Archive for the ‘community’ 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.



March 11, 2013

Putting up the bat-signal for Laine at Anona-mom, who is experiencing serious and scary pregnancy complications. I know she would appreciate your prayers.


March 8, 2013

Beyond tired. Cried three times in 24 hours, twice over silly things. The other time, I was in the middle of interpreting a presentation (Spanish to English) for a group of Canadian pastors whom we are hosting for what our organization calls a “learning tour.” Part of what they are learning about here is the complicity of Canadian mining companies in widespread land grabs throughout Colombia, contributing to the displacement of hundreds of thousands of people. The mining companies take advantage of the armed conflict between guerrillas, paramilitaries, and the actual Colombian military (which are ALL hand in glove with the narcotrafficants) to move into depopulated areas, and it is just incredibly complicated and messy. Anyway. We were visiting one of our partner organizations that works mostly in advocacy with communities that are under threat and trying to hold on to or reclaim their agricultural land, and they began describing the phenomenon of ” false positives” – something that began happening a few years ago when the previous administration began offering cash incentives to soldiers for killing guerrillas. These are mostly 18-year-olds, people… someone shaved their heads and shoved automatic weapons into their hands and told them they are heroes if they rack up a body count. So they did. Thousands of civilians were killed, dressed in combat fatigues, and dumped into common graves.

I was chugging along with the interpretation, but suddenly the mental image – mass graves of young men’s bodies, none of whom were actually guerrillas (and even if they had been, were still their mother’s sons) – slammed into me and I couldn’t go on. I choked. Someone else in the group was able to take over for a few minutes while I composed myself (and I was profoundly embarrassed), and then I was able to go on.

I’m not sure why it affected me so much, this is something I knew about, I knew this all had happened – there’s something different about having to say it out loud. It made me think about a book I’d read by a journalist who covered the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa, in which she recounts the secondary trauma experienced by interpreters at the TRC – interpreting the stories of the victims in the first person deeply traumatized the people who were hearing and repeating the stories.

This was such a small sliver of what that must have been like. And obviously nothing compared to living it – displacement, massacres, threats. But I think it’s important to somehow stay connected. I need to remember why I’m here. That our work here is about supporting processes of healing and reconciliation in the middle of all this violence.

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.



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.

More of What It’s Like Here

July 18, 2012

Geez, that was a screed. I’m still kind of astonished anybody made it to the end – let alone commented. Anyway, I was looking through my collection of photos of Albania – a sort of a pre-nostalgia ritual, I guess – and wanted to do another “What it’s like here” collection.

I went back to the first one I did and took out the photos I’d uploaded without permission, that were not mine to upload – my MIL had taken then and I got them when we swapped photos at the end of their visit last December. So I think you’ll see the old post again in your feed if you have me in one.

This collection is not shaped by season, as it contains photos taken at many different points in our Balkan sojourn. Rather, I think of it as the slightly voyeuristic collection, because I included a lot of photos of people who didn’t know I was taking their photo…and decided that that’s ok. Hope you enjoy.

The one with (Updated!) links in

May 30, 2012

This post made me really think hard about why I blog, and what I blog about, and the strangely public nature of blogs. I have two blogs – this one (Project Progeny) and a “family” blog where I use our real names and post photos of my children and tell stories about them on a regular basis. A huge part of my motivation in maintaining the family blog is that we live very far from our extended family – my parents, my husband’s parents, and our little nuclear family unit are each on a different continent. So the grandparents loooooooove seeing pictures and reading stories regularly. I also enjoy occasionally directing a wider circle of friends to this blog through facebook as a way of – to be honest – bragging about our international adventures or celebrating milestone birthdays. I’ve even directed readers of Project Progeny there at times, which undermines the anonymity of this blog, but I don’t really care if you all know who I am in real life – as long as the majority of my social network in real life don’t know that I’m here, too. (But more on that anon.)

Project Progeny, in contrast, started out as an anonymous infertility blog, although I’ve been admittedly careless about the information shared here, and anyone who knows us in real life who stumbled across it would probably figure out pretty quickly that it’s me writing. Which makes me squirm a bit.

So that’s some context.

There are two dimensions to the recent conversation on Stirrup Queens regarding blogging about your children that I’ve been pondering, so I’m going to split my response to that into two separate posts. One is from the angle of social science research involving minors, which I think is relevant in terms of ideas about informed consent, and the other is from a more personal perspective on why I blog at all.

In any case, this is what has been turning over and over in my mind when I wake up in the middle of the night so I figure I need to get it out of my head somehow. If you’ve blogged about this recently yourself, please link in the comments because I’d LOVE to read it. (Sharah, and KeAnne, I’ve already got you linked here) 🙂 And of course the inimitable Esperanza who in many ways got this whole ball rolling in the beginning!

Informed consent, minors, and blogging about your children

May 30, 2012

Informed consent and minors

If you have a background in social science at all, this will just be review. But I find it interesting to think about blogging in light of these principles.

What are the basic principles of informed consent in research?

1) The research participant should understand what he or she is agreeing to participate in, and

2) He or she willingly agree to participate.

The fundamental principal is that research participants should not be harmed in the process, and this usually includes being lied to or deceived in some way. The aims of research – scientific knowledge – should not trump the right of a human being not to be harmed.

It sounds simple enough, but research with human participants is always murky and fraught with ambiguity. How do you ensure that participants fully understand what they are getting into, or what the aims of research are? For anthropologists working in other cultural contexts, their co-participants in research (we use words like this now instead of “subject”) may have only the foggiest concept of what Western science is about; it’s just not relevant to them at all. How do you explain, then, what you are up to and why you are hanging about and observing them?

And how can you ensure that your research participants are not in any way feeling coerced into participating? You can tell them, of course, that they have the right to walk away and stop participating at any moment, but do the social norms of basic politeness imply some measure of coercion?

And who decides what “harm” means? If I ask a migrant worker in an apple orchard to tell me the story of her undocumented entrance into the United States, walking across the desert with a baby in her arms, does the trauma that surfaces during the telling constitute harm? Does she fully understand the implications of entrusting me with her story?

Ok, and what about research done with children? Are they capable of understanding what the implications are of my watching them interact with their mom, their teacher, their friends, and recording the things they say? What if their mom tells them they HAVE to let me talk to them, or they’ll be punished in some way? What if I don’t even know that their mom had that conversation with them?

Universities have developed elaborate and involved measure to ensure that the principles of informed consent are respected by anyone conducting research while affiliated with the university, not only to protect research participants but also as a CYA measure. Anything involving minors is given extremely close scrutiny since they are considered a vulnerable population, and the Internal Review Board will watch you like a hawk if you’re working with minors (or prisoners, or the mentally ill).

So what about blogging your life and your children’s lives? Do children understand what the implications are? Do we?

I think for me the point that’s still a little murky is the “harm” bit. What potential harm is being done in posting photos and stories about my children? There are some situations where the researcher and research institution decide that a little bit of harm (e.g. telling someone that the test they’re taking is measuring one thing, when it really measures something else, but if they knew what the true purpose was it would ruin the experiment) is outweighed by the good that would result from creating this scientific knowledge. In the case of my public family blog, I feel like the good that comes of posting pictures and stories – and that is, specifically, fostering relationships with extended family and friends – outweighs the potential harm of them feeling embarrassed by it later. I think. I do worry, though, about potential stalkers or pedophiles finding us via my blog. I have no idea how possible or likely that is, though. I try to be careful about the photos and stories I post, from that angle, though.

So I don’t know. This notion of informed consent has helped me think about blogging about my children since it’s something I’ve had to work with a lot as a social science researcher.

Why blog? Friendship and anonymity on- and off-line

May 30, 2012

I have to admit that my first reaction after reading Mel’s post was just to shut down both my blogs – or at least password protect the family one, but to delete this one. There are things I’ve written here about my husband and in-laws that I wouldn’t really want them to see. And rather than comb through the archives and edit things out, it would just be easier to delete the whole thing.

So I asked myself why blog, instead of just sending out e-mail newsletters to my friends and family?

Before I started this blog, I belonged to a knitting group that met at my next-door neighbor’s house. We were all women, all married, at different stages of family building. What I loved about the group – other than the camaraderie and emotional support there – was the fact that all I had to do was show up. I didn’t have to call ahead to make special plans (I hate making phone calls because I always feel like I’m being rude and interrupting/bothering/annoying whomever I’m calling, no matter how nice they are), and I didn’t have to worry about impinging on another person’s time and space (I always wonder whether someone really wants to hang out with me, or is just being polite), because I knew the woman hosting wanted us there, I knew that whoever came wanted to be there, and I knew I was welcome. It was never exactly the same group every week – people came and went – but there was a core group that was really solid and built close relationships together.

This blog feels like that knitting group. If people are reading, it’s because they want to. I’m not cluttering up anyone’s inbox or annoying them with my unsolicited updates and the contents of my tangled mind; it’s here if anyone wants to stop by and visit, but if you don’t, that’s cool too. Just having one person comment is enough to keep me going.

Then I asked myself why blog, instead of looking for that emotional support and camaraderie offline?

I do think that being part of this online community has lessened my motivation to build in-the-flesh friendships here in Albania. I came here knowing we’d be here a relatively short time, but long enough that it would be worth my time making friends. But it’s been slow, and I think in part it’s been that way because I didn’t feel the need to make friends. I haven’t felt lonely very often, really. Isolated, sometimes, but not really lonely. Part of that, of course, is our awesome nanny, but part of it is being able to access this online community when I need it. Which brings me to my next point.

Blogging can be like a crisis hotline.

I think that’s what a lot of us use it for, and parts of the LFCA reinforce that function as well. Which is all kinds of awesome. Not only do you get extra support during crises, but you can also access the specialized collective knowledge of this vast and heterogeneous online network that is specifically pertinent to our particular issues around infertility, loss, and adoption. I certainly use it that way.

The crisis hotline I used to volunteer at was anonymous; there was no caller ID, and although there was a way to trace calls, it was done through the police department and we only initiated the process if someone’s life was in immediate danger. Anonymity and confidentiality were safeguarded above all, because that was the only way to make sure people would actually call in and get help.

I see a parallel in this world of anonymous ALI blogging. We feel safe sharing intensely personal and raw stories about ourselves when we have that cloak of anonymity. We learn to trust one another with these stories. And yes there are trolls, and yes there are weirdos who steal other people’s stories and images, and there are even (as in any human relationship that is not digitally mediated) misunderstandings, conflicting points of view, judgments, etc. But by and large we trust each other, sometimes to the point of shedding the anonymity and putting our real face and name out there.

Widening the Friendship Net

Another aspect of building a community of support through blogging is that you can cast the friendship net much, much more widely. One thing about making friends here is that options are limited. Either they’re limited by language – you can only go so deep in a friendship when you don’t share a mutual language; or by opportunity – how do I find like-minded women in a big city?; or by circumstance – being connected to a particular church and neighborhood also limits my options. My ability to make friends at church here has been hampered by the fact that I’m not willing to disclose my actual political and spiritual beliefs/opinions/orientations because I’m not willing to risk rejection (basically I’m waaaaay more liberal than they are), and so I end up feeling like I’m living a lie. So it’s partly the fact that I already have friends online, and my options here are limited, so it’s just easier to get the social-emotional support I need online than it is to try to overcome these barriers off-line.

So what should I do? Do I want Project Progeny to become a more intellectual forum, rather than a place to process emotional and family issues? Not really… but I feel like that’s the right thing to do. If I need feedback for processing those kinds of things – I have friends offline who can help me do that, and then it’s not online for my kids to see 20 years from now and feel betrayed and angry about. In fact, I think it will make my offline life better because I’ll be investing more in those friendships, which I think is healthy. I think it’s actually a good thing to be forced to confront the barriers that make it hard for me to make and deepen friendships locally. When I lived off the grid in Bolivia (truly – no electricity or phone at all) I was forced to rely for emotional support on the village women whose lives were so extremely different from mine – but it was really good to do that, in the end. Really good.

I’m in the process of backing up my archives in Word, anyway, so I might just do some heavy editing… or I might just delete everything. I’m not sure yet. I might move to a new space, or I might try to re-name this blog something else. I will definitely remove as many identifying details as I can.

As for my family blog…. I’m not sure, yet. I talked with my husband briefly about going password-protected, and he said that made him feel “sad” but I’m not entirely sure why. I do write it keeping in mind that anybody in the world could be looking at it. There’s a lot I DON’T post about there. But I might open up the discussion there to see what my readers there think.  We’ll see what happens.

Works in Progress, Wednesday

March 28, 2012

I’m not Jewish, nor a DIYer, but I do have some projects in mind for the spring and summer that I thought it would be fun to blog about a little, and I thought Decemberbaby’s WIP Wednesdays would be a fun way to do it. Without further ado, here are my top projects right now:

Potty Training Oz

I think he is so ready. Every time I take his sister to the potty, he follows along and sits on the extra back-up potty we have (fully clothed). Recently he has started pointing at his nethers when he’s doing business in his diaper, complaining about wet diapers more often, and even pulling his own pants up and down.

Progress: Monday I bought underpants, pull-ups, M&M rewards, and some summer T-shirts (all he has now are onesies). I debated about getting him his very own potty, but I didn’t because we already have two, plus a toilet-top ring, and if I did get him one I’m sure his sister would commandeer it anyway. I just have to set a start date and DO IT.

Urban Balcony Garden

We get lots of sun on our balcony all summer; I’ve already started some cilantro seeds in an egg carton, but I need to get some more planters. I don’t mind using cut-open plastic bottles (there’s no recycling here) but I do want a few that are bigger, for bigger plants. I’m saving some cherry tomato seeds to start. I’ll have to buy dirt too. I really want to do a compost bin as well but I know nothing about urban composting. I need to do some web research on this. I’m so tired of throwing out lovely vegetable scraps every day.

Healthier Eating

My New Year’s resolution to eat less meat is going well, but the corollary of eating more fruits and vegetables and less salt is not. I’m exercising LESS and feeling blah. I need to get my husband into better eating habits too. The kids are a challenge right now as they are getting more and more picky….

Progress: I had a bunch of spinach in the freezer that I finally figured out how to use – I made spinach tortillas! It was soooo easy. Too bad Oz spit them out and Illyria refused to even try them. Gimli liked them, and I did too.

I’m not much of a cook – I get into ruts where I cook the same 3-4 dishes in rotation for months (this winter we ate a lot of potato-leek soup, based on the recipe posted by the Yarn Harlot. By “a lot” I mean at least twice a week). So I was happy to do something new. This is how lame a cook I am – this is the very first time I have ever made my own tortillas. Less than a year ago I learned how to make grilled cheese by looking it up on the internet. That is how pathetic a cook I am.

If you have any good, EASY spring-produce recipe ideas I’m all ears – it has to be simple (4 ingredients or less, not counting seasoning; I don’t do yeast; I’m very lazy about measuring anything – I don’t even own measuring cups or spoons right now, I just use kitchen utensils). Bonus if it’s a pasta dish!


I thought I might post some periodic updates here just to keep myself honest. This month SUCKED for dissertation progress. Some was external factors, some was just my own lack of self-discipline. I’m not going to meet my work-hour goals this month. I’m not even done transcribing my interviews. (In other words, when people ask me how the dissertation-writing is going… I haven’t even STARTED the writing part.) I’m starting to get excited, though, about getting back into reading theory, and beginning to dig into analysis. It is harder to track progress with those things, but on the whole it’s a lot more interesting work!