short excerpts...other writings...upon occasion or as prompted...
The tiger in the water? A representation of my life -- spirit and environment!


Monday, November 30, 2009

Stand up! Speak up!

When help is needed, many people will often look the other way, hoping that someone else will step up. That was clear on one flight from Los Angeles to Frankfurt that went only as far as the beginning of the runway, then turned around, and came back. The pilot announced that the instruments showed nothing wrong with the plane but that he flew it regularly, did not like the way it felt, and was unwilling to pilot it. As we waited to disembark and be rescheduled on other flights, a nun stood up and asked in Italian if anyone spoke Italian. On that large plane headed to Europe, there must have been a number of speakers of Italian, but no one admitted to knowing the language. I stepped up and told her in broken Italian that I did not speak Italian but understood it to some extent and could speak some Spanish. She could understand (but not speak) Spanish, so we could communicate in an Italian-Spanish lingo.

She had a complicated route, with a final destination of Budapest, and it took nearly 30 minutes to reschedule her. By that time, the line for rescheduling was nearly gone. One group of about 15 people stood to the side, watching me interpret for the nun. As she walked away, new ticket in hand, one of the people in the group approached me and asked in Polish, "Do you happen to speak Polish or Russian?" I told him in Russian that I could understand a little Polish but that if he spoke Russian, we could easily communicate. Thus, I ended up interpreting for 15 more people.

As the ticket agents started to shut down the customer service counter, I objected, "What about my ticket?" I had the most complicated route of all the people on the plane: Los Angeles - Frankfurt - Moscow - Samara (on the Volga River).

"Oh," the senior agent replied. "We thought you worked for us."

My complicated ticket required nearly a half-hour conversation between the senior ticket agent and the international desk. When done, the ticket agent gave me my ticket, noting that it was for first class, courtesy of Delta Airlines, as a thank you for all the interpretation I had done.


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

Friday, November 27, 2009

Fly Away, Flu!

I may not be blogging for a couple of days. The flu, or what seems to be the flu, has moved in with us and has taken over my agenda -- well, almost. I am working from home. Let's see, that would really be: dozing, doing, dozing, doing...zzz...
I did manage to drag myself to the mission kitchen yesterday to clean the pots and pans from the town's Thanksgiving dinner. Donnie and I ate in a corner to avoid coming into contact with anyone else although he was not then ill, and no one but I wanted to scrub the pots and pans, so I was pretty much alone. (Fortunately, I was not feeling quite as bad yesterday as I am today.)
So, I have decided to take a long sleep break until the flu flies away! See you post-hibernation!

Friday, November 20, 2009

The Power of a Kind Bribe

I once desperately needed to have a document processed immediately by a bureaucrat in the organization where I worked. George (not his real name; he would probably not mind my sharing his name and this story, but he unfortunately died a few years ago) was particularly well known for his procrastination. However, if he were to procrastinate with my paperwork, I would lose several hundred dollars. Unfortunately, the lateness of the paperwork was my fault, not his. So, I really did need a favor from George, whom I did not know well and who was reputed to be slow.

After doing some quick thinking, I dashed to a flower shop, then approached George with a pretty purple, yellow, orange, and white bouquet, one that seemed suitable in color for the male of our species. I told him what I needed and why, explained how not getting a same-day turnaround on the papers would affect me, and asked if I could beg him for help with words or bribe him with flowers. He laughed and said that the flowers were an excellent bribe and that the paperwork would be ready in a couple of hours. It was.

The exchange of flowers for paperwork led to more than I had expected. When people saw the flowers on the desk of this introverted, even sometimes dour man, they were surprised and asked where they came from. That gave him something pleasant to talk about, and he seemed to enjoy the rare attention.

A few days later, I was working late and heard a knock on my door. It was George. He walked around the work premises early each evening as his daily constitutional. He had seen my light on and had decided to stop in -- after going to his nearby home to pick a rose from his garden and bring it with him to give to me. Thereafter, every Wednesday evening right before I got ready to leave, I would find him at my door with a rose, and I always stayed a few minutes longer to talk to him.

There was no personal relationship as such between us, just the Wednesday rose and talk -- and a goodnight hug. The bouquet that I had given him came back to me again and again for the remaining three years that I worked at that organization, and a bureaucrat whom I would otherwise have barely known became an ally.


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

Friday, November 13, 2009


I know that Mommy would not make a very good secretary because I have seen her typing. Actually, her typing is pretty good, but she makes mistakes sometimes that are very funny. Well, I think they are funny, but the people she types them for do not.

One of the words she has trouble with is public. She keeps forgetting to type the letter "l" into the word. For example, one time her book publisher called her at the last minute. The publisher was laughing, but she wanted Mommy to make a change real fast. Instead of "public events," Mommy had typed "pubic events."

Daddy knows what that mistake is like. Once Mommy typed his resume, and he distributed it all over Pittsburgh. He stopped sending it out, however, when he got a call from one potential employer. Mommy had typed that Daddy had "extensive experience in pubic relations." Daddy types his own resumes now.

One time Mommy applied for a grant to go to Siberia. She wanted Daddy and us to go with her. She typed that in the application.

When she was interviewed for the grant, one of the interviewers asked her, if she thought that Daddy should go to Russia with her, given his problem and the nature of Russian society. Mommy did not understand. The interviewer did not want to spell things out.

"Well, you know, the problem you mention in the application," he said.

Mommy still did not understand.

"Well, you know that in Russia people drink a lot more than in the United States," the interviewer explained. "So do you really think it is wise to take your husband, with his problem, with you?"

"What problem?" Mommy demanded to know. She was really confused.

"This one," the interviewer responded, He handed her application to her and pointed out what she had typed: "Souse and children will accompany me."

Daddy won't let Mommy type anything anymore. I think he made the right decision.

Conclusion: I know what to get Mommy for Christmas: typing lessons.

I thought it was about time for another of Doah's stories. This story is excerpted from a collection of vignettes that I helped Doah, my severely mentally challenged youngest son, to write and publish several years ago (copyright 2003). It was my attempt to help him understand literacy and the purpose of writing and reading.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Cyberspace Roulette

My cybermom sometimes relies too much on e-mail. Well, actually, it is not that she relies on it too much. It is that she trusts it. At least, she used to trust it. I think she has learned not to trust it anymore. Her trust was definitely broken in Moldova.

There she was teaching a seminar and keeping in touch with people back home, as usual, via e-mail. One day she had several letters to answer, and she did that very quickly, too quickly for the slow Internet in Chisinau to handle. Addresses got reshuffled and attached to the wrong notes, as Mommy splashed mail fast and furious into the Internet. As a result, the mail went to all the wrong people. Mommy found this out when people sent her very puzzled responses; they did not know that the mail had gone to the wrong addresses because Mommy does not often use names in salutations. Here are some examples:

She sent a note to my sister, Lizzie, who was moving to Illinois to go to school and needed some financial help. Mommy wrote a very simple, quick answer, with no name, saying "I will give you $1000 to move to Illinois." The note went instead to a friend of Mommy's. The friend said that she would be willing to take the money, but she wanted to know why Mommy wanted her to move to Illinois.

Mommy sent a note to my other sister, Noelle, who was living with Lizzie and not behaving very well. Mommy was very succinct, again with no name at the top of the note: "Either get your act together or move in with me!" That note, by accident, went to a colleague Mommy had just met at the State Department. That colleague was quite surprised by it and wondered what she had done wrong and why on earth Mommy would ever want her to come live with her!

Daddy got a note that was supposed to go to a college professor. He was very confused. He did not understand what it was that Mommy wanted him to do. (Daddy is a photographer, forester, and computer graphist, not a professor.)

Mommy sent a lovey-dovey note to Daddy, whose name is Donnie. She did use the salutation then, calling Daddy "My dearest and darlingest Donnie." Oh, oh! The note went to a US Air Force general with whom Mommy was supposed to meet when she got back to the United States, and the general's first name is Donald!

Oh, oh, oh, oh! Poor Mommy! She had a lot of messes to clean up that were left behind by her cyber mailman! (Better watch out for him; he is a haphazard mail carrier!)

A post over at Judith Mercado's blog (Pilgrim Soul) in which she thanks readers for being willing to accept mail from her cyber postal carrier prompted me to post this excerpt from Doah's book (copyright 2003).

Saturday, November 7, 2009

When All Disappears

There once was a family that lived in a small village. The family owned a goat, a rooster, and a dog. One day the family awoke to find that the goat had died.

"How will we drink milk now?" the husband asked his wife.

The wife had a firm faith in God and so she answered, "We will drink milk when we are supposed to drink milk."

The next day, the family awoke to find that the rooster had died.

"How will we wake up early for prayer?" asked the husband.

The wife answered: "We will wake up when we are supposed to wake up."

The day after that, the family woke up to find that their dog had died.

"Who will alarm us when strangers approach our home?" asked the husband.

The wife answered, "We will be alarmed when we are supposed to be alarmed."

The husband was completely unconvinced, but he loved his wife too much to respond.

When the family awoke the next day, there was a big shock awaiting them. A gang of violent thieves had attacked the village during the night. All the men were killed and the women and children were taken prisoners. Their home was the only one that was left unharmed.

The husband sat next to his wife unable to understand why the thieves chose not to attack them. The wife held his hand and said, "The thieves didn’t choose not to attack us. They simply were not aware of our existence. You see, we didn’t have a dog to bark, a rooster to crow or a goat to bleat – all of the sounds that directed the thieves to homes in the midst of the night. As we were losing our precious animals, we were, in fact, being prepared for an event that we were not aware of. Have faith my dear husband!"

The above story is excerpted from a book, Metaphors of Islamic Humanism, by my friend, Dr. Omar Imady, copyright 2005. Two other stories from this book have appeared on my main blog, Blest Atheist.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Pyotr Volkovich

I met Pyotr Volkovich, the vice-president of the Peace Committee of the former Soviet Republic of Belarus in Minsk, in 1989. He was clearly a man with a mission: to improve his community, that community being the greater part of Belarus, which had suffered severely from the Chernobyl nuclear reactor accident in nearby Ukraine.

While I was there, he gave me a description and history of the problem in the area and a list of medical supplies and equipment needed to care for the ill children, nearly 25% of whom had died from cancer after the reactor accident, many more of whom are now ill, and all of whom remain at risk from the irradiated soil and the food grown in it. I published that article in an international journal I edited, hoping that perhaps something would come of it. However, I did not follow up.

I met Peter again a year later when he was the keynote speaker at an International Rotary Convention in Portland, Oregon. Although I was only there by incidental invitation related to establishing a school exchange program, Pyotr said that from the moment he reached American soil at Kennedy Airport, even though he did not see me anywhere along the way, including upon arrival in Portland, he nonetheless knew that I would be there. I am convinced that this kind of confidence alone was enough to influence the events in his life.

I probably paid more attention to his speech than I otherwise might have because when he was introduced to the audience, instead of turning to his official interpreter, he asked me to do the interpretation from Russian into English for him. He gave one of the most brilliant speeches about the need for peace that I have ever heard. At what appeared to be the end of the speech, he presented the Rotary Foundation with the serial plate (framed in plastic) of the last surface-to-surface missile disassembled under the SALT Treaty. After hefty applause had died down, instead of leaving the stage, he continued with a very disconcerting phrase, "vokrug mira est' kolyakola..." (all around the world are bells). Bells was the only meaning I knew for the world, kolyakola, but I was hesitant to interpret it that way since the concept of bells made no sense in the given context, but I had no choice. Pyotr then continued, and everything made beautiful sense and left me and others with a lasting emotional response to his words: "They are big bells, warning of pending nuclear disaster. I did not, however, bring you a big bell. I brought you a small bell. [Here he took a tiny bell from his pocket and jingled it.] To hear this bell, you need the silence of peace."

The beginning of Pyotr's speech had focused on the serious medical needs of the Belarusan children, so our second meeting resulted in my sending information about the situation to medical circles in various places. Again, bad Samaritan that I was, I did not follow up but simply hoped that there would be interested parties who would contact Pyotr, and apparently some did.

Three years later when I again met Pyotr in Minsk, he had managed to arrange for the children from Gomel and other affected regions in Belarus to go to Germany for the summer, away from the radiation that daily accumulated to ever higher concentrations in their bodies. Although I was there for very different reasons (as a consultant to the Academy of Science textbook writers on the development of new K-12 and university textbooks in a variety of disciplines), he greeted me as if I were a long-time friend and fellow activist and excitedly told me about the medical equipment that the Peace Committee had received in the last 3-4 years from many different countries, saying "We consider this a result of your actions."

I was one of the few outsiders at that time to whom Pyotr had had access. However, I had never followed up on anything, so I could not honestly take credit for anything. Nonetheless, Pyotr pressed his gratitude on me.

That time I did help a little more actively. I gave the Peace Committee a monetary donation from my institutions, a rather hefty one, in fact, that we should not have been able to afford, but miraculously we ended up with a sum of money from our Russian operations that we had to somehow leave in Russia/Belarus. What better recipient could we have had than the Belarus Peace Committee?!

Like one person alone, one donation alone was not enough to make much difference. However, Pyotr knew that monetary contributions grow geometrically when they are combined, just as the combined results of people's efforts is greater than the sum of the parts. He put our contribution together with a contribution from an organization in Germany, and that allowed the Peace Committee to move 52 families from a highly irradiated area around Gomel to a newly built and relatively safe village not far from Minsk.

Pyotr knew all about getting anyone to do anything for him and be happy about it. I am sure that each individual was treated in similar ways. My ability to help was limited, but there were others who could and did help more. Pyotr treated all of us as if we were miracle makers when it was he who made the miracles happen.

I have not seen Pyotr since. In 1995, he retired from the Peace Committee, but he continued to work very hard behind the scenes for some years.

If you were to meet Pyotr, he would surprise you. Barely five feet tall and well past seventy when I first met him, he seemed seven feet tall and 30 years old as he talked about saving his land and his people. His eyes sparkled with the energy of someone much younger. His intensity and enthusiasm would move anyone to help him save his beloved Belarus.

The Pyotrs of this world can get anyone to do anything because they have a clear and altruistic goal and undauntedly tread toward it, regardless of obstacles. In such cases, everyone wants to help, and everyone feels good about helping. As for God, in addition to obviously facilitating some of those miracles, such as the inflow of medical equipment and the sudden appearance of hundreds of dollars in my institute's coffers that had to be used in Belarus, I think that Pyotr must have been one of His favorite instruments. After all, Pyotr proved that he could spread the good just as quickly as God could deliver it!


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

Monday, November 2, 2009

Kitchen Chaos

My Mommy is a very nice Mommy, but she is a very bad cook. When my sister needed to take some deviled eggs to Rainbow Girls' meeting, my Mommy made them. My sister took them to her meeting, but we all knew what would happen. Sure enough, she came back with all the eggs except one. After one person tasted the eggs, no one else wanted to eat them.

That's how my Mommy cooks, and I guess that's how she always cooked. When she was a little girl, she cooked a cake for Grandpa. He did not like it. He said it was not fit for the pigs, and he threw it into the pigpen. Mommy was very unhappy. The pigs would not eat her cake, and every day when she slopped the pigs, she saw the cake sitting in the corner of the pigpen where the pigs had pushed it away. I guess at some point, it just disappeared because it was something called biodegradable. At least, that's what I think happened because years later when I stayed on Grandma's farm, I fell into the pigpen, and the cake was gone.

That’s why we don’t let Mommy cook! Mommy used to scare us. She told us that if we did not help clean up the house, she would cook supper. We really hurried and worked hard to get everything cleaned fast, so that Daddy would cook supper.

We learned to cook, too. I like the way my brother and sisters cook better than the way Mommy cooks. Mommy got mad about that once, though. She had an important visitor. My brother, who was twelve years old at that time, made pot roast for dinner. It was very good. Mommy was very pleased with him until the guest complimented him on his cooking, and he said. "Thank you, but in this house, knowing
how to cook is self-defense."

My mommy's secretary, Jacqueline, was a good cook, though. So, once when it was my birthday, I called her and asked her to make my birthday cake. She said she could not because she would not be home that evening. I cried really hard. I told her that if she did not make my cake, Mommy would! So, Jacqueline told Mommy to buy me a cake. (Whew!)

Every once in a while, though, Mommy thinks that it is okay for her to cook. Once she decided to have a BBQ for all the people who worked for her. That was a good decision, and it should have been and actually was a lot of fun. She also decided that she would like to make braided bread for the BBQ. That was not a good decision, but it was fun. She made the dough, put it in a bowl to rise, and then became involved in other things until it was be time to braid the bread and bake it. While Mommy was working on other things, the doorbell rang. It was her secretary, Irene, who had come early to see if she could help with anything. Mommy thanked her and assured her that everything was under control. Irene did not believe her, though, because she could see some white stuff oozing out the kitchen door into the living room. It was Mommy's dough! She had left it for too long, and it had risen up and out of the bowl, down the stove, and across the floor. Who knows where it would have run off to had Irene not shown up when she did?

Daddy lets Mommy cook Christmas dinner. I keep telling him not to, but lots of times it has turned out okay. Each time that was a very pleasant surprise. However, last year, it happened! I knew it would. Mommy burned the ham. We could not eat it; there was only a black outside shell—all the inside had burned away. No stores were open, so we all went to a restaurant for Christmas dinner. What can I say? I told Daddy not to let Mommy cook!

As I promised Great-Granny Grandma this morning, here is another excerpt from Doah's book.

About Me

My photo
I am the mother of 4 birth children (plus 3 others who lived with us) and grandmother of 2, all of them exceptional children. Married for 42 years, I grew up in Maine, live in California, and work in many places in education, linguistics, and program management. In my spare time, I rescue and tame feral cats and have the scars to prove it. A long-time ignorantly blissful atheist converted by a theophanic experience to Catholicism, I am now a joyful catechist. Oh, I also authored a dozen books, two under my pen name of Mahlou (Blest Atheist and A Believer-in-Waiting's First Encounters with God).

My Other Blogs

100th Lamb. This is my main blog, the one I keep most updated.

The Clan of Mahlou
. This is background information about various members of the extended Mahlou family. It is very much a work still in progress. Soon I will begin posting excerpts from a new book I am writing, Raising God's Rainbow Makers.

Modern Mysticism. This blog discusses the mystical in our pragmatic, practical, realistic, and rational 21st century world and is to those who spend some or much of their time in an irrational/mystical relationship with God. If such things do not strain your credulity, you are welcome to follow the blog and participate in it.

Recommended Reading List

Because I am blog inept, I don't quite know how to get a reading list to stay at the end of the page and not disappear from sight. Therefore, I entered it as my first post. I suppose that is not all that bad because readers started commenting about the books, even suggesting additional readings. So, you can participate with others in my reading list by clicking here.
I do post additional books as I read them and find them to be meaningful to me, and therefore, hopefully, meaningful to you. One advantage of all the plane traveling I do is that I acquire reading time that I might not otherwise take.