Tuesday, September 29, 2009

I'm Running for My Sisters

Not my sibling, but my sisters.....
On Saturday morning I'll be in Chicago with my handsome husband and darling son, but I won't be lookin' good, because I'm reentering the world of running with the classic "runner's return." I'm 45 and I'm reentering the world of running with a 5K. It's all I can do - and it's been a tough road. Frankly, 40 extra pounds are embarrassingly cumbersome. There, I said it. And, some chronic plantar fasciitis keeps progress slow. Um, I'm sort of a wreck, but I'm trying to get it right. I like being active. I identify as an athlete. So, I'm doin' it.
I'm running because I'm inspired by the efforts of Women to Women International to help Congo women rebuild their lives after years of horrific war.

You can support my run HERE; know that your support of my 5K is support for our Congolese sisters. They are my inspiration.

I know I am going to meet a lot of inspiring people on this run. Importantly, I can't wait to meet Tami, whose blog is the place I learned about this run, and whose journey inspired my own return to the pavement. Tami is one of my virtual mentors, and her wisdom and perspective is helping me be a better mother to my brown boy, better ally to people of color, and more aware of the responsibilities I have as part of the white majority. Yeah, so Tami's getting me there, and Congo women are helping me finish. They are the perfect duo for me...and in my corner will be Mr. Silly Pants and Blueberry, running as a team (with a running stroller) at my side.
Wish me luck!

For My Sibs

Channeling Mom.
Sweet familiar.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Sunday Snapshot

This is one of many many shots we took on our way to and from places in and around Lalibela - literally, a shot taken out of the jeep window.... a scene common and precious and beautiful. In this image I see the life of my son. I knew this before I met my son. THIS is his legacy. THIS is his place. THIS is his homeland. For as simple and impoverished in material goods, the richness IS clear to me.
I heard time and time again from other AP's, "It made me so grateful for the hot water I have." Or, "I was so thankful to be home among my many luxuries." Or, "I know now why the US is the greatest place to live." I just never felt that. Neither did the 3 biggies or my husband. We're cultural relativists, it seems. The injustices and inequties of "who has what and why" were front and center for each of us in our own way. And, for us, this emerging reality is part of a new comittment, as a family, to do some things differently. I hope we show enough courage and enough bravery to get where we need to go and do what we need to do.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Early Morning Movement

My mornings start off with a bang. Blueberry is up and at 'em right away. It takes no time at all for him to begin banging on the back door; his way of saying, "let's go outside and stay outside for as long as I see fit!" Truth be told, this is a MUCH easier prospect when Dad is home, otherwise the first thing in the morning combination of a hyper dog and a toddler boy are beyond my pre-caffinated capabilities. Well, even when I am caffinated the hyper dog is a doozie and the active todder is demanding.
The days of "on the run" are here. Let me just say, the brown hand pulling the white fingers is CLASSIC - all day, all the time. 24/7. Blueberry has things to do and places to go. And, he's not shy about letting us know just where he want to go and what he wants to do.

I'm not surprised. I am exhausted. I asked for it - all of it and I love it. But, I don't think I anticipated the real physical differences for myself between parenting a toddler in my 20's (my biggies were all toddlers before I turned 30) and a toddler at the age of 45. I've been trying to make some adjustments over the past few weeks. We've sort of moved into a more active zone - or maybe I've just focused in more clearly on Blueberry's needs. Early morning movement works for him, so I have to figure out how to make it work for me. The thing is, his early morning stretches into late morning and then restarts right after his nap. Have I mentioned how much I looked forward to noon and an impending nap for both of us? Seriously, I'm pooped these days. Geriatric mom, no kidding. I'm just sayin' it's a bit nicer on the weekends when Daddy's here.
I do feel the reality that many many of my friends and age mates are reading novels and sipping coffee in the morning, then taking a little 'unplanned' snooze before lunch, or setting off on a leisurely walk downtown. Not me, I'm setting up brio trains, playing picnic, meandering the wooded area behind our house, pushing swings, and kicking soccer balls.

But surely, you couldn't resist this little face, could you? No reason to say no, every reason to keep the 'ol self movin' and workin'. So, I'm trying to make sure I'm taking decent care of myself so I can continue to take good care of my itty bitty. Anyone have any solutions for creaky knees and general body soreness? Hehehehe.. NOT KIDDING!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Hello from the Headmasters - Check

I worked this week to correspond with the headmasters at the schools where the young Ethiopian students we sponsor attend school. I'm 2 for 2 so far.

Getnet's headmaster sent me a reply to my first inquiry in which he said he has not yet met his new enrollee, but looks forward to the opportunity. He goes on to say, "I understood you are likely their late family providing influential sponsorship. I would like to appreciate your commitment towards those less fortune men. I can give you my words to give you any necessary help like advising, controlling, correspondence . . . privately or administratively. " Getnet is a hard working young man. I expect he will succeed in college, although I also think it will require a lot of hard work and focus for him. This is the first time he and Getu have been separated since they were young boys(Getu stayed in Lalibela to finish secondary school). I hope the distance is not too difficult for either of them - they send me notes that they speak daily to "keep each other full of courage."

Richard, the student we sponsor in Addis has begun his second year of study for his 4 year medical degree. After that he will be in medical school. I have been in contact with his headmaster twice before. I have always found him to be kind and reassuring. His response full of generous compliments for Richard. He said, "Not only does he demonstrate deep interest and commitment to his study he can also be cited as role model for others. His commitments can be expressed by his eagerness to red books, to attention in the class, browse the Internet and consent his teachers. In my view, he is excellent student both in terms of conduct and academic discipline. Hence, it is with great pleasure that I confirm now responsible and duty minded young man he is."
He continues his correspondence with an explanation of a medical apprenticeship Richard must do each summer for these next 2 years. Ethiopian students are responsible for the costs of the apprenticeship, so it was good for me to hear about this "field experience" requirement so that I can anticipate a little extra assistance will be necessary for his 8 week travel/boarding expenses.

I have 2 remaining e-mails to write to the secondary school headmasters for the 2 students in Lalibela who are still in high school. The letters are always a careful mix of introduction/information request/accountability check. It's not complex, but the terms of my relationship with the kids is both private and not so private. Expectations are necessary for accountability; it's a trade off.

I am always tempted to write, "our students." It sounds so colonial (It IS so colonial). I have to really work at how to express our family relationship with the young people we support. They aren't "OURS", although the relationship of us and them (power and no power)really does show up in my language. Privilege is like that - they who have it (us/me) get to USE it - language is one of those places. I'm working on my awareness, and I have no intention of colonizing the lives of these young Ethiopian students. But, the structures make it difficult to always frame what is going on in a way that isn't just ripe with power dynamics. I'm open to comments on this - because I know there is a slippery slope here.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Sunday Snapshot

Hosanna, Ethiopia
This post is my personal nod to Julie, who has opted to convey her experience in Ethiopia through Sunday Snapshot pictures. Because, after all, how can the experience be spoken? I have really enjoyed 'seeing' her experience through the photos she has posted. I have yearned to speak to her - but I let her pictures do the 'talking', for now. Perhaps I talk too much? And, I firmly believe the best ideas should be STOLEN. And, like any good teacher, I'm takin' her best ideas as my own (check out all the Wordless Wednesday posts all over the blogosphere - her idea!)

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Family Rocking Chairs

My mom's, mine, Songbird's, now Blueberry's. I'm having a rough week - who knows. Missing my mom, most of all...feeling a little low, having decisions on the horizon needing some attention, feeling the weight of ethics in IA. Just stuff, we all have it swirling around. Thank goodness the weather has been gorgeous and I'm soaking up the Vitamin D - waiting for a little mood elevation.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Half time, full time, not all the time

Some of you who read this blog know I was a single mom for about 7 years. I was separated in 2000, divorced in 2002, and married Mr. Silly Pants almost a year ago in October.

My biggie children live part time with their Dad. Well, not quite. Twinkletoes has lived with me full time since I bought this house with Mr. Silly in 2006. She spent a summer in Nicaragua and when she came home for her junoir year in high school she just couldn't fathom managing to "switch" any longer. We negotiated for her to live with me full time -and it was a good solution for her. When Songbird left for college, she sorta/kinda/ decided to make my home her home base - but she often sleeps at her Dad's house where she has her own bedroom while spending her waking hours here at my home. Finally, Waffles continues to follow his 2 weeks here, 2 weeks at his Dad's home. And the cat---he comes part time here with Waffles. He isn't phased a bit by living in two homes. I guess the cat is the true litmus test, huh?

But, it isn't all rosey. I NEVER ever have gotten used to the kids leaving my home to move to their Dad's home. Their dad and I have tried to make the switching easy. We live in the same neighborhood. We cooperate 'mostly' in a kind and amiable way (I say mostly because we're human - we do try to spare the kids our occassional disagreements - and we do have agreements that are our "fall back" in case we can't agree ;it is called a divorce decree). Still, you'd think I'd get used to the coming and going. I don't. I don't like switching. I feel the loss of the switch immediately and deeply.

Waffles left our house on Sunday for his 2 week stay with his Dad. I slumped. Really, I just got dragged down with missing his happy, cheerful, and fun loving person in our home. I felt the loss immediately. I would NEVER deny him the importance of his Dad's space. I don't put a guilt trip on him. I just do my best to continue .... but there are always a few really 'empty' days. Because his sisters are in college, his absence feels particularly potent this fall. So, I've been low. It's just hard, dammit.

So I do small things to stay connected. Today was a soccer game. I threw a bottle of gatorade in his back seat of his car - just to let him know I was thinking of him. Blueberry and I went to see his game and had the fun of kicking the socccer ball with him all the way back to our parked cars and his wet your whistle drink.

So, there it is. For those of you who are mom's doing it your own way, some things just never get easy. To tell you the truth, I wouldn't want it to get easy - my kids are great. I miss them. When Blueberries eyes lit up when he saw Waffles, I knew immediately he misses Waffles too.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Track Our Plumpy'Nut Athletes!

We raised an AMAZING amount for Doctors Without Borders - our final tally came in at $12,760. We finished in the top 10 and won an additional cash award of $750. Get this, we have provided life saving nutrition to 337 kids. I'm excited, humbled, and feel so fortunate to be part of something this big.

Now, it's time to come together to cheer on our awesome women Triathletes!

Tomorrow, the two women who agreed to represent Team Plumpy Nut will finally face down Ironman Wisconsin. They race on behalf of the donors to this fund and the children who are its beneficiaries. Peg Lussenden and Judy Bergsgaard, a team of sisters who have trained for three years to make this possible, will swim 2.4 miles, ride a hilly 112 mile bike course, and then run a marathon. We hope you will join us for this amazing event and cheer them on, whether in real time on the course or on-line.

Tomorrow we will take a break from asking for your dollars and ask you instead to celebrate these two wonderful women who are racing for the cause by checking in on their race and sending then “Go Team” messages as you do.

Here’s how to keep track of the Plumpy Nut Racers:
1) Use Judy's GPS tracking unit to see her progress IN REAL TIME
if you use a web browser or IPhone www.MapMyAthlete.com/vemap.aspx?name=048780
if you use a PDA/Blackberry/Palm www.MapMyAthlete.com/pda.aspx?name=048780
2)Track the athletes overall on the Ironman website http://www.ironmanwisconsin.com/ using their race numbers.
Judy Bergsgaard race number is 2647
Peg Lussenden's race number is 2667

As you track Peg and Judy, feel free to leave virtual messages for them in the “comments” section of this blog. I've turned off comment moderation, so your posts will be real time.

If you live on the course or are out cheering and have access to a computer, please post Plumpy Nut Sightings!!! We want to know where they are, how they’re doing, and whether they are still smiling!!

The race begins at 7:00 Central US, and goes until midnight. Let's give our SisterShack some shout outs! These two women are AWESOME!

Thanks to everyone for being part of this extraordinary project! We are grateful to every person who has participated by giving time, energy, creativity, dollars, and, in the case of Peg and Judy, lots and lots of sweat equity! We hope you feel good knowing you are part of an effort that has resulted in saving nearly 350 children’s lives this year, and that you will join us to witness the conclusion of this year’s Plumpy Nut Ironman Campaign tomorrow.

Best wishes,
Meghan and Amber for Team Plumpy'Nut
*and lots of little full tummies of peanut paste called Plumpy'Nut

Friday, September 11, 2009

Breakfast Buddies

2 peas in a pod, really - except one of them can keep the cereal IN the bowl.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

I care, therefore I am

all about PLUMPY'NUT and only PLUMPY'NUT for the next 48 hours. Here's the deal:

There are 48 hours left to win charity dollars for Doctors Without Borders and their tireless work to feed those most seriously stricken by the famine this season in Ethiopia. Ethiopia is the country where my son was born to a mother who could not feed him - there wasn't enough food. I am passionate about this. With 48 hours left....WE NEED YOUR HELP!

Doctors Without Borders, a nobel prize winning organization, is distributing a life saving food to children in Sub-Saharan Africa called Plumpy'Nut - it's a true lifesaver. $40 provides one full course of 5-6 weeks of nutrition that mom's can give to the kids without hospitalization. It's amazing stuff - and it's being used right now to rescue children from the brink of death. I wish I were being dramatic - I'm not.

I have joined, once again, a team of dedicated friends and an Ironwoman Triathlete, to raise money for Doctors Without Borders as part of the Wisconsin Ironman Triathlon and the Janus Charity Challenge. You can help US take a charity podium finish AND save a child's life, right now! We need to place in the top 5 for the charity competition to win an additional $2K to $10K for the distribution of Plumpy'Nut. Janus Funds gives this charity award in the race - and our racer is bound and determined to win (not the athletic competition - but the CHARITY competition!).

Here is the link to make a donation: https://www.kintera.org/faf/donorreg/donorpledge.asp?ievent=296288&supID=246858948

Here is a video featured on 60 minutes about Plumpy'Nut: http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2007/10/19/60minutes/main3386661.shtml

I'm appealing to your sense of making Ethiopia a place where women and men don't need to relinquish their children because of a "temporary" hunger crisis. Please, do what you can. It's worth your time to save a life today.

*no athlete, no adoption agency, no individual person gains from our work - the kids who NEED THE FOOD get all of your dollars at emergency feeding stations in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Ethiopian Tuition - the down and the dirty

I have had quite a few inquiries, all private, about the "terms" of our involvement with the young Ethiopian kids we met while traveling. One of the best parts about traveling with our teen children was meeting other teens - the kids are magnets for each other. I can't describe how much the kids set the tone for our encounters, and how they created the opportunities and connections that I could never have created....although I would have spent my entire traveling time wishing/hoping/yearning for kids just like THESE kids, to BE in our lives.

There are 4 of young people - Richard, Getnet, Getu, and AlemTsehaye. A year has gone by. Our exchanges have continued via e-mail and their needs have become clearer, well articulated, and ... we do the best we can to give them what they need.

The questions always come up:
"What do they need? "
"How do you send money - literally?"
"How much does it cost to send the kids to school?"
"What are their living expenses?"
"How do you know they don't spend it on things they shouldn't?"
"Aren't you afraid they are abusing your trust?" "How did you pick who to help?"
"Can you write it off on your taxes?" ...and there are more, but these are the biggies.

I resist giving specific details. Culturally, we Americans don't talk turkey in public spaces when it comes to real dollars. It's common for wealthy folks to claim they are middle class, and for people with means to understate those means. And, I don't want to create some sort of skewed impression of myself or my family. The truth is that we have a lot. We have more than we need. And, we do BELIEVE that it is our duty to be generous - thoughtfully, respectfully generous. We try our best to put that belief into PRACTICE. I bet most of you agree with the belief, but the practice of giving is more problematic, isn't it?
If the average American gives about 3% of their income to charity, then it is true that we are slightly above average in our giving ways. If it is true that generous giving is considered to be about 6% of one's income, then we've joined the club of generous givers. The truth is, I don't feel like I am generous. The truth is, that my giving, while it means I have to "give up" some things, doesn't create suffering for my family. We have given up some things in order to help others. But, if you were to look at our life, I don't think you'd see anything that looks like "going without." I've seen people with a whole helluva lot less give a whole helluva lot more. So I (we) don't deserve any special ^5 or kindness for the good deeds of our family. It's our obligation - and the truth is - we COULD DO MORE!!! I'm working up the courage to ask our family to do more. I am working up the courage to ask you to do more.

But, because I get asked these questions about the kids in Ethiopia- and because the questions typically come to me privately, I'm going public. Clearly, folks want to know. So here is the down and dirty as I know it. (Disclaimer - my down and dirty might be WAY different from yours - so I don't expect this to match the reality of other folks who are sponsoring kids without the help of an official charity organization).
1. College tuition costs about $550 in Addis.
2.Room and board in Addis - $100 month (includes all school supplies/material supplies as well)
3. We received the following accounting for the support of 2 brothers (verbatim as they wrote it):
House rent demands 450 birr
Food expense 830 birr
School fee 500 birr
For material needs 375 birr
In total of 2155 birr each month which worth $1795.833USD (by current currency) for the whole academic year.

I literally send the money using Western Union. It costs $114 to send $1800. I know, I just did this on Friday. We're looking into using a bank to bank transfer. It's a little messier than Western Union. You cannot believe how easy it is to use WU - you just put the destination as "Ethiopia" and need a full legal name of your recipient along with a test question they have to answer. It's so easy. So far, 100% reliable.

We don't know the kids don't spend the funds on things they shouldn't. (What shouldn't they spend money on? ) We do know that some money gets shared with their extended families. They tell us, "we took some monies to our family for the Easter." None of the kids have ever asked for us to support a sibling "after the fact."

We don't worry the kids are abusing our trust. We trust them. I tell them to be frugal, to be honest, to be thoughtful in their use of their time and their resources. They tell me, "We have been careful our whole lives." The truth is, they have HAD to be more careful than I will ever know how to be. Their lives depend on their FRUGAL use of resources. They depend on us to continue our sponsorship of them - and that creates its own sort of accountability. Finally, I tell them to be stewards, so that when they are finished with school we can find another student in need to carry on their legacy. These kids get it. If they are stretching their need dollars, it's not about creating any sort of ultimate luxury. I wouldn't call electricity and running water and a bed a luxury. Would you?

I do have a few strategies for accountability:
They send their school reports and end of year exam scores - they must give me their school headmaster's e-mail address - they have all had visits from travelers delivering something to them (t-shirts, ball caps, shoes, textbooks, even a donated lap top!).

We didn't pick them, they picked us. They asked for our help. They sent school scores to underline their hopes and dreams and they did this with polite and careful requests for assistance. Their gratitude is endless. We SAW how they all live - we could NOT NOT help. Sleeping on tarps with no blankets on the cold dirt floor, eating a small sandwich bag of oatmeal every day, only one change of clothes, no running water....for them, school is a life's dream. They were all supporting this dream on the barest of minimum - shining shoes to make a few cents a day to eat. They were wise to ask us to help. We didn't offer - we were asked. And, no, it's not tax deductible. And, yes, it is about $4500 a year to help these kids. We just do it.

Here is what they say in the e-mails I often receive. The kids go to neighborhood kiosks and write to me to tell me about school, to send greetings, to report school interests. They call me "dearest mom" or "dear mommy M". These are all quotes;

  • We would be lost without you. We longingly think about extra achievement that make you ever feel relief.
  • You do no more doubt about our thrift life. This is the habit we exuded since from we were polishing shoe for our earnings.
  • You see both tiny boys are growing to good men.
  • However you are beyond my eyes, but is there any other body have many and wonderful family like me? No body!!How God liked and gave me such kind of family (that is you).
  • After I succeed my dream I wish to help others those who lost their family by HIV AIDS and can not get education and health.
  • When you came for my graduation we will travel to lalibela together. Actually at the Christmas and epiphany time there is very good celebration than all over Ethiopia.

...when I go to Ethiopia for your graduation...THIS is why we do this.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

A Quarter Under My Bed

Our fairy godmother is amazing. I heard this from her today:

So, today, I did a Your-Neighbor's-Life Depends-on-$40 scavanger hunt. $21.51 from my change cup, a quarter from under the bed, three bucks I didn't know I had from my wallet, a dollar in meter change from the car, and 6 dollars from various coat and jacket pockets. Remembered that some credit card company owes me 10.68 cents. Called and asked for a refund. Just over $40. HOW CAN IT BE THAT SOMEONE'S LIFE IS SAVED BY MY POCKET CHANGE? We need change, alright. Let us be the change we want to see. Be the change. :-).

Donate here, and leave a note with your story on my blog, please. Really, no amount is too little.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Pedometers and Plumpy'Nut

Today by noon I had logged 13,000 steps on my pedometer. It's a fun trinket to use to measure my progress in my daily efforts to improve my health and reshape my body. The typical day's goal is to reach 10,000 steps per day, with 12,000-14,000 being better for weight loss programs. Today looks like it is going to be a banner day for me. I had a 2 mile run in the morning and shortly after I had my weekly meet and talk walk with Margaret. Dogs and little Blueberry are part of this second walk. It's the first time I've meshed the run and the walk (which also happens to be 2 miles) in the same morning. My legs and feet know it ... but I can't get over the irony of walking/running/eating in ways that includes goals that I, a person of privilege and wealth, pursue while others around the world who suffer from a serious lack of food, find themselves walking great distances often with sick and listless children in their arms, in order to find food and medical assistance. This is the irony of my pedometer and Plumpy'Nut.

Donate HERE to help feed those who don't have enough to eat: Doctors Without Borders has promised to direct all of the money we raise to Sub-Saharan Africa with special focus on Ethiopia. And, if you'd like to support my running program that is for a cause, donate HERE.

Now I have to go and take a nap. Another luxury in my life.

Waffles Wears It Well

Waffles is .... well, he's funny. This morning we were hangin' out after my morning run (yeah me!) and before he left for school. It's a nice routine I have with him - one of the unexpected pleasantries of having a less crowded home this fall. Waffles wakes up cheerful (um, unlike his sister Twinkletoes) and our morning encounters are fun, funny, and fun loving. This morning his shirt made me smile. My insistance on grabbing the camer and taking his picture made him shake his head, laugh, and 'mug' - and you see the result.

This second photo is evidence that teen boys DO DISHES - yep, in this house, baby boys in pink diapers and big boys in the kitchen. Waffles wears it well, dontcha think? Oh yeah, and 16 year old boys hug their moms, too.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009