Category Archives: SillyPants

Buzz Represents

Our holiday was lovely, but we were missing one sweet 8 year old boy. Daddy SillyPants made sure there was some ‘representin’ of our sweet son, still in Ethiopia and waiting for us. SillyPants wrote on Buzz’s little leg, “soon to be in our home, already in our hearts”. Every year Mr. Sillypants spends oodles of time finding the perfect ornament for each person in our family. This year, another added to his quest. And he triumphed. (He always does).


Our news is, in fact, R will not be waiting much longer. We have cleared the embassy (which means R’s papers are in order and the U.S. embassy has approved our travel to Ethiopia for the family VISA appointment). This is truly good news — it’s the last leg of the journey of entrustment. We are honored. And humbled by all that is on the horizon. “To infinity and beyond!”


Tilling the Soil (or sand)

This is an exercise in contrasts.

In the first case, I met this young man a few weeks ago while walking in an area just west of Hadero. He was hand tilling this plot of land. It was hot. The soil had just had a good soaking with rain. His tools are all that you see. No shoes. Nothing else. Hard labor. And the rewards of his labor are barely enough to get by – – the season of hunger lingers during this time before harvest.

This next image is what’s happening today at our house. Our home backs up to a park. We have a sand volley ball court in our backyard – we call it our private sandbox and hope the cat isn’t pooping in it.   Mr. SillyPants has taken the initiative and is rotatilling  the plot so that the sand is nice and fresh for summer fun and especially for long hours of sandbox fun for Blueberry. The tiller belongs to our neighbor. The choice to maintain the sand lot is ours; the city doesn’t have maintenance in the budget and Mr. SillyPants is happy to donate time and a bit of labor to public park upkeep (oh there is a lot of garlic mustard that gets picked too in the wooded area behind us). Otherwise, the sand is packed and the weeds creep into the space. Recreational choice. Ours. We had lunch before the tilling commenced – and breakfast. And the fridge is stocked. Oh, plus no shortness of fresh, clean water.

This is a study in contrasts. You are witnessing where my mind is these days. (And yes, Blue is wearing ear plugs, as is SillyPants – – the musician/physician never works without them, and neither does his little side kick).

Wordless Wednesday

You had to be there . . .

“You had to be there.”

Perhaps one of my least favorite lines.  Especially when I have to utter it after a sharing a regaling tale of something interesting or funny at work.  My anecdote is greeted with a blank stare, sometimes with the gentle question from Ms. Plum or others:  “Is that it?”

“You had to be there,” I add, sadly.

Mr. Sillypants here, long overdue for a post and also filling in for my beloved, jetsetting Ms. Plum.  Currently, Ms. Plum is in Ecuador with Songbird and Twinkletoes; Ms. Plum and Twinkletoes had the chance to join Songbird at the end of a long Summer in Ecuador for a few weeks of travel before the realities of day-to-day life set in again.  Of course, everyone jumped at the chance.  And, I’m thrilled they get the chance to experience such things together.

What equaled a mountaintop experience for them (literally!) translated to 10 full days of full-time daddy for me.  Blueberry and I have been mano-a-mano for well over a week to date, due to the fact that Waffles also recently left for college.  This has been a time of joy, happiness, fatigue, work and introspection for me – – – in short, it has been a time when the activities of my daily life have somehow sharpened my understanding about what my existence is all about.

My background.  Well, it’s varied.  Although I’m currently in medicine, I actually self-identify as a musician who practices medicine.  (I will deny this to any of my patients who come across this blog.)  Much of my life prior to medicine was spent in music, both as a performer and as a pipe organ designer.  My previous work allowed me to be involved in pipe organ projects all over the United States, not to mention some major projects in Europe, South America and Asia.  It was fascinating and fulfilling work for me.

I also trained as a choral and orchestra conductor and have, still clearly etched in my memory, experiences when I’ve been on the podium, waving my hands, listening to the sublime and utterly magical sonorities contained within music of the masters.  There were some moments when the joy within me was so great that I would think, deep inside, “How did I ever get here?”

There are countless other experiences I carry with me, not as a testament to how I used to be, but a rememberance of how blessed I am.  I don’t look for a return to that life, as much as I affirm how lucky I am to have been there.

Truthfully, it was a good life in many ways.  At one point, for many years, I was at the piano or the organ console for 6 hours a day.  I felt like there were few things I couldn’t play.  I was involved with something I loved and it was great.  But, there was this nagging hole which couldn’t be ignored, this longing which gnawed at me despite all of the other great things going on.

Before Ms. Plum and Blueberry, I had only known the joy of being a step-dad.  In a previous marriage, I became step-dad to a 5 and 7 year old and we divorced when the “children” were 18 and 20.  I carry many, many beloved memories from this time and I am actually in contact with them to this day.

With Ms. Plum, there are three amazing step-children, Songbird, Twinkletoes and Waffles, and, truthfully, no one could ask for a more talented and lovely collection of individuals than these three.  They are simply three of the most wonderful people I’ve ever known and I’m humbled to be a part of their lives.

However, there was this nagging hole.

Before Ms. Plum, I was never “the daddy”; I never had the chance to be in that role, dealing with the sheer joy, the challenges, the drain of the day-to-day work that had to be done.  Yet, I wanted it, without even knowing it.

Enter my life with beloved Ms. Plum.  Through twists and turns and a number of surreal coincidences, I am blissfully hitched to this woman who also had a dream of adopting from East Africa.  One significant leap of faith together, done hand-in-hand, and Blueberry comes home.

I have great memories from my life before Ms. Plum and Blueberry.  I have thoughts in my heart so powerful and tender that they cannot be put into words when I consider my step-children, those from a previous marriage and the amazing triad of Songbird, Twinkletoes and Waffles.  I have music, travels, triumphs, failures and relationships, experiences which continue to shape my life and who I am.

This week, however, when Blueberry and I are having the time of our lives, I realize what I had been missing.  He simply is a rockstar and I feel I’m part of a living sacrament when I spend time with him.

Here’s the miracle.  I have been part of a loving family, both as a child and as an adult – – – my upbringing was pretty wonderful.  I have many relationships which I feel are positive, nurturing and healthy.  I am generally a very upbeat person who tries to do good in the world.  I have so many wonderful memories which fill my life.

But, I never understood quite what I was missing until I became a father.  Somehow, once Blueberry came along, that hole started filling up.  Longing which I didn’t even realize existed became evident, because it was fulfilled and its absence made me aware.

This week has been a time to focus on Blueberry, to be his support, is nurture, his structure.  It is a role which I embrace and celebrate.  As I miss my beloved Ms. Plum, Songbird and Twinkletoes, I realize how rich my life has become.

I used to wonder what it would be like to have a family of my very own.

I guess you had to be there.

Wordless Wednesday

Snowclearing in Wisconsin

Mr. Sillypants here, sitting down to discuss one of the most intense love-hate relationships in my existence, that being, the ongoing opportunity for personal growth I know as “snowclearing.”

In Wisconsin, it is said that a man is judged by two firm and unwavering criteria:  1) how green and weed free your lawn is in Summer, and, 2) how clear your driveway is in Winter.  Summer is a lost cause for me, as both Ms. Plum and I refuse to water our lawn, even in the most scorching temperatures.  I *do* water our gardens, home to a particularly special redbud tree (another story for another time) and a flourishing crabapple tree, not to mention countless perennials and annuals, lovingly tended to by Ms. Plum and I when schedules allow.

To be truthful, our lawn is an eyesore for any who care about such things.  Luckily, Ms. Plum and I do not care one whit about such things.

However, Winter is a time when I feel what must be some misplaced hunter-gatherer instinct calling to me, reminding me that it is critical that our pavement be fully visible within hours of snowfall, no matter what Mother Nature throws at us by way of accumulation, drifting or windchill.  I must confess I actually feel guilty driving up our driveway and into the garage when there is fresh snow, thinking that doing so will only serve to create packed tire tracks which will become icy and difficult to clear before March.

To be honest, I rated Madison, Wisconsin as my top choice for residency when considering programs across the country.  Part of my reasoning was due to the fact that I had spent nearly my entire life in the Pacific Northwest.  While Washington and Oregon are beautiful beyond compare, I did feel the urge to live somewhere else so that I could experience a different paradigm, a different set of viewpoints, a different set of seasons.

Hello, Wisconsin.  Hello, snowclearing.

Up until this year, I would faithfully take the mower deck off our trusty Sears lawn tractor and attach the snowblade before first snowfall.  Our driveway is somewhat long, so clearing the snow by hand was a long and back-breaking task.  Once the time was right, I would gear up and fire up the tractor, pushing snow off of our driveway and piling it up anywhere the tractor could go.

Then, two years ago, Ms. Plum gave me a rather dubious gift – – – a Snow Slider.

I call this a dubious gift, because giving a man who has mastered a snowplow a “Snow Slider” is like giving a chef a campfire to cook with.  I would never think to give Ms. Plum a new vacuum cleaner for Xmas, yet, there was the Snow Slider in the garage, adorned with a single red bow.


Truthfully, it sat in the garage for most of the first Winter.  When big snow came, I was quick to gas up the tractor, leave Blueberry inside with Ms. Plum so that I could show off my gear shifting, blade raising, blade lowering, push-the-snow-all-over-creation expertise.

However, admittedly, I would always hear that little whisper inside my head which reminded me that that most lawn tractors put out more greenhouse gases than cars – – – i.e., we contribute more to global warming by running our lawntractors than we do by driving our cars.  Watching “An Inconvenient Truth” that Winter only served to give full voice to that whisper.

So, this year, a strange thing happened.  Beloved Blueberry, who is an amazing trooper and has NEVER known a bad day outdoors, has begun to show great interest in snowclearing.  Sometimes, he makes use of his own lawnmower, which he informs us “has a snowplow” and puts out bubbles rather than carbon monoxide:

Sometimes, he grabs the “big boy shovel”, working to displace the plentiful snow as I work my magic with the Snow Slider:

However it actually takes place, the snow clearing ritual has become a great joy to me.  Blueberry and I talk constantly as we put on snow gear and boots and mittens and hats, then grab our respective snow clearing tools.  Our driveway is devoid of engine noise, grinding gears, scraping snowblades.  All that you hear is our constant interchange, laughter and discussion about the snow, about Herbie (our frenetic Goldendoodle who loves to romp around us as we work) and about how nice the clear driveway looks.

It is a time of sublime beauty for me.

No greenhouse gases, no isolation on a tractor.  Instead, my life is now filled with the laughter of a 2-year-old as he delights in his job with Daddy.  Suddenly, Ms. Plum’s dubious gift becomes a brilliant masterstroke.

ALSO in Addis #4

I received this message while sitting in a HUGE traffic jam on my way to present information from the White Privilege Conference to my school board. I sat and read. What a treat. Once again, I’m copying and pasting. Mr. SillyPants is burning the candle at both ends – this gig is completely engrossing for him. Read.

We had a very emotional and fulfilling day today; this was the day that we certified instructors for the ALSO course and prepared them for their presentations tomorrow to a new group of students. It was a long and arduous day, with examinations lasting until the mid-evening. However, the success of the training was quite evident and we realized that this program we are teaching will undoubtedly make a difference.

Ethiopia unfortunately ranks as the 6th worst in terms of infant mortality worldwide. Infants are 1000 times more likely to die in childbirth here than in the United States. This is not due to the quality of training here; in fact, the obstetricians, general practitioners and midwives here are VERY well trained. As we taught our curriculum, we could see constant nodding (not due to sleepiness but *understanding*!). These medical providers KNOW this stuff.

The problem is one of access to healthcare. There are more Ethiopian doctors in Chicago or Los Angeles than there are in all of Ethiopia. Stated another way, there are 2000 physicians in Ethiopia, serving 80 million people. That’s one doctor for every 40,000 people (consider THAT when you think about scheduling your next doctor’s appointment).

At the end of today’s training, providers thanked us, with teary eyes, for presenting a system which could be easily taught in areas throughout Ethiopia; that, actually is the goal of the ALSO course – – – providing a learnable curriculum which can be used in a variety of settings. Many of the attendees voiced their plans to implement and teach this curriculum in their communities as soon as possible.

This was emotional and overwhelming to me, in fact, it took me to the point of tears. (Those who know me understand I’m a little emotional, anyway). I was so moved because I realized the enormity of the need here in Ethiopia. And, I was humbled by the fact that there is so much that I take for granted.

My hope and prayer is that these talented and committed providers here in Ethiopia will have new tools to “make a difference.”

So, the other reason I’m really wound up is that Richard and I finally had a chance to meet. I didn’t get back to the Hilton until 9pm, but Richard took a long cab to come to the Hilton for a drink. (He had Coke, I had a somewhat grainy and disappointing Merlot). We talked for nearly two hours and, frankly,he had me choked up a few times.

Richard, who calls himself “our son”, is doing very well. I think he was initially quite worried about misleading us, in fact, he apologized again and again for saying he was in medical school when, in fact, he only qualified for nursing school. Of course, as you probably already know, my response was that you and I were so proud of him and were not angry at all. In fact, I told him that we understood why he thought we might be “disappointed” but wished, instead, that he had realized we would be as happy with his admission to nursing school as to medical school.

He was visibly relieved, but he felt the need to apologize over and over.

He was also so FUNNY – – – I think he felt the need to “prove” that he was doing well in school. When he heard I was here teaching obstetrics, he interrupted me to say, “Oh yes! We are learning about first stage, second stage and third stage of labor, plus the problems with descent of the fetus and bleeding and other complications of pregnancy.” (Truthfully, he KNOWS this stuff. I have no doubt that he is doing well in his classes – – -he again demonstrated his hard work.)

Perhaps the most moving moment was when he stated that he realizes that he is “lucky to receive this gift of education”; he said that “most people in my country never have this chance – – – this is a great responsibility to me, to give back to my country in any way I can.”  I responded with one of the only Amharic words I know: “Ishi”. (I understand.).

I told Richard that we were “so happy to be a small part of his success”; however, I think that the major part of his success is his determination, his skill and his motivation to “do good in Ethiopia.” (his words).

Through a short, two-week trip to Ethiopia, we met Richard, Getnet, Getu, Alemtsehaye, and, of course, our amazing Blueberry, and these connecttions have changed us forever. For our family,  the sponsorship of Richard, Getnet and Getu is but a small inconvenience. In fact, I doubt we ever feel the “pinch” of their requirements. (Our support of our 2 kids in college takes much more planning – – – yes?). Yet, I see what a difference this small contribution makes in the lives of our good friends here in Ethiopia.
It is late in Addis Ababa – I must say ‘goodnight’ and leave additional details for another e-mail/blog post.