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dragonfire01_wmI can’t remember the Ninja Nun Warrior’s name but Sister Ninja will do. I don’t remember what she looked like and can’t quote her words. Sister Ninja was the antithesis of holy and a witch who hated me. She belittled, scolded and rained who knows what other torments down on my head.

I remember the day I refused to go to school. At first I hid in the alley (like mom wouldn’t find me?) and mom sent me to school but each time she tried, I came back until my father put me in the car, drove me to school and abandoned me to the the clutches of Sister Ninja.

If stress can cause our bodies to be sick, then maybe she was a direct (or indirect) cause of my German measles and Scarlet fever. After all, I was home from school and away from Sister Ninja for months because I was very sick and in the hospital for part of the time.

Wow, that creature did affect me. I never considered her treatment of me as a possible cause of my long second grade illnesses. Of course I’m speculating and can’t prove a thing and maybe imagining too much but her vitriol was pure poison to me as a young kid. I needed encouragement and guidance but she did nothing but discourage and belittle. I hated her and school. She was a truly evil woman.

But even after missing months of school during the winter and spring of 1952 I finished first in my second grade class and was done with the Ninja Nun Warrior for and out of her clutches forever. I proved that the pen is mightier than Sister Ninja’s weapons of kid destruction. What if I had said “Remember the Cricket on the stairs Sister? That was me.” And put the cricket on her desk on the way out her classroom door on the last day of school?

I remember my third grade teacher as a tall, thin nun who liked me, appreciated me, encouraged me, praised mea and contributed to my feeling of self worth. What a change from second grade!

I wish I could picture her or remember her name. It’s enough to remember her as a happy good woman, to remember her as an encouraging nurturing influence on me as a young child. She was a healing force. Though I don’t remember specifics, I remember third grade as a happy time.

800px-Cricket_InsectI wasn’t trying to pin the blame on another person, I dumped the evidence into the other kid’s pocket so I wouldn’t get the blame. What was I thinking? I wasn’t. When Sister Ninja Marie went into attack mode, we were all paralyzed with fear.

All you heard as our second grade class snaked down the fire stair at the end of the school day was the noise of dozens of feet. That is, until I took my cheap tin cricket noise maker that I probably got out of a Cracker Jack box out of my pocket. That sucker was loud, a bold move for a normally shy kid. And in competition with the ever present wooden nun’s clicker.! What was I thinking? As I said, I wasn’t. Ninja nun’s screaming, and thundering up the stairs. All I remember is thinking that I had to get rid of that cricket before Ninja nun spotted me so I dropped it into the open pocket of the kid next to me. And then? My memory stops there — after 63 years, I have no recollection of what happened next. But what if…

What if Ninja nun had been closer than I thought and saw me drop the cricket into my neighbor’s pocket? I can feel the outrage, see her face getting red as she explodes (my name explodes form her mouth), grabs both of us and yanks us out of line. My neighbor has innocently become part of her conspiracy. No matter that his pocket was nothing more than a convenient dumping ground for the incriminating evidence.

Would she have grabbed my ear? Who knows where she would have attacked first but you can be sure it would have gotten physical and fast. Now she’s on a roll, her destiny to bend young minds and bodies to her will or beat the crap out of said young bodies and minds.

Ninja Nun Warrior, fearless against the forces of seven year old evil children who were destined for eternal punishment in the fires of hell were it not for her timely intervention. What a culture this was because Sister Ninja Marie (who cares what her real name was) was only one example of a way of thinking, a way of life.

No wonder I was scared of my own shadow as a kid. The cricket incident must have been my way of fighting back, feeble as it was.

Suppose the kid next to me noticed me dropping the cricket in his pocket? No, he felt something different about his pocket, stuck his hand in and, to his surprise and eventual demise, pulled out the cricket just as Ninja nun’s evil eye landed on us. Aha! He became the guilty one and I was stunned to silence by her rage. I had opened my mouth and was about to proclaim his innocence when her look froze the words in my mouth. I was paralyzed with fear. My neighbor’s surprise turned to fear as Sister Ninja attacked. The poor kid had no chance, Ninja Nun had her man and no explanation, no confessions from me would change anything. She made her grab, caught the culprit, announced it to the world and no matter what happened next, would never admit to being wrong. God was infallible and she, as God’s minion (and wife because she had the ring) was always right. But she wasn’t right about me and I proved it at the end of the school year, But that’s another story.

Note: The ideas and raw text for this story were transcribed from morning pages 02/16/2013.

Maddy and Livvy turned six on Tuesday, November 4, 2014. We helped them celebrate with a family party at Sue’s this past Sunday. Here’s a picture I managed to snap through the crowd around the table. Maddy’s cake (the vanilla with the white icing) sat with cooling candles while Livvy’s cake, chocolate, chocolate, is begging for the Happy Birthday song, blowing out the candles and let’s eat cake and ice cream.

twins6(2)

Left to right are Livvy, Maddy and their friend Frankie. Love the happy faces of kids. We had a lovely time and I got out of the house for a few hours. Yes! We like parties.

Been out of circulation for awhile because I ended up in the hospital again. Turned out to be another bout with MERSA pneumonia. Was in for a week until they figured out what was wrong then they sent me home to a safer environment for someone who is immunocompromised like I am. Eight days on Zyvox (probably the most powerful and expensive antibiotic out there). I finished the course with this morning’s dose. Yeah!

Let’s not dwell on sick. How about a delicious smoothie recipe I’ve been working on. I drink two of these a day now, Mid day and evening (about 8 o’clock or so). The late smoothie keeps my hands out of the candy dish.

Super Protein Smoothie

– 8 oz. bottle chocolate Ensure or Boost (vanilla works too but I love choc.)
– 4 oz. plain organic yogurt
– 1 scoop Swanson goat milk whey protein
– 1 t. organic peanut butter
– 1/2 t. (approx.) organic coconut oil
– pinch nutmeg
– splash vanilla extract (the real thing)
– 1/3 to 1/2 cup frozen wild blueberries
– (opt) Barley Grass juice powder (try it, you won’t taste it)

Put all the ingredients into your nutra-bullet or other blender and buzz for about 45 seconds or so. Experiment. The yield is about 16 oz. and will give you about 26 grams of high quality protein and all the good stuff in blueberries. The green drink powder can be a nice bonus but it’s optional. Enjoy.

I’m back and hope to get some writing done and published. The twins were six years old Tuesday and we’re having a birthday party today. I’m taking my camera so wish me luck.

I wrote this short piece over nineteen years ago. Time for another look,

I save things just in case. I save things because I haven’t decided. I haven’t decided if the things saved are worth saving or simply made no decision. After all, I may need something later.

Know what I need (require) and toss the rest. This act is a new beginning. I am, therefore I think. I am, therefore I act. I am, therefore I am. I am me. I serve no other.

I want to neither rule nor be ruled. I have never wanted power. I have always been uncomfortable with the thought of power. Now I know why. Neither I, nor any other man has the right to rule another, just as no man has the right to rule me.

I have allowed myself to be swayed by the opinions of others. I have actively sought their approval. ‘What do you think?’ I knew I was right, that I had done something well that I wanted to do. Yet, I asked for their opinions? Does that make me a second rater? I offer no excuses. I believed them when they told me that god made me in his image and likeness. I believed when they told me I was a seven year old sinner. I believed when they told me I would go to hell if I committed a mortal sin.

I allowed them to write the script for my life. Tell me what to do, I said. I’ll try to live up to your expectations.

I’ve never known a true friend. I’ve always been alone. I’ve never known what to do at parties (except when I rendered myself unconscious). I’m uncomfortable with small talk. I never learned how to do it correctly. I don’t want to learn now.

I’ve always felt a sense of unease. I’ve always felt that something wasn’t quite right. I thought something was wrong with me. I was wrong. Nothing is wrong with me except my relationship with them. Nothing is wrong with me except my non acceptance of my own judgement and happiness. They have lost their power over me. I can see them for what they are. I can see without guilt. I can feel free to look to myself for all of my needs. I am my own responsibility. I choose!

 I know all this. Now I choose to act on this knowledge. I know I must learn many things. I must learn to think entirely for myself. If I read something, I must use my mind. I must use my reason to examine and to judge. Yes! I will judge.

The most important questions I must ask are: Who am I and what are my goals. Think long and deep. What have I always wanted to make of my life? What have I always wanted to create? Don’t ask how or why. Simply ask what. Then find the answers. No matter how painful. Find the answers. Act on the answers that I find. I am, therefore I think. I am, therefore, I am.

The Knowledge Vampire

The following is a piece I wrote to myself nine years ago on May 19, 2006

The knowledge vampire. Yep, that’s me. I’m a knowledge vampire. I don’t suck the juice out of anything, I absorb. I have this hunger for knowing. I just gotta know. I remember when I was a kid. Sitting on the front porch in summer or on the living room sofa waiting for breakfast. Reading. I love to read. I love to discover stuff. Find out why things are. I got up early every Saturday morning to watch Mr. Wizard. Made my own breakfast too. Why would a kid, or at least any normal kid want to get out of bed early on Saturday. Saturday was the day you’re supposed to be lazy. No school, nothing to do or at least nobody telling you what to do all day. Except when dad would give me the hose and expect me to wash all the dirt down the alley. Why didn’t we sweep the alley with a broom?

Waste of water. But what did we know then. Water was free and there was always more where that came from. The water squirted out of the hose as long as you wanted it to. Besides, sweeping was work and crouching with the hose was easy – the hose was doing all the work. Me? I’m just holding the hose and moving it back and forth.

What chore did I hate the most? Weeding the garden. I had to get down on my knees and get dirt under my fingernails. Nasty bugs and stuff on my hands. Ech! I wanted to be sitting in the back yard with my soldiers. Now that was real playing in the dirt. Same dirt, but it was my dirt instead of the garden dirt. I was playing instead of working.

So, why did I get up on Saturday morning? Because Mr. Wizard was cool. He did all kinds of neat stuff and I learned things. Same reason I got so many books out of the library. I found out about all kinds of stuff. Stuff I never knew. Was it useful? Did it matter? No. I was having fun.

I was left to my own devices? Crazy way to talk. Who ever talked that way? As I was saying, they would usually leave me alone so I could read or whatever. I liked reading better than baseball. I was never much of an athlete. Nobody made me and nobody took the time to show me. So, I learned things on my own.

I had a magnifying glass. I had a few of those over the years. I liked to shine the sun on leaves and burn holes in them with my magnifying glass. Burned up a few ants too. Looked a bit closer that I could with my regular eyes.

So, I’m a knowledge vampire? Maybe better to call myself a knowledge sponge. Absorb all I can then wring me out and start over.

I was a good little boy too. Never deviating from the rules they gave me. Memorize the catechism. Every day with the rules. Break one and go to confession and all would be right again (after I said the hail Marys and our fathers.)

Remember walking over to DeSales on Saturday afternoons in the summer to confess my sins. Wearing a nylon shirt outside my pants. Long pants and combed hair. Wouldn’t do to show up in church looking like a regular kid, even though I was a sinner.

Knowledge. Asking questions? Yeah, but I didn’t ask too many questions when I was a kid. I just did what I was told to do (most of the time.) Never a rebel, but I always had my secret world. If I didn’t share by telling people, then they never knew what I was thinking.

Confessing sins sucks. Having to kneel there and share intimate things with this priest guy. Share my secrets with a guy in a black dress. Never went to Fr. Gallagher because I was afraid he’d recognize my voice. Poof, there go the secrets. Bad enough you had to kneel there, but imagine how bad, even scared I’d be if the guy in black knew who I was.

Am I different now? Hope so. I’m 61 now. Bit older than the scared kid who sat and read books all the time, but I still want to suck all of the knowledge I can. I want to know more stuff!

Afterword (written today) I’m 69, soon to be 70 and I’m still a knowledge vampire.

 

Johnny is Back Again

The new chemo regime, second session beat the crap out of me and I landed in the hospital for nine days in the regular unit followed by nine more days in the rehab unit for a total of 18 days in the hospital. Got home Thursday evening. Boy did it ever feel good to be home sleeping in my own bed.

Now I come downstairs in the morning and stay there until bedtime. The first trip up the stairs Thursday night was a real bitch. I found a better way Friday night. I used my walking/stick to help my stronger left leg and held onto the handrail mounted on the right. Made it to the top slower but easier and a major triumph for me.

Have my computer set up downstairs and am slowly catching up and adjusting to my new ‘normal.’ I grow stronger each day and will be back with new posts shortly.

I wrote this vignette [Wonder and the Fragility of Ideas] after clustering (from Writing the Natural Way, in October, 2012)

My head bobs up and down anxious, no, eager (because we don’t like worry words and anxious is a worry word). We like words like eager, a puppy aiming to please, a child wondering about his world, living in the moment, the wonder of Now.

Wonder sneaks up on me when I sit quietly. No thunder — who needs thunder? Thunder is suspect, drawing attention to itself with noise rather than substance. When I don’t know what to wonder about, wonder tells me. All I need to do is pay attention.

PAY ATTENTION! ATTENTION means ATTENTION!

underwoodOur H.S. biology teacher (Brother Joseph) had a funny sense of humor. He referred to hospitals as horsepistols. So maybe I’m kind of warped myself. I was back to the hospital again last week. I swore I was never going back but circumstances said otherwise.

A routine CT scan ordered my my oncologist showed suspicion of a clot in my leg. We have a family friend who is a top radiologist. I always get a CD of any scans, x-rays, etc. for him to read. He saw the clot and let us know how serious it was. Advice to get to the hospital.

Sue called my oncologist. Sue is my advocate, does all kinds of research and is on good terms with all my caregivers. After Sue told my oncologist about the reading. The question was who would call. Sue said “Rock, paper, scissors, you better call.”

And she (oncologist did) at 10:00 PM on Thursday night. Got to the ER around 11:00 PM, triaged right away then had to wait awhile for an ER bed. They sucked my blood, x-rayed my chest (I had a touch of pneumonia too), and did an ultrasound on my legs which, when they finally get the report to the docs confirmed a DVT in my right leg. Great, just what I needed to hear.

The good part of this hospital stay is that I was there because of the risk, not because I felt sick. Boring!! They gave me shots of Luvenox in my belly twice a day. The plan was to send me home with a script for the stuff. We even had a class on how to stick me. No Luvenox for me. That stuff is ridiculously expensive, almost $500 for generic with my insurance for 11 days!

The next choice was Xarelto, still too expensive but not even close to the other. So once that was settled, they put me on the stuff, wrote the Scripts and sent me home on Sunday afternoon.

Sunday was a real adventure in the hospital. Underwood had merged with Inspira (what a stupid name) and the Underwood computers shut down at midnight Saturday for the transfer. All the work on Sunday was paper. Insanity. We finally got home around 4:30 PM.

So now it’s almost back to normal whatever that is. I have no clues about normal after two years of chemo, etc. Visit my primary tomorrow, get a follow up chest x-ray tomorrow afternoon and finish the course of antibiotics (leviquin is some potent stuff — gives me chemo brain). Then if all is well with the x-ray, back to chemo on Monday.

harps

Wow, it’s been over a month since my last post. Why? I’ve been busy making music (or trying to). Once upon a time many years ago I learned to play the Chromatic harmonica and I was good. I got my first serious harmonica as a gift when I was in high school. At first, I learned and played by ear but learned to read enough music so I could expand my repertoire.

I carried one of my harmonicas just about everywhere. Once, while in Vietnam, my buddies and I went to the Vietnamese enlisted men’s club. I had my big 16 hole (64 reed) Hohner in my pocket and somehow ended up on the stage with a local band. My solo was Summertime and got me a round of applause and free beer for the rest of the evening. That was the one and only time I played for a large audience.

The picture at the top of this post is one I took a few weeks ago for the cover of a book of scores for Harmonica that I had been working on. The harmonica in the foreground is a Chromatic and the other harp standing on end behind is a diatonic in the key of A. I have a couple of good fake books that I use. I take songs I like and enter notes and lyrics with a neat program called MuseScore.

“Create beautiful sheet music for free using MuseScore, the free and open source notation program!” from the MuseScore website. Great program that runs on Linux, Windows and Mac computers.

The program includes a series of plug-ins, one of which is for Harmonica tabs (holes numbered, blow or draw and accidentals using the slide). I like this arrangement because I can learn a piece quickly using tabs but all the notes are there as well so I’m learning to read music as I go along. I made the book using duplex/booklet printing and ended up with a staple bound 5 1/2 x 8 1/2 booklet that’s easy to carry around. (Like I get out of the house a lot these days?)

One of the best features of MuseScore is that I can transpose into a different key, move up or down an octave and lot’s more.

I am having fun with all this. The harmonica (or harp) comes in two basic flavors, the small, 10 hole diatonic or blues harp and the chromatic harmonica. The blues harp comes in at least 12 different keys. The chromatic harmonica commonly comes in the key of C although there are other keys available. The chromatic is really two harmonicas in one, a C and C# (pressing the slide gives you the C#). Playing with the slide out is like the white keys on the piano. Pressing the slide in gives you the black keys. You can play in any key within reason with a C Chromatic.

Oh, before I forget, I stopped playing sometime around my late twenties. Why? I can’t remember. Probably because I got busy with marriage, family, college and then my career. I have the time and desire so I’m back with my music.

This time, I’m also learning to play blues harp, something I always wanted to do but never figured it out. Now, with the Internet at my disposal, I’m taking a course from Lee Sankey on Vimeo, “Country Blues Harmonica.” I’m loving it.

I’ll post about my progress from time to time. Did I mention that I have a nice acoustic guitar (classical) that belonged to my late father. Time I learned to play the darn thing. I put new strings on it a few weeks ago and ordered a DVD with lots of lessons for beginners from Amazon this afternoon.

So you’ve heard all my excuses for not posting. I’ll be posting more as the weather changes and I’m able to get out more to take pictures. Stay tuned.