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


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.

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.


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.

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.

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.

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!


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

About Me

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

My Other Blogs

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

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

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

Recommended Reading List

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