Sunday, December 29, 2019

HOLY INNOCENTS

Every year at Christmastime, I recall what we remember as the worst Christmas ever.  It began with one of our older children shouting into the intercom, "Clare is throwing up in her crib," and went downhill from there. We opened our Christmas presents worrying about a repeat performance.  My husband opened his gift from my parents, a thoughtful collection of sausages and cheese, turned green, and said he would enjoy them later.  As the day went by, one by one, the rest of the family repaired to their beds or the bathroom until only our oldest daughter and I were able to eat the lavish feast, and soon after that we were also down for the count.
Over the next couple of days, family members gradually recovered except for Catherine, the 5 year old, who continued to complain about stomach pain. That night, she was so much worse that my husband and I took shifts staying up with her. He told me that he was going to lay her down on the sofa and pull on some clothes and would then take her to the Emergency Room. But when he came back out, she had finally fallen asleep, so we were able to catch a few hours of rest. 
In the morning, she seemed worse so my husband took her up to the pediatrician while I held down the fort at home.  He called to say that her white blood cell count was up and the doctor directed him to walk her across the parking lot to the hospital to admit her. When I got there, I learned that the pediatric surgeon was on Christmas vacation and the head trauma surgeon was treating her.  He thought it might be appendicitis although he told us that 5 was a little young for that, but he recommended surgery in any case.  We told him to go ahead and he said it would probably take about half an hour.  We sat in the waiting room, and the half hour turned to an hour and then an hour and a half.  Finally, the pediatrician came into the waiting room, shaking his head. He must have seen that our faces blanched, because he came over to us and told us that he was shaking his head because he had never seen a case like that in 35 years of practice.  He explained that what Catherine had was an omphalo-mesenteric duct cyst that had ruptured, probably Christmas day, when she was vomiting, and that had resulted in a terrible case of peritonitis. He told us that the omphalo-mesenteric duct connects the yolk sac to the unborn baby's intestines, through the umbilical cord. The duct normally disappears as the placenta replaces the yolk sac, but in Catherine's case it never did. The surgeon removed the remnants of the duct as well as her appendix and told us she was on three different antibiotics, had a nasogastric tube and was also in an oxygen tent because she had bronchitis.  He said the next 24 hours would tell.  I thought he meant how quickly she would recover, but my husband understood correctly that he meant whether she would make it.  She was moved to the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit, and I stayed overnight, while my husband went home to relieve my parents, who were watching the other children.  I was shown to a room nearby with a sofa where I could catch a few hours of sleep but also check on her whenever I was awake.  I fell asleep quickly once Catherine was settled and apparently asleep or still under the effects of the anesthesia.  I woke up about 2 in the morning and went in to  her room.  She looked up at me and moved her hand toward her face. I was afraid she was going to try to pull the nasogastric tube out (after all, this was the child who was getting a shot at 18 months and pulled the needle out of her thigh so quickly the nurse couldn't stop her; she said that had never happened to her before). Instead, she blew me a kiss, and I remember thinking then that she was going to be all right. We realized the next day that Catherine had had her surgery on the Feast of the Holy Innocents, the children whom Herod ordered killed in an attempt to destroy the newborn "king of the Jews" whom the Magi were seeking.  We have always been grateful to those young saints for their intercession for our young daughter.
Catherine was in the hospital for a week, and learned to read while I read one Boxcar Children book after another to her to keep her occupied.  The only problem with the books was that they were very detailed about the food that the Boxcar Children were having, and at first Catherine couldn't eat anything, and eventually progressed to broth and jello, which was a far cry from the hot dog that Benny, the youngest of the Boxcar Children, had in one of his famous adventures. At one point, he slipped and nearly fell down a steep mountain, but his grandfather grabbed him just in time.  He told Benny that he needed to think very seriously about what to do with his life since he nearly lost it.  And I used that as an opportunity to impress upon Catherine the same lesson. She had nearly died, but her life had been saved by the truly kind trauma surgeon and the prayers of so many of our family and friends who came to the hospital, called or sent cards. She needed to think seriously about what God was eventually asking her to do with her life. Yesterday, as I was playing Michael Haydn's "Anima Nostra," written for the Feast of the Holy Innocents, for Catherine, I was feeling very thankful that she is now a wife and mother of three young children, whom she and her husband are working to teach, "Your ears shall hear a word behind you: 'This is the way; walk in it.' "

Sunday, December 22, 2019

CHALLENGES AT CHRISTMAS

This year, for the first time since I was a child, I have actually been looking forward to Christmas, trying to make Advent a time of spiritual preparation as well as getting ready for the arrival of 37 people at my home on Christmas Day for dinner. They won't all just descend on Christmas.  Two of my daughters, their husbands, and their 7 children arrive tomorrow.  Catherine and her family are scheduled to touch down from Canada at 6 PM tomorrow.  Unfortunately rain is also scheduled. To make matters more complex, the furnace in the part of the house where my office is, and where Elizabeth and her husband will be staying had an induction assembly go bad on Friday, and when the furnace specialist diagnosed it, he didn't have the parts, so it will be arriving tomorrow at noon, and then his company will schedule his arrival at my home, possibly about the time I need to leave for the pickup at the airport.  I have Mary, my second daughter, and a friend of my son's on standby to make the airport run or be here to let the repairman in depending on how he wants to be paid.  These sorts of indecisive arrangements leave me feeling nervous and EXTREMELY stressed. In the meantime, I'm operating in my office with space heaters, exercise, and leaving for the warmer side of the house when I get too cold.  Now I know we live in Southern California, but in the mornings it has been as low as 36 degrees, so I frequently keep a jacket or coat on while I'm working on the arctic side of the house.
Because we will need the dining room table with both leaves, as well as the kitchen table with table extenders, we have had to set up the Dickens Village, which was my husband's on the L-shaped counter in my office.  There is a faucet in the middle, so I turned off the water and put a plant in front of it, except we found the next day that a bit of water was still seeping out.  After 5 or 6 attempts at tightening the valves, the water was finally completely shut off, and today Mary came to set up the Dickens Village, which looks quite nice except that it took up the spot where the second space heater was keeping me a little warmer.
My daughter Elizabeth and her family will be coming in late tomorrow night (they are mostly night owls) and since they are coming from LA, driving down at night lessens the chance that they will be stuck in the usual traffic situations that are so abundant here.
I will be playing three solos at Midnight Mass. I open the caroling with 2 verses of "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing," followed by the choir entering for the rest.  At Communion, I'll be playing "The First Noel," and after the final triumphant sounds of "Joy to the World" at the end of Mass, I will follow with "In Dulci Jubilo" to usher everyone out. For the first time, I will be miked and standing, so I have to remember to practice these pieces standing as it is a bit more strenuous than playing seated . A number of the family members will be filling up a pew or two next to the choir, and it's possible that my brother-in-law and his family will also be there if they are not too jet-lagged from their flight from the East Coast.  
For Christmas dinner, Mary will be coming with her family from half an hour away, and when we are putting the final touches on the turkey and the brisket and the ham and all the side dishes, Elizabeth will take her turn at the airport run and pick up Theresa and her family, including the two youngest girls (who are 2 and 7 months) whom I haven't met yet and bring them home to fill in some spaces at the two tables.  There will also be the current and former boyfriends of my niece.  The former is still good friends with my niece, and since his mother joined a contemplative convent, he doesn't have a family to join at Christmas, so we are welcoming him here again (he was a delightful member of our table of 20 at Thanksgiving).  We sang an appropriate recessional at Mass today, "People, Look East," which advises, "The time is near Of the crowning of the year. Make your house fair as you are able, Trim the hearth and set the table. People, look east and sing today. Love, the guest, is on His way."  My friend and business partner, who runs a guest house on her property, also helped me get ready, buying new pillows and fluffy blankets, and loaning me her extensive sets of dishes and cutlery and even her oriental rug for the family room so the grandchildren would have a warm place to play.  Love, the guest, is on his way, both as the child born in Bethlehem, and in the presence of so much of our family gathering together in thankfulness for all we share.

Sunday, December 15, 2019

SILENT WITNESSES

When I had only half as many children as I do now (3 as opposed to 6), and we had moved from Northern to Southern California, I would try to get to Mass on our feast days, although it was often a challenge with three daughters who were 8, 5, and 2. I have no specific memory of most of those Masses, but on January 4, which is the feast of St. Elizabeth Seton, my oldest daughter's patron saint, our pastor gave a homily that I have never forgotten.  
Elizabeth Ann Bayley was a member of a prominent Episcopalian family in New York City, who married businessman William Seton. He had been sent for his health to Italy, and was quarantined and later died there, leaving Elizabeth a widow with five children. The Felicchi family, who were their friends in Italy, took them in while they were waiting to be able to return to America, and Elizabeth frequently went to church with them.  Our pastor pointed out that the Felicchis did nothing extraordinary; they simply lived their Catholic faith and sheltered the Setons in their loving home. But their example was so powerful that after Elizabeth returned to New York City, she converted to Catholicism and was then ostracized by those who had been her friends.  
Eventually she was offered a teaching position at St. Mary's College in Baltimore, Maryland, where she founded the first order of nuns in the United States, as well as orphanages and hospitals and began the parochial school system in this country.  
As I sat in the pew listening to this brief homily, I felt immeasurably encouraged.
I was a mother and homemaker, working with my husband to raise a good Catholic family, and the thought of that other Catholic family in Italy whose goodness so impressed Elizabeth Seton that the whole course of her life changed, as well as the early history of the Church in the United States, made me realize that what seemed like a humble domestic life could be a beacon for others searching for love and truth.

Sunday, December 8, 2019

LESSONS AND CAROLS

"Lessons and Carols" is the name of the concert our church has given for about 40 years, recently on the Second Sunday of Advent. At one time, it was connected to the hanging of the greens, when great swags of greenery and red bows are hung all about the church and evergreen trees are brought in although not decorated yet.  We have the choir from another church, a brass quintet and many other instruments, and the hymns are interspersed with readings from Scripture having to do with salvation history from creation to the birth of Jesus.
We started learning the new music months ago, and as we approached the concert date, we increased the rehearsals until the dress rehearsal with the instruments, which was yesterday.
When we first started learning some of the new hymns, I was resistant as I often am to new music, but as we improved and could hear the beauty of the music,
I began to appreciate them, and a version of "See, Amid the Winter's Snow," with rolling cymbals and a Mark tree, which sounds like celestial wind chimes, was intoxicatingly ethereal.
However, the dress rehearsal triggered all my old fears about playing in a concert with professionals, and partly as a result, I suspect, I did not play well. Every wrong note seemed magnified, and when one of the brass players (whom I have known for several years) asked me which part I was playing in "Joy to the World," I told her I was  playing from the choral score, and what I felt like telling her was that I would play any note I thought I could hit, because I haven't yet transposed that piece.  
When I went home, I wondered if I should just quit, went into a grand funk, and remembered all over again how easily I can slip into a depression and see everything through a glass darkly. 
I practiced twice today, once before Mass, and once before the concert, and got some of my confidence back.  
As I was setting up in the confined space in church for the brass instruments, a friend of mine whom I was not expecting to see appeared to say she was here for the concert, and then it turned out there were a dozen friends from my Beginning Experience community who had come.
Our choir director had told us this morning after Mass that we should look at this concert as a Christmas gift we are giving to the people who come, and I felt happy knowing that I had friends in the audience who would receive the gift.  Their presence encouraged me to play well and enjoy playing, especially when in "Three Festive Carols," I could hear the close harmony between my horn and the professional's. The concert was a spiritual experience for me, and my friends told me that it had been for them, too.  I felt appreciated that they had taken the time to come, and my spirits were soaring because of the loving hearts of these friends.  There were a number of "Lessons" I learned from all this, but the most important was how much of a difference kindness and love can make.

Monday, December 2, 2019

WATER

Water is a huge issue in California, particularly in Southern California. We get an average of about 11 inches of rain a year, and we're at the end of the Colorado River, and everyone north of us takes their water before it gets down to us. That's a simplification, but water rights are a big legal issue throughout California. I am going to interpolate much of an article my son wrote about water issues in California, prompted by a water emergency right here in my own little town, where we got so much rain over the Thanksgiving weekend (which meant that 10 of my grandchildren could not go outside and things got wild)! Apparently as a result of the unusually high rainfall, our covered reservoir was  affected in such a way that some residents reported brown or greenish water coming from their taps. The city issued the first ever boil water advisory and closed all eating establishments in town, and made cases of drinking water available to residents. I picked mine up yesterday afternoon since I had stockpiled enough gallons of water to hold me until I could get home from church. Our water appears to be clear, so we've been able to take showers, but we have to used the bottled water for drinking, cooking, and brushing teeth, and the boiled water for washing dishes. I'm just glad it happened after we had cleaned up most of the Thanksgiving dishes created by the 20 people who were here and all the food they prepared!
This was actually a small emergency compared to the very serious affair with which my son opened his article.
High water risin', the shacks are slidin' down 
Folks lose their possessions and folks are leaving town 
-Bob Dylan (High Water)
A scene reminiscent of the opening of an Avengers movie unfolded in Oroville, California, this February. Water from the record rains in California threatened to overflow the tallest dam in the nation. A hole in one of the emergency spillways, designed to prevent this from happening, meant that the torrents of water cascading down the spillways overflowed and poured down hillsides and into the Feather River below. The National Guard was ordered to be prepared to mobilize, and close to 200,000 people were ordered to evacuate the area, as people feared their town being obliterated by a giant flood. In some ways, California has hit the lottery in the past two months, a state ravaged by drought received large amounts of rain, prompting people to proclaim an end to the drought, and more importantly an end to the unseemly brown medians in Beverly Hills.  The surplus of water in California has suddenly forced people to address the threat of the decay of the massive amounts of infrastructure required to make California not only livable but farmable. The Oroville dam incident is not a random isolated incident; it is the first of many possible issues that face the state when it comes to water.
Take a stroll by the roaring banks of the LA River, and you’ll notice something strange. The roaring is from the freeway right next to it, as the LA River is mostly a (sometimes) wet concrete patch. Southern California relies mostly on other places for its water. The water that rushes out of your faucet in Los Angeles, has to navigate not only miles of piping, canals and aqueducts, but also a vast legal bureaucracy. This is due to the distance the water must travel. Welcome to the wild, weird and wonderful world of water in California, where a public agency almost caused war between California and Arizona in the 1920s, and where currently the state might build a four story high and 35 mile long tunnel, that would dwarf the Chunnel between Britain and France.
In Southern California the majority of our water comes from either the snowpacks in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, or from the Colorado River. Your individual city purchases that water from the Metropolitan Water District(MWD). Think of the MWD as the Costco of water; they purchase the water in bulk from the State Water Project(SWP). In fact, according to Brad Jensen, from the San Gabriel Valley Economic Partnership, you could count up to ten agencies that your water goes through before reaching your tap. In short, water is not a simple process in California, because of the massive amount of infrastructure, energy, and money required to provide enough water for farms and cities. When this infrastructure, as in the case of the Oroville Dam, starts to fail, California has a major crisis both for its citizens and for the economy that relies on vast acres of farmland. The Don Pedro reservoir in the San Joaquin Valley, has filled more quickly than expected, and officials are trying to lower levels, before more storms hit. While both these would cause tremendous problems, it is nothing compared to the potential disaster facing the California Delta. 
It is not an exaggeration to say that almost every part of the state is affected by the California Delta. Start talking about it and you’re going to make someone angry. The California Delta is where the rivers carrying fresh water from the Sierras meet the salty ocean water. The Delta helps keep salty ocean waters from continually pushing inland. Originally the Delta was a giant marsh, and in the mid 19th century farmers began draining and reclaiming the land for farm use and building levees to keep the seawater at bay. Since then it has been incredibly lush farmland, with one slight problem. By draining the swamp the ground level has lowered considerably. This means that large parts of farmland now sit far below sea level. This means that if these levees were to break in an earthquake, the incredibly fertile farmland would be flooded and gone forever. It would also cause a large problem, as the California Delta is a hub for the water coming from the Sierras, before continuing on to Southern California faucets. For years the state government has been seeking a way to try and make the water delivery system to Southern California more reliable, and the most recent effort is the Twin Tunnels Project. This project aims to build two large thirty-five mile long tunnels, to more efficiently transport water from the Sierras to Southern California. This would avoid the threat of a levee collapse decimating fresh water supplies. The downside of this solution, is that large amounts of fresh water that currently flow to the Delta would now be rerouted. This means for farmers in the Delta that they would have less water for irrigation. The tunnels would benefit farmers along the route of the tunnels who would receive more water. Delta farmers argue that their water rights, which go back to the founding of the state, would be violated by the tunnels. Whether this is a good solution or not, one thing that can be agreed upon, is that something has to be done to keep California's water infrastructure from crumbling.
The way water moves from sources to our homes in Southern California, frankly bores people. It requires the use of words like water authority, special district, private wholesaler, and aquifer. These are not interesting, eye popping words, like knife fight, kablooie, or Kardashian, but if we do not understand how water reaches us, we risk major problems. We risk being like the younger sibling playing Monopoly, who sits in a daze, as his older brother glibly explains the rules at a rapid pace, while moving his piece around the board, telling us all the while he’s doing what’s best for us. The problems facing California water are numerous, but by raising our awareness of how we get this vital resource, we can help enact change and improvement in an ever changing world.
Because the Colorado River goes through five different states, the water rights had to be divided among the five states. The Colorado River Compact of 1922 outlined who got how much water from the river. The problem with this compact was that it was made during unusually high water levels in the river. This meant that when the river went back down, states who took water out after other states found themselves with less water than had been promised. So in 1934 when the MWD began construction on Parker Dam along the Colorado River, Arizona was vehemently opposed to the idea. It would mean California would have the ability to store more water, and since Arizona had to wait until California took water out of the river before they could, it meant Arizona would be left with even less water. According to Scott Harrison of the LA Times, Arizona then proceeded to dispatch a National Guard battalion to prevent construction from being completed on the Parker Dam. The 100 troops not only prevented the construction of the dam but also a trestle bridge as well. The Supreme Court then sided with Arizona and said the Governor had every right to use the National guard, and it wouldn’t be until 1938, and numerous compromises later that the dam would eventually be built. 

So although our mild excess of rain has caused some difficulties, it is only a small indication of some of the larger issues at stake. In the meantime, I've got to get back to folding the Christmas programs for our choir's concert this year, which will actually be finished before the dress rehearsal, something that has never happened since I took on the programs.  Kudos to our choir director who did not wait till the last minute to choose the music we will present!