Monday, May 31, 2010

We are all Frankfurters now!!

Is that even correct?  "We are Frankfurters"??  Is that anything like: "Oh I wish I was an Oscar Meyer weiner..."  ??  How about "Ich bin ein Frankfurter!" ?  Well, anyway, needless to say, we arrived safely in Frankfurt right on schedule after a twelve-hour flight yesterday (Sunday) morning at around 10:45 A.M..  Sorry about the delay in getting this written!!  I really need to keep this blog updated more often, but the entire week prior to leaving we were so busy, there was honestly no time.  I so-much wanted to write a "three-parter" blog-entry (it would have been THAT freaking long, I swear!!) about the three-days I needed to spend in San Francisco to aquire my Indian travel visa (nothing like coming right down to the wire, eh??).  Maybe I will some day...but right now that all has faded in my memory to a blurry fog...and all of it seems like it happened so many moons ago!!

In the weeks leading up to our flight out of LAX, I tried my very best to have no pre-conceived ideas about what this opening-leg of our journey to Hyderabad would be like.  We knew from talking to Beloved's breeder, Susan Vaughn, that a stopover in Frankfurt for some time to let "The Bee" get out of her "Sherpa" travel-bag and sort of "decompress" just a little before the final leg of the flight.  It was really quite good for us, too, I gotta be honest here.  As Amy Suzanne said (within an hour of our flight to Germany beginning....) "Hmmm.  Ya know...flying with Beloved is going to be more work than we bargained for!!"  Now there was an understatement if I'd ever heard one!!

Again, to be honest, "Bee" was a real trooper....she's a tough little dog!  Yeah, admittedly, she was kinda fussy some of the time....the idea of under the seat "storage" was not liked at all because it was a little too hot under there.  Balancing her and her bag up between Amy and I - propped up on the double armrests and console seemed to work a lot better, but it necessitated one of us keeping an arm under the Sherpa Bag to keep it level.  For a couple of hours, at about the halfway point of the night...I snuggled waaaay down in my seat (picture the business-class pod "seats" that adjust all the way to "flat"!) and put her flat up arainst the head-rest.  She slept then better than I did...but when Amy woke up beside her, Bee saw her and went a little nuts, wanting to get out and see "mommy".  We got caught three times taking her out of the bag and trying to shield her from the view of the flight crew...but Lufthansa has a bunch of flight attendants!!  Even the old "Here, I'll hold the blanket up so they can't see!" stopped working after a while.

Finally, once the Pursor (an official-looking German lady with a clipboard, no less!!) saw Beloved...the ol' "Apso was out of the bag" - and we were so busted!!  A few weeks prior to our trip, and thanks to Susan's directions, we had purchased some "Piddle Pads" - sort of like large "floor diapers" with a waterproof, non-skid side and soft, absorbant material on the other.  These are special pads in that they are supposedly impregnated with some sort of scent that let's doggies know "this is a good place to pee!"

Great plan in theory!!  But you see, Our Bee has always been kind of a "private pee-er" - and is generally nervous anyway when it's "time to go to the Ladies Room".  As you know, airplane bathrooms are really small (even on the 747 we were on!  They may call it a "jumbo jet" - but the "facilities" are anything BUT!!)....I honestly don't think I could have gotten me and the Bee and the Sherpa Bag inside and even attempted to take care of business inside!  So Amy took on the job of "potty patrol" the whole way.  God bless Amy Francis!!  We only managed to try it twice...neither one with success. Too much noise and poor Bee could only look at Mama and say "WTF, Mom??" with her big brown eyes!!  Score it: Airplane Bathroom 2 - "Piddle Pads" 0. 

After about eight long hours...I had The Bee up by my head in the "sleep" position (yeah, right, whatever!)...and... well... I smelled a little... errr... "odor".  I'll leave it to your imagination...but it honestly wasn't a major disaster...a little poopage and peeage is all.  The Sherpa Bag is lined and has a removable (thank God!!) fleece pad inside.  It wasn't so bad that anybody else could smell it - - but with her propped-up about a foot from my nose.....  Uh.  'Nuff said.

Upon landing, Bee got a little "sponge bath" in the airport bathroom sink.  She got herself a real bath with Amy within five minutes of our arrival at the Falkenstein Grand Kempinski Hotel at Konigstein.

Hopefully... many of you have Facebook and have seen our updates and our photos from our Frankfurt sightseeing day today.  Europe is so awesome!!  It's so civilized!!  You can take dogs anywhere!!  Into the cafes, into stores, on the bus, the taxi and the train!!  My dear friend Amy Pease Scarpa (she has lived in Venice, Italy for many years!) told me that this is what we would find here....but you have to experience it first-hand to really understand!!  The nanny-state of the U.S. of A. doesn't understand that our "fursons" are realy "persons" and they need to be out with the family!!  Thank you, Amy #2 - you were so right!! 

This link here is supposed to let anybody see our Facebook photos - - I've never tried it, but give it a try!!  My personal Facebook page is available here.

I'll try to be more regular in my posting here.  Auf Wiedersehen, everybody!!

Friday, May 21, 2010

God is One...

I had a most interesting spiritual experience on Wednesday afternoon.  I was making my way down from Hollywood to the Pacific Coast Highway and Duke's Barefoot Bar in Malibu (it used to be the old "Malibu Sea Lion" for you more "seasoned" citizens!).  I was heading out that way in order to meet a couple of old friends there for a little "farewell party" and to watch the Lakers smoke "Los Suns" to go up 2-0 in the Best-of-Seven Western Conference Finals.  I had some time to kill, so I thought I'd stop at whatever of my old haunts called-out to me...places I may like to see for one last time before we leave next week.  Thanks to John Adams for setting it all up, to Mike "Sacco" Sapelli for coming all the way out from Thousand Oaks - and to my dear Jaime Holmes for coming out to say goodbye.  Oh...and a special "get well" shout-out to Franz Neuwirth who drooped his Harley on the way to meet us and got to take a nice ride in a helicopter to the E.R. at UCLA!  Feel better, Brother Franz! I'm heading North from "The Incline" in Santa Monica and up the PCH, for some kind of almost mystically magnetic reason, I turned right off of the Highway to head up Sunset Blvd. and see the Self-Realization Fellowship Lake Shrine.  It had always been a place in my "yoot" that consistently seemed to have a magnetic calling for me.  As a young teenager, I reckon that it was about the same time I was serving as an Acolyte at St. Bede's Episcopal Church in Mar Vista (under the wing of Fr. Joseph Reeves, who was a wonderful mentor and friend!  Having a crush on his daughter, Becky didn't hurt my relationship to that church, either!) - I would often ride my bike from my home in Mar Vista up the PCH, and (for some unknown reason!!!) - I usually ended up with a killer case of the munchies by the time I got to Sunset Blvd.  After a couple of Jumbo Jacks and large fries from the Jack in the Box (still right there on the corner!) ...I would make my way up Sunset to the Fellowship Lake Shrine, just to sit or walk and just enjoy the peaceful surroundings there.

The Lake Shrine was founded by Paramahansa Yogananda, on August 20, 1950 and is owned by Self-Realization Fellowship. It's pretty big, considering the price of land at Sunset and the Coast's actually a 10-acre site with lush gardens and natural spring-fed lake, and is home to a variety of flora and fauna, including swans, ducks, koi carp, and beautiful lotus flowers. The entire property is a natural amphitheatre. It's pretty special, that's for sure!

The grounds include the Mahatma Gandhi World Peace Memorial, where a portion of Gandhi's ashes are enshrined, a small museum with exhibits on Paramahansa Yogananda's work (more on this later), a Dutch windmill converted into a chapel and a gift shop with arts and crafts from India. As you walk along the trail surrounding the lake itself, eventually you will come to the "Court of Religions",  featuring the symbols of the five principal religions of the world: a cross for Christianity, a Star of David for Judaism, a Wheel of Law for Buddhism, a crescent moon and star for Islam, and the Aum symbol for Hinduism.  As a young Christian, I used to bristle a bit at this sight...I could never think that any religion but my own had any validity (or, even in my narrow way of thinking, "value") whatsoever!  But the shrine has always had a certain draw for me, a certain magnetism, a it  "peacefulness" that, as St. Paul says, "Passes all understanding".  I found myself drawn there often.

Having read Paramahansa Yoganandaji's Autobiography of a Yogi in college, I certainly got a good feel for what this great Indian guru's (spiritual master) teachings were all about.  One could certainly not label it "Christianity", but his writings always seemed to contain some valuable wisdom, none-the-less.  Yogananda is often seen as being the "father of yoga" for bringing his teachings to the West.  Some of the things that he taught and said can clearly be placed into the context of living in anybodies practice of religion.  And, hopefully, embraced.  Like the great Mahatma Gandhi, or, Sikh Gurus Nanak, Ram Das and Sri Gobind Singh - Yogandandaji envisioned a world filled with people of all creeds living in peaceful coexistence with one another.  This, as we can see by reading any morning copy of the newspaper, unfortunately rarely materializes on a grand scale in the real world.  But Yogananda tried to nurture these pure ideas of his with actions as well as words.  As St. Francis of Assisi said: "While you are proclaiming peace with your lips, be careful to have it even more fully in your heart."

Some of Yogi's quotes are words to live by, no matter what faith you proclaim: 

“The happiness of one's own heart alone cannot satisfy the soul; one must try to include, as necessary to one's own happiness, the happiness of others.”  (I do believe that Jesus would agree!)

“The man form is higher than the angel form; of all forms it is the highest. Man is the highest being in creation, because he aspires to freedom.” (I know that St. Paul would agree!)

“Let my soul smile through my heart and my heart smile through my eyes, that I may scatter rich smiles in sad hearts.” (and I totally agree!!)

After taking my walk around the lake, stopping once to watch the swans getting fed some romaine lettuce (vegetarian swans??) and once to offer a prayer at the Mahatma Gandhi shrine...I made my way across the lake and into the gift shop (and the little museum attached to it).  The gift shop smelled exactly as you think it should...with echoes of patchouli and sandalwood lingering in the air.  The Eastern ambiance was amplified by the recording of a group of Buddhist monks chanting "Ommmm..."  On the small shelves that lined the shop, they had small bronze statues of The Buddha, a beautiful one of Lord Gopala Krishna (meaning that he is pictured with a cow, "Gopala means "protector of cows" - and for only a mere $325.00, he could be yours!), a nice small brass figurine of Ganesha, the Elephant God, and a strange set of icon triptychs featuring Jesus Christ, the Buddha and Lord Rama (Well. Ummm...I'm not quite sure how I felt about that one, to be perfectly honest!)

After looking at the over-priced trinkets and goodies (obviously, if I really want a bronze statue of Ganesha or Lord Krishna, I just may be able to pick one up a little more cheaply in Hyderabad, ya think??) - I walked through the gift-shop portion of the little building and into the back where the "museum" is located.  It's not much to look at...quite a few photos of Yogiji with Mr. Goodwin Knight (who eventually was elected Governor of the State of California) at the 1950 dedication of the shrine...samples of some early black-and-white posters and fliers inviting people to come and hear Yogananda teach on yoga and the path of spirituality he liked to call "the art of living".

Then...I saw it.  There it was, under glass in a wooden display case.  I'm sure it was the reason God called me to the Shrine this day.  He wanted me to see something.  And, here is the reason I wrote this blog so early in the morning today...I wanted to get it out of my head and out to the world.

Under the glass, there was a dedication-page taken from a first-edition copy of Paramhansa Yogananda's "Autobiography of a Yogi" - and on it, in that old-fashioned script that is fading, but clearly once penned by Yogananda himself with a real fountain pen...was this dedication.  (fellow Anglicans, be prepared to be "wow'ed"!)

"Read, mark, learn and inwardly digest this book.  Paramahansa Yogananda"

Anybody with even a passing familiarity with the Anglican Book of Common Prayer has heard this phrase many times before.  I have probably said it myself a hundred times or more as a part of an opening prayer at innumerable Bible Studies.  The phrase "Read, mark, learn and inwardly digest" comes from a venerable Anglican prayer...actually, it's from the Collect (opening prayer of the Celebration of Mass) for the Second Sunday in Advent.  This particular collect was written by none-other-than Archbishop Thomas Cranmer himself, especially for the First Book of Common Prayer in 1549.  This is the exact way that it looked on the page in that venerable First (and best!) version, over 450 years ago:

"BLESSED lord, which hast caused all holy Scriptures to bee written for our learnyng; graunte us that we maye in suche wise heare them, read, marke, learne, and inwardly digeste them; that by pacience, and coumfort of thy holy woorde, we may embrace, and ever holde fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which thou hast geven us in our saviour Jesus Christe."

I must say I was completely caught up in the continuity of it all...the synchronicity of me being there and seeing these words written by the hand of someone, who, although we may not agree upon every jot and tittle of our separate belief systems, can certainly agree that God is One, that He loves us...and He is most definitely beyond all human comprehension!!

As you can hopefully tell, I was completely blessed by Wednesday's experience.  I hope that, in some way, you may have been as well.

(The Rev. Canon) Scott E. Kingsbury
21 May 2010 A.D. 

Thursday, May 20, 2010

One down, one to go!

With regard to our moving to the other side of the globe, I have pretty much been focused on TWO "major projects" for the last few weeks.  The "packing and moving" part does not occupy too many of my random brain cells...the professionals both inside and outside of Deloitte. have made these parts of our move relatively stress-free.  The packers and movers and shippers are scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday of next week, and, with regards to them, I have no worries - I'm comfortably certain that things will be packed and shipped and either arrive safely in storage...or arrive in some sort of acceptable condition in Hyderabad shortly after the three of us do!

The things that have been taking up the most gigabytes on the hard-drive inside my noggin are my travel visa and Beloved's various travel documents.

Today was officially "Bee Day"...  everything we did today to secure Beloved's paperwork were the things that needed to be done within ten-days of our departure.  The goal of doing all this footwork is a simple little certificate, issued by the Indian government, called a "No Objection Certificate" (NOC).  This little gem needs to be picked up in person in Bangalore, India.  As I mentioned at another time, we found a wonderful company called Fuzzy Wuzzy - run by an amazing animal-loving lady named RishyaRishya has patiently been guiding us through the process of obtaining the NOC and all of the requirements (and they are legion - see below!).

In addition, as I was sitting at Starbucks the other morning, contemplating our fast-approaching departure date in my Day-Planner - I noticed that I had written "Frankfurt" on the dates May 30, 31 and June 1.  I was sipping my coffee and daydreaming about walking through the Frankfurt woods with Amy and Bee, drinking some nice German beers and eating a nice hot bowl of asparagus soup, as May is the month of "Spargelfest" - or the annual "Asparagus Festival" in that region of Germany.  When suddenly it hits me!!

"Aaaaarrrrrghhhh! Accckkk!!"  GERMANY!!  That's right!  We're going to go through Germany!!!  "Oh my God! I wonder if there are any special forms or requirements for taking Bee off the plane and into the heart of Frankfurt??"  I rushed home and Googled "Taking dogs to Germany".  Well, silly me!  Of course there's a special German form!!  Why shouldn't Germany get in on the paperwork explosion!

Thank goodness the German Consulate's website is so complete!!  They not only explained the procedure (it's about 1/100th the amount of work that goes into getting the Indian documentation!!) - but it provided a link to the proper form in PDF right there on the site!

I would just have to throw it on the stack of papers that I took to the USDA office in Hawthorne and get it endorsed along with the rest of the documents. consisted of getting Bee to the vet's office at 7:30 A.M. - - getting her weighed and examined and looked-over from nose to tail...collecting her signed two main health certificates (U.S. and Indian, and now...German as well!) microchipping verification, vaccination records and anti-rabies certificates all together.

Then, (in what turned out to be some of the worst rush-hour traffic I've been in all year!) - rush down to Hawthorne (near the L.A. International Airport) to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to have all of the above verified and (literally) given the USDA "stamp of approval".

I gotta mention the luck I had when I got there.  I arrived just before 10:00 A.M.  There is this tiny "lobby" inside the door after they buzz you in.  I was the only person there (thanks be to God!!!) when I arrived...and - imagine if you will...a typical federal government office.  You couldn't make this $#!+ up....picture the DMV's efficiency...yet operating on too-large a dose of Thorazine!!!  This poor fellow must have told me 5 or 6 times that "someone would be with me soon" - - while he fielded a fifteen minute telephone-call about a dog being shipped to New Zealand... and the "17-page form" that needed to be filled out and accompany the pooch.

All the while, the official Presidential portrait is up the wall, with Barack Obama smiling down on me - and creeping me out!!!

I kid you not...after the poor fellow on the other side of the front counter was done talking on the phone, he gets up from his cluttered desk, shoots me the now-obligatory "Someone will be right with you, sir..." line as he passes me....and then disappears for ten more minutes.

Wouldn't you know it?? The same fellow comes back around the corner, stands directly in front of me and asks:  "O.K., now...may I help you??"

You are kidding, right?  This is what you're going with??  He's, like, the only dude there!?!  In the meantime, there are something like seven-maybe-eight additional people and four dogs who were crammed into the little ante-room behind me - including a very sweet girl who was planning to take her 14-year-old Dachshund to France...and her Dachsie is in a "wheelchair" contraption!!

In about forty-five minutes total, including listening to another five-minute-long phone conversation about shipping a horse to Argentina!!)... I was all done.... and God-only-knows when the rest of those poor souls were going to get out of there!!

The other major memory-robbing project on my docket is my own travel visa dilemma.  Unfortunately, THAT tale will have to wait until tomorrow to tell...suffice it to say the dilemma is now 100% in my hands to deal with (the way I like it!!) - - and I will be on a plane to San Francisco on Sunday night to go do battle with the Indian Consulate up there!!

More on THAT P.I.T.A. .... tomorrow!!

Monday, May 17, 2010

"Ready ... Steady ... WAIT!!!!"

Someone once said that the Americans and the English are "one people separated by a common language".  I think it was Sir Winston Churchill.  Truer words were never spoken.  Take the title of today's blog post.  The English, when beginning a footrace, say "Ready, steady, GO!!"  Here in America, kids starting a race across the schoolyard would say the more familiar (at least to American ears!) "On your mark, get set, GO!!"

I heard the first major differences between the two "brands" of our mother tongue (which folks on both sides of "the Pond" still call "The Queen's English", God only knows why!?!) when I was a wee fellow of about four-years-old.  My parents were really big into sports cars, and sports car rallys.  These were all-night, balls-out auto races through the middle of nowhere...not so much for speed...but for accuracy in navigation, driving and timing.  Dad would drive.  My Mom, Grandma and I (along with others, all freezing our @$$es off!) would work one of the several "check-points" - usually some place chosen by the rally organizers to be as far from civilization as possible. 

Grandma "manned" the "mark".  When a car would approach our checkpoint, there was an invisible "boundary line" called the "mark".  Grandma would sit in her metal folding chair, obscured from the view of the road by a manzanita bush or some-such desert chaparral, and say "MARK!!" as soon as the front bumper of the sports car crossed the invisible line. 

She would have to speak into an old fashioned hand-held heavy black plastic telephone receiver that had about 50-yards of wire connecting her end to the main receiver at the "desk" (a folding table) at the actual check-in point - this receiver was usually manned by my Mom - who "marked" the time and recorded it on the clipboard-form carried by every navigator.  This was in the day before "wireless" communication.  Oh, there were "walkie-talkies" - but those could be carried by people in the cars, too...and since the location of the check-points was top-secret...nobody wanted unwanted chatter to get out into the airways...

Anyway...there are pictures of me as a baby sitting inside and atop of any number of my Dad's toys...a white MG TC, a British Racing Green MG TD.  He was a big MG fan.  I still remember my lessons.  Without Googling... I can tell you that "MG" stands for "Morris Garage".

I learned that MG's did not have "hoods" and "trunks".  Oh, no!  The front one was called the "bonnet" - and the rear one, the "boot".  MG's had "tyres" instead of "tires".  When there was a bad wreck during one of the rallys (oh...the Brits would say "Rallye", but I digress) - you did not call the "tow truck" - rather you summoned a "recovery lorry".  "Tyres" do not go flat...they get what's called a "puncture".

I have a feeling that Amy Suzanne and I are going to run into the same type of differences when we arrive in India.  While most of the written/e-mailed correspondence we have had to date with the wonderful people in India have been just fine...there seems to be a similar "separation by a common tongue" in some of the instructions we have recieved.  We have submitted and re-submitted visa applications and other important paperwork a few dozen times because the instructions given to us were so unclear.  There seem to be an awful lot of people "in the loop", a relay race where you are never sure who gets (or has!) the baton next.  There seems to be far too much "on your mark, get set...WAIT!!" going on as well.  There's a lot of stuff that couldn't be done before the last two weeks, anyway...but getting my multiple-entry travel visa squared-away is coming right down to the proverbial wire!! 

As of right now...the final package of original signed documents is going UPS One Day Air Early Delivery (by 8:00 A.M.!!) to Houston.  If tradition holds, this means I just might get my visa back in my hands the Friday night before we are due to leave.  Today we made plans to talk to the Houston people, find out the actual location of my U.S. Passport ("...yeah...who's got the freaking baton NOW, Captain??") - and I may need to fly up to San Francisco to actually file for my travel visa in person!!  Hopefully we will get this answer tomorrow morning and this will cut up to five days out of the process!!

Blimey!  I do believe that I can just about see the finish-line up ahead through my "windscreen" !!  It looks like I'm entering a bloody "roundabout".  But I think I can make it!!  That's if I don't run out of "petrol" first!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

"The poor you will have with you always...."

After two straight days of complete and utter crazy busyness - I got a chance to tap the proverbial brakes for a few hours last night with two old and dear friends, Butch Kaping and Otto Walter.  These are guys who I worked for/with back in the 1980's when I was still in the construction and insurance restoration business.  We ended up going to one of our old haunts, the Robin Hood Pub in Sherman Oaks for a couple of pints (although they had bar-coasters for some fine-looking India Pale Ales...the only thing halfway decent they had on tap was Bass Ale!) and some tasty pub-grub.  The "Little John" sliders were awfully good, I must say!  It was really great to see the lads.  We swapped the same old tales and told the same old jokes for about five hours.  A wonderful, relaxing time was had by all three of us.  Today, it's back to the blitz of activity as a few more things get crossed-off our pre-departure agenda list!

But what I sat down to write about today is the very touching (but at the same time very strange!) thing that happened to me on my way from West Hollywood and Sherman Oaks yesterday afternoon.

I drove over Laurel Canyon into the San Fernando Valley (there is nothing whatsoever "freeway-close" about the drive from West Hollywood into the East Valley!)  I needed to make a pit-stop as soon as I turned onto Burbank Blvd. near the Orange Line bus way terminal.  There is a Subway right there, and I needed to go in to use their bathroom. 

After I parked my car, I began to walk toward the front door.  Now, you need to know that yesterday at Noon, I celebrated a Requiem Mass at St. Mary of the Angels in Hollywood for a friend who had passed-away last I was still in my full dress black cassock and collar.  As I approached the door to open it and go inside, there was a homeless-looking deaf beggar out front, holding a large Subway drink cup that had a few single dollar bills and some loose change inside of it. 

He didn't hold out the cup or try to accost me in any way, as sometimes happens.  He just sort of looked me up and down and smiled at me in my medieval clerical garb.  I nodded back and opened the door.

After I finished my business...I noticed that the man was gone.  I exited the storefront and turned toward the space where I had parked my car.  It was then that I noticed that the beggar-fellow had moved over to directly in front of where my car was.

Then this man did something that is still bringing up a lump in my throat today when I think about it.

He reached into his Subway cup and took out all of the folded single dollar looked like a small wad of perhaps four, maybe five dollars.  With the bills in his right hand and the cup in his left, he motioned in such a way that I could tell he was both mute and deaf ...  He held out the money and motioned with his eyes and hands for me to take his an offering!!

In all of my years in the ministry, this was the first time this has ever happened to me.  Oh, I've had the occasional waitress come up to me during a meal and say, "Father, that couple over there in the corner booth would like to buy your dinner..." - or, had someone want me to bless their car at the body shop and slip me a few dollars.  And, for course there are those nice people in Nigeria who constantly want me to share in their "$257-million-in-gold-bars hidden in a storage-locker somewhere in Lagos"...all very nice gestures, to be sure...but all completely unnecessary. 

Over the years, I've come to understand not to refuse.  Well... the exception being those nasty Nigerian scammers!  My wonderful little Armenian dry-cleaner taught me this lesson about accepting gifts.  She always does all of my vestments and other church altar-ware with no-charge.  When I used to insist on paying her, she would simply say that it was her blessing to be able to give in some way, and that I shouldn't "steal her blessing". 

But nothing ever like this!!  Here was a guy who maybe had ten dollars to his name...and he was wanting me to take half of it!!  I was almost as speechless as he was...but I managed to say " please, keep that!!"  He motioned even more vigorously, but still I refused.  I closed my hands around his and enclosed the money tightly into his soiled palms.  He slipped the wad of bills back into his cup, then he bowed his head and I gave him a blessing...and he just smiled at me and nodded goodbye.

As I got into the car, I recalled the words of Jesus from St. Mark's Gospel:  "For ye have the poor with you always, and whensoever ye will ye may do them good: but me ye have not always".

I drove away thinking what an incredible blessing it was for me to have this happen. 

I feel kinda awful, though.  I can't believe I totally forgot to put something in his cup.  But something tells me I'll see this man again one day...

Sunday, May 9, 2010

The future's so bright, I gotta wear shades!!

Wow.  I saw where Tiger Woods dropped out of the Players Championship during the 7th hole of the final round today.  The first reports out of Florida say that he has a possible bulging disc in his neck and will have an MRI tomorrow.  Now we will have to endure the next several weeks as the sportswriters and the know-it-alls from the "mainstream" media begin their seemingly endless micro-analysis of what went wrong and all of the reasons that could have possibly have led to his withdrawal.

No matter what Tiger's reason, I can tell you for certain that playing golf through any type of injury is no picnic.  I had a case of "golfer's elbow" a few years back.  It's a lot like "tennis elbow" - except it is an inflammation of the tendon on the inside of the elbow, while the tennis-player's version is on the top/outside.  The symptoms for me were a sharp pain like somebody was sticking a steak-knife into my forearm right next to my right elbow...and a weakness in my grip that was so bad I couldn't even hold a club, much less swing one!!

After a couple of months off (which felt like YEARS!) - and, with my discovery of an elastic and Velcro elbow-support strap, made by the Ace Bandage people, (something that wraps around the forearm and somehow takes the strain off the inner tendon - don't ask me how it works, but it does!) - I came back.  I never play golf without my elbow support now...even though I have not had any flare-ups in at least two years (knock on wood).

Since I tore my left rotator-cuff tendon last month, I have not played any golf ... nor have I even swung a golf club.  Well...I did take my three-iron into the back-yard a couple of weeks ago and made a few swinging motions...but I can't remember the last time I hit a golf ball. 

I've been thinking for several weeks now that I simply MUST get out to the driving-range and check out whether-or-not I'm ever going to be able to play my beloved game of golf again.  Since I've decided to forgo the shoulder surgery, I know that I could possibly be living with this injury for the next two years.  On the cusp of leaving for India for two years, this is not a comforting thought, to be honest.  Not playing any golf for two years??  I'm not sure I could even think of doing that!

But, if the truth be told...I'm pretty sure that I've been afraid of the truth.  I've had a few opportunities to go over to our local driving range in the past few weeks...but I didn't go.  You see, what if I go over to the range to hit a small bucket of balls and it turns out that I physically cannot swing a club, what will be my reaction??  How depressed will I be??  Yeah...I think I was scared. 

As I wrote last Friday, Amy and I took a little much-needed "mental health" break for the weekend down at The Inn at Rancho Santa Fe (just up the road and a little inland from her horse-show at the Del Mar Racetrack)...and it happens to be one of our most favoritest places in California.  On Saturday morning, we got up and had our coffee.  I was flipping through the "amenities" book that comes inside the room...and I saw that there is a golf course about 2-miles down the road.  I told Aims that it was "now or never" - and that I was going to go over to the golf course and see if my shoulder will allow me to actually swing a club.  I think she knows what an important step this was...and she sent me on my way.

Since I hadn't brought my clubs down to Del Mar - the plan was to borrow a demo seven-iron from their pro-shop and head out to whack some golf balls out on their practice range.  If I was unable to actually swing a club, the feedback would be obvious... and instantaneous.  So, I drove over to the Rancho Santa Fe Golf Club (which looks very nice...I had no clue ahead of time was so exclusive...I didn't know at the time that it's a private country club.)  When I walked into the pro-shop and made known my request...the man behind the counter was pretty direct:

"I see.  O.K. - and when, exactly, did you want to do this?"

"How about right now?", I said.

"Well, sir, I'm sorry, but you are going to need to change into proper golfing attire!"

Hmmm.  I guess that my baggy grey sweat-shorts and USC tee-shirt aren't considered "proper" in some hoity-toity circles!!

So, back the the hotel I go, changing into golf shorts and a collared shirt.  I made my way back to the country club and said "Hi, I'm back..."

"O.K.,'s your club. We couldn't find a seven-iron, so I hope this six-iron will do. Oh, and you're going to need to tuck your shirt in at the range."

"Tuck in my shirt??"  Only because I really wanted to find out if my shoulder was going to be "golf worthy" ... I didn't tell him to stick that six-iron up his...nose!

I nodded my thanks and walked out of the pro-shop and over to the bathroom to "tuck in my shirt".  As I walked, I was wondering if the "Tuck-in Police" were going to come and arrest me for showing too much shirt-tail.  I walked past the actual clubhouse, over a small hill to the range with the shiny new Hogan Apex six-iron in my hand and grabbed a bag of practice balls.  There were only a couple of other guys banging balls out there, but I picked a spot all the way down at the far end of the range.

Nervously, I dropped the first ball onto a spot of grass.  I took a couple practice-swings at about half-speed.  No pain.  Setting up to address the ball, I thought to myself: "O.K., Scott - - it's now or never!" 

Whack!!  Straight as a string with a little draw.  The ball landed out by the white flag I was using to aim at (which I found out later was 156-years from the practice tee.  Shoulder pain?  None.  Zero!!

Whack!  Whack!  Chunk!!  Whack!!  I hit almost half of the bag before I hit a truly bad shot... and it was amazing!!  No pain...although I was prepared for some.  I don't think I was following through as high as I wanted to...there may have been a little "ouch" at the top when I really went after one for more distance.  Not all of the balls I hit flew as perfectly as the first couple of dozen...but, by far the majority were good, well-struck shots!!  I finished up and returned the club to the man at the pro-shop.  As a final act of radical defiance, I un-tucked my golf shirt and walked out to my car.

Needless to say I was thrilled!!  I can't say that the shoulder wasn't a little sore all day today...but that's why golfers my age keep lots of Advil in their bags!!  I'm back!!  Bring on Boulder Hills Country Club in Hyderabad! Get me a starting-time for the morning after we land!!

Friday, May 7, 2010

Taking a three-day break...

I won't be posting anything on our blog for a wee-bit.  I'll be taking a much-needed three-day break.  If I don't, I fear that my head will explode!  Aims and I (and Beloved, too) will be gone Saturday and Sunday for a little "mental health vacation".  When we get back, we will have twelve days left to do the last million or so things that need to be done before we get on the plane.  We'll check in when we return!

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Thursday Thoughts....

Guess what?  I saw Manny Ramirez at the gym today.  Not that I'm name-dropping or that this is anything particularly new.  Manny is usually at our the gym most every morning when the Dodgers are in town.  I see him just about every M-W and F.  He pretty much just sticks to his workout and wants to be left alone...and for the most part (except for one of the trainers who got him to pose for a photo with her this morning!) - people try to leave him be.  Today... I happened to wear my Los Angeles Dodgers t-shirt...when Manny saw me he gave me a big grin and a fist-pump...which I promptly returned, and went about my business.

Things are finally coming together for our move (which is a good thing, too....we get on the airplane in sixteen very short days!!)  Amy Suzzanne got her visa approved and issued today.  Yaaaay!  One more thing that we can check off of "The List".  Unfortunately, MY visa is still "in the works" for now, as we await some sort of indication from Deloitte on whether or not I'll be getting a "letter of employment".  This would be my only assurance of my getting an "employment visa".  To be perfectly honest...since patience is not exactly my long-suit...I'm getting more-than-a-little anxious about this, as it is completely out of my hands.  However...not 100% out of my control.  I have actually come to an "executive decision" on this point.  If nothing is forthcoming by the middle of next week, I've decided to take matters into my own hands and just make the call myself and approve the issuing of my "tourist visa"... and be done with it. Being "in the dark" is no fun for me.  Especially with only a few days of cushion!!

The good news is that the "moving and packing" company received final "corporate approval" today.  We are thrilled, as you can was the company that we would have chosen anyway had it been entirely up to us.  They seem like real pros.  By far, most of our remaining stuff (which honestly is not all that much...local Pasadena charity was the big winner in this deal!!) will go into storage for two years.  The other stuff got approved (because there is so little of it!) for an air shipment, as opposed to a sea shipment.  The air shipment actually works out to be less money than the sea variety, because we aren't really sending all that much stuff.  My golf clubs (and five-dozen Titleist NXT's - - I heard that golf equipment over there costs 100% more due to taxes and tariffs!), one of Amy's saddles, Beloved's large dog-crate, filled to the top with a bunch of "Beloved Gear" (toys, clothes, etc.) - some extra shoes and clothes for both of us, my dress cassocks and a few vestments.  For now, we're putting all of the air shipment stuff into our den, which has officially become the "India Room".

Here's the not-so-great part.  Last night began a series of stressful incidents that I think we've got a handle on now - but my "worry hour" almost became a full-fledged "panic hour" in the middle of the night.  You see, late yesterday, I had this very clear thought come into my head...the kind I have learned NOT to ignore.  The thought was..."Hey, this is finally all coming together..."  (i.e., we've decided that we are definitely going to lease that terrific house in Banjara Hills, we're also going to keep the staff that "comes with the house" - our new landlords (who sound like the dearest people!) were extra happy about this part...I think the so-called "help" in India becomes more like "family", and I'm certain the same thing will hold true for me and Amy!  Our driver's name is "Krishna" - I think that's a good sign, personally!!)  We booked our travel today with Deloitte's awesome travel people (really efficient!) but...  "...Maybe we had better make sure that all of the doggie-paperwork for Beloved is in order as well!"

Oh, I had a general idea about all that I believed to be required...but - - when I began researching things on the Internet...I started to see the words "NO OBJECTION CERTIFICATE" everywhere.  The more I dug into things, the more I was certain that not only was this mysterious form going to be a requirement for Beloved to go along with us to Hyderabad...but it didn't look like any piece o' cake to obtain, either!!

The instructions, directly from the Indian government website, mind you, were a wee bit confusing.  What I got from my first reading of the document was this:  That "the No Objection Certificate must be applied for and obtained, in person, in India, before you arrive in India"

Let's recap, shall we?  "The No Objection Certificate must be applied for and obtained, in person, in India, before you arrive in India"  What???

So...after my head stopped it turns out...there is a company in India (, I kid you not!) that takes care of obtaining the mystery N.O.C.  For a mere 25,000.00 rupees (about $550.00)...they will be our "boots on the ground" in India and get all of the proper paperwork filed.

Sounds good...and worth it to us!!  BUT!!  The "footwork" that I have to get done to prepare to send the information TO the Fuzzy Wuzzy a LOT!!

First of all, after making a half-dozen phone calls to get my ducks I had to run Beloved straight over to the vet's office to get her a rabies booster shot.  You see, according to their laws, India does not accept the standard "three-year variety" she needed to have this one ASAP.  We may actually have to "fudge" the date of the vaccination a bit...but I'll take the extra time in Purgatory for the "little white lie" in this case!!

Next on the list...within 10 days of our departure (NINE, actually, because the health certificate expires on the tenth day!), Beloved has to undergo a complete physical exam and be issued a Health Certificate by a USDA-accredited veterinarian.  First step (and first call this morning)...check with the USDA to see if Bee's vet is officially "approved".  To get this answer...I had to call the USDA in Colorado.  As it happens...our vet is on the list (thanks be to God!)  So...her exam appointment is at 7:30 A.M. next Thursday. Why so early?  Because as soon as we're done...we have to drive fast-as-a-rabbit down to Hawthorne to the LAX USDA office...because it happens to be the only place that does the necessary official USDA "endorsement" - - but they are open only between the hours of 7:00 and 11:00 A.M.  So...if there's any traffic on the 405...we are sunk!  There are two forms that need the official endorsement...the actual Health Certificate itself... and something called "Annexure #1"...which looks to me like the exact same exact information ... only on a different form.  Typical bureaucracy...whether here... or in India!

Then, we e-mail a package containing the USDA-endorsed health forms to the "Fuzzy Folks"...along with Beloved's vaccination record, a copy of my passport, a copy of my full Lufthansa flight itinerary (thank God we got that taken care of today!!!) and our new address in Hyderabad!!

It takes 3-4 days to get her "completely certified".  THAT MEANS WE WILL GET THE CERTIFICATE.... OH, ABOUT 12-HOURS BEFORE WE ARE SUPPOSED TO GET ON THE PLANE!!

That's cutting it a lot closer than I would choose, personally...but - I figure God has got us this far...He won't cause us to stumble at the finish-line just because there happen to be a couple of "i's" that are not crossed or "t's" that are not dotted.


Tuesday, May 4, 2010

"Oh my ears and whiskers, how late it's getting!" ~ The White Rabbit

Well, I finally got my mental clock settled into "pre-Daylight-Savings-Time" mode.  For some strange reason, this year's time-change just flat messed me UP!!  I really don't know why.  Of course, the clocks always "spring forward" on a Saturday night/early Sunday - that first Sunday Mass is always a little "foggy".  But I'm usually able to shake out the cobwebs and get myself on track within a couple or three days.  Not this year.  We changed the clocks way back during Lent...and here we are, it's almost Ascensiontide, and I'm just finding my "groove"  My eyes opened, quite naturally, at 5:00 A.M. this morning.  The best and quietest part of the day...the time when I do my best thinking and planning.

Recently - Amy and I were given a good piece of advice by our good friend Dr. Will C.  Amy always calls Will "the Wise Old Owl"  He told us to relegate our "worry time" to one hour in the morning for each of us.  We are allowed only sixty-minutes to worry about stuff...then we need to stop and just trust that God's got the situation well-in-hand and just let the chips fall.   I try to say my morning prayers as soon as I get up....then I check my e-mail and my daily schedule.  My personal "worry hour" is from 8:00 to 9:00 A.M.  I had just a few pre-move worries today.  First of all, we didn't have the new brochures for the leasing of our Old Mill Road house (I was pretty sure they'd be here soon!).  I had to make myself a dentist appointment for between now and when we leave...ugh!  Also, we hadn't yet heard from Deloitte about the approval being given to the moving and storage company (you see, the coordinator is out of her office all week - and that can't be good!) - and they're supposed to start on the 17th - and - finally, as of this morning, we had not heard at all from them about the possibility of me working for the firm in some capacity when we arrive in India.  I got my dentist appointment made right at 8:00 when they opened.  I put it on our big master-calendar that now resides on top of the sideboard in the Dining Room.  Check that one off the "worry list"!! Then, I called the moving company and left a detailed message about the state of affairs here (frankly, the house looks like Hurricane Katrina just blew through...but there is a master-plan of organization to all of this madness, right below the surface!)... and asked them to call me back with a SIT REP (situation report).

Amy was up and getting in the shower just about the time my "worry hour" was ending.  It's like a relay race.  I think her "worry hour" is from 9:40 to 10:40.  I told her that I have everything under control today - at 7:30 I had dropped Beloved off at the groomer because she was getting the burrs out of her fur from our trip into the poppy fields of Lancaster - as well as her first of two pre-departure hair-cuts!  But one thing loomed and it was completely out of my hands. 

"I still didn't hear from anybody regarding my working-status in Hyderabad.", I said, "And frankly, I can't use up any more brain-power on the subject.  I'm giving it to God and He's just going to have to handle it!"  She agreed, I gave her a big hug and we assured each other that it was all going to work together for good.

There's an old Hindu saying:  "Do you wish to make Lord Vishnu laugh??  Tell Him your plans!!"

So...sure enough, within a half-hour of my turning it over to God...I head straight over to get a cup of coffee and update my Day-Planner ... a few blocks away, over at the Starbucks that is inside of our bank in South Pasadena.  This was handy, because I had "deposit check" on my list of things-to-do-today as well.  Just as I sit down with my coffee and cell-phone rings...and...wouldn't you know it... it's Deloitte, right on (God's) schedule!  They were calling to make introductions and to set up a conference-call for this week (I chose tomorrow at 7:30 A.M.!)  I'll probably never learn that what Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount is true:  "And which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature?  If you then are not able to do the least, why are you anxious for the rest?"  "They" say that the most used phrase in all of Scripture is "Fear not..."  Yeah...well...easier said than done, Lord!!  But I got the message today, loud and clear.  You've got this one covered!

So...while I'm out driving around, in between going to the bank, the cleaners and the iPod (set on "shuffle") comes on with a blues tune by Jorma Kaukonen (the legendary lead guitarist for the Jefferson Airplane and Hot Tuna) called "Late Braking News"  Here are just some of the lyrics...a perfect song for a perfect day!!

"Well I've got stuff to do today...People to see and things to say ... Well don't you know I'm the CEO of all this business in my head...The puppet master pulling strings while I'm lying here in bed."

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Our Farewell to California Tour

There's something very special about Springtime here in Southern California.  No...I don't mean the fact that I always end up spending most of my golfing money on Claritin-D and Zyrtec.  Not at all.  It's the sprouting of all of the new green grass on the hillsides after the fire-season of last's the blooming of the citrus blossoms on all of the orange and lemon trees around the area.  And those poppies!!  The beautiful Golden Poppies!  Our California state flower!

The first place you begin to notice them is along the Harbor Freeway between here in Pasadena and Downtown L.A..  I think that Cal-Trans must actually scatter poppy seeds along the medians - because it has always seemed to me to be such a strange place to see such a beautiful sight.  Amy Suzzanne was the first one to notice them.  They usually begin to sprout-up and bloom just at about the end of her annual Busy Season (April 15th) - so she sees their arrival as a sign from God that she's actually going to survive another year!

When I was a kid...the paternal grandparents used to like to drive us out to Newhall and Saugus - - I don't think there was a "Valencia" then - - mainly so I could see my great-grandfather's handiwork.  You see, after the St. Francis Dam Disaster of 1928 - Great-Grandpa worked for the Department of Water and Power.  These were exciting times for the Southern California area...think of the movie "Chinatown" with Jack Nicholson!  There were (and still are!) two main electrical plants up in San Francisquito Canyon... "Power House #1" (which is above the site of the dam-break) - and ... (yes, you guessed it!) "Power House #2" which was wiped-out when the dam burst on that fateful midnight on March 12th.

It began at approximately 11:57 PM on March 12, 1928 when a two hundred feet-high wall of concrete suddenly shuddered, cracked and broke apart. 12 1/2 billion gallons water burst through gaping cracks and crumbling concrete. Within minutes, a towering surge of mud, trees and debris rumbled down a narrow canyon. Directly below the dam was the aforementioned Power Plant #2, which was surrounded by a community of workers and their families. Only three would survive. Ahead in the night lay a construction camp and isolated Southern California farms, ranches and entire towns. Most of their inhabitants were sound asleep. Many would die.

When the flood waters reached the Pacific Ocean (all the way through Santa Paula and out to Ventura!!) -  five and half hours and 53 miles later, more than 470 people were dead -- including many Mexican-Americans who lived directly in the flood path. As much as $25 million worth of livestock and property were washed away. No one is sure of the exact number killed or how many were buried or washed out to sea — and, as most people from So. Cal. know... the disaster ended William Mulholland's career.

I don't know all of the technical things that Great-Grandpa was famous for.  There was one article in a journal that my Grandpa Orval used to bring out of the family archives to show me.  I do know that his name is on a plaque at the re-built "Power House #2" (for all I know....ol' Elmer J. Kingsbury himself could be in this photo!) ... There is a brief bio on him that I found a long time ago in a San Francisco Chronicle article online - it's 3/4 of the way down the page - the eighth bio listed.  I think what he did was figure out some kind of advanced engineering technique for using the actual turbines salvaged from the ruined power station as some sort of "lathe" to machine new old San Francisquito Canyon Road was wiped out for some time after the disaster and virtually impossible to bring heavy equipment up from L.A..  The photo actually shows what was left of the turbines after they were un-buried from all of the debris.

My most vivid memories of those trips up to the old dam-site (they seemed like full-day trips...this was in the days before the Golden State Freeway went up there...and all there was was The Old Road, the Saugus Cafe and San Francisquito Canyon Road!) are of the POPPIES!!  The local canyon hillsides that looked like they were ablaze with orange...more orange than green in some places!!  You just wanted to reach out and touch looked as if God Himself had spread out a giant picnic-blanket of orange velvet over the walls and roadsides of the entire canyon!  I can also remember having the fear-of-God put in me by my Grandpa Orval when I actually bent down and picked one of the poppies.  I must have been three-or-four years old.  He told me that these poppies were the California State flower and that I could get fined for picking one.  Sheesh!  No wonder I need therapy!  Thanks, Grandpa...!

Anyway...this afternoon...after we get some more house-organizing done, I'm going to take Amy out to the old dam-site, and tell her the same old lies and tall-tales that were told to me about the exploits of my great-grandfather and William Mulholland "back in the day".  Then, we'll head up San Francisquito Canyon to the top...and out Lake Elizabeth Road to see the poppies. We've been planning to go for the last twelve years...and we're finally going to do it!

I don't know what the State Flower of Andhra Pradesh, India is...but I'll bet this is the last chance we'll have to see the poppies for a long time!