A Muslim, a Jew, a Sikh and a Christian walk into a bar …

16 Oct

Great start to a joke, right?  Well, the bar part isn’t true, instead it was a Catholic high school in Waukegan, IL, but the rest describes my afternoon yesterday when I attended the Religious Founders Day event organized by my friend Tayyib Rashid, known on Twitter as @TheMuslimMarine.  The event is to promote awareness, cooperation, friendship, love and respect among these groups with seemingly different religious viewpoints, but when you dig in a touch, instead have very very much in common.

The structure of the event was pretty straight forward – there were four primary speakers, all “clergy”, each one from each tradition represented – Ty (Tayyid) was the “emcee”.   And the topic was racism – the speakers were challenged to speak on their faith’s viewpoint of human equality and their viewpoint on how we can battle this awful scourge in our country and around the world.

The speakers were:

A rabbi – in this case from the Chicago Jewish High School in Deerfield
A Nun – she was a retired nun who used to head up the school in Waukegan IL where the event was being held
A Sikh leader – this interesting gent was from the Sikh Gurdwara in Palatine IL
An Imam – and he was from Seattle and was visiting the local Ahmadiyya Muslim Community in Zion IL (where Ty is a leader) from Seattle

Each leader spoke for about 10 minutes, then there were 10 minutes for round table discussions (appropriate as we were seated at round tables) on what each leader said and how we could personalize it for our own use. After all spoke, the final 30 minutes was spent addressing questions from the fairly large group of people that came to the event.

There were a lot of wonderful points brought up.  The Rabbi recalled the words of the Jewish sage Heschel when he said that racism is a disease of the eyes – it’s what you see when you look out at the world with your particular viewpoint that you’ve learned.  The Nun’s viewpoint was that she felt that racism is a product of both defensiveness and a desire for more – and interestingly took on the subject of the Catholic crusades and imperialism head on and called it wrong and as a contributing factor to the racism that persists today.  The Sikh leader – who was completely fascinating by the way – more on him in a minute – said that those that are racists aren’t seeing the truth. The Imam talked about how Allah/God created diversity so that we could tell ourselves apart and as such diversity should be celebrated and not denigrated.  He also spoke of how racism is the product of Godlessness – that those that are truly with God do not see/cannot see anything but beautiful diversity.

At our table, which consisted of our friends Gail and Chris along with two Muslim men (and one of the men’s 9 year old daughter), we talked about how racism and it’s cousin, religious persecution, is a result of a lack of knowledge – and that how while our diverse cultures must be preserved, for racism and fear to end, they also must converge.

Truly mind expanding.

The Sikh leader, a gent a bit younger than me named Parminder was an especially powerful speaker. Sikhs, because of their traditional turban headgear, their religious devotions that they commit to that keep them from cutting their hair, etc., are very visually notable – he joked that “they are more hardcore than the Muslims” and that they get blamed for every wrong in the world.  He grew up in Chicago as the son of a gas station owner and his Dad and he were blamed for a) the war in Iraq and the price of gas; b) 911, c) the war in Afghanistan, d) every single terrorist attack anywhere, etc. etc.  He joked that he wonders if the idiot racists will start calling Sikhs North Koreans next.  His comments were especially prescient – counter racism with truth, and with understanding and as last resort, fight back.

We all talked about what we can do to personalize this and actions we can take to help the problem.

For my part, here’s how I personalize it and how I’d encourage you to as well.

  1. Don’t accept stereotypes of any type.  It’s bullshit that Muslims hate America and want to invoke whatever on American and want us all to die, that Sikhs are every type of terrorists, that Jews are money-hoarders who manipulate the world’s finances and bake blood into their bread, that Christians want to convert the world and are responsible for racism in America.  It’s all bullshit. Stereotypes are made up viewpoints designed to create and foment fear.  Only by refusing to accept them can they go away.
  2. When you encounter racism, instead of calling them out as racists, instead, seek to educate, inform and provide loving guidance.  One overarching view was that “if you could just get to know someone who is a …” (fill in the blank), “you’ll stop being prejudiced against them.”  It’s totally true.  But calling it out just generally serves to entrench the viewpoint.
  3. Now as a counterpoint to 2, however, don’t tolerate it either. Never participate, and always never be afraid to point out that what’s being said is a) incorrect; and b) abhorrent to you. It’s amazing how racism turns from a “naughty joke” to “a turd in the punchbowl” and the person that’s putting the racism out there goes from being the class clown to the asshole in the room in just the blink of an eye.
  4. Lead by example – get to know others from other traditions.  I would especially encourage you to make Muslim friends.  You’ll be amazed at their religious devotion, their inner peace and love and their desire to learn about what you do and what you have to offer. But, that said, for example, we were fascinated by the Sikh speaker and we’re planning to go to the Palatine Sikh Gurdwara to experience one of their worship services and learn more. And I made a new Muslim friend while at the event and we’ll be inviting him and his family to join us at a B’Chavana service event sometime soon.

Only by love, respect, understanding, getting to know others of different traditions, and ending the propagation of stereotypes will we ever solve this awful problem in America.

Peace and love, friends.

As you were,

Stew

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Life is for living. So live it.

2 Oct

A missive on living life to the fullest, as this day, these weeks, these months have taught us we must do. A rush of thoughts and emotions on this weird day that had us:

  1. Waking up to the news of 50+ people dead, 500 or so wounded in a horrifying automatic gunfire shooting at a country music festival in Las Vegas.
  2. Finding out late afternoon that Tom Petty, of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers died today of cardiac arrest.
  3. These things coming on the heels of a) three horrifying hurricanes that destroyed Puerto Rico, many Caribbean islands, Houston TX and much of South Florida, and b) an earthquake in Mexico City that killed hundreds.
  4. All of this wrapped around the Jewish Holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur – where the liturgy says “on Rosh Hashanah it is written, on Yom Kippur it is sealed, who shall be written in the book of life for another year and who shall die” and then goes on to ask, who by fire, who by water, who by disease, who by famine, who by war, who by … who by … who by …

Holy. Crap.

Those who know me and my lovely wife Robin, know that we try very hard to live life to the fullest.  This summer has been a challenging one – after 18 months in a job I absolutely loved and was doing some of the best work in my career, I wound up out of a gig due to a reduction in force.  Yet, despite the crushing pressure to get my career back on track and my income reestablished, and despite draconian cuts to our lifestyle expenditures, we still worked hard on having fun and having a great summer filled with friends, laughs, adventures and more. Because we try to live life. At all times.

Here’s the lesson in all this tragedy:  Live life now.  Don’t put off for tomorrow what you could do today.

Open that special bottle of wine.  Say “I love you” an extra time to your loved ones. Spend five extra minutes outside with the dog.  Play with the cat. Take an hour for lunch with a friend rather than hammering back a sandwich at your desk between emails. Call a pal you haven’t spoken to in eons, just for fun. Watch cartoons. Re-read an old favorite book or re-watch an old favorite movie. Or take the time to go to the movie theater to catch the latest release. Buy a hardcopy book. Put your smartphone on the bedside table for an entire weekend day.

Spend the bucks on the tickets to see the favorite act you loved as a kid one more time (sidebar:  Tom Petty had always been on my concert bucket list, and I finally was able to “tick the box” this past summer when we saw him in May in West Palm Beach FL with our dear friends from Alabama.). Go see Hamilton before it leaves town. What the hell, have a donut, or a hot dog, or a burger, or pizza or whatever indulgence pops in your mind.  Cut out for the afternoon and take in a ball game. Cuddle with the dog on the sofa for a much deserved nap. Go to somewhere awesome for a weekend. Blow off mowing the lawn because your buddy invited you to his porch for a beer.

Leave the dishes in the sink overnight because a romantic moment suddenly occurred. Get dressed up and go out for a great dinner at that restaurant you’ve always wanted to try.  Take an hour on Sunday afternoon and walk to the ice cream shop for a cone. Lay outside and watch the clouds, or the stars, or the birds and just be in the moment with your mind empty.  Take a nap in the sunshine somewhere. Call your grandma, your grandpa, your favorite aunt or uncle or cousin. Listen to it rain. Go bang on the door of that new neighbor and say hello.  Stop at the lemonade stand of those kids down the street. Drop a buck or two into the kettle. Buy the Girl Scout cookies or the Cub Scout popcorn.

Take the long way home. Stop off at a bar for a beer. Take off your shoes and walk in the grass or on the beach. Organize an impromptu party at 9:00 at night.

Say “what the hell” and go be silly. Ask someone to hold your beer for a minute. Yell “Hey y’all, watch this!”

Feel things.

LIVE LIFE for now. As we’ve seen lately, it can all be gone in a blink.

As you were,

Stew

Don’t back down.

9 Nov

A part 2 of my post-election reflections.

There is a ton of despair out there – just roll through social media today and you’ll see it everywhere. People saying “I don’t know what to think, I don’t know what to do.”  Folks are concerned that all the progress that has been made, millions having health insurance they never had before, gay marriage, Roe v Wade, the threatened deportations for millions, etc. will all start happening and disappearing in the blink of an eye.

I’m here to say, no it won’t. It can’t.  The good news is our government has a lot of inertia. And the better news is the GOP realizes that this time, they can’t fuck it up or this will be a very short ride.  Trust me, they know they lost the popular vote.

Is the GOP out to now pursue their own agenda?  Of course they are! But, they are at odds with much of Trump’s views – which is good.  If they can’t get their own shit together, they certainly will have issues getting things done. And they will face fierce opposition from all points. There is another round of elections just 2 years away. We will prevail – we have the majority. But that’s the politicians. What about us?

Here’s what you should do:

DON’T BACK DOWN.

There are those that think that because Trump won, the other side must now be silent. I can’t tell you the number of people telling me “are you going to shut up now because, hey we won.”  No. Not a chance.

That whole “the other side must be silent now” thing? Nothing could be further from the truth. Because the other side won, now we must be louder than ever. We must call things as we see them. We must call out injustice at every turn and remind them of what they are doing and compare them to those that have done those things before. (Hint, that’s a conservative-like dogwhistle for “I’ll take ‘Famous Fascists’ for 40, Alex”.). Again, do not back down – let your voice continue to be heard.

Now, how do we do it? Graciously. Are we going to give Trump a chance to lead? Absolutely. Like him or not, he is the President. And if he does things that are right, we will support him. We’re not a movement that makes statements like “It is our goal to make him a one-term President” or a movement that considers it a loss when the economy recovers because it happened on the watch of the other guy.  It is the domain of the GOP and the right wing to obstruct and obfuscate, and hold interminable hearings that waste millions of taxpayer dollars.  The left acts through words, through actions, through social justice. And we do support what is right.

So … more:

Where?

Everywhere you normally do.  It used to be letters to the editor, town hall meetings, casual conversation, but nowadays, it is social media.  But you need to also do more. GET INVOLVED. Don’t let this loss take away your energy. Let it energize you to make sure that we don’t lose our progress. And that we ultimately win again.

How?

Become a grass roots activist and volunteer for social justice and action. Concerned about the hungry? Go volunteer at a food bank or homeless shelter and feed some folks. Write your congressman, go to meetings and townhalls being held by politicians and make sure they know your viewpoint. Got a few bucks? Donate to causes that support your views.

What else?

BLOG!  Blog, Blog and Blog some more.  All of the written content becomes indexed history on the internet. It becomes content that shows the world just how large the Progressive movement really is.  Socialize your viewpoints in social media – make sure that the voices for social equality, equal rights and justice for all are louder than those who want to practice xenophobia, prejudice, bigotry and hate.

There are those on the winning side who are saying they are “taking back the country” from people like us.

No, they are not. They will not. We won’t let them.

It’s our country too.

Don’t back down.

As you were,

Stew

Reflections on the Election

9 Nov

Hi Friends and readers.

Yeah, it’s been awhile since I last posted in my blog.  Hope you’ve been well. I think I’ll be getting back to this as it is a source of pleasure and happiness for me.  Hope you enjoy my writing as much as I enjoy writing it.

Let’s see, what’s been going on?

The Cubs Won the World Series!

So there was that – and that was cool.

We also just got back from visiting my son in California last week, and got to tour Tesla’s plant and spend an evening cruising the San Jose area in a Tesla Model S P85D with Insane Mode and Autopilot. That was cool too.

And then there was last night.  Yikes. Not so cool.

If you’re a friend on Facebook, you might have read this already – I wrote this with my thumbs into my iPhone sitting at my kitchen table at 5:30 this morning, in the dark, with a hot cup of coffee.  My reflections on last night.

A few thoughts on what is for much of America, a sad morning for our country.

First, we are better than one individual. What makes this challenging is the clear and present threats to the freedoms for minorities, for women, for the LGBTQ community, to freedom of and from religion and more. I truly hope that the ugly and bigoted rhetoric that Trump sowed on the campaign trail is just that – rhetoric. That said because the GOP holds all three elements of the legislative process, there is much to be concerned about here.

I am deeply concerned for our economy here and globally and the steady, if not stellar, recovery that has happened since the horrible 2008 recession.

I am also deeply concerned for our foreign policy and our national security. Let’s face it, a man who has this short of an attention span, this thin of skin, and who has demonstrated shockingly little knowledge of foreign affairs is very concerning.

Everyone is seeking a “whose fault is this” and I have my own view, starting with the profession of journalism, my college major, which has failed our country in its mission to report the truth and to not report that that is not truthful. I fear for that profession as well as our new President Elect has indicated that he would seek to change libel laws and limit the freedom of the first amendment.

I do think as well that the Democratic Party got way too wrapped into the paths of the inevitable. While earlier in the process I didn’t think that Bernie could have gone the distance in the general election, nor do I agree with his policies, upon further reflection, maybe I was wrong. We will never know.

There are a few truths about elections in America: first, we are passionate; second, there is no “undoing” the result; third, the result is what it is – all we can do is begin the work anew to shape our country in the model that fits our views.

This is my country and while I don’t like the result of this particular election, this is my country. I always have been and always will be a very vocal person in the political process and this election has only served to further strengthen my resolve to promote progressive and liberal viewpoints. If you don’t like that, your option is to tune out.

To those that voted for the new President Elect, congrats. Be magnanimous in victory, and know that success lies in the middle.

But know this: you reap what you sow. If this doesn’t go well, and I am deeply concerned it will not, you will only have your mirror to complain to.

America.

As you were,

Stew

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The Ever-Changing Family

31 May

Well, it has been a LONG time since I’ve posted to my blog – going on a year, it seems.  Part of the break was just, well, I needed a break, and part of it has been a total change in my career.  Rather than working in the city and having an hour morning and evening commute, I drive 18 minutes to work. I used to write on the train … and now no train.

That said, I do like my blog – it’s a great outlet for my mind, I constantly think of things I want to blog about, etc.  So, I’ll try to work in time to write every few days.  We’ll see how that goes.

There’s a ton happening in our lives – the biggest news is that our oldest son, Joel, has moved to California where he works at Tesla Motors.  His long time sweetheart, Jordan, joined him there after about six months and she also works at Tesla – and like young couples often do … they are getting married next summer!

So, after never having had a daughter – we’re getting one!  And she’s a real sweetheart – she and Joel are a wonderful couple.  She even has figured out how to get him to pick up his socks!

So, the title of this blog post is “The ever-changing family” – and that’s because even though it seems like family is the one constant in life, it is ever changing and ever evolving.  People are born, people die, people get married, have kids (sometimes not in that order), etc.  And our family has definitely changed.

Joel now lives in California – is he still part of the family? Yes, absolutely – and he calls us frequently, we text and email, etc. But it’s different not having him here. And when he’s here it’s different as well.

Alex is a full time student at Northern Illinois University – where he will be for another 2 years – so during the school year, he’s not here.  Again, very participatory in the family, but it’s different.

Brian, even though he lives at home and works and attends community college also has a changed role.  Summing it up, it feels like he’s more of a roommate than our son, and well, he’s an outstanding roommate.  I hope when he does eventually either go off to an away college experience or moves out because he’s working and financially stable, that whoever he rooms with enjoys him as much as we do.

But this past weekend, it was back to “the five of us” for one glorious long weekend.  What we did isn’t noteworthy to the story – if you’re friends with me on Facebook, you’ll see we barbecued, had fun with friends, went to the Indy 500 (the impetus for Joel’s home visit), saw family, etc. But what was noteworthy is that it was a rare “just the five of us” event. Most visits now include his fiancé, Jordan, and often we also include Alex’s longtime girlfriend, Liz. Our family has grown nicely. But to experience the “just us 5” thing one more time was an extra special treat. It’s possible it may not happen again – Joel gets married next summer. And that’s OK – we love our changed family dynamic.

So the moral of the story? Well, as I have blogged about numerous times before, there’s nothing more constant than change. You can fight it, you can hate it, etc., but it’s going to happen whether you want it to or not.

As I am fond of saying, on the rollercoaster that we call life, you can either hold on for dear life and pray you get through, or you can throw your hands in the air and scream at the top of your lungs in enjoyment.

As often as I possibly can be, I’m the guy with his hands in the air.

As you were,

Stew

(and I will make a concerted effort to get more blogging done)

From left – me, Brian, Robin, Alex and Joel

family

Guns: Time to face the truth

5 Oct

Here’s the truth: The US has a horrible gun problem.  HORRIBLE.

The Oregon shooting, Sandy Hook, Charleston, etc. Problems with violent crimes in the cities. A rate of gun violence that is 100X higher than 20 other developed nations and makes the US more like Yemen than say, the UK or another major economic power.

It is time to face the facts, folks. Despite what the NRA and other folks would tell you: “more guns with more people equals less gun violence”; “the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun”; “guns don’t kill people, people kill people”; “if you take away the guns the bad guys will find another way to kill”; “it’s our Godless society that is to blame” “It is mental illness that’s to blame, not guns” … if we as a country do not become as outraged about this as we are about say, abortion or gay rights (on both sides of the ledger mind you), this problem will continue.

Every single argument put up by the NRA and parroted by the right wing can be proven wrong with simple data and facts. And the simple fact is, our country has a horrible gun violence problem.

We have utterly gutless lawmakers – they are far more concerned about their mealtickets on the backs of the taxpayers and their donor sponsors (and yes, this is again, both parties) than they are about doing anything about this. The Republicans are afraid to piss off the NRA because then the NRA will just fund another guy to replace them. The Democrats are also afraid to take a strong anti-gun stand and introduce legislation for the same reason.

We, as citizens need to take this up. We must decide that enough is enough.

Why aren’t we holding our legislators truly accountable for this?

It seems so futile. President Obama said it best when he talked about how routine this is.

The difficulty is, the vast majority of American gun owners ARE responsible.

While I am very liberal in my political views, I enjoy shooting firearms. I don’t currently own any sort of weapon, nor do I have plans to – but as I kid, I learned how to shoot and responsibly handle a firearm between boy scouts and going with my neighbors, grandfather and father. As an adult, I will occasionally go to a range, rent a gun and shoot. It IS fun. But every time I do I have to remind myself that the same thing I am using to make a loud noise and punch holes through paper targets, if pointed at a human, will tear a large hole completely through that human, and very likely will end that person’s life. Because that is what guns are designed to do. Kill. Period.

Like everything else, we can’t solve the entire problem all at once. But we can attempt to put greater controls on who can own a firearm and how we hold those firearm owners accountable and responsible for their weapons. Will it completely stop the madness? No. Will it completely stop the flow of illegal weapons? No again. But it will help. Data proves it.  Here’s my view on where go and what we need to do.

And a caveat: These laws must be applied universally across all states.  So here goes:

1) Close the distribution channels:  Start with closiing every gun transaction loop hole. Private sales must be reported, and gun show sales must be reported as well and must follow the same procedures for registration, licensing and background checks as a retail store.

2) Universal background check:  A background check must be performed at the time of tramsaction and the 3-day loophole must be immediately terminated.  The three-day loophole allowed the Chaleston shooter to get his weapons.  Things that disqualify you: mental health history including treatment with prescription drugs, being a convicted felon, being convicted for any sort of gun violence, being convicted for domestic battery, and I’m sure many more.

3) Registration of owners:  Every firearm owner must be registered – Illinois, for example, has the Firearms Owner’s Identification Card – having a FOID is required if you purchase a firearm or ammunition.  A federal equivalent is the answer to this.  And you must renew your card every 2 years.  But, this should be strengthened to the level of a driver’s licence – you must take a written test to renew it every 6 years and to get it initially, you must also pass a proficiency demonstration of weapon safety.  Just like a driver’s licence.

4) Registration and Insurance of individual weapons:  Weapons should be treated like cars – the FOID card is like your driver’s licence, and you must insure and register your weapon, and your weapon must carry an unremovable registration sticker that shows it is registered.  The insurance is liability insurance – cause mayhem with your gun, and your insurance covers the victim and the victim’s families.  I’m sure the insurance industry will figure out a way to make money on this and make it tough to get.  On the registration, you must renew your registration of every weapon annually.

Now, doing all this won’t eliminate our problem, but it will put an enormous dent in it. We also must get rid of stupid things we’ve done like making it illegal for the CDC to compile statistics on gun violence and its costs/problems it causes in society.

But we have to act. The time to do it is now. I encourage you, if you care about America, care about our children and care about having a world where “normal” doesn’t include lockdown drills for KIndergarteners, then we have to act. And it is time for responsible, law-abiding gun owners to get behind this. You fear that regulation is a “slippery slope to the government coming after your guns” – tell you what, this path of mass shootings and violence going unchecked is far more likely to result in the government coming for your guns than any effort to register and manage firearm ownership. We must move move the needles.

To anyone that comments: please know I moderate the comments and I operate by the stick and stones dictum. In other words, posting a hate-filled diatribe will not make it into my comments and it will be deleted without me even reading it. If you disagree though and you make a reasonable comment and present a point of view that is based on factual information about why you disagree, then I may post it.

For the longest time, I have chosen to make this blog non-political.  I’m sure this post will cost me readers, but if that’s the price of putting my voice out there calling for our representatives to get off their asses and act, well that’s a small price to pay.

As you were,

Stew

The Show Must Go On

18 Feb

I had the opportunity to see John Mellencamp in concert last night. For those not familiar, you’re dead to me. Ok, not so radical, but seriously, this guy has been around in the rock music scene forever, so you’d have to be either really living under a rock or something to not know him.

At the start of the show, he came out with the band, and they head off into some new material that I wasn’t familiar with – but three or four great songs with that familiar Mellencamp sound to them. The band – two guitarists, bass, drums, keyboardist that also played the accordion and a violinist – were tight and delivered that distinctive sound that he’s become associated with – interesting phrasings, mixes of major and minor chords, relaxed tempos, etc. That said, during this opening, clearly something was amiss with Big John’s voice – very raspy, very raw sounding. Since I had never seen him before, I was thinking that perhaps age wasn’t being kind to him, or the road, or something.

At the end of the 4th song, he stepped to the mic to greet the crowd and then said “Well, we talked this afternoon about cancelling this show because my throat is all fucked up. But then I said to everyone, ‘Hell no, we’re not cancelling. I can’t let those people down! Besides, I want to play.’ So folks, this is what we got. I sound like shit, but I’m here to play. If you can handle my croak, I can handle my croak.The band will rock and you guys will fill in when I can’t hit it. Deal?” Well, as you can imagine, the crowd went nuts.

Which made me like this guy even more. His music is all about “regular guy” real life, life in small town America, little Pink Houses for you and me, vacationing at the Gulf of Mexico, fighting authority (but authority always wins), thinking back on the good times and sitting and smiling. I love his songs – sing a few of them myself. And rather than being a diva and calling off the show because he has a scratchy throat, he just motored on through it and delivered for his fans.

The show must go on. A lesson for all of us.

As you were,

Stew

Apple Store Soho Presents Meet The Creators: Stephen King, John Mellencamp And T Bone Burnett

Love me a good snow!

2 Feb

Ok, I’m crazy and stupid, but I’m honest. I love a good, whompin’, ass-kicking snowstorm like the one we just got. And this one was “historic” – officially 20″ at the weather reporting site at O’Hare Airport, making this storm the 5th largest in Chicago recorded history. “Locally” as in my yard, it’s hard to tell exactly how much we got other than to say “an assload”.  In sheltered spots, there’s about 2 feet of snow, but in places where the wind was depositing it, there are drifts up to five feet tall.

We started yesterday in Wisconsin, 100 miles from home – we knew this was coming but we made a calculated risk assessment of being able to get home. Truth be told it was both about as bad as I’d ever want to be out in, and well, not terrible at the same time. We were only 100 miles from home, we got an early – 7:30 AM – start, we had a driving partner (another car from our group) and we motored along fairly slow and steady. The storm was worse in Illinois, as were the roads – the Tri-State Tollway – I-94 – was covered with loose snow. But we made it home – and got busy with the snow.

Big snows like this are both to be savored and conquered. I have a great big snowblower and I enjoy using it to remove big snows. I actually get disappointed when it doesn’t snow up to a storm’s potential.  This one was worse than “potential”. Big snows like this are also to be enjoyed. I am decidedly wishing I were a kid, not an adult who has to board a plane for NYC in 4 hours, because today is spectacular – it’s bright and clear, very light wind, temps in the 20s – perfect day to go play in the snow. Sledding, making snow forts, tromping and rolling in it, going skiing … all would be on the activity board.

I also love how snow completely transforms a landscape. A number of years ago, after a bit snow, I just headed out with my camera to a local forest preserve to trudge through the foot-deep snow and just shoot pics – one of the most wonderful days I have ever spent.

If you’re lucky enough to be home with a snowday today – get the hell outside! Enjoy this. It is a rare treat.

But I’m crazy.

As you were,

Stew

Roll The Credits

30 Jan

This was a momentous week in the Stew’s Brew household – our oldest son, Joel, has officially headed out of the nest and into the real world. He moved this week to the Bay Area of California to start his professional career with Tesla Motors as a process engineer in their big plant that turns out all the awesomeness like the Model S P85D with Insane Mode. He will be working on the paints and finishes team integrating new products into the production stream. Pretty amazing stuff!

His mom, Robin and I, would love to take all the credit for his success, but as Hilary Clinton most famously said, “It takes a village to raise a child” and Joel truly is the product of that. Obviously whatever we did as parents either a) didn’t screw him up that badly; or b) was great parenting (somewhere in the middle is the truth), and his own amazing hard work, singular focus, putting himself into position for success, etc., had a everything to do with it too.

But I’d like to acknowledge some of the tons of positive influences he had on his life as some of these folks really helped guide him. There are many, many others that I’m sure I’m not putting on the list.  As in the usual practice, I’m not going to use full names, but I’ll use first names, nicknames, etc. to identify folks.

We have to start with his grandparents, including one who never met him, his grandfather Donn Campbell. Starting with my Dad – Joel entered this world about 5 weeks after my Dad’s passing. He is so much like his grandfather Donn, as to be uncanny – his love of sports, obsession with making lists, success drive, general kindness, easy to meet people, etc. – all of that was expressed in my Dad too. None of us truly know how things work beyond this life, but we like to think that perhaps there was a meeting somewhere prior to Joel’s being born where he got some great coaching. My Mom, LindaC also has been a huge positive influence. From Joel’s love of cooking and the finer things in life, his crossword obsession, to the great experiences of going to “Camp Grandma” during the summer (and allowing Robin and me to travel and keep a great marriage) – and so much more – lots of Grandma Linda went into making Joel.

Robin’s folks, Julie and Merle, being the local grandparents, have had an enormous influence. Merle took care of Joel shortly after he was born to allow Robin to continue working – Robin used to go to her house to feed Joel on her lunch breaks – this daycare, at a time when we were struggling financially was just enormous. They also were big contributors to childcare for us – allowing us to travel and do things that couples should have time to do, and helped us out in so many ways. Thank you.

The rest of the family also continually provided such positive influences -his aunts and uncles Becky & Tom, Shari & Micah, Jon & Erica, his cousins, “greats and grands” like Steve & Linda, Reisa & Warren, and his departed great grandparents that he adored so much. The family is filled with secure, successful people and huge collection of long-lasting, great marriages. Much to emulate for him.

Joel, of course, loves his sports and is a soccer player, loved playing baseball and basketball – all of his sports coaches contributed – from his BGRA coaches like Ray, Steve (the Starbucks man), Elliott, and more; to his soccer coaches – Sherm in particular who coached him mulitple seasons – all of them instilled competitiveness in him, a sense of fair play and taught him the importance of playing on teams.

His work experiences of course have really guided him – and I’d like to call out two special couples.  Dave and Lucia, who own Tamarak Day Camp in Lincolnshire, were Joel’s first “bosses” – Joel started out as a camper at their camp – an experience all our kids enjoyed – immensely positive – and then as soon as he was eligible to do so, he started working there as have his brothers who continue to work there. Joel learned early on the value of a fair but firm boss in Dave and Lucia and the value of hard work, teamwork and more in his formative years there. Dave and Lucia, I hope you understand how important your mentorship is of not only your campers but your employees – all of my kids have said they enjoy working there even more than being campers there, and that they have learned so much from both of you.

The other special couple I’d like to call out are Mark and Ellen. Mark is a high school mate of mine, and despite not having seen each other in pretty much more than 30 years, he took on the role of “how to navigate the car business” advisor for Joel as he is an engineer at Nissan. He guided Joel early on as he was heading into Engineering school at Illinois, and then continued to guide him as he got involved in Formula SAE racing (crucial to his success) and finally, applied a bit of “runway foam” as Joel went after his first internship at Nissan’s tech center in Detroit, where Mark works. Which would have been plenty! But there’s more – that summer, when Joel was interning for Nissan – Mark’s wife Ellen took Joel under her wing, fed him dinner once a week, took him shopping when he needed it and generally adopted him as one of her own. Amazing! You two are truly special people.

Lastly, and not leastly, we’d like to thank all of our friends – we are firm believers that the family you choose is as important as the family you have – and you all are the family we choose. Our close friends, Chris & Gail, Bill & Robin, Steve & Pam (Faltese and Mitzi), Jason & Andrea, Les & Angie, Mark & Jodi, Harry & Liz, Gary & Jill, Joel & Tammy, Marc & Susan, Greg & Molly, and many more have all had such a positive influence on Joel in so many ways.

We always like to joke that Joel is one of the luckiest people we know and that “the universe works for Joel” – but that discounts his hard work, and that discounts the influences of all the people who positively influenced him for his growing up years. We have to chalk this success up to his intelligence and hard work, shaken and stirred with a lot of wonderful people who all rubbed off a bit of themselves on our dear son.

Thank you friends and family! We wouldn’t be at this point without you. And we love you all.

As you were,

Stew

ChristmaChannukah – ’tis the season for confusion. Or not.

15 Dec

As many who know me know, I am Jewish but came to being Jewish not by birth but by choice. I married the girl of my dreams, she was Jewish, we started raising our kids Jewish, after a few years my friends said I was more Jewish than them, etc. Sometime, I’ll tell you the whole story.

Anyway, as Robin and I were creating our blended life, we attended a discussion group at a local Reformed synagogue entitled “Let’s Talk – a discussion group for interfaith couples”.  Let’s Talk was designed to create a safe forum to open up normally sensitive topics in a group environment and to you help you sort out your own directions. While it was presented from a Jewish point of view, it didn’t advocate any dogma or direction – but was merely offered as a way to ensure that couples, in whatever form they became, were successful together as a couple.

Robin and I really enjoyed going to them, although it became readily apparent after a few visits that we had done a ton more talking than other couples that were miles down the road already. We laughed that we were the “most well-adjusted ones in the group.”

Onward to the topic – one of the topics they presented was “Christmas Vs. Hannukah – the December Dilemma” – and it was a discussion of all things related to that – “To tree or not to tree”, how Jews struggle with the crushing onslaught of the most visible and pervasive holiday on the Christian calendar, how to manage families, etc. I hadn’t thought much about it though for more than 15 years now – I’m Jewish and we celebrate Hannukah in our home, although we my family celebrate Christmas in Iowa.

However (and I’m sorry I missed this in person), I just had the pleasure of posting to the blog for our Jewish congregation B’Chavana (we don’t call ourselves a synagogue) an interesting missive on how ALIKE Christmas and Hannukah are. It was written by Karen Jacobs, whom I find to be a very fascinating person. Since I administer the B’Chavana website, I thought it would be great to share with all of you, my friends and followers.

Please click on over to B’Chavana’s website and read Karen’s words.  There is a short “preamble” that I added – this is part of a new feature we’re introducing so I needed to explain that to our members – feel free to skip down the page to Karen’s story. I hope you enjoy it.

As you were,

Stew

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