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Monday, July 18, 2011


It was 12:30am. We were in a deep REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep. I shifted my legs slightly, moving the dead weight of our cat who was sleeping on them. It was hot and sultry. The overhead fan had a cadenced 'whirr', which acted as a mechanical sleeping pill lulling us into sleep and keeping outside noises to a minimum.

Lilly, with her three babies.
 I subconsciously turned onto my right side and pulled the sheet up to my neck. Our cat moved with the changes and then settled up against my back. I awoke with a sudden jolt and realized that our very pregnant cat had without provocation clawed me. On went the light, waking Noline. We both instinctively rubbed our tired eyes trying to grasp the magnitude of a now wet sheet, which we would come to understand as her womb waters, which had broken. Lilly, had jumped off and was now under the bed. She was uncharacteristically meowing. We both understood her new behavior was indicative of the beginning of labor pains.

Noline picked her up and placed her in a specially prepared box with a layer of shredded paper. This birthing bed was specifically located in our walk-in closet; this was to give Lilly a sense of security from her pesky nemesis, Buster, our German Shepherd. We had obtained Lilly from Elosha and his wife Oxona. They are close neighbors to us; he was the general contractor over the remodeling of our house, and Oxona is one of my prized artists whom I have been tutoring over the past year.

Lilly is a very small cat with distinctive Siamese markings and is by no means a pure bred. Noline had requested that I allow her to bond with Lilly since the last cat we had owned had lived for 21 years, and was exclusively my cat. He had seen our three children finish grade school, high school and college. To this day I think they thought I loved James more than them. He had lived in South Dakota, Colorado, Pennsylvania, back to Colorado and finally New York City, NY. He had travelled all over the East Coast of the United States in a motor home, lost an eye to a virus, and walked on a 4 inch ledge outside of our apartment on the 25th floor in Manhattan. I still get the 'shiveries' whenever I think about that.

James, my cat who lived for 21 years
 When we put him down because of cancer we kept his ashes in a small wooden box. One of my granddaughters, Fiona, seeing me sad and dejected soon after his death, said, "papa, you should not be sad, you still have grandma, and you have me and you have James' bones." I think she was truly traumatised by seeing his bones in the box. But God did encourage me through her kind words. James, was always a thorough gentleman to Noline. If she picked him up he would sit on her lap for a few minutes making sure never to offend. But once I walked into the room he was off her lap and onto mine. 

I was more than happy to let this bonding with Noline and Lilly take its course since I had my own puppy I was bonding with. Over the course of the past year and a half we had often talked about having Lilly spayed. This became a strong resolution after she came into heat for the first time, and just about drove us crazy. This non-meowing kitten which had taken on Noline’s personality of a beautiful introvert, completely changed overnight and became an overbearing and highly avarice cat. We guarded the back door with our lives fearing the worst if she should escape into the underworld of ally cats. There were a few times she escaped into the night but fortunately this heated time in her life passed and we regained our darling little introvert.

Surviving after loseing an eye.

Neither of us suspected she would come back into heat so quickly. Displaying my gross ignorance on the topic, which I have hence rectified via the internet, I thought this condition was a yearly thing or at the most twice a year. But this furry Houdini, managed to get past the human border post and blockade without a passport, and lived an unabated and licentious lifestyle for the next two days while in primetime heat. She came home bedraggled, thin, and worse for wear.

We first began to suspect her new pregnant condition by the way she would now loving rub against your leg followed by loud purrs. She had never been a voracious eater. She would prefer to lick the juices around her chunky meat than to chew and swallow the lumps. We gave her food and she devoured everything in sight. Wikipedia on the gestation period for cats was 62-65 days. So here we were at 12:45am, 60+ days later, and we were ready for this brand new mom to deliver her little parcels.

I had repeatedly threatened to drown all but one of her litter. There are already too many stray cats and dogs in the neighborhood without adding to that number. Our granddaughter, Bronwyn, threatened never to speak to me again if I did. Do I risk my granddaughter not speaking to me and have fewer mouths to feed; or do I capitulate from my threat and let everyone come to their own conclusions whether I had the guts to do it or not. At the end of the blog you will have to decide for yourself.

It did not take Lilly long after her waters broke to be in strong labor. She did not mind us being with her and Noline was able to comfort and help her in the process. What a miracle to see the first kitten being born. With no instruction manual, human parents who simply watched but could not really assist; this new little mommy was doing everything God had instinctively built into her. She was doing an amazing job. Kudos to you our little darling. We hung around her nest changing the shredded paper as needed. This was an incredible moment, both for mommy cat and for us.

Another close up of mother and babes!
 On her third baby, we were disturbed to see she was not helping it or cleaning it. Lilly was ignoring this kitten as it moved weakly around. She bit the cord and digested the afterbirth as she had dutifully done on the first two. Then to our amazement, she stood, picked up this struggling kitten and deposited it in the farthest corner of the room in between two of our travel cases. She immediately went back to her other two kittens and continued to care for them. We were baffled for a moment, thinking she would move all her babies to the new location. But no! She completely ignored this one. We hung around for another half hour bringing us close to 2 am in the morning.

When we were well satisfied that both mommy and two babies were doing fine, we made our own preparations to get back to sleep. Noline made sure there were fresh paper, milk, water and food in close proximity so as to alleviate any concern on Lilly’s part. She would not have to hunt for nourishment during this confinement period. We chatted for the longest time about what a great mother she was, and of our consternation concerning the rejected kitten. The gentle “whirr” of the overhead fan did its wonderful trick of lulling us back into another sound sleep, and I’m sure I saw the faintest smile on Noline’s face, as she drifted off into her own world of thoughts about motherhood and birthing.

I know she was proud of this feline and of women in general. There was this “take charge” of the situation which she initiated right from the beginning. I graciously took back seat on this one. After all, she knew firsthand just what this little mother was going through and just when to help her. I was proud of both, and if Noline had glanced at me while sleep captivated my tired mind, she too would have no doubt seen the faintest smile on my face.

In the morning to our wildest surprise, Lilly, whom we thought had delivered all her babies, had given us another one. This had made a pregnancy of four with three surviving. She does not leave them for a second. From seeing this little cat who loved to be outside chasing butterflies and stalking grasshoppers, to now cherishing her new born babies uncontested, all we can say is; “God, you are good and your mercy endures forever.” “You have wowed us by your creation.” “You have renewed in us your awesomeness.” “We love you and we worship you.” “Now, does anybody want a kitten? We are giving them away free of charge to a good home.”  

Thursday, July 14, 2011


Our New Tasteful Green Fence
A blood curdling scream broke forcibly into my lost thoughts, as I was sitting in my art studio dabbling with color on a canvas. It was one of those “lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer,” when everything is moving deliciously in slow motion. I was jolted out of my state of self induced limbo, and brought consciously back into the present reality of a world full of misfortune and difficulties.
It was the cry of a young child, either hurt or bitten but definitely dying. I waited for an eternity of two seconds to hear if there was any sound of Noline rushing like a 911 call to the scene. Nothing! Again, another anguished outburst rang up to the second floor rafters of the art studio. It was that unmistakable shriek; like the realization you’ve slipped and fallen off a cliff and are freefalling swiftly into the canyon below. I thrust back my director’s armchair from canvas and easel and hurtled my 58 year old frame down the stairs. I found new abilities I thought were long gone. I was contorting to the distinctive twists and turns of the staircase as I sped to the aid of the distressed. Our German Shepherd, who had been asleep in the coatroom, was sitting up wild eyed having been alerted by the high pitched yell. Whew! At least he is not the culprit or the source of the problem. He becomes easily excited when the grandkids come down to play and he does not always realize how big he is. He has a tendency to rough house the little ones while intuitively herding them.

There it was again, a definite death squeal! They were coming now in greater rapidity. Every bit of adrenalin within me forced my thinking into a fight or flight mode; I swung open the back door and literally dove to the source of the cry, all the time expecting to find the worst. As I took my first glance around the corner of the house, I was immediately confronted by our youngest grandchild, gripped in a panicked fear. He was clinging on for dear life, clutching white knuckled to the top of the gate, while his small body dangled limp underneath.

Taking Our Dog Buster For A Swim In The River

The gated and fenced yard is relatively new. We were obliged to put up the fence or place our dog on a chain. Since Psalm 36 says, God takes care of both people and animals; I had no heart to restrict him to a two meter chain. Our neighbors seed beds of summer vegetables were springing up everywhere with vibrant life, and our dog was not being very neighborly about them. His adventurous spirit took him across grass and garden alike, without concern for the tender and delicate shoots. My choice, much to everyone’s delight, was the tastefully green wire mesh fence. (See the top photo of our back yard.) It is two meters high as are the gates. It was the perfect but costly solution. Unfortunately, for the little gradkids, we have to keep the gates keyed because ‘Buster,’ has learned how to depress the handle and open them. Why didn’t anyone tell us just how smart German Shepherds are?

Noah, our grandson, decided to climb up the locked gate, instead of waiting and doing his usual calling for grandma to come and unlock it for him. His four year old sentence goes something like this. “This is Noah grandma, at the gate.” His baby pitched voice penetrates any and all household gadgets, which might be ‘whirring,’ ‘buzzing,’ or ‘whining.’ Since the gate is directly under the kitchen window, grandma responds immediately to his requests with; “Grandma, is coming Nobie (that’s his nickname).” Having reached the top with his tiny hands gripping the bar he had nowhere to dig in his shoes. He was hanging down with arms totally out stretched and his feet clawing to find some kind of a foothold. With a fountain of tears cascading down his face, he now bemoaned this unfortunate fate.

At The War Memorial
  Noah’s inquisitive mind must have painted a picture of scaling the gate like some well trained and disciplined soldier. Probably no one will ever know exactly what he was actually contemplating, not even himself. But his adventure sure had gotten him into this perceived and precarious life threatening predicament. With death knocking at his door, he did what every child is adept in doing. He screamed!

A Happier Noah!
 Children are well skilled from birth and by natural instinct to let their needs be known by “Screaming.” I remember when Noline and I brought home our first child from the hospital; we would hover over Deborah’s crib with bated breath, making sure we could see her tiny chest moving up and down as her lungs filled and exhaled with air. We noted and listened to every little whimper, squeak or grunt. And we, as proud and dutiful new parents, doted on her every whim and desire. She soon learned that with every half hearted moan, she was immediately picked up and cuddled until she fell asleep again. She had us well trained and when we did not respond quick enough she screamed. However, with our second daughter, Heather, we were much more discerning. It had to be the definite cry of “OK! I’m starving parents, how about feeding me!” And then by the time we had our third child, a son, we were at the point with Deryk where it had to be a near death experience before we moved from a deep sleep to attend to him.

Within a nano second of my keen observation, I had assessed the right response to this critical situation. I simultaneously reached for the key with one hand and turned the lock; my other hand was immediately on the handle, and with lightening speed I gently swung open the gate. On a different occasion, Noah might have enjoyed the ride. My words were loud enough to override the noise of his crying, but soft and reassuring for him to know, he was in good hands. “Papa’s got you Nobie,” I said, as I reached out and undergirded him and lifted his minute weight off the strain on his hands. Instantly, after being relieved of the gravitational pull downwards and feeling the strength of Papa lifting him up, his yells turned into gentle sobs. I then enjoyed what all grand parents live for. He instinctively put his arms around my neck and rested his head on my shoulder. I loved every minute of being Superman to him.

But it was at that same moment, I could not suppress my smile and internal giggle. You see, Noah imagined a demise of falling into a deep canyon hundreds of feet below, when in actuality he was only 5 inches away from the ground.

It was then the Lord spoke to my heart. He said, “This is just like my people. They scream blue murder, fearing they are going to die, when from heaven’s perspective they are just like Noah, just five inches from the ground. They look at their circumstances from a human point of view and see nothing but problems. The truth of the matter is that my people don’t trust me.” Wow! I felt personally convicted. Only God can talk about His children and you get convicted. I repented for all the times I have bawled like a baby, only to find out He had the answer all the time. He told me to learn from this experience. God said He comes to our rescue (Jeremiah 33:3) all the time at the instant of our cries. But more than His immediate attendance to us and our so called pressing circumstances, is that He gives us the constant assurance that nothing will ever separate us from the love of God. Every incident in life, including physically dying, is just 5 inches from the ground as far as He is concerned, and heaven is the reward for our believing. Life and resurrection power are always available to us in Christ, and that is throughout our life time. His word to me was to trust God in everything. Trust him. Period!

The eternal God is thy refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms (Deut 33:27 KJV).   

Friday, July 8, 2011


On the Dniper River
Happy belated birthday America!

I was riding back on the Ukranian Express; at least that’s what I call it, on July 4th . As I have written multiple times about the railroad and its ancient trains, I will not bore you with too many details.

However, I was celebrating on my own in the compartment and thinking about all the great barbecues taking place in the US of A. You can tell when you are missing the plethora of restaurant choices, when you get excited about going to McDonalds for dinner in Kiev. Hmmm, I’m sure I could smell the hamburgers and hotdogs you were cooking on the gas grill, while I was riding in the train. In my mind’s eye I could see the potato salads, jello salads and the dishes of salsa and Dorito chips everywhere. Iced tea and a slew of other choice cordials, with real ice, and Diet Coke set out on the table (sorry, I’m not a Pepsi drinker).

All these thoughts were traversing through my mind while I was eating “shoelace” string cheese, which is smoked and heavily salted. It could easily be sold as cheese jerky. I also had a Tupperware container with a few pieces of Ukranian ‘shishlek.’ This is commonly known in the west as ‘shish kabob.’ In Ukraine they skewer huge cubed pieces of pork, which is nicely marinated, and then it is cooked over red hot coals. This is their national barbecue. They love this stuff and heaven help you if you cook over gas. “Nee harrashaw,” or not good. It has to be real coals with perhaps a small green branch from a blackberry bush to give it a distinct flavor. I have to say, Ukraine knows how to cook pork. It was scrumchy and finger lick’n good! To finish my gourmet meal I had a couple of tomatoes to go with my ‘shishlek’ and some unbuttered bread. For desert I had a stash of genuine Werthers hard toffee, butterscotch candies, which I sucked arduously swirling them from one side to the other, savoring them to the last tiny morsel. And then you have to bite  and crunch them at the end. No one can just suck Werhers without crunching them. If you write and tell me you do, all I can say is that you are weird Charlie Brown!

A hammock tied to the old tree!
The car conductor does offer instant coffee or a hot glass cup of black tea. Your only choice on the tea is if you want lemon with it. It automatically comes with two small packets of sugar, made from beats and not cane. I chose the tea. And to the rocking movement of the train, with its rhythmic ‘clickity clack’ giving me the base chord to my own minstrel interpretation, I swayed back and forth singing, “America, America God shed His grace on you…” I must admit, I did this with a lump in my throat and my eyes were more than moist, in fact a tear glistened in the setting sun as it gently rolled down my cheek. In that moment I missed you all. My consolation was, we would soon be visiting our grandchildren in the States and would once again be able to indulge our taste buds with the great foods we know so well. We will be able to see many of you and simply hug on your neck. Thank you for being out there for us.

The next morning I caught a cab to a bus depot where Noline and I were to rendezvous at a grocery / furniture store. We needed to stock up on a few perishables, mainly for our wonderful German Shepherd. Actually, he is beginning to eat us out of house and home. I was fortunate enough to have been dropped off at a crucial time early in the morning. There was a break in the inclement weather we have been having over the last three weeks, as it has rained incessantly every day. We did not even get a glimpse of a rainbow giving us hope we weren’t going to be flooded out. In fact, today is the first real day of continuous sunshine  we have had. We are thankful for the rain though. Almost 100% of suburban living draws its water from dug wells. The water table was low and we were conserving our use of household water before the rains. Those measures could now be relaxed considerably with the rise in the table. The cooler weather has also been an added blessing.

Unbeknown to me, Noline had increased her shopping list of perishables to include a small complex, ‘you put it together yourself,’ computer desk. There was also a bookcase to be purchased, which it to needed assembling, and two sets of curtains with rods to be put up in the art studio. After spending eight days on the mountain in Ivano Frankivsk, where the glory of God was manifest in the revival meetings; all this projected work felt like a sudden descent into the valley of the demon possessed. I needed a rest not a ‘honey dew’ list.

How cool is Noline standing next to the old Pine tree.
Later that day, my grandson and I handled the computer table with relative ease. It looks great in the corner under the stairway leading up to the second floor. A perfect assembly and a perfect fit. I was feeling pretty good about myself at this point. I was ready to tackle the bookcase which was precut and machined in India. It has these funky nuts that you slide into the factory drilled holes. You put the shelves in alignment to the sides, slide the bolts into their assigned positions and whamo, it fits like a glove and in 10 minutes you have a professionally built bookcase. Noline and I were going to do this together. What better way to reconnect with each other after a weeks absence than to build a bookcase together. Right!

After 38 years of marriage, you would’ve thought we had learned that the best laid plans never turn out exactly the way they should. Actually, you begin to think in the opposite direction. Both of us being 58, we thought we had already past the test and now it's gravy all the way. It’ll be a piece of cake. So I take the lead and lay out all the pieces, making sure we have the shelves facing the right direction. Noline told me to call her when I had everything arranged. I instinctively knew that with her absence I would have to explain everything again to her. With all the little wooden dowel pegs tapped into place they would easily guide the shelves perfectly into position. This was going to be done in a jiffy.
Neil preaching at a youth camp on an island on the Dniper River
I called Noline, “Honey, I’m ready.  All you have to do sweetie is lift up each shelf just a tich, and push the dowels into the slots.” “No, don’t pull my side away. STOP!” “Now I will have to redo them all.” OK, so half an hour later we had those shelves precariously held together with those inchy wooden guides. All we have left to do is insert those funky metal nuts into the under part of each shelf. They should go in effortlessly. The bolts could then slide in to meet the nuts. Screw clockwise until tight. Easy! So I instructed softly and delicately, remembering we had been apart for a week and I needed to keep the ‘absence makes the heart grow fonder’ attitude going. “Hold the nut horizontally with the pre-marked line on the outside and slip it in.” “No! Don’t try to take it out now because you put it in the wrong way.” “Aghh.” The whole thing fell apart again. So we start the process one more time. I’m smiling, all the while keeping rising blood levels in check. Be kind, be nice and do not, under any circumstances, raise your voice one decibel above mono tone. The next attempt proved to be more successful. This time Noline was looking like the cat who got the cream,  because she was getting all the nuts and bolts put together before me. I did not know she had suddenly turned this into a race. I was the one now battling with two bolts which did not align correctly, and I could not get them to thread properly. The last thing I needed was stripped threads. There is no way I am going to be able to buy these kinds of funky nuts and bolts in any hardware store in Ukraine.

Youth camp - Dniper River in the background.
With her side of the bookcase finished, she calmly stood up and told me to call her when I was done, and she would help to lift and carry it into position. Something in the way she said that made me think she was bragging over Mr. Fix-it guy. One hour later, a hole drilled right through the two stubborn shelves and I was done. Now I had to fill in the new holes I had created in order to get the two to meet. Wood putty! That should do the trick. I would need to get to the hardware store and get a small can.

OK, OK, I ‘fessed up to the crime and acknowledged she had won the race I did not remember making. We would leave the holes and cover them with books. Now, all I had left to do was to hang the two curtain rods, with the curtains and I would be done. The romantic feelings were still intact. Yahoo!

The curtains did go up without too much hassle and at the end of the day, I had a very happy woman on my hands. She too was gracious enough not to bring up the badly scarred bookcase. All’s well that ends well. So let me say this, I would rather be frustrated with a project than with my wife. It is a choice you make. I am both happy and blessed to have her help, even if she ends up being better than me. I am glad I had the side with the incorrect drilled holes and the rest of the evening was simply wonderful.

Marriage will always take work regardless of how long you have been together. I secretly enjoyed seeing her triumphant, and the swagger, yes, it definitely was a swagger, when she walked away with her side complete, was simply awesome. I loved it and I love her.