Night Sky Epiphanies

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Ocean horizons at night are the most beautiful backdrops for deep contemplation and meditation. I have integrated meditation into my daily life for quite some time now. It lets me shed the stresses of the day and decompresses my mind. Sometimes the experience is euphoric and great moments of clarity illuminate the path forward. There is a rhythm to everything – you just have to be adept at finding it and listen. All of the answers are there..

Standing at the Edge of the World

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I have lived near the ocean for most of my life. It’s a part of who I am and I am at my best self there. The edge of the world is a majestic place. It rejuvenates me on a warm Summer night, it makes me believe in what really matters on an early sunrise stroll and it gives me an often-needed kick in the ass during a good storm. It feeds my soul. When I arrive at the edge of the world, I see a canvas unfolding before me. When I walk along it, I am the canvas. It’s a powerful thing in my life..

Lost in Translation: How to Win and Influence Friends at the Coffee House

 

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Have you ever wished there was a reset button on a person? You know, just one of those big, old red studs in the center of their chest that take both of your thumbs to push while you yell “CLEAR!” and their mind re-boots. This sure would have come in handy this morning as I waited in line behind someone at a local coffee house who was clearly having a bad day.

Now, I’m not just talking about someone with a brown aura or body language suggesting that detonation was imminent – though I did take a quick inventory of the nearest exits and did a mental run-through of how I could reasonably escape a nuclear meltdown. I’m nimble like that..

No, this woman was in a funk. Her blouse was inside-out, she had on mismatched shoes and her hair was going nine-ways-to-Sunday. She wasn’t fully enaged yet. What I mean by that is that she (and I know this because I used to do it) was one of those folks who “got” up at 8:00 AM but “woke” up at 10:00 AM. The first couple of hours are completely auto-pilot. Listen, some of us are morning people, and others prefer to be night owls. Neither is any better or worse than the other. Our differences are the stuff that makes the world go ’round.

Back to the java joint incident.. She ordered her morning fuel of choice like a buzzer at the end of a basketball game. As an addendum, she proceded make it widely known that she always gets the wrong order here and could they please, just for once, listen to her – for the love of all that was holy. This went on for at least a couple of minutes. I did learn something from this little diatribe, though. Apparently, standard granulated sugar in an iced coffee is akin to hearing fingernails on a chalkboard. It has to be liquid sugar or the drink is swill. I made sure to make a mental note. Hey, I might be on Jeopardy someday. “What is “swill”, Alex?”

The cashier rang up her order and politely took her debit card for the customary swiping of her soul through a little black box that held her fate. Sounds really dramatic, and it was! The first swipe resulted in an eye roll suggesting that these readers notoriously don’t always work right. The second swipe turned out a quizzical look of concern that the card was not valid – now the line is nervously wondering how this was going to play out. The third (and final) swipe engaged a countdown sequence that wasn’t going to be pretty. None of us said it, but we all thought it: ABORT! ABORT! 30 SECONDS TO CORE IMPLOSION!

My ninja-like reflexes kicked in. Suddenly, I was MacGyver. I had two paperclips, a short piece of string and some bubblegum. I had this. So, I leaned in to tell the cashier that I would gladly pay for her order hoping that this small gesture would somehow have resulted in me making the right choice between the red wire and the blue wire – disarming the whole thing.

Well, it’s true that no good deed goes unpunished. Apparently, I was encroaching on her space, and summarily told that she did not need my charity. I should really just keep my nose where it belonged – out of her business.

It was in that moment, that I realized that everyone in this world has a purpose. Her’s, it turns out, was to serve as a warning to others. Another couple of minutes and she found some paper money at the bottom of her weapons cache (she called it a purse), and all the little Who’s in Whoville sang and sang…

The moral of this story, boys and girls, is that we all form impressions before the people we encounter. The first impression is often a lasting one. Sometimes the best image you can give someone is seeing the back of your head getting smaller as you walk away from them.

Next Big Things: Things I’ve Not Yet Said

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“Your journey has molded you for your greater good, and it was exactly what it needed to be. Don’t think you’ve lost time. There is no short-cutting to life. It took each and every situation you have encountered to bring you to the now. And now is right on time.” ― Asha Tyson

Sometimes the end of something makes way for the beginning of other things. As the door to this campaign closes, there are several new ones that are now open before me. All I have to do is choose, take a deep breath and walk on through. I’m no stranger to the great wide open. Every person, place or thing encountered on my life’s journey has fed an insatiable hunger to learn more, do more, and leave my surroundings a better and more interesting place. There has never been a boilerplate to my life. I always seek the road less traveled – without question. You only get one shot at life, so when I see an opportunity to enhance, enrich or explore, I take it. No regrets, just teachable moments. They are what drive me as a human being and make my journey almost gripplingly fascinating.

It’s because of this outlook that, despite any official vote tally, I still walk away with a series of personal wins. I ran my campaign my way and on my terms in spite of an often tumultuous and extremely volatile political climate. There may be some who will read this that can’t really understand the gravity of what that means, but suffice it to say that accomplishing that is many orders of magnitude above hard. I stayed focused on my message and the social priorities that I feel are imperative and speak to the people side of a city.

Over the last many months, I have made so many new friends and allies – and not all of them in the most obvious of places. Even those whose ideology did not always match mine, or whose alliances were not with me, extended cordial friendships and an affirmation of the value that I bring to my city.

I don’t want to lead anyone down a primrose path here. I wasn’t immune to some of the bitter angst and nastygrams from detractors – I just chose to not feed the machine of drama or leverage the unsocial side of social media platforms. I could have caved and taken a very low road, but it just isn’t who I am. See, without honor and integrity, you have nothing. Exercising respect and courage is harder in the end, but you don’t lose yourself or your identity. It’s a price I chose not to pay. So, if anyone ever tells you that you can win from losing… believe it. I had a great life, a great family and a great profession before the race, and I walk away with all of it after the race. There is no scoreboard big enough to post those kinds of numbers.

Now, about those open doors… So many people have been kind in encouraging me to run again. They say that one should never say never, but the truth is, so much can happen in two years and there are so many opportunities to pursue and dreams to transform into reality. I’ve started writing two books and am kicking around an idea for a third. I have some business interests that I have been shopping around for a while, and my passion for travel continues to intrigue me. So, I find myself sitting in a pretty sweet place.

Before any of these can happen, though, I will be spending time reconnecting with my family – who have supported me in this campaign for seven months, but also sacrificed some because I couldn’t always be there as much. Campaigns are very time-consuming things and they take alot out of you and your loved ones. Especially when you set out to do things that are unconventional or creative. I love my family, and I still love this city. I will continue to be a catalyst for social progress and protecting the vulnerable. I’m all in. I’ve always been all in.

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I’ll close this entry by thanking everyone for what you added to my journey. I like to think that I made (and continue to make) a difference. Many of you asked for help, support or advice which I never refused. Regardless of your political affiliation(s) or personal beliefs, we should all seize opportunities to find common ground and seek out solutions that best serve the greater good. This doesn’t mean that there is never any room for debate or fighting for what you believe in. Despite any frustration or despair, this is still a democracy with inalienable rights. The point is to exercise your mind, body and soul as a tool instead of a weapon. You can’t buy this with any amount of wealth. A creative mind and a pen can blaze new trails and move mountains. Cry out if necessary, organize if you must… but executing on a well-planned mission is more effective than throwing bombs over a wall. It’s all about focus.

Thanks for everything..

Daniel

The Art of War: Casualties of Politics

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Someone once told me that politics was a blood sport. While I haven’t made a career from this, I have been involved in politics for a few years and can attest to both the productive and destructive side of campaigns. There’s no denying that in politics, camps tend to form organically. To a degree, this is generally accepted and understandable as loyalties and allegiances can breed unions and coalitions.

Over the last several months in my city, so many lines have been drawn and crossed. Characters have been called into question and sometimes assassinated. Seems like innuendo has somehow become a common part of the local vernacular. These are the unfortunate casualties of politics. There are, however, limits that need be respected that unblur the line between general grandstanding and going for the jugular. The former has been around since time immemorial, while the latter is viscerally ignoble.

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It’s all but impossible to find even the most miniscule space of common ground when the din of discord and attacks drowns out the contrasts and comparisons between opponents and the differences in the messages or agendas. Even those who work hard to remain above the fray are not immune to the taint of a venomous tirade. There remains a lesson in it all, though.

The lesson is that, despite the division and rancor, there exists real opportunity to amplify the “why” and accentuate the “how” behind why the choice before us on election day is important. The thing is, regardless of who you support or don’t support, we all have a part to play in writing the next chapter of our story. The ability to stay the course in any campaign is the real catalyst which determines the outcome.

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As we get closer to the day where our voice really matters, it’s time to dig deep within ourselves and define what we want to see and who is best equipped to act upon it. After all, despite all the brow beating and gnashing of teeth, in every race there are candidates motivated by different things vying for a shot at leadership. It’s not so much about running to solely defeat an opponent, and more about promoting a vision. There is ample room for disagreement and debate – this is why we have the benefit of choice – but the constant barrage of open warfare really deters more than it supports and makes voters weary.

With only 19 days before voters flock to the polls, it’s time to start a little of that digging and ready ourselves to show up informed and secure in the choices we are about to make.

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My SNAP Challenge: Day 7

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Well, here we are. Day 7 marks the end of my journey in this SNAP Challenge.

So many things to say here, but let’s take a quick inventory. I barely made it through on the food that I purchased on Day 0. All I have left from that is a banana, 1 packet of oatmeal, a handful of dried lentils and less than a cup of milk. If not for the family gathering on Day 3, I would certainly have run out. I lost about 5 pounds over the last week, though I would not attribute it all to the challenge but really more to the fact that I did not allow myself to eat obscene portions of unhealthy things.

I ran into “Maggie” at the library again and she was raving about her new-found cooking skills – seems she makes a mean cheese omelette. She thanked me profusely and went on to say how she was making plans for getting a better paying job and move away from SNAP. There is a new lilt in her walk and she holds her head up a little higher now. She is well on her way to being one of the success stories of SNAP.

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I have received so many notes, messages and calls from people about my journey. There are far too many to list individually, but suffice it to say that my ability to get through it all was bolstered by their support and coaching. For that I am eternally grateful. To the couple that left me eggs and crackers on Day 1 – you made this challenge a little less bland and you humbled me. To my friends and family who rallied together to help celebrate my son’s weekend home from college – thanks for not judging what I could bring to the table and honoring that I could just be at the table. Finally, to all of the followers that offered tips, advice and well-wishes – I have appreciated you being constant companions along this road.

My hope is that those of you who have followed my progress over the last week learned a little more about SNAP. Understanding this issue, seeing the face of this program, defining the struggles and addressing the enabling variables to dependency versus opportunity have given me the experience of getting closer to SNAP. I have been in a unique position to be an observer, a student, an advocate and a virtual participant. I have seen the realities of SNAP and also the opportunities that it presents.The challenge of food insecurity is very real in our communities, and it is not just another social ill that can be masked with just funding. There are the imperatives of awareness, education and strategy within this equation that need more visibilty. Further, food insecurity is not a singluar issue, but is only one cog in a larger machine that drives us forward.

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While some may look at this social experiment as ending, for me it is just a beginning. The fact-finding and experiential phase gives us a foundational platform from which to build upon. Biddeford has a little more than 15% of it’s population living at or below the poverty level. On any given month, we have anywhere from 15-20% of residents who qualify for SNAP. Working to find ways to decrease poverty in our city is both a moral imperative and good for us economically. Investing in our people is always a sound proposition that realizes real dividends and paves the way for economic development and business growth. It doesn’t do Biddeford any good to forge ahead with a vision to infuse big commerce onto the landscape when it comes at the expense of those that can least afford the costs. We are stronger as a city when everyone is on a path to prosperity and self-suffiiency.

To anyone who can say that they learned more about SNAP as a result of my experience, I encourage you to consider what you can do to be an integral part of the solution. Never underestimate the power of even the smallest gesture. One need not take on the full SNAP Challenge to help. We are all in this together.

Get Social. Get Thinking. Get Hungry!

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My SNAP Challenge: Day 6

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I have to tell you all – this SNAP Challenge has been very interesting and has really opened my eyes to what this program is and what it isn’t. I am also learning that SNAP impacts so many people, places and things. This journey has allowed me to view SNAP through a different lens that opened a newer and broader window on what the challenge really looks like, the impact on consumers and who can (or should) benefit from it.

Living on a very limited food budget has been tough for me, but I must admit that good things have come out of it. It’s given me time to reflect on my current limitations while thinking of ideas to address SNAP from different angles and create new solutions to make it better, See, I’m extremely analytical by nature and very determined to fix or improve things. I built an entire business around those skills. As a business analyst, I’m the guy that businesses and organizations call to help them solve tough problems. Sometimes it involves improving their bottom line, sometimes it involves streamlining their organizational structure, and other times it involves charting a new course for becoming more customer-centric and literally every other imaginable challenge in between. This is the sandbox I play in, and I won’t lie – I’m damned good at it. So, I’ve been looking at this thing called SNAP in the same way.

Over the last several days, I have come to view SNAP as something more than a bridge to healthy eating and sustenance for individuals and families needing help. There is another side to SNAP that doesn’t really get talked about much, doesn’t make many headlines and is really an unintended consequence of the program.

You might want to sit down for this one. Ready? OK, here’s the thing: SNAP actually plays a role in stimulating the local economy. I’ll just let that sink in for a few seconds… Yep, you just read that correctly. Some of you are already questioning whether or not I’m losing my mind or if I need a Snickers bar because I’m not quite being myself as the television commercial goes. But it’s true. SNAP actually stimulates your local economy.

When food stamps get spent, we all benefit. Despite critics’ focus on the costs of SNAP, research has shown that these dollars are among the best forms of local economic stimulus. Food stamp spending generates local buying activity, jobs in the farm and retail sectors and beyond.

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Every dollar of SNAP benefits generates $1.84 in the economy in terms of economic activity. If people are able to buy a little bit more in the grocery store, then someone has got to stock it, shelve it, package it, process it, ship it. All of those are jobs. It’s the most direct stimulus you can get into the economy during tough times.

Food stamps are an excellent stimulus. When it comes to bang for the buck — the amount of economic activity generated for every public dollar spent — they’re arguably one of the single most effective forms of government stimulus available, and are vastly more beneficial than tax cuts.

This has been repeatedly documented. An analysis from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities explains, “SNAP benefits are one of the fastest, most effective forms of economic stimulus because they get money into the local economy quickly.” The director of the Congressional Budget Office agrees.

It just requires a little thought. People who receive food stamps aren’t sticking the money in a mattress or a money-market fund; they’re spending it and doing so immediately because — you guessed it — they want to eat This injects demand and capital into the economy quickly, helping the beneficiaries and stimulating the economy.

So, what does this all mean for a city like Biddeford? Well, let’s first look at what SNAP benefits CAN and CANNOT buy:

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There are communities that have been pioneering very successful local programs to double the value of SNAP (food stamp) dollars when they’re spent at local farmer’s markets and small grocers for fresh fruits, vegetables. breads, cereals, meats, fish, poultry and dairy products. Funded through available federal grants working in tandem with the USDA (which administers SNAP), local farmers and grocers get paid to honor SNAP benefits by doubling the buying power of each SNAP dollar on acceptable purchases. So, think about this: SNAP recipients get to buy more healthy foods with their monthly benefits, local vendors and businesses increase their volume of patrons and sell more product at market price,and farmers have an incentive to grow more, raise more livestock, and sell more in the local marketplace. Think Supplemental Food Benefit meets Buy Local meets Local Farms Support – the dollars stay local. Keeping the money here stimulates the local economy by feeding recipients who need it most, pulls people out of poverty, keeps local businesses profitable, expands the small business landscape, and, ultimately, creates jobs. And it doesn’t stop there. Better economic sustainability translates into more discretionary cash, which translates into the ability to spend it at other local businesses, which translates into the ability to invest in wise growth and expansion within the local business sector.

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There is absolutely nothing precluding us from following, or even enhancing, this model to use and expand an existing, already funded program to grow our local economy right here in Biddeford. This is but one of a myriad of things that I propose we explore and implement in the new chapter of our story.

We have a choice to make. We can embrace the status quo and hope for something to magically happen or we can think outside the box to make bolder moves that make us stronger and reap bigger dividends now.

The business professional in me always looks for the solutions that give the biggest bang for the buck and puts you in a position to be financially solvent so that you can grow sensibly while benefiting from new revenue streams. We can dream, or we can act. The smart money is on making things happen by leveraging and uniting your existing resources now. Longer term visions that have us buying assets based on speculation and potential with the hope of business influx isn’t a strategy – it’s a gamble.

So, you see, SNAP is not just an answer to one tough problem. It’s a means and a tool that can be wielded in such a way that it solves many problems if you have the right leadership, courage and will in place to think beyond the core issue. We cannot sustain the popular view that food insecurity is merely another social ill that we just have to throw money at to solve. Every successful businessperson will tell you that the key to success is to continuously put your money to work for you. A holistic view of how we grow economically is the best investment in ourselves.

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