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© Tom Gilbert

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November, 2016

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Giving Tuesday Matters

November 29, 2016

Each year at this time people get caught up in shopping. The Holidays create a buzz of buying and gift giving. That's not necessarily a bad thing - it is just that it can create a hyped up atmosphere of consumerism. Buy, buy and buy again can provide momentary satisfaction, but it often delivers a hangover. After buying the latest fashion, gadget or gift you might find yourself feeling hollow, or worse, in debt!
Giving Tuesday Matters
Giving is a good thing. And purchases are important for businesses to survive. However, there are things that matter more than buying. So a few years ago a movement emerged to accompany Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Giving Tuesday is designed as a global day of giving to worthwhile causes. Various non-profits and charities benefit from this one day of giving and with the power of social media (#GivingTuesday) it has become a great way to support your community and contribute to things that can make a real difference in our world.

I am sure you can think of many causes worth your time, attention and money. If there is one thing I have come to appreciate, it is that we have lives of purpose. Giving, whether it is giving back or paying forward is part of this purposeful living.

Two causes I believe in that could benefit from some "Giving Tuesday Love" are WingsforLifeInternational (helping transform lives to break the generational cycle of incarceration) and Good Radio Shows, Inc (producers of the excellent PEACE TALKS RADIO SHOWS). Both are non-profits who work very hard, stretching every dollar to deliver positive help to others. I invite you to visit their links to find out more. I also recommend that you consider some charitable organzation to support today in whatever way (small or large) you can. It's all about making our world a better place.

Fidel Castro, Revolutionary Hero to Some; Oppressive Dictator to Others

Fidel CastroThe news this weekend of the passing of Fidel Castro, the revolutionary dictator of Cuba for well over half a century, brings about discussion of his legacy. Was he a hero for the masses? A cruel and brutal dictator? The answer is not as clear cut as many want to make it. Cuba is a communist country that has dealt with oppression and the lack of certain freedoms cherished in other democratic countries. At the same time there are some positives, such as the nearly 100% literacy rate and the amount of quality doctors delivering healthcare to the residents.

Castro came to power in 1959, already emerging as a nearly mythic and romantic revoluionary. His predecessor, General Fulgencio Batista, was considered corrupt. When he fled the country Castro and a new regime took over. At first the world wondered if it was a sign of victory for the people. But as time went on it became clear that Castro was a strongman and would put down any opposition with force. A lot of Cubans over the years fled the island if they were able. The large expatriate population of Cubans in Miami has been strongly anti-Castro for years.

As a babyboomer what I most remember from my youth was that Fidel Castro was considered the enemy. A communist leader bent on defying the United States from just 90 miles away, propped up by the Soviet Union, and the embodiment of the evil we felt we were fighting against during the Cold War.

It got particularly scary in 1962 with the Cuban Missile Crisis. President John F. Kennedy and Soviet leader Nikita Khruschev were at odds over the placement of nuclear missiles in Cuba.  For a couple of weeks there was a real concern that the world might suffer a nuclear war. Eventually Khruschev backed down and removed the missiles. But the animosity between Castro and the United States continued. There have been many reports of how the CIA tried various ways to assissinate him. None of the attempts were successful, obviously, and Castro stayed in power until about 2008 when his poor health had him turning things over to his younger brother, Raul.

The United States has softened its stance on Cuba and President Obama has initiated diplomatic relations with the island. Perhaps we will become friendly neighbors. A lot of Americans would gladly join in the tourism to Cuba enjoyed by many other countries.

How history will judge Fidel Castro is one thing. What I am wondering as one who encourages people to preserve their life stories and share their life values and lessons with others is whether Castro ever had any heartfelt talks with his family and loved ones about his life and legacy. Did he reflect on his long life? How did he view it? You can see much about his life and impact as viewed by American journalism from the CBS Sunday Morning coverage.

We all are living our lives and they are each filled with experiences. Sometimes there are big adventures. Other times they are more mundane and quiet. But all lives matter and history is the preservation of our stories. How are you going about preserving yours?

November is Memoir Writing Month

November 17, 2016

I realize we are more than halfway through the month of November, but if you haven't yet discovered the many free tips about memoir writing from The Memoir Network then don't delay. Denis Ledoux offers a cornucopia (to use a fall harvest  style word) of inspirational and practical writing tips for anyone working on a memoir, or making plans to do so.

When you write you need to ask questions - ask yourself about how you relate to your memories. Ask others in your circle of friends. Use your five senses. Probe and reflect.  I thought today's tip (Gather Details for a Memoir) had some particularly good suggestions. All month long I've been getting the free tips delivered to my email account. You can, too!

If you haven't started a memory list, your really need to do that. It will make it possible for you to always have something to write about.

Leon, Leonard and John

November 15, 2016

Leon Russell, Master of Space and TimeLeon Russell, The Master of Space and Time, passed away on Sunday. He was 74 and a giant of music and songwriting. He was one of those guys who did his own thing, recording the type of music he wanted to play and not following the typical path of many who get into the business. He established his own record label early on (Shelter Records), he was a session player on records with just about everybody, from Frank Sinatra to the Beach Boys, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton and the Rolling Stones, The Ventures, the Monkees, Herb Alpert, Phil Spector's Wall of Sound Orchestra and countless others.

He was in the houseband for the 1960's TV show, Shindig. They were called the Shindogs. Leon was a striking figure by the time he played a raucous set as part of the Concert for Bangladesh, with his long hair, beard and top hat. That was the first major benefit concert, one organized by George Harrison that brought together an all star lineup. Leon wailing away on "Youngblood" and "Jumpin' Jack Flash" brought the house down! Leon Russell also was the music director for the barrell house band of "Mad Dogs and Englishmen" for Joe Cocker's historic 1970 tour.

Russell kept recording and playing live and he defied categorization. Blues, gospel, country, island music, jazz, R&B and rock n' roll - he played it all with aplomb.

He had a wide range of admirers. Elton John was heavily influenced in his early days by Russell and late in life they collaborated on an album, The Union. Leon finally got inducted into the Rock n' Roll Hall of Fame after that. Check out the NY Times tribute by Jon Pareles for more indepth coverage of Leon's life and music.

Leonard Cohen, the incredible singer/songwriter from Canada died a few days before Leon. His resume is impressive and he also continued to record and play throughout his life, although he also spent time in a Buddhist monastery. The man had a big soul and was very profound in his songs, such as "Anthem" with the chorus, Ring the bells that still can ring; forget your perfect offering; there is a crack in everything; that's how the light gets in.  Yeah, man.

Tying all this together was a conversation I had with my longtime friend, John. He and I went to college together in the 70's and we also worked together in radio. John still broadcasts; he is the morning man for KRCL in Salt Lake City. I called John today. We hadn't talked in a while and a lot has happened lately that I needed to connect with someone that I have shared many memories with. We've been to concerts, partied together, traveled the sober path, too, and all through it there is the music and our lives. John is from Oklahoma and grew up with the music and the legacy of Leon Russell. He was the right guy to call - I just needed to talk to an Okie.

Our lives are full of experiences, shared or not, and each of us has a purpose and a reason to do what we do. Leon, Leonard and John show that so well.

Veterans Day 2016

November 11, 2016

Veterans History Project

"All gave some; some gave all."  This is the famous saying about our Veterans. Certainly it is a great sacrifice to give of your time for your country, to serve in the military, especially in the extremely challenging and dangerous situation of war and combat. The highest sacrifice is to give your life for your country. Today, November 11, is Veterans Day, the day and national holiday we officially remember all those people.

One of the great personal history projects are the many interviews and stories preserved through the Veterans History Project. This is one way the United States collects and preserves the extraordinary wartime stories of ordinary people. It is overseen by the American Folklore Center. I have information about the Veterans History Project on this site here.

Stories, parades and memories shared are chronicled by Bill Chappell for National Public Radio and featured here. Lots of good stuff. Thank you to all the veterans for your service.

Hey, Hey, My, My, Post Election Sigh

November 10, 2016

It has only been two days since the election in the United States, but it seems like a month. This was an historic election on a number of levels and the outcome was surprising to many.

I avoid discussing politics on this website as the purpose is to encourage you to reflect about your life and ideally preserve your story for others. But the U.S. Presidential race was hotly contested and it appears that it was more than just divisive. Most people found themselves choosing between two candidates that they couldn't get excited about. It is an indication of what many people feel about the current state of government and political leadership. So many are unhappy with lack of progress, economic gain, and real equality for all. 

Donald Trump is President-Elect, winning enough electoral college votes, although Hillary Clinton won the popular vote. It was a close election and that shows that there is a real need to find some way for America to work together, to find common ground and build a better future. There are a lot of questions and concerns about what will happen.

As a personal historian I encourage you to live your life to the fullest, to find ways to help others and share your talents and life lessons. Politics, religion, work, education, art, music, sports, philosophy and food are just a few of the important things that we all deal with and likely have strong opinions about.

May we all find our way and remember that we are not alone and should not be isolated. Life is not a straight line from birth to death. It is more like a meandering stream or a winding labyrinth. We are all on a path and our journey will have twists and turns. Don't let fear or worry or pride, greed or ego get in the way. Peace and joy are your trusty companions.

Dog Almost Gone, But Grateful He Is Not

November 7, 2016

I thought my dog, Shadow, was going to die this past Friday.
My dog Shadow
I came home from school and got the leash to take him on his daily walk. Usually he is wagging his tail like mad, barking and anxious to go. This time I had to call him to the backyard gate. I got the leash on and headed out to the floodplain that we usually walk around that is conveniently located by my house.

When we got out to the start of the walk I noticed that Shadow seemed to be dragging. I looked over at him and was immediately alarmed at his foaming at the mouth and his wheezing. Oh my!  I thought.  He's eaten something toxic.

But that wasn't the problem. I rushed him to an animal hospital and they diagnosed a spontaneous pneumothorax. Collapsed lung in plain english. That was quite troubling. We still don't know what caused it, but after some expensive treatment including pulling air out of his sides, he was breathling mostly normally.

Shadow, a Chow-Labrador mix, has been a faithful dog for 12 years. This chowbrador accompanies me on walks and I've become attached, just like most pet owners would. To realize he could suddenly die was a sobering thought.

I don't want him in pain, suffering or being miserable. If his time has come I will do the humane thing. I thought maybe we'd reached that decision when I took him to the vet on Sunday. But he's been improving and a blood test showed things pretty normal. So he has some pain pills and a reprieve. He was wagging his tail more enthusiastically at the vet visit, maybe to let me know that he wants to stay alive and kicking. I am keeping an eye on him and wary about his condition. But I am grateful he is still with me. 

Four years ago I wrote about Shadow and how he is Doggone Grateful and I thought you might want to read it.

Cubs Win and Chicago Goes Wild

November 4, 2016

It's been a couple of days since the Chicago Cubs won a classic seventh game over the Cleveland Indians in the baseball championship known as the World Series. The matchup between the teams was terrific and the drama of a seven game series made every baseball fan's heart beat fast.

The Cubs broke a 108 year drought. The last time they won the World Series was in 1908, a very different time than today. It is a long time for a city and a franchise to wait for a championship. The big W is waving wildly now and the Windy City was pretty ecstatic today with a downtown parade and an estimated 5 million crowding the streets to celebrate their team. It was like Ferris Bueller's Day Off times ten. No longer are the Cubbies the "lovable losers".

As someone who is both a big baseball fan and an avid history buff this kind of moment really made my day. The Cubs are not my team. I am a lifelong Boston Red Sox fan. But I can relate to how the long suffering Cubs fans feel now that they are enjoying the sweet taste of victory. It wasn't that long ago (2004) when the Red Sox ended the "curse of the Bambino" and won a World Series after many excruciating near misses at a title. For Chicago it was an even longer wait; they hadn't been in a World Series since 1945.

You also have to pay homage to the Indians. They played great and deserve kudos despite coming up short. Both the Cubs and Indians are poised to be good for the next few years. With the Series over it will be time for thoughts to turn to Winter, but for every baseball fan Spring will bring the promise of a new season with hope and excitement. For now, Chicago, it is your turn in the spotlight. Savor the moment.

Everybody has a story to tell!
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