Friday, February 25, 2011

Rear-ending a septic-sucking truck...

The photo is from from Google images

Last Friday started like any other day.  It was beautiful.  The sun was even shinning.  Well, that’s exactly not like any other day because this is Michigan and you don’t get much sunshine in the winter.  My first stop for the day was the medical clinic at the hospital where I was to have a blood draw for my annual physical (we’ll, it’s been being more like an every other year event).  They drew the blood, filling up a half-dozen vials and I went on my way.   Having fasted for 12 hours, I went out for breakfast and enjoyed corn beef hash with poached eggs, with plenty of hot sauce.  

Life was good, that is until about 3 PM.  My doctor’s nurse called and said that he wanted more me to go back and have more test.  Never a good thing!  I made time to stop back by the clinic and they quickly drew more blood and got me to give them a sample of my urine.  A little after five o’clock, the doctor called me from his cell phone to mine (my doctor is a friend).  He was on his way to watch his son play basketball, but said he wanted to let me know what was going on.  He said that my fasting blood sugar was 317, which was way high and suggesting that for the time being, I go easy on the carbs.  He said he wanted to see the results of the next tests (something about an A1C level) and would go by the office on Saturday morning to check it out.  Friday night, I was good, eating fish and vegetables.  Saturday morning, I was with a group of friends at a buffet and I thought I’d be good by only eating one biscuit with just a little sausage gravy.  Before the meal was over, the doctor was calling for me again.  This time, he insisted I go back right away to have more blood drawn, saying that my A1C levels were off the chart (over 15).  The good news is that everything else within my body seems to be working well.  The extra tests were looking for damage from high blood sugars (and there doesn’t appear to be any).  However, my little splurge with one biscuit and some gravy shot my blood sugar up into the 450s.  My doctor, in consultation with an endocrinologist, put me on long acting (basal) insulin.  He also gave me a diagnostic of type 1 diabetes (that’s right, what’s often referred to as juvenile diabetes, what can I say, I’m young at heart.)  He also said that although he doesn't know why, it is possible that a virus attacked my pancreas. Since then, I’ve gotten well-versed in pricking my finger and reading my blood sugar levels. 

Yesterday, after a long appointment with the endocrinologist, I am on a regular basal/bolus insulin regiment.  This means I get to count up what I’m eating and giving myself shots before meals as well as the evening shot of basal insulin.  I now feel like a full-fledged junkie. 

This week, my blood sugar levels have been dropping and I have been very fatigued.  I haven’t felt much like writing or even reading.  I haven’t been on skis in over a week.  Hopefully, when things are under control, I’ll feel more like resuming regular activity.  When I asked him about activity level, the endocrinologist assured me that shouldn’t be a problem, proudly pointing out that he has had several patients who have run marathons.   I didn’t ask if they’re still alive.

Life is never guaranteed.  Never before has this seemed so true.  But, as I’ve assured those around me, this means there’ll be more cookies and ice cream for them.  On the other hand, a friend with whom I play basketball, who is a sales manager for Hostress, is lamenting the loss of another customer.  

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Reminiscing about my childhood home

Here in Michigan, we're under a winter storm.  The snow started around noon and by dark, we've received 6 or so inches...  I seemed to have been thrown into a whirlwind over the past few days.  I'll write more about it in time, but not just yet.  Instead, I am resurrecting a post (with some edits) that I wrote when I was visiting my parents in 2005. The photo is of a waterway marker not far from my parent's home.  Enjoy. 

Sheba, our English Setter, barked incessantly at something in the drainage ditch at the back edge of the yard. Going to investigate, I found her moving around a pocket in the clay wall of the ditch. Water had been draining out of small caves such as these. "What is it, girl?" I asked as I rubbed her head and got down to peer inside the hole. A good-sized turtle was hiding inside, its head barely sticking out of its shell. "Good girl," I said, grabbing a stick. I slid the stick underneath its shell and tried to drag the turtle out when, like lightning, a head wtih exposed fangs popped out of the shadows.  Dropping the stick, I jumped back as the snake’s body recoiled and Sheba frantically barked more. I was maybe ten years old and had come just inches from being bitten by a water moccasin. Leaving the dog to guard the snake, I ran inside and told dad who came out with a hoe and killed the snake. It was too dangerous for something that poisonous to be at the edge of our yard.

The drainage ditch behind our house was a wonderful place to play as a kid. When we first moved here, there was always water flowing through it as it drained down to Myrtle Grove Sound. (I didn’t realize this being an ominous sign as they were draining the swampy areas to the south of our house). As kids, playing in the ditch, we hunted for salamanders and turtles, and even caught a few small red-finned pike. Also exciting were the carnivorous plants, especially the Venus flytrap with trigger-hairs in its cupped hands that would imprison an unlucky insect as it feasted on its decaying body. The ditch also served us as a trench for us to re-enact Civil War battles. Having moved here from Petersburg, Virginia, we were well aware of how trenches were used during the Civil War. We fought our battles with friends, unaware that just a mile or so away our ancestors skirmished with Union soldiers, in an attempt to delay the fall of Wilmington until all the provisions at the port had been shipped to Lee’s troops held up in trenches at Petersburg.

Behind the drainage ditch were several square miles of woods and swamps. In this area, these swamps are known as Carolina Bays, low oval shaped depressions filled with peat moss. In all but extremely dry periods, the depressions were filled with water. Ringing these oval depressions were thick undergrowth including live oaks bearded with Spanish moss and towering cypress. The rest of the land, which was only a few feet higher than the bays, consisted of sandy soil that supported tall long-leaf pines, occasional patches of sumac or blackjack oak, and the ubiquitous wiregrass. In ages past, these pine forests of eastern North Carolina supported a thriving industry for naval stores and turpentine and as I got older we found evidence of such. The mature trees had slash marks where sap drained. There were also mounds, which we at first thought were Indian burial grounds, only to later discover they had something to do with burning pines in order to extract pitch, a valuable comodity in the days of wooden ships.. The woods and bays made a great playground, but until we were older, we could only play there during the winter due to the snakes.

We moved here in 1966, when I was nine years old. This was before the big building boom in Wilmington, which started around 1970 and has continued ever since. There were only seven houses on our street, each sitting on a half-acre. Ours was an exception for my father brought two lots, not wanting to be "crowded in." In addition to the woods behind the house, we could cross the street and ramble through more swamps and pine forest until we came to the headwaters of Whiskey Creek, which I thoroughly explored after I purchased my first canoe when I was sixteen. The woods across the street were the first to go as houses were built up and down the road. By the time I was in high school, all the lots had been used and new roads were being laid. I don’t remember just when the woods behind my parents succumbed to the great urban sprawl of the Southeast. My last trip out through the bays and pine forest was during a break from college. A few years later, as I was surprised to visit one day and discover the ditch had been filled in and where the bays had been stood houses.

I can’t imagine growing up down here now. Houses are everywhere. When I was a child, my friends and I freely roamed the woods in winter and rode our bikes in summer. It’s only a half a mile to the water, where we watched fishing boats and barges make their way up and down the inland waterway as we fished or caught crabs. Today, access to the water is severely restricted, the woods have all disappeared, and it's been decades since I've seen one of those meat-eating flytraps in the wild.  They say its progress; I have my doubts. As a child, living here, the world seemed endless. Now, children growing up in this neighborhood will have worldviews limited to a fenced half an acre.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Sacred Journey (A Book Review)

Charles Foster, The Sacred Journey (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Press, 2010), 230 pages including notes, an index and a study guide.

For much of the Christian era, going on a pilgrimage was seen as a valid spiritual practice (at least for a small percent of the faithful). Christians would head to the Holy Lands, even after the Islamic invasion. Later, as Jerusalem became a more difficult destination, Christians would go to Rome or to Santiago or other places in Europe that were important to the faith, often to where relics of the saints were found. During the Reformation, Protestants discouraged this practice, thinking it silly for Christians to seek out relics or the need to travel to holy sites where they felt they could be closer to God. Yet, as Foster points out, human beings were created to walk and individual encounters with God seem to occur most often when we are less settled. Furthermore, when God summons, it’s often a call for us to move or to go somewhere (think of Abram).

Foster encourages Protestants to reconsider pilgrimage as a spiritual practice. He suggests that pilgrimages are a way to counter the ancient heresy of Gnosticism which is alive and well in our churches today. The Gnostics attempt to separate the body (which they see as corrupt) from the spirit (which they see as more godly). The struggles of a pilgrim merge together the body and spirit as one meets the challenges of the road. Another benefit of the pilgrim is to look at the world in a fresh and new way (with child-like eyes) which is easier when we are out of our comfort zones. A third benefit of a pilgrimage is the community that one finds on the road. Without the comforts of home, pilgrims are no longer divided by social castes and friendships abound as they learn to depend upon each other.

Although Foster writes from a Protestant Christian perspective, he draws from the larger Christian context as well as from other religious traditions. By looking at other traditions, we see the universal need for human beings to reach out and search for meaning beyond ourselves. Foster has many strong opinions that many Christians may find challenging if not offensive. Early on he suggests there is a need for a new awakening and in which we should get rid of language that carries to much baggage, including the words “God” (Foster prefers names like “Holy One,” “Blessed be He” or even the Hebrew “Elohim”) and “Christian” (after all, the faith was first known as “The Way”). Foster also makes some bold claims such as suggesting that “religion, like everything else, goes bad when imported into town” and that “Christianity is an Eastern religion that has had the misfortune to be particularly popular in the West.” Such hyperbole may seem shocking, but encourages the reader to think and consider Foster’s point of view.

Personally, I found a lot to ponder within these pages and recommend this book especially to those who are interested in exploring different spiritual practices. As a way of disclosure, I acknowledge I was given a copy of the book to review. Furthermore, I began reading this book with a certain presupposition toward pilgrimages. During a recent reread of my journal from the Appalachian Trail, I was reminded that even a quarter of a century ago I was struggling with the role pilgrimages play in faith development.
The Sacred Journey is the seventh book on ancient spiritual practices published by Thomas Nelson Press. I received a copy of it for review from their Booksneeze program. By the way, Frederick Buechner also has a good book with the same title!
A couple more "pilgrimage-type" books: Vagabonding and The Art of Pilgrimage

Monday, February 14, 2011

Happy Valentine's Day

After several weeks of extreme cold, even for Michigan, we’re in a thaw cycle. Sunday morning it was 33 degrees and it was 39 degrees this morning, a significant change as just last Thursday it was well below zero when I went out with the dog at 6:30 AM. Of course, the cold will return on Saturday, but not before the snow has a chance to melt which is screwing with my hope of doing a full moon cross-country ski on Friday night (the plan had been to do a 4 mile ski into a local town on the bed of former railroad tracks, enjoy a dinner and some beers at a local watering hole, then ski back). Instead, of nice snow, we’ll have mud to slosh through.


These Valentine Cards are from the early 1900s and a part of the collection of cards that I have with a stamp collection that I created as a child. I hope you have a wonderful day that is full of love and happiness.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

A Lesson Learned

The photo is another view of two of Frank's curing barns. I took the photo in April 2010.

Life has been hectic lately. It’s also been frigid here. A woman was in my office today and she complained about the weather. “Aren’t you from Michigan?” I asked. “Yes,” she said, “I’m from Michigan, not Minnesota.” The snow is sticking around and I have been able to get out regular on skis. I skied twilight this evening, a favorite time of the day with nice color across the skies. As I was coming in as the first stars were popping out. I wrote this part below as I was thinking about Uncle Frank, but I didn’t include it in that piece as it really has nothing to do with Frank, but with my cousins and me.

I must have been around 11 or 12 years old. My brother and I were staying with our cousins on their farm; the four of us boys were sharing the same bedroom. We’d been joking around for much of the night, when we should have been sleeping. Instead, we found ourselves talking quietly and saying things boys shouldn’t but do. It was then that I called one of them a fool. I don’t even remember who it was, but Tim, my youngest male cousin immediately said that I was going to burn in hell. That’s a sobering thought when you are a kid. “How do you know?” I asked. He said it was scripture. “Show me,” I demanded. Tim got out his Bible and I think we put the lamp on the floor between the beds so that no one outside the room could see that we had a light on and Tim started looking. And he continued looking. He kept thinking it was here or there, flipping the pages back and forth, but he couldn’t find the passage and soon we went on to other topics. Everyone forgot about it, except for me. But then, I was the one being threatened with hell-fire; this was serious business in my world. Then next day, at my grandparents, I got out a Bible and with the help of a concordance, I searched and was shocked to read “if you say, ‘You fool, you will be liable to the hell of fire.” (Matthew 5:22) I didn’t share my new discovery with anyone, but I’d heard enough about hell in my short life that I made a change. Just in case I wasn’t too late as I didn’t like hot weather even then, I stopped calling other people fools. And to this day, I am bothered by that word.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

A Tribute to Uncle Frank

Uncle Frank died two weeks ago. I wasn't able to make it back to the funeral, so here is my tribute. As a child, I spent much time on Clara and Frank's farm, running around with my cousins. Those days are gone but the memories live on. I took these photos last April.

I was six years old in January 1963, when we left Moore County. All our stuff—toys, beds, tables and chairs and a refrigerator along with the swing set—were packed up in the back of one of Frank’s 2-ton farm trucks. A canvas tarp covered the truck Frank drove to our new home in Petersburg, Virginia. While unloading stuff into the little box house my parents had rented, Frank made a big deal about how we were now living in the city. He was always joking, but also always willing to lend a helping hand and it was as if he was proud of us for the opportunity the move created for our family. We stayed in that house less than a year, and then moved to a few miles away to a house my parents had purchased near Fort Hell.

During the three and a half years we lived in Petersburg, we always stopped to see Clara and Frank on our way down to Pinehurst or when leaving to drive back north. They lived not far off 15-501, the highway that cut from Sanford over to the Sandhills. Stopping at their home was always exciting and anticipation rose when we turned down the road to their home, bouncing on a dirt two-track that ran the ridge between fields. In those fields, Frank had collected a box full of arrowheads that he’d show off if asked. When we passed his two tobacco barns, the road turned to the right, dropping off the ridge and down to their home. The small farm house had a couple of shade trees around it. A little ways to the west was the big old barn (that no longer seems as big as it did). The pasture was behind the house, the cows corralled by an electric fence which my cousins challenged my brother and me to touch. There was a well right off the porch with a pitcher pump handle. The hand pump remained in case the power was out, which it never was when I was there, but we were told of ice storms that knocked the electricity off for days. The pitcher pump presented a challenge, to see if we could get the pump primed. Water always seemed to taste better flowing out of the old iron pipe. There was also an old outhouse, which wasn’t used (except maybe during power outages), but was a place that a young kid had to check out, only to find himself locked inside. The old house was heated by wood burner in a central room. In the winter it was always warm and cozy and we “city kids” got to experience life on the farm including hot chocolate made with fresh milk that produced a film along the top. It took some encouragement to get us to drink it.

Frank always had a small herd of beef cows and there was always one breeder cow that needed to be milked, much of which was given to dogs to drink. Once, my older cousin showed us how to use a cow’s tit as a squirt gun. Pretty soon, we were all attempting to squirt one another when Frank appeared and didn’t look pleased and told us we’re lucky the cow didn’t kick us out of the barn.

Frank’s farm was always busy in the summer, except on Sunday when things slowed down a bit. Two of these Sundays are memorable. In both, we were on our way back to Virginia. After church at Culdee with my grandparents, we’d head up 15-501 and stop at Clara and Franks for a few hours. While my parents visited, my brother, sister and I would run around with our cousins. They didn’t have a lot of work on a Sunday, maybe checking the temperature in the curing barns or milking the stray cow without a calf. The rest of the time was spent playing. Once, during the summer of ’63, we were treated to a pony ride. On that trip to Pinehurst, my parents took me to Dr. Tufts, a woman physician who’d taken care of me since birth. She gave my school check up, sticking me in the rump with my shots. I was up on the pony when it jumped and I fell off onto my already sore bottom. Frank jumped all over Terry, my older cousin, for not watching the pony, but I’m sure I had something to do with the animal’s temper. On another Sunday afternoon, we were riding bikes through the pasture where my uncle had moved a winding trail through the high grass. We were all barefoot in those days and I was riding on the back on Marie’s bike and somehow I got my big toe caught in the spokes. It chewed it up pretty good, but didn’t break any bones. Leaving my brother and sister behind, my foot wrapped up in a towel that was quickly turning red, my parents rushed me back to the hospital in Pinehurst. It hurt! They gave me something for the pain and cleaned up and bandaged my foot. I wasn’t able to get the bandages wet or dirty which meant I missed out on a lot of backyard playing that summer.

Once, during the summer, Frank and his family visited us in Petersburg. It must have been early in the summer, for once they started curing tobacco they’d be no way they could have left the farm. We were living in Walnut Hills then, just down the road from a Civil War museum built around a Yankee artillery battery named “Fort Hell.” Supposedly (I don’t know if I remember this from having said it or from having Frank repeated it so many times), Frank asked me why it was named Fort Hell and I told him because their cannons really gave them Yankees hell. I rode back to Moore County with Clara and Frank on that trip. Cars must have been much larger then to have gotten two adults and five kids inside for a five hour trip. Maybe they took me along to see if they’d have room for another child, for in a year or two, Clara would give birth to Marci. Somewhere along US 1, I think just south of the Virginia border, we stopped for gas at a country store kind of place that had, in the back, a collection of Indian artifacts. Frank and the proprietor talked about the collection of arrowheads and tomahawks. Frank had me tell the proprietor about Fort Hell.

After we moved to Wilmington, Clara and Frank built a new home. Instead of being down off the ridge and behind their pond, this one was on the highway, next to his parent’s home. No longer did we have that long drive down the two-track. This new house seemed to be the most wonderful thing, with a large fireplace and an intercom system that played music and allowed one to talk to another room without walking down the hall. In the winter evenings, when we’d be there, Frank would always make a big bowl of pop corn and we’d eat it by the fireplace. We’d talk. Those were good days. However, I later learned the intercom wasn’t so grand.

I must have been around 11 or 12 years old. My brother and I were staying with our cousins on their farm; the four of us were sharing the same bedroom. We’d been joking around for much of the night, when we should have been sleeping. It wouldn’t be long before we’d hear Frank, over the intercom, with a voice that seemed to be as deep as God’s, telling us to go to sleep. That was our first warning. When he came into the room, you knew you’d gone over the line.

One day I was fishing on Frank’s pond with my cousins. We weren’t catching much, mostly talking. There were some ducks floating peacefully out on the water, and Terry remarked how that was the life. Overhearing his son’s comments, Frank reminded him that the life wouldn’t look so good when one of them big snapping turtles that hang out at the bottom of the pond come up and grab him by his webbed feet and pull him under and have him for dinner. Frank was one of the hardest workers that I’ve known and he instilled that into his children.

Frank was a successful farmer and business man, running a tobacco warehouse in Carthage in addition to the farm. Over the years, he added to his farm and expanded the number of curing barns he tended. But through it all, the heart of his farm continued to be the same piece of property he’d farmed as a boy. When all the other farmers were switching to bulk curing barns, Frank held out, continuing to cure the leaves on a stick, bragging about the quality of tobacco and how much more his sold for than those who were short-cutting the curing process. But as he slowed with age and with the enticement of government tobacco allotments buy-outs, Frank stopped raising the golden leaf. But he had a hard time with inactivity. He started a strawberry business and grew vegetables to sell at a roadside stand and to a number of grocery stores in the area. He bragged about the sweetness of his corn and his automatic sheller for field peas that saved his customers time. But there was also sadness in his heart as my aunt died from an infection following surgery, a dozen or so years ago. He’d remarry, but lost his new wife to cancer a few years later. Through it all, Frank kept farming.

I stopped by to see Frank when I was in North Carolina last spring when I was heading home for a visit. It was early April. I found him out in a field on one of his tractors, planting peas. We talked for a while and then he pointed to the strawberry patch and told me to go over to the far rows, where he’d planted a few rows early (just in case he got lucky with the weather). He told me to look around and see if I couldn’t find myself a quart or two of ripe berries to take back to my parents. Frank was always giving and those fresh strawberries, a full month before anyone else had any ripe ones, sure tasted good.

Frank farmed the same land that his daddy farmed. I don’t know how far back his family was on that land, but I’m willing to bet that Frank knew it better than anyone. He was a good steward to what God had entrusted to his care. He’ll be missed.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Groundhog day and stuff

Tomorrow is Groundhog Day. As Punxsutawey is not far from Pittsburgh, I’m sure that if they can entice the Groundhog to leave his burrow, he’ll be sporting a Steeler scarf. Most-likely, if the weather in Western Pennsylvania is anything like it is here tonight, our favorite rodent will sleep in. Tomorrow would be a good day to watch the movie Groundhog Day. Had I planned ahead, I could have ordered it from Nexflix. It’s a movie I could watch over and over again… Wait, watching the movie, you watch it over and over again. Having Andie MacDowell in it keeps the repeats from being too boring.

The wind is really howling and the chimes on the back porch are singing. If they stop, I’ll probably mean they’ve blow away and are on their way to Sault Saint Marie. The blizzard that everyone has been talking about for the past few days is finally here. They’ve already closed all the schools which is nice as it means we don’t have to get up and check in the morning. No one is going out except for me. I had to go find a battery for my daughter’s anemometer, not really an emergency, but hey, if the wind is howling it’s nice to know if it was a 25 or 45 mph gust. Besides, there weren’t many people in the store and I was waited on by a kid who seemed happy to have something to do. From what he said, they were busy before. There was one other guy complaining that all the whole milk was gone and he couldn’t bring himself to drink skim mile (I’m the other way around, drinking only skim and thinking 2% taste like heavy cream). The assistant manager said that he could take two ½ gallons and be charged the same as a gallon. The wind was blowing so hard that by the time I got home, fifteen minutes later, the tracks I’d made between my house and truck had already filled in.

Before my outing to the store, I went skiing on the cusp of the storm. The storm was just coming in and it was fun to watch the boiling clouds and to listen to the haunting sound of the wind as it blew through the bare hardwoods. The wind was chilling, especially up on top of hills. It wasn’t bad when my back was against the wind, but when I had to go against it, blowing snow pelleted against my face and stung. It was exhilarating to be out in the weather.

Back to the groundhog, a friend dropped off this picture of Punxutawey Phil with his Steeler scarf. Underneath the photo was this sentence. “Another 52 weeks as world champions.” Here’s hoping that’ll happen whether or not Phil comes out tomorrow morning. The photo below is from my afternoon ski.