Category Archives: adventure


view from my apartment

view from my apartment

Allen House

It was a pleasant evening in the gazebo (seen in the background). There were  birds of many kinds chirping, calling, chattering; kids shouting, crying, running; adults moving here and there through the courtyard,  talking amongst themselves or with their children.

One small boy was riding his little bicycle with training wheels. He was having a wonderful time; he was working very hard at it. His mother walked beside him, a hand on his shoulder.

Though I took a nice picture of the boy, a bench, and the wrought iron from inside the gazebo, it failed to upload! Just a memory now.  So the general picture above will have to do, along with your imagination. Where did you learn to ride a bike? a trike? a scooter?

Moments go by so quickly. Children grow in size and all of us grow in spirit, if we are so blessed. Take some time. It is your time.

The time you spend noticing a particular moment will be like adding a drop of beauty into your being. Repeat. You will become more grounded and better able to face the challenges of your day. Let love enter your heart and spill into the world. The world so needs you.

Transformation as a sermon idea


What is your take on transformation?

I just finished a very rough draft and condensed it to an outline for my sermon 2 weeks from now. This Team ministry is an extraordinary way to push each of us to pull our thoughts together early, to offer relevant material and ideas, and to suggest appropriate music and a story that will become the Big Idea for all ages.

The sermon series on Transformation begins April 20. My sermon, Life Story, is secheduled for the 28th at our Mid-Town location. Two weeks later, my content will be delivered live or via video at our two satellite locations. Fun stuff!

I hope to “get at” the dreams we have as (children and) adults to imagine ourselves and the world as different, ultimately accepting it (and ourselves) as beautiful, and discovering our own transformation. The basic steps I’ll address are these:



Liminality (the transitional period from the old to the new)


Spiritual Fulfillment / Acceptance and Gratitude

So now’s your chance to help me shape this sermon. Yes, I have a rough draft filled with my own reflections, stories, and message, but there will be more wrestling with all of it until that last moment before delivery. A gestational period, I suppose.

But now, it’s Friday evening at 6 p.m. I think I’ll have a glass of wine with my neighbors!

20 years and counting!


Today marks the 20th anniversary of my Ordination!

Way last century, back in 1993, I was ordained by the members of Northwoods Unitarian Universalist Church. After the laying on of hands I think I was floating for weeks. Both sons Rob and Fred Nugen participated in the service and surprised me with a simultaneous kiss on each cheek in front of the congregation.

The Rev. Dr. Leonora Montgomery preached the sermon–and now I’m back in Houston, where she is Minister Emerita of Bay Area Unitarian Universalist Church, retired (though still extremely active), and a member of the church I now serve, First Unitarian Universalist Church of Houston.

In that summer of 1993, freshly ordained and graduated from Perkins School of Theology at SMU in Dallas, I was in search of a congregation but without an income. Leonora graciously offered her garage apartment and many late night conversations in her kitchen. It was a bonus to have a swimming pool just 2-3 feet from my door. I continue to feel grateful for her kindness, generosity, and wisdom shared with so many colleagues and congregations.

I plan to celebrate today by working on my sermon. What a privilege it has been to delve into a topic, reflect on its spiritual aspects and why they matter, and craft a coherent message for people who have a variety of experiences and spiritual understandings. My sermon this week is actually on a universal theme: “A Good Birth, a Good Life, a Good Death.”

Life is sacred all the way from birth through death and into whatever beyond one might imagine. We fear aging and debilitating illness more than death. We can’t quite imagine death–what that means for us and how life as we know it will change after we’re gone. We’d be glad to live forever if we could stay healthy, vibrant, and wise. (Few of us wish to return to our youth and go through all the tough times again.)

Tomorrow my loving husband Jon Montgomery will take me to dinner for a different kind of celebration. Meanwhile I will dive back into this vocation that has taken me on an adventure of a lifetime.

Locohama: How to Surgically Remove Writers Block


This, from Loco in Yokohama

I have other reasons for not writing here for a while, but this could be the antidote!

some Christmas pix


Back in Japan, we celebrated Christmas on Dec. 30. The most fun gift unwrapping was in layers of boxes and tape. Each box was labeled for another person, until it got all the way around the group and back to Lin–the Hallmark 2012 Bear she had wanted for so long!

When we went to a nearby field to try out Rob’s new helicopter camera, a very nice Japanese guy was practicing with his stunt kite (4 lines to control). He let each of us give it a try and coached us in the art he has perfected over 20 years!


Monkey Onsen


It’s snowing!

Light snow became snow showers overnight. By morning the accumulation was so beautiful–about 4 inches of new snow. On Saturday after breakfast we put on our warmest clothes, paid a small fee for snow boots, and were given a ride up the mountain. From there we set out to walk about 2 kilometers further up the mountain to Monkey Park!

The snowy trail was half the fun and we stopped often for photo ops.

Snow monkeys, properly known as Japanese macaque, live in the area year ’round. They spend nights in trees higher up, but come down to a hot spring and nearby stream during the day. Humans also come there during the day for research or photography, some of them with impressive cameras. The “Monkey Onsen” has a web site with more information and live web cam at

JIGOKUDANI YAEN-KOEN, “The world of Snow Monkey,” has attracted people since 1964. Jigokudani means “Hell Valley” because of its steep cliffs, steam rising everywhere from hot springs, and snow cover four months of the year.

We watched in wonder and amusement at the monkeys soaking in the steamy onsen, grooming each other, sitting on the ledge, or digging in snow for morsels of food. As long as we don’t scare them or try to feed them, they are basically disinterested in people.

A heated cabin nearby offers hot drinks, souvenirs, displays, and prize-winning photographs of snow monkeys. It’s a very popular stopping place!

We made it down the mountain in time to catch a bus back to the train station, just a short walk from the family-run inn. I fell a couple of times on the ice–just went down on one knee the first time but fell pretty hard on my hip the second time. My younger escorts and I linked arms the rest of the way.

It was nice to get back to the warmth of the inn, then into the onsen, with time for a nap before dinner. A beautiful day!

Two days in Nagano


What a fun weekend! Thursday the 4th of January, Lin and Rob took Fred and me on an adventure. Without telling us the destination, they told us to bring warm clothes for two days and we piled into a rental car for a five-hour drive from Kawasaki.

Destination Nagano! Rest stops along the expressway are quite extensive, with large parking lots, restrooms, shops, and vendors. Paper cones of roasted and sweetened almonds, cashews, or peanuts enticed us to buy one of each to share. Yum!

Thanks to GPS we found our way to Yamanouchi-machi. We checked into our large room  and found tea waiting for us. The square table has four adjustable stadium-type seats on the floor. Under the table top are blankets and a quilt to hold in heat generated by heat lamps that are protected by a mesh cage. We can choose low, med, or high heat and our legs are toasty warm! We have enjoyed tea and good conversation here several times a day.

The first afternoon we agreed not to use any electronics until after dinner! Today as I write this, Lin and I are both on iPads and the guys are playing Minecraft on their phones

Dinner at 6 and breakfast at 8 were served Japanese style with so many delicious dishes. I’m not sure when I”ve tried so many new and unfamiliar foods. Using chopsticks was sometimes a challenge for me with the odd shapes and sizes.

After dinner was the first of several trips to one of the onsen (hot springs) at the inn. They are mostly segregated by gender, but after 11 if no one else is there, a group or couple can lock the door for a private spa. Lin and I loved the outdoor onsen under a light snow. So beautiful! The guys had different hours for that experience

Tomorrow, another surprise planned by Rob and Lin!

An ordinary day in Kawasaki


A breakfast smoothie of mango, kiwi, banana, avocado, and a little granola plus coffee or tea. Nice way to start the day of Dec. 30, our day to celebrate Christmas!

Rob gave me a foot massage for my still misbehaving foot (picture in an earlier blog). It’s much better now.

Along with chitchat in the morning, Rob played Mine Sweep on his computer while Fred worked on his laptop. Rob made a Skype call to friends at a party in Austin, then we all enjoyed a lunch of tossed salad, potato salad, chick pea and kidney beans, chunks of fried chicken.

After lunch we ventured out in the light rain for a walk and shopping. The plan was to exchange Christmas gifts when Lin’s Mama came home from work. Kawasaki station is about 10-15 minutes from the apartment; and that’s where the guys and gals separated.

Rob and Fred took the train on some secret mission, Lin and I went to a bookstore to find a calendar for Fred and some groceries, I had an ice cream cone of green tea ice cream with a bit of sweet bean relish on the side and two shiratama on the side (unsweet, wheat-based, chewy texture). The ice cream itself is not very sweet. A nice treat!

In an unfamiliar country, similarities and differences pop out from every direction. The mall signs, of course, were in kanji with only occasional English words. Since I know about two words in Japanese, spoken  language swirled around my head like lovely, but unfamiliar music

After getting some mandarin oranges and bread, we walked back in the light rain. Hot tea, then naps! (It was about midnight Austin time.) After a snooze we watched “Oceans” with its beautiful photography of amazing creatures. I could ignore the Japanese descriptions!

We’ll have Christmas tonight but Lin’s mom is waiting to come home until the rain lets up a little. She stopped at  her sister’s and eat supper there before riding her bike home. The gift exchange was postponed for a while. However, we folded the kitchen table to make room for the Christmas tree, which had been in the entry. Quite a nice display of gifts!

These photos capture a little of our shopping day. First tourist attraction: the world’s shortest escalator–4 steps that lead down to actual steps. It’s in the Guinness Book of World Records!

Narita Express

view from my seat

view from my seat

My son Fred and I flew from Austin, TX, to Tokyo and arrived on Dec. 29. Following son Rob’s instructions, Fred bought 2 tickets on the Narita Express. However, when I went through the gate, a station agent stopped me. We had the express tickets that gave us a seat assignment, but not the basic tickets to the destination of Shinagawa . She helped Fred get the tickets we needed to exit at Shinagawa.

gratuitous picture of ourselves

gratuitous picture of ourselves

We got on the train well before the 6:19 departure but it started out at almost 15 minutes early. Wait a minute! They don’t start early here! At the next stop Fred asked a worker who confirmed we were not on the N’Ex so we jumped off immediately. Fortunately we were still at an airport train stop and we walked easily across to the right train. Found our assigned seats and started right on time … and in the opposite direction. Whew!

It’s a nice train with comfortable seats and room to stow luggage. Luggage shelves also feature combination locks attached to cords for security. I fooled around with one for a minute but couldn’t figure it out and just left my bags unsecured–it’s Japan, after all! Fred did lock his.

We paid attention to the map showing our current location, with just a few stops over an hour’s ride to Shinagawa. A snack/beverage vendor came through the aisles a couple of times. At Tokyo Station, some of the cars separated to continue on a different route. As the announcer suggested, I retrieved my luggage shortly before arrival so as not to create a traffic jam at the door.

Uh oh! Fred had been distracted when he entered his security code and forgot what it was! He quickly told me to go ahead and get off to go meet Rob. The train announcement had said if you forget the code, stay on board to the end of the line and have the agent unlock it (presumably if you can prove ownership).

So I got off the train and gradually figured out which direction to go. Rob came running down the stairs toward me and I said, “Fred’s still on the train! He can’t unlock his luggage!” Rob jumped on the train and off they went!

I made my way to a fountain where we were to meet. I took a few photos in the immediate area:

Eventually Rob’s wife Lin found me and we picked up her car (via car sharing–rented until 9:30 pm). The garage stows cars on movable racks. Once Lin paid the attendant and he retrieved the car, she backed it up onto a round platform that he rotated around toward the exit. Great use of small spaces.

Off we went to the apartment to drop off my luggage then go to the Yokohama Station where Rob and Fred and his luggage were going. Funny thing about that luggage–I had the baggage tags with me. It’s a good thing the agent finally accepted  his claim of ownership!

Even with the extra driving, the car was safely returned before 9:30. After some delicious carrot soup, we went to bed, tired but grateful to be together.

Window into Self, Window onto the World


8 window

The circle of life has brought us to a new calendar year that serves as a silent reminder of the passage of time. It comes one week after the longest and most elaborate cultural and religious holiday of the year. A natural pause after that frenetic season lends itself to reflection on another yearly journey around the sun.

Let light shine through the window into your self

and from you onto the world.

There is an underlying rhythm to a year that includes seasonal flows, recurring cycles, and ordinary days. A semester in school has a flow of preparation, instruction, study, and final exams. Recurring cycles include birthday celebrations, graduations, and anniversaries; they include the grief of layoffs, divorce, illness and death. It is important to celebrate well and to grieve well, but not to expect them to balance one another.

Most of the year fills with ordinary plans and projects while constantly weighing priorities. When someone asks, “How are you?” the most common answer is “Busy.” There is a long list of things to do, but I have seen plenty of idle time, too. A quick nap has become more acceptable so that we can then get busy again.

From time to time the world intrudes in unexpected yet predictable ways. Ordinary days are sometimes interrupted by news of natural disasters, public shootings, political battles, warfare. On the positive side are acts of courage that go with every tragedy.

Let’s turn a new page, shall we? We have seen the best and worst of society. We can live our ordinary days with their special rhyme and reason. But add this to your list: Reflect on your one brief life. Then find some courage to change something for the better. A “busy” life needs to mean something to yourself, to your loved ones, and to the world.