Monday, February 1, 2010

February Moon

Under a crisp February moon
From the crossing two miles north I hear
A freight train’s warning tone.

At home, I can quickly tell
Which way the wind is blowing
By how close the trains sound.

I wish I were so sure with people;
Sometimes the polar shift is only evident
When the room’s emptied and I’m alone.
©2004 John I. Blair


Over the years I’ve gotten bold enough
To meet each day with modest confidence
Not much will hit I haven’t seen before;
I act tough and believe it.

But some things can crack this shell
And they attack from inside out
Where I cannot see them coming.

Like, hearing a strange ping
Under my car’s hood
Gives me a fright.

Hearing the night wind whine
In the trees outside my house
Can chill my spine.
And last Sunday morning,
Sitting in my place at church,
Ready, prepared and primed
To stand and sing a solo,
I felt faint, then flushed,
Then sweat slid down my face;
And when I stood, my knees quaked so
I thought I might fall down.

Whatever my calm self may think,
My body still has doubts, and lets me know
My conscious mind is not the only show in town.

©2003 John I. Blair

Cookin With Leo

By Leocthasme

Well, it’s been months since I’ve had a visit from my Dear Sweet Italian Fairy Godmother, and I wasn’t even snoozing out on the patio, too cold. But, she buzzed by one night while I was snoozing in front of the TV while watching ‘America’s Team’ get their tails beat by the guy who has been a Quarterback almost as long as my oldest grandkids have been around. Shows how long I been around too, more or less. Anyway she fluttered around in front of the TV so’s I couldn’t see the picture, well I muttered under my breath, “Ain’t that interesting, nohow.”

“Hey, li’l bambino! She sez, “Wake up an' smell da garlic.”

“Yea, OK, how did you get in here? You only show up on the patio.”

“Too cold out dere for me an you both.”

“So, what’s up Dear Sweet Italian Fairy Godmother?”

“Well wid all dis cold winter, I come by to give you a warm up, an’ you look like you need one.”

“Yea, sure do, what do you have?”

“I gotta some Italian soup for you, what’s good in all dis cold weather.”

“Sounds good to me.”

And with that she does her thing with the wand bit and takes off like a new jet. So now I have a soup recipe that will warm your heart if not your innards. And thank you Dear Sweet Italian Fairy Godmother. I hope she don’t stay away so long.

Italians will call this Minestrone Soup

  • 4 Onions, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon Butter
  • 1 tablespoon Olive oil
  • 4 Carrots, chopped
  • 4 Celery stalks, chopped
  • 8 cups Chicken stock, low sodium
  • 1 can Tomatoes, crushed
  • 1 Bay leaf
  • 2 Potatoes, diced
  • 1 tablespoon Parsley, dried
  • 1 cup Pasta shells (optional)
  • 1 box Frozen peas
  • 1 box Frozen green beans
  • 1 box Frozen yellow beans
  • Salt & pepper to taste

Melt butter in a Dutch oven over medium heat and add olive oil. When hot, sauté the onions and celery until onions are transparent. Mix in carrots and potatoes and cook for several minutes. Add tomatoes, bay leaf and 6 cups of chicken stock. Cook until carrots and potatoes are cooked through. Stir in remaining ingredients. Add remaining chicken stock as needed to maintain consistency. OPTIONAL: Add pasta at the last minute (it will cook quickly, and absorb some of the liquid). Sprinkle with a dash of grated parmesan cheese and serve with crusty Italian bread.

Take Care Now, Ya’ Heah, An’ Enjoy All That Cold Weather

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Consider This

Consider This
By LC Van Savage
Remembrance of Things Past But Coming Again

It’s over. Am I sad? Sure. Does the sadness last? Nah. Getting back to silence and order isn’t a bad thing. Christmas, New Year’s and Birthdays---all done.

Everyone with even the most microscopic smear of our DNA came here for Christmas and for the week before and after. Our home isn’t large but we jam them all in—on cots, on mattresses and even on beds. They eat like wolves and yet we always seem to send them staggering from our table with full epigastria and oh, I’ve been waiting so long to use that marvelous word. It’s great, right?

Anyway, our holidays all seem to work out and the family can’t hate coming here because they keep coming back year after year after year; a large crowd of large, loud funny people each of whom we love madlydearly.

The grandchildren walked into the front door this year, and my first reaction was to say, “Who are you and what have you done with our grandchildren?” I’m looking upwards at most of them now and they’re only 11 and younger. Mongo’s the tallest person in our family, several inches above six feet, or at least he yoostawuz when we were a-courtin’ and I think these GC of ours will soon be looking him straight in the eye. I have a dear old friend who’s very French and one of her favorite sayings when she speaks of short people is, “I could eat soup off his head.” Well, our grandchildren can just about eat soup from the top of mine, if they’d ever dare, which they’d jolly well better not ever.

Not only do we celebrate Christmas and every other PC winter holiday in Dec., too many of us have birthdays in that month. Or close to it. Mongo hit the Big Seven Two on December 5, son Paul was born on Christmas day in 1965, his older brother Erick joined us on December 28th back in 1961, granddaughter Darby came to us on New Year’s Eve of 1999, and I was born on January 1 and hit the Big Seven Two on that day. Middle son Mark joined us in 1963, but at Easter time, for which he’s never quite forgiven us. Sorry Marko. We did our best.

We have big parties for everyone on their natal days, or as close to them as we can make it happen, with the dining room heavily decorated by grandchildren, Pizza being usually the meal du jour. We have fun, we sing most lustily when the cake comes in, and everyone seems to enjoy being a year older.

Well, not moi especially, but that’s to be expected. I mean I got rammed into my seventies rather abruptly two years ago even though I didn’t wish it and never once gave anyone permission for it to happen.

But, watching the great ball drop this year was different for me. In years gone by I truly loved being all alone with Dick Clark and 200 billion idiotically bellowing New Yorkers and tourists, hearing my dear husband and our visiting progeny snoring not so gently abovestairs, watching the new year arrive, making promises to myself I knew I’d never keep, but trying to observe all those old traditions. And now, all these years later those promises still linger in my own personal stratosphere, dripping with tender hopes, hovering hopelessly like balloons that have lost their strings. I’ll get to them; there’s still time. Right? Right??

So I watched the ball drop and saw 2010 enter our world and hoped things would get better than they have been for the world’s people. They can’t get much worse for a lot of them. I wondered if I’d still be around two years from now, 2012, the year some Mayan math geeks decided way way long ago that our world would either im or ex-plode in December of ‘12, and all of our worries would be quickly over. I can’t wait for that day to come so I can see if everyone stays home from work or gets all jerkily nervous, staring at the sky or running to churches they never visited before, or whatever. I wonder if on that day 2 years hence if some people will decide to take matters into their own Kool-Aid and move things along, making an awful mess for others to clean up. I wonder if, when nothing happens, and come on folks, nothing will, if there’ll be lots of the usual red-faced “ooops, it appears someone miscalculated!” speeches delivered into TV cameras everywhere. I wonder. No, actually I don’t. I know.

So everyone in our family has gone back to their own lives now and Mongo and I are left with great stacks of detritus, finger marks on everything, unfinished kid projects scattered, silent echoes, a deadly quiet home and mountains of memories. And it’s all good.

Belated best holiday wishes and Happy New Year to all of you reading this. I couldn’t, and wouldn’t do it without you. Thank you.

Editor's Note: Belated Happy Birthday, LC, you are Number 1 in my list every year!

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Life is a Compilation
So is Truth
So are We

Tribes become a great Nation
Aged and Youth
Yet are Free

Trains run to Yard and Station
From Duluth
To the Sea

Joy can become Elation
That's the Booth
Marked as Glee

I believe in Creation
Yea, Forsoothe,
That's for Me.

©February 2010 Mary E. Adair
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Life with Leo

Life with Leo
By Mary E. Adair

I never dreamed to meet a man
Who matched my thoughts so well
Who already had learned for himself
The way I choose to dwell.

Our belongings echoed our choices
So many we had made separately alike
Double copies of software applications
And even our cookware we can't strike

From the list of items we both had bought
The dishes, the colors of towels and sheets
We kept our books, our records, our clothes
Good thing neither is as old as Keats.

So onward we go with many things agreed
And when we don't agree, we sulk the same
So even when pouting, we behave so similar
The only difference is each other's name

But sulking doesn't take up all our time
For we love to get in the car and just go
So as long as I'm able to drive about
I guess we'll keep on hoeing this row.

©February 2010 Mary E. Adair

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I Can't Tell

I can't tell the way I'm feeling
I know I've living with this too long
At night I cry looking at the darkness
And once in a while I try to write it in a song

I try to write down mixed emotions
I try to put them in phrase
Can't get by on trips on the ocean
One has to face these things everyday

I can't tell the way I'm dreaming
I have visions each and every night
Thinking of the noises of the city
All the things being done out of spite

I try to write down mixed emotions
I try to catch them in a song
And long ago a had a memory
Now I know where I belong

I see your reflection in the ocean
Your waves are crashing down on me
Your games are playing with my emotions
Eat me up and swallow me

©1/25/10  Bruce Clifford

You Never Thought Twice

Born out of a new year
Comes along a missing tear
Side by side beneath the shroud
Hold the course and sailing proud
Taken the time out to forgive
Living large, learning how to live
Deep within these finite walls
All the men coming back for more

You didn't listen the first time I told you
Now you're paying for this for the rest of your life
You could have found a better way, but you didn't listen
But who am I to tell you what is wrong and what is right
You never thought twice

Born out of a new year
Feed the pain and annoy the fear
Setting the pace of long ago
Taking in the glance that none of us know

You didn't listen the first time I told you
Now you're paying for this for the rest of your life
You could have found a better way, but you didn't listen
But who am I to tell you what is wrong and what is right
You never thought twice

You never thought twice about her
You never thought twice about us
You never thought twice about them
You never thought twice about your friends

You never thought twice about leaving
You never thought twice about believing
You never thought twice about walking away
You never thought twice about wanting to stay

You never thought twice about her
You never thought twice about her
About her

Born out of a new year

©1/01/10 Bruce Clifford

Waiting For Granddaughters

Here I sit upon the couch,
So patient and so hushed,
Waiting for my granddaughters
To waken from their nap,

The only sounds I hear
Are two whirring ceiling fans,
Faint computer muttering,
A furnace burner’s rush.

My task is sweet enough:
When Caitlyn and Leanne
Come out from down the hall,
I’ll give them each a hug;

Then we’ll negotiate
With signs and simple words
If tonight it’s Teletubbies
Or Pooh on DVD.

I think they realize
Their power on my heart –
A smile from them, it’s mush;
A kiss produces bliss;

Or if one climbs upon my lap
And lays her head upon my chest –
That’s all I ask;
Forget the rest.

©2010 John I. Blair

Star Light

Star Light
When I stroll out in the yard
In the middle of the night
And the air is cold and clear,
All the stars shine so bright
Even here, where a city sleeps,
I am dazzled by the sight.

I can choose how I will view them:
Distant campfires in the dark;
Outlined figures of old gods;
Great exploding spheres that mark
Gaping deeps of space and time –
My imagination’s spark.

And what I choose determines
How I feel at what I see:
Amused, retold an ancient myth;
Awed by sacred mystery;
Abashed by hard perspective
On microscopic me.

©2010 John I. Blair

Sometimes While I Lie Awake

Sometimes while I lie awake
Late at night when all is hushed
I count familiar sounds
From the sleeping house:
Refrigerator’s hum,
Tree branches brushing on the roof,
Night owl hooting,
The cat’s soft purr
At the foot of the bed,
And my wife’s sweet breathing
By my side.

Of things to hear
These are among the best.

But what I dread
Is when a noise is there
I can’t identify.

A rattle in the attic overhead,
A bang in the blackness just outside,
Footsteps where no one
Should be walking, or just some

That’s when I feel
The hackles rise along my neck,
When fear instead of comfort stirs
And imagination runs amok.

When suddenly I find
My mind cowering
Beside a dying fire
While monsters rampage
Through the fearful forest.

        ©2003 John I. Blair

Saltwater Taffy

We go each fall
To be by the sea,
My wife and me.

We don’t wish much,
Just to soak up sun,
Keep watch on birds,
Glean shells, toss shells back,
Feed chips to gulls,
Ride boats, eat fish.

But one thing we must do
Is buy a box
Of Saltwater taffy.

“Chock full of sea breeze
And sunshine” it claims,
So I trust it is fit
To haul back home.

But no one’s up
To eat the stuff,
Not for sale, not for free;
So a box will sit closed
For months, or years,
Which no doubt keeps fresh
All that sun and sea breeze
When we need them most.

        ©2003 John I. Blair

In Between

How can we disrespect our ocean
Crashing through the waves of each emotion
And if we never make it far
Things really shouldn't be this hard

Because blue should be blue
Green should be green
When I say it's orange
You call it something in between

Red should always be red
Black is never white
But when I point to purple
We never get it right

How can we disrespect the mountains
All this vacant memory
Throwing coins at endless fountains
If that's the way it has to be

©1/23/10  Bruce Clifford

Irish Eyes

Irish Eyes

By Mattie Lennon

Curious this, how I started off with the right simplicity, indifferent to crude reason, and then ploughed my way through complexities and anger, hatred and ill-will towards the faults of man, and came back to where I started. ----Patrick Kavanagh, Self-Portrait.


There are enough anecdotes about Patrick Kavanagh to fill several volumes. Such as his description of writer’s block when he was writing Tarry Flynn, “I’ve a f*cker in a field an’ I can’t get him out of it”. His comment when told by a Garda that he would be prosecuted for writing pornography (The Great Hunger) has gone down in history, “It’s good enough for me; anyone who writes anything that a policeman can understand deserves anything he gets.” And when Flann O ‘Brien’s Faustus Kelly was running in Dublin in 1943 he asked Kavanagh if he would give it a good review only to be told, “I will .. . . I’m not that honest.”

Kavanagh Country is not just about the colourful comments of Ireland’s leading poet of the twentieth century. The author, critic and historian, P.J. Browne was introduced to the works of Kavanagh by John B. Keane in UCD in 1974 and, years later, followed up his “research” when he again met the great John B. at Seton Hall University, New Jersey.

Every Leaving Cert student is familiar with Antoinette Quinn’s biography of Kavanagh and has pored over collections such as, Ploughman and Other Poems, Come dancing With Kitty Stobling and Collected Pruse..

There are those who would argue Patrick Kavanagh and his times have been well covered from his birth in Mucker in 1904 to his death in Dublin in 1967.

Kavanagh Country approaches the complex subject from a new angle. P. J. Browne and photographer David Maher set out to show us Kavanagh through the best of his poems and pictures of the rural and urban scenes which triggered the poets imagination. On the surface it would appear that “resentment” is not too strong a word to describe Kavanagh’s feelings on Monaghan- but neither is “love.”

As Browne says, “His ambivalence about his move to Dublin was never resolved.”

O stony grey soil of Monaghan,
The laugh from my love you thieved;
You took the gay child of my passion
And gave me your clod-conceived.

You clogged the feet of my boyhood,
And I believed that my stumble
Had the poise and stride of Apollo
And his voice my thick-tongued mumble.

Blame at its best heaped on his native heath for, he believed, burgling his bank of youth. Yet, in another poem he could see that, “ God was breathing His love by a cut-away bog.”

Browne tells us that Kavanagh “brought his country ways to the city” and so he did. The city in this case is Dublin but in an English city, also, Mucker, was not forgotten:

We borrowed the loan of Kerr's big ass
To go to Dundalk with butter,
Brought him home the evening before the market
An exile that night in Mucker.

We heeled up the cart before the door,
We took the harness inside —
The straw-stuffed straddle, the broken breeching
With bits of bull-wire tied;

The winkers that had no choke-band,
The collar and the reins . . .
In Ealing, Broadway, London Town
I name their several names

Until a world comes to life —
Morning, the silent bog,
And the God of imagination waking
In a Mucker fog.

You won’t find many John Hinde postcards of Inniskeen but thanks to the wonderful work, in black and white, of Dublin-based David Maher every poem is accompanied by suitable and evocative picture. The picture with A Christmas Childhood would bring anyone back to a cold December morning in rural Ireland to stand with the six-year old Kavanagh and listen to his father make music as,

Across the wild bogs his melodeon called
To Lennons and Callans.
As I pulled on my trousers in a hurry
I knew some strange thing had happened.

The work of David Maher prompts one to concur with the words of Elliot Erwitt, “ . . .Photography has little to do with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them.”

Kavanagh saw things differently. He once said, “A poet is not one of the people; a poet is an institution.” Once, in one of his grumpier moments (of which he had many) a wannabe versifier asked him, “how do I write poetry”? The response was concise and informative, “Observe. Open yer f*ckin’eyes”

In Irish Poets Open Your Eyes he writes;

Irish poets open your eyes,
Even Cabra can surprise;
Try the dog-tracks now and then-
Shelbourne Park and crooked men.
Could you ever pray at all
In the Pro- Cathedral
Till a breath of simpleness
Freed your Freudian distress?

Enter in and be a part
Of the world’s frustrated heart,
Drive the golf ball of despair,
Superdance away your care.

Kavanagh was a great fan of James Joyce and he had a similar attitude to his native heath. When Joyce was asked, in Trieste, “Will you ever go back to Dublin?” he replied, “Did I ever leave ?”

The man from Inniskeen was in complete agreement with the Greek poet Cadaly who said,

“No matter where you wander all over the world, in the fields and streets where you grow up, there you will live and there you will die.”
He delighted in telling the story of how his brother, Peter, while taking a Sunday morning stroll in San Francisco, came on a group of Irishmen playing Gaelic football and how,

“ . . . everything was as at home . . . not a man of them had ever left home and the mysterious Pacific was just a bog-hole gurgling with eels and frogs.”
It must be said that he also fell in love in Dublin. During his final illness he told his sisters, “I’ve a feeling of death on me and I want to be buried in Inniskeen” but he wanted to be commemorated in Dublin,

O commemorate me with no hero-courageous
Tomb- just a canal-bank seat for the passer-by.

The one hundred and twenty-eight pages of Kavanagh Country will enable you to accompany the poet down the Mucker lane on his way to Kednaminsa school, experience the frustrations of a rural adolescent as he watches the young ones going to the dance in Billy Brennan’s Barn of feel the waters of the Grand canal “pouring Redemption.”
Kavanagh Country, published by Currach Press is now available. Price: €20

The Good Cops in Maine, And Our Wreck

The Good Cops in Maine, And Our Wreck

By LC Van Savage

Last November, Mongo and I were returning from a concert in Portsmouth. It was dark when we started back toward Brunswick, but it’s an easy drive and I was looking forward to stopping at Popeye’s for red beans and rice on the way home. Love that stuff.

As we passed by a pretty little small Maine town, a car in front of us suddenly slowed way down, and pulled off to the far right, but their left-hand blinker was going. Not understanding what that driver was going to do, Mongo slowed, put on his right blinker and pulled in behind him to allow him time to make up his mind. We were way off the highway. Suddenly we heard that sound no one enjoys—a long, high-pitched screech of tires behind us – then a pause, we braced and then, kabammo! Someone in a large, dark van slammed into us from behind. What a sound! I never ever want to hear that again.

I turned to Mongo and we both said somewhat in unison, “Are you OK?” Then I said, “Let’s get outta here.” We exited the car quickly. The van who hit is? Slowed a fraction and squealed away, fishtailing. He didn’t stop. He didn’t know if we were dead or alive. He just left us there on that very dark stretch of highway, the back of our car scattered everywhere.

Mongo was able to get the car into the parking lot of a creepy Stephen King abandoned weed-strewn diner where it totally died. Man, it was dark there. And cold.

I had watched with just vague interest as that blue van sped away from us, not thinking about memorizing the license plate, my focus mostly on the car that had slowed down in front of us causing all this. The guy stopped and began to get out of his car. I said aloud, “I’m gonna beat him up,” and went striding off into the night to do just that when suddenly I was facing Shaquille O’Neal. OK it really wasn’t Mr. O’Neal but it was surely his twin brother. That man was so huge his head was lost in the night above me and I couldn’t even see his face. My bravery became rubber, but I stood my ground. This giganticus however, was all tender concern for us, so stammering just a little, I said “Well—well, why did you slow down anyway?” He said “I’m sorry. It’s that woman I’m with. She was driving. I don’t know why she did that, but are you OK?” He was so kind, he did stop and even though he passed the buck and blamed “that woman” (huddled in the car) I let him go after reaching up, shaking my finger furiously at him somewhere around his belt buckle, and telling him to never ever do that again young man, did he hear me? He did, and off he went.

We called 911 and pretty soon after that a police officer, young enough to be our grandson, came wheeling importantly into the parking lot and strolled toward us with his flashlight and talking importantly into his shoulder. Does every male police officer shave their heads bald these days? Anyway, we chatted, he shone his flashlight on the wreckage of our car and became annoyed because his batteries were wearing out. Wearing out? He’s a cop. That can’t happen. He told his shoulder he’d need a fire truck and one came along and oh boy, in the lights of that truck we could see an awful lot of the shards of Mongo’s car just scattered and glittering everywhere. It was their job to clean it up and haul it away and I watched with much fascination. I asked the nice young police guy if he could take us to a car rental place so we could drive home as our tattered car got towed back to Brunswick. No, sorry, they close at 4 on Saturdays. There was one motel somewhere nearby and we could maybe sleep there. No thanks. I don’t sleep in my clothes with no toothbrush, not ever. Another young bald policekid stopped by and this time he had a working flashlight and we could get a better look at the wreckage. Wow. It the darkness and shadows it looked like the innards of one of those disemboweled robots in a SciFi film, nameless things hanging out and splintered. It looked grotesque.

What to do? We had to call Paul or Kate back in Brunswick to come down the highway to rescue us and without a blink, they agreed. Officer Youth said he’d drive us to the police station. “Is it nearby?” I asked. Awkward silence. “Well,” he said, “it’s kind of in a neighborhood. In an old schoolhouse actually. But all that’s about to change. The town has plans.” I said “Well, you’re lucky. Our police department is in a cellar and there are no plans to change that.” He laughed. I said “Does your police station have chairs?” Yes. “Does it have a lady’s room?” Well, he allowed as to how there was one bathroom, unisex, but I didn’t much care. He held open the door to his cop car and I got in. Mongo got squashed behind the cage in the back seat. Perps I guess are all no taller than around 5 ft. 6. But I was psyched. I’ve never been in a cop car and there is one huge load of electronic stuff in them. Or do you know that? He blasted the heat and began to do a check on us. Uh oh. Would his computer tell him that when I was underage and lied about it, I went into a porn shop with some friends in NY and bought something unspeakably suggestive? Would he believe me that I’ve since thrown it away? Panic! No, the computer screen showed that I have been nothing but a great bore nearly all my life with no tickets or accidents or armed robberies to my credit. Apparently the statute of limitations regarding the porn shop caper had run out. Then he checked on Mongo’s driving record. OK, we won’t go there.

When we got to the station, yes an old schoolhouse, I turned to Officer Stripling and said, quite seriously, “This is a dream, right? We’re in Mayberry.” He laughed but I’m not sure he knew what I meant.

In we went. Two chairs were there. One bathroom. I used it. He showed us a “conference room” and I was so relieved to see two M&M machines. We were ravenous. A nice man, perhaps the Chief of Police, said, “You’re hungry? Wait!” and he comes back in with a huge tray of doughnuts. The station had had some kind of dedication that day and those were left over. We tore into them. Not as good as Popeye’s but just perfect for the moment.

We got a tour of that police station and then I knew for sure we were in Mayberry. I looked for Aunt Bea. Otis. Barney. Opie. Floyd. We saw the holding room; a large closet with a pair of medieval handcuffs chained to a pipe that went into a wall. Carvings on the bench. Carvings? Like with a knife? Hmmmm. But can you imagine a police department making sure we had food and a place to rest and good company around us? We were treated with much kindness and respect. As they say in Texas, “Well bless their horts.”

Kate arrived with our granddaughter Jordan and we were so happy. How good they looked. Our car was headed back to Brunswick on the back of a truck somewhere, and we were headed to Popeye’s for red beans and rice minutes before they closed. As to the hit and run dude; why did you run away before finding out if we were OK? If kids were involved? Were you in a stolen van? Were you drunk? No license? Did your buddies charge you any money to repair your van? Don’t you have any sense of ethics? Decency? I hate you.

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Thinking Out Loud

Thinking Out Loud

By Gerard Meister
Believe me the problem with radical Islam and air travel in and to America is enough to cross a rabbi’s eyes. And our transportation safety pundits can’t seem to get a handle on it. So I was on line at Fort Lauderdale Airport with my shoes off, my computer open and my eye drops (yes, I have an eye problem) and my cane being carefully scanned (yes, I have a problem walking, too) when a young bearded chap with no luggage sashayed through the metal scanner without a peep and trotted away to his gate.

This potentially horrific scenario came home to roost when, a week or so later, the “crotch bomber” was nabbed. We dodged a bullet on this one, but will we be as lucky the next time? Well folks, I broke my noodle on this one and I think I have the answer to all our travel problem. As with most knotty problems the answer was a simple one: make anyone who wants to come to America first fly to Israel, deplane there, get a free beverage of their choice and answer a few questions the Mossad will have for them. Then and only then will they be able to fly directly (no stops!) to the US of A for their stay in the land of the free.

Now I understand this will cause a few problems, but if we agree to pay for it (Israel can use the business) plus the free drinks, I think the idea will sell. This would leave only fights originating and terminating in the USA to worry about and I think I got that one nailed, too. Just make all Muslims strip down (in private, of course) don a hospital gown – the kind that ties in the back – then they would get to board quickly by getting first crack at seating arrangements (plus a free beverage of their choice).

Yes, yes I know we might get a suit by the ACLU about profiling, but I have an answer to that one, too! If we lose the case all Muslims fly free on all our national airlines. Buck naked, but free! And if anyone insists on paying so as not to fly naked well that’s okay, too, but they would have to make a stop over in Israel first, then they can get to go to Detroit non stop (with, of course, a free beverage of their choice). It can’t miss, I tell you; it can’t miss.



By Thomas F. O'Neill

Fundamentalism is dangerous . . .

The other day I was browsing the Internet searching for interesting videos to watch. I came across a youtube video of a self proclaimed minister blaming the Muslims for all of society’s ills. That wasn’t exactly what I was looking for in terms of entertainment.

The video did, however, prompt me to write some of my thoughts on Islam. I wish I could have talked to that person who made that video in person. I would have told him some interesting facts about Islam.

I would have certainly mentioned that when the Christians were experiencing the dark ages due to their belief that the only knowledge that is necessary is derived from biblical scriptures. The Muslims were writing about Plato, Aristotle, and other great Philosophers. It was the Muslims deep thirst for knowledge and wisdom that preserved some of the early literature of antiquities greatest philosophers.

Most contemporary Historians - but not all - believe that during the dark ages the Christians burned the library of Alexandria in Egypt. The Christian Fundamentalists at that time believed the library contained heretical and unenlightened literature. The literature that was housed in that library for safe keeping was lost forever due to ignorance.

The library of Alexandria contained hundreds of thousands of scrolls, literature, and knowledge of the ancient world’s greatest thinkers and literary geniuses. The Christians at that time however believed the bible contained all the knowledge that was necessary for mans salvation. That belief resulted in the burning of the library and the loss of a treasure-trove of knowledge.

In spite of that tragic event in Alexandria knowledge of the Greek Philosophers and other great literature were preserved by the early Muslim scholars. They also preserved the writings of early Christian theologians that were declared heretics by the early Christian churches including some of the early Gnostic texts.

If it wasn’t for the keen intellect of the early Muslim’s the writings of Plato, the metaphysics of Aristotle and early Christian literature would be a mystery. We would be speculating today and debating on what they believed.

There is a particular Islamic sect known as the Sufis who believe that all knowledge is sacred because the human intellect is ours for the enhancement of humanity. Saint Francis of Assisi was greatly influenced by the Sufi belief system. He and the Sufis believed that the spirit of god is implicit and can be intrinsically known by all people no matter what their religious beliefs may be.

The Sufis and Saint Francis of Assisi’s personal beliefs stood in total contrast to mainstream Islam and the Catholic Church’s teachings at that time. The Sufis where trying to bring spirituality into the Islamic faith by living and communicating their spirituality altruistically. Saint Francis of Assisi was trying to accomplish a similar mission within the Catholic Church of his day.

It was during the Christians second Crusade against the Muslims in the 12th century that Saint Francis of Assisi walked into the Muslim camps without harm. He talked to the Muslims about the Sufi beliefs and how similar they were to his own.

Saint Francis was revered by both Muslims and Christians alike due to his spirituality and his implicit understanding that if you want to be understood you must touch the hearts of others. He did not accomplish his mission by imposing his will and beliefs upon others. He simply lived his life as he would want others to live their lives, in doing so, others embraced and emulated his way of life. The Sufi Muslims had a similar mission to bring about peace in the world through a genuine and authentically lived spirituality.

The video I saw presented Islam as nothing more than fanatical fundamentalists. On the contrary, there are many good and spiritual followers of Islam. That being said we cannot judge all of Christianity because of the Christians that lived during the time of the crusades or the burning of the library of Alexandria. Also, we mustn’t judge all of Christianity by the actions and beliefs of contemporary Christian Fundamentalists.

Fundamentalism is dangerous – it forces ill willed people to live their lives ignorantly due to a lack of spiritual insight and a narrow minded belief system. You can find these extremists in every religion throughout history. We mustn’t, however, judge an entire religion by those ignorant factions within the religion.

Our religion can be shaped by our parents and by our parents' parents, but our spirituality is what we are born with. Spirituality is the spark, the essence, and the spirit that sustains us and all things. It’s beyond rituals and religious symbols because it’s the core of our existence. True Spirituality is the torch that lights the way not religious principles that are imposed or mandated on others. It is lived and expressed freely in ones character for others to emulate and embrace.

I did not write this with the intent of offending the religious, I wrote this as a way of expressing how religious beliefs and differences separate people. On the other hand spirituality can and does unite those who are searching for an altruistic way of life.

There are Modern Psychologists that would agree with me when I say it is best to seek and experience the essence of life and communicate who we truly are to others. Because, our meaning and purpose in life is truly defined by how well we live our life in communion with others.

Our highest reward will not be handed to us by some divine will but rather it will be achieved by how well or how far we develop in life. Our life’s path is purely determined by the power of choice. What we do with our life and how far we develop in life is purely determined by our thoughts and actions. Fools strive for the possessions they do not have - but wish to gain - here on earth or in the afterlife. The wise on the other hand develop what they already posses within themselves.

Always with love, from Suzhou, China.
Thomas F. O’Neill

(800) 272-6464
China Cell: 8615114565945

Skype: thomas_f_oneill

Other articles, short stories, and commentaries by Thomas F. O'Neill can be found at the links below.




Angel Whispers

Angel Whispers

By Peg Jones

Regrettably many work related issues have kept Ms Jones from getting a column in this month. We wish her well as she handles everything and look forward to hearing from her next month...

Editors Corner

Editor's Corner
By Mary E. Adair

February 2010
This is the month for Valentine's Day which is considered the official beginning of 'Life With Leo' and thus is regarded so far as a valued holiday of the year. Things may not always seem as rosy to others as they do to ourselves but we are carrying on the way we choose and none but we can say aye or nay to us. We do enough of that for ourselves but we enjoy every moment together even while the nay'ing proceeds. Travel is a fun part of life, and so is dining out . . . now if we can only persuade an Applebee's or Friday's to locate within a hundred miles . . . At any rate, there's a poem for him, so Happy Valentine's Day, Leo.

Bruce Clifford sent along four poems for February, one "There's No Reason to Fear" which sounds as though it were written in response to one of Blair's poems. Clifford's other three are in his lyrical, song writing style: "You Never Thought Twice," "In Between," and "I Can't Tell." John I. Blair's "Fear" is the one referenced before, and he adds "February Moon," "Saltwater Taffy," "Sometimes While I Lie Awake," "Star Light," and "Waiting For Granddaughters." The latter touches your editor's heart as she has many of the little grand's (some not so little these days.) "Life with Leo" and "Compilation" are by yours truly.

Peg Jones ("Angel Whispers") emailed an apology for no column this issue and of course she is forgiven. We know everyone will miss her sparkling essays on and from the Angels. John I. Blair in "Always Looking" offers some basic hints on lining up your resources for your own Genealogy. Thanks, John.

Leo C. Helmer with "Cookin' With Leo," Gerard Meister ("Thinking Out Loud"), Thomas F. O'Neill ("Introspective"), , Mattie Lennon ("Irish Eyes"), and LC Van Savage ("Consider This") bring the entertainment value of pencilstubs up a notch each month and for February it is a real treat. LC Van Savage adds another column we chose as an article , "The Good Cops in Maine And Our Wreck."

February begins the thirteenth year, or Volumn for Pencil Stubs Online founded by Michael Craner and your editor. Mike also does the webmaster responsibilities and ably facilitates the publication in many ways. His own writing has taken a back seat the past year with job changes and relocating his family, but we keep hoping for it to blossom again.

See you in March!

Always Looking

By John I. Blair

Always Looking – Some Genealogy Basics

Like many people, I started in this hobby through having my curiosity aroused by family stories and half-heard references at reunions and over the table at Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter. My family being half-Southern, a lot was also picked up at funeral receptions, sometimes the major family social events of the year (and not grim at all, barring tragedies like untimely deaths).
Over the years I had also obtained copies of a few precious family documents:

1. A photocopy of the marriage record for a couple of great-grandparents in England;

2. A beautifully handwritten list of the names, birthdates, and birthplaces for my maternal grandfather and his brothers and sisters;

3. A fading roster of my lineal descent from William the Conqueror, prepared on an old cloth-ribbon typewriter;

4. A transcription made in the 1970s of a oral narrative by a beloved great-aunt about how her grandmother had worked as a country doctor to, among others, Indians; how her family had migrated from central Nebraska to Oklahoma Territory in a wagon train with their capital literally tied up in the form of 40 head of horses; and how they had been protected from renegade Cheyenne raiders through their mother’s diplomacy and kindness to passing Indians (and strategic hiding of the children in a fruit cellar);

5. A lengthy book-format history of several generations of my paternal grandfather’s family prepared by a distant cousin from Kansas City.

All of these were treasures, without a doubt. And inspirational.

However, when I finally started doing my own research, using the Internet and family contacts to gather data and materials, I was lucky enough, early on, to get some hard, but sensible, advice from a genealogist in Pennsylvania (who prefers I keep her anonymous), kind enough to take me, momentarily, under her wing.

The first thing she told me was “believe nothing you are told, from anyone, family member or stranger alike, without the documentation to back it up.” “Generally speaking, things passed on by family members are always suspect . . . not because folks have lied purposefully, but because things get ‘twisted’ when told, generation after generation.”

“Start with a generation you can PROVE with vital records and get copies of a marriage record, death records, any wills, obituaries, etc.; then move on to the next generation, always proving one before moving along to another. Remember, without proof, you don’t know who the next generation may be – do not skip around from generation to generation, and accept nothing from anyone, without knowing their documentation. The Internet is absolutely filled with incorrect data.”

She also, repeatedly, urged me to educate myself about the history of towns, counties, states, religious groups, ethnic groups, migrations, economic trends, cultural developments – all the contexts in which people lived and moved around. Without understanding the contexts, it’s impossible to understand the people fully. She introduced me to some basic genealogy research sites such as Rootsweb and Genforum. These can cost a bit of money, but provide excellent tools for searching out information and communicating with other searchers. Some of the basic documents that provide hard data are, to repeat, birth and death records, census reports, tax rolls, marriage certificates, baptismal records, burial listings, military service records.

Some religious groups, such as the Mormons and Quakers, keep excellent records about their members and may be willing to search them for your benefit. Because I have Quakers on both sides of my family, that was a particularly valuable resource.

In my own case, I came to reassess my family lore treasures.

Perhaps the best of them is the marriage record from Salisbury, England. It gives names, dates, trades followed, places of residence, all officially documented and certified. And it is a photocopy of the original. Not bad at all.

Then there is the handwritten list of my grandfather’s siblings. Looks pretty good on the face of it, but is clearly a “secondary” document, as it is all in one handwriting, written down at one time, rather than when each birth happened. No signature or date, either. So, although the script is a beautiful, Spencerian hand, inscribed at the bottom “For Mother”, I don’t know who wrote it, who “Mother” was, or where the writer got their information. While I have other sources for cross-checking the names (I personally remember some of these people as my elderly great-aunts and great-uncles), the dates and places are without hard documentation.

The typewritten Lineage from William the Conqueror, while a real hoot, and fun to read over, is virtually worthless as documentation. Again, no credit as to who wrote it, and no information at all about where they got the information. I have the first 6 or 7 generations somewhat confirmed from several other sources, but nothing beyond that.

And the book about the Blairs, while highly detailed and full of names, dates, places, and some great stories and photos, was not prepared in a formally scholarly manner (it’s almost all from interviews with family members, with no census records, marriage records, bibliography of primary sources, etc.), so it is seriously flawed as an authoritative source. I choose to believe pretty much all that’s in it; but would not use it to substantiate a legal claim, if that were ever an issue.

Perhaps the most problematic, in more than one sense, treasure I have is the narrative from my great-aunt. It is a wonderful family heirloom, with the status of having established a chunk of family lore that probably will hold the status of spiritual “truth” for generations, whatever the facts may prove to be. Her description of my great-great grandmother Catharine in the moonlight, riding off across the Wabash River in Indiana with painted warriors to aid as midwife to their women is classic and vivid. We will probably never know if it is factual (and I’ve corresponded with the Miami Nation of Indiana, a Quaker historian at Earlham College, and several local folk from the Wabash County area in an effort to find out); but it will always be a part of our family lore.

The problems with it are obvious: just for a start, the story refers to my great-great grandmother as “Martha” even though her name is quite firmly documented as Catharine. (She’s buried in Warren County, Iowa, where she lived to a ripe old age. I have her obituary.) If my great-aunt could be wrong about that, what else must we doubt? Family lore is wonderful, and should be treasured; but not used as a genealogy resource without full hard documentation to back it up. The story did lead me to the Wabash, to Indiana, to the history of early settlement in the old Northwest Territory, and to the story of Frances Slocum, the Little Bear of the Miami, which I have told previously in Pencil Stubs .

Ultimately, as I concluded while out in California, discussing all this with a second cousin, once removed – also a fan of family history research – it all boils down to what you want to accomplish. Do you want to produce a scholarly work that can be used as the basis for future research by dispassionate outsiders? Or do you want to get the basics down pretty accurately, but preserve the family legends and traditions for your grandchildren and beyond? Perhaps a bit of both? Everybody has to find a “middle ground” between cold scholarship and indulgent fiction; and you’ll have to locate that middle ground on your own. But with the advice I’m passing on in this article, maybe that task will be eased a bit.

©2010 John I. Blair

There's no reason to fear

A minute of your time
A second to unwind
Space and time invade
Moments that were saved

Maybe if it were true
As soon as you fell out of view
The road ahead is clear
There's no reason to fear

There's no reason to fear god
There's no reason to fear the fog
There's no reason to fear this life
There's no reason to fear things twice

There's no reason to fear the plan
There's no reason to fear where we stand
There's no reason to fear the noise
There's no reason to fear the toys

There's no reason
There's no reason
There's no reason to fear

Maybe if it were true
As soon as it was something you knew
The reasons you hold in your heart
There's no reason to think your world is falling apart

There's no reason to fear the fog
There's no reason to fear god
There's no reason to fear the land
There's no reason to fear a helping hand

There's no reason to fear a voice
There's no reason to fear a choice
There's no reason to fear the time
There's no reason to fear what's kind

There's no reason
There's no reason
There's no reason to fear

By: Bruce Clifford