Friday, December 31, 2010

January

January believes it has squatter’s rights to the calendar because it is first in line. With a full month of thirty-one days, the first holiday of the year--New Year’s Day, and its menu of weather-related entrees, who can argue with such chronoscopic arrogance? Named after Janus, a Roman god of beginnings and endings, openings and closings; Janus is always portrayed as having two faces, one looking forward, one backward. January is his month because it is the time when the sun starts to return. He is the doorkeeper who watches over the entrance or beginning of the year.

Part of January’s prominence is due to the ritual of formulating one’s personal intentions and plans for the New Year. Amid celebrations with noise makers, confetti, and renditions of Auld Lang Syne at the stroke of midnight, people across the globe usher in the latest allotment of days by making resolutions, commitments, and hopeful toasts for laughter, love, good health and good fortune. Party hats and glasses filled with libation complete a resume worthy of January’s namesake. Such frenzy at the start of a New Year, looking both forward and backward is enough to give a Roman god whiplash.

But January is more than just a party and pretty faces. It is a time when winter displays its full strength and control on all living things. Freezing temperatures, icy roads, cold gloomy days, crystal clear dark nights and occasional visits of bright sunshine fill this initial cluster of days. January is both predictable and unpredictable. As the earth continues to orbit around the sun, daylight lengthens—first by a stingy few minutes, then, toward the end of the month, more generously. But January exacts a price for this additional sunlight by delivering only brightness while holding back on warmth. And just to remind us of its adventurous nature, January whips up on a moments notice, icy souffl├ęs, snow drifts, and pellets of freezing rain that cover cars, coats and roadways with an abundance of freezy skid-stuff which challenge both ambulatory and driving skills. January’s precocious behavior keeps insurance agents and body shops well supplied with patrons who literally meet by accident. All these fender benders make Janus smile. Rumor has it that January invented wind chill. This is one month that is forever trying to stay young, with its thermometer readings usually in the teens or twenties. At times it regresses to single digits and below zero in an attempt to display total disregard for maturity. And, every now and then, just for laughs—a blizzard! If January wants a little more respect, it should change its ways by offering an annual Tax Freeze—and forget about the ice and snow. Being the time when we receive our W-2’s doesn’t do much either. But for those of us who celebrate their birthday in January—either Capricorn or Aquarius--we wholeheartedly appreciate the antics of this month. It is difficult to explain, but January makes us smile.

To inhabitants who live at forty-two degrees North Latitude, January is add-an-extra-blanket month, turn up the thermostat time, put on layers of flannel and get dressed before going to bed. Cuddling and snuggling is mandatory nightly behavior. January is a steaming hot cup of coffee before dawn, hot soup at lunch, and suppers served on heated plates. January is scurry from store to warm car, store to warm car, store to warm house. January is when shoppers use extra gas searching for parking spaces closer to the mall’s entrance. January is watching wildlife enjoy the bounty at feeders you keep filled. January is when school kids return to classrooms and moms regain the sanity of daily routine. January is when everyone considers heating their garages. January is the time when landscapers offer discounts for mower tune-ups and lawn care service. January is finding the courage to face both darkness and cold fetching the morning paper, setting out trash and letting Fido do his business. It’s also a time when residents battle nasty conditions taking down outdoor Christmas decorations. January is chapped lips, dry skin, red noses, watery eyes, cold feet and chilled bodies. January holds mystery why kids are impervious to frigid temperatures, revel in snow, enjoy sliding on ice, and rarely have their scarf tied or jacket fully zipped; while seasoned human units hunker down, stooped shouldered shivering to keep warm. January is a geriatric obstacle course. January is wool hats, mittens and boots. January teases and taunts one to move to lower latitudes.

By the end of the first thirty-one days, January is pretty much spent and willingly turns things over to February. As daylight increases, January’s envious look knows there will never be a draft to serve another monthly term. January is my favorite month—enjoy.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

The Power of Words

As children, we learn our ABC’s and readily sing the alphabet song on cue. At such a young age we treat the learning of the alphabet as a novelty and do not realize the importance or power of the letters we voice. Later on, as we add the ability to read and write to our inventory of skills, we begin to understand the value and significance of our ability to convey and decode the symbols of our language. As our communication improves we realize several factors are interrelated and interconnected which add to the effectiveness of words: volume, body language, vocal expression, word choice, and emotional mindset. It does not take long for human beings to capture the essence of language and the meaning of spoken words. Using sight and sound we interpret, catalogue, react, and respond to information delivered to us. Language is essential to meet daily basic needs.

In school, we spend the first three years of school learning how to read; from fourth grade on, we use reading to learn. In the United State of America the language is English. No other language offers such a choice or range of vocabulary, meanings, interpretation, versatility, application, inventiveness, adaptation, and changeableness. English is truly a living language. Each year, new words are added to the lexicon. Familiar terms are given added definition; Parts of Speech are reassigned to meet public usage, as we continually remodel the forty-two sounds of our alphabet, making them suitable to meet contemporary need and modern living. When I was a kid the word “party” was a noun: “I’m going to a party.” Today, it has become a verb: “Let’s party!”

Years ago, having a mouse in your house was met with panic and baited traps. Today, most desktop computers come with a “mouse” and it is handled with care and given its own pad. The list of such modifications is mind-boggling.

How powerful are words? Next to heartbeats and breathing, words are what give human beings life. In 1957, as a junior at Whiting High School struggling with English, my teacher, Mr. Ulrich, gave me a packet of alphabet cards. “What this?” I asked, “I know the alphabet.” He then taught me the greatest lesson about English. “If you learn to select the right letters, for the right words, at the right time, the world is yours” In a very succinct manner, Mr. Ulrich explained the power of words. Thank what words can do: they can make one happy, sad, cry, smile, laugh, joyful, disappointed, excited, anxious, pleased, and proud. Words can convey appreciation, value, importance, success, failure, accomplishment, recognition, praise, emotion, regret, struggle, trust, honor, affection and respect.

How many times have feelings been hurt because of unkind words? How often have we felt embarrassed, ashamed, rejected or lonely because of hurtful language? Regardless whether such words are written or spoken, the impact is profound.

In contrast, recall the exhilarating feeling when one is the recipient of caring, loving words; recognition for accomplishment, achievement, special occasions or appreciation of friendship. Conveyed electronically or delivered by mail; on fancy stationery, notebook paper, or in person—the heart swell with delicious feelings of goodness, appreciation, thoughtfulness, and love.

Of all the powerful words there are special, vitally important words that define us. As humans we are flawed and prone to make mistakes: most of the time these mistakes are minor, insignificant in nature that does not affect daily life. These periodic miscues are part of growing up, learning experiences, and general interaction with environment and people. Occasionally, however, we commit mistakes that cause pain, suffering, anxiety, stress, and long-lasting consequence. Whether unintentional or on purpose, by commission or omission, we know there is never an excuse not to be kind. Even so, we sometimes say and do unkind things. Once offensive words are conveyed—they remain. You cannot put toothpaste back in the tube. What, then, does one do to heal the wound of unkindness?

We have to make choices in the way we use words? We can use them for criticism, contempt, defensiveness, selfishness and meanness. The tongue and pen can be used to praise or curse, hate or cherish, despise or admire. But if we believe that communication—the power of words—serves to strengthen relationships and provide ways to reshape all persons for the better, we must willingly bestow the gift of forgiveness—to others and ourselves. For with forgiveness, there is love; and love enables us to see with our heart. Such is the power of words.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

October's Glory

You’d think that any month holding title to eighth place and then unceremoniously moved down to number ten would be resentful, not October. In spite of the calendar shenanigans of Julius and Augustus Caesar, October accepted its new position in the solar line up in tenth spot, and embellished its allotment of thirty days with exuberance and enthusiasm.

As a full-fledged member of autumn’s sweet-sad season, October brims with delicacies left over from summer’s frivolity as well as presenting its special menu of prepared entrees. Teasing everyone and everything with occasional flashbacks of sun-drenched beach parties, October delivers hours of abundant sunshine and bright blue sky that make music for senses. Elevated temperatures, give vegetation encouragement to feast on nutrients causing lawns to thrive and mowers to mulch. Resident wildlife scurries with added opportunity to prepare stores for upcoming adverse weather conditions; and people display their approval by filling mall parking places, athletic fields, and partaking in activities that commune with nature.

October is also in charge of changing seasonal scenery from full to partial sun, earlier sunsets, morning fog, cool evenings, and drenching inhabitants with light from a harvest moon. Nighttime is no longer filled with a symphony of sound. Dark hours are now more muted and subdued as nocturnal activity is redirected to more pressing tasks. Leaves begin their dance with the sun and wind. Simultaneously changing hue and tint, they twist and turn with every gust of wind displaying an artistry of movement that dazzles the eye and engender envy in those who view themselves as athletic.

When October’s wind imitates November, leaves are separated from their branches and sail about, floating, spinning, displaying their aerodynamics abilities as they land on neighboring turf. Millions upon millions of leaves find rest on mother earth as their function of purpose is complete. Soon landscapes are carpeted with autumn leaves from every variety of tree, bush and shrub, awaiting young-at-heart feet to shuffle through piles of dried deciduous cornflakes as they crunch their way to and from, school and play. Only oak trees stubbornly hold their leaves fast to the branches throughout autumn. In winter, the chocolate-colored vegetation from these acorn makers will afford stark contrast to snow-covered latticed branches of leaf-bare trees.

When October realized it was being reassigned placement on the monthly annual it decided to be a full-service participant. There is something for everyone: sight, sound, scent, and touch. October is a sensory extravaganza. Throughout October’s thirty-one days, the moon will take time to play peek-a-boo with precocious clouds, shining full strength, then, like a bashful child, provide frosty luminous moonlight when hiding behind clouds as they float by. Weather will cooperate by allowing convertibles to travel top-down celebrating good times. Sweethearts of all ages will join hands and hearts as they journey through days, forming bonds, sharing moments of melancholy remembrance of times gone by and favorite memories. Each of us in our own way finds time to acknowledge, treasure, and appreciate October’s moments to remember. Saturday afternoons in the fall are like precious jewels. Sundays have a tranquil, easy peaceful feeling as the season of autumn beckons for a slower pace than the preceding hectic summer. This time of year is when nature willingly accepts October’s recycling materials as flowers, garden remnants and trees return their bounty to mother earth. Fringe benefits include the perfume of burning autumn leaves, the scent of early morning dampness as blankets of fog become gossamer droplets of dew by the warmth of early morning sun. Crystal clear October nights is delicious and crispy like fresh potato chips. Bathed in moonlight under a sky quilted with stars, romantics share hopes and dreams and wonder at the majesty of the universe. The sight of ducks and geese winging southward toward warmer climes, quacking and honking their exuberance in appreciation for the summer just past is a signal that change is coming. Early on, these fair weather creatures decided that rock salt and snow shovels are not for them. Permanent wildlife residents search out nooks and crannies in which to hunker down during the frigid cold and snowy winter weather. Human residents begin their preparation for seasonal change, too. Lawn mowers are replaced by snow blowers, furnaces take over from air-conditioners, and staying indoors become more attractive that being out-of-doors. Sweaters, windbreakers, blankets and hot cocoa are now more prevalent than tank tops, sandals, and ice tea.

October is the time of harvest as the bounty of one’s labors is displayed for all to see and enjoy. The glory of October is that it provides the means for all of us to taste the sweetness of autumn. October can be an attitude or an age. It can be a time for renewal or reflection, continuation or beginning. The fall of the year can bring forth memories or adventurous moments. Such is the glory of October.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Paperboy

My first paying job was that of paperboy in 1952. Previous employment was self-motivated, scavenging discarded soda bottles for the two-cent deposit from neighborhood alleys, and winter snow shoveling. My intent was to find a job with consistent cash flow to meet growing economic and social needs. Jobs were limited for an eleven year-old sixth-grader: too young to set pins at the Whiting Community, and lawn care jobs were sporadic. Money was scarce; I was more broke than the Ten Commandments.

Gathering my courage, I went to the Paper Store and applied. Most everyone in Whiting referred to the Whiting News Company as “The Paper Store.” Initially I met with the owner, Mr. Chrustowski and he outlined the scope of the job. Shortly thereafter, I met Mr. Serafin—everyone called him “Dutch.” He was in charge of the paperboys. Somehow, my application was accepted and I was assigned afternoon delivery for my street, Cleveland Avenue --Route 6B. The job paid $5.90 per week. Job responsibilities included delivery of The Chicago Daily News, Chicago Herald-American, and Hammond Times. In addition, we collected weekly bills, kept track of customer accounts, and kept current, the stops and starts of paper delivery. Cleveland Avenue, because of its number of customers was one of Whiting’s highest paid paper routes. All told, I had 162 afternoon papers to deliver Monday through Saturday.

During orientation, Mr. Chrustowski and Dutch emphasized the necessity of being on time, putting the paper on the porch, stoop, or steps. If delivered during inclement weather, it was our responsibility to protect the paper from adverse weather. In those days, there were no plastic bags and most porches were not enclosed. Often, the paperboy would walk up on the porch and place it in a container by the front door, or in an area where the customer could readily retrieve it. We were cautioned not to toss the paper in bushes, flowerbeds, or on porch roofs. Complaints about poor delivery or misbehavior by unhappy subscribers would be grounds for dismissal. Each paperboy was provided a canvas pouch with a large shoulder strap in which to carry papers. Fully loaded with afternoon editions and slung over one shoulder, a paperboy tilted Earth-like, about 23-1/2 degrees off plumb as he walked his route. A few of the guys had bicycles and they would balance their bag load of papers over the front fender. In a single motion, while steering the bike with one hand, they would pull a paper from the sack and accurately toss it on the porch. Because I did not own a bicycle, my main method of transporting the afternoon news was my wooden Red Flyer Wagon. Filled to capacity, I would pull the Times, Daily News, and Herald-American door-to-door. Some were two-paper clients, however, the majority of residents subscribed to just one.

As part of our “training” we reported to the back entrance of Whiting News and went downstairs. A number of tables held stacks of newspapers. Around 1:30 in the afternoon, a truck would park in front of the paper store and unload the afternoon dailies, sliding them down a chute accessed from 119th Street. Bundle after bundle slid down to the waiting arms of employees who sorted, counted and stacked papers for the various routes. When each route was prepared and marked, the paperboy would check out their allotment and take them for delivery. One of the most important tasks for every paperboy was to learn how to fold, roll, and twist the paper so it could be tossed on porches without coming apart. Dutch demonstrated the “paper boy fold”, and the older guys working the chute supervised until we had it down pat. If a paperboy chose not to pick up his papers at the paper store, they would be delivered to his house later in the afternoon. I preferred the paper store pick up because I could have my route done much sooner: usually by 3:00 pm. If I waited for the papers to be delivered to my house, I wouldn’t finish until 4:30 or so.

One fringe benefit of being paperboy is getting to know all the residents on the block. It didn’t take long for customers to greet you as you delivered their paper. Such friendliness paid dividends when collecting the weekly bill; many included a tip to help defray the cost of living. Their hometown friendliness continued, as I became an adult.

My tenure as a paperboy was short lived. When school started in September, studies, basketball and home chores took precedent. Route 6B went to another paperboy. But in that brief time, I took initial steps of independence and learned employment lessons that served me well. As boyhood gives way to adolescence; and adolescence to adulthood, additional responsibilities, commitment and priorities command attention. One develops strategies and coping skills to meet a variety of challenges: academic, social, economic and personal. Being a paperboy taught me organization, time management, responsibility, and respect. That’s pretty good for a job that paid $5.90 a week. To the Chrustowski family and Dutch Serafin—Thanks!

Sunday, June 6, 2010

The Process

Throughout our life, we are “in the process” of one thing or another. At times we are in the process of growing up—going from a child to adolescent, teenager to adult. Other times we are in the process of going to school, serving in the military, working at a job, or getting settled. As the years accumulate one notices that so many “in the process” experiences have defined our days and provided us with a reservoir of events from which we draw upon, reflect, and savor as benchmarks of life.

Not all “in the process” episodes are pleasant or enjoyable. Each one is uniquely memorable, but the price paid, and the cost incurred is, in many cases, prohibitive in endurance, energy-draining, effort-taxing and less than rewarding. We spend so much time trying to do things we think will please other people—family, friends, co-workers, colleagues and people we don’t even know. “What will the neighbors think?” Is a phrase heard many times during one’s lifetime. Often, we set aside personal wants and desires in order to do things so others will approve. Hopes and dreams are shunted in order to fulfill perceived obligations; or assumed because of guilt or outside pressure.

Each one of us can look back and recall decisions made during times of anxiety, stress and less than relaxed conditions and think about how those incidents have affected our life. We can also review occasions when choices were made that enriched and enhanced our days beyond all expectation. Such is the process of life.

During the year important “in process” occasions are noted, celebrated, and commemorated with a variety of emotion and feeling. Solemn, prayerful, joyful or jubilant we embellish these times with banquet and bounty. Together with others or alone in one’s private reverie, the emotions engendered by their remembrance comforts the heart, sustain the spirit, and nourish the soul. Recall when little moments in life unexpectedly snuck up on you and you knew immediately they would be remembered all your days: such is the Process of life. The process of love:

Chance to Opportunity



Opportunity to Turning Point



Strangers to Acquaintance,



Acquaintance to Friends,



Friends to Relationship.



Relationship to Date



Date to Going Steady,



Going steady to Engagement



Engagement to Promises



Promises to Love



Love to Marriage.



Marriage to Togetherness,



Togetherness to Oneness.



Oneness to Soul Mate



Soul mate to Everything!



Everything! to Commitment



Commitment to Wishes



Wishes to Hopes



Hopes to Dreams



Dreams to Reality



Reality to Obligation



Obligations to Priorities



Priorities to Value



Value to Time



Time to Importance



Importance to Together



Together to Divide



Divide to Promises



Promises to Priorities



Priorities to Things



Things to Importance



Importance to Excuse



Excuse to Reason



Reason to Why



Why to Whatever!



Whatever!



Whatever!!



Whatever!! to What?



What? to the Elephant in the Room



What Room?



The room.



House to Home



Home to Family



Family to Children



Children to Adults



Adults to Apartment



Apartment to House



House to House



Full to Empty



Empty to Together



Together to Alone



Alone to Unimportance



Unimportance to Loneliness



Loneliness to Regrets



Regrets to Memories



Memories to Life



Life to Goodbye



Goodbye to Ashes



Ashes to Forever



Now is the time to drink the wine!



Now is the time to taste the sweetness!



Now is the time to enjoy the pleasures.



Now is the time to treasure the moments



Save the memories for winter days



One only does what is important to one



One only values what is valuable to one



One always lives and shares with others



One always dies alone



So



Pour the wine



Taste the Sweetness from the Vineyard



Feel the warmth of ones you love.



Savor the Nectar of Marriage



Spouse, Children, Grandchildren



Enjoy the Perfume of Love



Recall the Spring



Remember the Summer



Treasure the Bounty of Autumn



Accept the Winter



Fill each Day with Laughter



Always



There is Love



Love

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Before the Chalk Dust Settles

At the close of this school year, I will retire and close out my teaching career. For the past twelve years, it has been my privilege and good fortune to teach Lake Central High School students both general education and those with Special Needs. With prior teaching experience in Illinois and southern Indiana, my tenure as a classroom teacher totals 43 years. Forty-three years? It seems like 43 minutes! Now, before the lights are turned off and the classroom door is closed for the last time I want to take a few moments and share some thoughts about teaching and the process of education.

We’ve all been around long enough to realize that life is a series of beginnings and goodbyes; and no matter the number of our years we never quite get used to it. Most of us enjoy beginnings; goodbyes are a different matter. Part of the parade of seasons is change and one has to deal with change and accompanying challenges as presented: but before the goodbye part, a return to the beginning. When I walked into a classroom for the first time as teacher in late August of 1967, I was unseasoned, minimally skilled, and uncertain as to my effectiveness. It did not take long to develop coping, methodology, and survival skills. After forty plus years in the “trenches” I am a fully seasoned, reality based, capable, effective, adaptable, tempered, well-educated, and confident pedagogical unit. Over the past four decades I’ve witnessed events, innovations, happenings, fads, policies, catch phrases, procedures and a sundry of educational instructional approaches allegedly designed to improve the process of education. Even so, I firmly believe that a good teacher is at the core of effective learning.



Over the years students have arrived in the classroom: prepared and unprepared, properly parented and woefully neglected, nurtured and un-nurtured, well-nourished and under-fed, behaved and mal-behaved, respectful and disrespectful, joyful and sad, happy and angry, eager and ambivalent, active and passive, energetic and tired, outgoing and shy, confident and timid. Many times I witnessed a weed become a rose when the spark of understanding took flame. Those moments are truly magic!



And there were times that challenged every ounce of my resolve, energy, and commitment in order to get through the day. Most of the 7200 plus school days have been flooded with sunshine. There were times, however, when shadows threatened the brightness and we drew upon Faith and prayerful intercession to help us through difficult times. To all my colleagues and co-worker who shared these moments and times—thank you for being there.



I have often been asked why I decided to become a teacher. It goes back to the words I wrote as a high school senior in 1958: “All I want is a chance to do better!” I promised that if such a chance were presented to me, I would do what I could to help others learn. All through my formative years, along with family, there were teachers, mentors, classmates and friends who helped me along the way. In summer school of 1948, Whiting Primary teacher, Miss Stewart accepted a struggling parochial second-grader and helped me control my stuttering so I could read aloud without embarrassment. As a teenager, the teachers at Whiting High School never gave up on me: Mr. Taylor, Mr. Ulrich, Mr. Faulkner, Mr. Burkholtz, Mr. Allen and Mr. McClure. Each one of these pedagogical apostles encouraged, guided and helped me to understand subject matter, teaching lessons of life, which have served me well. By their word, example and kindness they gave me confidence to risk unreachable dreams; and by doing so, gave me courage to achieve those dreams.



Classmates who became like family gave support and encouragement. Most of all they gave their friendship. At the forefront: The Class of 1958— Whiting High School ’s finest! Each time I enter a classroom I remember the goodness of all who have touched my life and provided me with the “chance to do better.”



We’ve all been around long enough to know that the journey should be as enjoyable as the destination. Each time I think about teaching, I recall the closing lines from my favorite poem by Robert Frost. He writes about a solitary traveler and how, along the way, pauses to watch woods fill with snow. The poem ends with words of commitment, duty, obligation, and responsibility. Like the traveler in Frost’s poem I, too, know…”The woods are lovely dark and deep, but I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep. And miles to go before I sleep.” Whatever adventures lie beyond the classroom door will unfold as destined by the stars. They will be welcomed and pursued with energy, enthusiasm and laughter-filled excitement. Without question, I’ve had a great time! To teachers everywhere: keep up the good work; so many others want the chance to do better.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

The Best Part of the Day

One thing about being a seasoned citizen is that I now take time to think about things I never paid much attention to when I was young. Youthful times are filled with so many different experiences, distractions, and day-to-day happenings the idea to dwell on any specific thought with depth of analysis is too time consuming and bland. Usually, one is too busy and pre-occupied with daily routine duties and predetermined responsibilities. By the time awareness sets in, one is usually conscripted to school, studies, homework and after-school chores. When free time is available, contemplation is way down on the list of preferred activities. With adulthood comes a myriad of additional responsibilities and the pace of daily living, at times, is a blur. Often exhausted at the end of the day, one seeks restful sleep rather than cognitive review. As tired as we are, however, we automatically savor certain moments from the day just ending. Doing so, begets the question: What is the best part of the day? What number from the allotted 1440 minutes serves to ease the mind, comfort the soul, and energize the spirit?


Regardless of age, status, gender, or circumstance each of us have moments that define our days. Take your own personal inventory and enjoy the review of those special parts of a day that bring satisfaction, comfort, accomplishment, peace of mind, and prayerful thanks. For me, each second is the best part of the day. I view each day as a gift with intention to enjoy and savor every part thereof.


Near the top of my list are the moments in the wee small hours of the morning, when the night is wrapped around us like a warm comforter. Familiar sounds of appliances tease the silence and provide a background for those who share moonlit starry skies and sleep less soundly. Numerous times during the year, the sound of rain against window panes and roofs gives one a feeling of tranquility and encourages reflection. When skies are clear there are the moments of sunrise and sunset—dawn and dusk. Looking at the beginning or ending of a day with a cup of coffee or tea; at the breakfast table or on the porch swing is a gift within a gift.


Maybe the best part of the day is saying night prayers or reading bedtime stories with your children, delivering a hug and goodnight kiss to loved ones. The best part of the day can be at work with colleagues and co-workers; interacting with groups or savoring aloneness. Sometimes there are several best parts of the day--separated moments and connected moments. During the week, the best part of the day comes at different times: prayerful contemplation, noisy gatherings, family activities, romantic interludes, public, private, and all occasions in between. The best part of the day can be watching a favorite TV show or sporting event relaxing in your favorite chair or comfortable on your couch potato sofa. The best part of the day can also be listening to a ballgame on a delicious summer afternoon while working in the yard, or the soundtrack of warm spring nights on a glider inside a screened porch or patio. What is the best part of the day? (Your Answer Here.)


The best part of the day is largely dependent on one’s personal attitude, philosophy, and perspective. How vigorous does one pursue the potential of each day? To what degree does one dispense their energy, effort, goodness, and kindness in order to harvest the bounty of each day? Each day comes from the factory like a banquet—a bounty brimming with promise, opportunity, and a chance to do better. The best part of the day—the dessert of our efforts is achieved through individual and collective offerings of faith, hope, and charity.


The best part of the day can be what you want it to be. The way one uses the gift of each day—86,400 seconds, 1440 minutes, or 24 hours will determine the quality of the “Best Part of the Day.”

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

To Belong

Throughout life, we invest considerable time and effort to belong. From little on, the need to belong becomes an essential ingredient of our personality and affects the way we think, behave, and interact with others. Belonging brings comfort and connection, belonging serves to identify and validate so much of whom and what we are. As we mature, the degree of “belong” is consciously sought, controlled, managed, and independently selected and decided. At various stages of our life, we employ symbols and signs noting our belong status: certificates, jewelry, attire, titles, words, identification labels--the litany is quite extensive. We celebrate special occasions when belonging is bestowed: birthdays, anniversaries, Baptism, Confirmation, engagement, marriage, graduation, induction, promotion, elections and a myriad of award ceremonies. To emphasize the importance of such events sacred words are read from Holy Books, psalms and hymns are sung, and age-old traditions and protocol are followed. Belonging gives strength, faith, courage, and hope to the human spirit.

As a child, we take belonging for granted. Initially, we have no say in the matter. One day, we become aware that we are part of a family. Each day we spend the majority of time interacting with each other inside familiar surroundings firming up rank, position, status, and prominence. As we become older, the “belonging” process takes on added importance and we deliberately develop strategies, methods, and thought processes necessary to maintain our emotional connection to whatever we have attached our feelings. We make special effort, expend copious energy, and elevate our interest in order to meet the level or degree of belonging depending on circumstance, life-stage, or purpose. With belonging, one must accept responsibility, duty, obligation, commitment, and a sundry of ancillary liability: emotional, social, and personal. But regardless of the challenges faced, the payoff that belonging brings to the individual is well worth the price paid.

Over a lifetime, think about the expenditure of time, energy and effort one spends to belong: clubs, organizations, teams, groups, cliques, fraternities, sororities, unions, guilds, etc. In pairs, small groups, or large denominations we strive to make our involvement noticed and elevate our status of worth, importance and impact. Belonging gives us an opportunity to demonstrate a variety of skill, ability, and talent. A chance to showcase our competence, leadership, camaraderie, intelligence and experience. Depending upon the situation, one can instill, inspire, model and mentor others and expand the cohesive bond and reward of belonging. We move easily from one group to another: formal or informal, social or business, religious or secular, educational or recreational, public or private. Belonging can be gender specific or mixed, geriatric or youthful, adolescent or adult. Humans know how to effectively multi-task belonging. Our need to belong may focus on a single person or a group. Gratification may take the form of celebrity, recognition or acknowledgement whenever one is in the limelight. Sanction of one’s belonging may be conveyed privately from eyes of loved ones closest to the heart. The value to our spirit is the knowing we matter we’re appreciated, needed, cherished and loved. Belonging gives one purpose, a reason to get up in the morning. Inwardly our spirit soars; outwardly we smile proudly. We are not alone—we belong! What an incredible feeling! The connection knowing one belongs may be a gentle touch, a knowing look, a warm embrace or casually held hands. Verification of one’s belonging may be written on certificates, licenses, deeds, or notebook paper. The belonging may be handwritten on greeting cards or personal notes, phone calls, text messages, answering machines, emails, or delivered personally expressed with varying degrees of passion and persuasion. Regardless of delivery system, the end result is the same; one has been chosen to share in another’s life. Duration and longevity are first cousins of belonging. Whatever circumstances allow—belonging should be nurtured, appreciated and acknowledged. Just because a number of miles separate front doors, does not mean one cannot savor belonging. Feelings and thoughts of belonging nourish the spirit, fills the heart with gladness and makes music for the senses. Think back on all the days of your life. Remember the moments when you first realized you belonged: family, classmates, colleagues, coworkers, neighbors, and friends. Think about yesterday, today and tomorrow—savor the moments, treasure the memories, and open your heart to belongings yet to come.

Koch’s Choice

March, 2010

Monday, February 1, 2010

The Magic Box

First impressions stay with you for a long time especially when you’re a little kid and your world consists of a 650 square foot garage flat apartment and fenced back yard of the landlord. Without question, experiences during the first 5 years of one’s life are limited. For me, aside from the weekly trek to church or neighborhood grocery stores with Mom, adventures were limited by imagination and mobility. Then, one day you find yourself on the bus to Chicago ’s Loop for bargains. Primarily, this trip would focus on shoes from Sears. Oxfords were the style of the day and the price advertised in newspaper ads was incentive enough for Mom to bundle me up for a ride northward on the Shoreline Bus.

Chicago’s Loop, in February of 1946, was loaded with “on-sale” goods. Store windows displayed a sundry of wares. We scurried along State Street and arrived at our destination among hundreds of shoppers. Mom pushed the revolving door entrance and we moved through the turnstile-like opening onto the main floor. Once inside, glass display cases, shelves of items, and a smorgasbord of merchandise filled my eyes. Mom was on a mission as she guided me along to a wall with moving panels. Other shoppers waited looking up above the door at a row of numbers—one of which would light up only momentarily. Every few seconds, a bell would sound followed by a lighted arrow—pointing either up or down. Immediately the sliding panels opened and people stepped out of a small room. One person dressed in a uniform stayed in the small room with the next group of people who had entered.

With the next bell and arrow, it was our turn. Mom ushered me just inside the sliding doors near the front. The uniformed lady waved a wand-like stick in front of the people, turned a handled wheel and immediately the panels came together and closed the little room. She moved a lever and I felt the room moving upward. My stomach was a little late following the rest of my body but it caught up before the room stopped at the illuminated number above the door.

With each stop, the sliding doors opened and a scene of displayed merchandise filled my field of vision: house wares, vacuums, drapes, clothes, appliances. Each time the doors closed, my stomach jumped as the little room moved upwards. About the fourth stop, the doors opened and I saw Toyland. For a few brief seconds, red wagons, ice skates, sleds, Erector Sets, Lincoln Logs, some type of bowling game, all kinds of tractors and trucks. This was the floor I wanted to be on! I thought: Let’s get off here! No such luck. One more floor and my senses were filled with the sight and smell of leather shoes, rubber boots, galoshes, and clothing. On carpeted floors we walked to the shoe department took a seat and waited for a salesman. While the shoe guy measured my foot and Mom talked about brown oxfords, my mind and imagination was one floor below, thinking about all the goodies I saw a few moments before. At that moment I didn’t care about shoes. All I wanted was to ride the magic box to Toy City and check out all the neat stuff! Instead, I received a pair of brown oxfords with an extra pair of shoelaces. Mom and I rode the magic box downward, but as luck would have it, no one wanted Toy Land so we rode straight to the lobby. By the time we got outside back on State Street it was snowing like crazy. We walked a good distance to where the bus stop was located and waited until the bus arrived. This particular bus had a single seat up front next to the driver. It was vacant and I asked Mom if I could ride in it. The bus driver smiled, Mom nodded, and I climbed into the seat. Holding my new shoes, watching the bus’ windshield wipers clean away snowflakes, I imagined myself back in the magic box each time opening the doors to a new adventure land... The ride back home was neat. Like a copilot, I kept an eye on the road, and occasionally glanced at the captain behind the wheel. I felt like a celebrity at the front of a parade!

The bus driver let us off on 119th Street and Lincoln Avenue . Our garage flat was located three houses from the corner—1924 -1/2, so the snowflakes only had a few minutes to locate our nose and eyelashes. Holding tightly the package from Sears Roebuck I navigated the snow-covered sidewalk without slipping once. Back home, warm and cared for, I looked out the window and watched it snow. Thinking about my new shoes, the ride home and most of all—the magic box.

Friday, January 1, 2010

New Year's Promise

Each New Year we decide to make resolutions. Such commitments are supposed to serve as guideposts or directional indicators to keep us on course throughout the upcoming twelve months. Usually, by the end of February, many of our resolutions have been discarded or, at best, adhered to only intermittently. This year, there will be no resolutions: no listing of goals or grandiose statements of intentions. Instead, the list of resolutions will be replaced by a single promise. The promise is made by me—to me. Keeping this promise will not require special equipment, structured schedules, carefully selected items, or expensive accessories. The promise has nothing to do with reducing unwanted body fat, breaking of bad habits, or arduous exercise workouts. Rendering this promise involves no financial expenditure. The promise will not improve the body but will most certainly improve the spirit. There are no limitations as to the number of times this promise is fulfilled, or upon the number of individuals it is bestowed. There are no pronouncements, support groups, or public accounting as to effectiveness. The benefits of this New Year’s Promise may never be known; and yet, may be so obvious that everyone is awestruck by the results. Here is my New Year’s Promise: “Whenever I encounter something that makes me think of people I know and love, I will pray for them.” This promise “trigger” may be a certain song, an image, a thought, or a memory of one who has touched my life--living or deceased. It may be a gift once received, a photograph, a card or a letter; an email, or their voice on the phone: whatever the source, whatever the circumstance, my promise is to take a few brief moments and offer a prayer for God’s blessing on their behalf. We value so many things in life; we sometimes forget those who helped us along the way. How many times do we wistfully recall moments to remember shared with family, classmates, co-workers, colleagues and friends? In an instant we can offer prayerful thanks for their kindnesses, thoughtfulness, and caring manner. Many who helped us have moved away and their doorsteps are separated from ours by many miles. Without interrupting their lives we can say a prayer for whatever intention we attached to our personal intercession. Within the privacy of our heart, workplace, home or car we can nourish the spirit and strengthen the soul of those we hold most dear. As we go about our daily routine, without any outward sign we can convey prayerful words of comfort, solace, peace and love. Or, we can send individual personal thoughts directly to that person’s heart. New Year’s is always a time to celebrate the newest allotment of days: party up a storm, wear funny hats, activate noisemakers, dance amid confetti, streamers and colorful balloons while displaying behaviors influenced by drinks and concoctions which accelerate frivolity and good times. As the New Year begins, and voices sing the familiar words to Auld Lang Syne, we can keep our New Year promise. How many people throughout your lifetime have shared treasured moments with you that deserve a few seconds of remembrance? Of prayerful gratitude and appreciation?


Should you choose to compile a conventional list of resolutions find room for the promise. By this time next year, along with desired weight loss, cessation of harmful habits, and toned anatomy, you will have conveyed prayerful intercession to those you cherish and love. If Heaven is kind, those who cherish you in their life will in turn, prayerfully remember you. That’s the promise for the New Year.


Each time the subject of “promise” comes up I always remember the closing lines from what has become my favorite poem by Robert Frost: Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening. He closes with these words: “The woods are lovely, dark and deep, but I have promises to keep; and miles to go before I sleep. And miles to go before I sleep.”


Like the traveler in Frost’s poem, each of us has promises to keep; and miles to go before we sleep. Welcome, 2010! Happy New Year, everyone!

Where's Al going to be next???

Check back soon for his next appearance at a location near you!