Balance is bull.

Try as I may, I just can’t get the job of independently wealthy woman of leisure.  I tell you though, I do a BANG UP GOOD JOB of it.  Quality work, I tell you.  But then reality hits and responsibilities cave in.  It’s trite, of course, but the whole run-but-can’t-hide thing rings bells.

So we’re home and I’m finally embracing the fact that I’m now running a nonprofit (I know, how in the heck did THAT happen?!) and still have an unfinished paper that hangs over my head like ballast weight on a fraying rope.  I figure that the rope can hold out until February or so, because it will take 2-3 months to get comments, submit more drafts, and get to the point where I actually can defend.  There is a lot going on in this program director role and an equal a lot going on with the research project — the third in my triumvirate of semi-paying professional activities — and some-days I am not so good about balancing and prioritizing.

So how do others do it?  What is your system of organization?  How do you allocate time for a variety of activity?  Do you use masterful discipline to stay on task appointed time?  Do you schedule big blocks of time for one activity at a time, or do several things slowly at once?  How do other people fit in all the random bits of work, knowledge, responsibility, volunteering, meal planning, home renovating, tantrum controlling, butt wiping, phone answering, bill paying, walking, talking and breathing?

Internets, I need your secrets.

Mi Familia

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Monday Mambo

A little bit of writing done tonight
A little bit of email sent, that’s right!
A little bit of nausea just set in
’cause I sent that big draft IN!

Yes, that’s right. I sent my committee chair a draft of my dissertation tonight… just in time to make it a Monday Mission.


Speaking of the Painted Maypole, we were able to see her LIVE! and IN PERSON! in PINKALICIOUS! this weekend. I promise, each of those words deserved both caps and excessive punctuation. The show was adorable and TPM is even more lovelier (and taller!) than her pictures. Bonus: the May Queen stopped by (on her birthday!) so we were able to get in a Girls Only photo.

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Since then, Kate has woken up “PINK!” each morning and picked out her daily outfits in accordance to how PINKALICIOUS! they are. Not that the show made an impact, or anything.


PS: Did I mention that I sent in a draft? Of my dissertation? To my committee chair? A draft? Sent? Draft? DRAFT?!?!?! My stomach is in knots.


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This Fall.

From now until the end of October:

— Three conference presentations: one in New Haven (this one is a poster/talk about my still un-finished dissertation); one in New Orleans (this is is a presentation about the PAR Photovoice project); one in Chicago (a presentation about health and health-related work in NOLA).

— Program director’s meeting in Chicago.

— One week plus one day of fall break for the kids in mid-October (cut short by the Chicago meeting and conference).  Will we take the kids to Disney as originally planned?

— School events.  Parent-teacher conferences, back-to-school picnic, nightly homework, open houses.

— NOLA Aids walk Sept. 20th (Schweitzer group is participating).

— Doctor visits for Will’s casting and re-casting and eventual cast-removal.

— Doctor visits for Paul and I (we’re trying to Be Good).

— Weekend workshop for Photovoice project in October.

— Continued work on Photovoice project and Schweitzer program.

Laying it all out seems to help me think through it.

All this is like constant background noise that floods out my ability to focus, think, and write.  I know what I have to do, I know what I want to say.  I have outlines and the starts of each chapter… I just need to flesh each one out in draft.  (And make a beautiful poster about it.  The poster doesn’t require the draft being done, but I’ve never made a poster for this kind of event before, and the attendants are my Academic Heros, so I’m way nervous about it.  I’m talking about the poster during a cocktail hour where all the speakers will be milling around talking and asking questions.  And did I mention that the conference organizer is one of my brilliant teachers/advisers from Michigan, whom I respect and adore?  Oh, and my committee chair?  Yeah, he’ll be there, too.)

I know I *can* do, each thing, and do them relatively well.  I mean, right?  But how?  I’m trying to figure it out.  Suggestions welcome.  *gulp*


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Work, Writing, and Wanderings.

— Since last weekend’s writing retreat, which took place in an out-of-town colleague’s apartment, I’ve been able to fall into a much more productive writing schedule.
— My dissertation is fleshed out into 10 Chapters. All currently have written sections… none of which are finished. I’m guessing 1/3-1/2 of it is written… and of that, the majority ranges from “okay” to “crap.” Somehow it all makes sense in my head but makes no sense on paper. Hmmmmm.
— I know what each needs to say and getting them to that point really scares me.
— How come I’m freaked out by my own visions for The Thing? I thought I’d feel better at this point in the game.

— We’re spending the first week of August in Scotland. One my best friends from college is getting married in Ayr… in a castle… on a cliff… by the sea. We’re going in a few days early to check out the Western Island(s) and Highland area before the wedding.
— When we get back from Scotland, we’re going to the beach with the kids. Paul will be working then, but we’re hoping to manage it all to get in some quality family time before the school year starts.

— My committee chair is back in town in a little over a week. We’re meeting on the 30th. YIKES.

— Work is still overwhelming, but I had a few learning moments and realized that I needed to let go a bit until the dissertation draft was done.

Seeking….? Advice on Scotland. And the post-Scotland beach. (Did I mention we’re flying direct in and out of ORLANDO?) Ideas on balancing. And strategies for sustained writing inspiration.


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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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Currently Playing in Monday Mission

I’ve been trying to come up with some sort of creative, literary fancy-pants-writer way of recounting all the random craziness going on here.  Listing has felt too random, too quick.  Instead, I’m taking a page from Jim Croce, who famously used music to express emotion.  Borrowed, of course, from the Internet’s favorite Helena, TPM with 80s inspiration from Mad.

Here it is, the soundtrack to our lives as of late, 80s style.

— Friday, girls night out at The Bead Shop, followed by drinks and hey, Let’s Dance to the Sultans of Swing, ’cause Girls Just Wanna Have Fun but also, we need to prove that we, Mamas?  Yeah, we still Got the Beat.

— That Sweet Child O’ Mine, Baby Kate, turned 3.  A bunch of our friends came over and we had fun while 13 kids ran around our house, beat a pinata, and screamed “I Want Candy“!

— Tomorrow morning, I’m going to Photograph the Abeona kids for a school fundraiser.

— The social work class I’m teaching starts tomorrow night.  I don’t expect anyone to be Hot for Teacher, but it would be cool to form a Cult of Personality.

— The uncertainty around my parents’ move has us feeling helpless, but I guess That’s Why They Call it The Blues.  Explaining to Will why his Grandparents are moving means a lot of Sad Eyes.

— I got a Visiting Scholar appointment at a big Northeast college which is cool and wonderful and awesome because the folks there took me as What I Am.

— My SMA conference proposal was accepted and I’m Walking on Sunshine that at least an abstract of the dissertation is of interest.

— Next week I go to Boston for the Schweitzer Fellowship.  I have to leave a day early to be there on time because we live In a Big Country.  The program director’s retreat is a 3-day all-day event, yet I am hopeful to have some quiet time to myself to write.  My greatest dream is to have a full, uninterrupted week alone in a place that isn’t my house to work on nothing but my dissertation… Save a Prayer for me.

— Two friends and I have made a walking pact for regular exercise and stuck to it now for over a week.  When I feel like there is too much going on and I can’t manage to get away, I Whip It.  Not that this is helping me look at birthday cake and manage not to Eat It.

— The firehose went from bone dry to full blast, as Paul is Back on the Chain Gang (or maybe the Morning Train?) with several projects and overtime.  Combined with my income and his guarantee of at least 10 weeks more of work, we’re fine.  There is no more Livin’ on a Prayer.  And yes, New Orleans is still tough place to live and work but it’s our American Dream and we love it and there’s no place like it and I Still Believe that it’s worth sacrifice to raise our kids in this amazing place.

This has been a Monday Mission.

Family Life in NOLA
Mi Familia

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On Boats and Big Boulders

The Celebration of Service for our Schweitzer Fellowship cohort was last Wednesday at New Orleans Yacht Club.

Paul and I got there too late for the boat trip.  So we were stuck enjoying the sunset from the pier.  We weren’t entirely sure what to expect from the night.  We knew some program funders would be there, as well as some from the new group of Fellows.  As part of our fellowship requirements, we prepared posters for viewing during a cocktail hour.

When we sat down to dinner, our program director asked each of us to come up and talk to the crowd about our projects and memories about the Fellowship year.  Impromptu speaking!

Have you ever had one of those moments where you are up in front of a room of people and notice someone unexpected in the audience, maybe someone you’ve been sort of nervous about seeing, and have a total freak out mid-speech?


Oh, well, me neither.

That whole shuttering blinking thing I did last Wednesday when I saw one of my committee members smiling at me in the audience?  Yeah, that wasn’t me losing my train of thought or being distracted by the !!!OMG!!! running through my head.  Not a bit.

That was how Paul met my Committee Member Extraordinaire, whom I could call Dr. Comforting, Dr. Calming, Dr. Confirming, or Dr. Consoling and still not quite capture what this particular person brings to the table.  It had been a LONG TIME since I’d checked in.  My committee chair (the one who is suppose to guide everything I do) had strongly suggested I sort of keep the rest of the committee on the sidelines until I had a pre-defense draft ready for review… an appealing choice, but one that was freaking me out.  What if I alienate another member?  Or, what if I ignore my chair’s advice and get thrown off track by someone else’s comments?  Ack!  The confusion!

So far, my way of handling it was to ignore everyone.  A wonderful strategy if my goal is to never finish, or so it seems.

Bottom line is that Committee Member Extraordinaire was INCREDIBLE when we spoke after the speech.  I told her where I was and what I was doing and was honest about the advise from the chair.  “I think that is great,” she offered, “I love it when people can work that independently.”  It knocked the wind right out of me.  Then, she pleaded with me to speak with public health students about Schweitzer, congratulated me about taking over (temporarily) as program director, and just generally made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.  (Note, this is distinctly different from how committee members usually make one feel.)  Paul turned to me afterward and said, “I love her.  She is fantastic.”

“I know,” I answered.  I forgot how supportive she is.  How could I forget?

Seeing her and getting all of that out in the open took a huge weight off my shoulders and I feel so much more prepared to finish this thing.  I am starting to see that it is something I truly can do…

Art & Photography

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Friday was Good to me

I finished an abstract today, ahead of schedule, thus completing one of my recently self-assigned dissertation milestones.  It was an incredible achievement on my part, right up there with my self-inflicted embargo of the Twilight series (I may not read until I’ve finished a draft).  My work ethic — it boggles the mind.

All the work work work please don’t talk to me I’m writing work work laundry laundry make dinner work has made it very difficult to procrastinate, which means that I was unable to plan for a last-minute trip out of town.  We were close to picking up and heading out to a tax-deductible, in-support-of-the-company weekend trip to Houston to go to the Ikea (356 miles away) to binge on cheap Scandavian furniture for the office.  When Paul found out that they had BOTH a supervised children’s play area AND cooked ham with mashed potatoes for $6.99, he was ready to take off this afternoon.  Unfortunately, responsibility found out and came knocking and finger-wagging.  Sure, it’d be NICE to have books up off the floor and all, but the next year’s school fees and summer camp deposits are BOTH due at the end of the month.  And the kids need shoes.

In the spirit of looking for creative ways to pay tuition… I’m I too old to sell my unused lady eggs?  They are very effective.

Family Photos

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The post where Holly says, yes, actually there IS this dissertation thingy…

Possible reader comment:

“Are you really working on a PhD, because honestly, I read your blog and uh… you’re just totally a Mom with a camera and a sometimes nice way of writing.”

No, really, I am working on a PhD.  And while I don’t necessarily feel like I need to say anything to prove that fact, I am starting to turn a corner with my work.  No, no, I’m way too entrenched in academic aloofness to claim some sort of importance in what I find interesting (we get kicked out of the ivory tower club for that kind of uppity behavior) – but I do feel GOOD about it.  In the sense that there could, maybe, be some sort of usefulness in something, somewhere.  Was that stated aloof enough?  Phew.

Unsure of where to start, I’m just going to start at the beginning.  I figure, too, if I can just talk about this in normal language to explain to a regular person, than I do really ‘get’ the big picture here.  So think of this as an exercise.  Oh, and as something that will come in parts… because these blog posts need to be taken in steps before we reach full stride.  I’m telling you: I get winded easily.

So I study health inequalities.  I’m interested in where the best interventions can be made to improve  lives and health statuses.  In particular, I like health research because of how health reflects on social and political histories: there is a story, a reason, why certain people are healthy and others are not.  War, racism, segregation, climate – these all help paint health.  How this happens and how we should work as a nation and as a global community to mitigate those effects are of endless interest to me.

My current research is with Latin American immigrants to the United States.  Because I am working in New Orleans, the majority of these immigrants are Honduran – not Mexican — which is against the norm in many other areas of the United States that can correctly characterize their Latin American immigrant population as largely Mexican.  In short then, what I am studying encompasses both what it means to be an immigrant from Latin America living in the United States and what it means to be a racial minority within the United States.

So the first place to start is with race and health.  Stay tuned.


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Progress Report, First Week of November

One week into the month of November and how much I have gotten done?

I’ve translated one set of interview notes from Spanish… BUT have not gone back to listen to the original notes to put back in the parts of the notes that are in English. It equates to about 1/7th of the translation I have to complete. *sigh*


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