Signing to the Angels: Artist’s first book is memoir of foster child born blind and deaf

Signing to the Angels: Artist’s first book is memoir of foster child born blind and deaf

When foster parents accept the challenge of caring for a child born blind and deaf, they hope to change that child’s life for the better. They don’t realize, or even expect, that the child has something vital to teach them and others with whom the child comes in contact.

Shelly was just such a child. 

Shelly and Claire signing
Claire Muller signing with her foster daughter, Shelly. With her daughter being blind and deaf from infancy, the two spent a great deal of time in direct physical contact with each other to communicate. Shelly is the subject of Muller’s first published book, “Signing to the Angels.”

Her life made such a profound impact on her permanent foster parents, Claire and Tom Muller, that she inspired the publication of Claire Muller’s first book, “Signing to the Angels.”

The book, released last month by Dancing With Bear Publishing, is a personal memoir of Shelly’s life as a member of the Muller family.

In 2009, at age 23, Shelly’s body finally succumbed to the complications of her medical condition, Muller said. 

“Signing with the Angels” chronicles the two decades in which her adopted daughter grew up. In that time, Muller said, Shelly’s mere existence demonstrated what it means to live a life “fully in the moment,” taking joy in the “pure value” of her life’s experience interacting with the world.

She entered the lives of Claire and Tom Muller when she was nearly 3 years old.

The Muller’s are experienced foster parents. They have often made their home a haven for children and teens who are surviving and coping with life’s worst abuses.

The family are glad to provide a shelter for these kids until they can be placed in stable homes with families that will, hopefully, help them build a life beyond a nightmare existence.

But in addition to offering foster services for children who are physically healthy, the Mullers have also taken in foster children who are medically fragile. 

The children cope with a range of birth defects from Down’s Syndrome to heart problems to developmental disabilities like “Microcephaly,” Claire Muller explains in the book’s first chapter.

Once in awhile, the Muller’s  adopt them as a permanent part of their home, she said.

“We hear about these children and the challenges they have to face. It’s natural to wonder how God in all his infinite power could allow such things to happen,” Muller said. “Then along comes a child like Shelly and you realize that God blessed this Earth with her and others like her.”

 Shelly was born blind at the Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, the result of a birth defect in her digestive system. 

“Shelly’s gut was unable to absorb the calories and nutrients. Food and drink passed through her with very little of the nutrition absorbed,” Muller said.

The easiest way to explain Shelly’s blindness is that her body expended so much effort compensating for the defect while in the womb that the child was born without a developed optic nerve, Muller explained. 

But that was just the beginning of Shelly’s medical problems. She also developed a respiratory ailment that forced doctors into a treatment with the unfortunate side effect of stealing the child’s hearing.

“The doctors had no choice. To keep her breathing, they had to use medicine that took her hearing,” Muller said.

The result is that Shelly lacked the sense of sight and hearing from a very early age.

“In terms of being blind and deaf, Shelly was like Helen Keller. She never had a chance to experience the world in the way most children did,” Muller said. “But Shelly also had continuing problems being able to digest food. She was never able to eat and drink normally.”

The Mullers were contacted by a social worker when Shelly was just past 2 years old. The couple agreed to be Shelly’s foster parents. It was not long afterward that the Mullers adopted Shelly permanently.

“I am blessed to have a husband who never questions the children we foster parent. We both simply accepted Shelly in with our other kids,” Muller said.

From the beginning, it was clear that despite her physical ailments Shelly was intelligent and capable of learning, Muller said.

They brought in specialists to teach Shelly sign language and an “intervener” who taught the child the skills blind and deaf people need to orient themselves to place and successfully move about. They teach cane skills and how to navigate a room without sight or hearing, she said.

“One thing I learned is that there are great job opportunities for people to work with blind and deaf persons. It is a unique specialty and a rare field. There is a demand for the skills and the specialists get paid well for their services,” Muller commented.

But as Shelly grew, Claire became fascinated with how her adopted daughter interacted with the world. Being blind and deaf all her life, she did not develop the ordinary fears that most children learn growing up.

“She would explore in the yard, enjoying the warmth of the sun and feeling everything around her. If there was a snake nearby, Shelly wouldn’t react because she wouldn’t be aware of it. And even if she were aware, if it brushed by her, Shelly would be delighted by the sensation,” Muller said.

She and Shelly made frequent flights on a small plane to Columbus to visit specialists. Shelly loved the take-off and she was delighted if there was turbulence, Muller said.

“Shelly loved the sensory experience of the plane’s movement. She had no concern about what these sensations might mean.  Watching her, it made me begin to look differently at the world,” Muller said.

This lesson was not something Shelly only taught to her adopted mother. Her family, and others who came to know Shelly, often observed the pure joy the child took from the simple act of living in this world.

It was not always that way. Shelly’s condition gave her moments of sickness and sadness, Muller said. Her doctors wrestled with the complex challenges that her birth defect presented throughout her life. Shelly pushed them professionally. Eventually, however, the problems became insurmountable, Muller said.

The book, however, is not a tragedy. It is spiritual and meant to be as uplifting as Shelly was to her family and friends, Muller said.

“Signing to the Angels” is a celebration of a person’s life that was far too brief, but managed to be full of a grace one often associates with angels, Muller said.

“Signing to the Angels” is available direct from Dancing with Bear publishing at www.dancingwithbearpublishing.com. It can also be bought through most of the usual book selling websites such as Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

Muller_bookcover

All proceeds from the sale of the book  will support Valley of Baca Missionary Retreat, an organization the Mullers founded to assist Christian missionaries on their visits to the United States.

 For more information on this service, visit www.valleyofbaca.org.

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From “Troubled Youth” to Ebenezer Scrooge: An Interview with actor Gary Sandy

From “Troubled Youth” to Ebenezer Scrooge: An Interview with actor Gary Sandy

Early in his professional acting career, Gary Sandy said he specialized in portraying “troubled youth.”

c.Gary Sandy

“Those were the best roles to have,” the actor said, though he understands that fact may be difficult for casual fans of his former television series, WKRP in Cincinnati, to grasp. But it was because of his “All-American Boy” looks, combined with his considerable skills as an actor, that made him so effective in villain roles in “As The World Turns” and “Another World.” It will also serve him well on the Rohs Opera House stage in Cynthiana, Kentucky this Friday and Saturday night, Dec. 12-13, when Sandy takes on Ebenezer Scrooge for “A Christmas Carol: A Live Radio Play.”

Sandy is excited for a chance to put his spin on the Scrooge character. “I’ve been looking at what other people have done with the role and deciding what elements I’d like to steal,” Sandy joked during a phone interview last week.

But given his professional history, be prepared for some surprises. Sandy built his early career on people underestimating the character types that fit him as a performer. Right out of school at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York in 1970, Sandy was put in touch with an agent. “I told the agent, ‘you set me up for something acting-wise and I’ll get it,’ which was a pretty naive statement at the time, but I was young,” Sandy said. Nevertheless, he credits his hubris for his chance to read for the character “Thomas Hughes” on “As The World Turns.” On meeting Sandy, the soap’s casting director’s first impression was that he was too much of a nice guy for the role. “The character was just getting back from Vietnam and they wanted someone to play the role as ‘troubled.’ I convinced her to let me read the part. After the reading, she said, ‘In 30 years of casting, I’ve never been more wrong.’ “But I still didn’t get the part because then she said I was too ‘troubled’.”

“Even when we went to live tape, the shows were always just a day ahead of the broadcast. Writers were cranking out scripts like mad, so you can imagine the hokey lines that actors had to make convincing. That’s why I loved the bad guy roles so much. We got these great evil lines to say.”

But she also told Sandy to wait three months because there was a character for which Sandy would be perfect — the role of drug dealing Randy Buchanan. From this start, Sandy continued to play bad guy roles in soaps. His final daytime television role was in the short-lived series, “Somerset,” a spin off of the popular series “Another World.” Sandy’s evil character was last seen crying in a jail cell — the narrative thread was left unresolved, Sandy said.

“When I was in soaps, we were live. Even when we went to live tape, the shows were always just a day ahead of the broadcast. Writers were cranking out scripts like mad, so you can imagine the hokey lines that actors had to make convincing. That’s why I loved the bad guy roles so much. We got these great evil lines to say.

“Bad guys were just the better roles to play. They were the better roles!” he exclaimed.

After four seasons of playing Andy Travis on WKRP, where Sandy was ofttimes asked to play the straight man to the ensemble of comic characters, he earned guest spots in television and occasional movie roles. But the theater is where his career has flourished and where he has avoided being pigeon-holed in “Andy Travis”-like roles.

“The stage has given me the chance to take on all sorts of complex characters.” His most notable successes include a starring role on Broadway in “The Pirates of Penzance”; the lead in a production of “Billy Bishop Goes to War”; and a co-starring role with Ann-Margret in a national touring production of “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.”

In the latter days of his career, Sandy has found a niche performing in live radio plays.

He was recently part of the cast for a well-reviewed performance of the live radio drama “The BBC Murders” by Agatha Christie in Florida. “These are very entertaining productions. They combine the experience of live theater with a look into how old-time radio dramas are produced,” Sandy said. The production of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol: A Radio Play,” which will be revived at the Rohs Opera House in Cynthiana, Kentucky will feature radio sound effects and advertisements from radio’s golden age. “People are going to come out to the theater and they are going to have a ball with this play,” Sandy said. In addition to playing Scrooge, Sandy is also proud to offer his support to local theater in Cynthiana.

“My mother and a lot of my family live in the north central Kentucky area. There are a lot of good memories for me here,” Sandy said. It’s been a long time since those days – almost an entire professional career. But Sandy has always had a special place in his heart for this area of Kentucky and he feels honored to be a part of this holiday event.

“An accident wanting to happen” – Ottis Tussey’s experiments in abstract

When asked to describe his style of abstract painting, Ottis Tussey said that his style is “kind of an accident waiting to happen.”

Ottis Tussey at work in his home.
Ottis Tussey at work in his home.

“I surprise myself at times. I start out with this vague idea and then something happens that changes everything or moves me to something else,” said Tussey.
If there is one thing that Tussey enjoys as much as working at his canvas, it is talking about art.
Not his art in particular, though he is happy to share insights into what he perceives are his strengths in the visual arts, but he also enjoys delving into the kinds of things that he enjoys as a spectator as well as a creator.

Whether visiting the museums or churches that house the world’s great masterpieces or perusing the unheralded work of artists in the local art galleries, he has developed an appreciation for the image and the craft on display.
“I love to see the work of talented artists and the incredible things they do. When I visited Rome some years ago and saw works by Michaelangelo and other great Rennaissance artists, there were times when I would just tear up. They could do anything,” Tussey said.
That statement is also true of artists with whom he has come into contact at his home at Lake Carnico in Nicholas County, Kentucky.
“Several of my paintings are at the Z-Gallery in Carlisle [Kentucky]. Louise Zachary’s place features several wonderful paintings as well as  beautiful hand-made quilts and woodworking.
“And then, of course, I have several abstracts at the [Licking Valley Campus, Workforce Solutions] art gallery in Cynthiana, where there is also many beautiful works. I am particularly fond of the paper mosaics that Mrs. [Claire] Muller creates. Those are stunning,” he commented.

“I surprise myself at times. I start out with this vague idea and then something happens that changes everything or moves me to something else,” said Tussey.

Though Ottis Tussey has dabbled in art throughout his life, it has only been within the last five years that he has applied himself to developing his artistic skills.
Tussey prefers to work in abstracts. In the years since he has taken up painting, he has been quite prolific.
“I am not accomplished at drawing figures or detailed images. As I’ve been working, I find that I don’t care so much for portraits or scenes as much as I enjoy the interplay of vivid colors on a canvas,” Tussey said about his work.

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Vivid, colorful backgrounds are a hallmark of Tussey’s style, particularly in his recent works.
In fact, there are times, he said, when he has labored so hard to create these colorful backdrops that it takes time to muster the nerve to add anything to the foreground.
“I love the interplay of colors and how they react with each other and with different types of canvas,” he said.
In recent months, he has been working with aluminum foil as a canvas, admiring how the reflective quality changes the nature of his acrylic paints.
In another painting in his home, he achieved an unexpected effect when water from a garden hose splashed against the canvas, creating a fragmented effect to which he was able to add his own designs.
However, some of his most striking abstracts have been captured using glass as his canvas. Several examples of his glass paintings are on display at the art gallery in Cynthiana and unframed at his home.
Perhaps the most important element in his development as a local artist is a level of personal confidence that he has in his work.
“I think I have reached a point where my work has achieved a recognizeable style. It was something that I did not have at the beginning. But these days, one can recognize work that I have done,” Tussey said.

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He attributes his growth to a certain discipline in his approach. Though he does not keep a regular schedule of time painting, he makes the effort to be at the easel working on a piece even if he is not particularly inspired to do so.
“I cannot develop if I let things go for too long,” Tussey said.
Regardless of whether he is happy with his work, he also makes an effort to carry a project to its end.
“The hardest thing for me is getting a new idea. I can only paint so many seagulls or random images. When I was getting into this, I thought that I always needed to wait until inspiration happens before starting in on a new painting. But sometimes, it’s just important to get in front of an easel and do something,” Tussey said. “If I don’t like it, I can just as easily paint over it. And having the painting underneath creates some interesting textures that I can use.”
With the coming holiday season, Tussey is following the lead of fellow artist Herby Moore and offering discounts of up to 20 percent on his paintings at the LVC gallery in the Harrison Square Shopping Center in Cynthiana, Kentucky.

“I don’t charge much for my paintings, so this discount is a real bargain for my work,” Tussey said.