October 2016
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The Return to New Zealand

Another long break since I last wrote and I’m now back in New Zealand. We arrived a week ago on Easter morning and spent a few days in Auckland before coming on to Hastings in the Hawkes Bay region.

When we arrived it was during the biggest rainstorm that they have had in decades. The rivers were running really high and some communities down towards the bay had severe flooding and some mudslides as well. Needless to say, it was wet.

It is quite a beautiful place here, and we feel really blessed to be here. When it is dry they tell me that it is really nice. So far it seems that way. Though morning may be chilly, by afternoon it is quite warm when it is sunny. And the stars. Wow! Living in Houston for so long I had almost forgotten how many stars can be seen on a clear night.

Well, more to come.

Heading home from Kansas City

I’ve been in KC this weekend at a conference for a little CME, and I’ve really had a nice time. I was surprised at how nice KC is; I suppose that I thought it would be like Kansas, but it is green with rolling hills and tall trees in the city. The river is of course pretty and large, but I was most impressed with just how beautiful the city seemed to be in general. I guess I’ll just have to stop talking bad about them.

What’s that? KC is in Missouri? Ah. That explains it.

Confessions of a reluctant bachelor

I’m sitting here on the couch, on the side in which normally my wife would be instead of the side where I usually would be, comfortable despite the solitude.  I’m listening to the soulful and melancholy strains of Karin Bergquist, singer of the duo Over the Rhine, and thinking of how much better life is for me now than it was as a bachelor.

It is truly something else.  I always knew that being married would be good; you have a person around all the time that you really like spending time around, you have lots of things in common that you can do, and you don’t have to go home when the day is done because you are already there.

But I had no idea.

This latest stint of bachelorhood is the result of Julisa’s trip to visit her brother on a mission to learn all that she can about doing some work for his school, Dalat International School.  They are planning some fund raising efforts over here and want her to go before them to lay some groundwork.  I know that she will do a fantastic job.

The downside is that it means almost two weeks without her here, and that is tough for both of us.  She has gone on a couple of shorter trips as I have, but this is the longest by far.

The blessing that being married to her has been makes it all the more difficult, and yet it makes me treasure what I have been given even more.  She has helped me learn so many things about being the man God has made me to be.  I’m changing all the time because of her, and I don’t miss any of that bachelor life one little bit.  I love that girl!

The end of an era. Or, A New Beginning

Well, another year has come and gone and I find myself at yet another birthday.  As days of the year go, this one is not really much different than any other day, no big holiday to compete with or anything, I’ll go to work just like every other normal Monday, but this one will be special to me.  My wife and my family know, and my friends as well.  Some of them have already done special things for me and made me feel loved, and for that I thank them.  God has truly blessed me with a wonderful community.

During that past year I have moved, started a new job, and even climbed a Grand mountain, but none of those things can compare to getting married.  I married Julisa Brewster on January 10 of this year, and my life will never be the same.  She is helping me every day to be a better man than I was the day before.  All these years I have wondered what being married would be like, but never did I realize the profound impact that a woman could have.  I am indeed blessed to have her.  I can imagine that life with her if she were even a slightly different woman could be very different.  She has been so good to me.  She has been so patient and kind towards me when I haven’t deserved it.  She is encouraging and helpful all the time.  I can no longer imagine living without her.  In short she is helping me learn to be a good husband.  What better lesson could I begin to learn this year?

I love you, Julisa Wales.  So much.  Keep teaching me, and with the Lord’s help we will have a wonderful adventure together.

A Grand Trip up the Teton

This year has been one full of adventure, but for the last few months I have been intent on getting ready for the one most recent: climbing the Grand Teton.  Last January around the time of my wedding, Ben Stuckey (one of my groomsmen) suggested to me that he was thinking about planning a trip to Wyoming to climb the Grand Teton.  Ben is an accomplished mountaineer, with several large peaks on his resume, and he and I have been trying to get together to climb something for quite a while.  Needless to say when he mentioned that idea, I was ready to go right away.

As the months drew to weeks prior to the trip I began to really feel the pressure to get in shape for the trip, as I knew that this would be one of the more difficult climbs I have ever done.  I began going to the gym 3-5 times a week, with the occasional run outside in the blazing Houston heat.  I even spent as much as 4 and 1/2 hours on the stair-climber (in one go!), seeing as how that was the most similar exercise to climbing that I could do.  By the time I was ready to leave I really felt that I was finally ready for a challenge (unlike my last big over-night climb).

The day finally came for me to fly to Denver where Ben collected me at the airport and helped me make sure that I had everything that I would need.  We made a last-minute trip to REI just to get a couple of things that would complete my gear.  As it turns out he and I have the same pack, but he has a slightly smaller one also that he was able to get all of his gear into, allowing him to have a lighter pack altogether.  My pack, after adding a rope weighed in at just about 41 pounds (or 18.5 Kg if you prefer).  I think Ben’s was about 5 pounds lighter.  Oh well.  It’s good training.

We set out early the next day and met up with Lewie and Val Foltz, Stephanie Laube, and Jerry and Denise Verbeck, before setting out north and west for Grand Teton National Park.  We had a great drive out there, stopping a few times a long the way for a break.  When we stopped in Lander, Wyoming, we stopped in at NOLS, which was pretty cool.

We made it to the park but decided to continue on to Jackson, which is the only town nearby, where we stopped for one last good meal before the climb would begin.  We then went into the park, found ourselves a place to park in a strategic manor so as to wait for the opening of the Ranger Station at 8 am.  Camping in designated areas in the park is okay, so we decided that we were not really going to camp out, but rather we were simply making ourselves comfortable while waiting, and if we happened to fall asleep in our sleeping bags on the pavement, well, that would just be real nice too.

The next morning we got up and fired up the stove for a little oatmeal with brown sugar, sunflower seeds, and raisins before heading over to the Ranger station for a brief orientation.  Unfortunately some of us didn’t get fully oriented, mostly due to not being over there when we were supposed to be.  (Sorry about that, Ben.)

The Lupine Meadows Trail head was our next stop, and that was where we began to finally get the show on the road.  [Some readers might be wondering when this story is going to do that ;-).]

We hiked for just over 1/2 hour when we almost ran into a small bear on the trail!  I’m not even sure that Ben saw it until I yelled at him- it was just sitting there blocking the trail and munching on a branch about 50 feet in front of us.  It looked up and wandered off the trail to our right, paying little mind to us, but boy did we ever pay attention to it!

Two hours later we were in the Meadows, one of the nicest camping sites on the mountain.  Swift moving water from higher up flows through there into Garnet Canyon, making it an area that stays pretty green this time of year.  Unfortunately for us, some of that water was rain water, and soon we were getting some rain here and there.  We took another hour and a half to get up into the area called the moraine, named for how a glacier had carved its way through many years back.  There is a lot of loose rock and boulders that make it somewhat difficult to get through, especially when one looses the main trail.  Ben was a little ahead of us, so when we came onto the moraine we had only cairns to guide us.  Unfortunately for us, they were not as easy to spot as we thought they should be, and soon we were off trail.  That would not have been so bad except that it was starting to rain harder, making it more dangerous and more miserable.  By the time I got to where Ben was waiting, he had already chosen the best campsite in the area for us.  We were all wet, but soon enough we were all together and starting to figure out what to do next.

At this point I prayed  (or rather begged) that the Lord would let His light shine down upon us because we were so cold and wet.  Lo and behold about 30 minutes passed and the rain stopped.  Soon afterwards the sun broke through and before we could say, “Stuckleberry,” we were simply roasting.  All of our things were dry in an hour, we made camp, had a nice dinner, and just relaxed.  What a great day.

Six o’clock came quickly and the sun passed below the lower saddle just above us, so it began to cool off.  That’s when we went to bed, because 2 AM is an early wake-up call.  I slept reasonably well, but every time I opened my eyes I had to check out the stars.  They were absolutely amazing.  I could get used to that.

By 2:30 AM we were back on the trail, or at least 5 of us were.  Val stayed behind to watch the camp so we could climb without concern.  Plus she got to sleep in, which had to be a nice thing compared to putting on a pack and hiking at that time.  But that’s just what we did, shedding as much extra weight as we could, taking only those things that were necessary, leaving anything that was not.  We made the lower saddle soon after that, and then did our best to follow the cairns in the dark up towards the upper saddle, which is around the northwest side of the mountain.  By this time we had hiked over 7.5 miles (about 12 Km) and gained almost 5000 feet (something in meters) since we left that trail head.  And we still had a long ways to go.

We made our way up 3rd class and some 4th class rock for a bit but were soon at an impasse- it was clear that in the dark we could not go any further.  We traversed to the right some and with the help of another group found the way.  For a while anyhow.  We went up for at least another hour until we came to an area that was just above and left of the upper saddle.  By this time the dawn was coming on and we could see that we were off route.  Again.  We were able to find a way to rappel down a small drop-off and then get over to the upper saddle from which we would begin to climb the more technical routes.  I think we were a little frustrated that we had wasted 45 minutes or more in getting there, but having the added light to do this part was really good.  The only other downside was that it meant we would be running into other groups at a place where all had to go through slowly and roped up.  This part did actually take a long time, and for the first time in a long time, I was cold.

The climbing here, once I was able to do it, was really more of a challenge than I thought it would be.  Perhaps that was because of being cold, having wet hands from the snow-melt, and the lack of good footholds on dry rock while wearing hiking boots.  Needless to say I was glad that Jerry was comfortable leading those pitches, because I would have really struggled to protect those routes.

Well finally we got to a place where Ben had set up a belay for Jerry and me to ascend and join the others.  From there we had a little scramble and voilà, we were at the summit!  13,770 feet!  What a great experience that was!  We only spent a few minutes there, as it is not really that big, and several others wanted their moments in the sun as well.  We decided to get moving and soon came to the big rappel that required two ropes to reach the bottom.  That was a fun rappel, but I think we all would have enjoyed wearing rappelling gloves instead of just bare-handing it.  Ouch!  That burns!

From there we began to go down the nearest gully, thinking that the route we had missed would have come up that, but when we were a few hundred feet down, one of the guides with a private group saw us going that way and yelled to us that it would not get us down (at least not in one piece, as it ended in scree and a cliff), so we had to climb back up to a ridge; after that we just followed his group down through all the rubble and rock that was so difficult in the dark.  Turns out it is hard in the light as well.

Well, down-climbing is my least favorite part of climbing but certainly has to be done if you go up at all.  There are no elevators or escalators in the mountains.  It took all the energy that I had to get through the toughest sections, because by this time my thighs were absolutely on fire, and the soles of my feet were burning as well.  Once we got through the scrambling and could see the lower saddle, we all seemed to feel better, and soon after that we were back in camp.  It was 1:30 pm.  Eleven hours (round trip) of climbing from our upper camp.

So we all collapsed for a bit and ate, drank water, and just tried to recover.  The plan was to pack up and then go back down to the Meadows to camp for the night, leaving us about 5.5 miles to hike out in the morning.  Then someone suggested that we pack up and just go all the way to the trail head and leave for Jackson.

“How can I do this?” I thought.  “There’s no way!  My legs are too weak, and my feet are never going to survive.”

I raised an objection, but as I was the only one who really didn’t want to go, I was clearly outvoted.  So we got our gear together and began to hike at 2:45.  Soon after that I broke on of my trekking poles, which at that point were like crutches for me.  I was so glad that Val was there and offered me her poles- they were a lifesaver!  Lewie hung back with me while the rest continued on.  He and I had a great time walking a little slower and resting a bit more often.  I really felt better as we got down lower in elevation, so that helped too.

Eventually we made it to the parking area at Lupine Meadows.  It was about 7:15 pm on Saturday.  We had been up to the top and all the way back down in less than 35 hours.  Wow!  I couldn’t believe it!  What an awesome challenge and adventure!  I can’t wait to do something like this again.

Or, well, I guess I’ll wait until my blisters are all healed up first.

Workin’ for a livin’

Hi, everybody! It has been a long time since my last post.

I hope this finds you well.  I have heard from a couple of you who are curious about what it is that I do, now that I have a real job again.  So I’ll start by saying that my job is actually two jobs in one, with the occasional odd job thrown in for good measure.  All in all I am considered a faculty member at Baylor College of Medicine, a private medical school in Houston.  As a part of the Department of Family and Community Medicine I am an Assistant Professor.  I work 50% of the time for the CHP, or Community Health Program, through which I work at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Health Center.  I am there on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Friday afternoons, and while there I am responsible for seeing patients who need primary care.  At this facility we tend to get some folk who are really sick in some cases, far sicker than one would expect routinely in a suburban family practice.  The people I see are often those who have been amongst the poorest in the city for most of their lives.  Some are aliens who have been here a while, and some are a part of the working poor.  Lower socio-economic class clientele to say the least.

I find my work there to be difficult and yet rewarding.  I feel rewarded in the interaction with the folks one at a time, though overall the workload sometimes is aggrevating.  And love that I see something new or unique all the time.  I can’t remember when I have had so many patients who have been ex-cons.
The difficult part about this job is that it is often hard to make things happen for a patient in a timely fashion.  One of the beauties of the free-market model is that consultants really do want referrals and work hard to please those who make them.  In our system on the other hand the consultants have far more work than they want anyway, so they really aren’t in much of a hurry to clear the waiting lists, especially because they don’t tend to be paid for services rendered but by salary with little incentives.  This leads to patients getting problems solved with such delay in some cases that a similar patient in the private system would be fully recovered before one of ours has even been seen by a specialist.  But, I digress.  I don’t work in policy but patient care.  And I do enjoy helping the individual, especially one who knows that I am all he has keeping him from the unknown fate of no medicine.  Ah, medicine.

In my other 2.5 days of working I am in a Public Health clinic that sees people who have immigrated into the US either via refugee camps, asylum seekers, parole hearings, or on immigrant visas.  The latter usually worked for the US in some capacity overseas.  The Parolees usually showed up one day at the border and begged to get in- most of them are Cuban.  Asylum seekers tend to be from places like Iran.
In this job we do health screening examinations for the government.  They are usually sponsored by an agency (YMCA, Interfaith, Catholic Charities, etc.) in part, but the State Department arranges to pay for housing, Medicaid, and some other support for a few months.  We try to make sure that any medical needs are identified and then referred to appropriate care.  It is nice in a lot of ways.  I like meeting people who are from all sorts of countries.  Several come from Burma, Iraq, Somalia, Bhutan, Congo, and Cuba, but there are others.  It is nice to hear some of the small stories of their lives; all are glad to have the opportunity to come here, even though for many it is a daunting task to learn enough English to survive and get a job sufficient to provide for their families.  I like it though.  I feel like I am getting to use some of the tropical medicine training that I hoped I would be using sooner rather than later.

All in all that’s about all I do.  As a faculty member I may have opportunity to do some writing sometime, but I need to seek that stuff out.  I also may get to go to Honduras in October- we shall see.

That’s all I know to tell you at the moment.

Plans and Accommodations

Today was one of those days.

You know the kind: you get up, optimism abounds because the world really is your oyster, and you like it raw with all the liqour from the half-shell.  Then soon enough the reality sets in and it becomes very obvious that this particular oyster was not quite as choice as it appeared.

Today was like that.

To start I got up to a beautiful view out my window, light from the dawn not quite illuminating the mountains to the west, but the snow-covered houses and trees all around were quite a sight to see.  It was really cold, so in a sense that was exciting in itself, since I knew that I don’t work outdoors.  As I went off to work I found that the car thermometer said that it was about 6 degrees below zero Fahrenheit (about -22 C).  I thought that was pretty cool!  It was also a little slower on the drive because the road felt a little odd, but still things seemed to be all good.

I was a little later to the local Starbucks because of that, and then my early start managed to get me to work just on time to find that I had a pretty full schedule and a lot of stuff in my inbox.  No worries, though; it is a Monday, after all, and things are generally a little busy due to the 2 day break.

Soon, however, it became apparent that no matter how much I wanted to blame my slowness on my nurse, it was really my own doing for whatever reason, and suddenly my usual hour-long lunch became a 15 minute jaunt downstairs where I had been told that there would be a free lunch provided.  This was great because a drive out to get something would have taken more than 15 minutes anyway, and I didn’t need to start out behind on the second half, right?

So downstairs I went to find the free lunch.

Oh wait- didn’t someone once say that there’s no such thing as a free lunch?  In this case it wasn’t because there was a catch but more because there wasn’t much of a lunch left- they had run out of the main courses and only had some potatoes and carrots left.  More was being delivered they assured me, but it might be a while.  I could get some in a while upstairs.

Ok, I’ll have some potatoes and carrots.  I need to make sure those are in my diet, and I really wasn’t that hungry at the time.  So back up to the office I went.

The second half started off with an onside kick, which I promptly lost, putting me behind right away, and the phone calls, lab results, prescription refills, patient emails, and actual patient visits with their myriad questions seemed endless.  The next thing I knew it was 4:45, I was telling my last patient where to go, and I had another 7 calls to reply to, along with who knows how many other things to do that have to be done sooner or later (and why wait until tomorrow, as there will be more anyway?).

By this time I’ve already told Ben that I won’t be meeting him at the gym for the Combat Calesthenics class, thinking that I would have been out early enough anyway, but the next thing you know, I finally wrap it all up at about 6:30pm.   Good thing I decided against that class, eh?

So out to the car I go.  It is -1 F.  The car started up just fine.  Then as I turned the wheel a little I felt a weird sensation in the steering as if something shifted.  Then the penny dropped.  Or the front end of the car, rather.  That’s when I realized that I had a flat tire.

Great.  Like I said: I’m glad that I decided against trying to meet Ben for that class, because I was not going to make it.  I drove to a place in the lot where the light was better and started into the changing of the tire.  Now, I don’t mind changing a tire now and then, but this is the second tire I’ve changed for Avis in 6 months.  And this one was not easy, considering the lack of good light and the temperature.  But when it was all over, I managed to drive home without incident.  I got home finally at 7:40 or so.

But you know what?  On the drive home I found a station playing a chamber choir singing Christmas music, and you know?  I still had a smile in there somewhere.  Just as things invaded my day today and I had to adjust, so God reminded me that the world had to adjust when He invaded in the form of a baby in a manger.  And we’re still adjusting.

Merry Christmas!