Fire Puts School for the Deaf in Desperate Need

Three years ago my in-laws, Doug and Peggy Combes, moved down to Mexico to work at a school for the deaf called Rancho Sordo Mudo (RSM). It was and is an absolute passion project for them. They raise their own funding to support themselves down there, and pour their lives into these kids that many consider disabled.

Peggy used to do interpreting for the deaf when I was young, and while LSM (Mexican Sign Language or “Lengua de Señas Mexicana”) is quite different from ASL (American Sign Language), she has picked it up quite well. She helps with the administration of the school, and is also a floater filling in wherever she’s needed including in classrooms. Everyone there tends to have many roles, often more than would be reasonable to expect of a single person, but they do it because making sure that the deaf children of Mexico can receive a quality education is important to them.

Doug didn’t know any sign language when he moved there, or at least not much. His original plan was to maintain the grounds and equipment, something that the school was in serious need of, as many of the buildings were starting to really show signs of neglect, including things like leaky roofs on dorms. He soon found himself teaching autoshop though. At first completely through an interpreter, but now he’s able to do much of the communicating on his own.

He doesn’t just give a cursory look at mechanics like many people imagine or experience in their own autoshop. The small group of boys that he taught over the last two years had the chance to completely build a ratrod from the ground up. They learned how engines work and how maintain and repair them, as well as learning how to weld, torch, do body work, and even paint. At the end of the class, a generous donor allowed each student to receive their own starter kit of tools. These deaf boys that have graduated from Doug’s class will be able to build a life for themselves and support themselves in this way should they choose.

And that’s really what RSM does. It gives these deaf kids a chance at a life and a future where they can not only be self sufficient, but have some of the choices and options that many of us simply take for granted.


This is the finished ratrod and some of Doug's students. Left to right: Irvin, Jesus, Isaac, Eliezer
This is the finished ratrod.
Left to right: Evern, Jesus, Easock, Eleazer

Unfortunately, on Friday July 22nd, a brush fire burned parts of the ranch. I know for sure that it destroyed a motor home, trailer, a business building, and the auto shop building where Doug taught. The shop was a complete loss along with all the tools, equipment, spare parts, and even the shop truck. Much of the equipment there was Doug’s personal equipment amassed over the years when he was a mechanic and fabricator. The loss is massive.

The Auto Shop burning down.
The Auto Shop burning down.

We’ve started a GoFundMe page to try to raise some money to help rebuild and purchase the necessary equipment for the start of the new school year. We set the goal at $30,000, which is actually only a fraction of what is needed, but will help them get the basics. If you can help in any way, please do. I’d be personally very grateful. One hundred percent of all funds raised will be used to rebuild the shop and purchase tools and equipment, unless we happen to raise many times our goal, in which case all the extra funds will be used to fund the running of the school.

I know that many of you might run your own companies or be part of bigger companies. If you want to make a larger donation, whether as an individual or a company, please contact me and I can help facilitate a direct donation and getting the necessary letter for you since the school is a 501c3. I’ll be happy to keep you as anonymous as you like or to shout a thank you from the hills (or at least from social media or my blog…although for the right size donation I’m sure I could be convinced to climb a hill or two).

Venous Abnormality or Where Have You Been?

For the last six months or so, Christen has been suffering from debilitating headaches that have been accompanied by nausea and dizziness. She’s had migraines since she was twelve or so, and at first we just thought they were getting more prevalent. Possibly that her preventative medication was no longer as effective as it used to be.

The headaches started by lasting longer than normal migraines, and her migraine medication didn’t help at all. A several months ago she had one that lasted days and ended us up in the ER.  Since then we’ve been back to the ER several more times, between doctor appointments and tests. It’s been a really rough few months.

First, the doctor thought it might be tension headaches or possibly a sinus issue rather than migraines, since migraines don’t usually last days and there was clearly lots of tension in Christen’s upper back, shoulders, and neck. She sent Christen for an x-ray of her head to look at her sinuses, and when that looked fine she prescribed her a muscle relaxer to try. It didn’t seem to eliminate the headaches, but it did seem to help relieve some of the pain and maybe even shorten the duration. It was far from a fix though.

Arteriovenous Malformation (AVM)
Arteriovenous Malformation (AVM)

Instead of getting better, the dizziness got worse. Her doctor sent her in for a CT. When the results came back, the doctor called us to let us know that something did show on the scan. It was around 1cm in size, and while there was no way to know without an MRI, she thought it could possibly be an Arteriovenous Malformation (AVM).

Of course, being the person that needs to know everything, I immediately began to research AVMs. Basically, it’s when the arteries, which take blood to areas of your body, are connected to veins that take blood away from those areas and back to the heart. This can cause blood not to flow properly to certain areas, in this case part of the right side of Christen’s brain, and can also cause bleeds, strokes, etc. The solution? Brain surgery.

Yep, let that set in for a moment. It certainly took us a while to come to grips with it. The thought of brain surgery is terrifying. Unfortunately, there was really nothing to do but wait. So we waited for the MRI.

There was yet another ER visit between the CT and the MRI. They diagnosed her with a severe headache and vertigo, putting a medical term to our complaint of “dizziness”. It was a tough ER visit, mostly because her mental state had deteriorated noticeably. It has gotten harder and harder for her to think and function during these episodes. The doctor in the ER said that her fine motor skills were “troubling” and seemed to be very happy to hear that we were already scheduled for an MRI, encouraging us to follow up with a neurologist no matter what the MRI showed.

So now the MRI has happened and we got the results. The vagueness is infuriating and frustrating, but she has a “venous abnormality”. An AVM is a venous abnormality, but there are others as well. So basically, we know there is definitely an issue with the veins on the right side of Christen’s head near her brain, but not much more. We’re working on getting an appointment with a neurologist now. I talked to several today that are booked through July, but I’m not willing to just wait that long. We’re looking at alternatives.

So if you’re wondering why I’ve been less active, quieter, slower responding, etc lately. This is probably why (and the issue with my grandma that happened during all this), and unfortunately it’s not over yet.

Being Understanding in this Digital Age

This has been an interesting week for me. I’ve worked every day from a hospital room. To try to keep a very long story somewhat short, my grandma was in the ER Sunday, the experience was bad and they dismissed her rather than taking the time to actually figure out the problem. This resulted in her being BACK in the ER (a different ER; fool me once and all that) as 12:30am Monday morning, getting admitted to the hospital a few hours later, and being under acute care ever since.

It’s rather severe. She’ll likely be in the hospital another week or two, but the prognosis is starting to look up.

It’s been incredibly hard on my immediate family. My grandpa has severe Alzheimer’s, and while there are many things he cannot remember, he never seems to forget that his wife of nearly 68 years is in the hospital. Not for even a second. Unfortunately, he can’t stay at the hospital with her all day every day, because he needs to have some routine to help keep him on track. This means that my dad has been taking care of grandpa, and playing shuttle service to bring him to the hospital every day and take him back home every evening.

Emotions have been high as well. Everyone here cares about my grandma greatly, and that can cause logic to be clouded by emotion, making everyone a little more touchy and on edge. Especially when things weren’t looking so good.

So what does all this have to do with being understanding? Well, that comes down to some of the communications I’ve received this week. The ones from people that have no idea where I’m at or what I’m going through.

They tend to start out innocent enough. Someone asking me about one of my WordPress plugins, possibly sending me a product or service they’d like me to review, or even sending me a legitimate work proposal.

Unfortunately, any of those kinds of things that came through this week have been summarily ignored. I’m not sorry about that. None of those things are important enough to take even a few minutes of attention away from my grandma and what she’s going through. I suppose I could have responded with some short blurb explaining what was going on, but I stand by my actions as being perfectly acceptable. And yes, I’d ignore them all again (and probably will for at least another week).

Receiving, and ignoring, those messages didn’t bother me at all though. Like I said, they didn’t know where I was or what I was going through. The frustration really started yesterday (or more accurately last night), when I started to open and read some of the more recent messages. Some of then had taken on an angry tone; “if you don’t care about this, then…”, “You’ll never get my work if you don’t respond”, or “People said you were reliable, but I guess they were wrong.”

Just how fucking important do you think you are?

Not that I need to justify myself, but I think pointing out my internal responses to these statements helps underline how ludicrous they really are:

  • It’s not that I don’t care about whatever it was you were writing about, I just don’t care enough to put it above my family. Deal with it.
  • I don’t want your work anyway. Even if I was looking for work, working for an impatient, self-important, pain in the butt, isn’t my idea of fun.
  • I’m glad to hear people said I’m reliable. Right now, my family finds me incredibly so. I’m glad that me not responding to you in 48 hours gives you the right to judge me differently.

The truth is, we’ve all come to expect a level of accessibility that I think has become unreasonable and unsustainable. Technology has made it so that most of us, myself included, walk around with our E-Mail, Twitter, Facebook, etc in our pocket. We tend to check it habitually, and therefore respond quickly. Often within minutes or hours.

The problem is that, as we all know, doing something consistently builds expectation. People now expect a response within an hour, think themselves patient if they wait half a day, and feel like you’re purposely ignoring or slighting them if it takes longer. The distance the electronics place between us makes it easy to never take the time to think about where the person on the other end of your communication is, what they’re doing, or what they’re going through.

I have to think that not a single one of these people would have barged into my grandma’s hospital room to give me their message, expecting me to stop dealing with family and put my attention on them. Yet essentially that’s what they asked of me.

Expectations of availability have gotten out of control. When do they afford us time for ourselves? When do we get to focus on something so important that we don’t want to be bothered?

Try to remember that even though there is often technology between you and someone else, it’s still a person you are dealing with. A person that has to go through the same kind of crap as you sometimes. Be understanding.

Tornadoes Suck

Tornadoes suck, as does nearly everything that goes along with them. Over the last several days we’ve had to worry about several tornado watches/warnings. One had us driving North at midnight to keep us out of it’s path.

The worst part so far though have been the torrential rains over the last few days which have wreaked absolute havoc on the property here. We’ve had to re-tractor the road half a dozen times at least. We’ve unstuck six vehicles (yes, six!). We had so much water flowing over the bridge by the property entrance, that it caused a foot to foot and a half deep, six foot wide chasm that cut across the entrance making it unusable until we got a tractor down there to cut a way through.

We had a small fishing boat that somehow traveled from the big lake, over the spillway, down the waterfall, across the small lake, over the spillway, and got stuck in a tree on it’s way into the canyon.

We also had to patch the dam on the swimming lake because it was eroding where the water was making it over the top. Basically, while no tornado actually hit, all the weather that surrounded them has caused our property to look almost as if it WAS hit by one:

Getting Internet back after the storm
Getting Internet back after the storm

There was a tree that fell near one of the cabins. I have no idea why, but it actually split in two and fell down two sides of the cabin but barely nicked the cabin.

Remembering Arya

Well, four years ago tomorrow, I got Arya, my snake (Columbian Red-Tailed Boa) for Christmas. Today, on Christmas Eve of all days, I had to put her down. The short version, is that she’s been going downhill for a few months, and the vet said he thought she had a tumor on her brain, but this post isn’t about today. I just wanted to post a couple milestone photos to remember her by.

Arya was my Christmas Gift in 2010
Arya was my Christmas Gift in 2010
She (along with special grandson-super-powers) was the first and only snake mom ever held!
She (along with special grandson-super-powers) was the first and only snake mom ever held!
She had a pretty sweet custom built cage (Thanks Doug)
She had a pretty sweet custom built cage (Thanks Doug)
She was always good for a laugh
She was always good for a laugh
She sometimes got into places she shouldn't
She sometimes got into places she shouldn’t

And she hung out with me while I worked, all the time!

Fourth Grade: Practical Electrical Class

Xavier started learning about electricity and magnetism recently in science. Yesterday we learned how electrons flow along wires, what a circuit was, and how series and parallel circuits are wired. Then we made our own! A couple light sockets, a couple bulbs, some wire, a couple nails, a few C batteries, a paperclip, and a chunk of wood. You can turn the lights on by connecting the paperclip across both nails.

Except for taping the batteries together, he made it all himself.

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X's Series Circuit Light