Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Vermont Beauty

In no particular order, some photos from our trip.

Oh, how I love the bridges!  (Bartonsville, I think)

An old house near the farmer's market in Londonderry

pretty wildflowers

Another great bridge (Paper Mill, I think)

Peonies at Hildene with their wonderful scent

Inside the 18th-century Rockingham Meeting House, all original

The restored Pullman palace car at Hidene, providing a glimpse of luxurious travel of the late 19th century

Church and old cemetery in Arlington

My lovely farmer's market bouquet

A view from the garden at Hildene

Beautiful! (Hall Bridge)

I like the natural wood as much as the red bridges.

Stone wall 

A lovely house and garden near the Rockingham Meeting House

Rockingham Meeting House and cemetery

View from the bridge

Love it! Our first bridge of the trip (West Arlington)

Walk your horses across the bridge! (Worrall?)

Big Week, Big Day

In less than 24 hours, we have:

  • said goodbye to Gommie, who returned to Texas today;
  • prepped for Sis's birthday slumber party;
  • begun to celebrate Mama's birthday;
  • gone to horse camp;
  • spent almost 3 hours at hospice;
  • prepped for Bud getting his braces tomorrow;
  • hosted a slumber party;
  • taken Mama for a special dinner (well, Bud did; I chaperoned the slumber party);
  • stayed up way too late . . . and they are still going strong downstairs!

That doesn't include everything in the last week since Gommie arrived on Wednesday.  There have been:
  • kung fu practice
  • horseback riding
  • birthday dinner at the sushi place
  • Scrabble
  • 5-second rule
  • Zentangle
  • poi-ball lessons
  • piano lesson
  • Pinterest lesson
  • introduction to the K-pop band BTS
  • bad "dad" jokes
  • Bud's special lasagna dinner with Eton Mess for dessert
  • and VERMONT!!
Yep, we lucked out and got a place to stay in VT for the weekend. So we:
  • stopped at the VT visitor's center and managed to get a few cupcakes from the concessions people as they were packing up;
  • shopped at the Vermont Country Store for snacks for the weekend and other little trinkets (including some great jammies for Gommie and me);
  • had dinner at MacLaomanin's pub, with Scotch eggs, crab cakes, mince and tatties with skirlie, cock a leekie soup, auld reekie stew, bangers and mash, and HAGGIS!  Yep, Bud really likes haggis.  Plus sticky toffee pudding;
  • spent the evening outside while Bud practiced his LED poi-balls outside while fireflies twinkled in the trees around us.  We also identified constellations.   Later, Mama and I sat out alone and heard a Great Horned Owl and saw a shooting star right through the Big Dipper.
  • While Mama and I were sitting outside having some quite alone time, we were startled and actually quite frightened by a close-up, loud snort.  This was not a raccoon or small animal, nor a dog or coyote or wolf.  I swear it sounded big and scary.  I think it was a bear!  I jumped up and headed inside, forgetting to pull Mama in with me.  She followed pretty quickly and we both quickly shut the door, no dillydallying or discussion.  As we looked out into the dark, I heard the loud snorty snuffle again.  AGGGHHH.  But we couldn't see it.  I began to close windows a bit more, especially because the kitchen where all our VT Country Store food was accessible on ground level!  I even started closing some of the windows in the other rooms.  I was that startled.  It was scary.  I'm only sorry we never saw it.  Whoa, bear!  (The next day, the other three had a a good laugh at us.)
  • breakfasted at the Country Girl Diner, in an old 1944 chrome diner, where we had corned beef hash, vegetable omelets, and pancakes--definitely worth the (relatively short) wait;
  • tootled around southeastern VT both days, focusing on Hildene (Robert Todd Lincoln's estate, with gorgeous historic peonies in a formal French garden surrounded by VT mountains, a huge player pipe organ, a goat farm, and a restored luxurious Pullman palace car, because that Lincoln made his money on the railroads) and covered bridges (we saw 6 in total, I believe:  West Arlington, Silk Road, Paper Mill, Worrall, Bartonsville, and Hall.)  I loved crossing each bridge and taking lots of photos (which I'll share soon.)  As much as the red bridges are iconic, I think I also liked the weathered natural bridges equally as well.  I was glad to see the Bartonsville bridge had been restored after the original was swept down river by Hurricane Irene.  We also visited the Rockingham Meeting House, from the mid-18th-century (which was open and staffed by a lovely docent) and both the old cemetery there and in Arlington.  I liked the headstones, with the severe angels' heads of the earlier days replaced by urns and willows later.  
  • lunched at an Italian deli in Manchester with great sandwiches, pastries, gelato, and groceries, plus a nice woman at the register who is also in a two-mom family and has 3 kids!
  • got rained on;
  • had pizza for dinner while we all kinda did our own thing;
  • had breakfast at Country Girl again!
  • did some of the sightseeing I listed above;
  • relaxed and left late, grabbing great soups, chili, coconut cake with citrus curd, and White Pyne tea from the Steaming Chili Bowl food truck.  
  • Whew!
Ah, it's almost 2 a.m. and it's starting to quieten down.  Maybe I'll get some sleep after all.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Updates and Kidbits

It's the last week of school!  Yep, summer starts tomorrow.  We'll be going to a picnic of their elementary school cohort today, the ones they had class with from 4th through 6th grade.  It's the third or fourth year of this tradition.  I think the parents like it as much as (probably more than) the kids.


Bud and I are learning a piano solo together, Coldplay's "Viva La Vida."  I have the melody and Bud is doing all of the rhythm and harmonies.  Because I'm not great at counting/keeping time, I rely on Bud to give me clues.  And I'm trying to practice a lot.  He's a very patient teacher and we're having a lot of fun; we definitely make our piano teacher laugh.  I'm also practicing "Amazing Grace."  I love the tune and it will be great to know for hospice.  I find that when I play the hospice piano, people like to stop and talk.  One time, when I was playing "Greensleeves," a woman came in--her mother had just died and it had been her favorite song--the daughter thought it was a sign.  I'm glad it brought her comfort.


Sis had a horse show last weekend, riding Arthur.  She loves those horses.  She is less concerned with how the competition goes, especially now that she is in the intermediate group with more experienced riders.  She placed 2nd, 3rd, and 4th in equitation, pleasure, and then jumps.  Then she spent an extra 6+ hours hanging out with the horses.

She is taking a summer break from speedskating.  After Patience the horse stepped on her, Sis had to wear a boot and then loose shoes; speedskates are too much.  She'll resume with the next session.


And Bud is learning a new kung fu form, "Eagle," which is another hand form (meaning no weapons.)  He loves the new moves and is practicing his aerial.  He's hoping to take parkour classes this summer to learn some more flips and jumps.  He loves to move and dance.  His favorite music right now is by BTS, the K-Pop (Korean pop) band that is taking the world by storm.  It's seven young South Korean men with likeable tunes and amazing dance moves.  Bud listens all the time, though half of the lyrics are in Korean.  And we're going to their concert in September, though it was a trick to get tickets (fortunately before the prices skyrocketed.)


I've finished all of my CPE papers--6 case studies, 19 weekly reflections, a long midterm evaluation, and an even longer final evaluation.  I still have about 40 hours to finish in the next six weeks, but that shouldn't be too hard (knock on wood.)   I was at hospice yesterday for four hours.  It was a doubly special day:  I saw our flock of goslings, eight of which are losing their down and earning their goosey markings, AND the cheese truck came!  It was a nice change for lunch and lots of us treated ourselves.  I had a great grilled cheese with a bit of pesto.  So nice to eat something different. 

The Dominican seminarians are now with us for the summer.  I was in the hospital when they arrived but have now had time to get to know them a bit.  They're young and very cerebral, doing good works but very caught up (righteously) on what they think is true.  They don't see it that way--as their truth--only as "the truth." I just listen and say okay, uh-huh--which is not the same as yes!--and they really don't seem to recognize that I might disagree--how could I disagree with truth?--they haven't even asked.  And they have no clue what a Unitarian might be (except wrong about the Trinity, obviously!)  They've lectured to me about Thomas Aquinas and his Summa and the various daughters of Sin everyday this week.  Well, at least I'm learning something. Our older Catholic priest just rolls his eyes!  He's practically a hippie from the 1960s, in line with Pope Francis, a fan of liberation theology and mostly focused on the love of Jesus.  The brothers like John Paul II and have rigid ideas about sin and salvation and the sacraments.  It's going to be an interesting summer.


Gommie will be here next week!  We're still trying to figure out some new and fun things to do.  After 16 years of visiting Connecticut, she's seen and done a lot.  But we're looking.


Last night, Mama and I went to a department party at a go-kart place.  We didn't ride--though she wants to go back with the kids and her brother.  Instead, we played Skeeball and ice hockey and had a lot of fun.  And there's always good food at the parties--squash tacos, carne asada tacos, quesadillas, empanadas, french fries, tater tots with lime salt, chicken wings, little pepperoni pizzas!  Yum, yum!


In my next post, I'll introduce our new foster cat, Romeo . . . . he arrives tomorrow.  It's a long story.

Cooking a Little

We've been doing a little cooking!  And the kids will be adding another meal to their repertoires this summer.  I'm also planning on their cooking for Gommie, when she is here next week.

Mashed Potatoes
Best.  Food.  Ever.  I love mashed potatoes.
3-5 lbs potatoes, either Yukon or Russet, scrubbed and peeled (as desired; we don't peel Yukons)
salt and pepper
3-5 tablespoons butter
approximately 1 cup warmed milk or cream

Clean, peel (as desired), and quarter potatoes.  Place in cold water, with a 2" cover.  Add salt.  Bring to a boil and then simmer for 20+ minutes until tender.

Drain.  Add butter and then potatoes.  Begin to mash.  Add warmed milk, salt, and pepper to taste.  Finish mashing to desired consistency.

Mommy Hungry

Garlic Chicken
We all loved this recipe.  And it will be a great thing to serve to guests.  Save the oil for other recipes.
Bone-in chicken pieces (2 breasts, package of thighs)
40 cloves of garlic, peeled
10 sprigs thyme
1/2 cup olive oil plus 2 tablespoons
salt and pepper
lemon, sliced
(capers or olives might be good too)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Season chicken with salt and pepper. Toss with a 2 tablespoons olive oil and brown on both sides in a wide fry pan or skillet over high heat. Remove from heat, add oil, thyme, lemon, and garlic cloves. Cover and bake for 1 1/2 hours.
Remove chicken from the oven, let rest for 5 to 10 minutes, carve, and serve.
adapted from Alton Brown

S'Mores Bars
This is Bud's new specialty sweet, to add to his Jam Bar prowess.
5 Tbs butter
10 oz mini-marshmallows, divided
1 small bag mini chocolate chips, frozen
8 cups Golden Grahams cereal

Melt butter in large pot.  Add all but one cup of marshmallows, stirring until melted.  Remove from heat.  Add cereal, rest of marshmallows, and chocolate chips.  Stir til coated.  Pat into 9 x 13" greased pan.  Cool, cut, and serve.

Golden Grahams recipe

Sheet Pan Quesadillas
A great way to use up leftovers.  And we think it would be good with other non-Tex-Mex fillings.
14+ large flour tortillas
3 cups cheese (Cheddar, Mexican, etc.)
fillings--cooked chicken, taco meat, peppers and onions, salsa and squash, beans, etc.

Grease large cookie sheet.  Lay down tortillas, spread cheese and fillings, cover with other tortillas.  Spray bottom of other sheet pan and press down on filled pan.  Add skillet for more pressure.  Bake at 375 for 20 minutes.  Remove skillet and top sheet pan and bake 15+ minutes more until brown and crispy.  Cut and serve immediately.

adapted from

Summer Ideas

Here we go.

  • finish my Raptor Identification online class
  • practice painting mandala rocks
  • start embroidery project
  • organize photo book for first half of the year
  • finish several crocheted blankets for hospice
  • read down my nightstand pile
  • Practice "Viva La Vida" and "Amazing Grace" on piano
  • computer camp for both
  • GS camp for Sis
  • horse camp for Sis
  • Parkour classes for Bud
  • Birthdays!
  • teach Bud how to do laundry
  • Audubon family camp
  • celebrate 4th of July
  • Gommie's visit
  • GS overnight for family in Boston
  • get new upstairs floor 
  • foster new cat, Romeo
  • volunteer at cat shelter
  • backyard cookout
  • practice dinner skills--add one meal each to repertoire
  • add one chore each
  • weed the garden
  • go swimming
  • go to the beach
  • movies!!  Ant-Man and the Wasp, Pooh, Jurassic Park etc
  • make ice cream
  • putt-putt golf
  • go-kart racing

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Weekly Reflections

“What religion are you?” asked one of the administrators not long after I got to the ER in New Jersey. 

Unitarian Universalist.

“We don’t have that.  Do you have another religion?”

Is that like choosing soup when they don’t have salad?

“Um, Buddhist.”

They had that.


Pain.  The unsmiley face.  A ten.  I surpassed my previous pain threshold on Saturday, breaking through Morphine, then Dilaudid, and finally finding relief with double Percocet.  At 3 a.m., before relief, there was Mama's hand and my breath.  Love and mindfulness, two of my spiritual practices.  With eight years of using breath meditation to address chronic pain and surgeries, I tried to use those techniques to get through the night.  Stay in the moment; don’t begin to tell stories about what had happened or what might happen.  Look at the pain closely—is it  sharp? Achy? Constant? Pulsing?  Really examine the monolithic idea of pain.  And breathe.  Keep breathing.  Through the nose, out the mouth, if you can.  I know I tend to huff when I hurt, expelling breath as a coping technique.  With the meds, my wife, and my breath, I fell asleep eventually.


Mama had left a voicemail for the chaplain on Saturday.

I left a written note for the chaplain on the desk on Monday when I borrowed a book from the chapel.

On Monday, near the chapel, I saw the chaplain walk away before I could say hello.  Later a man walked up to us, looking for me.  "Are you the chaplain?" I asked.  "Far from it," he scoffed.  He was one of my doctors.

We left late Tuesday night.

I never met with a single member of the chaplaincy department.


The chapel was beautiful.  A polygonal building on the hospital’s roof with 200-degree views of the surrounding Jersey Shore, the windows had both colorful stained glass depicting nature—turtles, geese, the sun—and clear etched windows of the nearby boardwalk.

There were a few rows of padded pews and a simple altar with various Christian reading materials.  One was Ernesto Cardenal’s Abide in Love, a small giftbook with short paragraphs on a variety of topics.  I borrowed it to read back in my room. 

Before we left, Mama and I sat in silence.  I meditated, offering metta for myself and all those in the hospital.  I think she was doing the same; or napping.


Abide in Love.  I can’t really respond to Cardenal’s theology, having read the book between naps and not having a copy with me now.  I do recall thinking that, by defining God as everything—except sin—in order to say that even atheists are religious (actually more religious if memory serves—something about atheists embracing the idea that God does not exist and is nothing, both apophatic ideas), Cardenal was hedging his bets. He focuses particularly on God as love; similar ideas exist in some of my CPE readings, including Karen Armstrong’s Case for God and the writings of Rev. Kate Braestrup.

Love as a practice.  Religion as an action.  Agape, philia, storge, eros. The Golden Rule.  1 John 4:16.

Everything Mama did that week was love in action.  I was surrounded by love—hers, my kids, my in-laws who rushed to help out, my family in Texas, our community in Connecticut and online, the doctors, nurses, aides, and staff members. 

Not the chaplain, though. 

This was religion in practice.   And it didn’t matter what the label in the computer was.


I have looked on this CPE as a period of discernment in my chaplaincy ministry.  To become a UU hospice chaplain, I would need to complete 4 CPEs and also earn an MDiv, in addition to other requirements.  I wanted to know if I loved hospice and wanted to follow the call to chaplaincy enough to complete the requirements of what would be my second career.  The answer, I have found, is yes. 

The 300 clinical hours and 100 educational hours I have completed have been eye-opening.   At hospice, I have held the hands of a woman deep in dementia, sung to a dying man, read to another.  I have prayed over the bodies of beloved family members; I have sat with a distraught teenager as her father’s life has ended.  I have prayed with Protestant and Catholics, Jews and Hindus; I have offered my ministry of presence to those who do not pray. 

I have reflected on those experiences in writing case studies and weekly essays.  I have analyzed them for transference and theological issues, considered better open-ended questions and prayers.  I have discussed them with both on-site and CPE supervisors and my cohort.   I practice taking the constructive criticism as a gifting and as a learning opportunity, striving to improve my skills as a chaplain and to reflect on myself.  I know there is still so much to learn, to practice.  I’ve grown so much in the last few months and am inspired to continue. 

Being in the hospital and home recuperating these last two weeks have clarified my call as well.  My CPE supervisor asked last night in our ZOOM meeting if not seeing the chaplain had affected my recovery.  And I had said no, but not because I feel chaplains have no effect.  Instead, I received the spiritual nurturing I needed from friends instead of the official chaplain.  I knew I needed the spiritual support and sought it; it does make a difference—and it lifted me during the hard moments in the hospital.  I know when I do the work of ministry that I make a difference for those I work with. 

And I love the work, both with others and on myself.  I want to continue and will be pursuing that MDiv and other CPEs later.  Until then, I will continue to volunteer at hospice.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Two Hours in Ocean city

Before things turned sour on Saturday, we had a good time in Ocean City, New Jersey.  I'd never been to the Jersey Shore before, not being fond of beaches much less the eponymous tv show.  We were going to spend Saturday at the boardwalk before Sunday's big competition, where we've spent most Memorial Days in the last several years.

I have only been to one other boardwalk, the one at Coney Island, where I enjoyed the sea otters at the Aquarium and the hot dogs and waffle fries at Nathan's.  Otherwise, it was kinda grimy.  But Mama and the Bud had been to O.C. two years ago for competition, when I'd stayed home with feverish Sis, and enjoyed themselves; they wanted to share it with us.

I knew to take it easy, doctor's orders on clear liquids only and not too much walking.  I had a pina colada Polish water ice which was mostly sugar and delicious.  And took many breaks--we also only walked two blocks!  It was delightful.  The beach was crowded but not packed, as was the boardwalk, with its nice wide wooden walkway and line of quirky shops.  There was Johnson's popcorn, Manco & Manco pizza (with a long line), Shriver's fudge and taffy, Freilinger's fudge and taffy, softserve ice cream place, Polish water ice place, Taylor pork roll place, curly fries place, the kite place.  And we stopped off to browse through many of them.  The candy places were such fun--bins of taffy, cases of fudge, assorted colorful lollipops, and tubs of "penny" candy.  Plus all manner of knicknacks, mostly beach based.  Sis and I got henna from one of the shops, little mandala-like designs on our hands.  And Bud got a set of nine-chain like rope tricks, which he demonstrated on the beach. 

Candy presses

Then we played putt-putt.  Lots of putt-putt places to choose from--Congo, pirate, medieval, haunted.  Bud chose Congo's Lost City, which was quick and fun.  And then he got a hole-in-one on the last "free game" hole and won a game!  Which they went straight to play while I sat and admired the water, the kites, the sky, the beach . . . and then the abdominal pain hit and our little excursion took a bad turn.  Still, it was fun while it lasted and I'd like to go back.

Next year for Memorial Day . . . .


I'm still wrapping my head around it, but I spent the weekend in a hospital in NJ with severe but unexplained abdominal pain, similar to but not the same as the week before.  I'm just now home and following up with my doctors.  The diagnoses is uncertain, running the gamut from partial small bowel obstruction, appendicitis, diverticulitis, peritoneal inflammation to gastroenteritis, colitis, Crohn's, and inflammatory bowel disease.  We'll see where we go from here.  Taking it easy.  Eating rice and toast.  But at least we're back in Connecticut and altogether. 

We couldn't have managed without my in-laws, Ma and Gong, and Uncle Goo, who stepped up amazingly to handle the kung fu tournament and taking the kids home when I was still in the hospital in NJ, with Mama by my side the whole time. 

I'll have some deeper, reflective thoughts on the whole experience later--on the nature of love, navigating American healthcare, furthering my call to chaplaincy, illness and the self--but first I think I want another nap.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Patient Again

Yep, I'm a patient again.

Let me start with the end:  I'm doing okay.  I'm home, no surgery, on limited activity and liquid diet for awhile.  I even got an extension on my CPE hours so I'm not even too stressful about that.

Back to the beginning.  We went to see Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Parts I and II this weekend.  When I stood up at the end of Part I, I had a sharp abdominal pain around my belly button.  I was nauseous and crampy, but it subsided after a bit.  I thought it might be the delicious Korean we had for lunch, but I never started vomiting; and it didn't feel like food poisoning.  I felt well enough to go to part II (which was wonderful, more on that later) and just took it easy.  I felt better when I sat, wore my brace, and didn't walk.  But I didn't have much appetite.

I taught RE--our last class--on Sunday morning and even ate some on Sunday with no problems.  And I went to hospice on Monday.  I was still tender and crampy but not like my obstruction three years ago.  Monday evening, while cooking dinner for the kids, I bumped the oven handle with my belly and it almost sent me to my knees.  This wasn't normal.  I couldn't get my GP on the phone (she's checking why the answering service didn't pick up) and so we opted for the urgent care.  But instead of ruling anything else, the doctor there said to go straight to the ER; it was probably a hernia or an obstruction.  I did not want to do this again.

I'm not going to revamp the ER visit--I had fluids, morphine, and a cat scan and a surgical resident who had absolutely no clue--and came away with no answers beyond that it wasn't a surgical problem.  This was good.  Not a hernia or an obstruction.  But no other answers.  We were there til 5 a.m., almost ten hours.  So I slept all day Tuesday.

And today I went to my doctor, whom I really like and respect.  Based on the hospital reports and her own examination, she believes I have a partial small bowel obstruction with an inflamed peritoneal lining, caused by all the scar tissue I have from abdominal surgeries.  I'm on bowel rest, which means mostly clear liquids, and limited activity so as not to inflame the peritoneal lining more, all while watching for fever, chills, nausea, vomiting, increased pain, redness. 

I'm glad not to have surgery.  I knew another obstruction was possible, even probable, with all my scar tissue.  I feel better than I did earlier.  I'll be okay.