Wednesday, February 27, 2013

"Creativity is Through the Roof"

Tonight I share with you a piece I wrote for my personal journal on June 22, 2011. Just a month before we moved to the Dominican Republic. As Josh and I substitute teach every day in the school district here state-side, spend our nights at our online jobs & endeavors we normally do island-side, waiting to return to our Dominican life to launch the next VERY exciting adventure, I draw many connections to that time almost two years ago. Shared:

Oregon Coast. Photo courtesy of Littmssunshine Blog

Last week, J & I finally got away for 24 hours sans children to celebrate our anniversary and relax. We went to the beach, surprise, surprise. The thing is, though, I love that tradition of ours and this year was likely the last year of it since we'll be moving 3,442 miles away. No joke. With an ocean in there somewhere.
After leaving our regular jobs just four days before, we both realized this immense weight lifted from our shoulders. That may seem quaint or obvious to others, but as we talked while strolling the cold, windy beach, it hit us that this last year was over. We had decided to both work full time to be able to leave and had known it would be incredibly difficult going in. We'd done difficult before though--in the first months of our marriage, at one time, we had 6 teenage foster children. Psychotic? Perhaps. But they can't test for that when you pee in a cup and they were pretty eager to find a place for those kids. More on that in a later post.
We had several difficult conversations leading up to both of us working full time, making sure that we both had the same priorities: our children, the core activities of our Faith and saving enough money to be able to move. Everything else, there wouldn't be much personal time for. I put away my paints. J put away his guitar. I put away my beads. J put away his writing. I put away most of my culinary excursions (this one was easier to squeeze a few in since the end result was somewhat vital). Of course, we incorporated these into our core activities, but its different sharing snip-its with a group than spending a solid three hours to yourself. We both put away the stacks of books that each of us wanted to read for pleasure. We put into storage frequent outings with friends, monthly dates, vacations--both mini and grandiose, buying most gifts, new clothes for ourselves, going out to the movies, eating out and any number of other things that we enjoy as part of our lifestyle before this last year. Before this last year, J was a stay-at-home dad and I worked full-time, but walked a pleasant 7 minutes to work and was done by 3:30 each day. And had enough time to come home for lunch. We enjoyed one another. We had enough for everything we needed. The kids were with one or both of their parents 24/7--something really important to J & I. Everything fit leisurely into our schedule. We were rested, fresh, ready for what was next.
J turned to me, his windbreaker rippling against him and the waves crashing in, "I feel like our creativity is coming back."
I nodded, knowing exactly what he meant. We'd been freed.
"I feel like I'm retiring from a life I had to live so I could live the life I want to live," I responded. I can be a bit dramatic. It was only a year. But it was a tough one. The thing is, this next chapter may be even more difficult. The difference? Its aligned to our goals & aspirations. Its so clearly part of our life-long dream. It aligns perfectly to what we believe our purpose is. Standing on the edge, in this moment right before jumping in, even though there are so many unknowns--we're both beside ourselves with excitement. We've drawn up a dream for ourselves, and thus far, we're following it--fiercely. Its been a long haul. And its only just begun.
In this last week--the first of precious few without work and before we move--the creativity and joy has been flowing through us like ketchup from an EZ-Squeeze bottle. I've baked breads and pastries, cooked a variety of cuisines, made chocolates, worked for hours upon hours with my acrylics and beads, laughed and played with my kiddos without thinking about anything else, been out with friends, and even thrown a party just because I wanted to. J takes a bit longer to transition into things, but he's noticeably more at ease--with the exception of an international move on our minds. That's all.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Meet Junior

This is Junior.

Photo credit: Lino Sanchez, videographer extraordinaire

Junior is sitting on the front porch of one of our neighbor's houses waiting for me to interview him. Again.
A week or so before this picture was taken, I asked him:
"What is your favorite book?"
He thought for a moment, avoiding my eyes and responded, "The Bible." Junior wasn't the only kid who said that--not by a long shot. While many of you may be heartened by his response, the reality is likely quite different.
When I tell island-side friends about this, there are various theories that arise. The two most popular are: he is taught to answer that or that's probably the only book in his house.

An hour before this photo was snapped, we had story time. Josh and I plan each story session using only non-fiction books which fall under a particular theme for that day. We do this because while all books are scarce, non-fiction is virtually non-existent.
On this particular day, we talked about water: the water cycle, where water comes from, and what we use water for.
"Where does water come from?" I asked the group before reading and discussing.
"De la llave, from the tap," a tiny voice responded.

The wee one asking Josh to read to her after story time.   Photo credit: Lino Sanchez

They are so eager. By the end of the hour, each one of them could tell you about the water cycle and how amazing & essential it is for all of us. Ready hands shot up each time I asked a question. Each time I pulled a new book from my bag, eyes widened and pleas to read it ensued. Please note, this has nothing to do with me. I'm not a notable story teller. I don't have chocolates in my pockets (well, maybe, but those are for me, not the kids). And I can't tell a good joke to save my life. These miniature people around my neighborhood are genuinely interested in and eager to read and be read to. Many--you'd be surprised how many--want to learn how to read. And I'm not talking about the 7 & under crowd.

There just aren't any books.

After story time, I asked Junior again.
"What is your favorite book?"
"The one about water," he said, confident.
I smiled, "You mean the one we just read?"
He nodded, pleased.

In honor of Junior and these eager kids, we're offering a new perk over at the library funding campaign headquarters.

February 25th begins four special, celebratory days dedicated to service, charity and sharing called Ayyam-i-Ha. Baha'is and their friends will be offering and partaking the world around. You're invited too.

Ayyam-i-Ha title=

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Shall I compare thee to a... -- by Josh

...summer's read?  On this marvelous Pre-Valentine's Day, I was strolling through the forest, thinking of my dear, incomparable wife.  As I pondered her variety of virtues, it struck me that Rebecca is kind of like a good book. I may have noticed her striking cover first (front and back), but once I got to know what was inside, I knew I'd judged right.
First off, living with my super spouse is nothing if not educational.  I learn all sorts of great things, like how to be more organized, more thoughtful, and more generous. She generally refrains from teaching me with words (unless I really screw up), but enlightens my life with her example.
She is also entertaining.  I fell deeply in love with her the first time she told me a horribly hilarious, rather embarrassing, poop joke.  She had me rolling on the floor and right into her arms.  She is my best friend, and nothing's better than just chillin' with my friend and talking.
We spotted some snow on the way to Bend last spring with the kids and cousins. A bit of scrambling and slipping and sliding down the hill and...snowball fight!
As you might have guessed, my wife takes me on adventures as well.  We've always valued spontaneity, and even if we've started planning a bit more, it's only because our adventures have become more complex.  I knew she was the eternal kinda girl the day we randomly decided to skip work and class and drive two hours to meet half-way between our respective college towns. Another night, when she was about 5 months pregnant, we were grabbing a bite at Shari's after a movie and we both looked up at each other and said, "Hey, wanna go to Seattle?"  Luckily we have adventurous friends too with generous open-door policies!  Oh, there was also a wild move to the Caribbean with our dear little ones, and well, it seems like that's just another beginning in itself.
Finally, like any good book, my soul-mate is pure comfort.  She calms me, engrosses me and keeps me coming back for more, and I hope it'll never end.
So, Happy Pre-Valentine's Day my sweet wife!

* Comforting

Its Valentine's Day, Schmoopy!

Dedicated to David & Sheila. The Original Schmoopsters.

I've never written so many love notes in my life. My husband is great 'n all, I'm just not terribly forthcoming with the lovey-dovey on paper. We've been promoting the library, however, and somewhere in there promised to send valentines to a great many people. I'm covered in ink and confetti hearts. Turns out this love thing ain't half bad, so I thought I'd share a bit with you, dear reader.

Here goes. Let me know how I do. A love note just for you:

In honor of a guy I don't know who promoted courtly love hundreds of years ago, I'm inspired to wish you all the best and most wonderful things. But only tomorrow. So get ready. Should be an action-packed 24 hours.

In my professional opinion, these are the best things from this lovely, physical world (and, consequently, the things I wish for you):
Peanut butter, tire swings, snort-laughter, re-usable grocery bags, Rumi one-liners, colorful photographs, carpooling, long walks (with good shoes), getting your teeth cleaned, Chai lattes, paint, little kid jokes, picnics, big earrings, puddle jumping, hermit crabs, Naked Lady parties, bubbles, double features, trampolines, homemade bread, Cortney Gusick's hands, sunshine, peeing outside, the Ferris wheel in London, popcorn, rock skipping, hammocks (the big ones), carving pumpkins, sitting next to people who smell good, flip-flops, Chiclets, street signs, baby goats (maybe), naps, gnomes, windmills and Don Quijote, full-support underwear, trains, knowing your neighbors, windows that open, messages inside/on food (except candy hearts because those taste like chalk), crowds that do the wave, fluffy bath mats, comic strips, campfires, plane tickets, Jose "Nene" Montalvo's cooking, balloons, generous and talented artists, Diamond Beach with Melanie, biogas, Trader Joe's truffles, elastic waist bands, five-hour-good-book-reading-sessions, sidewalks, carpet samples, staying up too late, sunflowers, drive-thrus, thank-you notes, goldfish crackers, the US Postal Service, hair picks, fresh mangoes, finding money in your pocket, barns, bike rides, raspberries, slinkies, the sounds the Angry Birds make, custom-made t-shirts, whipped cream, Irish accents, guitar players, Skype-dates, scarves, Bop-It XT, Thai take-out, keeping house plants alive, fart jokes, roasted vegetables, new haircuts, pet names, wrinkles, Post-It notes, spontaneity, dancing in the aisles, drawing on napkins, slippers and long lists. And you. You're absolutely, without question, hands-down, one of the best.

Thank you, Schmoopy. Happy Valentine's Day.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Send me a letter, if you can! -- by Josh

A couple of years ago, as the U.S. was in the midst of an economic downturn, a South American colleague made an interesting comment to me: "This country (the U.S.) is sliding into the 3rd world."
I was intrigued as to what would make her say something like that. However, now that I've spent some more time in, let's say, a place with less emphasis on the public well-being, I can see the danger of an over-zealous swing toward privatization.
I've never seen a UPS office that looked this cool (Courtesy of)

Over the last several years, there has been in the U.S. a disturbing trend toward implementing the kind of system that any American would gripe and groan about if they saw it in another country. "What do you mean the police don't show up if you call them?" "What do you mean you have to pay a subscription for fire service?" (I wish this was a joke!) "We have to buy drinking water separately?" "Wait, you have to pay individually for a private school?" 
I was struck today by yet another example of this downslide in services that we have long taken for granted, namely, the post office. The U.S. post office has been hung out to dry by Congress over the past couple of decades (according to my thorough research), and is being criticized for not covering all of their costs. "But FedEx does it!" is the common complaint. But a grand point is being missed. Postal service is a public good. The private companies have no mandate that requires them to deliver anywhere, no matter how remote.
The post office is a cornerstone of democracy, the free flow of information, but like I mentioned earlier, this is just one of many examples of a vociferous minority demanding that we turn our backs on the notion of a common good. I think, however, that most do not agree. The only problem lies in the subtle, slow way in which the changes are taking place, like frogs slowly boiling.
I've thought a great deal about the power of unity and coordination over the past couple of years. For example, in the D.R. I pay about $1 for a 5-gallon jug of drinking water because the tap water isn't, well, potable. We consume about 4 or 5 per week as a family. Now, if each family does the same, and you multiply it by, let's say 30,000 households in our city, that's $150,000 a week spent on jugs of water to private companies. Then there's the cost of transporting the water, picking up the jugs, washing the jugs, etc. Surely it would be more economical to just create a functioning drinking water system. It at least would be comparable. The equation seems clear to me: by unifying and coordinating our actions and priorities, we can offer more services more cheaply.
Alas, I currently have no sway over the municipal sewer/water peeps, nor the slightest bit of actual knowledge on the topic. If only there were a place to check out books on that.
Zora weeping profusely on the afternoon we visited the public library in Woodburn, 
only to find their hours had been cut due to budget cuts.

Aha! I will start where I can: We can bring library services to a whole section of the city that has never checked out a book just for the pleasure of reading. We can offer literacy help for kids who have fallen behind and would otherwise just fall through the cracks. We can provide a place and experiences for kids to fall in love with books, enriching their minds and widening their horizon of opportunities. 
I want one! What an awesome PUBLIC library building. (Courtesy of These Folks)

We can give kids the chance to read for pleasure and empowerment. After all, every problem on that list can be solved by educating and uniting ourselves.
Anyone who knows me, knows I love to gripe just as much as the hypothetical Americans above (I consider myself an equal-opportunity complainer, freely sharing my opinion about any place or issue). But now it's time to get to work. I've already been inspired by all the people who have shown their support, and I know that it's just the beginning. So, let's do this!

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Space Bubbles. Pop.

I was in the mall yesterday. So that was weird. It felt like 1994 again.
Josh, the kids and I wandered around a bit looking for a bookstore. No luck. We settled for Legos for the birthday girl. Last minute shopping, you know the drill (or you should try it at least once if you don't).
As we headed out, I spotted a scene in the Starbucks worthy of note here.
Can you see what I saw?
The mall, circa 2013
A line. Not just any line. Those people are standing one behind another, with "personal bubble" space in between. Incredible. I had to take a picture.
You will never-ever-ever-ever see something like this in the Dominican Republic. First of all, Dominicans would never go for Starbucks. Its pretty weeny coffee. Didn't see that comin', did ya?
Secondly, to be served in the DR is a sport. You must:
*use your elbows
*position your hips on the defensive
*be loud
*wave your arms
*and sometimes resort to pushing. Vigorously.
I'm not sure if any of this is considered rude. I am sure that this is what is done. I've tried doing what the people at Starbucks are doing. I was never served. Ever.
I remember clearly the exact moment I snapped and succumbed to peer pressure. I was standing at the counter of a Claro desk (so you know I'm already upset) waiting for ClaroLady to look up from her solitaire game on the computer when a tall, muscular man stepped right next to me, positioning his foot in front of mine. ClaroLady looked up and immediately deferred to FootsyGuy. I spoke up.
"Hey! I was here first."
FootsyGuy looked down at me, "Oh, yes. Ladies are always first."
"Yeah," I retorted--did he actually think he was a gentleman here?--"especially when the lady arrived here before you!"
ClaroLady served the snotty American and I was officially broken in. Good thing I don't drink Starbucks (except from the drive-thru).

Monday, February 4, 2013

Cap'tivated by Life -- by Josh

Yesterday, while Max was vacuuming his grandma's house, he let out a loud giggle. He looked up at me with a face glowing red and asked, "Have you seen this picture?!"  He giggled some more and ran over to show me. 
It was one of my favorite pictures of his maternal great-grandparents, from a long-ago African safari.  In the photo, there they are, Dr. Bill semi-squatting over a giant pile of elephant dung and June holding out a roll of toilet paper, dying of laughter.  This, to me, spoke a great deal about a wonderful man who I was lucky enough to get to know in the twilight of his life. He was a complex, yet uncomplicated, person.  How such a great man could be so extremely humble is truly beyond me.

Zora and Cap't feeding the birds. Zora was crushed when he passed, but told us that he will always live in her heart.
A few weeks ago, as we rolled up to the homestead from the airport on a freezing winter night, I glanced over at the Captain's house, dark and quiet.  I realized that it was the very first time since I met my wife and her fantastically fascinating family that I'd been at the house and there was no Captain next door.  Many a Sunday night, after we'd finished a cuadri-generational family dinner, I'd gone over to his house to do laundry and shoot the breeze.  His washer took forever, so it was a great opportunity just to hang out and watch 60 Minutes, which always spurred some conversation related to our higher purpose and the absolute necessity of spending our lives helping others.
The time during the healthcare "debate" a few years back was especially interesting.  He had a great perspective on such things, having worked for decades in health care finding ways to help people who most thought beyond assistance.  He was generally so laid back, but when topics such as this (as well as the importance of matrimony and the care and education of children) arose, his fierier side would come out.  He was just indignant that anyone would be denied health care, and he was no idle kavetcher (like yours truly).  Rather, he'd spent his life putting into action all of his ideals, often to his immediate detriment.
People pushed back against his ideas for years, but he was calmly persistent and won people over with evidence, hard-won through much work.  He was not one to be pulled into silly dramas, and so he soldiered on until, by virtue of undeniable proof, those who'd doubted him became supporters.
I had the privilege of accompanying him to a medical conference in San Diego several years ago.  He loved to travel, and shamed me with his simplicity of packing. He was always very practical.
Anyhow, before that trip I'd heard from Rebecca's family about the Captain's work with cochlear implants, and I'd even met a couple of his patients, to whom he'd brought the gift of hearing. Yet I was struck most by seeing how he was treated by the doctors at the conference. Pardon my stereotyping, but generally speaking, world-renowned surgeons are not easily-impressed.  Yet whenever Dr. Bill ran into someone he knew, they bowed before him and lavished him with praise. My favorite such moment was when we were waiting for a session to start and a nice woman offered him her seat.  We struck up a conversation and it turned out she and her friend were from Brazil.  Dr. Bill told her about some of his travels to that illustrious nation, and when she asked his name, she blushed like a school-girl.  "In Brazil, when I was in medical school, one of our required texts was a book about you and your work!"
Dr. Bill, however, was less interested in reminiscing about his past successes and more interested in patient well-being.  He spent the entire week lobbying for a new test he'd developed for screening babies' hearing. Dr. Bill never rested on his laurels.
Yet, like I said, my time with him was in his "retirement", out on the farm.  He simply loved getting visits from his grandkids, and Zora, having a natural proclivity for sitting and talking, adored her Great Cap't Whenever we would spend time at Rebecca's parents' house, Zora would play for a while, then head out the door and down the little sidewalk to her great grandpa's house.  The Captain, after all, really did have the heart of a child with the mind of a genius.  Who else would spot such a hilarious photo-op while on safari?
There are many, many lessons that I learned from this man.  First and foremost, however, is his dedication to serving humanity.  Dr. Bill worked his tail off for many a year, not out of a desire to bolster his ego, but out of a determination to help his patients.  He knew that it would take hard work, and he welcomed such work, and did it astoundingly well.  From him I have learned that it isn't enough just to complain, we have to go out and work tirelessly to improve the world.
I have also learned from his general approach to life.  It strikes me that, much like Abdu'l-Baha asks us to, he walked the spiritual path with practical feet.  He had a deep connection with his Creator and never stopped asking questions, fascinated by the world around.  Yet he also approached problems with an impressive pragmatism, interested more in getting results than in looking a certain way.
The little house down the sidewalk is emptying out now, bit by bit, as the estate sells off things here and there, and my family has inherited a few keepsakes to remind us of him. But, like my sweet Zora said, we will really always keep him in our hearts.
Months before he passed away, as the library plan was percolating in our brains, we'd begun to talk about names.  The one name for the library that kept surfacing involved the Captain, because he was just such a remarkable person.  Then one day, much like the way we named Zora, we just knew. Biblioteca Comunitaria Dr. William House.  An earnest, and hopefully one day deserving, attempt to honor the memory of a man who worked ceaselessly, with a smile, to bring hope and opportunity to all.  We love you Cap't.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

I Wrote a Book

For all three of you who have asked me to consider writing a book, today is your lucky day. I have. You're welcome.
Actually, I also have a second one that's 3/4 done, but I can't publish it until my husband dies or divorces me--neither of which I'm hoping for. That's another story. My husband is a saint, don't get the wrong idea. If you think of a good pseudonym--a nice nom de plume, if you will--let me know.

My e-book, I am an Illegal Immigrant, is available through our library's campaign website. Donate $10 and I'll send it to you in March when they all go out. If you're nice to me, I might send it earlier.

The library is also happy to offer you the chance at some love in your mailbox. Yeah, you.

You can win a Kindle E-Reader. Check out details here:

The contest details are in the video description. Or here.

You can also get a valentine from us folks at the library. Check out the details here.

Share on Facebook, tweet on Twitter, post on your blog, send up a flare, write a postcard, tell the world about it on YouTube, call your senator, yell it to the neighbor, dedicate a song on the radio, and just think good thoughts about our future library space and local library coordinator. And maybe about the hubs and I, but we're just the volunteers behind this whole thing--it's the community that you're really helping here.
Once you've shared as much as your big heart allows, go here and enter your name and address. Or the name and address of someone you'd like us to send a valentine to. We'll do it. Scout's honor. Actually, full disclosure here, I was a campfire girl. Campfire girl's honor!
Dost your eyes deceive you? Nope. Those are, in fact, paper confetti hearts.
You too can be vacuuming them up for weeks!
And do it by February 10th-ish. I live in the Caribbean after all. We're pretty relaxed. I own a hammock.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Our Community Library or It's Getting Windy

Well, it's official.
We've got an umbrella NGO, Learn Across Borders, taking care of us. We're all over social media sites like flies on my leftovers; pinning things and sharing things and updating things and tweeting things. No promises that those will be updated as often as they are now. One can dream (and I do. Often.). After all, once we have a regular schedule at a legit library storefront, my time priorities will look vastly different.
But this is it. Our first, formal attempt to fly using other people's wind. Not farts, but Bette Midler kind of support-wind. You know you're my hero, right?
We've just launched an Indiegogo campaign to fund the library's locale and two local hires for the first year while we get our self-sustaining piece in order (that'll take time, but we want to give this to kids & their teachers muy pronto). You're the first to know. I just like you, I guess. Even if you don't have big, red hair and a sweet, little, grey number, like Bette.
We've been running our version of a library for some time now, in a variety of capacities. We currently offer story time, loan books to kids, gather books related to teacher's curriculae and bring it into their classrooms for support, and we've even done a teacher training for a couple schools. So far, its all happened in our home, our neighbor's homes and in local classrooms. We're busting at the seams to expand into an actual community space, with set hours, reading nooks, a focus on inspiration, creativity & service--and a place where the community can come together to raise the quality of life for ourselves and our children.
A friend and former student of mine put together this video for us. It'll give you some idea of what we're doing. Check it out on the campaign site: