Sunday, September 27, 2009

Flash Forward to ...

Flash Forward to...."I have asthma!"

During the first segment of the new drama series "Flash Forward" there was, indeed, a lot of drama. Some would call it melodrama. There was noise and smoke and fire and blood and wreckage, and the segment ended with "our hero" (played by Joseph Fiennes) standing firmly with legs planted apart, surveying downtown Los Angeles in alarming disarray, with intense music playing. But the next words I heard were "I have asthma!" What? Is that part of the drama, along with the other weird things we're supposed to notice? No. It's a commercial, and it made me laugh out loud. How am I supposed to maintain an attitude of concern for the entire planet and all who live on it in the face of asthma (which to be sure is no laughing matter, but still...)?

But I continued watching, and I probably will watch the show for a while, despite the feeling that this show is SILLY. For one thing, the Mysterious Date of April 29, 2010 is a big birthday for me, and maybe they'll all be celebrating ME at some point! Why not? It could happen. If the entire planet could suffer a 137-minute blackout and clean itself up in a couple of days, why not have a party?

Monday, September 21, 2009


Cliff Monahan was a friend of my daughter, Andrea. For a reason that I can't explain he always intrigued me. It could have been his intelligence, his humor, his abhorrence of tv, his dedication to causes. Something. He was taken by a brain aneurysm while he was in his backyard, and although he died in a way that many of us would envy, he was only 55 years old, and it's hard to be philosophcal about the loss of such a positive force in the world. Godspeed, Cliff. By now you know whether God is benevolent or not.

Clifton Michael Monahan
(February 12, 1954 - September 15, 2009)
Dr. Clifton Michael Monahan died suddenly on September 15, 2009. He is survived by his mother Ellen Crowley Monahan, his sisters Leigh (John) Monahan-Fullbrook and Leslie (Mark) Peterson, brothers Russell (Kathy Semak) Monahan, Tim (Bill) Monahan and John (Barb Mailloux) Monahan, neice Colleen Monahan and nephews Jeff and Greg Monahan, and his especially his close friend Barb Bloetscher. Cliff was born on February 12, 1954, and grew up in the Detroit area. After two years at the University of Michigan, he spent a few years skiing and working in Jackson Hole, Wyoming where he began to develop his interest in animals. After studying horseshoeing at the Hillcroft School of Ferrier Science, he enrolled at Colorado State University, graduating as a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine. Never one to follow a standard route to happiness, Cliff signed up for service in the Peace Corps, working in Africa in eastern Zaire for over two years, assisting people with their cattle herds, other animals and basic needs. On top of providing much needed humanitarian assistance, he also accumulated enough stories to entertain people for years to come. After experiencing first-hand the conditions in Africa, Cliff returned to the USA, and began working on his post-doctorate studies at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge and later in Shreveport, specializing in parasitology and epidemiology. It was in the Veterinary School at the Ohio State University in Columbus where he really connected with students and became known for his sometimes off-beat style and road trips that provided up close and first hand knowledge of working with different kinds of animals. Improving the lives of people in Africa remained a great a passion for Cliff. He supplied laptops, PDAs, hard drives and other computer and internet equipment, delivering them personally to villages in Rwanda. He also loved working on the wonderfully terraced gardens he built around his house. His collection of orchids and other exotic plants decorated his front porch and backyard and filled the interior of his home in the winter. The family will receive friends from 5-8pm on Friday, September 18 at the Deyo-Davis Funeral Home at 1578 W. First Avenue in Grandview Heights where a memorial service will be held at noon on Saturday, September 19. In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to the Columbus Zoo or WOSU.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Once Upon A Time There Was A Guiding Light

One of my favorite short prayers -- Catholics used to call them "ejaculations" --is "Dear Lord, guide me and guard me." That's about it for me and guidance now. I don't do horoscopes, and I don't read self-help books any more. But there was a time when I watched daytime serial dramas, for me "the soaps", for some "my stories", for guidance in how to be a housewife. That sounds truly ridiculous to me now, but I was 20 years old and had no idea about how to run a home, what products to use, how to behave as an executive wife (which wasn't quite my real status) etc. Then I got hooked on the characters and the clothes until, for some reason I've forgotten, I was no longer hooked on Guiding Light or any other soap. I used to say that I stopped watching the soaps when my own life became one, but what that boils down to is that I was a single mother of four who found a job that interfered with my daytime viewing schedule. If only I had foreseen that there would be a market for publications about the "stories," I could have logged a lot more time on the couch and gotten paid for it.

One of the stories that I watched every day was "Guiding Light." Actually, I started listening to it on the radio when I was a child because my mother did. Now I have no idea about the Reva and Josh story lines and even though I've met their players, Kim Zimmer and Robert Newman, a number of times at the Hilton Head Celebrity Golf Tournament, I don't feel any current attraction. That's a good thing for me because the Guiding Light is coming to its conclusion.

Sixty Minutes did a segment last Sunday that reminded me of some things about the show and told me some things I never knew. I was very familiar with the early Bauer clan, whose generations lasted through the decades I watched, but I didn't know that "The original focus was inspirational, featuring a minister whose Guiding Light attracted the down and out, the lonely and the troubled." Was he a Bauer? I will probably never know and I will soon forget to wonder. But I will always smile at the recollection of conversations with friends of the day where we spoke about soap characters as though they were our friends too.

And as a fond final thought about the soaps, here's a memory that is about "Another World," a late-comer in 1964 to the money machine known as daytime drama. Somewhere in the 1970s, my father, who was then about the age I am now, was retired and sitting at his dining room table with his Scotch-laced coffee and calling out to the console tv in the living room: "Don't do it, Iris." This man who had emigrated from Scotland, made a good life for his wife and children, led a union local, and even survived death threats, was giving serious advice to a fictional character. I wonder now whether that was advice he really wanted to give me. Another thing I will not wonder about for long.

Farewell, Guiding Light. No one folded diapers better than I did when I was watching you.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Juneteenth 2009

Days of watching American politicians and pundits debate about how to handle the unrest in Iran and then I stumble across what I need, which is the feeling of connection to the people of Iran whose lives are at stake. The video of the rooftop communication, where people call out in the darkness to one another and to God, repeating "Allah-o Akbar", and where the narrator seems at times to be on the verge of tears as she fears for her country and shares her thoughts, is more than enough to make me care. I have been so wearied by the complicated names and the history and the blaming and the opportunism that I forgot about the people. And they are young people, mostly. I've heard several estimates about the unusually high number of those under thirty who populate Iran, and I wondered how that happened but didn't really think about how it would feel to be so young and in such straits. I found a Slate article about how that happened, and it's interesting, but now it's less important to me than the cries on the rooftops and the feeling of destiny that these young people have.

The video starts with a declaration of the date, June 19th 2009, and that reminded me of our own American Juneteenth, and for me the hook was in. I thought about last night's Hardball show, where Chris Matthews went off on a legislator (Rep Steve Cohen D-TN) who co-sponsored a fairly meaningless apology for slavery and other racial inhumanities and was so caught up in his own bluster (Matthews' bluster that is) that he ignored the date: June 19th, which isn't that obscure in its significance, especially considering the topic he was discussing and Matthews' own self-professed humanitarianism. It would have been nice if Rep James Clyburn D-SC had put in a reminder, but, of course, there was almost no time for him to comment at all, plus he had to get in his thought about health care. The past is prologue, not priority.

Anyway, Juneteenth 1865 is worth remembering and parallels what is going on in Teheran in 2009 because it's about FREEDOM. What's so very, very different is that in the 1860's news traveled so slowly that slaves in Texas weren't informed about their freedom until June 19, 1865, two-and-a-half years after the Emancipation Proclamation was delivered in January of 1863. Freedom isn't so easily denied in 2009. You can close the borders, expel the media, threaten freedom seekers with death and still they find ways to communicate with each other and the outside world. Allah-o Akbar! God IS Great. And He made the human spirit.

Friday, June 5, 2009

I Didn't Ask To Be Born

"I didn't ask to be born!" I don't think I ever said that to my parents, but I KNOW I thought it, and I know I've heard it from my progeny. Kids get away with a lot more disrespect than that these days, but that's not really my point.

Last Sunday's Wall Street Journal page in the now combined Beaufort Gazette Island Packet carried an intergenerational article about personal finance that is one of a series written by a father and son, the Yoders. Often I don't read them, but this one interested me. Isaac, the son, is musing about how he should deal with the good fortune of having successful, hard-working parents. He is wondering about what moral obligations might attach. He says that there are "two basic ways to approach this issue".

"The first way to look at it is that we kids have an obligation to take full advantage of the opportunities given to us because of our parents' hard work. This would mean immersing ourselves in the education provided, going on to get a good job and living life in a way our parents find acceptable. This choice seems like the natural answer, but it also seems to mean that privileged children have to live indebted to our parents, always with something to pay them back for. In other words, we'll always live our lives according to their standards. That doesn't feel quite right.

"The second approach would be to say we kids have the right to basically ignore our parents' expectations. It wasn't our choice to be born. If we follow this argument, we could claim full moral freedom to go in any direction in our lives without feeling like we had to make decisions that our parents would be happy with. There would be no shackles and no indebtedness. This approach feels even further from the truth."

No one has ever asked me for advice on this question, but if they had, I think I might have said something like what Isaac's father, Steve, said, which was maybe not so much about obligation but more about recognition of how his son's good fortune was achieved. He said, "Your debt, like my debt and your mother's, is to the generation before us who passed blessings down to us. And it's to the countless others in the world today who are not as blessed."

I say "recognition" rather than "obligation" because the former sits lighter with me. Obligation is constant and feels less free to me than recognition, which I may choose or not. But with that small distinction and not much difference, Steve Yoder is describing what is for me a way of life. Long ago I was taught about the "haves" and the "have-nots" with a sense that I should always care about social justice. But as an adult, I have chosen to live intentionally, every day, with gratitude. It's true that there are days when what I am grateful for is that things are not worse, but even on those days, I am aware of the blessings in my life, and I thank God for His company.

So whether I asked to be born is irrelevant. I'm here and I live in a world with billions of other souls. I don't feel guilt for my comforts, but I DO appreciate them, and I DO wonder why I have them. And I wish for others every measure of peace and ease that has been given to me and more. I wish for young people who are just starting out the wisdom to see their own way, to not be burdened by unfair expectations, but also to be free to make use of their own special gifts. This is not a particularly easy time to be young. The pace of living is fast and the choices are many as are the temptations to waste precious time. But life goes so quickly. You wake up and you're nearly seventy years old. If you're so blessed as to get that far.

"For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more." Luke 12:48

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

I DO have a guilty pleasure.

OK, OK, OK...I do have a guilty pleasure. In fact, I have a lot of them. It has taken me all month to decide which I dared divulge, and finally I've made up my mind. And it is couch-related. Maybe admitting I have this problem will help me conquer it, or at least help me WANT to conquer it.

Months ago, thanks to Paul the Pool Guy, I discovered the Real Housewives of Atlanta. Nothing housewifey about them, and I think their homes are outside of Atlanta, but for me it become like the soaps I used to watch while folding diapers. My "baby" just turned forty-one, so it's been a while. These women appalled me, but they also fascinated me in a weird way. And so I graduated to the Real Housewives of Orange County, and watched several seasons of them on a BRAVO marathon. I am so glad not to know these women or any that even come close to their superficiality. That's really saying something when you consider that some people consider Hilton Head Island a plastic fantasy island. On to the Real Housewives of New York. (By the way, I never saw any of these women use a Swiffer or buy a cleanser of any type. Nor was there any cooking or laundering or clipping of coupons.)

The New York women interested me the most, and there were a couple of them that I might enjoy but they probably wouldn't enjoy me. Plus, I would end up hating them as I stressed over what to wear when I met them. At least two of them are former models, and one of them is a Countess (and will remain a Countess now that she is about to become a single housewife). But I like Jill and Bethenny, and can take Alex. The others, not really.

So when the New York reunion show was over, I thought, well that's the end of it. I wasn't attracted by the promos for the Real Housewives of New Jersey. It seemed as though it would be some kind of a Sopranos knockoff, and truthfully, I didn't like the Sopranos, even though I grew up in that part of NJ. Anyway, and I can't explain why, I watched the first show of the RH of NJ and my eyes bugged out as I realized that two of the women are sisters and are married to brothers (not their own brothers) who own The Brownstone in Paterson, NJ. I immediately related. I guess it doesn't take much.

What probably got to me was a memory of family drama that took place at The Brownstone when I was maybe seven or eight. My mother was from a huge family and one of the cousins was holding a wedding reception there, and my maternal grandmother showed up, unexpected, and my brother and I were ushered into the bar area to say hello to her since my mother and she weren't speaking. Welcome to my childhood, which had more than its share of real housewives of New Jersey since my grandmother was one of six sisters, who cooked and cleaned and catered to the menfolk.

I will keep watching, guiltily. This week's episode is coming on in eleven minutes. And I hear they are casting the Real Housewives of Chicago.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Jhenya морская звезда

We're expecting! Yes, we're expecting another grandchild in our family. He's 2-1/2 and he lives in Siberia. He has a beautiful round face and blue eyes and blond hair and a sturdy little body.

Well, we WERE expecting. And he DID live in Chita, Siberia. This was the start of a blog I tried to write a while ago. And now, after weeks turning into months of waiting, and after two stays in Atlanta to care for the grandson I already have while my daughter and her husband went to Russia, Jhenya is at home with his American parents and his big brother Nicholas and Daisy the dog, ("sobaka" in Russian; "wocka" in Jhenya baby-talk). We have all learned to say "nyet, nyet, nyet" as little Jhenya explores his new surroundings. That's a word he knows and says frequently. He is, after all, two.

My daughter said she thought he hadn't been out of his orphanage to play since last fall and that it's unlikely he has ever felt grass under his feet. Now he has front and back yards and a playset and a driveway and an electric play car ("machina" in Russian) and a tricycle and rubber balls and tons of books and toys. But his favorite new belongings are his shoes. We think that shoes must have been prized at the "baby house" ("orphanage" in Euphemism).
May God smile on this child and both his families, old and new. I am so proud of my daughter (and my son-in-law) for having done so much to save this little starfish* (морская звезда in Russian) . May Jhenya one day come to know his Russian heritage as well as his American one, and may he always, always, from now on feel cherished and protected and loved for the very one he is.

*There is a story about a boy walking along the beach and, seeing hundreds of starfish stranded far up on the beach after the high tide, takes a few, one by one, and throws them into the sea. A man approaches and says, “What difference can you make when there are hundreds and hundreds stuck so far from the water?” The boy gives the stranger a quick glance, throws another starfish into the sea and says, ‘It made a difference to that one.”

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Ipod Writing Assignment

Oh, MH, I'm sorry that I have been remiss about posting. The problem is mechanical or ergonomic or something that has to do with equipment and environment. I'm down to using my desktop and it's in a room that's cold and my chair gives me a stiff neck. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Whose fault is that? Oh well.

Anyway, I do not have an actual Ipod, but I do have and love a Sony Walkman MP3. I chose it because I wanted something with an FM tuner. It holds only 3.5 gigs, even though it's sold as having a 4-gig capacity, but for me that's not a problem.

What's on it TODAY is a playlist I call "mood alterers", which includes some inspirational things and some miscellaneous tracks that always get to me in some way. A few make me weepy, and a few make me move. A weepy one would be "I Believe" sung by Barbra Streisand, and a mover would be "Walkin' in Memphis" by Marc Cohn. Thanks to Mycokerewards, I have recently downloaded a whole album called "Don't Quit" by Jake the body guy, but I haven't really listened to it yet. I'm thinking it's mostly high energy tracks that will motivate me to really, really move. If someone finds me collapsed on a leisure trail, blame it on Jake.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Elections have consequences.

Elections have consequences. How many times have we in the USA heard that about our own ballot box choices? And now in Gaza we see the bloody reality of the Palestinian elevation of Hamas several years ago. Of course the suffering and loss are terrible. To say that is to understate the destruction and the waste. Of course western countries, who are not getting the full effect of what the Arab street is seeing on all-carnage-all-the-time-blame-the-godless-dirty-Jew-infidels-and-their-Western-friends Al Jazeera, don't know the extent of the suffering. However, even the brief comments I've heard from English Al Jazeera on NPR are enough to convince me that what is happening is horrific.

This morning I heard a plea for context, and it included an abbreviated chronology of the provocations and responses from both Israel and Palestine since Israel was formed in the 1940's. It really didn't help. Yes, the carnage is beyond disturbing and tragic, especially among the youngest victims, babies and children. And my heart goes out to any mother who has to hold a dead infant in her arms. I have done that, and it was in a safe amd quiet funeral home, not a rubbled and noisy street. It was still enough to threaten my will to go on.

But who is giving Hamas the power to use their children and elderly as shields against the Israelis who have seen carnage too? Who thinks that the elimination of an entire ethnic group will somehow benefit them? The Bush administration was dismayed when Hamas was chosen by the Palestinian people over Fatah in January 2006. The ensuing Bush plan seems to have been to choke off Hamas in Gaza by making life ever more difficult with checkpoints and border closings to show the Palestinians the error of their "free and democratic" choice. And now we see Middle East "democracy" evolving with behind-the-scenes nudging from Egypt and Saudi Arabia and the USA. And Iran. With Chinese-made weapons.

However, This is what my hero Alexander Hamilton and other founders of the USA feared: That uneducated and poorly informed rabble would too easily be led to choose demagogic leadership even over their own self-interest. We cannot have security and order in the absence of an educated public and free access to information. There is no point to playing at democracy without those game chips. Let that be a lesson to all who think that politics isn't their thing.

Friday, January 9, 2009


The other day a person named Scott, whom I don't know but who is on a list-serv I follow, asked "How do you people stay so positive?" This particular list-serv involves some pretty heavy and uphill issues that are part of many of the participants' personal lives. Anyway, I hardly ever respond to this group but did this time and was happy that some others did too. Given the probable numbers of human beings involved though, it's a little like seeing a flower growing in an interstate asphalt crack. But maybe more people are thinking about responding than actually did. That's an optimistic possibility that I can live with.

How did I become an optimist? It's not in my nature. I am a dark brooding Celt, and I have many real things to brood about, like almost everybody I know. This hasn't been a very successful week, and I could write about that, but my camellias are in bloom and there have been a lot of blue skies and beautiful views from the bridges to the mainland, and I'd rather think about those things than about how to express the missteps and disappointments.

I feel as though I may have found a groove that works for me, where I'm comfortable just being me and where setbacks are tolerable and met with a sort of Desiderata-like understanding of the path I'm walking. Possibly the sense of inner comfort is coming from the knowledge that I have more time behind me than ahead. It's sort of along the lines that even if I'm on a wrong path, I won't have long to walk it.

My father was a late-groover too, I think. Somehow I always knew that he was concerned about the security of our family, but I don't think I realized that he might be making choices based on what he saw as his responsibilities. After my brother and I were grown is when he intensified activities that were probably always part of who he was. He was elected President of UAW Local 153 in Teterboro, NJ, not known for automotive plants, but for aviation plants. There were death threats. Unions can be tough. My father used to carry on such loud dialogues with his shaving mirror that my mother worried what the neighbors were thinking. My father stood his ground. It was as though no one could do anything to him that would be worse than losing faith in what he understood as his path.

I understand that faith. Maybe that's why I'm a late-groovin' optimist.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

How is this all going to work out?

How is this all going to work out? After we're dead, I mean. Really. Like everybody else I've heard the claims that we (Christians) will have new bodies and will see Jesus face-to-face and will have eternity with our loved ones. And many of us even believe we'll be escorted across the Rainbow Bridge by the beloved pets who wait for us.

But honestly, I'm having doubts. I haven't really wanted to dwell on the logistics of heaven, and I kind of liked the way the young murder victim in The Lovely Bones experienced it. She had some interaction with other embodied souls but the way I remember it is that it was her choice as to whether she wanted to be with someone or not.

What has brought me to this place NOW, and I truly mean no disrespect to the deceased is that someone who peripherally touched my life years ago died on Christmas Day. I read her obituary and was angry. Not listed among those having preceded her in death was a grandchild who died in 1992, a grandchild who carries her last name. I know this because I am the child's other grandmother and the mother of his mother, also deceased. I read about the deceased's eleven loving grandchildren and her daughters and her son, who fathered my second grandson and who has gone on with his new life and his new wife Phonita despite having left a trail of wreckage and sorrow in his drunken past. So I'm wondering how this family reunion will play out. Notice I'm assuming that all will be welcomed into heaven and that this woman is up there with my daughter and my grandson.

And since I believe I come from one of the world's most dysfunctional families, going way back, I'm thinking that I might prefer a cloistered spot in heaven to making nice with people who have been destructive to put it mildly. I wish them no ill, but I'd prefer to avoid them in heaven just as I have reserved the right to absent myself from them in this life. On the other hand, if this is one of those grand cosmic dilemmas where one has to choose between getting along with everyone and going to hell, well, kicking and screaming, I'll be nice to the other grandmother, God rest her soul.