Starting a class

Today I am starting an online class at Penn Stat. I am taking Foundations in Organization Development and Change with William Rothwell. This is my first online course. I think the course is going to require me to blog, so I am going to try to keep it here, but will let you know if I need to keep it at Penn State.

Here’s to dipping my toe into Organization Development (OD) waters.


The cicadas are here.

I set an intention to focus on mindfulness and (re)start my practice.  This morning I woke up and sat for a 10-minute meditation in the backyard.   It was a simple breathing meditation.  There was no counting or body exploration, just 10 minutes with my breath.  While I was in it, the cicadas living in my neighbor’s vine starting to hum.   It was a low hum, that I don’t usually notice and it crescendoed into an incredible peak.   The peak is probably what I normally notice, but to let the build wash over me was very delightful.

After the first rush of cicada hum, it started again from my other neighbor’s tree.   The city can be loud with cars, trains, people, etc.   Mother earth provided a lovely white noise sound bath this morning.   I stuck to my breath as best as I could and I think the cicadas were good allies.  It’s nice to hear nature’s symphony cut through the din of the city.

My favorite things in Philadelphia – 2019

Bowl of noodles – Nan Zhou Hand Drawn Noodle House
Charcuterie – Royal Boucherie
Chinese – Han Dynasty*
Cider – Kurant
Coffee shop – ReAnimator Coffee (Master St.)
Decadent breakfast – Sausage Roll at Cake Life
Dessert – Slice of cake @ Cake Life
Falafel – Liberty Choice
Gay Bar – U-Bar
Good Cocktail in a Quiet Place – New Liberty Distillery
Grocery Store Beer – Bar @ KCFC
Greater calorie lunch than I deserve on a workday – Matt & Marie’s
Hoagie – Castellino’s
Italian – Le Virtu (this list is city only, but Andiario is a real contender)
Mexican – South Philly Barbacoa
Pizza to share with friends – In Riva
Pub Grub – Cook & Shaker
Restaurant – Royal Boucherie
Shawarma – Al-Amana Grocery Store
Single Dish – Squid Salad at Aether
Sushi ala carte – Kisso
Susi omakase – Da-Wa
Thai – Kalaya
Wine Tasting – Pen & Pencil


*The food here is so good.  The last time I was there, I was expecting to meet a friend.  She did not show, because she died in her house that day.  I’ve not returned to Han Dynasty and I am not sure when I will.

Middle East 2019 – Conclusion

I keep this blog in defiance of the great Lebanese poet Kahlil Gibran, who wrote:

Travel and tell no one,
live a true love story and tell no one,
live happily and tell no one,
people ruin beautiful things.

I write to tell everyone who can find this blog how much I love traveling.  It’s probably my very American identity that aligns the spirit of this blog with Mark Twain, who wrote:

Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.

I travel because I love visiting new places, meeting people, and trying new foods.  I love being gobsmacked at how little I know about the world.   There is no amount of reading the newspaper or watching documentaries that can ever tell me what the lemonade at Petra tastes like or how quiet the desert in Wadi Rum is at midnight. I guess that is why I always loved the line from Good Will Hunting when Robin Williams’ character says, “I bet you can’t tell me what it smells like in the Sistine Chapel.”

This trip was great and quite different for me.   We traveled with a lot more people than I am accustomed to and I had to get used to that.   When Spencer, Samer, Holly, and I travel we each have a role and one never feels too much burden.  This time, Samer and I both were definitely the leads of at least half of the trip.  There was some stress with that identity, but nothing I didn’t overcome.   “Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown,” I guess.  Samer had the added responsibility of being the translator.

With all of that being said, this was an excellent trip that I enjoyed.   I think 2 weeks is a great way to see Jordan and Lebanon.   Jordan and Lebanon could not be more different.  Jordan is an Arab country with a fairly cohesive identity to a westerner. Lebanon is an Arab country with a grab bag of identities from all over in it.   When you are in Jordan, the language of the country is obviously Arabic.   When you are in Lebanon, you never really know what language to choose.   Signs are in Arabic, French, and English.   Hell, in the right neighborhood you’ll also see Armenian.

An unexpected outcome of this trip was about my career.   It’s no shocker, that I have not loved my work for the last couple of years.   I left the trip wondering if I could make a business at being a modern-day travel agent.   I’d happily research and design an untested itinerary for a trip and sell it to you.   I love reading about places, chatting with locals online about unrecorded opportunities, and making a plan for others to follow.  Honestly, I think I am pretty good at it. This is not a tenable business plan, but I have fantasized about it since I left.  It’s more evidence that it may be time to do something different with my profession.

In order to coordinate everything, we used apps like tripit, travefy, and splitwise.  I am sad to see travefy is disappearing.  It was a great app to create itineraries.     I thought Royal Jordanian was a good airline.   I would like to visit Jordan again and explore Amman.   I could see myself doing 3 days there before a trip to Lebanon. I will return to Lebanon.  There is more to see, more food to try, and more wine to taste.

Everyone should go to these 2 countries.  I am not sure I would do anything different.  I enjoyed myself at every stop. I really enjoy the Middle East.  I struggle to make sure that I am not patronizing or fetishizing the Middle East.  I do not understand it, I do not fancy myself an expert in it, but I will continue to humble myself to its people and cultures.  It is only then, that I (maybe we) can begin to learn about the Middle East.


Lebanon – Day 9: Good-bye Lebanon

Our last morning in Lebanon lent itself to packing and teary goodbyes.  Our flight was around 1 PM, so we got to enjoy the morning with Chafica.    We stopped by Samer’s sister’s house to say goodbye to her and the kids.    The kids were as ridiculously adorable as they were the first day.

There was a little traffic on the way to the airport, but we made it with plenty of times.  We checked into the Cedars lounge, which is a very nice lounge.  They have some ancient artifacts in glass cases, comfortable chairs, and a good coffee machine.

After that, we returned to Amman and then back to NYC.   Goodbye Lebanon.   Without a doubt, I will return. I have friends, family, and memories in this weird little country on the Mediterranean.   It’s not a home for me, but I hold it quite close.

The last time I visited was Maria and Edward’s wedding.  An opulent event cast in the shadow of Samir’s illness.  It was a weird week.  I don’t want to give the impression, I didn’t enjoy myself.  I really did.  It was amazing, but on that trip, I was not there to visit Lebanon.

This trip was very different.  I was here to see Lebanon and enjoy myself. This time, I did both of those things more than I could have imagined.

Next – Middle East 2019 – Conclusion

Lebanon – Day 8: Free Day

We had a bit of a late start because we didn’t get in from Music Hall until 3 AM.   I wasn’t hungover, but I was definitely tired.   We decided to explore Broumanna a little bit before lunch.   We returned to the Unicorn Coffe House.   I had the same order as the day before, a Greek frappe. It is the best way to consume instant coffee.

We returned to the local chocolatier, Le Noir Atelier Du Chocolat. Chef Pierre Abi Haila made us taste a tremendous amount of chocolate.  It was all quite delicious, and we basically bought most of the chocolate they had in the display case.   Le Noir is moving locations (near Unicorn)  because it is currently in this seemingly abandoned shopping mall called Centre Rizk Plaza.   Functional abandoned buildings near active construction are one of the Lebanese things that just never makes sense to me.

Back, to the chocolate. In the United States, Le Noir would be a very high-end chocolate shop that I could barely afford to visit with any regularity.  Pierre is an impressive host who is extremely proud of his craft.   I think he should work with Suraya and sell his chocolate through them in the United States.  That act will single-handedly destroy any of my fitness goals, but Philadelphia would thank me for it.

After lunch, I took a nap and Samer visited Beirut with Annie and Greg. I finally found some time to do some reading, and I started Being Arab by Samir Kassir. Coincidentally, I walked past a site that memorializes him in downtown Beirut at the beginning of the week. Kassir was assassinated in 2005 (probably by the exiting Syria security personnel).

For our last night in Lebanon, Chafica made a tremendous amount of food and Maria made us delicious beef tongue.  It was a great meal that we enjoyed on the balcony with lots of family and friends.

Next – Lebanon – Day 9: Good-bye Lebanon