Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Christmas! God Bless Everyone!

Since I do not blog on Sundays, I will post a Christmas message tonight, Christmas eve. Plans? With all the kids having flown from the nest a decade ago, Donnie and I will be having our Christmas eve dinner at a local Chinese restaurant, run by Korean, prior to midnight Mass, which is at 10:30 this evening. (It finishes at midnight, so the name is not entirely misleading.)

As he does every year, Finnegan, our priest's cat, has wandered from the cold into the warmth of the manger. Both he, and Sula, are parish cat, take turns sleeping in the manger. Sometimes they share it.

Sharing warm Christmas wishes with all! May God bless each one of you tomorrow and all days of this happy season!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Domesticated Cats and Mice

From time to time, I have blogged about our three cats. They are, after all, a very important part of our family.

Murjan (Arabic name, meaning coral) hails from Jordan, and we adopted him from a friend of a friend when he was six months. We call him our dog cat because he lies on his back and wants his belly rubbed any time I walk through the door. He also licks us like a dog, follows me everywhere, and apparently is about as much of a mouser as a dog, as I shall explain in a bit.

Intrepid came to us as a very young kitten, just weeks old, abandoned too early by his mother, who probably died. He was found, squaling in the grass behind the house of one of the professors who worked for me when I was living in Jordan a half-dozen years ago. He is still a kitten at heart and loves playing with his toys.

Simone we rescued a couple of years ago. She had been a feral cat, living outside our house, and not venturing near us although we fed her. When we moved, she scampered inside the empty house for a look, and I trapped her. The rest is history. It took two years, but she now sleeps with us, wants to be petted, and follows me around much like Murjan does.

All that is prelude to telling the story of this week. For the first time ever, we have had a mouse in the house. Some new food for our cats it seemed to us. Wrong! All three of our cats enjoyed watching the live mouse but preferred playing with the stuffed ones, to which they returned after a few minutes of sitting and watching the live one scamper around the kitchen. As for killing and eating it, that never entered their heads. Food, to them, obviously comes from a can. So, we sighed and called pest control!

Worse, since the mouse appeared, Murjan, all 20 pounds of him, has taken to crawling into our laps, seemingly wanting protection. From the mouse? Now I know the definition of "domestic cat."

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Two Anti-Hunger Websites for the Holidays

As the holidays -- and all the yummy treats that most of us will be eating -- approach, I wanted to share with readers of my blogs two wonderful sites that help those who may not be feeling full during the holidays, or any time during the year for that matter.

The first site, No Kid Hungry, is fledgling group with a good objective: The leaders of the movement are asking visitors to their site to take a pledge to reach this goal by 2015.

The other site has been around for years (at least ten years) and does wonderful work:, and I posted about it on H2Helper a while back. This site can be visited every day, and just by spending 2-3 minutes at the site, without any investment other than time, you can help feed hungry children worldwide, contribute to saving the rain forests, help autism research, promote literacy, support veterans, and help abandoned animals -- it is an amazing site.

Happy holidays!

Friday, December 9, 2011

Heritage of Er-er?

A couple of years ago, I wrote the story of Er-Er, an adopted rooster-to-be, accidentally (we think) abandoned by his mother before he was ready to live independently, who was scooped up by chicken raiders -- something that occurs every couple of years in our chicken-ambivalent town of San Ignatio. (Colorful Mexican chickens wandering the streets are the trademark of our little historical town, but every few years the membership of the City Council changes and some vocal opponents of chickens convinces the council to open the city doors to chicken nabbers -- even to pay them $5 per chicken for the roundup.) And, so, we lost our Er-er.

I had not thought much about Er-er in recent days, but yesterday, as I was leaving Old Mission, a mother hen with two teenage hens-to-be in tow walked right up to me as I stood beside car to open the door. In fact, she had to cross the street to get to me. She looked at me, turned her head to make sure her teens were in tow, and then all three looked at me and did not move even as I opened the door, got in the car, and very slowly and carefully drove off. I looked in the rear-view mirror, and they were still standing in the middle of the lane, watching me. I wondered if the hen might have been one of Er-er's siblings, whom we fed, along with his mother, from the time they were little chicks until they were teens and the mother shooed them out of the nest. At one time, I even rescued them from a marauding stray dog while the mother clucked furiously from a tree top, wrenching one little chick out of the dog's mouth and returning him unharmed to his mother (not the smartest thing I have ever done).

It seemed as if this hen thought she knew me, and the encounter was as if she were introducing me to her offspring. Who knows? Chickens are not supposed to have memories at all, but all these chicks knew where their "home" was, and even when Er-er would wander away and I would find him several streets away, if I hollered to him, "Er-er, go home and eat breakfast," he would lift his head and make a beeline for the house. As I said, who knows? Why does a chicken cross the road? Perhaps, in this case, to introduce her chicks to Aunt Beth.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

I Didn't Ask

I had meant a few weeks ago to share an extraordinary event that happened a few weeks ago, but I got caught up in daily living, which for me means being somewhere other than at home. Noelle, as mentioned in an earlier post (back in July -- my, how time flies), had been having some difficulties with her apartment situation, and how that was resolved was remarkable.

“Ask, and ye shall receive,” we are told. But so many times, I do not ask, yet receive. And many other times, I ask for a little (e.g., strength to bear pain from a medical problem) and receive a lot (e..g., medical problem removed). I wonder sometimes if God does not find joy in giving us more than we expect, anticipate, or deserve.

To recap my concern about Noelle’s apartment situation, she had clearly been being used by a so-called friend (we could not find any behavior that one would expect from a friend) who decided to move in with her and refused to move out. The friend was not on the lease and did not pay any of the rent. She lived there for several months before the apartment manager noticed and told Noelle that the friend had to move out because Noelle was in violation of her lease.

Noelle seemed completely under the spell of this person and was about to get evicted from her handicapped-accessible, low-rent apartment. In the current economic climate, she would neither be able to find something similar nor would she be able to afford something different. Yet, she did not want to talk to Donnie and me about. She said she was independent and would do as she chose. We were further stymied because even the sheriff could not remove her friend without a lengthy process. Once the friend had lived there for a few weeks, she was considered a resident even though the apartment manager had told Noelle repeatedly that her friend had to leave. Truly a mess it was.

Then, the logjam broke. It could have been my telling Noelle that Donnie and I would not help her if she ended up on the street because the situation would have been of her own making. It could also have been the fear of ending up on the street although that had not come up earlier. In reality, I think it was my e-note to Noelle that if she ended up on the street, she might lose her kitty. I think protecting her kitty gave her the strength to stand up to her friend and tell her to leave.

But the friend refused to leave. Noelle contacted me. Donnie and I drove to Salts to be witnesses when Noelle gave her friend a written eviction notice. Explaining the contents, Noelle handed the note to her friend, who refused to look at it, knocking it to the floor, stating that she had no intention of reading the note and that we (Donnie and I) could just put ourselves outside the door; we were not wanted there. Noelle was nonplussed; being in a wheelchair, she could hardly physically eject her friend.

“You don’t have to read the letter,” I stepped up. “There are three witnesses here who are telling you the content, which says that you are required to leave immediately.”

She repeated that she had no intention of leaving, that she could not find another apartment to her liking, and she would be staying as long as she needed to. She raised her voice. Her chutzpah would astonish even the most brazen soul.

Noting to her that she had been given formal notice, we left, planning to call the apartment manager in the morning even though I was flying to the East Coast that day. We were concerned that the manager was getting ready to present an eviction notice to Noelle, and sometimes eviction notices cannot be repealed.

Noelle is an unconserved adult, so we had not been involved in her lease or any other aspect of her life except where requested. And we could not be involved with the apartment manager without her permission. Now we had her permission, and now we saw the whole picture.

As we exited the building, a man, identifying himself as Wentworth, approached us and asked if we were Noelle’s relatives. I have no idea how he put two and two together. We admitted the relationship. Then he told us that he was the assistant manager and lived in that same building. We told Noelle’s side of the story since, under the influence of her friend, Noelle had been incommunicado with anyone in management of the apartment complex. The manager was indeed preparing an eviction notice.

Now that the assistant manager knew the situation, he said the management would help get the friend out, including filing formal eviction papers on her behalf against the squatter. He made a copy of the note Noelle had given her friend, and then he called the police, who showed up right away. While the police could not remove the friend, they scared her.

Later that evening, Wentworth, who had taken our phone numbers, called me and told me that the friend had just left on her own volition. He said that all was back in order with Noelle’s lease, and that the management would keep an eye on Noelle for a while to make sure the friend did not sneak back in and try to browbeat her into letting her stay there. He commented before hanging up how “providential” it was that he had seen us and everything had worked out so easily. He also commented on how surprising God can be and how clearly God watches over Noelle.

That evening at Mass, a visiting priest told us in his homily that we all should ask for God’s help more often and not try to depend upon ourselves. Certainly, I would have prayed about the situation when I got home had I not received the phone call from Wentworth. However, I had not yet had a chance to ask when the actors and actions needed for resolution suddenly appeared on the scene. When you practice the Presence of God in the way of Br. Lawrence, sometimes God, always being with you, answers even before you ask!

(also posted on Modern Mysticism)

Monday, December 5, 2011

God's Trust and My Children/Grandchildren

Recently in our prayer group, one of our members talked about some difficult times she and her family were facing, and she called it a "test" from God. We moved from there to similar kinds of issues in other members' families and then on to a discussion about my children, especially the three (two of my own and one who came and lived with us) who must deal with one or more birth defects (Noelle, Doah, Shura), along with my grandchildren who have also been affected by these family "gifts" (Nathaniel having been born with hydronephrosis and Nikolina with that, too, as well as OEIS Complex). It surprised me to learn that these people of God looked at my children and my family situation so differently from the way I look at it.

First, my children are not burdens. They are blessings.

Second, life with these children is not difficult although it is challenging. It is a constant opportunity to learn and to grow, including learning how to lean on God and others God sends, which, I believe, is something that God wants us to do.

Most important, in no way do I think that God is testing me or my family. Rather, I feel favored that God would trust me (of all people) with something so special. Likewise, I don't believe that my friends are experiencing a test from God. I believe that they are experiencing God's trusting them not only to cope with the difficult situations that they face but also to learn from them and to grow in faith (and yes, trust).

May God continue to bless all of us in this extraordinary way, and may we learn and grow and live up to His trust in us!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Spiritual Sunday #38: Doah Went to Court, or God Knew Best

On Sundays, I usually participate in the Spiritual Sunday meme on my main blog, 100th Lamb. The post I chose this weekend, however, is about my youngest son, Doah, and so I thought it would be of interest to readers of Clan of Mahlou. For more Spiritual Sunday posts, I recommend that you wander over to the website of Charlotte and Ginger, who host the Spiritual Sunday meme.

Because I do not blog on Sundays -- keeping it as the sabbath, a practice started by Fr. Christian Mathis (Blessed Is the Kingdom) -- I use older posts (forgotten perhaps but hopefully still interesting) from one or another of my blogs that seem appropriate for this meme. It seems to work to bring out the older posts that many have not read before or ones from other blogs I maintain that readers of 100th Lamb may not know about.

This week I decided to change pace a little and share a post related to one of my children, now grown, and a difficult period (oh, there were so many): Doah Went to Court, Or God Knew Best.

And here is the post-reprinted:

With another interesting comment coming in early this morning on the topic of God (not) answering prayer, I am thinking again about the post about my catechism classes and the teenagers' frustration when God does not give them exactly what they want -- and, in reaction, they declare that God is dead or does not exist. (Of course, much of that is for the dramatic effect on us teachers, and the rest of it is to keep up the "cool" image of the cheerleaders and ball players in the class.) What I tell them is to look beyond their own agenda and see what God might know that is better than what they want.

A highly troubling personal example bubbles to mind when I think about prayer and God knowing best. When I first returned from Jordan three years ago, I learned that my mentally challenged son Doah had gotten into some serious trouble at the local mall. At the time, he was living in a group home for disabled adults and working at a sheltered workshop, as he does now. He was in his mid-twenties, but because he never surpassed 4'7", he never seemed to be older than 8-10 years old, which is the outside limits on his mental development as well. A very affectionate person, he had seen a young girl he knew at the mall. She was with her parents. He went over to her and hugged her. At that point, all manner of chaos broke loose. Although Doah's size was the same as the girl's, the girl was only 13. The parents freaked; Doah does look "different." Mall security seized Doah, and off he went to jail. The group home director got him out of jail, but the district attorney wanted to prosecute even after the parents, who had finally figured out what was happening, dropped the charges. The DA had a goal: Get retarded people off the streets of Salts, the city where Doah lived.

Lizzie, my oldest daughter, was visiting at the time that Doah's first appearance in court took place. We had only about a day's notice. I had just returned from a long time out of the country, and the group home was not used to my being around to inform about such things and had somehow also missed informing Shane, who looks out for Doah when Donnie and I are not around. Donnie was still in Jordan. So, Lizzie and I went to court with Doah. However, because Doah is not conserved and is of age, neither of us was allowed to appear with him. We had to sit in the back of the courtroom.

When the judge called Doah, he read him the charges: sexual molestation. (For a hug!??!) The judge then asked Doah if he understood the charges. Of course, he did not. He appeared quite confused, and the judge repeated, "Please answer me. Do you understand the charges?"

Doah responded, "You give me credit card? I buy something?" Now the judge was confused! He looked around the courtroom, somewhat desperately, and saw Doah's social work leaning over the barrier.

"Are you with this young man?" he asked.

The social worker identified his name and position and was allowed to approach the bench. He told them that there was family in the area and that the family wanted a private attorney. (The judge had been about to assign a court-appointed attorney, and, I fear, that would have been a railroad job. The DA would have had his highly visible case that could have turned into sanctioned discrimination against an entire class of people.)

We have a friend who is considered one of the best defense attorneys in Salts. I had actually been instrumental at one point in putting him on the fast track to practicing law in California so he helps us out from time to time. He took Doah's case gratis. He thought it would be open-and-shut, but it turned out that the DA would not budge. He had a chance to make a name for himself and get his agenda implemented, and he planned to do it. Our lawyer was temporarily stymied, and Doah was definitely going to be put on trial. There were only two possible outcomes of such a trial: (1) jail for a year, or (2) probation and identification for life as a sex offender.

So, if Doah were your son, which outcome would you pray for? Being in jail would have taught my little imitator how to do many bad things that would have followed him the rest of his life to his detriment. Probation was fine, but being labeled as a sex offender would also have followed him all his life to his detriment. So, I asked God for the only thing I thought could possibly work: for God to make the decision on what would happen to Doah.

The morning after that prayer, our lawyer called me excitedly. He said he had turned the case over and over in his mind and saw no way to win; he had spent a couple of days trying to convince the DA that what he was doing was wrong-headed and not appropriate in this case and still saw no way to win, given the DA's stubbornness. Then, when he got out of bed that morning, a thought from nowhere had tumbled into his head: the DA has a supervisor. So, he went to the DA's supervisor, explained the whole case, told him that he had known Doah since Doah was 9 years old, and that what had happened was only a result of Doah's generally friendly nature. The supervisor agreed that there was more than met the eye, requested a psychological examination, and said that a third option would be added: If the psychological examination confirmed the lawyer's analysis, then Doah would be put on probation for a year and if there were no further incidents all court records would be expunged as if nothing had ever occurred.

And, so, that is exactly what happened. The psychologist said that Doah had the mental acuity only to determine whether a behavior was good or bad but not the ability to understand that a good behavior becomes a bad behavior depending upon circumstance. That would be too fine a distinction for him to make. In other words, hugging is good at home, school, church, parties where you know everyone, but it is bad at the mall. Doah could not possibly draw that kind of conclusion, given his mental capacity. So, option three was taken by the court, and a year later the DA himself requested that the case be withdrawn and the records removed.

How blessed we were that God had a third answer. How happy I am that I did not ask for one of the only two options that I knew about. (I suspect, though, that if I had asked for one of those options, God would still have introduced the third, better, one.)

So, yes, I say to my catechism students, God does say "no," and we should be grateful that God knows best!

Friday, December 2, 2011

The Value of Flattery

The below text is one I just posted on Mahlou Musings, an excerpt from a book I wrote several years ago. I thought, since Noelle and Doah, occupy front and center in the text, it might also be worth sharing on The Clan of Mahlou.

Lewis Lapham (Lapham's Rules of Influence) advises the profuse use of flattery. He writes that "flattery is comparable to suntan lotion or ski wax. It cannot be too often or too recklessly applied."

My two handicapped children, Noelle and Doah, know this. As children and adults, unlike what one might expect, they have been quite popular, among others reasons, because they routinely use flattery.

For example, Doah, when needing help, will often address a nearby woman, "Excuse me, pretty lady. You help me, please?" What woman does not like to be called pretty?

And who would not feel good about helping someone clearly disabled who shows appreciation through more flattery by saying, for example, "Thank you. You're a nice person. I like you."

Likewise, Noelle once got me out of a traffic ticket when I accidentally drove through a stop sign. A four-year-old at the time, she was clearly thrilled at the sight of the police officer who pulled me over. While I searched for the car registration, she gushed flattery at him, telling him how wonderful she thought policemen were, how kind, and how helpful. He told me to forget the registration, that he would give me only a warning because he did not want my daughter not to like policemen.

Although she became more sophisticated about how she words things, Noelle has continued to use flattery and to be treated with warmth by people with whom she interacts. For example, she had a series of negative experiences at what I shall call Hospital A in Washington and ultimately we transferred her to Georgetown University Hospital, where she had a series of positive experiences. Near the beginning of her treatment there, she had to be hospitalized. Unfortunately, no beds were immediately available, so the staff spread out a blanket on the floor of her room. The clinic director, embarrassed by this situation, stayed with Noelle two hours until a bed was found. She apologized to Noelle several times.

Noelle's response was, "Hey, I'd rather be on the floor here than in the softest bed at Hospital A." Obviously, that piece of flattery made Noelle a favorite patient for the entire time she was at Georgetown University Hospital.

We all like to hear other people say good things about us. They, too, like to hear good things said about them. Flattery often works where other means of motivation fail.

My sister, Danielle, points out that when flattery is sincere, there are many ways to get the good intentions to multiply. She cites the example of her husband, Bill, who has often elicited support and astounding service by first complimenting the employee sincerely with supporting details and then going on to report the employee's exceptional service and performance to the employee's supervisor, attributing the employee's attitude and performance to the supervisor's skill in management.

"By the end of the conversation," she wrote to me, "the supervisor and supervisee are dancing around Bill to see that everything goes smoothly."

So, slather the flattery wherever it is deserved!


Excerpted and adapted from a collection of vignettes I published, copyright 2003.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving!

I have no intention of spending Thanksgiving Day at a computer. In fact, I have all kinds of other plans, but I did want to wish all readers a happy -- and tasty -- day. As for me, I have a guest (friend) from Washington, DC, who has been here all week with me. Doah and I intend to attend the Thanksgiving Mass in the morning, then our whole family will go over to the community dinner that is sponsored by our parish. I think it is a bit unique. Every year the entire community (our town has only a little over 1000 people, including children) is invited to a free Thanksgiving dinner at a restaurant-like building that our parish owns. Those who have cooking talent provide the food. Others serve or clean up. Since I have absolutely no cooking talent, my family and I serve on the clean-up crew. Every year hundreds eat for free -- rich and poor alike (and together). It is a great way to spend Thanksgiving!

However you spend your Thanksgiving, I hope it will be a day to remember and a day for which you find yourself grateful!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Doah's Birthday Party

Saturday we had birthday celebration #32 for Doah. As usual, we all crowded into our local Pizza Factory, and they were ready for us with lots of pizza, drinks, and an open tab. It was a bit sad, though, because our priest, who has not been with us for several months now (see the sad, frustrating story here -- almost over, though, because the diocese has now established his innocence), was missing for the first time in four years. The mood, nonetheless, was festive and raucous. Everyone in the place knew that Doah was having a party, and he himself acted as master of ceremonies.

Did I think to take pictures? Nope! I had to have been quite dense about it all because I had my iPhone with me and was showing pictures from the past on it to everyone there. Oh, well, I will leave it to everyone's imagination to picture how it all went down.

Donnie ordered a cake from a local bakery. I think he must have been hungry because he showed up with a gigantic box. I asked him how many it would serve, and he said 60. Needless to say, after feeding all the party-goers, all the pizza makers, and all the other customers who wanted a piece of cake, we had quite a bit of leftover. Everyone took some cake home, and we still had leftovers. So, I will take a pan of cake over to the parish office later today. Someone has to help us devour all this icing-covered chocolate!

As we were sitting in the car after all the festivities had ended, getting ready to pull out of the parking lot, Noelle commented, "Do you think it would be a good idea to take the leftover cake off the hood of the car before we leave?" Ah, yeah! Really good idea!

Shades of Arlington cookies! Many years ago, when Professor Lizzie was a high school student, I made some cookies for a band booster fundraiser for Washington-Lee High School in Arlington, Virginia. (I believe they were edible although I have grave doubts as to whether they were tasty, considering the reputation of the cook.) I wrapped them in saran wrap, and we all dashed to the car for the short ride to the high school. That morning everyone waved at us along the way -- it was a real friendly morning. When we got to the high school parking lot, though, we found out that it was not actually a friendly morning, just a matter of kind folks trying to get our attention as we dashed from intersection to intersection, hoping that we would realize that they were pointing out the plate of saran-wrapped cookies, bouncing along with us on the roof of the car.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011


Now, that may be a strange title for a post, but it is actually meaningful. Quite meaningful, really. Today is the first day of the 11th month of the 11th year (11/1/11). More important, though, today is Donnie's birthday. Double special.

Now, how we are celebrating is a story that might be unexpected. We are watching the Chronicles of Narnia on television, eating raspberries, and regaining energy after two unplanned days of Doah at home!

How that came about is a long story. Here is the synopsis, as I related on FaceBook:

Sunday evening FB:
It's going to be a long night. Doah is staying over. AFTER we got home, he announced that tomorrow, which he will be taking off from work, is his last day at that job, and he wants to say good-bye. We have one car; that one is taking me to work in the morning in the opposite direction of Doah's work. Then, a half hour later, he announced that his cat allergy had kicked into high gear. We have one air filter -- I just moved it into the guest room for him, with fingers crossed it will do the trick. Then he announced that he was too tired to sleep (gotta think about that one..) and came into the living room, announcing after a few minutes that he was too bored not to sleep and meandered back to the bedroom. (I am going to go pull him out of there in a minute and take him for a LONG walk!) I kinda remember now what it was like having an adult Doah at home full time. As I said, it will be a LONG night. (Did we have more energy or more patience 10 years ago? Or, maybe more entertaining toys since clearly we are not considered entertaining!) Well, where it all ends is . . . Halloween -- the purpose of bringing him home for a day. (That is TOO LONG a story to even start here, so just take it on faith that this was the only way to make Halloween happen this year.) Now, I am feeling too tired to sleep... (just kidding -- off for that walk...)

We did take that walk! And it helped Doah to sleep as late as 5:00 The story continues below.
Monday evening FB:
We survived Doah's visit -- well, mostly. Doah was up at 5 a.m., asking if it was time to get up for the day. No, Doah, not really. Then, again at 6:00, which got a positive answer since I had to get up for work. Then, Donnie called me twice at work -- Doah'd out the first time; needed Doah, who wanted to take an unaccompanied stroll about town, reined in the second. I ended up leaving work an hour early to rescue my husband from my son. Took Doah to the USPO and store for milk. Hey, it's diverting. Coming home, the sheriff had stopped his car in the left lane on Fifth Street and rolled down his window, waiting for us. Wondering why, I drove up to him and rolled down my window. He leaned over, looked at Doah, and said, "Hi, pal. How you doing?" Yep, everyone knows Doah! After that, Doah and I went to All Saints' Mass at the mission. More diversion. Then it was Halloween time. I decided to take Doah only to homes of people we know. The first person was out. The second one was out. The third one was out. Not scoring very well initially. Then, we dropped by the convent, where, because the convent is behind the parish office, few people realize that they can walk back in there for trick-or-treat. So, Doah was the first (and perhaps the only). We went into the living room, where the nuns had quite a store of candy and homemade treats. We tasted everything and talked for about ten minutes. Before leaving, we took pictures of everyone with Sr. D's camera. (Donnie tells me that where he grew up in Niagara Falls, this was typical behavior. Not so for where I grew up in northern New England.) Then Sr. M decided to come trick-or-treating with us. She knew more people, so we went to a bunch of fun houses. Along the way, our friend Silvia from Hollister drove by to drop her husband off at a meeting, then decided to join us for trick-or-treating. So, now we had gathered three adults to supervise one Doah. Yeah, that would be just about the right ratio! ;) Meanwhile, Donnie held down the fort at home -- in vain; no one wanted to trek our hill for a little Halloween candy. So day finally over, Donnie drove Doah and our leftover candy back to Hollister, and I curled with my cat Murjan at my feet. (Make that, puppy dog Murjan -- he insists on having his belly rubbed and likes to lick my face -- not much like a cat at all.) No sooner had we settled in than the doorbell rang -- a bunch of trick-or-treaters had traipsed our hill, but now I had no candy! All in all, though, it was a diverting day, from which we are definitely going to need tomorrow to recover.
Happy (belated) Halloween!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

A Great Beginning

On the way to work last Friday morning, I stopped off at the local 7-11 store to pick up some flowers for employees to celebrate their recent accomplishment. As I was looking at the flowers, I saw a mother and her young son (perhaps age 7) walking out of the store and overheard their conversation.

Son: "I really don't like this breakfast sandwich."
Mother: "I know you don't, but it was the cheapest one, and you need something."
Son: "OK. I really wanted the other one."
Mother: "The other one costs 71 cents more, and I only have another quarter."
Son: "It's okay, Mom. I can eat this one."

The store owner/manager overheard the conversation, too, and called out to the couple, "Ma'am, please come back. I will sell you the other sandwich for 25 cents."

The mother and son came back. The exchange was made, with smiles all around. Then, saying good-bye, the mother and son left the store.

As the door swung shut, the little boy put his foot in it, turning around, and called out to the owner/manager in a loud voice, "THANK YOU!"

I think everyone in the store that morning experienced a great beginning to their day.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Believer in Waiting

My second spiritual book is out! The title, as you can see, is A Believer-in-Waiting's First Encounters with God. I will try to post some excerpts here from time to time. (Actually, I have already posted some excerpts from the draft on my Modern Mysticism blog.) The first set of books will be going to reviewers who signed up with Library Thing, but I notice that Amazon has been quick off the start and already has it available for ordering. I hope that anyone who reads either the book or the excerpts will enjoy reading them as much as I enjoyed writing them. It was one of those books that seems to write itself. I do hope to have copies of my own in about a week, at which time I will host a book coming out party for local friends who read the prepublication manuscript and provided feedback. If you read it, I would love to hear your feedback!!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Think Challenge, Not Impossibility

Once again, I have posted a "musing" to Mahlou Musings that seems to fit here in the clan space as well. So, here is that thought -- it comes from my 2003 book of vignettes.

"Where there's a will, there's a way" is the line written under the picture of a mouse pulling an elephant up a hill. That picture has hung on my wall for a very long time. My friend and former roommate, Katie, gave it to me years ago because she thought it exemplified my attitude toward life. She's right. It does.

When my daughter, Noelle, was very small, she would occasionally say, "I can't." That, to me, was not the appropriate response to a difficult situation even though she was paraplegic and coping with a few other problems, such as epilepsy and hydrocephalus (water on the brain).

"No," I would tell her. "Can't is not the word you are searching for. You want the word, how, and the question, how can this be done? Think challenge, not impossibility. Where there's a will, there's a way."

As a young child, she learned this lesson very quickly, perhaps partly because it fits her own instinctive philosophy of life. Slides of preschool Noelle feeding the cows on her grandmother's farm, slopping the pigs, riding the tractor with her Uncle Will, and swinging on gliders with her very young aunts, Sharon and Victoria, were used in a multi-conference presentation by her neurosurgeon on the topic, "What Spina Bifida Children Can Do."

Noelle was lucky. She met other people who thought challenge, not impossibility. When she wanted to learn to roller skate because her kindergarten class went roller skating once a week at the next-door roller rink, Andi Kush, her physical therapist, did not say, "Paraplegic children cannot roller skate."

She said instead, "Well, we have to figure out a way to do it safely. Crutches and roller skates are not compatible." She recommended a walker with rollers on the front and rubber tips on the back, and that worked just fine.

The guard at the roller rink also thought that a mouse could pull an elephant up a hill. When Noelle became discouraged from multiple falls, he did not say, "Roller skating with braces and a walker is probably too hard; don't worry about it."

Instead, he come up to her outside the rink and sat down beside her. "I've been watching you," he said. "If you keep up that hard work, one day you'll be a champion."

Reinvigorated, Noelle pulled herself back up from the bench. Pushing her walker ahead of her, she skated back into the rink.

Many students who might have failed have graduated from programs I have directed because teachers thought challenge, not impossibility. "Can't is a word that I don't understand," I would tell any who claimed that a student could not learn and needed to be disenrolled. "Figure out how the student learns and teach him or her that way."

Figuring out how students learn has led to drastically reduced attrition rates in my educational programs. That attitude led to the graduation of proud students who might otherwise have left or been disenrolled and demoralized. What the teachers and I learned in that process has led to articles, book chapters, and books, sharing that information with colleagues around the world. It has also led to my conducting seminars on that topic in many countries, often team-teaching with some of those teachers who made the discoveries with me years ago.

The most recent example was with Doah a decade ago. Due to his mental retardation and very low IQ, our local public schools refused to teach him to read anything but highly functional words, such as exit and toilet. Teachers and administrators told me routinely that reading was an inappropriate goal for him. After he graduated from high school, he began regular tutoring sessions with a former elementary school teacher, Julie, who had a different attitude. As a result, he began to read real books, ultimately writing one with my help that was featured by the press at the National Book Exhibit in Los Angeles in 2003, where he spent some time as an author, signing books for visitors.

"After I gave up trying to teach him the standard way and my way," Julie told me, "I paid attention to how he learns, and I began to teach him his way. That worked." Of course, it worked. It worked because she was thinking how, not can't. It worked because she was thinking challenge, not impossibility.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

On Feeling Rich

I woke up this morning, feeling like a princess. I had a sheet underneath me, a sheet over me, a blanket on top of that, and then, riches of all riches, a fluffy bedspread to snuggle into. Ever since purchasing a new bed in early July and moving our old bed into the empty bedroom for Doah and guests, we have had only a blanket on top.

I have hankered after a bedspread not because it is the commonly accepted way to finish a bed -- everyone knows I am eccentric, anyway, so having a blanket was sufficient in many respects: warmth, covering, etc. No, I just wanted a bedspread the way children want a ball or candy or something special. For me, the bedspread was special.

Certainly, with my income I can afford a bedspread. But there is an odd thing about my income: it disappears rather quickly. (I suppose I am not unique in that way.) First, there is Shane who needs $300 a month for special milk for Nikolina who is missing most of her intestines. Then there is Lizzie and her cat, who seems to need surgery periodically. Then Doah and Noelle, who needed scads of money to pay for medical expenses as children but need little these days, are always happy to have a small gift. And that's family. After that, there is Sula, the parish cat, who needs surgery -- I promised God's credit card in support of that cost. And the mission and the retreat center and other charities. And, the most fun of all, nearly every day someone who happens into my life who needs the money more than I do. After all, I need little and, surprisingly, I find myself post-conversion wanting little. I enjoy sprinkling my income around in this way, but somehow it did not leave any extra for a bedspread the past two months.

Until I got my recent travel reimbursement and per diem and found that I had spent considerably less on eating than my office thought I should have. Yippee! Bedspread money!

There is something special about waiting. There is something special about wanting. Instant gratification does not compare with the richness of want deferred or potential want gratification given away to someone else.

Yes, I feel rich with my new bedspread. However, I feel even richer each time I am able to take money from my pocket and give it to someone who needs it more.

(Also posted on 100th Lamb.)

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Laughter in the Midst of Stress

Here is another vignette from my 2003 book of vignettes that I posed on Mahlou Musings today and thought might be interesting to readers of Clan of Mahlou since it provides some insights into the days when the kids were small -- and life was far more stressful than it is now. Now I know that survival is possible, but there were times back then when, sandwiched between the pleasant times, the fun, and the games, there was such inordinate stress -- especially the two times that Noelle experienced clinical death and the five times that Doah did -- when I felt pretty much like the image looks!

Raising two multiple-handicapped children certainly had its moments of stress. At times, it has been very natural to wish for a traditional family and "normal" (if one can define "normal") children. That was not to be, of course. Dealing with problem situations humorously has been the easiest way to ease the stress.

Whenever I would have trouble finding the humor in a situation, I would think of the experience of my friend, Susan (not her real name), and her consultation with a very wise psychiatrist. Remember his words always brought forth laughter -- for both of us.

Susan was in an even worse situation than I was. At one point, her daughter had been diagnosed with childhood diabetes -- a false alarm -- and her son had a very real, very rare, and very life-threatening immune system deficiency (previously colloquially referred to as "bubble baby" syndrome) that required daily doctor visits for years. Yet, she continued to work, and together with her husband, they managed all their problems.

Then, her husband developed cancer. The local Pittsburgh doctors could not help. They gave her husband six months to live. Susan decided to take him to an oncologist in Philadelphia. Taking their children with them, they locked up their home and left, not knowing when they would return. The oncologist in Philadelphia was quite talented, and after several weeks of treatment, it appeared that Susan's husband might have a shot at a somewhat longer life than previously predicted. Although months of cancer treatment would still be needed, further treatment could be carried out at home in Pittsburgh.

With some relief but also with some continuing concerns, Susan, her husband, and children returned home. There they found that someone had broken into their house, and nearly everything they owned was gone. When and how it had happened, no one seemed to know.

Considering this the final straw, Susan did some research to determine who was considered the best psychologist in the area. She made an urgent appointment with him.

The next day she found herself in the psychiatrist's office, explaining her situation. With no deliberation, he looked at her and said, "I don't know how to help you, and I'm not going to charge you. If I were in your shoes, I would go out and have myself a well earned nervous breakdown."

Whether or not his words were meant to be a joke does not matter. She took them that way and had a very long laugh. Whenever life's complications seemed overwhelming, she thought about that well earned nervous breakdown to which she had a right, would decide not to exercise her right at the moment, and the stress would sneak away.

She shared this experience with me. When the stress of raising several "special" children threatened to overwhelm, I, too, would think about the well earned nervous breakdown which I had the right to choose or not choose, and I each time I chose the laughter.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Shane, Lemony, and Ocean Animals

Years ago, when Shane and Lemony were dating and then in the early years of their marriage, until Lemony became pregnant with Nathaniel, the two of them worked on a team of swimmers in Monterey, attached to the Monterey Bay Aquarium and the Sausalito Mammal Center, who rescued sick and beach sea mammals. Those that could be saved locally were delivered to the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Typically, these were the smaller animals who were lightly wounded or simply sick, such as sea otters. The more seriously ill mammals were taken all the way to Sausalito, a drive of nearly three hours.

From the time he received his license at age 16, Shane was the driver of choice for the trips to Sausalito even though technically he should have been 21 before being given this responsibility. Nearly always, he would stop in Salts at our house, which was near the beginning of the trek up Route 101 to San Francisco. I would always make him a meal, and while he was eating, I would be be treated to an up close and personal meeting with the rescued animal in the back of the transport truck. I have met at touching distance (although I knew better than to touch) walruses, sea lions, seals, and a host of other interesting animals that one never sees at such close range. After delivering his special charge, Shane would nearly always follow up on the animal's progress until it was released back into the open sea.

Unfortunately, Lemony was not allowed to do sea rescue while pregnant. She did go back to it for a short while when Nathaniel grew a little older, but after the birth of Nikolina, for whom there are no qualified babysitters, the days of animal rescue were in the past. From that point on, Shane and Lemony spent a few days a month nearly every month at the Aquarium with Nathaniel and Nikolina, who love the animals. They are all members of the Aquarium and can come and go whenever they wish.

That is about to come to an end, however. Shane has just been transferred (by request for financial reasons) to Sacramento. Lemony, kids, and Shane will be here only one more month. Talking to Lemony today, she related a list of the many things that must be accomplished before they can leave town (things like packing, weeding out possessions, getting medical and school records -- and visiting the Aquarium). I sensed that the Aquarium is going to be near the top of the list of things that they will miss.

I hope that they will find an inland way of helping God's other critters. There is certainly a different world of animals awaiting young Nathaniel and Nikolina in our amazing world that differs so immensely from place to place. Right now, they are feeling a sense of loss; perhaps soon they will feel a sense of gain.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Taking a Broader Perspective

Another shared post -- this one from Mahlou Musings where, among other things, I post excerpts from a book of vignettes that I published in 2003. Since the post included both Noelle and Shura, whose stories are part of the life of the clan of Mahlou, I thought it made some sense to double-post in this case.

Far too often, we consider the impact of the moment only. How things affect us right now tends to be more important than how they fit into the bigger scheme of things. In fact, when one is irritated, angry, disappointed, or threatened, it is very difficult to see the larger picture. Yet, that is precisely when it is most important to keep things in perspective.

My younger daughter, Noelle, copes with spina bifida, a neurological defect that, among other things, has left her with full paralysis below the waist. However, she has nearly always kept matters in perspective. Taking a broad perspective has allowed her to lead a fairly normal life -- attend local schools, go to college, work part-time, play (including roller-skating), and the like. In fact, her ability to take a broader view of things has at times quite surprised the medical profession.

A few years ago, she was sitting in a wheelchair, not paying much attention to her feet. First, she was not used to a wheelchair, having used long-leg braces for ambulation up until that time, and second, she does not feel her feet. As a result, when she accidentally caught her small toe in the spokes of the chair's wheel, she did not notice and ended up tearing the toe nearly off. Amputation was the only resolution of the problem.

Clearly, the doctor who amputated felt sorry for Noelle and wanted to help her through her feelings of loss. However, Noelle had no feelings of loss.

"Are you missing your toe?" asked the doctor. What she meant to ask was whether Noelle was feeling bad that the toe had to be amputated.

Noelle, already looking at the situation from the broader perspective, took the doctor's words literally. "Yep," she replied. "It's all gone."

Somewhat taken aback, the doctor clarified. "No, I meant, do you miss having a toe there?"

To that Noelle replied, "I have never felt that toe. How can I miss something I never knew I had?"

I learned the lesson of acting within a broad perspective even more dramatically from Dr. John Blanco, an orthopedic surgeon at the University of Virginia Hospital (referred to in some of my writings, those that are pseudonymized, as Virginia State Hospital). At the time, I was the American guardian for Shura Ivanovich, who illustrated my vignettes book. I had brought him to the United States from Siberia, where he was not being adequately treated for spina bifida. Like my daughter's, his legs were also paralyzed but not as extensively. He was able to ambulate with crutches alone. However, as a result of inadequate care, both of his legs had become gangrenous, and the flesh on his feet had been eaten away.

Bringing Shura to the United States took nearly a year. The American Embassy in Moscow required incredible amounts of paperwork -- notes from the doctors in Siberia and notes and faxes from American doctors. Even then, the visa was denied, and I went to Moscow personally to intercede. Some of the embassy personnel were former students of mine, and they vouched for my sincerity and honesty to the consular officers. Finally, we had the visa, but Shura's condition had worsened. He was in the hospital. It took another couple of months before he was stable enough to move, during which time the gangrene worsened.

Once in the United States, Shura's first need was orthopedic care, which Dr. Blanco donated. What was needed was unfortunately very clear: a double amputation. The gangrene by then had taken over both legs, requiring amputation at the knee for one leg and amputation at the calf for the other. Shura took it in stride and readily gave permission. I, however, was devastated. I had to know the impact of the delay in getting the visa on the need for amputation.

"Could you have saved Shura's legs if we had brought him here a year earlier?" I asked. I thought I knew the answer. However, Dr. Blanco understood what was behind the question and gave me both an honest answer and a broader perspective.

"Perhaps I could have saved one of the legs," he replied. "The other leg was probably in poor shape even a year ago although I might have been able to save more of it. The important thing, however, is not whether getting him here earlier would have saved his legs. Rather, getting him here now saved his life."

A leg or a life -- that is a rather vivid way to describe what a broader perspective means.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Monday Morning Meditation #89: Pride of Your Children

I don't believe I have ever posted a Monday Morning Meditation on this blog site before, reserving them for my 100th Lamb blog. However, I could not resist since the verse that came up this week was about children, grandchildren, and family relationships. So, I decided to share -- after I was able to get onto the Internet, that is, making it a Monday "afternoon" meditation. I flew all night from West Coast to East Coast and managed to check into a hotel early, but somehow the Internet has been uncooperative most of the morning. All is well that ends well, as that great poet once said, so now I can provide you with what I posted on 100th Lamb.

During this week, I continued to read further in the book of Proverbs. I continue to enjoy the reading very much, and I continue to find much worthy of attention. I did not get very far, though -- just into the next chapter -- before I found something that really touched the core of my being as a parent. Take a look and see what you think about this verse (17:6):
Children’s children are a crown to the aged,
and parents are the pride of their children.
Reading:Proverbs 17:6.

Meditation: Let me start with grandkids. Anyone who has grandchildren knows just how special they are. The relationship is different from the relationship with one's own children but equally bonding. I remember a friend telling me when my daughter-in-law was pregnant with our first grandchild that she loved being a grandparent because you were not 100% responsible for the grandkids; you can send them home when you are worn out. I found out something different, though. I love being a grandparent because it is heartwarming watching my son, Shane (the only producer of grandchildren for us to date), be a good parent!

Now, for the second part of that verse, about parents being the pride of their children. It was interesting to see that side of things emerge over time as the children grew older. When they were younger, they always tried to protect me -- I think that had a lot to do with my ineptness in areas in which they were competent. Come to think of it, they still do it! (I must be really inept!) But the pride part came along a little later. Maybe because once you become a growingly older adult, you understand better what it is your parents did for you and in life in general and what they had to go through to make that all happen successfully.

Contemplation: That is far as I can go with you this Monday morning. I now retire to private prayer to thank God for my children and grandchildren, repenting for all the mistakes (scads) I made with them over the year and expressing gratitude for coming out of each mistake wiser and without scars. I will praise God for designing a creation that keeps renewing itself. I will ask God to watch over my children, helping them be good parents and successful (or at least, happy) adults, and my grandchildren, keeping them safe. Then I will move on to contemplation, my favorite part of the day, letting God take over the direction in which my relationship with Him moves.

I will leave you now to your prayer and contemplation. First, though, I would like to bring to your attention a Monday morning prayer post that you might enjoy:

Fr. Austin Fleming, priest of the Archdiocese of Boston and pastor in Concord, Massachusetts, posts a prayer each Monday morning that he calls "Monday Morning Offering." I enjoy his prayers very much. I think you also will find them inspirational. He has graciously given me permission to include a link to his blog on my Monday Morning Meditation posts. (During the week, he also posts great homilies and other thoughtful discussions. I enjoy reading those, too, as do readers of this blog who have taken the stroll over to his blog.)

For additional inspiration throughout the week, I would point out two sets of blogs: (1) the list of devotional blogs on my sidebar and (2) my blogroll, where I am following a number of inspirational priests and writers about spiritual matters. I learn so very much from all these people. I highly recommend them to you.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Bear Witness to the Light

One of the blogs on my blogroll has disappeared. Well, disappeared may be the wrong word. The blog is still there, but no posts have been posted in nearly two months. Fr. John Sullivan, Springfield, Massachusetts, posted regularly on his blog, Bear Witness to the Light. He was a kindly priest as I found out in his responses to my occasional comments. After a full month of seeing nothing posted, I became concerned. It did not seem that someone who had posted regularly for seven years would close down a blog without a word. One would expect to at least a final, good-bye post, but Fr. John's last blog was simply a routine post in keeping with his other posts. Something seemed wrong. No matter how I added two and two, I was not getting close to four.

So, I did a little research. After all, in a former life (uh, career), I was a pretty good academic. Therefore, I know how to research. So, off I went in search of one missing priest. And I found him, well, sort of. It turns out that Fr. John was injured by the tornado that flattened Springfield in June. He suffered a separated shoulder and broken leg and required surgery. He will be in a rehabilitation facility for a while.

In addition, St. Michael's Retired Priest Residence, where Fr. John was living, was damaged by the tornado. In fact, a good part of it was reduced to rubble. So, even when Fr. John is released to another residence, there is a likelihood that he will not have a computer for a while. (Of course, this is quite secondary to his health.)

I also tracked down an address where cards can be sent:

Fr. John Sullivan
St Michaels Cathedral Rectory
86 Wendover Rd
Springfield, MA 01118

So, if you happen to also be a reader of Fr. John's blog, you might want to send a card to him! I am going to try to send this information to all his followers -- if I can track down there email addresses. I ask you to pass along the information to any of his blog followers you might know.

Whether or not you know Fr. John, have interacted with him in the blogosphere or not, I would ask you to pray for him. I am sure he can use our prayers!

posted on all Mahlou blogs

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Doah Has a Bed

Doah comes to visit us each weekend. Generally, he comes on Saturday, and we take him back to his nearby group home one town away so that he can sleep overnight. From time to time, in spite of his allergies to cats, of which we have three, he has expressed the desire to stay overnight. Until now, though, we have not had a bed for him to sleep in. He has used a tent and sleeping bag and slept under the stars -- that actually has worked well for avoiding cat fur. Once we moved into our new house last February, he developed great hopes of being able to use our new guest room. However, until two days ago, all we have had in it is a table and a window with a great view overlooking the town and valley, like all the other windows in the house.

Then, we got a new bed for Donnie and me because Donnie now needs something more like a hospital bed to deal with his sleep apnea and gout. The movers carried our bed into the guest room. The room is still quite sparse, but at least it has a bed. When Doah came for his Saturday visit, I told him to open the guest room door (we keep it closed to keep the cat fur off the carpet -- the only carpeted room we have). He shot out into the living room with the comment, "I stay tonight? I no be 'lergic to cats no more." With the cats off-limits to that room, he may be able to sleep there. So, we have some new kinds of overnight adventures to look forward to!

Amazing, isn't it, how it is the littlest things in life that bring us the greatest pleasure?

Saturday, July 23, 2011

What to Do about Noelle?

Noelle, maybe not unlike many people, has moments of sheer brilliance, where she has overcome all kinds of odds to do things that most handicapped individuals don't dare consider, such as learning to roller-skate with chest-high braces and a walker as a child, and moments of sheer stupidity, where any logic behind decision-making is tidal-waved away by a churning sea of emotion. A call last night from Molly, her part-time caregiver, who helps her with laundry and housecleaning a couple of times a week, revealed the latest maelstrom. Noelle is about to be evicted from her low-cost, handicapped apartment, to which information she has reacted in aggressive and self-destructive obliviousness. "Won't happen," she told Molly. "And don't tell my parents; they will try to do something about it, and I plan to wait it out."

Here is the back story. After Ray died and then Noelle's cat, Prince Shadow, mysteriously died at a young age, Noelle was alone. She would not admit to being lonely, but then Noelle never admits to anything she thinks will make her look weak -- and as an extrovert par excellence, being lonely would certainly seem like a weakness. Nonetheless, she clearly was lonely. She had given up everything -- school, potential career -- to be home with Ray, who, for more than four years, spent the last days of his life in and out of comas and hospitalized in one venue or another. Although we suggested to Noelle that she could now return to school, finish the college degree that she had started years ago, and find a career for herself, Noelle was not ready to make such a drastic lifestyle change.

Before she could develop any readiness for moving on, along came Dreamee, a friend of a friend. Dreamee floats through life on other people's clouds. We do not know if she has any relatives, but we have heard that she has a godmother somewhere in the area. She does not talk about her past or even her present. She clearly has some disabilities -- she is very tiny for an adult in her thirties, her teeth are in bad order (but that could be from not taking care of them), and her face has a haunted look to it (but perhaps that comes from chain smoking). Dreamee and Noelle developed some immediate rapport, and Dreamee within days had moved in with Noelle. She pays no rent and does not help out in any way that we can see. Molly says that she now does Dreamee's laundry, too. I suppose none of that is any of our business, except that Noelle has in the past been used by people who learn that she is so good-natured and selfless that she will give away her last dime if someone else says he or she needs it. (In fact, we found out a while back that she was giving away every penny left over after paying bills every month, literally amounting to hundreds of dollars, to a "friend." It took us almost two years to convince her that a "friend" does not show up at your door right before payday, asking how much money you still have from the previous payday and demanding to have all of it because she is in tremendous need of it.) Now, there is Dreamee, who is, in essence, freeloading, but were we to use that world, Noelle would be terribly offended.

The matter has come to a head, though, because Noelle is in Section 8 housing, which is all she can afford, and the landlord has learned that Dreamee is living there, too, in a one-bedroom apartment. The landlord has sent a letter, demanding that Dreamee leave immediately or Noelle will be evicted. (Molly has seen the letter and is going to get a copy to me.) Noelle has told Molly that she has no intention of responding to the letter -- and certainly she has no intention of asking Dreamee to move out. So, something will come to a more frightening end here very soon if Noelle does not pull her head out of the sand.

The more complicated part of the matter is that Noelle has told us nothing. She acts like life is all hunky dory. Molly does not want us to let Noelle know that we know. She is afraid that Noelle will not only be angry at her but also fire her as her caregiver. That would be truly bad -- but within the realm of Noelle's more illogical responses to situations she does not like -- for finding another caregiver like Molly, who really becomes involved and tries to help, would be difficult.

The core of the situation seems to be Dreamee's hold over Noelle, who, at times, has told Molly that she really does not want Dreamee living with her but that Dreamee insists. Then, after Molly has left, Dreamee seems to take over and when Molly returns, Noelle contends that she does not want Dreamee to leave and Molly must have misunderstood. Clearly, the situation is driving Molly nuts, but more than that, Molly is genuinely concerned about Noelle's welfare.

So, what to do about Noelle? She does not want us to know, but we do know -- and I would rather do something now and not after she has ended up on the street. How to help her keep her independence while wanting to help out? How to break up a destructive relationship without appearing destructive ourselves?

Moreover, Noelle's dilemma has appeared during a moment of depleted resources for us, having just forked over more than $2000 last week to Lizzie for cat surgery and helping out Shane to the tune of $600 or more each month since he is still coping with a lowered salary from having been fired when Nikolina's $2 million hospital bill was too much for the insurance company at his place of employment to handle (the company refused to provide policies on any employees unless Shane was removed from the group).

Has anyone seen a similar situation? Any ideas for a creative and supportive resolution?

Saturday, July 2, 2011


One of my young, senior managers came into my office on Thursday and told me that he wanted to let me know before I heard from another source that he and his wife were getting divorced after quite a number of years of marriage -- well, at least a dozen since they have two children in the upper grades of elementary school. I immediately felt guilty because I have sent him out of town at least twice a month for the past two years: he oversees ten of our non-local branches. At one point, I had asked him how this was affecting his family, and he said that they understood and there was no problem. Now, I wonder if his traveling schedule had been a problem.

I asked him again on Thursday, but he said again that it was other matters, not the travel, that were a problem. I know his wife and children well. They are a very nice family and seemed supportive of each other. I suppose the inside of a house looks different from the inside of a home. He says he wants to drop by my house some day this month and talk to me at length about the situation. Of course, I will listen and try to be supportive. I am not sure I will understand, but I will try.

When these things happen, they cause me to reflect on my own situation. Donnie and I just celebrated our 41st anniversary, but it has not been easy. If either of us were focused exclusively on our own happiness (the orientation that some psychologists today seem to encouraging), I don't think we would have made it this far, especially since we are so very different one from another.

Many people were surprised when we married and made the assumption that the marriage would not last -- all except for a professor of sociology of a course that a friend of ours was taking when we were into our third year of marriage. The friend interviewed us for his course as a study of a married couple, and he came to the conclusion that although we clearly loved each other, we were too different one from another for the marriage to last. He showed us the comment his professor wrote on his report: "It will last if they want it to." Clearly, we have wanted it to last and still want it to last for all kinds of reasons.

Since my employee has thrown me into a reflective mood, let me do what I do when I am reflecting: make some lists. The first list would be the ways in which we differ; the second why we want it to last; the third why it has lasted. So, here goes:

List #1: How we differ
1. Donnie is a scientist and artist (graphic arts, photography); I am a humanist and linguist.
2. Donnie is big (rotund and significantly taller than I), and I am small (could lose a few pounds, but not a lot, and could add a few inches since I would like to be able to sit in a chair and have my feet touch the floor at the same time).
3. Donnie comes from the upper middle class, and I come from a farm where the poverty line was something all the families in our farming community ogled in anticipation of some day making enough money to at least be sitting on the poverty line, not swinging from it.
4. Donnie went to an in-school university; I went to an out-of-state university (but it was the same uni, at least); similarly, the only time Donnie has been out of the USA was the two years we lived in Jordan, whereas I have lived and worked in 24 countries (while Donnie kept the home fires stoked).
5. Donnie loves outdoor leisure activities, like backpacking, kayaking, and fishing; I love indoor leisure activities like reading, writing, and taming little wild animals (i.e. feral cats).
6. Donnie was a doctors-and-teachers-know-best parent; I was a discuss-it-with-me-and-consider-my-input-or-I-won't-listen parent.
7. Personality-wise, Donnie is an ISTP (introvert, senser -- grounded in reality and actuality, thinker, perceiver -- keep all options open until the last minute and schedules flexible); I am an ENTJ (extrovert, intuiter -- floating in the realm of possibility and dreams, thinker, judger -- devoted to the production and following of schedules, planning, and deadlines).
8. If an expert tells Donnie that something is too dangerous, highly risky, and should not be attempted, and he stands back (i.e. he is risk-averse); tell me the same thing and I rush to try it to see if I can overcome the odds (i.e. I am a risk-taker par excellence; hence, the willingness to travel the world alone).
9. Donnie speaks only English and while he tolerates my friends who do not speak English, he has been unable to learn another language except for a few necessary phrases in Arabic while living in Jordan; I have studied 18 languages and easily communicate in a good many of them.
10. He likes adventure movies and reality shows related to logging and whaling; I like chick flix and spiritual movies.

List #2: Why we want it to last
1. We took an oath of "until death do us part"; that meant something -- and we are not yet dead.
2. We have children; they are now becoming spouses and parents; they need to see that marriage can last; they need an example.
3. We have children; they need a sense of stability; parents who stay married (at least, amicably married) provide that sense of stability.
4. We have grandchildren; they need the same sense of stability, and grandparents are part of the equation.
5. And we have not yet lost the love that brought us together although it has taken a different shape over time; we want to be with each other.

List #3: Why it has lasted
1. We have wanted it to last; while sometimes it seemed easier to each go our own way, neither has put our own happiness and desires above family needs;
2. By going through a lot of travail together and not taking divorce as the easy way out, we have become intertwined, imprinted on each other; we are perhaps now more like family than lovers, but whatever the nature of the love, it keeps us bonded.
3. We learned to accept each others' interests; I learned to fish, kayak, and backpack. Donnie, of course, was always able to read and write, but there was a time early one when we worked together on photojournalism activities, he as a photographer and I as a writer, publishing some things in local and national publications; more recently, he has turned to graphic arts and we run a publishing house together (he does the graphics, cover design, and typesetting, and I do the copyediting in my, hah!, "free", time).
4. We valued each others' differences and allowed each other to explore his/her interests, develop his/her talents, follow his/her own career path -- and provided support (not always perfectly, but the desire to support was always there) to each other along the way.
4. We raised children who clinically died from time to time, and that created a tremendous family bond. I thank God for trusting us with these children. I also thank God for giving us these experiences because these experiences taught us, shaped us, and bonded us.

Maybe there is something to be learned from these lists. I don't know if there is anything helpful for others, including my employee (will have to see what he has to say when he drops by), but it has been revealing for me to stand aside an look at our situation from the outside (as much as I can do that). I think the bottom line is clear: we have wanted it to last, so we have worked through the difficult times and the differences from the point of view that we are family first and last.

Now, what would be interesting would be to have Lizzie, our little professor of psychology and oldest daughter, write a post on why she thinks the marriage has lasted.

What about you? Comments?

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Weeping Icon

In an earlier blog post on Clan of Mahlou (From Siberia to the California Coast Flew Wunderkind Shura.), I related the story of Shura, a dying child artist from Siberia, who came to stay with us in order to save his life, a story crammed with miracles.

Shura's story took many twists and turns. However, we did erroneously think that the story was over when he survived all his surgeries and especially when a couple of years ago he returned to Russia. One of the key players in this story had been Max, the INS supervisor who helped us tremendously when it came to visa problems. We met Max when he coincidentally stopped by St. John's Orthodox Church in Washington DC when the priest included a moleibin (prayer service before surgery) for Shura during a feast day observation on a Tuesday evening when Max felt the need to attend Mass after work, the only time he had been at St. John's in a year because he had moved to Baltimore a year earlier and attended Mass there (and, as it turned out, he never returned after that evening, choosing to continue at his own church in Baltimore). Shura's story was not over because we did not know Max's story until barely a year ago. And so I add here -- and in my second book -- the fuller story of Max.


Just when we thought we had completed the puzzle, the picture expanded. A few months after Shura returned to Russia, Nadezhda Long called me from Washington. She had been reading a newly published book and wanted to share a story from it with me.

“Beth, you are simply not going to believe this,” she bubbled over the phone. I wondered what could be so exciting that it caused her words to tumble out at a speed requiring concentrated listening. I was about to find out.

“Remember Max?” she asked.

Remember Max? Without Max, Shura would have long ago been shipped back to Russia, before his health had stabilized. Without Max, Shura might even be dead now. And, of course, who could not forget the oddity that Shura’s unannounced moleibin was the only Mass at St. John’s that Max had visited in the year since he had moved to Baltimore and, in fact, was the last Mass he ever attended at St. John’s. I mentioned all this to Nadezhda, commenting that his appearance that evening seemed nothing short of miraculous.

She cut me off. “Oh, we did not know but a small part of the significance of Max being there that night!” she exclaimed. Now she had my attention!

“Max is a convert to Orthodoxy from atheism, and his story is included in this book about a special icon.” Instantly, I liked Max even more. His story paralleled mine—but it did not. What Nadezhda then related to me left me without words.

“Years ago,” she said, “an icon that wept oil with healing powers was brought from Europe to the United States, where it was presented at a number of Orthodox congregations. Among these congregations was our church, St. John’s, and among the congregation was a blind boy, who had lost his eyesight to disease. When doctors could not help, his parents brought him to the icon in an attempt to try anything to help their child. When the icon passed by the boy, it began to weep oil. The priest placed the oil from the icon on the boy’s eyes, and the boy saw. From that day on, he was no longer blind. And from that day on, his parents, Max and his wife, having converted from atheism to Orthodoxy on the spot, have been devout worshippers.”

If there had been no icon miracle ten years before Shura was born, there could have been no miraculous appearance of Max on the night of Shura’s moleibin. When Nadezhda relayed the story to me, I had no words with which to respond. I still have none.


excerpted from my forthcoming book, A Believer in Waiting's First Encounters with God

also posted on Modern Mysticism

Monday, June 20, 2011

Our Amazing Modern World

During the days of the Cold War, when my oldest daughter Lizzie (for some insights into Lizzie, see Lessons from Mom) and I were traveling and living in Russia (see Back in the USSR), we would always say goodbye to friends when we left, realizing that the likelihood of seeing them again was slim, of keeping in contact by writing difficult, and of seeing them in the United States totally impossible. Likewise, a decade later, while living and working in Uzbekistan, I stayed with an elderly teacher by the name of Lida. She was the aunt of one of my colleagues, an immigrant from Moscow, and I became the conduit of information, money, and gifts between them. Both knew that they would never be able to see each other again, politics being what they were, and so I became a living link. Lida always referred to me as "rodnaya," which is a term that one uses with one's flesh-and-blood to demonstrate bonding and love.

It has been ten years since I last saw Lida. When politics became even worse between the USA and Uzbekistan, my consults for the Uzbekistan Ministry of Education dried up. I, too, became resigned to the fact that Lida was part of my history, no longer a part of my life.

Then, the wall fell, and the Soviet Union dissolved. Still, relations with Uzbekistan have remained poor.

Somehow, though, the thaw between the USA and the former Soviet countries in general has had a meliorating effect on tourist visas, and I learned two weeks ago that Lida had received a 3-month visa to visit her relatives in the USA. Today they showed up on my doorstep!

San Ignatio held its annual fiesta today, and I had clean-up duty. None of that deterred us, however. We all got together at the fiesta, enjoying the extraordinary experience of being together in one country, even in San Ignatio. We will, of course, get together again -- and again -- over the next three months in San Ignatio and in the nearby town where Lida's relatives live.

The weather was balmy with a slight breeze today. The sun shone upon us in all senses of that word. A perfect day! One that began with a big hug from Lida and the greeting to "rodnaya." One that ended, as well, with a big hug from Lida and the parting to "rodnaya."

What I learned this day (and have always known): one does not need to share blood to share blood! I also learned something that I have not always known: our modern world is amazing and marvelous. Whoever would have thought that Lida, who befriended me so kindly in Tashkent a decade ago, would be sitting on my sofa today!

(photos coming -- I did not have a camera with me, so will have to wait for those who did to share photos)

Saturday, May 28, 2011

No Words Needed

This picture was shared by a colleague (source unknown, or I would give credit). I posted it on 100th Lamb for the Spiritual Sunday series, and I thought that those who read this blog but not that one might enjoy the picture, too. As for comments, I would not know what words could be added that would do anything except detract from the picture. Enjoy!

Monday, May 23, 2011

House Blessing

I have been planning for some time to post some pictures of our house blessing a couple of weeks ago. Unfortunately, the only person who thought to took pictures had his camera on video. So, while I have a very nice recording of the ceremony, I do not have any stills. (Perhaps if I were more technologically astute, I could clip out some stills from the video, but I don't know how to do that if indeed it is possible.)

Lack of pictures aside, the blessing was beautiful. Padre (Fr.) Julio, about whom I have blogged from time to time, came up from San Diego, where he is currently assigned, and scooped up his brother, P. Mario, in Stockton and spent the day wi Donnie and me. We had lunch at a local restaurant that is a favorite of Padre's, then the blessing, and then P. Julio came to the catechism class I taught and talked to the kids (high school sophomores) about social justice, a particularly compelling topic for him since he founded a school and self-sustaining farm for children in a rural and impoverished area of Colombia (see his website, which Donnie and I designed, Por Amor a Los Ninos de Colombia -- there is a Spanish and an English version).

P. Julio tends to be very imaginative, and the way in which he conducted the blessing was very much in keeping with this tradition. He and P. Mario took turns reading Scripture and homilizing in English and Spanish. We also sang in English and Spanish -- most of the people in my community know both languages, and we were divided pretty much 50/50 among those whose first language was English and those whose first language was Spanish. Padre then blessed the house and the people at the blessing with holy water I had brought back from Jesus's baptismal site in the Jordan River, using a deep red rose that a friend brought for the housewarming/blessing.

About three dozen people filled our house, and I was glad that we had lots of open space so that everyone would fit. After the sprinkling of one and all, P. Julio asked each person to talk about our family, why they came to the blessing, what they wished for us, etc., etc. It was very touching. Then he asked me to say something about each there, which was not difficult, in spite of quite a variety among those who came -- neighbors, co-workers, family, parish members.

Afterward, we enjoyed a pot luck with an international flavor. We had chairs and tables set up outside, hoping the weather would cooperate. It did. The sun streamed down lightly all afternoon. One could tell that people were enjoying themselves and not just saying that to be polite.

The best part of our house blessing, at least for me, is that Padre Julio really enjoyed doing it. And he got a chance to see his brother, which, I understand, does not happen often. As far as my family is concerned, Padre Julio is a member of the clan of Mahlou, and when the clan gathers, there is much laughter and warmth. I had wondered whether it would be worth the effort to pull everyone together for such a brief event.

PS. We were able to find some stills among the video. So, below are pictures of the event:

(1) View from the window
(2) Padre Julio steps away from the blessing circle to gather holy water onto a rose.

(3) Padre Julio begins blessing the house with a rose.

(4) Padre Julio and Padre Mario in conversation after the blessing with Beth and a friend.

(5) Padre Julio in conversation with a fellow Colombian, the adopted daughter of one of our friends.

(6)The food.

(7) People eating inside.

(8) People eating outside.

(9) Donnie and one of our friends picking lemons afterward.

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