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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.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

PLAY IT BACKWARD: A lesson for the times

"Playing it Forward" is a humankind practice of doing something nice for the sake of doing something nice... just because. It could be something like paying the toll of the car behind you or digging for 25 cents when the stranger in front hasn't the right change, buying the lunch for an elderly couple in a restaurant, a military family, etc. and leaving before they even know what you did. But sometimes, 'Playing it Backward' teaches a richer lesson.

A young mother with two kids in the car pulled into a McDonald's drive thru and noticed another like herself with kids in the car behind her. In her rear view mirror she observed the mother behind pointing to her "I'm with Hillary" bumper sticker from the past political campaign. She then saw mom and kids laughing and pointing at her car.

Feeling somewhat raw, she did the only thing left in her bag of options... she paid for her meal and the meal of those in the car behind and drove on without a whimper or second thought.

Now really, I am not trying to be political, because this scenario could have played out in an opposite way somewhere. But the point is, sometimes when given a chance to take the high road, TAKE IT and make the world just a few persons better.

Many years ago sister was driving to a BIG WAREHOUSE SALE  (her thing) in a warehouse-type area in San Francisco and while waiting at a red light, a young, scary-looking individual in a beat-up car stopped beside her in the other lane. Feeling uneasy, she very casually reached over her lap and hit the 'lock' button on her arm rest. CLICK! All the locks depressed making that funny little noise.

The scary-looking young man in his car looked at her and smiled, then with a flourish of movement, he theatrically reached across his body and depressed his lock. They both laughed as they waited for the light to change. Here's this lesson,  beautifully told forward and backward.

You gotta say, that was a "Playing it Backward" kind of moment too, when action and reaction happen with full awareness.

In a world when there is far too much gnashing of teeth and seething anger, there is both a great and subtle need for a kinder, better way. This political campaign lasted 600 days--really! Twenty months--of the worst-of-us calling the other worst-of us-every name in the book. We weren't put on this earth to hate one another, but sometimes, you would have a hard time proving it.

This happened to me at a fast food restaurant not too long ago. I was behind a man ordering breakfast for his family. The final tally was more than he had in his pocket, he told the person behind the counter. "I'll be right back" he said.  "I left my wallet in the car."

I watched as he ran out the door, got into his older car with wife and kids and drove away, obviously not having the money to spend. The bag of food still sitting on the counter was sad testimony to a need unfilled, an opportunity missed.

I felt really bad when I recognized what had happened too late, and it was a blown chance to positively effect a better outcome. But those moments are there sometimes. Pay attention and have empathy for those who need it.

At an outlet mall last week with my daughter and her family, I watched as she bought 25 inexpensive high-bouncing rubber balls in a variety of colors and designs. She put them all in a cloth bag with handles and gave them to my 6-year-old grandson. He spent the afternoon handing them out to any child near his age that passed us by. It was win-win in the act of kindness department and a good teaching moment. This has become a tradition with them... just a nice thing to do that rewards all involved.

It's sometimes not easy to recognize an opportunity to play it forward or backward or even whatever we call it,  but it's never a bad idea to always be ready to be kind and maybe make someone's day. Sometimes just a smile or friendly word or innocent action carries more significance that we can see.

I do know we individually only have control of one person on this earth... and that person is you. Do something special for at least one person.

But can't we all try more? We really need this.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

AN OPEN LETTER to Me and Trump: Dear You...

In the end, that's what this election is about. 
Do we participate in a politics of cynicism
 or a politics of hope?  
Barack Obama

Dear Jerry,

All your life you have been an optimist... a Pollyanna kind of person, and you are happy about that. (What else would an optimist say?) But I have noticed Jerry, that a playful touch of cynicism has grown to an unhealthy frequency so that it sometimes colors your outlook. You even use it as a tease in your Bio beside this blog. (I'll change that after this post.)

This election and it's mere 600 day run-up is a splash of cold water in your face, Jerry. Optimism and cynicism don't belong in the same sentence (Oops.)

You chose hope, which was forced upon you in this everlasting political exercise that didn't go well, but hope, nonetheless. It's more than politics though... it's a sane, brighter, richer lifestyle. There is nothing positive about cynicism. It is a pervasive and dangerous way to think.

Optimism is hope and hope is healthy. One can't live as a cynic but one can certainly die as one.

Though you, Jerry, voted for Hillary because you thought she was THE person and better choice in a world so filled with strife and uncertainty, You now pray to be proven wrong. (FYI: Jerry, you call yourself an independent with strong democratic leanings--you voted for 12 candidates on the ballot, 9 democrats and 3 republicans, and only saw one of each elected.)

Being a lifelong Cub fan, you are very used to being disappointed, but even Cub fans have their day, right? However, you don't have another 108 years.

So GO big Donald! (You just can't say huuuge, can you Jerry?) You are my President-elect and while you are not in my "like" category yet... or perhaps ever, I know you will do all you can to be a good president for all the people. You said so yourself... and I do believe that.

I respect your office, but you still must earn my respect. I want that to happen. Our perspectives may always differ but if your intent is fair for all as our Constitution inalienably requires, and your actions promote equality, human dignity and  God-given rights, perhaps I can applaud more.

There's a 'thing' about us that the world admires. It's the way we care for ourselves and others. We are magnanimous and open to ideas and people. The Statue of Liberty still shines it's light and those who used it as a beacon have made us even richer. We are the third largest country in the world in land mass and third in population with 340 million people (China has 2.2 billion, India 1.1 billion). We are blessed with natural resources and opportunity for all. We are a democracy, which is not always easy, but always free. We are stylin'! 

The United States never stopped being great, so we don't have to be great again. We have to be greater and more inclusive for those that felt--and often were--left out of the mix.

You have an enormous responsibility to be everyone's President, but  given a republican President, a republican House and republican Senate, the temptation to govern for only half the people is big. Strange to say, Congress needs your serious effort to keep in check the 'balance of power' equation our government demands. And we need the 'third leg' to complete the balance that gives us our greatness, a Supreme Court that equally respects those values.

You actually lost the popular vote Mr. President-Elect. More than half the people voted for Hillary but you won by states, as is our system. Your mandate was thin but decisive. There are as many people today who see your victory as a loss. I'm one. So us owe us, Mr. President-elect as sure as 'the other half of us' that put you in because of that very perception.

For now and forever, may we put the divisiveness in politics--especially during election times--away? IT'S KILLING US! And please God, never again 600 days! If we did all of this in 12 weeks as some more sane countries mandate we would be seen as smarter. Some countries even automatically register voters. What a concept.

If done shorter and more civilly, hatred, threats, violence, name-calling, cynicism and disdain may not have been on our televisions, in our newspapers and social media til death or elections, do us part. It is absurd, and so are we.

You, President-Elect Trump, will become the most powerful, influential man in the world leading our great nation... the most blessed of all nations. As the world looked on for these 600 days, what did they see? WHAT A RESPONSIBILITY.

Your victory speech was good, but so were those in defeat and acceptance by Hillary Clinton and President Barack Obama. All class acts. We must keep that up.

My brilliant daughter once told me, "Dad, you should never feel bad about getting lost. It could be the start of your next great journey." So we begin: 

The Road Not Taken
Robert Frost, 1874 - 1963

 Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I--
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

BACK STORY: In one week, my beloved Cubs won the World Series, my wife's heart stopped (momentarily, thank God) while being transported for a surgical heart procedure and I was diagnosed with prostate cancer. Then the election. Talk about a week!

Monday, November 7, 2016

Are we ashamed of ourselves, or what?

Come on, America. This was an election or a war?

It lasted 600 days... 1 1/2 years! 12 dog years! And it seemed longer than the last time the Cubs won the World Series.

Everyone is unhappy... and mad. Really mad. Most major political
ads feature the diabolical other candidate, usually portrayed in gray and black or purple, with a scowl or mad face. The ads tell us of how bad the person is, how evil, how dishonest, etc.

We are so angry at one another, so mad. We grit our teeth and snarl. We call each other liars, thiefs, bad people worthy of no respect at all.

As the world watches, we represent the worst of America. And bear in mind, the President of the United States is THE MOST POWERFUL PERSON IN THE WORLD! So how do we look to you now, world?

Now we do have smart, good, kind, embracing brilliance in many of our leaders... but those people are also smart enough to not swim in this low water muddy pool.

Do we need more time to find the best of us?  How about never ending campaigns that start at the end of the last election? The television companies would like that. They make enormous dollars--like a year-round Christmas--during campaigns with the political advertising dollars. Nothing is richer to a media company that warring sides.

In social media, anything goes. We can call each other names, threaten and blacken every opponent at every level. We can create both news and undistinguishable fake news in moments. Social media is unrestricted and as crude as the users choose. It fans the flames of fire.

Are we smarter or dumber than those countries that have limited campaign seasons that last, perhaps 12 weeks long? Are we smarter than the countries that automatically register every eligible voter and those countries that make voting mandatory?

What's with us that we do it so badly? And to add insult to injury, we don't forget or forgive. We remain enemies is fact and in spirit so that we can accomplish little except revenge and work negatively to make sure we hurt the leader of the world in accomplishment and cooperation lest he/she get credit. Our congress has achieved the lowest approval ratings in history and we're out to beat our record.

Is there something great about spewing hate and disrespect? You know, this is the world we all have to live in, and we deserve better. There are real problems to solve, both internally and internationally, and we can't even begin without respect for the people we elect and should support.

The rich get richer. The poor and disadvantaged grow larger and poorer. The divide widens.

After such an election, couldn't we create a new platform that embraces the best of both parties for a common good. Then we could have a document to follow. You bet there would have to be give and take, something that never comes easy when it is party first, public last.

Africa offers a similar scenario. Countries divided by tribe that put tribe first, suffer. Countries that focus on common benefit rise. But it's hard to put those rivalries aside. And cohesion starts with listening to what the other has to say, addressing the ails that separate. Rogue candidate Donald Trump touched people. He may not have been THE candidate but he found a message that resonated, an itch that needed scratching. That shouldn't be ignored because it won't go away.

OK, so I've made myself happier by expressing what I feel. I'm guessing that feeling is shared by many. But how do we get to the next step? I hope to God that we find the way. I hope to God.

We are all equally worthy and that's a fact. Not believing changes nothing. If, for one day, one week or one year, we could swap places and see through different eyes, that would be meaningful. But that can happen only in our dreams.

Sweet dreams America.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Backstory: About the Cubs winning... anything

Daughter Jill and one of the very young Cub players

Before the Chicago Cubs won the World Series, before time began, there was a hope that the Cubbies could do it again, just 108 years after their last world championship. My daughter Jill wondered why we cared, though she was not immune to caring. So why do we care? rationale says that, in the end, we're all crazy so why is worshiping baseball gods (small g) any worse than the real world? This is her take:

I’ve been con-vincing myself that tonight doesn’t really matter with simple thoughts of relative importance. My children are all healthy and decent humans to this point. Nate Silver still has my political candidate up. We will have a good meal tonight and many nights into the future. I can be placated, temporarily.

But my stomach is still in a knot.

As I sit in this coffee shop with my laptop open, a clich├ęd picture of somebody who wrongly assumes they have something important to think, I worry about the Cubs. I know I’m not alone.  All over Facebook, friends from Illinois and even friends who’ve never set foot in Illinois seem to feel that this moment touches them in a special way.

For me, every bit of cynicism in my being is grounded in the bedrock of Cubs Fandom. Though my Dad has always been my cheerleader of positivity around the largest of life issues, whenever the dog poops on his carpet, he takes a wrong turn, or he fails to fix the vacuum cleaner, a deep disappointment in life saturates his surroundings. I remember trying to move out of its way when I was little, the disappointment so pervasive and long-lasting like the coating on the inside of your mouth when you finish a donut or the superglue crust that doesn’t come off your fingers no matter how many times you wash them.

I know the foundation. I learned this deep, perhaps misplaced disappointment before I could even identify the chatter of the baseball announcers or the voice of Harry Caray. Though I never met my Grandfather, within my bones, I could feel him walk heavily across the wooden floor of his Uncle’s Chicago grocery store after a Cubs loss. I imagine him going through the inevitable ups and downs of life as his Italian family settled into their American world, looking toward the Cubs as an iconic symbol of hope, success, and victory. In the beauty of baseball, he always had next year. He had next year until the day he died on his walk home from his work in the bowling alley. He was probably around my age – 47.

I think I know how he must have felt around then, having moved through the ascent of life, the fantasies of meeting the incredible love of your life and creating enormously brilliant and beautiful children, the dream of finding a meaningful career that vaults one into either important notoriety or quiet peaceful satisfaction. At 47, one realizes that love is complicated, children bring worries, and work satisfaction is as mercurial as the moods of colleagues. When the Cubs lose, one must settle in for another year of recognizing that life is just like that. It can be a little disappointing.
Not that the sun doesn’t rise in the morning or anything. It does and it can be really beautiful with the haze and the heavy morning air and all that, but really, this game matters.

Tonight, as you attempt to calm yourself with those stories about how lucky you are that you have the ability to even watch a ball game, don’t kid yourself. All hope rests on this evening.

PS from me: World Series this year, Universe Series next year. Will this never end?