Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category


November 1, 2018

Ok so, we didn’t get the bid, although we got the “bronze medal” – third place. I wrote to ask how we could improve our proposals in the future, and they said we were outranked by a team with more experience/credentials specific to the field the project focused on (gender and domestic violence). I guess I feel good that we went for it, and I’m actually fine with not getting it… Gimli is traveling outside the country for 3 weeks, and I will be leaving on a trip just as he gets back – so the timing would have been pretty stressful and tricky. I don’t sleep well when he’s gone; actually today is the first day since he left 9 days ago that I actually feel rested and with enough energy to do some work. Just in time for November!

I set up a regular conference call with a friend who is also combining writing and parenting, to keep each other motivated and on track (she lives in Colombia so we can’t meet in person). It’s so helpful.

So it feels like a good day to set some new goals, re-engage with my meditation practice, exercise some self-discipline and enjoy the work.


Work and Love

October 19, 2018

Yesterday I hit “Send” on an email, putting in a bid for a program evaluation for an NGO here. My prospective co-evaluator M sat next to me, taking deep breaths and then a cigarette to calm her nerves, but I felt serene.

It didn’t start out that way though.

When my husband sent me the call for proposals, I read through it, thought “that’s do-able,” and then had to do some serious introspection to figure out how I really felt about it. What was my body telling me? I read the Terms of Reference and felt nausea as I scanned through the standard formatting – the list of acronyms, objectives, deliverables – just the language of it took me back to March when I was beyond miserable working on another evaluation for an NGO in Albania. During that awful time I thought about leaving my husband; we all got sick, it was just the worst.

But then I thought, this one could be different. And maybe I should give it a chance to be a different experience.

So… I decided to go for it. On Sunday, my husband took the kids to church and lunch and park while I worked for about 4 hours on the proposal, and after a bit of frustrated venting via text about just some of the idiocies of the nonprofit industry (seed grants that are somehow supposed to magically transform into “sustainable” sources of funding? It just doesn’t work that way) things kind of started to flow.

When I look at my CV, I even impress myself, so why do I always look at myself through this lens of deficit? You know what, I was taught to look at myself this way. My favorite teacher in high school once said in a church meeting, “Oh, but I love worm theology” (the idea that sinful humans are lowly as worms, to God be the glory, we deserve hell, we owe eternal life and salvation to Jesus, etc.). I have a hard time remembering that this belief is something I learned, but that doesn’t mean it’s true.

Anyway, with the job, the timing is awkward – I’ll be at a conference + visiting my sister for a 10-day period in the middle of the data collection phase – but I feel good about my colleague, and she badly wants the work.

And that was definitely a factor in deciding to go for it – I don’t need this, and in some ways I’d be a little relieved if we don’t get it – but if in doing this project I can help out a friend, I’m in.


The other story – on a completely different note – happened yesterday, too.

So a few weeks ago I took Illyria to a hospital here for a brain MRI. It was kind of traumatic for her, she had to have oxygen and to feel my hand on her leg to get through it. It was incredibly loud and strange. (I’m happy to tell you more about what we learned via e-mail – e.phantzi at yahoo if you want to write me.) So yesterday when the kids were playing with their leopard family stuffies I pricked my ears up as a parallel scenario developed there, with one of the leopard children.

The mother leopard, Lea, couldn’t figure out why rainbows would flash into existence whenever she hugged or cuddled Leopardy, who is also the only one of her children that is pink and purple. The parents each have elemental powers that combine differently in their children, but Leopardy had never shown signs of any of the expected powers – like lighting speed, or being able to produce endless heat. So she called the doctor for a house visit, and the doctor referred them to a scientist who could tell them more. Lea took Leopardy to the lab, where the scientist (a fawn) examined him and showed the results on a giant screen.

[I was holding my breath – what would the results be?? I just felt like this was going to tell me something crucial about how Illyria sees herself and the MRI experience.]

“Your son has a very unique structure,” the fawn told Lea. “It’s something I’ve never seen before. Every cell of his body is filled with and made of love.”


October 8, 2018

I’ve been binge-listening to Harry Potter and the Sacred Text podcast, it is THE BEST.

(Thank you, Tara)

There is a great story during the live show recording for Book Three, Chapter 17 – (Prisoner of Azkaban, “Cat, Rat, and Dog”) told by guest Scott Perlo, which you can listen to here starting at 40:11. It brought me to tears with the idea of whatever it is you do, do with all your heart and do it with joy and love, even if it’s being a thief.

I was re-telling it to my husband, about how I was hearing this message while my hands were at work mixing oatmeal with honey and dried berries and lots of other stuff for granola bars, and I wondered if this was it; this is the thing I’m meant to be pouring my energy into. This work of child-rearing. I don’t think it is the whole of the thing. But it is a good part of the thing.

When we think of vocation, do we think of One Thing?

When I was a teenager, I never thought of my life in terms of a career. I think now that that’s in part due to my evangelical upbringing, where as a girl I was never encouraged to think of myself as a future professional in some field. I was encouraged to go to college, but nudged only towards being a high school English teacher or a missionary (maybe to Russia! That was what my dad wanted). I was encouraged to envision my future as supporter and helper of my husband.

And that’s actually a good percentage of what I’m doing now. Some tiny part of my feels a little bit of relief, that just maybe in case everything I was taught as a child turns out to be true after all (it’s a very tiny bit of me that thinks this) then I’m safe, then I’m doing the right thing. Cooking, cleaning, grocery shopping, homework help, doctor’s appointments, haircuts, organizing the carpool and after-school activities… so that my husband can work 3 jobs and financially support us while making the world a better place… and most of the time it actually feels really good. I feel like I’m doing the right thing.

But is this my vocation? I also never saw myself as being solely a “homemaker.” I’ve always felt a strong sense of having a role to play in, well, making this world a better place, somehow. And not just by raising kids but more directly. This was my guiding light through years of doing community development, non-profit, and social service work. Even my PhD work had this notion of influencing people to think differently about immigrants and refugees, to deepen our understanding of what welcome means, what incorporation means. So now I have hours of unstructured time at home, because the work of raising the kids does not take all day, and I don’t have a job. They go to school, and I have help with the housework. So I’ve been writing. But I haven’t been diving in with the same full abandon with which I’ve given myself to work I’ve done in the past. It feels… tentative. And I’m not sure what that means.


September 26, 2018

The earth tilts us into Fall; the full moon over the equinox and then cool, cool mornings and a shift in the slant of the light over the city. Yesterday afternoon I walked under rows of sunlit linden trees, the green going gold over my head and I felt… blessed. I love this city, but if I try to articulate the reasons, I can apply the itemized list to dozens of other places I have lived or visited, without the same affection having blossomed. It’s kind of like terroir I guess.

A young woman I follow on Twitter, Hannah Paasch, tweeted this earlier this month (screenshot because I couldn’t figure out how to embed the link):

Screen Shot 2018-09-26 at 08.25.19 am

It’s my new mantra. I thought of it this morning related to information that we got earlier this week about Illyria – we have learned some medical information that explains so much about certain things she struggles with, things I thought she did poorly because she wasn’t trying, or wasn’t paying attention, or I don’t know why, are all explained with this one thing – and it feels like a new room has opened in my mind, a place to look at, explore, and understand all these things about my beloved daughter that have been perplexing or frustrating. I’m not worried or fearful because over time I’ve only seen her get better at these things. It helps me to know that these things ARE harder for her than for other kids her age; she’s not JUST being lazy or stubborn (although she is capable of both those moods, to be sure). We’ve shared the information with her teacher, who has responded so supportively.

Over the weekend Illyria made an amazing model for her science class about the effects of DDT, using pipe cleaners to fashion a pair of cardinals on a nest – the male bringing a worm in his beak – and then of course the dead bird, broken egg. The project was about Rachel Carson and the birth of environmental science. I see a future for her in this – she is passionate about tree planting, clean air, environmental protection. It’s so cool seeing her express this, and to get a better idea of how to direct her interests going forward.

Today is the first day this week I’ve had for solitude and writing time at home by myself. It is a golden day.


September 20, 2018

I remember the early morning stillness, before the jungle heat set in to bake the roads and rooftops, and my family were all still asleep. I would sit in the living room – or kneel on the rug – to read my Bible, journal, and pray. Every day. Then I would make breakfast for everyone: toast, scrambled eggs, hot chocolate or coffee. Yep, I was a super pious teen. Even though I cringe a bit now at how sanctimonious I must have been (I wrote a paper for a school speech contest on how The Simpsons was ruining society by promoting disrespect towards authority – good grief, I must have been insufferable!) I can also feel a fond compassion for that earnest girl, who for several weeks one year met the challenge of praying for two hours every day – believing so hard that this act would change the world. Who knows, maybe it did.

And there was plenty of public affirmation and reward for this piety; in my high school girls’ Sunday School class (yes, we were separated into sex-segregated groups starting in 9th grade) we earned points for doing our daily devotions (aka “quiet time,” or “quiet time with the Lord”) as well as memorizing Bible verses and I don’t know what else. I won a blue fluffy bunny! I was also named “Student of the Year” at my Christian school, 10th grade and 12th grade.

Now I get zero brownie points, no trophies or stuffed toys. So I’m relying on the intrinsic benefits of daily meditation and putting the phone away so I can get better sleep. It’s helping. Yesterday I was working myself into a tizzy over something I said to someone in an e-mail, imagining their reactions and raking myself over the coals for not being as forthright as I feel like I should have been, imagining this person’s conversations with other people who know us both, about me, of course, and all my errors and omissions – Slightly ridiculous, yes? I got into a weird spiral where I couldn’t tell if it was really my honest intuition pinging me a needed warning, or that self-loathing part of my brain that just lies to me all the time about how worthless I am.

But I was able to yank myself out of it with a breathing meditation (I’m using the Smiling Minds app because it was free), and it gave me the needed perspective. Yes, I should have been more forthright, but probably nobody is talking about me. It was a small thing and will probably remain a small thing. If it bothers the other person, then they’ll get back to me and we can move on from there.

Overall, I feel calmer, happier. Nothing like the dark well of angst of this past summer. And I’ve been making myself daily affirmation slides, combining affirmations with photos I’ve taken. Here are a few to start your day.

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And this quote from Songs of Kabir:

Listen carefully,

Neither the Vedas Nor the Qur’an

Will teach you this:

Put the bit in its mouth,

The saddle on its back,

Your foot in the stirrup

And ride your wild runaway mind

All the way to heaven.

Random thoughts on wellbeing

September 11, 2018

I just finished eating a truly delicious breakfast: avocado omelette, watermelon-ginger-blackberry-peach smoothie, blackberry bran muffin, coffee. I made it all myself! And I feel a good 40% happier than before I ate it.

Tuesdays seem to be easier to handle than Mondays.

Sleep is so key to wellbeing.

I worry a lot about Illyria. My meditation app says that since I started this program I’ve meditated for 18 hours and 28 minutes (although some of that was my husband using it for the sleep meditation). I think it has a net positive effect on my overall baseline happiness level – or, to put it another way, the world feels a little lighter, a little more richly hued, softer, better. I wish I could get my kids to meditate with me more often.

But as I finished this morning’s meditation I felt a physical sensation on my chest, like a heavy flat piece of stone resting on my sternum. In my mind were two pictures of Illyria when she was about a year old, taken by her nanny at the time – “a rare smile!” the nanny had captioned it. Another picture, another day, showed her looking forlornly through the screen door, all melancholy. I think this was closer to her baseline state when she was away from me. Knowing what I know now about attachment, about my daughter’s own particularities, I wonder if I would have done the same thing trying to continue my graduate work after she was born? She still wants me to sleep next to her, she wants me to hold her hand or put my hand on her back as she drifts off to sleep. She wants to see me there when she wakes up in the night.

There are a lot of things I wish I had done differently, but I did the best I could with what I knew at the time.

I once asked a friend in undergrad if he was glad he’d majored in philosophy, since he seemed, I don’t know, pained by it in some way (I later learned more about his personal life that makes me think this pain probably came from our evangelical college’s stances on what we euphemistically called “lifestyle” issues at the time). But he thought for a moment and then said, “I feel glad in the way that you would be glad you had had heart surgery. It’s not something you enjoy, but without it you might die. You need it.”

That notion has stayed with me for a long time. How hard and painful things can be necessary for life, for thriving.

What heart surgery do I need to do today?

Baby Val

imposter syndrome (and other various things in my life right now)

September 4, 2018

[Bottom line up front – if you haven’t checked out the podcast Harry Potter and the Sacred Text, it’s amazing. Give it a listen – you won’t be sorry! Thanks Tara for the recommendation!]

We all get imposter syndrome sometimes, right? Now that I’m finally alone with myself for an extended stretch of time, those howling inner voices are really screaming – telling me my doctorate was not legitimate (my committee just passed me to get rid of me); I’m a fraud as an evaluator (I can’t do quantitative analysis worth beans); I know nothing deep about the country I’m living in; I exist on a superficial plane, all surface, no substance.

My goal for this season in my life is to get my name in print. I have a list as long as my arm of projects and ideas, all under development in different stages – a children’s fantasy, an edited volume in my doctoral field, a combination oral history/memoir, a post-apocalyptic world, several articles for journals and/or conferences coming up in the next two years.

I’m so jealous of what I see as “real writers,” anyone and everyone who is promoting their work on twitter – why can’t I be you?

Why can’t I?

It is unbelievable the amount of freedom and support I have to do this, though. My husband is working three jobs to cover our cost of living, private school for the kids, and plenty left over for travel and extras. He likes it, and he’s at the stage in his career where he’s in high demand – he has to turn down at least 4-5 projects a year because he just doesn’t have time to do it all and still be present with the family. Financially, I don’t need to work, although I’d still like to be teaching, like, one university level class.

Since moving back to Albania, I’ve embraced the stay/work-at-home mom thing in ways that have astonished both me and Gimli – especially with the cooking. In Colombia, he did basically all the cooking (to the point to where I felt like he was controlling everything I ate). Now he just cooks on weekends, and I do all the meal planning (like, a weekly menu! It’s so much fun!), and nearly all the housework. I know part of it is living in the home of an Albanian family, who are solidly traditional in terms of gender roles – and Albanian women are extremely house-proud, so this has forced me to step up my game. Even scrubbing the front steps! There is something strangely satisfying about it.

I suppose after all those years working for peace in Colombia,* it is super satisfying to do work where you see immediate, tangible results – where you can directly see the results of your labor as dirt and crud gets washed away, as a peaceful and tidy home emerges from the elbow grease.

A few months ago the kids found a video on the iPad that they had recorded in Colombia, a tour of our apartment, and I was HORRIFIED at how chaotic, messy, cluttered, and dirty it was. MORTIFIED. Just… piles of STUFF on every surface, all the pets (we had a guinea pig, two hamsters, and four birds – all in the living room), beds unmade, toys all over the floor… It reflected my inner life, to be sure.

So I’m working in being more self-disciplined now too. I stopped playing Candy Crush, stopped surfing Twitter before bed, am working on establishing a steady meditation/yoga practice in the mornings. I have a pretty good rhythm going with the housework (and, full disclosure, I have help twice a week for dusting and floors), and we’ve started the kids on a real, actual chores schedule. So, the discipline and order of their school schedule really helps give real structure to my life as well.

I’ve been listening to a podcast recommended by a dear friend, called Harry Potter and the Sacred Text; in one of the episodes Vanessa Zoltan says something about “a karmic gift you give your future self” – I can’t remember what she was referring to exactly, but it was along the lines of applying self-discipline in not-fun ways that pay off in the future. Anyway, I think about it with sleep. My sleep habits while in the US were ABYSMAL. I couldn’t stand the company of my miserable thoughts, so I would web surf til 2 or 3 a.m. (which, omg, SO DEPRESSING) and then force myself awake before 8 to get the kids breakfast. I can’t live on that. So by sequestering myself from my phone at night, and avoiding alcohol, I have actually been able to live my days with energy and alertness instead of dragging through on coffee and miserable willpower.

So, somehow I’ve managed to write myself out of the funk I was in when I sat down here at my desk this morning. Let’s keep this pivot going then – here are three things I feel good about myself for today:

~  Yesterday through two phone conversations in Albanian, and one in English, I organized a new school pick-up system for the greater good of all involved.

~  Yesterday I made banana bran muffins for snacks and meatballs for the school lunches that both turned out YUM.

~ Today I will meditate and that will make me happier.

~  I remind myself that I am a good person, worthy to be loved, capable of doing good work.

Peace out.



*If you don’t follow the news on Colombia, the peace deal that was brokered between the government and the leading guerrilla group after 60 years of conflict, well, it has not lived up to its promise for a lot of complicated reasons that mostly boil down to greed and the extreme lucrativeness of the cocaine industry, and basically nothing in recent politics points to anything hopeful. So, that sucks.  

Peace and Quiet

August 31, 2018

Finally – at home alone, no appointments, no interruptions, no big errands to run today – just a couple of phone calls – and it’s Friday so I don’t have to think about dinner and packing lunches for tomorrow, hallelujah and hurray.

We’re getting our sea legs for this school year, still. A good first day, but when the adrenaline rush was over Illyria especially has been depleted, worn out, and cranky. She possibly has an ear infection, something anyway, which we’ll get looked at tomorrow morning, which I can only assume is affecting her energy and mood (no pain, no fever, but hearing is reduced). But Oz is having a lot of fun; his biggest complaint is that I don’t salt his lunch enough.

I’m focusing a lot of energy on improving our eating habits. We all gained weight while in the US, as we always do; now we are walking a lot more again, and I started using a mindfulness app to launch myself into what I hope becomes a steady meditation discipline and practice. Illyria was so down on herself yesterday; just so much negative self-talk – wishing she was somebody else, somebody thinner, older, cooler – it hurts my heart, and so acutely reflects my own inner monologue… I want to help her get out of this spiral too. So grocery shopping, meal planning, cooking and packing lunches has consumed more of my time than usual. What I’ve been doing is doubling amounts of what I make for dinner and packing half in their lunch (they have access to a microwave if they want to heat their lunch at school).

My intellectual side feels a little starved. I haven’t done any serious writing or reading in too long. I’m dredging up the dormant projects, looking to see what needs to be prioritized.

Meanwhile, perfecting my breakfast muffin game.



Mother, Scholar, Witch?

August 27, 2018

When I put the purple witch’s hat on my head, I knew it was mine. When I added a black costume cloak I felt a surge of contentment and happiness for the first time since arriving in Virginia this summer.

I don’t think I mentioned it here, but we moved back to Albania a year ago, with a “let’s see how this goes” mindset, and by spring realized that all our conversations about “next year” presumed staying on. Yet the day we left was one of the worst days I’ve had here; I got into a shouting match with our landlady’s son (who lives on the floor below) about who could have access to our flat while we were gone – about a 2-month time span. Ugh, I won’t go into the whole play by play but it was awful.

We spent two weeks in Colombia then, reconnecting with people and places – prioritizing what had been important in our children’s lives. The trip was for them, not for us. Then on our last day there, my daughter had a playground accident which landed us in the emergency room for 5 hours. She got four stitches in her heel and we were cleared to fly the next day, but it was traumatic.

So our “home leave,” vacation, summer month in the US was colored by all these things, and then Gimli left us in the basement of his parent’s retirement cottage (sharing their kitchen and car) for two weeks. I had insomnia; the voices in my head when all was quiet were unbearable and I’d web surf for hours until I just couldn’t stay awake anymore. I didn’t want to see anybody, do anything. I was walking on eggshells trying to learn all the house rules while processing the intensity of all the transitions going on.

The local library had a Harry Potter birthday party, so of course we had to get costumes to attend – it was really fun and I revelled in it.


When Gimli came back, as soon as he was more or less recovered from his jet lag, we dragged the kids north to our grad school institution; we got an AirBnB with backyard chickens and spent two lovely days seeing a few of my favorite relatives, long-time grad school friends, and my academic advisor and her husband – who took us on a walk to the nearby falls and it was like being with family; I don’t think we even talked about academia much.

That trip re-fueled and refreshed me more than I can say.

Which got me thinking – what was it about those two moments that made me feel so much myself? What has been missing that has made me feel not-myself, and if not-myself then who is it I’ve been pantomiming?

I was thinking about this again today, through the idea that we are people through other people – what was it in those moments that made me feel seen, known, understood for who I fully feel and believe myself to be? My aunt in upstate NY pulled out her genealogical charts and stacks of old photographs while we were there; perhaps that was the moment that I began to feel the unfurling of a dormant sense of self start to emerge again. These are my people; this is who I come from.

But her pages do not represent all my people; speaking Spanish with my advisor (who is my mother’s age), celebrating books and reading and waterfalls with my children and husband; being able to wear a purple witch’s hat and fitting right in… all these things mixed in together somehow.

I don’t really know quite how to make sense of all of this, just that I realized in the finding of that feeling of being myself that I had lost it prior, at some point. And I really want to hang on to it now.



August 24, 2018

So I finally hit on a new blog name that I like – “Movable Type” (see above). This is my third iteration; the original blog, titled “the I Word,” was on Blogspot, and the name gestured towards my inability (or unwillingness) to talk publicly about my in/subfertility. But family members found it, so I moved to WordPress and changed the name to Project Progeny (gesturing towards my fondness at the time of Project Runway).

Movable Type is about writing and publishing, but it’s also who I am – I am a movable type of person. I see myself as a global nomad; I was raised interculturally and come from generations of migration and intercultural marriage. I’m an anthropologist studying migration; I’m an expat; with my even more nomadic husband we’re raising our kids interculturally as well.

I feel a lot of different ways about this.

So the url here won’t change; Project Progeny and The I Word are all here in the archives. I haven’t updated my blog links in the sidebar in literally years but I’m looking to get back in the game.