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Thursday, January 24, 2013

New Home for a New Year

The last couple months have been busy.  Part of the agreement with my former church was that my family would be able to stay in the parsonage through December 31, 2012 so, 'long about October, my family and I began looking for our next residence.

We had a list of essentials:  First, we needed to find a place that was close enough to Norwalk that Ian would be able to remain at the Center for Global Studies at Brien McManhon High School.  That was nonnegotiable.  Second, we needed somewhere that had good access to public transportation, since we're a one-car family (and want to stay that way).  Third, we could only afford so much house, so the multi-million-dollar places right on Long Island Sound were out of the question; we'd have to settle for somewhat more modest digs.  Fourth, we preferred to be in an area of the city that wouldn't increase the likelihood of our turning up as statistics on the FBI's Uniform Crime Report.

Our final concern was our stuff.  We resigned ourselves to the idea that we'd need to farm out some of our bulkiest possessions to good homes.  After Thanksgiving, I started talking with friends who have a home on the water to see if they'd let us stash our canoe and kayak with their flotilla of muscle-powered craft.  Kimberly's piano, which her parents bought for her when she was a child, was a concern, as we'd never be able to move it into the second and third floor apartments that seemed to be the only properties available in our price range.  I asked my Facebook friends if any of them wanted to provide a foster home for it, but nobody was able to.  We figured we could get rid of some of our furniture, as a huge amount of it is cast-off furniture we got from relatives:  the dressers and nightstand from my Grandma Smith, the dining room table and chairs from Kimberly's grandmother, the cargo furniture sofas and end-tables that my parents had when I was growing up.

And then there were the books.

The Bryant-Smiths are book people.  The Library of Congress has a pretty fair collection of books, but it pales in comparison to what we've got in our household library.  Plus I've got all my professional books that used to go in my church office, back when I had such a thing.  Now, as a hospital chaplain, I share office space with fifteen other chaplains and all my books are at home.

We didn't want to do it, but it was starting to look like we were going to have to get a storage unit, and that was going to affect our bottom line.  If we had to get a storage unit, we'd have to get a smaller apartment to keep the finances balanced.  "Perhaps," I thought, "We could just rent a really big storage unit and live in it with all our stuff."

Our friend, Leslie Soyland, an agent at the William Raveis Real Estate office in Norwalk, helped us out, using her realtor mojo.  For her, it was a simple matter to take the vast number or properties that were available for rent and to winnow them down to a reasonable set of possibilities.  Despite all of her help, though, we were unable to find anyplace that matched all of our criteria until, like a bolt out of the blue, a Craigslist ad caught our attention.

Since we'd already  had three properties get rented out from under us, we moved very quickly, calling up the realtor for a tour.  I left work a little early and we all trooped over to see if the apartment was as good as it looked in the ad.  The address was on a quiet, residential street and, before we even got inside, I was looking at the front stairs: four of them with a big porch at the top.  That had real potential for piano-moving.  Once inside, we were struck by the fact that there was room not only for the piano but a little bit of quick measuring-tape work showed us that we could ALSO fit eight book cases along the blank walls in the living room, dining room and entryway.  There were two bedrooms, which could hold more bookcases, and a "bonus room" that Kimberly and I immediately envisioned as a small office, with room for the computer desk, the television, and -- you guessed it -- another bookcase.  There was a full basement for storage, with a washer and dryer already on site, and a garage for off-street parking, as well as a nice back yard where Kimberly could do some gardening and a covered patio area where I would be able to set up the grill.   The house was conveniently located only one block away from the bus line and three blocks from the train station.  And the rent was within our budget!

We were approved to move in, starting December 17, and our friends John and Evelyn came down with their truck on the 22nd to help us move all of our books and bookcases.  Ian's girlfriends' parents lent us their minivan over Christmas week and, mid-week, Eric and his son Brendan spent the day moving more stuff.  The big day was on the 29th, when John and Evelyn were back and a handful of good friends from my former parish (Thanks, Vin, Nancy, David, Rob, and Bob!!) came to help load up the U-Haul and get everything set  up in our new home.

Over the weeks since, we've gotten all of the boxes unpacked and have updated our address with everyone who sends us snail mail.  We've gotten to know our new neighbors, who are great folks.  We're settling in and it really feels like home.  Huzzah!

Home, sweet home!

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Keeping Busy with the Senators

I've been rather busy at the Westchester Medical Center these days, where I've been doing lots of pediatric chaplaincy, but that isn't why I haven't posted for so long.  My lack of blogging is because I've been chaperoning for Ian's marching band almost every weekend, tagging along to competitions, herding band members, handing out water bottles and "chickens."  (Normal people call them plumes.)

Ian's band, the Brien McMahon High School Marching Senators have been working hard on their show and, now, they're only two weeks away from the national championships.  Take a peek and see how they're doing.  They scored an 85.675 this week.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Adieu, Sweet Lovely Nancy

I've decided to make some videos of songs that I enjoy playing and singing.  Here's my first offering, an a capella version of Adieu, Sweet Lovely Nancy, which I often sing at chantey sings at the Rowayton Arts Center or at Boys in Hats concerts.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

July into August

Rumor has it that there's a whole month that falls between June and August.  Here's what happened in my life.

I worked at Norwalk Hospital for the Summer Intensive Unit (June 29-August 3) of Clinical Pastoral Education, finishing up my second unit.  This was an extremely intense program, which is probably why I didn't manage to get any blog posts done.  I covered inpatient psychiatry, telemetry and the ICU/CCU units, as well as leading a spirituality group for the outpatient psychiatry program.  One of the high points was spending a day riding with one of the ambulance crews that operate out of the hospital.

From July 6-8, I crewed on Amistad for OpSail 2012 in New London, CT, which was the first time that she has been under sail since her mishap on the way back from Cuba two years ago.  It was REALLY good to be able to do that!  We tied up at the same dock as the USCG Barque Eagle and the Brazilian Navy's full-rigged ship Cisne Branco (White Swan).  I spent much of the time speaking with the public dockside, as Amistad was still preparing to finish uprigging for her trip to Canada.

I preached three weeks (July 1, 15 & 22) at the Monroe Congregational Church, while the pastor, Rev. Jenn Gingras, was away. During this time, I put in one office day a week, making pastoral visits, putting together the bulletin, and doing other clergish sorts of things.  The July 22 service was held on the town green and was a joint endeavor between Monroe Congregational Church and St. Peter's Episcopal Church.  These sermons are on my YouTube channel.

Eric Anderson and I performed at the Marlborough Arts Center (Article here) for a second time on July 27.  Return engagements are always good and this one certainly was, with the crowd singing along and having a great time.  Of course, we sang the "old favorites," but we also included some new ones including the English folk song "Pleasant and Delightful" (with somewhat updated lyrics) and "General Taylor."  I played "John Hardy" on my gourd banjo.

Ian and I continued to sail on our friend Bob McGregor's boat, Scotch Flyer,on Wednesday nights and have continued to have a winning season in the Norwalk Yacht Club races.  We've managed to win the last several races, going undefeated in the second series of races, so there should be a nice trophy for Bob when the awards banquet rolls around.  Of course, we have our own awards banquet every Wednesday night when we go to Partners' Pizza.

Then, somehow, it became August and...

On August 5, I preached at St. James Missionary Baptist Church, a small African-American congregation that I've gotten to know over the past three years of being part of Norwalk's Interdenominational Ministers' Fellowship.  I was filling in for my friend, the Rev. Ken DuBose, who was celebrating his birthday, but who was also present because he was filling in for the church's organist and choir director who was on vacation.
Ian and I marched with the Nash Drum Corps in the South Salem NY Firefighters' Parade on August 8.  This was our second parade with the group, which has brought in a few more new members.  You can see Ian holding a rifle on the left (from your perspective) side of the flag and I'm two rows behind him with my trumpet.  We're both enjoying being able to march together.

On August 6, I interviewed for and, on August 9, was accepted into, a serial internship program at the Westchester Medical Center, which will allow me to complete all of the requirements to become a Board Certified Chaplain with the Association of Professional Chaplains and will allow me to pursue full-time employment in that field.  WMC is a Level 1 Trauma Center and also has a large burn unit, as well as an associated children's hospital, so I'll be able to have learning opportunities that were not available at Norwalk.

So, what did you do with your summer?

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Carolina Chocolate Drops in New Haven

Carolina Chocolate Drops on stage at New Haven's
International Festival of Arts and Ideas
Photo by my old shipmate and friend, Wojtek Wacowski.
It is no secret that I'm a traditional music junkie.  Past posts about Pete Seeger, Peggy Seeger, and John McCutcheon testify to that.  I've been getting banjo notables to sign my banjo for a good while now and I've got a list of people that I'd like to track down and have them sign my banjo.  The members of the Carolina Chocolate Drops have been at the top of my list for some time, but their tour schedule rarely brings them to the northeast.

A few weeks ago, Kimberly the Ever Vigilant happened to see that the Drops were scheduled to appear at a free concert on the New Haven green as part of the
International Festival of Arts and Ideas so, this past Saturday, Kimberly, Ian and I packed our trusty orange picnic blanket and a variety of yummy munchies and made our way for an evening of musical bliss.

The Carolina Chocolate Drops had their beginnings at the Black Banjo Gathering in Boone, NC, and honed their traditional Afro-Appalachian string-band music playing with then-90-year-old African-American fiddler,
Joe Thompson (1918-2012).  Their set-list includes a lot more than string band music from the 1920s, though, incorporating disparate influences such as the music of minstrel shows, and Celtic "mouth music" as well as hip-hop and rhythm and blues, sometimes all at the same time.
Dom plays my banjo, with Hubby and Leyla.
Rhiannon is obscured by glare and my poorly placed body.
Last Saturday, the Drops put on a fine show, performing favorites like "Goin' Down the Road Feelin' Bad," and "Cornbread and Butterbeans," as well as a traditional Haitian song about a musician whose romantic prospects are limited because he has no friends and no family, and the title track to the band's latest album, "Leaving Eden," a song about the sorrows of leaving home in the hopes of finding work elsewhere.

After the concert, the members of the band were available for autographs and all seemed very happy to sign my banjo, looking at the other signatures.  "I'm going to sign next to Peggy!" said Rhiannon, excitedly.  Hubby signed/doodled his signature, with drawings standing in for letters.  Leyla, who isn't a regular performer with the Chocolate Drops, but who had played banjo beaufitully, asked, "Are you SURE you want ME to sign this?"  I did.  Dom's signature was small and careful and then he spent a minute or so playing my insturment, while the rest of the people in line watched in what I'd like to believe was pleasure.

My banjo head continues to fill up.
CCD signatures are transcribed for your reading pleasure.

Thanks to Charlie Barrett, for shooting video of Saturday's event and posting it to his YouTube channel!!

Monday, June 11, 2012

Getting My (Band) Geek (Back) On!

Me, at 15, in the Patrick Henry
High School Marching Band
uniform that my band wore for a
Valleydale Sausage commercial.
We used the proceeds from the
commercial to buy new uniforms.
When I was in high school, I was a band geek.  I played trumpet in the jazz band.  And the wind ensemble.  The marching band, too.  I was also in the regional band one year.  I loved it!

The Patrick Henry High School Marching Patriots were a competition band and attended (and won) numerous competitions.  Almost every year, we went on a major trip: Lakeland, FL; Gatlinburg, TN, and -- for my senior year -- Niagara Falls, Ontario, for the North American Music Festival, where my band won the grand champion trophy, despite the fact that we were competing against many larger bands.

Me, at 16, in my high school
marching band's new uniform,
complete with half cape and
1980s eyeglasses.
Years ago, when my then three-year-old son decided that he wanted to learn to play violin, I was happy, envisioning the day when Ian, Kimberly, and I would be able to make music together, on fiddle, mandolin, and guitar.  I was an "orchestra dad" when Ian was in the Fine Tuners in New Jersey, schlepping the official Boys in Hats sound system to Fine Tuners gigs and even providing narration for The Devil Went Down to Georgia in a series of concerts.

Ian in Norwalk's
Memorial Day Parade.
 When Ian started playing clarinet, I was happy about that, too.  In fact, I was band-geekily-giddy about it as I remembered my band experiences.  Kimberly (who used to play flute in the school band) and I suffered through those first years of school band, with squeaky clarinets and blatty trumpets.  It was, after all, karma; we were paying back all those band parents who "got to" listen to us play when we were beginning musicians.

When Ian made it to high school, I stepped up to the role of being a band dad, getting fingerprinted so I could chaperone the band on trips, attending all of the band parent association meetings, volunteering to be the announcer for the band's annual Celebration of Sound competition, and walking with the band during parades to help keep them hydrated and to help out if anything should go wrong.

My big problem with walking along with the band is that it tears up my head to be out of step with the marching cadence and it looks rather stupid if I march along with my water bottle.  For good or ill, once marching band gets in your blood, it is there to stay.

Over Memorial Day weekend, Ian's band, the Brien McMahon Marching Senators, had two parades: one on Sunday in Rowayton and one on Monday in Norwalk.  As the band was warming up on Sunday, I happened to notice some decidedly non-high-school-age people getting ready to march in another band.  One was a woman with a bit of gray in her hair.  Several of the guys sported facial hair that had more salt than pepper.  "Marching band for grown-ups!" I thought, "How can that be?" and I went over to ask some questions.

Ian and me after the Ketonah, NY,
Firefighters' Carnival Parade.  
It turned out that the group was the Nash Drum Corps.  Back in 1944, the Nash Engineering Company (headquartered in Norwalk) started an employees-only drum corps to march in local parades.  Though Nash Engineering is no longer in Norwalk, the drum corps continues with a variety of folks who have decided to keep the tradition alive.  I asked one of the trumpet players, Ron, what it took to join and he almost stuck me in a uniform then and there, but I had a commitment to Ian's band.  The next week, though, Ian and I went to Ron's house and got outfitted in uniforms so we could march in the Katonah, NY, Firefighters' Parade.  I spent the next week practicing the 2nd Trumpet part to several songs, and Ian brushed up on the Manual of Arms, since there's no place for a clarinet in the drum corps.

The parade on Wednesday was fantastic, with Ian anchoring the front line and me having a blast getting to play trumpet in a marching band for the first time in nearly a quarter century.  Really, it's just like riding a bike; you don't forget.  The marching was great, the music was under-rehearsed but good.  The best thing, though, was the fact that I was able to march with Ian.  That was cool beyond belief.  

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Bringing Amistad Back to Life

Amistad returning to the water on April 23, 2012
Common wisdom has it that ships and sailors rot in port.  For the last two years, Amistad has been tied to a dock in Mystic, Connecticut, with her black paint aging to a charcoal color and her brightwork peeling and chipping.  Her topmasts, yards and gaffs were removed after she limped home following a rig failure during her return from her trip to Cuba.  Time and inactivity have not been kind to her.  Over the last few weeks, though, things have begun to turn around for the old girl and she's being rerigged to sail this summer and, two weeks ago, I traveled up to Mystic to be part of the process.

On April 22, shortly after the last "Amen" was said at Calvin Reformed Church, where I've been the guest preacher for the last few weeks, I got on a train for Mystic.  I was intending to stay aboard the boat that night, but found that she was still out of the water at the Henry B. DuPont Shipyard at Mystic, so I ended up in a room at the Howard Johnson's in Mystic, until the next day, when the ship was returned to the water.  

That evening, I enjoyed dinner with Greg Belanger, Amistad America's CEO, and Hanifa Washington, Amistad's program coordinator, and heard about Amistad's partnership with Ocean Classroom and plans for the coming sailing season.  As things stand now, Amistad will be in home waters for the first part of the summer, then will travel up to Halifax in August.  Before hurricane season, she'll make her way to the island of Hispaniola, which holds the nations of Haiti and the Dominican Republic and where Amistad will work with stateless children, caught between the governments of the two nations, building a school at an orphanage and doing advocacy work with the two governments and the United Nations to help correct the situation.

View of the shipyard from Amistad's deck.    Just beyond
the path are the ship's fore and main gaffs, as well as her
bowsprit.  The end of the brand new jibboom, wrapped in
plastic, is at the extreme left of the photo.
On the 23rd, the lift dock lowered Amistad into the water and we moved her to a slip just outside of the shipyard, which had only just been vacated by another Baltimore clipper, the privateer Lynx.  The crew (such as we were) were able to move aboard, clearing rigging out of the bunks so we would have a space to sleep.  There was lots to be done and Rebecca, the ship's rigger, was busy dealing with rust on various blocks and other fittings and then carrying them aloft in preparation for running lines.  I worked below for much of the 23rd, getting the galley back into working order and lamenting how much gunk can accumulate with two year's worth of neglect.

Over the next few days, we brought Amistad's gaffs and new jibboom from storage in the boatshed, then turned our attention to the storage container full of the ship's gear, which is located on the other side of Greenmanville Avenue, at the back edge of Mystic Seaport's parking lot.  Chris, the carpenter, let me borrow his pickup truck and Greg, Hanifa and I loaded up a couple truckfuls of standing and running rigging, which we brought back to the ship.

The first load of rigging from the
storage container.
Meanwhile, a couple guys from the shipyard used their forklift to lift our Zodiac from the roof of the container and drive it across so we could paint the bottom, inflate it, and get it ready to use as Amistad's tender.  While I worked on the Zodiac, a crew of guys were painting the ship black, working from floats alongside the vessel.  The plan was that, by the time that they were done painting the port side, we'd be able to have the small boat in the water to use as a mini-tug so we could turn the ship around and paint the starboard side.

I worked on developing a nice sunburn as we hoisted blocks aloft and carried rigging aboard, very roughly arranging it on deck to ease the process of getting everything into place when the time would come.  For me, though, my time was over and I had to leave the vessel and my crewmates so I could return to my CPE program at Norwalk Hospital, at least until I can scrape together a few more days to come back and help some more.

You can follow Amistad's progress at:
and on facebook at

Gear ranged around Amistad's deck and cabin tops.  There's much more gear alongside in the shipyard
and still in the storage container.