Mother’s Milk/La Leche de Madre (A Let’s Reverb Prompt)

The August 2011 “Let’s Reverb” prompt is: Describe an unexpected moment, activity, sighting or conversation that touched you during July. I have responded via a vlog:

Featured in the vlog:

The wooden nursing symbol teether is from Little Sapling Toys.

The picture of the Guatemalan woman is from:  Nurturing Across Cultures and the RebozoWay Project (the Nurturing Across Cultures link should be used if you want information).

Thank you to Little Sapling Toys and Nurturing Across Cultures for permission to use these images.

Algo Nuevo (Something New – a #Reverb11 Prompt)

What new thing will you try this month?
When I first read July’s Let’s Reverb prompt (“What new thing will you try this month?), I knew I would wait and write to this prompt after my Guatemala trip. What better than your first international trip to discover many new things to try?
Most of my writing about Guatemala has been pretty “serious” in nature – how I wanted to do it (and why it was so important), how I needed to accumulate financial and moral support to do it, what I hoped to gain. Having completed the trip, I realize there was definitely a place for all of that gravity but come on – you can bet there were humorous moments along the way, especially since I took my fifteen year old!
With that in mind, I have fashioned my “Top 10 List” of things I did differently in Guatemala:
1. Using Different Money
I am not sure Tenley is ever going to let me live down my failure to exchange dollars for quetzales at the airport. I was looking for a specific bank I had read about and, failing to find it, found myself outside the airport with no quetzales. The hotel staff changed a bit of American money for me, and on Monday the CFCA  staff took me to the bank to change my dollars. Even then, Tenley had to force me to ask to have a hundred-quetzal note changed into smaller denominations.
2.  The Toilet Paper Goes Where?
Except for the hotel we were in on our first and last nights in Guatemala, we were not supposed to flush toilet paper because the plumbing systems throughout Guatemala are not very robust. We grew accustomed to seeing receptacles with thick black plastic bags situated near all of the toilets. Friends and family in the US are requested to use white trash bags in their bathroom receptacles in order not to confuse us.
3.  ¿Cómo se dice?
We were fortunate to have translators with us all the time, and somewhere in the deep, dark recesses of my brain I have retained more than I thought I had of the Spanish I began learning back at Roosevelt Roads Elementary School in Puerto Rico as a kindergartner. After a week in a Spanish-speaking country, I am more convinced than ever that immersion is the way to go. We were even exposed to some Mayan dialects, including Kiche, which is the language spoken by Estela, Tenley’s new sponsored child.
4.  Where the *bleep* is the @ sign on this keyboard?
I was happy that we had four shared computers at the place where we stayed for the week. That way we could communicate with our families. But the keyboards were unusual. You could see the “@” sign (which you needed in order to log into Facebook if you were trying to cheat on your social media hiatus and sign in). The “@” sign was on the “q” key but no one could figure out how to type it (we ended up cutting and pasting). It was weird. There are bigger problems in the world, right?
5.  Huggy, huggy.
Some of the information that CFCA sends prior to the trip discusses how to appropriately interact with children in Guatemala. It warns against excessive touching. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize that one of the first things we would do was an activity where these adorable little Guatemalan children walked us into the room. So I blew off a cute little guy. It didn’t take long to figure out that hugs are what interacting with cute little Guatemalan children (in a structured setting such as a CFCA event) is all about. Duh. I think he forgave me (hope so!).
6.  Don’t Drink the Water
It has been 8 days since I arrived back and I still feel like an outlaw brushing my teeth with tap water. We had been warned so much not to drink the tap water, not to brush our teeth with it, not to open our mouths in the shower, that we learned our lessons well (and did not get sick – YAY!!). But now it just feels so … wrong …to brush with tap water. The bottled water industry must love tourists in Guatemala.
7.  ¡Baile por favor! (Please Dance)
It’s not that I don’t like to dance in the US, but Guatemala is one dancing country. I couldn’t stop grinning when we were at one of the first subprojects and one of the Guatemalan women grabbed me to dance.
8.  Stop sign, what stop sign?
I can’t think of a single stop sign that was taken all that seriously in Guatemala. Any directional sign for that matter. It all made us Americans seem hypercautious and very regimented.
9.  Bye, bye nighttime snacks
How do you go on vacation and lose four pounds? We never went hungry but the food is so simple and so much less processed than our US food. We ate dinner so much earlier than the Kiger family norm and we did not snack before bed (snacking before bed has always been a habit for me). Thank you, Guatemala, for kicking the snacks-before-bed habit. Pass the tortillas.
10. “Solid” can mean so many things
On a trip where many US-bred digestive systems are adjusting to foreign foods, conversations naturally turn to, um, matters that would seem indelicate back home. “Solid” was good and “did you take your diarrhea medicine?” caused nary a batted eyelash. The ties (and substances) that bind.
Am I glad I tried something (ten things) new? You bet. Are there things to chuckle at along with the deeper lessons? Absolutely.
El cambio es bueno. (Change is good.)

Pray, Don’t Prey (A #Reverb11 Prompt Response)

The #Reverb11 prompt for May asks: If you participated in Reverb 10 during December of last year, are any of the things you wanted to manifest in 2011 revealing themselves?

When I wrote my #Reverb10 posts, such as “Let Go Already!”, they were more reflective – looking backwards instead of ahead. For that reason, I am putting a bit of a different spin on this month’s prompt — how can I look at things differently as 2011 forges ahead in order to manifest the things that sit closest to my heart and spirit?

The phrase that forms the nucleus of this post is “the unscripted question.” I took this phrase from a commencement address given by Atul Gawande, author of “The Checklist Manifesto” and “Better.” At the end the audio version of Better, the narrator reads the commencement address Dr. Gawande gave at Harvard Medical School, in which he provided graduating physicians five suggestions for being “doctors who continue to matter.” The first was, “Ask an unscripted question.” For example, if you are a physician meeting a patient for the first time and that patient is complaining of chest pain and fatigue, as a physician you will ask when the pain started, its severity, how debilitating the fatigue is, etc. But as that individual’s physician, you should also ask something like, “I see you are wearing a shirt from Ireland – is that a country you have visited?” Point being that by opening up the discussion with the patient to the things that energize them in addition to the things that bring them down, you will get a more comprehensive picture of who that person is and establish a better rapport.

I was also intrigued by my friend Mark Hohmeister’s recent column in the Tallahassee Democrat, entitled “Visitors help you view things in a new way.” Mark discussed how hosting visitors from another country “is a great way to see new things, or at least see old things in a new way.” He talked about a weekend in which he and his Turkish visitor, a journalist named Mehmet, first visited Mark’s Presbyterian Church and then visited the Islamic Center of Tallahassee. In Mark’s words describing his visit to the Islamic Center, “…the talk was of Mideast politics and of religion. We talked about the Christian Trinity and they laughed at how “Allah akbar” to many Americans is a phrase associated only with terrorists.” Mark goes on to write, “But there was no terror here, no fear. I came away refreshed, the same way I feel after short morning or midday services or evensong that we attend occasionally. I’d been yanked out of my rut, and I saw my city, its people, and my god in a new way. That’s an hour well spent.”

Mark’s experience prompted me to spend an hour “well,” in a way that is not part of my usual “script.” I did a bit of research trying to find something that would be off of my beaten path, lend itself to reflection, and be somewhere on the outer fringes of my comfort zone. I found the perfect place in the Tallahassee Shambhala Meditation Center. While the Center does an orientation the first Wednesday of every month, in which they provide thorough instructions and participants do a “starter” 10 minute meditation session, I jumped in (bare) feet first with a one-hour session in order to meet this blogging deadline. I emailed the leader first to discuss my intentions, and make sure it was “okay.” She assured me I would be welcome and off I went.

The group meets for an hour every Tuesday at noon to meditate. When I walked in (admittedly, with some trepidation), the leader was very welcoming. Everyone introduced themselves and, being Tallahassee, I knew one of the participants (this was a good thing for my comfort level). Karen, the leader, explained the basics – we would spend time sitting, with some minimal instruction from her; spend a portion midway through the session engaged in “walking meditation,” and finish by more sitting. The “mindfulness meditation” practiced there “is rooted in the simple, but revolutionary premise that every human being has the ability to cultivate the mind’s inherent stability, clarity and strength in order to be more awake and compassionate in everyday life.”

I didn’t know what I sought in the hour, just that I wanted to intentionally give my mind an opportunity to turn things over in a new and different way. 2011 has been characterized, for our family, by my husband’s continued job search and the impact of a reduced income, as well as my deeper questions about how to best use my talents professionally and personally.

It all boiled down to this, for starters:

Sometimes you have to stop running away from the unscripted questions begging to be asked in your own life. You may think you are chasing down a definite answer but it’s not there. You shouldn’t approach it like a predator running down a weaker prey, capturing it, and consuming it. Try stilling yourself physically, mentally, and spiritually — you may be surprised to find that an insight alights on your shoulder gently, alive to the possibilities that exist for both of you.

Photo Credit: Rich Leighton, www.leightonphotography.com
(Thank you, Rich, for allowing me to use this beautiful image.)

Alone, Red, in a Field of Yellow (A #Reverb11 Prompt)

When I first read this month’s “Reverb” prompt (at http://www.reverb10.com/), I knew immediately what I wanted to discuss in my response to “What’s Blossoming?” but I struggled most of the month with how to portray my idea. That struggle was born out of the fact that I am not sure that the quality I want to see in my children is blossoming yet. It was turning into more of a “gee, I sure hope this will blossom eventually” blog.

The good thing about Reverb10/Reverb11 prompts is this part of the instructions:

This prompt is yours to use as you like: answer it as-is on your blog, create a vision board, share your response in conversation with a loved one, make a short film. Get creative. Change the prompt as you like. Enjoy.

The “Reverb” community is, as you can see, pretty flexible so I am talking about …..

How children, tulip bulbs, start out completely self-contained. No one can see what they are going to look like, act like, think like, or be before they are exposed to the conditions that will nurture them into growth.

Once they do start coming into their own, they may often find themselves in a field of others just like them:

(Photo Credit: Sara L. Chapman)

Other times, someone who doesn’t “match” will appear in their midst:

(Photo Credit: Sara L. Chapman)

When my child finds himself or herself part of a group surrounding someone who does not look the same, will they see first that the newcomer shares almost everything they do – the same parts – even though they are different colors? Will they welcome the newcomer to the field? Will they say to their friends, “give them a chance, they just got here” when human nature takes over and peers imply that because the newcomer looks different they are going to have to pass some test to fit in?

On the other hand, how will my child behave when he or she IS the only person who looks “different” in a sea of some other sameness? Did Wayne and I as parents “tend” them well enough back before they blossomed? As they find their way in the world, will they make the effort to learn the language of places they visit, choose local cuisine over a franchise they could have patronized in the US, open their spirits to the new, the different, the foreign (the scary)?
Merry Brown said:
Preconceived notions are the locks on the door to wisdom.
As a parent, I pray every single day that my children’s world gives them opportunities to appreciate the “red tulips” in their “fields” or to be the “red tulip” in someone else’s “field of yellow.” And in whichever field they find themselves, that any preconceived notions don’t impede them.
Because it is then that wisdom will blossom.
Note: Deep gratitude to Sara Chapman of Love That Image for the use of her photo. (I made a digital modification to her photo for the “all yellow” photo in which I eliminated the red tulips for the purpose of this blog.)

One More Month (A Reverb 11 Prompt)

I have been totally immersed in a proofreading project most of the weekend, and as Sunday night approached I was wishing I had built myself a little library of “ready-to-go” posts. At the same time, I was visualizing my response to the March 2011 #Reverb10/#Reverb11 prompt:

If March 2011 was your last month to live, how would you live it?
Since I responded to the February 2011 Reverb Prompt with a SWOT Analysis, I decided to keep the “business vibe” thing going and do a pie chart analysis of my last month. This endeavor would have been a lot easier if I had “excelled at EXCEL,” but here we go:
Version Number One, Incorporating “Sleep” and “Miscellaneous”:
Take out sleep and miscellaneous and I have:
To elaborate briefly, since the categoriy labels are a bit difficult to see, once “sleep” and “miscellaneous” are gone, the top four equal sizes of the pie are:
– Time as a family – me, Wayne, Tenley and Wayne Kevin
– Time with each child as an individual to build as many memories as possible (not necessarily of big “EVENTS” but of being together)
– Time with the people I have “loved and liked” – to make sure they know why
– Next would be setting up a project that I would like to be my legacy – since I won’t be using my Passport until I am 46, I want a way for people who love travel and love seeing the world but don’t necessarily have the means to have a way to do that more easily – the “Use That Passport” Fund
– Exercise – with only a month left, exercise wouldn’t be about dropping pounds or building muscle, but just enjoying the thrill of movement and fresh air
– New York City – there would have to be two days of walking around the city I love
– Worship – it’s fundamental to who I am
– Making Amends – taking one more opportunity to restore broken or fragile relationships
– The Celebration – helping to plan my memorial service, one where people celebrate what was good about me, commit to helping my children lead happy lives and for Heaven’s Sake when they ask for stories, someone comes up to the microphone (I hate that awkward moment at funerals where they ask for stories about the deceased and no one approaches the microphone)
A couple of takeaways:
You’ll notice there’s a huge, humongous slice of the first pie that is labeled “miscellaneous.” I think the lesson there is that even if you are down to a month left, part of the gift life hands us is the “not knowing” and being open to that is key.
It’s odd that reading isn’t in there. I do love to read but if I only have 31 days, I’ll probably be eating life pie.
What would your “life pie” look like?

Objective: Great 2011!

I really enjoyed writing to several of the #Reverb10 prompts in December 2010, and I am excited to see that the Reverb community is keeping the great writing, creating, and thinking going as 2011 picks up speed. This is the prompt for February 2011:

One month into 2011, what question(s) are you living? Are there any prompts/questions that arose during #reverb10 that are still resonating in your life? Are you living new questions?
The prompt included these instructions: Like #reverb10, you may respond to this prompt as-is or remix it to suit your needs. Write, blog, photograph, draw or respond however you’d like.
I have been pounding out a good bit of writing lately, don’t have any photographs that speak to this topic exactly, and you don’t want me to draw. For a change of pace, I think I will employ a SWOT analysis. I found myself recommending this approach to a friend recently as she tried to wrestle with a decision about returning to work after several years being home with her kids. A few years ago, I employed SWOT (looking at the strengths/weaknesses/opportunities and threats inherent in a situation in order to make a well-reasoned business decision) when I ended up one-on-one with a fairly high ranking executive of our Third Party Administrator at a time when I wanted to establish a rapport but also take advantage of an opportunity to share some concerns.
To try to chip away at the questions still unanswered in 2011, here is a SWOT look at my life:
Strengths
Proofreading, editing, writing – I find great satisfaction in using these skills and feel confident that I can serve authors such as Rhett Devane and Senator Bob McKnight, for whom I edited Accidental Ambition, and Donna Meredith, for whom I edited The Glass Madonna.
Weaknesses
I need to get a backbone. I don’t speak  up when I am right and I apologize way too often as a way to placate when an apology is the wrong strategy.

Opportunities
They are why I do it all. Despite all of the tension and frazzled moments inherent in being a family of four, I wake up each day with the gift of being mom and wife:
New York City August 2007 (Photo Credit Dan Carubia)
Threats
I read a quote this morning that resonated, especially since I knew I was going to write about this topic tonight:
The greatest success, is successful self acceptance. Ben Sweet
On a day when I allowed a perfectly nice string of hours with my teenager to deteriorate into a spiral of negative self-talk over a $5.99 ring from Target that had not made it into the bag, with a few accusations flying both ways, self acceptance remains a question that still insinuates itself too frequently.
How is a SWOT analysis supposed to end? I suppose that is where this post detours from the business purpose. It won’t necessarily help me make more money, get anything done faster, or satisfy a board of directors. But hopefully when I revisit it in February 2012, there won’t be a spineless jellyfish to be found.