Monday, December 29, 2008

The Mighty Mighty Update
The contents of this website are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the U.S. government or the Peace Corps, of which I am a proud volunteer.

Lest you think I have spent all my time since the November 5th (in Romania) election results (4:45 a.m. to be exact) gazing into the distance with teary eyes and a sappy grin - here's what I've been up to. I'm sure some of you have already heard about it - or seen some of the pictures.

Stand by for the upcoming 2008 A Year in Review Personal Survey! and Happy New Year, everyone!

Hello all, Happy Holidays to all! As donors and friends supporting our event here in Romania, we wish to give you this overview of the weekend. Attached is a slide show of photos with helpful captions to guide you.

And here's our project on the Romanian news, although two more news stations covered us, we don't have the links and haven't seen the clips. Pay no attention to that girl speaking English who is waving around a pamphlet for the Peace Corps Institutional Development Program.

By the Numbers:
  • 20 kindergarten - high school groups came to perform carols, dances, poetry, and skits on Christmas themes.
  • 20 NGOs came representing various causes and organizations: orphanages, Parkinson's Disease, the Handicapped, Women's Shelters, and more.
  • 12 Peace Corps Volunteers were in attendance
  • 2 Newspapers and 3 TV stations covered the event - both local and national
  • 400 people voted in our Christmas Tree Contest
  • 1 Gingerbread Castle was on display
  • 20 Christmas NGO Christmas Trees entered the Christmas Tree Contest
  • 2 out of 20 middle schoolers won in a simultaneous game against a national chess champion
The Gingerbread Castle and Decoration:
The event was a success with a lot of work put in by volunteers of various nationalities and ages. For the construction of the gingerbread dough, 12 of us gathered at a bread factory to use their large ovens and mixing machines. We had 2 Mormons working in Deva with us, 3 women from a Catholic organization coming from Argentina and France and the U.S., a Romanian-Hungarian as photographer, and the usual assortment of PCVs (Peace Corps Volunteers).

Later that same weekend, we had two girls from Austria come to help us and 10 teenage Red Cross volunteers create posters for the event. About 4 of those same volunteers later came on three separate weekends to help us put up tables and chairs, hang the posters, garland, and lights, and put the finishing touches on the gingerbread castle.

Micah and I worked at the castle over three weekends. It's finishing touches were applied over one all night session at the castle. Micah had to ensure a steady stream of Aretha Franklin to remain oblivious to the fact that I was one of two people within those cavernous, cold, and creepy walls. A reality show once recorded there looking for ghosts and other supernatural phenomenon. It's obvious why. It doesn't get creepier then a medieval castle at night.

Wrap Up
Micah and I are still in the process of contacting winners from the children's coloring contest, NGO winners of the Christmas Tree Contest, and delivering certificates to our many volunteers. She will be on her way here for the holidays when we will gather all our materials from our October Skills Sharing Meeting to provide NGOs along with our survey. Those of you who donated to our event can also expect an official report as called for by PCPP funding rules. We are both very happy to have the event done with and have all of you to thank for it. I especially wish to thank our parents for their support. My mom donated Santa hats for all our volunteers and Halloween candy (with Reese's peanut butter cups!!!) for free games, among other gifts and her father gave generously to our fundraiser. My folks helped close the funding gap at the close to our fund raising time frame and helped me out this month as telephone and travel costs went over our usual stipend.

Future Event Prospects
We're now in the process of evaluating the success of the event by surveying participating NGOs. We hoped to draw NGOs together in a collaborative spirit and offer the public an opportunity to learn about the good works that NGOs provide. To this end, with a total of 5-600 visitors and lots of news coverage, we felt this goal to be well reached. We were very impressed by the professionalism of the NGO's games and Christmas trees. We had given them lots of suggestions and photographs to work from, and many of them took our ideas to the full degree. Because of their efforts, the event had a very strong and professional look. We'll soon find out if they would do it again next year. Preliminary feedback from the orgs has been positive. Micah and I are both trying to extend, but prospects for us being here next December are unlikely. We will provide the castle with a guide on how we organized the event, however we hope to find a leader among our invited NGOs to perhaps take the lead in organizing for next year.

Lessons Learned
Something this big cannot be done without its fair share of lessons learned. We have a much clearer idea now of the best way to build a gingerbread castle. I know now just how important it is to put performers and NGOs into one place. Getting an audience and performers together in a place as large as our castle is no small feat.

Thanks all who supported us!

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Sail on, Sail on, Oh mighty ship of state
The contents of this website are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the U.S. government or the Peace Corps, of which I am a proud volunteer.

Leonard Cohen

It's coming through a hole in the air,
from those nights in Tiananmen Square.
It's coming from the feel
that this ain't exactly real,
or it's real, but it ain't exactly there.
From the wars against disorder,
from the sirens night and day,
from the fires of the homeless,
from the ashes of the gay:
Democracy is coming to the U.S.A.
It's coming through a crack in the wall;
on a visionary flood of alcohol;
from the staggering account
of the Sermon on the Mount
which I don't pretend to understand at all.
It's coming from the silence
on the dock of the bay,
from the brave, the bold, the battered
heart of Chevrolet:
Democracy is coming to the U.S.A.

It's coming from the sorrow in the street,
the holy places where the races meet;
from the homicidal bitchin'
that goes down in every kitchen
to determine who will serve and who will eat.
From the wells of disappointment
where the women kneel to pray
for the grace of God in the desert here
and the desert far away:
Democracy is coming to the U.S.A.

Sail on, sail on
O mighty Ship of State!
To the Shores of Need
Past the Reefs of Greed
Through the Squalls of Hate
Sail on, sail on, sail on, sail on.

It's coming to America first,
the cradle of the best and of the worst.
It's here they got the range
and the machinery for change
and it's here they got the spiritual thirst.
It's here the family's broken
and it's here the lonely say
that the heart has got to open
in a fundamental way:
Democracy is coming to the U.S.A.

It's coming from the women and the men.
O baby, we'll be making love again.
We'll be going down so deep
the river's going to weep,
and the mountain's going to shout Amen!
It's coming like the tidal flood
beneath the lunar sway,
imperial, mysterious,
in amorous array:
Democracy is coming to the U.S.A.

Sail on, sail on ...

I'm sentimental, if you know what I mean
I love the country but I can't stand the scene.
And I'm neither left or right
I'm just staying home tonight,
getting lost in that hopeless little screen.
But I'm stubborn as those garbage bags
that Time cannot decay,
I'm junk but I'm still holding up
this little wild bouquet:
Democracy is coming to the U.S.A.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Christmas at the Castle Project update
(what we've been working on)

The contents of this website are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the U.S. government or the Peace Corps, of which I am a proud volunteer.

Dear friends and family,
Micah and I are proud to announce that we are 50% complete with our "gingerbread castle project": Christmas at the Castle. We're delighted to have your support with this project and proud to involve you in this photo update of the work we have done so far.

The Practice Gingerbread Castle, 1st weekend of August, 2008

The first weekend of August another volunteer made the trip to Deva to help Micah and I bake for two days in my kitchen while the oven temperature reached 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Many cold glasses of water (with ice! were consumed.) Thank you, Anne!

This is what gingerbread looks like when made without molasses or brown sugar. We used honey as a substitute. The dough bakes a lot thicker and we realized we could carve it into the shapes we wanted rather than baking many many tiny pieces and gluing them together with frosting.

Determining the level of detail is difficult. The castle is really approximately 15 different buildings.

This practice castle is 1/2 the size of the complete model we hope to create for the December event. We determined at this practice session that we should try to make arrangements with a professional bakery for the use of industrial ovens. We're working out the details on such and arrangement now. We were still in the process of fund-raising for the greater project when we build the practice castle so the supplies for this phase of the project was not part of our budget.

The Skill Sharing Meeting 24 October, 2008

Micah and our translator Monica, a Red Cross volunteer, ask representatives from Romanian NGOs to get into groups and discuss the state of cooperation between organizations.

More than 27 people attended at least part of our meeting which was held at the Red Cross in Deva. Some people came representing organizations from as far away as Timisoara and Cluj (five hours by bus, but I'm not sure of the time by private car.)

The day was divided into 20 minute workshops on skills NGOs need to acquire or want to improve. We learned what areas were important to our partners through a survey when we invited them to take part in the Christmas event at the castle, then invited those who indicated they were willing to speak to share their organizations best practices and success stories. In the event that no one wanted to speak on a particular topic, we tracked down professionals in the week leading up to the meeting.

Holly, another volunteer in group 22 and a good friend with professional grant writing experience gives a presentation to the members of NGOs. Holly has raised over a million dollars for her community in the USA and gives her advice and basic tips in her presentation.

A presenter from the office of E.U. Integration speaks about the resources available to NGOs from the European Union and how to access those resources. At the end of the project we will collect information from all of our speakers and create a CD of resources for each participating member of the project.
Brindusa, a colleague from the Gender and Development board speaks about planning events for a nonprofit organization and the importance of evaluating events and projects. Brindusa traveled from Turda for the meeting and was a great help to Micah and I with last minute translating. She recently left a well known NGO in her town to start her own animal protection NGO.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

It's like the end of a love affair...
The contents of this website are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the U.S. government or the Peace Corps, of which I am a proud volunteer.

More like a death in the family, but that's cruel to use as a headline unless it's actually true and I don't know about you but with the election so close I don't need another thing to get my heart pumping faster than usual....

Last Monday night my computer Kwarou decided to be sick again. I'm sure it's a hardware problem with the monitor and I'm sure it can't be fixed in Romania. I have to send Kwarou back to the USA again, to be fixed again, because the last time I sent him to the US they replaced the motherboard, I assume without even noticing the occasional flickering of the monitor and when I got him back in February was all good for two weeks and then the problem started again.

Now the problem is much worse. I turn the computer on and I'm faced with a black screen that never turns into my desktop. The worst thing is the first time I took him in to one computer shop here in Deva he worked fine, so I brought him back home and was faced again with blackness.

Now my life is thrown into total upheaval. I'm really emotional about it. I'm two weeks behind in the Daily Show and the Colbert Report, I can't call home using Skype, I can't conference call my fellow Peace Corps volunteers for free which has led to my spending more than 100 lei on phone calls due to the increasingly busy nature of the project at hand.

Mostly I'm upset at not having my email at a finger tips all day.I miss knowing where all my files that have to do with this project are and not having to dig through my sent messages for a backup copy in my email.
I miss not having episodes of Supernatural at my command.

I miss music and stupid Youtube videos. I miss political ads and blogs. I'm about to burst into tears when I think about where I'm going to be and what I'm going to be doing while election returns are coming in - probably taking a hot bath with a paperback and a bottle of wine at two in the morning and then pacing frantically - probably naked and crying!

I knew I spent too much time online before. In some ways this could be seen as a good thing as this is one of my two busiest weeks in Peace Corps preparing for the NGO skill-sharing meeting on Friday which is part of the Gingerbread Castle project. I don't need an youtube or video distractions. But I miss my online lifestyle. I miss being connected. More than anything I'm frustrated with all the obstacles this creates not just for my job but for my life - with a friend's laptop that doesn't get the internet, another laptop that does get the internet, but of course doesn't have my cache of downloaded TV shows and movies, neither of which connect to my printer or camera.

Also, since it cost 60 lei to get rid of Bella's fleas (I hope once and for all but she's scratching more than before she had them, less than than when I knew she had them last week) and because my ATM card is expired and its uncertain when I'll get a new one it's questionable at best when I will have the money to send Kwarou back to the US - braving the Romanian and US postal services so he can be repaired and returned to me.

And (this is the kicker) HP sent me a reminder that if I do send Kwarou in to be repaired I need to take responsibility to back up my files in case they get erased. Now how am I supposed to back up my files when I can't see anything at all on the screen?!

So I guess this is farewell, my friends. It'll likely be mid-November before you hear from me again.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

"Many of the truths we cling to, depend greatly on our own point of view." -Obi-wan Kenobi
The contents of this website are mine personally as usual do not have anything to do with the US government, the Peace Corps, or Romania, and therefore do not reflect any official position thereof.

I just watched The Return of the Jedi, the last part in my impromptu Star Wars marathon, which came about something like this, Me thinking: I could watch the debate, but that will just depress me and make me angry. What's something uplifting I can watch that will give me hope? A New Hope...Star Wars: Episode IV: A New Hope.

Later, though I did watch the debate, as I also watched the first debate and the VP debate and have been following the news as closely as I can. It is disappointing to me how much our political discourse is theater. The debates are really not about engaging the American people so they can learn each candidates position and make the best decision. It's about repeating stock phrases and trying to beat those phrases and two-second ideas into the heads of the audience. If you repeat something often enough it will become true.

McCain's campaign keeps saying Obama would sit down with leaders like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, when my understanding of what he said is that under his administration high level members of the government would engage Iran in discussions, not that the President is going to have a one-on-one with Ahmadinejad, who isn't even the most powerful leader in Iran. Obama's campaign just keeps repeating that McCain voted with Bush 95% of the time. Both sides point to each other and say "Oh, he's a terrible person because he voted against funding our troops" even though McCain voted against funding the troops in a bill with a time table and Obama voted against funding them in a bill without a time table.

Something occurred to me watching Return of the Jedi. The Rebels could easily have been called a terrorist army by the Empire. I wonder if they were. I wonder if the people in support of the Empire thought the Emperor could protect them from "those who seek to destroy us." I wonder what those people wanted to be protected from in the big scary galaxy a long time ago far away.

Did they know that the Empire was a military regime in which ranking officers who screwed up could be summarily executed and not just fired?
I wonder if the subjects of the Empire had rights. I wonder if they hated The Rebellion, if they thought the Jedi religion was a cult that sought to destroy their values, if they ever talked with anyone in the Rebellion. If there was any exchange of ideas between the Empire-Supporters and the Rebels.

Obi-wan's quote from the top of this post stuck out to me more than usual this time around. I have heard the term Post-Fact Society recently and it suddenly makes sense to me. We living in a time when if you don't like something- you can simply dismiss it. Judges you disagree with are "activists", an ethics violation investigation that began before Sarah Palin was nominated for Vice President is now "politically motivated." People who believe in Creationism are opening their own museums. Objective facts have lost all meaning. Paris Hilton is correct when she says "Sound bites, not sound policy determine our country's course."

We are in the Post-Fact world where education is undervalued and you can dismiss the voices of
intellectuals as elitists in the pursuit of your own version of American-truth. I have heard it stated by people seeking to dismiss dissenting opinions, the ACLU and Sean Penn hate America! That we're not allowed to say Merry Christmas. There's no such thing as the separation of church and state. We should just blow up Iraq. People damning theocratic governments abroad while pining for one in the USA.

It frustrates and saddens me that this is the level of discourse in the United States today. People seem to have this notion of a democracy as a "majority rules" establishment. That it's a society of "us" versus "them" - the good guys and the bad guys, and if we can just get enough people on our side then we win. But that's not what democracy is about. It means we have a voice with which to elect our representatives and the right to express how we wished to be governed to those people, but we also have an obligation as a members of a free society to be respectful of minority opinions. There are protections, or were, in a democracy against the "tyranny of the majority." That's why we have constitutional limits on powers, and the bill of rights. That's why we have freedom of speech. That's why the first line of the first amendment is "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free expression thereof." That's why we don't live in a theocracy. And that is why, unfortunately, sometimes decisions regarding the rights of the people are made by the courts and not left to a popular vote.

"Many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view." Unfortunately right now the point of view held in the highest esteem by too many of us is our own point of view. Rather than seeking to hear another point of view, we immediately dismiss either the person or wholesale dismiss the facts on which their argument is based. Because we now live in a time when no fact can sway us and no argument must influence us unless it reinforces what we already believe and everything else can be thrown out, or better yet
called "gay."

In a Post-Fact Society, I am longing for a real discourse. I'd like to enter into a real conversation and have my opinions challenged intelligently. We know I'm tired of being called names and having my values attacked (See former post September 7th). Use the awesome power of The Force to persuade me that your side is right. Don't make education the enemy. Don't change the subject. And don't call me names.

With the shameful lack of discourse going on, and appalling lack of statesmanship, I have to let go of my anger lest it consume me. I turn to past and fictional leaders for their wisdom to guide me through these troubled times.

Because, that's all I have. May the Force be with us all.

"I think it's better to have ideas. You can change an idea. Changing a belief is trickier." - Rufus the 13th Apostle, Dogma
"Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars... Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that." - Martin Luther King Jr
“Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” -Yoda, Jedi Master

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Brother, can you spare some peanut butter cups?
The contents of this website are mine personally as usual do not have anything to do with the US government, the Peace Corps, or Romania, and therefore do not reflect any official position thereof.

The holidays are fast approaching, the first one being Halloween. I'm helping my Missionary friends start a high school club where we reinforce Romanian high school students' English skills while also doing fun things watching movies, having discussions and doing activities that promote confidence, self-esteem, creative thinking, problem-solving and critical thinking skills and also foster cultural exchange. And we want to promote these evening activities as an alternative to alcohol and drugs. That is the hope, anyway.

To kick off this club we're planning a Halloween party, and let me tell you I am psyched for showing these kids a real American-style Halloween, complete with scary movies, pumpkin carving peeled grapes and oily spaghetti. Maybe even 80's Karaoke.

For the party, I'd really like to make some of those chocolate chip cookies with the peanut butter cup in the middle, as a matter of cultural exchange and also to show these Romanian kids that Americans do junk-food deserts right. Who needs alcohol and drugs when you've got chocolate chips cookies with peanut butter cups sticking out of them? However, chocolate chips, cookies, peanut butter and cups (peanut butter cups) are all foreign to Romanians. I don't expect they'll be nearly as excited as me, my Missionary friends and my volunteer army in charge of making this Halloween a very happy one.

So does anyone think they could put a bag or two of peanut butter cups in the mail - soonish, that it might get here by Halloween?
If so, you'd have the thanks of a grateful community of volunteers and maybe some culturally enriched high school students.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Purr Baby
The contents of this website are mine personally as usual do not have anything to do with the US government, the Peace Corps, or Romania, and therefore do not reflect any official position thereof.

I've been thinking for weeks what should my next blog post be about? How hard I'm working on this gingerbread castle project? My other "secret projects" none of you know about? How surreal my life sometimes is? The pictures I saw of Hurricane Ivan and how it made me feel? More about the problems in my country? What I'm thinking for the future - after Peace Corps? The Supernatural Marathon weekend I just had with two Peace Corps friends that involved Chinese food, delivery pizza, potato chips, coca-cola and the Winchester brothers Seasons 1 & 2?

As I debated in my mind I recalled I wanted to post on September 18th - the day we celebrate Bella's Birthday. The one year anniversary of the day Bella came to me. We celebrated with a whole packet of Whiskas Supreme Sardine cat food, and I toasted her with hot coffee. To one year together and many more.

I would post a picture of how big my baby's gotten, but for the time being my camera is being repaired in Bucharest and I don't have it here, so you'll just have to me due with this kind of cute old picture.
In the meantime Bella and I have been at odds lately. Last week I hosted a family of couch-surfers , a mom, a dad, and their 8month old baby boy for three nights. Bella seemed to be both interested and afraid of Baby and seemed to have fun playing with the other members of the family. Her personal space and patterns of sleeping were invaded I thought minimally, and even though everyone of the visitors warmly appreciated Bella I still tried to give her as near the same amount of attention I would normally.

However, when visitors left on Friday evening Bella, I guess decided to tell me exactly what she though about me inviting overnight guests into her apartment: She took a dump on my bed.
This is an unusual turn of events for Bella. I punished her with a time out in the kitchen and much later made sure she had some "mommy time" to know I wasn't still mad at her and hadn't abandoned her.

Then my weekend-guests arrived and the Supernatural Marathon did commence and once again, the guests appreciated and enjoyed playing with Bella and aside from two more people sleeping in the apartment than usual, I thought Bella's daily interactions changed very little. ALthough I did notice her scratching herself much more frequently when our first guests were here. I announced that Bella needed a bath. That her itching was worrying to me although she couldn't have gotten fleas because she's never outside. A joke was made that the couple with the baby brought fleas to my cat. I commented that that would be some trick because I think you'd have to go through a lot of specific actions or troubles to bring fleas inside to someone you knew would have a cat.

Well the itching increased and Sunday morning after my fellow Supernatural fans departed Bella got her bath. I was concernedly drying her and in fact picking newly discovered parasites of some kind off her skin when I smelled it...She rewarded me for my weekend guests in the same way she appreciated the couch surfers!

I don't know what's going on here, but my cat has fleas and has taken to crapping on my bed. This is worrisome behavior for a cat that is coming to the USA with me someday and is going to have to learn how to cope when "mommy" gets a job and is hopefully out of the house from 8-5 regularly.

In the meantime, she's had her flea bath and I can go pick up some emergency medication against fleas on her body hopefully tomorrow. The only explaination of how I think she could have gotten them is that flea eggs survive in my apartment - and necessity has forced me to be somewhat OK with that. I tried to wash one of the cushions Bella's been so fond of sleeping on lately but whether or not the washer actually washes things with water is touch and go - so when I pulled the washers contents out dry earlier I said "let that be a worry for another day."

Since my tools for cleaning the carpets is a broom and I beat and washed these rugs already this year, there's not much that's going to be done there, and since I have actually zero disposable income - i.e. income not already budgeted for something else, it's going to be a hard sight to see how we swing this flea medication. In the meantime I'm sleeping in my dish-soap cleaned bed because it takes two-days for the sheets to dry on the line if the machine uses water so usually I only wash them when I'm going away for a while. Besides Bella has done so much sleeping on me or with me that there's no way I could claim avoiding exposure for flea eggs and a massive laundry overall would just be too little too late.

The best I can do I figure is bathe her again if she continues to scratch, find a way to pay for the medication that will kill all hatching fleas on her for a number of months, and pray I don't get fleas myself .... until I do, I guess I have to be Ok with that.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Something productive with my anger...
The contents of this website are mine personally as usual do not have anything to do with the US government, the Peace Corps, or Romania, and therefore do not reflect any official position thereof.

I have just been told by the Republican Party that my country doesn’t value me; doesn’t want me anymore; thinks people like me suck.

Imagine finding that out after dedicating three years of your life to volunteering in her name.

Apparently this RNC was all about touting the values of people from small towns. I am from a small town: population 10,000, so you would think I would score there. But apparently, as I have been told before, I don’t have any values. The last Republican National Convention 9/11fest was in New York City, because that’s small town America for you. However this year, only “real” people from small towns in America count. But not me.

I’ve volunteered for 1 year in Americorps, for three months on the Gulf Coast and so far a year and a half in the Peace Corps, and this experience has taught me that I want to go back to school. I want to be a Community Organizer and work in underprivileged areas in the U.S., to start my own nonprofit and help the poor help themselves but Republicans tell me this is a joke and waste of time.

Also, I can’t be a patriotic person because I have always believed that loving your country is trying to improve it. I shouldn’t have been trying my damnedest to “ask not what my country can do for me…,” instead I should have been going along with the status quo and never let anyone say anything negative about my homeland.

I worked for minimum wage out of college – less than 20 hours a week which was considered full time by the company I worked for – but I found a way to use my money to send care packages to anonymous soldiers I didn’t even know because I may hate the war but I support the troops. This doesn’t make me patriotic, though. Hell, I’ve practically committed treason by showing dislike for the war my country is engaged in and expressing that opinion to the very soldiers I support.

And because I think my country could do things better than the way it is doing them now, I am anti-American.

I didn’t just attend church, but enjoyed going to church in my community in Minnesota before I left the country. I miss being involved in Bible study, volunteering for summer Sunday school and serving pancakes at Churches United for the Homeless. But I believe that Faith is belief in things for which we have no evidence and if a new thought can shake your faith it probably wasn’t very strong to begin with – so my textbooks don’t need disclaimers, and therefore I’m anti-God.

In fact, I’m so anti-God, I’m willing to listen to what other people believe and not tell them their wrong. I think that even though I have faith in one thing, we should uphold the constitution and not tell everyone they have to believe the same thing as me! That makes me even more anti-faith and anti-American. Because after all why even have faith if not to push it down the throats of others? And being a Christian first and foremost gives you the right to believe you’re better than other people.

I believe that abortion is a very personal, private, individual, moral decision, but – like John McCain believed in 2000 – I believe that if Roe vs. Wade were repealed thousands of young American women would be in danger of death and injury due to illegal and underground abortions. This makes me anti-family, because in a Culture of Life, we don’t value the lives of women who’ve had sex – especially if unmarried or unable to afford a doctor. The wealthy will have a greater chance of affording procedures that won’t leave them butchered or prone to die of infection, but those who were struggling day to day without the prospect of raising a child? Well, they’ll have to take their chances. Should have thought of that before you had sex with limited access to birth control (I’m looking at you South Dakota.)

Because believe that a Culture of Life includes looking out for working and single mothers, working families and people who can’t afford health care; because I thought I remembered Jesus teaching something about “caring for the least of these;” because I remember learning somewhere either in my small town or at my small college that among Christians the people are what make up the church and the people love and care and sacrifice for each other; I’m probably a Socialist and therefore a danger to America.

I hate PG-13 movies because by definition PG-13 movies aren’t allowed to show blood as consequence of gunplay and most PG-13 movies are produced so middle school kids have something to do on dates, but I think there are many good, decent, well-made Rated R films that can teach us about the human condition, so therefore I’m pro-Hollywood, and to be pro-Hollywood is to be pro-gay so add that to list. (Majorly looking forward to the movie Milk, though need it be stated?)

I also don’t believe in traditional marriage and don’t want to get married. In my “traditional family” and in my small town I saw many traditional marriages end in divorce and I really don’t care much for the institution. But that’s because I’m anti-marriage, anti-family and anti-“traditional values” even though I don’t know what you mean by that. If this post hasn’t shown you enough already, every time someone says “traditional,” “American,” “family,” or “our shared” values I stop listening because rarely are they talking about me, my values or my family.

I don’t count because if I don’t believe the same thing as someone else I don’t have values. In fact, I’m beyond that: by valuing diversity, acceptance, pluralism, education, and peace, I am anti-Values. I’m a feminist, vegetarian who supports gun control and wants to be a foster parent someday. I’m one step away from being the Anti-Christ.

Is it any wonder I feel alienated from my country?

Any wonder why I can’t automatically parrot-chirp Yes, when asked if I’m proud to be an American?

I’m not proud of being called names, I can tell you that.

The Republicans have made it quite clear that Patriotic America has no use for people like me.

But I will not surrender my country so easily. All though it is hard, I have to forge ahead and make a place for myself there – no matter how demoralized I am and tired I am of being told that I have no values.

I know that I have worthwhile values. I know that I am a worthwhile American. And no one is going to take my country from me like this. If they think the U.S. will be better off when the people like me all leave – they can make me. Just as soon as I get back.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Carry on my Wayward Son
The contents of this website are mine personally as usual do not have anything to do with the US government, the Peace Corps, or Romania, and therefore do not reflect any official position thereof.

Having strayed far from my "comfort zone" into completely alien territories of faith by studying and attending church with Missionary Group #2, my mind has recoiled at the utter lack of balance in my life. Reeling and grasping for me to put something "normal" within sight; some indication or reminder of who I am and where I came from; which as I recall is "just another freak in the freak kingdom."

In response I decided to become obsessed with Supernatural, a show to which I was briefly dedicated in January and February of 2007 before I left for Romania.

Supernatural is a good reminder to me that I do have a lot of faith and a capacity to believe incredible things. It also makes me feel more sorted out to have "treatment" of Sam and Dean every evening with an episode (or three). Because when you distill the relationship between the Winchester brothers down through all the duty, and demon-induced pain and grief, what you have is basically one hot guy telling another hot guy "I can't live without you" - just not in so many words.

And Heaven knows I will lap that up. I will eat up with a spoon. I will drink it with straw.

However, I have opportunities to challenge my firmly held beliefs and find contention here too. While surfing the abundance of Winchester brother videos on Youtube (I really make it sound like I don't do any work at all, don't I?) I came across a video someone made for Jensen Ackles about his character's pet peeves; one of which is when people assume that because Dean and Sam are always together, they are ...uh, together. Now I can't demand a gay-positive attitude from all my fave fictional characters (see Leo McGary from the West Wing). I sometimes do know when I'm asking too much of the world. Besides what person in their right mind, what gay person, wouldn't be offended if someone suggested they were gay ...with their brother?

However I was shocked and disappointed when in the video, typed across one of the stills is, the quote "When I find out who invented Wincest I'm going to burn that bitch." The quote is not attributed to Ackels and I dearly hope it is not his. The maker of the video sourced their material from an Ackels fan site, which I scoured (by which I mean glanced at to not find the quote or the attribution on the home page, so I left).

I sincerely hope he didn't say that. I would fall to my knees and howl in lamentation if he did. I would be gravely disappointed. Possibly to the point of tears and rending my garments. Not because I'm a fan of Wincest. It's not my cup of tea. But I understand those who might go for it. I sincerely doubt the majority of Wincest fans are in it because of the brothers. (Ew). I think it's just an excuse to get two hot guys together in a fan fiction story. It's not my thing, so I personally leave it alone. It may not be you're thing either, but really is it hurting anyone? It's a bunch of made-up stories, probably terribly written stories - about fictional characters. Probably horribly written. (Shudder).

So in the meantime I wring my hands and wonder why all the condemnation in the world? Sigh. At least I have my sweet sweet show to cling to - until I watch all of season 3, which only has 16 episodes.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

You're not the boss of me!
The contents of this website are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the U.S. government or the Peace Corps, of which I am a proud volunteer.

I was probably the only person in North America (when I was in North America) who anxiously awaiting the day a proud Muslim person would come knock on my door and ask it I'd like to learn more about the Prophet Mohammad. I would love to learn more!

Because I have a sincere interest in other people's faiths, and I think it can never hurt us to learn more about faith and what our brothers and sisters believe, I have entered into study-relationships with two different sets of missionaries. I have been doing Bible study for about eight months now with a Romanian girl who speaks English that I met because she knocked on my door, and I recently engaged another group of American missionaries that are in town. I'm interested to know more.

It probably doesn't help that all of my Peace Corps friends went on vacation at the same time and I am working from home on the internet so that doesn't leave me anyone to talk to. And its amazing how much you have in common with other Americans you have nothing in common with once you're in Romania together.

I was enjoying weekly talks with both sets of missionaries. It was nice to have someone in my life to remind me that spiritual pursuits require time and energy which should be dedicated to study, prayer and self examination. Fine. But now both groups are making greater demands on my time. One group wants to see me three times a week including church on Sunday, and my other friend whom I've known longer - who's never invited me anywhere not even on Easter - has finally invited me to church this Sunday. When I told the other missionaries this, they seemed offended. They weren't outright mean, but they definitely put pressure on me to come to their church. I thought I could just go to one church this week and another one next week and then I realized: they both want me to come to church with them every week.

At first I was kind of shy and embarrassed. I tried to think of something placating to say. I wondered how I could get out of going to church with the other person. I felt like I owed them. They made me feel like I had broken a promise. Like I was disappointing them. Then, later I got angry. I don't deserve to be stressed out about this. It isn't a competition. Both of these Christian denominations should just be glad I'm going to church at all and not trying to convince me that theirs in the one true church.

This I think is representative of everything I find frustrating about Christianity. And while desperately trying to remain a Christian, increase my knowledge and my faith, this kind of thing really makes me want to chuck the whole thing and stay home and watch cartoons in Romanian.
Although I don't exactly feel justified since the missionaries weren't outright mean about it. They just made me feel kind of bad.

They said it was an opportunity for me to ask God to reveal to me which house I was supposed to be in on Sunday. So I did. Though, unhappy that they were putting me in this position I asked God "If it's important to You which church I go to on Sunday please indicate to me where you would like me to go."

We'll see what happens, but until then I'm shaking off this pressure by reminding myself that this is only One Sunday of my life and really, which church I worship in is so not important. They're both going to be in Romanian anyway.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Pitch...
The contents of this website are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the U.S. government or the Peace Corps, of which I am a proud volunteer.

At last the time is right to inform everyone about this incredible project I've been working on, which I know I have not mentioned or explained thus far. Read on to find out about this extra special project and how you can be part of it!

In cooperation with the management of Castleul Corvinilor (the Corvin’s Castle) in Hunedoara, Romania my friend Micah and I are organizing a Christmas fair for local children involving nonprofit organizations which benefit children at the often-pictured-on-this-blog castle December 12-14th.

Organizations such as local orphanages, associations which benefit street children, groups for parents of disabled children, Special Olympics and Habitat for Humanity will come together for a weekend long fair, and offer an activity or craft for children for a small amount of money. We intend this event as an opportunity for nonprofits to solicit donations, recruit volunteers, and promote their mission and services. There will be a chance for each organization to invite its child beneficiaries to decorate a Christmas tree for display.

As a centerpiece to the event, we will create and display a model of Castelul Corvinilor created out of gingerbread. The gingerbread castle will be a project of Peace Corps volunteers and will be donated to the event as a media showcase, and will remain on display at the castle along with the decorated Christmas trees for the rest of the season.

Communication and cooperation between Romanian nonprofits often fails in an atmosphere of competition and tension. Past-dependence on foreign donors has made the work of many nonprofits insular; their work often left unacknowledged and unassisted by their communities which may not even be aware people are working toward solutions to local problems. The objectives of our event are to raise the profile of Romanian nonprofits benefiting children and families, while providing them a networking and local fund raising opportunity. A secondary benefit is the media attention to Hunedoara, an underprivileged community, as a tourist point of interest.

The castle administration is eager to work with us and has agreed to donate use of the castle for the three-day event and to make admission free to all who wish to attend. We will also be inviting local dancers and musicians to perform and food and drink vendors. There will be a coloring contest with a prize for the winner and other special events throughout the duration of the Christmas fair. Maybe even an appearance by Santa Claus himself!

We invite you to help us fund this this event through the Peace Corps Partnership Program so that we can provide organizations that would not otherwise be able to participate the cost of materials for their activity at the fair. In addition to supporting our nonprofit partners who ask for assistance, our main expenses with this project are printing and advertising the event and the cost of creating the gingerbread castle. We are additionally seeking in-kind donations to support the project although the culture is not on where businesses are usually involved in the community.

If interested, click here to go to the Peace Corps Partnership Program web site and make your tax-deductible donation online with your credit card. It's that easy and you can donate any amount!

I look forward to continuing to update you on the progress of this project. In fact if my camera hadn't broken last weekend I would have some pictures of our "practice gingerbread castle" which we constructed and of "days of the castle" a medieval celebration in Hunedoara.

Laundry Day!
The contents of this website are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the U.S. government or the Peace Corps, of which I am a proud volunteer.

Today is laundry day and I am thrilled! Why am I thrilled? Because somewhere around the second week of June my last washing machine broke. It was very old but I think I overloaded it and it started to smoke. Sadly when I informed the landlord of this over the phone I initially said correctly in Romanian, "Smoke from the washing machine" and then I went on to say "I am smoking the washing machine."

Sometime in early July the landlord actually showed up to fix it. It was not entirely his fault it took so long. We had problems coordinating our schedules and I've been making frequent trips to Bucharest and since its summer there are various festivals going on which take me out of town on the weekends. The weekend before last weekend was one that I was home, however.

I have to hand it to my landlord. He really gave fixing that old washing machine the old college try. He made two different trips here to fix it, on the second trip he left with the machine, only to return it, instruct me to put the clothes in it and wash away. Then he tried to take it apart with my clothes in it before informing me that it was still broken and leaving with the machine - and me with a tub full of wet towels and jeans.

Now I have no right to complain about having no washing machine since most of my fellow volunteers have no washing machine and have been doing their laundry by hand for over a year. I've been doing my laundry by hand for only a little over a month. What I was upset about was the fact that I was long waiting for him to come and fix it so I could wash the jeans and towels I'd been saving for when I had a machine again. If he had said right away - too bad no machine, I could have washed those jeans and towels by hand much sooner. Truly, I ran out of towels at one point and when the point came when I needed to shower and still couldn't justify pulling a towel out of the laundry bag, I dried myself with what can only be described as a super-absorbent bathroom floor mat that a guest had left here.

I was also especially upset about the landlord leaving me with that pile of wet jeans and towels because he told me he would call me last Tuesday or Wednesday and bring over a new machine. Well he didn't and both of my buckets were already full. I had to leave last Thursday for Bucuresti for my last shot in the series of anti-rabies treatments, so I put the wet towels and jeans in the tub and filled it up thinking damp clothes can't mold if they're underwater. However, I forgot that my bathtub leaks so instead of damp laundry moldering on the bathroom floor, I had sopping wet laundry moldering in the bath tub.

But today the landlord brought over a new machine, Praise the Lord! It only took two cycles for each of two separate loads to get that aquarium smell out of my disturbingly slimy jeans. Soon I will be rich in clean dish towels - which I haven't seen since early June and my bathroom floor will be free of buckets of dirty filthy smelling water and soaking clothes. My balcony is already crowded with drying towels and pairs of pants. I am very excited and still unable to overlook my good fortune at having a washing machine!

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Romania is not the United States >:<
The contents of this website are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the U.S. government or the Peace Corps, of which I am a proud volunteer.

For the first time I have been really annoyed that Romania is not the United States. It started around 4 am this morning when a car in my neighborhood's car alarm when off - and proceeded to blare for two hours until 6:05 this morning.

Usually it is screaming cats. bloody snarling dog fights and occasionally a rooster cockadoodling at 5 am which make up the annoying noises heard in my alley, and I've learned to live with it. This car alarm pissed me off though. I lay in the dark with a second pillow and my arm over my head trying to drown out the noise waiting for one of my neighbors to call the police. I imagine no one did.

I didn't call the police because a) I don't have a non-emergency number for the police department
b) I don't know if they would understand my Romanian, and because
c) I'm not sure if letting your car alarm blare for two hours in the early morning is illegal.

But it should be. It doesn't seem fair that one person's car alarm falsely going off should deprive people in three bloc buildings of a night of sleep - and for the record that's a lot of people. And I can tell how many people were up by how many lights went on in the apartments in the other building.
In fact, at one point I put my headphones in, flicked on the lights in the bedroom out of solidarity with the neighbors and to show the police should they ever show up just how many people were disturbed by this, and buried my head under the pillows and tried to sleep in the living room.

After breakfast this morning I sent an irritated email to our Safety and Security officer describing the situation and asking what I can do should it re-occur. I not so sensitively pointed out that this is illegal in the US, that playing sirens to deprive people of sleep is a torture technique, and told him I might call him at four in the morning next time it happens so that he can call the Deva police for me.

I signed off, Tired and Cranky, Laura.

Luckily as daylight broke the wailing siren stopped. I popped a couple of ibuprophen to help get rid of my screaming headache, put my eye pillow over my face to simulate darkness and turned off the alarm so I could sleep in till 10. Unfortunately at 9:30 I was awakened by someone in my hallway cutting metal with a chainsaw because they are making some renovations I don't understand to the building - but that is what I am used to.

Monday, August 04, 2008

One weekend, four musicals and these clips
The contents of this website are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the U.S. government or the Peace Corps, of which I am a proud volunteer.

A working weekend, but I managed to listen to Godspell, Mama Mia, Tommy, and watch Sweeney Todd (finally!) Also, discovered these priceless gems. Can't wait to get involved in Improv Everywhere when I'm back in the states!