Sunday, December 13, 2009

On the Second Night of Hanukkah

blog post photo I participate in a community called Our Jewish Community Online a website (found at www.ojco.org.) which is based in a suburb of Cincinnati, Ohio. Because Hanukkah (or Chanukah) started last night, I wasn't able to post before the online candle lighting (live last night due to Shabbat.) Subsequent candle lightings are being taped and put on the website as well as on Facebook where the organization also has a "Fan" page. I've noticed a few from my home state logging in. Hope you will check it out, too. Each night is being filmed at a different location. Past Shabbat services and Hanukkah candle lightings are archived for viewing. The first night is at the following link.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Losing Marbles?

blog post photo
I was watching an episode of "Dirty Jobs" the other night on the Discovery Channel network. Those who view the program regularly are familiar with the format. Mike Rowe takes on "dirty jobs" and they range in content to fairly straightforward to downright disgusting.

The recent episode I watched had a segment about the creation of marbles. It was the second time in the past year that the thought of "marbles" had rolled around in my head (sorry, couldn't resist the set-up!)

While watching the segment, I realized something that was mentioned. Does anyone play a game of marbles any more? Was my generation (the first post-World War II generation) the last to really play a game of marbles, or are they still played in some really rural areas, not distracted by cable television and the internet?

My older sibling and I played marbles when I was a child, and I confess that I was actually one who preferred just collecting them than actually playing a game with them. The latter hazard would occur if you played a game of "for keeps" with your agates or "aggies" "cat's eyes", etc. You also could lose those big shooters that looked like huge gumballs, sometimes referred to as "jaw breakers." (like the huge round candy of that era.)

One thing that was mentioned by the person who owned the marble making factory visited by Mike Rowe was that while marbles are still made, primarily for floral or aquarium art, the older marbles are collected. Some can cost up to several hundred dollars, depending on the material used (gold has been used) to create them.

I scanned a few Internet sites that discussed the game of Marbles, and discovered that the game originally started in the American colonies with boys using musket balls (hopefully, there were no fatalities from hard strikes!) Also, several people left messages bemoaning the fact of trying to teach their children and/or grandchildren how to play a game of Marbles, and those younger people found it reported more than once, "boring."

I'm going to have to look up information on the game of "jacks"--because I don't see that played too often these days, either.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Writing and NPR


Years ago, I could not see myself typing on a computer which was also providing a background of soothing music, but here I sit listening to an NPR program which has played both classical and meditation music during this particular time period in the evenings. This particular program is called Night Moosic by Bob Mooberry.

I've become quite the fan of NPR--National Public Radio lately. Not sure what to attribute it to. It's not like it is the first time I've listened to NPR in my life. I'm familiar with Prairie Home Companion, Car Talk, All Things Considered and a few other programs which are NPR staples, but tuning in one night, I came across this program hosted by Mooberry and have enjoyed it. It's a nice thing to end the day with, even when I'm not sitting at my computer. Another piece of technology, my iPhone has helped me link to NPR.

While it would be perhaps easier to catch the NPR feed from a station closer to where I live, that particular station is often filled with music related to the culture of the area where I live. I'm not a big fan of  the regional music, so that makes me look for stations farther afield to listen to so I can get my NPR fix.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

National Novel Writing Month Continues...Time Marches On!


I haven't been blogging as much as I had intended because I'm deep into the National Novel Writing Month project. I don't see myself reaching that desired goal of 55,000 words but I've been astounded at how many words I've churned out. Sometimes, I have had problems because I've gone back and inserted thoughts that have come to me later, instead of just letting the whole process flow through me (as the organizers of this event encourage you to do. Sort of a "Don't think, just write...") Their email "pep talks" have been fun to read, and make you want to push on, even if you know you won't make that desired goal. After I quit fretting about that huge number, I started finding that I was typing slower than my thoughts were going.

Thank whomever for word processing on computers. While it is a sign that I no longer find myself writing things down in a creative flash like I once did, at least I can read what I've written. My handwriting has waned as my reliance on technical devices has increased.

Interestingly, a side effect of this month long project has been reconnecting with my creative side and inner voice (creatively speaking) I have been amazed at how poems are beginning to get out of my head and onto a screen, if not on paper. It's still tangible and not abstract when I've recorded it in my computer's word processing program.

One lovely thing about writing this way, as opposed to handwriting or even using typewriters (remember those?) is that I can now magically edit, either subtract or add words and phrases without scribbling, erasing or blotting out changes in thoughts.

So I've actually got a novella at this point! Who knew? My last long non-academic writing project--a short story--wasn't this long. I'm well over thirty pages at this point (longer than any academic papers I wrote,) even though with that goal of the 55,000 word count, I don't think I'll make it to the equivalent of 175 pages. But it's opened the floodgates!! I'm so happy I got involved in this project and hope to keep going after November ends!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Beliefs in Conflict


Someone I've known since my early years in college and I have gotten reconnected after many years. He was a grad student, I was a Freshman. He was my mentor as I was writing poetry outside of my classes. I'd met him through my Freshman English teacher who is now his wife of over 25 years.

Creatively, his guidance was, and is, invaluable. However, we don't "meld" when it comes to issues of a spiritual nature. "Poetic Owl" as I will refer to him, to protect his identity, sent me a link related to the topic of religion, more specifically, religious beliefs and I have to admit, the title of the website is intriguing to me.The website is titled "Why Won't God Heal Amputees?" and is a series of writings to promote the idea that the concept of God is largely a "fairy tale" for people who aren't "rational." While some would refer to such people as "atheists" the writings on this website mention that the term "atheist" is not appropriate, because it means that you have to acknowledge the existence of God to deny it. If you don't believe in God in the first place, why should you deny it. Point taken. The website goes on to state that at least three major religions: Christianity, Islam and Mormons (which I guess is not considered under Christianity, due to the rather different teachings espoused by that group (in the past, I saw Mormons list as a "cult" in some places.) Curiously, I saw no mention of Judaism, Hinduism or Buddhism. But perhaps I didn't read the material too closely.

In the website, if you deny the existence of God from the outset, then you are not an atheist, you are a "Rationalist." By virtue of believing something else that can't be proven, you are labeled "Irrational." The writings go on to divide rationalists and others, as "well" and "sick or delusional."  I do not see myself as delusional and think of myself as fairly rational. But that is my own self-interpretation. I do understand why someone might differ in opinion.

I'm fairly open-minded in my belief system, and I shared my thoughts with my friend and mentor. I don't wish to express the long, circuitous discussion I had with him via emails, but ultimately, I politely said this is just a case where we will have to agree to disagree. I am not seeking to convert him, and though he denied wanting to convert me to his thinking, I had to wonder. Or was he seeking validation for his views? I respect him, but again, I disagree.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

National Novel Writing Month is Here!


I decided to plunge into something I hadn't done in many years. Writing creatively at length. I'd written a few poems here and there, done some journalistic writing for area newspapers, started blogging (at one time having three going...which can prove exhausting!) but had not written really at length since leaving academia.

While reading someone's blog entry, I learned (for the second time) about Nanowrimo, otherwise known as National Novel Writing Month, which occurs every November. The rules are fairly simple. You sign up, preferably by November 1, and write about 55,000 words until Midnight November 30...or you can stop at 55,000 before that time and upload your work to Nanowrimo.org, the website. While there are amusing anectdotes about people who have written the same word 55,000 that really isn't "playing fair." But no one is going to come to your house to scold you or send an angry email with a reprimand. It's all about being creative. It's also helping someone like me, who has had ideas floating around but just not "quite ready" to put them down on paper (or into the computer word processor) to finally get that creative "mojo" working again. It's amazing how fast the words add up, especially if you're just listening to that creative voice within and not worrying about punctuation, correct grammar (though your computer program will probably help you with that) or anything else that might seem intimidating if you're you own worst critic. Never mind those past rejection letters you've gotten. Just write...for the fun of it.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Back from vacation....


What is it about vacations that make them so short? I just returned from a four day time of peace in an area where I once lived in Tennessee. If you live in a town where the leaves never change colors, or only have three "seasons" to them, as I've mentioned before "green, brown and dead," maybe you never know the gorgeous riot of color that explodes in autumn in areas in other areas of the US.

When I was a child and adolescent, I thought of living someday in an area like Florida and/or Hawaii: sunshine, ocean breezes and seeming seasonal stability. I spent the first eighteen years of my life in areas where the seasons came and went in a predictable cycle. But then I moved to an area, never intending to stay, where the weather is usually hot and humid for a VERY long time, with no lovely sea breezes to abate the sweltering temperatures. There's a small window of transition from hot and humid to cold and humid. Notice the humidity sticks around, it just shifts in terms of temperature.

I know there is the "pain" of  living in areas where the colors all tumble off the trees and you have to rake them into infinite piles...or so it seems...until the season of winter sets in, but it seems like a small price to pay, metaphorically speaking, to view such wondrous displays of color. And like most things, you never really appreciate it or them, until they aren't part of you life. 

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Halloween and Havdalah


 If you're Jewish (or just curious,) ever wonder what to do when two events "collide"? In this case, the end of Shabbat coincides with Halloween. Edmon J. Rodman gives you the answer to this dilemma below.


October 21, 2009

When Havdalah haunts Halloween



There will be no eerie glow coming from your Havdalah candle on Saturday evening, Oct. 31. No boiling or toiling in your Kiddush cup or smell of sulfur in your spice box.
Shabbat will be ending, Halloween beginning, and you can use this time to light up their differences by creating a Halloween Havdalah.
It’s not that I am proposing a Goth Shabbat.
Each October our print media gives us umpteen articles about how to carve a pumpkin. Here we will also be carving, but for a totally different result the medium will be time.
What I am suggesting is using the transition from Shabbat to Halloween to accentuate the distinction between Holy Shabbat time and the secular every day.
Recent surveys show the average American home with children will spend more than $50 this year on Halloween. How much will we be spending on Havdalah?
Requiring a braided multi-wicked candle ($4), a little kosher grape juice or Kiddush wine ($4), and some cloves, nutmeg or cinnamon in a shaker, Havdalah is a wonderful atmospheric observance whose rewards continue long after the costumes have been put away and the candy gobbled.
The October horror story isn’t whether Jews celebrate Halloween—it’s now observed largely as a secular day—the story that should have us shaking is whether Jews celebrate Shabbat.
Work’s necessity makes us forget: There is an almost tangible distinctiveness to Jewish time.
Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, in his classic book “The Sabbath,” speaks of Shabbat as a spiritual place, a “palace in time.”
Using the drama of Havdalah to take leave of the palace helps create a defining change of scene, especially before you and the kids head out into an October’s All Hollow’s eve.
The heart of Havdalah can be found in the phrase “ha’mavdil bain kodesh l’chol,”—“distinguishing between the sacred and the secular.” The name Havdalah comes from the verb “l’havdil,” to separate or distinguish.
Some Jews even say the word l’havdil when they want to make it clear that two things are much different, that they have no business of even being thought of together.
With Havdalah you are saying l’havdil between Shabbat and Halloween, expressing that there is a difference.
For a text for your service, most prayer books have a page or two for Havdalah. A little light on prayer books? Go online.
Rabbi Amy Scheinerman of Beth Shalom Congregation of Carroll County in Maryland has prepared a service complete with Hebrew transliteration, including a tip on how to create a homemade Havdalah candle. She suggests using warm water to soften two or three Chanukah candles and then twist them together.
You can also simply hold two candles together with wicks intertwined. Be sure to wrap foil around the candle’s base for a holder.
Wait till you see three stars to begin. Doorbells may be ringing; the kids restless. Look up to the sky, hold your ground (with three boys, it’s familiar ground) and go for the full difference between darkness and light.
Lower the lights. Light the candle and hold it up. Read the first part about deliverance. In contrast to the fear and shock themes of Halloween, the first line ends with resolute words for both child and adult: “I am confident and unafraid.”
Say Kiddush, the blessing over the wine. Don’t drink yet.
Kiddush wine or grape juice is a simple drink—not Halloween bubbling punch or a Bloody Mary. It’s sweet and hopefully so will be your week.
Next, pick up the spices, “b’samim,” say the blessing. They are a kind of smelling salts to revive your post-Shabbat spirits. Shake them, fully breathe them in, then pass them around. So much of Halloween is a me-me-me grab fest; b’samim is a communal pleasure.
Bless the flame. Two or more wicks burning as one broadcast, especially in a darkened room—no jack o’ lantern or blinking skulls required—the difference between light and darkness. To remind yourself of the difference, hold your palms up toward the candle, curve your fingers inward and see the shadows they cast.
Say the final blessings about God creating everything and everyone distinctly different, as well as distinguishing between the sacred and the everyday. Drink some wine.
Put out the candle in the wine. My kids loved doing this. Listen to the sizzle as the candle is quenched. Better than any sound effect, it is the sound of Shabbat ending and the new week with all its promise beginning.
Sing “Hamavdil,” a feel-good song that connects the blessings of Shabbat to the rest of the week. One verse goes: “Our families and our means, and our peace, may God increase.”
It’s our own kind of candy.
Now, wish each other a “shavuah tov,” a “gutte vokh,” a good week; no “boos” allowed.
Close the ceremony by singing “Eliyahu Hanavee.”
Better than any costumed character or mask, we have Eliyahu, who legend has it ascended to heaven in a fiery chariot. We leave the door open for him at the seder and invoke his name here at Havdalah, hoping for a time of Shabbat-like messianic peace—a time without candy wrappers, fake fog or cardboard skeletons.
(Edmon J. Rodman is a JTA columnist writing on Jewish life from Los Angeles.)

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Green, Brown, Dead...I'm a "Leaf Peeper"


I finally got a "diagnosis" for: "Autumn Envy." I am a "Leaf Peeper." So says Raina Kelley in a recent issue of Newsweek magazine. Ms. Kelley's article identifies those of us who trek to her area to view the lovely autumn colors she sees yearly as a New England resident as "Leaf Peepers." She is tired of the tourists who make yearly treks to her area just to admire leaves that she and others in her area will have to rake up. I guess I can understand her distress over that, but unless you have never been exposed to the colors of leaves changing, or just have a fondness for greenery year round (which seems a little unnatural to me,) the splendor of autumn colors is wonderful. Or that's the way I see it.

While I have lived in the southern United States my entire life, I did live in areas where the leaves changed colors reflecting the changes of the seasons. I took it for granted, even though like Ms. Kelley, I recall raking leaves or at least helping put them in piles as my parents labored. It was worth it though.

After graduating from high school, I went off to college in an area where the autumn and winter weather is reasonably mild compared to say, New England. The longer I stayed in this area of heat and high humidity (where I still reside because I married someone native to this region) the more I began to realize that there are only three seasons here: the leaves are green, brown, then dead (if they fall off the trees when it gets to freezing temperatures.)  No vivid golds, purples and crimsons signifying seasonal changes, except in random cases.

The other thing I took for granted in the more "northern" southern states was a big shock to my husband. Visiting the Birmingham (Alabama) Botanical Gardens one year, something scampered across our path. My normally calm husband was startled and said "What was THAT?" I, of course, asked "WHAT?" He pointed. I looked at him and calmly stated "O that's a chipmunk!" It was then that I realized my husband, raised around the flat lands of  a southern state only knew chipmunks from the old "Chip n Dale" cartoons of our childhood.

Last year, we made a trek up to where I lived in Tennessee briefly as a child. It was autumn. I was in heaven, and so was my husband. We are going back to be "leaf peepers" there in a couple of weeks. I hope one day to return to the visible seasonal cycles, even if snow is part of that scenario. Just not TOO much snow. Which probably means, unlike Ms.Kelley, I won't ever be a resident of New England. But perhaps one day, I'll make the trip up there during the height of autumn, just to be annoying.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Holocaust Experience in Eighteen Hours?


Christian school wants to simulate Anne Frank’s hiding with sleepover
> Posted by Akilah Johnson on October 9, 2009 01:29 PM (Mentioned in Tablet Magazine online)

The eight-grade class at Bethany Christian School is having a co-ed sleepover. The goal is help students better understand Anne Frank, the Jewish girl made famous by the posthumous publication of the diary documenting her experiences hiding during the German occupation of the Netherlands in World War II.

Jennifer VanHekken, or Mrs. V as students know her, said her class has been studying "Anne Frank: Diary of Young Girl" and thought it would be a good idea for them to spend 18 hours together in her classroom.

So starting at 4:30 p.m. today, her 14 students will turn over their cell phones, iPods, laptops and other gadgets that must be plugged into the wall. They also can’t bring any snacks because they’ll be eating potatoes, bread, carrots, coffee and oatmeal — pretty much what Anne’s family ate during their two years in hiding.

The kids aren’t allowed to leave the room, other than bathroom breaks, until noon on Saturday. Boys and girls will be separated during sleep time.

“It is my desire that through this project, our students will better appreciate the difficulties faced by many Jews who were in hiding during WWII and have a fresh view of Anne Frank’s life,” Mrs. V said in a letter sent home to parents.


There are problems with this "Holocaust Experience," even though the exercise was a possibly well-meaning attempt to help students understand the Holocaust which ended the lives of over six million people during the 1930s until 1944.

Eighteen hours of deprivation for students in the twenty-first century may be difficult, but there are elements missing in this "experience." Unlike Anne Frank and others who experienced that dark period of history, even with food and technological deprivation, the students could realize that at the end of eighteen hours, they would be able to walk out of this experience and return to a normal life without the dehumanizing "processing" done at concentration camps, crowded conditions, illness, and the constant fear of death, uncertain times of restriction, abuse, separation (often permanent) from loved ones.

While I am fairly certain that the teacher meant in no way to minimize the suffering of those who endured dehumanizing conditions and terrifying experiences, I feel a better way to approach this would have been to have a survivor talk to the class. Granted, the survivors are slowly becoming few in number as the years pass, but they have the best way of discussing their experience with students and gauging what is age appropriate in the telling of their memories.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Rewriting the Bible

I heard this item below on a recent news broadcast (I believe it was The Rachel Maddow Show on MSNBC.) Until then, I didn't know that such a rewriting of scripture was in the works.



Conservatives Find Bible Too Liberal
So they’ll write a new one

By Marissa Brostoff | 3:00 pm October 13, 2009

Conservapedia, the right-wing version of Wikipedia, has launched a project to eliminate what it considers liberal bias in modern versions of the Bible. Part of the problem is translators who throw around words like “comrade” and “labor,” according to Andrew Schlafly, the website’s founder (and son of anti-feminist crusader Phyllis Schlafly), and part of the problem is, well, some teachings of the Bible. An improved version, according to Schlafly’s guidelines, will not be “emasculated” or “dumbed down” as leading evangelical versions of the Scriptures apparently are, will “accept the logic of hell … as in not denying or downplaying the very real existence of Hell or the Devil,” and, most amusingly, will “express free market parables”—which might be a stretch given that, as Stephen Colbert pointed out, “the meek shall inherit the earth” is most certainly a bunch of “liberal claptrap.”

The irony of the whole project, it seems to us, is that Schlafly is far from the first to politically reframe the Bible or other sacred texts—but that’s usually the province of liberals, because they’re not religious fundamentalists. It’s one thing to update a man-made text you believe is both valuable and problematic; changing the literal word of God to suit your political ends is quite a different story.

The Bible: Lost in Conservative Translation [Guardian]

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Life, Interrupted.....



One problem with blogging...You can get burned out if you do too many too often--I have had three (including this one) running in the past year. So I took a break, and decided to pare down my blogging time. Hopefully, I'll be here more often. Life also got "in the way" with various changes occurring with my job, spirituality, and relationships.

In recent months, due to the email relationship I've maintained with a person I met several years ago, who was only in my area for a year, I have found a new spiritual road. Check out:

OurJewishCommunity.org

Rabbi Laura Baum (whose photo is above, that's not my photo) served as a rabbinical student with the Jewish community in my area. She has developed a wonderful website which is worth checking out, regardless of your religious background. It's multimedia, and as is the current phrase "Spirituality for the 21st Century."


Monday, July 20, 2009

Sunburn and Lunar Wonder


Forty years ago today I was a teenager spending a month-long vacation with my family in Florida. There were two things that made today etched forever in my memory: the first lunar landing and a case of sunburn I received from fall asleep on the beach.

Since the space program has fascinated me from its beginning, like millions of others of that time, I stayed up late to watch those grainy black and white images on a television relayed back to those marvelled by the wonder of it all, reported by Walter Cronkite who shared in that sense of wonder and astonishment. There were those who said (back on earth) that the whole thing was a stunt filmed on earth in either a sound studio in Hollywood or Death Valley. Fortunately, those "conspiracy" believers were in the minority.

I remember after the excitement of watching the lunar landing walks and bouncing by astronauts Armstrong and Aldrin, trying to sleep, but the sunburn and a historical milestone that seems so much nearer than forty years ago, keeping me up longer than I'd ever been awake in my life at that time.

I had hoped, like Stanley Kubrick, that by 2001, the world would have made greater strides in the space program, but such has not been the case. Perhaps one day, astronauts will venture out beond the moon, and I hope I am alive to see that event. Sunburn, however, is something I never wish to experience again

Sunday, July 5, 2009

R.I.P. M.J.





I learned about the death of Michael Jackson when someone told me while I was chatting online with them the day the news broke (Actress Farrah Fawcett had died earlier that same day.) Like many people, I was in shock. Fawcett's death was sad but not unexpected given her long struggle with cancer. However, Jackson was an extremely gifted and talented individual, but a seemingly deeply troubled one as well (some labeled him "weird", others made less kind remarks to the press--even after his recent death--judgments that his soul has now gone to "Hell") and growing speculation about drug dependency is not a surprise.

Before the pedophilia issue, before controversy over his changing looks, I had enjoyed Michael Jackson's music back to the days of the Jackson 5 when I was a teenager. I enjoyed several of his songs in his later years as a solo performer. The song "Billie Jean" was not a favorite of mine beyond the televised "moonwalk" MJ revealed to the world at the televised Motown celebration, but that dance move impressed me. I wish he'd stopped his physical transformation after the release of the album "Thriller." The video of "Heal the World" can still move me to tears.

There would come the revelations (not surprising) that Joseph Jackson abused his sons to get them noticed by music companies at an early age. There is a long history of "stage parents" and it continues today in the form of baby or children beauty pageants and even over-hyped reality programs using the term "talent shows." All a disturbing trend for money and fame.

I'm going to remember Jackson for his talent, which also probably led to physical problems and as speculated, drug dependency. Toward the end of his life, Jackson had altered his appearance so much that he gone from a cute boy to a man obviously with too much money and not enough self-esteem. His music will live on as part of his legacy.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

D-Day and Veterans: 65th Anniversary


Take a moment to remember those who participated in D-Day on this date six decades ago, and their efforts. The survivors of that day are dwindling each year.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Dehydration and Dysentery

I was horrified to find out recently about the following matter during a national news broadcast: troops in Iraq have been enduring a water shortage caused by red tape. If you think the heat is bad in the southern United States, think about the 100+ degree temperatures endured by US troops in one of the hottest areas on earth. Things became so bad for some of the soldiers, they resorted to drinking water from local sources: the result? Dysentery. If the thought of exposure to the swine flu makes you nervous, imagine what the troops are facing. When I first heard the news of this, NO ONE had stepped up to make something happen. Hopefully, news of this situation will anger enough people to insist on correcting it. Immediately.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Lest We Forget


Just finished watching the first part of a multi-part series on HBO network titled The Alzheimer's Project.

I was anticipating this program with both positive and negative feelings. In this first segment, it introduced six participants in this project afflicted with Alzheimer's. Despite some definitely sad moments, there were amazing ones and fascinating ones as well. One participant keeps a blog. You can link to it here: Living with Alzheimer's.

The fascinating thing is that someone can keep a blog (I corrected the spelling of the title) and give insight into the progression of the disease, keeping his sense of humor somewhat intact, at least while the cameras are recording. Joe did tear up, however, while talking about knowing what having this disease means, and living with that diagnosis. Another gentleman could still perform with a singing group he'd belonged to years before without faltering on one note while he was singing. But his short term memory loss was evident.

I did experiencing negative feelings during the program, only because I know what that diagnosis truly means. I had a parent who was afflicted with Alzheimer's who died three years ago this past week. The grief is still fresh at such times of the year. Like Maria Shriver who co-produced this series, I also know what it is like to not only see the brilliant mind of a parent deteriorate, but live in the shadows of the specter of Alzheimer's myself.

While I await the next episodes of this series, related to research and family interactions with those afflicted with Alzheimer's, I also hope that a cure can be found in my lifetime. No one deserves this disease, and like many diseases, few are immune to it.

The photo is of my father (the younger and at the time, shorter, of the two boys, who was to later be afflicted with Alzheimer's) and one of my uncles from a childhood photo published in their hometown newspaper when they enlisted during World War II.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Crazy Love: Not What Van Morrison Sang About

...love, love, love, crazy love....---Van Morrison (Crazy Love)

I just recently finished reading a book titled Crazy Love by Leslie Morgan Steiner. Unlike the lyrics singer Van Morrison evoked of "smitten" love in his classic song of the same title, Steiner writes a book about her own descent into infatuation turned violent. It is an account of her relationship and marriage to an abusive man. I could relate....a little.

Steiner's often brutal account of her relationship then marriage (the guy's name is disguised, but the tale of Steiner's account is all too real) to an abusive person is troubling, but worth reading if only to educate people who don't understand the dynamics of abusive relationships.

While I was in college in my early twenties, I was involved in two abusive relationships. I wasn't stupid, I thought I was in love, and fortunately, I guess, the "abuse" was emotional not physical. It was related to self-esteem issues. A common thread in such relationships I'd find out. Even if you start out "smart," love can change your perspective.

I later worked at an abused women's shelter and saw and heard situations much worse than what I had experienced, even though I had also been stalked for several months in the days before stalking was labeled a crime.

I recommend the book with hesitancy. It is painful to read at times, but if you don't know that much about abusive relationships, it will definitely make you aware of how relationships that seem so "perfect" can be so harmful...and sometimes deadly.

Last word...Steiner obviously survived her abusive situation to write this book as a cautionary tale for others who sometimes are "crazy in love." As the saying goes: "Knowledge is power."

So Much for Civil Discourse...Dealing with "Blowback"

This is from another blog I have through a newspaper I read online. My "alias" there is "Writerleft"


I expected to cause a stir when I posted my previous blog entry. But after over thirty posted comments to my statements (at least I know I'm sometimes being read, even if I don't always use precise grammar) here's what some of you may have overlooked (that's an assumption on my part, and you possibly know what is said about the word "assume.") I did not condemn all forms of interrogation used by the US military and the agencies designed to protect US military or citizens of the US or other nations. I don't know what techniques interrogators use other than the ones I've heard or read about (waterboarding, sleep deprivation, blindfolded drops from different levels, loud continual music, humiliation verified by published photos, personal religious items torn apart and flushed down toilets, etc.) But waterboarding...seeing it on videotape played repeatedly during debates about this, is just horrendous to me. Easy solution? Turn away, turn off the television, stay silent. I cannot. I still view the technique of waterboarding as a form of torture, and I know I'm not alone. I also chose to bring up the topic because of all the coverage it is currently receiving.

Nowhere in my prior post did I suggest that we (i.e. the US government) have the alleged or confirmed terrorists sit around in comfy chairs, "while holding [their] hands," sip tea and eat cookies and say to them "My, what a predicament we have here. Won't you help us and hand over the information, please?"

As we as a nation allow waterboarding (one man reportedly was waterboarded over 100 times, and still hasn't provided really useful information,) we as a nation are alienating ourselves from other nations, and quite possibly helping in the recruitment of others into organizations like Al Qaeda, because of continuing to waterboard. I've also read about and seen videos of the beheading of persons like journalist Daniel Pearl by Islamic extremists, and it sickens me. So I'm not unaware of what is done.

In regard to some of the comments, I found some unnecessary written attacks. One wrote something referencing "beheading" I would probably receive from terrorists if they were here, which I thought odd, considering I was merely expressing an opinion as a citizen of this country which obviously wasn't clearly understood or thought about calmly. All Muslims are not terrorists. I knew when I posted my comments that I was going to touch a nerve in some. I understand the right to disagree with what I've said, but personal attacks are unnecessary. Same in regard to referring to someone as "liberal" like it is something akin to excrement.

As far as my political feelings expressed as a "rant" by one comment, I mentioned that I was aware I was "on a soapbox." The last time I got on a "hot topic soapbox" was pre-Internet, writing a letter to the editor of a newspaper for publication. Because I expressed an opinion on a "hot topic," I received a threat of severe bodily harm, because at the time, all letters to be published had to have both the writer's name and address provided for publication with the letter. The interesting thing was while I had to provide this information, others, like the one who threatened me, could respond anonymously and mail such a letter to my residence. I have no problem with disagreement as long as it doesn't involve a threat or an unnecessary attack. I can respect others who disagree with my views, but expect...or at least hope for...respect, myself.

One writer commented that it is "torture" to stay in uncomfortable places while hunting, fishing, or just plain standing. That's not the same "torture" to which I'm referring. I gave a specific example of an interrogation technique. I was not talking about personal or recreational inconveniences.

Some made comments assuming that all my views must be a "typical liberal" (whatever that is.) I've voted for candidates "on both sides of the aisle" as is the phrase now. Politically, I'm more in the center, hence the double pun "RIGHT OR LEFT" (and I write, sometimes seeing things in a "left" perspective. Sometimes on the political right.) Get it?

If you've been reading my blog for a while, you know I've remarked that it was disrespectful in my view to have a shoe thrown at a US president, even a president I didn't agree with at the time he was in office and that shoe was thrown at him, and I didn't find the endless parodies about the incident that funny. Though I agree with many who think Bush is/was one of the worst presidents in the history of this nation, and for many of his actions while president, he and some members of his staff deserve prosecution.

As for another comment, Yes, I do remember the previous Gulf Wars (if you looked at my profile and did the math, you'd know that) as I've worked with veterans of several wars whom I respect and I remember the tyrant Saddam Hussein and his confirmed atrocities. But there was also a lot of talk after that horrible day in 2001 about capturing Osama bin Laden. What bothers me is that we could find Hussein, but with military power and continued surveillance, we can't locate bin Laden despite information obtained. I always had this feeling that GWB was trying to accomplish something GHWB, his father, could not, by focusing on Hussein and not capturing bin Laden as well. Why? My guess: Iraq has oil. Finding Osama bin Laden is less important.

Waterboarding Sean Hannity

This is from another blog I have online as "Writerleft"

Religion and politics are two volatile subjects I try to stay away from at least in a public forum, but my activist hackles are up more than ever. If I hear or read one more article claiming that waterboarding is NOT a form of torture, I may just go off the deep end (sorry for the pun, as this is really a serious subject. Deadly serious.) I can't even bear to watch the repeated videotape showing this form of "interrogation" being done in the name of this government. Isn't the United States supposed to be THE example of humanity and legal adherence above any other nation on earth? It's a rhetorical question. I know the answer.

Sean Hannity has decided that waterboarding is not a form of torture. Ditto Rush Limbaugh (for Limbaugh devotees, I couldn't resist the use of the word "ditto"--and you know who you are!) Glenn Beck has also refused to see waterboarding as torture. Do I sense that the whole Fox News group thinks waterboarding is like standing under a waterfall? It seems that way. It's either insanity or uber machismo to think waterboarding is a harmless interrogation technique (Rush Limbaugh was on videotape slapping himself in the face proclaiming "I'm torturing myself." But that's Limbaugh theatre again.)

Well, someone has issued Hannity a challenge to his "Waterboard for Charity" idea. Keith Olbermann
of MSNBC is going to pay a charity $1000 for every second of Hannity's nifty little idea that "waterboarding isn't torture" view if Hanity puts his body to the test of waterboarding.

While I'm on my soapbox, I'll admit I'm disappointed that Obama has backed off the idea of immediately seeking prosecution for the former executive branch of Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld et al. I do hope he changes his mind. If Bill Clinton can get impeached for an act that unfortunately is common among a lot of politicians, what the heck is the hold up for prosecuting these people who got us into a war under pretense, put thousands of our sons, daughters, wives, husbands, mothers, fathers.. you get the point...in harm's way? Not to mention the casualties and wounded. And I'm talking about OUR troops, not other nations'.

So, Mr. Hannity, I'm waiting to see how harmless you think waterboarding is. Mr. Olbermann, get out your checkbook. Let's see how much charity earns from this.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Glow Worm and Spike Jones

I've been reading a blog written by someone who recently took a break in his history lessons about a city nearby to think about lightning bugs. I grew up knowing those little bugs as "fireflies" and learned a song on the piano during my lessons in childhood titled "The Glow Worm," yet another reference to "lightning bugs" albeit in their larva stage. As they mature, they are called "glow flies" by some. While I was reading the blogger's post, I not only thought of my piano playing days, but the song as interpreted by the late, great, Spike Jones (not to be confused with the person Spike Jonze.) While tracking down a version of this song on Youtube.com, I came across the song being sung by The Mills Brothers, a popular group back in my childhood. That's version was probably when I first heard the song, as my parents liked The Mills Brothers. Then there was the Spike Jones version. If you've never heard of Spike Jones (and his band of City Slickers) and you like parody songs, Spike Jones was famous for them. My parents were fans of Spike Jones, so I grew up hearing the performances on vinyl records, but never saw Jones and his band perform live. My father told me that those live performances he saw during his military service in World War II were like a three ring circus with so much going on during the performance it was dizzying. The music, mostly songs from the 1940s onward would often start off in straight, lush orchestral arrangements of the chosen song, sometimes with a vocalist, then in a matter of minutes, disintegrate into a form of musical chaos, silliness and laugh-until-you-cry (especially if you were a child) madness. When my parents died, I inherited those albums and still treasure them decades after first hearing them.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Laid off, again


To borrow and slightly re-write a phrase from Lennon & McCartney: "I got the news today, o boy..." When I actually had heard the news circulating about cutbacks happening due to the economy, despite my hopes, I knew it was just a matter of time until the axe fell for me. In my working history which spans some three decades, I've been laid off twice before, due to budget cuts related to the economy taking a downturn. As always, it starts with a meeting with the boss I have at the time and the phrase: "I have some bad news...." Consequently, I get a knot in my stomach every time the boss I have at a job says "I need to talk with you." It never gets any easier, even when the job I'm losing this time (a government-related position) is one I was overqualified for from Day One. It was supplemental income, so at least this time I'm not totally out of work. Yet. I have another job to rely upon which I notified today about the need for additional income. My boss there said "Sorry about you being laid off from that job, but we could really use you more here since things are getting busier." So, there's that, with hopefully no more bad news in the near future.

Fortunately, none of this affects my love of writing (that's job number three...with sporadic income involved--so I've never been able to view it as self-sustaining income, but self-sustaining in the personal satisfaction area of my life.)

I'm very grateful that I will be able to continue to bring in a steady salary this time. In the past, it was frightening to lose a job and not have one "in reserve." Perhaps I've learned from past experiences the need to have another job as back up.

I feel for those losing their jobs in other areas and hope that they are fortunate enough to find something quickly in a declining economy. Here's hoping the gloomy economic outlook passes faster than currently predicted

Saturday, January 10, 2009

My Journey through Judaism


"Good Shabbos," "Shabbat Shalom." These were greetings I learned from two separate temple congregations I attended in my fifteen year journey through Judaism, the last decade of which I dedicated myself to Judaism by the act of conversion.

Normally, I am hesitant to discuss my spiritual journey, because I think of such things as personal, individual matters. I'm not an evangelist seeking to convert people to my way of thinking. But in light of the recent news related to Hamas, the Gaza and Israel, which has extended to organizations seeking membership of "We stand with Israel" between Christians and Jews, I thought I would share the story of my journey through Judaism. Any reader of this, I ask only one thing. This is my journey, not yours, so I would like respect shown to what I share.

I became interested in Judaism at a young age by way of several paths. One was learning early from my Christian parents that without Judaism there would be no Christianity. Jesus was Jewish. But that brings up another matter I've learned over the years: the perception of the man known as Jesus, the historical and theological aspects meshed with cultural aspects, myths and legends. But that's another topic of focus.

The second path which brought me to Judaism was, as with others, study of the Holocaust during the twentieth century, and I did, indeed take coursework related to that historical period, one of the worst in human history. Notably, it began with the diary of Anne Frank, which has been revised over the years as more details have been released (and I own each new revision.) But Anne Frank was part of a traditional European view of Judaism which was rather alien to me as an American. Of course, her family's suffering touched me deeply.

When I started college, my journey through various religions gained momentum. I attended a Jewish temple but felt a bit of an outsider because I didn't know that much about the culture beyond what I'd read. While the temple is Reform in spirit, (the more liberal branch of Judaism) like other small temples in the area outside of major cities, the congregation tends to be an amalgam of those raised in the Orthodox tradition, the Conservative tradition (the more moderate) and the Reform tradition. Various views accompany such a mixture in one group, but that doesn't make it bad. Just different.

Years later, when I committed to Judaism by conversion, I had no intention of leaving it. I'd studied with a rabbi to whom I had to journey several hours because he was in another region than where I lived. I shared some of my thoughts on the transformation and he provided feedback--the humorous aspect of this study was that I had read the texts he suggested over a period of time when I wasn't actively seeking conversion. As I joined another temple congregation, also small, and like the first, without a full-time or even part-time rabbi, I tried my best to adapt to a congregation which relied as many small congregations do, on lay-leadership and monthly visits by rabbinical students (who are often referred to as "rabbis" or "teachers" by congregation members...but I think that title should be reserved for those who make it through the difficult learning process akin to seminaries known by Christians. But that's just my view.)

I became involved in lay leadership of Shabbat services on Friday evenings and inquired into a program aimed at deeper lay leadership training known as "para-rabbinical studies," though it has gone through many name changes over the years. While the congregation with which I affiliated did not discourage me, they did make it known that they had functioned quite well for years without a person with para-rabbinical training so that they felt I should just do the training if I wanted it, it wasn't necessary for the congregation. It was a double-edged view. I wanted to serve my congregation, my Jewish family in a broader sense than just Friday evening services, so I felt the training wasn't thought of as necessary but it was what they knew. I was supported in my attendance at the regional conference where several thousand Jews attend to worship, to learn and to become an engaged community for several days. It was an awe-inspiring and deeply satisfying experience for me spiritually.

As time passed, I found that the congregation to which I belonged had a much more "help society as a whole" approach in their thinking than one of weekly religious observance or spiritual inquiry. This concept was not, of course, a bad one, but it was not what I personally was looking for in my own concept of community. Perhaps this was related to their own upbringing, I don't know. But it was rare to find many people at the weekly services unless it was the monthly visit by the rabbinical student, and of course, during the time known as the High Holy Days (or Holidays) in the Jewish Year, or an event like Passover. It reminded me a lot of those Christians I'd known who go to Church twice a year: Christmas and Easter. Likewise, sports took a greater significance in the life of many members than did weekly services or spirituality (as it has in my experience as a Christian member of a congregation,) so the small congregation attendance was very small during some sports seasons, and sports, not spirituality seemed to be the topic of interest.

I did meet people who enriched my life, but my spiritual life, always more introverted than extroverted languished because I had only one other person (also a convert) who engaged in spiritual discussions with me. When I decided to leave the congregation after much prayer and meditation, I called up my friend who like myself was a convert, and broke down in tears as I discussed my difficult decision with her. Fortunately, our friendship remains beyond the bounds of spiritual interests.

Perhaps if I had been more "extroverted" or been a member of a larger Jewish congregation, I would have found a home for life. I blame no one for what happened, but I did return to the religion in which I was raised, and fortunately a denomination which allows a person to think differently than some Christian denominations. As a resident of southern Louisiana both in college and for a few years following, I heard many stories from "ex-Catholics" or as they sometimes call themselves "recovering Catholics." It is something to which I cannot relate. But that is another "journey" story.

Do I regret my journey through Judaism? Not really. The end result was not what I would have liked, but knowing myself as a spiritual seeker, I reconciled myself to following my heart, or as one friend has summed up such a journey: "Go where you are fed spiritually."