Fall and A New Year

 Always a road to travel…

Always a road to travel…

The older I get, the more connected I am to the moon and all of its phases. Some of you will smile, nod, and recognize the lunatic connections…

But truly it’s more about being Jewish. 

Our holidays are based on a lunar calendar, meaning some years Hanukah is at the end of December, and others, it’s a toss-up between observing Hanukkah or Thanksgiving.  

This year, Rosh Hashanah – or the Jewish New Year is early, arriving right on the heels of Labor Day. It’s been earlier – actually over the Labor Day weekend requiring a conflicting menu of grilled burgers and hot dogs served with apples dipped in honey.  

Only one Christian holiday is based on the lunar calendar – Easter – which is why its observance moves about the calendar – yet always is observed on a Sunday.

Being Jewish teaches one to pay attention to the moon and its phases. Full moons herald festivals like Sukkot, Hanukkah, and Passover while new moons mark the start of something new – like a New Year.

The ever-shifting date for the Jewish New Year is a reminder that there’s no one perfect time to pause for the reflection that comes with the start of something new. The idea that new plans, new resolutions, or commitments to a new habit require a January 1 start date, or even a Monday for that matter, is called into question by the shifting start of Rosh Hashanah.

The holiday itself, although recognized as the start of the New Year, is not observed at the start of the Jewish calendar, rather it’s the sixth month of the calendar. What an important reminder that we can pause for reflection, renewal, and even a reboot in the middle. We can always start again no matter where we find ourselves.

And that is true with this blog. I’ve taken a pause from writing that now has become almost uncomfortable. I enjoy sharing the reflective work of observing life from this mid-point age and mid-point geography of the North Coast of this country. The air is usually clear up here making perspective a bit easier – although Western wildfires made a mess of that over the summer.

So, I’m back – with the resolve to start again in concert with this new moon that heralds the New Year of 5779.


Missing Dad on Father's Day

  My dad on vacation - always with a tie. NYC, 1960-something

My dad on vacation - always with a tie. NYC, 1960-something

He was a wise man – a smart man.  And he taught me about unconditional love. He was my father, Art Alleshouse.

When Dad was born, this country was a very different place.  He was the eldest of three sons, and when he arrived in 1909, he was the third generation to be welcomed to the household in Holmes County, Ohio. I can only imagine my grandmother was delighted at the distractions of a new baby in a home that included her father and mother-in-law, and brother-in-law, as well as her quiet, somewhat taciturn husband.

Arthur Earl Alleshouse was born with her features, set in an interestingly triangular-shaped head. His brother Wayne followed in three years, and then his baby brother Paul three years after that. The three boys changed the demographics, and I’m certain the energy level, of the intergenerational homestead.

My father was a talented photographer – more of an artist, actually - who used black and white film to capture his understanding of light and dark. He found beauty in faces, figures, and form. And for him that form was found in settings ranging from the rolling hills of central Ohio to the linear angles of Midwestern American industry of the 1930s and 1940s.

But I didn’t appreciate all of that when I was a child. I always thought Dad’s photography was limited to documentation of the hundreds of recitals and performances organized by my piano teacher mother.

Mom always told me she had wanted to be a vocalist, but she lacked talent. So she went into piano teaching where having an ear wasn’t quite so important, as long as a professional tuned the piano regularly. She played with great passion and gusto that more than made up for any deficit in technique.

And my father was there to document all of those recitals, music competitions, and performances at the state hospital and old folks homes. He took great care to set up a tripod, examine its precise level with the accuracy of his engineering training, and then would set, reset, and set again the light aperture to ensure the smiles of Mom’s pupils were captured just so. Of course, the smiles would start bright and happy, as the photos were taken at the end of the recitals, but after Dad’s lengthy camera futzing, the shots he captured show strained impatient smiles of teenagers ready to go home already. 

 “Just grab a candid shot, Dad,” I’d say, totally ignorant of the assault that was to his artistic training that called for precision and care not to waste film. 

I have wondered how my father would adapt his photography style to the freedom of digital cameras, where the artistry is in the editing, resizing, and reframing of quickly snapped images. Photography today is less about capturing a memory by recording the facts of an experience than it is about fixing the image of the experience to fit a memory we wish we had. During Dad’s day, a cloudy overcast day was captured as just that – a cloudy, overcast day at the beach. 

Not today. With a little editing and added lighting of the digital image, voila! The day becomes sunny and our memory of the experience is equally altered.

The photographic artistry of my father required intense patience that waited for light to shift, or shadows to lengthen. He always preferred black and white because it didn’t fade, as did the color prints of the time. His photography reflected an honesty that was part of its, and his, origins.

Looking in albums of old color snapshots today shows how right his dedication to black and white images was. I’m pretty sure my mother never wore pastel-colored clothes as they now appear in those square photos of the 1960s and 70s.

I knew what I knew as a child about my father’s passion for photography by how he spent his limited free time. I knew he had his own darkroom. I knew he printed photos himself. Whenever Dad would disappear for long stretches of time, he would be off in his darkroom printing images of people and places.

It wasn’t until he was gone that I found the huge stash of prints and slides, along with charcoal sketches and drawings he made years before he became a husband or father. 

My son Ben gave me perspective about how we view the lives of our parents when he met my old college roommate, a relationship that clearly predated him. “It’s always surprising, Mom, to realize you had a life before I was born.  In my mind, your life started when mine did.” 

And that’s what I always believed about my father. Surely I knew he had been born on a farm, and grown up in rural Ohio. But I simply never imagined my father as a young man living a fascinating artistic life before becoming a husband and father.  How I wish I’d known to gather his memories of his young post-college years because the images we found raised so many questions.

The Passing of Mentors and Guides

  Perspective provided by the long view...

Perspective provided by the long view...

I lost a couple of my favorite people this week – people who served as mentors and guides on this journey of life.

If you’re really fortunate – as I have been – your life has been filled with a progressive series of mentors and guides. Those who have been there and done that – and are more than willing to share the lessons learned with students, or junior colleagues, or friends along the way.

It started with an exceptional group of teachers in the Mansfield public schools through a college experience with faculty who cared about the curiosity of each of us.

Today – those teachers and professors are gone. And now, I’m saying goodbye to professional mentors who provided important perspective to my work life in Minneapolis.

Dennis McGrath was one of those. I am one of the few PR people in the Twin Cities who never worked for him or actually with him, but I often sought his counsel nonetheless.

I knew him as a well-connected and wise soul whose humor was always overlaid with kindness – and hilariously offered with a touch of snark. He believed deeply in possibility and potential, even when the humans around him demonstrated otherwise.

There was the time when I was working at the University that we were struggling to help a community based health clinic with its governance issues.

“What we need is someone who knows our community and its leaders well, who has run a business and understands spreadsheets, who cares about people and their health, and fundamentally, is a good soul,” stated my boss, adding that he doubted such a person existed.

Instantly, I knew that he was describing Dennis, and I volunteered to make the ask. I set up a lunch, carefully explained the issues and the need, and by the time I asked, Dennis was nodding knowingly.

“Yes,” he said. “I think I can help.”

 And he did – serving through many nights of meetings, offering carefully framed advice and counsel that helped that clinic survive through a particularly difficult era.

The last time I saw him, it was over lunch once again. Although struggling with recovery from a very tough surgery for cancer, his eyes sparkled from his deep interest in what was going on with issues and organizations he followed.

I will miss his presence.

And the mother of a college roommate left this week, too. Jinx Arneson lived up to her name – full of spark and funny as could be. She was the first adult who shared the secret that in our minds, we never really grow up beyond our 20s. She stated this fact while we college students were setting up our dorm room sophomore year.

“In my mind, I’m still the age you are today,” she said, smiling at our horrified expressions. “You’ll see. The face you see in the mirror becomes a surprise at some point because mentally we’re all 21.”

She was right. It is, and we are.

One of my favorite Jinxisms was a story she repeated with glee, whenever asked. She had a college friend who apparently was quite the drama queen. She would sigh loudly, turn to Jinx and say, “Ah, Jinx. You’re so lucky. You’ll never know the burden of beauty.”

And Jinx would laugh and say, “Can you believe that? And she was a good friend of mine, too.”

Jinx truly was beautiful.

April Snows Bring...

  The snow out the window is a shot of the winter that will never end - in April...through the fog of a screen that's waiting to be opened!

The snow out the window is a shot of the winter that will never end - in April...through the fog of a screen that's waiting to be opened!

We’re preparing for a big snowstorm this weekend. They’re saying it could be the most severe of the winter.

It’s April 12th and I shouldn’t be writing that sentence.

When we lived in California for a while, I used to laugh dismissively when people asked, “How could you live in a place with 6 month winters?”

“Ha!” I’d say. “Six month winters are so rare. Usually it’s three or four months of real winter, and the rest is extended fall or early spring.”

And here we have it. Winter 2017-2018 is coming in for a full six months long.

The spring that just won’t arrive. The winter that just won’t end.

I have not written in awhile – and that may be that this long winter is mirroring my level of gumption, as my grandfather used to call it. That “get up and go” that drives productivity has been mired in oatmeal-ly molasses this winter.

I’ve had to dig deep to push forward on projects that are usually creative energizers. Everything has been harder than it needs to be – more complicated, complex, and with multiple parts moving in odd directions.

At the same time, the weather of winter is just dragging on, hanging on, unable to cue to the signs of nature telling it that it’s time to move on. This is in spite of the sun’s position in the sky, the return of robins who are probably miffed they left the south, and several enterprising sprouts of green that will become popsicles by Sunday.

So today I write as a way to shake the impact of this winter – to reassert some pretend gumption until the real stuff returns.

And I’m putting it out here as a way to tell the universe that the time has come, the time is now to turn the nob on the seasons and bring us the spring that’s overdue.


Season of Nostalgia

  My mom on the right with her sister, Aunt Connie - some time in the early 1960s. 

My mom on the right with her sister, Aunt Connie - some time in the early 1960s. 

The calls begin at the start of the week from old friends, family, and the kids.

The question, “What are you doing?” comes out as “Whatcha doin’?”

There is truly little interest in the actual tasks underway or the activities in process as the nation prepares for Thanksgiving. More it’s about connecting at this time of year.

“Whatcha doin’” means “I miss you”. 

It means, “I wish we were kids again when life was simple.

It means, “Are you making that mashed potato recipe Mom used to make?”

It means, “I wish Mom were still around to talk to as she made those mashed potatoes when we were kids.”

It’s the start of our season of nostalgia that seems particularly potent this year. The entire country seems to be nostalgic for the perception of “simple” that came with being young.

Truthfully there was nothing simple about the times of our youth for those of us who are Boomers. The death of Charles Manson this past week reminds us that there were domestic anarchists or terrorists active in this country when we were teenagers.  More than 48 years ago, we also experienced crazy men calling for race wars and murdering people in their homes.

One of the biggest differences between no and then was the lack of persistent, insistent channels of information in the 1960s. Yes, we had a television when I was 13. It was a black and white TV that required a hand on the knob to actually change to one of the four channels. There was radio, sure, but mostly music or sports and less hate.

We simply didn’t have persistent, insistent voices in every room of the house, in our hands, in our cars with hundreds of variations telling us the same story over and over, with opinions coloring the perspectives and providing extreme interpretations.

So this week, we turn on Hallmark movies - the fireplace log with a soundtrack was big today. And we call old friends, family in other places, and ask at Thanksgiving, “Whatcha doin’?”

And we yearn for a time that we believe was simple – despite all evidence to the contrary.

The Girls

 Sunrise behind the Duomo in Florence - 

Sunrise behind the Duomo in Florence - 

Venice was its magical self last week – foggy lagoon with palazzos and cathedrals rising from the mist to create a beautiful, if somewhat creepy, vista of Renaissance barons and gondoliers plying commerce among the canals and alleys of the Queen of the Adriatic.

I was there to meet up with The Girls of Wake Forest’s class of 1978. We went to revisit some of the magical moments of our semester abroad in Casa Artom on the Grand Canal.

It was only the first stop on an adventure that included planes and trains to the mosaic rich Ravenna, Medici influenced Florence, and walled city of Lucca – each a reminder of the rise and fall of empires, the impact of political and religious trickery, and the resilience of great art to inspire beyond the reach of time.

While the art of Italy fed my soul – and the pasta did a number on my waist - it was the time with The Girls that was most valuable.

Of course, we’re not actually Girls any more in the true sense of the word. Not sure it’s possible to be Girls when you’ve hit your 60s. But these women will always be The Girls in my mind’s eye. 

It’s a fun trick the mind can play – holding the visual memory of our younger selves so that 23-year olds peer at me from the faces of my long-time college friends. I can still see the young women excitedly preparing for first dates with fraternity boys, hair being straightened or curled depending on preference.

That same phenomenon happens with childhood friends from Mansfield, Ohio – within minutes of meeting up, the children of my youth peer at me from eyes that have lived decades beyond the expiration of childhood.

The Girls have all been married, raised children, and experienced moments of great joy and profound sadness. All of that is reflected in the corners of our eyes, the curve of our smile lines, and in the “11s” of our foreheads.

That last is a new thing for me – I had never realized what a problem 11s could be on one’s forehead. Those are the two parallel lines that appear when one frowns deeply. They were quite the topic of conversation over my week in Italy – how to moisturize, hydrate, or tape them away so that they disappeared from view.

I guess I’ve never really noticed the 11s, the creases, or wrinkles on the lovely faces of The Girls. They remain 23 for me within the magic of my mind’s memory. Always young, always eager for a new adventure – and that is the power of staying connected to dear – and old – friends. 

And Again...

 Joy turned to horror...

Joy turned to horror...

Here we are at the beginning of a new week that’s at the beginning of a new month that’s at the start of a new year on the Jewish and Muslim calendars…and we’re experiencing the horror of imagination and empathy for those whose enjoyment of a country music festival in Las Vegas was shattered by gunfire.

Again the shared national disgust at seeing what one man can be capable of inflicting on so many.

Again a new record that no one wanted to see broken.

Again we feel the physical body blow of grief for people we may not know but can easily imagine.

My daughter would have been there if corporate shenanigans at her company hadn’t kept her in LA. So for a brief moment, I will celebrate the shenanigans of corporations whose financially driven decisions cause millennials enough stress to remain close to home.

Again we ask the persistent questions that we can’t seem to resolve.

Why did this happen?

How could someone characterized as mild-mannered suddenly flip a switch and fire a weapon for nearly two hours from a Vegas hotel room?

What triggered this break with reality?

How could nobody notice someone bringing ten large weapons into a Vegas hotel room?

What is it about disaffected white men in this country that’s leading to so much large-scale violence?

Some of you will flinch at that last question – but look at the stats, or facts. Suicide is one measure of disaffection from life – and for a culture that was built on a stated belief that life is valuable; a close look at the suicide data is shocking.

Rates are at their highest in 30 years, and most – 7 out of 10 suicides in 2015 alone – are committed by white men.

Why? No one agrees – the experts have theories, but no one knows for certain.

After spending much of the past week reflecting on the year past, and praying for the start of a healthy New Year, today is a blow and signals that while prayers are a good place to start, we need action, too.


 How we kept time before iPhones...

How we kept time before iPhones...

Here it is the end of September, and I haven’t posted since March. How did that happen?

Dad always said that time passes faster the older we get and he was right. It makes sense in a relative sort of way, if you think about it.

When we were kids, each season that passed was a much larger percentage of our lives than now. Just think – each year that blurs by now is merely 1/61st of my life versus the 1/6th or 1/8th or 1/10th when I was a kid.

I’m also in that part of my life where busy-ness is a habit. If I’m not “doing” something – well then, I must be sick. And I rarely get sick.

So I find projects that need to be done around the house, and with a 113-year-old house, there’s always something. Or I create projects by inviting people to a dinner party, or scheduling a cook out, or planning a trip, or taking up embroidery (fact!), or.. the list goes on.

Time is precious, however – and how we spend it matters.

I have things I want to get done that get lost in busyness – and suddenly, I realize – whoa! Time is passing.

There are stories I want to share with you – we learned so much on our epic road trip at the beginning of the year about what separates us as Americans, and what holds us together.

I have a remarkable story I really want to share about finding relatives I never knew existed.

Each of these stories requires the discipline of writing, which means less busy-ness based on the habit of it all, and more focus.

And focus is the other thing that passes as quickly as time.

Wonder if I can develop new habits over time?