Archive | February, 2012

Missive for a Snow-Covered Shabbat

10 Feb

Some of you may recognize this – I wrote it and posted it as a Facebook note about 3 or 4 years ago after a particularly beautiful morning snow on a Friday night into Saturday.  Since it is Friday, and we’re getting snow in Chicago, I wanted to share it again.


I put this in my “status update” but thought I’d expand a bit here. One of my favorite things has to be Friday-into-Saturday snowstorms. I have always enjoyed them, and since becoming Jewish, they really are special to me. Here’s why .. 

Speaking in a purely secular level, there is something immensely satisfying about wrapping a Friday as the snow is imminent. If you’re a commuter to work (which thankfully, I am not unless it’s an airplane coming home from somewhere), you rush to leave work a little early to beat the traffic and the storm. If the timing is perfect, you get home as the first few flakes are coming down, wetting the highway, but not messing things up. That little win right there is immensely satisfying. 

From there, you kick back, relax and enjoy the feeling of “the work of the week is done”, enjoy dinner with the family, and occasionally steal a glance out the window as the storm picks up strength and really begins to snow in earnest. Perhaps you step outside with the dog or even just with a cup of coffee or a cocktail and enjoy the silence – the silence of the weekend, the way the snow muffles all sound … peaceful. 

Then, Saturday morning, you arise – perhaps earlier than normal, because you know that outside awaits a beautiful scene! A fresh snowstorm that DOES NOT HAVE TO BE DEALT WITH! You can luxuriously relax and look out the window over a steaming cup of coffee and smile, knowing there’s no where to go, no hurry and no hassle. Snow is so much more beautiful on the weekend than it is during the week. Eventually, mid-morning perhaps if it is done snowing, you bundle up with boots, hat, gloves and head out to shovel. This time taking your time in the task. Perhaps meeting at the end of the driveway with your neighbors for a chat over the shovels and snowblowers. 

I happily am blessed with “The World’s Largest Snowblower” – 28 inches wide, 8 1/2 horsepower, tank-track drive, the works. I call it The Snowminator. It can chew through and process positively prodigious quanties of snow without a fuss. It is clearly a tool much larger than the task – I got it when we had our previous house with a 2 1/2 car-wide, 5-car-length long driveway, and 350 linear feet of sidewalk around our corner lot. Now we live in a cul-de-sac on a pie-shaped lot with 50 feet of sidewalk, and only three-cars-long on our 2-car-wide driveway. So I make sure I do plenty of neighboring on snowy mornings – I clear the older couple’s driveway next door to the north, clean up the Rabbi’s driveway to our other side after his plow service has left a mess, do sidewalks around the neighborhood, and help out any neighbors battling with the snowplow pile on end of the drive. 

So why does a Friday night snow invoke a uniquely Jewish feeling in me? Well for starters (and for my non-Jewish friends, the Jewish Sabbath (“Shabbat”) starts at sundown Friday night), there is something decidedly “Shabbat-supporting” of a Friday night snow. Shabbat is for gathering with family and friends and celebrating God’s gift of a day of rest. As the day winds down and the sun sets, the family gathers and we light our Shabbat candles and sing the blessings of Shabbat. We have a prayer and toast with our wine and say a prayer over our bread. A warm scene always, but one made cozier and warmer by the snow gently falling outside the window. 

Then, because of the snow, we tend to cancel plans – perhaps we do venture out to be one of the hardy souls attending services that evening, perhaps not. But the snow helps to ensure the kids have cancelled their plans for the night and that the family is together. We “bunker in” – light a fire, perhaps put on a movie, or just all cuddle up with our books and the dog and read in the same room. The silence provided by the snow adds to the peace of Shabbat. Often later in the evening, we will venture out to a friend’s home, or our friends will come to us – to gather, to bunker in and enjoy togetherness. 

Saturday morning, again, the languid pace of not needing to be anywhere, combined with the daylight revealing the beauty that God gave us overnight, provides a wonderful spirtual experience. I put on a little jazz or folk music, respark the fire, get a cup of coffee and with Sprite pup in my lap, just sit in the front window and watch it snow. After the snow ends, I fire up The Snowminator, and going out and helping my friends gives me a feeling of Tzedakah – of goodness and good deeds to others. 

All a great experience. Regardless of your religious birth, upbringing, choosing or not thereof, a snow covered morning without a workday attached to it is a thing of beauty to be savored and enjoyed. 

For those getting the white stuff, enjoy the snow this morning. This is a rare treat. 

As you were … and Shabbat Shalom. 

Stew

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My writing process and why you are my editors

7 Feb

Ok, this is only for the few of you that are my subscribers.  I’m not going to repost this on FB and whatnot.  As subscribers, you see a different version of my blog – you get my blog via email, and inevitably, I’ve managed to screw up a grammar bit or some other fact that I wind up correcting after publishing.  Here’s why this is this way, and why I really like having subscribers:

Basically, my process for this blog is pretty simple.  I get on the train at 7:18 AM, open the computer, check email, and if nothing is going on, I don’t have a deck/presentation to write/meeting to prep for/etc., I’ll then do one of three things – fiddle about on Facebook (75% of the time), go wandering the news in search of items to wig out my conservative friends (which then all points back to Facebook), or, now that I’m back into this, write a blog post.

Once that choice is made, I open up my blog in my browser, click on “new post” and start writing.  To paraphrase a famous writer, “writing is just my thoughts coming out of my finger tips (he said pen).”  Pretty basic.  I normally flood the words out, not stopping to edit much, and then go back and re-read it.  If it is clear enough (as in, I made the point I was trying to make), I hit the big blue “PUBLISH” button, and this goes up.  That causes WordPress to email it to you, my dear subscribers.

At that point, I am usually “on final” for Union Station in Chicago – the computer gets shut down and dropped into my bag, I zip up my coat, and join the other lemmings filing out of the shiny metal boxes to head to the office once the train arrives. Once I arrive at the office, the computer gets dropped into the dock, and if I don’t have a meeting right off, then I first get coffee, then I go back, re-read what I wrote again, and of course, discover typos, inaccuracies, etc.  Things like using “I are” instead of “I am” (yesterday’s post), referring to Moses instead of Noah, referring to Neal Peart using a pick when he uses sticks, etc. etc. all get corrected at that point.  Sometimes, if I didn’t already do it, I’ll add a picture or two to the post then.  This is all done in 15 mins or so while I sip a bit of coffee and get ready for the day to ramp up – generally between 8:20 AM and 8:45 AM Central time.

Of course at that point, my mother has already sent me an email/facebook/comment correcting my grammar, and most of you other Eagle Eyes have noticed my other bugs and have sent me notices as well.

So, the good news is, as subscribers, you get to read my post in its “hot off the grill” state.  That said, as most good chefs know, the best way to enjoy the steak is not to cut into it while it’s directly off the grill sitting on the cutting board, but instead to let it rest, and enjoy it served in a proper place.  In other words, if you want to see the real intent of what I was writing, wait 30 mins and then check my site versus reading the email.  Or, read the email to get the point, but then reread on the site.

I’m not saying all this to chide you on your corrections at all … correct away!  That way I have a team of editors making the site version as clean as possible (which typically gets a few hundred reads by the time I tweet it, Facebook it, and it gets picked up by the search engines) but, more than a few people have asked me why the version that gets pushed out via email is often full of errors but the version on the site is not.  This is why.  Please, stay as subscribers and consider yourself one of my editors!

As you were,

Stew

Stuporbowl

6 Feb

Robin and I have been somewhat in the “conscientious objectors” to the whole Superbowl hot mess over the years.  When we were first married, we’d go to the obligatory party, eat and drink too much like the rest, be slow at work on Monday. But we really didn’t care about it.  But considering that you can register our collective interest in all things NFL as somewhere between “Meh” and “Whatevurrrrr”, unless the Chicago Bears are playing in the game, it’s just a pile of manufactured hype to us.  4-5 hours or more of “we have to do this because it’s what everyone does.”

I enjoy sports – but I don’t follow them.  Love going to a Bears game with my buddies – we go to two a year – though honestly, it is far more about the tailgate than the actual football game.  I somewhat/sort of am aware of their win/loss record, and occasionally will watch a Bears game on TV if invited to someone’s house to do so. It is enjoyable at the game, but more in a spectacle perspective versus an “OMG!” perspective.  Same thing with other sports – baseball, hockey, etc.  My enjoyment of them is highest when at an actual event, watching on TV is a bit like watching grass grow, and following their wins/losses/stats doesn’t register on my radar.

So about 8 years ago, Robin and I decided we were done with the whole “going to a Superbowl Party” thing and decided that the best “out” of it was to encourage our oldest son, Joel, to have a Superbowl party – and he did.  Had a great annual bash from the time he was in 7th grade until he graduated from high school.  Robin and I cooked and provided for it, the expense was minimal, the fun was great, and we could skip watching the game except for dodging into the room for a good commercial.

After Joel’s graduation, he of course has not been home for the Superbowl, and Alex and Brian’s interest in it all registers even lower than that of Robin and me.  Yesterday, we went to Champaign and Univ of IL to go see Joel, take in an Illini basketball game to watch the antics of Joel with the rest of the Orange Crush craziness.  We then drove home, listening to the game on Sirius radio in the car, arrived into Buffalo Grove around halftime and got to our friends Chris & Gail’s house at halftime.  Perfect – couple of beers, a scotch to round it off, some chili and a brownie, and we were out – less than 2 hours invested, a bit of social time with our friends and that’s it.

And then there’s the commercials versus the game thing – while I purport to be one of those “Oh, I only watch the commercials” people, that’s a bit like saying “And I only read Playboy for the articles”.  As a person in the ad biz, I do have to say, I love watching all the new TV commercials.  That’s an element of my ad career that never really happened – I’ve only been on one commercial shoot set (for a Motorola cell phone commercial back in the early 1990s), so it is with a bit of envy that I watch all those mini-movies, and think about the creative process that goes into the making of one of those spots.  Maybe I should do a Dorito’s commercial for next year’s Superbowl … all shot with an iPhone.

At least this year’s game was somewhat interesting – the Patriots’ 94 yard drive to retake the lead – the Giants battle to get it back, and then the entire game outcome coming down to one long bomb pass with 5 seconds left in the game.   If the Patriots caught it, they won (or at least after they kicked the extra point).  If the Giants caught it or batted it down, they won.  Doesn’t get much better than that.  While ostensibly in that match up I was rooting for New England out of respect for Robin’s grandfather, Zadie Mickey, beyond that, whoever came down with that catch really didn’t matter to me.

Is there a point to this post?  No, not really.  It is said that if they took all the money spent on just commercials and spent it for a worthy cause, that you could, for example, pay the tuition of every high school graduate in America for their first year in college.  I don’t know the validity of that.  But I do know that as a semi-intelligent species, like other semi-intelligent species, we crave a little fun.  Squirrels chase each other through the trees.  Dogs play-wrestle.  Dolphins jump for joy.  Monkeys fling their shit.  And we have the Superbowl.  Hmm … sort of like the monkeys … lots of shit being flung.

And so, another overhyped season of heavily overpaid  men playing a game best played by high school and college students is in the books.  But wait, in two weeks … NASCAR season starts!!  Go fast, Turn Left!

As you were,

Stew

Listen to the music!

3 Feb

Last Saturday evening, after dinner, we went to our friends Jason and Andrea’s house for drinks to celebrate Andrea’s birthday.  It was one of our “just gather” things we do with our friends- not a party.  No invitations, etc.  There were husbands and wives missing for various reasons – chasing kids, business travel, etc. Impromptu.  After the requisite cake and toasting, one couple went home for kid bedtimes (they being the only couple in this group with younger kids), another guy went off to pick up a daughter, and my wife and the remaining three women announced they were going to another’s house to watch chick flicks.

That left just Jason and me hanging out having a drink – and we were left with a binary choice – either put on some sort of man-flick like Pulp Fiction or whatnot, or, better yet, crank the tunes and listen to the music.  We went for the latter.

A back story – a few months ago, I posted about “Listening to Albums”  having been to a concert where Frampton played Frampton Comes Alive.  And how the concept of listening to an album has all but gone away.  Jason and I (and his wife Andrea, and my wife Robin) love to hang and just listen to music, and especially to albums.  Jason, like me, is a big music fan, and he’s an audiophile – meaning he has some serious stereo gear.  While my gear is old, it was very serious in its day, and still sounds great – hence we get into listening to the tunes.  We just hang out, grab drinks, put on a track or an album, listen to it, talk about it, lather, rinse, repeat.

We were marveling over what a treat it is to do this – and how for the most part, this isn’t something people do anymore.  We did it all the time as kids – you’d buy a new album and invite your friends over to listen to it.  You’d have a bit of a party and a major portion of that was “cranking the tunes” and listening to the music and being really into it.   We both came to the conclusion (between savoring the lead guitar parts in the acoustic version of Hotel California, where Joe Walsh squares up with Glenn Frye and they scorch out that harmonizing solo, and Boston’s Hitch a Ride, where Tom Scholz and Barry Gordreau do pretty much the same thing), that technology has changed the way people enjoy and consume music.

Back in the day (a phrase I hate, by the way, especially when some 22 year old says it – “really?  Back in the day?  Like what, 2 years ago?) – when we were in high school and college – you listened to tunes primarily at home.  Then in the late 70s and early 80s, car stereos became serious audio, and so, you added your car to that – but you still listened at home.  Then we added walkmans and other portable devices – now you could listen at home, in the car, walking around.  Layer into that streaming internet music (Spotify, Pandora, etc.), iTunes, MusicMatch on cable, Napster, iPods, Zunes, smartphones, etc. and suddenly our music is with us everywhere we go.

And the net result?  Music is not listened to anymore – it’s just a sound track for whatever else we’re doing.  Working? It’s on.  Driving – it’s on. Running or working out?  On. etc.etc.  This massive availability of music, however I think has killed off the activity of actually LISTENING to the music.  NOT multi-tasking.  Not watching video with it.  Turning down the volume of the input on the other senses, and turning up the volume on the music results in you really focusing on it.  You can hear how Joe Walsh, because he plays slide guitar so much is a bit lazy in his fingering runs and drags his fingers on the strings.  You can hear how Alex Lifeson of Rush plays with almost military like precision with his pick.  You can hear how Eddie Van Halen combines tapping, picking and other crazy techniques so that it comes out of his amp like a flood.  You can hear Geddy Lee’s right hand hitting the body of his bass on his solo in Red Barchetta.  And you can hear an acapella soloist in a song (one is not coming to mind) take breaths.

Like everything else, things are best when savored.  Your mama always told you – “don’t gulp your food!”  My grandmother had a plaque on her wall that said “Don’t hurry, don’t worry, and don’t forget to smell the flowers.”  Enjoying a fine meal means shutting off the other inputs and thinkiing about what you’re smelling and what you’re tasting.  Enjoying a fine painting in a museum, there’s no music.  There’s just good lighting and silence.  A place to sit and stare for a moment – walk up to it, walk back from it – look at it from differing angles.

And the same thing with music.  If you seriously fancy yourself as a music lover, then think about it.  When was the last time you actually sat and listened to music?  No TV, no laptop/iPad/iPhone/Droid, or even for that matter, conversation.  Think about what you’re hearing.  concentrate on hearing the parts – repeat the song and try to listen exclusively to one person or another, one instrument, etc. Savor it like a fine steak.  And be amazed.  Listen up.  Like we used to.

As you were,

Stew

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