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,



Starting Launch sequence in 3 … 2 … 1 …

7 Dec

Remember that fairly bad movie a few years ago, Failure to LaunchMatthew McConaughey, Sarah Jessica Parker and Kathy Bates were in it, and it was about a 30-something year old who was still living with his parents and a plot to hook him up with a nice girl to get him to leave.

Yeah, well that’s not happening at my house, at least in the case of our oldest son, Joel. What a crazy week or so he’s had – and in keeping with the idea that “The Universe Works for Joel” (he’s just one of those folks where things continuously work out in his favor, for the most part), he received two job offers this week – one from Tesla Motors, the other from Ford Motor Company

A brief backstory, in case you’re a WordPress reader not familiar with the goings on in my family – I have three sons, ages 23, 19 and 19.  The younger twin sons, Alex and Brian, are sophomores in college – Alex at Northern Illinois University and Brian at College of Lake County IL. Our oldest, Joel, is completing his final/third semester of his senior year at University of Illinois.

Coming back to the story now – Joel started his college career in mechanical engineering – his GPA and ACT performance scores coming out of Stevenson High School won him direct admission into the MechE program at Illinois, a very tough thing to get into, and directly into their honors program. That said, after being in the program for nearly two years, it became clear to him that a) being a mechanical engineer wasn’t what he wanted, and b) he would be a better educational and career fit into a program called Technology Systems Management at Illinois. Given through the “ACES” department at Illinois, otherwise known as the College of Agriculture, Consumer, and Environmental Sciences, he would be able to pursue a career in applied engineering – working on things that do things, versus designing things. Making a major change like that, however, could have derailed his career plans to work for a car company, something he’s always wanted to do since he was a little kid.

What delivered Joel to this past week is very simple – a combination of hard work, his personality/leadership abilities, and his four years of engineering team work on the University of Illinois Formula SAE team – aka Illini Motorsports. For those not familiar, Formula SAE is sponsored by the Society of Automotive Engineers, and is part of the SAE’s Collegiate Design Series – a program designed to give engineering students around the world the opportunity to work as engineering teams and gain real-world experience.  The Formula SAE team at Illinois creates and builds a “formula style” (think Grand Prix/IndyCar on a small scale) race car from scratch every year – they do things like use “out of the box” engines and other items, but the frame, bodywork, wiring, etc., plus key engine components like intake, exhaust, etc. are all designed and built by the team. Once they design it, they must fabricate/manufacture it, source non-fabricated components like brakes, shocks, engine computers, etc., arrange sponsorships and everything else.

The competitions are amazing – in addition to actually driving and racing the car (the sexy part) there’s also design competition, business case competition (how can you manufacture this in volume), etc. The “formula” is that you’re building a club-level race car that could be purchased by someone like me who is interesting in doing weekend amateur racing and wants to drive something more than a street car.  Here’s Joel at the wheel of the 2013 season car in a test session at the former air force base in Rantoul IL.


Going into Joel’s freshman year at Illinois, he also had come out of the band program at Stevenson as a pretty accomplished trombone player, and enjoyed marching band. He tried out for the Illini Marching Band program and got in, much to my pride and excitement. We also knew that he wanted to be in the Formula SAE program but we didn’t realize the time that might take. To his credit, Joel did some research about the program, realized that a) it was his ticket to the career he wanted and b) that it takes a significant amount of time and decided to not go into the band, even though he made it. We had quite an argument about it, but he played the “Dad this is my life and career we’re talking about here.” Once he played that card, I was out of the argument.

As it turned out, best card he ever played. The Formula SAE program at Illinois has an amazing track record of getting kids employed in all sorts of areas. As the team has engineers of every stripe, plus non-engineers, the real-world work experience they get in the program is truly amazing. Joel has friends from his program now working in places like Boeing, SpaceX, Scaled Composites, Ford, GM, BMW, Mercedes, Nissan, Tesla, Grumman Aerospace, plus engineering firms, other tech firms like Google, Microsoft, etc. and more.  It truly boasts a 100% “employed by graduation” rate.

Joel was able to leverage his FSAE experience first into an internship at Nissan the summer before his senior year, and then into an internship at Tesla this past summer (before his final “senior semester”). These companies value people from this program in a way that his mom and I never imagined.

And so to this week – Joel came out of the Tesla internship with the promise of a job upon graduation. He kept in touch through the fall, and in the last few weeks, things accelerated – he had a phone interview or two with them, took a trip to San Francisco/San Jose to meet in person with them again.  He got Tesla’s formal offer at the end of last week – and it’s amazing. I won’t quote numbers, but suffice to say, took me quite a few years in my career to hit the number he’s starting at. Plus additional benefits and bits like stock options, etc.  Truly a stunning offer. In a parallel path, he also interviewed with Ford both on the phone and in person, and like things always seem to work out for him, he got their offer just literally moments before he was going to call Tesla to accept theirs. And Ford’s offer, while structured differently was equally lucrative. Talk about choices!

So, he had a huge decision to make – there’s lifestyle issues like being in the midwest and closer to family, job issues like the job at Tesla being more to his liking, and the known quantities of working on the same team where he was this past summer. Ford’s offer put him on a track to potentially have a 40-year career there – he could easily drop into their programs, and be there until retirement. Tesla’s at the bleeding edge of the tip of the spear and their growth rate is going straight up.

At the end of the week, after much wrangling, many conversations with us and his girlfriend, etc. – he knew what he had to do – he’s going to Tesla. The job is just too exciting, the growth opportunity too great, etc. He got great advice from a bunch of folks, even including a gent who was the head of Volvo Cars North America for a lot of years. All of them said “gotta go to Tesla – you just have to”.  In the end for Joel, though, it was the combination of the job, the boss, and the team that he went for. Yes, Tesla is on the road to amazing things, but Joel being Joel – he wanted to rejoin his team.


Obviously, we’re as proud as we can be of him. While we always joke that “the universe works for Joel” I would also say that Joel works the universe harder than anyone else I know, and that when he puts his eye on the prize, he will not be denied in the least.

Are we proud of this kid?

Yeah. We’re proud.

He’s launched.


As you were,





30 Nov

By now, Sunday morning of Thanksgiving weekend, most people will have spent the long holiday period (not exactly a weekend) getting hammered (Wednesday night – AKA “Black Wednesday” – the drunkest night of the year – even worse than New Year’s eve)j, overeating (Thursday, natch), overspending (Friday), overwatching football (all weekend long), drinking even more, etc. etc.  Many people approach Thanksgiving weekend with both excitement and dread and the dread comes from a variety of sources – time spent with family you don’t care to see, travel worries and hassles, dividing time among various family members (Thanksgiving is considered to be the most complicated holiday for that), etc.

Notice the key missing element of the above is what the core of the holiday is supposed to be about? Giving thanks?

It seems like in our efforts as a country to over-program everything (admit it, we do) is extracting the basics of this holiday. The “first official shoppng day” of the Christmas season is now the day where everything USED to be closed, and people were home with family. Black Friday was officially usurped this year by Thanksgiving Day, according to the National Retail Federation’s tracking.

I have to admit to participating a lot in the overindulgence – but at least I think it is focused on family and friends. Wednesday before Thanksgiving, Professor Troutstream and I, plus our families and some select close friends gather at a pub for our annual “Burgers, Beer and Bourbon (and Tots)” fest. We do get a wee bit, umm, happy there, but the biggest feature is just great stories and tons of laughs.

Thursday, Thanksgiving Day, Robin and I hosted 22 for dinner at our house Thursday evening. We choose to do our big TG dinner in the evening – and that conveniently allows those who are having to split time, to hit multiple Thanksgiving celebrations. Most of our crowd was family – my mom, Robin’s parents, her aunt and uncle from Ohio, their kids and spouses – but we also had two couples that are among our best friends there – both couples are empty-nesters with no local family to go to. Happy to be their “local family”.

Friday was a chill day – I used it to get some house projects done, the most notable was getting my music studio organized in the way I have been planning to organize it since we redid our basement 2 years ago. Have a small PA system set up, a dedicated computer for playing and recording music, mutliple amps for visiting players, etc.  Pretty sweet. Still need to get all the guitars on the wall, but step by step. Friday evening, my inlaws hosted a wonderful dinner for the whole family plus a few more at a local Greek restaurant – and it was a huge treat and much fun.

Yesterday, on the idea of son #1, I got The Fanbulance out of storage, piled the three sons into it, and headed to Evanston IL to pick up Professor Troutstream and watch the Illini of U of Illinois play the Wildcats of Northwestern. The Prof and I enjoyed a bit more Kentucky “brown water” at the tailgate (goes great with Egg McMuffins!), and then left the game about halftime and headed to a pub where his wife joined us and we waited out the rest of the game and the arrival of the sons.  Last evening, was just a chill night – my mom made a delicious gravy to accompany the leftover turkey and we made “stuffing waffles” (heat up stuffing in a waffle iron – best idea ever!) to put all the good stuff over. Our local high school, Stevenson, was in the state championship football game and I watched them win that – enjoying the 4th quarter from bed.

Today, it’s just another chill day although we need to put the house back in order from the bash Thursday night as well as I need to put away our patio, run the gas out of the power lawn tools, etc.

So, now that I have bored you with a rundown of my weekend, I’ll return to the point of this post. I spent the entire weekend in the company of all of those I love the most – family, closed and dear friends, and more. Did we overeat and overdrink? Bet your ass we did. To me, that’s what Thanksgiving weekend is all about though – spending the time in the company of your friends and family.

And I have so much to be thankful for – my wonderful wife of 28.5 years, the three amazing young men that are my sons, my mom, and the fact that at 78, she is as sharp as ever and in generally good health and able to travel to us, live on her own, etc., Robin’s family and how they all travel in to make this such a fun weekend, my great pal Professor Troutstream, all of our other close friends, the fact that I have a challenging and rewarding career with a continued upwards trajectory, a nice home, a loyal dog, etc. etc.

Overindulge I did. Did I gain a few pounds this weekend?  I’m sure of it – back onto track with my Weight Watchers program this week. Do I creak and ache like a typical 50-something person? Sure do. But that’s how I know I am alive.

If you follow my blog, you most certainly know that my focus is on living life. It is entirely too short. I’m thankful for the opportunities I have to be able to live life so well with people I love.  There’s the sentence I was looking for.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

As you were,



Just Vote. It is your commitment to America.

4 Nov

Today, just in case you’re the most oblivious person in America (or are one of my overseas readers) is election day in the USA. It is considered an “off” year election as it is not a Presidential election.  Nonetheless …

  • Every single member of the House of Representatives is standing for election – this happens every 2 years.
  • One third of the Senate, including one of the two Illinois senators, are standing for election – the term in senate is every six years.
  • Many Governor seats are up for election – the typical term in most states is 4 years.  Key races in the midwest include Wisconsin and Illinois.

The bottom line is there is something important going on right where you live. Off year or not.

The only way to participate in this process is to vote.  Those that know me know that I am a strong liberal, and proud of that. So you can figure out who I’m voting for.  That is not what this is about – do I hope more people vote in my direction than the other guys?  Of course – everyone likes to win.

That said, we are under a representative democratic system of rule in our country. We elect people through democratic process who are then entrusted to enact laws and policies that are in line with the needs and desires of their constituent.

Unfortunately, there are many politicians that play bait and switch – and they exist on both sides.  They’ll say anything to get elected, and then they do what they want, or more likely, what their rich benefactors want them to do. We have to avoid people like that if we are to retain control of our government and not give it over to those that want to use it to benefit themselves, not benefit the many.

I probably should have written this a few days ago but I didn’t. If you haven’t voted yet, please think about these things:

  1. Are the Candidates I’m about to vote for genuinely going to do what they say they will do, or do they have a track record of saying one thing and doing another?  If yes, don’t vote for this person.
  2. Are these Candidates being heavily contributed to by those, through their monetary influence, seeking to control our country for their own gain?  I would encourage you to not vote for anyone like that.
  3. Are these Candidates I’m about to vote for in touch with the real needs and the real desires of their constituent district, whether it is a small state congressional district, a US House district, a county, a township, a city or a whole state?  If you can truly answer yes, vote for that person.
  4. Is this someone you honestly believe you can trust?
  5. Has this person demonstrated poor behavior – corporate bullying, being investigated while in office, bad business behavior, poor judgement, etc?  Run as far away from them as you can?
  6. Has this person been caught saying things to select groups that they either have had to “walk back” in public or apologize for (for example, Romney being recorded giving his “47% speech”).  Don’t vote for that person. Ever.

If you’re not sure who to vote for, ask friends. If you are having trouble getting to the polls for time, babysitting, lack of transport, whatever, be resourceful and call someone. But don’t sit out your commitment to America by not participating in the democratic election of representatives.

If you are not sure where to vote, or who is on the ballot, then go to this site:

If you live in Illinois and you aren’t registered to vote – you can register right at the polls – you simply need two forms of ID showing your address – they suggest a driver’s license or other ID card and a bill of some kind. Don’t let that be an excuse.

Vote, friends.  VOTE!

Our country depends on it.

As you were,



That golden light of fall

25 Oct

Everyone has their “season” – people say “I’m a summer girl” or “Spring is my thing” or “Give me winter” and of course “I’m a fall person.”  Your “season” influences your personal color palette, when you feel you’re at your best, etc. etc.

Growing up, I always felt myself to be a summer person – it’s when my birthday is, every summer as a kid was spent at the pool, on the golf course, on my bike, doing outdoor stuff all the time.  I was always one of those kids with a chocolate-brown tan and chlorine-bleached hair.

As I got into college, I began to realize, I’m really a fall person.  I feel energized by fall – it’s the starting point of so much – school, sports seasons, etc.  The cooler weather makes it better to be outside (now that I’m not a little kid with a local pool to go to every day).  Cold mornings are invigorating and warm afternoons are to be savored.  The trees turning make the world a technicolor dream for a few weeks in October.  Hearty, satisfying foods that smell up the entire house are the order of the day. Fire pits. Walks in the forest preserves kicking up leaves. Happy dogs outside, etc.

I married a “fall girl”.  Robin has always described herself as a fall person – her choice of colors trends to earth tones, which compliments her olive skin coloring and dark hair. She is not a big fan of heat and humidity (unless palm trees and sand are involved too). She also comes alive in the fall – it energizes her like no other season.

This morning is a spectacular “Indian Summer” day – it is supposed to be quite warm today, and while cool and crisp this morning, only a light jacket is required. Clear, bright and sunny.

I was thinking about what I like most about fall and I think I have figured it out – it’s the light. While I don’t think any of us like days getting shorter and shorter every day, there’s something about how the lowering sun angle makes the sunlight a nicer, more golden glow. Shadows are longer. The sun comes in the windows of the house more during the day. Sunrises are rosier and seem to last longer.  Sunsets are more orange and seem to linger longer.

Photographers know that “golden” low sun angle well. You need look no further than any Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue for evidence of that – it seems like every shot was made at either sunset or sunrise. Designers would call this “color temperature” – the lower sun angle makes a warmer “color temperature” – more yellow, more golden. Less blue and less harsh.

The header shot on this blog is a great example of an early-fall sunset.  I shot that from my friend Professor Troutsteam’s sailboat on Lake Michigan in late September a few years ago. We went for a “sunsetter” sail – left the dock about 5:30 PM on a Saturday afternoon, and headed in about 7:00 PM. That incredible orange glow just doesn’t happen in mid-summer.

There is a Jewish angle to fall as well – it is the time of the Jewish New Year and Day of Atonement – Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. You celebrate a new year beginning, you celebrate renewal. You take stock of your life, you make amends, and you atone for wrongs. We also “reset” the Torah every fall – the Torah (for those not “in the Tribe”) is the first five books of the bible, and in Jewish practice, you read a portion (called a “parshah”) every week in order from beginning to end.  You reach the end, re-roll it backwards and start from Genesis again.

Some would say spring is the time for renewal – the critters have their babies, the trees leaf out, the flowers bloom, the plants rise. For me, fall is when we are at our fullest. The harvest is in, the plants and all are at their fullest size. School is on, life is moving fast and forward.  Things are accelerating, not slowing down.

Regardless of if you’re a fall person like me, or not – enjoy the season. Get out and walk among the trees and leaves. Jump in a leaf pile. Gather with friends for a beer in the crisp air and sunshine. Attend a football game, Get up early for a rosy sunrise, and be sure to enjoy a sunset. Savor it.

As you were,


I’m back.

24 Oct

Hi Friends:

I know it’s been more than six months since my last blog post – this sounds like I’m in the confessional (not that a Jew like me would know much of that) – forgive me friends for I have committed the sin of not writing for more than a half a year.

I’ve had a lot going on. And my close friends know what.  To say that it consumed my thoughts and therefore my ability to write about it is to understate the obvious. “It” was also not something I wanted to live out in social media. Thankfully, life moves forward and so am I.

The last six months have been interminably long, and I learned a ton about myself.  One thing I learned is that I’m immensely resourceful. I also learned (not too surprising here) that I’m not wired to be idle. Thankfully, I’m anything but at this point, and now instead of too much time to think, instead I don’t have enough time for anything. And I love that.

The long story short? I’m back.  Let’s just leave it at that. The pub that pours a steady flow of Stew’s Brew is back open for business.

What prompted this you ask?  Mentorship.  That’s what.

It took me close to 4 years to do this, but I have been able to pay forward the favor done for me by my friend David Deal when he and I sat down for a delicious Chicago Dog and he coached me into starting my personal blog.

Today, I coached/mentored a young colleague into starting his blog. We met to discuss how he could contribute to the company’s blogging and content development effort and the conversation turned into “how do I get started with blogging?” Four hours later, he’s banged out his first post. I like to think I’ve added a little something new to the world. I’m thinking he’s going to go far in this.  My friends and followers, meet Tom Fowell:

“History is Written by the #”.

Much more to come, my friends, much more to come. From me, and well, I’m sure Tom will have much to say too. Life has not stood still while I took my break from writing. But in the meanwhile, enjoy the words of this fine young writer. And some fresh Stew’s Brew will be poured within a day or so.

As you were,


Bartending taught me about Client Service

19 Aug

My new post on my marketing blog – enjoy and share if you feel so inclined:  Bartending taught me about Client Service.


28 Mar

Well, last weekend, I finally got to do what I’ve been wanting to do for ages, and that is buy my oldest son, Joel, a car. Which is only the ending part of the story. As I mentioned in my story from last spring, when we bought our twin sons a car to share, we’ve always been in the camp that kids don’t need their own cars. Neither my wife nor I had our own cars until deep in college, and so we never bought the kids cars when they turned 16. Is it more convenient for them to have their own at that age? I’m sure it is – but it just wasn’t how either of us were raised, and therefore, it wasn’t how we were going to proceed. But at some point, necessity wins. For the car we bought for Alex and Brian, it was Brian heading off to community college every day this year that forced the hand. And for Joel, well, it was landing the coolest summer internship we and he could possibly imagine.

In case you’re living somewhere under a rock, Tesla Motors is the “it” car company right now.  It has been compared to Apple computer in the mid-80s – it is inventing the future as we speak, and that future is electric cars with rapid charging ability, high performance (rather than the whiny little golf-cart-esque things that other car companies are putting out), extreme luxury, unimaginable features, best-in-class-safety and incredible beauty all in one.   They are inventing a nationwide rapid charging network just for Tesla owners, they are building a battery plant that is 10X the size of anything around today to serve the industry, and again, they are inventing this category.


And they hired my son, Joel, as an intern this summer in their paint engineering department at their production plant in Fremont, CA, in the San Jose/Silicon Valley area.  Wow. So suddenly, the necessity requirement for the car purchase is being met.

This story wouldn’t make sense without getting to know my son a bit. This little boy has loved cars and everything to do with cars since he was old enough to make the Pbbbbbbbbbbbb sound with his mouth – and would push around non-car objects like they were cars – that at 7 months old. His favorite toys were all cars. At the ripe age of 3, he had the starting lineup of the NASCAR Winston Cup series committed to memory, and I’m not talking about just drivers names, but their sponsors, their numbers, their engine builder, their owner, the whole shebang.  I could have won bar bets with him, and when I took him to his first NASCAR race (a Busch Series race at the Milwaukee Mile) just after his third birthday, he demonstrated that prowess and got people to buy me beers (“Buddy, you’re raisin’ that boy right, lemme buy ya a beer.”).

He would watch NASCAR, IndyCar, Formula 1, World Rally Car (WRC), Super Bikes, etc. etc. non-stop on Speed Channel (RIP!), ESPN, national TV, etc.  He cried his eyes out when Dale Earnhardt was killed.  I bought him a pedal-powered Indy Car and a little play helmet and he’d strap that helmet on and race around the driveway, and then declare himself the winner, stand up in the car and conduct a winner’s interview with himself, perfectly mimicking the winner’s speech of “Well, the DuPont Pepsi Hendricks Chevrolet was just awesome today, and the work of the crew is what got me here.”

He would hold races of his 1/64th scale Indy and NASCAR toy cars on our dining room table, carefully logging the starting positions, the ending positions, the series points and more in notebooks. As he got older and got into video games, he would consistently completely ace the latest computer or console racing games. Right now he’s in the top percentiles of all registered players on some of the best/hardest racing games like Forza and others.

Most kids, when they get their licenses, do stupid things, get tickets, wreck cars, etc. Not Joel. Not at all Joel. He guards his driving privilege closer than anyone I know. Other than one unfortunate encounter with the corner of our garage and our minivan’s bumper a week after getting his license and one scrape of a mailbox a couple of months after that, he’s not had any accidents driving. He went five years with his license before he got his first ticket and that was driving back and forth from his internship with Nissan in Detroit last year.

He went to school to get a job with a car company. He started out as a mechanical engineering major and during his junior year, he realized that wasn’t for him and changed majors to his current one, Technology Systems Management, which, is really the applied side of engineering. Everything he’s done at school has pointed to that – the biggest of which is Formula SAE.  FSAE is a racing program sponsored by the Society of Automotive Engineers. FSAE teams design and build from scratch a “formula-style” race car (picture below) every year.  They then compete in FSAE competitions where they have a business proposal competition (how much does it cost to build it and what are the projected production costs in a volume run), a design competition and competitions in a variety of tests of the car itself – static tests where the car is still, and dynamic tests like acceleration, braking, skidpad, and then autocross and endurance racing. He started as a freshman apprentice, being a general go-fer, and has worked his way into the team leadership this year.

Here is Joel at the wheel of the 2013 Illini Motorsports FSAE car in a testing session last summer:


So, I guess I’ve set the stage for “Joel is a car guy”. As part of his run up to a career in the automaker business, the next stage is interning – and last summer, he hit a great one.  He interned at Nissan in their technology center in Farmington Hills, MI. Nissan paid well, provided him a company car to drive (and damn nice ones too) and he spent the summer kart racing with an old friend of mine from high school who works there too (and helped foam the runway).  Unfortunately, Nissan wasn’t able to pick him up for this summer – with his change from Mechanical Engineering to Tech Systems Management that took him out of contention. He had fairly well planned on going back to his old summer job of being a camp counselor at a local day camp (which is a great job, so don’t take that the wrong way), when out of the blue, the dream internship happened. He got a call from Tesla Motors where someone that knew him from FSAE had recommended him. After a very short interview period, he got the job and he’s headed to California for the summer.

As a car guy myself (the Brits call it being a “petrol head”), it has pained me that I haven’t been able to buy my petrol head son a car, but it just hasn’t been a necessary expense. And when you’re dealing with five-figure expenses, it needs to be necessary.  But with the internship in California and all, it became time. So he and I started doing research – I should say he started doing research, with me sort of following. My wife was still pretty soft on the idea – she recognized the need but the expense scared her – and it does me.  But, we’ll manage. On Saturday, he came home for the weekend, and we set out to look at two cars, with no intent on buying either. But the second one we looked at, a pristine 2007 VW GTI just spoke to me.  Joel was meant to drive that car. The car looks and drives like new and had a perfect record on CARFAX with all service details documented.  Doesn’t get better than that. After much “gut wrenching” thought, and a quick phone call to Robin, much to Joel’s surprise, I said to the dealer “Ok, if we take it today, what can you do on the price?” I thought Joel’s head was going to pop. The look on his face was completely priceless. We did the deal and I thought the kid was going to do cart wheels on his way to the car.

One HAPPY kid:


As I’ve mentioned before, my wife and I also have a VW GTI – a 2011.  It is the perfect blend of a performance car and practicality. Tons of room inside to haul people and stuff. And when it’s just you, a curvy road and the gas and brake pedals, it flat hauls ass.  So Joel and I have “dad and son VW GTIs.”  And while he’s over the moon happy that he finally has a ride of his own, I’d stack my happy against his and probably win that I was able to do this for him.

The boys with their toys:



To him, I’ve said – “Have fun with it but drive it safely everywhere that’s not a race track.”  But I also said, “and when you do hit the track, look out for the guy in the midnight black GTI, because it’s going to be dear old dad who is not going to give an inch to you.”

As you were,


“Tribute Band” music – my outing to see Brit Floyd

24 Mar

A ton going on right now in my life and much, much to write about, but I’m going to go a topic at a time, so today’s topic is my outing last Thursday night to see Brit Floyd, ostensibly a “Pink Floyd Tribute Band” play the music of Pink Floyd at the Chicago Theater. I’ve never been a huge Pink Floyd fan – and in fact, it’s a topic of humor with my wife of late – we both realized that with Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin and a few other major acts, there are a lot of songs we know and music that we like, but don’t ask us the names of the songs, and don’t ask us to name our favorites, as we won’t be able to tell you.  Now that said, it is a wee bit easier with Pink Floyd – there’s a couple of major songs from The Wall (Another Brick …, Comfortably Numb), from Dark Side of The Moon (Money, Time, Wish you were here), etc.  But even those, if you come into them in the middle of the song, we don’t hit right away.  The game we play now is if we’re in the car listening to Classic Vinyl on Sirius XM, and a Pink Floyd/Led Zeppelin, etc. song comes on, is to cover the radio display and say “Ok name it” … and neither of us can.

ANYWAY (the linguistic version of when you realize you’re down a rabbit hole you didn’t intend to explore), my friends Beavis and Peter Pan started emailing when this show was announced, and I thought it would be a good way to both have a great night out with two good friends and also perhaps get to know this music better.

So, the whole “Tribute Band” thing seems to be something that has cropped up in the last 15 years or so – bands that specialize in the music of one famous act from the classic rock era – and now starting to extend into the 80s and 90s.  Most of these are bar bands, some of them go so far as to basically play characters that are intended to be the original members (can you imagine the arguments?  “I want to be Paul Stanley.”  “No, I do, I can do the New York accent better.”), complete with costumes.  And some even go further than that and play them in different eras.  A local Beatles tribute band, Modern English does that – starting out in classic “Ed Sullivan/Liverpool” dress of black suits and skinny ties, morphing into Sgt. Pepper costumes, and then into the White Album/psychedelic era wear and wigs, fake beards, etc.

As I said, for the most part, these are bar bands, or at best, are touring local festivals – like Modern English does all summer in Chicago doing every “Taste of” “4th of July Fest” etc. around.

That got me thinking – is this really a new phenomenon, this “Tribute Band” thing, or is it something that has gone on for a long time – and the analog to it popped up like stepping on a rake – for the most part, most “city symphony” orchestras (like the Chicago Symphony), are tribute bands but are tributes to Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, etc.  Now that said, really what they are is cover bands – playing  the music of others, where truly a “tribute band” does the music of one band/artist, etc.  But, it really isn’t something truly new.

So, on to Brit Floyd – so what makes Brit Floyd such a cut above other “tribute bands” that they sell out a 6500 seat theater in Chicago at ticket prices ranging from $45 to $120/seat?  Versus going and seeing “Journey to the 80s” an 80s tribute band with a hairy overweight guy screeching out his best Steve Perry falsetto?  Quality … and musicianship, through and through.  That and these guys WEREN’T playing characters.  Were they a band that only played the music of one artist/band?  Yes.  That’s where the similarity ends.

To give it an analog, Brit Floyd is the equivalent of seeing the CSO play Beethoven’s 9th symphony in its entirety, while some bar band Pink Floyd tributeers might be the equivalent of the local high school’s “B” level orchestra scratching out the first movement.  Unbelievably professional musicians, incredible staging and production values, and while they were faithful to the Pink Floyd music, they also made it their own by extending the songs deeply – “Another Brick In The Wall” goes from being a 4:15 album cut or a 3.5 minute radio play to an 8 minute jam with extended/expanded guitar solos, a unique ending, a deep/long beginning that worked into the start of the song, etc.  It was like that all evening.  And it was incredible.

That was some of the best rock music I’ve heard in a long time.  The guitarists were virtuosos – both playing and contributing incredible versions of David Gilmour’s soaring guitar solos.  They had two percussionists, an incredible group of female backup singers, etc.  And their vocals, while again true to the Pink Floyd genre and sound, were their own voices – they weren’t playing characters, or singing in affect accents or any of the other typical Tribute Band garbage you see in the bar bands.

As I age, and become more and more attached to music as my right brain outlet, both playing and listening, I have often wondered, “what is the future of rock music”?  An acquaintance of mine, Dean, who is a professional musician, playing everything from folk to rock to blues to jazz and multiple instruments, has of late been posing the question – “when did music make the turn from professionalism to production values?”  He promotes his gigs as “no auto tunes, backing tracks, loopers, or unnecessary electronics – just pure quality music.”  Versus seemingly anywhere you go to hear music these days, bands use backing tracks to add additional instruments, people, etc. that aren’t out there playing.

I’ve been thinking about that, and about, “what happens to the music we love when the artists die off or retire (or both)?”  Certainly there are these tribute bands in the bars, but I hope there is more “Brit Floyd” level acts forming up to cover and expand and interpret and make their own, the music we all know and love.  I, for certain, would pay to hear that.

Much more to come in the next week or two … lots happening.

But the train ride is at an end now, so …

(and pictures are below)

As you were,



Sharpening the Axe

19 Mar

In Stephen Covey’s list of “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” he talks about “sharpening the saw” – which is his euphemism for actively learning.  He recommends continually putting yourself through education, training, reading books, listening to tapes, etc.  And while one most certainly could say that he included this one just to make sure his devotees had continued motivation to buy his stuff, nonetheless, I strongly believe that continual learning one of the keys to lifelong happiness as well as continued mental health and sharpness.

Which brings me to my topic – “Sharpening the Axe” – of late, I started taking guitar lessons again as part of my rededicated devotion and focus on playing my guitar (hence the “axe” reference) and music in 2014 that I shared in my post around the New Year.  Since the start of the year, musically anyway, I have …

– Rebuilt and reorganized my home-grown guitar songbook into something far more organized and scaleable.  I also printed 15 copies of it, with one designated as a gift for my pal Professor Troutstream, who is also getting his strum on again.

– Created a much more musically-inclined space for myself in our newly-remodeled basement, with all my guitar gear there, space to sit and play both by myself and with others, and also playing along with music on the surround sound stereo system down there.

– Bought one of my “dream guitars” – a candy-apple red Fender Stratocaster.  Now I’d love to say it’s an American Custom Shop Stratocaster that cost $2500 or more – nope, a Standard, built in Mexico. (For those that care about this stuff, maple neck, 50’s style headstock, three single coil standard pickups with a hot bridge pickup.) And red stratocasters have been played by my guitar idol/icons for ages – guys like Pete Townshend, Eric Clapton, Joe Walsh, Stevie Ray Vaughn.  Looks perfect and plays like an absolute dream.  Best value in guitars around – great action, sound, sustain, etc.  Not sure why I waited so long to get this.  But I love it.  Here’s Pete with his:


And me with mine as I was unpacking it from the shipment box:



– And, in the last four weeks, I started back up with guitar lessons.

Over my lifetime, I’ve probably had 40 or so guitar lessons – I took guitar classes back in Jr. High from Mr. Elliott at Central  JH in Newton, IA – I think that was 7th and 8th grade.  Mr. Elliott taught me the basics but he also taught me to love the instrument and for that, I’m lifelong grateful to him.  After that, I took a handful of lessons here and there from various local folks, both officially and unofficially, and also my bandmates taught me stuff while I put down the rhythm with my bass guitar – amazing what you can learn just by watching.

About 15 years ago, when I picked guitar back up, I immediately started with lessons and quickly found that even though I was coming off a nearly 20-year hiatus from playing, that I was close to a better teacher than the teacher.  I gave that up, dabbled around in guitar books and such and online bits and pieces, then went through two more guitar teachers trying to find the right match.  One guy is a really accomplished Jazz teacher and well, he teaches Jazz guitar, which isn’t what I wanted, and another guy just really didn’t feel like much of a match.  A bigger issue is that I was struggling with articulating what I really wanted from this.

Finally, after thinking about it a lot, I figured it out – the handful of things I really wanted to learn were:

– finger style right hand picking on an acoustic guitar
– jazz and blues form rhythm guitar chord work and additional voicings and forms for chord work

But most important:

– how to solo as a blues and rock guitarist.

THAT, my friends is my holy grail.  I knew the basics – I had learned improvisation as a bass player back in high school at the hand of Mr. Omanson at Newton High Sschool.  It’s all just scales.  I even more or less knew several of the scales – minor and major pentatonics, minor and major straight scales, mixolydian scales, etc.  But I didn’t know how they translated to actually making a guitar solo sound good and sound coherent. Little things like root notes, bends, riffs, transitions from one pattern to the next, pattern extensions, etc.

I found a teacher near me by searching online, and read his website. Accomplished Blues and Rock player.  Good.  You Tube videos of his playing, great! Flexible schedules? Now we’re getting somewhere!  “I’ll teach you what you want to learn”.  Winner winner chicken dinner, ladies and gents!  I sent him an email describing my situation and he emailed right back – he thinks he could help – and the first lesson is free as he wanted to see if we had a match.

Well, happy to report we have a match. I learned more in that first 45 minute free session than I learned from all the guitar teachers I had since picking this back up.  I just had my third lesson last night and already he had me playing a solo over him playing along to a blues “jam track”.  DAMN!  Now this is progress!  I feel so energized by the learning, I’m having such a blast playing.  I play at least an hour a day as much as I can, and for the first time, I can hear the music in these scales. Blues songs are running on my mental iPod on a continuous 24 hour loop.

You know you’re primed for the learning experience when you can’t learn it fast enough.  That’s me right now.

Coming back to the central point and theme of the post here though – you’re never too old to pick up something and learn it.  Whether you’re just starting as a rank beginner, or you’re doing as I’m doing and going from a medium level to a more advanced level of knowledge or skill, there is no substitute for learning and for getting the learning from a competent educator or other source.  Your mind expands with every bit you learn.

Think about it.  What do you want to learn? Go learn it.

As you were,


%d bloggers like this: