Friday, July 31, 2009


As we grow from adolescence into adulthood, we make choices about our identity. We look at our parents and realize--often to our initial shock and dismay--that we become more like them every day. At first the similarities seem only coincidence; then with a creeping horror we realize that our inherited traits are like a tide. They "wait for no man," and will claim the shores of our identity like the ceaseless beating of waves.

Then, as we pay attention to our behaviors and the thoughts that engender them, we discover that from the briny foam of our parents' traits something new emerges: choice. We learn to see distinctly our inherited values and, if we see clearly enough, that we can embrace ones and let others go.

Lehigh Valley Hospital, on its Muhlenburg campus, has a relatively new Wound Care Center. My dad was one of the physicians who invested a great deal of time in the Wound Care Center from its beginnings. So last spring they commissioned a painting in his memory that now hangs in a gallery hall on the second floor of the hospital.

I missed the unveiling ceremony for this painting, so last weekend I took an opportunity to visit the hospital and find the painting. I went to the Wound Care Center, thinking the painting hung there. When I introduced myself, the staff told me of their great appreciation of my father's work. In fact, there is a picture of my dad hanging in the Center in honor of his dedication to it. But the painting wasn't there, so Ginger, the senior administrator of the Center, walked us down to where it hung.

On the way I asked about my dad's service to the Wound Care Center. She told me my dad stood out among physicians who worked there because he would go above and beyond staff and patient expectations. Patients came to the Center because they had wounds that would not heal normally; Ginger told me that my dad would not stop searching for the key to healing a wound until he found it. She said he would come in on his days off--apparently something significant for a physician--if he had struck an idea about how to address a problem wound. He was driven to help people heal.

The staff also remembered how my dad would bring in flowers from his garden to adorn the Center--a personal touch to a potentially impersonal environment.

As I look back on the traits of my father that have begun to surface in me, I think I'll choose to keep these two: dedication to healing others and an interest in persons rather than "the job." Those are worthy pearls in my sea of genes.

The painting that now hangs outside of the Diagnostic Medicine offices on the second floor is gorgeous. The staff all thought that it reflected dad's character, and I agree. I hope someday soon to get a photo of it and enter it here. For now you'll just have to imagine a painting that evokes light and dark, music and silence, depth and perspective.


Monday, July 20, 2009

Liberal Education

I believe in a strong, expansive liberal education for my daughter. I think she ought to have a broad range of experiences, be able to relate to a vast spectrum of people, and be able to think critically within a wide field of environments and challenges. It's never too early to begin this education, and what better place to start it than at Sonlight camp? Thus, while we enjoyed the hospitality and beauty of this haven in the Rockies last month, we also took advantage of all sorts of educational opportunities.

Here Gwendolyn meets the bouldering wall. It's a good place to start, since no safety equipment is necessary. The complexity of any bouldering experience is in finding the holds. So we did just that:

The most important qualifier for whether a hold is any good is, of course, how it tastes. Our daughter, no slacker in any way, examined the run exhaustively:

Once one masters the bouldering wall, it's time to get climbing. Climbing walls trains perception, decision-making, and patience in the climber. For most of us, it also trains the ability to come back from failure and make another attempt at success. We couldn't pass up these learning opportunities for Gwendolyn, so we got her harnessed up:

Once again, you can't trust your equipment unless you examine it thoroughly first:

Once we were sure of our equipement, we were ready to climb. With capable staff to belay her, and appropriate headgear donned, we began training:

Gwendolyn, always a stickler for safety and quality control, tested the rope herself before attempting to scale the wall:

Now for those of you who haven't been to Sonlight, you must know that in 2005 we devised an excellent water balloon slingshot. This tool, which trains teamwork, control, and adaptability all at once, has become a mainstay at Sonlight. So I deemed it necessary that Gwendolyn be trained in the nuances of giant slingshot use. Not content to simply watch--and not tall enough or strong enough to actually operate the weapon--my daughter decided she needed an insider look at how these things work. All in the name of education, you understand.

With some helpful campers and staff, Gwendolyn got an up-close look at how the giant slingshot works:

After a call into Houston, we were ready for launch:

For some reason, Sara wouldn't let me post the "after touchdown" photos, but here's a great action shot. It's hard to see Gwendolyn in this one, but if you zoom in maybe you can see her sunhat, about halfway to the van:

What better place to go than Sonlight for a good liberal education? Of course, the measure of one's education is the value it has in one's life. So what did Gwendolyn think of our learning experiences at Sonlight? Well, she's not really into words yet, but I think the look says it all:


Bovine Encounter

We live on a quiet road. Except for the occasional resident speeding by too fast, and the days when the farmers are working the field behind our house, our street lives up to the name Still. Sunday mornings especially, like so many areas of the country, are serene. Thus you might imagine my surprise when, sitting down a few Sundays ago to a cup of coffee and my devotional reading at 7:15am, I heard lowing. Lots of it. I stood up, looked out the window, and saw this:

My first thought was that Winsor Acres, the local big dairy, was driving a herd up to the field behind us. We'd seen this before: cattle ranchers use roads to drive their livestock all the time. Of course, if that were happening, I would expect humans to lead up the herd and bring up the rear. Who was at the rear of this herd? Just these two:

I watched them all go by the back porch, camera in hand, of course:

Finally, the herd got up to our neighbor's property. You have to know that Merv manicures his lawn like a professional. He keeps the grass short, the rock walls trimmed, and the pond clear of muck. This Sunday morning, though, he had about forty head of cattle wandering in circles around the yard. And a couple of the cows looked like their udders were ready to burst. I think the poor man had some cleanup to do that day.

When I asked my neighbor (who had come out to see the commotion) how often this happened, he said, Never before. The cows were clearly lost, because they drifted for the next thirty minutes or so, lowing forelorn tones into the dewy morning. After a couple of phone calls, we found out that the cows were in fact Winsor's, but had broken through a fence. In short order they had a proper cattle drive back down our road, and it became still again.

I guess this is why, at closing for the house, we signed paperwork acknowledging that we live in an agricultural community. At least the bovines didn't go after our tomatoes.


Public Service

Folks in the pastoral profession tend to be the provocative type; what's more, after years of dealing with people they can get a bit ornery. Since the combination of provocative and ornery can spell trouble socially, it's wise to make sure that retired members of my profession are not at loose ends. In support of the common good, therefore, I put one of my mentors to work on my treehouse.

I forgot to ask whether he took the carpentry class offered at seminary.


Friday, July 17, 2009

Proof in the Pictures

For some perspective:

February 13, 2009

March 13, 2009

July 17, 2009

That's right folks - GBaby is almost 6 months old and has almost outgrown her bouncy seat. It's going to be time to find a new "look how much I've grown" picture. She had her check-up today and weighed in at 16lbs 4oz and 27 1/2 inches long. We have another inch and a half before we HAVE to switch car-seats but will probably do it sooner rather than later since her legs are hanging off the end of her carseat too!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Space: The Final Frontier

The one outstanding sacrifice we made in choosing our house was the size of the kitchen. Our dream home, when we dreamed about our future home, included a big kitchen that could accommodate lots of cooking and lots of people at the same time. Well, we got the creek, the screened-in porch, the huge bedrooms, and the raised garden beds; but we didn't get the big kitchen. So finding space in the kitchen is now a regular mission.

Thanks to a hot tip from my father-in-law on his last visit, I decided to move the microwave from this piece of valuable real estate (the picture is blurry in order to make unclear the kind of dirt that dwelled under the microwave):

to this red shelf which only vitamins and spices used to call home:

Of course, the move required lowering the shelf far enough that we can put the spices on top of the microwave, but not so far that the toaster oven can no longer fit on the counter. That's about this far:

After tearing and patching two holes in the wall, learning about toggle bolts, and performing a quick paint job, here's the new efficient use of space:

Tight? Perhaps. Cluttered? Only if you don't know what goes where. I prefer to think of it as European.

Here's the new real estate on the west end of the kitchen:

Maybe this will mean more room to make pies.


Slurping Squash & Carrots

Who knew that slurping squash and carrots could be so much fun!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Personal Epics

Some people have learning experiences. I have learning sagas.

Having seen the photos of Krissy becoming a sawyer at the Tyler household, my father-in-law David decided that on his most recent visit to our pioneering estate he would like to do some milling on our borrowed portable lumber mill. So we went up the hill and started ripping timber.

In the course of 2x4 production, the belt that links the motor to the saw blade snapped, and our fruitful entertainment came to an abrupt halt. We pulled off the cover and discovered the ragged length of v-belt dangling over the wheels. Until I replaced this part, there would be no more milling. I shook the bits of torn rubber out of the casing and observed with David that the likely culprit in breaking the belt was a guide post that had been maladjusted. So I made a mental note to take the broken belt to the local hardware store and replace it.

Finding a replacement for a broken v-belt of precisely the right length presents a greater problem then one might imagine. The rubber was stiff and the belt was broken--that is, it no longer kept a neat, oval, measurable shape. Thus I spent about fifteen minutes on the floor of the hardware store trying to hold the broken specimen next to new belts in order to ascertain whether the new belt was the right length. At long last, having identified a 65" belt as the right length, I purchased it and went home.

The belt didn't fit.

And I don't mean that it didn't operate smoothly once I placed it on the wheels. I mean that with a team of Indian elephants I couldn't have pulled that belt over the wheels. (I thought about calling up my mahout friends, but the instructions on the belt clearly direct, "Do not pry onto wheels.")

In a moment of clarity and reason, I looked down to where I had dumped out the contents of the belt cover the day before. There, in the pile of shredded rubber, I discovered my error. Some of the belt had broken off the length I had. I had measured with an incomplete remnant.

Lesson #1: Pay attention. That--whatever it is--may be important later.

Armed with this new clarity--and feeling more confident for it--I took a length of rope and wound it around the wheels, marking the length required for the full circuit. 68 inches. I thought I remembered that the hardware store had a 68-inch v-belt. Surely I was on the right path now; but as I stood there with a broken belt in my hand, a little voice reminded me that I had never changed a belt in a motor in my life. How did I presume to know what I was doing?

First of all, do they measure the length of a belt on the outer diameter or the inner diameter? With a thickness of 5/8 of an inch, the difference would be significant. I had no idea how they measured v-belt length. As I stood there thinking of all the reasons I might have to make a third trip to the hardware store, it dawned on me that I had the phone number of the lumber mill manufacturer in my pocket, and a cell phone on my hip.

"Turner Mills."
"Hi. What length is the v-belt from the motor to the saw wheel on your portable mills?"
"71 inches is the standard."
"Thank you!"
"You're welcome."

Lesson #2: Call and ask. You'll feel more stupid if you don't.

The hardware store didn't have a 71-inch v-belt, but the local Napa auto parts store did--or at least would have it by 8:00 the next morning. So at 8:20am I plodded out to the mill and armed it with the new bright green v-belt. It hung loose on the wheels, even with the clutch engaged. Hmmm. But I didn't have to pry it onto the wheels, so I figured I was all right. Hallelujah! Problem solved.

I started up the motor, engaged the blade, and resumed the cut we were making when the belt snapped. Although the blade turned well enough, against the resistance of the wood during the cut the belt began to slip until the blade stuck in the wood.

Lesson #3: Although it's never too early to say Hallelujah, sometimes the problem is more complicated than it at first appears.

Moving the saw blade very slowly, I finished the current cut and moved the boards off the mill. With four logs to go, cutting at this pace would be torturous. So I pulled the belt guard off again and examined the machine. Maybe I could get away with a slightly shorter belt?

Back to Napa for a 70-inch v-belt. It fit comfortably on the wheels; the clutch pulled a little tighter now, but the blade had the full power of the engine. I fired that puppy up and prepared the next log. As I engaged the saw blade, a column of smoke began to emerge from the belt casing.

After some choice words, I pulled the belt guard off and noticed something that in retrospect had been there all along but I just now engaged: a belt-shaped black streak on the inside of the guard. After further inspection, I found that the belt, even when seated properly on the fly wheels, rubbed against the belt guard. This phenomenon explained why the owner of the mill had told me that he'd gone through three belts per year since he bought it.

Lesson #4: Where there's smoke, there's a problem.

Fixing the belt guard required welding experience, which is out of my league. So I milled the last three logs in defiance of manufacturer's advice: without the belt guard in place. (This means that in theory the belt could have slipped off at any time and smacked me in the head. Lesson #5: Kids, don't do this at home.)

I finished off the last three logs (2x4s, a few 2x6s, and one sweet mama of a 2x10), and shut the mill down so the owner could come get it. When I called him, I told him the belt guard problem, for which he was thankful. I also told him that I had to put on a 70-inch belt, even though the 71-inch was supposed to be standard.

"Oh, no," he said. "The 71-inch belt is right. You can adjust the tension after the belt is on."

Lesson #6: Remember Lesson #2. Going it alone is foolish, time-consuming, and expensive.


Remembering Grandpa

Memories are a mystery. They stay hidden in your mind under the mountains of information and then one small trigger will bring them to the forefront of your brain, rushing you back to another time and place with little or not explanation.

This morning as I was putting GBaby down for a nap, she was fussy and I was cuddling her close, my face against the top of her head. All the sudden my mind was washed with a fragrance that I immediately associated with my Grandpa. I can’t tell you what the fragrance was exactly or even in part, or how it came to rest among my daughter’s fine baby hair. What I can tell you is that I was immediately taken back to Fort Cobb, Oklahoma and memories of my Grandpa flooded my mind.

Memories of him rolling the cat up in an area rug only to watch the cat take off afterwards. Memories of chili on the stove and instant oatmeal made in the microwave. Memories of him in his easy chair just watching the activity of his children and grandchildren around him, and snoring in the same chair. Memories of playing cards as his partner and beating the pants off of everyone else. Memories of watching a good, Midwest thunderstorm, complete with penny sized hail from his front porch late one summer night.

All these memories flooded me as my daughter drifted into her nap. As I watched her I wished he and my Grandma could have met her and been here for this part of my life. But I also know that they are in a much better place. It was 15 years ago this month that my Grandpa went to heaven. But I think that maybe this morning he was keeping an eye on things in the nursery.


Friday, July 03, 2009

Always Something

Before we left for Colorado, we cleaned the house well enough that when we returned we wouldn't feel like we were walking back into a sty. That is to say, we wanted to be able to step back into our daily routine here in New York with a minimum of fuss and angst.

Why are you laughing?

Maybe we should have been, too.

We arrived home to discover that the boiler wasn't working. All right, so it wasn't working when we left, but it's been tempermental. So we figured there was a good chance if we just wiggled some wires upon our return, we'd have hot water again.

Why are you laughing?

Fat chance, right? First thing on Wednesday morning I called a heating specialist to fix our boiler so we didn't have to take cold showers. Then I got in the Mazda to go to work.

Or at least that's what I intended to do. If you recall, our little old dependable Mazda has put us through some hoops recently. It turned out that its failure to start came from moisture making its way into the ignition system. Once our even-more-dependable mechanic solved that problem, the Mazda began starting reliably again. So when I got into her on Wednesday, she started up like clockwork.

But she wouldn't go anywhere. There I was, engine humming, foot on the accelerator, parking brake disengaged, and no movement. Not an inch. My first thought was that some practical joker had put blocks under the wheels while we were on vacation. So I checked under the wheels. Nothing.

Even with some serious pressure on the gas pedal, the car only creeped forward, and I could hear the distinct grind of tire tread on the driveway. For fear of damaging something, I let off the gas and called our trusty mechanic. He told me that with the wet weather we've been having (which we missed, being in Colorado), brakes have been rusting right to the drums.

Excuse me? Brakes rusting to the wheels?

Why are you laughing?

That's right. "Rock it back and forth with the accelerator," he said, "and it usually breaks free." Hah, no pun intended, right? So I did what he said--in fact, more than he said. I drove the Mazda out onto our road, dragging that right rear brake like an angry donkey the whole way. It never broke free.

On the next call to the mechanic, he asked what kind of wheels I had. "Are they aluminum?" That sounded expensive. No, I was pretty sure I saw rust on the wheels. "Then knock it with a hammer outside the lug nuts."

Whack my car with a hammer to break the brakes loose?

Stop laughing. It worked.

Thus the Mazda works fine, and after an expensive but worthwhile visit from the heating guy, we can have hot showers again. Now if we can just keep the water pressure from dying halfway through those hot showers. Sigh.

There's always something. Stay tuned.


Thursday, July 02, 2009

Dead End

In July of 1979, the renowned physician William A. Altemeier sent a note to my dad. In that note, Altemeier thanked my dad for the photos and slides of a case of hemolytic streptococcal gangrene; he indicated that he intended to use those photos in his upcoming book on surgical infections.

I was interested in finding these photos if I could. So I went on Amazon and found this book, selling now for a whopping 38 cents (used). I guess the surgical trade has changed since 1979.

To my disappointment, I could not find any discussion of hemolytic streptococcal gangrene, or photos of such. I then found that the copyright date for the volume was 1976--perhaps I should have checked that before I bought it!

Amazon didn't have any more surgical books by Altemeier. And he died in 1983. Perhaps he did not get a chance to publish the book in which my dad's photos were to appear.

Oh, well. If anyone needs a manual on control of surgical infections, I know where to get them cheap.