Halloween Fun

What I find fun about Halloween has nothing to do with me dressing up. (I did wear an orange shirt and black pants to work today in honor of the holiday.)

I love the looks on the faces of young children. It was especially enjoyable when one of the young children was mine and I got to shadow him around the neighborhood.

Now I get to open the door to the faces of others. Actually my wife and then my son manned the doors through the busiest hours. That made it even better. I like watching little kids but small doses are just fine.


ps. Best Halloween blog post belongs to Pax again this year. I share his rapture with regards to candy corn which he celebrates each year. This year however he has outdone himself with his “Big Ass Page of Halloween Goodness”. Experience it here.


No I am not referring to someone from the world champion Phillies…though congrats to my Philadelphia friends. This MVP is closer to home.

Just over two years ago, my son was trying out for the high school sophomore soccer team. He had been playing since he was 4 and excelling since he was 5. For years he would vacillate between soccer and baseball as his favorite sport. Sometime early in high school baseball clearly took the #1 spot. Here he was at the end of the summer, a summer in which he had been playing baseball almost every day, assuming that he would make the soccer team– just because. He was goofing around and not giving this tryout his all.

As the story was told the other night, the sophomore coaches were ready to drop him from the program. The kid had some talent but was not worth the trouble and there were boys working their butts off to make the team. Fortunately the varsity coach had coached D for several years when he first started playing on a travel team at the age of 8 or 9. He knew the kind of heart that D usually brings to whatever he does. They decided to have him play on the JV squad that year and see how he handled it. It may sound good to be on JV as a soph but that would be wrong. JV is mostly made up of juniors not good enough to make varsity.

Bottom line. He learned a lesson. He put his all that season into improving both his skills and his attitude. As a junior he made varsity and as a senior he really stepped up his game. He is still a baseball guy. He plays soccer during the fall and the last couple of weeks of summer. Yet, this year he played the best soccer of his young life.

As a midfielder he was moved from defensive mid to offensive mid depending on what the team needed during the game.  He was often asked to shadow the best player of the other team. Kids who were all conference, played year round on elite travel teams and expect to play Division I college soccer. At 5’6″ and 130 pounds he usually gave up several inches and many pounds. He would get knocked to the ground making runs up the field and bounce back.

It paid off. Unfortunately not in the team’s record. this team had talent but not much success hitting the back of the net. But D got noticed. First he has been invited to play on the elite travel team sponsored by the Chicago Fire, our professional team. Then he was named All Sectional, Honorable Mention. (What does that mean you may ask? I did. The recognition levels are All Conference, All Sectional and All State. His was the level above all conference.) Not bad for a baseball guy.

The final and best honor came the other night at the high school soccer awards dinner. D was named MVP by vote of his teammates. How cool is that!

In high school there are a number of good students and lots of good athletes. I was a student, not much of an athlete. it takes a special kid to be able to do school and..what ever that “and” is. For D his “and” is being an athlete, a true student athlete. I am proud of him. I am sure that his grandma is too.

He has some choices to make. He has been focused on playing baseball in college. He is now being told by many people that he could definitely play soccer in college. Possibly at a Division I level. It is an exciting possibility but to do that he would have to go to tournaments that college coaches scout at and probably have to play soccer this spring. There is not enough time for baseball, soccer and school in the spring. One will have to go. Right now I am putting my money on baseball (his choice) and school (my choice).

Oh to have your life in front of you with excellent choices. That is an MVP kinda life.

Happy Diwali 2008

Happy Diwali can be far more than a salutation to recognize this Indian (Hindu, Jain, and Sikhs) festival of lights. At the Patel home last Saturday night Happy Diwali was a state of mind, a shared consciousness, an atmosphere, a reality, a command.

I first learned of Diwali last year upon receiving an e-card. I did some modest research.  One can, and by all means should, learn the basics of Diwali here.

My focus this year is not on an understanding of what Diwali means to hundreds of millions around the world. This year my focus is on the 50 or so gathered at the home of Ami and Bhavesh. My wife and I were honored to be two of the few non-Hindus at this affair. I love to be immersed in and observe different cultures. This heightened my sense of anticipation, in fact all my senses, and I was not to be disappointed.

Let’s start with the the sense of sight. (I am excluding comments of this gorgeous house since that has little to do with Diwali and I will save that for my freelance article in Better Homes and Gardens.)

The first sights that captivate the eyes are the colors and flows of the Saris. Most of the women were in traditional dress. A Sari is one of the most beautiful items of clothing a woman can wear. Each one on display that night was distinct. The colors were dramatically bright. This was in contrast with the traditional male dress which was distinguished but drab. The women definitely stand out. Saris wrap around the woman seductively. The men’s garb hung straight. Check here for a demonstration of traditional Indian dress by our friends Frank and Sheryl.

The next sense to be engaged was taste. Appetisers aplenty but be careful, many had a surprising hot kick. The dinner was served buffet style. I have rarely eaten Indian food and had no idea what I was smelling and gazing at. Fortunately one of the guests noticed our predicament and while carrying his 4 month old girl gave us a tour of the food and explained what everything was. What it was was delicious. That much translates across all languages.

Speaking of language one heard more than English spoken. But in all cases the conversation was engaging. First, this was my first opportunity to meet Frank’s wife Sheryl. I had heard many good things about her and found them to be true. Over dinner we met a woman now living in the Village in NY. She shared stories of running into famous people on the street. We talked of growing up, work life, what we will do if the economy continues to tank, and of unexpected house guests.

Then, after dessert was served, singing and dancing broke out. First an elder woman sang a few traditional Hindu hymns. On one level they reminded me of some of the Hebrew prayers in terms of cadence and tone. I suspect there is commonality across many religious singing. Then one of the uncles sang for much of the rest of the night. As he described them they were a combination of the old and the new. He would discuss some of them in English. One was about being in the moment and not worrying about the past or the future. Love what you are doing right now. Very different than most Western points of view.

After some cajoling, the dancing began with one teenage girl doing a vigorous traditional dance. The hip, arm and hand movements seem to be what makes the style particularly Indian. Eventually more people came out to dance. Soon it was hard not to since someone was either gently pulling you out of your chair or if you were standing on the periphery a hand on your back would firmly nudge you into the circle of dancers.

I eventually caught on to the fact that many of the songs dances were straight out of Bollywood. I have yet to see a Bollywood feature film but that is now definitely in my future. Some of the music seemed to have a bit of an American flavor. At one point I could have sworn that there were strains of rockabilly intertwined in one of the songs. Sure enough, we were told that in the 1960s Bollywood integrated some of the American music and dance of the times.

I started writing about Happy Diwali. Happy was these people. All ages singing and dancing, having a grand time and making sure that you were having one too.

I cannot wait until next year. And next year we will be dressed to blend in with the crowd.






The Ancient Improved By The Modern

For religious Jews, study of the Talmud can be a lifetime quest toward understanding the word of G-d. This quest made all the more challenging since it is written in Aramaic, not a commonly used language. Yet for centuries Jewish scholars have studied these text and the commentaries written by Rashi and others.

The October 9th edition of The Economist says it better:

“THE Talmud is the bedrock of traditional Judaism: a repository of law and lore, chaotically interwoven with biblical explanation and legend. Compiled in fifth-century Babylon (today’s Iraq), it has since enticed, intrigued and exhausted generations of Jews.

For Orthodox Jews, lifelong study of the Talmud is the supreme religious precept. But for many earnest students through the ages, it has been a frustrating grind. Written in Aramaic (often described as the language of Jesus), it does not easily surrender its textual meaning or inner reasoning. In the 11th century, a French rabbi named Shlomo Yitzhaki, often known by the acronym Rashi, wrote a ground-breaking commentary to make the original text more accessible. But even he is often terse and replete with abbreviations and unelaborated allusions, as are the thousands of commentaries and books of scholarly correspondence that accrued over the ages.”

Due to the work of over 50 scholars working separately but able to be linked electronically, their are new translations in English and modern Hebrew. By having an electronic version, there are search capabilities that never before existed.

Even with these modern techniques, one does not merely read the Talmud but tries to extract meaning. Even computer technology cannot help you there.

One of the coolest things is that “Many follow a universal page-a-day programme: all over the world, people are studying the same text on the same day. It takes them seven years to complete the whole opus.”

I am fascinated that the same world can contain Twitter, instant messaging and still have room for a seven year quest for knowledge.



c.1380, “solemn rite or ceremony,” from O.Fr. celebrité, from L. celibritatem(nom. celebritas) “multitude, fame,” from celeber “frequented, populous.” Meaning “condition of being famous” is from 1600; that of “famous person” is from 1849.


Slave Driver

The latest characterization by my son stemming from the draconian limits I put on his freedom.

Just to be clear, I demanded he come home last night instead of sleeping over at a friend’s house. He only had school on Tuesday and Wednesday this week due to Columbus day and parent-teacher conferences. He did no schoolwork on his off days despite having, in his own words, a lot of homework. I know his soccer schedule and other committments for the weekend. I wanted more homework done sooner than he had in mind.

Therefore treating him like a slave meant that I had no right to tell him to come home Friday night even though he played Wednesday night, played and came home an hour after curfew Thursday, and self directed his time on Friday for all but three hours. He chose to ignore me and came home Saturday morning.

Slave may be a bit more accurate given what I have in mind for him now.

My 14th Wedding Anniversary

…was last week. It got lost among the other stuff in our lives, especially since it fell on Yom Kippur. My wife remembered about an hour into holiday services. Being the Day of Atonement, which requires fasting and praying, celebration was not in the cards for that day. The next day I woke up early for work and my wife left for Italy. The celebration will have to wait.

Just because it got lost does not mean that it should not be properly remembered.

A few facts:

We were both in our thirties when we got married. My age now begins with a 5.

This is the longest either of us has been married (my first, her second)

I have now been married longer than I lived on my own as a single–this thought just struck me a couple of weeks ago. I was single for a looong time.

Our son was her son when we married. He was not yet 4 then and now he leaves us for college next year.


A few thoughts:

 It has not always been easy, at times incredibly hard for each of us, but it has been well worth it. It takes time to find a workable life rhythm and a lifetime to perfect one.

It is getting easier. I am less often expected to read her mind and I learn better to share mine (though she proclaims to all that she learns more about me from reading this blog than from what I tell her. Not altogether false)

My wife sparks stronger passion from me than anyone I have ever known, mostly the good kind, sometimes the loud, yelling kind, but never no feeling at all

We have some growing yet to do as a couple but we have the next 20+ years to work on it

Lastly, but not as an afterthought, I love my wife.

Happy anniversary, Honey.

Life Goes On

After a too short period I went back to work.  It was time. I thought I was ready. I kinda was.

It is true that for the living life goes on. I had much support from my wife, son and lots of friends who continued to send cards and notes and to call. All of it thoughtful, sincere, beautiful and much appreciated.

Then there are the people I know but am not friends with.  A few demonstrated heartfelt feelings. One woman who I converse with regularly send a very nice card and gave me a hug when I got back and you could tell she cared. The other extreme were the few people for whom saying, “I am sorry for your loss” was purely a contrived politeness they felt they needed to convey. One did not even look me in the eye as he quickly moved passed me and went sorryforyourloss.

Most fell in the middle. Wanted to say something to a coworker who they are not good friends with. This was OK except that I was not as ready to tell the story of my Mom’s illness and death 20 times on Monday. Boy, people like details. Then they like to tell you about how someone they knew dies. It amazes me how insensitive people can be or at least unsensitive (not that that is a word). Since we just finished the period where I and other Jews are to attone for their sins let it be said that I fall into this category more often than I should.

Beyond all the Mom stuff this was a fairly regular week–if a day of fasting can be considered regular. Work was intense and long. I complained about the lack of underskilled help, spent hours under severe pressure, came home and collapsed. The week ended well as I learned that I had won a new client that I have been chasing for awhile and I attended Senior Night at D’s last home soccer game. The seniors and their parents were introduced in front of the fans.  D played a great game. I am very proud of what he has accomplished as a student athlete.

On to the first weekend and the second week of the rest of my life.

The Process Of Death

In the modern world too few processes are uncomplicated. For the living, not even dying comes easy.

I refer to all the things that need to be done for the dying/dead by the living.  The details seem endless and the prep should begin early, perhaps shortly after birth.

First get a grip on the finances. Make sure you know where the paperwork and accounts are and that someone trusted can sign besides the one that no longer can.

Know what is in the will and do not try to make last minute changes–especially if the lawyer plans to go for an extended vacation just when he is needed.

Hope that burial plots have been bought because this is close to impossible to do at the last minute.

Find a funeral home to work with. Is there a prepaid burial set up? Can you find the paperwork? If not how do you choose? Nothing like trying to price compare when you are grieving even though the difference can be many thousands of dollars. We found Irwin through a cousin. He came to us, made everything easy and was price competitive. My family found him to be “genuine”. I liked him well enough and everything went smoothly but I still saw a bit of the salesman come out when we met with him. Realistically I may be hypersensitive at the moment. Oh by the way, unless you absolutely cannot afford it, hire the limo to take the family around for the day of the funeral. You need it and deserve it.

Find a place for the service and appropriate clergy. We belong to a wonderful congregation. We were able to use our temple for free and our rabbi and cantor made the services there, at the grave site and later that night at our home beautiful and meaningful. All this even though they had just prepared for the Rosh Hashannah holiday the two days before. I wrote about the JRC before and cannot say enough about the place now.

Figure out the unwritten, unspoken “rules” of the official mourning process. First is who do you call to let know? Family, extended family, friends and co-workers want the opportunity to pay their respects and help in any way they can. If you are lucky the first set of people you call will volunteer to call others. But there are no rules. As you are grieving this is not the time to have to worry about someone being hurt if they did not find out. It should be all about you.

For me the most surreal aspect was telling my business associates.  I keep my work life and home life fairly separate. I am not close to anyone at the company I work for but I have opened up to a few of my clients. In the type of consulting I do, I am involved with very senior executives about very sensitive matters. What is the etiquette for telling clients? I had an out or town meeting the week we thought Mom might die, a phone conference two days after and a meeting with a potential client the day of the funeral. It is not that people are not understanding, they are. But it was a question of what words to use. Do you give detail? Do you give warning that your mother might die soon so contingency plans can be made? In the end I did what was easiest for me and I hope for no long run repercussions.

Someone needs to give a eulogy. The problem is that the people who know the dead person best are the ones most drowning in sorrow. Telling about the life of a loved one who just died without sobbing while in front of all the people who remind you of that person is not easy. OK, not easy is a gross understatement. In our case our rabbi, who did not know Mom, came to our house to meet with the family and get background. In his words, he was the back-up. It helped to know that one was in place. The other members of my family were too emotional to speak. And that’s OK, it is really all about what each of the Grieving need and it is more than OK just to mourn. I was able to speak for them and managed to say a few words without completely breaking down at that moment. I saved my complete breakdowns for before and after.

Jews do what is known as a Shiva. I am told by some friends that it is like a wake but with a focus on food rather than drink. It is supposed to be for seven days but many do it for 2-3. In our area this means the family picks a house at which to gather as friends and relatives come to pay their condolences. But there are processes to work out. Who takes care of providing food, plates, drinks, utensils, etc.? In our tradition, the grieving family is not supposed to deal or worry about that stuff. If you are lucky like we are, friends volunteer and magically all of these things happen. Even then, most people will ask if there is anything they can do. Unfortunately, even though they mean well, and I have done the same thing, there is a reality. The Grieving do not want to impose or ask for something beyond your means or time. These amorphous offers are not particularly helpful but again there is no handbook– that I know of. According to Rick’s Book of Manners, one should say, “I will bring _____”, is that OK or would you prefer that I _____?” (BTW, Rick’s Book of Manners is the shortest book of its kind. I am pretty easy going about most stuff and I HATE little rules on how to or not behave. Originally it was going to have just one line—Be a mench!— but I realized that a bit more direction is needed.)

There will be estate issues to resolve, thank you notes to write and getting on with life without someone you love. That last one is the most difficult process of all.