Sunday, December 21, 2008

Christmas - the thought is all that counts

How many times in our lives are we told "it isn't the gift but the thought behind it that really counts"? Some will argue that gift giving is better left alone if it is not full of personal thought. I guess from my personal point of view, I agree on the most part. However, I could tell you about one of my relatives who gave the same firecracker gift to me every year, and I remember her well for it. So I can attest to the fact that gift giving has its place even if the person giving does not know much about the person to whom it is given to. A relationship between two people is established and sustained, partially through the gift giving process.

Oops, we just introduced another concept to the equation - "process". Sure, gift giving is a process. For example, if you give to impress, that is the beginning of a process to gain something or expect something in return, thereby initiating a process. If you give to signify love, you expect to be loved. If you give to educate, you want feedback on how the education thought you had helped the one you wanted to educate. Some gifts are very simple and low cost such as a Christmas card. You hope to get a card back in return, not just a card to show off on a mantle or Christmas tree, but one that communicates socially, boosting the relationship you have with another person or family. Some gifts are intended to be worn and you want to see the recipient wearing it and enjoying it, and be remembered by your gift. Sometimes, the gift needs immediate feedback. A simple "thank you" will suffice. There are charitable cases where the gift needs no feedback except the fulfillment of helping another human being survive. But after the gift is given, it too goes through a process even when anonymous. But giving without feedback and reward, even if the reward is self gratification, is empty and defeats the purpose of giving. So the thought of the gift is related to the process.

I tried to test this concept on some of my grandchildren. The value of the gift was not going to be very important, but I would maximize its value given the economic outlook. Although a bizarre approach, I wanted to do this in a way that would create a laugh and be remembered, mainly because the two grandchildren are quite intelligent and they both have some attributes in common which I thought I could leverage.

So thinking that the new year could be an economically stressful one, we decided that the gift would be for the parents as well. So even under economic stress, the boys would be able to go to an entertainment facility next summer on a season pass that we gave them.

Christmas would not be Christmas if the children would not open wrapped gifts. Just a piece of paper in an envelope seemed totally inappropriate. So I packaged the tickets in some gift wrapped boxes. To tie the gifts to their Papaw, inside each box contained an ordinary leaf from a tree; the leaf was attached to a handwritten note indicating what kind of tree it represented and in a tone of good humor. The ticket was hidden underneath the leaf in an envelope. I wanted to take this a step further however. So for the eldest, I made up a large box and put trash in it. Yep, I said trash! All recyclable stuff including boxes, paper, plastic bottles, everything I could find to make sure it looked like trash. I made it where the boxes would be challenging to open (work is required for everything one desires to have in life) and the true gift difficult to find in the box (value is recognized relative to other things). I wrapped the boxes with normal Christmas paper and added a stem of Yaupon berries to decorate the box. This was to connect what I love to their gifts. I warned the parents in advance that something strange might happen in the opening of these gifts.

For a moment, I felt a little tenseness among the adults in the room when my grandchild opened the big box. He looked at the contents and said, "trash!". Of course he has a great disposition and understands his papaw and how different my approach may be. We all laughed. Now what? I put a couple of additional envelopes in strategic locations within the box with a written message that indicated he had not opened the true gift yet, so he would go through a search of the box. He opened those envelopes first, because they were most visible when he opened the box. I could feel a sigh of relief when he finally discovered the actual gift, which was hidden under a piece of Styrofoam packaging material in the box. He laughed and appreciated the gift. His brother went through the same process. They both showed everyone in the room the leaves and my blog's business card. Both can now name those two trees by the shape of their leaves. Both boys are outdoorsy, and I want them to learn more about the forest about them. This worked out fine. It will be a Christmas that both kids will always remember. The process? They will remember where the tickets came from next summer when they go to the entertainment facility. The eldest will always remember the trash gift; I have made a place in his life that he will always remember. (He said a "new tradition", but I doubt we will see this again for a long long time). I am reasonably sure I will hear about this again in the future.

So now you see the rest of the story. Gift giving is not just getting the appropriate gift for the child. It is being remembered for the gift, family tradition and the bonding event memory of everyone there, the learning of something new, and finally the inclusion of everyone in the family to make sure all benefit from it. Mission accomplished.

Don't be afraid to be creative; select gifts with purpose and thoughtful knowledge of the recipients. It is the thought that really counts!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Baby Boomers getting a bad deal for retirement

Let's do the twist! A failing economy for Baby Boomers is not exactly what the doctor ordered for this time of their lives. This generation has many workers ready to enjoy the fruits of their work, but alas! It is crumbling underneath them. The American dream really was put in place by a generation before them, but this group of people certainly lived the American dream. It is with this generation that the world has been explored with the realization of globalization and far reaching technology visions. These people were born under the nuclear threat instituted by the generation before them, lived most of their lives through the cold war and its related nuclear threat, and worked to secure the world. They experienced fear as fear had never before been experienced. Why should that fear be extended into retirement?

And yes, this and the following generations have comprised what we know as the generations of consumerism, as well as those of "anti-consumerism", counteracting the destruction of the earth. Witness the population explosion. Not only was it here in this country, but worldwide after World War II. Soldiers returned home to start families and catch up with lost time. They were world-savvy, prepared to work and play in other countries as well as in the USA. Like a bulldozer, streets of life were carved out of the earth as fast as possible to return to normality. The birth rate soared! Construction soared! Consumption of materials soared!

There has been a significant concern that these people would leave the employed in recent years. There would not be enough workers to support the economy, nor would there be enough money in Social Security.

I suppose that will all change now. 401K's have greatly diminished value by as much as 50%. So much for the lifestyle of this population. Oh sure, some will retire. Some have plenty. Many many others will see this not only as a loss of wealth and quality of lifestyle, but as a future threat to their financial security as well. Surely the stock market has proven that we cannot depend on it. We cannot depend on commodities either. Oil prices are down. Sure, gold is up, but I have known people who lost their shirts in gold during the 90's. The bottom could fall out on it at any time. It is at a fictitious price level, inflated by a temporary demand.

This generation's financial solution is to continue working as long as it can. That is the only way to secure the future. Putting money under the mattress does not seem a good idea either, nor holding it in a money market account. Face it, retirement money is indexed to the health of business, here and afar. So the flower generation will likely continue to rock and roll for a few more years. Maybe retiring at 70 is better than 66 and certainly better than 62.

I have found a site where this type of thought is shared by several writers - Boomer Cafe.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Celebration of Death - planned departure from life

It is with a great deal of confidence that I say these words are not normally connected. This is a story where this was quite the case. Although sad to lose a loved one, you want your loved one to leave this world surrounded by love and appreciation for who you have been and best wishes for next steps of existence. That is of course unless you are adamant that there is no after life. And even then, most people will most likely bend towards the possibility anyway that there may be something in store for the person about to depart. Whatever the opinion on this matter, if you get the opportunity to celebrate a death, it can be a very satisfying event. No, it will not change your grief of losing someone you have loved perhaps your entire lifetime, nor will it remove the sadness that death simply must be a part of life. It does bring the picture into focus and let's you have those final moments with your loved one, celebrating life's joys, accomplishments. Hope and aspiration are gone at this point. Those things are left with the ones you are leaving behind.

We had this opportunity. It sort of fell in our laps. One of my sons and I discussed this idea when the doctor said it was about over. She was now on life support systems and there was no hope that she would ever be able to live independent of them. She directed us to pull the plug if that situation ever arose in her health. My mother had been fighting a multi-organ failure, caused by a fall and lying on a hard floor for about 36 hours. For one month in the hospital ICU she fought kidney failure, heart issues, digestive system failure, and severe skin failures. She was 87 and carried with into the hospital the goal to live to be at least 90. She had things to do, places to go. It was clear from the onset that she was to going to go down without a string battle. This was bothersome to the staff at the hospital. They wanted her to be without pain, totally comfortable. That is another story to be told. The point here is that she really did fight to recover. However, at every turn where she would improve, another thing would go wrong. The final blow was her lungs. She could no longer respire on her own, constantly battling new outbreaks of liquid on her lungs.

At 11AM, we met with the staff to discuss her condition. The decision was made to let her go. We would pull the respirator off. The doctor said it could take a few hours for her to pass away, but she would do so within 24 hours afterward. So the idea - let's take her off of the medicines that are keeping her sedated and unable to be conscious but keep her on pain medicine. The hospital staff resisted that idea but we won out in the debate, although we allowed some of the sedation on their advice but little of it. We called close friends and family to tell them what was going to happen. We would not take her off the respirator until the evening when everyone could get there. Some might have to travel some distance.

That afternoon, the sedatives began to dwindle in their effect. We had actually lowered them by request the night before but the staff had increased them in the morning, so we reversed that and by mid-afternoon she was able to communicate with her eyes and follow us by moving her head.During this time, we chose to be with her and watch her vital signs. At 6PM came the doctor.

He with the help from an assistant removed most of the tubes and then the breathing apparatus. Her food intake and other medical treatments by tube continued. The tubes for the kidneys were also removed. Everything to make her more comfortable! We had arranged for a CD player to be brought in and her bible was close at hand so that we could read to her.

The room began to fill rapidly. We made sure she knew when every person who came into the room. Her favorite hymn music was being played and one member of the family sat on either side of the bed holding her hands and occasionally hugging her. We would talk about things of the past and what was coming for the family. We talked about celebration - her life. It had indeed been a beautiful and long life. She had even a great great grandchild. Her children had lived a religious life and been successful. Some of her grandchildren had joined her church also. She had been a fine example to all of us and all of us wanted to be like her, accomplishing things, being a contributor to family successes throughout our lives. Yep, 87 years of continual service to God and family, well worth a celebration in which she should participate. And she did, as weak as she was, participate in her own celebration of life. She would soon enter into the world of the dead

Immediately after the respirator was cut off from her, she breathed rapidly and gasped for breath. I talked to her about how to make that easier and she changed to deep breaths. The oxygen level in her blood was not sufficiently high to sustain life for very long, so we understood that she was in a departing process. We would have been quite happy if that had been reversed but it did not. This would be better for her now and we knew it.

Now she was dying. Her heart continued to beat as it did before. There was a glimmer of hope in my mind, but I was prepared for the end. We talked. We laughed. We loved. As we changed who was next to her and as time passed, things being discussed about her and us and how we had finally reached where we were, her friends and some family had to get something to eat and get some rest. We had celebrated and the night was upon us. So after some three hours, the room quietened. Within five minutes, she gave up with two of her grandchildren by her side. I received a text message and then a call - "better come back". We ran. Her last heartbeats were showing on the monitor. We sat with her as she passed away, letting her brain cells fail and her heart to totally quit. She was dead. We cried. "She has gone to a better place." It is now the wait she has and hope in death for her savior's return. That was surely on her mind at the very end. Her family and friends had said good-by with great love! She can rest in peace.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Anxiety in the middle of the night

Having lost a loved one very recently, I am realizing there are parts to life one recognizes deep in the mind, which are evasive when all is calm and routine. When life's balance is interrupted by tragedy or unexpected death, or even expected death in the family, the human mind can reel off various triggers as one sleeps. Such a trigger went off this morning, alerting me subconsciously that something was wrong. Then the conscious part of the brain too over and I woke up. Not to forget the incident and in fact share it, I am writing this little entry into the blog.

So what happened? Nothing and that was the problem. For years, I have looked after my 87 year old mom who lives in another city, making sure someone was doing something for her or someone had something planned for her, or I had contacted her and said something to her to please her and make her feel loved.

I woke up in panic mode, thinking I had not done anything for a long time and had let things slip.

She passed away six weeks ago. Lesson? Be there for your parents when they get old. Make sure they are part of your daily routine. They will not be there forever and time moves so quickly! Part of liv'n is dying. We all know that. Also part of liv'n is caring and making sure those who are dying get to enjoy that which remains. We may be less aware of that. Everyone living is dying. We are probably too busy to realize this. There is less urgency in it.

Monday, September 1, 2008

The Last Lecture - reading to identify self and lessons learned

An incredible life journey for a common man with a common life reveals powerful lessons in life. Death of course is part of life. Early death is a tragedy. How do you turn a tragedy into a legacy for your family and friends? It has something to do with attitude. Here are the lessons I embrace from Randy Pausch, the author, who lived a life of only 47 years. I see him very similar to myself, so his book struck home very strongly for me. I hope that you read his book also and finish with a different circumspect vision of yourself as I did. This is the reason this book is so popular. It is a short but not one to be taken lightly.

  • Family is foremost in all things. The father and mother play very important roles in a child's life. Being a father is to see that the child gets the opportunity to dream and set his roots into his vision of life, but guided and encouraged by his parents to be his own individual person. A daughter is very special and a good father will recognize that and see to it that she has the relationship needed to eventually embrace life as a woman with strong family and interpersonal values. Who falls in love with your daughter first? It is the father! I too am a member of the "wrapped-around-my-daughter's-finger club". Both sons and daughters learn from team sports, which by the way are not an extension of the parents but a learning experience of the child. Give your children as many opportunities as you can for this indirect learning. It is a "head fake", the type where your children learn what you want them to learn without them knowing it. The relationship of man and wife is difficult to maintain and grow. Direct communication and the realization of gaps is very important. Acceptance of the our mate is paramount to a good relationship regardless of perceived flaws.
  • A positive attitude which seeks resolution on issues is like coasting downhill to happiness. Everything else becomes easier. Whining gets one nowhere; no one wants to hear it. When we're done whining, we are not any happier.
  • What others think of us is not very important. What we think of others is. Look for the good in others and good will eventually come of it, especially if you specifically note it. Apply this rule to your children. They want to know that you like and appreciate about them. Tell them exactly why.
  • Advice to a daughter - watch what the guys do, not what they say. Sweet talkers are a dime a dozen. The good ones operating from the heart are not so numerous.
  • Define experience - what you got when you didn't get what you wanted.
  • Be personal with people. Write notes by hand. You will be remembered and appreciated much more when picking the right time to write a note by hand. Typing on paper is impersonal. When meeting someone new, invest the time and effort to remember that person. At that time, that person is the most important person in the world to you.
  • Give what you receive. Call this "forwarding on". Your rewards will be numerous.
  • Preparation is a way to achieve and enjoy. Think ahead and do "what if's". That can improve the quality of your life tremendously.
  • There are three parts to an apology. Tell it like it is, not what you want it to be. (1) What did I do wrong? (2) I feel badly for what I did. (3) How can I make it better?
  • The truth will set you free. It also sets the stage for others to open up to you. Embrace it as a habit.
  • Inventory your childhood dreams and live them. Do not forget them. Set doable goals to achieve them. They are the backbone of your existence.
  • Remember your roots and the guiding compass you were given. Every step of the way is influenced by that compass.
  • One can live in two cultures, taking the best of the two together. Just identify the best and move on.
  • It is alright to be heads over heals in love with someone. Enjoy it.
  • We are given a hand to play. Play it!
  • The brick wall that we cannot seem to climb over is often our most valued asset. It shows us how badly we want something and when we do manage to scale it, we are much better off for conquering it.
  • Humility goes a very long way to acceptance and love. That trait is durable and worth every penny invested in it.
  • There are professional and personal legacies to be dealt with in this life. Take steps to ensure you have both in your sight long before you face death so you can look back on it and be consoled when you do eventually pass away. You never know when it will come.
  • Early death is not the same as late death but the approach probably should be the same. Treat life as if you have a short time to live. Every day, every hour is important. Manage your time.
  • In death, be reassured and give reassurance to those you love that in your passing, part of each person you love also passes with you. You take something of everyone you love with you to the grave. This is good and your family and friends should know that. You are comforted by that little something you take with you.
  • Understand that in death there are two types of insurance. The traditional financial kind and the less definable emotional type. Your job is to prepare both for your family.

    you read the book, I suggest watching the video of his actual last lecture:

If you have read this book, I would love to hear what you learned from it and how you feel about your life relative to it.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Family Reunion - kernel of love, a bridge

I recently went to a family reunion, one that I organized. For years, I was "too busy" to participate in any Christmas gatherings, reunions or the such. I got almost totally out of touch with the larger family and more focused on my wife's family than mine. It had been five years since my family had it's last reunion, and some members of the family I have not seen since that time. So much water has flowed under the bridge since that reunion. This article is intended to describe that bridge and its relevance to today's family. This picture tells the story. Uncle Russ. Is he loved by his nephews or what?

Unfortunately, the last five years has seen the loss of half of my mothers' siblings. One aunt, one uncle and their spouses have passed away. Other relatives on this side of the family have also passed - some young, some elderly. That water will never pass under that bridge again. I have regrets for not asking them many questions and reminding them that I loved them. I had little interaction with them and missed a great deal of my heritage, yet I knew them as if I lived with them. Why is that, I ask? For one thing the relationships were for many decades. Over those decades, we talked many times about our family and heritage - memories, questions, answers.

The base of our relationships over those years has been the kernel of love. You will find it's heart on that old bridge which passes over a river, cutting through the earth for millenniums. As more water passed under it, the water became deeper, just like the love that bonds the family. Since America began, that river has deepened for many families as their relationships developed and ancestries were preserved. In the last century alone, the importance of the family has become much more pronounced in America. Important questions abound on disease inheritance, national bloodline inheritance, and family history. Sometimes, there is a concentration of ancestors in specific areas of this country or another country. We want to meet some of those people. We want to understand where we came from and be able to pass that information to our children and grand children.

I once sought a possible family link in Scotland to only discover that the Scottish clan where I may have had roots, consisted of murderers, thieves and robbers. Later I found that I was not related to them. That gave me a sigh of relief. Now I wish I had some connection like that to pre-American ancestors. We do have some photos 100+ years old to help and some information linking us to very early immigrants. Maybe that will lead me to another place on the other side of the ocean. That could give us some real connectivity with the past.

So after putting this reunion together, I am already planning the next one. We will have one at a historical site of the family rather a contemporary site and do it next year! It will be a learning and bonding experience for everyone.

If you would like to share your family reunion experiences and any advice you have to make excellent bonds within the family, please do so in the attached comment section. I would personally love to hear about your thoughts and experiences. I am sure my readers would as well.

My own advice? Listen to the flow of the water. Stand on that bridge and gaze into that water. Don't think it too difficult to see into the water nor that it is not valuable to capture what passes by. You won't be disappointed. Like my aunt said, "I love my family." It is our heritage, our blood, our past. Whatever happens there, it happens. Family is important to our children and our children's children. Embrace and protect your heritage. There may be skeletons in the closet but the reality is there, so do not divorce the family if there are dark kept secrets. Knowing empowers us to have good health and take measures assuming that we inherit the good and bad traits of our ancestors. Computer software is available to document and share knowledge. Old photos can be reproduced easily. Chances are that one family member knows how to use the software and to doctor old photographs and make them available to others.Sometimes we find relative information in newspapers. Other times, in relative's storage boxes.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Preparing for Hurricanes - Woodlands edition

Having lived in The Woodlands for 12 years does not make me an expert on hurricanes here; neither does living on the coast for my entire life, but after experiencing a few of them as a victim and as a spectator, I am ready to share what I know and what I do to prepare for them.

First, a hurricane is just a routine summer event around here. It's like being at a shooting range and being the target. You think one of the shooters might hit you, so you dodge your head or jump to the side. Or you see someone with a shotgun - then you just get the heck out of Dodge! We expect hurricanes. We plan for hurricanes. We rarely get the heck out of Dodge, because we live in this place, and we want to be with our possessions when the high winds come.

Sure, we live far away from the coast. But I tell you what. I can drive down there in a little over a couple of hours! We are not that far away from the worse of a storm. Although out of harm's way for tidal surges, we are in a prime wind threat area, including tornadoes and flooding. People say, I have never seen it flood here. Then one or two who have lived here their whole lives step up to say, "remember the flood of 1994?". Personally, I have not lived here long enough to vouch for the few floods in this particular area, but in the general area I live, Southwest Texas, I can testify for flood conditions many times, whether it be a tropical storm or just a tropical thunderstorm. The flood of 1994 was caused by a torrential rain from a tropical storm - 30 inches of rain in Magnolia Texas flooding the nearby watersheds and affecting Spring Creek flooding.

In any summer, we basically live in the tropics where water comes from the sky in torrents like Noah's flood. We live next to a creek that sends the runoff water to Lake Houston. That exit is limited. The creek turns into a huge running lake, dammed up by excess water. It has no where to go except up and then it spreads spatially to the lowest places it can find, like any flooding river or spring. I have reviewed the local area for flood vulnerability. Water will collect in low spots and along the main exit arteries such as Spring Creek. I live on ground 165 feet above sea level. Much of Grogan's Mill is 20 feet lower; my home is 20 feet lower than the intersection of 2978 and Woodlands Parkway. In case of Noah's flood, I think I will take my tent and canoe up there.

Let's talk about wind. What if Freeport and Southwest Houston was hit directly by a major hurricane? I lived in Southwest Houston when a cat 3 hurricane (Alicia) did that very thing. At landfall, the storm packed 130 MPH winds. The eye passed right over our home. Just a small storm, mind you. By the time it reached us, the winds had subsided to about 80MPH, a Cat 1. Trees fell and power went out. My automobile was trapped inside tree rubble, and I could not leave the house until it was cleared. Further to the east and north (the dirty side of any storm), in the Spring area, homes were without power for two weeks for some people. Trees fell in many places. That damage was only from tropical storm winds in this area! We had about 90 MPH winds in Southwest Houston and here about 70 MPH with higher gusts. People living in Spring at that time remember it well. Just ask them. There is a discussion on the topic at by Dr Stephen Lyons.

Let's take a cat 5 storm with winds of 180 MPH striking the coast at the same place. Houston would be a disaster zone. The tidal wave would reach all the way to Loop 610. So water would not exit the rivers and streams very easily as long as the effect of the tidal surge was so high. Assume for the moment that the storm is moving fairly fast, say 12 MPH. That would give us about 8 inches of rain. If it was moving at 5 MPH, we would have about 20 inches of rain, all within about one day. Now that would have some noticeable effect! Flooding would be terrible.

My basic fear in this area is the wind. We could see winds of some 120 MPH in such a storm. Pines are like twigs in such a wind. The problem is not the velocity itself, because a pine can withstand that wind force. The problem is the shifting directions of the wind causing an entire tree to snap in two, just like whipping a brittle stick. I have seen that result here in routine thunderstorms. One thunderstorm caused a downdraft that brought a large pine crashing down on a neighbor's home and it sliced the home into two sections. Have you ever researched what a tree weighs? If you have ever cut one down, you realize that they weigh tons, literally. See this USDA article on a study of weight vs height. OK then, tons of falling timber on your roof, your car and no telling on what else, would certainly not be safe. I believe everyone would agree on that. That would be a safe bet! And people wonder why some folks evacuated from here to escape from hurricane Rita.

The solution is not to cut down the trees. Our trees are very valuable. If you have ever assessed the monetary value of a tree, you know that insurance does not pay much for them but they may take 50 years to get the size that we have them here. That is a lifetime. In reality, our trees are priceless. They are highly prized in this community. Your tree is mine and mine is yours. They are abstractly communal property.

No, the solution is to get the heck out of dodge when you are in harm's way. A shootout at OK corral is not the smart thing to do with your family. They are much more important than anything you have in your home or anything in it. That is why people evacuate.

My advice? Take super hurricanes very seriously and do not risk the health of your family for macho reasons nor for material things. Board your windows. One thunderstorm came through and a tree limb was blown out of a nearby tree through one of our windows. Shattered glass was everywhere in the room where we normally watch TV. If my children had been in there watching TV, they could have been killed by that shrapnel. As it was, they were upstairs at the time and we were busy doing chores in the house. I thank God that he taught me that lesson without harming my family. Now, the blinds and curtains are drawn for thunderstorms. For hurricanes, tape the windows. The amount of damage that a sliver of glass can cause is proportional to the velocity of the wind that blasts it through the air. Make sure everything outside is picked up. The winds can take plastic chairs and easily hurl them a hundred feet. Your neighbor could be the victim. A bird feeder could be hurled through a window. Make sure the trees are trimmed away from the house. You don't want tree limbs crashing against your home. They may just take the siding off the home.

These are other precautionary measures one should consider. If you go on vacation in August or September, assume your home will be hit by a hurricane. Don't leave it as it was. Leave it as you want to find it when you return. My advice is to expand this beyond hurricane season because Fall and Spring cold fronts often bring similar threats to your home.

OK then, you did not evacuate and decided to face the storm. I hope you have candles, water, batteries, flashlights, canned goods (you might also consider a manual can opener which does not require electricity), butane or propane gas and a generator. Always fill up one car with gasoline if not all of your automobiles. That gasoline can come in handy of you need to leave or you need it simply for storage of extra gasoline to use in the generator. A gas BBQ would be great under such an emergency, especially if you depend on electricity for cooking. You should have first aid kits(s). I have plywood ready to nail to the house should I need it. Remember, an ambulance may not be available to you. A firetruck may not be available to you. Plan for the worse and hope for the best. The stores tend to run out of it quickly. It is miserable to have a long power outage. Mosquitoes, humidity, continuing rains after the storm all contribute to a raw ugly living standard for days. If water cannot be delivered, that makes it even a worse situation. Communications may be lost. Have a book or two available, you may need some reading material. Most of all, keep track of all the little ones and the pets. Wandering off in a disaster cannot be tolerated. Have an way to get emergency news. A battery operated radio could be quite useful.

I listened to the news via short wave in Corpus Christi when we decided to weather out Hurricane Carla. In retrospect, my dad played the odds and was macho in his approach to that storm. Had it turned into Corpus Christi, the storm surge would have put our home 15-20 feet under water. I am glad I did not know that then. It was a fun adventure for our family but could have been the end of us.

One useful reference to understand the frequency of storms just to our south may be this link, looking at Freeport Texas.

Local emergency preparation information can be found at the Community Associations site.

Play it cool. The chances of being hit my such a major storm is small. Know that you are ready and not be panicky when threatened. Decide when you will leave and follow your plan.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Barking Dogs in The Woodlands Texas - How to remedy

Technology is making a difference and giving residents new options to resolve issues with neighbors, especially with dogs that incessantly bark and interrupt sleep or lower the quality of living in the household. In no residential neighborhood is it acceptable for a domestic animal to be the cause of insomnia or inability to concentrate on activities within the home. Here in The Woodlands, we expect a quiet place to live, especially inside the home. So what can be done about a barking dog? Call the police? Nope. They should come only as a last resort, so I will give you some proven remedies to try before you would do this. There is no ordinance for this in The Woodlands or in Montgomery County, and it looks like there is no need for an ordinance to control this issue. If someone's dog barks, I recommend trying a new device. I think I would not even talk to the neighbor, just do it. Stressing relationships over a dog's bark is not required and not desired. Save yourself from conflicts with your neighbors. But if it comes to that, I will give some more advice later about an available service that could help with that issue in this article.

We have had no-bark collars available for years now, but that is a cruel way to try to quiet an animal. Electric shocks are not a natural way to control a bark. We now have a more natural means to do this, by sound. There are two methods that I know about.

One such method is new a new technology that was introduced to me by a neighbor. It is a birdhouse! Yes, I fell over too when she told me that. I sort of smiled and said, what did you have to drink this morning? Well, I guess that was not the thing to say. She was simply beaming with new found joy about this birdhouse. OK, I said, since she was being serious and so happy, how does this work? It emits a high frequency noise response to a dog's bark. It is directional, so when the dog barks, it is not responding to other animals which might also be affected by the response. The barking was killing me! she said. Now, the dog doesn't seem to make a sound. The neighborhood is quiet again and the dog is apparently outside the same amount of time. It would not shut up before!

Knowing this and having visited the supplier's website, as this neighbor suggested, I have discovered a new product that looks like a birdhouse, blending in the environment perfectly. What a perfect solution for The Woodlands. It is suggested that the batteries for it be purchased from the same source unless you have some 9v batteries hanging around the house somewhere, unused.
Ultrasound Dog Bark Birdhouse

OK, so you now have a problem with your neighbor. You went to the neighbor complaining and got into an argument about this or you said, "I should not have to buy one of these. It is your fault that I am having this problem and you should fix the problem!" Oops. Now you have to mend the fences so to speak, and you need some help with this. If you do need help out of this situation, there is a service in Conroe to mend problems with any person-to-person issues where you and the person cannot resolve your issues alone. Don't feel alone in this. It happens all the time.
Montgomery County Resolution Center

Now you say all of this has not worked out for you. You have taken all steps in your power to fix the problem and the neighbor will not take responsibility for his action or non-action. You are determined to get something done about this problem! Now you should document everything your have done, document the noise, and call the sheriff at the non-emergency number. They will be glad to talk to your neighbor about being a public nuisance. The noise must be greater than 85db to be able to accuse your neighbor of breaking this law. Otherwise, you are just able to get help from a law enforcement officer with the problem by him just knocking on the door. He has significant law breaking issues to deal with, so please do not call him out unless you really try to fix the problem yourself and have run out of alternatives.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Car Watch Program : prevent auto theft and burglary - Living Advice in The Woodlands Texas

This program is actually a Texas program. It is sponsored by the Texas Department of Transportation. The Sheriff department and other law enforcement agencies here cannot stop an automobile without due cause unless the owner provides those agencies with permission to stop the vehicle without cause. This particular provision of state law is to help law enforcement officials catch auto thieves. The Texas Auto Burglary & Theft Prevention Authority registers vehicles through a process known as H.E.A.T. to enable law enforcement officers to suspect the vehicle is stolen between the hours of 1AM and 5AM if the car is on the road during those hours. So if you do not regularly use your vehicle between those hours and wish your car to be more visible as a possible theft, you would use this service. 1-800-CAR-WATCH or register online at H.E.A.T. This process also enables cars to fall under suspicion at the Texas Mexico border, so don't be surprised if they stop you at the border and ask additional questions or proof of ownership if the related decal is displayed on your vehicle. That is a good thing to help protect your property! A quote from the the state website: "A car is stolen in Texas every five and a half minutes. More vehicles are stolen between 1:00 a.m. and 5:00 a.m. than any other time." Montgomery County participates in state wide efforts to identify and catch car thieves. It is called the Montgomery County Auto Theft Task Force. There has been a big drop in reported stolen vehicles for Texas since 2001, indicating the program is working. Also, Texas has a 74% recovery rate for stolen vehicles compared to 63% nationally. Some cars are more prone to be stolen that others. Lately, the Acura has been one of the more desired vehicles by thieves. ALso to understand that as many as 25% of 4-wheel vehicles on the road in Mexico are stolen. Mexico allows vehicles to cross into their country without being checked. Almost every vehicle that has been stolen is identified as being stolen after crossing using border surveillance equipment by the law enforcement agencies. But that does not mean the car is recoverable. Leaving your keys in your car is a class "C" misdemeanor. You can be fined up to $500 for doing so. Insurance will not pay you for damages to your car if the keys are in it. It is also a felony to operate a car without the owners permission. Keep that in mind when you borrow someone else's car. The old saying, "three strikes and you are out" applies to this. Three felonies and you lose your privileges. A related program is sponsored by this state agency - HLT, or HIDE LOCK TAKE. This program particularly pertains to The Woodlands residents. This program requests that residents help law enforcement officials by hiding your things in the car, locking your the doors to your car, and taking your keys out of the car when you leave it. Burglaries are a constant threat and an auto0moible parked in a driveway of a home is a target for mischief and theft when these precautions are ignored. Other related advice is to not park too close to the auto in front of you. Think "I need space to get out if confronted by a thief or threatened by suspicious persons nearby." Give yourself the option to leave in a bug hurry if you need to do so. While we are at this, the Sheriff's department recommends that people in this county use steering wheel locks. They are a deterrent to thieves.

Monday, June 9, 2008

How to externally clean a home of mildew and algae in The Woodlands Texas

If you live in The Woodlands under the canopy of the forest, you know that mildew and algae begs you to take action about once every year. You either call your local yard cleaning crew or give a call to a power wash specialist. You have a black driveway, green foundation, green fence and probably green siding on your home. The association may have given you a letter saying "please clean it", or your neighbors have said something like, "the color of your house is interesting", meaning of course "clean the .. thing, why don't ya!"

The good news is that it is not that difficult to do yourself. The driveway might be the toughest part if you do not have a power washer. Many have their own power washer here, so they can spend a half a day making it look good again. The professionals have a driveway washer with brushes and a power spray washer to speed up the process.

To clean your home, all you need is a ladder, a hand pump one gallon sprayer, a bottle of house bleach, a container of JOMAX concentrated house cleaner and mildew cleaner from a local hardware or building supply company. You would benefit from having a water pressure sprayer to put on your garden hose. It needs to have a narrow spray pattern so you can reach the roof of your home. I am able to spray the entire house from the ground, with the exception of one section where I climb the roof. I do the entire house in one-half day.

Put 4 cups bleach and 1 cup of JOMAX in the sprayer and add water to the one gallon marker. It is ready to go. Pump it up and spray 150 sq foot or so, letting it sit for 15 minutes. While waiting, spray some of the next section. Rinse the first section down using intense pressure, and you will probably need to repeat step one again by spraying parts of the first section with the solution again if it is truly green to start. I find myself giving almost the entire section a second treatment. Repeat the process until the entire house is completed. You can treat the windows just like they are part of the siding. Then you have a clean house except for the driveway, fence and concrete foundation. I treat the air conditioner, gas pipes and essentially everything outside with the solution. This year I tried an alternative to JOMAX - Damprid Concentrated House Cleaner. It worked just fine in the same proportions.

So what about plants? Just wet them down before you start spraying. Yes, there will probably be some bleaching of broad leafed plants, but I have yet to lose a plant from the treatment. If you have very sensitive plants, then go ahead and cover them. After you have completed the cleaning, be sure to clean out your bird feeder, dog bowls or anything that may threaten your pets or wildlife with residue from the clorox.

The additional good news is that this solution works for fences as well Use the same method and you can get quite good results. I have good luck using the same method on my concrete back porch as well.

But the driveway is typically another beast!I use only a power washer for that. It takes considerably more time and effort. So if you are going to hire this done, hire the driveway part. I usually treat the driveway with the solution also but have never noticed that it has done any good whatsoever. I also like to use a power washer at the base of the foundation where the mold and algae seem to never die. I do that every couple of years. While you at it, please clean the street and gutters in front of your house of the mildew there. One of our objectives here is to maintain the street view of the home, to keep the neighborhood clean as a unit. Black gutters leaves the appearance of dirtiness. It is up to residents to make their home pleasing to the eye. I power wash the street as well and believe it or not, the street is white underneath all that stuff.

That about wraps it up. I would caution anyone from using a power washer on wood siding and up under the eaves. You can damage the wood easily with a power washer. The chemical method is much less of a threat to the materials than the power washer which can strip the paint right off the house.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Re-liv'n Crime of 20 years ago - Serial Rape Case

Some people live more difficult lives than others. That may sound corny but wait until you read this. This story is not recommended for young people to read without adult consent. It is fairly graphic and adult in nature, but is told to deliver a very powerful message about life, security and the will to live.

Twenty something years ago there was a single young lady who worked as we all do, trying to make an honest living. She had friends and was quite comfortable in her surroundings. She was experiencing a new world out there, enjoying all sorts of new adventures and new people. She tended to children at a day care center from 7 to 7 daily. Her twenty years of life had matured to the extent of being confident and independent. She was reasonably careful and aware of her surroundings, being taught early in life to lean toward the side of caution when it comes to safety. Her apartment had a deadbolt lock to discourage intruders. She felt secure.

Two children in particular attended the day care; this young lady got to know them very well. She also became friends with their parents who after some time began to contract her services as a baby sitter. Over time, she was quite comfortable around the couple and she liked to babysit their children, primarily to earn a little spending money.

One evening she went out with a friend and returned home to her apartment about 10PM. She went through her normal routine, securing the bolt lock and watching outside to make sure no one followed her into the apartment. She would also notice anything inside that was out of place.

This is the place in a story where you instinctively think there may be someone hiding in her apartment unawares, a typical scene right out of a movie. Not this time. She hears a knock at the front door, soon after she locks the door. Someone was close behind her! A familiar voice is heard outside - the mother of the two kids. "Would you help me? I need someone to care for the children this evening. I know it is late, but my husband must go out of town on business and I must go with him. Can you come with me to care for the children in my home?" The young lady thinks nothing about it. "Sure, be glad to help." She grabs a couple of things and off they go to the home of the couple.

Upon arriving, the woman goes into the bedroom and in a few minutes starts fighting with her husband, each yelling at one another. In a few more minutes, it all calms down and the lady goes into the kitchen talking to the young lady, "Men! Sometimes they don't have a clue." She accompanies the woman to the kitchen. As the woman is writing the check, suddenly an arm reaches from behind and covers her mouth. Then the young lady feels the sharpness of a metal knife on her throat. A man's voice, which she recognizes as the husband's, warns her to be still. "You move or yell and you are dead." She looks at the woman and realizes that there is no surprised look on her face. It's a planned setup. The man continues to threaten her. "Come with me to the bedroom and do not try to escape. You are on the edge of death if you do not cooperate." He and his wife proceed to a place in the bedroom and the wife pulls up a piece of carpet where there are tools and materials - handcuffs and duct tape. The young lady is handcuffed and the tape is wrapped around her mouth and head. She can barely breathe. Now the man drags her across the room by her hair and arms. They proceed to take her clothes off and his wife comes back with a broom. They violently rape her with the broom. She is hurt and bleeding. After hours of this, the man takes the girl and hits her head repeatedly on a wooden table. The back of her head is now also bleeding. After a couple of hours or so of this brutality, he starts talking to her in a low soft voice. "I thought you were dead the last time you passed out. You are strong and very lucky to still be alive. If you want to stay alive, you had better listen to everything I say." She had passed out several times with pain and shocking blows to her head. She was bleeding profusely. "I know much about you. No one knows where you are. I can do whatever I want to you and no one will even know. You will just disappear." This was true she realized. She had become so independent that she did not call her mom or sister or any friends. She just left the apartment without telling a soul! A great feeling of fear came over her as the man asked his wife to bring something from the table. A gun? No one knows what that instrument or thing was. The girl does not remember or maybe never knew, because at the same time he told her things about her life, her family, and her friends; these were things she had never told either one of them. They had researched her life in every detail and knew more than anyone could have ever expected a best friend to know, and this couple could not be classified as best friends. He goes on "I am going to let you live, but only if you never tell anyone about this. You will go to work at your regular time this morning and act like nothing ever happened. You will not tell anyone about this. The day will be normal as it was planned at the day care center. If it is not, and you reveal this night to someone, anyone, we will bring great harm to your mother and then your sister. You may never see either one again". She got dressed and the woman took her home. After she went into her apartment, the woman waited outside to see if anyone would take notice and possibly if her room mate or neighbor would return that night. Yes, the couple had waited until they knew that her neighbors would be out of town and her room mate would not be at home when they executed this very detailed hideous plan. The woman finally left. The night was over. Or was it? She got no sleep that night! She bathed over and over again. She lathered. All she wanted to smell was soap. Anything to remove the memory of this experience.

Next day, she went to work as normal. She told no one. She was beat up and her hair was not arranged as neat as it was normally, because pieces were missing due to the tape being violently yanked off of her head, pulling hair out of her head. Her face was red from the tape but not cut. The folks at the day care center thought she had been to a wild party the night before. They did not question it much. Just something single people do. The bruises and cuts on the back of her head were not normal, but not all that visible either. She said she had fallen down twice.

Each parent was supposed to bring in fruit that day for the children. In came the woman with her two kids and asked her, "Where do I put this?", nodding her head towards the plate she was carrying, as if nothing had ever happened. The girl leads the woman to the kitchen and receives a message from her, "you know what will happen if you tell anyone." Seemed like a routine day in the center, but not so for this poor suffering young lady. Later in the day, she made an appointment with a doctor who found that she was in trauma from the night before and the doctor reported it. A victim's advocate came to see her. For cases like this, we have a law that provides this young lady with assistance from local law enforcement agencies. The victim advocate worked on her over the next few days until the girl finally revealed that something bad had happened. However, she had to tell the story in a way to prevent the identity or specific deed from being revealed, so she would protect her family. After some weeks, the story became more evident, because the advocate just would not let it be. The advocate knew very well that the young lady had been raped, even though there was little evidence. Parts of the story was told, enough for the police to have some idea of the severity of the problem, although no charges were ever to be filed.

The couple continued to remind the young lady about her commitment to remain silent. The man rode past her apartment twice daily and made sure she saw him. She started to drink alcohol in the afternoon to ease the mental anguish. After about one year, he stopped coming by and the couple moved away. The young lady had grown mentally and was strengthening her resolve to overcome this adversity in her life. Finally, it was over! They were gone!

But was it over? One day the young lady received a phone call. "Please come to the police station to talk to us about your case." She did not want to start this all over again. It took a great deal of coercing to get her back there. "We need you to help us with another case." So she went. "We have another case that is similar to yours. We need to know more detail." It turned out that one key item left out was the turning point on linking another case to hers. That case had the same carpet square with the tape and tools. The police had managed to link the two cases. The new victim had experienced even a worse beating and rape. This one too had a man and wife involved and was carefully planned like hers. Two cases in two cities but the same profile of criminality.

As it turned out a third case later was brought forward and it was even worse. The third victim tried to commit suicide. The man and wife were charged and sentenced to life after some plea bargaining. So it was finally over for the young lady! She would never have to see this man again.

But was it over? Now it is 20 years later and the young lady is a forty something police woman. Yep, she went back to school and to the academy and joined the law enforcement team. This is where she could make a difference in this world. There is yet one more not-so-incidental fact about this case you ought to know at this point. The heinous crime occurred on her 20th birthday. So for the last 20 years, she celebrates her birthday with the memory of this crime. Yes, she is liv'n and reminded of how terrible some people are in this world. But at the same time, she can celebrate her birthday as a reminder that she is a survivor and there are many people who love her.

Guess what? The guy has been a model prisoner over the last 20 years in prison, involved in bible teachings and helping the chaplain. He is up for parole this year and may get it. The detectives had said that this case was a classic serial rape, marked with the same routine. Each time the victim suffered a worse fate than the one before, with the last victim nearly committing suicide. The next time, it is likely to be murder.

There is an effort underway today to petition the court to not allow this man to be paroled. Will he do his evil deed again? Will the next victim even live to tell the story? Three people have been severely hurt physically and mentally by this man. How can he paroled - essentially pardoned from such a crime?

Mr Michael Hall Smith, I am sharing your heinous crime with whomever will read this and with what understanding I have of your case. I hope others learn that there really are humans like you in this world, that is if you qualify to be called a human being; we need laws and sentencing to keep your kind behind bars. It does not seem to me that your crime has been avenged nor have you paid a fair price for what you have done to others. Justice would not be served by your release. Living is for those who respect the rights of others; the god-given right to life is not for those who destroy the lives of others. And you seek to be paroled, forgiven for crimes where you attempted to destroy the lives of others. Yes, living is difficult, more so for some than it should be, due to the likes of you.

Oh yes! Did I tell you? Mr Smith's profession was a computer programmer and his wife, a pharmacist. The couple was a typical middle income family, seemingly quite normal, just like the family next door to you and I. No, I do not advocate distancing ourselves from our neighbors. Quite the opposite. We must know our neighbors well and learn to love them. True liv'n cannot exist without true lov'n. If something should happen to one of our friends, I hope we will help them through it. The way out for the victim is not to lie and pretend it never happened. It is through counseling and revelation. Take the burden off of your friend's shoulders.

Many thanks to the victim's public advocate who got this young lady out of her shell before she exploded from within. Not everyone is so lucky. Indeed, she was lucky, just as the criminal said, "to be alive", even though at the time and afterwards, she had to internally reconcile that fact. She is now liv'n and lov'n. Hopefully she will not face that criminal ever again. But then again, is it over?

Postscript to the story:
It was found that both of the kids were being sexually abused and were taken from the couple by Child Protective Services. They were given to the wife's mother who lived in another state. It is unknown after that what happened to them or how their lives subsequently developed. The wife helped the prosecution out in convicting the defendant and for that she reaped the benefits of a plea bargain. She was sentenced to 7 yrs in prison for kidnapping. She served 2 and was released back into society.

Please support the denial of this man's probation by signing and obtaining others' signatures on this petition and sending the document to the designated address below. You can fax it or send by mail.
Petition Document click here

Send your signed petition to Tamara Young at the Montgomery Sheriff's office.
Fax: 936-760-4494

Mailing address:
Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office
Tamara Young
Criminal Investigations Division
#1 Criminal Justice Drive
Conroe, TX 77301

Every signature counts! You can play an important role to prevent this man from doing this again. Tamara is the Victims Advocate in the Montgomery County Sheriff's office. Her dedication and enthusiasm for our safety is greatly appreciated. She is a true life advocate for criminal victims.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Barack Obama and his Chicago Home - Woodlands resident

Getting out and about the neighborhoods often reaps surprising stories. So it was with this little 87 year-old lady. Sitting outside on a bright beautiful typical spring day here in the southeast, she was watching me as I passed by, so I decided to go over and talk to her. After a few normal greetings and introductions, she goes into the garage and pulls out this heavy iron chair, picks it up and puts it next to hers. "Here! You sit down and relax for a while."

I was out trying to get people to vote in the coming May election. So I took a break. We talked about families of course, and then she breaks out with "I like Obama. I am going to vote for him. Do you know that I used to live in his home?" Hmmmm I thought, this is going to be unusual. "Yes, we used to live by a church and they held Sunday School in our home. That house now is Obama's home in Chicago. We lived close to the water and shared this home many years ago with others. Our children attended that Sunday school.

She told me to wait a minute and and she would get a photo of it. So she went in the house and brought out two photographs. "Now look at this", as she pointed to a house from a newspaper clipping. When I saw this in the newspaper, I told my son, there is something familiar about this house." He said, "isn't this our home in Chicago?" "Yes, it is. Now look at this", as she points to the same house in an old photograph she hangs in her house. "It is not much different. They added some windows on this side of the house and re-did the front porch, but not much more." So now you are a celebrity. "Oh no! I am just a person here in The Woodlands, enjoying this beautiful weather."

You can't help but love to get to know people like this lady. She was a delight to talk to, but I had to get on with the business at hand. One of these days, I will pass by there again looking for her. And by the way, she insisted on moving that heavy iron chair herself. She told me about the chair she was sitting in. She said nowadays, someone converts this exact web chair into an expensive leather strapped chair. "Mine just falls apart over time."

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Liv'n the early Spring Season in The Woodlands Texas

To see a larger and clearer view of pictures in this blog, you may click on the picture.

What a beautiful place we live in here! We can walk or drive in the village streets and observe Azaleas and other early flowering plants. One can almost hear the plants yelling for joy as the bees pass over the blossoms. So everything begins to multiply, leveraging its beauty to reproduce itself.

To supplement those abundant colors in our neighborhoods, we have the Texas and Eastern Redbud trees. But the white Dogwood tree is a striking and prominent under garment of the forest. The Dogwood is considered a jewel of the east Texas forests because of its brilliant white blossom clusters, contrasting so much against the new fresh green and yellows of the towering pines and hardwoods, which simultaneously start budding new growth and bloom. The Dogwood is a small tree. Its place in the forest ecology is normally found in partial shade due to its size. It loves the marsh bogs found throughout east Texas. An appreciation of this tree is found here in many yards and park areas here where homeowner, developer or association has planted the tree. We also have other varieties of the Dogwood, but this one is native. Each spring in Tyler Texas, a festival is held honoring this diamond of the forest. That festival is underway as I write this blog article.

So feast you eyes. These colors go away quickly as summer approaches.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Lov´n under-privileged children in Venezuela

We live in a community of many nationalities, especially from South America. This article is provided to help understand some of the culture from where they came and also to relate to our own own.

Some 30 children of various forms of poverty and health gave us new insights into life today. Like my wife said, ¨this is reality where the real world connects to fantasy. We do not live in a perfect world." Don´t we all learn more each day? This was such an exceptional experience for all of us that I had to share it! Here in Venezuela, the children´s rights are protected by the government, so we could not take any photographs. I will outline a few memories to note what we did and what benefits unfolded for us and these children.

We brought new toys from home to give them and had arranged a visit to this special home before we left the states. The toys had to be special for these special children from little babies to a fourteen year old. Most of them were incapable of opening their packages so we did so for them. The event was a party of about two hours duration. When we arrived, several of the children were curious why we were there and what we had with us. Two of them came out to the lobby to mix with us and see what we had. They were fascinated with our eyeglasses, the camera which I was not allowed to use and all the packages we brought. After working with the social workers to put names to the gifts and see that the toys were distributed appropriately, we went into the children´s area and fed them the sandwiches and juice that we brought. We needed to help a few with their lunch but generally they were able to feed themselves. Mostly they came and asked for help when they needed it, but for some we had to go offer our help. I remember one child in particular who seemed starving for affection. She was about 4 years old and was not happy when we arrived. I picked her up and hugged her. She did not allow me to put her down for about 15 minutes. She grabbed me around the neck and held her face tightly next to mine. She was precious, and my heart pained to see any child like this. She finally settled down and was happy and participated in the event like the others, but we remained close after our initial emotional acquaintance. Another child that my daughter got attached to was the little girl without arms and legs. My 19-year-old daughter fed her while she was in her lap on the floor. Of course the little girl loved her attention. That girl was quite adept with her arms, managing to put on her cap and arranging it on her head very quickly. She also was able to walk well using her stub legs. Another little boy with black curly hair wanted me to pick him up and love him several times while we were there. He is about seven years old, and I could not hold him for long. But I gladly helped him every time he came to me.

One room was dedicated to tots and babies, with baby beds lining the walls. We went in there to visit them, but only one of them could interact with us and that interaction was only one-way affection. Most seemed to be be suffering from autism

After eating, the children were instructed to sit down in their chairs and wait for their names to be called to receive their gifts. They did so very well, quite behaved! Some wondered after a while if they would get a gift, so we had to speed up the process. They were excited. Some received dominoes, others dolls, others little cars, and other gifts. We had to cull the doll packages to remove the little hair brushes and nail files that came with them. The packages were difficult to open and the children wanted the little extras in the packages, but for safety sake, we had to remove those extras. It might have been better to open the packages beforehand, but part of the experience was the interaction with the children in opening their gifts. That gave us an idea of their skills and a better appreciation of who they are and their plight in this life. Some or all of the older children go to school. We were told that it is very unusual to receive visitors. Some say that the general population here does not have a conscious for these poor little ones. It is very rare for a man to visit them. Two called me ¨papa¨ and called the social worker ¨mama¨. I was not the only man there. A male family member also accompanied us. The older girl was also quite special. She was in a wheel chair and was not sociable until I went a talked to her like an adult. She wanted to know where we came from and why we were there. She opened up to me and soon she joined everyone else and enjoyed our visit. I noted that they tended to look after one another, especially the older ones to the younger ones. One little girl took the gift of another little girl and told her to keep it in the paper bag that we provided. She helped her put it in the bag when we left.

All in all, it was an event of love and compassion. I would have taken one home if I could. I have always wanted to do this here and was so glad when my wife's family arranged it. The responsibility for these children rests with the government and that is sad. Yet it is comforting to know that all children have protected rights here, even though the general population chooses to ignore the children and their plight.

I recommend that other people do this if they can, anywhere in the world including here.