Monday, December 23, 2013

Caring for Bailey and warming my heart

Bailey fed, dry and happy and spending
the day with Pops. Can you say ahhh!
I finished up my first week of Bailey sitting recently and, somewhat miraculously, both my granddaughter and I are still around and fond of one another.

My daughter Lauren has headed back to work and, thankfully, there’s a gaggle of grandparents available to handle daycare. For a bunch of logistical reasons, I was the lucky guy, along with an assist from the always lovely Miss Wendy, tapped to spend time with Bailey last week.
It’s been an adventure!

At its heart, the job can be summed up in one word: poop and pee. Okay, that’s actually three words; but, hopefully, you get the idea. I know there’s the whole feeding thing also. But I sort of group that in with the pooping and peeing; it’s all one ongoing cycle!
Truth to tell, the real work is best defined as simply being. I’ll explain.

For most of my life I had a job that defined success by my doing something. I imagine that pretty much captures the point of most jobs, whether you’re making widgets, managing a hedge fund or digging ditches. In my case, I played with words as a reporter and editor for newspapers across the Land of Cotton.
Caring for Bailey does involve a bit of work. But after I spend a few minutes each day feeding her and making sure her diaper is clean, what I’m really doing is simply being with her. I hold and gently rock her; I hum songs from my childhood and make up tunes that keep her happy; I make silly faces and silly noises; I walk her about the house in my arms when she’s fussy and on pleasant days push her around the neighborhood in a stroller.

I learned all these special tricks over three decades ago after Wendy and I went looking for a pediatrician who, we hoped, would be able to detail the secrets of childcare. Wendy was pregnant and we didn’t have a clue about taking care of a baby.
Stephen King told us not to worry. He’s the doctor we found to take care of Lauren and, serendipitously, is the senior physician now in the practice that Lauren and Josh selected for Bailey’s care.  When we met all those years ago I was expecting him to listen to our concerns and then produce a spread sheet and expansive notes on how and when to do everything – feeding, diapering, bathing, sleeping.

Instead, he offered three words of advice: Love your baby. He then added, “Everything will be okay.” And, well, it was and is.
That’s what I’m doing now with Bailey, loving her.

And if I or Wendy or Janice – that would be Josh’s Mom and Bailey’s other Grandma – do our job really well, if we keep Bailey fed and dry, safe and happy, we get to hold her while she sleeps contentedly in our arms or offers up an innocent smile that is achingly beautiful.
That’s the kind of holiday bonus that’s really meaningful. It doesn’t have much purchasing power, but it certainly warms the heart on a chilly winter day.

Monday, December 2, 2013

It’s official: Bailey Rebecca becomes Chana Tovah

Bailey all decked out in her Etz Chaim
T-shirt that she was given as a present during
her baby naming last weekend.
Want to know what perfection looks like? I came close to spotting it over the weekend when Georgia won, Alabama lost and my granddaughter was “officially” named during Shabbat services at my synagogue.

The football games were nice – actually, incredible – but the icing on the cake was Bailey’s debut in the Jewish community, a transcendent moment of high ritual and ancient prayers when my eight-week-old granddaughter received her Hebrew name, Chana Tovah.
Boys are circumcised and given their Hebrew name when they are only eight days old; an ancient practice, the Brit Milah, which makes them officially part of the covenant of Abraham. This all might seem a bit bizarre for those of you outside the Tribe. Let’s just agree it’s a Jewish thing, and leave it at that.

Meanwhile, in recent decades, little girls have been welcomed into the community with a small, significantly less traumatizing event: the baby naming. We Jews take formal Hebrew names both to honor and recall family members who have died and to use in Jewish rituals – being called to the Torah for an aliyah or on religious contracts like a ketubah. Again, it’s a Jewish thing!
Those are some of the esoteric details, but the moment is mostly a celebration of family and culture, an opportunity to embrace who and what we’re about as individuals, a community and a people. For a moment Bailey, her mom and dad, stood beaming on the bima, our rabbi declaring to the world that Chana Tovah has become part of our ancient covenant.

He then cradled her gently and offered up the Priestly Blessing, that God bless and keep Chana Tovah; that He fills her life with light and is gracious with her; that He lifts up His face and grants Bailey a life of Shalom, Peace!
Apparently the blessing worked!

Bailey was not only at peace, she pretty much took a ho-hum attitude to the entire affair. She managed to sleep through the entire service, only fluttered awake momentarily during the celebratory luncheon, and completely ignored the dozen or so folks passing her about like a pop-star fan in a mosh pit.
So this is for you Bailey, a little remembrance that perhaps you’ll read on the eve of your Bat Mitzvah in 2026 or when you graduate from the, ah, University of Georgia – okay, we’ll discuss school options later.

More importantly, maybe this tiny blog will remind you of who you are and what’s important in life as you prepare to be sworn in as the first Jew and second woman to be president of the United States.
With great parents and doting grandparents, loving aunts, uncles, cousins and friends – many present and kvelling this festive weekend – it seems there are no limits on what you might accomplish with your life.

I’m just happy that I’ll be around to watch it all take shape in coming years.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Poop and Pops: The adventure continues

Bailey is as snug as the proverbial bug after an afternoon
snack and having her diaper changed.
It’s been over three decades since last I changed a diaper. But, like riding a bicycle, there are some things once learned that stay with you. And so it was, just the other day, that Bailey and I were spending a little quality time together.

My daughter Lauren was a little loopy from lack of sleep and I was on-call, the guy charged with sitting by the phone in case emergency action was needed. I’m not certain that babysitting qualifies as combat duty, but I probably could have used a little basic training in diapering 101 before my first big mission. I’m also thinking I might be putting in for hazardous pay in coming weeks.

The battle began as I was quietly feeding my granddaughter, holding her gently in the crook of my arm, my hand supporting Bailey’s tush and her itsy-bitsy tootsies flailing in delight. That’s when I felt a whopping huge bubble explode and squeak its way across the bottom of her diaper.
A moment later I had her bundled and burped and was off in search of the changing table in the nursery.  It shouldn’t be all that difficult carrying about a 10-pound package of baby softness; but sometimes, a squirming, wailing infant can be a challenge.

I’m thinking if someone was around to capture the next few moments, we might have the makings of a viral video: Poop and Pops! The problem was maneuvering Baily from my shoulder onto the changing table, holding her down and removing her diaper and finding a moist wipe off in the distance while she squirmed in defiance.
Then I had to figure out how best to slip the new diaper up and under legs that were flailing about and a tush and torso twisting in a squiggly dance of abandon. My herculean efforts were greeted with a tiny burp and smile – thank you very much!

This little bit of daily life is new for both Bailey and me and the wonder of it all is, in fact, the wonder of it all. The biology is clear but doesn’t capture the exquisite beauty of the adventure. Truth to tell, a new born is both the normal stuff of life and an inexplicable miracle.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Joining Bailey in the 21st Century … WAWI

Bailey either wants me to give her a call -- this just a
few days after being born -- or, perhaps she's suggesting
it's time I GAL and buy a new phone!
There are all the obvious joys and delights of becoming a grandparent, especially the first time around. It’s a life-affirming adventure that has a way of grabbing your attention and forcing most of us to ignore the small problems of life while focusing on the transcendent moments.

For the lovely Miss Wendy and me, there’s another bit of good news. Bailey, who just celebrated three weeks of life on planet Earth, is managing to nudge her low-tech bubbe and pops into the 21st century. I’ll explain.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably noticed that we’re all zipping into a high-tech, digitalized world at the speed of light, filled with gadgets that both connect and, at times, push us apart.

Today you can pretty much hide away in a darkened room of your house, the bustling lobby of Grand Central Station or an intimate nook in your favorite coffee shop and, drumroll please, remain connected with your family, friends and colleagues – it’s magic!
With the right stuff and frame of mind, you can work and play games on a laptop; surf the web on a wide assortment of tablets, e-readers and other such devices and listen to music on itsy-bitsy Mp3 players. You can also mix and match all these gizmos and remain plugged in and tuned out till your mind turns to cheddar cheese!

You can also push aside all this expensive and hefty hardware and, for the most part, remain entertained and connected with one simple device that has become the high-tech toy of choice – the Smartphone!
That’s the good news. The problem is Wendy and I don’t have Smartphones. I’m don’t necessarily think the retro flip phones we carry around are “dumb”; but if you glance back at the photo of Bailey above I’m pretty sure she’s telling me it’s time to update and join her and everyone else in the 21st century.

After all, unless we plan to carry around a photo album filled with glossy 8 x 10s, there’s no easy way to show off pictures of the newest member of our family. And when we attempt to offer up the latest images on the one-inch screens on our flip phones, a magnifying glass is needed to make out details!
And then there’s the whole issue of texting. I’ve yet to master this ubiquitous form of communication and, truth to tell, I’ve yet to figure out why it’s not a whole lot easier simply to make a phone call. But Bailey and her mom, that would be my daughter Lauren, seem to think the time is right to make the leap.

And they might be right. Lauren sent a text to Wendy the other night when she and I and Bailey were getting to know one another and Lauren and Josh were out and about, enjoying a free evening. Lauren simply wanted to know if everything was OK.
Thirty minutes later, after both Wendy and I had whacked away at her flip phone, attempting to respond, we managed to report: xtyxxes. “Yes” is buried somewhere in that cryptic note and, IMHO, we’ll actually be able to write something legible once we have a phone that comes with a usable keyboard.

If not, I’m thinking Bailey might suggest it’s time we GAL. I agree. So the lovely Miss Wendy and I are off in search of a digital update. Stay tuned and BB4N!

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Bailey Update: Babies, grandparents and a ‘shayna punim’

Okay, really, you have to agree that Bailey is
a "shayna Punim", right?
It’s happened and I didn’t even see it coming. I’ve become my mother.

I was holding Bailey the other day – that would be my two-week-old granddaughter – and she was mostly doing her baby thing: lots of gentle sleeping, a little wiggling and a whole lot of just being cute.
Way back in the innards of my brain, apparently the part that is attracted by the serene sense of calm that newborns manufacture, a phrase started to take shape that I couldn’t quite put into words. It circled about for a while, lingering just on the tip of my tongue when, glancing down at Bailey, it tumbled out unexpectedly.

It was the focus of a sentence that, quite possibly, might be found if you look up the word “treacle” in the dictionary.
“Such a shayna punim; yes you are, oh yes you are!”

Oy! That’s another Yiddish word that means, well, oy.
For my Yiddish-challenged readers, shayna punim means “pretty face”. But, like lots of Yiddish phrases, it’s much more than simply a couple of words tacked together. It’s more a state of being and state of mind that, truth to tell, most all grandparents – Jewish or not – find in their grandchildren.

It’s a phrase that “yiddishe mamas” have been using for centuries and my mother offered up liberally when playing with her grandchildren and announcing to the world what a bit of perfection she’d stumbled onto.
That’s the wider meaning, the stuff of life that all babies capture. After all, in a tiny package of pinkness and hair, the potential for all they will ever become is making its debut and just about the only words that seem adequate for the occasion is the overly sentimental pronouncement, shayna punim.

So I’ve become my mother, not just using the phrase, but offering it up in that rhythmic, sing-songy voice that meshuggenah bubbes have, no doubt, copyrighted – I certainly don’t recall my father using the phrase.
I’ll know that the maternal link is absolute when I start using the term pisher, but I’ll save the details on that particular word and all that it means for another time.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Bailey update: Cooing, gurgling and a little smile

Josh and Bailey do a little father-daughter bonding
after arriving home from the hospital late last week.
So it was a simple question, an off-hand remark that got my attention and sent my blood-pressure soaring.

“Dad, I’m going to take a nap, so are you okay with Bailey?”
The person asking the question was my daughter, Lauren; and Bailey, my granddaughter, wasn’t raising any objections. On this day she was weighing in at just less than eight pounds and celebrating her fourth birthday – four full days on planet Earth! So, really, what’s the big deal, right?

After all, she was snoozing comfortably in my arms, wiggling about a bit and giving off those soft cooing and gurgling sounds that babies often make.
“No problem,” I said with all the bravado and good cheer I could muster. I mean, really, what could go wrong?

Ten minutes later and Lauren was off and napping in her room; I was gently rocking Bailey who remained adrift in that twilight world that babies frequent – not quite here, but working hard to figure out all the strange sights, sounds and feelings that we call home.
Nearby, Maggie and Ella – the canine members of the family – shuffled about, circling in search of that sweet spot where they could fall on their haunches and continue their afternoon siesta.

For a moment the room was filled with the euphonic and blissful sound of absolute contentment: the barely audible wheeze of air filtering through the black and wet nostrils of the dogs and the itty-bitty nose of Bailey. I was still holding my breath.

And then the doorbell rang.
The dogs were immediately up and barking, dashing for the door. I was yelling at them to quiet down and, fortunately, little Bailey was ignoring the commotion. Perhaps her face scrunched up a bit as I maneuvered my way up and off the couch in the living room, holding her close as I got to my feet in what can only be termed a masterful display of strength and dexterity.

I’m thinking what I managed was the sort of acrobatic maneuver that Cirque Soleil builds entire shows around. Then again, maybe not!  The good news is Bailey’s eyes stayed shut and her gentle cooing signaled she was still asleep.
So, too, apparently Lauren; she remained dozing in her room, a mom sleeping off an early-morning feeding and fussy follow through that had lasted until the sun settled on the horizon a few hours earlier. 

I quickly made my way to the door, the dogs at my heels, Bailey still in my arms. To my surprise, waiting to greet me was, well, no one. I uttered a well-chosen expletive, happy that my granddaughter was sleepily unaware of her Pops popping off and wondering if kids in the neighborhood were playing “ring and run” in the middle of the afternoon.
Then I spotted a package at my feet and heard a UPS truck chugging away in the distance. Only a few moments later our little group – Bailey, Ella, Maggie and me – was once again snuggly resting in the living room, order restored and the future looking bright. The quiet calm had me nodding off a bit, a sentry momentarily falling asleep at his post.

So it was with a little jerk of fright that after only a few seconds or so I woke and glanced down at Bailey. She was just managing – intentionally or not – to lift the corners of her mouth in her first-ever smile.

I glanced around to share the moment with anyone in hailing distance. Maggie and Ella took the news with quiet delight, glancing my way when I shared the news of my granddaughter’s little accomplishment.

Their bemused doggie stares reminded me that such is the stuff of life and, most probably, there will be additional "firsts" down the road.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Bailey Rebecca and a "Season of Joy"

Lauren, Josh and the newest member of the family, Bailey
just moments after my granddaughter made her
grand entrance at Northside Hospital.
My son-in-law Josh came sauntering out of a longish hallway at Northside Hospital, a slight and weary smile spreading across his face.
His next few words changed my life.
“Want to meet your granddaughter,” he asked me and the other three grandparents-in-waiting nearby; all of us tired, anxious and thrilled and more than ready to leave the waiting room where we had been keeping watch for a dozen hours or so late last week.
We huddled outside the labor and delivery room – an expansive space that had the feel of a comfy hotel suite that just happened to be filled with high-tech medical gizmos and monitors – took a deep breath and walked gently into the future.
My daughter Lauren, the rigors of childbirth now a fading memory, looked remarkably calm, cradling the little girl who had just made her grand appearance into this world.  And, at least for an instance, my mind was filled with the melancholy image of my parents, no longer of this world, and a jumbled blur of clichés: L'dor vador, the Circle of Life, peek-a-boo-I-see-you!
It would seem that my mind had turned to mush after hours of pacing, fiddling with high-tech smart phones, iPads and e-readers; low-tech newspapers, magazines and paperback books; chowing down on the very best that McDonald’s and nearby vending machines had to offer and trying to find the sweet spot on the lumpy chairs and sofas spread about the hospital’s Women’s Center.
But the pristine beauty of my grandchild, the life and energy that filled the delivery room when I, my wife and machatunim – that would be Janice and Steve – finally got a chance to take a peek at the center of our new universe, brought about a bit of clarity and had me thinking of the Book of Ecclesiastes and, well, the 1965 hit by the Byrds, “Turn, Turn, Turn”.
Those of you of a certain generation, hum along if you like!
To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: A Time to be born, and a time to die … A time to weep, and a time to laugh … A time to mourn, and a time to dance … A time to love and a time to hate.
On this special morning, when the sun had yet to brush the horizon, the darkness was filled with the light and soft, sweet smell of a baby, Bailey Rebecca, not quite an hour old. And, at least for the moment, my family’s season was blessed and clearly a time to be born and laugh and dance and love.
A very short six decades ago and I was stumbling through childhood myself and then I blinked. The college years were mostly fun and filled with friends and new experiences and then I blinked again.
I married, started a new job here in Atlanta, then started a family. I blinked yet again – well, actually, several times – and found myself looking back wistfully at four decades of work and trying to figure out, as Cher once asked Alfie, “what’s it all about?”
Spending a moment with Bailey, my first grandchild, and the cyclical nature of life is finally starting to make a little sense. At least for today, I think Solomon got it about right when he – or, more likely, a number of scholars over a number of years – explored the nature of life and the seasons that fill our days.
It turns out that living really is about weeping and laughing, mourning and dancing, loving and hating. Fortunately – and I think I speak for many bubbes, grannies and grandmas; zaides, grandpas and pops – life is constantly changing and the horizon continues to expand and shift, especially if there’s a baby resting comfortably in the near distance.
The really good news is that having the privilege to be part of the first moments of a new life – for me, Bailey’s – opens up a fresh new door. I think Solomon called it the Season of Joy.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

A bagger, a bigot and a story worth telling

The lovely Miss Wendy and I were out and about yesterday, running errands and attempting to ignore the heat and humidity hovering about the Land of Cotton. We managed to beat an afternoon rain storm to our neighborhood supermarket where, it seems, we spend our free time and free cash every couple days in search of icy and tasty treats.

Since we had a plan before entering the store, it only took a few moments to gather up the items on our list and make our way to a checkout aisle. Wendy, as usual, waited for the cashier to do her thing while I stood around in that useless sort of way that husbands often do; glancing about, slack jawed and bored, just this side of comatose.
And then something caught my attention.
The guy handling the bagging chores seemed all atwitter, his arms waving about as he talked with the nearby clerk. I couldn’t actually make out what he was saying but I could see that he was agitated.
Truth to tell, what I mostly noticed is that he was talking a lot and not bagging any of our groceries. Impatience, clearly, is another guy thing and something that I think about working on when the idea of self-improvement crosses my mind. But I digress.
The man continued his story and then I heard a woman standing behind Wendy in line gasp and stammer, “He said what?” That got my attention and I finally focused on the bagger and the story he was detailing.

I’ve seen this man around the market for years. He’s probably just the other side of 70; a little bent with time, wrinkles spread across his face that, as often as not, is filled with warmth and a toothy smile. We’ve only shared a few words, but what I recall is his always addressing me as “young man” and Wendy as “young lady.” It’s a southern thing!

His name is Howard and, after finishing up his tale, he took only a moment or three to bag up our groceries, then offer a grin and remark, “Here you are, young man.”
As we walked from the air-conditioned market into the blast furnace of summer, Wendy told me the bits and pieces of the conversation I had missed. It seems that only moments earlier, Howard had begun bagging up a man’s groceries when the customer turned to him and said, “Boy, don’t touch my food.” It was clear from his tone what he meant.

Oh, I forgot to mention. Howard is black.
It took just that bit of context to help me revisit all that I had witnessed – the waving arms, angry and melancholy tone, bent shoulders and world-weary expression that flickered across Howard’s face. It also helped me understand what the woman behind Wendy had offered up only moments earlier, after asking what had been said.

“I apologize,” the woman said. “I apologize for what that man said.”
Howard shook his head and shrugged his shoulders, a gesture that seemed to suggest no apology was needed. He had simply walked away from the bigot after telling the jerk he would pray for him.

This little bit of drama seemed to fit nicely with all the talk in the last few days about Paula Deen and her admitted use of racial slurs in the past. The idea that such bigotry is dead and buried across Dixie is, of course, nonsense. Just ask Howard.
The moment also had me thinking back to one of the pivotal scenes in the movie “42”, the Hollywood biopic released a few months ago, celebrating Jackie Robinson’s role as the first black player in the modern era of Major League Baseball.

At a critical juncture, as he’s being considered for the move that would open the door for blacks into big-time sports, Robinson asks: “Mr. Rickey, are you looking for a Negro who is afraid to fight back?”
Branch Rickey, the general manager of the Dodgers, responds: “Robinson, I’m looking for a ballplayer with guts enough not to fight back.”

I don't think we'll be seeing any biopics about a supermarket bagger anytime soon, but I'm pretty sure that Howard and Jackie Robinson share more in common than just the color of their skin. Guts, it turns out, are as important in the 21st Century as it was over six decades ago.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Life can sometimes be a pain!

I was deep into a wondrous world of light and shadows earlier this week when a nagging call came my way. It pulled me from the tranquil calm of REM sleep and demanded my attention.

The lovely Miss Wendy needed me awake. The last time I had gotten such an early wake up call was three decades earlier after Wendy had gone into labor. This time around the problem was just as urgent – at least for the moment – but involved a much different sort of pain!
Wendy, who’s up before the sun each morning, was feeling just a little faint and puzzled by a growing pain in her chest. It was the sort of feeling that moved around a bit and the sort of problem that toys with all those existential fears we push aside when night gives way to day.
And it persisted; the pain a pulsing tease, the thoughts a growing concern. Wendy talked and detailed the problem. I listened and diagnosed. We weighed our words and spent a few moments handling the issue in a high-tech sort of way, fishing about the web for answers. All we managed to do, of course, is raise additional questions and scare ourselves silly.
I’m thinking most of us of a certain age have played this little game; measuring out the problem and viewing it from all angles, then trying to figure out exactly what needs to be done. The problem is there’s nothing “exact” about the issue, unless you happen to be a physician and also keep an EKG parked in your closet!
And so it was that the lovely Miss Wendy and I found ourselves in the emergency room of one of the mega-hospitals in our little corner of the world, listening to the beeps and bings of all the gadgetry that defines modern health care today.
Five hours later, the hospitalist – that’s a term I’m thinking Marcus Welby never heard back when doctors made house calls – announced that Wendy was not only fine, but “the healthiest young lady in the entire emergency room.” Let me repeat his diagnosis: Wendy’s fine!
He smiled. We smiled. Hope, yet again, rested easily on the horizon.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Part I: How I spent my summer vacation

Mother Nature takes charge and causes
all  sorts of problems for folks in The Land
of Cotton and others headed in that direction.
The lovely Miss Wendy and I are just back from a little fun under the broiling sun of South Florida. We had a delightful time with family and friends in and around Orlando, Daytona and the Fort Lauderdale area.

What’s mostly floating around my noggin at the moment, however, is our last day in the Sunshine State and the not-so-wonderful experience we had trying to escape back home to the Land of Cotton. Mother Nature, it turns out, did all she could to keep us cooling our heels at Orlando International Airport.
A little context might be helpful.

Like lots of travelers, I get a little anxious on travel days. I’m the sort of guy who gets to the airport early – hours early. There are just too many unknowns when flying, especially out of a new and unfamiliar complex.
The bothersome stuff most recently was a jarring mix of logistical issues – dealing with traffic and finding the airport in Orlando; figuring out where and how to return a car rental and figuring out where and how to find the Delta terminal.

And so it was that we were headed out to the airport at least five hours before our flight was scheduled. The good news, unfortunately, also turns out to be badly tarnished. There was little traffic and, despite our GPS announcing it couldn’t locate the airport, we had little trouble finding it, thanks to a map my brother Larry had given me.
One of my greatest concerns, returning our rental car, took minutes and couldn’t have been simpler – thanks and a tip-of-the-hat to Enterprise! There were one or two challenges once inside the airport, but several helpful clerks and security guards pointed us in the right direction.

So, as mentioned earlier, all this good stuff meant that we were at our gate and ready to go. The not so good news is we had four hours to kill. Yikes!
We walked around a bit and checked out the sites – fast food restaurants, a newsstand, a few retail shops and a duty-free store. We ate a late lunch, then walked around some more before settling in at our gate to do some serious people watching.

Our view on the world was mostly filled with a parade of sunburned folks, sporting Disney ears, T-shirts and tons of fat and cellulite, euphonically blended with groups of business types in sport coats (the men) and Vera Wang basic black (the women). Okay, truth to tell, I wouldn’t know a Wang from a wong, but you get the picture, right?
There was a palpable sense of energy and rhythm about the place. People coming and going; lives in transition. It was all a little dance that played out smoothly; that is until Mother Nature took center stage.

The first blip appeared around 5 in the afternoon when the departure board burped and our flight was delayed. For whatever reason, takeoff was pushed back an hour, from 7:30 to 8:30. A bit later, a message flashed on a nearby digital screen that flight times were being changed and that additional info would be provided when available.
The terminal remained energized, but the smooth little dance – a foxtrot, perhaps a tango – quickly deflated with all of us stumbling about, anxious and attempting to figure out what was happening. Families huddled together, and business types got busy on their smartphones. There was a lot of standing around and long lines of passenger waiting to talk with agents.

Time stood still and, for a moment, it seemed I had landed in purgatory, just this side of tourist hell! My life and those of my fellow travelers were on hold. Delta and Mother Nature were in control; and, for the most part, they weren’t talking!
It was at this point that Wendy pointed out a nearby TV monitor that featured video of a swirling storm – slashing rain, hail and lightning underneath dark and brooding skies – battering homes and buildings. Trees, street signs, telephone poles and utility lines were literally twisting in the wind. At the bottom of the screen a map of the area was prominently displayed. The storm was hovering over, wait for it, Atlanta!

Our already delayed flight was pushed back a bit more, from 8:30 to 8:50; then to 9:10 and, eventually, to 9:30. The flight was now two hours late and Wendy and I had been at the airport for an exhausting seven hours.
The news continued to be bad.

At 9:30, when our delayed flight should have been taking off – and the original flight should have been landing – the squeal of a microphone silenced the terminal and it was announced that all service into and out of Atlanta was temporarily suspended.
Isn’t there some old cliché about it being darkest before the dawn? Well, dawn seemed hours away when, in fact, a ray of light peeked out only moments later. As I wandered about, I glanced back in the direction of our gate and spotted Wendy wildly waving. It turned out Mother Nature was growing tired and it seemed a small window of opportunity had spilled across the Land of Cotton.

Wendy, I and 150 or so other folks were hustled aboard a waiting plane, tucked in as the pilots hurriedly pushed back from the gate, then collectively sighed when it was announced, yet again, there was another delay. Fortunately it was short.
After 30 minutes or so of simmering on the tarmac, we were airborne and headed north. Interestingly, the two hour flight only took an hour. Go figure!

It would take another two hours – waiting, yet again, on the tarmac in Atlanta; making our way to an offsite parking lot, driving from here to there – before we made it to our little corner of the world. It was 2 a.m., the power had been knocked out in the area and debris seemed to cover the world.
But, at the time, I had to agree with Dorothy. I jumped out of the car, tapped the heels of my sandals together, and happily announced to my sleeping neighborhood, “There’s no place like home!”

UP NEXT: My response to Delta’s “How Did We Do?” survey!

Sunday, June 2, 2013

New high-tech answer to old-timey problem

“Ring and Run” isn’t a new rock group but an old-fashioned way for kids to annoy their neighbors. It’s pretty much what it sounds like – dash up to a house, ring the doorbell, then dash away into the night.

Kodak moment: This kid forgot to smile
when he dashed up to Lauren’s home recently to
cause a little mischief. PHOTO / R2D2
It all sounds pretty darn innocent but it can also be pretty darn annoying if it happens to be 1 in the morning and you’re snoozing soundly in bed. That’s how it all played out recently in my neighborhood.
If it was Friday – at least for a few weeks in late spring – the lovely Miss Wendy and I could pretty much expect our doorbell to chime once the sun sailed below the horizon. The good news, I guess, is many of my neighbors were suffering along with us.
Finally, irritated and frustrated by the ding-dong foolishness, I checked out the area around the front of our house every 15 minutes or so one evening and, wait for it, I spotted a group of neighborhood teens casually walking down the street. A moment later they scattered, each dashing up to a nearby home.
Just as a kid approached my porch, I switched on an outside light and pulled open the door. The kid bolted and I began racing after him like a demented banshee – even though I’m neither Irish nor a female. After only a moment or so I realized I had no idea what I’d do with the youngster if I actually caught him.
Truth to tell, the whole stalking about and chasing was a bad idea. It only encouraged the teens to return and ring away some more. Once I began ignoring them, the tribe – I’m thinking they were way too preppie to be labeled a gang – grew bored and, I’m happy to report, have apparently found other ways to amuse themselves.
An interesting footnote to all this drama: A few weeks after all this played out my daughter Lauren called and said the “ring and run” pandemic had spread to her neighborhood. The big difference this time around is that Lauren’s hubby Josh is a high-tech guru.
That pretty much means he’s wired their house with the latest digital gadgets – flat-screen TVs, streaming music, multi-magic light controls and, of course, motion detectors and video cameras. So within a few moments of a kid ringing and running at their home, they had his image downloaded off their video monitor and onto Facebook.

I’m thinking they need to stick his picture on their front door now and offer this advice for other would-be pranksters: At this house it’s called “Ring, Run – and Smile!”

Friday, May 31, 2013

Yet another nail in the coffin

The latest insult in the world of Journalism is the announcement that the photo staff of the Chicago Sun-Times has recently joined the ranks of the unemployed; that, btw, would be the entire staff. The phrase that comes most quickly to mind is “cleaning house”!

The bean counters and toads in the big corner offices, pulling the strings and making the big bucks, have decided that wire service photogs, freelancers and reporters with smart phones will be able to provide all the images necessary for the publication. After all, they suggest in a corporate statement, the Sun-Times is embracing the 21st Century and developing its video capabilities.

I could offer up the obvious belief that newspapers, at their best, are a euphonic blend of words and images; the first telling of history and a way to capture each day’s events in a fashion that is informative, entertaining and, occasionally, insightful and compelling.
To be sure, there still will be some decent photos, mostly from decent freelancers and the wire services. But I’m guessing the Sun-Times will also be publishing lots of snapshots, the stuff of community pages and social media sites – grainy, unfocused, poorly lit and framed.
Worse, the paper will join the hundreds of other mediocre sites filling the web, offering up lame video clips taken by harried and overworked reporters attempting simply to go with the flow in a digital world with an insatiable appetite.
I was lucky enough to be a reporter and editor during the “golden era” of journalism, when the job was actually a noble career. I was also lucky to be surrounded by professionals, men and women who took pride in their work and the notion that they and their colleagues were “afflicting the comfortable and comforting the afflicted”. In short, we were going about the business of putting out a newspaper.
There’s a bit of that sort of work that remains. And I salute the journalists – and their corporate bosses – who remain true to this higher calling.
But, let’s be clear, the world is changing and newspapers are being pulled along into the abyss. Truth to tell, I imagine some schnook 40 or so years ago was sharing these same sentiments as computers started replacing typewriters; the same sort of feelings that several generations earlier were offered up by composing room typesetters losing their jobs to linotype operators.
The difference in then and now is that linotype machines made newspapers and newspapering better; the same can be said about computers and the impact such high-tech stuff had on the industry. Meanwhile, the downsizing of newspaper editorial staffs – reporters, editors, designers, artists and researchers – is a response to a world gone digital and has done nothing to enhance the Fourth Estate.
This week’s announcement out of Chicago, I fear, is simply one additional nail in the coffin of newspapering. I’m thinking soon the lid will be secure and it’ll be time to lower the box into the ground. And so it goes.

Monday, April 29, 2013

“42” manages to cover all the bases

Those of you who’ve spent time with me on these digital pages already know my cosmic belief that all things in life come in three flavors: good, bad and okay. Everything, and I mean absolutely everything – movies, books, food, vacations, jobs, lawn services, back rubs – fall into one of these groups.

And, truth to tell, so far it seems that as often as not the “okay” bin is where most of life can be found; and that, well, is okay. So it’s really nice when I can report that I recently had a “good” experience at the neighborhood multiplex, thoroughly enjoying a film that falls just short of great.
Oh, right, there is a fourth classification. But I hold it way out on the spectrum of cosmic happenings, the place reserved for only the most memorable events of life that linger sweetly in my mind. But I digress.
The point of all this rambling is that the lovely Miss Wendy and I went to see “42” over the weekend and I’m thinking the filmmakers managed to hit a grand slam with this movie about Jackie Robinson. Most of the highs and lows that Robinson experienced – and there were many – as he went about integrating major league baseball is the stuff of legend.
So the power of “42” isn’t the story itself. The drama – the move from the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro leagues to the Brooklyn Dodgers via its Montreal affiliate – has been fleshed out for years in newspaper articles and TV interviews, books, films and plays. No, it’s all the little details that defined the man and the sordid times that the movie’s director, Brian Helgeland, captures and wraps in mythic tones that set the film apart. Mark Isham’s soaring score adds both and exclamation point to the effort an occasional goose bumps.
There’s also Harrison Ford. He’s been around forever and forever it seems he’s been mostly playing himself – anyone recall Cowboys & Aliens? This time around, he’s been handed a bigger-than-life character, Branch Rickey, and manages to get most everything right.
Rickey is a complicated mixture of capitalism, religion, decency, and courage, all gussied up in a curmudgeonly façade. Ford plays him with gusto, balanced out with that crooked smile he’s polished and perfected over the years.
Meanwhile, Chadwick Boseman offers up a Robinson that is quietly heroic, a man able to bend and not break in a country filled with racists. The truth is often troubling and, in hindsight for a certain generation, it makes little sense today that America and the world had managed to destroy fascism while racism remained a way of life from sea to shining sea.
If nothing else, “42” puts the lie to “I remember when,” the melancholy ode offered up by aging Americans – many of them the heart and soul of that group of folks now fondly recalled as “The Greatest Generation”. And yet, even as the country was changing, lunging painfully forward, there was something splendid and grand taking place.
That’s the feeling that lingers about as the music swells and the credits begin to roll. It’s a feeling that, even for the cynics among us, comes with a lump in your throat and the notion that “42” is definitely lots better than just okay.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

“Boston Strong” a way of life in Israel

Soldiers, trained in urban warfare and fully armed,
regularly patrol the streets of Israel to protect tourists
and the citizens of the country from terrorist attacks.
PHOTO / Nor Grebnief
The news bulletins out of Boston last week were unnerving. Once again terrorists were attacking fortress America, this time with bombs, and early reports focused on the dead, the injured and trying to figure out who was responsible.

Four days later one terrorist was dead, another in custody and the residents of Boston and its surrounding communities were breathing a collective sigh of relief. The casualties – four dead, dozens grievously maimed, hundreds injured – only captures a small part of the drama.
Truth to tell, an entire region of the country had been temporarily shut down; an army of law enforcement personnel – hundreds, perhaps thousands of officers and national guardsmen – had been pressed into service and the full weight and resources of the federal government and its intelligence agencies were on full alert.
For a brief moment there was a sense of loss and déjà vu, the fear that we had been down this shattered road before. For a day or two a noxious blend of anxiety and anger hung heavily in the air, fueled by roiling news reports that were often misleading and rumors that were mostly the stuff of paranoid nightmares.
Fortunately, balancing out all this turmoil were the good people of this great land; men and women filled with care, compassion and grit. While the professionals – police and intelligence services; doctors and nurses; yes, even the news media – went about their jobs, the residents of Boston and its suburbs found their footing.
They pushed aside the terror and offered one another aid and comfort. Even as the terrorists went about their grisly work and firefights broke out, even when one community was entirely locked down for a day, the people of Boston showed the country what it means to be strong – Boston Strong!
So the final moments of the ordeal – the flashing lights and sirens, yet another pitched battle between the remaining terrorist and police – felt more like a whimper than a bang. After all, it was clear how this battle would end. The strong people of Boston would prevail.
Now take this mighty effort and frightful ordeal that played out over a few days in Boston and think for a moment how difficult it would be if it happened again and then again and yet again. How would life change? What sort of compromises would be necessary to protect the safety and sanity of our citizens?
Now think about Israel.
Terrorist attacks, sadly, are part of the fabric of the Jewish homeland. The country and its citizens have endured decades of violence; thousands have died, tens of thousands been injured. The stench of smoke and wail of sirens is uncomfortably familiar in the tiny nation.
There have been bombings, focused incidents like the one in Boston, too numerous to detail. There have also been suicide bombings, rocket attacks, shootings, knifings and collisions, even a youngster stoned to death.
In 2011, eight Israelis were killed and more than 40 wounded in a multi-pronged terrorist attack north of Eilat in southern Israel. Earlier that year, a man, woman and three of their children were stabbed to death by terrorists in their home in Itamar, a village in the northern corner of the West Bank.
Two years earlier, in 2009, a teen was murdered by an axe-wielding terrorist in a small community outside of Hebron and a year earlier, in Jerusalem, three women were killed and another 50 people injured when a man driving a bulldozer plowed into cars and pedestrians on Jaffa Road between the Central Bus Station and the Jewish Market.
In 2001, three months before 9/11, a suicide bomber blew himself up outside a discotheque, the Dolphinarium, in Tel Aviv. Twenty-one teenagers were killed and another 132 injured.
There were dozens of other attacks before and after these incidents. The good news is that in recent years there’s been a significant decrease in the number of such actions. Public safety and security, however, come at a price.
You’ll be frisked and your bags checked in Israel before entering most shopping malls or government buildings, museums, ballparks or bus stations, movie theaters, bars or cafés. Troops patrol the streets, armed checkpoints dot the borders and an expansive wall separates much of Jerusalem and the West Bank.
Remarkably, Israelis go about their lives unfettered by the loss of what some might consider basic freedoms. The guards, soldiers, security checkpoints and weapons have simply become part of the background noise of life, necessary safeguards when living in a dangerous neighborhood. Even tourists, initially overwhelmed by the massive show of force, grow use to the precautions and understand the merit in being prepared.
Last week, Bostonians and their neighbors got it right when they pushed aside their fear and took a stand, an attitude now labeled by the media and others as being “Boston Strong.” It turns out that the hugely popular rallying cry has been a way of living in Israel for years, an attitude that both protects and celebrates life.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Don’t be messing with my K-cups

Exhibit 1: I mean, really, who would
display k-cups in this fashion?
I stumbled into my kitchen in a sleepy haze this morning, reached over to the rack holding the K-cups for the coffee machine and realized something was amiss – badly, badly amiss! Someone or something had rearranged the little packets of coffee.

Just a day earlier, after buying a box of Maxwell House – good to the last drop, you’ll recall – I had painstakingly rearranged the 30 K-cups on the Keurig stand; 15 on the front and 15 on the, ah, other front. I was going for a horizontal vibe, stringing together several rows of the Maxwell House brand, followed by Donut Shop packets and a milder brew fittingly called “Breakfast in Bed”. This last brand is offered up by Wolfgang Puck and is a delightful selection for when I’m feeling, well, puckish!

Did I mention that I had been painstaking in my packet placement? Why, yes, I think I did.
Bizarrely, my efforts at bringing a sense of peace, harmony and coffee-cup Feng Shui into the house had been turned on its head (see exhibit 1). Some sort of vertical mish-mash, involving the obvious misplacement of certain brands, had taken hold of my perfect design. It made absolutely no sense.
I mean, first you play around with coffee packets, then I guess you start placing shirts of different colors and brands next to one another in the closet. Before you know it the world is spinning off of its axis.
I can only come up with two possible scenarios explaining the Sturm und Drang surrounding the packet misplacement. One makes absolutely no sense. I’m thinking that either the lovely Miss Wendy, in a misguided attempt at improving on perfection, rearranged my carefully crafted coffee-packet placement; or, much more likely, Satan had entered the house!
So I’m headed out to the market to buy some garlic and a silver bullet. I’m pretty sure ammunition can be found somewhere between bottles of ammonia and apples. Then, after I finish up ironing my underwear and socks, and making sure my shoes are properly aligned in the closet, I’ll be attacking the Keurig stand yet again. After all, at this point I feel like I’m doing God’s work!

Saturday, April 6, 2013

High-tech hijinks in the Land of Israel

I stumbled across a report recently that detailed how various countries around the world were dealing with economic woes brought on by the global recession. It turns out that while many nations have struggled in recent years, Israel’s economic engine has continued to chug along mightily.

All the important indicators – job growth and earnings; the Consumer Price Index, industrial production and GDP – are sharply up and continue moving in the right direction. Analyst, as they often do, offer a mixed-bag of reasons for Israel’s success; but almost all agree that it’s the country’s high-tech sector that has fueled the Jewish homeland’s economic expansion.
It only takes a moment and quick look around the web to see that virtually all the major players in the high-tech world – Intel, IBM, Google, Cisco Systems, Microsoft – have expansive research and development facilities in Israel. The country also boasts a number of home-grown companies that have been hugely successful: Zoran Corporation, CEVA, Inc. and NICE Systems. It’s an impressive list, an innovative group of companies – along with dozens of others – that make up a region that has come to be known as the Silicon Wadi.
I mention this all now as a long and rambling preamble to my personal introduction to the high-tech vibe that spills across Israel. It was a dozen or so years ago, during a trip with the Jewish federation here in The Land of Cotton, that I almost crashed and burned after bumping up against a digital wall of my own making.
My problems started on a high note when I decided it might be fun to mix a little business with pleasure. So I met with a colleague, the editor handling international news for the place with the printing press where I worked, and pitched a few story ideas. We came up with a workable plan, but then I needed to be taught how to file stories and photos back to Dixie on deadline.
Today that would probably mean I’d be handed a laptop and a smartphone, spend five minutes with an IT specialist and be told to stay in touch. A decade ago the digital world was in flux, and staying in touch involved a complicated series of websites, dialup modems, passwords, phone numbers and mistakes waiting to happen.
After a few days of fun spent mostly in Tel Aviv and an evening spent covering Ariel Sharon sharing his vision for the future, I found myself in a tidy pressroom set up for journalists inside the Binyenei HaUma, the International Convention Center in Jerusalem. It was filled with the usual stuff: desks and chairs; paper pads and pens; a few TVs, lots of phones, and some desktop computers.
I was home! Well, not really. Home was on the other side of the world and I needed to figure out how to get my stories and photos onto the web and back to the newsroom. I had a set of instructions. They had made sense when an IT specialist ran me through the list only a few days earlier. Now they looked like Greek.
I managed to download a series of photos onto my laptop and even access the stories I had written earlier that morning. But each time I tried to call up the special modem setup to retrieve information, I would be disconnected. Can you say frustrating in Hebrew?
Eventually a couple of teens, both Israelis, noticed I was having a problem. I think slamming my computer against a nearby wall is what captured their attention. It turns out they had been hired by the convention center to help with digital issues and they offered to work me through the list of instructions that now seemed to have been written by the Marquis de Sade.
I recall them whispering and pointing a bit, then suggesting I ditch the instructions and try another series of steps. I politely and diplomatically explained that my bosses back home had stressed that I was to follow their instructions to the letter! They smiled, said b’seder, okay, went about trying to hook me up to the web and ended up where I had started; which is to say exactly nowhere!
This madness went on for an hour and my deadline was quickly approaching. Finally, one of the kids disconnected a cable connecting my laptop with a nearby phone and punched it into a port on the front of my desk. He then tapped a few keys on my laptop and, magically, I was home – at least digitally!
It turns out, much to my surprise and far beyond my ability to comprehend, that the entire pressroom came complete with dedicated lines linked to the internet. By simply moving the cable from the phone to the waiting port, I was essentially skipping over the first several pages of instructions I had been given and connecting directly with the necessary website. Who knew?
I’m pretty certain that the teens, Ilan and Reuven, helped me make deadline that day and also taught me that sometimes it’s necessary to simply hand a man a trout instead of teaching him how to fish; especially if the clock is ticking and the man doesn’t even understand the point of a fishing pole. But I’ll save that bit of wisdom for another day.
Meanwhile, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if Ilan and Reuven are living the good life in Israel’s Silicon Wadi today, just two of the high-tech wizards pushing the country forward and making life better for all of us.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

A Seder to Remember

Lauren and Josh are all smiles after announcing we'll
be needing another chair at next year's Seder!
I’ve written much about the ghosts that take part in my Passover Seders, a spiritual link that connects me with both my ancient ancestors and family members who have died in recent years. Interestingly, this holiday season it wasn’t the past that offered up a cosmic connection but a glance into the future.

The first night of Passover, the lovely Miss Wendy and I attended a Seder at the Nathan’s – that would be Barbara and George, longtime friends of our machatunim – along with other family and friends. We spent a few minutes shrugging off the evening’s chill and warming up with casual chit-chat, then settled in for the night’s high ritual and festive meal.

So it came as a small surprise when Josh, my son-in-law, shushed the expectant crowd and asked for everyone’s attention. He stood silent for an instant then casually mentioned that Passover had been a very special time for him, especially in recent years when good fortune and grand adventure had become part of the holiday.

Five years earlier, Josh recalled, he and Lauren had gotten engaged. Wendy and I were hosting 30 of our closest friends and family for the first night of Pesach that year and were madly dashing about taking care of last minute details – honey, where did you store the matzo balls?
I was in the process of adding additional sugar to the bottles of Manischewitz – hey, you can’t be too rich, too thin or have too much sugar in your Passover wine – when Lauren called and asked if she and Josh could drop by to, ah, check out some pillows! For a normal person, the pillow talk should have been a clue that something was up; but I was deep into Passover madness.

So it was that the happy couple dropped by, stood in the foyer making small talk as Wendy and I whirled and swirled around in a prepping frenzy. After 15 minutes or so they mentioned they needed to be off and, yet, they still stood and waited. Lauren kept waving her hand about and I kept wondering why they hadn’t checked out the pillows upstairs.
It was in all this misdirection and hustle and bustle that the word “engaged” finally captured my and Wendy’s attention and we took note of the glittering diamond Lauren had been waving around frantically since she’d arrived. The diamond sparkled; Lauren and Josh beamed.

And so, it’s been five wonderful years, Josh was saying at the Seder the other night, and I thought how nice it was of him to celebrate the moment. But then I noticed Lauren. She was, well, beaming – again! I forget exactly what Josh said in the next few moments; something about needing an extra seat at next year’s Seder! What I mostly remember is everyone laughing and crying and hugging. I’m pretty sure I even heard the oh-so festive melody of Siman Tov Umazal Tov quietly in the background. After all, my yiddishe ghosts travel with me.
It turns out that for Lauren and Josh; Janice, Steve, Wendy and me, Passover will now always be about the future. If I recall my high school biology, Lauren will be doing the heavy lifting – after all, she’s the one who’s pregnant – but I’m pretty certain we’re all expecting!