Saturday, August 8, 2009

Local Woman Saves the Planet

I don't want to toot my own horn, but I know a real, live superhero, or actually, a real, live superheroine. (Why does my spell checker not appreciate the word "superheroine" when it likes the word "superhero" well enough?)

She doesn't perform martial arts in high heels and a catsuit, but she does perform miracles in places where miracles are rare.

She doesn't have x-ray vision, but she does have vision and can see a world where all children are healthy, well-fed and educated.

She can't lift a 20-ton boulder over her head, but she can coax funding from tight-fisted foundations and governments which takes even greater strength (and patience.)

Who is this woman of superlative quality? I thought you would have guessed by now, it's Ms. Vicki Wilde.

Who's she and what's she done that's so great?

She is the Gender and Diversity director for CGIAR who had a beautifully simple idea for transforming rural Africa from places where diseases and famines rule to places where gardens and communities thrive. She's tapped into the vast, unused resource of African women. These women, who do 80% of the agricultural work in Africa to begin with, become highly skilled agricultural scientists through Vicki's AWARD program then return to their villages to combat potential crop failures with the power that is knowledge.

Her test program started small, like every miracle, it survived on a miniscule budget, pure hope, and unalloyed dedication. It's difficult to argue with success and now that the results are in, people, important people, people who can provide the means to make Vicki's little program into a world-wide answer to that question which every poor woman asks, the one that goes "How will I feed my children today?", stand up and take note.

Here's a pic of one person who recently realized the beauty of one small program. See if you can recognize her.

(Vicki is the one in orange and absolutely beaming. What you can't see is me jumping up and down in front of my computer, screaming, "That's Vicki! I know her! I know her!")

Some other fans of Vicki's are Bill and Melinda Gates, you may heard of them. They're out to save the world too.

For more information about Vicki Wilde, the AWARD program and Secretary of State Hilary Clinton's historic visit to Africa follow this link.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

A Gallon of Gas and a Pack of Matches

What would you do with a gallon of gas and a pack of matches? Or, more to the point, what did you do with them? Because you did, once when you were a kid, you did play with fire.

I love my job for a large variety of reasons, but one of greatest reasons are the others that populate my working existence. Some are young with little experience of the world, some are middle-aged parents like me, some are older and have seen it all, all have opinions. One of the subjects of this week's banter was the state of parenting and the inevitable results of too much protection for our children.

Are we raising a generation of humans who will be incapable of independent thought, cool-headed decisions in a crisis, or calculating the risks of doing something new?

I had never really thought about it until Dave brought it up at lunch. The difference between the relative freedom we experienced in our childhoods and the strictly-prescribed existence we have planned out for our kids. Our wrapped-in-cotton-batting progeny don't leave the house without full disclosure about where they are going, what they will be doing, who they will be doing it with and the very moment of their return (no more than 2 hours later.) They are laden down with extra water, hand-sanitizer, a cell phone with mom's number on speed dial, a 40-item list of important phone numbers, a protein bar, a GPS, helmets, pads, gloves and an extra pair of clean underwear. While out in the wide world they will not speak to strangers, always wear a seat belt, stay in the bike lane, look both ways while crossing the street, as well as strenuously avoiding trans-fats, high-fructose corn syrup, and gangsta rap. They will not smoke, drink, swear, spit, run, go online without parental supervision, discuss their parents' soft porn collection with their friends or point out that Grandma could use a shave. And they absolutely, positively will not play with fire.

All of which begs the question: Who taught you not to play with fire?

When Conor was learning to walk, he crawled under a low table and tried to stand up. He hit his head and sat back down with a bump. Then he did it again. And again. And then one more time again. Finally, he crawled out from under the table and stood up. I watched this process in tears, just knowing that I was the worst of all possible mothers. I knew that he would be permanently harmed by my lack of concern and protection. How could I be so uncaring? I never let him (or the girls for that matter) do that or anything like that again. But now I wonder if my first instinct of standing aside and letting them go through the learning process wasn't the right one. Maybe if I had stood aside more often my children would be less fearful of making mistakes and making decisions. Maybe they would be more independent and confident. Maybe they would know the real reason gasoline and matches don't mix, because all they know now are the rules in the academic sense. We (their parents) know the rules because we struck the match.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

My Personal Pensieve

Harry Potter makes me jealous. Yes, I'm jealous of a kid that regularly gets the tar beaten out of him by the forces of evil and still has to survive his godawful teen years. I'm jealous of a character created out of the imagination of a writer. Maybe it's J.K. Rowling who is the true target of my jealousy and not really for her fabulous success. (As far as that goes, she's done the writing world great service by growing a new generation of readers.) No, what I really covet is her Pensieve.

In the book (and subsequently, the movies), the Pensieve shows memories. I want that. I want the perfect retention of memories with all their subtle circumstances intact forever.

When I look at a photograph or image, I can recall the occasion but not what I was thinking or feeling at the time. The same goes for video. Only memory can retain part of the world. Over time that world fades, the details go away, maybe only an image remains, maybe not even that. I can't see the face of my first love anymore though I remember the yellow roses he gave me.

I remember a woman I met who was in the final stages of Alzheimer's disease. The look of panic on her face left an indelible impression on me. No minute was connected to another. No face was recognizable, not even her own. She had run screaming from the house one day when she saw her own reflection in the bathroom mirror. And although Alzheimer's is the most extreme case of memory loss, every day I sense some small but precious detail leaves my brain. When I go back for it, it's not there. Time faded the detail, it left unseen.

Last night we took the kids to the aquarium to have dinner with the sharks. There's a memory I would like to keep with all of its gorgeous detail. The kids all lined up against the tank, looking up at the sharks gliding by, mesmerized by each other. Light music, darkened room, graceful fish, thrilled children, new worlds overlapping.

I can't stand the thought of last night with the sharks swimming away with time. Me and the sharks need a Pensieve.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Greater Than the Sum of Its Parts

There are many people and things I love, but few more so than my children and learning to make more efficient use of available technology.

In the last few months, my children have been amusing themselves by creating videos of themselves being the goofy, silly, funny, and fabulous kids they are. When I come home from work at night there is invariably something new on my computer to make me smile.

In honor of Fathers' Day, I've strung together a few moments of light-hearted youth using iMovie from iLife '09. It's a simple program to master and the results have the kids practicing their autographs for their forthcoming hordes of adoring fans.

It's was a ton of fun to put together, enjoy...

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Cleansing the Palate

Do you have the same trouble I do reading anything after a really great book? It’s not that I can’t read after a fabulous book, but that I can’t read anything I like after a page-turner. My literary tastes are overwhelmed; everything to come after has all the potency of cold, congealed oatmeal.

This pretty much sums up the scenario of my current read, Bel Canto by Ann Patchett. I almost feel sorry for her. Everyone else adored this book. They heaped accolades on it. It won the Orange Prize, the PEN/Faulkner Award, etc., etc., ad infinitum. All this and I still hate it. Well, maybe not HATE it, but I’m seriously not in love with it when by all accounts I should be. I’m tormented by the idea that the book is actually wonderful, but it happened to be in the wrong place in the queue. Bad luck of the draw, so to speak, because the book right before was fantastic.

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini was brilliant. Excellent writing married to a great (though grim) story. And it has made an ugly step-sister of Bel Canto. Maybe I should put it down right now and read something I know to be sucky, like anything by Dan Brown. That might get me out of the Thousand Splendid Suns shadow and I can read without prejudice. Maybe I’ll find out that Bel Canto is actually great or maybe I’ll find out that it sucked all along. Reading is a risky business.