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#984 – Dick Bernard: Carpet Bowling and Marshmallow Toss

Friday, January 23rd, 2015

Wednesday afternoon I made a trip up to ND relating to my Uncle, who’s in a Nursing Home in a small town, and has recently been enrolled in the Hospice Program. The trips are frequent, tiring, but always necessary.

Usually I leave in early morning. This day I was scheduled for something called Carpet Bowling with my second grade Pal at his elementary school. It was only a half hour, then I’d be on my way. I wasn’t sure what it was till it began.

Think “real” bowling, and you get a notion of Carpet Bowling. A regulation sized bowling ball is used, but this one was second grade weight. The pins were regulation size as well, but very light.

One class was involved, with their “pals”, one of which was me. There were four lanes, and we took turns. It was all very well organized. (My one turn, I got nine pins the first throw, and a spare!)

Teachers work magic with youngsters, and the supervisor of this activity was no exception. Everybody shared, and we all had a good time. At the end of the half hour, the teacher asked we Pals if any of us had ever worked setting pins, and a couple had, and described what they did in the old days, and how much they were paid.

It was fun!

Then I got on the road for the usual 5 1/2 hours, and for the next 18 hours was dealing with stuff that needed to be dealt with, including time with my Uncle.

The last activity of the day was a conference with the nursing and hospice staff.

It was scheduled for three o’clock, and I had to wait for another conference to include.

I was just outside the day room of the Nursing Home, and elders were seated in an oval, and a lady was preparing for an activity, described on the Activities Board as “Marshmallow Toss”, or similar wording.

It was a simple activity: the coordinator had five squashed marshmallows that had hardened. Of course, they were very light.

There were two small plastic pans that were the targets, one perhaps a foot or two away; the second a tiny bit further.

Each person had their turn: the objective was to toss the marshmallow into the container. For most of us, the simplest of tasks, but when you’re very old, and sometimes very disabled, even something easy becomes a challenge.

One guy got them all, easily; a lady next to him barely could get a single marshmallow in the closest container.

No matter, both had their turn, and a small opportunity to, like the children a day earlier, try to achieve a certain goal.

There were no winners either day; every one participated equally, and supported for what they had done.

I left for the 5 1/2 hours back home, with lots of time to think.

The proximity of the activities, just a day, but 300 miles, apart, was striking to me.

Long ago, these elders trying to toss marshmallows had been in the second grade somewhere, doing something like the carpet bowling activity.

There was perhaps 80 years difference in average experience between them, and for the elders, many peaks and valleys in between, that the youngers have yet to experience.

My Uncle, strong as a horse 10 years ago, is now essentially bedridden, extremely frustrating to him as life winds down.

For each of us, we’re in our own place, on the same path as those elders tossing marshmallows at the nursing home on Thursday.

Enjoy the trip, whatever you have left.

#982 – Dick Bernard: A Prairie Home Companion

Saturday, January 17th, 2015

(click to enlarge photos)

Garrison Keillor, Jan 17, 2015

Garrison Keillor, Jan 17, 2015

It had been a long time since I last actually attended a performance of Garrison Keillor‘s long-running “A Prairie Home Companion“. Tonight was the night, and a wonderful night it was, with a distinctly blue grass tilt, featuring the Gibson Brothers, Heather Masse, (one of the very popular Wailin’ Jennys), and last, but certainly not least, Joe Newberry.

Here is the program booklet for tonights show, the 1,414th in a series that began in 1974: A Prairie Home Companion001. (The program is rebroadcast nationally from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. the Sunday following the show. Check here for details.)

I first saw PHC in 1977, the year before the show moved to its long-standing venue, now the Fitzgerald, but for most of its life going under the name World Theatre of St. Paul.

In 1978, the show moved into the ancient World Theatre, and Garrison mused about that move in a story. Among other fascinating facts, PHC music director Rich Dworsky’s father owned the World Theatre at the time PHC moved in, and the first rent was $80 per weekend. I attended some early shows there, and the theatre was down in its heels at the time. Of course, today it is an elegant venue.

My son-in-law, who came along and greatly enjoyed the program, observed that there were many of we gray-hairs in the audience, and of course that is true. Garrison, who would have been about 32 when the first show went on the air, is now 40 years older, as are great numbers of his early fans. Indeed, centerpiece of the stage set (see photos) is the facade of an old country farm house (on whose porch about a half dozen audience members sat to watch the program last night.

At some point Garrison (and all of us) will move on, and one can only hope that there will be a viable alternative to carry on the tradition of remembering the olden days before things like Facebook and other forms of instant communication and gratification.

My personal tastes in music have always been quite varied, and tonight was the night for some distinctive sounds, primarily of the bluegrass family. It was a very fun evening, added to by the fact that there was a post-show second concert featuring the above musicians and, of course, Garrison Keillor himself.

In the bonus post-show show, “January Jump Start”, I had the opportunity to take a few snapshots, just to give a little life to the performers for the evening. Otherwise, very often YouTube has video of the various performers in action.

They’re all worth a look and listen!

Heather Masse and Garrison Keillor Jan 17, 2015

Heather Masse and Garrison Keillor Jan 17, 2015

Joe Newberry (guitar) with Richard Kriehn Jan 17 2015

Joe Newberry (guitar) with Richard Kriehn Jan 17 2015

The Gibson Brothers (3rd and 4th from left) with Joe Newberry and ensemble Jan 17, 2015

The Gibson Brothers (3rd and 4th from left) with Joe Newberry and ensemble Jan 17, 2015


Between PHC and the bonus “January Jump Start” we walked the couple of blocks to St. Pauls iconic Mickey’s Diner for a quick bite.

Mickey’s never surprises. Donny had a piece of pie and coffee; for me, a side of O’Brian’s Potatoes and a coke.

Mickey’s is a direct kind of place: we had to stand and wait our turn for a seat at the counter, just across from the grill. The place was busy but well organized, and the cook and server were friendly and efficient.

Mickey’s is, as their sign says, “24/7″, and the reward for good behavior is being served.

It was a show in itself…and the food was very good!

Cookin' at Mickey's Diner, St. Paul

Cookin’ at Mickey’s Diner, St. Paul


#978 – Dick Bernard: A Teacher and a Butterfly

Sunday, January 4th, 2015

Life takes it own course, and in our often too-frantic lives, we miss the gentle things that really make a difference.

So it happened, yesterday, that I had to leave, early, the funeral of a retired educator to attend to an equally important duty: taking 10-year old granddaughter, Addy, to the soon-to-end (Jan 8) Monarch Butterfly film and Exhibit at the Science Museum of Minnesota. (If you’re in the area, carve out the time for the program: it is well worth it….)

Marty Wicks, the retired educator whose life was celebrated yesterday, was a lifelong public educator. Her life is summarized here (4 pages): Marty Wicks001. She accomplished much.

I come from a family filled with public educators. That was also my background and career, and I think most in the education profession, including Marty, would agree that “lifelong educators”, especially in public education, early on realize that miracles can and do happen on their watch, but often these happen without their direct knowledge, and ofttimes many years later.

Marty’s brother-in-law, in a tribute to her, gave a personal example of how she, as his sister-in-law, was a powerful teacher to him, personally.

She made a positive difference, the best any of us can hope for.

Funeral over, and before the lunch, I had to make a rapid departure to pick up my granddaughter for our “date” with the butterflies at the Science Museum of Minnesota.

We had tickets for the 1:00 showing at the Omnimax, and like the rest of the packed house we sat transfixed as the remarkable story of Canadian researcher Dr. Fred Urquhart’s near lifelong quest to track the Monarch Butterfly migratory pattern came to life. Part of his incredible story can be read here.

Central to the story is Monarch PS397, tagged by some west suburban Minneapolis students in August, 1975, and remarkably discovered by Dr. Urquhart in Michoacan Mexico four months later, literally minutes after he began his first visit to the Monarch sanctuary, 2000 miles from where PS397 had begun its journey.

The two events: a funeral for an educator; and the central role educators played in one of the most remarkable stories of tracking a migration of an insect, thereby contributing to human knowledge, came together for me on Saturday afternoon.

Film over, Addy and I then went to the Butterfly Exhibit at the Science Museum where adults, kids and butterflies mingled happily in a summer-like environment (perhaps this doesn’t include the little tike whose nose became home base for a friendly butterfly, stopping by to visit!) It was warm in there: tip, if you go there, leave coats behind!

The Exhibit and the Film are at the end of their run here, but there are still a few days; and doubtless you can probably catch them somewhere else. Here’s the website for the film.

There is much more to be said, but more words from me are superfluous.

At the end of the day, I thought of a snapshot I took in November, 1999, North Dakota (below). It has always symbolized for me the entirety of relationships (the tree) and how individuals can shine like the sun, at a particular time for a particular person or persons. Like ourselves and the Butterflies, yesterday, we coexist together.

For certain, Marty Wicks “shone”, and lives on in many ways.

Addy, being ten, will likely have good memories from yesterday, but as kids are wont to do may well move on to other interests.

The important thing was the experience, the opportunity, to learn and to grow. We can all learn.

(click to enlarge.)
ND Sunset Nov 1999001

#974 – Fran’s Thoughts from a Northern Lake

Thursday, December 25th, 2014

PRE-NOTE: Today is the 100th anniversary of the Christmas Truce of 1914, an expected yet celebrated temporary lull in the horrors of World War I. Madeline sent along a link to a song celebrating that interlude of peace in a time of war: Christmas in the Trenches, by John McCutcheon. It may take a while to access it – it will be viewed tens of thousands of times today. Just be patient.

All best wishes to you and yours at Christmas, 2014.

Christmas letters seem to be slowly going out of favor, which is sad. Everybody has their own style; each one brings their own unique surprise.

A favorite Christmas letter of mine, for many years, annually arrives from Fran, a retired Iron Range elementary school teacher (Grand Rapids) who I’ve known since the 1980s.

As with many correspondents, I hear from Fran once a year, as she hears once a year from me.

Every Christmas letter Fran writes, to family and friends, brings vividly to life something about the natural world she loves, around her lake, part of the northernmost reaches of the Mississippi River. Most years comes a glimpse of her extended world: this past year, a visit to Easter Island; in just a few more days, a month on her beloved Maui.

Here, reprinted with her permission, is her most recent letter, sent Dec. 15 (simply click to enlarge text).


Fran Strommer Dec. 2014

Fran Strommer Dec. 2014

Letter continues:

Fran letter continues

Fran letter continues

Fran’s letter concludes:

Fran letter concludes

Fran letter concludes

We all have particular gifts. One of Fran’s, honed over many years, is the gift of describing her environment in words.

Thanks, Fran, and to all the rest of us, have a great Christmas and New Year.

POST-NOTE: This post reminded me of a long ago writing by teacher June Johnson. June taught in the same school district as Fran, in a northernmost school at Bigfork MN. In 1985, editing a newsletter for teachers, she wrote about a 1940s era school memory in rural North Dakota. Here it is. It speaks eloquently for itself.

#973 – Dick Bernard: “We Wish you a Merry Christmas….”

Tuesday, December 23rd, 2014

I’m a predictable creature: at the coffeehouse I frequent most every day, I have a fair number of good friends, but we understand each other. Sometimes we have animated conversations, sometimes I’m just back in my corner, writing letters, thinking about this and that, watching the early morning world go by.

Sometimes nearby events catch my attention, as this morning.

A younger woman was across the room, and presently an older man, looking pretty serious, joined her, and they engaged in quite a long conversation, if one could call it that.

It was obvious that this was not a “have a Merry Christmas” catch-up I was witnessing.

The way the conversation was going, it seemed pretty apparent that this was a Dad talking to a daughter, who appeared to be post high school age, and there had been serious problems. Probably there was, at some point, one of those “you can go straight to hell” conversations which most of us of a certain age, if we’re honest, have experienced ourselves at some point(s) in our own lives. Maybe she stormed out, and said “I’ll never talk to you again”.

Who knows?

Living in relationship is never easy.

More than once the young woman – who was facing away from me – apparently asked why they didn’t try to get ahold of her. “We didn’t know how to reach you”, he said. Perhaps she didn’t want to be reached, then, but had forgotten that.

More than once there was an apparent demand made of the other woman involved in this conversation, maybe the Mom: “she wouldn’t do that”, the man said, about something apparently non-negotiable, at least at the moment.

Conversation over, the two people prepared to leave. Steps from the table, the man turned to give the woman a big and obvious heartfelt hug; the woman didn’t reciprocate at all – he hugged her unresponsive shoulder.

The narrative about Christmas and other similar occasions presumes “good tidings of great joy” or fun gatherings “over the river and through the woods”, but it doesn’t always work out that way.

From the most basic of relationships, to the largest and most complex – say people of an entire nation, or world – there are breakdowns and enmity.

Best we figure out how to do what that dis-connected couple were apparently trying to do this morning: attempting to find a face-saving way to resolve possibly old grievances and bitterness and resume at least some kind of civil connection.

I wish them well.

Merry Christmas.

from Shirley L:
Interesting observations, Dick. I’ll bet each one of your readers could walk into a local Starbucks and witness a version of this scenario. Christmas is tough. Hearts and souls are pulled in so many directions – hopefully some of the joy of the season can become balm for the deepest hurts and be the catalyst for repair.
Wishing you a joyous Christmas!

#972 – Dick Bernard: The Dinner Party

Saturday, December 20th, 2014

There are several comments to the Cuba post, including a photo montage I’ve linked at the beginning of the Cuba section. See the additions here.

(click to enlarge)

Prior Lake MN, Franciscan Retreat Center, Dec. 14, 2014

Prior Lake MN, Franciscan Retreat Center, Dec. 14, 2014

Thursday evening we were invited to a small dinner party at the home of our neighbor, Don. He lives across the street so the commute was short. He had invited two other friends, Arthur and Rose, who we had not met before. Of the five, we were the junior members. The oldest was 84; the youngest 70.

We’re all well into the age when reminiscing is a common thread. Don, retired from a long career from a railroad office job with the then-Great Northern, had once, in his younger years, been a guest at a dinner party hosted by Elizabeth Taylor at her home in Hollywood. He was native of what has long been called the “frogtown” neighborhood of St. Paul.

Arthur came from a farm family of five in central Minnesota. He grew up in a log cabin, literally, he said. He named a tiny town I’ve been through, and said their farm was 12 miles east. I thought – I may have said – that is really in the boonies!.

His German immigrant grandfather was a carpenter and would load his horse drawn wagon with tools, and leave for sometimes as much as two and a half months, working on building this or that somewhere in the general area. “Commuting” with horses is not easy!

All the home windows, he said, were truly home-made, none of the fancy stuff we now demand.

Rose, also from a farm family, grew up near a little town that is now a Minneapolis suburb, and worked in a factory there.

As for us, I’m a tiny town ND kid, child of school teachers; Cathy is a St. Paul east-sider whose family basically could be called a “3M family”, from the days when that corporation often became a persons career.

As one might expect, our conversation was interesting and animated and covered lots of ground. Arthur became a meatpacker across the river in South St. Paul, and when the plant closed in the late 1970s, had a fairly long career driving a Metro Transit bus, often in neighborhoods that he deemed not safe.

Our social get-together ended, and we all went home. “Merry Christmas” to all.

I checked e-mails and there were three of special note:

Good friends Ehtasham and Suhail, both writing from Pakistan, wrote about the tragic bombing that killed over 100 school children in Peshawar this week. “Killing school children for political agendas has no parallel in history. The whole nation is mourning”, one said. The other: “Though I am safe along with my family, yet the kids who have lost their lives are all mine; they are my family as well. The level of frustration is so high that the things are looking gloomy and rays of hope are looking faint. I am currently working with Plan International, which focuses on child rights and child protection, and we have initiated an internal debate on how can we ensure protection to the lives of kids in Pakistan.”

Another e-mail came from a great friend, Said, a Syrian PhD in England, fluent in French, who I’ve been fortunate to know for years. “It is much better to make friends than enemies & especially in this world of ours with vulnerable internet/communications & weapons that are readily available and devastating! I have been investigating WWI a lot since it is a sad anniversary of sorts – except for the Christmas truce [of 1914] which moves me every time I read about it – I also watched a very good French film about it. I suppose instead of the war to end all wars that was the peace to end all peace (1918-19). Well I wish you & yours a Merry Christmas & a peaceful 2015.”

Eight different people, eight different life scripts, stories, differing cultures, backgrounds, religions…but with so many common threads to share. We are one human family; the overwhelming vast majority of us good people*, each who can make a positive difference each and every day.

A hymn I like so profoundly says: “Let there be Peace on Earth, and let it begin with me.”

All Blessings at Christmas and 2015.

– In mid-November, I attended a workshop by Paul K. Chappell, in which he cited research that found 98% of soldiers were averse to killing other people, even in battle. This left, of course, 2% who had no such scruples, called psychopaths. The research expanded to include civilians – our own U.S. population. The same results: 98% and 2%.

In other words, anywhere there are humans, of whatever race, or creed, or nationality, or country, 98% comprise the prevailing side of humanity.

There are a lot of people in the 2% of course, and they are everywhere, but the 98% overwhelmingly have it in their power to minimize the influence of the 2%.

I asked Mr. Chappell for a citation on the source of his data: “Roy L. Swank and Walter E. Marchand, “Combat Neuroses: Development of Combat Exhaustion,.” American Medical Association: Archives of Neurology and Psychiatry, 1946, 244″.

#970 – Dick Bernard: Reflecting on My 1977 Christmas Letter

Tuesday, December 16th, 2014

All best wishes to you and yours at this season, however you recognize it – and that can get confusing. I just came from the post office, which annually offers a large variety of Christmas and holiday themed stamps, hopefully to treat respectfully the largest number of people in this wonderfully diverse country of ours.

It occurred to me yesterday that this year is exactly half a life-time since I sent my first “home-made” Christmas card (in 1977, below). It had three panels: very simple. The sentiments I expressed then, fit today as well.

(click to enlarge)

1977 Christmas Card

1977 Christmas Card

The year was 1977, 37 years ago. Son Tom, then 13, drew the Christmas tree (we didn’t have a “real” or even artificial one that winter).

Of course, the only means of transmission then were in person, or by U.S. mail.

The “tradition” came for me to identify one particular significant event each year, and to write something about it.

The first time I went primarily to electronic transmission was well after the year 2000.

Fast forward to today.

This greeting can go anywhere/everywhere. But likely fewer people actually read it, than read that handmade card 37 years ago. Many of my own age range have never warmed to even e-mail; many more, like myself, are slow on the uptake with the already old-fashioned Facebook, and more recent Twitter, and the other shorthand ways of “touching base”.

We’re still in a canyon of non-communication*. In the midst of infinite means of communicating, everywhere, any time, instantly, something like this won’t reach people who don’t do internet; many on internet don’t do e-mail, or are so glutted with “communication” that a survival skill is the delete key…and sometimes worthy communication is missed. It’s a trying time, in so many ways.

I’ll be long gone when the next 37 year mark is reached. I wonder how people will be communicating then, if there are even people left to communicate with (a scary thought, but worth contemplating – we are the difference between having a future, or not).

For now, though, have a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

And if you wish, here are recent blog posts that might speak to you in some way or other: “St. Nicholas“; “The Wallet“; “The Retreat“; “The Dinner Party”

* – This came home to me in a handwritten note with a Christmas card from long-time friend Joanne, received Dec 15: “I was going to e-mail you this Christmas letter as I know you prefer that but no e-mail address for you! Please send it and I’ll make sure it gets on my computer.”

She forgot to include her e-mail address….

Yes, it is difficult to communicate these days of mass communication!

POSTNOTE: Dec 22: Saturday morning I was at my usual “station”, Caribou Coffee in Woodbury, writing Christmas letters (in this case, to people for whom I had no e-mail address, advising them of this blog post). After all, everyone knows someone with computer, even if they don’t know how to use it! I’ve also learned that printed out versions of blogs don’t look as good as on the screen – tiny type font and all. Another problem in transitioning to a new way.

An older guy, who I know as another regular, came up to note that I was probably doing Christmas cards. Yes I was, I said. He said, he doesn’t do Christmas cards any more. We didn’t explore the topic in any depth; we really didn’t have to.

1977 is long gone, but it was good while it lasted….

#969 – Dick Bernard: The Retreat: a time to Quiet

Sunday, December 14th, 2014

A couple of weeks ago, out of the blue, my friend, Clarence, invited me to a mens retreat with him.

I said, “sounds interesting, when is it? Where?” It turned out to be the Franciscan Retreat Center in Prior Lake MN, Friday night to Sunday noon, Dec 12-14. Schedules cleared, I signed up for my surprise.

(click to enlarge any photo)

Dec 14, 2014.  St. Francis of Assisi

Dec 14, 2014. St. Francis of Assisi

No question was asked, or information offered, about type of Retreat it would be or such. It could have been at a better time for several good reasons, but I decided to go anyway.

It was an enriching weekend, in all ways. There were about 35 of us, mostly older men. It was mostly individual, silent, with plenty of open time between the occasional structured activities, none of which were required; none of which were what I would call “interactive”. There was no TV or clock in the room, and no one I could see was running around with their iPhone or other evidence of doing business of any kind on a pre-holiday weekend. Meal times were communal times and we could and did chat.

The business was, in a real sense, getting in touch with ourselves, as individuals.

It is hard to “quiet”, but possible, and fulfilling once you can slow yourself down.

Here in Minnesota it was an unseasonably warm weekend – in the 40s – so the snow on the ground melted, leaving open the somewhat wet and messy walking paths in the woods. Those paths became my personal reflective space. Out there was the innovative sculpture of St. Francis seen above; and I was drawn to the old Peace Pole, and trees, leaves and surroundings of near-winter. It was quiet out there. What more could one ask.

As noted, I didn’t know what to expect during the weekend. I just went. Clarence knew more about this place than I, but this particular Retreat was a new one for him. He said during the weekend that he and his wife of 60 years went to Couples Retreat there for years. Caroline died about six months ago, so this was for him, too, a new experience.

The homilist for the Retreat turned out to be the retired Archbishop of St. Paul-Minneapolis, Harry Flynn.

He was marvelous, sharing lessons from his life, and from others he knew. He spoke four times, I’m guessing a total of about two hours in all, no direction, no group dialogue, except unspoken encouragement for individual reflection following each presentation. He was local Bishop here for a thirteen years, 1995-2008, a leader like most who we can get to know only through newsmakers. I had heard him give a sermon only once in those thirteen years, and it thus was a pleasure to get this surprise this past weekend.

In fact, the Retreat was a reminder that mysteries are often pleasant. It is a risk to go, as I did, into an essentially unknown environment, not knowing much of anything about what I was getting into. It was not the first time I’ve done this, and it won’t be the last: life can be like a wandering in a wood; you’re not sure what you’ll encounter, but the risk is worth taking.

I’m reminded of the piece of advice I’ve often shared on taking risks*, which I first saw in the Church Bulletin at the Methodist Church in Park Rapids MN in October, 1982. Here it is, again:

Leo Buscaglia quotation

Leo Buscaglia quotation

Back home, regrouping, I watched 60 Minutes last night, and one of the segments was about the general business of Quieting. Take a look at the segment entitled Mindfulness. It’s not quite the same as I experienced, but only a matter of degree.

And thank you, Clarence, for the suggestion of joining you and 35 others on Retreat.

Peace Pole Dec. 13, 2014, Franciscan Retreat Center, Prior Lake MN

Peace Pole Dec. 13, 2014, Franciscan Retreat Center, Prior Lake MN

Grounded.  Dec. 13, 2013

Grounded. Dec. 13, 2013

We had a single, optional, group activity: the comedy, Parental Guidance, about two grandparents attempting to grandparent their grandkids during the parents time away. It is a fun movie, full of lessons of its own, and especial fun to sit with a bunch of old guys, like me, and see how we all reacted to this or that scene.

I recommend it.

* POSTNOTE: My sister, Mary Ann, writes: “Enjoyed reading it….there are a few more lines to the prose by Ward which is also one of my favorites. Just google “To Risk” since I am not talented enough to insert a hyperlink.” So I did. And here is William Arthur WardTo Risk“. As you can note, Ward’s is virtually identical to Leo Buscaglia, who was a contemporary of Ward’s, and to whom another source attributed the writing some years ago.

Who wrote it? No matter. It exists, and that is good.

All Blessings of the season to everyone.

POSTNOTE 2: Dec. 16. The most recent Just Above Sunset is very long and, I feel, very pertinent. I add my own long comment at the end of the post.

#966 – Dick Bernard: St. Nicholas

Saturday, December 6th, 2014

A week ago I did a post on the beginning of Advent. In that post, I recommended the book of reflections entitled “All Saints, Daily Reflections on Saints, Prophets, and Witnesses for Our Time” by Robert Ellsberg, hoping to commit myself to its daily messages.

So far, so good. Today’s reflection, on St. Nicholas, seems especially worth sharing. It is a single page, and can be read here: St. Nicholas001

He’s in the big leagues of Patrons, including, as the author notes, “children, sailors, pawnbrokers, and prostitutes.”

Not mentioned, probably intentionally, is that “old St. Nick”, aka Santa Claus, is (most apparently) the patron saint of those who make money marketing his image.

Of course, St. Nick is a bit more complicated than that!

Take a moment to read the single page. (The previous day reflection featured Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.)

Yes, its a spiritual kind of book, oriented to Catholics, but not oppressively so. A good, easy, daily read.

#963 – Dick Bernard: The First Sunday of Advent, 2014

Sunday, November 30th, 2014

Today, at least for Roman Catholics, is the First Sunday of Advent. It will be noticed today at my Church, Basilica of St. Mary, Minneapolis.

As with most everything in our diverse society, there are many definitions of the meaning of this liturgical season, the four Sundays between now and Christmas Day, December 25. Here’s “Advent” as found in google entries.

I happen to be Catholic, actually quite active, I’d say. This would make me a subset of a subset of the American population.

In all ways, the U.S. is a diverse country. The Statistical Abstract of the United States, published by the Census Bureau, says about 80% of adult Americans describe themselves as “Christian”; 25% of this same population says they’re “Catholic”. (The data is here.)

Of course, if you’re a “boots on the ground” person, as I am, raw data like the above pretty quickly devolves. As the most appropriate mantra at Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis (my church) is stated every Sunday: “welcome, wherever you are on your faith journey….” The people in the pews know the truth of this phrase, and know that on every given Sunday, two-thirds of them are not even in the pews.

Regardless of specific belief, the vast majority of us, everywhere, are good people*.

I’m drawn to this topic a bit more than usual this weekend since I just returned from a visit to my last surviving Uncle, Vince, winding down his long life in a wonderful nursing home in a small North Dakota town.

Thanksgiving Day I decided to bring to him, for hanging in his room, the below holy family** (which had not yet been hung, and appears sideways, as it appeared in his room, prior to hanging.)

(click to enlarge)

Nov. 27, 2014

Nov. 27, 2014

For many years this image hung in the family farm home, and Vince seemed glad to see it come to visit. I asked him how old it was, and he said it was his mothers (my grandmothers) favorite, and it was probably older than he, in other words pre-dating 1925.

When next I visit, I hope to see it hanging on the wall he faces each day, and as such things go, it will likely bring back memories, and perhaps other emotions as well. Images tend to do this.

Of course, even in the religious milieu, an event like Advent is complicated. It is observed (including not being observed at all) in various ways even by people within the Catholic Church. A constructive observance, in my opinion, is to attempt to use the next 25 days to daily reflect on something or other in my own life. A nominally Catholic but mostly inspirational book of Daily Reflections given to me years ago by my friend Les Corey comes immediately to mind**; and very likely I can “tie in” Uncle Vince through letters this month. (It helps me to make a public declaration of intention on these things – a little more likely that I’ll follow through!)

Of course, there is, always, lots of side-chatter in this country at this season: “Black Friday” rolled out two days ago. We are a financial “bottom line” nation, I guess. Profits trump most anything else.

But, be that as it may, perhaps my essential message is that the next few weeks can be helpful simply for quieting ones-self and reflecting on a more simple way of being, such as greeted that icon when it was first hung in that simple North Dakota farm home perhaps even more than 100 years ago.

Have a good Advent.

* – A few hours ago, we experienced a good positive start to Advent. After a party for three of our grandkids who have November birthdays, we all went to a Minnesota based project called Feed My Starving Children where, along with 115 others adults and children, we filled food packets whose ultimate destination is Liberia. It was our first time participating with this activity, and it was a very positive activity. Hard work, but a great family activity. Check it, or something similar, out. Special thanks to one of the birthday kids, 8-year old Lucy, who apparently suggested the activity.

Nov. 29, 2014, Addy, Lucy, Kelly

Nov. 29, 2014, Addy, Lucy, Kelly

** – Of course, I don’t know the exact origin of the print which so captured Grandma. Almost certainly the real holy family of Bible days was not European white, as I am, and she was; rather, most likely, middle eastern in ethnicity and appearance.

*** – The book I’ve dusted off for the next weeks: All Saints, Daily Reflections on Saints, Prophets, and Witnesses for our Time by Robert Ellsberg.