Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Reader, I Married Him

This is the 26th anniversary of the start of the relationship between a short little undergraduate and a tall skinny grad student. A bit of naughtiness in the church basement -nothing to worry about. (Seriously... how much trouble can you get into in a church basement?) But the rest is history. Our actual marriage was in September, but today marks the beginning.

It's the same old story. It's nothing you haven't heard a thousand times. Yet, I really believe that when people decide to join forces for a lifetime -people of any description whatsoever- God smiles and says "Behold, I make something new."

I've been thinking a lot about marriage and what it can possibly mean when the partners are separated by half the globe. And it's not as though we're the only ones to have to figure this out. In spite of my narcissistic angst over being separated, I do realize that, for example, people send their partners off to fight in wars and enjoy no certainty at all as to whether or not they'll ever come back. I can get on a plane and go see Math-Man any time I want. Comparative luxury.

Anyway.... my musings include the non-original thought that marriage allows a private decision to matter publicly. The things we do in the privacy of our home (not THOSE with me here) do matter in the life of the polis. We didn't have grandiose formulations of our marriage-mission when we started out. (Which is a little weird when you think about it. If any two people were going to sit down and write a marriage mission statement, you'd think it would be us.) But had we written such a statement -or even thought about one for two seconds together - it would have involved something about bringing life into the world.

Not just babies, although I'm delighted that they turned up. But LIFE -energy, vibrancy, justice, some light to the dark places. We haven't done a particularly great job; there have been years-on-end when we forgot the focus. Yet even without our conscious attention, the mission is still there in the background, waiting for us to attend to it. Perhaps God is still about the business of creating something new with us.

On Sunday, I hope to return to the scene of the crime for the U of C Folk Festival, but that church basement just won't be the same all by myself ;)

Monday, January 29, 2007

I'm So Very Behind

You have no idea. I know I always say that I'm behind and swamped and disorganized, but truly, I've outdone myself. I've reached new heights of behind-ness.

I'm so behind that I'm just now getting around to reading the text of the State of the Union speech, which was, of course.... a while ago. I have an excuse for not listening to it, but not following up in a more timely manner? Well, I'm a slug. That's all there is to it.

Here's my current favorite line:
In all we do, we must remember that the best health care decisions are made not by government and insurance companies, but by patients and their doctors."
Oh! Really? George, you stun me. We're supposed to believe that you believe that?

Because that would explain so much about why you chose Eric Keroack to head HHS's Family Planning program. A man who believes that birth control demeans women -and surely that position wins some kind of "peculiar argument" award- is going to be so interested in leaving those decisions to a women and her doctor. That single sentence in the State of the Union explains so much about why you publish abstinence-only teaching materials claiming that avoiding sex will save you from suicide. That's why you used political clout to delay approval of the morning-after pill for years.

Perhaps you meant to say that health care decisions belong to patients and doctors, unless the patient has a vagina. But then.... you probably think that's a dirty word.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Blogging for Somebody Else's Choice

It's the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, so I'm offering these thoughts. They're a little "off the beaten path" of my usual rhetoric, but they reflect my current international social work train of thought.

On his first day in office in 2001, President Bush re-established the disingenuously named Mexico City Policy. Commonly called the global gag rule, it decrees that no organization supporting abortion, informing clients about abortion, or lobbying to legalize abortion in its own country can receive U.S. family planning assistance. So nations and service providers have to choose: the comparatively big bucks of U.S. foreign aid vs. the full flow of information and legal services to their citizens. And of course, that's exactly what was intended -that the money would be so vital that the local policy makers would be forced to deny legal services to their clients in order to keep the doors open at all.

But.... if the intent was actually to reduce the number of abortions, then the program has failed. And surely that was the intent. President Bush explicitly said when he signed the order that "it will make abortion more rare." I haven't done extensive research (to say the least), but at least in India and Nepal that has not been the case. In India and Nepal, abortion is legal with very few restrictions and is generally available. Financially and socially privileged people of course still have access and their use of this service is largely unchanged, which was expected by all parties.

Poor women, though, now face a double bind. What the U.S. policy does (and I know I'm repeating myself) is deny family planning assistance to programs that support abortion. So, we deny access to contraception in an attempt to prevent abortion (???). So, without access to contraception, there are unplanned pregnancies and unsafe abortions -apparently in record numbers. Anti-abortion proponents need to believe that criminalizing abortion reduces the incidence of abortions, but the numbers just don't support the claims. The incidence of abortion is, rather, tied to the number of unplanned pregnancies. (duh) The thing that changes with the criminalization of abortion is the safety of the women involved.

And of course all of this ignores the reality that the same agencies which provide family planning services are typically the ones on the front lines in AIDS prevention. But no.... no condoms for them either.

So, we impose a policy that reflects neither U.S. law nor U.S. public opinion on other countries. And of course, in many cases, abortion is already quite legal and accepted in those countries. So we impede their efforts at national sovereignty and self-determination while we're at it. And we certainly violate our own guidelines re: international aid which include these: to administer taxpayer funds efficiently and with maximum benefits to the recipients of U.S. aid, and to promote and support American democratic values abroad.

The point we're missing here is that abortion can be safe, legal, and rare. What's so hard about that?

Saturday, January 20, 2007

How I'm Occupying My Time

Worldwide, 200,000 people a day migrate from rural to urban areas. That's 70 million people a year... 130 people a minute. World-wide, one in six people is a squatter; by 2050, it'll be one in three. Many cities of the future will be these illegal -or extralegal- cities piled up outside incorporated urban areas.

So, who cares? This trend may not be a bad thing. There's some evidence that the squatters themselves think this is a fine idea. If rural life were working -if legitimate urban life were working- there wouldn't be this head-long rush into squatter communities in the developing world. These communities, after all, can be thriving neighborhoods. I remain unconvinced that this is the best we can do for people, although I'm trying to keep an open mind. People's absolute right to self-determination vs. a minimum standard of living.... I'm evaluating where I stand on this. One of my most immediate concerns is what happens in the case of a natural or man-made disaster. It is always true -ALWAYS- that poor people have the hardest time in a disaster. But if you're living in substandard housing, on top of a pile of garbage, it doesn't take a terribly fertile imagination to figure out what's going to happen in a tornado or a mudslide or a hurricane.

The question comes down to, what do we think the good life is? In Mumbai, it's hard to miss the fact that there are squatter communities springing up on the highway median. I had a serious start when I realized that an extended family of 15 or so was sharing a space that was 7 feet on a side. They have to sleep and eat in shifts because there isn't enough room inside for them all at one time. Ok, I knew that people lived in poverty. I'm not completely naive. But some mathematical neuron fired, and I realized that my BED is almost 7 feet on a side. 15 people live in a space that is the size of my bed. I'm not kidding. (And I wasn't thrilled, back in the day, when that space was occupied for the night by me, my husband, and whichever child was claiming to be having nightmares.) And there is no access to services, sporadic electricity, and frequently there is a mountain of garbage upon which they live. Is that the good life?

Yes, these are neighborhoods. Or they can be. But so are the communities that have been left behind. Or so they might have been. Parents want their children not to be trapped by dire poverty, by social constraints, by illiteracy. So sometimes they move to these urban communities, to free themselves from -or hide from- the societal constraints that were entrapping them in the rural areas. Some parents, though, are trying to stay behind in the rural communities and make that work. They want not to have to sell their children into indentured servitude or downright slavery, but also to live where the family has lived for generations. It seems to me that there must be a place for both kinds of response to the universal human desire to offer our children more than we have.

This community organizing, building upon an expressed need and local expertise, is something I know about. And these are some of the questions on the table for the people I'm working with right now. Can rural, subsistence living be sustained these days? Can we offer our children safe, secure, and option-filled lives, in these rural communities? (Now THIS I know about from having raised children in a rural environment. It's not the easiest sell for me, but again I'm trying to keep an open mind.) Does education necessarily drive people "off the farm" and into the cities? Does education necessarily distance the educated young people from the less well educated parents and grandparents? Might there be a way to re-think that?

I don't know any of the answers. But I wanted all of you to know that at least I'm ignoring you for important questions. And, if you know the answers, you could... you know.... give me a little hint. Save us all some time ;)

Thursday, January 18, 2007

I'm Not Ignoring You

Well, I guess I am, actually. I'm out of town on a bit of a mission. And there's only sporadic internet access, so that's why I'm ignoring you. I am working on some thoughts re: social service delivery and access and who goes to whom.... and whether or not schools are the right places to deliver social services -in this country or any other. And how passion can just get in the damn way, but I wouldn't be without it. I think.

But for now I have to get back to work. I'm alive and well, and thinking of all of you.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Friday Random 10

You know the drill. Set your iPod to shuffle and tell us the first 10 songs that appear. And no fair leaving out the ones that make you look like a dork or adding in ones you think will make you look cool. Here are mine for the week:

  • To Daddy; Emmylou Harris
  • Largo from Concerto for Guitar; Vivaldi
  • Survivor; Destiny's Child
  • Adagio Sostenuto from Moonlight Sonata; Beethoven
  • Almost Home; Craig Morgan
  • Bless the Beasts and the Children; Carpenters (Oh good grief... there's an explanation.... really
  • Universal Soldier; Buffy Saint-Marie
  • The Highwayman; Loreena McKennitt
  • Slavonic Dances -No. 1; Dvorak
  • Let's Ride Again; Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons (it's our theme song for getting on our bikes, so that's my excuse)

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Our Options are Closed

If I've said it once, I've said it a thousand times. Keep your options open. I've said it to my children as they forged a path through higher education and career choices. I've said it to social work clients. I've used it as a little mantra to myself. And now I get to give this canned little speech to George Bush.

Keeping options open doesn't mean keeping them open forever. Certainly one must eventually choose among them. The things we do choose inevitably leave behind the detritus of the thing not chosen. Don't look back; there's really no point. The idea behind my little mantra is not to wallow in indecision but rather to make sure there are options in the first place. A little bonus is to choose among ethical options, or at the very least to choose the ethical option from among several possibilities.

But here's the thing. Our fearless leader (who really needs to develop a sense of fear, among other psychological issues) has left all of us with no good choices. There are only three options, it seems. We pull out now. Today or very soon. We stay the course, which amounts to leaving gradually. Doesn't it? Or, we do something different, and the President's decision is to send more troops to wage this war "right". Somehow "do no harm" seems never to have been on the table as an option. The thing not chosen was to avoid war in the first place, and it's really too late to fret about that. We did go to war, and we have to go forward from here.

Here's another trick from social work, George. Sometimes the solution you were sure would work doesn't work. It's baffling, and it happens to all of us occasionally. It seems to be human nature to thrash around a bit and do the wrong thing more, harder, better. If the problem was determination or sheer strength, there will be results quickly. If nothing happens, the problem was the tool itself. Frequently when this happens, the problem has been framed poorly. You chose a poor response to the problem because you misunderstood the problem in the first place.

You might be making the mistake of thinking that there is a military solution at all. Maybe it's a political problem instead and would respond to political tools. Perhaps it's an intellectual problem or a moral one or even a spiritual one. I don't claim to know.

But think outside the box for two minutes together, for the love of all things holy. Because I can tell you right now what's going to happen as a result of this escalation, and none of us is going to like it. Including you.

As VirusHead so wisely points out, our future is being stolen from us as well.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

My Carbon Diet - The Home Office

This week wraps up the eight-week Carbon Diet Challenge sponsored by Tree Hugger and Slate magazine. (Everyone else is, of course, long since finished. I'm bringing up the rear, as usual.) This week, it's time to turn our attention to the activity dear to the hearts of crunchy-granola types everywhere: recycling and otherwise reducing the environmental impact of the home office. Paper production is one of the most energy-intensive American industries and I'm here to tell you the mills do nothing good for the environment. When I was a little girl, we lived in the same town as a paper mill. Lord have mercy, those things stink.

Recycling paper, using recycled paper, and using scrap paper really do make a difference. Opting out of junk mail saves paper and irritation. Here's a link to get you started: FTC Opt-Out Letter. A person can even turn off the steady stream of credit card offers. Siel turned me on to this one, and I've been grateful ever since. Here's the link: Opt-Out. A person could turn off the computer monitor at night, to save energy and keep a second recycling bucket by your desk.

If I do all of the things I said I would do (and I intend to), then I'll be responsible for about 600 fewer pounds of carbon dioxide emissions. That sounds a lot more impressive than "the equivalent of 0.07 cars". Sheesh.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

The First Meme of 2007

I borrowed this from Michael over at Musing's Musings. It's fun -and I suppose a good way for people to learn more about me. Join in, as you like.

1) The phone rings. Who do you want it to be? My favorite choice is my husband calling me, just to chat. But bless his heart, he doesn't really do that.
2) When shopping at the grocery store, do you return your cart? Yes, always.
3) In a social setting, are you more of a talker or a listener? A talker, I fear. I have a tendency toward the extrovert-run-amok, which I try to keep in check.
4) If abandoned alone in the wilderness, would you survive? Oh good heavens, no. You might as well send me into the wilderness with a target on my back. I'd get lost, starve to death, and be eaten by something within about hour.
5) Do you like to ride horses? As a kid, I rode sometimes. But I haven't gone horseback riding in decades nor have I missed it. So apparently it wasn't the love of my life.
6) Did you ever go to camp as a kid? Not the sleep-away kind.
7) What was your favorite board game as a kid? Monopoly, but we never played by the rules. I just wanted to buy property, preferably the ones with pretty-colored cards. Then we would quit. I was astonished to learn that there was more to the game than that.
8) If a sexy person were pursuing you, but you knew he/she was taken what would you do? After I dropped dead from surprise, you mean? I suppose this would be where the Mom-glare might come in handy. "I'm taken. You're taken. Go find something constructive to do."
9) Are you judgmental? Probably some people think so, but I don't think so. I'm tolerant of a wide array of lifestyles, choices, beliefs.... But when something's really wrong (in the world-according-to-Andrea) I say that.
10) Would you date someone with different religious beliefs? I have done, but it was difficult.
11) Are you continuing your education? I don't foresee pursuing more formal education, but absolutely yes, I'm continuing my education.
12) Do you know how to shoot a gun? No.
13) If your house was on fire, what’s the first thing you’d grab? The photo albums
14) How often do you read books? Every day.
15)Do you think more about the past, present or future? I can get tangled up fretting about the future, so I try to bring my thoughts back to this moment. I'm not always good at doing that.
16) What is your favorite children’s book? The Snowman by Raymond Briggs
17) How tall are you? almost 4'11"
18) Where is your ideal house located? by the ocean, but Provence would be a close second choice
19) Last person you talked to? My husband
20) When was the last time you were at Olive Garden? Easter day, two years ago -almost. I have this friend who had a mysterious brain bleed on the Saturday evening before Easter. Everyone gathered at her hospital bed that Sunday. At one point, she was still intubated and in a coma, yet we needed to mark the Easter-ness of the day somehow. A large group went looking for a restaurant, and Olive Garden was right there -and they're tolerant of large motley crews, so there we were.
21) What are your keys on your key chains for? one car key. one work key. That's all I have.
22) What did you do last night? Went to dinner at a friend's house. It was lovely.
23) Where is your current pain? Wow! Is it a given that I have a pain? My neck and shoulders are always a little tight, I suppose.
24) Do you like mustard? Yes. I make my own. Weird, but true.
25) Do you like your mom and dad? Yes. My dad's dead, and he was a bit of a case, but a likeable case. My mom's sort of benignly goofy, but is a fabulous person and hard not to like.
26) How long does it take you in the shower? however long the hot water lasts.
27) What movie do you want to see right now? I haven't heard of one in the theaters that I want to watch, but my netflix queue has about 100 movies on it. The one I'm waiting for now is The Queen, with Helen Mirrin.
28) Do you put lotion on your dog or cats? Do they need lotion? Who knew? I don't have a dog or a cat.
29) What did you do for New Year’s? Partied with a bunch of mathematicians and their partners. Try to restrain your jealousy.
30) Do you think The Grudge was scary? I don't have the slightest idea. What's The Grudge?
31) Do you own a camera phone? Yes, but I haven't figured out how to move the pictures from the phone to my computer.
32) What’s the last letter of your middle name? E (Terese)
33) Who did you vote for on American Idol? American Idol? I thought that was a TV show. How do you vote on a television show? I obviously didn't vote, I guess.
34) How many hours of sleep do you get a night? 7-8, if I can pull it off.
35) Do you like Care Bears? Care Bears are WAY after my time, and weren't even all that popular when my kids were little, so I don't know much about them. I tend not to like those made-to-sell-toys characters marketed to children.
36) Do you know how to play poker? Sort of. But I have a very expressive face, so I lose. Fast.
37) Do you wear your seatbelt? Yes, always.
38) What do you sleep in? I have a weird fondness for pretty or cute pajamas and nightgowns, so that's what I sleep in.
39) Anything big ever happen in your hometown? Barbed wire and Cindy Crawford were invented/born there.
40) Is your tongue pierced? ewwwwwww..... no.
41) Who’s the funniest person you know? My brothers can make you cry, they're so funny.
42) Do you like funny or serious people better? I like people of all kinds. If I had to pick, I'd probably go for serious, but I wouldn't want to pick, at all at all.
43) Did you eat a cookie today? Nope, and there aren't any hanging around, so I probably won't.
44) Do you use cuss words in other languages? Oh my, yes.
45) Do you steal or pay for your music downloads? Pay for. One of my children showed me how to steal it, and I did download one song illegally. But I felt so terrible, it wasn't worth it.
46) When was the last time you said “I love you” and meant it? This morning. And I always mean it.
47) Is your cell usually on vibrate or ring?Ring
48) Do you need a boyfriend/girlfriend? Oh my goodness, no. I have a fictitious boyfriend named Lars that I tease my husband about. But Lars doesn't actually exist.


Monday, January 08, 2007

It was bound to happen.....

Only a moron puts a blog out into the ether and yet believes that it's private. Okay, I didn't think it was private, exactly, but it didn't occur to me that anyone cared that it was here. I use this space, as you know, to start figuring things out. It's a place to put the ideas and thoughts that are rattling around in my head and cluttering up the place, preventing my brain from figuring out where my car keys are. Or (and?) it's a place to find and chat with like-minded people whom I wouldn't otherwise have "met".

But here's what happened a few days ago and yesterday. These events may be unrelated, but somehow I'm dubious. A few days ago there was an anonymous comment on a months-old post -something about gay marriage and Catholicism. The comment suggested that I wasn't actually Catholic. Since, in spite of such a cowardly (anonymous!) declaration, no one's revoked my baptism, I didn't give it another thought. Yesterday I went to church (Mike, where were you? I needed you!) and someone whose name I don't even know came up to me and said that she felt duty-bound to tattle about my blog to the parish priests. I'm afraid that the sarcasm that I usually only think, rather than say, did actually spill out of my mouth. So, I must take some responsibility for possibly having escalated this situation.

That's as far as it's gotten. I have no message from any of the priests. No one's called. They're probably going to try to divert this person to more salubrious ministries.

Yet, in case you're a parish priest and reading this blog for the first time, here's the thing. Welcome. Get comfortable. Stay a while and make comments and have fun with us. I love dialogue, even when it gets intense -as long as it's respectful. My hard-nosed rule, though, is that I will not be summoned. If you want to talk about these issues, let's do it here, for now.

Come, let us reason together.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

On Beyond Recycling

I watched An Inconvenient Truth last night. Yes, I'd seen it before. But I'd forgotten to take it out of my netflix queue, and I didn't have any other movies and I needed to knit. So I watched a movie I'd seen before so I could spend some quiet time knitting. Weird, but true.

It might well be too little too late, but I/we (all of us) need to move beyond putting the recycling out and remembering to keep the yard waste out of the trash. Assuming, of course, that we intend to save the planet. For one thing, I'm losing my identity as the causy rebel if that's all I do. My 80 year old neighbor on the one side and the oh-so-very-Republican neighbors on the other both recycle. It's obviously become mainstream to recycle, and it violates a local ordinance to put yard waste in the trash stream. So I clearly have to move on to other things, if only for reasons of self-image ;)

So, what's next? Recycling reduces the impact of one problem: landfills. This is a good thing. Yet, as I drive down my street on recycling day, I'm still vaguely disturbed by the amount of stuff out there in the recycling buckets. It would be so much worse if that volume were being dumped in the landfills. I get that. But why does most of it exist at all?

It's the same feeling that I get when looking around at my house, actually. So please don't think I'm blaming those other people, the conspicuous consumers. There is no room in this house (and there are 14 of them) that doesn't have unnecessary stuff in it. I'm starting one of those "get rid of it" rampages again.

But here's another side of the same coin. I don't want a grim, ascetic life or home. I don't want to live in a space that feels unwelcoming because, by God, we're living simply. (And I mean it this time!) Rather, if this little family is going to be authentically who it is, we need a space that is fun and welcoming and large. And slightly more organized than it currently is, wouldn't hurt anything either.

There's a group on yahoo that has pledged to go a step further, purchasing almost nothing in the next year. They give themselves a pass for food, cleaning, health supplies, and services such as necesssary transportation. They call themselves The Compact and here's what they say about themselves:
"We are a group of individuals committed to a 12-month flight from the consumer grid.

The Compact has several aims (more or less prioritized below):

* To go beyond recycling in trying to counteract the negative global environmental and socioeconomic impacts of disposable consumer culture and to support local businesses, farms, etc. -- a step that, we hope, inherits the revolutionary
* To reduce clutter and waste in our homes (as in trash Compact-er).
* To simplify our lives (as in Calm-pact)

I joined the yahoo group, but so far they are a bit austere -making laundry soap from quinoa and arguing about whether or not it violates the compact to fly to grandma's funeral. Oh spare me. Offset carbon miles if you like, but get to your grandmother's funeral. And quinoa doesn't belong in the laundry room, as far as I'm concerned. Nonetheless, the idea of fleeing consumerism is an interesting one.

Some people are doing an excellent job of making living a "green" life consistent with being hip. Siel at Green LA Girl and Ideal Bite come to mind. Thank heavens they are out there. But I need something else, since even those women can't turn me into a hip person. What a want is abundance of a different sort. Not stuff, but ambiance. I want joy, a sense of welcome, and social justice to inform my consumer choices. There it is. That's what I want. If a consumer good isn't going to move me closer to that, then I don't want it.

Now I have to give some thought to what that actually means when I'm standing in the grocery store, contemplating the fairly grim choices among, say, high-fiber cereals. But I do think this projects merits more musing.