I got into Buddhism for some simple reasons. 

  1. It acknowledges that life involves suffering, and teaches you how to deal with it.
  2. It doesn’t assume that everyone is a sinner.  What you do creates suffering or it doesn’t, and the more you learn about living without suffering the more often you’ll choose not to do the things that make you suffer.  (One of the things that makes you suffer is creating suffering for other people.) 
  3. It doesn’t assume that the answer is “out there” somewhere.  It demonstrates that the answer has all about being aware of each moment, here, now.
  4. The question is not “How do I find the answer?”  But, “How do I stay awake right now?” Because if you’re searching for the answer you won’t find it.  You can only find it by staying awake. 

But I keep running across practices that absolutely didn’t fit that little outline.  For example, I picked up this book called A Buddha From Brooklyn.  It is about this Italian American chick that someone decided was a Buddha, so she started a meditation center.  She’s constantly getting married and unmarried.  Lots of suffering there for her and the guys and the people around them. She wears heels to meditation practice… not “wrong”, just not really practical. And it’s her goal over the course of this book to build the biggest stupa in her area … a tower with a certain  bulbous shape…  fill it with relics such as the finger bone of some dead teacher and some rice and beans so that when it’s finished if you walk around it in a clockwise circle you’ll be healed or have wishes granted.   She is believed to be clairvoyant. 

Oh, boy.  She wanted the biggest and best magical object.  Competition and the supernatural.  Dukkha in drag. 

So I asked some folks in my sangha about the supernatural.  Basically, does everyone here believe this kind of thing, and is everyone expected to believe it if they come here?  Because, honestly, I was going to have to do some serious thinking if that was the case.  The main answer I got was from Will, a guy I’ve come to respect a great deal who said, “I am a skeptic at heart and I hold my skepticism dear.  The Buddha said to be a light unto yourself and if what he said doesn’t match your experience, by all means go with your own experience.” 

Oh, whew.  But then he said to be open and explore each thing that comes your way… skepticism shouldn’t be about just discarding everything that is different from what you know now.  That’s just another kind of attachment.  And attachment causes suffering.  Oh my. 

Okay.  Alright.  Basically the basic Buddhist take is that the iconography is about helping you focus, and if it is distracting, you don’t need it.  You’re not worshiping when you bow, you’re focusing your attention. You’re not worshiping the buddha statue if you happen to have one (and there is not one in our sangha), you’re using it it acknowledge that he had a good idea when he figured out how much good being fully present in each moment does.  Such acknowledgement helps you center and focus on the now.  The rest is just decoration, and as such completely unnecessary.  In fact, our sangha’s shrine bears simple objects to symbolize each of the senses.  In behavior analysis we would call them discriminitive stimuli that act as cues to observe the environment.  Cool! 

Whenever people don’t fully understand something they think it’s magic, and where there is magical thinking, people do weird things.  More on that in a minute. 

So I asked another burning question that was more personal.  In the Buddhist teachings we are advised not to cause harm to any sentient being.  In my job sometimes I recommend euthanasia for animals that are behaviorally unsound.  The way I make my decisions is basically, if the animal is likely to cause someone harm or if the animal’s current suffering is so great as to be untenable and perhaps unresolvable, or if his condition is such that confinement is the only safe solution, and such confinement is likely to result in lifelong suffering for the animal, then I recommend euthanasia.  I do not technically have the last word, but in practice, when it comes to behavior issues, my decision is almost always the final one.  That’s hard, so I wondered if Buddhism offered any snappy answers to that one. 

This lead to some uneasiness in the sangha.  One advanced practitioner reminded me that we are called upon to engage in “Right Livelihood”, and while she was kind, it was clear that to her this meant I should be considering a job change at some point.  In fact, she approached me later and suggested that in a couple of years I might find that it was time to move away from this line of work.  She also suggested, completely innocently, that these animals be provided with sanctuary somewhere or even released into the wild.  Oh, my.  Knowing what I know, this would create really bad karma. I forget that most people really don’t know the whole story about animal suffering. Not even close.

One guy said, “The Dharma recommends not killing, but it also acknowledges that it is impossible not to kill.  There’s not solid right and wrong.”

That helped me distill my question down to, “What is more significant?  Prolonging life or eliminating suffering?”  

One guy suggested that perhaps this is one way I can either serve my Karma, or even create good Karma to carry forward.  He said, “Maybe you are meant to be there because you have the ability to protect other people from having to make such a hard decision.”  I wanted to hug him. 

I know that what I do prevents far more suffering than it creates.  But I often feel quite sad about it.  One time we had to euthanize this dog that the staff loved. He was a purebred pit bull who didn’t like other dogs and was just always right on the rough edge of our “he’s a keeper” policy for a long list of reasons. When he got sick and the decision was made to euthanize the staff was broken hearted, and some were quite angry.  My heart bled for them and for the dog, and it was one of those rare days that I broke my open door office policy and locked myself in to ponder the meaning of life and my place in it for a while.

Will said, “You’re not going to get a definite answer on this one.”  Hello, Buddha.

So I spent the next few days with some minor angst.  I even asked myself if maybe I should be thinking about finding different work.  That caused significant brain drama for a couple of days.  Talk about attachment causing suffering!  Just thinking about walking away from my job caused suffering. 

At one point in the discussion about the supernatural Will said that there are times in his work as a psycho-therapist when his clients think he’s psychic because he read their situation so clearly and even assumed correctly about some situation they had experienced but had not told him about. He said, “It’s not that I’m psychic.  It’s just that I’ve been doing this work for 30 years and I’ve seen the same patterns over and over again.”  It’s like me and the dogs.  Sometimes I know what they’re going to do next because I’ve seen the patterns before. 

Maybe that’s all clairvoyance is.  Maybe that’s what the supernatural is. It seems magical to Sam because he hasn’t seen it before, but Sue has seen it again and again and again, so she can predict what will happen next.  Sam worships at his altar filled with awe and longing, while Sue attends her shrine to remind her that it’s all available to her if she just pays attention, and she experiences no longing and is filled with peace. 

A day or two after the conversations, I found a book in my Kindle that I had not yet read.  Buddhism Pure and Simple by Steve Hagan.  It was the right book at the right time.  He wrote, “It’s not about whether you’re doing the right thing or the wrong thing.  It’s about being awake while you’re doing it.”  And if you are awake while you’re doing each thing, you will find yourself doing more things that cause less suffering and fewer things that cause more suffering.  You can only achieve this if you stay present in every moment.  The path doesn’t lead to anywhere out there, it only leads to right here where I am. 

Simple, but so alien. 

Peace (Shiwa) from the Meditator Tot.

Kellie

Shiwa Nyi-Tso

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Monkey Mind

March 6, 2010

Meditation is learning to know and eventually control the monkey mind. 

Monkey mind is that situation where your thoughts are all off doing all sorts of things while the rest of your body is doing something else.  It’s when you start to wash the dishes and your thoughts are saying, “Damn it.  I have five loads of laundry to do and the stove looks like someone made chili without a pan. If I don’t get this done by 10:00 I won’t have time to finish before my doctor’s appointment.  I need to go in to work early on Monday if I’m going to finish writing the procedure in time for the meeting.  Dang it, I WISH he would throw the junk mail away instead of stacking it on the countertop. Oh, look at the squirrel on the fence… so cute.”  And when you wake up from Monkey Mind, if you ever do, you have stopped washing the dishes and are on to some other task you won’t finish in the time you have available.   You feel irritated and frustrated and rushed and ugh.  Monkey Mind prevents you from paying attention. 

But we are not striving for a rigid control.  It is more like clicker training animals.  It is, “Yes!  That’s right!”  while simply acknowledging imperfections and letting them go.  It’s never, “No, that’s wrong, and you shall be hurt for it!”  Because in Buddhist teaching, we are all already perfect beings who are on a different place on the path.  If you have overcome prejudices I am still succombing to, you are not better than me, we are simply at a different point on the path.  Oh, and the path leads to HERE, not someplace out there in the future. And we all have a different “here”.  When I was 18 I wrote a song that included the words, “Living is the road and not the goal.”  I had an inkling even way back then, but I still don’t completely understand it all these years later.  Oh, my silly Monkey Mind.

I found a book at Half Price entitled “The Accidental Buddhist” by Dinty Moore, who I think is a canned soup product.  It was written in the 90s by this guy who went to a bunch of Buddhist retreats trying to figure out the place for Buddhism in America.  He even had a chance to briefly meet the Dalai Lama.  One of the first teachers he encountered told him that the answer to his questions was to “just sit”, but he didn’t understand it until he’d followed his Monkey Mind all over north America.  As his sitting practice began to mature he began to realize that it wasn’t about traipsing off to parts unknown to spend time with people who were also traipsing, and it wasn’t about breaking the bank on retreats.  It was about learning to be present where you are right now.  Ram Dass said it all back in the 60s when he said, “Be here now.”  But everyone thought he was some hippie nut sitting around smoking pot and luring American Hippie kids off to some stoned nirvana.  Everyone was clueless.  And everyone still is, thanks to Monkey Minds everywhere.

So, Dinty Moore had a press pass to a speaking engagement with the Dalai Lama, and he had a chance to ask a question.  The question he asked was something like, “What’s your take on the future of Buddhism in America?”  The Dalai Lama said, “Well, you’re really Judeo-Christian people, so you should probably just be Jews and Christians.”  This struck him like it did me, and like it probably did every American Buddhist in the audience.  “Well, damn, Dalai, I’ve come this far and you’re telling me you don’t want me on your path?”  But he kept going, probably because he saw everyone turning pale and looking a little too bewildered.  He added, “Well, ya’ know, it’s probably right for some Americans to be Buddhists, but I think too many Americans become Buddhists because they are mad about something about their Christian or Jewish religions.  If you want to be a Buddhist, that’s not a good reason.”  Needless to say, I’m paraphrasing with wild abandon.  “If you become a Buddhist be gentle with your old faith.”  Or something like that.

Now, that hit me where I live, but not with such a powerful punch to the solar plexus.  I have family members who demonstrate a lot of love and support and are good people in that old faith, which is, by the way, not as old as Buddhism.  Where you find goodness is where you find goodness.  I was waking up during my parents’ illnesses and all our funerals and all that grief.  I was learning to look past the rituals and judgments to the people doing the practicing.  And I started getting better at forgiving and about not judging in the first place so there was less to forgive.   And right there is something that is very Buddhist.  I started to see that I laid the foundation that was the stage for resentment and judgment.  The less cement I use in the foundation, the less likely resentment and judgment are to come and perform on it.

Christianity takes an approach to self-improvement that is based on avoiding punishment, while at the same time putting the source of goodness and the source of evil “out there” where we are just victims or lucky recipients is problematic.  Blaming sin on Satan instead of on the fact that each of us helped to build the Satan Foundation.  Saying we can never be perfect.  But when it comes right down to it, that works for some people, and they are on their paths.  They are not better than me.  I am not better than them.  That’s not an easy admission, because there are Christian leaders whose views still disgust me, even knowing that they are creating their own Karma. 

Buddhism takes an approach to self-improvement (the road to enlightenment) that reinforces every step.  The general idea is that if you acknowledge the Four Noble Truths (Life consists of suffering, Suffering comes from attachments, Suffering can be eliminated, and It’s eliminated by releasing your attachments) and walk the eightfold path (Right view, Right intention, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, Right Concentration) (Google them if you’re interested in learning more…. there is a lot online)you have what it takes to be a Buddha.  And quite honestly, even if you don’t follow exactly those steps, you can still be a Buddha.  It’s just that many people, in not wanting to reinvent the dharma wheel, decided that since this has helped a lot of people over 2,500 years, they will walk on this path.

Some people even say that Jesus was a Buddha.  We can all be a Buddha.  You and I can be a Buddha. 

Peace,

Shiwa Nyi-tso

Meditator Tot on the Dharma Path

These are fundamental ideas in Buddhism:  Don’t kill.  Don’t cause suffering. 

Some Buddhists take this to mean we should not eat meat, because it involves both killing and suffering of the animal.  Most Buddhists eat meat, and even the Buddha did.  His advice was to eat what is offered to you and don’t complain, but don’t kill or have killed any animal just so you can eat.  If you stop by Uncle Joe’s, he wasn’t expecting you, and he’s just barbecued a brisket and offers you a plate, take it and eat it graciously.  It seems like good advice but I haven’t succeeded there yet.

Some Buddhists take this to mean we should not kill animals. I work in an animal shelter where euthanasia is practiced for certain animals. I am uncomfortable with the euthanasia of animals that have a minor, treatable ailment.  I’m also uncomfortable with the long term warehousing of animals with conditions that make them unadoptable and cause prolonged suffering.   And I’m also uncomfortable with the fact that for every animal upon whom we spend our resources, other adoptable animals are not able to enter our program.  I am not sure there is a solution to this conundrum. 

An aggressive dog is suffering.  A terrified dog is suffering.  If we cannot resolve fear with reasonable means, we can eliminate suffering by euthanasia.  This is a dichotomy. An aggressive dog can cause a great deal of suffering.  If we adopted out a dog that then injured someone, we could be sued and an end could, conceivably, be placed on our efforts to relieve the suffering of animals. The dog, the injured party, the organization’s reputation and employees, and countless animals that cannot then be adopted through our shelters could conceivably suffer.  So, do we end the suffering for the aggressive dog, or create the potential to cause suffering for many people and animals? 

I know how to treat aggression.  But I don’t know how we would be able to ensure that there was never an aggressive response from that animal again.  My crystal ball is murky… no, well… it’s nonexistant.  At the same time, we can’t guarantee that ANY dog will never behave aggressively under some set of circumstances in the future.  Every time we adopt out an animal we are taking a risk.  We perform assessments to minimize the risk, but there are no guarantees. 

Life is often like this.  No clear-cut answers.  No way to make a perfect decision. 

For me, for now, I will work to reduce suffering.

Peace, 

Shiwa Nyi-Tso

Pop and Kellie

January 29, 2010

My husband just found this picture of me with my Dad.

When he was feeling well.  It had to be before the end of May 2008.

This was a Sunday morning. We were seeing him off after one of his sleep overs.  He was telling one of his stories.

I miss my Dad.

Auspicious Coincidences

January 27, 2010

A lot has happened since I last posted.  I’ve continued down the meditation path and had an auspicious coincidence or two. 

I started attending the Dallas Shambhala Center about a month or so ago.  I had looked for a place for a while and nothing seemed right.  I was actually looking for a Zen Center, but ended up going to Shambhala, which is Tibetan, because… well… er… because it was held at a Unitarian Universalist church.  I was a UU for years and years, and figured if Shambhala was too weird I could always go across the atrium to choir practice.

Well, Shambhala wasn’t too weird at all.  It was actually very nice.  Nice people of all ages, shapes sizes.  Some still practicing other faiths, some only Buddhists.  All willing to chat about what was up with their spiritual practice. 

It also turned out that the regional teacher, Archya Moh Hardin, was coming to town to do a retreat and a refuge ceremony.  I decided to attend the retreat, held at a historic downtown building.  And I also decided that I wanted to take refuge. 

Taking refuge just means becoming a Buddhist.  You take refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha.  But you’re really taking refuge in your own Buddha nature.  You don’t find it outside yourself, it’s already there.  But you do have to look for it, and the Buddha lead by an example of how to do that. 

The retreat was a delightful opportunity to get to know members of the sangha.  My hips hurt like a bad boy by the end of it, but my heart felt light.  I showed my rugs at the reception where people were invited to share their art.  They were well received.  And then I went home and left them there, so they got to spend a couple nights with sweet Margo, one of the center directors.  I feel like they have been blessed. 

I had already scheduled an interview with Moh.  When the time came, I asked him about it.  I told him about my recent journeys with grief, how I learned to deal with them by mindfulness meditation.  At first he said there wouldn’t be a problem with waiting… there was no reason to do it now.  But by the end of the conversation we both felt it was right for me to go ahead and go for it. In fact, he told me that he took his vows very early in his practice, too.  Toward the end, he said that perhaps it was an auspicious coincidence that he was in town at just the time I was ready to become a Buddhist.  As I stepped out of the room with him after the interview, I told him, “I feel peaceful.”  He said, “I feel good about this.” 

The next night was the Refuge Vows.  Five of us were on the front row on our meditation cushions.  Some of them had been practicing for years, but I didn’t feel out of place.  We did our usual meditations with the sangha (congregation), which consist of 20 minutes or so of sitting meditation, 10 or so of walking meditation, and another 5ish of sitting.  Then Moh spoke about the meaning of taking refuge, and that we were being asked to project an open attitude, a changed “mark” (kind of an adjective that people would notice about you… like… when you see someone who is in love and you can tell, even if they don’t say anything), and the offering of kindness to everyone.  He said that when he snapped his fingers at the appropriate time, the transition would take place and we would feel our new lives. 

I had my doubts at that point.  I was baptized twice in the Christian fundamentalist faith of my childhood, and didn’t feel anything different either time. 

We were asked to take 3 half prostrations (kneel and touch the hands and forehead to the floor) to symbolize the practicality of trusting the Earth.  One to the Buddha, which means, to the way of Buddhism, one to the dharma, which means, the teachings of the Buddha, and one to the sangha, which is a word that means something like fellowship or congregation.   

Then he talked about our lives on the path.  And he snapped his fingers.  And I felt it.  That was a really good set up!

Then he presented our new names, written by him in calligraphy in English letters, and in Tibetan script.  He said that these are our real names, they’re ours, and that if we want that’s the name we can go by, but that most in Shambhala reserve it for Buddhist occasions. 

The name I received was Shiwa Nyi-Tso.  It means Peaceful Sun-Lake.  So now, even though I remain a Meditator Tot, I have something else to put in my signature.  🙂

When I arrived, Moh’s wife, and one of our regional teachers, commented on my earrings.  I had seen them that day while out and about, and bought them because they featured a sunburst in the center.  I said, “I wasn’t shopping for earrings, but these just appealed to me.”  Afterwards she said, “First you said after your interview with Moh that you felt peaceful.  Then you bought these sun earrings.  And your name.  What a set of auspicious coincidences!”  Indeed.  Of course, saying peaceful was before my name was selected.  And although I don’t believe in magical coincidences, it was still a sweet coincidence… an auspicious one, you might say. 

Now I just need a lake and I’ll be all set!  In the meantime I have my little water garden which will get some fancying up this spring, that’s for sure! 

I’ll be back, with more reports on the path.  It turns out that my path leads to right where I am.  And yours leads to where you are.  So I guess at the moment, our paths lead to our computer chairs, eh?

I find so many parallels with training dogs. So many.  And the peaceful thrum thrum thrum of rug hooking is a mantra. 

Peace be with you,

Shiwa Nyi-Tso

Peaceful Sun-Lake

Also known as Kellie.  🙂  And Meditator Tot.

Main Entry:   sangha
Part of Speech:   n
Definition:   in Buddhism, a community of monks and/or nuns, one of the “Three Jewels”; also, generally, all followers of the Buddha; also written samgha
Etymology:   Hindu ‘community together’
Dictionary.com’s 21st Century Lexicon
Copyright © 2003-2009 Dictionary.com, LLC
Cite This Source

 

One of my behavior analysis instructors, Dr. Sigrid Glenn, told me that it is best to seek a like-minded verbal community when selecting jobs and making decisions about whom to hang out with.  Why “verbal”?  Because behavior requires reinforcement, and reinforcement comes from those who adhere to the same practices you do.  If you don’t hang out with people who walk the walk and talk the talk, it is easy to lose your footing and change your ways.  This is why so many religions recommend that you not marry outside your faith.  A spouse who believes in a different god or none at all is likely to extinguish your faith through non-reinforcement. 

In Buddhism, a verbal community is recommended, although it does not require that you eliminate all “different thinkers” from your life.  A Buddhist verbal community is called a sangha.  In sangha you practice meditation and being on the Buddhist path together, supporting one another. 

Last Tuesday I finally had the opportunity to attend the Shambhala Meditation Center that meets at one of the local Unitarian Universalist churches.  The meeting is called an open house and anyone is invited to meditate with them. 

 

Gomden on a zabuton

 

The evening began with setting things up.  There was an altar bearing a row of five bowls of rice with things stuck in them.  I’m not sure what the meanings of those things are just yet.  A bell was placed on a different table to be rung as services began.  Nine blue gomden (square meditation pillows) were placed in 3 rows of 3, each on top of a blue zabuton, or large, stuffed mat to protect knees from the hard floor, and staggered so that no one was looking directly at the back of anyone’s head.  I meditate with a zafu at home, and wonder if I should bring mine each week.  The only person who did was another guy who was there for the first time.  There were more than 9 people, so apparently not everyone meditates on a gomden.  The center area of gomden was surrounded by an open-ended square of chairs.

Round Cotton Zafu Meditation Cushion

A bunch of zafus

The other new guy and I were asked if we would like to receive meditation instruction, and we both did.  We went into a different room with one of the instructors who talked to us about how to meditate.  The gist of it is something I knew, and the main reason I am attracted to Buddhist practice.  The goal of meditation is not to clear the mind, but to learn to be present. The central focus of Shambhala meditation as taught by this instructor, is to be present with your breathing.   Not to count breaths, not to think about what happens when you breathe, but to just be there breathing.  Each time the mind wanders, as it will, acknowledge it, and return to being present with your breathing.  There is no place for self-criticism in meditating.  The more times your mind wanders the more opportunities you have to return to the present.  It’s like training a dog.  No need to punish him for making mistakes.  Simply provide another opportunity to learn. We were taught how to do walking meditation which is also part of each week’s meeting. I can’t remember which hand is held with which hand, but I remember that one hand wraps around it’s thumb and rests in the other hand.  He started the session by saying that we are all already perfect.  Meditation is about learning that. 

Then we re-joined the larger group for tea.  I was exhausted and really too tired to mingle.  It was fine, really.  I just sat there and took things in.  Unusual for me, n’est-ce pas?  The session ended with a short meditation and some announcements about upcoming events, including a weekend retreat with some advanced instructors in 2 weeks.  I signed up for that, and for a private interview with an instructor. 

I’ll keep you posted.

Meditator Tot,

Kellie

A Tribute to My Sister

December 24, 2009

Kerrie's Tiles              (Edges not yet finished)

For my sister

 This little rug is finished except for the trim.  It will have a bright red corded border when it is done, and will be finished out to hang on the wall of her kitchen.  I made it to honor Kerrie Jo’s commitment to caring for our parents during two years of illness, injury and death all while raising her own family and putting her career on hold.  She’s done it all with grace and style.  Thank you, Kerrie.

Kerrie and I used to  fight like cats and dogs.  Physical fights.  We’d slap, punch, pull hair, and yell things I can’t imagine saying to anyone today.  

One time when we were little Mom was getting us some gerbils because a friend of hers had one that had babies.  My grandma (Dad’s mom) was with us as we drove over there to get them.  One of us asked, “Will they fight with each other?”  My mom said, “Oh, no, they won’t fight.  They’re sisters.”  That satisfied us, but Mom and Grandma were quiet for a second and then looked at each other and started cracking up laughing. 

One time Kerrie dumped all my dresser drawers out on the floor so I pulled her hair and threw a whole glass of iced tea in her face.  Not the glass, just the ice and tea.  But it was a big glass.  Then I ran outside to burn off some steam and she locked me out of the house.  I can’t for the life of me recall what I did that caused her to dump out my drawers, but it was surely something.

As adults Kerrie and I weren’t close for a long time.  That was mainly because we lived far apart.  She moved back to New Orleans when I moved to Houston.  Her family lived in Kansas for years after we were in Dallas (Irving to be precise).  But we also have very different political and religious views.  And we had a lot of fights to forgive each other over.  We loved each other dearly.  We just had no clue how to be around each other for very long without feeling like pulling some hair… either our own or each other’s.

When my 79 year old Dad fell through the ceiling of his house in May 2008, landing on his head on the kitchen island and then the floor,  Kerrie called frantically.  I was driving to work and made a quick U, threw some things in a bag at home and then headed for east Texas.  I can tell you about the sordid story of events that followed, but I’ve written about them elsewhere, so I’ll just say that for a year plus two months we dealt with brain surgery, transfusions, abdominal surgery.  We celebrated Pop’s 80th birthday in rehab, Mom had her stroke, we lost an uncle and both of my in-laws, and Kerrie’s husband had a heart attack.   Then came cancer and chemo. 

There was absolutely no time or energy left for fighting with each other.  We were at war with the inevitable.  Why make trouble where there doesn’t need to be any?

By the time it was finished, after Pop died in those short months that sometimes seem to have encompassed our whole lives, we were wrung out and strung out, but we had learned how to be close.  We had learned how to ‘accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative’ all while holding each other up.  When it mattered we were there for each other.  I changed my ring tone to “Lean on me” for my sister’s calls.   Hers for me is “Somebody Groovy”, which is high praise, let me tell you what.

My sister finished her college degree during all of this, with three kids still at home and her husband running a business.  She helps Mom with shopping and book keeping and cooking and a huge array of tasks Mom can’t do by herself since her stroke.  She goes to church and does the shopping and helps in her husband’s business. 

My sister is my hero, and I want her to know it.  This is just a little token, but the real thanks is in my heart.