Archive for the ‘General Update’ category

Hair Changing 101

November 23, 2009

It’s been some time since I’ve checked in, and much has happened in the meantime.  I’ve finished the second semester of my Masters program, Mason turned one, I’ve made trips to Newcastle and Canberra for Rotary, friends have visited from the U.S. and New Zealand, and yesterday Deanna had her thirty-fifth birthday, just to name a few. Crowding all of that our of our minds at the moment, though, is our upcoming adventure in India. We leave tomorrow, and I have much to say about that, but first, a bit of silliness that we need to cover in order to move on (in order to avoid quite a few “huh?!?!” comments later).

After over twenty years with long hair (my entire adult life) I took radical steps last weekend: I shaved my head.

I had been chewing on the idea for at least a couple of years. Partly because I was losing the battle anyway and comb-overs just never did it for me.  I like the idea of embracing change when it comes (though I do better with it at some times than others), so it seemed like the right course of action.

The particular timing, though, was due to the fact that I am leaving for India tomorrow to spend some time working with a Gandhian aid organization there, and though it is winter in India, the forecast low for tonight in the town we’ll be living in is 79 degrees.

More compellingly, we learned some interesting things about our lodging in recent email correspondences. We had been told that we will have a private room to share between myself, Deanna and Mason, and that we will have a private bathroom. Thinking about bathing our one-year-old, Deanna asked in a follow-up email whether the bathroom has a bath or a shower, and we learned that actually it has neither. It has a bucket and a mug. That is the normal way of bathing in India, apparently, and bathtubs are generally only seen in hotels. That’s fine with us, but it did provide a good reason to finally take the proverbial plunge.

My friend David Stuart makes documentaries, and he brought his camera and gear to my other friend Dave’s house where we did the deed. He shot this brief documentary (thanks David!).

Dave James, whose house we were at, is a semi-pro photographer, so things were well documented in stills as well (thanks Dave!).

We invited everyone at the party to have a go with the clippers, including 4-year-old Hani (with some spotting from Aunt Maree).

Several friends who heard I was going to do this expressed concern for how our one-year-old Mason would react, so we made sure that he saw what was going on and felt OK. The sound of the clippers seemed to scare him at first, but I stopped to hold him and laugh with him and let him know everything was OK throughout the process and he did just fine. He especially enjoyed patting my head when it was over. The next morning when he saw me he didn’t even look surprised. He reacted more or less like I had changed my shirt.

And on the whole, Mason’s reaction seems indicative of most of our friends’ and family’s, and my own for that matter:  I look a lot more like me than I expected to.  In short, it hasn’t been nearly as drastic as I thought it would be.

The whole thing happened rather spontaneously, so I didn’t have much time to organize a big fundraiser, but we did put the word out on Facebook that people could bid for my hair on Facebook. The money went to the non-profit that Deanna and I founded to support school and library projects in Guatemala, PEG Partners, and the hair went to an organization called “Wigs for Kids,” which provides free wigs to children who have lost their hair due to chemotherapy or other illness. We raised about $900, which in Guatemala pays for about three-quarters of an annual school teacher’s salary. Not bad for a few hours’ fun on line.

I’ve been really enjoying the new style, not to mention the very short showers. In the end, I guess the change is really representative of so many other good changes in my life lately. Much to celebrate.

As I write these words we have 21.5 hours to go until we leave, turning the page to another chapter which promises to be exciting, challenging and powerful. Being finished with my second semester of the masters program, I’m in the groove for writing, so I look forward to keeping this spot up to date as things unfold in India. Thanks for staying in touch.



Fig Tree Pocket

February 4, 2009

It’s 82 degrees (28 C) and sunny in Brisbane today.

From first week

I thought I’d better just get that out of the way. If you haven’t just turned off the computer in disgust and you’re still reading then you must love us a lot, so I’ll feel free to wax on about our Brisbane adventure and not worry too much about being boring. Everyone I can think of who reads this from time to time is either in snow today or in Melbourne, where it hasn’t been below 100 degrees for… how long now? All I can say to mitigate the injury is “come visit!”

We are settling in here, after a trip down that was so much better than we expected. After my last entry here, from Fiji, we were actually bumped up to first class for our last flight. Then another first class passenger switched seats with us so that we could have a bassinet. He turned out to be the Papua New Guinean ambassador to Fiji.

From Mason's first week in Australia

We were picked up at the airport by our Rotary Host Counselors, Jeff and Milena Stephens. They also brought along Peter from Rotary, who transported all of our bags in his truck. It was a little embarrassing to be traveling with so much stuff (six big bags and six little ones), but we were certainly glad that Mason got a full baggage allowance.

We spent several lovely days at their house getting oriented (or orientated, as the Aussies say) to the city and trying to work our way around the clock face so that we were eating, sleeping and waking at reasonable hours. We’re pretty well adjusted now, though I still wake up early in the morning, which has never been my m.o. Jeff and Milena were so good to us and we’re continuing to enjoy their help figuring things out and their good company.

From Mason's first week in Australia

After a few days with them we moved to the new apartment, and we’ve now been here a little over a week. That’s long enough to hang the pots and pans in the kitchen and stock up the spice rack, unpack all the suitcases, figure out how to use the washing machine and how to catch a bus into town.

That bus has taken us to the local mall more times in the last week than we went to the mall in the last three years in Asheville, I think, but this mall is also where the library, the grocery store and the doctor are found, so that statistic isn’t quite as scary as it would be otherwise.

Yesterday we had a free visit with a nurse there, who checked Mason out and answered some questions for us. She also weighed him, and after converting from the metric we found that our little Gordito now weighs 14 pounds and 3 ounces.

From first week

Australia is such a mix of the completely familiar and the surprising, with a bit of absolutely incomprehensible thrown in from time to time. For instance, Jeff and Milena were very helpful in lining up some gear for Mason before we arrived. Mason, by the way, is a ‘bub’ (baby). They asked their Rotary Club if anyone had stuff they could contribute, and— wonderfully— came up with these things for us:

– a bassinet
– a pram
– a capsule
– a bouncinet

Bassinet – so far, so good. Pram we know – we’ve each been to England and we read all the Harry Potter books. Bouncinet we could kind of guess, and were right – it’s a little bouncy seat with a vibrating function that helps bubs drift off to sleep. Capsule…? We were totally lost. Turns out it’s a car seat for infants.

From first week

We have taken the aforementioned pram (or pusher) twice to the park a block away, and enjoyed walks there. The grass is green and the trees are tall and except for the lovely addition of gum trees and wonderfully magical fig trees (for which our part of town, Fig Tree Pocket, is named) everything seems reasonably normal.

From first week

Until a flock of parakeets flies by. Or cockatoos. No kidding, there are cockatoos everywhere in the trees. They’re just lovely, but it’s quite strange— and refreshing— to see all of them living outside of cages.

And no squirrels. I remember when my Kiwi friend Jared came to visit the states for the first time and he asked if we had squirrels. I said “Jared, don’t you have squirrels in New Zealand?” and he replied “Well sure, I’ve seen them… I mean, at the zoo.” I’m going to miss those little guys. The fact that there’s a koala sanctuary nearby might soften my sadness, though.

I’ve been to campus a couple of times, have registered for classes and yesterday I got my student ID. The courses are incredibly appealing to me and I’m looking forward to getting to work. Semester one will include Advanced International Relations, Human Rights and Ethics, and Principles of Conflict Resolution in Deep-Seated Conflicts. How’s that for fascinating stuff?

Classes won’t start until the end of the month, so we have the luxury of several weeks to settle in and get our bearings here, which is a real gift. There is a huge housing crunch in Brisbane at the moment and we were advised to get here as early as possible in order to have time to look for a place. As it turned out, though, the Rotary folks found us this lovely place in Fig Tree Pocket before we even arrived (but after we had booked the plane tickets), so here we are with time to spare.

We’re living in a ‘granny flat’ (which we would call a ‘Mother-In-Law apartment’ back home— isn’t ‘granny flat’ much better?) downstairs from the Regional Director of Rotary. The region includes Australia, New Zealand and Southeast Asia, so it goes without saying that they’re not home much. Actually, we haven’t met them yet, and are looking forward to doing so on the ninth.

From first week

We’ve been enjoying the pool in the backyard quite a lot, though, while they’re gone. I know, I know…

Here I am, suffering for world peace.

These really are good days and we’re deeply grateful, though missing our old life as well. We have such fine friends at home, and of course our family. They really came through for us as we tried to pack up all of the physical manifestations of our lives and careers, while doing the two-month-old-baby-parenting thing. I’m particularly thinking of my buddy Cecil Bothwell, who came and fixed up all the stuff on the house that I had been hoping to get to before I left, and still worked on it after we left, and Barbara Gaw who came to hold the baby while we packed, and my sister Kathy who did little else on her visit to NC, and Ron who also helped bang the house into shape, and MJ who hauled boxes between phone calls and emails, shutting down the business and sweeping the floor at the same time, Marni and Lee who held Mason and lent us a car so we could sell ours and still be mobile for the last few days, and Nance and David who jumped in on all of the above, and Mom and Dad who did too and were always available when we needed them, and our Quaker Meeting, who were so supportive in so many ways, Barbie for the boxes and packing materials, Stephanie, Paul and Katherine, Tom and Lynn, and lots of other friends and family who helped and who offered repeatedly, but we were spinning too fast to actually call… so good, and so deeply missed. Sheez… it sounds like I’m accepting a Grammy. You get the idea, though… we’re deeply grateful, and we’re missing folks.

I trust that those friendships and family ties remain strong, but far away is still far away. Still, I need to make myself look forward and not back, and treasure these days right here in the present. So many parents have written to remind us to savor them because they go so quickly. When we celebrated Mason’s three-month birthday this weekend I was stopped cold by the fact that I only get to have a three-month-old for a month. What an amazing, and ephemeral, treat.

From first week

Having chosen to make some real sacrifices in order to answer this call, though, and then finding things to be so good here, the words of Rev. Howard Thurman keep coming to me: “Don’t just ask what the world needs, ask what makes you come alive, because what the world needs is more people who have come alive.”

Here’s to being alive.

From first week

Breakfast in Fiji, the adventure begins…

January 21, 2009

It’s 8:39AM in Black Mountain, 5:42AM in Los Angeles (where we were last), 12:43AM in Brisbane, where we’ll be in eleven hours, and 2:44AM in Fiji, where we’ll be having breakfast, watching the sunset and switching to our last airplane of the trip.

I’m typing in the dark while most of the passengers are sleeping, including an eleven=week-old passenger I’m particularly fond of who is sleeping in a bassinet attached to the wall in front of our seats, and his beautiful mother dozed off in the seat beside me.

From Trip to Australia

There’s no way around the fact that this is a long trip. We left my house in Black Mountain at about one o’clock on Tuesday, and we arrive at almost noon on Thursday in Brisbane. Part of that is due to time zones and such, but in body time it’s about 31 hours. Mason has been amazing through the whole thing. His ears were hurting as we descended from the first flight, but he cried a little and worked it out. He’s been a little fussy now and then, but a few laps of walking the airplane aisles has calmed him. We’re counting our blessings, and hoping he can hold out for eleven more hours.

From Trip to Australia

From an air travel perspective, though, I have to say that he’s quite a boon. Not only does he get full baggage allowance (his bags weigh six times what he does), we’ve bypassed long security lines twice, zipping right up to the front in the “families with small children” lane. I’m not sure we deserve that, but I’m sure grateful for the bonus.

From Trip to Australia

Actually, the trip so far has been filled with kindnesses like that. My parents drove us to Charlotte to get on the first flight, and the desk agent gave them gate passes so that they could come past security with us— out of the blue and with no request. Again, we can chalk it up to the cute baby factor. There are other examples as well but you get the idea. These all feel like good omens.

Packing was a race to the finish, as it always seems to be for me. It’s funny, it doesn’t matter how much time I have, I always manage to be racing around the house at the last minute dealing with important things. I’ve known about this trip for a year, for goodness sake!

Several friends and our family chipped in to help out in the closing weeks. My parents, MJ, Deanna and I were buzzing around the house Tuesday morning, but even with a looming deadline and a chaotic pile of things in the house that still needed to be dealt with, we had to stop for a half-hour and watch President Obama (being sworn in and giving his first presidential address. Having such momentous events on a world-scale and on a personal scale happen on the same day is almost more than my heart can hold.

From Trip to Australia

They’ve just turned the cabin lights back on, which means breakfast will be coming soon, so I’ll sign off for now and check in again after we’ve landed and slept for a day or two.

… Postscript: We landed in Fiji and waited for everyone else to get off the plane since with Mason in our arms, three carry-ons and three ‘personal items,’ we’ve got a lot of junk and don’t want to hold everyone up. The airport here is an open-air terminal, and we walked outside from one building to the next to make our transfer.

The warm, tropical air took our breath away— or maybe I should say gave it back. We left Black Mountain with snow on the ground, and the salty wet purity of island breeze was overwhelming.

Of course, having waited for everyone else meant that we were at the back of a very long line, and after a few minutes Mason started to get a little fussy. I was walking him around to calm him when an airport employee came over to me. I thought he was going to reprimand me for walking where I shouldn’t and being out of line, but actually he was taking us to the front of the line. He helped carry bags, then took us to the Business Class lounge, where I’m writing now. Soft music, plush chairs and free internet.

The best part, though, is that Adi, a Fijian woman who is tending the lounge area, fell in love with Mason and just took him for a walk around the airport to meet her friends. When she brought him back he had a piece of masking tape on his head. She explained that in Fiji that’s what they do when a child has hiccups.

From Trip to Australia

I am amazed to not feel more exhausted, and buoyed by the generosity of strangers. We board again in forty minutes, then will touch down in Brisbane and be done with traveling for a while. Or perhaps I should say ‘travelling.’ Those Aussies and their extra ‘l’s!

From Trip to Australia

One Last Article

December 10, 2008

This nice article came out a this weekend in Blue Ridge Now. That may be my last press for a while. I guess I’m officially retired now. 😉

Of Baby Bling and Basil

December 9, 2008

It is possible to buy some seriously ridiculous stuff for babies. A recent wander through Babies R Us led to the discovery of endless expensive entertainment options for newborns, including those roughly the age of ours, who is still working on vision at the six-inch range. Slightly more disturbingly, though, it also leads to the discovery of all sorts of new things I should apparently be worried about as a parent.

There are, as even a novice parent like me knows, plenty of sound reasons to worry. I love this Ellen Bass poem on the topic. I imagine I’ll have many years to wrestle that demon over Mason’s fate. Anxious is no way to live, though, and the worrying generally doesn’t actually help with anything, so I’ll fight it for all I’m worth, in spite of the fact that there are very real dangers in the world.

And then there are extremely dumb things to worry about. And where there aren’t reasonable causes, people are only too happy to create them for you if it will make you buy stuff from them. Example: worrying that your baby’s head won’t be perfectly round.

Deanna and I stumbled on this while picking up some baby bottles last week. My favorite part is the text around the photo of the baby, who at first glance appears to be on oxygen. It says “Mom-friendly caliper for measuring the shape of your baby’s head.” Sure glad that caliper is mom-friendly, even if that means the caliper would be mean to me.

I mean seriously… this is a tool for measuring slight imperfections that may not be visible to the naked eye? Are slight variations in symmetry that are invisible really a problem?

I am of the general mindset that people have been successfully having babies for millennia without the use of warehouses full of baby junk, but I have to admit that my smugness is wearing off a bit regarding one bit of gear that I once dismissed derisively.

Wipe warmers are not to be sneered at. Repeated exposures to a child who is understandably upset to have cold things applied to his warm places have been enough to convince me. Not that we’re getting one, but I’m afraid the smirk has been wiped from my face, with a cold wipe.

Here’s the mystery of the month, though… Deanna and I are vegetarian, and we eat a fair amount of leafy greens. That doesn’t explain, though, how the contents of Mason’s diapers could appear to reveal the presence of leafy greens. Close examination appears to reveal that someone sprinkled some wet basil in there. And that just seems like a lot of wasted work— for Deanna to eat spinach, digest it, turn it into milk, give it to Mason, who then reconstitutes it into spinach…?! Parenting is a wondrous adventure indeed, full of mystery and revelation, (and I’m not even six weeks into it).

And speaking of Sir Squeaksalot, here are a few new pictures:

Fathers and Sons and Guatemala

October 16, 2008

US Airways Flight 1831, Charlotte to Miami

Da Guate 081016

Touching down in Miami

It’s extraordinary to realize that I woke up in Missouri yesterday, in Black Mountain, North Carolina today, and will wake up in Santiago, Atitlan, Guatemala tomorrow, after spending brief moments in Asheville, Charlotte, Miami and Guatemala City. Even for me, that’s a pretty dense forty-eight hours, especially given that there were twelve hours of driving included.

I’m just glad I don’t have to fly the plane.

I feel like I’m covering about that much emotional ground, too. I’ll be in Guatemala for just six days, but this is my last trip away for more than a weekend before I hang up my mic cables. Deanna is due in five weeks, and though there’s no reason to imagine that Thumper will join us before he’s expected (Nov. 20), it’s a little scary to be away.

Still, I love being in Guatemala— the children, the avocados, the schools and the sense that we really are making a difference— and this will be my last trip there for some time since we’re moving to Australia in January.

Then there’s the fun of introducing my friend John Smith to Guatemala. John’s a good buddy and someone I really admire, both as a songwriter and as a human being. His songs go right to my heart, and the hearts of many other people, for that matter. He’s kind of like a human multi-vitamin; I find that spending time with him makes me feel better in all sorts of ways, and makes me generally healthier.

A few (maybe ten?) years back, John, Chris Rosser and I did a run of shows together up through New England. We called it the Bad Boy Tour, given that all three of have reputations for being kind of mean, nasty, rude people.

OK, not really. But we couldn’t call it the Nice Guy Tour. The eleventh and twelfth shots here are of John, me and Chris on the Bad Boy Tour. Chris is the tall one, and we eventually figured out that the shot would work best if he was on the bottom step.

As we trekked north toward Boston in Dan the Tan Van, we started giving each other points for anything ‘bad’ we did— yelling at other cars in traffic, salty vocabulary, etc. I was firmly in the lead by the end of the trip. Or maybe I lost. I’m not sure we ever decided whether it was like golf or like basketball — were we trying to get more points or fewer?

At any rate, all that to say he’s a good guy. And he’s the one PEG has invited to come to Guatemala and have some first-hand experience there in order to tell stories at shows and raise a little money for the schools we work with.

John tours pretty constantly, like me, so we had some trouble finding a time we could both go down, and these six days were the most we could carve out. The timing’s not ideal, given that some schools are getting out around now in Guatemala, and not all the ones we work with will be in session, but it should be a good introduction to the work we’ve been doing, and a good first trip down.

Of course, the proximity to Thumper’s arrival makes it tough for me, but I had no way of knowing that it wouldn’t be the toughest part of leaving this time.

A couple of days ago my Dad, John LaMotte, was taken to the hospital with some tightness in his chest. He had sextuple bypass surgery (yep, six) twenty-one years ago. He has been off all the charts in his recovery (in the good direction), walks three miles a day, and is certainly the healthiest seventy-seven-year-old I’ve ever met. He built a rock wall in the back yard recently. You get the idea.

Still, it’s scary stuff, given the history.

The first word we got from the docs after they checked him out yesterday morning was that they might just put him on some beta blockers and such and try to treat the new blockages with drugs. The down side of that would be that he would have to live a life of less activity.

There are people in the world who could live that way and be OK. My Aunt Evelyn was one. She lived pretty quietly for many years and was pretty happy. I might be OK that way myself. Dad, not so much.

This morning my dad called while I was literally sitting on the plane in Asheville waiting to take off and let me know they’ve decided to do bypass surgery instead, and they expect to need three of them. I can’t help but remember when he went in twenty-one years ago and they told us there was a chance they might need to do as many as four.

They did six.

Dad sounds good, and clear on the decision. I’m on board too. It’s scary. There’s real danger here. But Dad wouldn’t be happy, and wouldn’t be Dad, if he weren’t vigorous and vital.

I want very much for my father to know my son. And I want my son to know my father even more. He’s quite a role model and a wise counselor. One whose shoes I’ll never fill (it’s good, I guess, that I have my own shoes).

So if you’re the kind that says prayers, we welcome them. If you’re more about sending love and Light, please do that. To me, that’s pretty much the same thing.

And in the meantime, I’m heading to Guatemala, with a big part of my own heart heading in the other direction. I’d really like to be there with the family, and if John Smith weren’t flying south on his first trip there, I’d be on a plane home instead. Dad felt strongly that I should go, though, so off I go.

Mom and Dad came to Guatemala with me last year, which was an extraordinary trip. They bounced down washed out dirt roads with me to visit schools and explored on their own in Antigua, making their own friends. There’s a shop owner there who still asks about them by name each time I visit. They get why I’m there.

I’ll post more updates as the trip goes on. Thanks for reading, for the time and for the support I know you’ll send because you always have.

paz, justicia y salud,

Quick and Easy Divorce

July 16, 2008

Deanna finally joined Facebook this week and is exploring it now. She just added me, not only as her friend, but as her spouse. The dialog box that popped up after she did so reads thus:

Relationship Status: Married
To: David LaMotte (awaiting confirmation)

Then there’s a button that says “Cancel Relationship”

I’d better run take the trash out. I’d hate for her to click that button.