….and what of the origami cranes?

At our wedding reception, a friend approached us and asked what we planned to do with the thousand paper origami cranes suspended from wires on the ceiling?  We looked up at said paper-birds, our mouths naturally gaping from the tilt.  Whooo had thought of that?  Not us.  That’s who hadn’t.

She, however, had heard of a group gathering cranes to send to Japan to raise money for places devastated by the earthquake and tsunami back in March.  For every crane collected, they would donate $2 to the relief effort.  Awesome!  We’d done something to help people without even meaning to!

Not really though.  I looked up the project after the cranes had been languishing in our office in a cardboard box for a couple of weeks, and it had ended back in April.  That’s a bummer–but it was so cool to see the results of the crane collection!  Cranes had come from countries all over the world, and “Students Rebuild”, a program of the nonprofit organization The Bezos Family Foundation, ended up donating $200,000 to the relief effort and giving the cranes to artist Vik Muniz to create the marvelous piece of work that you can see by clicking the above link.

That still left us with a box full of wires and birds in the office, among a number of other wedding-related accoutrement we had yet to find a place for.

So after a lot of scouting around on the internet, I came across a blog coordinating crane-folders with a group who collects them, and sends them to people who are fighting cancer.  It doesn’t necessarily raise $2 per piece, but it does carry forward the same sort of spirit we’d originally tried to adopt when we were making the cranes for the wedding.  They aren’t just for decoration.  Each origami crane is a wish for a successful marriage, or a wish for good fortune in general.  I am not very superstitious, but I do like what the cranes symbolize, and I believe that there was enough good energy and love put into those cranes and present at our wedding to gladly pass it on to someone who is fighting a really difficult battle.

Hopefully they make it safely across the country in that balloon (what the lady at the post office told me those “in the know” call a big box that’s incredibly light)!  We e-mailed them to let them know it’s on it’s way and spent an evening watching Twin Peaks, de-stringing, and packaging them.  I’m looking forward to hearing that they made it to New York without getting smashed.

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Leymah Gbowee part 2, live at Campbell Hall!

I realize that we’re all just people, but I’m tempted to never wash my cheek again.

Oh, the joys of being near my former University stomping grounds with an emphasis in global affairs and having a sister-in-law who pays attention to what’s going on there.  We were fortunate enough today to meet Leymah Gbowee, hear her speak and buy a copy of her book for her to sign.  I’m already on page 7 but I figured I would break in with a blog before I became overwhelmed with other projects.

She opened with a quote that I will never forget by Harriet Tubman: “If you are tired, keep walking.  If you are hungry, keep walking.  If you are thirsty, keep walking.  If you want to taste freedom, keep going.”  Fact checkers amongst us, the quote has been construed differently by multiple people and there is apparently no primary source to prove Tubman ever said it.  Leymah could have made it up, for all I care.  The fact that this is what she, indeed, did is what actually makes an impression.

She detailed much of the practical struggles that surrounds trying to make progress against war at the ground level and struggles that are unique to West Africa in particular.  People take the end of conflict for granted because it falls out of the papers, and often a peace talk consists of leaders sitting around a table, then backing away and out of the promises they made.  Her story included literally sitting over the shoulders of generals in peace talks and passing along the needs of the young men forced into the army and taking on wigs as big as they get within a given locality.

She gave a lot of advice, at the behest of our questioning–particularly by Professor Richard Appelbaum–on how we as young people traveling to other parts of the world can approach it without arrogance or the idea that we’re going to fix anything.  Her answers were humbling, but had the weight and legitimacy of her experience.  There was the discussion of rape, and reports to how abuse was being handled particularly in Liberia itself (23 rape cases last year: 3 thrown out, 3 won, and the rest lost).  She mentioned, however, that even in her visits of DR Congo, where Human Rights Watch is howling down the rape atrocities, women are sending a clear message about what they need to have better lives.  “They made a list,” she said, “of what the top five biggest problems in their country were: Rape was #4, domestic violence was #3—political representation was #1 and economic power was #2.”  The point being: a greater number of women in positions of power, and more women with the resources to support themselves and their families with autonomy will set in place the infrastructure to deal with 3# and #4.

Her words were the words of a true survivor, decrying how the media would ignore people who were finding ways to take control of their lives and their communities in favor of sob stories, warning us all that if we wanted to find a sob story that we didn’t have to look very hard.  Even when she was telling us about the growing number of reported rapes, she was adamant that this demonstrated progress–“as if it weren’t going on during the war!  Now they are just actually making reports!”  I’m impressed already by the only 7 pages I’ve read, but everything I’ve seen and heard today as well.  True, our work is never done, but that just means it’s cut out for us more than ever.  I’m going to put this picture on my desktop at work, and whenever I feel discouraged about all the work there is left to do to prevent sexual violence, I’m going to remind myself to keep walking–regardless of who told me to do so.

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On Dog Training and Habit Forming

Connor, always trying to Gank my Sierra Nevada

This is the other man in my life.  Or boy, if you want to get into invasive definitions.  Or we can just stick with “pooch” though that’s something I can never say without giggling.

It’s kind of a cliche to say that you never really know what you’re capable of until someone is relying on you for all their needs.  You may be aware from previous posts of my problems with anxiety and depression, which I’m not particularly shy about but am really resistant to using as an excuse for being unable to do things.  Having this guy around has been both an enormous ease on the neurotransmitters and also sometimes induced imaginary stress and fear about my inability to deliver that really quality sort of care that our dog needs.

Zonked out after a long walk

Connor came to us as an adult with issues that were known to a certain extent: when he was on a walk and would see other dogs he would become nervously protective.  It’s called “leash aggression” and it makes walks very uncertain and nerve-wracking for everybody involved.  Plucked by the awesome Homestretch Greyhound Rescue from a kill shelter when he was about a year old and then adopted out–but returned to within a year with complaints that his leash aggression made him too hard to walk.

When I take C-Dawg out sometimes and witness when he sees other dogs that stress him out, I totally identify.  The whiny bark he gets remind me of myself when I’m edging myself toward a panic attack.  He’ll start circling, or he’ll bow his face to the ground and try to tear his gentle-leader (a walk-training harness for the dog’s face) off with his paws.  I call it his “existential crisis” bark.  I’ve since started walking him with a leash on his martingale collar–the type of collar that needs to be used when a dog’s head is smaller than it’s neck as is the case with most Greyhounds– and wean him from the gentle-leader that could potentially strain his neck.  I look like I’m leading a team of reindeer as I walk him down the street with two leashes, but you’ve gotta do…well you know…

I was afraid to walk him for awhile, to be completely honest.  My limbs get sore when I’m having bad days, and it can hurt my muscles to have to pull back on the leash when he sees an unleashed dog.  I’d take him out for about ten minutes then rush back to the yard as fast as possible.  I’d outsource the job to my husband and then feel like a horrible dog-owner for pain-filled days on end, looking at my hound’s lolling dog-grin and seemingly concerned brown eyes.

Our trainer, Sue Penn, talked to us about levels of distraction in training the guy.  It involves starting in the peaceful, least complicated place so the dog will be able to have an easier time concentrating on what it’s being asked to do–sitting, lying down, going to their spot–then building slowly and easily until they’re able to do more complex things.  We’ve been doing that kind of positive reinforcement training with our hound, building his abilities little by little.

I have never not had a billion things going on, never not had a boat-load of responsibilities and interests.  My brain not overriding my emotions the way it always used to, the change of scenery and levels of responsibility and my inhibitions kind of proved to me that I had to bring myself back to the barest level of distraction as well.  Work and family (including the pup)–and of course the chaos of the wedding–were as bare as I could get.  I stopped running and I stopped playing music and I stopped writing and stopped practicing language.  I knew eventually I would have to do all of those things in order to be whole and healthy, but I had to start at the lowest level of distraction.

Then the other day it finally–finally–didn’t feel like too much.  I made myself a goal with a reward at the end, and said that every day for the next two weeks, I’d take the hound for a walk that was longer than 20 minutes.  Exercise for both of us.  Endorphins and socialization for both of us.  Five days in, and it’s so much easier than I thought.  And while I’m not about to add all of the things I used to be able to do all at once, I can actually imagine adding all those things back into daily life.

Connor might still whine and circle a bit when he sees another dog down the sidewalk, but he’s significantly less stressed, and I know that one day both of us will be able to function without too much undue angst.  It’ll just take slow layering and lots of love and rewards.


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Book Review: Fermenting Revolution

I just sat down with a  Poleeko Gold Pale Ale from Anderson Valley Brewing Company to finish reading “Fermenting Revolution” by Christopher O’Brien.

What have I learned from this book?  Well let me tell you.  First, I had no idea that Lost Coast had two women brewers in charge!  So AWESOME!  Their names are Barbara Groom and Wendy Pound and they are my heroes.  I’ve only had the snark-ily labeled Indica, which is what comes to mind for me (and I know for sure others) when they have a really funky IPA.  I will be sampling more of their catalog later!  I learned from this book that in the early days of brewing, women comprised the bulk of brewers, and it did not become a boy’s club until the industrial revolution.  If that information is tipped and is just pandering to me because I am a woman with a taste for ales and lagers, I’ll TAKE it!!

I also learned some fun trivia such as a legend recorded by Robert Louis Stevenson about the Pict’s fierce guardianship of the recipe for Heather Ale.  Now that’s a thing I’d like to taste!  I also learned a lot about pesticides and a lot about the ways that brewers–particularly craft brewers–are creating environmentally sustainable businesses.  It even comes with a handy guide at the back of the book on being a “Beer Activist–what he calls a Twenty-four Point Action Plan that includes simple tasks like taking cloth bags along to the store, buying kegs rather than bottles, composting your six-pack packaging and lowering the temperature in your refrigerator.  It seems to be things that are only applicable to those who drink beer habitually (I do, and he assumes the reader does), however with a little creativity, they can be applied to different aspects of one’s life.

Tonally this book is slightly forced, but I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing.  What I interpret O’Brien as attempting here is to look at overwhelming themes such as corporate monopolies and injustice, loss of craftsmanship and locality, environmental blunders and health through the lens of something intensely pleasurable: beer.  And not only craft beer!  Coors and Anheuser Busch get their say as well!  Everyone is invited!

I’m pleased with this book and it has inspired me to get out the carboy and get my brew on.  This last weekend involved staying close to home after a long business trip so I didn’t get my ingredients yet.  So when I go buy ingredients for the first batch, what type of beer should I buy ingredients foooor?


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Four Reasons I Stopped Hating my Wedding

Sorry friends!  I totally spaced this blog for a few weeks, mostly because of this…

Turns out weddings are a lot of work and kind of a harbinger of things in one’s life, work and relationships going absolutely insane.  If you didn’t catch the above link, it’s to our fantastic photographer and friend Jeremy Ball, who not only did a great job this weekend photographing our wedding, but was instrumental in me not becoming lost, distraught or having to hide in a side room indefinitely because people were hanging around the church parking lot instead of going to the reception.

I’d never really dreamed of the whole wedding experience as a young kid…dance party and cake…suuure, but not necessarily WEDDING.  Just because I feel like life is meant to be shared, being married always seemed like a good idea.  I’d always just kind of wanted to snap my fingers and be married, or enter the city hall with big sunglasses and a wide-brimmed hat, do the deed and be done with it.  “But come on…” those I love said to me, “don’t we, those you love, deserve a stinkin good party and to celebrate your guys’ together-foreverness?”  And beyond the petty stuff like the fear of princess culture and undue materialism, how could I argue with the desire to have a kick-ass party with 200 of my friends and family?  People seemed keen to kick-in for finances as well and pestered me to register for gifts.  It all felt a bit surreal, but it seemed to make people happy and I got some cool dresses and gifts and my husband got some Shun knives out of it.  I’m not above presents!  Shoot.

We had the legal wedding back in April to fulfill the desire for personal fulfillment to begin the process of living our lives together (performed by my dad and attended by the immediate family).  Thank goodness for that.  With the pressures of a new job to contend with and some personal fragility and adjustment, that time to grow together and get to know each others’ families with the mutual understanding that we were in it together made everything much more manageable and meaningful in the long run.

The fact is though, most people seem to like big weddings a lot, and what do I think I am–special?  So here are the things that I do like about weddings, or in this case my wedding:

1.  A crapload of people you love.  In one place.  At one time.
The unquestionably best part of having a wedding, particularly a big one, is that people you would never see altogether in one place are exactly that.  Walking up the aisle and seeing the smiling faces of so many people I love, it was all I could do not to go–HI, Hi!  Oh you’re HERE!  YOU’RE here too!!  Another good part of that was having brand new family members, some of whom I’d only seen on Facebook, finally there to hug.  My husband mentioned that this side of it was almost like walking through a really good dream.

2.  PDA’s are totally acceptable, if not encouraged.
I love my husband like crazy and I don’t really give a crap who thinks that’s weird or gross.  Having people who love and support us and are there to celebrate our togetherness is pretty awesome, and it means I can smooch him whenever I damn well please.  Quote of the day, “Is that why you kept kissing me?  I thought people were banging their glasses because they wanted a speech!”

3.  Honoring tradition and family
A very potent anxiety I had when we first began this process was that I would be acting the phony in having a traditional Christian wedding.  Would it really represent our values and beliefs?  How do we keep faith and belief incorporated without straying into insincerity?  Having my dad as our officiant was excellent, however, in that he allowed us to strike a balance between respect for our ancestry and core values and who we really are and what we really believe.  We were able to talk and collaborate with him until we found a way to have our ceremony be “in good faith” so to speak.

4.  A really really FANTASTIC cake from Montecito Confections
Vanilla bean with lemon curd, fresh raspberry filling and butter-cream frosting.  And there are still leftovers.  That are excellent for breakfasting.  Don’t judge me.

Also I can’t really post that picture without raving about my flowers!  My florists don’t have a personal website, but they are fantastic and creative women.  I told them what I like and then told them to go to town and I am SO glad they did.

4.  The opportunity to do crazy creative things!
In the eastern tradition, mom, dad, fiance’, sister-in-law to be and dearest friends helped fold, string and hoist to the ceiling 1,000 origami cranes.  It was a lot of effort, and seeing them all hanging from the ceiling was more than dazzling.

It hasn’t been the easiest few months, but the bond that has grown between J.T. and I throughout this process is stronger than ever.  The warmth that I feel for everyone who has supported us makes me excited for the fact that now, we get to enjoy living life day-to-day together.

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Book Review: Slaughter-house-Five

First of all, I feel kind of dumb because I used to think this book was called The Slaughterhouse Five rather than Slaughter-house-Five which is absurd and sounds more like the name of a J-Pop band than a book about a man who had been a prisoner of war in Dresden during its destruction.  Also time travel, or rather time-travel associated with schizophrenia and the annihilation of sanity.  “So it goes.”

These moments are what shape the book and give SHF it’s own non-linear structure.  The premise upon which this structure stands is that time itself is non-linear, an idea brought to the main character, Billy Pilgrim, by aliens from a far away planet who have no concept of linear time nor of free will.  “I’ve visited thirty-one inhabited planets in the universe, and I have studied reports on one hundred more.  Only on Earth is there any talk of free will.”  It is this suspended acceptance that takes the jab of horror and injustice out of events that normally would induce emotional vomiting.  As Horace Walpole said, “life is a comedy for those who think, and a tragedy to those who feel.”  It seems like the only way any of us can really exist as a complete human being is if we can pick and choose when we do which.

Vonnegut, when writing about himself in the first chapter, reflects on his time in college where they were teaching that, “Nobody was ridiculous, bad or disgusting,” and how his father comments, before his death, “you never wrote a story with a villain in it.”  I’d say he didn’t write a story with a true hero, either, because from the traditional viewpoint, no one in this book has sufficient opportunity to be heroic; even when characters do things that one could glorify as heroic, his actions are portrayed at best as mundane and at worst as futile.  A confrontation between Campbell, an American-turned-Nazi and Derby, a middle-aged prisoner of war, an event that would normally be lauded and perhaps even accompanied by strings on film, concludes with remarkable anticlimax.  “Campbell just smiled” and “The air-raid sirens of Dresden howled mournfully.”  It is nothing more than what becomes a recurring thing very quickly in this short book: a structured moment.  According to the fatalistic aliens, we have no more ability to change the structure of a moment in which we are living than bugs can change position while preserved in amber.

It is an idea that provides comfort, time travel between moments in life that always existed and continue to exist.  It’s an idea that was slightly bastardized–oopsImeanromanticized!– in The Time-traveler’s Wife except there’s no slapstick nudity nor need to explain one’s appearance in a particular place to anyone else.  Billy doesn’t “appear” anywhere.  He had always been in a particular place, in a particular moment, and in his life he relives these moments over and over.  With the horrors that he endures, this mystical dissociation seems like the most appropriate coping mechanism.  It makes it so one can be fatalistic and imaginative at the same time.



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