Saturday, July 23, 2011

Helping Malian Orphans

Earlier this year I had the privilege of joining the Board of Directors of A Child for All (ACFA), a Washington DC-based nonprofit whose mission is to ensure a brighter future for Mali's vulnerable children by providing a loving family environment, safe shelter, nutritious meals, health care, and education.

ACFA is the realization of a lifelong dream of the founder, Kadiatou Sidibe. Raised by a single father in Mali, she faced a difficult life and was often left in the care of family or friends. Despite the hardships, she excelled in school and eventually graduated high school with the highest GPA in the country.

Unfortunately, many children in Mali are not so lucky. Mali is one of the poorest countries in the world, and is greatly affected by poverty, malnutrition, and inadequate hygiene and sanitation. Every 20 minutes, a woman dies during childbirth in the country, leaving an orphaned infant behind. Often these children and their siblings have nowhere to go, and are left to fend for themselves on the streets. They face a daily struggle to survive, and face a grim future without education or skills needed to pull themselves out of a cycle of poverty.

ACFA was created in 2009 to give these children a chance at a brighter future. The organization incorporates four major programs to help vulnerable and orphaned children:

  1. Safe shelter. The children reside in a home in Bamako, the national capital. They have a mother and a father figure in the home allowing them to grow in a family-oriented environment.
  2. Nutritious meals. A healthy balanced diet is essential to the children's physical and mental development.  Home-cooked meals and vitamin supplements are provided to the children on a daily basis.
  3. Healthcare. In coordination with the Primary Healthcare Center of Badalabougou, ACFA-Mali provides the highest healthcare service to our children.
  4. Education. Education is a key component of ACFA's strategy and programs. It is the way to break the chains of poverty.  In coordination with the public education systems in Mali, we provide enhanced curriculum for our children.
    The standard educational curriculum is supplemented with additional classes focusing on arts and crafts, critical thinking skills, English language instruction and life skills.

Today, I am writing to announce that we have a great opportunity with the Segal Family Foundation, which has challenged ACFA to increase its donor base and will match any donation of $100 or more given to the organization by September 1, 2011. I hope that you will consider making a gift that will help us provide these vital, life-saving services to even more children in Mali.

You can learn more about the organization at Even if you can't give at the $100 level today, please know that any gift is greatly appreciated. You can give online at on our website or via mail to ACFA, 21 Arbor Lane, Stafford VA 22554.

Thank you for your consideration!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

House for Sale

Wow - major excitement - we are officially listing the house FOR SALE as of today! So far it's only listed on one site, but that makes it more real in my mind...and forces to me to barge ahead with getting it ready to show!

We truly do love the house. It's beautiful, historic, full of charming antique detail, and it has the best backyard for entertaining. But with Rob living and working in DC for at least the next two years, it's way too much work for me to take care of by myself - especially considering that I'm spending about 75% of my weekends in DC also.

So, alas, it's time to see if we can sell it. It's a daunting prospect given the current market, but I'm hoping that the unique historic character of the house will make it appealing to someone looking for an alternative to a standard new construction.

I'm still updating the listing and adding more photos, but here is a link: And if you know of anyone in the market for a gorgeous Victorian home, send them our way!

Monday, June 28, 2010

He's Blind...and Amazing

It's been a little over a month now of living with our newly-blind Kitty. The first week or so was incredibly rough. In addition to being blind, he was also dealing with the crippling effects of suffering a stroke. His balance was off, his front legs would get crossed and he couldn't figure out how to uncross them, he seemed to have forgotten the finer points of using the litterbox. Even his previous inquisitive mews were replaced by a new mournful howl. And I can't even count the number of times he walked into walls or got stuck in a corner.

If one more person told me that "he can still live a happy life" or "it's amazing how quickly they can adapt," I was literally going to punch them straight in the mouth.

And now? He's adapted quite well and seems to be pretty darn happy. And I'm completely shocked.

Physically, he's back to the same cat that we knew before the stroke. He's strong, walks with a purpose, and has tons of energy. The most amazing thing, though, is how well he is dealing with his blindness. He has totally "mapped" the apartment and knows where everything is. He's not even suprised anymore when we leave things laying around; he just trips over them and keeps on moving. Jumping up on the couch is as easy and natural for him as for our other cats. He'll climb onto our laps and sit there purring with the most ridiculous contented look on his face. He knows the sounds of the cat food cabinet being opened and makes a beeline for the kitchen (although, in fairness, this is no different from his food-obsessed behavior as a sighted cat).

I often wonder if he remembers his days as a "normal" cat, or if the stroke completely wiped out all those memories. Does he even realize that he has a handicap? Sometimes, when he stares right into our faces with an adoring look of love, we have to actually wave our hands in front of his face to make sure that his sight hasn't miraculously returned. He certainly doesn't have an ounce of self-pity. Instead, he actually seems happier than ever. And I'm one shocked, proud, and relieved cat parent.

Kitty enjoys his new scratching pad that has been embellished with some "medicinal herbs" (a.k.a. catnip!)

Despite being 12 years old and newly blind, Kitty still has tons of energy and a playful spirit!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Our Unique Livng Situation

So I’ve come to realize that not everyone quite understands why we suddenly have an apartment in DC and why Rob and I are not exactly living together anymore. Don’t worry – we’re not separated! Well, not in the legal sense. But the military has an unavoidable way of separating families, and it’s finally our turn. Rob received orders this spring for his next shore duty…at the Pentagon in Washington, DC. A fabulous tour, to be sure. Washington is a fascinating, vibrant city, and what could be more exciting and challenging for a military member than a tour at the Pentagon. Under normal circumstances we would have been ecstatic.

A couple situations made it less than ideal, though. The first, and most important, being that we are so upside down on our house that we would probably go bankrupt if we tried to sell it right now. We bought it in the summer of 2006, right at the height of the real estate market. At the time we felt that it was probably a bit overpriced, but with the optimism that was running rampant at the time we jumped in headfirst. Almost four years later it has lost almost $100,000 in value. We wouldn’t even be able to rent it without a huge loss each month. It’s a beautiful home, but I don’t think we could give it away at this point.

The second sticking point is that I actually like my job. I don’t want to leave it. Working in the non-profit sector, there are probably dozens of jobs I could apply for in DC, but I am perfectly happy in my current job. (Most of the time. Nobody loves their job 100% of the time!)
So that has led us to our unenviable position of living apart. We rented a pretty fab apartment in Arlington, right across the street from the Pentagon with great views of the Washington Monument and Jefferson Memorial. It’s very small…just one bedroom and about 700 square feet. It’s all we need, though. It’s within walking distance of lots of shops and restaurants. Take the metro just two or three stops and we’re in the heart of DC. You can’t beat it.

The plan was that hopefully I could spend some time working remotely from DC and spend most weekends up there. It hasn’t really turned out that way yet. Traveling, work, vacations, meetings have all gotten in the way so far. We’re hoping that life will slow down some this summer and we’ll be able to get into a routine. This tour will most likely last for two years, so we’ll see how long this living situation can endure! Anyone want to place bets on when I’ll give up and move up there permanently??
The view from our balcony in Arlington.

Update on Kitty

Kitty has now moved up to DC for the week to stay with Rob in the smaller DC apartment. It is amazing how much progress he has made in just a couple days. At one point on Sunday night we swore he had some sight back. He would walk purposefully toward us and rub against our legs as if he could see exactly where we were. Then he would walk head first into the wall and we realized that it was just wishful thinking. Overall, though, he really does seem better. He’s more confident, more relaxed, more ambitious in his exploring. He’s getting better at finding his way out of corners, and he seems to actually hear us when we call his name. Although I’m still dumbfounded and upset over the whole ordeal, I am starting to see the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel. I’m hoping that within a couple weeks he might be the cat we’ve always known (minus the eyesight, of course).

Saturday, May 15, 2010

A Traumatic Week Brings Me Back to the Blog

By definition, a blog is a "regularly" updated online journal. Clearly, doing anything on a regular basis is not my strong suit. My life is full of short-lived obsessions that disappear from my routine just as quickly and randomly as they appeared. Commitment has never ranked as one of my redeeming qualities.

However, after an exceedingly traumatic week, I find myself back, wishing to unleash a torrent of emotions. Anger, frustration, sadness, confusion, remorse...all have been tormenting me in the last week. And it all started with a cat's bad breath.

I'll confess that we have not always been the best at following up on our cats' medical needs. Shots are not always received on time, ailments are sometimes left to see if they'll clear up on their own over time. But when Kitty's breath started smelling worse than the year-old milk at the back of the fridge, it was time to make the rare pilgrimage to the vet.

Prognosis? Three rotting teeth. Plan of action? An $1,100 dental surgery on May 11 to remove the offending teeth. Degree of risk? Not so much. Drop him off in the morning, pick him up before 6:00 that evening, feed him soft food for about a week, and he should be back to normal in no time. Sounded easy enough.

When I picked him on Tuesday evening, he was completely limp and unresponsive. The vet tech who brought him out didn't seem concerned, though, and just said that "some cats take longer than others to come out of the anesthesia." I was shocked but trusted that the professionals would know best. When I asked how long it would take for him to come out of it, they weren't sure...they simply said to call them if he wasn't better in 24 hours.

I brought him home, left him in the carrier with the door open, and put a towel over him. He moaned a couple times but never really tried to move. When I went to bed, I took him with and laid him next to me on the bed. In the morning he was in the same spot in the same position. It hadn't been 24 hours yet, but I called the vet anyway and insisted that something wasn't right. They seemed to think I was overreacting, but said to bring him in.

That afternoon I got a call saying they were going to keep him overnight so they could keep him on an IV in an attempt to make sure all the drugs were washed out of his system. I felt somewhat vindicated in that clearly I had not been overreacting to his lack of improvement. But I was worried sick that they wanted to keep him overnight.

The next morning I called for an update and got the shock of my life. He was finally standing up and moving around a little bit, but there was something else...he was blind.

What?? Blind?? My healthy, happy cat of a week earlier is now BLIND? How on earth does this happen?

The hypothesis that the vet offered was that he had a stroke while under anesthesia. How they didn't know this for sure is beyond me. They tried to caution me that it might not be permanent; there's a chance the sight might come back. But I could read through their "cautious optimism"...they really weren't feeling optimistic at all.

They of course wanted to keep him another night, so I stopped by after work to visit him. I thought I was prepared, but what I saw was absolutely heartbreaking. As soon as I reached out to touch him and speak to him, he started howling in a way that I have never heard before. This wasn't his normal polite mew, but instead a howl laced with fear, confusion, and apprehension. How do you explain to a cat that it's going to be OK? Not only could he not see me, but he also could barely stand up. It destroyed me to see him that way. I'm glad they brought me a box of tissues because I used them all.

On Friday we brought him home. We weren't sure if we were bringing him permanently or just for the night...but we needed to see how he would do outside the cage. We shut him in the office so that he had a smaller space to explore. I'll give him credit - it didn't take long at all for him to start wandering about, "mapping" the room through his various run-ins and mishaps. We've even started calling him Magellan because of his aggressive exploring. (Probably a much more appropriate name than Kitty!)

All is not rosy, however. He'll get caught up on the rungs of a chair, run head first into the wall, step in his water dish again and again, get stuck in a corner without an idea of how to turn around. He's also having a hard time figuring out the litter box. If his front paws are in the box, he seems to think his whole body is. Not a good thing, for sure.

Overall, though, he's adjusting much more quickly to his blindness than I could have ever hoped for. He's still having some cognitive issues that I hope get worked out soon, but right now I'm a hundred times more optimistic than I was just two days ago. At first people kept telling me, "a cat can have a very happy, normal life without its eyesight." I completely blew that advice off, thinking, "what the hell do they know?" But now I have hope. It's been amazing to watch him barge forward, without the "why me?" feelings that a human would be experiencing right now. Perhaps there is something to be learned from his ordeal. Sitting around feeling sorry for yourself won't accomplish anything. Instead, reckless abandon will set you free.

A sightless Kitty sits contentedly on the sofa.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Rude Sunday Morning Awakening

Early Sunday morning we were peacefully sleeping when suddenly the house shook violently, a sound similar to a jet engine surrounded us, and every car alarm in the neighborhood went off. Many thoughts went through our minds - tornado? Plane crash? Sonic boom? It didn't take long for us to decide that sleep was more important than our curiosity and we went back to bed. I finally saw an article late Sunday night explaining what it was - the attempted demolition of an old BASF plant just right across the river from us. I say "attempted" because (in typical Portsmouth style), the demolition didn't exactly happen. Click here for the story and video.

And I really want to know...who the hell schedules a demolition for 7:00 on a Sunday morning??