has to be let go in order to move on.

And that can be a scary thing, especially when it has defined you for almost your entire life. Especially when you’ve been the boss for nearly all that time, too. He jokes that since he no longer has a staff, he will have to be the boss of me. I sort of feel sorry for him because I am a terrible employee, which is why I work for myself. So in that regard, I already have a boss. But I’m open to a change in management if I get a longer lunch break.

My husband is officially retired. And I couldn’t be happier or prouder of him. But as he starts his vacation today, I have to remind him. I’m still working.

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Posted: April 15th, 2014

Yes, it’s a Steely Dan lyric. When I read today in the newspaper that this iconic band that virtually defined what I consider my coming of age was going to be playing in Erie, my stomach leapt.

I love this band, even more so now than when they were at their peak in the late 1970s. Why? Primarily for the universal effect music has on all of us. It can take us back to a time in our lives like nothing else can.

When I hear Steely Dan, I’m a sophomore in college once again. I’m barging into the room of my suitemate–the one with the cool stereo and all the latest albums. It’s morning, right before our first class. I grab her Aja album and toss it on the turntable, calling out to anyone within hearing distance, “Song of the day!” Whichever song I picked, Peg or Black Cow, or one of the other great songs on any of their albums—that was the song for the day. Everyone was expected to sing at least part of it during their morning abultion. Even if it meant soloing into a hairbrush.

I can recall the feeling, the nostalgia and even what I was doing when I hear those songs. It’s the thing music does. And it does it so very well.

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Posted: April 11th, 2014

So I’m sitting with my brother in Grand Central Terminal in New York City, waiting for a train on the lower level. Sitting at the table next to us as we drank our tall boys, a big man with a shaved head struck up a conversation about beer and sunny days. You know, the usual stuff you share with strangers. An ink guy, his forearm sported the New York Yankees logo, and peeping out from under the neck of his T-shirt was a tattoo shaped like a small rectangle. I noted the obvious–his love of the Yankees, a passion my husband happens to share. He said the tattoo was of the ticket stub to the first Yankee game he’d attended some 40 years before. Impressive.

Noting my interest, he spun around in his seat and said, “Take a look at this.” Emblazoned across the his entire back were the heads of famous Bronx Bombers, whose numbers are retired–the same players who grace Monument Park at Yankee Stadium. Staring back at me were inky depictions of Joe DiMaggio, Babe Ruth, Billy Martin, Yogi Berra and Reggie Jackson–the only ones I could easily recognize. This sparked another half hour of conversation, which made us almost miss the train. His love for the Yankees had clearly crossed over into obsession, but not the bad type that turns a normal person into a nut. Listening to this man speak with such pure passion and I dare say, love, of his team was like hearing someone speak of a beloved pet or partner or homeland.

I wondered out loud the response he got when he pulled his shirt off at Fenway Park, when the Yanks played their arch rivals. He smiled and said, “Not a problem. They were in awe.” Perplexed, I asked why he thought that was. He said, “Because it’s baseball, man. And baseball fans respect those who love the sport.”

photo (19)

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Posted: April 10th, 2014

I know for a fact, my cousin is. I’m not being fascetious. He had his lineage traced back 10,000 years via a DNA sample, courtesy of the website For $99 your unique combination of 23 chromosomes will be analyzed, and you can find out where your roots sink. provides a similar service.

According to the 23andme website, “our DNA comes from populations around the world, ranging from East Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa, Europe, and more. Break European ancestry down into distinct regions such as the British Isles, Scandinavia, Italy and Ashkenazi Jewish. People with mixed ancestry, African Americans, Latinos, and Native Americans will also get a detailed breakdown.”

My cousin found traces of Neanderthal, too, which shouldn’t be surprising since a new study has now concluded that Neanderthals and humans interbred. I suspect I might have the same lineage, given we’re related.

I haven’t had my DNA tested yet. From what I understand, the report breaks the percentages down for you, but beyond that, you’re on your own understanding what it all means. I am fascinated by it all. Looking at our genetic makeup over tens and hundreds of thousands of years can reveal some surprises. And many of our ancestries ultimately overlap. And if we go back far enough, maybe we’ll find that we are all related.

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Posted: April 8th, 2014

The first spring I lived here, one of the locals corrected me when I whined about the rain. “At least it’s not snow.”

I thought it was a genius response to my negative attitude. And being from Connecticut, which up until this winter, isn’t one of the snowiest or coldest parts of the country, one I had never heard before.

Now I use it all the time. And no matter where I travel, this year especially, everyone chuckles. This has been the longest winter and, like you, if I’ve heard it once I’ve heard it a thousand times.

Just yesterday in fact. “I can’t seem to get warm,” my brother from California said to me. And he’s only been visiting a few weeks. Try being here since October, I want to chide him. But he has a point that I believe most of us agree with. So when I look out the window and see gray skies, I just smile and breathe a sigh of relief.

Soon these rainy days will break apart. Sunshine will be the norm, and then the hot days of August. And we will bite our tongues and not complain because it’s exactly what we wished for during this endless winter.

Funny how Mother Nature teaches us some of life’s most important keys to being happy; namely, appreciate what you have when you have it, because it can and will change. Might as well love the change, too.

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