ShelterBox

Shelter, Warmth, Dignity–and Education

Hello.

Two Fridays ago I returned from Haiti, where ShelterBox, the disaster-relief agency I volunteer for, is helping the nation to recover from Hurricane Matthew.

As always, there are many different things I saw and people I met that left me feeling richer and better rounded, but I want to take some time and space today to reflect on something that sometimes gets overlooked in our normal understanding of relief efforts.

So let’s picture what people think of when they think of disaster relief: Food. Medicine. Shelter. Yes. All good, necessary things. But what happens in the immediate days after a disaster? Depending on where you live, you’ve probably encountered a sign like this somewhere in your neighborhood:

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Where do you usually see them? Civic buildings, generally: Stadiums, churches, sometimes–and schools. Schools are well-built; it’s the place to which parents will naturally turn if a natural disaster strikes during school hours, since they’ll want to see if their kids are okay.

But quite often, places of education get turned into shelters that may serve a population for weeks on end if families have no place to turn.

When we arrived in Haiti, a few days after Hurricane Matthew came through, schools had already been pressed into service. One chalkboard I saw had its last lesson on it, from September 28. When we left Les Cayes, there was no news as to when schools could go back into service.

The problem is, when schools are housing families, serving as places to stay safe and out of the elements, they can’t be used for their original purposes. In the Haitian earthquake of 2010, schools only started to reopen after a few months. And in Malawi, where I was last year, even after schools opened to regular classes, classrooms were still serving as shelters, so families had no place to go during the day, while school was in session; and school staff and communities had to work every morning and every afternoon to effect the change from classroom to shelter and back again.

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The classrooms in this school in Malawi were doing double duty when we showed up: They were serving both as shelters for families while they rebuilt their homes and as proper classrooms. You can see the kids in their school uniforms with my teammate here.

The effect of natural disaster on a society goes far beyond the more acute needs of food, medicine, and shelter. It’s one of the reasons aid agencies like ours work so hard to get families back onto their home sites, so life can go on.

For more of our work in Haiti and worldwide, visit ShelterBoxUSA.org. And for more detailed information on what effects disaster can have on education, see this paper from the Brookings Institute.

 

 

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Writer, editor, general crazy-pants.

#45daysof, or Adam Kimble in Claremont

This weekend we had visitors.

They were unexpected and joyous and dashed about our house, a little group of sleek-headed, very effective, very friendly otters. (I have established this week that otters are not naturally friendly. They are cute for the sake of survival. But that is another post.)

Well, three of them were sleek. The last, standing head and shoulders above me, was one Adam Kimble, and he was not sleek. He is bearded and bushy and grinny, all teeth and goodwill, and he is, even as we speak, running across America in an attempt to break the current Guinness World Record.

This is Adam at the Gobi March last year.

This is Adam at the Gobi March last year. (photo: Adam Kimble)

Adam is not an ultramarathoner, historically. He only came onto the scene two years ago, but since then, he’s placed in the top ten several times, and last year, he won the famed Gobi March. He’ll take 45 days to run across the U.S., and if he does it, he’ll be the the first person ever to break the GWR, besting the current record by a day and a third. (That record has stood for 36 years, and it’s been challenged a handful of times.)

Here is where we marvel at the fortitude of a guy who’s setting out to break a world record. And then we marvel at the fact that Adam will have to average 68 miles a day in order to make his preferred time. And then we think about the organizational skills of Adam’s core team of five people, who will manage everything from his nutritional intake to his social media presence.

But really, as I look back on our weekend with Team Bearded Sole, three things strike me:

1. I have cool friends. We got to hang out with Adam and his mates this weekend because Josh, one of their crew, is a friend of mine from ShelterBox. Although I’m never surprised by how awesome my friends are, I am always pleased to discover more great people because of them. Josh will be with Adam the entire trip. You can read more about him here.

2. Niceness is underrated. So many times when we meet people, we look for different things to say about them: “She’s sharp!” “What a striking look about him.” “Interesting background,” we might say. I don’t think I’ve heard someone say, for a long time, anyway, that someone they’ve just met is nice. I love nice. We should all be nicer. Team Bearded Sole is definitively, fantastically, nice peeps, from conversational skills to manners to all-around greatness to be around.

3. Forty-five days is a long-ass time. When I was training for Ironman, I thought to myself, what am I going to think about for those 16 hours they allow me on the course? And when we were training (I think Ironman is my biggest commitment yet), I always knew there would be a day off in the training schedule coming soon. I have never done anything hard for 45 days in a row.

So I’m signing up to “follow” Adam on his 45-day quest. Every day, today and for the next 44 days, I will produce a watercolor drawing of some sort. (Look for the hashtag, #45daysof, at Instagram and Twitter.)

I think Adam is after living the best life he can. He wants to inspire others to do the same. I also think that, in order to reach this best life, you sometimes have to do things that are a little bit hard, even if you naturally love to do them. So I will try my hand at this, and see what outs.

For Adam, it may be the besting of a Guinness World Record. For me, it may be a pile of 45 crap drawings. Or, it might be some gained watercolor skills. Either way, it’ll be fun.

Which, incidentally, seems to be the other part of this trek across the United States. Just in case, you know, you were wondering what it would be like to spend 45 days, doing something you love, with some close friends in an RV, mucking across a great, wide-open country.

Run, Adam, run. We’re with you.

Would you like to join me in #45daysof? Pick something you’d like to do for 45 whole days. Make it a goal. Tell me in the comments below. 

This is Adam's route. You can live-track him from his web site.

This is Adam’s route. You can live-track him from his web site.

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Writer, editor, general crazy-pants.

All Your Creature Comforts are Relative

Last month we went back to Malawi, for a check-up on how beneficiaries of ShelterBox’s kit are doing, and for an overview of how the country is recovering.

I appreciate the ShelterBox deployments in part because they give me perspectives on other countries and cultures that I wouldn’t get as a normal tourist. I get to meet folks on their ground, witness what their lives used to be like, the lives they’re striving for. All disaster-landscapes look the same, but it’s often in these hard times that you really get to meet a culture, see how they interact with each other. We’re definitely not meeting them in their normal lives, but we are meeting them in their communities.

It wasn’t until this last deployment that I had it thrown into sharp focus what it might really mean to live their lives.

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In the first place, I got giardia when I got home. I mean, I probably got it in Africa someplace. But those little flagellated protozoa didn’t make themselves known until four or five days after I landed, when I was busily trying to do real-life things like writing jacket-copy for my forthcoming novel (that’s not real life, is it? Is it?) and paying bills and done with immediate deployment-aftermath things, like a lot of sleep, and sushi and salad, and laundry. Very very annoying.

I was laid up on the couch for five days. I toughed it out for two days before my body got sick of Kaiser-helmeted parasites ramming into each other and into the walls of my guts, and I finally caved to antibiotics. (I’m well on the mend now, thanks.)

In the second place, we spent three days in a place where it was up to 111° F (that’s 44° C) in the shade. And then, when we got back to our very poorly ventilated rooms, it was maybe a skosh cooler, but not by much. It was so hot that for part of the time I slept sitting up, so as to minimize contact of myself with, well, anything. It was so hot that I became irrationally annoyed at the silicone hair tie around my wrist, convinced that it was blocking pores that would otherwise be making everything cooler.

And that’s when I started thinking about my Creature Comforts kit. It’s a little pouch I take with me on every airplane ride, mostly because I’m lazy as sin and can’t be arsed to stand up and dig in my overhead baggage compartment. When I board the plane, I immediately unpack this little pouch, a litre bottle of water, and some food, and then I don’t have to mess with my bag for the rest of the flight. Here’s what’s in it.

creaturecomforts

 

These are some of the things that make my life a little better when I’m traveling. (Not pictured: Wet Wipes, because I used them all, and who needs to see a photo of Wet Wipes, anyway?)

But then, when I was lying there in my room, so hot I couldn’t sleep and practically gasping for air flow; and again when I was lying on the couch, moaning out loud to myself and imagining a Satanic game of bumper cars with parasites in my gut, I realized, damn it all to hell, this is life for some people. This is permanence for nearly everyone we meet whilst we’re on deployment. And when we go back home, to clean water out of the tap and air conditioning and fresh fruit and veg every single day, they still go on, getting sick from drinking river water, or living in mud-brick houses that, while staying cool, don’t change the fact that you still have to go outside and work in the fields, in 111° temperatures, every damn day. Every. Damn. Day.

We help a little bit. We provide water filters, so people can stop getting sick from the drinking water. (Families who live near boreholes can use chlorine dispensers that purify the water.) And our kit comes with solar lights, so folks can actually see what they’re doing inside their windowless homes (so made because it’s hard to make windows in a rush-grass home, and also, windows let in heat), and when they walk out to their latrine or bathroom at night. Our kit comes with blankets, fuzzy groundsheets, kitchen sets. Mosquito nets, so your family doesn’t get chewed up by mosquitos and then get sick with malaria.

You know. Things that make life a little bit better. Every damn day.

This isn’t one of those posts that’s all like, Oh, I feel so guilty that I’m so privileged, because it’s not like that. Some of us are lucky to have been born into better circumstances, places with more opportunity, or different standards of living. We can’t change that; no sense in regretting it.

But every once in awhile, you get floored by something like extreme heat, or giardia, and you realize just how much bigger our world really is. And, more importantly, how little we really know, and experience, in our limited lives. And then, on the heels of that, how lucky we really are, and how nice it is to be able to hope for more, for others and for ourselves.

That, too, is a creature comfort.

Tell me, what are your creature comforts? Let me know in the comments below. 

 

 

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Writer, editor, general crazy-pants.

Humanitarian Work: Why We Do It, and Why That Matters

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In the waiting room of the Blantyre airport, a man asked what I was doing in Malawi.

I told him, briefly, and then returned the favor: What is he doing in Malawi? Ah, he says, he’s helping a friend to staff a local church network with some preachers. Interesting, I said, and left it, but  he continued on. “So are you religious, or what? Why do you think you do the work you do?”

This is always a trap for me. I love people, and I love to explore the reasons we do the things we do. Plus, I was already down in the dumps from the post-deployment blues, thinking about all the work I’d have loved to continue on with in Malawi, so I answered him. Something about hard-wiring, and how my weeks working with ShelterBox comprise the times I feel truly complete, as if I’m using most of what I’ve learned in my 40 years.

Later, as the plane reached cruising altitude on its way to Jo’Burg, he came over to my seat and asked if he could show me something. Sure, I said, and followed him to his seat, where I received a

F*****G*

LECTURE

ON

HOW

CHRISTIANITY

IS

THE

ONLY

RELIGION

IN

WHICH

PEOPLE

DO

GOOD

FOR

THE

GRACE

OF

GOD.**

*pushups.

**this is apparently the only viable reason for doing good.

I was too tired to protest, and therefore polite. I made vaguely interested noises, trying to avoid the terrible halitosis and not read into the psycho high-lighting in fifteen different colors all over his bible text, and then he made me read two passages, which I actually tried really hard to comprehend, but at the end of the day, it was like this:

My good sir, please get your nosy ass out of my motivation.

Anyway. I went back to my seat. And damned if the guy didn’t come back to me. He said, “I hope I didn’t scare you. The work you’re doing is good.”

I was utterly flummoxed. I didn’t want to get into an argument with this guy, so I just said, “Not at all. Thank you.”

What I really wanted to do was laugh, in a bewildered, confused way, because we don’t do this work to impress anyone. Sometimes, the end result is all that really matters, and here’s why:

In Malawi, families moved into evacuation centers like churches and schools January 13 or 14. By six to eight weeks after a disaster, we like to see families either moving back onto their home sites or safely making use of some kind of shelter aid. But in week 7, when my teammates and I were asked to explore three as-yet-unserved centers to try and assess what their needs were, we found, respectively, 75, 65, and 121 families living in rural churches*** barely 25 meters long by 6 meters wide. Some of the pregnant and lactating women were living with their families (9 families at a time) in tunnel tents that had been provided by a well-meaning country who wanted to send some help. But these tents are barely larger, overall, than two of our family tents, so the space issue still existed. And these families have no privacy within the large tunnel tents…there are no room dividers.

***There is some kind of deep irony here, but I don’t know what it is yet.

We could not provide for all of the families at any of the sites we visited. In many cases, the community didn’t have the land we needed to build to that extent, and our stock, as always, is tight.

But here’s what we can  do. We can return to these families a modicum of dignity. We can alleviate the pressure in some of these evacuation centers. (We ask the community to identify the absolute most vulnerable families, and then we verify with a face-to-face interview.)

I think you will be happy to know that the families living in these places comported themselves with such grace. They sat quietly, waiting for us to complete our evaluations. They didn’t clamor around us when we went to go inspect the sites they hoped we could build tents on. They didn’t beg.

Some might say that they were just too damn tired to say anything. They probably were. But I’ll tell you what, when I am tired and cranky, it does not look and sound like dignity. It basically sounds like a howling tantrum.

This is why we do the work we do. We do it because, at the end of the day, we all can understand the need for dignity. We all can understand the desire for a space of one’s own.

I’m not about to bash God and country as perfectly valid motivators. But for me, there is no greater motivation than giving someone else a little bit of their own back.

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 Do you have questions about the work ShelterBox is undertaking in Malawi? Feel free to e-mail me. 

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Writer, editor, general crazy-pants.

Smugness is ugly. And useless.

There’s a BMW spot out there that chaps my hide every time I hear it. The guy’s voice is rich, and vaguely cultured, but also incredibly self-satisfied. It talks about how BMW has been “first” in bla bla bla etcetera etcetera.

It goes on like this for an excruciating 35 seconds. Clearly it is catering to the kind of person who wants to have the number-one thing in his or her garage, to look at and pat every once in awhile. “My precious,” so on. You get the drift.

This is on my mind because last week, I went to shadow the assessment course for the ShelterBox Response Team, and I think I finally figured out why this kind of advertising irritates me so much. (Those of you who don’t know, ShelterBox is a disaster-relief agency. I’m a member of the volunteer team that goes in to assess needs and deliver our bespoke disaster-relief goods, and our candidates go through a rigorous testing process before we can deploy them to disaster areas, for obvious reasons.)

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The testing is hard, but one of the candidates this weekend nailed it when we were all sitting around chatting after the course had ended. I asked what he thought. He considered for awhile, and then said, “A lot of the pressure was internal, and not from external sources.”

People. I have never wanted to slow-clap so badly in my life, and not in an ironic way, either. When push comes to shove, we don’t really care where you got your degrees, or even what you got them in. We don’t really care what you did in your past life. We don’t even care what you do for your career currently. (Unless, obviously, it affects your availability to deploy for us.) We care about who you are, at your very core, and about the stuff you’re made of.

In short, it’s about what’s under the hood, and not about the stupid bling you have all over your walls. For BMW, and advertisers like them, it should be about building a better car, or product, just like we’re out to build the best ShelterBox Response Team we can possibly build.

I’m so honored to have been a shadow for the course this past week. We trainers can learn a lot about ourselves over the course of the four days we have the candidates, so it’s a doubly-rewarding experience, even despite the sweltering heat, danger plants, bugs, and navigational mistakes. (*cough*.) I hope everyone out there gets an experience like this once in their lives.

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Writer, editor, general crazy-pants.

hodge-podge brain dump

1. I just had a brainfart and tried to go to the blogger platform to add this post. As much as I love the flexibility this platform allows me, I think I really miss the user interface of blogger. Hm. Points to ponder. Weirdly, I last used blogger something like years ago–Peter turned me on to Posterous, which I really really loved, and then Ed helped me to move over to this site. I don’t know. Maybe WordPress just needs more orange.

2. Here are some things Sprocket has been compared to:

A piece of licorice

See for yourself:

Hamster butt:

(photo CuteOverload.com)

Witness it!

An ottoman


Those first two comparisons are courtesy of Jen Flowers, by the way.

3. People always ask how long it takes to get over a deployment. That answer is highly individual. Because I am a wuss, I suspect it takes me longer than others. I like to Ponder Implications. I like to explore the things we did, and the way that those things might have affected me.

Today I finally feel some sense of normalcy. I no longer shy away from using tap water, and I don’t feel the urge to force myself to lie on the couch and Not Worry.

Perhaps most telling, I am starting on a new physical project that is very exciting, but I’m not going to tell you about it yet. You will have to be patient.

And the corollary to that, of course, is that I am finally ready to start work again on my thesis, which is being re-written in diary form.

So. It feels as if all gears, mental and physical, are turning. Here is a brief list of the things I do in the weeks after deployment. This is only after five deployments’ worth of experience, so I am curious to see how this list will change as I gain more experience.

  • Mope
  • Drift aimlessly from room to room
  • Eat. Anything. Buckets of popcorn; bushels of fresh fruit and veg; massive luxurious sandwiches. Those are the primary culprits.
  • Hide out. I almost never want to see anyone in the weeks after a deployment.
  • Watch TV. Loads and loads of old movies, or episode after episode of something like Miss Marple, Poirot, Frost, Lewis…(This may be because we almost always deploy with a Brit on the team, since there are more of them than there are of us. I’m probably just missing the accent.)
  • Lie on the couch.
  • Make a mess of the house, which inevitably is a clean slate for my mess, since Jim is nice enough to clean it just before I get home.
  • Stare at art. This goes back to the whole “hide out” thing. If you’re staring at art, people don’t usually approach you.

I think two weeks is about right. Weirdly, I never write about the deployment, and I don’t usually talk about it. And I usually get back on a weekend, so this one was weird in that I got back on a weekday and had to dive headlong into the workweek. I cancelled a trip to Philadelphia almost at the last minute cos I was feeling sick, but I really did think I was going to be Just Fine. What a dweeb.

Anyway. The day beckons. Hope it’s a good Monday for everyone!

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Writer, editor, general crazy-pants.

The Deployment Diet: Lose Five Pounds! Fast!

You’d think two weeks in a foreign country would be a recipe for diet disaster. No more! I recently found myself in Peru, land of lomo, rich ceviche, and papas fritas morning, noon, and night, and I lost five pounds. Here are my seven steps to coming back from abroad a lean mean machine.

1. Lose your voice.

You heard me! [Or maybe you didn’t.] Losing your voice is a fantastic way to use up all those pesky calories you consumed in french fries. You see, when you lose your voice, you’re forced to communicate How to Set Up a Tent by waving around your arms. When you fall over trying to pull out an erroneously-pegged tent stake and you cannot get up again and you still cannot remove the stake, you have to resort to clicking, clapping, and whistling to get help. All of these things burn calories!

If you can manage it, try to lose your voice twice over two weeks. This will ensure maximum calorie burn.

Related:

1a. Cough.

Coughing will kick-start your way back to the six-pack you had in college. Coughing uncontrollably three times a night over ten days should do it. Be smart: maintain good posture while coughing. Otherwise, you may pull your diaphragm muscle, which will sideline your weight loss.

2. Translate!

Your brain burns calories, too. [Why do you think we all fell asleep in algebra class? Exercise is exhausting, that’s why.] So when you are forced to translate everything you say from your native language to your second language and then into the third language that you are inadvertently picking up, guess what? You’re a calorie-burning furnace! Woohoo!

Hiring the right translator (you know, for the fourth language) can help with this. Having to repeat everything five times is a fantastic extension for advanced weight loss. Don’t do this more than once every two-week period. Insanity is not good for weight loss.

Related:

2b. If you’ve followed step 1, above, whispering is a great way to firm up your vocal cords and sneak in a few extra calories.

3. Throw things.

Forget kettlebells. Big green boxes the weight of your best friend are the new lifting regime. Fling them until your arms go rubbery. Repeat.

Treat with care, though. They might be weights to you, but they’re lifelines for someone else.

Height and repetition are important here: When swinging the boxes, aim for the truckbed, at chest height. And for God’s sake, get a spotter. Seriously.

4. Let ’em chase you.

When you look around and realize that you’re being followed by a group of schoolchildren, employ this handy workout:

a. Pretend you don’t see them.

b. Gradually lengthen your walking stride.

c. Ignore giggling; any Quechan comparisons to the [Peruvian?] Ministry of Silly Walks.

d. Break into full-on sprint. Cease ignoring giggling. Giggle yourself. [Mustn’t forget abs, obliques.]

e. Return to big stride, so as to let them catch your backpack straps.

f. Drag them a bit.

g. Remember suddenly that you are a swamp-level dwelling city person, while they apparently breathe pure oxygen, since they live at 3200 meters.

COOLDOWN: Never let ’em see you sweat. Grin. Wheeze. [Related to 1b, above.] Giggle some more.

5. What’s a trip to a foreign country without local cuisine? Sample it con gusto. Here’s a brief guide.

a. Sopa a la criolla, or sopa a la minuta

These lovely soups are rich in vitamins. They also all come in soup tureens the size of your head. You will feel full just looking at them! If visual stimulation is not enough, don’t worry: each of these soups comes with a clump of noodles the size of your entire stomach. One meal a day of Sopa might just do it for you.

b. Papas fritas

They show up at every meal, these french fries. Soon you won’t even see them anymore. Therefore you will not eat them.

c. Guinea pig

Two tiny drumsticks will satisfy even the biggest appetite.

d. local cheese

This stuff has the potential to be your downfall. Restrict self.

e. Ceviche

Lovely, fresh seafood in citrus juices. Potentially damaging to diet. Never fear: Travel with someone who hates sushi. That’ll do it.

6. Worry.

Ceaseless worrying will whittle your waistline in no time flat! Normally nothing will come of the worry, and you will have done it for no reason but to slim down. Perfect.

If something does go wrong, though, feel free to dash about like a madwoman to fix it. Bonus calorie burn!

7. Debrief.

By which I mean, talk it up. Every night. With your teammates, dissect the day. When you get home, dissect the weeks. You’ll find yourself sleeping like a baby. When you’re not coughing, anyway.

Hey, a good diet never rests.

 

 

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Writer, editor, general crazy-pants.

Madcap

This past week has been utterly non-stop.

Last Thursday I went to Connecticut for the annual Go Red luncheon, in support of awareness of women’s heart disease.

Later that night, I picked up my good friend Nicola from the bus station.

From Thursday night until the following Tuesday, we had a packed schedule that involved me getting up early in the morning to work so Nic and I could mess around town and see art and go for walks in the woods; things we like to do together. It was nuts. We went to MOMA and hung with friends and saw a reading and hosted a visitor and had dinner with 10 of my nearest and dearest, and then we hosted dinner for 10 at my place on Saturday night.

Tuesday Nic left for Boston, part of an East Coast tour she’s doing, and although I moped a bit on Tuesday afternoon, feeling like the house was awfully empty, there was–and is–plenty of work to be done.

Then this morning happened. At 8:10 or so I was walking the hound in the park, getting ready for my dentist appointment, and checking my e-mails. One from ShelterBox HQ was in the queue, asking after my availability for an as-immediate-as-possible-departure to Peru to respond to flooding.

I replied that I could go, returned the hound to home, went to my dental appointment, and on return to my desk, one side of face drooping from Novocaine, called in to confirm readiness.

I got confirmation from the team lead a scant hour later and started making arrangements. I was excited–I’ve never been first team in before, and never been on a recon trip, and the team lead is a good friend.

And then I got asked to stand down.

All of that is fine. The SRT member who is replacing me speaks Spanish and has responded to a Peruvian disaster for us previously. He is absolutely the right choice.

But do you know what? In the midst of all my preparation and dashing about last week, I realized that with the call to stand down came a small bubble of breathing space. Into that bubble came rushing in all the phone calls to friends I’ve been putting off because I’ve been too busy; all the small things I like to do that have gone undone because I have been too tired; all the meaningful correspondence I’ve been wanting to reply to.

“Stand down.” The order is more meaningful than I thought. Sometimes, a girl just needs to stand down. What a disguised blessing.

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Writer, editor, general crazy-pants.

7×7=one grateful blogger

Awhile ago, my Whidbey colleague Charlotte Morganti nominated me for a 7×7 link award! I wish I knew what the origins of this award was, but more important, I’m just happy that I’m getting an award! It’s my first!

Also, one thing about Charlotte, before I go on to the requirements of the award–she’s by far the most diligent blogger I’ve ever come across. She decided she was going to start a blog, and then, bang! She’s been keeping it up, regularly, with great writing tips and interviews with luminaries like Alan Rinzler. She also does great book reviews, and is the author of an as-yet-to-be-published hardboiled detective novel in the vein of Dashiell Hammett. So yes, you must follow her blog doings.

Now. On to this award. I must do several things in order to account for this award. I must list seven items in each of three category.

First, seven things about me you probably don’t know:

  • I don’t like very spicy food. That is to say, I don’t like things that flame your nasal hairs out and make you sweat. I’m much more apt to buy a mild tomatillo salsa than I am an “extra hot” salsa, for instance.
  • I am a sucker for the American Standards songbook.
  • I can’t dance.
  • I struggle with my weight. Part of this is my inherent laziness. The other part of it is my love/hate relationship with exercise. The final part of it is genetics.
  • I think everyone should have their own personal style. This is not to be confused with trendiness.
  • I adore button-down shirts and in general prefer neat dressing to slovenliness.
  • I love to cook. And I prefer to do it with friends in the kitchen or nearby.

Now, 7 posts from my own blog that I like:

  • Chris Hondros, in Memoriam: Chris was the photographer for one of my first-ever feature articles. He died in Libya almost a year ago.
  • Book Review: Moonlight Mile, by Dennis Lehane: I write book reviews at my site every once in awhile, but I like this one because it deals with something I think is super important in books–characters one can identify with. Also, it gave me a chance to write a bit of a love letter to Dennis Lehane’s characters. And okay, maybe Lehane himself. :)
  • Speaking the Gospel: This is a brief roundup on why everyone should try public speaking. I almost never write posts about business, but this is one of those things that I’m both good at and that I feel strongly about, so I did this one. It’s just a list of reasons everyone should love to speak publicly. And yes, you read that right.
  • Iron Girl, Iron Guy, and the Iron Maiden, Part I and II: This is the story of our Ironman competition. We trained for six months and had a blast, and I’d readily do it again. I loved this race. It was awesome. (Yes, yes, okay, in retrospect.)
  • A Phone Conversation: This is exactly what it is, a phone conversation between me and Mr. Gooddirt. I think it’s hilarious. It pretty much pegs Mr. Gooddirt.
  • Track Rats: This is part of a series I’m writing called “The People in My Neighborhood.” It’s about the folks who populate my life. This one is about the people who first really made me feel like I was a part of my physical neighborhood.
  • An Open Letter to Do-Gooders: I’ve deployed to Haiti twice as part of the ShelterBox Response Team. While I was there I noticed a few things. This letter is obviously not from ShelterBox itself, but it’s my perspective of what people who really want to help in a disaster situation should and shouldn’t do.

Phew. That was hard. This next one will be easier. 7 blogs I like, and, in turn, pass the 7×7 award on to:

  • GrassDirtCorn. My friend Hollie Butler is very special to me. I’ve known her since I was 18. We were camp counselors together. And we used to write letters. Now Hollie tackles some good things–and not-so-good things–in her blog on food, health, and general life. I love it.
  • DaphneUnfeasible. My friend Kate Schafer is a great literary agent. And she has good, important things to tell writers, on her blog.
  • ChelsKnorr. My friend Chels Knorr just started her blog. She’s off to a bang-up start. I think what she has to say is intriguing. I think the way she says it is beguiling. G’wan, take a gander.
  • Manhattan Nest. I’ve just started reading this one. I almost never have patience with blog posts that are this long, but I love Dan’s sensitivities and his design sense. So he’s hooked me. If you like mid-century design–or design at all–you need to take a look at this.
  • The Sherman Foundation. Thomas Sherman makes great, pithy remarks about things that matter to me–art and design and marketing. I appreciate his respect of my time and attention span, but more important, I respect his wide-ranging definition of design.
  • Harvey Briggs. Harvey’s been involved in advertising everything from cars to pantyhose. I can’t remember how I found him, but I’m thrilled I did. Another master of pithy copy, Harvey often points me to really interesting advertisements, but more important, he has interesting, commentary-provoking things to say. Every. Single. Day.
  • Kate Gale. Is a librettist, an editor, a smart, smart woman, and a wicked conversationalist. Again, short, loads-of-fun commentary. Well worth a peek.
  • Nancy Norton. I’ve written about Nancy before, but I think you should go over and take a peek at her blog. She spends part of the year near Toulouse, France, and aside from the part of me that’s an inveterate francophile, I’m always amazed at the things Nancy ends up doing and seeing–and sharing with us.

Okay. That’s it from me. Thanks to the blogosphere in general for this, and, more specifically, thanks to Miss Morganti.

 

 

 

 

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Writer, editor, general crazy-pants.

Too many irons in the fire

It’s been six weeks since my last post. There’s nothing, really, to explain this. Since I last wrote, my semester has ended, the Arab spring is on the verge of becoming the Arab summer, we’ve had two American weather disasters, and we did our first triathlon of the season. I’ve also started reading and been unable to complete reading three novels, which might say a lot about both my attention span and my reading grade level, and I visited three whole new states.

1. Books I Have Loved

Well, books I have wanted to love, anyway.

  • Middlesex: First few pages not enough to hold my attention.
  • Moby-Dick: Started right before deployment to Arkansas. Rotten timing.
  • The Palace Walk: A must-read for class in August. I like it so far, but there’s not a whole lot of action.

You know what’s really sad about this? I might have to come to grips with the fact that I’m more an action-flick kind of reader, if that makes any sense. I’ll tear through mystery novels, crime procedurals, “chick lit,” YA, no problem. But give me an award winner and I’m like a fish out of water. Ugh. This is bound to shape my writing.

2. My semester.

Difficult, at best. Worse, I’ve got a middle-grade novel I really like that I don’t want to lose momentum on, and while one of my professors has kindly offered to walk me through it once I have a completed draft, I’m terrified of the time commitment involved in that. Summer is so short, and my thesis advisor is asking us to write over the summer, as well. I need to learn to take advantage of this time.

With the semester’s end I experienced an uptick in the need to be creative. (Perhaps all that macrame finally got to me; I made almost 50 of these bracelets for ShelterBox this semester.) While that was temporarily curbed by my trip to Arkansas, I had the bug worse than ever on my return a week ago, which has encouraged me to sign up for an commit to private art lessons with the very talented Janice Cianflone. My hope is that it will help me to gain a new perspective on creativity, and allow me a new way to record the things I see and experience in my daily life.

I’ve tried more than once to do this, but I was never very good at keeping up with things unless I was forced to. Likewise, there’s a definite bump in the road that I need to get over–I’m very easily frustrated with drawing, since I’m quite bad at things like perspective: all of my drawings, whether they be of buildings, dogs, peanut shells, or cubes, end up looking flat. I get discouraged, and I quit.

Even now, as Janice and I are talking about lessons, I’m considering asking her to let me come to lessons twice a week. Any less, and I fear I’ll never improve, and worse, won’t be keen on the assignments if I don’t have some input (I’d rather have been in a class, where students can feed off each other’s energy, but the timing wasn’t right).

Anyhow. I guess I’ll check in on that later.

3. Arkansas tornado

This is my fourth deployment for ShelterBox and the first time I’ve been first team in and team lead. It was harrowing, to say the least. We were deployed for nine days, and at least half the time I had nightmares about customs and mobile homes being blown away. I slept maybe ten hours total for the last four days. I’m glad no one forced me to operate a forklift, although there was plenty of driving involved (communities in rural Arkansas are very spread out).

We met amazing people and were blown away by the way the community tried to rally around itself. Folks who arrived at the tent demonstration to learn how their own ShelterBoxes would work showed up the next morning and worked tirelessly to set up other people’s tents before they received theirs. The Boy Scouts turned out in force–we had nearly 40 of them.

And one 84-year-old man, after denying that he needed help over the two weeks since the tornado had struck, moved promptly in after we’d done setting up his tent.

Here he is, on the far right, with our volunteers AC and Jean-Paul.

I’ve got an interview with a radio station tomorrow morning to talk about this deployment, and I’ve been trying to figure out if I’ve learned anything. I remember the frustration and the worry, surely, but these things are de rigeur when it comes to deployments, and I won’t count them as memorable. Weirdly–or perhaps not so weirdly–I remember being sort of struck by the desperation, the need, the good humor of these folks. One woman, as we approached her land with her ShelterBox (her husband had been helping us all morning), gestured to the area where her home had been and said, “Don’t mind the mess. Looks like a tornado went through it.”

Yeah. Pretty fricken awesome.

4. Triathlon bug. Three girlfriends and I have been training for the Sleepy Hollow Triathlon. It fell two days after I returned from Arkansas, so I wasn’t thinking about posting any times, and well I didn’t, cos my swim was sheer misery. I finished that at the bottom of my age bracket and ended up with a total time of 1:35. It wasn’t where I wanted to finish, but my expectations were low.

Two of the girls have already signed up for another triathlon, and I couldn’t be happier. I really hope they keep it up. One of them is attempting 30 days of bikram yoga, which just sounds unhealthy to me, but I’m tempted to try it, just to boost my routine a bit. Could be interesting. Next race on my docket isn’t until September, and then there’s a half-marathon and another potential half-IM in Taiwan, but we’ll see about that as we get closer. Swimming in the warm waters of the ocean just of Kenting brings to mind riptides and sharks…!

Okay. More later, maybe. For now, gotta bang out some work before going to guest bartend for Big Green Box Week, ShelterBox’s annual awareness campaign.

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Writer, editor, general crazy-pants.