Thursday, February 28, 2013

I'M BACK....

I just emailed Molly James to tell her I love her mightily for somehow getting my blog back and wondering if it would happen again the next time I went to 'most visited' and clicked on my blog.

I just did it and IT DID!!!

So, maybe, just maybe. I can be writing here again on a more or less regular basis....

Whoever reads this stuff...thanks you so much....

Oh Lord, thank God for Molly James!

I've been locked off my blog page for almost a week.

Something weird happened. I was asked for a password and since my blog was set us by Sandy Carlson years ago, I didn't remember if I remembered it. I didn't and I was locked off my blog for three days.

After three days I was allowed to change my password and then was told I was still prohibited from seeing my blog page.

I had all this stuff I wanted to blog about, all of which I forgot because I was prohibited to view my page.

I asked Molly James, one of the priests who works with me in the Cluster, because she is a Tech Wonder, to help me. After several emails she got a email to me from Blogger to come and it failed to help me the first and second time. The third time, in ways I do not understand, I got here and am writing here.

I love to blog. I hate the technology that allows me to do that.

Odd, I know. I just hope that tomorrow, when I do what I do--go to 'most visited' on my icon list and click on Castor Oil Tree that I'll be able to write. We'll see, I imagine.

Oh, some of those things I wanted to blog about:

*A guy in Australia got killed by his pet. His pet was a python. 'nough said about choosing your pets wisely.

*Couldn't people leave Jennifer Lawrence alone? In Winter's Bone, The Hunger Games and Silver Lining Playbook she was amazing as three totally different characters. She might be an actress for our life-time, but not is she is hounded always by every one. Leave her alone. The next two books of the "Hunger Games" trilogy are in production. Leave her be. Let her act and make us joyous.

*Since 1776 has there been anything stupider, less needed and more destructive than the 'sequester' that starts in 19 minutes, since I'm writing at 11:41 pm? We need some kindergarten teachers to handle congress....

I just pray that tomorrow when I try to get on my blog, I can.

Molly is a wonder at this point. But tomorrow comes....

Sunday, February 24, 2013

odd beyond passing

Blogspace, or whatever the carrier of my blog is called, has started giving me statistics about the views of my blog.

So, I now know that in the past months this has been the audience for Under the Castor Oil Tree:

United States--649 views
Russia--77 views
Ukraine--65 views
Poland--25 views
Sweden--15 views
UK--13 views
Romania--8 views
Belarus--6 views
South Korea--6 views

So, who the hell in Russia or Belarus or South Korea, for God's sake, is looking at my blog?

Anyone who looks at it is welcome to email me at I'd really like to hear from Romania or Sweden....

This strikes me as odd beyond passing....

A biscuit in my shoe

So, I got to church today (St. Andrew's, Northford this week) and realized there was something in my shoe. I pulled it off in the middle of the center aisle while talking with Frank and discovered one of my dog's biscuits. Now how, I asked myself, did that happen? I know Bela didn't drop it in for safe keeping because he will eat whatever you give him immediately. My shoe was downstairs--actually it is a ankle high boot that I bought when I wore out Harriet's father's boots that she gave me when he died.

Marvin was his name and he was a wonderful man. And I got some of this clothes along with his boots (which were practically brand new). Some sweaters I still have. There was something almost holy about wearing Marvin's boots and sweaters--something sweet and touching. But I wore them out and had to buy new boots and today, when I got to church, found a dog biscuit in the left one.

Why didn't I notice it when I walked Bela and the had breakfast and then drove to Northford? How can you have a dog biscuit in your shoe for a couple of hours and not notice? But, be that as it may, that was what happened.

There is a great song from the musical "Godspell" about 'putting a pebble in your shoe' and calling the pebble 'Dare' and walking with the pebble in your shoe to remind you of how wondrous and holy it is just to be able to walk the road of life.

Having a dog biscuit in your shoe is not the thing of song, I don't think. It's just weird and strange. Frank told me when he had a greyhound the dog would sometimes hide biscuits in his shoes. It was a rather wondrous thing to find a dog treat in my shoe while talking to one of the few people (I imagine) in the Universe who has experienced the same thing. Ponder that.

Frank is a wonderful man cut from the same cloth as Marvin. I'd gladly wear Frank's shoes and sweaters. Frank works to curtail human trafficing. He spends time on the streets of cities with prostitutes, offering them a path to living a more normal life. How good a thing to do is that?

And just imagine, he used to find dog biscuits in his shoes the way I did this morning.

All this is beyond me. Just too amazing, life is. Just walking through it should keep us astonished. We should put a pebble in our shoe and call it Dare and walk on into the mystery and magic of life.


Friday, February 22, 2013

Dirty Snow

OK, the snow has stayed around so long that it's kinda nasty by now. It has shrunk, so three feet has become a foot and a half, but it is all dirty and frozen multiple times and...well, nasty.

Once I did love to watch the snow
So lovely, white and pure you know,

But now it is no fun to see,
So dirty, frozen and nasty.

The snow is old, it's been two weeks
Since it fell, deep drifts, deeper peaks.
Lovely then and so ugly now,
Moved by shovel, blower and plow.

My dog's confused and troubled too
'Bout where to pee and where to poo,
Since snow obscures the normal land
Where smells are obviously at hand.

The snow has stayed beyond its time
And I am running out of rhyme,
But warmer weather I do seek,
Yes, warmer weather I do seek.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Robins in the horse chestnut tree

We have a huge Horse Chestnut tree in our front yard. It's probably 100 feet high and we've had branches cut of it after storms of the past. I keep thinking it will be uprooted in the next high winds and rip down the electrical lines for the block--better, perhaps, than falling on our house or our neighbor's house.

The other day I saw nine robins in the tree. It was sunny and cold and there are still almost two feet of snow on the ground after a week of 45 degree weather. Nine robins. I counted them over and again and wondered if they were year-round robins or robins that just got home. They were all fat, if confused, so I imagined they had come back a bit too soon. They were all males and I wondered where their mates were since robins are pretty monogamous.

It's very cold tonight and I wonder where they are and how they're doing.

We live in a house built in 1850 so no two windows are the same size and the kitchen door doesn't quite fit and cold air comes through the storm door around the edges. Since we're going to Baltimore for a few days, I came down and found that Bern had put a flannel sheet over the door with safety pins and other things. It worked wondrously, much better than the stole of mine that we had wedged into the openings in the door.

All this for Maggie, the bird. She was an awful bird when her companion Rainy was alive--constantly annoying Rainy and being just too bossy. But after Rainy died during one of our trips to Baltimore, Maggie has become a delight. Just as Luke, the cat, bloomed as an 'only cat' after the other three died, Maggie has become a joy. Bern has a huge humidifier by her cage and she likes to sit near it and fluff her feathers in the mist. And she listens to classical music all day on WSHU and sings along and dances from time to time. She throws herself against the side of the cage when her food or water is low so we will change them.

And the flannel sheet will keep her warm while we're away. We take the dog in and go to Baltimore in the morning and will come home Wednesday after both Josh and Cathy are home from work since I have a class on Thursday night and we can get the dog in the a.m. rather than after 3.

So, I won't write for a day or two. Will be knee deep in granddaughters for a few days.

As much joy and that is, I have become more and more adverse to travel. I am a 'home-body' now and don't like to sleep anywhere but my own bed.

So we won't be going on any cruises anytime soon although, if I were a betting man I would bet that there are going to be some real deals on Caribbean cruises in the next 6 months...just guessing....

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Putting up with me a while longer....

So, I went for my physical Friday. My doctor is kind and good and hates yelling at me about smoking and drinking too much wine and not eating right and not exercising enough. He really doesn't yell--which would be bearable, actually--he cajoles and kids and implores, none of which works nearly as well as yelling could.

I hate yelling and will do most anything if you yell at me....

But here's the amazing stuff. My blood pressure was 119/60, my bad cholesterol was half what it was and my good cholesterol was double what it was and I'd lost weight and my liver functions were better than normal.

He told me to keep doing what I've been doing--which is just exactly what I've always done: eaten what I liked, smoked, drank wine and exercised a bit more than most people but nothing extreme. And I sleep 8 or 9 hours a night and just love being alive. Which is what I might be--not being hit by a bus or a meteorite--for a bit longer.

If you don't mind putting up with me a bit longer, I'm glad to hang around....

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Is there life after funerals?

OK, over my 38 years as an Episcopal priest, I've officiated at between 800 and 900 funerals. I averaged between 35 and 45 for my 20+ years at St. John's in Waterbury (St. John's was 'the parish' of lots of folks I never encountered while they were living but who I walked to their graves). The one thing I know is that I've done more baptisms than funerals, so, in a way, I'm still ahead of the game.

Funerals are one of the most important things a priest does. It is a time of raw and exposed emotions and making sure it is a decent and orderly transition from this life to what comes next is vitally important. So I take my participation in funerals very seriously.

Funerals are times that can heal and restore long suffering relationships among family...and, funerals can rip apart the very fabric of a family's life going forward.

Today I did a funeral unlike any of the others I've ever done. It was as strange and eerie and weird and painful as anything I've ever experienced as a priest. I must write about it, if for no other reason but to lift the cloud from my heart and mind.

A week or 10 days ago, I got a call from John (not his real name) who told me his wife Mary was in hospice care and wanted me to be a part of her funeral when the time came. I remembered them, out of all the weddings I've done because I liked them so and John was the most nervous groom I've ever known. When I said to him, "repeat after me, 'I John take you Mary....'" He said, "I Mary take you John...." We tried again and he did the same thing. By that time the wedding party and the congregation were in hysterics and he said, loudly, "What? What?"

She had grown up at St. John's and I knew lots of her family. John remembered the classes they attended and told me I'd told them "you guys are going to make it". I don't remember that, but they did, for 17 years, the last 4 of which Mary battled cancer. When they were married their year old daughter was dressed as a flower girl and almost made it down the aisle before rushing into a pew with her grandmother....Of course I remembered them, I told John.

Mary had come back to CT from a hospital in Boston and then had to go to a local hospital in the middle of the snow storm. John was out plowing out their street and house so he could bring her home when she was released. As he battled the snow, Mary  died. For some reason, he wasn't called to the hospital from his pickup and when he arrived she had been pronounced. Her parents were there when she died, but John wasn't.

There was some rather extreme scene in Mary's room and the upshot of that, whatever it was, was that John and Mary's daughter and Mary's parents chose not to attend the funeral. So there was John, without his daughter and his in laws, to grieve alone.,

I don't judge anyone in all this--as I said, funerals can tear a family apart. But it has caused me to ponder what, if anything, could keep me from my child's funeral or what, if anything, could keep me from my mother's funeral.

Some of Mary's brothers were there so this unthinkable rift isn't along any clear lines. And, it was as troubling a funeral as I've ever experienced. What can ever span the divide such actions have created? How can any of them 'move on' with such a conflict raw in their throats? What healing can there be to soothe such pain?

On the way back from the cemetery, the funeral director (a great guy I've worked with many times) and I talked about how we would never forget this funeral, how it would haunt us for years, how we just couldn't get our heads or hearts around it.

My daughter laid to rest without me there. My parent buried without me present....I just have no categories to fit that into. And what does it say about the legacy and memory of Mary--who was a lovely, wondrous woman who battled bravely and whose death left those she loved so bitter and hurt and angry that they could not be together to grieve and say 'good-bye'.

A chapter in the stuff I've written since I retired is called "Is there Life after Funerals?" I may need to revise it to include this funeral, though I'm not sure I understand it enough to say anything of insight or value about it.

Ponder this: What pain/anger/bitterness could keep you from your child's funeral....or your mother's....?

I'm out of categories and compartments to fit all that into....

Saturday, February 9, 2013

A heresy of sorts...

OK, my credentials should pass muster (what the hell does 'pass muster' mean? need to Google it....)

I am, after all, an Episcopal priest for 38 years--a 'professional Christian', if you know what I mean. But there is one heresy I'm especially fond of.....

I teach classes at U.Conn in Waterbury on various of the so-called Gnostic Christian texts. Someone always brings up that there is a sniff of heresy about them. When that happens, I do two things.

First, I make it clear that 'heresy' is what the Church has 'said' it is. Just as the winners write the histories of the wars, the 'orthodox' Christians, who won against the so called Gnostic Christians, wrote the history of what was heretical and what wasn't. God didn't say it was 'heresy', the Church did. Just to get that straight.

Then I prove to the group that they are all heretics of the first order, hell bent toward the gallows in a less gentle and more relevant time in Church history. I ask them, "who believes in 'the immortality of the soul'?"

Almost all the hands go up. Then I point them to the Nicene Creed that tells us 'orthodox' Christians believe, not in the soul's continued existence after death, but "the resurrection of the body..."

Heretics, each and every one of them.

Here's my heresy of choice: that Christianity is not a 'revealed' religion, but an 'unconcealed' religion.

"Revelation" is a big D-doctrine. It says that we know the Truth of God in Christ because it was 'revealed' to us through the incarnation and scripture and church teaching.

We know nothing, according to that, that God didn't whisper in our ear or shout from the rooftops in some way.

For me, the life of a Christian isn't informed by some revelatory knowledge but by un-concealing God in our midst.

For me, life is like wandering through a dark room with all the furniture covered in drapes and bumping your shin against something, wiping the blood away and realizing, in some way you can never quite explain or understand that you just bumped your shin against God.

God, for me, is not a Being that has 'revealed' its Being to me, but something I discover, uncover, trip over, bump up against and then, not knowing what else to call it, I call it God.

Sometimes I realize where my aching shin got the bump in the moment and sometimes it is hours, day, years later when I reflect and ponder that particular scar and realize, "Jeeze, that was God....."

Christians who believe our faith is only and always "revealed" are clear on stuff I'm rather foggy about. They tend to know how 'right' they are and how 'wrong' all the other stumbling folks like me are.

But here's what I think--bumping into God by accident rather than knowing up front what is God and what isn't, is a lot more exciting and intimate and lovely and serendipitous and full of grace than their way is.

Wander around a bit. Bump into things. Eschew assumptions and preconceptions. about Who, What, Where God is and how God shows up.

Look under the sheets and move the stuff on top. Dig down. You might just be surprised and even delighted to find God where you least expected God to show up....

A heresy well worth pondering....

What's in a name?

Going out on the back deck and not being able to see the Adirondack chairs was the first hint something had gone terribly wrong.....That and having the snow in the front yard the same level as the front porch....And that white picket fence on the East side of our yard, it seems to have disappeared.

But what's the name of this storm?

The weather channel calls it Nemo and the local channels insist her name is Charlotte!

What's up with that? Can't we all come together on something as non-political as a blizzard? I don't see any implications for this name disagreement. This isn't the national debt or gun control or immigration--it's a snow storm for goodness sake...let's agree on a name....

We didn't lose power at all so we're warm and comfortable as we are stranded. The snow piles our neighbor Mark made when he borrowed another neighbor's snow blower, are over my head where our driveway meets Cornwall Ave. And Cornwall is barely a lane wide with four or five inches of snow on it. The plows simply have nowhere to pile the snow.

Church is cancelled tomorrow. so we have another day to fool around moving snow from one pile to another.

It all came down in around 24 hours--more than two inches an hour since some places it's over 3 1/2 feet around here.

Amazing and a bit awe inspiring about Nature and all....But we have electricity. Nemo/Charlotte seems like the Devil in White to many people in New England right now.

And their best strategy right now might be to find shelter if they can because the temperature is dropping fast....

Stay warm, if you live up here. If you live outside New England, feel blessed Nemo/Charlotte didn't come your way....

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

My favorite person I've never met....

We all have 'favorite people' we've never met, right?

(Just checking that out since I tend to think I'm the norm of the universe and I certainly have favorite people I've never met.....)

So, if we agree on the premise, then here are some of mine: Bob Dylan, Derrik Jeter, Barack Obama and his family, Jon Steward, Denzel Washington, Tom Hanks, Bette Middler, P.D. James, Bill Moyers, George R. R. Martin, Rachel that.

But my most favorite person I've never met (though we've emailed and talked on the phone) is Linda S., who works for the Church Pension Fund Group. What she does is be an advocate for members of the Episcopal Church Medical Trust when they're having trouble with the Insurance Companies that have contracts with the Episcopal Church.

Linda S. (I'll not tell you  her name since I never asked her if I could write about her) helped me out of a mess of my own making back in 2009. Something changed in the Diocesan Insurance Plan and I payed no attention and kept going to a Dr. who was no longer covered on my plan (though I could have chosen a plan that made him covered) and he did a sh**-load of tests (including a full body scan that allowed me to look at my skeleton. Have you ever seen your skeleton? I guarantee it won't look anything like you imagined and will make you either decide to believe in the whole evolution side-by-side with ape thing or totally embrace it.....)

The bills started being sent to C*G*A--I have cleverly obscured the name of the Insurance company by putting a * in place of the I and N--and were denied en mass. 

It WAS my fault, but somehow, Linda S. and the moral authority of the Church Pension Group, got that unnamed insurance company to pay some $7000+ that they could have, legally, denied.

And just since I've been sick, the same company, *IGN*--denied paying thousands and thousands of dollars of lab work because they said no "provider" had requested it. Well, it was all about Bern's pancreas and I would sell the house to pay for the results we got, but, excuse me, the Dr. C**NA paid to do all the medical procedures requiring the Lab Work CIG** denied was, ultimately the 'provider' requesting that Lab work. But since it came, not from her but from Yale-New Haven Hospital--*IGNA denied the claims--about four mortgage payments of claims.

But I know Linda will have it handled by Monday if not tomorrow.

She's my favorite person I've never really met....

Monday, February 4, 2013

Voyage to a Strange Shore

OK, I haven't written here for over a week. I've been away to the land of Flu, lost in it's winding lanes, overheated by it's tense sun, wooed to sleep at ever corner.

When I was little, I slept through every major childhood disease. At 7 or 8 I contracted both the measles and the chicken pox and went to sleep for a week or so. At 12 I had the mumps and was asleep in in room with the blinds drawn for about the same amount of time. I remember people waking me up for soup and water or to go to the bathroom or to take some noxious potion or another, but essentially, I slept through.

Here's the thing about doctors--they don't believe me and you....I called on Wed. morning and told him I had the flu. He's been my doctor for almost 25 years but still doesn't believe m on the phone. He asked 10 minutes of questions and pointed out I was missing several major symptoms (fever, loss of appetite and muscle ache, mostly) said it was probably a cold and to give it a day or two. I told him all those symptoms were in route, they simply hadn't arrived yet. He laughed but said, "really, give it a day or two...besides, you had a flu shot...." I pointed out the flu vaccine doesn't help between 30% and 40% of the people who get it.....That, I know, was being uppity and a mister know it all.

So I gave it a day or so and all the ships reached port! I didn't feel like eating 'anything', my hips and legs ached, my temperature (which normally is 97.5 or so, I know, I know, I am 'cool'....made it over 102. I called him back.

"I have the Flu," said, a proceeded to describe my misery, even the day I slept for 9 p.m. til 9 a.m. and then took a couple of 2 1/2 hour naps before bed at 9 p.m. He reluctantly put me on Tana Flu and I told him I needed an antibiotic as well. "No need for that," he said. What he meant was "liar, liar, pants on fire!"

So, when I went to the office today, he examined me and said, "you're on the antibiotics, right?"

"No," I explained, "you wouldn't give it to me."

"I'm sure I emailed it in...."

"Nope, sorry...."

So, now I'm on the Tana Flu, one of those GI track drone antibiotics and, if my breathing peak flows aren't better tomorrow, I'm to start a round of Prednisone!

But I just had a cold and had gotten my flu shot.

The Land of Flu is a strange destination. I can't concentrate  for longer than 5 minutes (of course, I can't do much more on a good day but this is a good excuse!) And there are the dreams: I've had two kind of vivid and very real dreams--the mathematical dreams and the dreams where I've lost the dog and am naked in a place I've never seen before. The Math dreams are endless varied: I spent a whole dream working, over and again, out what 1.5 billion squared is in my head. It was always 2.25 billion but I kept being asked again and since I had it nailed, I kept doing it. There have been several dreams about graft paper and geometrical shapes. And one about a math task I never really understood.

Lots of varieties of Math.

The 'lost-my-dog-naked-somewhere-I've-never-seen-before-dreams' are pretty much alike....

It's also an odd place to deal with medical folks. There ought to be a class in medical school titled "They are IN their body, you're NOT".

Because I was having respiratory issues, I called the specialist who has kept me so healthy in that concern for so long. He seldom believes me.

My GP does believe me. He realized he's not inside me and has no way to discern what's going on there in the dark of the insides of my body besides what I tell him. I always appreciate that so much...

Today, because I remember weird, random quotes as I'm going to sleep or waking up, I remembered this one from Groucho  Marx: "outside of a dog, a book is a man's best friend. Inside of a dog, it's too dark to read...."

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About Me

some ponderings by an aging white man who is an Episcopal priest in Connecticut. Now retired but still working and still wondering what it all means...all of it.