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Sunday, July 26, 2015

Summit to Valley

A bit more than two weeks ago, or a fortnight; for my readers in the U.K., I was enjoying an extended time of Life Being Good while relaxing on the summit of some now forgotten mountain.

Within a matter of moments, I found myself plunging wildly into a valley the depths, darkness, and endlessness of such I have never encountered. This reckless ride was triggered by a phone call, from our very responsible 17 year old grandson, telling me my Lovely Bride had become suddenly, and extremely seriously ill while working out with her trainer.

It was not an overly rigorous workout, in fact, they were just warming up.  It was not an overly hot or humid day; rather it was somewhat pleasant. It just happened. By the Grace of God, the local fire station was literally next to the park they were at; the local hospital within a half mile. Still, LB was very, very ill.

I cannot say we are out of the woods; but I can feel confident in saying we are coming to the end of the stinking swamp which had threatened to consume us.  When just a few days ago, darkness was all around, with no hint of sunlight (or moonlight, for that matter) to be found. Now, the glint of brightness peeks through the leaves with  more frequency.

Our journey along this trail is far from ending. In fact, it seems as if we are just now finally preparing to leave the trail head. I try not to get my hopes too high, as several times plans had changed, or been delayed due to never-ending paperwork, forms, verification and what not.

LB would not have recovered to the state she is currently in were it not for the countless prayers of literally thousands of people around the globe. I shall be eternally grateful to every person, for every prayer offered on her behalf. It boggles my mind when I stop to consider there is a continual, 24-hour-a-day barrage of prayer upon Heaven  for her. Believers in Europe, Australia, South America, Africa, the Pacific Islands, Alaska... on and on... I don't know whom all of you are, however, I am very deeply indebted to each person.

We are blessed with a extraordinary support group. Our children, later-in-life-through-marriage children, our grandchildren, friends beyond number; the care, assistance, support has all be overwhelming and very humbling. I can never repay you all for your help, your warmth, your concern for the two of us. Even if it was listening to me vent, and overlooking my lack of charm at times.

I have noticed one thing interesting from the valley perspective.

Only from the valley floor can one truly appreciate the splendor and majesty of the mountains. That view is lost to us from the summit. I know LB and I will be back on the summit once again.

Until then, please keep her in your prayers and good thoughts.
I thank you from the very bottom of my heart.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Father's Day Verse

A poignant, touching original verse in honor of Father's Day 
by  J.E. Hopkins 

P is for the Patience youse had when I did dumb stuff
O is for the Offerin’ of time youse made in my life
P (again) is for Passin’ the Skills of being an adal..adol… a Grown-up to me
S is for the Smarts needed to raise a bunch of kids

you are Tops!

Saturday, June 20, 2015

A New Clean, Well-lighted Place

Hemingway had his clean, well-lighted place; a small cozy bistro tucked away in post-WWI Paris. He wrote at length extolling the coziness, the quaintness, and the inspirational merits of the café.

(If the reader is not familiar with “A Clean, Well-lighted Place” of Hemingway’s I would suggest borrowing it from the library or purchasing from a bookstore (you know, those buildings with all the books inside), and acquainting one’s self with Ernest and his times.)

However, my Lovely Bride and I have discovered a far cleaner, well-lighted and affable place in post Great Recession Cleveland. Tucked away in the former warehouse district, on a bluff above the gritty Cuyahoga River is one of our favorite places.

A warm spring evening finds the restaurant/café bustling with activity, nearly every table filled with diners although it was close to 9 o’clock.

It was quite by accident we stumbled upon this jewel one Saturday. We had spent the better part of the afternoon traveling back in time at the Western Reserve Historical Society museum, another bright spot of Northeast Ohio.

Upon leaving, we were desirous of having dinner. While there is certainly no end to excellent local dining places in and around the University Circle area, LB had a yearning for some Greek food.

We set off on a tour of the newly revamped Euclid Avenue, past some not-so-great areas, through the CSU campus, and toward Public Square. As for myself, my stomach was not quite as discriminating as LB’s, and was ready to take a stab at the BB-Q joints, burger places, and soul food emporiums we cruised past.

Undeterred in her quest, she was following the Apostle Paul’s advice, pressing onward toward the mark. Albeit, he was illustrating a far more lofty quest than a dinner of moussaka. 

We wended our way around a Public Square under renovation, past the Society for Savings bank building, tipped our figurative hats to the Old Stone Church, and found the corner which once was home to John Q’s Public House was now vacant.

With that uniquely American bent, we continued onward; Westward, ever Westward. I was beginning to become anxious, as the Great Divide of the Cuyahoga River was fast approaching. Neither of us had passports or visas with us. The Point of No Return loomed.

For those not familiar with the Greater Cleveland area, it is unique in many, many ways. Unique in its founding, not as a trading post done good, not as a strategic military location which kept on growing, nor a spot where a broken down prospector, withdrawing his pick from the soil, spots a glitter, shouts “Eureka!” and overnight, a flood of treasure seekers has arrived.

No, Cleveland was begun as a profit making real-estate venture. Moses Cleaveland, the founder and namesake of the city, had been hired by the Connecticut Land Company to map and plat the lands of the Western Reserve.

The Western Reserve was land set-aside for the survivors of England’s scorched earth policy in Connecticut during our Revolutionary War; giving those families who had lost their farms, businesses, homes, etc  the opportunity for a fresh start in the newly opened Ohio Territory.

The Connecticut Land Company was established for the purpose of selling tracts of land to those people who were not entitled to a land-grant.

A natural barrier between the two sides of Cleveland (in fact, the west bank was called Ohio City, a name which lives in describing the area which had long ago been annexed) is the Cuyahoga. Although bridges now span its width, the river (or The River, as it is referred to) is a cultural and psychological barrier as well.  The old stigma of being “a Westsider” or an “Eastsider” has begun to fade, although vestiges still remain.

Hence, one can now appreciate my anxiety. In desperation, we turned down a narrow little street, popping out on West Ninth Street. We spot an eatery on a corner, and resignedly opt to go there. I was at the point of considering boiling the seat-belt for nourishment.  Then, with a shaft of light streaming from the heavens, the haunting tones of an angelic chorus, we saw IT.

A sign,  high above: “Santorini  Greek Taverna”.

We entered into one of the best kept secrets in town. Greeted by a cheerful young lady, we were shown to our table.  A plate of olives and pita was placed before us. We were treated like family who had not been seen for some time. Explaining to Alexis, our server that I am Irish, so I need some help with anything beyond potatoes, she gladly described the many wonderful selections.

The fragrances from the open kitchen area filled the place. With a shout of “Oompa!” a near-by table was enthralled with the presentation of Saganaki, a flaming Greek cheese appetizer.  Trays of youvetsi,  pork souvlaki, and so much more were carried past; invoking an “Ooo, what is that?” reaction.

Finally, we settled upon our meal; which I cannot recall the exact constituents. It was excellent, however.  
We also were treated to their version of baklava, the classic Greek dessert. Typically, I am not a huge fan of this sticky, gooey, flaky pastry. However, the spin (not going to tell you, you have to check it out for yourself) put on by Santorini’s is outstanding!

We departed, feeling quite pleased.

So it was, we found ourselves on a warm spring evening (see The Schmooze, May, 2013) entering the door of our new favorite place. Being a busy Friday, we thought we would simply meld into the background; just another couple at a two-top table.

We were wrong as the greeter remembered us, Alexis greeted us with a smile (actually LB got a hug); we were astounded. As we were enjoying our light repast, Gus Karakostas, the owner spotted us. Making a bee-line for our table, we were warmly greeted. Again, LB received a hug (what is up with that?) and I received a hardy hand-shake, which was fine with me… that whole guys-hugging-thing… a generational thing…you know.

Finally, we made our departure, Gus joining us at the door.  Stepping onto the sidewalk, the alfresco café tables filled, the happy sounds of conversation and laughter filling our ears; we knew we would be back.
So, Ernest, you can have your clean, well-lighted place. I am sure it is quite nice. But, give me Santorini’s in tough, won’t-stay-down Cleveland any day.

*NOTE: the writer of this column has received NO remuneration or consideration in any form. I do believe in sharing some of the positive experiences LB and I have.*

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Theological Debate Overheard

In our home, the radio is on from early morning until late at night. Ninety-nine and seven-tenths  out of 100, it is tuned to Cleveland’s Moody Broadcasting affiliate. 

This has been the case now for well over two decades. Once in a while (usually during absences by my Lovely Bride) the tuner finds itself on the local jazz station. Sometimes, once in a very blue moon, the local country station fills the room.

But, by and large, it is Moody Broadcasting.

As a result, I overheard the most amazing conversation the other night.

It was storming, with lightning reflecting off the bedroom walls, peals of thunder rattling the window-frame, and torrents of wind propelled rain peppering the siding. I lay there awake, wrestling with the blankets when I heard it.

From the kitchen, Ike’s youthful canine voice raised the question:

 “Mimi, what do you think of Grace? Is it provisional, or un-conditional?”

Shaking my head to clear the cobwebs, I heard Mimi reply, even as she lay between LB and me;

 “Ike, Ike, Ike… how many times are we going to go over this? Grace is unmerited. No one can earn it. Look at what Paul wrote in Ephesians 6; “For by Grace are you saved, not of works.”

“I know salvation is not works based… but what are the limits of Grace?”

“Ike, how can Someone as limitless as God place a limit upon one of His most fundamental virtues?”

“Why do you have to answer a question with a question?”

“Do I do that?”

“Yes, and it drives me nuts!  Now back to Grace. So, you are saying God’s Grace is limitless. Now, what if we extrapolate that to followers of Christ, can they, do they, have unlimited Grace?”

It began to dawn on me, that after nearly a dozen years of listening to the radio, Mimi has a very solid grasp of theology and doctrine! In fact, she could give most ministers a run for their money; with the possible exceptions of Erwin Lutzer, C.S. Lewis or the Rev. Dr. David Welle. The more I listened, I began to see she holds to a “Calvinian” belief; Calvinist, with overtones of Arminianism.

She cleared her throat, took a deep breath, sighed and replied.

 “You are asking a question with several prongs. As I see it, the first is ‘Can followers have unlimited Grace’, the second is ‘Do followers have unlimited Grace.’ As you are aware, there is a gulf of difference between ‘can’ and ‘have’.”

“Yeah, yeah…I get all that. What do you think?”

“Let’s take a look at some Biblical examples, shall we? Perhaps one of the earliest, and most poignant, examples of Grace being extended by one of Christ followers is the stoning of Stephen. While the hatred of the mob washed over him like a wave, the stones breaking his bones, splitting his skin; yet Stephen implored the Lord to not hold his murder to the account of the ones stoning him. That, my little friend is unlimited Grace exemplified.”

“Yes, I recall hearing about Stephen the other day.” Ike proclaimed.

I sat up, eyes wide, staring at the little brindle dog lying there. “How is she doing that?” I wondered. Tentatively, I reached toward LB’s shoulder; she has to hear this.

“Another example of unlimited Grace is that of Ananias, in Acts chapter 9. Here we see not only Grace being exercised, but also Obedience to God; despite the possibility of great physical harm. Here, God called him, a believer, to seek out the feared Saul of Tarsus; the Persecutor of the Church. Yet, he believed God. Through Grace, with Obedience, he extended his hands, touched Saul’s blinded eyes, and prayed for healing, and an in-filling of the Holy Spirit, upon Saul.”

“Okay, I see. Do you think believers of today have the same capabilities?”

“Again, the ultimate answer lies within Scripture. The writer of Hebrews…”

“Wasn’t it Paul?”

My hand stopped mere inches from LB’s shoulder! I wanted to awaken her, yet I feared the disturbance would slam the door shut on what I was experiencing. I thought back upon anything I may have eaten or drank before bed-time. Nothing, not a thing I could recall. A crash of thunder shook the very walls of our home. The trees beyond the window thrashed as if crazed, caught in an unfettered dance with the wind.

“No, there is no certainty Paul wrote Hebrews. For one, he was not ashamed to announce he was the writer of his known epistles, unlike the anonymity of this letter. Secondly, the sentence structure and syntax do not conform to other Pauline examples. As I was about to say, though, Hebrews 13:8 states “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.”, which underscores that He is unchanging. Therefore, if He is unchanging, his Grace is the same today as it was to Ananias two thousand years ago.”

“Whew… that is good to know.”

“Why do you ask such deep questions so late at night, little buddy?”, Mimi asked.

“Well, you know that blue-green carnival glass fruit bowl on the kitchen table?”

“Of course I do. That has been in the family’s household since the 1970s. Every dog that has been privileged to be part of this family knows that bowl.”


“ ‘Un-huh’ what, Ike?”

“Well, do you remember that one really, really, really loud clap of thunder?”

“Vaguely, I sleep pretty soundly at my age, you know.”

“Yeah, well, I don’t. I jumped up, bumped the table and, well….”

“Oh no, Ike! You didn’t.”

“I think I did. Nothing went crash, but I have a smorgasbord of apples and bananas down here.”

“Oh my… oh my, I will be praying for you, little man. I hope that Puppy-cuteness still works for you.”

The next thing I recalled was the sound of a contemporary Christian song coming from the clock radio. 

Groggily, I pulled on my jeans, scooped up Mimi, headed down the stairs and outdoors. After her morning oblations were complete, I came into the kitchen to prepare their breakfasts.

There, safely on the table, the apples and bananas intact, was the bowl.

As I turned to get the dog-food from the refrigerator (LB cooks her own food for them), I could have sworn I heard Ike humming “A Mighty Fortress is Our God”


Monday, May 25, 2015

Protect One Freedom?

Most mornings, while on my way to work; depending upon the route I take, I pass a sign placed prominently at the end of someone’s driveway.  Signs in yards are not so unusual…especially considering the never-ending election cycles of Federal, State, and Local elections. Toss in the odd “Garage Sale”, “Elvis Lives!”, and “Save the common house wren” sentiments; and they have become a permanent part of the landscape.

However, at first glance, this one is a little bit odd: PROTECT RELIGIOUS FREEDOM it proclaims in bold black print against a white background.

Stark, inexpensive one-color on white stock—if this were a candidate’s sign, it is extremely bush-league.

I have the greatest urge to pull into their drive, knock upon the door, and engage in conversation. My primary question is this:  

What about protecting the other Freedoms contained within the First Amendment?

While Freedom of Religion is contained within the first line of the First Amendment; do they want to chuck aside Freedom of Speech, Freedom of the Press, and Freedom of Assembly?

If such were the case, their right to post this very sign would be in jeopardy. There would be no guarantee to gather with like minded individuals in order to share in their beliefs.

If we assume the other 9 Amendments are trimmed away from the Bill of Rights; what benefit would there be of keeping just a portion of one Amendment?

Would they advocate forfeiting the right to a speedy trial, and jury of their peers? Would they be willing to put aside protection from unreasonable searches and seizures?  What about the provision against self incrimination?

Would they have the Second Amendment be bartered away?

Should we toss aside the Third Amendment, and permit the quartering of troops in private homes, at the resident’s expense; whether in time of war or peace?

Would they be willing to forego the protection against excessive bail, cruel and unusual punishment? Perhaps a fine in the tens of thousands of dollars, and two days spent in stocks in the city square would be acceptable for a speeding ticket to some; however not to me.

I would ask the poster of the sign to ponder upon the Ninth Amendment, which states that the listing of certain rights within the Constitution shall neither deny nor disparage other rights retained by the People.

Also, what about States’ Rights and powers, which are found in the Tenth Amendment?

Finally, I would ask; whose religious freedom do you advocate protecting? If my beliefs are polar opposite of their beliefs; are they still worthy of protecting?

Saving just a fragment of one Amendment, while casting the remainder of our Rights and Freedoms aside would result in an extremely unstable one-legged stool at best, ending in utter folly.

As we take time this Memorial Day to observe, remember, and give thanks for those who gave their highest for our Nation and our Liberties, let us not dilute their sacrifice.

We must  protect the entire Constitution. 

Sunday, May 10, 2015

The Schoomze

The other evening, my Lovely Bride and I took part in a very unusual event. One could go so far as to say “unique”. Personally, I would have to categorize it as down-right weird.

As regular readers may recall, LB, and by extension; Ike our dog have been enjoying some forays in the local film industry.

Don’t scoff…Cleveland is one of the hottest film centers in the country at present. Consider the recent number of Marvel films shot here, as well as other non-superhero works. Think of Drew Carey. Also, how can Betty White and Valerie Bertinelli be wrong?

So, it was due to her connections, someone’s people sent one of Cindy’s people an invitation to an industry event. Cindy’s people sent it on to her, and before you can recite the Preamble, Constitution, and all 25 Amendments, we found ourselves attending:

The Schmooze
A film industry networking event
I know, I know… pretty heady stuff.

Alas… much like Tinseltown itself; the glitter fell aside rather quickly.

Our first hint should have been the venue where the event was to be held Not wishing to plug the joint, let’s just say the name is extremely similar to a pre-med course which begins with an “A” and ends in a “Y”.

We entered the “ultra-lounge” (as it bills itself), and stood transfixed by the dimness of the lighting. It was as though one had stepped into a coal mine lacking illumination.  After a few moments, we could begin making out forms moving about. A few moments later, we were able to discern the forms as people. We eventually discovered we were standing at the registration table.

How many of you absolutely abhor those little self adhesive “HELLO My Name is:…..” tags as much as I do? Show of hands, please. I KNEW it! The overwhelming majority of thinking people find these things to be clichés, and ridiculous.

However, LB dutifully wrote her full name. I on the other hand, resisted the norms of conformity as much as I could. Finally, The Look ( ask any married man about The Look) was cast my way. In a spirit of compromise, and homage to Castle; I asked LB to simply put “Writer” on mine.

Thus began our venture into the exciting world of a film industry networking event.

Perhaps “exciting” is a bit of overstatement.

As more film industry types shuffled in; all coming to a stumbling  halt by the wall of darkness; it soon became apparent that we were in very select classes; MAWG and MAWC.  Middle Age White Guy and Middle Aged White Chick, we stood out a bit.

With the moniker of Writer, I as afforded the unique perspective of being an Observer; not a real threat to all the wanna-be film stars. Oh sure, a few people asked if I was a “real writer”, to which I would briefly tell them about 1850: Death on Erie as well as a thumb-nail overview of the cabin book. Usually, however, by the time I was sharing about Johnny Rhoades cum Miller, they wandered off. Apparently, my genre was not hip enough. Oh well, such is life.

My Lovely Bride was engaging in conversation with a young lady who has political ambitions.  She has dreams of “going as far as I can”. However, having voted only for Presidential candidates; it seems that her hopes are in vain. Typically, in order to be elected, one needs to be engaged politically.

I was once again relegated to my well-worn role of “Eye Candy”. Sigh… it is a tough job, but someone has to undertake it. Besides, behind every elected official is the “political trophy spouse”

Glancing over the increasing crowd, it struck me that with more conservative attire, in a more generic and subdued setting (no nudie art work on the walls), this could be just so many accountants, or insurance agents, or respiratory therapists having a confab.

Endeavoring to meet someone, I had a conversation with Mark; a very affable young man. Turns out, he is a musician, primarily jazz oriented. A great conversation about music, and specifically styles of jazz, ensued. He was quite surprised to learn that a MAWG could intelligently discuss jazz.

Finally, the highlight of the evening was about to commence; viewing trailers from the various projects which have been under-taken.

After the third slice-n-dice slasher film trailer, we opted to paraphrase Julius Caesar; we came, we saw, we left.

So it was we strolled across the street, turned left, and headed toward our favorite Greek place.

Thus endeth the Schmooze, a film industry networking event.

In Honor of Mother's Day; an original verse by J.E. Hopkins

M is for de Many hours you cared for me
U is for Understandin’ me
D is for de Devotion you gave
D is for…uh…… Ditto Dat
E is for Everytin’ else you does
R is for Rememberin’ de good tings I done, and forgettin’ de bad

To all you Mudders out dere: