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.

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