Jazz Band At The Shiva

Jazz Band At The Shiva. I was immediately stuck by the melodic phrasing, imagery, and feeling of incongruence in these words. Steve spoke them matter-of-factly and yet with a hint of irony as the two of us stood, watched and listened. Jazz Band At The Shiva always felt as if it should have been the title of a live recording of a Wes Montgomery or Bill Evans quartet at some smokey New York club.

The shiva was for a friend’s mom. I had not known her well. Maybe we shared the same room 2 or 3 times. Most of my feelings about her came from Lori. Lori’s relationship with her mother was complicated to say the least. Just prior to her death she had not been well and to some degree the final moment was a blessing. Yet as any of us who have lost someone close knows there is never a good time for the end. It is always sad. It always hurts. She left behind a husband with whom she had shared a lifetime, two daughters and grandchildren.

Dan and I walked in together to pay our respects. It was good to see Dan who first became a friend in high school. We reconnected in grad school and the reconnected again years later. He had left the place we grew up and which made hanging out defined as we did in the “olden days” –meaning sharing the same physical space not just a virtual one– far too rare. More about Dan another day.

Dan, Lori and I each knew each other well but there was only a modest overlap in the relationships. I had met Lori in high school though we did not become friends until sometime after college and grad school. We hung out as friends often enough that I got to know her sister Julie and Julie’s husband Kevin. Dan better knew Lori’s parents than I did. In all cases mpst of our time together was decades and a lifetime before.

Relationships being what they are when you stay close to where you grew up, Dan and I knew that other friends would be among the roomful of strangers. We were in the public room of the condo association where Lori’s parents lived. As is traditional at Shivas, there were tables of food and people scattered about the room. Some had paid their respects and were congregating in groups based on past friendships and finding the best spots between the food tables and the bar. Others were waiting for the right moment to seek out the family member they knew and then introducing themselves to the ones they did not.

At first for me the jazz band, while a surprise, was just background as I sought out Lori and caught Dan up on the lives of the people he had grown up with but had not seen for years. After Lori came her sister Julie and reintroducing myself to their dad.  I joined the contingent of food eaters and small talkers. I congregated near the people I knew best. Over time the jazz band became more prominent in my consciousness. They were good and I should be able to but can’t remember the band’s composition. I believe there was a stand up base, drums, piano and maybe a clarinet.Howver for me the details or even the quality of music has never been important. Jazz Band at the Shiva. The uniqueness of having a jazz band at the Shiva and the phrase itself have stuck with me over the years.

For those that have never been to a Shiva let me provide some context. In my corner of the Jewish world (traditional but not hard core, suburban, modestly well off) a shiva lasts from one day to a week. Its purpose is to help the loved ones grieve but also to begin the process of moving beyond the grief. Family and friends bring to the bereaved their presence, caring, support and love…and tons of food. The food feeds the family so they have one less thing to be concerned with but also the guests.

A Shiva is typically loud from conversations. Some of the din is helping console the bereaved, some to celebrate the life of the dead and some just of people who haven’t had a reason to be together reconnecting and catching up on the lives of people whose lives once intertwined with their own.

Despite the volume of sound, rarely if ever is there music at a shiva. On the topics of whether or not having a jazz band was traditional or appropropriate; my response to both is “who cares”. There are no rules, no laws.This made sense for Lori’s family. Was it unusal, yes. So what? The fact that even a brief conversation on the topic broke out is irrelevant. People should have the right to do what they want especially at difficult moments. No harm to any Jew was occurred due to the making of this music.

Honestly I just find the sounds of the phrase appealing.

Jazz Band at the Shiva. I think it was Wes Montgomery.

Doubling Down On A New year

So many times so many people talk in December on how they had such a bad 12 months and they can’t wait to start the new year. I have never logically understood how the turn of a calendar page magically brings about a fresh start. Yet I feel it too. And this year I am doubling down on a fresh start.

My life is OK (not the ideal description of one’s living status) but I am in a major funk. A funk is stronger than a rut and harder to pull out of.

At work, I continue the career path I began 32 years ago. Today there is not nearly enough change and far too few fascinating moments.  Worklife contains some good moments; meetings with my more interesting clients, thinking original thoughts and “getting it” sooner than my competitors and colleges, and teaching the “kids” new things — helping them grow. Yet there are far too many hassles. I am doing things that I learned to do 20 years ago and would be passed down to others if I had the right people with the right skills and attitudes. There are administrative hassles that suck the life force from me. I am a concept guy, a principles guy, a substance over form guy. I hate bad process that I cannot fix and that takes hours away from doing good and doing well.

At home, for as long as I can remember I have been too tired from work to experience great joy enough time away from it.  Within Homelife I am in a rut. I bike, I watch too much TV and spend far too quality time with my wife and grown son. (Too much of the time we are more like roommates than family.) There is the occasional play, some times with friends,  a trip to the health club but too many weekend days I am in a daze or zonked out on the couch.

Health-wise, all is good at 30,000 feet but that masks the aches and pains, hearing loss and forgetfulness. I know that some of this is normal for a 57 year old but I want better. Part of the doubling down is a health thing but let me come back to that.

Outside of the overall funk, 2013 contained a combination of the very good and the tragically sad. My wife and I had two too fun vacations, one in Florida in March and one in Yellowstone and the Tetons in August. My son graduated from college, has a job and is living with use for awhile. Admittedly I was concerned about that arrangement working well but it has succeeded my highest hopes mostly because of him. Between Davide being Davide and whatever influences my wife and I had on him he has grown up (as grown up as any 22 year old can be) into a young man that is at ease around others, a willing participant in keeping up the home in which he lives, hard working and he has developed a great group of friends. He is someone you want to be around.

Additional life positives include more frequent outings with friends, a strong summer of biking –including my 4th Century ride in the past 6 years, and a feeling as though I was able to help a couple of friends through some tough times. Being a good friend is a not insignificant portion of how I value my self worth.

The tragedy of the year was the death of my younger sister in October. Her illness was discovered late. There were a mere eight days between the time we first heard about her cancer and her death. Too much, too quickly, devastatingly sad. I was a guardian of this autistic woman who was unable to fend for herself. Intellectually I know that there was little more that I could have done for her. Her condition made medical tests requiring her to be still all but impossible. And yet I will carry the feeling that I let her and my Mom down by not doing more. Several friends have told me that I was a good brother to her. I am taking them at their word though how is one visit a month plus a few holidays enough? While this pain will carry into 2014 it is one reason that I will be glad to see 2013 end.

So what does all of this do with doubling down on a new year? Excellent question. I had almost forgotten the theme of this piece.

I will make no dramatic new year’s resolutions on how I am going to change what I do not like about my current life. I know myself too well to think that I can keep those promises. First, I lack the discipline. Second, I have contemplated my situation for years and if I had easy answers my life would be different by now. So I will start with baby steps.

Baby Step One. On Christmas Eve morning I had surgery on both feet. (yes 1000 people told me that both feet at the same time was risky. What if something went wrong and neither could bear weight? My response is that I lack time, including time off work, to heal so it was both now or never). If all goes well I will no longer feel a jolt of pain with every step I take, a condition that I have tolerated for years. I may even be able to run again. Part of the baby step is the surgery but the more important facet is no longer tolerating being OK with pain.

Baby Step Two. I am coming back to writing. When people ask me what I would do if I were not practicing my profession of 32 years the answer is always journalism, combining wrtiting, photography and travel. I believe that I have a somewhat unique view of the world. I have a love of faces and stories told through words or pictures. I am only committing to writing but will add photography classes as I can. The travel just requires time and money.

Baby Step Three. I am trusting a new investment advisor, my third after two failures. I would be much closer to being financially ready to leap from consulting to journalism if I had been a close to average investor over the course of my adult life. Not even close. Of course timing being what it is the transition and past bad practice puts too much of my portfolio in cash at a time that stock prices are at an all time high and bond prices are falling. It will take more than a few years for this to work out but at least I believe I will be getting better advice. Can’t be worse than myself or my last two well paid advisors.

Other than that I am working on being more conscious of how I spend my time and the words I say. Bring on 2014. I am as ready as I can be. Baby Steps.



No One To Blame But Me

16 days. Keep that time frame in mind. I will come back to that shortly.

I am often child like. But not in the good, imaginative, whimsical, joyful ways of a child.  When was the last time someone described me as whimsical? No, when I am childlike it is in the tired, crabby, it’s always someone else’s fault kind of way. Especially that latter part. I tend to not take charge of things and then get mad at the world as it passes me by.

No excuses now. I am a bachelor. My wife left.

It is not as if I never functioned alone. I am not one of those guys who went from their mother to their wife never having to cook, clean and generally take care of business. I was a bachelor until 38. Just because it is 17 years later does not mean that I do not have skills.  I have skills.

What I lack for the next 16 days are excuses. That is when she returns and until then my life is mine to manage, to improve, or further screw up.

Tonight is night #1 and I already broke two promises that I made to myself. First no overeating. I have to lose the same 15 pounds that I needed to lose last year at this time. I will look and feel better when I pull that one-off. Promise #2 was a limit of 1 hour of  TV a night. 2.5 hours including a totally useless hour of The Wild, Wild, West (how I used to love that show. Damn cable TV reruns.)

At least before the night ended I gained a modicum of control. I am writing again. That is good. Feels good.

I have a long list of my own to-dos and I know that somewhere on the fridge my spouse left me her list. One at a time.

Some goals. Download  Lightroom, get the forms sent in and to learn the basics of photo editing (at least how to download the 600 pictures sitting in my camera). Fix the new version of Out. Exercise 4 times a week. Stretch every day. Lose 5 of the 15 pounds through portion control and exchanging cookies for fruit. Go through the stacks of mail piled up in the office. Schedule the spin classes. These things alone are far more than what I get done in an average 2 weeks outside of work.

Tune in. See if I write every night as planned. Follow the adventures of Bachelor Man. Better than anything on prime time. I hope.

You Know Its Been Cold When…

…23 degrees seems tolerable.

The Year Of Flying Fabulously

This year United started a policy of filling every first class seat. I f a seat was not paid for they moved someone up from the cheap seats. It was a great year to have flown a ton the year before and achieve 1K status; their highest.

About 80% of my flights this year were in the relative luxury of first class. Ah, but all good things must come to an end.

Yesterday I flew my last United flight of the year…in first class of course. I flew once today and will fly twice next week but on rival carriers where I have no status. It’s over.

Even though I was on 71 United flights this year, I fall well short of the 100 needed for 1K. Next year they are raising the bar to 120. It will likely never happen again.

Timing is everything and I thank United for implementing this policy in a year where I had high status. Flying , going to and being at airports generally add up to large amounts of dead, useless and often painful time. Being in first class eased the strain.

It was a great year to fly.


9 degrees when I arrived at work this morning. 10 degrees when I left. Snow, ice and strong winds.

What happened to summer?

Where Have All The Blog Posts Gone?

Long time passing…

Too much work. Too tired.  At least those seems to be the main reasons why I now post twice a month instead of twice a week. There are certainly things to say. It’s a fascinating, though often scary world out there.

Two posts in one. Both about Time. (Warning. Fascinating but long. You may want to settle in with a drink before starting.)

I Suck at Taking Time Off  (Should have been posted 7/24/2010)

I have been working my ass off for the last year with limited vacation. I usually take time off the last two weeks of the year which allows me to recharge the batteries going into my busy season. Not this last year. In addition to Christmas and New Years Day I  managed only two extra days. I started the year tired.

I did take a week of spring break and watched my son play his first college baseball games. My choice of what to do but not restful.

In February I did what I had sworn never to do again. I took on major managerial responsibilities. In large professional services firms where you still have to sell and bill time, the many hours of time spent on people issues gets you very little credit. Being a fantastic manager but not selling can get you fired. Why did i do it? Because we went through a big reorganization and there were a lot of young professionals who needed leadership and there was no logical second choice. I could not let them down.

The next several months are a blur of work,  gallons of coffee and too little sleep. Now it is near the end of July and I see a small window of time. From July 2o-23 there is nothing on my calendar.  I am taking vacation days I declare to the world. Yea sure.

Each day was no less than 6 hours of work though no more than eight. Sure this is better than 10- 12 hours and I saved the 1.5 hour per day commute by “vacationing” at home. Am I just some self-important clown who feeds the feeling of importance by taking on everything. NO. Or at least I don’t think so. Truly important, unexpected  client or sales matters came up that could not wait and could not be delegated.

I had planned to sleep, exercise and spend time with my son and my wife. A small amount of this happened. One day I jammed a two-hour bike ride in between client calls. Another day I spent 4 hours with my son. And on that Friday after an intense 6 hours across three different clients, my wife pulled me out of the house so we could eat lunch together (at 3:30) and hang out together for the rest of the day.

The funny thing is that I get an extra 5 weeks vacation this year on top of the 4 weeks I already cannot find time to take. It is a “benefit” provided by the company every 5 years to allow people to refresh. Funny. BTW if you don’t take it you lose it. I could in theory take off the last quarter of the year. I just would not have a job when I came back. That sucks.

Finally A Day Off  (Should have been posted 8/8/2010)

Friday August 6. A day like any other day, except It was a work day that I did not work.

One of the best weather days of this summer. 80s instead of 90s, sunshine and low humidity. After the last time off fiasco I grabbed this day and held on for dear life. It was the first day of an outstanding 3 day weekend.

Friday. Slept late. took my time getting out. %2 mile bike ride. First of that length in weeks. Had hoped to do 60 but the legs would not cooperate.

Had a play tickets for 7:30 that night. My wife and I had discussed going away that weekend since our teenage son was to spend the weekend going to Lollapalooza. Both had busy weeks and as of 6 pm on Friday we had no reservation. 20 calls later we found a B&B in Saugatuck, Mi. for Saturday night. The play was nothing special. We came home and through some things together for the weekend.

Saturday. The day centered around a 33 mile bike ride on the Kal-Haven trail. It is a converted railroad line that is not a  packed dirt and limestone riding trail connecting Kalamazoo and South Haven in Michigan. 33 .5 mile long with most of it surrounded by trees. Another perfect day for a bike ride. Riding with my wife is a different experience than riding on my own. Riding together is recreation, on my own is exercise. However given her overall level of conditioning she keeps a remarkably strong pace.

The entire ride experience took about 4.5 hours starting at noon/1pm depending on time zone. Starting in South Haven we made it about half way. A round trip of 67 miles was never in the cards. Unfortunately the shuttle that takes you from one end back to where you started was not in operation that day. We had not eaten much before the ride having woken up and went straight to packing our clothes and bikes in the car.  By 16 miles we were looking for food and a break.

We found both in Bloomingdale. The trail went directly through downtown Bloomingdale which consisted of a deli/ice cream parlor (closed) a Pizza place and a small grocery store.  Nothing looked appetizing. I stopped a local coming out of the grocery to ask where to eat. He suggested the town of Grand Junction 6 miles away. Not happening. Need to eat NOW. He drove off but a minute later he circled back to tell us that the pizza place was good.

It was. My wife had a burrito and I had the taco salad.  Each weighed in at about 4 pounds — more food than we wanted– and both were amazingly tasty.  We ate in the small pack across the street. The owner brought the food to us in the park, how small town wonderful. We took our time, ate, rested and then headed back.

All in all a wonderful ride and experience.

We headed up to our B&B. After showers we both felt like laying down but it was evening and this was a one night stand so we went to explore the towns. There are two towns in the area, Douglas and Saugatuck. Both fall into the small, Midwest vacation towns for big city types to get away from it all. There are many scattered throughout Wisconsin and Michigan. We have only been to a few and these were new to us. About a 3.5 hour drive. About as far as I would drive for a weekend.

Douglas is tiny. Three blocks of restaurants and a smattering of art galleries. Saugatuck is bigger and more interesting. On Lake Michigan and with a river at one end. Several square blocks of restaurants shops and galleries. By the time we got there fatigue from the biking had begun to set in. It took almost 30 minutes to find a place to park. But the beauty of the  night pulled us along.

We checked out the first set or restaurants we came to coming from the parking lot. First Marilyn’s (yes Monroe. Why? No Idea). The a BBQ place. Too much food, we had a late lunch. I was too tired to take the four steps to look at the menu for Scooter’s, the last restaurant on the block but my wife insisted. Serendipity. I have been gluten-free for a few years and I HATE it. I have been loud in my lust for pizza generally and several times today. When we saw they had a gluten-free pizza I was in vacation heaven.

We sat outside, people watched as I waited in anticipation. No gluten-free crust will every surpass a wheat one but this was not bad and it dripped with cheese, sausage and spinach. We spent the rest of the evening getting our bearings around town, stopping in a few shops and thinking about how to spend the next day.

Sunday. What my wife wanted to do more than anything else was spend a day at the beach. So naturally we were a little disappointed with the overcast skies on our way to breakfast and yet could only laugh as we sat on the enclosed porch of our B&B and it began to pour. Buckets of water.

Reacting to one’s fortunes are so dramatically different when one is tired and stressed versus when one is happy and relaxed. We took the rain in stride and headed off to the cute coffee shop in town determined to have a quiet drink, read the NY Times and just relax. We stopped at a blueberry picking place on the way but just bought them rather than picking them in the rain.

By the time we finished the paper and our drinks the skies began to clear. BTW, I rarely read the NYT unless I have a business trip to NY. It is the last of the great daily papers. So many thought-provoking articles and editorials. At one time my own Chicago Tribune was just a half step down but now it is a shadow of its former self. The NYT is great. I hope it survives and thrives in this new media world.

More serendipity as we walked the town and ran into three twenty something girls headed to climb Mt. Baldhead. We did not even know there was such a thing and we like to hike. The day was getting sunnier and warmer. After the rains it was turning into a beautiful day. To climb Mt. Baldhead you start with 302 stairs straight up (I counted later on the way down).  Riding a bike not only does not prepare the body for climbing but two days in a row of biking weakens key body parts. The stairs were hard. Once on top we found some trails. My wife and a deer startled each other — better a deer than a bear.  After awhile we took the trail that leads to Olive beach.

It is a lovely beach but now we were there without our chairs, swimsuits and reading materials. So as was the theme of this weekend, we would go with the flow. Off came our shoes and we strolled hand in hand along the beach. I would come back to this beach some day. But this day we climbed back up the mountain, down the stairs and decided to head towards home with a stop in South Haven (another small town on the way to Chicago) for lunch.

Downtown South Haven seemed a bit more run down than quaint but we found a place on the water for lunch and continued to enjoy a great weekend.

The last stop on the way home was at a Dairy Queen in my old Chicago neighborhood a few miles from our Evanston home. By the time we got home we were hot, tired and happy.

A great weekend. I knew days off were both possible and well worth it. Now if we can find some time to do this again.

The Good News…

…is that I got home from a business trip at 12:50 am.

That begs the question, “Does that count as good news?” I have been up since 6:30 am. Kind of a long day. I am home approximately 9 hours after my meeting ended.

It could have been worse. I could have been stuck tonight in Kingsport, TN.. getting on the 5:30 am flight tomorrow…oh wait, I mean later this morning. Or I could have been forced to sleep at the Comfort Suites near the Charlotte, NC airport ( a pit of a hotel).  So yes, getting home near 1 am IS the good news.

I am such a glass half full kind of guy!

Naps Boost Brain Power

See Honey. I am doing something important all of those times I am snoring away on the couch instead of doing whatever it is that you were hoping I would do.

Read the story here.

See the story….after you take your nap.

Something I Can Identify With…At least A Little

“I hate my job. Can I retire early?”

I read the site CNNMoney.com almost every workday. I find interesting business stories, current business news, stock market news and oh yeah a link to Sports Illustrated .com. The other day I found the above quote as the title to a story on the site.

I didn’t even bother to read the story. Nothing could improve on the title.

I know several people who like what they do to earn a living. It challenges them, is interesting, provides income at levels they are happy with and they work with great people. I also know far more people who identify with the headline quote.

So where do I stand? (All work colleagues who have accidentally come across this site and the few customers that read it, STOP READING NOW!)

I have been doing the same type of work for almost 30 years. (Insert standard joke here, “I was 7 when I started” , wait for the roaring laughter to dissipate). Along the way I have learned, grown, been fascinated by different aspects of the work and always interested by the characters I meet. Clearly much good along the way.

And yet… long hours, much pressure and far, far too often not enough good people to work with. The one thing I have taken away from my 30 years or this work, now that I am 37,   is that the people you spend every day with make work life either great or something far less.

It just so happened that on the day I saw the headline, I felt that way too. Not every day but definitely that day.