Sunday, March 31, 2013

Traditions Shared

Greetings All:

It is Easter Sunday, actually Easter Sunday evening.  Passover, that began last Monday at sundown, will be soon concluding.  Tomorrow is April 1st (and look out for the April Fools gags, they are coming.).  Easter and Passover mark in some unofficial way the coming of spring, the ending of winter (although the cold seems to stick around for a while) and a changing of the seasons.  Tomorrow the first pitch will be thrown out at baseball parks across America and March Madness is down to three games.  It is a time for change.

Although I am so looking forward to warm weather, fun, and more trivial stuff in general, I want to take a moment and comment on something that struck me this past week, a tradition shared.  For those of you who know me, you are probably aware that I am Catholic and my wife and kids are Jewish.  In our house, we celebrate both Passover and Easter. 

Passover is the story of how Moses led the Israelites from slavery in Egypt.  I understand that Wikipedia is not an "approved" academic source, but I think this write up is pretty good:

Also, if you'd like to learn more about the dinner, or the Seder, here is another source:

There is a ton of symbolism in this meal.  The matzo is the unleavened bread eaten.  It is kind of like a cracker or Melba toast.  The symbolism here is that the Jews did not have time to let their bread finish baking before their flight so they took it and ran.  I am not going into all the symbols but I do want to highlight the Seder plate.  It is featured in the photo at the beginning of this post.  There is one in the photo at the beginning of this post.  One of the Seder plates we have is one that belonged to my wife Dawn's grandmother.  The Seder plate is where symbols of the evening's meal are placed. 

The matzo is covered by a cloth, again, part of symbolism.  It is tradition for children to decorate this cloth.  On our table were both of our kids' coverings.  I thought it was a fantastic representation of generations.  I would be remiss not to mention that one of the reasons why this is so significant is that Dawn's grandmother survived the Holocaust.  Despite a concerted effort of evil to wipe out an entire group of people, she survived.  Not only did she live, but she went on with her husband to make a new life in America.  They had children, who had children and sitting around a table in Bettendorf, Iowa is yet another generation.  Although I am not Jewish, I am proud to be the father of two and consider it an honor to get to participate in this ceremony.  I must admit that I am not a fan of the hard-boiled eggs and the soup, but that to me is secondary to the joy of being with family, of sharing a tradition.

(My youngest daughter's gift from Grandpa, a Cinderella bank, adored with Easter Bunny ears.)

Now as I mentioned, we celebrate both holidays.  I went to Mass with my Dad and we did the obligatory brunch.  The formal events of the day concluded with our own egg hunt on the hill.  My youngest daughter cleaned up and it's like Halloween in our place, except the days are longer.  I cannot be too critical as I firmly expect to find a least a few pieces of that candy in my lunch this week. 

There are of course many comparisons with Passover and Easter.  There is some debate if the "Last Supper" of Jesus Christ was or was not a Passover Seder meal.  Here are a couple of sources if you are curious about it:

(The Da Vinci painting of "The Last Supper," public domain status claimed-

Both holidays for me have clear connections to renewal.  In Easter, it is simply this:  Jesus Christ is risen, a promise made is fulfilled.  In Passover, it is a celebration of a new start.  I found this quote from the Lubavitcher Rebbe:

"[o]n Pesach (Passover) we celebrate the liberation of the Jewish people from Egyptian slavery and, together with it, the liberation from, and negation of the ancient Egyptian system and way of life, the "abominations of Egypt." Thus we celebrate our physical liberation together with our spiritual freedom."

And I do not think it is in appropriate to relate this renewal to the coming of spring to nature's return.  The ground that was frozen a few weeks (or days) ago is starting to usher forth life.  I even look forward to cutting the grass again.

(The Easter Lily my Dad gave us today.)

For me, there is a connection between my two families, two faiths, two holidays.  At the center are traditions shared.  Some are more closely followed than others.  I suppose in a few years the early morning arrival of the Easter Bunny will be a thing of the past.  Future Seder dinners will likely involved other people, some I have yet to meet or even yet to be born.  What I find so wonderful is that traditions are things you can both share and make your own.  Of course symbolism matters.  Tangible things are what we can hold in our hands and see with our eyes.  And yet it is how we interact with them that put a unique mark on them that return in future years.  There is a reason why certain Christmas ornaments are treasured by parents and handled with the utmost care even though there is zero monetary value.  The reason is that it is something unique to the parent in that most special way. 

As we conclude Easter and Passover, I hope everyone got to experience a little and hopefully a lot of fun.  I also hope you put your own spin on family traditions.  I'll wrap this post up with a photo I snapped today that I like to think sums up the fun in our house after the seriousness of earlier in the week. 
Have a great week, month and spring!


Thursday, March 21, 2013

A Life Lived

Greetings Friends:

St. Patrick's Day has come and gone.  I ate the last of the corned beef and potatoes (not a big cabbage fan) and  the garb has been put away until next year.  I hope everyone had as much fun as I did and for those of you who braved "The Grand Parade," I hope you were able to stay warm!

After the parade, I made my way up to one of my favorite watering holes in town, Bley's Tap.   In fact, besides my Dad's place, (and that is a future post) it is only one of the few places I go on a semi-regular basis.  It is a throwback place.  In the words of my friend Jerry, "It's a joint!"  For those of you born prior to the Nixon administration, "joint" is a term of affection.  Simply put, it is a great place.

I stopped by to see a few friends and enjoy what was a gathering of Irish and friends of the Irish.  A grand time was had by all.  After a bit of time, I found myself in need of a trip to the bathroom and as you may have guessed, here is where the picture comes into this post.

In the bathroom, written high above the sink, is this dedication.  I have no idea who Dwight Kistler was, nor who is the author.  I have been going into Bley's for a few years and always noticed it.  However, for some reason, I decided to snap a picture of it and with the permission of Ross, the owner, have posted it here.

I should mention that it is possible that Mr. Kistler was no longer with us when Bley's opened.  Years ago, this establishment had another name and I recall being in it, "back in the day."  I do feel confident in saying that all the good things that were of the previous place are alive and well in Bley's today.  If Mr. Kistler could walk back into Bley's today, he would, I suspect, like what he found.

Mr. Kistler's obituary is not listed.   I did the obligatory Google search and came up with nothing.  However, I did come up with a bunch of stuff about another Dwight, as in Dwight D. Eisenhower, General of the Army and 34th President of the United States.  For many decades, they shared the same time on this earth.  Of course, one is world famous, with countless "things" named after him.  There have been dozens, if not hundreds of biographers of President Eisenhower.  Mr. Kistler, well... none that I am aware of.

And yet I would respectfully submit that Mr. Kistler is worthy of mention.  He is worthy of mention for someone (inspired by spirit or otherwise) wrote this testament to him.  (BTW, I am NOT encouraging any impromptu graffiti) He worked for a half a century at a skilled trade.  Unlike me who works almost always in an office with climate control and coffee on demand, I suspect Mr. Kistler was outside in all kinds of weather.  I can only assume, but based on 50 years, I have every reason to believe he took pride in his work.

Speaking of, I looked up what a brick mason does and here is what I found:

"Brick masons are construction professionals who work with brick and mortar to create a number of architectural enhancements to structures that are both functional as well as visually appealing. In some instances, a brick mason will also work with materials other than bricks, such as structural tiles, stone, and even prefabricated panels and facades."


My Grandparents were farmers, as were my parents, at least for a while.  Hard work and honest labor are things to value.  In a world where more and more of our "tools" are not from a work belt but a drop down menu and when a keyboard is our job site, it is good to recall those who do (and did) physical labor.  I am talking about the labor that drains you of sweat yet fills you with pride.  That causes your muscles to ache but your soul to smile.  

Here is a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. that sums it up for me:

"All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence."

I cannot prove it of course, but I will elect to believe that Mr. Kistler did his mason work with excellence.  I elect to believe that along with hard work he valued his family and his friends at this place.  I surmise he had a faith in God that gave him comfort.  He likely bought more rounds than he accepted, yet he accepted them with sincere thanks and a wide grin.  When Mr. Kistler passed, his friends, and I choose to believe there were and are many, raised a glass to his memory with a tear in their eye.

We should all be so lucky to be remembered for working any period of time at an honored skill.  To me, there is something good about remembered for hard work and loyalty.  They are things sadly lacking in this world, at least in abundance.  Mr. Kistler, from the evidence available, had both.  

Bley's Tap is located at 215 E 29th St, Davenport, IA 52803.  It is open Monday thru Saturday and some Sundays.   

Be well my friends,

Friday, March 15, 2013

A Poem For St. Patrick's Day

Greetings All:

So the big day is almost here, St. Patrick's Day.  Unless of course, you live here in the Quad Cities, then we're down to a mere number of hours until The Grand Parade and the beginning of the celebration that is St. Patrick's Day.   The Grand Parade starts in Rock Island, Illinois and ends in downtown Davenport, Iowa.  It is the only bi-state parade in America.  To learn more, please see the link below and if you are anywhere near the parade route, come on out and enjoy the fun.

I understand that St. Patrick's Day is not nearly as big a deal in Ireland as it is here in America.  And I suppose I would be remiss not to acknowledge that there will be a few (well, perhaps a tinge more than a few) who will be over-served and may get a bit too loud.  I would respectfully submit that you will have that in any crowd.  I know that I will long be home before those revelers kick it in to high gear.

For my family and I, St. Patrick's Day has a deep personal connection. My Mother, Catherine Brigit O'Neill Berta, was 100% Irish.  We lost her three years ago next month and she is dearly missed every day.  However, her spirit is always with us and even more so this time of year.  And with that, I give you my Poem to St. Patrick's Day, dedicated to my Mom.  I hope you like it.

This is the weekend for wearing your green;

Shamrocks and smiles will be seen;

There will be The Grand Parade;

And many a toast will surely be made.

Songs will be sung in various keys;

Of the Emerald Isle, if you please;

Corn beef and cabbage is the fare;

Grab a plate, there’s plenty to share.

We hold these days as a time of fun;

Yet let us not fail to recall how it all begun;

When Ireland bid farewell to her daughters and sons;

From the decks of ships they strived to see;

That mythical Statute of Liberty;

A new home, a new life;

And yet the early days were full of strife.

When they first sought work, they found a sign;

That bitterly read:  “No Irish Need Apply.”

Wearing tattered clothes yet standing straight;

No self-pity allowed, their own way they would make.

They Dug canals, built buildings and farmed the land;

It is on their shoulders we descendants stand.

When the bugle blew, they answered the call;

To fight for freedom, even though they may fall;

Their standards flew proud and true;

Irish green in their hearts, yet now serving under the red, white and blue.

Through song and tale, and with sharp wit;

The Irish have enhanced our culture, and more than a bit;

There have been cops and fireman, servants true;

And of course, a politician or two.

I am proud to be Irish, and grateful too;

Happy St. Patrick’s Day to all of you!

Slán agus beannacht leat,

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Initium Novum

So we have a new Pope, Francis I, f/k/a Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the first Latin American Pope and (IMO more significant) the first Jesuit.  As the title to this blog indicates, (in Latin) this is a new beginning for the Catholic Church and certainly for the Holy Father.

I was able to watch the announcement that a Pope had been decided and the plumes of white smoke.  Then there was the waiting for the proclamation of who the Pope was.  The protodeacon Cardinal, Jean Louis Tauran, stated: " [n]untio vobis gaudium magnum: habemus Papam. Eminentissimum ac Reverendissimum Dominum Jorge Mario sanctae romanae ecclesiae cardinalem Bergoglio, qui sibi nomen imposuit Francescus."

We have all been drinking from the fire hose of news about the new Pope.  Already, we know he takes public transportation (well, not any more) is not wildly popular with the Argentine government, was a contender in the last Papal conclave, is opposed to abortion and gay marriage and is considered humble.  His first words to the crowd in St. Peter's Square were, "Pray for me."  He also asked for a moment of silent prayer.  

It will be interesting to see what path Francis I will take for the Church and himself.  I am no expert in church dogma but I think it is safe to say that he will hold true to the basic tenants of the Catholic Church.  After all, he was elected by at least 77 Cardinals who are about as traditional as they come.  I also believe that he is someone who sincerely believes in the path of the Church and is humbled to lead it.  

I think the deeper and much harder question is how will Francis I lead in his own way by staying true in his own way to the teachings of the Church.  By all accounts, he is a humble man.  At a time when the Catholic Church has been reeling from injuries (some self-inflicted) and is criticized for arrogance, a humble leader may be just what the Church needs to bring forth healing and greater understanding.

I have heard speculation about his choosing the name Francis.  What first came to mind is St. Francis of Assisi.  He was a spoiled kid who after a stint in the military rejected worldly pleasures and served God.  The St Francis of Assisi prayer is as follows:

Prayer of Saint Francis of Assisi

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury,pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen

A wonderful prayer and even if you are not religious, there are many positive things in it.  If it was this Saint who was the motivation for his name, a fine choice.  However, there is also some talk that the name was chosen for St. Francis Xavier.  He was a Spanish priest who was one of the founding members the Society of Jesus that better became known as the Jesuits.    Please see the photo below.  This is the order of the new Pope.  As I mentioned above, I think this is an important insight to why he was selected.  Jesuits are known for their work with the poor.  St. Francis Xavier took vows of both poverty and chastity in 1534.  In 1540, Rome adapted both of these practices.  Interesting that this Pope, this new Pope has a connection to this Saint.

 Pope Francis: What's Behind the Name

I like I presume anyone reading this post, wishes the Holy Father well on his selection.  Shortly, he will lead the faithful in the celebration of Easter.  As my good friend Bill mused, this was part of Pope Benedict XVI plan- a new Pope for the season of ultimate renewal of the Church.  I think Francis I will take his stewardship of the Catholic Church very seriously and with humility.  That may not be enough to fix all the issues, but it is probably the best place to start.

Deus te benedicat


For the pictures used in this post, I claim either fair use and/or public domain, thanks.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Just a Great Evening

Greetings All:

This will be a short blog post.  All I really want to say is I have had just a great evening.  The cause of my amazing good mood is that I had the good fortune to watch my daughter Cassie and her friends and classmates from PVJH put on a terrific (and I do mean terrific and yes I am bias but it was a terrific show, just ask any parent/grandparent/family member in attendance...) version of Beauty and the Beast.  I wrote a blog post last fall about a professional community show I saw in Rock Island.  That post was written with some objectivity.  This post will fail utterly in that regard.  I am an unapologetic and profoundly proud parent of my daughter and her friends.  It was such a super show and as I write this several hours removed I am still giddy (yup giddy, I said it and will own it) thinking about it.

When you see a school show, you see up close the set, the costumes the actors.  You also see all the people behind the scenes who work incredibly hard to pull this off.  Many parents donate time, money, energy to help the show come to life.  Then there are the teachers who live with the show and the (ahem) challenges of dealing with early-stage teenagers.  I tip my hat to all of them.

There is a LOT wrong with our world and I write about that on occasion.  I also comment on people I admire who are doing things to improve it.  I strongly suspect I will be back to writing about that sooner or later.  However, for now, at 10:13 on a Friday night, I am electing not to worry about the rantings of Kim Jung Un (a/k/a Dennis Rodman's newest BFF, learn more on Twitter by checking out @KimJongNumberUN) or sequester or any of the many other things that could keep us up at night.  Nope, right now I am going to sit back and feel my face smile as I think about how wonderful the show was tonight.  I am beyond proud of my daughter and cannot wait to see my Dad's reaction tomorrow night.  I am also proud of her friends who brought their A game and were fantastic!  What adds to the fun of these shows is that Dawn and I know many of these kids and have gotten to be legit friends with many of their parents.  Everyone was happy and their was a collective feeling of uber positive energy.  If we could bottle it and send it to DC, we'd have the budget and debt thing solved.

The other cool thing about tonight was that a number of the high school kids came to the show.  At the end of the show, they went up to their once and future classmates (save the seniors but you get my point) and were congratulating the junior high kids.  It was just fun to watch how thrilled the junior high kids were to see their older friends there.  The whole thing was just great.

It's the weekend so go out and have fun.  I know that not every weekend can be as great as this one so I am going to sit back and revel in it.  As I started this post, I'll conclude with saying, just a great evening.



Saturday, March 2, 2013

Welcome March and what I am Reading

Greetings All:

Although winter is still firmly in control here in Iowa, it is March.  February, the shortest month, hung around for all of its 28 days.  Although it has been a pretty mild winter, all things considered, there is snow on the ground and I am glad the heater works.  It looks like spring is taking the scenic route.

March is a good time to take a pause and see how the new year is going.  It is also a time to see how those (ahem) new year resolutions are doing.  I found a stat on resolutions and it sums up just how damningly hard it is to keep resolutions;

Percent of people who are successful in achieving their resolution 8%.

Although it is harder to get struck by lightning, it's still an awfully low percentage.  When I think about myself, I think about one thing I wanted to do more of this year, blog posts.  I think that this is my second or maybe third this year.  I wonder why I have done so little writing despite the fact it is something I enjoy doing. 

I suppose part of that is because of work, schedules, kid events, (blah, blah, blah) I've got plenty of excuses, some better than others.  However, there is only one reason that matters:  I chose not to.

Even as I write this now, I find myself struggling to finish this and am thinking of other competing things for my time.  I wonder if the reason I have not written more is the desire to have the "good post" and the fear of putting something out that is not very good.  There is the old saying that perfection is the sworn enemy of excellence.  There is some truth to that.  There is also truth in the fact that procrastination is something that is wickedly addicting and so hard to overcome.  There are more than a couple draft entries that I had the best of intentions to finish and never did.

So I am going to worry less about putting out blog posts that I have spent hours on and just share what is on my mind.  So here goes:

This year, I have committed to reading/listening to more books.  I have read and heard some great stuff and I wanted to share a couple of things.

Bob Pozen has a new book out entitled, Extreme Productivity.

This guy has an impressive resume of academic, public and private works.  (Here's his bio-  He has also been married to the same woman for 30 plus years (or there abouts) and has two grown, successful kids.  In short, this is a guy who has his act together.  If you are interested in learning more about productivity, check him out.

The other book I am reading now is GEN (ret) Stan McCrystal's new memoir, My Share of the Task.  You may recall that he resigned as ISAF Commander in Afghanistan after the negatively critical article appeared in Rolling Stone magazine,, ending an amazingly impressive career.  I had originally got the McCrystal book from the library and failed to read it in the allotted time (and incurring a debt of $.20 in fines, paid in full, I might add).  However, I read enough of it to decide to buy it and here's why:

There is no doubt GEN McCrystal is a great Soldier and leader.  One could understand if he were to use his memoir to say, "I resigned for the good of the mission but I did nothing wrong and got railroaded."  He doesn't.  If anything, he takes responsibility for the article and quietly retired. 

Yes his book recounts military service and missions.  Yet as I pour through it, I find it more of a user's guide on leadership.  Here's one line:  "[t]he best leaders are genuine. I found soldier would tolerate my being less of a leader than I hoped to be, but they would not forgive me being less than I claimed to be.  Simple honesty matters."  (p. 392).  Wow.

Here is a link to a video presentation by GEN McCrystal.  I have seen this several times and am beyond impressed every time I see it:

I think I will wrap it up with that and wish all of you the best rest of the weekend.  Although it is still snow and cold, spring will get here.  If you think about it, March is a wonderful month that way.  In one page of the calendar you can experience snow and spring, not to mention Easter & Passover (this year) and of course, St. Paddy's Day!  I will make it a point to write about that wonderful day sooner than later.