Saturday, July 31, 2010

Some Are Born Great...

Picnicking before the play begins
"What do you supposed UT thought when someone proposed starting a Shakespeare summer program way out here?" I asked Jerry as we wound our way around obscure country roads south of Hwy 290 and midway between Brenham and Giddings.

"About what people thought when we proposed starting Down Home Ranch where we did," he replied, and I couldn't argue. Both venues seem unlikely at best.

But they did, and we did, and now we pile into the bus late each summer and make the 50 mile trek to see the comedy of the three-play cycle put on by students at the Winedale Institute, run by the University of Texas at Austin English Department. (This is unless Romeo and Juliet is on that year, and of course we go to that when it's offered.)

This year's comedy was Twelfth Night.

Perfect! A few years ago they made a movie called She's the Man, based on the plot of Twelfth Night so most of the Ranchers are vaguely familiar with the plot device of boy-girl twins, each believing the other dead in a shipwreck.

We had front-row seats, as requested.

I'm always amazed by our gang's fascination with live theatre. They are so into it--no squirming, no glancing at watches--nothing but rapt attention even through long dialogs with no action.
(It starts early. One day when Kelly was two she was playing in the living room when an old version of Midsummer Night's Dream, with Laurence Olivier, began to play on the TV. Within minutes she pulled herself up in front of the television set and stood rapt before it, watching until her chubby little legs gave out and she plopped down on her bottom. Who says Shakespeare isn't accessible!?)

Kelly with Emilio Banda, recent graduate from UT.
Emilio's headed to New York this fall!
After the performance the actors are always happy to spend time with the Ranchers, sign their programs, and chat about the play. This year's favorite was the Duke of Orsino, played by Emilio Banda. There were several juicy roles, for the most part very well done, but Banda exuded the charisma the Ranchers never fail to notice and appreciate.

There's only a week left, so hustle on out to grab a little culture in the boonies at Winedale.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

F Words

I was introduced recently to a concept I'd, strangely, never heard of before--a derogatory reference to the work most often available to people with intellectual disabilities.

Kyle cleans up after horses
The phrase is: "food, filth, and flowers," and refers to the fact that if a person with IDs is going to find work, it's often in food service, janitorial work, or horticulture. 

Who on earth thought this up?!  And why would they? 

Work is prayer, said St. Benedict.  All work is sanctified if we treat it as if it matters and will bring happiness to others.

As a mom of four daughters, I've  scrubbed floors, changed diapers, washed clothes, and cleaned toilets for 50 years.  If I had a buck for every meal I've put on the table I'd be a rich woman.  The flowers?  I grub in the yard to bring them forth and delight in their beauty if a manage to coax them to bloom. 

Kristen disinfects the fridge handles
Outside the home I've worked as secretary, archivist, teacher of Spanish and English as a second language, and volunteer leader of a village construction project in Mexico.  For the latter assignment I scrubbed two public, concrete one-holers that had not been cleaned since their construction several years before.  It wasn't something I wanted to subject my volunteers to when they arrived on the scene.  (Believe it was a little Indian man in a dhoti who gave me the idea...)

When I walk into the Pavilion and see the floors shining, go into the kitchen and smell lunch being prepared,  stroll by the greenhouses and see the glorious poinsettias flaming read for a city block, I see pride in a job well done, I see accomplishment, I see integrity.

Pity the eye that sees nothing but "food, filth, and flowers."

Above, Ranchers clear for fall garden

Thursday, July 22, 2010

New Life at the Ranch!

New life at the Ranch!
Oh boy my mother hen complex came in handy today!

Got the call about 11:00 that our chicks had arrived at the Elgin post office and they were--ahem--ready to have them picked up.

I snagged Matt out of Ranch Camp with Denise's blessing.  Matt's our main Chicken Wrangler and has helped engineer this segment of Operation Independence.

Right now our little friends have a lot of growing to do, but we look forward to the day they will provide major assistance with grasshopper control and give us yummy eggs each morning.

Two of them have names.  Their names are Clara and Ray, because Heidi Clara and Gary Ray Holliday, parents of Rancher Christopher, bid on and won naming rights to the Founding Flock hen and rooster.  We don't, of course, yet know which ones are Clara and Ray, but they're in there.

Proud of our brood!
I have frittered away a good part of the day hanging out with the wee ones.  We have 40 chicks, several each of nine different breeds.  They are so incredibly dear and small and busy, runnning from wall to wall inside the Chicken Hilton. 

They're about two days old, and I don't think they'd eaten until they arrived, but the moment we let them out of the box a gigantic grasshopper leaped through the wire and they were after him immediately.  I guess they got him eventually because when I came back to check on them later there was no sign of the grasshopper.

Casey & Matt check the chicks
Already when I come into the enclosure and call "chick chickee chick chick"  they come running.  When I sit down on the pine bedding they gather around me.  They'll go exploring busily around and then just stop, wobble this way and that for a few seconds and then plop down and close their eyes.  This was a little alarming at first but then I realized they're just taking a quick nap.

When the Ranchers got off work at 3:00 they started coming by to see the new additions.  Alaina said she wanted to name all the boys Tim and all the girls Faith, which was fine I told her except for Clara and Ray.
Tomorrow the Garden Team will begin caring for them.

As you may can tell, I'm nuts about chickens and for me this is a very happy day.  Stay tuned to watch our flock grow and thrive!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Taming the wild mustang...grapes, that is

Wolf Meadow
John Stewart, of Kingston Trio fame, wrote a song entitled "July, You're a Woman" that evokes the essence of the month of July, when the trees and shrubs are leafed out and full, the heat has settled in for the duration, and the cicadas and locusts sing night and day. 

This summer we had good rains all through June, so the Ranch is green and the trees in the pecan bottoms are heavy with mustang grape vines and fruit.

Sterling & Charles
Brian declared last evening to be community grape-picking time, so after supper we gathered at the Pavilion and headed down to the bottoms.  The past year has been so rainy, turning the bottoms into a mire, that I had not been down for months.  At the first turn we sank into the cool air that collects among the gigantic native pecans along Yegua creek.

The smell is wet and sweet, like no other place on the Ranch.

Picking in evening light
The evening light slanted through the trees, even though it was only about 7:15, a reminder of how quickly the light changes after the solstice!

Brian had scouted out the locations where the berries were (and the poison ivy wasn't) and stationed our pickers accordingly.  Charles, Diana, Brent, Jerry, and Michael took one locale, and Phil, John, Sterling, Sandy, Natalie, Alan, Julia, and Kara took another.

We laughed about the I Love Lucy episode when Lucy participates in an Italian grape-stomping, with predictable results.  Jerry and Charles got into matters spiritual and we all agreed that next spring we will again have a proper seder meal.

Natalie's proud of her harvest
Phil spent his time perched on a ladder throwing clusters down below, where others picked off the grapes and put them in containers.  Others went for the low-hanging fruit.

Sandy and Sterling pulled on ropes to bring the vines closer to the ground for easier harvest.  Sandy took a tumble.

After I had my pictures, and the light was getting dim, I began walking home.  I could have cut from the meadow we were in to the Village in five minutes, but I elected to walk the long way around--about a mile--for the sheer pleasure of it.

Sandy tumbles down
I could hear the laughter as the grape pickers bantered back and forth as I walked.

Today we'll start making mustang grape jelly, which we haven't made for years.

July's a good month at the Ranch.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

En-Courage-ment and the National Down Syndrome Congress

With my recent postings on our trip to Florida with 11 residents to the National Down Syndrome Congress, some may be wondering about our enthusiasm for future conventions.  I can only reiterate that Disney World is a great place to vacation, but far from an ideal place to have a convention.  Last word on the subject.

The convention itself was excellent, as usual, and yes, we'll be back as often as we can manage.  But as to why it's so important, let me tell a story.

Kelly Page Horton was born September 18, 1984.  Like most parents with a new baby with Down syndrome, we were stunned, crushed, confused, and anxious.  Kelly was born with a condition called "leukemoid reaction."  This was before the internet and our doctors mistook it for neonatal leukemia.  Then it began remissing; the blood started looking better.  The oncologist found a few articles that alluded to the fact that the condition might be temporary but concluded that if it remissed it would likely come back in a few years, between the ages of two and four.

After the bone marrow aspiration at two weeks, I holed up in the house with Kelly and refused, absolutely refused, to subject her to any more tests.  Then I learned that the 13th Annual Convention of the National Down Syndrome Congress would be held in San Antonio in October.  Daughter Martha, then 20, and I made plans to attend.

The day before we were to drive to San Antonio we received Kelly's karyotype, the picture of her chromosomes. Since she demonstrated all the major signs of Down syndrome, there was little question of whether or not she had it, but the karyotype contained a big surprise after all: instead of one extra 21st chromosome, Kelly had two!

All I could think was this: if one extra chromosome can cause all that damage, what would two be capable of?

Martha and I entrusted Kelly to big sister Janny, my mom Dorothy and Jerry's mom Estelle.  We headed south in search of the holy grail that would contain the answers to my many questions, not the least of which concerned my family's heartache.  As a prototypical "older" mother with a high chance of Downs, I thought I'd been prepared for this possibility, and to a degree I was.

But I was not prepared for all the rest that came with it--most everyone we knew acting like there'd been a death in the family instead of a birth, leukemia (albeit deferred), even my frustration with the baby refusing to even wake up for two straight weeks after birth.  If I'd only known what some families go through (heart surgery at five days, for example), would I have felt better?  I doubt it.  I'd been ready for the idea of Down syndrome, but hardly the reality.

Once at the conference we walked into a ballroom full of families with kids with Down sydrome of all ages--newborns, toddlers, school aged, all the way to older adults.  And they were doing all the things you do with kids--chasing them, talking to them, changing their diapers, playing peek-a-boo, separating siblings, correcting them, loving them.

"On my God," I thought, "There is life after Down syndrome! And it looks pretty normal!" 

The first speaker up was Dr. Jerome Lejeune, the French physician and researcher who co-discovered the extra 21st chromosome that causes Down syndrome in 1959.  I had great difficulty understanding his remarks, but none in recognizing the deep love and compassion this great man held for all children, everywhere, at any stage of development.  After the lecture I stood in line clutching Kelly's karyotype.

Dr. Lejeune took the proferred document and studied it intently.  He looked me in the eyes and smiled.  "How old is the child?" he asked.

"Five weeks," I replied.

"Then you are very worried indeed, I see, but there is no cause.  One extra, two extra makes no difference.  She will develop as most children with Down syndrome do."

My relief was such you'd have thought  I'd been told Kelly would someday be awarded a merit scholarship to Stanford.  No difference! 

Next on my agenda was the "Leukemia and Leukemoid Reaction" workshop, delivered by a physician associated with the City of Hope cancer and leukemia center in Duarte, CA.  I sat through the workshop and then approached him.

"I assure you that your baby's condition will continue to remiss, and she will have no greater chance of developing leukemia than any other child with Down syndrome over the course of her life, " he said.  I hurried off to find Martha and share the good news, and then hustled off to find a phone to call Jerry and the grandmas.

For the rest of the convention we relaxed and got to know the families around us.  We went to all the workshops having to do with early intervention and learned a hundred ways to help our baby. 

I understood for the first time in my life just how powerful and real the term encouragement is.  The "cour" part of the word means "heart," and I literally felt as if my heart had gone missing and then been returned to me, stronger and full of hope for the journey ahead.

I understood that there is life with Down syndrome, not just after the diagnosis of it, and it's a good life after all.  I'd met the moms and dads and kids at all stages of development and from all walks of life.  I'd joined a pretty exclusive club I never sought admission to, but have come to cherish over the years.

So thank you, NDSC, for leading the way out of darkness almost 26 years ago, and for continuing to do so today.  This convention was no different.  It was filled with wisdom, love and hope for the future like all the rest.

And I got to attend it in the company of 11 young people, including my daughter, who have taught me more and given me more happiness than I ever thought my heart could hold.

En-cour-age-ment.  Pass it on!

Monday, July 19, 2010

More Planes, Trains, etc. Installment Two

Coronado Springs Resort Hotel
Saturday dawned with all of us confronting basic life support while marooned on the Aruba Resort at Disney World. 

We needed to all be awake, showered, dressed, at the conference center at Coronado Springs Resort and fed by 8:15 AM, a challenge for any group of 17 people.

We presented ourselves all scrubbed and shining at the shuttle that would take us to the conference, and it arrived promptly, to our great relief. 

Breakfast was an expensive and challenging affair, as the facilities were way overloaded, in addition to being way overpriced for what we got.  Nonetheless, we persevered and sorted ourselves into our various workshops for the morning.

Jerry and little friend
The National Down Syndrome Congress people had done a great job of organizing the presenters, workshops, and Youth and Adults Conference.  The problem was strictly the venue--it's just not good for a convention of this sort.  My heart went out to all the young families with little ones shlepping strollers and diaper bags all over (the Magic) kingdom come.

Saturday evening came and the Ranchers were planning to go to the Dance, which is a big deal indeed!  Marci had made reservations at a place "not too far" from Coronado Springs.

Well, as Einstein said, it's all relative, and "not too far" turned out to be two bus connections away.  By the time dinner was done, so were most of the Ranchers, ready to go back to Aruba and hit the sack.  A few still wanted to go, even though there was not enough time to go back to the room and change into party clothes.  The staff split up and some took the five party-goers to the dance and the others went back to their rooms.

Despite everything, however, I have to say that our gang came through it all with smiles on their faces and love in their hearts. For all the discomfort, ruptured routines, and inconvenience they endured there was little to no grumbling or grousing.  So little, in fact, that a lady sharing the interminable wait for the Saturday night bus emailed me (Casey had given her a card) to say the following:

Early Saturday evening, I was waiting with your group at a bus stop in Aruba. We waited SO long for our bus to Downtown Disney and our bus just wasn’t coming.

I want to commend your group for never losing patience (I had about had it) and for keeping their cool in what felt like a million degree weather.

The staff members that were with them were amazing and the whole group gave me much hope for my now 8 year old daughter’s future.


You know what?  That note made everything we'd been through more than worthwhile.  That is what we had in mind when we set out to build Down Home Ranch.  We'd dreamed of a community that was enthusiastic, resiliant, loving, and dedicated.

One that could give hope to a mom with a little girl with an extra chromosome.

So thank you Sterling, Kelly, Kyle, Mark, Mike, Matt, Alaina, Kara, Julia, Travis, and Kristen!  You are the wind beneath our wings.  Enjoy the photo gallery below.

Mike, Sterling, Kelly & Kristen at Austin airport prior to departure

Alaina & Kyle on the plane to Orlando

On the air trans shuttle at the Orlando airport

Travis, Sterling, & Kyle waiting for ground transportation, Orlando

Phil, Kara, & Julia en route to hotel at Disney World

Aruba Resort, where we stayed

Mike & Travis waiting at pool before going to Hollywood Studio Park

Hollywood Studio Park, Walt Disney World, Orlando, FL

Our gang on steps of street in Main Streets area of Hollywood Studio, Walt Disney World, Orlando, FL

Casey, Becca, and Marci with mouse ears, dancing to High School Musical XXIII

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Planes, Trains, Buses, Shuttles, Monorails But No Automobiles

We did it. 

Thanks to grants from the Lower Colorado River Authority, parents, and a First Baptist Church of Woodworth, Woodworth, LA, we were able to travel to Walt Disney World for the National Down Syndrome Congress annual meeting and convention, taking 11 residents with Down syndrome to attend the simultaneous Youth and Adults with DS Convention.

I had planned to blog throughout our adventure, which began last Thursday and will be ending with the return of the residents and staff to their homes in about two hours from now after their plane lands in Austin.  However, it turns out that while Disney World may be many wonderful things, it is a crummy place for a convention, especially for--as in our case--people traveling in a large group, or--as in many other cases--young families with small children, strollers, and baby paraphenalia.

We arrived late Thursday evening in the Orlando airport and hit the lobby of our resort hotel, Aruba, about nine.  We had to check in room by room, a process which took about an hour.  The Ranchers were amazingly patient as they entertained themselves and one another as Casey, Phil, Marci, and I figured out all the details.

Finally we had all our key cards and, each clutching a map which made absolutely no sense to us in the dark, boarded a shuttle bus that would take us to our rooms...sort of.

Thirty minutes later we were deposited beside a shuttlebus shelter next to a parking lot next to clusters of two story lodgings, each dragging a heavy suitcase and armloads of other perceived necessities.  The Donner party flashed through my mind as we began trekking through the jungle in the dark, in a direction picked at random, there being no signs, nor signs of life, to guide us toward our proper destinations.

We were to reside in Aruba (where people tend to disppear, as I recall, but I tried not to think about that.)  By now the Ranchers were, quite understandably, becoming vocal about having consumed nothing but a small drink and a Clif bar since lunch at 11:30 that morning.

We wended our way around this building and that, finding numbers affixed to them occasionally.  After another half hour we'd all found our buildings and our rooms and agreed to meet at the foot court across the lake, the lights of which were twinkling merrily over the water.

At 10 after 10 we reached the promised land and snagged some burgers and fries before the concessions closed.  The tab was only about 40% more than it would have been at a prime rib steakhouse, but we were in no position to haggle, or to go anywhere else.

In the morning we met at the pool and laughed at our pickle the night before, because once you could see the layout we saw we'd walked a good five times further than we'd needed to.  We met a young family in the pool with baby Landon, here for his first NDSC conference.

Once we'd all connected, we found our bus stop again and headed for Hollywood Studios Park.  We waited about a half hour for the bus to take us there, which it eventually did.

The park was pretty, but had nothing on Sea World or Fiesta in San Antonio.  We were there principally for the High School Musical review, unlike ten or eleven other patrons of the approximately one million in the park.

We got a good seat on the concrete and settled in.  We were a little concerned, because Kara had staked her entire experience on being able to dance with the cast, something over which we had little or no control.  But Kara did, and she made sure they noticed her enthusiasm and knowledge of all the songs and dance routines.  Before we knew it there she was, stepping out with one of the handsome cast members.  Later Mike and Kristen got a chance to join the troupe too.

We went to lunch at Mama Melrose's Italian Retaurant and I looked forward to mediocre food at eye-popping prices, but I was wrong wrong wrong!  Well, right about the prices actually, but a simple bowl of vegetarian minestrone and a salad were as good as anything I've ever tasted, and that's a fact!

By then I'd had all the fun I could stand, and left the park to go to the conference, where Jerry and I joined a workshop of older parents whose adult kids with Downs had married or were contemplating marriage.  More of that later on in the week.

The fab four--Casey, Phil, Marci and Becca--shepherded the Ranchers to the resort hotel where the conference was being held, which was only about two time zones away from the resort hotel where we were staying (but no problem, a shuttle was never more than 50 minutes away at any given time...)

They got registered for their conference, and Jerry and I went to dinner, which again was pricey but quite out of the ordinary.

That was Friday.

(To be continued)

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Praise on the Porch

Thursday evening we heard music coming from across the Village in the direction of Barnabas House, so we drove down to see what was going on.

Rebekah was in the front yard with her prayer flags, and Charles and a gaggle of Ranchers with guitars were holding forth on the front porch.  Diana was leading people in song, and Alan was playing drums.

It was great to see Andrew playing his guitar.  He's really quite good, but hasn't played much the past few years.

It was a great scene--a lazy evening with the cicadas thrumming and a joyful noise rising up through the heavy summer air.

Charles blew his shofar, which we were afraid might attract some unwanted wildlife...

He and Diana promised to make it a regular Thursday night gig.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Sara's Garden: A Father's Love

A new Program Director came in a few months ago, name of Phil.  Walking around the Ranch, Phil discovered an out-of-the-way garden, neglected and umkempt, much like the garden in the well known book The Secret Garden.

He asked me about it and I told him, shamefaced, the story of Sara's Garden--that it's a memorial garden planted by a father in tribute to his baby daughter.

Phil talked to Brian, our grower, about assigning the Garden Team to bring the garden back to life.  Together they worked out a plan, and at least a few days a week over the past several weeks have been working diligently under the oversight of Lori, the Garden Team Leader.

I was talking to Marci, our Lead Teacher, about the garden and soon realized nobody really knew the stories behind it, least of all the Ranchers who were restoring it, so this afternoon I went over to talk to Andrew, Sterling, and Matt about the work they were doing.

We settled down in the Gazebo, and I began with the story of baby Sara, after whom the garden is named.

It was early 1992, and a doctor who'd treated Kelly early in her life called us up to ask if we would mind his passing our name and number on to a family he was working with.  Their baby girl had Down syndrome, like our Kelly does, and she was in the process of developing leukemia.  At that point baby Sara's dad John was staying home to care for her in semi-isolation, since she was vulnerable to illness and infection because of her compromised immune system.

We happily agreed to connect with the family, and John confessed he'd like to come out one day a week just to work hard and discharge anxiety over his little one's precarious health.

Soon John was coming out every Friday and attacking the brush, mesquite, and old barbed wire fences that abounded on the Ranch's acreage.  He and Jerry felled trees (terrifying to witness!) and John planted many interesting things--variegated corn and acres of sweet potatoes among other things.  The latter were so abundant that one day Jerry stood looking them over and said, "John, what in God's name will we do with all these sweet potatoes?"

Out of that came the Yam Bake, but that's another story for another time.

Baby Sara, who was then approaching two years of age, continued to progress into leukemia and soon the time came to begin chemotherapy.  John and Mary Jane both had to stay much closer to Sara during these times.  No more charging around the Ranch for John.  Days became consumed by hospitals and doctors, fear and hope for their tiny girl.

Sara did well through all the chemo, bouncing back each time.  Until the last one.

We got the call that things were looking very bad.  The family was gathering at the hospital.  We were honored to be counted among them.  I divided my time between the chapel and the bedside where the parents stood watch in the pediatric ICU.

A priest had been called, and he anointed the Sara with oil in the sacrament of healing.  After some hours the watch ended, and two exhausted young parents returned home, bearing the weight of a loss no mom or dad should ever have to bear.

A few days after the funeral John showed back up at the Ranch again.  He began to clear an area--not too far, but not too near, either--from the little mobile home that served as we used to refer to, laughingly, as the Horton Home and the World Headquarters of Down Home Ranch.

Day after day John ripped out saplings, trimmed branches, and dug flower beds like a man possessed.  He created a flower garden in the shape of a butterfly.  Friends turned out to help him and Mary Jane plant the garden and flower beds with a riot of native shrubs, flowers and plants. A St. Francis statue was set to watch over the garden, and angels hung from the trees.

A young oak was planted, and Sara's ashes interred where its roots would grow.  It was a beautiful day. 

John, Mary Jane, and Sara's older sister Bonnie set about putting their lives back together.  In time Mary Jane was able to conceive another child, and Daniel was born.  The heartache remained, but happy memories and family life carried them into the future.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

The Road to the Ranch Part II

When I last wrote about how the Ranch got started (June 13), I left off the story with the discovery of a positive pregnancy test taken in February of 1984, when I was 41.  The three older girls were 24, 20, and 16.

I called Jerry at work, not sure at all what I'd say when I got him on the phone.  After he answered, I blurted out, "We're going to have a baby!"  There was silence at the other end of the line, then:

"But I thought we got the dog spayed!"

"Not the dog, honey," I said with great restraint.  "Me, I'm pregnant."

Since I am famous for leaping to conclusions, and Jerry is famous for requiring dossiers of information before arriving at one, we immediately got into it. 

"You're probably just imagining it," he said. 

"I am not.  I've been feeling funny and I'm very late.  I'm pregnant."

After a trip to the OB's office, he was convinced and we went home to begin revising our the empty nest plan we'd started working on.  When the girls came home we took them out to dinner and broke the news.  Martha was thrilled and Janny, the 16 year old) was mortified--there was probably no other 16 year old in the world who'd ever had to endure her mother being pregnant and giving birth.

I promptly dubbed the baby  "Ishmael" (I was in the midde of re-reading Moby Dick).  Martha was scheduled to spend her UT junior year abroad in Spain, but immediately said she was going to change it to the summer program because she wanted to be here when the baby arrived in September.

The pregnancy was uneventful and I felt great after the first few months of morning sickness.

I was working in the office of a software company, and the last day of March flipped over the page of my appointments calendar.  I saw that I had an amniocentesis scheduled in a few weeks in San Antonio.  "Not doing that!" I thought to myself, and dialed the number of the clinic to cancel the appointment, which took only a moment to do.

Then just as I was leaving the office to go to lunch, the phone rang.  I picked it up and it was the geneticist himself.  He wanted to talk to me about my chances of having a child with Down syndrome.

I told him I was aware of the risk, but would not terminate the pregnancy regardless of the results.  The doctor then told me, "Mrs. Horton, you probably have heard your chances are one in 50 or 60, but I assure you they are more like one in fifteen or sixteen.  And termination is not the only option.  You could still choose to continue the pregnancy but you would have time to learn about the condition and prepare for it."

This was all very reasonable, but my decision came down to this: I wanted this baby with all my heart.  I loved her and wanted to enjoy the time she would remain safely inside of me.  I was afraid the procedure would hurt her.  At the very least it seemed highly unwelcoming and intrusive.  I refused.

I believe the doctor was genuinely concerned for my family's welfare, but by the time I got off the phone I was rattled.  I gathered up my purse and keys and headed out for a bite of lunch before my hour was over.

I only had a few minutes, so I popped into the closest fast food joint--a Taco Bell as I recall.  I got my food and drink and sat down at a table.  Not a minute later a young woman sat down at the booth next to me, accompanied by a tiny girl with long blond hair and blue framed glasses perched on her button nose.  The little girl clearly had Down syndrome.

I felt as though I'd been body-slammed into the wall.  The room literally spun for a few minutes.  I remembered reading Carl Jung's story of a patient who was obsessed with the idea of a golden beetle and who steadfastly refused to make progress in her therapy.

One day as the good doctor sat next to the window working with the patient, something flew through the window and landed on his desk.  He looked at it for a moment, and then picked it up and examined it carefully.  It shone a brilliant gold in the sunlight coming through the window.

"Here's your golden beetle," he said, handing to the patient.

"Here's MY golden beetle," I thought, sitting there in the Taco Bell.

I was at the time definitely on a spiritual journey, but my beliefs were in truth fairly incoherent.  I certainly did not subscribe to the doctrines of any recognizable form of orthodox Christianity.  I was sure there were forces for good, and forces for evil.  Who could doubt it?  But I could not believe in any sort of divine being that could take a personal interest in me.  The most I could conjure up was an inarticulate sense of some force out there somewhere.

I stared at the little girl.  I could see the slowness in her movements, the constant prompting of her mother, reaching out to help her.  I figured her to be about four, and thought of my girls at that age--chattering, opinionated, funny, and capable.

Could I do this?  I didn't know.

But then something occurred to me:  If the Universe is bothering to tell me that this is what is going to happen to me, then I will trust the Universe to tell me what to do about it.

And with that, the fear was gone. 

I was certain the baby would be a girl, and that she would have Down syndrome.  I was far from happy about it, but I knew it was so.  I said nothing to Jerry.

Summer came and Martha went to Spain.  My office job had ended so I accepted an assignment to teach intensive Spanish at Austin Community College for two sessions.  By August my students sat bug-eyed in class, watching me grow ever larger before their eyes.

During my last month I developed strong contractions every time I walked more than a hundred feet or so.  The doctor told me to stay pretty much horizontal for the rest of the pregnancy, so I reclined away the rest of August and beginning of September, watching every event of the 1984 Olympics.

Martha returned in time to begin the fall semester at UT, and together we set out to interview pediatricians.  On our fourth visit we met with Dr. Ana Garcia, who was warm and funny and did not freak out when I told her I'd refused the amnio.  "I did, too!" she declared.  We knew immediately that she was the one.

Coming home from that visit, I told Martha something I told nobody else: "Sweetie, you have to know that even if there's something wrong with the baby, we're going to be all right."  She looked at me strangely, and then asked if I knew something.  I said no, not really, just a feeling.

And we went home.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Be Not Afraid

Last week was hard for me.  There was strife and I don't like strife.  There were disagreements and I don't like disagreements.  By the end of the week I was anxious and unable to sleep.

And fearful.

Never mind what's going on.  It's nothing that hasn't happened before and it will surely happen again.  The problem is that I let the fear eat me up, so much so that, not only didn't I avail myself of strategies to overcome it, I forgot they even existed.

Monday Jerry asked several of us staff to please reread the chapter of Covey's The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People, specifically Habit Five: "Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood." 

I didn't.  Things didn't improve.

But Friday I was talking with a friend, who thanked me for putting him onto Don't Bite the Hook, by Pema Chodron, a series of CDs that deal with overcoming anger and resentment, both of which come from...fear.

"Oh!" I remembered.  "I should listen to those now."


On Saturday friends arrived from Dallas.  I'd met them at a conference, and we spent the day walking around the Ranch, getting to know one another better, and discussing our spiritual journeys over dinner, which thankfully reminded me that I actually had one.

Then this morning they accompanied us to church--St. Louis Catholic in Austin.  I went in early to practice with the choir and on the way I listened intently to my CDs, beginning to reconnect with my saner self. 

We'd assured our friends that Fr. Larry was a superb homilist, so expectations were high, but I must say today he knocked it out of the park.

The gospel reading today concerned Jesus sending out the 72 disciples to do the work of the gospel in His name, and bearing His authority.

When time for the homily came, Fr. Larry moseyed out into the congregation and plopped himself down in a pew next to the parishioners.  There was nervous laughter, Fr. Larry being a stickler for liturgical correctness. 

"Just wanted to see what it looked like from here," he said.  "Looks different."

He then threatened to pass the preaching baton to a parishioner at the end of the pew, suggesting they "change roles" for a while.  He backed off before the man had a heart attack then and there.

Assuming his normal station at the pulpit, Fr. Larry then recounted two stories.

The first concerned the battleship which received an instruction to change course.  The commander replied, "Suggest you change course."

"Change course," came the reply.

"I'm in command of a battleship," sent the commander, "you change course!"

"I'm in command of a lighthouse," came the last communication.

The second concerned a man with three small children on a subway at night.  As he sat passively on his seat staring at his shoes, his children ran amuck, disturbing other passengers.

"Really, you should control those children!" said an outraged woman.

The man looked up and said, "Oh, I'm sorry.  It's just that we've just left the hospital where their mother died, and I don't know what to do."

Suddenly, in both cases, as with a kaleidoscope turning, all the facts fell together to form a very different version of reality.  The commander quite willingly changed course.  The woman was no doubt suffused with compassion.  The paradigm had shifted.

I recognized those stories right away.  They are both discussed in, yes, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

"This is no coincidence," I thought.

Fr. Larry went on to explain what a paradigm shift the commission of the 72 disciples experienced.  Until then, they'd been followers, listeners, witnesses to Jesus' work.  Now they were being asked to assume a completely new role--to do the work of Jesus in the Name of Jesus, empowered by their faith in Jesus, who told them they should not fear, because He would always be with them, even unto the end of the world.

After communion, the choir sang Mozart's Ave Verum CorpusIf I learned that heaven would consist of nothing more than singing the Ave Verum Corpus for all eternity that would be fine with me.

For post-communion, with the congregation, we sang My Country, T'is of Thee, today being the Fourth of July.  I choked up on the second verse and scarcely made it back in before the end.

The recessional was America, the Beautiful.  If there was a dry eye in the house, I couldn't see it for my own.

Guest organist Peter Guy, a hugely talented young Australian on concert tour, finished off with a postlude, Widor's Toccata.  All of the choir and most of the congregation stayed around to hear it, and as people finally began to filter out of church I caught up with Jerry and crew.  Our friends looked dazed, and Jerry quipped, "Heck of a show for a buck!" referring to an old stewardship joke.

Someone once said that the opposite of love is not hatred, but fear.  Fear leads us to lose faith--in ourselves and in others.  Fear cuts us off--from ourselves and from others. 

Fear is the siren song of despair.

I say mea culpa for falling prey to fear, and hope I've learned a lesson this week.  I give thanks for friends and faith, for my church and priest, for my husband's wisdom and patience, and all the good things that have brought me back home.

The sermons of Fr. Larry Covington are available through the church web site:

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Birds vs. Snakes II

In March I warbled ecstatically about all the barn swallows deciding to make a home in...the barn, of course.  Don and Jennifer do not want barn swallows or any other birds in the barn, and they have a fierce plastic owl that will supposedly intimidate them and they place it menacingly facing outward at the end of the day, which I find hilarious.

Which, apparently, the swallows do also, because their numbers increased.

They're tucked away so far up in the rafters I have no idea how they fared against the snakes this year. 

We had a little Carolina wren on our house porch this year, and we ardently watched over her and her three babies, but a snake got all four of them anyway.
One five-foot long rat snake made it almost all the way up the martin house pole but Don and Jerry arrived just in time to send it packing.Of the four residence homes in the Village, I think only Martha House's nestlings survived to fly away.  Still, there's no lack of barn swallows.  When we drive over the 183 flyover at MoPac I look down and see masses of nests and birds who seem impervious to predation, except from the skies, which I'm sure also happens.

Mother Nature doesn't care.  All her children have to eat.

The adorable little bird, the slithery snake...we're programmed to say "Oh, how sweet" to the one and "Eek" to the other.

As for me, I'm not taking any stances.  I got my husband Jerry in part because, as he stood talking to my daughter Carolyn, then 12, she suddenly flashed a lanky arm into the garden and snatched out a colorful snake, proclaiming, "Look! A yellow-bellied racer!"

Jerry claims he thought: Any woman who can raise a kid like that is the woman for me!

I spend a fair amount of time advocating for the snakes of the Ranch and have saved many a one from the hoe.  I admire them, enjoy them, and run away from them when appropriate.

But I am sorry about those little birds.

Swallow and wren:
Snake after martin house: Jerry Horton
Fake owl standing guard: Judy Horton
Racer snake: National Park Service web site