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


Thursday, October 11, 2012

Away Longer

My Syrian friends gave me two weeks of rest and relaxation, much needed and much enjoyed. Now, they are on their way back to Scotland where they have acquired some work and probably won't return to Syria until and unless life calms down. Well, maybe they will visit friends and family during the less troubled moments...much prayer needed for them and all Syria.

As for me, after one day back to work and, seemingly, life going back to normal, things took a not-unexpected twist. My sister-in-law who has been suffering from Stage IV lung cancer was hospitalized and then immediately hospicized for a pulmonary embolism. My brother called and said that if I wanted to see her while she was still alive, I should come back home immediately, which is what I am doing. That is easier said than done. I come from rural Maine farm country where there is no public transportation, so the trip will be an all-day one from San Francisco to Boston by plane, followed by a bus trip to New Hampshire, where my brother can pick me up in his car and take me the final hour's drive home. Once a travel agent told me "you can't there from here," so since then I have been my own travel agent on trips home. I do know how to get there from here. It just takes a lot of time and a lot of conveyances.

I am hoping that I will be able to share some of her final hours with my sister-in-law and then help my brother post-funeral with whatever I can help. Being the oldest of the eight of us, I find that there is always something with which I can help and for which I am wanted.

Rural Maine is not entirely on the Internet grid yet, so please bear with me as a remain silent probably until nearly the end of October. When I am back, you all will know. There will be a post, the first in a long time!

Prayers for you all in my absence, and please pray for those in my life who need God's solace.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Taking a Break

I will be taking a break from blogging for the next 2 1/2 weeks (until October 5). I have friends arriving tonight from faraway Syria, and I really need to be able to spend undiluted time with them. They will not be here for long. So, while I regret not being able to post the Monday Morning Meditation (the other posts are of lesser importance), I know that you will be able to scroll down to the last MMM and click on Fr. Austin's link and have a nice cup of Monday morning coffee and reflection with him.

And I wish to all of you who stop by in the interim a blessed day, week, month. Thank you for dropping in and being a part of my life.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

A Book Especially for Widows

I have no idea how many widows, especially recent widows, are among the readers of this blog, but just in case there are a few I thought I would share information about a recently released book that can be of help to recently widowed women. The title is Widow: Surviving the First Year. It was written by Dr. Joanna Romer, an English professor and journalist who was widowed a couple of years ago and so has first-hand experience of that about which she writes. (Donnie, by the way, did the cover photography and design.) For those interested in the content, here is information about the topics covered in the book:
This book takes new widows on a journey from the first difficult days of widowhood through 12 months of self-discovery. Along the way, you will learn how to handle emotional challenges such as suddenly being alone; how to tackle painful tasks including cleaning out hubby's closet; and how to re-enter the world again in terms of work, personal development and socializing. Guidelines are provided for each new phase, making this book a practical self-help book you can use for re-creating your life.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Saturday Quickie: Publisher Looking for Spiritual Writers

Truly just a quickie. For anyone with a well-written manuscript, MSI Press is looking for writers of spiritual books to expand its spiritual line. The orientation is primarily Catholic, mystical or  Franciscan bent, and good writing is really a prerequisite; most MSI Press, if you check at Barnes & Noble or Amazon, are 5-star (or at least 4.5-star) books. The press is a small, traditional press with close relationships with its authors and provides much personal help and "education" to new authors, including a monthly newsletter that provides updated information on what the press is doing to market books and how authors can help those efforts and become better known, but it accepts fewer than 10% of manuscripts submitted. Still, you have lost nothing more than some time to submit a query by email. You can submit the query to The press website has a form that can be used, but it is not necessary. If you have access to Writer's Market, there is a little more information there.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

The Desert Island

Here is a parable shared with me by a friend from the traditions of the Talmud, a Christian monk, and Buddhism -- ironic that all come together at some point. The version below is a Talmud story.
A very wealthy man, who was of a kind, benevolent disposition, desired to make his slave happy. He gave him, therefore, his freedom, and presented him with a shipload of merchandise.
"Go," said he, "sail to different countries, dispose of these goods, and that which thou mayest receive for them shall be thy own."
The slave sailed away upon the broad ocean, but before he had been long upon his voyage a storm overtook him; his ship was driven on a rock and went to pieces; all on board were lost, all save this slave, who swam to an island shore near by. Sad, despondent, with naught in the world, he traversed this island, until he approached a large and beautiful city; and many people approached him joyously, shouting, "Welcome! welcome! Long live the king!" They brought a rich carriage, and placing him therein, escorted him to a magnificent palace, where many servants gathered about him, clothing him in royal garments, addressing him as their sovereign, and expressing their obedience to his will.
The slave was amazed and dazzled, believing that he was dreaming, and all that he saw, heard, and experienced was mere passing fantasy. Becoming convinced of the reality of his condition, he said to some men about him for whom he experienced a friendly feeling
"How is this? I cannot understand it. That you should thus elevate and honour a man whom you know not, a poor, naked wanderer, whom you have never seen before, making him your ruler, causes me more wonder than I can readily express."

"Sire," they replied, "this island is inhabited by spirits. Long since they prayed to God to send them yearly a son of man to reign over them, and He has answered their prayers. Yearly he sends them a son of man, whom they receive with honour and elevate to the throne; but his dignity and power ends with the year. With its close his royal garments are taken from him, he is placed on board a ship and carried to a vast and desolate island, where, unless he has previously been wise and prepared for this day, he will find neither friend nor subject, and be obliged to pass a weary, lonely, miserable life. Then a new king is selected here, and so year follows year. The kings who preceded thee were careless and indifferent, enjoying their power to the full, and thinking not of the day when it should end. Be wiser thou; let our words find rest within thy heart."

The newly-made king listened attentively to all this, and felt grieved that he should have lost even the time he had already missed for making preparations for his loss of power. He addressed the wise man who had spoken, saying, "Advise me, oh, spirit of wisdom, how I may prepare for the days which will come upon me in the future."

"Naked thou earnest to us and naked thou wilt be sent to the desolate island of which I have told thee," replied the other. "At present thou art king, and may do as pleaseth thee; therefore send workmen to this island; let them build houses, till the ground, and beautify the surroundings. The barren soil will be changed into fruitful fields, people will journey there to live, and thou wilt have established a new kingdom for thyself, with subjects to welcome thee in gladness when thou shalt have lost thy power here. The year is short, the work is long; therefore be earnest and energetic."

The king followed this advice. He sent workmen and materials to the desolate island, and before the close of his temporary power it had become a blooming, pleasant, and attractive spot. The rulers who had preceded him had anticipated the day of their power's close with dread, or smothered all thought of it in revelry; but he looked forward to it as a day of joy, when he should enter upon a career of permanent peace and happiness.
The day came; the freed slave, who had been made king, was deprived of his authority; with his power he lost his royal garments; naked he was placed upon a ship, and its sails set for the desolate isle.

When he approached its shores, however, the people whom he had sent there came to meet him with music, song, and great joy. They made him a prince among then, and he lived with them ever after in pleasantness and peace.

The wealthy man of kindly disposition is God, and the slave to whom He gave freedom is the soul which He, gives to man. The island at which the slave arrives is the world; naked and weeping he appears to his parents, who are the inhabitants that greet him warmly and make him their king. The friends who tell him of the ways of the country are his "good inclinations." The year of his reign is his span of life, and the desolate island is the future world, which he must beautify by good deeds, "the workmen and material," or else live lonely and desolate for ever.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

The Hermit

The following story was shared with me by a friend. He has no idea of the author, but I tracked it down to Zadig by Voltaire, a book I read in college French classes and so, therefore, the story, reworked in the version sent by my friend, sounded familiar. For me, everything was predictable from about halfway through, and the story message was evident. Not so for my friend, perhaps because his life has been more complicated than mine. I am curious about your reactions to it.

In the reign of King Moabdar there lived at Babylon a young man named Zadig. He was handsome, rich, and naturally good-hearted; and at the moment when the story opens, he was travelling on foot to see the world, and to learn philosophy and wisdom. But, hitherto, he had encountered so much misery, and endured so many terrible disasters, that he had become tempted to rebel against the will of Heaven, and to believe that the Providence which rules the world neglects the good, and lets the evil prosper. In this unhappy spirit he was one day walking on the banks of the Euphrates, when he chanced to meet a venerable hermit, whose snowy beard descended to his girdle, and who carried in his hand a scroll which he was reading with attention. Zadig stopped, and made him a low bow. The hermit returned the salutation with an air so kindly, and so noble, that Zadig felt a curiosity to speak to him. He inquired what scroll was that which he was reading.

“It is the Book of Destiny," replied the hermit, “would you like to read it?"

He handed it to Zadig; but the latter, though he new a dozen languages, could not understand a word of it. His curiosity increased.

“You appear to be in trouble," said the kindly hermit.

“Alas!” said Zadig, "I have cause to be so."

“If you will allow me," said the hermit, "I will accompany you. Perhaps I may be useful to you. I am sometimes able to console the sorrowful." 
Zadig felt a deep respect for the appearance, the white beard, and the mysterious scroll of the old hermit, and perceived that his conversation was that of a superior mind. The old man spoke of destiny, of justice, of morality, of the chief good of life, of human frailty, of virtue and of vice, with so much power and eloquence that Zadig felt himself attracted by a kind of charm, and besought the hermit not to leave him until they should return to Babylon.
”I ask you the same favor," said the hermit. "Promise me that, whatever I may do, you will keep me company for several days."
 Zadig gave the promise; and they set forth together.
That night the travelers arrived at a grand mansion. The hermit begged for food and lodging for himself and his companion. The porter, who might have been mistaken for a prince, ushered them in with a contemptuous air of welcome. The chief servant showed them the magnificent apartments; and they were then admitted to the bottom of the table, where the master of the mansion did not condescend to cast a glance at them. They were, however, served with delicacies in profusion, and after dinner washed their hands in a golden basin set with emeralds and rubies. They were then conducted for the night into a beautiful apartment; and the next morning, before they left the castle, a servant brought them each a piece of gold.
“The master of the house," said Zadig, as they went their way, "appears to be a generous man, although a trifle haughty. He practices a noble hospitality." As he spoke, he perceived that a kind of large pouch which the hermit carried appeared singularly distended; within it was the golden basin, set with precious stones, which the old man had purloined. Zadig was amazed; but he said nothing.
 At noon the hermit stopped before a little house, in which lived a wealthy miser, and once more asked for hospitality. An old valet in a shabby coat received them very rudely, showed them into the stable, and set before them a few rotten olives, some mouldy bread, and beer which had turned sour. The hermit ate and drank with as much content as he had shown the night before; then, addressing the old valet, who had kept his eye upon them to make sure that they stole nothing, he gave him the two gold pieces which they had received that morning, and thanked him for his kind attention. "Be so good,” he added, “as to let me see your master."
The astonished valet showed them in.
"Most mighty signor," said the hermit, "I can only render you my humble thanks for the noble manner in which you have received us. I beseech you to accept this golden basin as a token of my gratitude."
The miser almost fell backwards with amazement. The hermit, without waiting for him to recover, set off with speed, with his companion.
“Holy Father," said Zadig, "what does all this mean? You seem to me to resemble other men in nothing. You steal a golden basin set with jewels from a signor who receives you with magnificence, and you give it to curmudgeon who treats you with indignity.
“My son," replied the hermit, "this mighty lord, who only welcomes travelers through vanity, and to display his riches, will henceforth grow wiser, while the miser will be taught to practice hospitality. Be amazed at nothing, and follow me."
Zadig knew not whether he was dealing with the most foolish or the wisest of all men. But the hermit spoke with such ascendency that Zadig, who besides was fettered by his promise, had no choice except to follow him.
That night they came to an agreeable house, of simple aspect, and showing signs of neither prodigality nor avarice. The owner was a philosopher, who had left the world, and who studied peacefully the rules of virtue and of wisdom, and who yet was happy and contented. He had built this calm retreat to please himself, and he received the strangers in it with a frankness which displayed no sign of ostentation. He conducted them himself to a comfortable chamber, where he made them rest awhile; then he returned to lead them to a dainty little supper. During their conversation they agreed that the affairs of this world are not always regulated by the opinions of the wisest of men. But the hermit still maintained that the ways of Providence are wrapped in mystery, and that men do wrong to pass their judgment on a universe of which they only see the smallest part. Zadig wondered how a person who committed such mad acts could reason so correctly.
At length, after a conversation as agreeable as instructive, the host conducted the two travelers to their apartment, and thanked heaven for sending him two visitors so wise and virtuous. He offered them some money, but so frankly that they could not feel offended. The old man declined, and desired to say farewell, as he intended to depart for Babylon at break of a day. They therefore parted on the warmest terms, and Zadig, above all, was filled with kindly feelings towards so amiable a man.
When the hermit and himself were in their chamber, they spent some time in praises of their host. At break of day the old man woke his comrade.
"We must be going," he remarked. "But while everyone is still asleep, I wish to leave this worthy man a pledge of my esteem." With these words, he took a torch and set the house on fire.
Zadig burst forth into cries of horror and would have stopped the frightful act. But the hermit, by superior strength, drew him away. The house was in a blaze; and the old man, who was now a good way off with his companion, looked back calmly at the burning pile.
"Heaven be praised!" he cried. "Our kind host’s house is destroyed from top to bottom!"
At these words Zadig knew not whether he should burst out laughing, call the reverend father an old rascal, knock him down, or run away. But he did none of these things. Still subdued by the superior manner of the hermit, he followed him against his will to their next lodging.
This was the dwelling of a good and charitable widow, who had a nephew of fourteen, her only hope and joy. She did her best to use the travelers well; and the next morning she bade her nephew guide them safely past a certain bridge, which, having recently been broken, had become dangerous to cross over. The youth, eager to oblige them, led the way.
“Come,” said the hermit, when they were half across the bridge, "I must show my gratitude towards your aunt;” as he spoke he seized the young man by the hair and threw him into the river. The youth fell, reappeared for an instant on the surface, and then was swallowed by the torrent.
“Oh, monster!” exclaimed Zadig, "oh, most detestable of men!”
“You promised me more patience," interrupted the old man. “Listen! Beneath the ruins of that house which Providence saw fit to set on fire, the owner will discover an enormous treasure; while this young man, whose existence Providence cut short, would have killed his aunt within a year, and you yourself in two."
“Who told you so, barbarian?" cried Zadig, "and even if you read the issue in your Book of Destiny, who gave you power to drown a youth who never injured you?”
While he spoke, he saw that the old man had a beard no longer, and that his face had become fair and young; his hermit's dress had disappeared: four white wings covered his majestic form, and shone with dazzling lustre.
“Angel of heaven!" cried Zadig, "you are then descended from the skies to teach an erring mortal to submit to the eternal laws?"
“Men,” replied the angel Jezrael, "judge all things without knowledge; and you, of all men, most deserved to be enlightened. The world imagines that the youth who has just perished fell by chance into the water, and that by a like chance the rich man's house was set on fire. But there is no such thing as chance; all is trial, or punishment, or foresight. Feeble mortal, cease to argue and rebel against what you ought to adore!”
As he spoke these words the angel took his flight to heaven. And Zadig fell upon his knees. 

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The World Is Mine

From the Internet -- 
Today, upon a bus, I saw a very beautiful woman
And wished I were as beautiful.
When suddenly she rose to leave,
I saw her hobble down the aisle.
She had one leg and used a crutch.
But as she passed, she passed a smile.
Oh, God, forgive me when I whine.
I have two legs; the world is mine.

I stopped to buy some candy.
The lad who sold it had such charm.
I talked with him, he seemed so glad.
If I were late, it'd do no harm.
And as I left, he said to me,
"I thank you,
You've been so kind.
It's nice to talk with folks like you.
You see," he said, "I'm blind."
Oh, God, forgive me when I whine.
I have two eyes; the world is mine.

Later while walking down the street,
I saw a child I knew.
He stood and watched the others play,
But he did not know what to do.
I stopped a moment and then I said,
"Why don't you join them dear?"
He looked ahead without a word.
I forgot, he couldn't hear.
Oh, God, forgive me when I whine.
I have two ears; the world is mine.

With feet to take me where I'd go..
With eyes to see the sunset's glow.
With ears to hear what I'd know.
Oh, God, forgive me when I whine.
I've been blessed indeed, the world is
-- Anonymous (wish I knew who wrote it!)

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Worth sharing, from the Internet--

The surgeon said, "I'm sorry. We did all we could, but your boy didn't make it."

Sally said, "Why do little children get cancer? Doesn't God care anymore? Where were you, God, when my son needed you?"

The surgeon asked, "Would you like some time alone with your son? One of the nurses will be out in a few minutes, before he's transported to the university."

Sally asked the nurse to stay with her while she said goodbye to son. She ran her fingers lovingly through his thick red curly hair. "Would you like a lock of his hair?" the nurse asked. 

Sally nodded yes. The nurse cut a lock of the boy's hair, put it in a plastic bag and handed it to Sally.
The mother said, "It was Jimmy's idea to donate his body to the University for study. He said it might help somebody else. I said no at first, but Jimmy said, 'Mom, I won't be using it after I die. Maybe it will help some other little boy spend one more day with his Mom.'" She went on, "My Jimmy had a heart of gold. Always thinking of someone else. Always wanting to help others if he could."
Sally walked out of Children's Mercy Hospital for the last time, after spending most of the last six months there. She put the bag with Jimmy's belongings on the seat beside her in the car.

The drive home was difficult. It was even harder to enter the empty house. She carried Jimmy's belongings, and the plastic bag with the lock of his hair to her son's room.

She started placing the model cars and other personal things back in his room exactly where he had always kept them She lay down across his bed and, hugging his pillow, cried herself to sleep.

It was around midnight when Sally awoke. Lying beside her on the bed was a folded letter. The letter said:
Dear Mom,
I know you're going to miss me; but don't think that I will ever forget you, or stop loving you, just 'cause I'm not around to say "I love you." I will always love you, Mom, even more with each day. Some day we will
see each other again. Until then, if you want to adopt a little boy so you won't be so lonely, that's okay with me. He can have my room and old stuff to play with. But, if you decide to get a girl instead, she probably wouldn't like the same things we boys do. You'll have to buy her dolls and stuff girls like, you know.

Don't be sad thinking about me. This really is a neat place. Grandma and Grandpa met me as soon as I got here and showed me around some, but it will take a long time to see everything. The angels are so cool. I love to watch them fly. And, you know what? Jesus doesn't look like any of his pictures. Yet, when I saw Him, I knew it was Him. Jesus himself took me to see GOD! And guess what, Mom? I got to sit on God's knee and talk to Him, like I was somebody important. That's when I told Him that I wanted to write you a letter, to tell you good bye and everything. But I already knew that wasn't allowed. Well, you know what, Mom? God handed me some paper and His own personal pen to write you this letter. I think Gabriel is the name of the angel who is going to drop this letter off to you. God said for me to give you the answer to one of the questions you
 asked Him: where was He when I needed him? God said He was in the same place with me as when His son Jesus was on the cross. He was right there, as He always is with all His children.
Oh, by the way, Mom, no one else can see what I've written except you. To everyone else this is just a blank piece of paper. Isn't that cool? I have to give God His pen back now He needs it to write some more names
in the Book of Life. Tonight I get to sit at the table with Jesus for supper. I'm sure the food will be great.
Oh, I almost forgot to tell you. I don't hurt anymore; the cancer is all gone. I'm glad because I couldn't stand that pain anymore, and God couldn't stand to see me hurt so much, either. That's when He sent the Angel of Mercy to come get me. The Angel said I was a Special Delivery!  How about that?
Signed with love from God, Jesus & Me
-- Author unknown

Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Gospel of Damascus

My friend Omar Imady, Sufi poet from Syria, living in Jordan, where I met him, has written his first novel, The Gospel of Damascus. I don't think I am just being partial to Omar and his work to say that the book is very well written. Those who have read it really like it. It takes amazing turns as you proceed through the story, and I, at least, found it impossible to put down. It just came out April 1, and Omar is looking for people to review it. If anyone is interested in reviewing it and putting a review on line at Amazon or Barnes &Noble, please let me know ( because Omar is willing to send a free copy to any reviewer. Otherwise, if you are just interested in reading it, you can find it in the usual places, all the online bookstores and in some brick-and-mortar ones, too. Omar has also set up a web page about the book on Facebook. He also wrote a book earlier of Islamic short stories that has been quite popular with my friends. Even our priest used one of the stories in his homilies he was so taken by it. That book is called When You're Shoved from the Right, Look to Your Left: Metaphors of Islamic Humanism. And yet one more of his that is available in the United States and through the regular channels, for sure, at least, through the online bookstores is The Rise and Fall of Muslim Civil Society, an interesting read for anyone with an academic interest in the subject. I think the book is actually a revamping of his doctoral dissertation.

Just thought I would share some good reads...

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Ask Forgiveness

It is often easier to ask for help than to ask for forgiveness. However, forgiving someone usually brings a sense of satisfaction and even pleasure and being forgiven even greater reward.

How does one go about asking forgiveness? First, expect to be forgiven. Expectation is often the greatest factor in whether or not something happens.

Second, ask simply. Say, for example, “I hope you will have the grace to forgive me,” or even more simply, “I’m sorry.”

Not everyone is ready to forgive, and that is a risk one takes in asking. However, few can resist a direct request. And when they do forgive, they feel good about themselves, and so do you. When this happens, don’t forget to say “thank you.”

My sister, Danielle, says that admitting one’s own humanity (i.e. the frailties that go with being human and the mistakes that one makes because of being human) can go a long way toward defusing hostile situations. Her approach is to say, “Well, that was less than perfect. Some days I just seem determined to prove how human I can be. I guess I get to cancel the angel wings and halo for another week.”

She says that generally people laugh or give her a hug. Even the sternest will relent and say something like “Well, as long as the problem gets fixed…”

Laughing at oneself in the act of asking forgiveness, Danielle, a psychiatric nurse, claims, allows the other person to step away from his or her perfectionism or excessively high standards for a moment and to relax and enjoy being human.

Here is another important part of forgiveness. Give credit to the other person for being “big” enough to forgive.

As a young soldier stationed at Goodfellow Air Force Base in San Angelo, Texas, I found my check missing one pay day, and, it turned out, it would be missing for some time to come because of problems with the financial paperwork associated with my belonging to the Army while stationed at an Air Force base.

Military regulations allowed only partial cash payment in such cases, which put me in a financial bind and would be a hardship for some time to come. I was certain that the error was the fault of the finance sergeant in charge of processing pay information. SSG West (not his real name) and I exchanged some acrimonious words, but that, of course, did nothing to improve my financial situation. A few days later, I learned that the fault was not his and that everything that he had told me was accurate. I returned to his office, told him what I had learned, and apologized for my earlier words. He quickly forgave me and redoubled his efforts to help me. A few months later – and much sooner than anyone had expected – my finances were back on track.

Soon after that, SSG West and I ended up working together, as I was assigned to casual status in the combined personnel and finance office while action was being taken on my application for a direct commission to officer ranks. SSG West became my strongest advocate, and he was as pleased for me when the commission was awarded as he would have been for himself.

There is a tradition in the Army that the first person to salute a newly commissioned officer gets a silver dollar from the officer. After the commissioning ceremony, SSG West jumped up to salute me, but the First Sergeant (Top) of my unit beat him to it. As I handed the silver dollar to Top, I saw disappointment on the face of SSG West. Later that day, I stopped by the finance office and handed a silver dollar to my advocate. You would have thought I had given him a million silver coins, not just one.

My apology in this case led to much more than forgiveness. It led to a special relationship between an unlikely pair of friends: a black guy from the deep South and a white girl from New England, and, later, between a non-commissioned officer and a commissioned officer – a friendship that began with an apology and solidified by a silver coin.


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

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Letter Home from a Redneck Farm Kid in the Marine Corps

Another goodie from the Internet -- 

Dear Ma and Pa,

I am well. Hope you are. Tell Brother Walt and Brother Elmer the Marine Corps beats working for old man Minch by a mile. Tell them to join up quick before all of the places are filled.

I was restless at first because you get to stay in bed till nearly 6 a.m. But I am getting so I like to sleep late. Tell Walt and Elmer all you do before breakfast is smooth your cot, and shine some things. No hogs to slop, feed to pitch, mash to mix, wood to split, fire to lay.

Practically nothing.

Men got to shave but it is not so bad, there's warm water. Breakfast is strong on trimmings like fruit juice, cereal, eggs, bacon, etc., but kind of weak on chops, potatoes, ham, steak, fried eggplant, pie and other regular food, but tell Walt and Elmer you can always sit by the two city boys that live on coffee. Their food, plus yours, holds you until noon when you get fed again. It's no wonder these city boys can't walk much.

We go on 'route marches,' which the platoon sergeant says are long walks to harden us. If he thinks so, it's not my place to tell him different. A 'route march' is about as far as to our mailbox at home. Then the city guys get sore feet and we all ride back in trucks.

The sergeant is like a school teacher. He nags a lot. The Captain is like the school board. Majors and colonels just ride around and frown. They don't bother you none.

This next will kill Walt and Elmer with laughing. I keep getting medals for shooting. I don't know why. The bulls-eye is near as big as a chipmunk head and don't move, and it ain't shooting at you like the Higgett boys at home. All you got to do is lie there all comfortable and hit it. You don't even load your own cartridges They come in boxes.

Then we have what they call hand-to-hand combat training. You get to wrestle with them city boys. I have to be real careful though, they break real easy. It ain't like fighting with that ole bull at home. I'm about the best they got in this except for that Tug Jordan from over in Silver Lake. I only beat him once ... He joined up the same time as me, but I'm only 5'6' and 130 pounds and he's 6'8' and near 300 pounds dry.

Be sure to tell Walt and Elmer to hurry and join before other fellers get onto this setup and come stampeding in.

Your loving daughter ,


Tuesday, February 7, 2012


Listen. Such a simple idea. One we all know is important. And yet, one that we rarely incorporate into our busy lives.

We may her many things; we listen to few. Take birds, for example. They have marvelous songs. Each one is so different. Some years ago I spent ten days teaching a seminar for teachers in Chisinau, Moldova. 

We were at a conference center that was very much a resort. It was located in the woods, and each morning before the teachers (my students) arrived, I enjoyed opening the windows and hearing the songs of the swallows that sat on the branches outside and created background music for my instruction.

My very earliest memories of birds’ songs and the joy of listening come from toddler days. My father would come into my bedroom in late evening in the house we moved from when I was three, and we would sit together by the open window each night and listen to the whip-poor-wills. The bitterroot bouquet that came from listening to the whip-poor-wills remained in the toddler’s mind throughout childhood and into adulthood and for nearly thirty years since my father’s death. Although I no longer live near an area where whip-poor-wills congregate, whenever I hear any kind of bird song, I also hear the whip-poor-will, and I am transported back to a special moment.

Listening to people can be equally enjoyable. “How are you?” we often ask in passing, and the expected answer is “Fine.” We do not usually anticipate a response that is detailed, and, if we get one, we are often annoyed that we are being detained from the destination to which we were heading when we asked the question. Yet, when we take the time to ask the question for real and to listen to the answer, we often find out many things we did not know, as well as the ways in which we just might be able to help a friend or colleague in need. If nothing else, we have just made someone feel better because everyone likes to be listened to.


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

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Make Your Desire the Other Person's, Too

The easiest way to make your desire the other person's, too, is to ask questions. Often, a very simple question, asked sincerely and unemotionally, gets another person to see things your way very quickly. The following questions were raised at Individualized Education Plan (IEP) meetings for my children. They are just a few of the many situations where simple questions, calmly asked, can create an immediate change of heart.

Before the beginning of one IEP meeting that my husband and I feared would produce verbal promises for Noelle's education that the school had no intention of fulfilling or putting into writing -- we had had experience in this area before -- we asked a very simple question, "May we tape this meeting?"

By law, we had the right to tape, so the question was understood as pro forma. We did tape the meeting, but we did not need to. All agreements at that meeting were put into writing and accomplished.

Here is another question that will get an administrator's attention very quickly. When my younger, multiply-handicapped son's high school refused to put reading and other academic goals into his IEP, saying that such goals were inappropriate for Doah, I asked, "May I share with the media the view of school officials that literacy is not an appropriate goal for all children in the public schools?" Very quickly, reading was added to the IEP.

At an even more difficult meeting, when the best program for Doah was at a school that was not conveniently located in our home area, officials arbitrarily and adamantly refused to place him there, clearly because of transportation inconvenience, not for educational reasons. Pressed for time to get Noelle to a medical appointment, I suggested that we had obviously reached an impasse in discussions and that I had to leave but would let the group, without me, choose how to answer my final question. I told them I could be completely flexible: I would accept either option they preferred.

My question? Would they prefer to have a few days to figure out how to place Doah in the most appropriate program (the one we had identified) or to figure out how to present their position in court?

They did not even ask for time to discuss the question. They immediately agreed to the placement we wanted -- which worked out so well that when the teacher was transferred to another school, Doah was transferred with her!

In all cases, our desire quickly became the other person's when we reframed the question. In all three cases, we developed warm, long-term relationships with the administrators involved.


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

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Make Your Option the Only Possible One

People quickly acquiesce when there are no other options. Getting your own way is usually as simple (and complex) as making your option the only one possible. I have watched two of my own children as middle schoolers do that quite effectively.

Each time we have moved into a new school district the tendency had been to place Noelle in special education because of her paraplegia. However, she preferred to be in regular education and was able to handle the academic work there quite well. When we moved to California from Washington in Noelle's eighth grade year, the school administration's proposal was once again to place her in special education.

When Noelle indicated her preference for regular education, the principal explained that all children who cannot walk had always been placed into special education, and, therefore, she would, too.

"Well, then," Noelle commented, "I wonder how you are going to handle the problem that comes with that placement."

When the principal asked what problem she was talking about, she said, "Clearly, I'm the one who has to go to the classroom every day, and I do not intend to go to that one." She was placed in regular education and was very happy there.

The principal met his match, as well, in her younger, gifted brother Shane, who was in her grade because he had skipped some earlier grades in school. The principal wanted to place Shane in the Gifted and Talented Education (GATE) program. however, Shane looked through the materials and found them unchallenging. He preferred to make his own program through the Independent Study program. Frustrated by Shane's lack of appreciation for the GATE program (and probably feeling the need to have another GATE student in the school program), the principal explained that being in the Independent Study program would bar Shane from school dances and other such activities. Shane replied that he preferred books to social activities and willingly accepted that restriction.

Seeing that his words had no effect, the principal said in a rather frustrated tone, "You don't understand! You have to have a behavior problem to get into the Independent Study program!"

Very calmly and pleasantly, Shane indicated that he would be willing to meet that entrance requirement, saying, "I could develop one if you would like." He was placed in Independent Study and was very happy there.

Noelle made her option. Obviously, no one could physically force her to go to a particular classroom on a daily basis and monitor her to be sure she stayed there all day. The alternatives to her choice were simply too cumbersome, impossible, or undesirable.

Shane also made his option the only choice. Of course, the principal did not want another child with a behavior problem. He could avoid that in only one way -- by meeting Shane's request.

These two children very much enjoyed their middle school years. Noelle learned far more in regular education than she would have learned in special education and passed the state exams just fine for regular education students. Shane immensely enjoyed his learning situation. His teacher had been a gifted education teacher in earlier years and was one of the few teachers who did not fear Shane's ability to inhale information and question assumptions. For math, the teacher asked Shane to work with a tutor from the local college because Shane learned too fast for the middle-school teachers to keep up with him. She learned incredible amounts of math that year, in addition to completing most of the high school program in other subjects -- all while being in a "punitive" program rather than the GATE program that, ironically, would have asked far less of him. It was, indeed, a good year.


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

Saturday, January 7, 2012

When Someone Kicks You, Still Your Leg

When someone kicks you, kicking back is not always the answer. Sometimes it seems that a nice swift kick, especially in a vulnerable spot, would garner a wonderful feeling. However, holding one's leg back from doing what it wants to do sometimes ends with even better results than any amount of revenge would have brought. In short, don't get mad, and don't get even: get what you want.

In my own life, I have written three doctoral dissertations in order to finally finish one doctoral degree. For one fabricated reason after another, my department chair did not accept the first two. (Rumor told me that he blamed me for his not being hired at the institute where I worked and had told one of the other graduate students that I would finish my degree only over his dead body -- a rumor that appeared to be true at face value although he would not state something like this publicly and I never cared enough to expend the effort to confirm the details. Since I was a slow learner, apparently, it took two dissertations for me to realize that perhaps the rumor was true and at the very least something was wrong.) I could have sued the university, had I had the inclination, money, and energy, and I might have won. I could have taken on the chair in other ways, but I did not. I chose to move on from a painful situation, still the leg that wanted to kick back, make my career through competent work and publication, and wait for serendipity to help with the dissertation and degree issue.

Many people along the way offered to help, and that made me feel validated. The department chair of another department at the same university wrote me a note of encouragement, suggesting that I complete the degree elsewhere and let her know when I could put the initials behind my name; that comment kept me going for years, and I was able eventually to let her know that she could, indeed, use those initials.

Colleagues treated me as if I had "punched" the dissertation ticket, and I have not been held back in my career. In fact, I would not trade my career for any other. For that reason, too, I have not felt the need for revenge. As for the dissertations I wrote, they proved useful in other ways -- another reason for not taking revenge.

The first dissertation topic was quite esoteric. I received a couple of fellowships to conduct the research for it in Siberia during the height of the Cold War, a time when Americans did not go to Siberia, least of all for research. I not only went there, but also I took my oldest daughter, Lizzie, with me. Through the years, the Siberian connection has been of professional and personal value. I have many friends there, have provided much consultation there, and was able to bring a child artist from there to the United States for medical treatment. If I had not worked on that dissertation, none of those connections would have been made. Besides, I made a conference presentation and published an article on the dissertation.

The second dissertation topic was less exciting, but it helped me land a dream job in my specialty, a job that most people get only at the end of their careers but which I got at the beginning of mine. Although my advisor never read the dissertation, it has been published piecemeal as several articles, presented at numerous conferences, and cited in the works of others. That is better than revenge.

The best outcome was that the trajectory of the kick landed me in an extraordinary position much later. I have now completed a third dissertation, this in in Russia, at a university that is better respected than my original university. Had either of the other two dissertations been read and processed, I would not have been eligible to do the later degree. Perhaps thanks to my earlier negative experience, I appreciated all the more the comment that was made by the department chair in Russia at the end of my dissertation pre-defense: "We don't know why you need us, but we feel fortunate that you came to us."


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

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Happy New Year! Welcome, 2012!

Wishing one and all a blessed 2012, which has dawned bright and sunny here in San Ignatio. Along with it has arrived my first decision of the new year: whether or not to take revenge on Donnie.

As usual, Donnie and I had made plans to welcome in the new year with a mini-party. Some champagne. A few snacks. And Doah.

As usual, I feel asleep and became nigh onto comatose around 10:30. Doah lasted another hour, then toddled off to bed, emerging, according to Donnie, around 12:30 in the morning, like a groundhog on Feb. 2, saw his shadow, and scurried back to the bedroom.

As for me, I never did wake up. Donnie, ever the photographer -- and, in this case, as is typical of our New Year's eve celebrations, the lone celebrant -- took a picture of me zonked out on the couch and pasted it on Facebook. Of course, that brought it a lot of comments!

Now, he is sleeping in after all his heavy partying, and I am wide awake, greeting the sunny day and new year. Doah is dancing about, demanding breakfast, and I am ever so tempted to take a picture of Donnie, zonked out in bed, and paste it on Facebook!

Happy days and interesting decisions, my friends, I wish you in 2012!

(note: image from -- it stunned me; hope you like it)

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.