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Friday, February 24, 2017

Who put the Borsch in Borsch Belt? (It's about comedy, really.)

 I was always curious about Borsch soup since an oft-used crossword puzzle clue asks "Borscht soup ingredient" Disappointing answer: "Beets." None-the-less, the recipe for this classic is below for you afictionados. I am told it is as delicious as it looks... or not.

That soup, popular in several Middle Eastern cuisines, is the name origin of the Borsch Belt area in New York's Catskill Mountains, a popular Jewish resort destination in the 1920s through the 1960s because it was close to a large population area, had a great climate and was very welcoming.

Many of the Jewish comedians who performed at these resorts and those Jews and Gentiles who built

their routines around this style of humor that prevails today are so numerous and popular that it boggles the mind. Borscht Belt humor is stylized by self-deprecation, insults, complaints, marital bickering, hypochondria, wordplay and liberal use of Yiddish. So who are some of those comedians ?

Jerry Seinfeld for one. Billy Crystal (Princess Bride and lots, lots more), Jackie Mason, George Burns (If you live to be a hundred, you've got it made. Very few people die past that age. PS: he died at 100 none-the-less), Mel Brooks, Rodney Dangerfield ("I don't get no respect. I come from a stupid family. During the Civil War my great uncle fought for the west!" and "Once when I was lost I saw a policeman and asked him to help me find my parents. I said to him, "Do you think we'll ever find them?" He said, "I don't know kid. There are so many places they can hide.")

ala Mel Blanc
And there was Don Rickles, Woody Allen, Buddy Hackett, Carl Reiner, Sid Caeser, Lenny Bruce, Mel Blanc (the voice of Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, Tweety Bird and Sylvester the cat, Wyle E.Coyote and the Road Runner, Woody Woodpecker and Tom and Jerry and so many other cartoon characters), Phyllis Diller, Joan Rivers, Milton Berle, Jerry Lewis, Estelle Getty (Golden Girls), Lainie Kazan, Joey Bishop, Henny Youngman ("Take my wife...please."), Zero Mostel (Fiddler on the Roof), Phil Silvers, Jack Benny, Bea Arthur (another Golden Girl), Morey Amsterdam, Milton Berle, Joey Bishop, Red Buttons, Phillis Diller (who I knew personally), George Gobel and Danny Kaye.

And also Howie Mandel (America's Got Talent), Most of the Marx Brothers ("Outside of a dog, a book is a man's best friend. Inside of a dog, it's too dark to read." and "One 
morning I shot an elephant in my pajamas. How he got into my pajamas I'll never know."
), Carl Reiner, Soupy Sales (who actually took more than 20,000 pies in the face on his TV show), The Three Stooges (Yuck, yuck, yuck) and so many more that you may or may not be familiar with... some of the great story-tellers and one-liners like this:

*My wife was at the beauty shop for two hours. That was only for the estimate. She got a mudpack and looked great for two days. Then the mud fell off.

* The Doctor gave a man six months to live. The man couldn't pay his bill so the doctor gave him another six months.

* The Doctor called Mrs. Cohen saying, "Mrs. Cohen, your check came back. " Mrs. Cohen answered, "So did my arthritis!"

* Doctor:"You'll live to be 60!" Patient:"I am 60!" Doctor: "See! What did I tell you?"

Woody Allen
*There is a big controversy on the Jewish view of when life begins. In Jewish tradition, the fetus is not considered viable until it graduates from medical school.

*A man called his mother in Florida:"Mom, how are you?" " Not too good," said the mother. "I've been very weak." The son said, "Why are you so weak?" She said, "Because I haven't eaten in 38
days." The son said, "That's terrible. Why haven't you eaten in 38 days?" The mother answered,"Because I didn't want my mouth to be filled with food if you should call."

*A Jewish boy comes home from school and tells his mother he has a part in the play. She asks,"What part is it?" The boy says, "I play the part of the Jewish husband.""The mother scowls and says, "Go back and tell the teacher you want a speaking part."

*Did you hear about the bum who walked up to a Jewish mother on the street and said, "Lady, I haven't eaten in three days." "Force yourself," she replied.

Three Stooges

Recipe for Borsch soup, as promised, here.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

The incredible power of 1

IF THIS LOOKS LIKE TWO PLANETS WITH God's hand holding earth, you're wrong! The small object 'God's' hand is holding is a hummingbird egg. Beside it is a chicken egg (thinking sunny side up) and an ostrich egg.

This is the double-deck cantilever Richmond-San Rafael Bridge that crosses the San Francisco bay and San Pablo bay to majestic Marin County California from Tony Bennett's favorite city. It is 5.5 miles in length and 185 feet above the water at its tallest point. It was completed in 1957, 30 years after it was first proposed. And as all things in salt water environments that carry 24-hour-a day-heavy traffic, it needs considerable reworking to the tune of $70 million.
So if these two objects--the quarter-inch humming bird egg and this magnificent almost-wonder of the world bridge had a serious face-off, who would win?
Hint: do not bet against the egg. Especially an egg from the species, Anna's Hummingbird, protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act which, to my knowledge has not yet been reversed by President Trump. The nest, about half the size of a fist, was discovered just a week before work on the bridge was to begin. Until the egg hatches, there will be no reworked bridge. 
(Actually, I'm for the hummingbird. As I would paraphrase my mom's recitation of Joyce Kilmer's Trees, "... bridge are made by fools like me but only God can make a hummingbird." Loses a little in translation but I still like it. Thanks mom.)
Ah, the incredible POWER OF ONE!
And what about David and Goliath? Now there's another story with a scenario you may not know. In his book, David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, And the Art of Battling Giants, Malcolm Gladwell gives his perception of that classic battle with a newer... and believable back story.
Goliath was a giant of his day... 6 feet 7 inches tall. He was a man of men... a force to be feared. No one dare challenge this killing machine. So when the Philistine warrior issued a not uncommon man-to-man challenge to the Israelites as a way settle their conflict, no Israelite would step forward. Goliath chided the opposition until David, the shepherd boy, asked to be the one, much to the doubt and dispair of the Israelites. The battle hinged on this unfair conflict... giant and hardened, fully armored warrior verses a simple, unarmored shepherd boy, winner take all.

David picked up five smooth stones and put them in his pocket. Goliath was fully armed and protected showing no apparent weakness. As the two approached one another, Goliath with his second leading the way and David, alone and bearing nothing but a sling and stones, the outcome seemed never in doubt.

Yet, Gladwell theorizes, a shepherd with a sling was most proficient in protecting his sheep against wolves and any other peril with a sling that could propel a rock with great accuracy at the speed of today's bullet. He practiced daily and used the sling to get his food and against those creatures who would harm his flock.

Goliath taunted David to come closer. David stood his ground. 
David was agile, Goliath slow moving and clumsy, ladened with heavy armor. This was not the way fights are fought in Goliath's world.
Gladwell perceives from the retelling of the story that Goliath was not a well man, most likely suffering from the effects of his enormous frame and lacking of medical help and eyeglasses not yet invented. His vision was failing and he needed his second to show him where David was approaching. 

When David held back, the giant called for him to come closer to better see and grab hold of the slight shepherd boy. Once in Goliath's grip, no mortal was a match.

But David kept his distance as he took one stone and placed it in his sling. He whirled the sling with rock around his head, it's speed increased dramatically until, at the exact right moment when David let loose of one end of the sling, propelling the rock to Goliath's only opening, his forehead.

The stone struck true and Goliath staggered and fell. Quickly, David reached Goliath's sword and beheaded the fallen giant. He then held the severed head up in victory, much to the disbelief of the Philistine army, which retreated in panic.

The underdog by biblical standards had vanquished Goliath. The power this of one changed history.

Interesting thing about The Power of 1... it can be blantantly obvious or so subtle that you might not even know when or how its effect is felt. It often manifests itself without knowledge or conscious effort... like being a good example, or smiling to a passer-by who needs a smile. It can be overwhelmingly incredible like grabbing hold of a stranger's elbow as he is about to step off the curb into an approaching car or slaying a giant, metaphoric or real. It makes a difference...often an amazing difference. 
Want more totally amazing real life examples:

Their names are Violet and Allen Large of Nova Scotia and you probably never heard of them... but that's the thing about the Power of 1... heroic actions are usually not notable for who, but what and how. Being a hero is often a selfless, quiet action that positively affects others. Though Violet is currently fighting cancer,  the Larges, who won $11 million in a lottery, donated the entire amount for various causes including their local fire department, hospitals and organizations that fight cancer, Alzheimer's and diabetes. Said Allen, "The money that we won was nothing. We have each other." 

Hollywood has a neat way of showcasing the Power of 1. Movies (and television, books, etc.) can show the perspective of all the characters and showcase cause and effect actions. How about It's a Wonderful Life that was built around the greatness of George Bailey in the way he lived his life of personal character without ever realizing the positive effect he had on those he touched. (I love that movie.)

An organ donor highlighted in the news recently, saved a dozen strangers... and the film clip showed the donor's wife listening with awe and wonder to her deceased husband's heart beating in another's chest. Very powerful. (You an organ donor? You should be.)

  The Power of 1 in hearts and minds often enriches both giver and receiver... but the giver always seems to benefits most.

Most of us will soon celebrate the upcoming Easter season because of one man born about 2000 years ago. Need a better example of the Power of 1?

May this year strengthen your resolve to unleash your Power of 1 for a richer you.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Five senses does not a nickel make. If you haven't got a sense of humor, nothing tastes, smells, sounds, feels or looks as good... and neither do you.

Most of us are blessed with the ability to see, smell, hear, taste and touch. That's good but definitely not enough. If you are born without a sense of humor, you are handicapped. Really handicapped. It's a tough world out there and to go it without a smile waiting to escape, you are one doomed Scrooge.

We've all known people who have little time or desire to laugh, tell a joke, enjoy a good 'slip on the banana peel' or ever be light-hearted. It's a tough world for a somber person. Have you seen the video Barack Obama just put on line? It's here... and it is absolutely non political, I promise. He makes fun of no one but himself and worth every second, even if you voted for Trump... or especially if you voted for Trump.

Person A
Person B

A test to see if you have a sense of humor is easy. Tell me which is more likely to have a sense of humor, Person A or Person B?

If you chose Person B, you lose on a technicality. That is Shakespeare's fictional character, Falstaff, painted by Eduard Von Grutzner. Person A is Bob Hope on a bad day.

So, where has all the humor gone? When we lost Robin Williams, we lost perhaps the richest example of what a sense of humor can do for all who have a chance to observe and laugh. His death had me searching for the funny side of life... the place where Williams most liked to live. If you click on the link, it will take you to my 2015 post of what funny can look like. Here's a tease:

Robin Williams tells this story: Bono was performing a benefit in Scotland before a crowded house. He started slowly clapping his hands and told his audience, "Every time I clap my hands, an elephant dies in Africa!" A man in the back row stood up and hollered, "THEN FOR GOD'S SAKE MAN, STOP CLAPPING YOUR HANDS!"

In my publishing life, I worked with many very rich and focused people. (Note: I was not one of them.) Some were a pleasure to be with, some though were real pains in the collective ass. Those were the most obvious humorless examples as a group that I can think of. They were the ones who took making more money so seriously that they forgot (or never learned) how to do anything else, let alone find time to laugh. Being humorless though, is far from exclusive to the wealthy, though they are the ones who can try to buy happiness. (Secret tip: it doesn't work.)

A sense of humor is not manifested in a joke. It is a way of looking at the world with a richer eye for human nature's joys and foibles. Sadly though, some just don't seem to have time.

Flashback: Obama to his audience at a press corp roast, "My mother was born in Kansas, my father was born in Kenya, and I was born, of course, in Hawaii," he said — with a wink.

Live life to your principles... WITH GUSTO!  What that does for the soul... that is something that amazes me most.  

Elsie had it right: (with thanks to Fred Ebb and John Kander who created the song and Lisa Minelli who made it come alive in Cabaret.)

What good is  sitting alone in your room?
Come hear the music play.
Life is a Cabaret, old chum,
Come to the Cabaret.
Put down the knitting,
The book and the broom.
Time for a holiday.
Life is a Cabaret, old chum,
Come to the Cabaret.
Come taste the wine,
Come hear the band.
Come blow a horn,
Start celebrating;
Right this way,
Your table's waiting.

No use permitting
Some prophet of doom
To wipe every smile away.
Come hear the music play.
Life is a Cabaret, old chum,
Come to the Cabaret!

I used to have a girlfriend
Known as Elsie,
With whom I shared
Four sorid rooms in Chelsea.
She wasn't what you'd call
A blushing flower...
As a matter of fact
She rented by the hour.

The day she died the neighbors
Came to snicker:
Well that's what comes
From too much pills and liquor.
But when I saw her laid out
Like a Queen,
She was the happiest corpse
I'd ever seen.

I think of Elsie to this very day,
I remember how she'd turn to me and say:
What good is sitting alone
In your room?
Come hear the music play.
Life is a Cabaret, old chum,
Come to the Cabaret.

Put down the knitting,
The book and the broom.
Time for a holiday.
Life is a Cabaret, old chum,
Come to the Cabaret.

As for me,
I made my mind up back in  Chelsea,
When I go, I'm going like Elsie.

Start by admitting,
From cradle to tomb
Isn't that long a stay.
Life is a Cabaret, old chum,
Only a Cabaret, old chum,
And I love a Cabaret.
: - )

Saturday, January 28, 2017

How many is 6 million?

In honor and rememberance on Holocoust Day, 2017

If you wrote one 3-letter word in type so small that it takes a good magnifying glass to read it... and you printed that word, again and again, in a book large enough to fill a coffee-table, with each word butted against the other, border to border, six-million times, the book would be 1,250 pages thick and almost illegible.

That book is titled And Every Single One was Someone. Its only word is "Jew."

Each word represents one Jew killed during the Holocaust... one human being who breathed, worked, loved and lived. It's new, available at Amazon and elsewhere.

There is a much larger book at the Holocaust memorial and museum in Washington D.C. simply titled Book of Names. It is 6 1/2 feet tall, 46 feet in circumference. In it are the documented identities of 4.3 million of the those victims. 

      What exactly was the difference? he wondered to himself. And who decided which people 
     wore the striped pajamas and which people wore the uniforms?”
     ― John Boyne, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas 

In Peoria, Illinois, there is an outdoor Holocaust memorial of 18 Star of David shaped glass columns filled with 11-million buttons that represent six-million Jews and five-million  “enemies of the state” who were murdered--political and religious leaders, Roman gypsies, Serbians, Catholics, homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, the trade unionists, alcoholics and the handicapped. Each targeted group wore a different colored triangle to identify their “enemy” status. The columns, filled with buttons from different parts of the world, are wrapped in yellow ribbon labeled "No Hate Zone."
     Monsters exist, but they are too few in numbers to be truly dangerous. More dangerous 
     are… the functionaries ready to believe and act without asking questions. 
     ― Primo Levi
 I wrote this three years ago and it will always be relevant. 

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

What's good for General Bullmoose is good for the U.S.A.

General Bulllmoose

General Bullmoose was real... in a manner of speaking. He was the creation of cartoonist, satirist Al Capp, creator of Li'l Abner. Daisy Mae, Mammy Yokum and a host of others way back in the 1950s.

And for all you who say "Huh?", you're probably a millennial or newer. But there is relevance here because General Bullmoose is rather like someone we all know who acts a lot like him... someone new to the political scene in a very big way.

Capp created Bashington T. Bullmoose as the epitome of a mercenary, cold-blooded capitalist tyrant tycoon. His bombastic motto, "What's good for General Bullmoose is good for the U.S.A," was taken from the former head of General Motors, then America's largest corporation. Bullmoose had a boyhood dream: to posses all the money in the world and he--or General Motors--
Kim Novak a.k.a. Bim Bovak
nearly did. Bullmoose industries seemed to own or ontrol everything. He had a milksop of a son named Weakfish and was sometimes accompanied by is electable 'secretary," Bim Bovak (think Kim Novak). Li'l Abner became embroiled in many globetrotting adventure with the ruthless, reactionary billionaire.

America was the icon of the universe... the most powerful of the superpowers, the one all others looked to when something... anything was needed. We were the export kings... the breadbasket... the shining example of what everyone else wanted, as we still are, in some of the same and many new ways. Our capitalistic bent said supply and demand was the rule... we were the supply... and everything American was in demand. So what was good for General Bullmoose was good for the USA--more in truth than many were willing to admit.

Ah... it's good to be king.

But that was then. This is today.... America remains, as always, the tallest of the tall and still greatly admired by most.  But if you have read Thomas Friedman's book, The World is Flat, you have an interesting history of how things have changed... and they have. That's evolution for you. Things change, we adapt.

Supply and demand have changed. Best single example: Walmart. Most products are not made in America but we buy them-- making Walmart the world's largest retailer... for now--because we find stuff there that we want/need, and it is usually competively priced, having been made--here and everywhere in the world-- and delivered to their shelves at a most competitive price point. We create our demand, the flat world supplies it.

Today, we are consumers, by 2/3 to 1/3 over what we export.

Made in America is still a great thing... but far from the only thing. Made in China, made in Japan, made in Taiwan, Germany, Portugal, etc. is so today. Picture the world as (forgive me) one big Walmart. General Bullmoose is dead (and so is Al Capp, in 1979).

Think I'm kidding? One look through your closet... your garage... your house, will tell you I'm not. But there is more:

San Francisco just rebuilt its Bay Bridge, the link between 'The City' and Oakland. And that rebuilt bridge, honest, was built in China. Two dozen giant sections-- each as big as half-a-football field-- were built there and shipped 6,500 miles to Oakland for assembly. California says it saved hundreds of millions of dollars and obviously, believes the quality will serve its citizens well.

China, reports the New York Times, is also 'building' copper mines in the Congo, high-speed rail lines in Brazil and huge apartment complexes in Saudi Arabia. China also builds your iPad, toys, jetliners and lots and lots of other products. Want to have a look at what we import and from where? Check this out. Pretty interesting.

Yes, we still make stuff. Yes we still innovate. Yes we are still really good at lots and lots. But our product mix has changed and the world is larger, smarter, flatter... and much more productive. Has to be. World population has grown from 2.5 billion in 1950 to 6.1 billion in 2000 and will be around 9.3 billion by 2050! Prolific little buggers, aren't we?

General Bullmoose is dead... we are not. But we sure are different.

The pendulum swings. Lately, some American companies are bringing production back to our shores. Hopefully today's General Bullmoose (guess who) will be successful to find the perfect balance. But capitalism's rules (and we are capitalist) mandate that where it's made, how good it is made and how much it costs will always be changing variables that make products more or less attractive.

It's kind of like the old, and still true, maxim: You can buy it cheap and/or you can get it fast and/or it can be of the top quality... but the paradox: you can't have all three at the same time. No country--America included --can be all. So the perfect balance must be struck. Our most fortunate position; we are blessed with an abundance of so many things to make this balance work better... more than most other countries who also must find their perfect place in this world.

Note: Wikipedia helped with the General Bullmoose description.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

As they say in the circus, The Show Must Go On... or that's what they used to say, anyhow.

*This iconic image, with the greatest respect for the elephants who have been retired.
Sadly, sadly, the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus (The Greatest Show on Earth) will literally "fold its tent" for the last time in May of this year. The circus has been a fixture in the lives of Americans since 1884 when five Ringling Brothers began in Baraboo, Wisconsin.

I was one of thousands of big eyed kids across America who lived close enough to the railroad tracks to greet the circus train as it unloaded for its periodic stop in Peoria, Illinois. And the circus embraced us by 'allowing' us to carry water for the elephants (or any number of mundane chores) in return for 'absolutely free' tickets to see the Big Top at any matinee performance. The tickets did require that any youngster with a free ticket must be accompanied by at least one paying adult--a fair trade-off us eager kids always felt.

The circus with its three performing units will leave some 300 performers and support staff without its most grandiose venue and adults everywhere without an opportunity to ooh and ahh with eager-eyed grandchildren. There will still be a few other circuses touring but not the grandest of them all.

Rising costs, valid animal welfare concerns and diminishing interest were all culprits in the demise of an institution. And for me personally, a loss of heart as I recall a beloved business partner who had a circus lineage. I wrote about him not too many years ago. He was a remarkable man with a story well worth retelling:

Warren Braren

The Story of a Circus Dog and His Famous Owner

About two years ago, I told you about my friend, Warren Braren. He was the whistle blower who brought down the tobacco industry in the 1960s, forcing its advertising off the broadcast media and into a new reality of the scourges of smoking. While there can be no telling, he may well have helped save a large number of lives by his actions. If you haven't already done so, read his New York Times obituary, Warren Braren, 82, Dies; Urged Ban on Tobacco Broadcast Ads . It, in itself, is a history of the taming of the beast.

Warren was many things and had many great stories about them all. He had circus family relatives close to his heart and he has tales to match. You may recognize his uncle, Lou Jacobs, the famous Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey circus clown from his U.S. postage stamp and his dog Knucklehead.

First, about the clown because who doesn't love a clown... ok, not you Kelly: According to John Goodall on Buckles Blog, a site for the discussion of circus history, Jacobs was amazing. "He zipped around the hippodrome on water skis; zoomed past amazed spectators in a motorized bathtub; chased down a cigar-smoking clown "baby" who was attempting to make a getaway in a souped-up baby-buggy. In 1948 after years of work, Lou Jacobs had perfected his most famous prop, a 2-by-3 foot, working minicar. He contorted his 6-foot-1-inch body to fit inside the tiny car
"Lou opened the act by entering the center ring in his loud honking car. The car would start to sputter and backfire as he pulled up to a 'gas station.' His emergence from the car -- beginning with the appearance of an oversized clown shoe jutting into the air -- never failed to bring gasps of delight. Once he was out, Another clown insisted that the car was not parked close enough to the pump. Lou whacked him over the head with a mallet and a balloon welt rose on his head. The car would sputter and backfire as Lou tried to move it closer. He then removed the radiator cap, a snake lunged out and a geyser of water followed. Lou sat on the geyser only to have water squirting from the top of his head. When he stopped the flow with his hand, the water squirted out of his mouth. Finally, the car was pushed closer to the pump. The other clown climbed inside the pump and Lou threw in a bomb. The explosion sent up a dummy dressed like that clown and it floated down under a parachute. Lou closed the act by making a speedy exit in the midget car in an attempt to evade the pursuing clown cop. Needless to say, Lou was always a big top hit."

That's Knucklehead on the right
 Now about his famous dog:

Jacobs's trademarks included a tiny hat perched precariously upon his pointy head, and his feisty Chihuahua, Knucklehead, which Mr. Jacobs trained, always, to steal the show.

And, shades of Bugs Bunny, the canine played the role of a rascally rabbit, complete with bunny ears, eluding Big Game Hunter Lou Jacobs -- only to play dead when finally shot at. After Lou moaned with remorse, Knucklehead would sit back up, the pair happily reunited. Jacobs and Knucklehead remained partners for 14 years.

This is Warren's story story about Knucklehead:

"When the circus was in Madison Square Garden, I went to visit my uncle before the show. He asked me if I would please take Knucklehead to the vet who he had called earlier. Knucklehead was 14 and seemed very ill. Lou told me that because there were two shows that day, he couldn't take his beloved dog himself.

So I did. And while being examined, the dog collapsed and died, right on the vet's table. I just didn't know how I could relay that sad news.

I got back just at intermission and seeing me, my uncle rushed for the news.

"Knucklehead died while the doctor was examining him," I told him.

"He broke down and sobbed uncontrollably at his dressing table. Tears streaked his make-up.

"Then, the curtain to his cubicle parted and the ringmaster said, 'Five minutes Lou.'

"My uncle got control of himself, fixed his make-up and was ready for the second half of the performance. I watched from the back and he brought down the house as usual, as if being funny was his life. And it was.

"When the show concluded, he came back to his cubicle where I was waiting and began to sob again as I recounted the sad story in detail.

Several hours later, in front of another full house, Lou made them all laugh, again and again.

As they say in the circus, the show must go on. And amidst the laughter, he funniest man in the house was also the saddest.

This is possibly the last I will write about my friend Warren... but just one more for the memory:

Another time Warren was asked to take charge of a young, full grown lion who was raised from a cub by the lion tamer. The lion was too young to go on the first swing as the circus hit the road.

"He's as domesticated as a lion can be," he was told. "You'll enjoy his company." And Warren, always up for something fun and different, did. He often took the young lion with him in the front seat of his car as he was running errands. And many in the Sarasota area took notice. When Warren went in for a doctor's appointment, he mentioned it.

Unbelieving, the doctor decided to call his bluff. "If you really have a lion, bring him in."

Not long after, when the doctor opened an examining room door, there was Warren and the lion sitting on the table waiting for a treat.

The surprised doctor said there would be no charge for this visit as his delighted staff looked on.

Good Bye Warren and thanks. You were a rich part of my life. And good bye Ringling Brothers, you have brought joy and delight to very many of us. 

Good Bye clowns.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

We have so many reasons to be thankful in a complex world where negativity dominates our news 24/7. Sometimes, it takes a real effort to focus what we too often take for granted.

I am so thankful for my children and grandchildren, some shown here.
I am thankful for the love and respect of my spouse and the love that surrounds me.

I am thankful for the enrichment of friends near and far. 

I am thankful for living where I live,

I am thankful for the freedom I enjoy.

I am thankful for the blessing of health, to whatever extent.

I am thankful for the joy that often overfills my heart.

I am thankful for a returned smile and kindness in any and every form.

I am thankful for every new year.

I am thankful for every next breath.

I am thankful to share in others' good fortune.

I am thankful to worship God as I see Him/Her.

I am thankful for my fellow man/woman and the diversity of our world that makes us all greater.

I am thankful for all the skills and talent we all bring to a common table.

I am thankful to be an important part (as we all are) in a greater world.

I am thankful for every volunteer and participant in life and all its splendor.

I am thankful we never stop learning.

I am thankful that this list could go on and on. I know it is a different list for each of us. My overwhelming hope/wish/desire is that this is the year we can put 2016 and all of its negativity behind us and build a better us rather than WE vs. THEM.

Life is hard and the evolution of social media and instant awareness is challenging. But, like my favorite story, we can better-manage making a difference to just one person--ourself.

Two men were walking on the beach, naturally littered with washed-on-the-shore starfish. 
Every few steps, one of the men would stop, pick up a starfish and throw it back ito the sea. 
After this had happened about half-dozen times, the other man chided him.

"Why are you doing that? There are thousands of starfish on the beach. 
You can't really make a difference."

First man flipped the starfish he was holding back into the ocean. 
"I can to that one."

PS: This is the 5th time in more than 500 blog posts that I have used this Starfish Story. It is a story I/we should live by. Everything starts with one. 

Thursday, December 8, 2016

SECRET REVEALED: How to cheat time

I stole an hour-and-a-half once and it was perfectly legal.

When the SST Concord was flying, before that horrendous crash that stopped time, I flew the Air France Concord from Paris to New York. I left Charles de Gauille Airport at noon, arrived JFK at 10:30... a full 90 minutes before I left! If I never go east again, that time is mine FOREVER!

The story behind that flight is a good one and I'll share it in my next post. This one however, is about time's unrelenting pace, or as comedian Groucho Marx put it, "Time flies like an arrow, fruit flies like a banana."

If you google 'death clock,' you will be taken to a page that, with the input of certain personal data, will tell you when you are likely to die. How unfun is that? What it will show however, is how fast time gets away from us. Mortality has its way.

So we usually come to a resolution like, "It's not how long you live but how well you live." Or, "There's only one thing more precious than our time and that's who we spend it on." Or. "You will never know the value of a moment until it  becomes a memory." Oh, there are more... lots more.

So I was taken by a letter, embodied in a newspaper ad by Paper and Packaging, an organization speaking for the paper producers of America. The Letter of Peace as it was called, was from a sibling of a 16-year-old brother who killed himself after being mercilessly bullied on-line. It concluded:

"The only way to end suffering in this nation, whether it be from bullying or discrimination, is not to highlight differences between groups of people but to focus on the importance of accountability and character. This holiday season, show kindness to strangers.  Share your light with others whose light might not be shining so bright. Only together can we be the beacon of hope this world needs. Peace, Cliff."

Please, if you want to see more of what makes us humanly rich, visit . It's a beautiful page. You won't be sorry.

Maybe Dr. Seuss says it in a way even a child can understand... or maybe only a child can understand. Do we all get cynical as we age or is it just the other person?

"To the world you may be one person but to one person, you may be the world." 

"Life is too hort to wake up in the morning with regrets. So love the people who treat you right, forgive the ones who don't and believe that everything happens for a reason. If you get a chance, take it, if it changes your life, let it. Nobody said it would be easy, they just promised it would be worth it."

"Unless someone like you cares an awful lot, nothing is going to get better, its not."

So it all comes down to how late is it before it's too late to make a difference?

 After all, 'Tis the season... "
Time's Awasten'



Friday, November 25, 2016

Here beginneth the chronicle of those memorable circumstances of the year 1620...

Thanksgiving is over... it lasts but a day, though if you've never read this chronicle of that journey and the anguish that prevailed, then read it now and imagine what it must have been like 400 years ago. This is what oppressed people do to seek freedom of religion.

Here beginneth the chronicle of those memorable circumstances of the year 1620, as recorded by Nathanial Morton, keeper of the records of Plymouth Colony, based on the account of William Bradford, sometime governor thereof:

So they left that goodly and pleasant city of Leyden, which had been their resting-place for above eleven years, but they knew that they were pilgrims and strangers here below, and looked not much on these things, but lifted up their eyes to Heaven, their dearest country, where God hath prepared for them a city (Heb. XI, 16), and therein quieted their spirits.

When they came to Delfs-Haven they found the ship and all things ready, and such of their friends as could not come with them followed after them, and sundry came from Amsterdam to see them shipt, and to take their leaves of them. One night was spent with little sleep with the most, but with friendly entertainment and Christian discourse, and other real expressions of true Christian love.

The next day they went on board, and their friends with them, where truly doleful was the sight of that sad and mournful parting, to hear what sighs and sobs and prayers did sound amongst them; what tears did gush from every eye, and pithy speeches pierced each other’s heart, that sundry of the Dutch strangers that stood on the Key as spectators could not refrain from tears. But the tide (which stays for no man) calling them away, that were thus loath to depart, their Reverend Pastor, falling down on his knees, and they all with him, with watery cheeks commended them with the most fervent prayers unto the Lord and His blessing; and then with mutual embraces and many tears they took their leaves one of another, which proved to be the last leave to many of them.

Being now passed the vast ocean, and a sea of troubles before them in expectations, they had now no friends to welcome them, no inns to entertain or refresh them, no houses, or much less towns, to repair unto to seek for succour; and for the season it was winter, and they that know the winters of the country know them to be sharp and violent, subject to cruel and fierce storms, dangerous to travel to known places, much more to search unknown coasts.

Besides, what could they see but a hideous and desolate wilderness, full of wilde beasts and wilde men? and what multitudes of them there were, they then knew not: for which way soever they turned their eyes (save upward to Heaven) they could have but little solace or content in respect of any outward object; for summer being ended, all things stand in appearance with a weatherbeaten face, and the whole country, full of woods and thickets, represented a wild and savage hew.

If they looked behind them, there was a mighty ocean which they had passed, and was now as a main bar or gulph to separate them from all the civil parts of the world.


The May- flower was just over 30 yards in length on which 102 Pilgrims risked their lives and their mortal souls to find religious freedom as our first immigrants.

The Wall Street Journal has published this passage as its lead editorial a number of years as a stark  reminder of what oppressed people have done to remain free. We see it today in tragic photos of drown children and adults giving their all in search for freedom from oppression.

Do we remain the beacon of freedom to an oppressed world? Does our Statue of Liberty still represent us? Time will tell.


Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Marching Bands Rule! And for 20 good reasons. (Read to the coda)

Granddaughter Jaci of Panther Creek on the mellophone

Ladies and Gentle-men... The Panther Creek Marching Band!

You rarely see marching bands these days. But believe me, they are there. Dollars talk and television follows the revenue. So if you only watch football on television, you will never see another marching band at football half-time. If you watch high school and college football, then you know what I'm talking about here.

Marching bands and music programs in school are so Number One in what they do for the kids and those watching.

If you have ever been involved in the process, you have to love marching bands. Nothing teaches teamwork and togetherness more than band... and nothing does it better than marching band, especially at the high school level. For two years I was Band Booster (money raiser) President at a smallish high school with a very dedicated and successful band program and it was an emotional high as I saw what it did for the kids... and what it did for me.

Half of my children and most of those beloved grand kids who are old enough are involved musically and love the experience for every right reason. For some though, it isn't their cup of tea. But that's the way it works.

Band at the high school level is richer than any sport because all are invited and the kids take the experience and skills with them forever if they choose. They are either together or not involved. It's all or nothing.

For marching bands, the kids work hard at week-long band camp before the start of school and often early morning and late evening practices in the fall to sharpen their field routine, which is some collaboration of talent and amazement. Then, after marching season, which is my highlight, concert season fills out the year.

One year long ago our high school went from Central Illinois to Winnipeg, Canada to participate in an international band competition. I was the trip organizer. We had a convoy of four buses and a large truck with students, parents and equipment, stopping first night in Minneapolis to play on the field for a Minnesota Twins baseball game. (Added bonus: Our kids got 6 foul fly balls.) Then we played a downtown noontime concert.

Me, left with the tympani and one-foot of water
Next night, we traveled west for another local band competition in Minnesota before continuing to Winnipeg. There, we performed before a 50,000 crowd at a Winnipeg Blue Bombers Canadian Football League game, delayed by a gigantic thunderstorm. We performed under the bleachers standing in foot-water to an avid crowd avoiding being killed by lightning. You see our our next day front page newspaper story of that event here. What an experience for all of us.

Then, we went on to win the Grand Championship of the festival as the best band in the land. Alexander (of Alexander's Rag Time Band) would be proud. We were welcomed home with a parade victory lap through the city. It was almost like the Cubs winning the World Series... maybe more for the experience.

Oh, band was not without its sad down side. Only in later years did I learn it was not for my young son. He confessed that he never really played his trumpet in the grade school parades... just went through the motions... and me with hundreds of pictures. With that transgression he never would have been able to run for President... but he is just so great nonetheless.

I recently had the opportunity to see the Panther Creek Marching Band practice for their trip to an Indianapolis Band Festival this past month. It brought back rich memories.

Band members have a special bond. A great band is more than just some people working together. It's like a highly specialized army unit, or a winning sports team. A unique combination of elements that becomes stronger together than apart. Steven Van Zandt 

 The National Association for Music Education has it right. From a published article in Bachelors Degree magazine. (Thank you NAME):

Nearly everyone enjoys music, whether by listening to it, singing, or playing an instrument. But despite this almost universal interest, many schools are having to do away with their music education programs. This is a mistake, with schools losing not only an enjoyable subject, but a subject that can enrich students’ lives and education. Read on to learn why music education is so important, and how it offers benefits even beyond itself.

1. Musical training helps develop language and reasoning:
Students who have early musical training will develop the areas of the brain related to language and reasoning. The left side of the brain is better developed with music, and songs can help imprint information on young minds.

2. A mastery of memorization:
Even when performing with sheet music, student musicians are constantly using their memory to perform. The skill of memorization can serve students well in education and beyond.

3. Students learn to improve their work:
Learning music promotes craftsmanship, and students learn to want to create good work instead of mediocre work. This desire can be applied to all subjects of study.

4. Increased coordination:
Students who practice with musical instruments can improve their hand-eye coordination. Just like playing sports, children can develop motor skills when playing music.

5. A sense of achievement:
Learning to play pieces of music on a new instrument can be a challenging, but achievable goal. Students who master even the smallest goal in music will be able to feel proud of their achievement.

6. Kids stay engaged in school:
An enjoyable subject like music can keep kids interested and engaged in school. Student musicians are likely to stay in school to achieve in other subjects.

7. Success in society:
Music is the fabric of our society, and music can shape abilities and character. Students in band or orchestra are less likely to abuse substances over their lifetime. Musical education can greatly contribute to children’s intellectual development as well.

8. Emotional development:
Students of music can be more emotionally developed, with empathy towards other cultures They also tend to have higher self esteem and are better at coping with anxiety.

9. Students learn pattern recognition:
Children can develop their math and pattern-recognition skills with the help of musical education. Playing music offers repetition in a fun format.

10. Better SAT scores:
Students who have experience with music performance or appreciation score higher on the SAT. One report indicates 63 points higher on verbal and 44 points higher on math for students in music appreciation courses.

11. Fine-tuned auditory skills:
Musicians can better detect meaningful, information-bearing elements in sounds, like the emotional meaning in a baby’s cry. Students who practice music can have better auditory attention, and pick out predictable patterns from surrounding noise.

12. Music builds imagination and intellectual curiosity:
Introducing music in the early childhood years can help foster a positive attitude toward learning and curiosity. Artistic education develops the whole brain and develops a child’s imagination.

13. Music can be relaxing:
Students can fight stress by learning to play music. Soothing music is especially helpful in helping kids relax.

14. Musical instruments can teach discipline:
Kids who learn to play an instrument can learn a valuable lesson in discipline. They will have to set time aside to practice and rise to the challenge of learning with discipline to master playing their instrument.

15. Preparation for the creative economy:
Investing in creative education can prepare students for the 21st century workforce. The new economy has created more artistic careers, and these jobs may grow faster than others in the future.

16. Development in creative thinking:
Kids who study the arts can learn to think creatively. This kind of education can help them solve problems by thinking outside the box and realizing that there may be more than one right answer.

17. Music can develop spatial intelligence:
Students who study music can improve the development of spatial intelligence, which allows them to perceive the world accurately and form mental pictures. Spatial intelligence is helpful for advanced mathematics and more.

18. Kids can learn teamwork:
Many musical education programs require teamwork as part of a band or orchestra. In these groups, students will learn how to work together and build camaraderie.

19. Responsible risk-taking:
Performing a musical piece can bring fear and anxiety. Doing so teaches kids how to take risks and deal with fear, which will help them become successful and reach their potential.

20. Better self-confidence:
With encouragement from teachers and parents, students playing a musical instrument can build pride and confidence. Musical education is also likely to develop better communication for students.