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

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Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Thinking Literally

Understanding things literally is something that Mr. Spock on Star Trek does. It is also something that my Mommy does. I do not know if it is because she is a detail-oblivious type or if there is another reason. Anyway, that's probably why she is gullible and why she drove the deuce-and-a-half.

Apparently, she has always taken things literally. At least, that's what my aunts and uncles tell me. I can give you an example of that, too.

When she was a little girl, according to my grown-up relatives, she was very active in a number of youth organizations. One of those was the Junior Grange. The Junior Grange is for kids up to age 16, when they can join the regular Grange. It is mostly found in small towns and rural areas.

When Mommy was ten, she was Master of the Junior Grange. That is the highest office there is. As Master, she had to lead the meetings.

That year, my Mommy's Junior Grange was voted as the best in the state. That meant, that all the officers had to go the state capitol to the New Hampshire State Grange meeting and put on the "degree," a special kind of meeting. Mommy and her friends did that. There were lots of really important people at the New Hampshire State Grange meeting.

At the end of the meeting, the matron—that is the adult person who acts as an advisor to the Junior Grange members—told Mommy that she should now have some of the bigwigs speak. Mommy did not understand what bigwigs were. Mommy had never been out of the Maine-New Hampshire area, but she did a lot of reading, and she knew that there were all kinds of different groups of people in the world. So, instead of thinking that the matron was speaking figuratively, she took her literally, figuring that there might be a special group of people called bigwigs.

"Would any bigwigs in the room like to speak?" asked Mommy. The matron looked very embarrassed, and no one stood up to speak. They said that the year Mommy presided over the degree was the only year that no one spoke at the joint New Hampshire State Grange-Junior Grange meeting.

Conclusion: Sometimes asking is better than thinking.


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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.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Here Yesterday, Gone Today, Back after Several Tomorrows

Just as I took vacation time to work on my next book, my computer died. This is called Leaver luck; it has happened to us on so many occasions that I was not surprised. You see, Murphy's home is on a cloud right about our house, and whenever we start to feel comfortable with life as it is, he drops some raindrops, hail, blizzard flakes, and the like. The computer repair shop said that the computer was too dead for emergency CPR, so they have to send it to a hospital far away to see if it can be resurrected (perhaps not). That is going to take "weeks," they assured us. How many, they cannot say. Happily, the computer is under extended warranty. I am glad I had the foresight to purchase that. So, if it cannot be resurrected, I will be sent a brand new baby.

In the meanwhile, Donnie has loaned me his very old, but functional Macintosh laptop. I used to know how to use Mac; I am re-learning. The problem is that the computer is so old, it cannot handle even my Word files, and every single document I want to use, Donnie has to convert on his machine. Internet is difficult. I seem to be able to get onto blogger and publish comments, so please feel free to explore and comment on old posts. What is difficult to do is write new ones because I have no access to my graphics, no way to upload graphics, no way to handle large files, etc. I do have two posts that I wrote some time ago that will post automatically, based on earlier scheduling. Imagine! Beyond that, though, I can only promise a period of silence, hoping that it will be shorter than the techs think.

So, it looks like I am out of commission for some weeks. I can get online to read your blogs, and I will continue to do that. Posting on my own blogs, though, is, unfortunately, on hold until my electronic life returns to normal.

I am indeed still working on my next book. Donnie was able to convert the book file, but all my notes are not available. :( Well, I thought of those ideas, they will come back, or God will plant some new thoughts. I actually ended up drastically revising the table of contents while waiting for Donnie to convert the old document on his desktop computer, put it on disk, and pass it along to me in a format that the laptop will recognize. I also changed the title of the book: A Believer-in-Waiting's First Encounters with God. I seemed to be getting more inspiration coming my way now that nearly all I can do computer-wise is work on that book. (I am also getting more family and friend time, which is not all that bad, either.)

As for posting anything on my blogs, I am afraid I will have to wait until I am past the computer crisis and my electronic life is back to normal, which looks like nearly the end of January -- right after the book is due. Interesting, how dates and tasks work out that way!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Find the Angel

In nearly every situation, there is an angel who could help. They are often easier to find than one thinks.

Probably the most literal example was at a Christmas party held a number of years ago by a group of Czech immigrants who taught in one of the foreign language education programs I supervised at the time. They invited Doah, who has made a lifetime habit of asking people for help, to attend.

Doah did not know Bohemian traditions, but he quickly figured things out. All the children sat in a circle while Mikolaz (St. Nicholas) read a list of their bad behaviors during the year (prepared, of course, by each parent). The, for each, Mikulaz decided whether the devil, who was dancing up and down in gleeful anticipation near the child in question, could throw him or her into his sack for transport away from this world, or whether the child's behavior had been good enough or contrition deep enough for an angel, also standing nearby, to give a present. Each child quaked. Some cried.

When it was Doah's turn, he must have thought that there was no hope for forgiveness for him. Partway through Mikulaz's reading of Doah's "sins," Doah got out of his child, walked over to the angel, took her hand, and said, "I in trouble. You help me? It your job help people in trouble."

To this day, some people cannot stop laughing at what they perceived as the difference between the "American approach" and the "Czech approach" to a problem. Actually, I don't think Doah's behavior had as much to do with cross-cultural
differences as with his own skill at finding angels. Of course, the angel helped him.

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

Note: Also posted on Clan of Mahlou and 100th Lamb.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Mommy's Special Weapon

When we lived in Pittsburgh, we had two parts to our house. One part was in a separate apartment, and that is where Daddy had his photography studio and office.

Daddy put an alarm on his office. Although we lived in a nice neighborhood where things were pretty safe, Daddy had lots of expensive photography equipment that he wanted to protect.

There was something strange about that alarm. It was on the same frequency as some other signal, but Daddy could never figure out what that was. So, about once a week, we had to put up with a false alarm. Daddy usually shut the alarm off when that happened.

Our neighbors had to put up with the false alarms, too. They did not like it. Usually by the time the alarm got shut off, lots of our neighbors had stopped by to visit and find out why our house was making all that noise.

One day, though, Mommy was home alone when the alarm went off. Daddy was not there to shut it off, and the neighbors no longer seemed to care about the noise—or were to busy to come visit.

So, Mommy told us to stay in the living room, and she went to check out the apartment. To get there, she went up our stairs, across the attic, and down into the apartment on the other side of the building. Whew! No one was there. Once again, it was a false alarm. She turned off the alarm.

The police were already on the way, unfortunately. They had heard the alarm, too. They walked into the house just as Mommy was walking down the stairs. She stopped to talk to them. Standing on the third stair up, she was the same height as the police officer who had entered our house. (Either Mommy is not very tall, or the police officer was very tall.)

"We heard the alarm, ma'am," the police officer said.

"Oh, there's nothing to worry about," Mommy reassured him. "I just checked, and it is a false alarm."

The police officer looked Mommy up and down. Obviously, he thought that Mommy was not very tall because he asked her, "And just what did a little thing like you think you were going to do if you found someone there?"

Actually, Mommy had not really considered that, but she thought quickly and allowed that she could chew an intruder off at the knees. The police officer did not think that was a very good answer, but I know that Mommy could have done it (especially if she were wearing her combat boots).

Conclusion: Police officers have better weapons than Mommy's teeth, but knees can be vulnerable.


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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.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

My Mommy Wore Combat Boots

Mommy was a soldier and an Army officer when I was little. I do not remember a lot about what happened then, but I do remember Mommy's stories about the things that happened.

Mommy says that in those days the Army had a hang-up about gender differences. Officers, for the most part, were men, and mommies usually did not wear combat boots. In fact, she says that it was not even a nice to say to someone that "your mother wears combat boots." I do not see why it is not nice. It is a simply a fact. If your mother puts on those heavy but comfortable black things every morning, then your mother does wear combat books, right?

Anyway, Mommy says that she had to change genders, at least on paper, to become an officer. I know that is true because I saw the piece of paper. It says that Congress appointed my mother "an officer and gentleman in the U. S. Army." Wow! I think I will avoid going near Congress. They sound like an awfully powerful group of people!
Mommy said that another time, she had a meeting with a general. All the unit commanders had to meet with this general. He said, "Please be seated, gentlemen." Mommy did not sit down. She did not think that he was talking to her. (Guess she forgot about that piece of paper from Congress.) Another commander, who was her friend, pulled her down. He said that this was not the place to make a stand for women's lib. (I do not think that Mommy was making a stand for women's lib; I think she just forgot about Congress making her a gentleman.)

Yet another time, Mommy arrived at Fort Dix, New Jersey for a training exercise. There were lots of tents so that everyone who was there for training could have a place to sleep. There were seven tents for male soldiers, one tent for female soldiers, and one officer's tent. And then there was Mommy. Where to put the one female officer was a big, important question. Senior officers had to have a special meeting just to find Mommy a bed. They seemed to think that they had two choices: Put Mommy with the women or put Mommy with the officers. Finally, they decided. They put Mommy with the officers.

Mommy says that having kids can have a deleterious effect on one's ability to soldier. I am not sure what deleterious means, but maybe it has to do with getting weird looks. For example, Mommy got weird looks the day she had to report to her new commanding officer, after having taken my sister with her to the bank. It probably had something to do with what the commanding officer saw when Mommy turned around to leave. Stuck on the back of her green Army uniform skirt was a bright red lollipop, where my sister, after taking a few licks, had stored the treasure handed to her at the bank.

Mommy also got weird looks when she met another new commanding officer for the first time. She was signing in for summer reserve duty at Fort Devens, Massachusetts, and I was with her. I was still a baby at the time and was walking around the upstairs in my walker where the sign-in was taking place when I discovered another whole world—a set of interesting rooms, separated from me only by a staircase. Bounce! Bounce! I was on my way to exploring the new world. Mommy's new commander was walking up the stairs, and I bounced right into his arms. At the end of her reserve duty, my Mommy got the "Bouncing Baby" award. I was so proud! I helped my Mommy get an award!

Another time, when my other sister was very little—I think the old word for my sister's age is "suckling"—Mommy was in officer training in Anniston, Alabama. Daddy would pick up Mommy after training every day, and Mommy would nurse my sister as they drove back to the apartment that Daddy and my sisters shared. (Mommy could not live there; she had to live on post.) Before Mommy left post with Daddy and my baby sister, she would change into civilian clothes in her barracks room. One day, the Military Police stopped Daddy and Mommy. The car had an officer's decal, and they were confused. Daddy did not look like an officer. He was overweight and had a beard. Mommy did not look like an officer. She had long hair and was nursing a baby. They said, there was a bet at the MP barracks about who the officer in the car was.
"So," they asked, "Who is the officer?"

Mommy and Daddy looked at each other and replied at the same time, "The baby!"

They were kidding. I think the MPs knew that. I wonder, though, who won the bet.

Americans are not the only ones who are not used to women officers. The Koreans have a problem, too. Once, years after she left military service, Mommy had a meeting with a colonel from the Korean Army. In the conversation, someone else at the meeting said that Mommy had been a U.S. Army officer. The Korean colonel was surprised. He was so surprised that he did not say anything for a long time. As it turned out, he was not only surprised, he was also embarrassed that someone would tell him this. Finally, looking down, he said quietly, "Yes, I understand. Women can be very good at getting secrets out of men."

Mommy did not like that much. She said he did not understand even though he said he did understand.

Conclusion Mommies who wear combat boots should be prepared for people who do not understand their attire.

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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.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

A Few Brief Steps Away

As this goes up (automatically), I should be on a plane for Hawaii, where I have some end-of-year business to conclude. After that, on Saturday, I will fly back home, just in time for the Christmas season to descend in full tempo. This year, though, Christmas cards will have to wait until February (January if I can manage a trip to Korea and card writing). We have no tree -- our cat Intrepid eats all plants, including artificial ones, and nearly died from the latter a few years ago so we have given up on a tree -- therefore I will not be distracted with tree decorating. Some holiday activities will, of course, take place as they should and as we want them to. However, I will be stepping back a bit from my normal kinds of blogging posts and the normal tempo of my blogs.

I have taken some days off from work to do a second edition/sequel of my book, Blest Atheist. Unfortunately, over the past two years, the title has been snagged for a variety of odd things, none of them having to do with the remarkable kindness of God, which is what the book is about at its core. Even a furniture store has taken it, along with an atheist reading group! In fact, although it is a spiritual book, essentially Christian, most bookstores carry it in the atheism section. (I guess no one reads books before categorizing them!) That has caused some angry, even rude, reviews from atheists who got a conversion story, rather than a confirmation of their atheism -- which must have been quite a surprise for them. (Christian readers and believers belonging to other religions generally review the book well.) So, the book needs a new title, which I am working on, and since time has passed and my spiritual experiences have continued on a path of deepening conversion, I plan to revise the book dramatically, as well as include those new conversion experiences.

For publication and marketing purposes, I need to turn in the manuscript no later than December 30, so I will reserve most of my writing effort for the book. Monday Morning Meditations will continue, and I will post excerpts from the book as I go along on Mahlou Musings. So, for the next 15 days, my posts may be sparse in spite of having prepared a few backups in case of situations like this.

I will indeed take time to enjoy the Christmas season. San Ignatio, as you can see from the pictures above and below, goes all out for Christmas. (Note: the placard under each lighted wreath/halo is the story of a saint important to this town: St Francis for it was founded by the Franciscans, St. John the Baptist after whom it was named, the real name of this town being San Juan Bautista -- I used San Ignatio as a pseudonym in my book and so I have continued to use it in this blog.) If this town has a year-round sacred feel to it, at Christmas that feel intensifies, beginning with the lighting of the streets, intensified by the daily performances of La Virgen de Teyepac (Our Lady of Guadalupe) by our local El Teatro Campesino, and concluding with our midnight Mass, which usually really is at or near midnight, depending on how you count the caroling.

So, please forgive my moments away. I will catch you when the book muse takes a recess and will be back on full-time blog duty in January.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Please Help Us Choose

For years now, after our children grew up and became adults, rather than spending money on gifts that are neither needed nor particularly wanted, we have taken a family collection of the money we would have spent on each other and have instead spent it on things that others both need and want. For example, last year we gave visa cards to all the staff (cooks, janitors, librarians, handymen, monks, etc.) at the St. Francis Retreat Center, who do much to make sure that retreatants are able to devote their time exclusively to spiritual matters.

Each year we select a charity that has some special meaning to us. The retreat center is a place where both Donnie, my husband, and I have spent time that has contributed to our spiritual growth. Years ago, floods in India destroyed the homes of relatives of Appu, the college roommate of my daughter, Lizzie. When we were living in Jordan, we gave the money to the only animal shelter there, one which took in more than two dozen cats that I rescued from the streets of Amman. And so on and so forth. Family members nominate various options, and we all vote on which we would like to support in a particular year.

This year we have four "charities" from which we are choosing. Before we take a family vote, I thought it might be interesting to hear what readers thing. Here are the options we are considering:

(1) Afghans for Afghanis (see the link in the right sidebar under Ways to Help). Having spent time earlier this year in Afghanistan, I have developed a soft spot for this very impoverished nation. While factions in the leadership may have been working toward mutual extinction for decades, if not centuries, the everyday man is the one doing the greatest suffering. From the little I could see, by Western standards they have very little, even considering that their desires, values, and concepts of what a "normal" life looks like is quite different from those same concepts in the USA.

(2) Adopt a Box. Our parish has collected Christmas gifts for troops in Afghanistan. Ah, there's that Afghanistan soft spot again! The amount of gifts collected has far exceeded what the parish member who headed the drive anticipated. She was prepared to pay for the mailing of the gifts, assuming that if the collection can were entirely filled, it would cost her about $100 in postage. Well, our parish donated not a can-full but a truckload of gifts, and the postage will be about $1200. So, our pastor has asked that individuals offer to adopt a box of gifts for mailing. As a family, we could adopt a number of boxes. (There is an additional option, as well. I have told the parish member that I would use God's credit card for any orphan boxes.)

(3) Bennie's Homeless. Our friend, Bennie, works with the homeless in a nearby city, providing them with blankets, clothes, food, and personal articles, thanks to the generosity of his friends and neighbors. In return, the homeless work to clean up the local river along which they live. Thanks to their efforts, the salmon, which had nearly disappeared, are now returning "home" to spawn.

(4) Hope. Doah works for Hope, which gives work to the handicapped, who do janitorial and other kinds of simple tasks that they are capable of handling. Doah mentioned that Hope is short of money this year, so it seems that this is a charity that truly "touches" home.

We will take a family vote very soon. In the interim, I would love to hear readers' opinions: which would you choose if you were a member of our family? (I will let you know the result from all the blogs and from our family's vote.)

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Lacking the Luck of Ganesha

There is a Hindu god, Ganesha, who is supposed to bring good luck. So, one day when Mommy had the chance to buy a little Ganesha at a museum, she did. She put it on a necklace and wore it to work the next day. I guess she wanted lots of luck.

Well, was that a mistake. Mommy's friends told her that she did not need any help in making things work, that she had something called willpower that took care of that. It seems that they probably were right. Here is what happened that "lucky" day.

Mommy went off to work quite happily, with Ganesha dangling away around her throat. (One of her friends said that maybe Ganesha got dizzy, and that was the problem.)
Mommy's bus did not come, though. She had to wait a long while for the next bus.

Then, she came to the metro station and took the train to her regular stop, the metro station that had the second longest escalator in the city—and the up escalator was out of order. Mommy had to walk up a lot of stairs.

Mommy made it to work all right, although late, and she got a lot of work done, working all day on one special project on the computer. She was very pleased. At the end of the day, however, when she went to store the document, she pushed a very wrong button and lost everything that she had done. The network administrator said that there was no way to retrieve it and that it was very unusual for something like this to happen. Mommy was no longer pleased.

She then left for home. This time the down escalator at the metro station was not working, and she had to walk down a lot of stairs.

By now, Mommy was very tired. That must have been why she did not notice that the train had passed her stop. Oops!

She got out at the next stop, figuring that she could walk across the platform and take the train one stop back. Unfortunately, that particular station was being repaired. To get to the other side, Mommy had to take two different sets of stairs. Well, she only had to take one, but the first set she chose was closed at the top, and there was no note at the bottom to tell her that. She finally made it to the other side, just as the train pulled out of the station. She had to wait another half-hour for the next train.

Finally, Mommy got back to the previous station, made the right transfer, and reached the metro station where she needed to catch the bus home. However, the last bus had by then already left. She asked one of the other bus drivers if he went near the intersection she needed. He said yes, but it turned out that "near" was a half-mile away. So, she had to walk a half-mile back to that intersection in the dark through a bad part of town, then another half-mile up a hill to get back home.
By then Mommy was beginning to have some doubts about Ganesha. All doubts disappeared, however, when near the intersection, the clouds burst, and a raging thunderstorm started. Mommy had not brought an umbrella, but she always carries a spare rain poncho. She pulled it out of her backpack and put it on.

The water from the poncho, however, dripped onto her high heels as she walked up the hill. What more could go wrong, she wondered? She should not have asked. About a block from the house, one of her shoes fell apart.

She took off her shoes and walked in her stocking feet the last block of the way. That put a hole in her stocking. Mommy did not care about the hole, though. She just wanted to get inside the warm house. She could see that people were in the back; the lights were on and so was the sound.

Mommy reached for her key, but she did not have it. She rang the bell, but no one heard. So, she had to traipse through the side garden and knock on the back window.

When she got inside, Mommy took off her wet clothes. She also took off Ganesha and has not worn the pendant since.

Conclusion: Don't rely on necklace gods when your own ingenuity will do.

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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.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Ignore Stereotypes

Having lived in many regions of the United States -- New England, the deep South, Texas (which is a region unto itself), California (another region unto itself), Washington, DC, a couple of Northeastern cities, the Southwest, and the Northeast -- I have run into all kinds of people. It would be easy to stereotype them, but it would not be accurate to do so. Within every region, there are many individuals who are unique. It is difficult to see how prejudices can develop from differences in skin color, language, or other traits that place a person into a particular group because usually any one person within a given group differs as much from others in the group as groups do from each other. Each person is, after all, an individual.

For this reason, my husband and I were surprised to find a black-white delineation in a suburb of Pittsburgh in which we lived in the mid-1980s. We had not noticed that blacks lived in one part of town and whites in another until after we bought our house.

Five years later, it was time for us to move on. We did not want to sell our house so we announced that it was for rent. A friend of a friend suggested a nice family with four children (we also had four children) and a single mother, and I went to meet the family where they were then living. The children were well cared for as was the apartment. It looked like we were going to be very lucky. One does not always get that quality of tenant.

So I suggested that the mother, whom I will call Kathy, come look at our house. Kathy liked it immediately but asked our mutual acquaintance to double-check that we were okay with her and her children. The reason for the caution? Kathy's youngest child, a quiet, cute little boy, had a black father, the man she was currently dating. So, who cared?

Apparently, many people. Kathy told us that she had had trouble finding a place to rent because whites did not want a half-black child in their neighborhood and blacks did not want three white children in their neighborhood. The boy was a darling, and, of course, we rented to the family.

I have no idea why other landlords would be so opposed to a potential tenant based on skin color, but I do know what other landlords missed out on. The man Kathy was dating and eventually married turned out to have many skills. Larry painted our entire house inside and out at no cost. He wanted to make it clean and fresh for the children. He fixed anything that broke. Ultimately, he helped us fix up a small apartment that was part of the house so that an elderly friend of his could move in. Most tenants put a lot of wear and tear on a house. These tenants improved our house. Ignoring stereotypes not only allowed us to get to know some good and kind people, it also improved our property value!

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

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Concretize and Personalize the Abstract

One would think that war would be very concrete, but it is not. It is abstract, far too abstract. That is the only way that leaders, soldiers, and individuals of one country can go about slaughtering the leaders, soldiers, and individuals of another country.

I had a friend from Kuwait when I was an undergraduate student at Pennsylvania State University during the days of the Vietnam conflict. Al was also an undergraduate, but he was a published poet at home. For a couple of semesters, we spent out free time together, composing poetry. Then, we took a course together in writing poetry. While that course convinced that I did not want to (and probably should not) settle on contemporary poetry as the mechanism through which to express my ideas, I will never forget a poem that Al wrote about that war. (Let's call it what it really was.)

To many of us students, Vietnam was an abstract place and the war an event to which many of our friends went and from which some did not return. Others returned but not in good physical, or mental, shape. We fought against it, yelled about it, held rallies, and otherwise tried to convince our leaders to eliminate this horrible abstraction. We decried it as immoral, but we did not feel it in a way that those who served there did and those who lived there did. The closest we ever came to personalizing it was the fear that seeped out when Uncle Sam beckoned his finger at someone we knew.

To Al, the Vietnam conflict should have been even more abstract. After all, it was not his country that was engaged in that war although certainly some of his newly made American friends found themselves sent off in the direction of Asia, dressed in combat gear.

However, Al was a born poet with deep understandings. He knew how to use a metaphor and how to personalize it. He talked in his poem about someone who "crept about the fields, filling satchels of weeping." That someone, of course, was the collective population of the country, the "enemy," an abstraction. (It is much easier to fight the enemy on a large scale when the enemy is an abstraction.) And so Al admitted the abstraction, beginning his poem with the words, "The name was Len Nui." His next line, though, made the enemy real: "Her name was Len Nui."

Human relationships are often like war. We do not personalize them enough. With the growing number of interactions that take place from home or the office via the computer, the tendency is toward greater, not lesser, abstraction. Unfortunately, abstract notions seem to cloud our view of the person we are looking at when we do have an interaction with another human being. More and more in recent years, I have watched acquaintances and strangers alike treat people as categories, not as individuals. The co-worker is not just a colleague; there is a real person there. The teller at the bank is not just a money dispenser; there is a real person there. The neighbor we have never met is not just someone with a house in the same neighborhood; there is a real person there. If everyone personalized relationships, there would be less animosity in this world. Killing the enemy is much easier than killing Len Nui. Seeing Len Nui in place of a faceless enemy might mean far fewer wars.

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


Note: For a dramatic enactment of this concept, see the movie, Joyeux Noel.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Red Snow

Once when Mommy got all grown up and we kids had shown up in her life, she decided to take us to the farm to see Grandma. Grandpa had died by then, but some of my aunts and uncles were still living on the farm with Grandma.

After dinner the second day we were there, Grandma decided that she wanted to go to town to find some excitement. One of her neighbors was going to take her. So, she got all fancied up, and pretty soon the neighbor drove into the yard. Grandma rode off with him, and we all waved good-by. We were glad that she was going to go find some excitement.

Mommy and Uncle Willie did the dishes together after supper. Normally, that would only take a half-hour, but Mommy and Uncle Wesley like to talk. In fact, they really like to talk. They talked for a long time; perhaps two hours or even three.
It got late, and it got dark outside. About that time, Uncle Wesley looked out the window at the snow banks. However, instead of a white snow bank, he saw a red one.

"Oh, my goodness," he said. "I got talking, and I forgot to close the damper on the chimney. We have a chimney fire—or a roof fire—or a house fire."

Mommy came upstairs and got us all out of bed. We had to go outside and stand beside the red snow.

Uncle Willie called the fire department. Well, actually, he called our neighbor, Dodie. In farm country where Mommy grew up, the fire department was composed of volunteers, and the fire truck was always kept in one of the volunteer's driveways. This time, it was at Dodie's.

Uncle Willie then tried to put out the fire. It was a long wait for the fire department—a half-hour. By then, Uncle Willie had everything under control. The firemen went up on the roof, anyway, and they looked into the chimney. They made sure the fire was really out. Then they left.

Soon after, Grandma came home. She said it was boring in town. She had not found excitement.

Then, she asked how our evening went. Mommy told that Dodie came to visit—along with the rest of the fire department!

Conclusion: You do not need to leave the farm to find excitement.


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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.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanskgiving

I am taking the day off from blogging to attend morning Mass and then help out all afternoon at Old Mission's community dinner -- open to all, regardless of SES or church affiliation. I will also take some time during the day and evening to drop in to followers' blogs with Thanksgiving greetings.

Wishing you all a happy Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

My Friend's Dark Days

My friend, Jean, was the instrument through which God nudged me (well, more accurately, pulled and pushed me) back into the flock, beginning with a very clear conk on the head. So, I was used to going to Jean for spiritual advice and help.

Help, though, was something I was called upon, surprisingly, to do for Jean not long after she had helped me so remarkably. The need to help Jean unnerved me at first. I had depended upon her insights and guidance up until that point. Now she needed me, and I was not sure that I was ready. There was, however, no choice. I had to be ready.

Jean handily worked in my building, so she often dropped by after work, and we would grab a bite to eat, talk, or do something together. One evening, as I was working late, Jean burst into my office, eyes large and frightened. “Beth,” she exclaimed. “I think the Evil One is after me!”

I had never heard Jean or anyone else mention evil in those terms before, so I was taken aback at first. “What do you mean?” I asked.

“I suddenly feel estranged from God,” she replied. “I feel like I am being pushed to do things that I would not normally do and that God would not want me to do.”

“Such as what?” I asked. She would not tell. She said that she was ashamed of the urges. I understood that they were related to selfish acts, wantonness, cavalier treatment of family members, and other characteristics that just were not Jean’s. We prayed together, and she left in a calmer state.

This one session, however, was not to be the end. She came by nearly every evening, and we prayed. Always for the same thing: to bring Jean back to where she had been spiritually, to eliminate this negative influence, to be in compliance with God’s will. Although it seems that I am unceasingly praying, given my history and idiosyncrasy, when I petition God for specific help, I usually ask only once, assuming that God heard and trusting God to respond in the way that is best for the situation or person about whom I am praying. With Jean, though, it was different. It seemed that just as soon as Jean leaped over one hurdle, another was placed in front of her. Just as soon as one prayer seemed to have been answered, the need for another prayer appeared. Just as soon as her faith reared its head, it was stomped into the dust again by something she kept referring to as evil. I even saw her do things that I found incomprehensible. Those acts were not in keeping with Jean’s character as I knew it to be.

I began praying for her every day, for hours. I also read St. John of the Cross’s Dark Night of the Soul. It seemed to speak to some of what Jean was experiencing, but not all. I thought that if she read the book, it might help. Although Jean seemed lost and desperate and to a point depressed, she was unwilling to read the book. She felt that it would make her feel more, not less, trapped.

I, too, became desperate. At one point, I recall marching around the mission grounds in the small town where I live and proclaiming that I would not pray about anything else until God brought sunshine to end the darkness that Jean was enduring. In all, I spent more than 20 hours in petition for Jean.

In the midst of all this petitioning, one not-so-fine evening, I asked God to allow me to feel what Jean was feeling so that I could understand better. Immediately, the Presence departed from me. No matter how much I tried to communicate, I could not feel the presence of God. I felt lost and alone. I had not realized how much God had become an every-minute part of my life. Irony of ironies, I desperately wanted back the Presence that I had earlier tried so hard to evade. “Where are you?” I asked again and again that evening. I received no answer.

When I awoke the next morning, the Presence was back. Thank God! From that brief disappearance of the Presence, I understood that this was akin to what Jean was experiencing. Now I know how terribly depressing that experience can be. I also understood that what got me through that night was faith without spirituality. Clearly, God had been spoiling me, granting me spirituality, not forcing me to walk in faith alone. Since that experience, I have often wondered if I am capable of living by faith alone. I knew at the time that I did not want to have to try. “Please, God, don’t do that again!” I implored. “I am too weak for that. I don’t like it when I cannot feel Your presence.” If the purpose of the dark night of the soul, as some have suggested, is to create great longing for God, I can attest to its effectiveness after just a few hours.

Two weeks later, having emerged into daylight, Jean told me that 18 years earlier, she had met someone she thought was her guardian angel. Among other things that person had said to her was the following: “Some day you may experience temptation and trial. Should that ever happen to you, I hope that you will have someone at your side to help you.”

She did. Ironically, Jean, who had served as God’s instrument to shepherd me back to the flock, had me at her side. Even though I did not know what to do or what I was doing when I was doing it, I had God to guide me. So, Jean, though she did not know it, could not feel it, and even at times did not believe it, had God at her side throughout her ordeal. I was clearly little more than a conduit through which God pulled Jean back from the forces of darkness that were dragging her away and deposited her once again in the light. I like to think, though, that I was the person Jean's guardian angel had hoped that she would have 18 years earlier.

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This excerpt is adapted from my book, Blest Atheist (MSI Press, copyright 2009).

Friday, November 19, 2010

Bare, Do Not Bear, Prejudice

Prejudice poisons the soil and keeps tender flowers from growing. If we would gather pretty posies at a later date, we need to make sure the soil is pure and free from the poison of prejudice. We need to eliminate our own prejudices and keep our environment free from the prejudices of others. Sometimes that means taking an active, preemptive role in the life of others who would infect our soil. Sometimes it means stating we will not accept prejudice in our work, or play, world.

Years ago when I worked as a training program administrator for the U. S. State Department, military officers (defense attach├ęs) and State Department diplomats were trained together prior to being assigned to an embassy abroad. When I first arrived on the training scene, I was surprised to see that there appeared to be two classes of students in many of the teachers' eyes: the upper class diplomats and the lower class attach├ęs. Having been a military officer myself, I did not share some of the teachers' opinion that the military students were intellectually inferior to the diplomatic students. Matters quickly came to a head when at one staff meeting the suggestion was made to leave military students in the classroom while the diplomatic students took a field-study trip, ostensibly for financial reasons but subtly for reasons of discrimination. Finally, one teacher put the prejudice into words, saying, "Well, the military students are less likely than the other students to get something out of the trip."

Time for drama! I slammed shut a book that lay in front of me, sending a pencil that had been lying on top of it flying toward the ceiling. (The pencil's action was not planned but it did add to the drama.) "If the military students do not go," I said emphatically, "no one goes." With that, I walked silently out of my own staff meeting and into my office.

The teachers were stunned. They remained in the room and discussed the situation, or so I was told. Twenty minutes later, I heard a soft knock on my door and the head teacher peered in. "I guess you feel strongly about this," he said.

My discussion with him was followed by a similar one with the teachers about the evils of prejudice--especially when one does not even recognize that prejudice exists. When that particular class graduated, one of the military students told me that he and the other military officers in the class had felt like second-class citizens until I arrived. Then that changed. Military officers in future classes often commented on the lack of prejudice among teachers in my section compared to what some of their peers were experiencing in some other training sections. Teachers, too, began to feel better about their interactions with military officers. Clearly, prejudice bared was prejudice overcome. My drama had planted seeds that had taken hold and grown into flowers for both teachers and students.

Along similar lines, one of the most complex things I have had to do is to establish a Serbian and Croatian language program at a large language training institution during the beginning of the war in the former Yugoslavia. Because all students had to learn both variants of the languages quickly and well, the most sensible thing was to assign two instructors, one Serb and one Croat, to share the 6-hour training day with each group of students. The instructors would teach two hours separately, and then they would teach two hours together in a classroom team.

This all seemed simple enough, except that the program was large and a couple dozen teachers were needed overnight. Finding unemployed teachers of these languages who could begin work immediately among citizens of the United States turned out to be impossible, and so recruitment had to occur from among citizens of both ethnic areas of the former Yugoslavia. People who were warring with each other at home now had to share a classroom, a group of students, and a common goal (a specific and high level of language proficiency in the students). If they did not work together, they would not reach that goal. To meet that goal, they would have to establish rapport with the students and create a productive learning environment. Further, they had to talk about the war without bringing in their own opinions and prejudices. A tall order, indeed!

Management had to set the tone and the rule to keep the discussion of the war in the classroom, while keeping any personalized reenactment of the war out of it. The working rule was: Feel and act as you want from 5 p.m. to 8 a.m. -- dislike each other, do what enemies do (whatever that is), if you will -- but from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. project a collegial, warm, student-supportive learning environment in the classroom. Management expected the teachers to like each other as well as the students, and management made it clear that it liked all the teachers equally. Further, management brought in an American director for each component of the program, a Serbian curriculum specialist and a Croatian curriculum specialist. These two truly liked each other, worked together to form a common curriculum, and became role models for the instructors in how to have a personal relationship that was not politically influenced.

This group of teachers did a wonderful job of not showing prejudice even where there probably was some, or, at least, there were differing opinions about which side at home was right and which was wrong. Students never knew those opinions because teachers adhered to the 8-to-5 rule.

The funny thing was that once they donned the garb of collegiality during the day, most teachers found it hard to take it off and put on the robes of prejudice in the evening. Over time, many became social friends as well as colleagues. There was soon a field of beautiful flowers growing behind the school house. If only war at home could have been resolved as easily and flowers planted on the scarred and burned soil there.

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

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

A Tale of Two Lords

In a far-away land in a far-away time there lived two lords, each with his own fiefdom, His Excellency Dejan and His Excellency Mejan. Now Dejan and Mejan each hoped to wed the king's daughter and ensure security and riches for his own fiefdom. The price of the bride was to make a present to the king of the best honor guard in the whole kingdom, as determined by the most successful completion of an unknown task to be assigned to all contending honor guards.

In preparation, Lord Dejan and Lord Mejan each gathered together ninety-nine of the best soldiers in their fiefdom for training as an honor guard. They determined that members of the honor guard needed three skills: marching, firing, and collecting intelligence. So, each selected thirty-three soldiers with strong legs, thirty-three with strong eyes, and thirty-three with strong ears.

Lord Dejan put his chief administrator in charge of the training for the soldiers in his fiefdom. The chief administrator agreed immediately; he had a number of ability and achievement tests that his staff had been developing that he would be able to use in the service of his lordship.

The chief administrator first tested all the men nominated for the honor guard on ability and found two-thirds of them lacking in marching skills, two-thirds lacking in firing skills, and two-thirds lacking in listening skills. He immediately found three remedial instructors, one for each subject area. Soldiers with strong legs spent most of the next six months in remedial firing and remedial listening classes. They sat for most of the day, and their legs grew weak. Soldiers with strong eyes spent all day in remedial marching and listening classes. They marched to the point of fatigue, and their eyes clouded over. Soldiers with strong ears were sent to remedial marching and remedial firing classes. The noise of the weapons dulled their hearing. After six months great progress had been made. All of the soldiers tested "average" in all skill areas on achievement tests.

The chief administrator knew that "average" would not be good enough for Lord Dejan, so he implemented a motivation program, associated with periodic progress testing. For testing, he used multiple choice test items, based on a componential analysis of each of the three skills, as well as hypothetical tasks. When soldiers assigned to a particular instructor exceeded their previous percentile scores by more than 10%, the instructor received a bonus. Soon, the instructors were familiar enough with the test items that they could begin direct instruction of the soldiers in the specifics of those items and how best to handle the test questions. The instructors initiated an incentive program for the soldiers: the higher the test score, the more privileges a soldier would receive. The scores of the soldiers began to rise dramatically, and the chief administrator was immensely pleased. When the scores reached nearly 100% for all soldiers, the instructors received a big bonus, and they were immensely pleased. The instructors handsomely rewarded the soldiers with lavish benefits for their high scores, and the soldiers were immensely pleased.

Nearly a year had passed, and the time for the competition for the king's daughter neared. Lord Dejan, assured by his chief administrator that objective test results proved that these were the very best soldiers in the entire kingdom, proudly presented his honor guard to the king for the competition. As the king prepared to reveal the unknown task to the honor guard, the soldiers looked at each other nervously, wondering if the task would match any that had been on their tests and what would happen if they failed to be the best honor guard in all the kingdom.

Now, during this same time, Lord Mejan also established a training program for his soldiers. First, he approached a retired, old general, who had been known for his exemplary service and multiple soldiering skills, tested and honed in some very fine battles. He asked this old general to oversee the training program for the new soldiers. The general, at first, declined, "Sire, I am too old. I no longer walk well, let alone march. I no longer see well. I no longer hear well. How can I train your soldiers to be good marchers, good marksmen, and good intelligence collectors?"

Lord Mejan would not listen to the general's demurring. He replied, "You do not have to march or to walk or to see or to hear. I have thirty-three soldiers with the strongest legs in the kingdom; they will carry you. I have thirty-three soldiers with the best eyes in the kingdom; they will see for you. And I have thirty-three soldiers with the best ears in the kingdom; they will listen for you. You have been the best of all my soldiers. You have accomplished remarkable feats. You can share your ways of soldiering with these new soldiers. They, not you, must now do the marching, the firing, and the intelligence collection; they need you to support them in doing this the best way that they can.

And so, the old general agreed to teach the new soldiers. He knew that they would all need to be able to do all three skills well, so he organized them into groups of three. In each group there was a soldier with strong legs, a soldier with strong eyes, and a soldier with strong ears. When the soldier with strong eyes could not march well, the soldier with strong legs guided him into a marching rhythm. When the soldier with strong ears could not fire well, the soldier with strong eyes helped him aim his weapon for better marksmanship. When the soldier with strong legs could not collect data well, the soldier with strong ears showed him how to use his legs to get just close enough and positioned well to hear better.

To help the new soldiers, the old general selected the best marcher, the best marksman, and the best intelligence collector in the fiefdom and gave them roles as counselors. When individual soldiers determined that they needed extra help or simply wanted assistance, they could come to these counselors to practice under their mentorship, to receive individualized instruction, or to have questions answered. The counselors' roles were to serve as mentors and role models, as well as to be foster the growth of skills and confidence in each soldier by observing how each soldier went about soldiering, making him aware of what he still needed to know (and why he needed to know it), showing him the best strategies for improving his soldiering skills, and encouraging him to take risks and to experiment with his own training program.

When all the soldiers had improved their weaker skills, the general tasked them to complete meaningful missions. Often, these missions involved going to far parts of the fiefdom where information on subjects' living conditions could be brought back to Lord Mejan. The soldiers had to march there, use marksmanship skills to forage for food, and listen well to bring back accurate intelligence to his lordship. Sometimes, when they had done this, Lord Mejan would send a detail of soldiers back to those same subjects to bring to them the supplies and assistance they needed. The soldiers felt good about this—they were helping their countrymen, and their countrymen loved them. Their confidence grew, and they became better marchers, marksmen, and intelligence collectors.

The old general sometimes went with them, and they did carry him. Sometimes he stayed behind and allowed them to fend for themselves, debriefing them and making suggestions when they reported back to him. Sometimes he gave them detailed instructions in advance. Other times he simply provided general information and let them determine what they needed to do. What he gave them and asked of them depended upon what he knew they could do and where they still needed support. With time, he removed more and more of the support. With time, they stopped relying upon him and began relying upon themselves and their developing skills.

The old general did not check the soldiers' knowledge through standardized exams; instead, his observations served as informal "tests." He would have examined the soldiers objectively, had Lord Mejan required it, but then he would have used the test results only to supplement his observations. He watched the soldiers complete their missions. He listened to their descriptions. He evaluated their successes. He analyzed their failures. Where he found the soldiers lacking, he provided individual or group instruction or practice, as need dictated.

In a year, when the time for the competitions for the king's daughter neared, he approached Lord Mejan. "Are my soldiers the best in the kingdom?" asked Lord Mejan.

The old general answered his lordship, "Sire, "best" is a relative word. Those with strong legs are still the better marchers, those with strong eyes the better marksmen, and those with strong ears the better intelligence collectors, but all the soldiers possess strategies for accomplishing all these tasks both independently and as one unit. Sire, these soldiers are capable today, and they will not disappoint you. But more important, they have the knowledge and skills to become better tomorrow and even better the day after that. Your soldiers have competed not against peers but against their own potential. They have cooperated in helping each other become better. They have the thinking skills to handle both the known and the unknown and enough self-confidence to take any risk. They are ready for this competition."

Lord Mejan marched with his soldiers to the castle and presented his honor guard to the king. Standing at their head, carried there by the soldiers with the strong legs, was the old general. As the king prepared to reveal the unknown task to the honor guard, the soldiers looked at each other in anticipation, wondering what exciting challenge might lie in store for them today.

Now, which honor guard do you think won the competition?

Note: Also posted on Clan of Mahlou.

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In the mid-1990s (ocpyright 1997), I wrote a book about teaching and learning any subject at any level in any location by any kind of learner that has now been translated into a few different languages and is in use in many of the countries where I consulted and in others where I did not. The book can be found in many libraries and bookstores, as well as online.

If anyone would like the name of any books that I cite on this blog (books that are written in my real name, not my Elizabeth Mahlou pseudonym, which I must maintain because of where I work), I will send you the particulars if you contact me by email: elizabeth.mahlou@gmail.com.

Friday, November 12, 2010

The Driving Instructor

Since Mommy grew up on a farm, she learned to drive a tractor very young, like many other farmers' children do. Mommy was the oldest of all Grandpa's children, so she was the one who drove the tractor most of the time.

When my aunt Katrina, the next-younger child in the family, became old enough to drive, the lot fell to my mommy to teach my aunt how to do that. Mommy was really big by then and an experienced tractor driver. She had already turned thirteen. She took her teaching task seriously, but I guess she did not think of all the details—as usual.

On the driving-learning day, my mommy and my Aunt Katrina headed out to the field to practice driving. It was a sunny day—perfect for learning to drive a tractor.

When they got to the field, the old Allis Chalmers 1939 tractor, the one that Grandpa, Grandma, and Mommy drive was right where it had been left on the edge of the rows of corn. It was ready to be driven.

Aunt Katrina got up on the seat, and Mommy stood on the ground and shouted instructions to her. Perhaps that was Mommy's first mistake.

Aunt Katrina put her foot on the clutch and brake like Mommy instructed. Then Mommy told her to turn on the ignition, and she did that. All was going very well. At least, that's what Mommy and Aunt Katrina thought.

Then Mommy told Aunt Kartrina to put her foot on the gas and to let out the clutch. She did that, and the tractor jumped up and then forward. Oh, my! Mommy told Aunt Katrina that this was normal. but that if she were to let out the clutch more slowly, the tractor would not jump as high.

Now Aunt Katrina was ready to roll. Mommy told her to practice steering around the edge of the field. Aunt Karen did that. So, all was still going well.

Aunt Katrina practiced and practiced. She became good at steering around the field.

Then it was time to go home. "Okay," Mommy told her, "we better go home now. It's getting late." With that, Mommy started walking back to the house. Perhaps that was Mommy's second mistake.

Aunt Katrina followed on the tractor. Almost immediately, she ran across a barbed wire fence.

"Help!" she called. "How do you turn off the tractor?"

Mommy did not hear her. She had walked too fast and was too far ahead. Perhaps that was Mommy's third mistake.

A few minutes later, Mommy looked around. She could not find Aunt Katrina. She walked back a little bit, and there she found her — and the tractor — all tangled up in the barbed wire fence.

Aunt Katrina had only one thing to say when she saw Mommy. "How do you turn off this thing?" she asked.

At last, Mommy told her.

Conclusion: Do not start something, unless you know how to stop it.


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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.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Be a Mentor

A mentor is more than a cheerleader. A mentor oversees and actively supports the development of the mentee.

Socrates may have been the first great mentor. Socrates mentored Plato, among others. Plato, in turn, wrote down the ideas of Socrates, making Socrates's name and ideas known to generations of scholars and ensuring Socrates's eternal fame.

Mentoring others is truly one of life's greatest joys. It is very rewarding seeing someone whom you have helped with career and skill development moving into good, new positions. Often, mentees hand an even greater reward to their mentors by passing on through the mentoring of others what has been given to them. Sometimes they can do more to enhance one's reputation than one can do for oneself.

I learned to mentor because I had good mentors. Some came from my military days; the military perhaps more than any other organization knows about mentoring. Some came from my academic days, and some came from daily life.

I remember one mentor at work. I will not give his real name here because for some former colleagues that would also reveal the identity of the bad boss and nonmentor who followed him, and I should probably protect the guilty in this case. Howard was the first civilian boss I had. We worked together well. He gave me much independence, was excellent at playing devil's advocate, and would freely spend any amount of time in discussing ideas, theories, and plans with me. When he was promoted, I was very much disappointed by his replacement who not only did not mentor but also was actually destructive in his relationships with employees. As a result, I decided to fire the new boss by moving on to other work. When that happened, Howard met with me, expressed his concern that I would leave, and told me something that I have never forgotten.

"Had I known what was going to happen to you," he said, "I would never have accepted the promotion. I don't need the money, and I don't need the recognition."

Clearly, Howard took mentoring seriously. That comment made some of the other difficulties more bearable. In my mentoring, I have often thought of Ron and wondered if, given the same situation, I would be willing to turn down a promotion for the sake of a mentee. Fortunately, I have not had to make that kind of decision, but I think such a decision would bring with it many rewards.

I have had several mentees in my life and have garnered many psychic rewards from mentoring them. While some have gone on to different kinds of careers, most have stayed in touch. Many have acknowledged me in their dissertations and publications. Some have become friends, and I stay with them when I travel. Others have become well known in my career field and have contributed chapters to books I have edited. Some have gone on to become colleagues; they may be the very best, most supportive colleagues.

One of the most heart-warming experiences I have had in mentoring was a 4:00 a.m. call on a Saturday morning from a former mentee who had gone on to become a colleague, then surpassed my own aspirations, and now was selected for a high government post. I was the first person he called with the news -- but he forgot about the time difference between his location and mine. No matter! Who does not enjoy being awakened to that kind of news?!

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

Friday, November 5, 2010

A Farmer in Leningrad

Mommy, the farmer's daughter, grew up to work in a profession that required her to live in the city. It also required her to do some fancy things once in a while.

Once Mommy and my sister were in St. Petersburg, Russia. (Back then, it was called Leningrad.) Mommy and my sister were visiting the Consul General at the U.S. Consulate there, and they were the guests of honor at breakfast.

Mommy and my sister talked with everyone around the table. The guests chatted, as the maid placed an eggcup with an egg in front of each person's plate.

Mommy did not know what to do with the egg in the eggcup. She thought about it, as she continued to talk, and she still could not figure it out. There was not an obvious way to handle it. She watched what the others were doing. What they were doing was waiting for her, the guest of honor, to start eating before they did. Here was a dilemma. Mommy kept talking, hoping that someone would get hungry enough to start eating, but none did. That is the way it is with diplomats. They have to be polite.

Finally, Mommy was very hungry, and she figured everyone else was, too. She decided to do a very brave thing. She would eat her egg as she was used to eating it. She seized the egg, dragged it out of the eggcup onto her plate, and smashed it with a knife.

The egg was very soft. It made a very big mess on Mommy's plate.

Everyone else then gently tapped open his or her eggs with a spoon and scooped out the egg bit by bit, eating it. My sister did that, too, as she whispered to Mommy, "I don't think you were supposed to kill the egg with a knife."

Poor Mommy! She was not able to eat very much of that egg, so she was very hungry after breakfast.

She was also embarrassed, but she was used to that. She had learned over time that things are done differently in the country and the city.

Her first embarrassing high society incident occurred while she was at college. Her best friend invited her to Philadelphia. There her family took the two of them to a very expensive restaurant for dinner. Mommy dressed up as best as she could, and she was on her very best behavior. At least, she tried to be.

She did not like soup, however, and had never been able to force herself to eat it. (That was very strange for a farm girl, where soup is a staple, but that is the way it was then with Mommy.)

So, when the waiter brought her a huge bowl of warm liquid, she picked up her soup spoon and enthusiastically started sipping what she considered to be a very tasteless dish.

The waiter looked very confused. "Miss," he said. "This is the finger bowl for washing your hands."

Conclusion: You can take the farmer off the farm, but you cannot take the farm out of the farmer.

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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.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Be Someone's Cheerleader

One of the most rewarding "jobs" is to be someone's cheerleader. Most people need a cheerleader at one time or another, and most can be a cheerleader for others. There are likely to be any number of people among your friends who need and deserve a cheerleader.

There are all kinds of circumstances in which one can act as a cheerleader. Perhaps someone you know is looking for work, and success is elusive. Keeping that person's spirits and hope high is one way to be a cheerleader.

Another way to be a cheerleader is to support someone trying to reach a specific goal. Perhaps a colleague wants to become an American citizen and needs to take some tests. Perhaps a relative wants to get a GED and needs to go through that series of tests. Perhaps a friend is experiencing medical problems and needs to find the right treatment and the right doctor. Doing such things alone can be discouraging. Having someone in the background who sends positive signals, is confident that success is attainable, and even occasionally directly helps can make a critical difference.

As a teacher and academic administrator, I was a cheerleader for all my students. I think that is natural and necessary if one wants to have a successful educational program. In one government language training program that I supervised, there was an older enlisted student, Thomas (not his real name), who had applied for appointment to warrant officer. I provided encouragement in the ways that I could, which were all indirect, although I did let the Air Force know that Thomas was an exceptional student.

I considered my participation in Thomas's life to be only that of a supportive administrator. Therefore, when Thomas received the appointment and invited me to attend the swearing-in ceremony in the office of one of the generals in the Pentagon, I assumed that this would be a grand and gala affair. It turned out to be very private: his immediate family, the general for whom he had worked, five or six friends, and I. He commented that he was pleased because "all the meaningful people" in his life had showed up for this important moment. What a reward for being a cheerleader!

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

Friday, October 29, 2010

Fishing for Men

Mommy really did grow up on a farm. It was located in the mountains of Maine, not far from the ocean. In that part of Maine there are many good ponds and excellent fishing streams. Everyone there fishes for hornpout.

Once, a couple of boys who went to school with Mommy and her sister invited them to come fishing with them. They took their fishing rods and a sack lunch and went to their friends' house.

At their friends' house, they climbed into two canoes, my Mom's sister, Karen, with Danny and Mommy with Jimmy. They spent the morning casting for fish and paddling the river that ran through Danny and Jimmy's parents' property.

By noon, they had not caught anything yet, but they still had time. They pulled the canoes up on shore side by side and sat on the riverbank. They ate their sack lunches. (Grandma had made the lunches, so they were edible.)

After lunch, they had much better luck. Everyone, that is, except Mommy. Karen caught a couple hornpout, and so did Danny. Mommy thought that maybe their canoe was in a better place in the river, but Jimmy was catching fish, too.

Jimmy told Mommy that she was not very good at casting. So, he showed her how to do it better. Mommy thought that she understood. She took the fishing pole back and did what Jimmy had showed her. The reel spun, and the line, with the hook for the fish, went flying through the air. Mommy could not see where it went, but she immediately felt that she had caught something really big. She started to really it in.

Jimmy was excited, too. He was shouting. Mommy could not hear him very well because she was concentrating on reeling in her catch. Finally she heard him.

"Stop!" he yelled. "Stop. Stop now."

Mommy did not at first understand why he wanted her to stop. Then she saw what had happened, at the same time that Jimmy explained.

"Stop! It's not a fish! You caught me!"

Mommy's hook was twisted into his t-shirt. It took Jimmy's Mom twenty minutes to get
it out.

I have heard people say that sometimes women fish for men. I've also heard other people talking someone being a good catch. I did not understand what the expression really meant until my aunt told me about Mommy's fishing trip.

Conclusion: Catching a person is not the same as catching a fish.

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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.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

What Are You Really Selling?

Around a hundred years ago in the city of Damascus, all sugar arrived from India. The price of each kilogram was one majidi (an Ottoman currency). Merchants would add expenses and a margin of profit and sell a kilogram for two majidis.

One day a merchant by the name of Tarek began to sell each kilogram of sugar for only one majidi. The sugar merchants were very upset with Tarek, but they decided to ignore him.

"After all," they would comfort each other, "how long can he possibly keep up this ridiculous strategy?"

But months passed by, and Tarek continued to sell a kilogram of sugar for one majidi. The merchants met to discuss the “Tarek Affair.” “This has gone beyond any reasonable attempt to gain new customers,” they argued. “We simply have to put an end to this.”

The merchants decided to invite Tarek for dinner to discuss the matter with him. Tarek arrived and sat with his fellow sugar merchants. A very nice dinner was served and, later, over tea, the merchants proclaimed: "We have locked the door, and you shall not leave until you explain to us how you can possibly continue to sell sugar for no profit at all?"

Tarek smiled, took a sip of his tea, and said: "But I don’t sell sugar."

"This is not the time for humor," the merchants said firmly.

"But that is the truth. I really don’t sell sugar. Allow me to explain. You have been in my shop; it's just a big room. I have placed the sugar on a big cloth spread out on the floor. My customers come in, all attracted by the fact that they can buy a kilogram of sugar for only one majidi. So, it is only natural that they want to buy lots of sugar. Where are they going to place all the sugar they decide on buying? Naturally, they need bags. I stand ready to satisfy this need. I have all the bags they may ask for, but my bags are not free. I sell my bags for profit, for lots of profit. But who is going to stop and question the price of my bags when they are getting such a good deal with the price of my sugar? I don’t lose on sugar; I simply deliver it for the price for which I purchase it. But when it comes to bags," Tarek smiled again, "that's where I really make a profit. So you see, my friends, I really don’t sell sugar. My specialty is bags."

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The above story is excerpted from a book, Metaphors of Islamic Humanism, by my dear friend, Dr. Omar Imady, copyright 2005.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Share with Others

Closely related to asking for help and revealing one's incompetence is helping others by sharing knowledge, time, or experience. So many times we walk away without sharing, and thus we miss out on many warm memories.

My husband, Donnie, and I have very pleasant memories from our days as outdoor counselors for a Girl Scout troop. Those memories are memorialized in the form of a handmade plaque given to us by the girls. On it, they painted the proverb attributed to the Chinese (but the Chinese tell me it is not theirs): "Give me a fish, and I eat for a day; teach me to fish, and I eat for a life time."

We certainly had taught them the basics of fishing. As a former forester, Donnie had also taught the girls much forest lore. We did the normal Girl Scouting activities: camping, hiking, and the like. In addition, we did some rather unusual outdoor activities, especially for elementary-school girls. They took backpacking trips of multiple days' duration. They spent part of a week canoeing the Allegheny River from start to finish, camping out along the way wherever they could. We ensured that they knew first aid and other survival skills and could cope with weather.

At one rainy day staff meeting at the Girl Scout lodge, one leader came in late and expressed surprise that she had gone past a lake on the way where there were girls paddling canoes and swimming around overturned canoes in the middle of the lake in the pouring rain. The ranger said to her, "Let me guess -- Troop 151." (Yes, it was Trooop 151, our troop. We were ensuring that the girls could handle canoe tippings before taking them on the river.

The elementary school teacher was a little concerned that the girls took a day off from school in order to complete a three-day outing. The concern was that the girls would not be prepared for their ecology test on Monday. What the teacher failed to realize was that the girls were living according to principles of ecology and experiencing ecology in real-life environments. Every one of those girls got an A on her ecology test.

Seeing those girls learn and succeed built unforgettable and warm memories for us. Although we were new to the neighborhood, we quickly became friends with the parents of many of the girls. Recently, the parents of two of the girls looked us up when they came to California for a visit.

There are few greater rewards than the gratitude of children. There are no greater memories than those that come from sharing oneself in some way with someone else. I think the girls learned that, too.

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

Friday, October 22, 2010

Starting Young

Mommy's problems with details and not quite getting things right started when she was a kid in the country. Not everything went right there, either.

Where Mommy grew up in Maine it snowed a lot. So, when it started to snow, people would head home. One day my grandpa noticed that it was going to snow, so he left work and headed home. On the way, he picked up Mommy at her school in a nearby town. He did not leave soon enough, however, and the snow started while they were still leaving town. Once they were in the country and the foothills to the White Mountains, the snowstorm turned into a blizzard. The road got very, very slippery. Grandpa drove very, very slowly, but he could not see the ice because it was underneath the snow. The road made a sharp turn, but Grandpa did not. The car slid off the road. Grandpa could not get it out of the ditch, so he told Mommy to wait in the car and he would fetch the nearest neighbor, Donald Gates, who lived a couple of miles down the road.

While Mommy was waiting, a man appeared outside her window. Mommy was afraid. She did not want to open the window. Grandma had always told her not to talk to strangers. The man was insistent, however, so Mommy rolled down the window just a crack.

"Do you need some help?" asked the man.

"No," said Mommy. "My Daddy went to get Donald Gates."

"Then I had better wait with you," said the man.

"Oh, no," said Mommy, who was now alarmed. "You don't have to do that. Donald Gates lives really, really close. He and Daddy will be here any minute."

The man insisted on waiting, no matter what Mommy said. Mommy rolled up the window really tight and tried to ignore him. Where was Grandpa?, she worried. When would he get back?

After a while, Grandpa finally appeared. Mommy was really relieved, even though he was alone. Now he would get rid of that man. Grandpa came close, and Mommy rolled down the window. Then, Grandpa did something unexpected. He held out his hand to the strange man.

"Hi, Donald," he said. "I was just looking for you."

"So your daughter told me," the strange man answered.

Conclusion: Sometimes help is closer than you think it is and looks different than you think it does.


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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.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Adam and Musk

It is said that when Adam and Eve first arrived on earth, a deer was very eager to meet them. When the deer approached Adam and Eve, they asked her, "Why have you come to meet us?"

"I have come only to be blessed by meeting you," answered the deer.

And so Adam placed his hand over the deer's back, and instantaneously the beautiful scent of musk permeated its fur.

On its way back home, the deer met many animals. They all exclaimed, "What a beautiful scent you carry! Where did you acquire it from?"

The deer would smile and answer, "Adam touched me, and the scent hasn’t left me since."

And so before the day was over, numerous animals had gathered around Adam, hoping that they, too, would be touched by his hand and acquire the scent of musk. Although Adam touched them all, they all returned with the same scents with which they had arrived. Only the deer, who wanted nothing else but to be blessed by seeing Adam and Eve, was forever blessed with the gift of musk.

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The above story is excerpted from a book, Metaphors of Islamic Humanism, by my dear friend, Dr. Omar Imady, copyright 2005.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Ask the Busiest Person

There is a saying that if you want to get something done, ask the busiest person around. That seems to be true. Moreover, it seems that busy people often do not have to be asked for help. They see the need and volunteer. Perhaps that is why they are so busy.

When my children were small, I was a graduate student and teaching fellow at Renboro University. Although it would have been nice to have a nanny for the children, as a graduate student I could not afford one. Nor could I afford a babysitter just for the "luxury" of using the library. There were a dozen reasons, other than teaching and attending class, for being at the university. My children were too small to leave alone, so I often took them and all their paraphernalia with me.

Finding parking on Fifth Avenue near the university was always difficult. All the parking spaces were set up for parallel parking, and I drove a 17-foot van. It was the smallest vehicle that could carry my children and their medical supplies.

One day I found a parking space, but I just could not get the angle right. I tried one way. I tried another way. I knew the van should just fit into the available space, but nothing seemed to work.

Then I heard a tapping on one of the passenger windows and a question "Do you need some help?" spoken in a clearly enunciated and deliberate tone.

To my children's delight, knocking at the window was Fred Rogers, who filmed his show, Mr. Roger's Neighborhood, down the street from the Cathedral of Learning, where I taught. In a quiet, measured manner, reminiscent of his persona on the television show, he helped me park the car, saying "turn the wheel, like this," demonstrating with his hands.

After a few minutes, the car was in the slot. Mr. Rogers smiled, waved, and walked on, much like he did on his television show.

I am not the only person to have had this kind of experience with Fred Rogers. Others who know him have said that he is the persona in person that he is on Mr. Roger's Neighborhood. Moreover, he has made films for Children's Hospital to help children feel more comfortable in a hospital environment and has found a myriad other ways to help his "neighborhood."

People like Fred Rogers are very special. Finding time to stop and help someone park is a small act of kindness, perhaps of little significance to the person offering the help but of great significance to the person needing the help.

Some time ago I needed to recruit an advisory group to answer questions for graduate students in a national newsletter column on a regular basis. I immediately went to the most senior and busiest people in the profession, knowing that they had little time to add yet another project to their schedule. Nonetheless, 90% of them said yes. Had I asked less busy people, that percentage would very likely have been much lower.

You can tell the busiest people right away. They are the ones who almost always stop to smell the roses -- and help out the gardener.

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

Friday, October 15, 2010

Meeting People in Boston

One of the things Mommy does to make an income is write books. This means that Mommy occasionally has to go somewhere to meet with a potential publisher. So, when Mommy was teaching that summer in Middlebury, Vermont, she made an appointment with Harry, a representative of a Boston-area publisher for a book she was working on.

Apparently, this was to be one of those memorable meetings—memorable because of all the things that went wrong. Part of it was Mommy's bad luck—that seems to happen a lot, and part of it was that Mommy failed to get all the details she needed about the trip—that seems to happen a lot, too.

The first detail that Mommy missed was the weather report for the day in question. It was a long walk to the bus station, but it was mostly downhill. It would have been okay, except that it rained very hard that day. Worst, Mommy overslept, so she ended up jogging to the bus station with a computer in her backpack in the pouring rain. That slowed her down a little and made her out of breath a lot.

The second detail that Mommy missed was the location of the bus station. Actually, she knew where the bus station was and went there—but it was the wrong bus station. She wondered how on earth there could be two bus stations in a town half the size of Podunk.

Mommy ran over to the other bus station—literally. She knew she had missed her bus, but she thought there might be another one that could get her to Boston on time.
As it turned out, her bus had not yet showed up. Mommy was happy. She should not have been. That was not a good sign. The bus finally came, and every town it came to on the way to Boston, it got later and later. Mommy's bus pulled into Boston very late.

The third mistake Mommy made was in not getting a telephone number where she could call Harry if problems developed. All she knew was the name and address of the hotel restaurant near the bus station where they planned to meet. She ran from the bus
station to the hotel, hoping that he would still be there.

When Mommy walked in the door, she realized her fourth mistake. She had forgotten to ask Harry what he looked like. There were lots of men in that hotel restaurant.

Mommy went from one to another, asking, "Are you Harry?"

One man she asked stood up and said, "I could be if you would like me to be." Mommy decided that she would not like him to be.

Mommy did find Harry eventually. She also met a lot of other people whom she had not planned to meet.

Conclusion: There are better ways to win friends and influence people than to ask people if they are Harry.


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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.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

When You Are Shoved from the Right, Look to the Left

A man once went on Hajj (pilgrimage). As he circled the Kaaba (the black cubic structure in Mecca that pilgrims circle seven times during Hajj in worship of the one God), he was suddenly shoved from the right. Wanting to stay focused on his spiritual experience, he ignored this and continued to walk around the cubic structure, like a planet circling a star. Only a few seconds passed before he was once again shoved from the right. This time he looked over his shoulder and politely asked the man standing next to him to stop pushing him, but no sooner had he resumed his walk around the Kaaba than he was once again shoved from the right. This time the man decided that he must put an end to this impolite behavior. He turned to his right and asked the man next to him why he was continuing to shove him, but the man refused to apologize or acknowledge that he had even approached him. Loud voices began to interrupt the serene atmosphere:

"You must stop pushing me!"


"You are deluded! I haven't even touched you!"

A few minutes later, the man felt guilty for allowing himself to be distracted from his spiritual experience.

"Let everyone shove me as much as they wish" he whispered to himself. "I just want to concentrate on emulating the cosmos, circling the Kabaa as the earth circles the sun."

However, as he moved away from the scene, he suddenly noticed that the small leather purse that had been fixed on the left side of his belt was no longer there. While he was obsessed with the man shoving him from the right, another man to his left had been cutting off his purse. How artistically do they divide their roles: one shoves, the other cuts!

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The above story is excerpted from a book, Metaphors of Islamic Humanism, by my dear friend, Dr. Omar Imady, copyright 2005.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Look for Common Ground

I frequently travel with only a couple of dollars (literally) in my pocket, usually because I run out of time to get to the bank before departure and partly because I have been mugged three times (and don't want to give any mugger a small fortune). I have found that I can nearly always find an ATM or use a credit card for any needs that crop up -- or forego needs satisfaction temporarily.

One Saturday, however, I was a little more disorganized than usual and ended up in Reno with nearly no money and only a rarely used ATM card, the PIN for which I had forgotten. Oops! I called my bank's 800 number and reached a customer service representative named Beth.

I reacted with pleased surprise. "Oh, what wonderful news! My name is Beth, too. That must mean you are going to help me."

Most people will respond with assent to such a statement. Few, if any, will say, "No, I don't plan to help you."

So, my comment set up the explanation that she would do whatever it took to get me out of my predicament, and she did. Although she could not give out the PIN on the phone -- and I would not want her to do that -- with some creative thinking and several minutes of searching, she was able to track down a branch of my bank in nearby Sparks that was open all day Saturday. I thanked her profusely. My problem was solved, and she clearly felt good about having helped me.

When I took a cab to the bank, I got to know a very talkative, elderly man, a long-time resident of Sparks. From him, I learned much about the history of Sparks that I would not otherwise have known. I think the cab driver liked having an out-of-towner to tell his stories to because he waited for me at the bank at no charge.

The weatherman reported a chill in the air that day, but I didn't feel it. It seemed pretty warm to me.

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

Friday, October 8, 2010

Trouble with Travels

It is not just tickets that Mommy has trouble with. She also has trouble with planes and all kinds of travel. Maybe it is because of the kinds of places to which she travels. Sometimes, even ticket agents cannot find these places on a map.

Once Mommy was flying to Moldova, which is a country that used to belong to the Soviet Union but is now independent. It is to the east of Romania, and not very many airlines fly there. So, Mommy had to fly Moldovan Airlines. When she was about to get on a plane from Moscow to Moldova, part of the plane's propeller fell on the runway right near where she was standing. Some man emerged from inside the plane and told people that they were having a little trouble at the moment. Mommy very quickly figured out what the "little trouble" was.

Another time Mommy was consulting in Bukhara, Uzbekistan, which is on the boarder of Uzbekistan and Tajikistan in Central Asia. Uzbekistan is another of those countries that people have trouble finding on the map and that were part of the former Soviet Union. Not very many Americans go there because you have to be able to speak either Uzbek or Russian, but Mommy goes there a lot. Usually she has few travel problems, but once it took her six days to get from Bukhara to Houston, Texas.

People told her not to take Bukhara Air, but she did not listen. She took the flight from Bukhara to Tashkent on Bukhara Air—and it was a perfect flight. She stayed overnight in Tashkent and got up in the morning to take another airlines from Tashkent to Moscow, en route to New York City and Houston. Unfortunately, that plane had fallen apart en route to Tashkent, so there was no plane to use to get people to Moscow. That is Mommy's kind of luck: planes falling apart.

Mommy stayed in Tashkent two more days. Then, when she did get a flight out, she had to talk her way past the border guards in Moscow because she no longer had a valid ticket from Moscow out of the country and no visa for Moscow. That is Mommy's kind of luck: no visa when it is needed.

After making it into Moscow, Mommy stayed a couple of days until she could get a flight to New York City. The flight, when she finally got it, was uneventful. Mommy was now feeling rather fortunate. She should not have been. In New York City, she got on the flight to Houston and relaxed. She should not have. Bam! The plane shook. Mommy knew what had happened because she had felt this sensation once in leaving Houston, when the baggage-loading vehicle ran into the side of the plane and damaged the baggage door. This time the food truck servicing the plane had run into it and put a hole into its side. Now it could not fly. Everyone had to get off and take a plane through Atlanta to Houston. That is Mommy's kind of luck: Planes getting damaged by loading vehicles running into them.

There was a man in the waiting area for the Atlanta flight. He overheard Mommy telling someone that this was her sixth day, trying to get to Houston from Uzbekistan. He listened to everything that had happened to Mommy. Then he got up and walked over to the gate agent.
"I would like a different flight," he told the agent.

"Yes, sir," she replied. "What flight would you like?"

"Any flight that she is not on," he said, pointing to Mommy.
The agent laughed, but the man did not. He made the agent put him on a different flight.

Mommy seems to have a bad influence on the travels of people around her. So, perhaps the man was right to get on a different plane. I can give you a couple of examples.

Mommy's sister, my Aunt Victoria, was traveling to see us when she was 15. At the time, she was living with my grandmother in Maine, and we were living in Washington, D.C. Grandma took Aunt Victoria to the airport and waved to her as she boarded the plane. However, she never showed up in Washington. Mommy looked and looked. The she had the airlines page Aunt Valerie. When the airlines learned that Aunt Victoria was only 15, they searched real hard for her. They found her, too — in Columbia, South Carolina. Since she was coming to the District of Columbia, she felt that it made sense to get on a plane headed for Columbia.

A different kind of travel problem happened to one of Mommy's students. A very nice but absent-minded lady once took a course that Mommy was teaching. She came all the way from Japan to take the course. Mommy tried to tell her that it is cold on the Central Coast of California in the summer time, but I guess she did not believe Mommy because she brought a lot of summer clothes with her. She could not wear the summer clothes because it really was too cold. So, she thought that she would make her travels easier by mailing the clothes to her home address in Japan. That did not make things easier for her, though, because she left her passport in the pocket of her shorts. Oops! Goodbye, passport! Mommy, of course, is used to passport troubles, so she helped her student get a replacement passport fast.

Conclusion: If you want an easy time traveling, avoid Mommy!

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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.

About Me

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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.
   

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