Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Howell Round Up ~ My Tattoo, CF Meds, and Goats

CF has been pretty quiet lately.

Fairy hair
We have a good groove going with Addie's care. She doesn't mind breathing in her nebulized pulmozyme, probably because we put in DVDs (Her current favorite is the new live-action Cinderella and I already ordered her that dreamy blue ball gown for Christmas) and I often paint her nails. I clap her directly afterwards and she is then ready to eat, which she now does pretty well. Evening clapping usually puts her to sleep up on my big bed.

Now that the drug study is completed, Rees has commercial Orkambi covered for a few more months. We'll see how badly the state balks come January when they have to pay, as the Marketplace spit him out of the system due to his change from full time work to part time. He finally loves his college program and takes a mix of on-campus and online classes.

Did I put "tattoo" in the title? Oh, I did. This June was our 25th anniversary and we had an Anchorage getaway ~ four whole days in the city. We stayed at the handsome Hotel Captain Cook. We strolled the coastal trail each morning, window shopped, walked to fine restaurants, went swimming . . . and got inked. I cried. Not because it hurt (It didn't) but because Ken got one for me. Four years in the Navy; no tattoo. Four years in the Marine Corps; no tattoo. Two black belts; no tattoo. His wife begs Pleaseplease can we get our names on each other for this fantastic anniversary??? and he does it. I am so spoiled. Twenty-five more!

And our hobby farm is fine. Clare has named it Lucky Duck Farm, as a nod to a phrase I remember exclaiming in childhood and to the single duck lucky enough to escape a marauding owl that took his four siblings last year. She has also decided that only Nigerian Dwarf goats will do for us. They are more docile than Nubians and short enough not to be able to jump our fencing. The cute couple is a lady named Happy and a gentleman named Thor. We are expecting babies in February.

I remember having pen pals as a kid and writing to Ken when he was deployed (Two different time frames of course.), keeping a letter going for days, scribbling "OK, now it's after work..." or "Back from the store..." Well, I'm going to hit publish or I'll never get this up.

Happy Thanksgiving friends!
Love, Allison

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Jane Eyre and Real Virtue

Ian looks like a mayor.
Addie wanted everything.
Clare and I just finished up another Valley Performing Arts play ~ Jane Eyre. We already miss the shows and the cast and crew. It truly is a community affair. One of the sweet parts of each VPA show is the themed, interactive lobby exhibit. Last year's Velveteen Rabbit had a Christmas tree with Santa giving away candy canes and posing for pictures. Jane Eyre's crew came up with a people-sized picture frame and black velvet background with a rack full of vintage clothing for patrons to don and snap photos in.

It was wonderful to read the book again after many years and I am so proud to contribute to putting the story on stage. My friend wrote a piece on Jane Eyre over the summer and I wrote for our Frontiersman last month. I've copied mine here in full, as clicking on the newspaper link results in annoying, required survey questions.

Jane Eyre and Real Virtue

"Reader, I married him."

One of the most famous lines in literature, this sentence begins the final chapter of Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre. It is a story of a girl turned lady, a girl who learned through sadness and loss to better herself and to become a lady who held tightly to God's laws of charity and chastity, a girl whose life began unwanted and unloved and ended with knowing "what it is to live entirely for and with what I love best on earth...supremely blest beyond what language can express because I am my husband's life as fully as he is mine."

What is it about Jane? Why are we drawn to her story? Why are readers, so pleasantly addressed as such by Miss Bronte, gladdened to see her move from unforgiveness to forgiveness of her Aunt Reed; to see her stand up for Christian morality with her master; to see her call upon Providence in her deepest sorrow, to see happiness and contentment finally visit her, all the while retaining her vibrant personality and quick wit? Why does relationship wit Jane change and soften Mr. Rochester until he did "begin to experience remorse, repentance; the wish for reconcilement to my Maker...to pray."?


It's not a word you hear much anymore. From the Latin word virtus, it means, "Habit superadded to a faculty of the soul, disposing it to elicit with readiness, acts conformable to our rational nature." Or, as Saint Augustine thankfully explained more succinctly, "Virtue is a good habit consonant with our nature."

The Church charts virtue into two groups: moral and theological. The moral virtues are prudence (reasoning to discern the good), justice (man regulating himself in relation to others), temperance (restraining concupiscence), and fortitude (moral strength to do what right reason requires). The Catechism of the Catholic Church says about these, "The moral virtues are acquired by human effort. They are the fruit and seed of morally good acts; they dispose all the powers of the human being for communion with divine love (#1804).

The theological virtues are infused; that is, gifts from God. They are faith (intellect perfected by Divine light), hope (confidence in Divine assistance to life everlasting), and charity (love of God and neighbor). According to our catechism, "The theological virtues are the foundation of Christian moral activity; they animate it and give it its special character. They have the one and triune God for their origin, motive, and object (#1813).

Jane saw virtue in her Lowood School friend Helen Burns who, when questioned by Jane about vengeance, answered with, "I so sincerely forgive the first [criminal] while I abhor the last [crime]: with this creed [from the Creator] revenge never worries my heart, degradation never too deeply disgusts me, injustice never crushes me too low; I live in calm, looking to the end. Why should we ever sink overwhelmed with distress when life is so soon over and death is so certain an entrance to happiness -- to glory? God is my father; God is my friend; I love him; I believe he loves me." Indeed, Helen's life was over too soon. Her gravestone was marked with her precious name and the word, Resurgam -- I shall rise again. Her influence lived on in Jane, though, and made the world a little better.

She also saw virtue in her teacher and friend Miss Temple, who, as well as teaching Jane the liberal
As Miss Temple and Diana Rivers.
arts of language, literature, French, drawing, and mathematics, took every opportunity to smile, to give, to embrace, to listen, and to show a tear. Jane said, "I had imbibed from her something of her nature and much of her habits: more harmonious thoughts. What seemed better regulated feelings had become the inmates of my mind." Jane carried this virtue, both from God and practiced in life, with her to Thornfield Hall and Mr. Rochester.

Her virtue attracted Mr. Rochester: "The more you and I converse, the better; for while I cannot blight you, you may refresh me." He delighted in Jane's true, easy, and excellent conversation free of coquetry and shallowness. Their interactions leading to true love are delightful to read. And often funny.

"Tell me now, fairy as you are, can't you give me a charm or a philter or something of that sort to make me a handsome man?"
" 'It would be past the power of magic, Sir'; and in thought I added, 'a loving eye is all the charm needed; to such you are handsome enough; or rather, your sternness has a power beyond beauty'."

When the existence of a secret, lunatic wife was exposed and their wedding called off, a desperate Mr. Rochester begs Jane to move with him to France and live together, for no one would know or care. To which Jane replied, "I care! I will keep the laws given by God; sanctioned by man. Laws and principles are not for the times when there is no temptation; they are for such moments as this, when body and soul rise in mutiny against their rigour, stringent are they, inviolate they shall be. They have a worth; there I plant my foot. I will not be yours." Her answer to her love's anguish was to "Do as I do; trust in God and yourself. Believe in heave. Hope to meet again there. I advise you to live sinless and to die tranquil."



Our cast. Our friends.


Saturday, October 3, 2015

I Lived

Several people have forwarded this video to me over the past few months but I never watched it, afraid of sadness or sappiness. But I'm working on an article for the Frontiersman about Respecting Life and thought there might be something I could use so I watched it.

It's perfect.

And it's true for everybody ~ "When the sun goes down through the joy and pain, until my moment comes I'll say, I lived."

Yes we will. Life is still good.
Love, Allison

Friday, September 18, 2015

Bears, Boys, and Fathers

Yesterday Ken shot a bear alongside our 8 year old son. Luke helped to field dress the thing; without, he reported gravely, throwing up or even feeling weird in his stomach. I did not think he was strong enough to partake in this formidable day, climbing up a mountain, trudging through tundra, scrambling over shale fields, and hiding from bears and wolves, only to turn around and return along the same path. But Ken thought he could do it, having just taken the boy on a three-day backcountry hike deep in Denali National Park. He does this every year around Labor Day, taking a different child each year. The kid is usually nine years old, but Luke won't be nine until November. To top off that error in judgment (according to the other children), he is very thin and doesn't like to eat much more than packaged breakfast food like pop tarts or frozen waffles. Almost every night, he opts to make his own PB&J rather than eat the real meal. But off they went. And home they came. With a butchered bear in the trunk. Ken was right.

Comfortably cuddled on the couch with me in the late afternoon, mug of hot chocolate in hand, he relayed all the day's adventures and I realized once again that this boy-child of mine is growing into a man. Aside from the obvious lessons on survival hiking, reading nature, animal tracking, bear behavior, and field dressing that Alaska is so generous to share, he learned deep in his knower that although it was very hard, he lived. He will stand a little taller, just like his brothers before him and within him is forged a stronger hinge between body and mind, welded by arduous, thrilling experiences and a strong, loving father who both prods and walks with his children. Luke will be fine.

The following pictures are from the Denali trip 2 weeks ago:

Checking in at the ranger station before heading out.

Somewhere in the tundra heading toward Cathedral Mountain.

Cool fossil by the Teklanika River.

After 3 days, he completed an activity book and received a Junior Ranger pin.

Here's to more adventures and meat. And more years of kids hunting so that I won't have to field dress anything for a long, long time!

Love, Allison

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Good Shelter Work

(This was printed by our Frontiersman yesterday. I'm particularly fond of this one.)

I acted the devil’s advocate. “So here we are, driving to the animal shelter to volunteer when people are hungry. Shouldn’t we be helping at the Food Bank?” I grinned so she knew I was playing a bit. She pursed her sassy, thirteen-year-old lips and dodged. “Well, you can go there with one of the boys (She has five brothers.); I want to walk the dogs and help people find their perfect pets.” Fair enough. We marched in and donned our aprons and name tags.

My daughter and I volunteered for the first time a few weeks ago at the Mat Su Animal Shelter. I am not allowed to call it the pound.  We exercised and goofed off with three dogs, tested to see if they knew any commands, cleaned up after them, wrote down our observations in the special notebook, and stacked some dishes. Then, joy of joys, we assisted a couple with the adoption of one of the dogs we’d taken out that very morning. My girl was able to explain just what she’d done, how the dog responded, and because she reads so much about dogs, to describe what she knew of the breeds that made up the adorable mutt. The world seemed a little sweeter on the drive home and our conversation was as cheerful as any I have ever known. I was sorry I had dragged my feet in scheduling time there. It was a good day.

And I am not a dog person. I deal with the three dogs we have at home because my husband and this daughter of ours love them. But I have learned to see the goodness that pets bring to lives; both in terms of practical responsibilities that parents relish in child raising, and in terms of existential connections that humans cherish in creation.  I cannot yell at our dogs because one of them gets nervous and tinkles on the floor. See? Good for home life, too. I was surprised at the peaceful delight in my soul after our hours there. I felt close to my daughter, my community, and my Lord. Of course, it helped that the the staff (and dogs!) were friendly and appreciative and that we were able to actually aid an adoption our first day. It affected me deeply.

Stimulated by our excellent conversation and experience at the shelter, I pored through our catechism for support and theology. The Catechism of the Catholic Church is “offered to every individual who asks us to give an account of the hope that is in us and ... to know what the Catholic Church believes” (from the introduction). I found several paragraphs to share with my daughter.

“Animals, like plants and inanimate beings, are by nature destined for the common good of past, present, and future humanity. Man’s dominion over living beings granted by the Creator is not absolute; it is limited by concern for the quality of life of his neighbor, including generations to come; it requires a religious respect for the integrity of creation.
Animals are God’s creatures. He surrounds them with his providential care. By their mere existence they bless him and give him glory. Thus men owe them kindness. We should recall the gentleness with which saints like Saint Francis of Assissi or Saint Philip Neri treated animals (# 2415-16).”

(My daughter hustled off to look up Philip Neri, whom she had never heard of.)

“Human work proceeds directly from persons created in the image of God and called to prolong the work of creation by subduing the earth, both with and for one another... Work honors the Creator’s gifts and the talents received from him... (#2427).

My daughter’s work with these animals and the people who happily bring them home is good.  She is helping to raise the quality of life for her neighbors and respecting the integrity of creation by actively aiding these dogs kindly and gently and connecting people with prospective pets. She is using her gifts and talents in all her human dignity.  God is pleased with her work and I am honored to toil beside her in our town. It doesn’t have to be either/or; it can be both/and. We volunteer away some of our food and we volunteer away some of our time at the shelter. People are blessed. The world is a little better. God is glorified and creation is respected.

When Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment was in Matthew 22:36-40, He answered, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” And then, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” We do love God and His love moves us to action. By volunteering at the animal shelter, we are putting love of neighbor back into our community. I am actually looking forward to our next morning there.

Love, Allison

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Lessons from the Mud Run

We did the ACMHS Mud Run a few weeks ago according to our new family status ~ without Rees and John (Still having a hard time with that.). Ken ran the kids' 2K with Ian, Luke, and Joseph, then the adult 5K with Clare.

I just walked around with Addie and plied her with hot dogs and water cups, which were probably for the runners but she's cute so the grilling guys gave her whatever she asked for.

I witnessed an incident that had a profound effect on me. I've written before that homeless people scare me: I'm wary of their looks, their smell, their stories, their choices, their mental health. I'm certain one will grab me or ask me for something or breathe on me. I avert my eyes and hope they will just get a job, take a shower, or buy an apple for goodness' sake. Well, I got Addie a drink, popped her up on some sort of cement table, and noticed two homeless men lounging at the other end with hot dogs. Indignation welled up. They are not part of this; they just drifted over because they smelled the grill. I busied myself getting out her enzymes when one of them spoke to me (Oh no). "Pretty soon, you won't be able to lift her so easily," he grinned, proudly exposing his blackened teeth. I tried very hard to focus on his eyes through the grime and didn't notice any leering creepiness, so I took a breath and answered, "Yeah, I hate to think of that." He bobbed his head and poked his friend in the arm while the two of them cackled cheerfully. I moved the two of us away, pretending that I wanted my own cup of water.

Then, one of ACMHS staff, a lady I recognized from the company picnic but couldn't remember her name, approached the men and I heard her say, "You guys enjoying the day? How're you doing? We're raising money for supplies for our community mental health." They chatted some more (which I couldn't completely hear because remember, I'd moved away) and she meandered off to mingle with others. She did not shoo the men away or confiscate their hot dogs. The exchange was pleasant. I sniffed.

Then of course it hit me that I was being a jerk. Again. There was no need for rudeness. Look what I have. Mercy. Kindness. Food. Drink. Family. Love. Humanity. They deserve it, too.

I wish I could have gone back and asked that man if he had children, if he was enjoying the nice weather and tasty lunch. I wish I was as cool and friendly as Ken's coworker. Next time.

Love, Allison

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Another Death Sentence

Along with I don't care if it's a boy or girl as long as it's healthy, I've come across another sentence that raises my eyebrows and deflates my heart. Here's how I discovered it.

There's a writer that I like. I mean, like so much that I look for her articles and gobbled up her memoir in a single weekend. I was stuck in a medical clinic waiting room a few weeks ago with a son who had a spider bite gone very wrong (He's fine now, after antibiotics, anti-inflammatories, and anti-something I can't remember now.) and flipping through a ladies' magazine. My writer's name caught my eye and I was pleased to settle in with her article about the international adoption of one of her daughters.

About how she and her husband fell in love with the toddler's video: her sweet face, shy smile, little twirls, and halting English, "Will you be my parents?" About how the paperwork process moved quickly. About how her husband got Serious and said: She can't have any health problems. About how my writer scurried to the computer to fire off a breathless question to the orphanage. About how the answer of perfection brought on a sigh of happiness. They would rescue this darling because she  had no health problems.

My heart started to pound and I felt dizzy and clenched my teeth but I completed the article. What if the orphanage director had told them this beautiful child that they "loved" had cystic fibrosis? She'd still be there, of course. They wouldn't bring her home and give her enzymes or hook up her nebulizer with a Little Bear DVD. They wouldn't buy her potato chips and peanut butter cups to help her gain weight and laugh about how great it was to have such a good excuse for keeping chips and candy in the house. They wouldn't hang out with her in the hospital for IV times, doing puzzles, watching movies, or good-naturedly harrassing nurses. Do orphaned kids with CF in former Eastern Bloc nations even have pulmonary care?

I know, I know, if we could order a child up like a burger on a menu (or pick through embryos like picking through trail mix for the candy), we would choose perfection (Which is a joke; we are all perfect in some things and flawed somewhere else). But she actually wrote it down and had it printed with her own name: She can't have any health problems, and the unwritten but necessary conclusion: Or we'll leave her there and pick someone else even though we said we loved her.

I've been fussed at over the internet for being too cheerful about cystic fibrosis. And it's true. I want to combat this culture of perfect humanity or nothing at all. But yes of course it's hard. Yes of course I cry. Yes of course I don't want to consider the death of my children. But neither did my friend who lost her healthy son at 17 from a car accident. Neither did the mother of a healthy toddler who drowned down the road from me. Neither does any mother. It's not just CF, it's life, even when you adopt a healthy orphan. I hate to think of children with CF languishing in orphanages. I'm sick to think of babies killed in utero over those genes. It's like saying my kids aren't worth life and loving. I wish my writer had brought home whatever child reached out to them when they decided to adopt.

 I want to fire off a letter to "instruct the ignorant" writer but it won't do any good at this point; after all, the child is now a mother herself. I will teach my own children, though, and try my hardest to live at peace with all (Romans 12:18).

Clearly, I haven't yet formulated an excellent answer. I haven't yet made peace with my messy feelings. There is still an air of melancholy hanging over my head.

But (!), now I am heading outside to set up the sprinkler and a picnic in the sun to play with my kids (with and without CF). My adult son (who happens to have CF) will probably bring me my favorite Kickstart drink when he gets home from work because he's nice. They were not left in an orphanage. And the world is a better place.

I hope my writer can learn this someday.