Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Fall Sunday TV

I suppose I’m a couch potato to some extent. I like watching baseball, football, and golf on television. And be advised that my gridiron and diamond days are behind me. I do enjoy a round of golf when I can. But the exercise I participate in most is a good brisk walk either through the neighborhood, or most recently, up and down some moderate hills at Englewood Metropark’s South Park.

So when I found myself sitting in the recliner at 2 pm on Sunday, I was presented with an intriguing dilemma: When the Bengals - Steelers game came on at 4, what would I watch? The perpetually struggling Bengals -- ‘my’ local NFL affiliate -- or the PGA’s Tour Championship’s final round starring Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson?

First, let me say that I am not a fan of violence. The lovely Cindy Lou can watch countless hours of Law & Order, NCIS, and CSI: Wherever, evening after evening. Of course, I usually come through the room when that episode’s brutal murder is discovered and I get my minute of gore that drives me back to my basement cave to watch Red’s baseball or play on my Mac. Cindy tells me she finds watching the human drama of solving the offense entertaining. Good for her. To me, though, it just seems like ‘man’s inhumanity to man’ repeated hour after hour, day after day. I’ll take sports.

I wrote a couple weeks ago about loyalty. I do feel loyalty to the Reds and the Bengals. They are my teams. Unfortunately, both groups of athletes have been mediocre at best for the last twenty years. I’m not kidding. Twenty years. It’s been hard to get excited about either team one third of the way through their seasons, because by then they’ve lost enough that the hope of playoff excitement is faint to nonexistent. The Reds have rallied lately, coming all the way back to just 16 games behind the division leading Cardinals. Let’s face it. One watches Reds’ games for the joy of winning one at a time, not for the thrill of knowing they’ll be playing in October.

I like Tiger and Phil well enough, but they aren’t my guys. Shoot, they’re everybody’s guys. You don’t root for Tiger to sink a 20 foot putt and win the FedEx Cup because he’s local. You do it because he is perhaps the greatest golfer of all time and you have the opportunity to watch golf history in the making.

The biggest deal for me is the competition. And that’s why I found myself watching more golf than football on Sunday. And, I suppose, I watched more golf because it is the game I currently play. It’s not about hitting another player and knocking him senseless. No golfer deflects another golfer’s drive just to make the next shot tougher. No golfer gets down in another golfer’s face when a long putt is being lined up. It’s a gentleman’s game. I mean, there aren’t even any umpires. Sure, the PGA has officials on hand to interpret rules, but they don’t determine strokes for anybody. Along with missing shots, a golfer signing an incorrect scorecard is the controversial stuff that loses tournaments.

In golf, it’s the player against the course, the weather, and himself. While you don’t see a beaten defensive back congratulating a wide-out for a spectacular touchdown catch, you do see golfers congratulating each other for that long putt or chip that finds the hole. I know when I play golf, my opponent congratulates me for a good putt. And I do the same. It’s not about humiliating your opponent. Golf is about making the shot, then recovering from that shot if it wasn’t perfect. Some of the most amazing shots I’ve seen Tiger make were from pine straw, under trees, finding the green, leaving only a 10 foot putt. Now that’s amazing.

Still, I have to admit, I switched back to the Bengals during commercial breaks. And on Sunday after Lefty won The Tour Championship and Tiger had his FedEx Cup in hand, I was surprised to see the Bengals down by only five against the defending Super Bowl champs with five minutes to play. Even when the Bengals pulled ahead with 14 seconds to go, I wasn’t comfortable. Only when the clock ticked down to zero did that little spark of hope rekindle and I thought, ‘Maybe playoffs this year?’

Today’s elder idea: ‘This team is a very good football team. If we eliminate the immature mistakes, the sky is the limit.’

Tank Johnson

Cincinnati Bengals defensive tackle

following a 23-20 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers

Friday, September 25, 2009

59.5 music

When you were a kid, were you one of those who gleefully announced you were not just 8, but 8 and a half? Somehow that extra few months made you a little bit more sophisticated, or smarter, or more aware, or something.

Well, in my case, a couple of days ago -- on September 23 -- I turned 59.5. Not that getting this far is any great shakes, but I must admit, running up on 60 feels different than any other birthday I’ve had so far. I remember hearing someplace that a woman’s 40th (or was it 50th?) hits her harder than others. Then I heard a man’s 50th (or was it 60th?) hits him a bit differently. All I can tell you is that deep down in my brain #60 is working on me more than 50 ever did.

But aging isn’t the reason for this post today. It’s really more about music and that deep-seated interest some of us have had for years to play disc jockey.

Ever since I delivered the Journal Herald, Dayton’s old morning newspaper, back when I was in the sixth grade, I’ve been collecting recorded music. ‘Back in the day’ the collection was all on vinyl in 45 rpm format. I still have that old collection, too. Not that I play ‘em any more, but the collection is still in tact. The biggest chunk of those old 45s even got numbered and indexed in a carrying case. Remember those? Well, I’ve got two of them, plus a slew of other records that never fit in the boxes. And I’m proud to say that the first dozen or so pieces in the primary catalog are all Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. Shows what I really liked back then. It’s tough to beat ‘Sherry,’ ‘Big Girls Don’t Cry,’ and ‘Walk Like a Man,’ you know?

But I suppose it was with the advent of cassette tapes and in-car tape players that my penchant to make playlists began. I’d mix and match songs, even audio clips from VHS movies, on high-quality 90 minute cassettes to create collections of stuff that, on many days, sounded better than radio in the car. On long trips the tape collections sounded better, too, because with them playing in the deck, I would never drive out of their ‘range’ like I could with radio station signals.

Now, like many of us, I listen to music digitally. The CD collection is much deeper than the old 45 and album collection ever was and takes up pieces of wall space in both my office and a walk-in closet upstairs. But the most recent game-changer, in my view, is mp3 format. With the content of many of my CDs now stored in iTunes on my Mac, I can create myriad playlists that can be truly delightful. Which leads me to 59.5.

A few years ago, while sorting selected mp3s into another generic e-playlist, I hit upon the idea of creating a unique eclectic collection containing both oldies and new stuff that somehow just fit together and felt right -- and would sound great in the car. Voila! The numbered semi-annual collection from Tom Schaefer was born. While I don’t have rights to duplicate these discs and distribute them, I do burn a handful of copies and share them with a few friends, most of them classmates who share my birth year. Each collection comes due on my birthday and 'half-birthday.'

I do wish I could make you copy of 59.5. More than that, I wish I could write more about why each piece on the one hour collection made the final cut. This time around, I did figure out how to add some ‘liner notes’ inside the printed playlist inserted in the CD jewelbox. I’m feeling more like a DJ / record producer with each new collection! It's my hope that when earthspeaks.org gets reorganized this fall, early winter, I'll have a 'playlist' link that will give more detail on these semi-annual collections.

So, for your reading enjoyment -- sorry it can’t be listening -- I present the 59.5 collection:

1. Wasted on the way Crosby, Stills & Nash

2. Love at the Five & Dime Nanci Griffith w. Darius Rucker

3. The older I get John McCutcheon w. Tom Chapin

4. Koji Island Paul Winter Consort (from Crestone)

5. Morning star Susie Ryan, Nadan

6. Sing the changes Fireman (Paul McCartney)

7. Stand by me John Lennon

8. Berkley woman John Denver

9. Brave Idina Menzel

10. The load out Jackson Browne

11. Stay Jackson Browne

12. You are goodbye Holly Conlan

13. Africa Toto

14. Somewhere over the rainbow Tori Amos

15. This is me Cheryl Wheeler

I could send you a copy if you asked really nice. ;-)

Today’s elder idea:

To all you out there -- all you moms and pops, you cats and kittens that always make a show a show. Thanks so very much for having us over. Keep smilin'. Be sharp. Be careful. Bye bye. Buy bonds. And love you, love you madly. Got to go now. Got to see a man about a record.

Gene 'by golly' Barry

hip rock disc jockey on Dayton’s WING (c. 1965)

Monday, September 21, 2009

Church going

I am one of those kids from the 1950s who was raised Roman Catholic and attended parish- and parent-supported Catholic school from first grade through high school. Kidergarten was spent at Dayton Public’s old Belmont Elementary with Mrs. Benz, afternoon session. Other than that, it was Catholic school the whole way until I got to Wright State University.

As a young Catholic, I grew up thinking everything Catholic was good, true, and beautiful, and all other Christian church-goers were kidding themselves. We good Catholic kids were taught that we were the only ones with bona fide keys to the kingdom, and everybody else might be well meaning, but were on the centuries-long wrong road created by the likes of Reformationists Martin Luther and John Knox.

Much of that thinking changed by the time I finished grade school. One of my heroes, John XXIII, was elected pope in 1958, and by 1962 had called the Second Vatican Council in which the universal Latin mass was dismissed in lieu of using the local language. Ecumenism was also celebrated, which promoted unity among Christian churches around the world. Those are pretty big changes for a kid to digest, but they surely felt right.

I’ve always felt loyal to the Roman church and because of a ‘values based education,’ thought it essential to send both my daughters to Catholic schools as well. Neither girl currently attends church, nor did either one feel it necessary to baptize any of our three grandkids. Kind of makes a guy reassess priorities, you know?

I can’t speak for my kids. I know them and their spouses to be thoughtful adults who have made decisions about their and their family’s religion and church going. Somewhere along the line, they have decided that church teachings and promises don’t work for them in the real world. We’ll have to talk about that some time.

And for me, a divorce and remarriage put me on the outs with the Roman church. I pop off now and again saying, ‘I could have committed murder, been forgiven, and be welcome at the communion rail.‘ But divorced and remarried? No such luck. I have committed an unpardonable sin and am no longer welcome at their table. It doesn’t make sense to me anymore, which is why I left that church and am now an accepted Episcopalian. Frankly, I was amazed how familiar the Anglican/Episcopal Sunday liturgy was, complete even with the Nicene Creed, which professes the ‘holy catholic church.‘ I am not the first to refer to the Episcopalian church as Catholic lite. And the fact that Episcopalians ordain women and have this past summer invited gays, lesbians, and trans-gender folk into full communion when most other churches still think homosexual coupling a damnable sin, warms my heart. I’ve always preferred an open hand, inviting souls, rather than excluding them.

But if I am totally honest, I must admit that some of what Christianity teaches doesn’t work for me even today. I love being in community and find it important in keeping my head turned the right direction in a frenzied world. Through Christ Episcopal Church (Dayton), I have participated in work crews helping to rebuild a post-Katrina New Orleans; and currently chair Waffle Shop, our 80 year-old seasonal fundraiser, with the majority of proceeds going to Outreach Grants. The work, the talk, the sermons, the community of church-goers works for me.

But what of heaven and eternal reward? Sorry, I just don’t buy it. (If heaven is real, can you imagine how it operates? How many folks are ‘up there’ by now? Can you imagine the cafeteria line at lunch? Yipes! ;-) I have this deep-seated feeling that what we experience every day -- here -- is what life is. When we die, our turn is over. There is no heaven out there as a prize for being good. Or, unfortunately, a hell for being bad. I don’t mean to call anybody a liar. Let me just say that whatever Jesus taught about his Father in heaven, and our place in it, needs another explanation for me to understand and accept.

So, I am a professed agnostic, I suppose. I’ll believe it when I see some proof. But in the meantime, I must say that churchgoing with people who want to make a difference in the world by serving others is a mighty good way to spend some time every weekend. It keeps me focused, thankful, fed, and humbled by this wonderful world in which I live. Works for me, even if it is a hybrid belief system that doesn’t fit anybody’s orthodoxy.

Today’s elder idea: It is the role of the church to give of itself for the world's reconciliation, not preparing man for heaven.

Rev. Gordon S. Price

Christ Church Rector Emeritus

Dayton Daily News (28 March 1982)

photo: Working in New Orleans, February 2008

Friday, September 18, 2009

Loving Ohio

I know I’m late with this weekly entry, but as a blogger who tries to post on Sunday or Monday, I was a bit occupied this past week beginning. On Sunday afternoon, late, I headed out for a solo camping retreat at John Bryan State Park near Yellow Springs, one of my favorite places in all the world.

Sure, I love the mountains and the shore, and JB surely isn’t any of that, but it is a geologically special place with Clifton Gorge and towering limestone cliffs protecting the Little Miami Wild & Scenic River below. And fall in Ohio? If you know Ohio and you don’t think fall is the best season around here, you have probably been watching way too much football or are too tied to your Wii gaming system.

Fall in Ohio is, and has been this season, just spectacular. When I got to John Bryan about 5 pm, I got a pretty good sweat going setting up the camper. It only takes a half hour or so to complete the task, but it was warm. Low 80s, I think. However, when I pulled up my lawn chair and popped a cold one, I dried off nicely, and frankly enjoyed the cool breeze coming through the campground. Just exceptional.

The sun was amazing, too. It surely has headed south from its overhead position on June 21, summer solstice. So, much of the afternoon had that golden tone of diagonal light. Emily Dickinson wrote of that ‘certain slant’ of winter light. We’re not there yet, with the sun being so sharply south for us northern hemisphere types, as it will be on those rare sunny January days. But now with the leaves just beginning to turn, the sunlight glowed through branches, the humidity wonderfully low, to combine for a mental image that has the potential to sustain a body through the greyest of Ohio winters. And the sky this day? As I like to say, ‘high blue’ without a cloud.

Sitting in my own private corner of the camp ground gave me the panorama of a nicely treed, rolling field with very few campers to enjoy the spectacular late afternoon. Trying to explain it now, I guess Sunday’s conditions could be considered intangible, sort of. Unless you know already how gorgeous Ohio’s falls can be, descriptions sound full of overused superlatives.

Heavens, but the squirrels sure were busy. As I sat in my chair for the first time, I was amazed at the dull thuds I’d hear every few minutes all around me. The campground is full of walnut trees, and trust me, this year was great for walnuts. The trees still looked fully freighted, yet there were plenty already on the ground. And I could see squirrels working the branches, knocking nuts off the already mostly leaf-free walnut branches. I’m glad I set-up the camper away from one of those monsters. I’d have dents on the ceiling, let alone doing damage to my little SUV.

Sitting in the JB campground brought back a good memory set here in verse:

When I was a boy

Perhaps it is this very place near Clifton

where my first memory of a state park resides:

I am not more than four. My parents

have taken the five of us for a picnic outing,

though I don’t remember the food at all.

What I do remember is my young mother

hurling her shoe into a tree aiming for walnuts

to lose their grip and thud earthward.

They became the day’s special prizes.

I learned that day, too, that handling

wounded walnuts, or trying to strip the epidermis

away to get into the sweet nut center, leads to

fingers and hands stained with markings

unwashable, a reminder of a good day

with Mom & Dad, Patty & Mike,

when we all were younger and perhaps

more able to laugh a little easier.

Still, Mother remembers even today,

still laughing.

Today’s elder idea: Here comes the sun / Here comes the sun / And I say, ‘It’s alright.‘

The Beatles

from Abbey Road

photo: Footbridge over the Little Miami River in John Bryan State Park, September 2009

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Green bean casserole with a Bosnian twist

Back in 1995 when Cindy Lou and I were pretty much newly-weds, our social consciousness was alive and well when our hometown of Dayton became famous for reasons other than automobiles. The war in Bosnia and Herzegovina had been raging for three years as we Americans tried to understand the cultural differences between Croats, Muslims, and Serbs. We Daytonians were particularly honored to have peace talks between these warring peoples held right here in our own backyard at Wright Patterson Air Force Base. It’s still a point of pride to hear about the successful Dayton Peace Accords that brought a version of calm to that part of eastern Europe.

During that time, too, we became aware of refugees trying to get out of that war zone and relocate in the United States. A retired priest at our downtown Episcopal church was working for Church World Services then, a group matching up refugees with local American sponsors. It didn’t take long for us at Christ Church to wade into the fray to see what we could do.

As it turned out, Cindy and I found ourselves at the center of the discussion. After talking with friends and our pastor, I was given the go-ahead to contact the placement people to let them know our church would sponsor a family. Our message was met with gratitude as we were advised it would take perhaps a week or more to get a family from a refugee camp in the Adriatic all the way to us in the Midwest. Good, we figured. That would give us time to iron out a few more details.

Only it wasn’t a week or more, but only a couple of days before we got the call that our family was in the air making their way to us. A couple from church offered a rental home at a very reduced rate, but such wasn’t ready yet. We had to make room -- and now.

So Cindy and I decided our home would have to do for the short term. We only had one bedroom to spare, but we figured it would have to do. As it turned out, our family was Muslim, which further thickened the plot. We knew little about Muslim eating habits as we shopped the El Halal grocery down on Wayne Avenue. We surely didn’t want to offend the newcomers with meat butchered in an unclean way.

The Issa family stayed with us for a little more than a week. As it turned out, diet wasn’t a big deal. They were very pleased with whatever food we could put on the table for their family. And therein is the kernel, or should I say the bean, of this blog entry.

This past Saturday Cindy and I were invited to dinner at the Issa house. To be accurate, we were invited to dinner at Suada Issa’s house. Since 1995, much has happened in this family. Divorce, for one, and growing kids for another.

The oldest boy, Elvin, now a Wayne High School graduate and a proud member of the United States Navy, had just returned from his old hometown of Banja Luka, Bosnia, which he hadn’t seen since he was 8 years-old. He brought back lots of family video for his mother to savor. He also had seen his natural father for the first time since he was 6, and wouldn’t you believe it, was just engaged to a lovely Bosnian girl. Suada invited us over to hear her son’s stories and share a meal.

On the table? Steaks nicely grilled over charcoal, a fresh loaf of bread, some pasta salad, and green bean casserole, complete with mushroom soup and topped with dried onions. I commented on how lovely the meal was, when Suada remembered the first time she had the casserole was at our dining room table so many years ago. It was then that Elvin fondly remembered Sugar Smacks, or Kroger’s version of the same, for breakfast way back then.

I was moved then, as I am now, hearing this hearty bunch of folk remember how we had fed them at the beginning of their American adventure. New foods, new favorites, good new memories.

Again, I find myself blessed to be remembered as part of something peaceful -- and wholesome -- that has given this family an opportunity to live a fuller life. I am honored to have been mindful when others were in need.

Today’s elder idea: ‘I need somebody.’

Alyssa Brown

then a 5 year-old, reaching out for adult friends,

coming out of the dark an hour after going to bed