Thursday, November 26, 2015

Giving Thanks for 2015

Dear George,
Aside from turkey and pro football games, Thanksgiving is a time to reflect on the many sources of pleasure and well-being in our lives.  Once you start thinking about giving thanks, it makes you realize how many people contribute in valued ways to our lives.  I started making a list that began with my childhood, but that was totally unmanageable, so I decided to stick with 2015.  Here some thanks for my year to date:

·       Katja for getting me a Fitbit and lots of other good stuff too.
·       L and V for being such smart and funny grandchildren.
·       J and K for lovingly raising those wonderful kiddies.
·       Linda and Ted for being devoted grandparents.  
·       My sister Vicki for being there through thick and thin.
·       Gayle for her many cheery e-mail messages (continuing Peter’s good habits). 
·       Ami for joining us for a family holiday in Cincinnati.
·       David for lots of laughs via California cell-phone calls.
·       Donna for being a hardy sheepdog hiking buddy.
·       Jennifer for lots of Clifton walks and talks.
·       Phyllis for organizing our flea market expeditions.
·       Eleanor and Sam for being such steadfast longtime friends.
·       Cate for inspiring us wannabe poets.
·       Jill for making line dancing a lot of fun.
·       Sally, Carol, John, and many other classmates for good times at our high school reunion.
·       Bob and Lois A. for hosting me on my July Menominee trip.
·       Our nephew Greg for keeping our family Birch Creek property thriving. 
·       Dr. Bo for helping us through painful end of life dog decisions.
·       The Bengals and Packers, the UC Bearcats, Cincinnati’s wealth of cultural activities, the Esquire Theater, HBO and Showtime, our new Clifton Library, my new Nikon camera, and a host of other attractions and amusements in our world.
·       Perhaps most of all, our Old English Sheepdogs Mike and Duffy for bringing thirteen years of joy to our lives. 

Saturday, November 21, 2015

The Chicken Wedding and Other Flights of Fancy

Harry and Pauline

Dear George,
Sadly, our Autumn quarter poetry writing workshop has come to an end, so I thought I would share some of my poems of the season.  The Chicken Wedding, held almost half a century ago now, was the biggest event in local TV history.  Like half of Cincinnati, Katja and I stayed home from work to watch it, and I decided it was time for a commemoration.   A couple of these poems were inspired by Halloween, including a sonnet about my imaginary stepsister, Morticia.  Apart from that fantasy, everything else is as true as pumpkin pie. 

The Ballad of the Chicken Wedding

If you are a Cincy old-timer
You’ll remember the Paul Dixon Show 
’Twas the toast of WLW-T
Silly nonsense as you and I know

Paul Baby was the Mayor of Kneesville
As corny as corny could be
He  called it “the dumbest show ever”
And gave out salami for free

A fan sent a rubber chicken one day
Paul gave her the name of Pauline
He held her up during Kroger ads
Then tossed her out of the scene

Soon a second rubber chicken arrived
Paul announced that Harry was his name
Pauline gave Harry a winsome smile
Within minutes she became Harry’s flame

Viewers wrote in and asked and begged
Will Harry and Pauline ever marry?
Paul mulled it over and finally relented
Though at first he had been rather wary

The wedding was set for March Eleventh
The year, Nineteen Sixty-Nine
Paul Dixon presided over the event
The chickens were looking so fine

Harry had a tux with a boutonniere
Pauline wore a white bridal gown 
Paul Dixon himself wore a black top hat 
It was torn in two at the crown

Bonnie Lou and Colleen were the matrons of honor
Bob Braun was Harry’s best man
Marian Spelman sang the wedding song
Bruce Brownfield led the house band

This was the wedding of the century
The people took a day off from work 
Kids skipped school to see the affair
The ten-year-olds watched with a smirk

After the wedding was over and done
The couple took a white limousine
The reception was held at the Lookout House
Hundreds came to see and be seen

The chicken wedding was a triumph
Number one in the station’s history
Paul Dixon always thought that amazing
He found his appeal a mystery

The cast is now gone to the Show in the Sky
But Pauline and Harry remain
Even though their feathers are tattered and gray
They still coo love’s ardent refrain

All Hallows Eve

On Halloween we shed our normal selves 
We dress as ghosts or pirate kings and queens 
Then frolic with the goblins and the elves
And fill our sacks with purple jelly beans

But Halloween is more than tricks and games
For it’s the night the dead return to life
The witches’ brew is bubbling on the flames
And Dracula is seeking his sixth wife

The children ring the bell in search of treats
They’re clueless about what awaits their fate
Ten snarling werewolves prowl the city streets
A ghoul digests the bulbous flesh he ate

I think that I will stay at home tonight           
I’ve worked myself into a state of fright

My Stepsister Is A Vampire

You’d never think it when you first see her
Her eyes are green, her hair is red and long
But weird things happen when she’s near a mirror
And two sharp fangs confirm that something’s wrong

Another fact is she does not grow old           
She’s ninety-eight but she looks twenty-nine 
I touch her brow and feel her skin so cold
A piercing shudder races down my spine

She brings men home and soon they disappear
I ask about them but she shakes her head
Something’s going on that is quite queer
Last  Sunday I found three of them stone dead 

Despite these quirks I love my sister true
That’s only right ‘cause I’m a vampire too

An Ode to the Lean Cuisine

I’m normally not a braggart           
But I’d say I’m a very fine cook
I never even boiled an egg before
Now I think about writing a book

When our son lived at home years ago
His mother made dinner each day
But then he went off to college
And family meals went by the way

It was every cook for himself
Healthy Choices were first my routine
I picked them because they were healthy
But then I learned how to be Lean

Lean Cuisines are not frozen dinners
One should view them as frozen cuisines
They’re invented by the finest chefs in France
Who prepare them for kings and for queens

There are over a hundred varieties
Amazing but that is the truth
They’re so low in trans fats and calories
It’s like dining at the Fountain of Youth

There is Mushroom Mezzaluna Ravioli
Supreme Pizza and Five-Cheese Lasagna
Stuffed Cabbage and Baked Rigatoni
Shrimp Pasta and Chicken Marsala

We always have forty-plus boxes in stock
They fill the top half of our freezer
I’m partial to turkey and salisbury steak
Macaroni if I feel like a geezer

My favorite, of course, is Swedish Meatballs 
It’s a dish that my dear mother made
Lean Cuisine might have stolen her recipe
There are unsavory tricks in this trade

My culinary skills are quite polished
First you open the box at one end
Peel back two corners of the plastic
Six minutes — not seven or ten

I eat Lean Cuisines every noontime for lunch
And then have a second for dinner
Now that they have breakfast items too
America will soon be much thinner

This is the end of my tribute
Lean Cuisines are the star of our times
I wish I could think of more to say
But I seem to have run out of rhymes

Monday, November 16, 2015

Losing Mikey

Dear George,
Last Saturday morning we took Mike, our remaining sheepdog, to the vet for an assessment, and, after some consultation, we made the difficult decision to have him euthanized.  We’d gone through the same procedure with Duffy several months ago.  The decision with Duffy was more clearcut since he was diagnosed with bone cancer, had fractured a leg, and was in severe pain.  There really wasn’t any choice in the matter.  Mike was more of a quality of life issue.  He’s been unable to get up from the floor by himself for months, has needed help getting up and down the stairs, had become incontinent, was suffering chronic pain from severe arthritis, and couldn’t be left alone in the house for any period of time without experiencing extreme distress.  We could have continued as we have been, providing him with a lot of physical caretaking, but, with the prospect of no improvement and continued decline, Mike’s  painful situation didn’t seem to warrant it.  I think we made the correct decision, but it’s hard nonetheless.  We were with Mike when the vet administered a sedative and then a drug to stop his heart.  It was painless for Mike, literally a matter of being put to sleep.  Lots of tears for us.     

Mike and Duffy have given us untold joy for over thirteen years, and we’ll experience their loss for a long time to come.  The dogs were my loyal companions on hikes in local parks, long neighborhood walks, camping expeditions, occasional road trips, and just hanging out in the house.  They were widely known in our neighborhood and provided the occasion for lots of casual contact with fellow dog owners and passersby.  Despite being brothers from the same litter, Mike and Duffy were very different in temperament.  Duffy was the alpha dog — more aggressive, dominant, and anxious.  He was the rowdier of the two.  When I think of Mike, the two words that pop into mind are “sweet” and “gentle”.  He was much more laid back than Duffy.  I can’t think of a single time where he ever barked at another dog on the street, and he stopped and stared at strangers, hoping to get a few pets.  He liked to lie in bed and lick our feet, and he was an expert at balancing on his back for minutes at a time with his legs outstretched and paws up in the air.  We still are attuned to his presence in the house, expecting him to be around the corner or to remind us that it’s 5:00 and time for dinner.  Katja was certain that she could hear him whimpering in the dining room yesterday evening.   

We’ve worked through losses in the past with pet dogs that we’ve been very attached to, and I know that we’ll cope with this all right and eventually get back to normal.  For myself, I’ve lost two loved companions and a significant and happy slice of my daily routines.  We’re at a life stage where we probably won’t get another dog.  I’ll have to figure out what will replace Mike and Duffy, or if that’s even possible at all.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

The Night Our House Turned Blue

Dear George,
Last month Katja and Donna went on a two-week Rick Steves tour in France, starting out in Paris and working their way up to Normandy.  I stayed home to look after Mikey and Donna’s sheepdog, Sophie.  It wasn’t as exciting, but I do enjoy the peace and solitude, and the dogs and I had a relaxing time.  I did have a strange dream on the second night though, and it prompted me to try to capture it in a poem.  Here it is.

The Night Our House Turned Blue

My wife has been traveling in Europe
I stayed home to take care of the dog
Actually the dog’s taking care of me
I seem to be lost in a fog

I usually do fine when I’m home alone
But things got strange on Day Two
I woke up at dawn and I looked around
The entire house had turned blue

The walls were blue, the floors were blue 
The flowers and the bric-a-brac too
I wondered if aliens came in the night
Why they’d do this, I wish that I knew

It wasn't the blue of midsummer
More like ice on a far northern lake 
Or an overcast sky in November
It’s the blue of an Indigo snake

Even my dog has a bluish tint
And my skin when I look in the mirror
I could be a corpse in the city morgue
Who knew blue could cause so much fear?

I called my wife in a panic
She said Paris was golden and yellow
She plans to bring home some very bright hues
So now I am feeling more mellow

Thursday, November 5, 2015

The Mighty Ohio

Dear George,
Cincinnati is a quintessential river town.  The earliest settlers arrived at this area by way of the Ohio River, and they staked out their space along the river’s shoreline across from the mouth of the Licking.  Fort Washington was built to protect the local population in 1789, and the village soon grew to nearly 500 people.  Additional settlers continued to arrive by the hundreds, believing they could make their fortunes by providing supplies to soldiers and Ohio River travelers.  By 1792 thirty warehouses existed in the growing city, and it had gained a brewery, a spinning wheel manufacturer, and a chair manufacturer.  Due to the city’s strategic river location, there were nearly a thousand residents by 1803 and nearly ten thousand by 1820.  Steamboats were manufactured in Cincinnati, and farmers throughout the region brought their crops to be shipped down the Ohio and the Mississippi to New Orleans.  The Ohio River remains one of Cincinnati’s most significant geographic features today.  Here are some interesting things to know about the Ohio River, then and now: 

·       The river’s name:  From the Seneca (Iroquoian) Ohiːyo', which means “good river”. 
·       Namesake: The state of Ohio is named after the Ohio River.  
·       Termini: The Ohio begins at the confluence of the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers in Pittsburgh and ends at Cairo, Illinois, where it empties into the Mississippi.
·       Length: 981 miles.
·       Rank among U.S. rivers: The Ohio is the longest river east of the Mississippi and the 10th longest in the nation.   
·       Maximum width: one mile at the Smithland Dam near Louisville.
·       Average depth: 24 feet.
·       Deepest point: 132 feet (near Louisville).

Ohio River From Eden Park, Cincinnati, O.

·       Age: Relatively young, the river’s formation began 2.5 to 3 million years ago near the beginning of ice ages.  Glacial meltwater probably cut the Ohio’s original channel.   
·       States along the Ohio River: Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois.  
·       Drainage basin: 14 states, 204,000 square miles..   
·       Chief tributaries of the Ohio: the Tennessee, Cumberland, Wabash, and Kentucky Rivers. 
·       Early Native American inhabitants: Mississippian and Hopewell cultures, Osage, Omaha, Ponca, and Kaw.
·       First European to see the Ohio: French expedition leader René-Robert Cavelier Sieur de La Salle (1669).  LaSalle named it “La Belle Riviere.”

Ohio River at Cincinnati, U.S.A.

·       Lewis and Clark: Lewis and Clark’s expedition to find a water route to the Pacific began at Pittsburgh on Aug. 31, 1803, with Meriwether Lewis and a crew of eleven men paddling and sailing down the Ohio River.  They reached Cincinnati on Sept. 28 and spent nearly a week  there, during which time Lewis collected 300 mastodon and mammoth bones at Big Bone Lick to send to President Jefferson.
·       Thomas Jefferson’s (1782) appraisal: “The Ohio is the most beautiful river on earth.  Its current gentle, waters clear, and bosom smooth and unbroken by rocks and rapids, a single instance only excepted.”  (Note: the exception is the Falls of Ohio, a drop of 26 feet over 2 miles near Louisville.) 
·       Ohio River pirates: In the early nineteenth century pirates had their hideouts at Cave-In-Rock, Illinois, where they waylaid river travelers, killed them, stole their goods, and scuttled their boats. 

Along the Levee, Cincinnati, O.

·       Steamboats: The first steamboat successfully navigated the Ohio in 1811, and fifteen steamers were in service  on the river by 1818. 
·       The Lucy Walker: One of the nation’s deadliest steamboat disasters occurred on the Ohio River near New Albany, Indiana, on Oct. 23, 1844.  The Lucy’s Walker’s boilers exploded, killing as many as 100 passengers and crew.  The Lucy Walker had a Native American owner, and her crew consisted of African-American slaves.  
·       North-South border: The Ohio River was the western extension of the Mason-Dixon Line and thus part of the border between free and slave territory.  Slaves who crossed the river via the Underground Railroad called it the “River Jordan”.  More slaves escaped across the Ohio than anywhere else on the Mason-Dixon Line. 

Ohio River By Moonlight

·       The phrase “sold down the river” originated with Kentucky slaves who were split apart from their families and shipped down the Ohio River to the Mississippi and New Orleans.  
·       Current population in the Ohio River basin: 25 million people (nearly 10% of the U.S. population).    
·       Major cities along the Ohio: Pittsburgh, Parkersburg, Wheeling, Huntington, Steubenville, Marietta, Owensboro, Cincinnati, Covington, Louisville, Paducah, Evansville.
·       The 1937 flood: 385 people died, a million were left homeless, and property losses reached $500 million from the Ohio River flood in late January and February 1937.  River gauge levels reached 80 feet in Cincinnati, the highest level in city history.  Twelve square miles of the city were flooded.      
·       Source of drinking water: To over 3 million people. 
·       Dams on the Ohio: 20; power generating facilities: 49.

 Suspension Bridge, Cincinnati, O.

·       Bridges: 118 bridges and other crossings across the Ohio River.  Cincinnati’s bridges are the Cincinnati Southern Bridge, Brent Spence Bridge (I-71/75), C&O Railroad Bridge, Clay Wade Bailey Bridge, John A. Roebling Suspension Bridge, Taylor-Southgate Bridge, Newport Southbank Bridge (the Purple People Bridge), Daniel Carter Beard Bridge, and the Combs-Hehl Bridge (I-275).    
·       Annual tonnage of cargo shipped on the Ohio: over 230 million tons — mainly coal, oil, and steel.
·       Number of species of fish found in the Ohio: 164, including Bass, Crappie, Bowfin, Carp, Buffalo, Bullhead, Catfish, Codfish, Darter, Drum, Eel, Garp, Chubs, Shiners, Lamprey, Paddlefish, Perch, Pike, Pickerel, Muskellunge, Sauger, Walleye, Sculpin Shad, Sturgeon, Sunfish, and others
·       Largest fish on record caught in the Ohio: 106-pound Paddlefish (Kentucky, 2004).

With many dog walks over the years, I’ve spent a lot of time along the Ohio River shoreline — at Eden Park, Fernbank Park, and, most recently, Smale Park.  The river’s presence is a great source of pleasure to many people.  

Sources consulted:, “Ohio”;, “Ohio River”; www.ohioriverfacts, “Ohio River Facts”;, “Exploration”;, “Ohio River Facts”;, “List of crossings of the Ohio River”;, “Lucy Walker steamboat disaster”;, “Ohio River”;, “Ohio River flood of 1937”;, “Ohio River”

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Monsters, Creatures, and Evil Spirits: A Halloween Primer

Dear George,
Next to Xmas, Halloween is definitely the best holiday for kids.  You get to disguise yourself in a costume so people don’t know who you are.  When you get old enough, you go out after dark with your friends with the possibility of engaging in mischief.  You collect tons of candy and goodies.  And there’s a lot of scary excitement about the prospect of encountering evil beings and monsters in the night.  

There are many things to be scared about in life, and witches, vampires, and ghouls give us entities upon which to target our worries.  In the interest of pinning down just who we should be concerned about this Halloween eve, I’ve compiled a taxonomy of evil beings and monsters.  Here are the most important ones.  

The Devil
The devil, of course, is number one, since he is the very personification of evil.  Most religions and cultures acknowledge the devil’s existence.  In Christianity he is a rebellious fallen angel who fights with God over the souls of human beings.  The American public, by and large, tends to believe in the devil’s reality and power.  67% believe in the devil’s existence (3), 51% believe that people can be possessed by the devil or other evil spirits (10), and 45% believe that Satan is the cause of most of the evil in the world (11).   The devil doesn’t just come around on Halloween — he’s here all the time.  

The devil commands an army of demons.  Often fallen angels or the spirits of those who have died recently, demons are evil spirits who have the capability of possessing living beings.  (12) Upon entering the body, demons “seize” the victim and cause nightmares, disease, epilepsy, and even death.  Rites of exorcism are used to expel demons.  Exorcism is practiced on occasion by Catholics, Jews, Muslims, and Hindus.  (13) 

There are important sub-categories of demons.  A succubus is an attractive female demon who appears in dreams and seduces men.  Having sex with a succubus results in loss of one’s health or even death.  Adam’s first wife, Lilith, later became a succubus.  She left Adam and the Garden of Eden after mating with the archangel Samuel.  A male sexual demon who seduces women in their sleep is an incubus.  (12) 

Ghosts are particularly likely to be hovering about on Halloween night and are probably the supernatural creatures we are most likely to personally encounter.  Ghosts are apparitions or spirits of deceased persons that appear after death.  Descriptions of ghosts range from an invisible presence to barely visible wispy shapes to lifelike visions.  Experiences of ghosts of deceased ancestors appear to exist in all human cultures.  While ghosts can be good or evil, people generally fear ghosts and see them as an omen of death.  (14) About 42% of American believe in ghosts.  23% report that they have actually seen a ghost or been in a ghost’s presence.  (9) 

If you go to the movies or watch TV, you probably know a lot about vampires already.  Vampires are undead creatures who feed on human blood.  They are believed to come from the grave at night to suck blood from sleeping victims.  Vampires are capable of immortality, though they can be killed by sunlight or a stake driven through the heart.  (7)  A Fox News poll found that only 4% of American adults believe in vampires.  (3)   I find this surprising since I notice one or two vampires on Ludlow Avenue almost every day.  According to one informative website, prominent vampire communities are located on the Sunset Strip in L.A., in New Orleans cemeteries, in the Caves of St. Louis, Missouri, and in downtown Detroit.  Georgia Tech professor and researcher John Edgar Browning interviewed 35 vampires in New Orleans and reports that there are at least twice that many in the city.  (6) 

Zombies  are all the rage these days.  They are undead creatures who are created when human corpses are reanimated through a sorcerer’s or witch’s magic or other means (e.g., viruses).  Zombies are mindless, primitive, uncontrollable, and extremely violent.  They are also very ugly.  Some zombies hunger for human brains.  (12)  Victims of zombies may become zombies themselves.  Both zombies and vampires are undead creatures, but zombies are brainless, repulsive creatures, while vampires are attractive, intelligent, finely dressed, and can blend in with the living.  (2)   A 2014 Chapman University survey on American Fears found that 18% of Americans are at least somewhat afraid of zombies.  (5) 

Ghouls are undead monsters who live in graveyards and eat human flesh.  Ghouls prey on young children as well as adults, and they like to drink human blood.  Sometimes ghouls and zombies get confused.  Ghouls live in graveyards, are attracted to the dead, and are created by black magic or possession by demons.  Zombies are attracted more to live human beings and are created by voodoo or the bite of another zombie.  I used to watch out for ghouls when riding my bike past Riverside Cemetery outside Menominee in the dark of night.  (2) (12) 

A werewolf is a human being who has the ability to shape shift into a wolf, either purposely or after being placed under a curse or an affliction (e.g., a bit from another werewolf).  Werewolves are aggressive and malevolent.  The full moon causes the transformation from human being to wolf.  Werewolves have superhuman speed and strength, though they can be killed by a silver bullet or blade.  (12)  I didn’t think we had any werewolves in Cincinnati until I ran across an account by William D. Carl in a book called “Bestial: Werewolf Apocalypse”  (Kindle, $10.99).   Here’s what happened (or might happen) in our city: “As night descends on Cincinnati, the city braces for hell on earth: The populace mutates into huge, snarling monsters that devour everyone they see and act upon their most base desires. Planes fall from the sky. Highways are clogged with abandoned cars, and buildings explode and topple. The city burns.”  (1) 

Witches possess evil magic powers.  Though both women and men can be witches, they usually are older women who wear black cloaks and a pointed hat and fly on a broomstick.  Modern witches are generally followers of Wicca, “a modern pagan, witchcraft religion” (12).  According to Marla Alupoaicei, co-author of “Generation Hex”, Wicca is the fastest-growing religion in America and will soon be the third largest religion after Christianity and Islam.  Witch School, one of thousands of occult websites on the Internet, reports that it has trained over 200,000 witches to date.  Currently there are over 200,000 registered witches in the U.S. and about 8 million unregistered practitioners of Wicca.  (8)  According to Gallup, 21% of Americans believe in witches, though my opinion is that that’s an under-estimate. (4)  

So there are quite a few evil beings to be worried about this Halloween.  I think back to a conversation with a graduate school friend many years ago.  He remarked that we all have monsters hidden within ourselves.  That struck me as a profound truth, and, if so, it also means that we are surrounded by hidden monsters all the time.  Maybe it’s not just werewolves that we should be worried about.

SOURCES:  (1), “Bestial: William D. Carl”; (2), “Difference between Ghoul and Zombie”; “Difference between Zombie and Vampire”; (3), “Fox Poll: More believe in Heaven than Hell”;  (4), “Three in four Americans believe in paranormal”; (5) www.neurologicablog, “What Americans believe”; (6), “There are real-life vampire tribes roaming New Orleans”; (7), “Vampire”; (8), “The fastest growing religion in America is witchcraft”; (9), “More Americans believe in witchcraft that agree with Citizens United”; (10), “57% believe in the devil, 72% for blacks, 61% for women”; (11), “Study: Americans are as likely to believe in Bigfoot as in the big bang theory”; (12), “Demons”, “Witchcraft”, “Zombies”; (13), “Exorcism”; (14), “Ghost”