Sunday, August 29, 2010

Sabbath Sunday #2: Elizabeth and Donnie

Fr. Christian Mathis (Blessed Is the Kingdom) has made the suggestion that we "rest" on the Sabbath by taking a break from our normal blogging and sharing an older post of which we are particularly fond. Rest? Gladly! I don't get to do that very often, but now, thanks to Fr. Christian, I get to do it at least once a week -- and it gives me more time to spend with God, which is a wonderful gift.

For this week, I thought it would be fun to go back to the first post on this blog, Elizabeth and Donnie. That was almost exactly a year ago. I had hoped to add more information and pictures to it, but other topics have pushed that plan out of the way. Actually, I think a couple of the stories did come later. Now, I am just posting them on the day they come up and linking them back to the earlier posts. I think that makes more sense as I get a little better acquainted with the way most people write their blogs.

In any event, happy reading and happy Sunday!

Saturday, August 28, 2010

My 911 Call

Today I learned some important things: (1) we live in a small community, (2) my son is a professional, (3) I can be a dingbat at times. Now, I already know these things. I have certainly had plenty of confirmation of at least the third thing, but reminders and new experiences of them are reinforcing.

This morning I experienced small community in the gathering of some of our congregation to paint our fiesta booths a bright yellow and red for next year's fiesta. We put on an annual fiesta, open to all from near and far, as a fundraiser for Old Mission, our church. By the time we were done, the front of all the booths were painted, and the backs of some of us were painted (accidentally) by the spray gun wielded by a certain John, who supposedly knew how to use the thing. We shared breakfast before we began and lunch partway through. Fr. Ed helped out the entire time, and we were "community."

Then came Mass, after which Donnie and I headed into a nearby small city with a supermarket (we have only a country store) to get some groceries. On the way right in front of us, a car dove off the road into a tree, seemingly as if planned. Very strange, we thought, and called 911. The dispatcher took the information and asked some questions about location specifics which we were able to answer. He told us that he had already dispatched, as he had been speaking, the local sheriff and an ambulance in case there was a medical reason for the accident. (They showed up nearly instantly; after hanging up, I got out of the car, found the tree-stopped driver who was by then out of his car, too, and determined that he was okay just as the sheriff walked up to us.) Before hanging up, the dispatcher added, "by the way, you are talking to your son." Oh, my! I had not recognized Shane's voice. He sounded so professional that I never thought of the connection with Shane, with the fact that he is now back with California Highway Patrol and now doing dispatch for the two local counties. In spite of the "goofy mother" syndrome, it was quite pleasant to hear what a professional and calm response he had to someone calling in. One does not always get an opportunity in life to see what a good worker one's child is.

Similarly, years ago when Lemony was pregnant with Nathaniel, a friend, already a grandmother, told me that being a grandparent is better than being a parent because you can enjoy the kids without being responsible for them. Over the years, I have come to agree that being a grandparent is very special and perhaps even better than being a parent but for a different reason than my friend had given: the best part of being a grandparent is watching your child be a good parent. The traumas that Shane and Lemony have managed competently and calmly with Nathaniel and especially with Nikolina have been rewarding to observe (and, of course, to help with).

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Heralding Doah

As promised, here is another excerpt from Raising God's Rainbow Makers, my next book, which is currently in progress. Comments welcomed and adored! I prefer to get comments, especially negative ones, before publication. After publication is a bit late!

“Lord, another baby?” the angel asked with a bit of incredulity.

“Yes, another,” the Lord replied.

“But, Lord, why this baby?”

“Why not this baby?” the Lord countered.

“Well, you know, Lord. The mother said that she could handle any physical problem. As long as there were no mental defects, she could manage...” The angel stopped, wondering perhaps why more needed to be said.

“She did say that, didn’t she?” The Lord was unperturbed.

“Lord, this one will have a mental deficit.”


“A very serious one.”


“An obviousto-everyone serious one.”


“But, Lord, she said she could not cope with that.”

“She will cope. I will help.”

“But, Lord, she does not know You exist.”

“The baby does.”

God works in mysterious ways, thought the angel and put away the record book after recording: Don & Elizabeth Mahlou…baby son, Doah.

Copyright 2010

Does Anyone Know the Pope?

I was contacted by someone who seems to think I have contacts everywhere -- I do not -- and can convince anyone -- I cannot -- to do anything -- I would not. However, in this case, the request is as simple as it is difficult.
I am writing on behalf of my 16 year old daughter, Ariana Argueta, who, a year ago, on September of 2009, was diagnosed with Glioblastoma Multiforme, also known as GBM. To provide you with some context about Ariana’s condition, GBM is is the most common and most aggressive type of primary brain tumor in humans and has a very poor prognosis. As a result of this diagnosis, we were put in touch with the Make A Wish Foundation in hopes that the organization could grant Ari a wish. Ari has asked to meet Pope Benedict XVI and receive an individual blessing from his Excellency.
As of today, the Foundation has graciously been able to arrange for Ariana to attend a papal mass on October 20, 2010, however, she will not be receiving a personal blessing from his Excellency, which is her wish. Ariana is so excited and grateful for this opportunity, but as you can imagine, receiving a personal blessing would mean so much to Ariana because of her strong Catholic faith and her belief that God is with her during every step of her journey and that her wellness is in God’s hands. Despite this difficult journey, Ari has never once asked “why me,” complained about her predicament or even questioned her faith. Ariana is a 16 year old Mexican American young lady who has been raised in a traditional Mexican family whose Catholic roots stem from multiple generations. She has been enrolled in Catholic schools since Kindergarten and is currently a student at Santa Catalina School.
Our bishop has not been able to help. Do any of you know anyone who can help? I do have two friends in Italy (neither in Rome, but one is not far from Rome), and I will see if either happens to know a journalist in the Rome area who would at least be willing to write a story that might capture public and Papal attention. Other ideas? Contacts of any sort?

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Family or Orphanage?

I made a phone call tonight. Padre Julio called me from San Diego, saying he needed me. That voice mail landed in my iPhone at the same time that a text message popped up, "Mommy, I need you."

No, Padre Julio was not calling me Mommy; that was just coincidence. The latter, simultaneous message had come from Noelle's roommate, Desiree. The message took me back to a Facebook exchange yesterday. My kids, both the birth kids and the non-biological offspring we took in, are in continuous contact with each other on FB, and, given the nature of FB, I get to eavesdrop a lot on them -- more than I ever could when they were growing up!

Noelle had written to Lizzie, who may be visiting next month, asking her to stop by and meet her new "sister," Desiree. Desiree has, indeed, adopted us as family. I have no idea as to where her real family is or if she even has any relative who is alive. She never talks about her relatives, and I don't pry. Well, at least I have not pried yet. Noelle commented on FB that she wanted Desiree to meet the rest of the family.

Lizzie responded, "What family? The Mahlou clan is not a family; it is an orphanage." She, of course, was speaking tongue-in-cheek and quickly agreed to drop by and meet Desiree.

Actually, Lizzie's comment may not be far from reality. In addition to our four children, Donnie and I have taken in several others, and we continue to acquire "offspring." When our kids were teenagers, stray teenagers moved in with us, hailing from the local barrio (Blaine), suburban Moscow (Ksenya), and Siberia (Shura). Then, when our children became young adults, they brought in-laws and, most lately, Noelle's roommmate. Also, as I traveled the world, I managed to gather in four other young adults from Iraq, Jordan, and Bahrain, who, for one reason or another, call me Mom as well as call whenever they need help of any sort or want to share a special happiness or success. I am in near-daily contact with my entire "clan."

And then there is Padre (Father) Julio from Colombia. Assigned to our parish for a short period of time as the priest for the Spanish Mass, he prayed Noelle through her brain surgery at Stanford University Hospital -- an interesting phenomenon since she understands Spanish poorly and he did not understand much English at the time, but prayer is not something that needs translation. Donnie and I built his website when he began an organization to help the children of Colombia with education, clothing, and work opportunities. Then, the bishop assigned him to the English Masses in a nearby city with little warning, a tough assignment because of the language. For the ten months he celebrated English Masses prior to returning to Colombia for the past year, Padre Julio spent 8-10 hours a week at my house, learning English in the evenings. I worked with him on the kinds of vocabulary, grammar, phraseology, and text organization that he needed for his homilies and on pronunciation for the gospel reading and liturgy. In the beginning, I helped him put his homilies into English(I do understand Spanish though I speak it not thrillingly well); later, he would write the homilies himself and email them to me for correction; toward the end of his study he did not need my help in this way and we simply moved forward in improving his overall English, talking about all kinds of daily and spiritual topics. As much as he thought I was a blessing to him, he was more a blessing to me. Padre seemed like a younger brother -- even more so after his mother came from Colombia for a long visit. I called her Mama, and, a mother of seven boys, three of whom became priests, she told people that I was the daughter she never had. After Mama and he returned to Colombia, Padre occasionally Skyped me, especially when he was at home with Mama. She pushed the limits of my Spanish, but one does not need linguistic erudition for familial bonding and love. Padre came back to the USA a few months ago and was assigned to the San Diego diocese, to a parish near Tijuana on the Mexican border. In the phone conversation tonight, Padre asked Donnie and me to come to San Diego to visit him; he misses us. Yes, he knows how far it is from us: more than eight hours since we need to go all the way to the border. One just does not think about those kinds of things with family, though. Family always comes. Family is always "there" when you need them. Of course, we will go visit Padre. I am his big sister. We are family.

Oh, by the way, the reason Desiree needs help is that the building manager will not let her stay with Noelle because she does not qualify to live there -- it is a building for the handicapped, to which Noelle moved when Ray was long-term hospitalized in 2006, having fallen into a coma that lasted nearly nine months. She needed something smaller, more affordable, and more accessible to a wheelchair since she was living alone. Desiree moved in a few months after Ray died. Of course, we will help her. She is now, after all, also family.

Reflecting upon matters, Lizzie's tongue-in-cheek comment about being an orphanage, not a family, is inaccurate. I am certain that in a serious moment she would agree that we are not an orphanage. We are definitely a family.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Paths Not Taken

Many paths can lead us through this life, but we can travel only one at any given time. Each path presents us with differing opportunities, "scenery," and "sputniki" (fellow travelers). We must choose our paths with very limited foreknowledge of any of these. Sometimes when I am in the mood of reverie, I enjoy pondering what might have happened had I chosen a different route through life, and then I have to wonder how much of a choice we really have, anyway. Here are my thoughts on a few of the paths I passed by.

(1) Physics. I loved physics in high school. In fact, I won the science fair with a physics project, and I had the highest grade in my physics class (99%), which had all of six girls (and 34 boys). There was a reason for that imbalance: girls did not study physics when I was in high school, and my physics teacher bemoaned the fact that I was a girl: "If only you weren't a girl; you would make a great physicist." I suppose if I had studied physics, or like my youngest sister (born late enough to see a change in attitude toward women scientists), nuclear physics, I might have ended up working at a place like NASA. Instead, I ended up majoring in foreign languages, through my books and my work success earned a national reputation for being able to develop highly successful foreign language programs that brought students rapidly to high levels of proficiency, and, would you believe it, ended up working at NASA for a while in order to establish the language training program for American, Russian, Canadian, and European astronauts/cosmonauts assigned to the then-planned International Space Station. Because I had nativelike proficiency in Russian, I spent time shuttling back and forth between Johnson Space Center in Houston and the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center in Star City, Russia.

(2) Study abroad. As a linguistics undergraduate major, I had an opportunity for study abroad in France. When I tried to budget out the opportunity, however, I realistically decided to spend my junior year in my own university, Penn State. The cost, while likely within the means of any middle-class student, was out of reach for an impoverished farm girl who was attending college only thanks to a full scholarship, supplemented by working in the university dining facility, waitressing, tutoring, and, upon occasion, go-go dancing. Having turned down what I thought was my one and only opportunity for an international experience, never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that after my kids were grown, I would spend a decade as an international consultant to ministries of education, institutions, and organizations in 24 countries, let alone earn my PhD in Russia and run a university in Jordan.

(3) Going home. At one point in my marriage, when Lizzie was still an infant and Donnie had just lost his job in Montana, where we were living, I was offered a job as an admin assistant in Maine, near my relatives. It was not a teaching position as I had hoped for, but all I had been able to land in Montana was a position as a substitute teacher in the area junior high schools and high schools, not enough to feed a family of three with Donnie out of work. I accepted, thinking and hoping that I might be able to get into teaching over time. Donnie refused to move and found himself a summer job in Idaho. Tearfully and fearfully, I bundled up Lizzie and returned from my visit home, a productive visit home with the promise of full-time work, to very part-time employment as a substitute in Montana. We could not afford rent; we lived in an A-frame, unfinished cabin in a field behind a farmhouse for free in exchange for finishing the work on the outhouse and the roof of the A-frame (for a while we had to line pots and pans wall to wall when it rained). Over time, we pieced together a living. Donnie earned some extra income from selling photographs to the local paper, and I wrote some articles. We teamed up on some photojournalistic efforts for that paper and for magazines. He also worked as a bar tender at the Elks Club. I gave up teaching for organizing and running a day care center with the help of some of the community leaders. It became well known, and even Mike Mansfield helped us with obtaining funding. When we left Montana, we were no longer the outsiders. We were the people who had established the one and only day care facility there and an award-winning one to boot. The City Council took it over when we left and ran it successfully for another ten years, at which time the concept of day care became commonplace and several other centers sprang up. I learned a lot about child care in that way, including the care of a multiple-handicapped child who attended the center. I would need that knowledge not only with my own children in general but with my handicapped children in specific -- Noelle, Doah, and ultimately, Shura.

(4) Children. As for those children, Donnie and I early one decided that we would remain childless. We tried every form of birth control available -- and each form brought a new child, for a total of four. Then people started handing us their children -- Shura, Ksenya, and Blaine -- for a total of seven. An addition four "children" have attached themselves to me as adults, not entirely symbolically for they come to me for advice, visit and expect me to visit, and need maternal support from time to time. Now I cannot imagine life without those children. They have informed my work as a manager and as a teacher; more important, they have been my greatest reward and joy.

(5) Footloose and on the road in an RV. After the children grew up and left home, which they did almost all at the same time, we bought an RV. This was Donnie's dream more than mine. He wanted to travel the country, reviving our Montana efforts as a husband-wife photojournalism team. As it turned out, we never could afford the truck to pull the RV, which was a 40-foot fifth-wheeler. So, we parked it on the Arroyo Seco River in California, and from there I drove to the airport and flew around the world on my various consults if the river did not rise, literally. (We lived on the uninhabited, unroaded side of a normally almost-dry ("seco") riverbed and had to drive through a few inches of water to reach our home, the RV. However, there were times when the river ran high, and we had to cross over a long, swinging bridge to reach the other side. If too much rain fell while we were parked on the "wrong" side, i.e. the RV side, of the river, we would become marooned until all the water tumbled down the mountainside, allowing us to escape again into the outside world.) We loved the drama of not knowing when we might get marooned. We loved the irony of driving through a river to get home, and I loved swimming in the river every day that I was home. Had we had our way, we would probably still be tooling about America. That is not a bad thing, but I would have missed out on some opportunities that nearly no one gets: consulting in 24 countries to the point of becoming a redistributor of knowledge from one country to another, earning my PhD (probably would not have had the time, effort, interest, or need), and experiencing the Middle East up close and personal. These opportunities have been not only fun and rewarding; they were essential for functioning adequately where I have ended up working decades later.

(6) Professor. Much of my life I wanted to be a professor. Even when I was doing other things, I kept wishing I had followed the path through the woods of life that anyone becoming a professor takes. That path beckoned me, but I could never make it over there. Downed timber, forest fires, and boulders of all sorts precluded me from going in that direction. Yet, perhaps as a consolation prize I have had the opportunity to teach as a visiting professor at a number of institutions: Middlebury College, NYIT in Jordan and Bahrain, Bryn Mawr College, Monterey Institute of International Studies, Universidad Federale de Rio Grande do Sul, University of Pittsburgh, and Allegheny Community College, among others, and I have trained thousands of university professors and administrators worldwide. What I have learned from those experiences is that I don't really want to be a full-time career university professor at all. That experience can be accomplished by Lizzie, who currently is a university professor of neuroscience.

(7) Middle East. The last path I was on (before my current one) took me to the Middle East for two years. I fell in love with the culture and the people. The language, being self-taught, was a challenge but interesting. There I found a place where I could have settled forever (well, there or Siberia, the other place where I lost my heart and could settle forever). That was not to be. However hard I tried to continue down the path I had chosen, my way was diverted back to the path I had left in 1993. (I blogged about that on 100th Lamb: The Jobs God Would Not Let Me Have and the One He Insisted I Take and Keep.) I still go back to Jordan, however, because my current job requires occasional business trips there. It is one of our more important locations -- and I did not know this when I took my current job (uh, more honestly speaking, was forced into accepting my current job, which, again honestly speaking, I truly love).

Although I returned to the organization that I left in 1993, I came in at a much higher position, and I needed every experience I had gained in the Middle East, from my consultations in various countries, and as a result of the languages I had studied. I also needed that degree I had earned and even my mothering experience. All those paths connected to provide a route through life that led to my being in the ideal position for me (although I did not initially recognize that). There was just one more experience along that route that was needed to make it all work: conversion. While faith has changed my life deeply on a personal level, my conversion was necessary for the spiritual and emotional needs of those who work for me -- a highly ironic need, considering that I work in an institution that requires separation of church and state. Yet, the need is there, and I have to wonder if God occasioned my conversion for the good of others. He does things like that, you know.

As for all those paths not taken, I am grateful that I had the chance to taste of some of the fruits that grow along those paths even though I was not on them. I am, in fact, grateful for every step along each of the paths I did take, whether I chose them or was pushed onto them.

What about the path(s) you have not chosen? Have you ever wondered what your life might be like right now had you taken or been allowed to take those paths that beckoned you?

Friday, August 20, 2010

Bessie the Cow and Mae

I have made no progress this week on Raising God's Rainbow Makers and so have no posts to share from there, a situation I hope to remedy next week. This week, though, nearly every morning I have had to be at work early, and nearly every evening I have worked well past dark. So, except for trying to get the word out about Wajeeha's journey (see right side-bar), I have had to limit my writing time. The thought hit me, though, that a nice change of pace would be to intersperse the past with the past from time to time and share anecdotes from my childhood. While it was a highly abusive period in my life, it was not without its moments of humor, joy, and nostalgia. So, herewith, the story of our alcoholic cow, Bessie, and our eccentric neighbor, Mae.

I have some odd memories of our neighbor, Mae, who lived the next farm over when I was a child. Or, perhaps I should say, I have some memories of our odd neighbor, Mae.

My most vivid memory of Mae was chasing our cow, Bessie. Bessie would get into the apple orchard and eat apples, which made her drunk. Totally inebriated, she would dance down the road to Mae's farm. Bessie delighted in pulling Mae's clothes off the clotheslines, and many times I saw Mae, half-clothed, chasing Bessie with a broom, "Go home, drunk cow, go home! Sober up!" A dancing cow and a half-clad wizened lady, brandishing a broom, made quite a sight coming up the road!

Mae had this thing with clothes, you see. She did not like to wear them. Once, the mailman came to the door with a package, and Mae stepped out of the shower, dripping wet and totally nude, to answer the door and accept the package. The mailman was not shocked. She often answered the door nude. Then, there was the time that she was driving on an interstate highway in New Jersey and broke down. She heard that the police in that state would stop and help if there were a white cloth on the antenna. So, having no other white cloth around, she quickly took off her underwear and tied it to the antenna. The police stopped. After some fiddling, they managed to fix her car without calling for him. One of the officers looked at the antenna and remarked to Mae, “You are good to go now. Don’t forget to take your underwear off.” Mae looked at him and with a straight face, for she was entirely serious, said to him, “I already took it off.”

It might help if you knew that Mae was almost 90 years old when all this was happening. It might. But then, I never met Mae at 20, so who knows…

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Come Along on a Journey to Help Pakistan One Family at a Time

Perhaps a few years ago, many people would not have been able to place Pakistan on a map -- well, those of us who were around when Bangladesh (East Pakistan) ran into trouble in the 1970s might have been able to put two and two together. Pakistan, however, was rarely in the news, at least in the regions where I lived, until right after 9/11 when the US needed help from that country. Now that country needs help from the USA -- and from the rest of the world, from you, from me, from anyone with a heart. Perhaps people gave all they had to Haiti; perhaps Pakistan is too far, too Eastern, too foreign for those of us living in the West. Whatever the reason, assistance from the West, which usually comes through for people in dire need, has not been as forthcoming in this instance, a place and time when help is needed in an overwhelming amount: 16 million Pakistanis are suffering from the devastation caused by the floods. (Help, of course, is needed and welcomed from everywhere and anywhere. Readers of this blog come from 109 different countries, including Pakistan. I hope that among you, there will be people who can help.)

Among the readers of Blest Atheist, the blog that preceded 100th Lamb, was Wajeeha, a young acquaintance of mine from Karachi, Pakistan. She and I mainly communicate via FaceBook. Over time, I have come to feel like she is just another of my children, and I am proud of what she is doing, both in college and in her current plan to help her country. A college student, living in an area unaffected by the flood but nonetheless concerned with the lack of help coming to the families stranded, impoverished, and left starving by the floods, she and her college classmates are taking matters into their hands and trying to help the people of Pakistan one family at a time. I asked her to write a post about her journey, and so I will let her tell it in her own words:
I, Wajeeha Asrar Siddiqui, with some friends and colleagues of mine have started the effort to help those who are affected by flood in Pakistan. We are collecting funds in this regard and have decided to take up the charge of everything under our own control. As prior we had trusted some government official with our money but there is nothing come to name of progress and God knows where the money gone. Now, we have decided to do everything by our own.

We are up for the task of rehabilitation for the people of Besham, Kohistan and connected districts. Our main motto is not to just provide them with food. The main motto is to let those back to their normal lives with all their respect and dignity. We are up to help those people without let them feel inferior to other members of the society.

We have aim to help those with food, water and clothing at first and then with books, raw material and space to practice and sale their handicrafts. People in those regions are masters of handicrafts. As we are already having Ramadan here so, the very first thing that is needed is drinking water and then food.

We would leave from Karachi to Besham and beyond by the end of August 2010. Our first target is to help 2000 families. An average cost of drinking water, food and clothing of a family for a month is around $150 - $200. We still need hands to join in and help us making our targets possible.

As we do not have much time left I request all those you’re seeking to help to send us their donations in cash. As the fact is, transferring of cash would take less time as compare to transferring of good. For all those who are looking forward to help can reach me by email ID: (Money needs to be transferred via bank transfer or Western Union, so those wanting to help will need to contact Wajeeha and get the information to do so. I am reluctant to put this kind of information on a public site.)

You can also reach our representative in Besham, Engr. Said Mehmood ( who is working with Catholic Relief Services to help all those who are affected by flood.
I promised her some help from God's credit card now that it is paid off once again (see God's Crazy Math -- it took only two days for money to appear to pay it off), but that has a credit limit (probably a fortunate thing). Won't you help, too? Even a couple of dollars can make a difference. Given the exchange rate and the cost-of-living difference, a little can go a long way. I will ask Wajeeha to report on her journey periodically when time and electronic resources permit. Let's measure the compassion of the blogosphere with Pakistan as a criterion!

Note: I tried to put a summary and link in the right side-bar (well, actually I did put it there), but the right side-bar keeps hiding below the left-side posts. I don't know how to fix it, and I did not want anyone who might want to help Waheeja miss the opportunity because of not being able to see the sidebar. If you are having trouble seeing the right side-bar, please let me know. If more people than I have trouble seeing it, I will have to get some help with fixing the page.)

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Sabbath Sunday: A Big Miao from the Littlest Mahlous

Fr. Christian Mathis (Blessed Is the Kingdom) has made the suggestion that we "rest" on the Sabbath by taking a break from our normal blogging and sharing an older post of which we are particularly fond. Rest? Gladly! I don't get to do that very often, but now, thanks to Fr. Christian, I get to do it at least once a week -- and it gives me more time to spend with God, which is a wonderful gift.

For this week, since I have been blogging about our cats, I selected the post that introduced them back in April: A Big Miao from the Littlest Mahlous.

Have a restful and peaceful Sabbath!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Cat Lessons

Continuing with the cat theme of earlier this week, I thought I might share the eight most important things I have learned from my cats:

1. When you climb too high, you will have to trust someone else to get you out of the tree.
When we were living down on the Arroya Seco river, far from anywhere and everywhere, the cutest little kitten appeared one day. He was all white, except for gray curtains on either side of his eyes -- looked a lot like Murjan, just with gray touches rather than red. He would never come close but would sit on the fence in temptingly near-touching distance from us. One day, though, he climbed high into a sycamore tree. Donnie heard his piteous meowing for over an hour. He was afraid to come down. Finally, I decided I had to do something. I got a ladder and climbed to the top, then pulled myself up the branches to where the kitten was. He tried to move away from me but somehow realized the danger of going too far out on a limb (literally), and so I was able to grab him, skinny back down to the ladder, and carry him to the ground. I could feel his little heart beating with fear, but he did not jump out of my arms until we reached the ground and his sense of home.

2. A bed is a blessing.

Newbie never took anything for granted. We took him in from the street when he approached me outside my university office in Jordan, meowing from hunger, half-dead from worms. Our vet gave him little hope, but I eagerly ran off to the drugstore for children's liquid aspirin for his fever, there being no pet stores there for this sort of thing. Of course, the clerks thought I was a crazy American when, in response to their question as to the child's weight in order to tell me the right amount, I said, "hatha lil bissa" -- this is for a cat. "Nam, ana majnuneh, sahih" (yeah, I really am crazy), I agreed, leaving with the medicine tight in hand. The medicine helped with the fever and shots helped with the worms, but Newbie was always cold until he discovered the bed. He crawled under the blankets, and from then on he always slept with his head on the pillow and his body covered even after he had fully recovered.

3. If you throw yourself in your master's path, your belly will get rubbed.
Murjan seems to have got his species mixed. He is a cat, who is the size of a dog, and he has the behaviors of a dog. He follows me everyone, sleeps at my feet, and when I come home, he immediately rolls over in front of me, wanting his belly rubbed.

4. The best place to sleep is snuggled against your master.
I have never had a cat -- and I have rescued dozens -- not want to snuggle up with me and go to sleep. That's one of the rewards of rescuing cats. I like the snuggling as much as they do. Maybe more...

5. If you have a protector, you need neither to roar nor to hiss.
Little Bissa, adopted by Shane when we brought her back from Jordan, is the tiniest little thing. She weighs only a few pounds. However, when we first rescued her from the university grounds where she would beg for scraps, she hid under a bed and would not come out. She had never been indoors and did not understand the nature of this big cage, our house, she had found herself in. Everyone was afraid to come near her because she would roar and hiss. One visitor found me in the kitchen and declared, his eyes big with disbelief, "bissatek tigr" (your cat is a tiger). Finally, one day, I just picked her up and held her and held her, and her roar turned to a tribble (really, she does not purr, she tribbles). A few weeks later I found her curled up beside Donnie, sleeping. Ever after that, she was his cat, until she moved in with Shane, Lemony, and kids, who all adore her. So, now she has a protector; she no longer needs to roar and hiss.

6. Letting go and letting your master take over can be scary at first but in the long run wonderful.
Snowball was scared at first, but bit by bit, he let me get closer and closer. When he finally let me pick him up for the first time after the tree-scaling incident, he seemed to like being held. Soon, he was crawling into my lap every evening, pushing aside my computer with his paws, licking me, combing my hair with his claws (the only cat I ever had who did that), and sleeping for hours on my lap. Simone, our newest feral addition, refused to let anyone close enough to touch her for months, but finally I coopted her into a relationship by offering her treats. Now she likes both the treats and the petting. (At first, she did not separate the two. After I petted her, she would trot out to the cupboard for treats. Now, the petting is enough.)

7. If you didn't get born into a family with a master, go find yourself a master.

That is what Newbie did. He just marched up to me and asked me to take him home. Similarly, into our house one day very confidently strode Snowflake, Doah's cat, who got adopted by a British family in Jordan (because of his size and the heat we were unable to take him on the plane with us the summer we left but they could take him to the UK in the winter. Born in the USA, he has become quite the world traveler -- and he always knows where to find a human to care for him.

8.If you are hurting, it is worthwhile to make every effort possible to get back to your master because there is your help.
We lost, gained, and lost a wonderful little cat, Fuzzy, when we were living on the Arroyo Seco River. A feral cat who preferred the outdoors, he nonetheless spent every night sleeping with me until the day he got hit by a car. We were able to save him, thanks to a talented vet, but he did lose his tail. One day, though, when there were bobcats reported in the area, he simply disappeared. I published a story about him in a volume of stories by Middle Eastern authors. (At that time, I was living in the Middle East, so that made me a de facto Middle Eastern author.) If you are interested in reading it, I posted it post-publication on my Mahlou Musings blog: The Tale of Fuzz.

In ending, I will say only: metaphor intended.

Friday, August 6, 2010

No Words Needed

Since I have limited time to post right now but have been gathering a collection of photographs of the littlest Mahlous, I thought I would share some of these with you. (Sorry about the quality; they came from my cell phone camera.)

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Farm Boy Humility

My brother, Willie, really is a genius (or at least close to one) when it comes to science. When he was in high school, he became fascinated with the intersection between physics and parapsychology. Postulating that the energy field around a person, which someone people can see and label an aura, can actually be seen by everyone, just like everyone can see heat waves rising off a hot tar road, Willie set about researching the design of a pair of glasses that would compensate for the limitations of human vision and allow anyone to see another person’s aura, no matter how minimal the energy. He began his research with the historically little known research into the area of parapsychology conducted by Sir Isaac Newton. Then he went on to study more about optics. Some of his studying he did in a research trip he took to Penn State University, where I was an undergraduate, during the summer of his sophomore year.

After some experimentation, the materials for which his high school biology teacher purchased for him, there being no funds at home for such things, especially since my father had died a couple of years earlier, leaving Ma with the five youngest children to raise on a combination of farming and welfare, Willie had perfected a set of glasses that did exactly what he wanted them to do. His biology teacher was so proud of him that he managed to get him registered for a conference on physics and parapsychology that was taking place at the time in Boston and funded his attendance.

My brother went to the conference and presented his research. Of course, he looked and sounded astonishingly young. He was astonishingly young. When he asked for questions, someone commented on his age and asked for his background in the field of physics, where he had studied, and the like. Willie honestly replied, “I have no background in physics. I am just a farm boy from down Maine.” (I wish I could have been a fly on the wall of that gathering of PhDs, all very likely trying to outshine each other. I wonder how they processed the information that they had been listening in fascination to a “farm boy from down Maine.”)

Years later, a similar remark brought this story back to mind. I had just finished admitting Doah to Children’s Hospital in Boston after stealing him from a hospital in Pennsylvania. My brothers, Willie and Keith, had accompanied us and the ambulance to the hospital. Since they had expected to be bringing us back home to Maine and not to Children’s Hospital, they had simply jumped into the car after finishing their work for the day in the fields and had driven south to Boston. Seeing their coveralls, the nurse who helped with admissions from the ER, asked in confusion, “Are you doctors?”

“Nope,” replied Willie in a manner reminiscent of his response at that conference a few years earlier. “We’re just farm boys from down Maine.”

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