May 2009

Call for JPs…

Alejna and I are sending out the call for Just Posts for May! We’re hoping to get the round table up early(er) this month… so please send on your nominations!


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Pondering Fate

Rounding out the triumvirate of part-time employment I have distracting me from writing That Damn Paper (the new official title of my dissertation) is a teaching position in the School of Social Work.  Last week I lectured alone for the first time, on material new to the course and to me.  I’m one of three with teaching responsibility for these classes, which is an absolutely fabulous set-up; low stress and interesting all at the same time.

On Tuesday, the students will have an in-class simulation of a UN Global Humanitarian Forum based on a variety of readings on Human Development.  To give them a primer of what is expected, one of my colleagues sent out links to videos from last year’s UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) in Bonn.

This is the sort of stuff that gets passed around my collegial circles all the time… climate change, gazillions impacted, always the lowest on the totem that get sunk… yeah, yeah.  It buzzes around back there as we focus on whatever tiny section of the Global Health pie we’re devouring.  It’s not that we’re not interested, it’s just that well… sometimes it feels like folks in this field tire of the gore and horrors. And sometimes you get so caught up in just doing a job and just getting ahead that the senses get dulled. Passion is not something easy to sustain. Then, sometimes, an ear picks up a few words and slowly lifts the head around to attention.

The discussion of the Himalayas, and the ONE BILLION people who live on either side, is what turned my head. Because that’s right, of course. One third of our roughly 6 billion earthlings call either India or China home, so it’s right to throw those numbers out there. At least a billion people live to the north and south of the Himalayan range and rely on it’s freshwater runoff.

I know. His tongue is a bit serpent-like. I hope it didn’t distract too much from his arguments. By the way, this guy, Yvo de Boer, is the Executive Secretary of the UFCCC. Like most folks at the UN, I feel like he’s caught in a battle of conscious and politics… wanting to get tough and present vision and do all those hard-line things that Greenpeace (et al) slam him on, but having to deal with arrogant leaders (ahem, GW) who aren’t having it and would simply shut it all out if he did go that route. I dunno. Maybe this is me dreaming? I always want to believe that people long to do more than they are able.

A statement made by 17-year old Rishika Das Roy, from Kolkata, India, was also sent to students. Here are some photographs of her community, the Sunderbans. I wonder what her statement would have been if she had attended the meeting as the Executive Director of the UNFCCC for the day, rather than a “witness”?

Watching the two speakers — their different roles, ages, positions, passions, intents, and approaches — the hierarchies in it all just stood out. This young woman is poised to be a leader in some capacity. Will 30 years of working with International organizations dull her passions, force her to recognize the compromises in politics, shake her down to broad numbers of impact? Is this fate for all go-gooders? That we become jaded, pessimistic, burnt out, fed up?


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Things I learned in Parent-Teacher Conference

– Kate is a popular topic of conversation outside of school.  Her reputation extends past all of her classmates to their parents and beyond to even friends and family of parents.

– Kate uses the potty all day long at school without incident.  (Note: she is not on board at home.)

– Kate knows and uses French vocabulary daily.  Just not with us.

– It is possible for Kate to lay on a mat during nap time.  And stay there.

– Despite our frequent discussion of holding Will to repeat Kindergarten (and thus be on the American system in terms of his age and grade level), we are struggling to find a true reason to do so; Will’s academic performance remains one of the best in the class, even when compared to students who have had 3 years of French immersion.

– We couldn’t find a reason developmentally, psychologically, or emotionally, either.  We asked.  We looked.

– When Will struggles with something in English, he has the same struggles in French.

– Things Will needs to work on in both English and French: counting with his fingers (he does it in his head just fine, something about using the fingers throws him off) and listening to break down the sounds in words.

– Will can write very nice cursive.  (Relative to other 5 year olds.)

Life in New Orleans

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Bling nite

It was after 3am when I crawled into bed Saturday night.  I was out late.  With the girls.

Oooooh, yes.

But that is not where this story starts.  It starts with a Girls Nite from a few weeks back.  A jewelry-making fundraiser, for one of my favorite nonprofits, sponsored and organized by some wonderful people.  Followed, later by drinks.

Doesn’t this lady look too beautiful to have three children under 5 and a big school to manage?  Let alone do fundraisers?!

Georgia at The Bead Shop donated her shops wares and the personal talents of her staff — we all made beautiful accessories and hung out.

I brought one of the cameras in our Photovoice project.  I’m so thrilled with these cameras and very impressed by the options and handling.  It’s nice having something little to pull out quickly, even if all my friends look at me as if I’ve suddenly become ill, “isn’t that a little… SMALL for you…?” they ask in a worried glance.

Well, yes, true.  But I’m practicing what I preach to the research team.  It’s not about the level of fancy in the camera… it’s how you use it, right?

Focusing is actually the most difficult part.  Maybe it’s that I’m used to my many possibly focal points and having manual focus so easily accessible — but it was tough for me to focus on smaller foreground objects (like the earrings below), even on the “macro” camera setting.

It took a couple of tries to get this, and even still, I couldn’t quite get the main focus on the first earring in the row, as I wanted.  Practice, practice.

We picked out a strand, a pendant, and some supplies.  Then we sat down and ate, laughed, and threaded until we all had new bling.

Georgia helped with the finer details.

The incredible food was donated by friends at Cochon.

Don’t ask me what it all was.  I’ve blocked it all from memory and replaced it with the word GOOD.

It was somewhere in the middle of all of this that we re-affirmed our plans (first made at our Belly-Dancing girls nite) for Indigo Girls…

Arts & Photography
Family Life in NOLA

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Online Chat, 15 minutes ago

me: Both kids in bed.

Paul: wow, go you

Kids eating post-dinner pudding.
I do laundry.
Come back.
Kate has used pudding as finger paints.
She has to get cleaned in kitchen sink before being brought to bathroom.

Paul: our little angel?

In bathroom, I’m dealing with pudding clean-up
on me
and her clothes….
…and she removes pants to reveal the evening’s 3rd poop.
Her pull-up removal spreads poop everywhere.
Poop all over legs
Finally, she’s in the tub.
I wash her.
I am getting her out.
Will, who has been eating pudding this whole time, comes in.
He decided the finger painting was a good idea.
He’s painted his entire face with it.
And hands and arms.

Paul: I hope you killed him


Paul: he should know better

I rinse tub and refill.
He gets in.
I dress Kate.
I come back in bathroom to find Will with the soap.
Soap bottle is upside-down.
He’s squeezing the bottle.
The NOW almost EMPTY bottle
Because he’s emptied half of it
in the tub
with him

This is why the kids are in bed early.

Sent at 7:00 PM on Wednesday


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Junk Food.

In a weak moment, one where I was simultaneously suffering from poor judgment, I picked up the first Twilight novel.

I figured, 8 billion teenagers couldn’t be wrong? Right?

Then, because I didn’t think it could get any worse, I picked up the second novel during the long layover in Chicago. Because I hate myself, I finished it last night.

And then I got smart.

My friends on the internets helped me find detailed plot summaries for the next two books so that I could regain both my life and my dignity. (And yet still be able to hold a conversation with a preteen.)

As for the books? Addictive, sure. But eww.

EEEEEEEEWWWWWWWWW. As in, “Flowers in the Attic” has nothing on you, Twilight! EWWWW.



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Boston Boston Boston.

This is not the city I visited last week.  But it’s on the way.  Doesn’t it look quaint and, yes, maybe even compact, from up in the sky?  And the strange colors?  The polarizer on my camera and the polarizer on the plane windows got realllll friendly-like and made these colors.  Groovy.

Spending four days in Boston was a dizzying, unsettling experience.  Not because of the long work days.

And not because I embarrassingly bought the first “Twilight” book to read during the trip (*seriously blushing*).

I stayed in two incredible communities (Jamaica Plain and Brookline) both architecturally and historically rich.  It was like being surrounded with the beautiful architecture of an old city, yet with the added bonus of public transportation, roads, and sidewalks wide enough for bicyclists.  I heard that the improvements were made to facilitate use of the public transport by folks with limited mobility.  There were no clogged sewer drains.  The streets were paved smooth — not one hole, bump, or even an unmet seam to mar your way.  The gutters were clear of dirt and debris.  Public spaces were clean, with plentiful information centers, bathrooms, and historical markers.  Traffic was constant, but moving and managed.  Police popped up to move traffic and pedestrians along.  And those were all happening in the parts of town where parents don’t want to live because the schools are bad.

If I hadn’t seen it, I wouldn’t have believed it, either.

Really.  It was like people got together, agreed on the things that made a nice urban environment, and then made it happen.

It was fantastic.

And also?  A bit creepy.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m all intellectual and deep-n-stuff.  I can totally hang with my erudite academic peeps.  But I think, after awhile, the nirvana-like perfection stresses me out.  Sometimes I just want to hang out in generic flip-flops, drink from the bottom shelf, and chase it down with Folger’s from a Styrofoam cup.  And I want to do it with six other people who couldn’t care less about it just as long as they get a swig.  I’m not perfect, but I’m working on it.  I guess I love that my city can say the same thing.

But I’m happy that Boston is so nice.  What a great place to have in our country.

Even in the construction zone of a church, being rebuilt after a fire destroyed it almost 2 years ago, kids were playing in the relative safety of the yard.  Right beside a trailer set up for community services.  Just, nice.

All of these pictures were taken in Jamaica Plain last Tuesday night, the day I arrived.  My Boston College colleague and mentor walked for several hours around the neighborhood with me — we stopped in a local bookstore, walked around the ‘pond,’ had a fantastic feast of Indian cuisine, and polished it off with ice cream from the local dairy.


There were messages like this all over…


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The week Kate potty trains.

I leave tomorrow morning for 3 1/2 days in Boston.  I figure since Paul can do almost anything I can (and better) that by the time I get back, he’ll have Kate playing piano etudes, Will writing verse in Spanish, a half dozen herb plants thriving on the porch, the rain water harvesting barrels up and catching, and two week’s worth of dinners frozen for future meals.

The meeting days are long and there isn’t much free time, which means I will have plenty to feel guilty about when I get back.  Because just by virtue of being out of the house, shouldn’t I be writing around the clock?   Chemical support is looking really tempting; I’ve gained a new appreciation for why cocaine was initially a suburban drug popular among Moms.  ’cause If I could just cut out sleep, I would be able to keep my self-imposed, mostly unrealistic deadline.  (Hi, NIH?  Just kidding!  I’m TOTALLY going to be done then.)

Please be sure to send Paul some support this week.  Because now?  Kate has decided she is potty trained and does FUN things like take off her pull-up and pee all over the floor and half her toys.  OOPS.  Paul has a much harder time with the whole accident scenario.  And?  I want him to feel rested this week.  Because when I get back Friday night, I’ll have just enough time to sleep all day Saturday in preparation of going out  Saturday night with the girls (Indigo Girls at Tipitina’s, whoo-hoo!)

P.S. I’m missing the kids already.

Mi Familia

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Stick with me, there’s an important question at the end.

Somehow over the last two months we’ve carved time for Paul to work on the outbuilding.

He finished the siding (all except for that top header in the front) and the siding along the back and sides.  FINALLY.  The piles of hardie in the backyard are gone.

This is what the back of the outbuilding looks like from the roof of the shed that belongs to the house behind ours.  Close quarters.  Let’s hope they have a termite contract, too.

Then Paul got to work on barn-style doors.  So that we could stop the rain from coming into the opened section of the building.

Here’s a newly hung door.

Ah, who I am kidding?  This is totally a beefcake shot.

Here are the doors.

And here is the question: what color should paint them?  (Or, should we stain them?)

(Note… I’m partial to paint because we’ve had bad luck with stain.  But I’m easily persuaded otherwise.)

The caveat.  This is the back of the house with the color that will eventually, one day, cover the entire house.  And outbuilding.  At least, this was the plan.  But, like I said, we could be persuaded by particularly fetching arguments.

Oh, and the color is more blue than aqua, despite what the photograph tells you.

Anyone have ideas or suggestions?

Home and Renovation

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Bertha and her pies.

A few weeks ago, I wrote on facebook about walking out my door one morning to find a robe-and-slippers-clad gentleman on the porch a few doors down, typing away on a manual typewriter, coffee at his side.  The day after writing the update, I saw him again.  This time, however, I was not in a hurry.  This time I went back inside, made him some Cool Brew, and walked over.

Michael and I fell into quick conversation for over an hour.  He’s from Chicago, where he works in a bakery that doubles as a skills building and work training program.  He is also a performance artist whose alter, Bertha Mason, makes pies.

We talked about many things, but pies were a central theme.  At one point, he HAD to get the pies he’d made the day before.  Because what is better than pie for breakfast?

I insisted his hosts get first dibs, but later that afternoon, our neighbors brought over a plate stacked high with pie slices.  The kids loved the brownie pie (Will especially).  I loved Michael, his enthusiasm for New Orleans and love of people.  It’s very clear within moments of meeting him that his love of baking came out of his love of connecting to people — he was endearing and friendly and fun.

Meeting him, with his typewriter and pajamas, made for a perfect New Orleans morning.

Bertha is online and if you are in the Chicago area, you could go out and say hello — and eat some pie.  While the Jesus, Music, and Cookies Sunday event is tempting, I would totally go for the Black and Blue Berry Buckle Party at the International Leather Community.


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