Archive for the ‘a good day… so far’ Category

Dreamcatcher Update

August 5, 2013

Well, the second half of June and all of July were pretty much dissertation-less. But I’m back in the saddle now. And I have a very firm deadline: I must successfully defend my dissertation but August 2014, a year from now. I know that the task is doable; I also know that it will require a certain degree of obsession that has been lacking in my approach to the project since… well, more or less since my original concept for the project went belly-up, and my ego took a blow from seriously effing up a few grant applications (Fall 2009, I believe).

Love, or fear?

Right this minutes that’s too deep a question for me to tackle, at the end of a long day reading and writing… I hit my word count goal, so that’s something at least.

I have to mark one huge accomplishment: recruiting my husband as my #1 ally for getting this thing done. He’s the one right now pushing me to put boundaries around my time and keep it sacred. He’s the one holding me accountable. And I so desperately need that.

I have 12 months ahead of me. I have a job and two children. I have a mountain of material collected over the past six years to finish organizing, analyzing, and spinning into a convincing narrative. I can see the shape of it in my mind. It’s like I’m sitting in front of an enormous block of stone with the sketch of a sculpture etched into the face of it, wondering exactly where and how I should angle my chisel to strike.

So, some goals:

August: Write research context and methodology
September: Theoretical frameworks
October: theoretical frameworks
November: Discourse analysis (document review)
December: Institutionalizing processes of inclusion for NLD youth
January: DREAM Activism disrupting the dominant narratives
February: Conclusions
March: Heavy rewrites
April: Heavy rewrites
May: nitpicky boring stuff like margins and citations
June: Polished draft to committee
July: Waiting for feedback
August: defense and production of final product; graduation

A year was feeling like a long time… til I parsed this all out. Gulp. Much to do.


Piled, as they say, Higher and Deeper

June 25, 2013

I’m tired. My heart feels so full. Gimli is like a bear with a thorn in its paw, growling and snapping at anyone who gets too close. I slide past the claws and scratch him behind the ears and he whimpers a little, closes his eyes, relaxes.

I’m on a constant march, a long trek. My inadequate map fell to the forest floor miles back. The optimistic track marked out in pale green highlighter bleeds a little in the morning rains. Bootprints press one corner into the mud. Each day is unlike the day before, an entirely new terrain to traverse. I fall into bed and relive each decision, wondering if it was the right one.

It’s a good place to be… even though I’m scared about the coming weeks, scared of the challenges ahead and whether I have what it takes to make it through (a team retreat fraught with complex conflicts and emotional pitfalls, a family trip to Albania [!!!]; new personnel coming on board when we get back). At the same time I can look back at the last seven months and see how I’ve moved into this new role well, overall, I think; I like it.

I’m glad you guys liked the Enneagram stuff, I really do find it fascinating, and helpful.

More soon, I hope…



May 17, 2013

I know it’s been quiet here, although that has not been due to lack of desire. I set aside writing time every week and then every week something intrudes, and I throw up my hands, deal with the intrusion, and then there is so little time left that it doesn’t feel worth it to try to make something happen either with my dissertation or my blog.

I’m definitely frustrated about that. VERY. So I’ve negotiated for a whole week of writing retreat at the beginning of June. I just worry that it’s too little, too late. My daughter just turned FIVE. She was born at the end of the second year of my grad program. I’ve been in this seven years. My cohort are beginning to graduate, one by one. Former students ten years younger than me are graduating from PhD programs. I feel so left behind.

And yet.

I do love the work I am doing.

I love job-sharing with my husband. We make a good team; we balance each other well in many ways. We enjoy spending time together, thinking and talking together, working through problems and issues together. This has been a good fit for us. It’s just that he’s at a stage in his career where he’s kind of on fire – getting calls from the UN to do feasibility studies, kind of thing. He’s been picking and choosing what he does but he’s doing as much as he can get away with (in terms of getting permission from our supervisor). This has meant a LOT of travel – on top of the travel he and I both do for our jobs here. He’s acted very surprised by how hard it’s been on me, but he doesn’t seem to understand that in Albania I was a SAHM with an almost-full-time nanny, whereas here when he’s gone I’m solo parenting AND covering both our jobs at work at the same time.


I had a bit of a health crisis last week. It had been building up over time. I don’t know if you can make it out in the photo in my last post, but on the right-hand page is a list of personal goals for the year, and one of them is “achieve normal B.P.” (that is, blood pressure). When I got a full health work-up prior to moving to Colombia, my bp was normal. I even had an EKG – also normal. I was surprised, because I’d had high BP while in Albania and had been monitoring it somewhat, but hadn’t followed up with the clinic to get a prescription for something to lower it. Then after we moved here, I realized that I felt “off” enough that I checked it a couple times and it was high. Bogotá is, according to wikipedia, the 3rd-highest capital city in the world, at 8,600 feet. What I didn’t realize was that altitude affects blood pressure.

It’s also a wet, cool place. We’ve all been battling runny noses, coughs, and general respiratory illnesses since moving here last November. But one Friday afternoon a few weeks ago I developed a sore throat so bad I didn’t even want to eat, it hurt that much to swallow. I woke up all night long from the pain of swallowing my saliva in my sleep. That following Sunday we traveled to Guatemala for a week of meetings with our work counterparts from the Latin America region (I really enjoyed the meetings, apart from being sick, and from Oz having a fever for 4 nights and 3 days). Midweek my sore throat abated only to be replaced by a rattling chest cough. I was so exhausted and unwell on the trip back, it was all I could do not to cry in the airports.

So the last Monday in April I went to a walk-in clinic where I was diagnosed with bronchitis and put on a course of antibiotics. Little by little I was getting better… but then Gimli went on another work trip, 9 days away, and it was just too much. I started getting these awful headaches… and then the headache stuck, and wouldn’t go away. I was kind of freaking out, talked with Gimli on the phone, and he urged me to go back to the clinic and get checked out. I scrambled to find babysitters (our regular sitter was also out sick), went, and learned that my blood pressure was at 170/120.

No wonder I felt like crap.

The doctor wanted to hospitalize me immediately. I said I can’t, my husband is traveling and I have two small kids at home. He said ok, but had me come in for blood tests and an EKG at 7 a.m. the following morning. Thankfully one of the girls on our team said she could come over in the morning early and watch the kids. So that’s what I did. I got a prescription for a beta-blocker similar to what I was on when I was pregnant and had preeclampsia, and orders to rest and eat “ZERO SALT.”

The next day Gimli came home, and by evening my headache eased away.

Right now I’m feeling SO much better. I’m learning how to prepare “ZERO SALT” meals and snacks although I’m hungry a lot of the time, and the whole papaya I ate yesterday did a number on my digestive tract… but at the same time, I’m super excited! I’m really excited to learn how to do those nutrition-rich green juices people do, and to fill the kitchen with a cornucopia of fruits and vegetables. Yesterday I made a delicious tomato-based thing I used to do with garlic, onions, and fresh ginger root, adding in spinach too, and even without salt it was really yummy (over unsalted rice). I feel like I’m taking really positive, long-overdue steps towards being healthier.

I was talking just last week with my life coach about wanting to live in a way that I’m not in survival mode so much of the time. I feel like this little crisis has actually put me on a path towards that very thing.


March 12, 2013

This long-awaited landmark. I’ve been thinking about this date for two years or so now, wondering where in the world I’d be, wondering what I’d be doing. You’d think at this age I’d have some of those things figured out, settled.

I’m 40 today. I’ve been thinking of myself as 40 for a while, but at the same time holding the knowledge that this actual date, this actual birthday, feels like a really big deal. I don’t really have plans, other than lunch with my boss and wearing a purple scarf Gimli brought me back from Afghanistan. I’d kind of like to get a hair cut, and a nap would be nice if I could fit it in. I wonder if anyone will get me a cake?

There are silver strands in my hair that weren’t there a year ago.  My face is dark from the equatorial Andean sun, and the lines seem starker and clearer than they did just a few months ago. I’m still breastfeeding, although both my kids are in school. My weight seems to have stabilized at a level I feel comfortable with, for my age. I wear no makeup, no jewelry except for my wedding ring. I don’t shave anything (but I do tweeze my eyebrows).

Next Monday I’m doing a goal-setting exercise with my life coach (who continues to be awesome). I’m really looking forward to that. I ended up making new year’s resolutions of sorts last year at my birthday rather than January 1, so it feels apropos.

I find myself thinking over the past decade – all the twists and turns that took place in the last ten years. When I turned 30, I was working at an intercultural youth-serving organization in Virginia; I quit shortly after in order to do some work with my husband’s university, leading a group of 30 students on a semester-abroad program. That experience was so emotionally taxing that I went into a significant depression for about six months afterwards. I was also sad that at at 30 I hadn’t yet had a baby although we didn’t start trying until I was 32. Then came three years of experiencing infertility, in the midst of which I began and then quit yet another job at another youth-serving organization. I started grad school again, pursuing the PhD in Anthropology (that I’m still working on). I had two babies while in this program. then my husband quit his university job, we moved to Albania, and two years later took this joint position in Colombia, where we find ourselves now.

So in ten years I’ve been a social service program worker, unemployed writer, university instructor, grad student, infertile, pregnant, stay-at-home mom, and now I’m back in the field that dominated my 20s – international development worker.

I wonder what roles and revisions the next ten years will bring?

The Missing Piece

January 20, 2013

The other day I walked home from work with an almost buoyant feeling, somehow feeling both uplifted and grounded at the same time. Something has fallen into place in the last month. I no longer stand in front of the stove staring stupidly at the burners, trying to remember what I need to do next in order to make dinner. Instead I move smoothly through the motions, knowing in my limbs where everything is, reaching and turning, chopping and stirring, without having to stop and think (too much). I feel calm and collected enough to feel like weekends are actually relaxing, and I have spare mental RAM for thinking about some home-improvement projects that just a month ago felt beyond my reach, overwhelming.

And I am loving my job. Gimli is too – for years we’ve wanted to work together, and now we are sharing a leadership position and finding our way into it in a way that feels energizing and fun. I love walking to and from work with him, talking about our team and projects and partner organizations, constructing our shared vision for how we want to move the program forward in the next five years. It’s been profoundly satisfying to meet some personnel challenges head-on and to feel like I did a really good job with it. It’s been richly rewarding to be able to fall fluidly into Spanish again, to be able to perform the more ceremonial aspects of the position with ease. And I haven’t seen him this happy with work for ages.

And I really like our team. It’s an intercultural group, 25 people from 6 different countries, with all the richness and challenges that brings. In early November we had a team retreat outside the capital and I found myself near tears a few times, feeling like I’ve finally found it – I’ve found my tribe again. There’s a shared ethos that combines spirituality with commitment to social justice work that just nails it for me – hits a sweet spot where my heart of hearts just feels a deep sense of rightness, of this is where I want to be, this is where I belong.

I have yet to find a good, consistent time and place for personal writing (you may have noticed) or dissertation work. I have a plan, though, for when the kids start pre-school in a few weeks. (Eek!) In the meantime, I’ve committed to spending 15-20 minutes after the kids go to bed listening to music and writing. This – writing time – is my missing piece right now, and I realized that the desire to create something archive-worthy was holding me back from actually doing it. So I’ve refocused my intention with regards to writing, to treat it as a way of giving myself a warm, calming hug at the end of the day.

The one thing that makes this possible is that Gimli has taken on nigh-parenting duties and as a result we are all sleeping much better. It’s been a tremendous gift.

So that’s where I am right now. Glad and thankful.

Bogota: What It’s Like (For Me)

January 5, 2013


In October, I was caught in a downpour during which my camera got wet – and the automatic lens cover won’t open all the way, ever since. Hence the dark shadow in the corner of many of my photos.



Our kitchen, and the two inexplicably side-by-side bathroomsDSC07820

Whimsical cat planterDSC07824

Small town outside BogotaDSC07842


One of my favorite things about our life here: the playground 1/2 block away:

View from our bedroom window – the trees there are on the National University grounds.DSC07891

Christmas candles in our fireplace:DSC07935

Christmas lights seen from a friend’s apartment window:DSC07954

View of the city from Monterrate, an historic church on a mountainside.DSC07979

Detail of the building our office is in:DSC07997

Graffiti on the street our office is on (in the far distance, beyond the banana stalk, it says “Mas Paz” – More Peace.)DSC07998

Where I catch the bus to go home:DSC08000


Oz’s Christmas present (the rugs and cars):

Check out Bloodsigns for more What It’s Like Here posts…

… or here and here for the ones I did in Tirana.


Culture Shock (*now with more linky love!)

January 4, 2013

I’m a veteran of transcultural living; perhaps at some level I thought culture shock didn’t apply to me anymore. I certainly thought that Colombia, being Latin America and sharing a border with Peru, would feel like home. But I’ve been overwhelmed with longing for Albania… the last thing I expected to feel upon coming here.

I had felt so ready to leave. I felt “done.” I knew I would miss Dhurata, but that didn’t feel like enough of a reason to stay on another year, so very far from my family of origin. I so looked forward to the familiarity of Latin American culture and the sounds of Spanish.

Today as I walked to lunch with  Gimli I looked up and saw laundry hanging from a balcony high over the city streets and I smiled, because it reminded me of Tirana. When we got back to the office I googled “culture shock.” My body has been registering strong symptoms of anxiety – difficulty sleeping, a tingling feeling in my face, headaches – and I’ve been persistently haunted by thoughts of how much better life was in Albania… more and more easily accessible fresh produce; a better apartment; a close relationship with a dear friend who also watched my children and helped me clean the house.

In the past, when I’ve shepherded university students through cross-cultural adjustment, I’ve given them lists of things to do to ease through culture shock: get enough sleep. Eat well. Exercise. Pay attention to the things you like and appreciate about your new context. Find ways to do the things you enjoyed doing at home. Care for your mental and emotional health, whatever that means for you.

So I’ve been trying to list the things I like about Bogota. The fact is, I feel much happier about living in Colombia whenever I have a chance to get out of the city… But there are things I do like. I like being fluent in the language. I like the bakery next to our office. I love the foods I can get here that I couldn’t in Albania, or very expensively in the US – papaya, mango, pineapples, avocados. I love the “typical” regional foods – a wonderful soup called “ajiaco” with chicken, potatoes, corn, flavored with capers and cream; fried plantains; fresh-squeezed guava juice. I like the public transport system – amazingly sophisticated and efficient compared to what I’m used to in other parts of Latin America.

I’m thankful it’s been so sunny since we’ve been here! Our previous impression of Bogota was constant clouds, cold, and drizzle, but the weather has been wonderful (climate change? Or just seasonal variation we weren’t exposed to before?).

I also love that the work we are doing is something I feel like I can really get behind, whole-heartedly. More on that in a future post, perhaps.

In terms of self-care, I know I need to take this down-time to pay attention to my emotional journey. I’m going to pick up again with the coaching I’ve been doing with my SIL, and I want (need) to resume blogging (and commenting on personal blogs) and personal writing. I need to figure out how to get more and better sleep. Yesterday when Gimli and I came to the office, there was nobody else here… so I lay down in the guest room we have for out-of-town volunteers to use when they’re in the city… and slept for six hours. Worker renewal.

I’ve enrolled both kids in a preschool just around the corner from our house. They start February 1. I’m terrified. More on that in a future post, to be sure.

And I’ll be doing a “What It’s Like Here” post a la Bloodsigns soon… I need to take more photos around the city… although I still feel a little wary of hauling out my camera on random city streets… but something will go up soon.

Last but not least, a grateful thanks to my top four commenters of 2012 (the fifth was myself!):

Jjiraffe – Faces of ALI, fashionista, mother of twins, and my first URL -> IRL friend (along with Esperanza) 🙂

Rachel – Raspberry Chip, baker, seamstress, faithful friend

St. Elsewhere – Intrepid woman, word artist

Tara – I miss you.


November 18, 2012

Thank you, Jjiraffe and Esperanza for taking the risk to meet a virtual stranger for tea this afternoon! It was so surreal to meet you in person after following your blogs for awhile – I can’t remember how long, actually; certainly long enough to get a sense of your online personas, the struggles you’ve chosen to share with the bloggy world, your families, your concerns. It was a pleasure to see you in 3D (and to realize, E, that your sidebar photo does NOT do you justice! The more recent photos in the “snuggles” post are so much more what you look like in person! I.e., beautiful :-)) This is the first time I’ve ever met in person people I’ve only known previously online. So worth it.

Today I also met three scholars whose work I’ve read and cited often. I was really nervous about it, knowing I’d have to really “bring it” with my own presentation (since we were all on a -gulp! – panel together), and it was relief that I found them to be cordial, genial, and easy to talk to (well, 2 of the 3 were. The other introduced himself as a neurotic misanthrope – his words, not mine! – so I knew that one was going to be an uphill battle…but he warmed up by the end).

Two women, blogging friends – three men, academic heavyweights. Parallel streams in my life intersecting in the small space of this amazing city. It’s no wonder I’m exhausted to the core of my being, right?

More anon.


November 14, 2012

I’m sitting in the lap of luxury right now. I’m cuddled up in a hotel bed with my laptop and a mini-carton of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, with nothing to do until 10:00 a.m. tomorrow. I’m going to write, read blogs, maybe find something to watch on TV while I knit. I haven’t watched TV in… I can’t remember how long. Years, I think. The only thing I’m worried about is falling asleep before I can fully soak up the pleasure of this mini-vacation before my conference starts tomorrow.

Ooh! The Simpsons is on!

So. Colombia. Two weeks in, I don’t even know how to summarize the kaleidoscope of work and family life. It’s a huge, dirty, noisy city with spots of loveliness, like the purple bougainvillea gracing our front gate. We’re in a second-floor apartment that’s still in a state of chaos since we’ve been spending so much time in the office (usually with the kids in tow while they get to know the nanny). We’re still figuring out where to get our shopping done and how to find time to do housework. The kids have been amazingly resilient and accepting of all the vagaries of our new life. It’s really helped that we’ve had two national holidays during the first 10 days to just spend time with them at home settling in. And there’s a sweet little playground just half a block from the house that they love.

I miss not having wireless internet at the apartment, that makes it harder to keep connected with you all. We’ll get it soon, I hope.

Tomorrow I put my academic hat back on. Should be fun 🙂

Puttering on rainy weekends, autumn days that make you feel sad

October 19, 2012

I’m in Ithaca. For just one day. I drove down from my aunt’s house early this morning, but not nearly early enough – got a little lost downtown (it’s been three years since I’ve been here!) and was ten minutes late to my first meeting – I also didn’t think to grab an umbrella and got soaking wet. It’s good to be here. In a lot of ways I wish this was still my life… hunkering down in the warmly-lit library to work through horrible weather, meeting friends for lunch, surrounded by brainy people doing interesting intellectual work. It’s easy to feel that way right now, I think, with the adrenaline rush still singing in my veins from running to my meeting through the rain.

My kids, my husband, and my parents are all at my aunt’s farmette today, hopefully having a ton of fun. We’re spending the weekend with friends and family in the area, driving back to VA Monday. Then ten days until we move to Colombia.

It’s all good.

Do you know the Dar Williams song, Southern California Wants to Be Western New York? It’s so perfect:

…and there’s another part of the country with a land that gently creaks and thuds

where the heavy snows make faucets leak in bathrooms with free standing tubs

and there are houses that are haunted with the kids who lie awake and think

about other generations past who used to use that dripping sink

Sometimes Southern California wants to be Western New York

Wants to have a family business in sheet metal or power tools

And it wants to have a diner where the coffee tastes like diesel fuel

Wants to have a snow day that will turn the parents into kids

And it wants to know the glory of a town they say has hit the skids

And it’s embarrassed but it’s lusting after a SUNY student with mousy brown hair

Who is taking out the compost, making coffee in long underwear

But I hear they’ve got a theme park planned to make you gasp and say

I bet that crumbling mill town was a booming mill town in its day

And they’ll have puttering on rainy weekends, autumn days that make you feel sad

And a-hundred-year-old plumbing and the family you never had

There’s something about the trees here, the forest and farm smells, the down-at-the-heels rural rust belt feel that feels like home. My dad’s family is from these parts for generations back – one of our ancestors came on the Mayflower. My grandfather’s potato farm was our home in the US when I was growing up. My uncle and cousin still farm it. Part of why I came here for grad school was feeling connected to this place, to the people, the land.

I’m hoping that my in-laws’ home in Virginia will be like that for my kids. Oz was born there, and it’s becoming a place to return to. It’s a wierd thing, being a “third-culture” kid – you end up feeling profoundly connected to disparate places, while never entirely being “from” there.

So. Ten days until Colombia. Am I crazy for feeling good about going?