Sunday, December 16, 2007

Any Given Sunday...

Tellingly, it was with those words that Scott and I wrapped up our evening last Saturday. He was, of course, referring to the improbable possibility that the Steelers would beat our undefeated Patriots in Sunday's game, and not to the possibility of an early arrival of our baby girl. But there you have it, our first lesson learned in parenting --any given Sunday life comes at you fast. In our case, it was Sunday December 9th when Ms. Willa Maclaren (Willa Mac) made her way into the world.

The second lesson we learned during childbirth itself, and this is both relevant to a previous post about our hippie dippie childbirthing preparations, and folks' inquiries about the efficacy of hypnobirthing. The lesson is that you do the best with the tools you have, and no one tool set is going to be a magic bullet for anyone. Or maybe other folks' have that experience. Something tells me no.

Despite our rigorous preparations, Scott and I were open to what would be. We wanted to give natural childbirthing a go -- primiarly so that we had a baby born into the world without drugs in her system, but also because working with your body, eliminating fear and tension, and incorporating deep breathing and relaxation, all seemed like sensible strategies. But if I ended up with an epidural or c-section, that was the way of the world.

In the end, we did have our natural childbirth -- and the hypnobirthing helped. Here's how. Contractions started at 3:45 am, and by 7 am, they were 5 minutes apart. I started listening to birthing day affirmations, eliminating any last fears I had. When I spoke to the doctor at 8, she told me I was the only patient she'd talk to who was giggling during contractions. When we got to the hospital, we were already halfway there in terms of dialation and I was feeling pretty good. The photo should speak for itself.

Ashley, the nurse who worked with us through the delivery, was a hypno Mom herself, and worked with Scott to incorporate her actions (i.e. moving me into new positions) into the hypnosis. The hypnosis kept me calm through the transition into full labor, and the next five hours of pushing. At the very end, when the doctor was telling me I should really consider an epidural or csection soon because I was exhausted, but when I wanted to keep going, the hypnosis and deep breathing allowed me to fall asleep between fairly rapid sets of contractions, giving me the strength I needed to push through the final stages.

There were two challenges -- unrelated to hypnobirthing. Willa was, as they say, "sunny-side up." The back of her head (the hard part) was positioned against my back bone. Normally, the soft (malleable) part of a baby's head is positioned against the back bone which allows them to squeeze on by. Its a different level of effort and discomfort to push the back of a head past the backbone. The second challenge is that my contractions stalled and I could push all I wanted, but without my body pushing as well, she really wouldn't go any where fast and she certainly wouldn't move past a back bone. The one disservice of our classes is that there is some fear of God when it comes to Pitocin -- a drug that will increase your contractions, but is also associated with harder, more painful contractions. I said no to Pitocin upon first offer, but when we really needed help, we said OK. Because of the IV, Ashley was able to begin me on low-level Pitocin and increase it as needed. I felt no ill-effects from the Pitocin at all, in fact, I felt nothing other than an increase in the contractions tht enabled me to push through till the end.

My point here is only that the Pitocin helped ME, didn't hinder me, which might not be true for EVERYONE.

We do the best with the tools we have, but no one tool set will serve everyone the same way and I think that any childbirth or childrearing "method" should start considering itself a guiding framework, rather than a method, to keep participants open to what may be.

That said, I think that we are both committed to using hypnobirtihng in any other Stefanski births.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Triple Crown Winners

I'm going to riff off one of Dana's recent posts about Triple Crown Winners, especially in light of my recent participation at Pop!Tech and the announcement that Pop!Tech is launching its own Social Innovation Fellows program.

The social enterprise trend is still a pretty nascent phenomena, and at its ethos is the concept of solving root problems with scaleable or sustainable solutions. Ashoka really began this trend by identifying and investing in social entrepreneurs -- individuals with the vision and skills to implement pattern-changing solutions to sticky problems. Originally, Ashoka invested in these early stage social entrepreneurs while they were in the start-up phase of implementation, a little financial and technical assistance could go a long way. Ashoka's theory of change banked on the impact that modelling and celebrating this amazing work could ripple into the community and enable anyone to see themselves as agents of change.

As the social enterpreneur trend began to take off, other organizations began to emerge to fill out gaps in the lifecycle ecoystem. The Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship and the Skoll Foundation began investing in social entrepreneurs in the scaling phase, Acumen Fund began investing in social entrepreneurs who used market-based approaches to scale their social change solutions. I know from my work at Ashoka that all three saw their work as complementary. To some extent, Ashoka became a pipeline for other programs which is why, as Dana points out, we began to see many social entrepreneurs wearing different hats of recognition (and this is a good thing).

As these solutions gained in popularity, however, it is my opinion that social innovation award/fellow programs began to emerge as fundraising strategies rather than integral contributions to the ecosystem, and as part of that trend, organizations began to compete for recognition/branding of the individuals they worked with as "their" Fellows -- it became an "either/or" recognition rather than an "and."

Utlimately, I think this is damaging to the ecosystem exhibited in the early days by Ashoka, Acumen, and Skoll -- if we're not careful, I think it can also be an inefficient use of resources. Simultaneously, I believe that more recognition programs are important because they bring with them resources -- and therein is the ultimate need: we need more social entreprenerus with access to more resources. (Interestingly enough, in the private sector the emergence of "more" would be a good thing because it would inspire more innovation and more co-opetition. In the nonprofit sector, donors see more as a bad thing -- too many organizations basically doing the same thing competing for resources... As if Ashoka alone could/should invest in all the emerging social entrepreneurs around the world).

A key component of the ecoysystem, however, is the efficient flow of information. The Tech Museum needs to be able to access and assess the visible social entrepreneurs out there who are using technology to benefit humanity. Pop!Tech and its Project Masilukele needs to know about and be able to access other social entrepreneurs working in Kwa Zulu Natal who can complement their work by bringing enterprise based health distribution mechanisms, e.g. Riders for Health.

GlobalGiving is the perfect platform for this type of information flow (and it would be even better with a reputation system that aggregates and displays how this organization is growing within the greater ecosystem).

Given the ecosystem that is already in place, organizations like Ashoka or Pop!Tech should never feel its their role to own the market on identifying social innovation. They have their own role to play in advancing it.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Kobashi Maru

Do I out myself as complete geek by referencing the Kobashi Maru in a blog post? Its been coming to mind quite a bit lately -- the way song lyrics stuck in your head are often a reflection of a current thought or struggle.

Motherhood currently exists in my mind as the great unknown. I'm told its life altering, and as such, its impossible to imagine how I will want to live, how I will prioritize choices, and how my perception and my current daily operations will change. And because its impossible to imagine, I'm forced to envision the modern construct of motherhood -- time strapped, re-balanced priorities, professional retardation, missed opportunities. Its not an attractive vision to me.

I was pondering this the other day while reading an article by Elizabeth Debold, when Kobashi Maru popped into my head. I went onto other things but the reference wouldn't go away. It came back to me many times that day, forcing me to finally reflect on its relevance.

Kobashi Maru is a reference to an old Star Trek episode. As a young cadet, Kirk doesn't like the prospect of losing what is predestined to be an unwinnable war game. So he reprograms the computer such that he can win. He changes the framework. He changes the rules.

Why must I consider motherhood as a series of trade offs? Why is it always about reapportioning the pieces of the pie? Why can't it be about expanding the pie? "Because the pie is time," a colleague told me. "You can't create more time."

I'd like to argue that she's wrong. The pie is not time. The pie is energy and identity, which do grow. Should grow. Can create more space for new additions, passions, and joys.

And then, in the abundance of the universe, I happened to come across this meme. "If our interconnected universe is continually expanding," its creator asks, "shouldn't our identity do the same?" It is a silly and short video, looking at the dynamics that "promote and inhibit our expanding sense of self."

It made me think that maybe I'm not such a crack pot ... Or at least there are other crackpots out there who see the potential synergy between motherhood and the Kobashi Maru.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Despite two of our busier work weeks, Scott and I have managed to enjoy some quality down time with friends from DC and Maine (via DC). It's all part of that master plan to recruit the best of the best to our beautiful state. Plan could backfire as we become the vacation destination for friends and family alike -- but I won't complain. A few highlights include:

Molly, Joe, and their 5 month old son visited last weekend. As is always the case with Molly and Joe, we spent our time cooking and eating. However, we did make the rounds to the Common Ground Fair -- a true celebration of our organic hippie dippie state -- highlighted by my first taste of (organic) apple fritters and the dog trials (we're signing George up next year... how hard could it be?)

Donna arrived on Thursday, spending the day in Augusta with the MWF board, sharing insights on board development, economic security, and women's funds more generally. We spent Friday tooling around Portland -- visiting a few of my favorite destinations (Front Room, the Eastern Prom, Soak, and Walters). We spent the afternoon driving around the country side, trespassing on private private property and agog at the 31 varieties of pumpkins and 21 varieties of gourds that can be found in New Gloucester. We closed the night out at Bar Lola's -- my favorite dinner location where three can over eat local, yummy, seasonal foods for barely a buck (beverages included).

On Sunday, we met up with Megan and Mike and spent the morning apple picking at Ricker Hill Farm in Turner. The orchard is situated on top of a hill overlooking fields of apples, and with a great vantage point to the Western Mountains and the bright foliage that is appearing across the state. The apples were good too -- and have already appeared on the table in the form of homemade apple sauce and apple crisp.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Hippie Dippie Birthing in Portland

The conversation that started off our foreay into hippie dippie birthing didn't start well. I was just barely a month pregnant and Scott and I were hiking with George. Scott suggested that women in non-western countries give birth all the time and it seems so easy, whereas images of western births are filled with a lot of huffing and puffing, swearing at husbands, purple faces, and screaming -- in short, they are filled with images of pain. I shut the conversation down, suggesting that when he could squeeze a watermelon out of a pea, we would revisit the conversation (not perhaps one of my most giving moments).

But it made me think. I had been practicing some killer yoga and through it I was finding that I could control muscles in my body I thought otherwise uncontrollable -- i.e. making that krinkle between my eyebrows go away. I also knew the power of positions like pigeon and frog to help you breathe through pain. What if one could use relaxation, breathing, and knowledge to work with your body during childbirth rather than allowing fear and tension create pain?

So we reopened the conversation, and found a solution in Hypnobabies -- also called our "hippie dippie" birthing class by our friends Joe & Molly. Hypnobabies relies on a combination of deep relaxation, hypnosis, and re-programming to enable women to work with their bodies during child birth. The antithesis is letting fear and tension work against your natural process, creating pain. Breath and deep breathing is an important element in hynobirthing, and is contrasted against the hyper-ventilating breathing techniques seen in movies. Who could sustain hours of hard exercise while hyperventilating?

Utlimately our goal is an easy childbirth -- but embedded in the hynobabies technique is a natural childbirth -- i.e. no drugs. I'd prefer not to be numb during the process -- I also can't imagne how this could help all that work -- and I also like the benefits of having a child born without drugs (apparently they sleep better and tend to be more 'chill' while awake).

We see a lot of video and footage of hypno-enabled births and its pretty convincing. Women laughing through child birth; women getting up and walking around after having given birth. Women not showing any signs of pain. I have to say, I'd like to be on those women.

We're in our 4th week of classes -- which require three hours of class work over six weeks and daily practice. The practice is having profound side effects which make me happy and make me chuckle. Side effect #1 is a very relaxed Eli. I will go into self-induced hypnosis for at least 30 minutes a day. According to some, this is the equivalent of a three hour nap. The result is that I have a ton of energy, and while I'm into my third trimester (when baby is suppose to be zappy my energy), I'm not sure I've ever felt better in my life. I am walking to work, attending regular pilates, and still putting in long hours at the Fund. I am also sleeping marvelously -- which is unusual. Side effect #2 is a very optimistic Eli. This is a result of the reprogramming -- daily affirmations that I listen to while working to work, cooking dinner, etc. The affirmations reinforce positive thinking -- i.e. I'm healthy, the baby is healthy, and we're going to have a healthy, natural, and easy child birth process. Within a few days of listening to these affirmations, I realized that any anxiety I had had about my pregnancy had disappeared. I also realized that across the board, I was looking at the world in a more positive way.

They say 'where the mind goes, the body will follow.' I'm one to believe that these days, as the proof is in the pudding. Who knows how it will all unfold, but right now, I'm OKAY with having joined the hippie dippie contigency in Portland. My parents will be so proud :)

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

I use to have this regular 'stress' dream -- I show up on my wedding day with no dress, no lovely coiffure, and my generally ragged nails. Its not an atypical image for me (especially now as I sport my island girl attitude, with hair that could care less if sees a hair brush any time soon). But early last week that usual dream transferred to one about Baby Stefanski. It's Thanksgiving, and baby is about to arrive. I haven't gone to birthing classes and decide I should just wing it. When baby does pop out, I don't have a car seat, diapers, or clothes. And I haven't put the turkey in and those cherries in the freezers aren't going to make it into my much talked about cherry pie.

So I decide to get on the ball -- signing up for classes, putting together the shopping list, etc. etc, when my much beloved colleague says to me -- you should sign up for infant care. Seems a bit early, but when my doctor asks me later that afternoon if I've chosen a hospital I tell her its on my to-do list along with birthing classes and infant care. Her response: Prioritize infant care above the other two. So yesterday I went about putting my infant-to-be-named-later on infant care waiting lists -- inserting "Projected" before the DOB line item, "TBD" in the child's name category, and "T minus 3 months" in the age bracket. I'm hoping that a sense of humor gets me somewhere (I wasn't able to drop that I'm the ED of the Maine Women's Fund which has thus far managed to get me into closed classes and an awesome apartment without background checks :)

At one highly recommended center, I was told it was unlikely that my infant would ever make it into the infant care but that at least she was on the list for toddler care. In the same breath, she suggested I call St. Elizabeth's and I said great -- do they do infant care? No, said the voice on the other end of the phone, but their toddler program is the best in Portland and if you get on the list now, you should be assured a spot.

I guess I expect this kind of madness out of competitive urban centers, and less from my "laid-back-toss-your-child-into-a-wheel-barrow" Maine. On that front, there was a very funny article in this month's Down East -- City Mom, Country Mom -- written my a Maine transplant to NYC who is raising her kids with this dual identity. She writes:

"Viewed from New York, the land of padded playgrounds and antibacterial gel, Maine can seem like the land of the parentally supervised toddler death wish." Her examples include the laxed response of parents when their toddler is mule kicked by a llama at a forth of July party. "But," she continues "it would be too neatly oppositional to imply that all Maine parents are paragons of laissez-faire childness. My Maine mother's group introduced me to a whole slew of worries I wasn't aware I should be entertaining... None of them vaccinate their kids -- ever [and] autism isn't the root concern. More objectionable is that the government forces everyone to vaccinate their kids."

"In Maine," she concludes, "the seemingly lack of kidnappers and mad cabbies lets parents free their head space to worry about kids' civil liberties..."

I think I'm going to like parenting in Maine.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

The Zeitgeist of the Universe (and the SROI application)

I'll admit -- I was taken with the blog post title "I will blow your mind in 17 minutes." Its hard to ignore, especially when it comes from my collection of major dorky but all favorite social innovation blogs. Beyond wowing my technology mind, and more importantly tingling that hard to touch sense that lies between the cerebral and the spiritual, I found myself obsessing about the technology that surfaces, as I see it, the "zeitgeist of the universe."

For those without the 17 minutes to spare, I'll give you the quick and dirty such that I can connect it to my thoughts on SROI. Humans around the planet are using social media and social networking tools (flickr, youtube, blogs) as a form of self-expression and individual story telling. Jonathan Harris (and I'm assuming some other cool folks) are building software that collects thoughts and images and aggregates them for a variety of purposes).

"We Feel Fine," for example, is a program that searches text in the digital expression universe for the phrase "I feel..." The software collects that full sentence, determines what it can from the demographic of the user (male/female/age...), pinpoints the location of the user (geographic), the time of the post, the WEATHER at the time of the post... etc. You can see the aggregation of this data in a number of different forms -- a "cloud" of feelings rushing through the universe... feelings depicted in weather icons (sun, rain, snow, clouds)... feelings by geographic location. You're able to see what feelings are in abnormally high proportion, e.g. at a given snap shot people were feeling "used" 3.3 times more than any other feeling.

In short, users can tap into the soul and well being of planet earth.

What are the applications of this technology? Well, like the creator, we could transmit it, via binary code and super duper spotlights into the universe. Slightly less spiritually (though Contact is one of my all time favorite books/movies), I think there is somehow a potential application for measuring social return on investment (SROI).

SROI is all too regularly snubbed pie-in-the-sky measurement in my world (i.e. the nonprofit world). There is often the gross generalization made that social investments are not efficient simply because they can't be measured (if a tree falls...) The comparison is obviously the efficiency gained by a bottom line measure in the private sector. Its not that we can't measure outputs and outcomes of nonprofit work; its that (1) most outputs and outcomes vary by sector and program, and (2) outputs and outcomes rarely get at the uber question -- has the life for the beneficiary improved? And the problem in getting at that question is this: there is a power dynamic between funder, grantee, and beneficiary that predisposes us to distrusting any collection mechanism that would collect and aggregate that data.

Now... imagine if quality of life for a group of people could be measured by aggregating individual self expression inputted via social media tools? There are, any number of "practical" reasons this wouldn't work, e.g the targeted beneficiaries are often the most poor without access to digital media tools. However, wouldn't it be fun to ask, a la my favorite strategist, how this could work, rather than state why it won't?

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

I'm a rather lame blogger -- as this post is about the YouTube/ CNN debates that took place TWO whole days ago. Things are humming at the Maine Women's Fund and it took me two nights to watch the recorded program (love my dvr....) However, I liked it, so I thought I would share my thoughts.

1. I felt involved. I felt like there had been a paricipatory process in which citizen voices were heard. It made me feel good about the democratic process and it made ME want to participate. This is a slightly huge landslide, as while I consider myself a civic activist, I carry out my activism more often in venues other than the political one, e.g. through my consumerism, blogging, and professional life. So while I didn't post a question, (and in all honestly didn't even know about it until I read the newspaper Monday morning), I felt like I could have been involved.

2. To some extent, it demonstrated that Americans can be something other than a herd of sheep (Scott often says I'm too harsh... whatever could he mean). Rather than taking lip service from the candidates and than being moved out to vote, Americans actually put forth the questions and shaped the conversation (albeit with some intrusion from the CNN production team.) They had to be active, responsible, and take some initiative. Now, I really like that.

3. Though... only 3000 submissions were recorded, which seems like a relative few. Definitely few compared to the YouTube community. Perhaps if I hung out on You Tube a bit more, I might have actually known about it -- but I didn't. Poor marketing? Or intentional (sorting down from 3000 to 39 must have been a tough job...)?

4. Not shocking -- I don't like candidates who skirt around a question, rephrase a question, or ignore it completely. I liked the accountability of specific vloggers in the community who Anderson would occassionally call on with a "did the candidate answer the question?" I like that.

5. I think all the candidates suck when it comes to the gay marriage question. "Senator Obama, not too long ago, interracial marriages were illegal, would you not support gay marriage based on similar discrimination?" (goooooo Anderson!!!!!) "I believe that civil unions provide all of the same benefits as marriage, but we should keep marriage a separate institution between a man and a woman." Is a black candidate SERIOUSLY argueing for separate but equal in a political campaign?

Those are all my rants not specific to individual candidates. Would love to hear others perspectives on the debates.

Friday, July 20, 2007

A article in the Portland Press Herald caught my attention a few weeks back:

Youth Alternatives and Ingraham, two social services here in Maine, have agreed to merge.

As a nonprofit-innovation-phile, I'm generally interested in nonprofit mergers, since a the sector is growing rapidly and has failed to fully recognize the value of an ecosystem (i.e. most nonprofits will expand their missions to cover new program areas rather than adequately partner with others already providing those same programs). I'm interested because despite the above failure of the nonprofit sector, I'm not convinced mergers are the answers. Here's why.

Firstly, I have yet see true value generated -- either value for the beneficiaries or real value for organizations. Blame it on the Portland Press Herald, but I don't see the increased value in the merger. The two organizations merged under the auspices of reducing operating costs and expanding services. However, both organizations are maintaining their base of operations, combining staff, and maintaining the current scope of programs and services. They will be laying off 4-5 people, but maintaining their combined budget of roughly $4 million. Any money saved by combining operations will be directed into program costs, but with the facts I have -- even if calculating potential unreported redundant costs in administrative and financing -- the "money saved" on an annual basis will most likely be less than 3% of total costs, and certainly less than the legal fees associated with the merger itself.

This could simply be the limited information presented in the press release -- but I recently picked up the Summer edition of the Stanford Social Innovation Review which reviews "the merger proposal," cases for and against nonprofit mergers. I was struck that of the example given to support nonprofit mergers, the primary return on the merger was a 20% increase in assets the first year, which has not grown since. That is, the two organizations increased their combined annual fundraising budget from $2.4 to $2.9 where it has remained the last few years.

Furthermore, I'm intrigued that I've yet to see a case demonstrating how nonprofit mergers improve and expand services for beneficiaries. Perhaps the one value of small nonprofits is the power to touch individual lives. I'm not saying larger organizations can't do this -- but (1) no evidence has ever been made to indicate that they can and can do it better -- which ultimately should be the value proposition of the merger, and (2) our experience with other behemoths is that they can't -- the value of a clinic over a hospital, the intimacy of your personal physician compared to an HMO.

And finally... I doubt mergers solve for what's really gnawing in people's craw. I know in Maine, the philanthropic sector is calling for mergers because the sector is growing faster than many other sectors. It employs 12% of the population and contributes $43,000,000 million to the economy. The government is simultaneously shrinking its support of many direct service organizations and the philanthropies are suddenly being asked to fund (and perhaps being criticized for not funding) direct service and municipal projects (which is apparently beneath their strategic focus).

Across the world, the sector is growing rapidly, and the services (particularly the financial services) supporting the sector isn't growing or innovating. This isn't a new topic at all -- many have been talking and writing about it for almost a decade now. And there are the few innovative folks who are actually doing something about.

But its far too early to either shut down or consolidate this growth. I found it slightly ironic that those arguing for mergers do so under the auspices of increased application of business principles to the nonprofit sector. And those same people are the very people who should understand that the growth brings innovation and that innovation is good. Our problem is not the need to consolidate. Our problem is information and resource flows and the failure of nonprofits to "destruct" in the process of "creative destructive." In the private sector, capital will not flow to the services/products left behind by innovation. People will not buy them and investment firms will not invest in them.

Information and resources do not flow the same way in the nonprofit sector, and this is the problem that needs addressing.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

WYSIWYG Love Fest...

Yeah -- so this isn't really a commentary on WYSIWYG. I was just trying not to use "autheniticity" for the 1 millionth time on this blog. A few interesting posts relevant to authenticity and nonprofits in the blogosphere today.

Katya's blog gives a brief (and slightly unhelpful) introduction to authenticity in nonprofit marketing. On the uptake, it does direct us to Mark posting a Authenticity Carnival on Sea Change Strategies. The carnival actually provides some great example of how to be truly authentic and some good links to other blogs. And Mark also directs us to the May cover story from Fast Company on the challenges and benefits an authentic. All in all good reading for your lunch time festivities.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Texting 4673. Calling for hope. Calling for Gore.

Dana alerts me that an interview in Fast Company indicates that Al Gore is pretty convinced that he's not even thinking of running for President. I haven't seen the article and immediately txt Scott to see whether or not we've recieved this particular edition. In doing so, I realize that the number for texting Gore -- 4673 -- are the same numbers for texting hope. Sigh. It's a sign, obviously.

"We Need Al Gore."

Great post by James Boyce in the Huffington Post which sums up why I am in the Gore camp and would not only donate and vote, I'd also campaign (which is saying a lot for this non-political-activist.) I've pulled out a few of my favorite points.

"Hell, how about a campaign that isn't run by, for and about Washington and instead have one that is by, for and about the people? Paging Al Gore."

"We also need a Democratic candidate who publicly and loudly called the Iraq War a mistake right from the beginning. We need a candidate who didn't vote without reading the intelligence and is now trying to correct a mistake."

"We need a Democratic candidate who understands how the issue of climate change is impacting our world from a security standpoint, from a poverty and education point, we need someone who can use signing statements for someone other than torture. Al Gore springs to mind."

Thursday, July 05, 2007

A Thousand Splendid Suns

I recently moved to "the Hill" -- the eastern side of the Portland peninsula which provides amazing access to Casco Bay (George has been swimming ever night, and has since learned to swim as well as to fetch and retrieve). Even on its hottest days, which really only max out at 80, there are strong cold sea breezes that waft through my apartment with the overly addictive smell of sea air. It's lovely.

And in this environment, I have finally found my will to read for pleasure again -- starting off with a Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini. This is Hosseini's second book following the much celebrated Kite Runner. A few things struck me which I thought I would share.

His happy endings. I'm not really giving anything away here. Both books really dive into the depths of human suffering -- describing circumstances that kicks the reader in the stomach, and leave you grasping for air. Most of us know only too well that the circumstances aren't fantastical, but a stark reality for so many. But I'm struck that both books don't leave you in a pit of despair -- they bring you back to the surface for air and hope.

Interconnectedness (my favorite theme). Related to his happy endings, its clear to say that its not a happy ending for everyone. Only a chosen few, who's happy conclusion comes at the expense of so many others. Hosseini is subtle about the chosen few's gratefulness and recognition of this, which for me is a celebration of the interconnectedness of people and communities. I loved that.

A women's perspective. Anyone out there read She's Come Undone, by Wally Lamb? I remember myself, and the cadre of regulars at Emerson Book being so surprised that a man could so well know what it is like to be a 13 year old girl. I think I was 13 at the time, which made his cognition seem so miraculous. But others too were struck by it. Hosseini tells his story through two women, and while I don't know if the experience of being an Afghani woman is accurate, he captured dynamics between mothers and daughters, mothers and fathers, friends and wives that are all too familiar for me. I was as impressed by his omniscience as I was by Wally Lamb.

June, 2001. At some point in the book you realize that its June 2001. That September 2001 and the US's invasion of Afghanistan are not far away, and the subtle reference made me want to cry with relief. Shocking -- as I have never considered myself a supporter of the current US foreign policy and its war on terror. But the switch was made in my mind that the US probably did more good than harm in Afghanistan that year. I still, however, don't think the same is true for Iraq.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Language, Law, and the End of the World as We Know It

My friends and family know that I do take pride in being a collegiate cross-ex debater. Mostly, I take pride in being good at it, though I had begun to detest the state of cross-ex debate by the time I left it. It thrived on spewing, the act of speaking your case or your rebuttal so quickly that it would be difficult for your opponents to pick up on each point -- and if they drop a point, you win. It also thrived of language -- using very strict definitions to prove that a case/rebuttal was relevant (or topical) based on the words used. Finally, it thrived on nuclear war. The goal of any team would be to prove to the judge that it would be the end of the world as we know it if the judge accepts your opponents case. Nuclear war is the easiest way to end the world, so any debater can link nuclear war from pudding pops (my favorite case) to pesticides. Towards the end, my partner and I ended up running a winning critique against our opponents that basically said that promoting the use of nuclear war as the fall out option would itself result in nuclear war.

We built most of course case off prejudicial cases (primarily sexual harassment) that demonstrated how use of words like "babe," "chick," "honey" in professional settings lent itself to women being taken less seriously as professionals. Eliminating the words, and defining them as harassment, elevated the standing of women. Similarly, we argued, eliminating people's propensity to use nuclear war as the go-to option elevated its legitimacy as a solution and anyone or any case that did so was itself propagating nuclear war.

A Nebraska judge recently used similar logic to ban "rape," "sexual assault," "sexual assault kit," "assailant," and "victim" during a rape case. According to Judget Cheavront, those words are prejudicial and emotional -- they assume guilt and set the jury up to assume guilt as well. He mandated that the act in question be referred to as "sex." This too is problematic, and perhaps as prejudicial, because most people define and understand sex as CONSENSUAL between two people.

Is the judge creating a level playing field? Or is he casting aspersions and preventing a case to be made? (One other tid bit is that the jury members, use to hearing the banned words, were not told that the words were indeed banned). Is the judge charged with ensuring that the rules of debate are adhered to in a court of law or is it his charge ensure that a debate is as 'fact' driven as possible?

Thursday, May 24, 2007

A little more Gore Hugging...

Maybe its because I'm seeing the world through a authenticity lens -- but I'm loving the blogosphere's reaction to Gore's new book, The Assault on Reason. An inspiring perspective from someone who saw him read last night.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Fierce Conversations and Authenticity

Recently, I had a love at first sight experience -- Arianna Huffington. I was listening to her keynote the Women's Funding Network closing luncheon.

(A bit of a declaimer is that while I have been a Washingonian for the past several years, I have stayed out of the political news. It didn't seems worth paying attention to. As a result, I probably would have told you that Huffington was still a Republican, and I could never have told you about the Huffington Post -- of which I'm now a daily reader.)

Huffington was a very good speaker -- but what made me fall in love was her emphasis on authenticity. Asked, in an all women, pro-women forum, what she thought of Hillary Clinton - she replied, not much. "She lack's authenticity. She's unwilling to take responsibility for the decisions she's made and the votes she's taken." While most politicians lack authenticity (as an aside, I do find that Gore to be authentic and I am bummed that he's not running again soley based on that) -- trying to be all things to all people, they aren't true to themselves -- I appreciated Huffington's authenticity. In no way did she try to placate the audience.

Most people who know me know that I love the blogosphere because it feels like an authenticate place to me. A place where marketing and sound bytes don't belong -- though shameless self-promotion is allowed. A place for fierce conversations.

A fierce conversation is one in which we come out from behind ourselves into the conversation and make it real. Fierce means identifying those conversations out there with your name on them and resolving to have them with all the courage, grace, and vulnerability they require. In fierce conversations, there is neither a struggle for approval nor an attempt to persuade. There is, instead, an interchange of ideas and sentiments, during which you pay attention to and disclose your inner thoughts while actively inviting others to do the same. During fierce conversations, people don't cling to their positions as the undeniable truth. Instead, they consider their views as hypothesis to be explored and tested against others. -- Susan Scott, Fierce Conversations.

I think life requires fierce conversations -- and the concept is so important to me now as my life continues to be in a constant state of churn, transition, change, and wonder. Leadership requires fierce conversations -- knowing you don't always know the answer, being flexible in your perspectives and passions, but most importantly, stepping up to be present in the conversation.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Stewardship vs. Civic Leadership

Serving as an Executive Director is a huge learning opportunity for me -- daily my assuptions, perceptions, and positions are challenged. For example...

Many nonprofits are public entities -- mine is at least. We are public foundation that receives the majority of its resources from individuals. I view the organization and its board of directors to be the stewards of the organization and the public's resources. I think it goes without saying that the board would probably also agree with me.

Board members are lured onto the board through a sense of civic responsibility and leadership. They have personal callings, world views, which they must realize and they join boards as an outlet. Or at least, when an individual feels passionately about an issue, joining a board of an organization with shared values and passions is one way make dreams into a reality.

So when it comes to making important decision for the board, how far can an individual's personal passions affect their decision making? What's the point of joining a board if you can't realize your personal passions? And rarely does an organization recruit a board member who's values aren't aligned with the organization, so should not the organization trust that the board member, making decisions based on their own values, will also make decisions that are in the best interest of the organization?

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Funny, and of course, pointed commentary by Tony Newman in the Huffington Post -- equating random drug testing in schools with random virginity testing. It falls into the category of "common sense" can go a long long way.

It also gives me the occassion for a little prideful MWF promotion. We (the Maine Women's Fund) recently funded Real Life, Real Talk -- an national initiative of planned parenthood promoting hard but good conversations about sex. Shockingly its an initiative that even pro-abstinence camps are getting behind. The Real Life Real Talk commercial are airing in national prime time media and if you haven't seen one, here's a click from You Tube.

We funded a project specifically designed to use community based theatre to get families talking about sex. Our team, along with a team of volunteers, captured the collaboration through a cool video. Check it out!

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

I love stories about the interconnectedness of our world. This one, from my favorite farm writer Jon Katz, is about the interconnected of people, donkeys, and dogs. It a good for an afternoon laugh.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Mari forwarded this Slate article by Jonathon Katz because, like most of you, she knows I have an affinity for raising chickens. I liked this line:

" Some things simply can't be accounted for by human perception. Often, the best part of living on a farm is the mystery."

It's akin to local story. Jenny the Donkey. Jenny was chasing off vermin on a farm when she escaped and has been at large for, oh, about 6 weeks now. Jenny's orneriness has been contributed to, well, being a donkey. When the local rags picked up the story it appears the mystery is beyond human perception. Jenny seems to be searching for her mate -- Isabella who is living in New Hampshire.

A lover's reunion is scheduled for the near future.

Friday, February 23, 2007

More on Choice and Nature vs. Nurture

The issue of men at MWF is a hot button. Invite men to the board? Invest in men and boys through grantmaking?

I know it is a hot button because most people I meet make sure I know their opinions, which inevitably fall into one of four camps.

1. Give women and girls the opportunity to define their fund "first" before we invite men to contribute. In a combined situation, women will defer to men, losing the empowerment that the institution stands for.

- or -

We need a level playing field first, so invest in women and girls primarily.

2. Live the equality and diverity value that we preach.

- or -

Let us not create a false environment where women and girls succeed on thier own; then expect them to succeed in a environment that they have no experience negotiating.

My personal opinion (and though being the ED, my personal opinion does not necessarily represent the opinion of the organization) is the latter. If we believe in feminism, we must believe that women have the natural ability to compete in an environment with men and that we must give them the ability to choose whether or not to do that. We can not make that decision for them.

That is not to say that we're not battling societal norms and cultural baggage along the way and that some nurturing is required.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Interesting piece by Slate about transparency in the philanthropic world.

Transparency and accountability are a big deal in the philanthropic/nonprofit world of late. Which drives me nuts because its just another buzz word for folks initiated by Sarbanes/Oxley. I love it when foundations and nonprofits figure out what it is they want to hold themselves accountable for and deliver on that promise... rather than talking about 'accountability' and 'transparency' in a vaccuum. So articles like these make me happy.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007


This is a bit embarassing to admit for the Executive Director of a women's fund -- but lately, I've been having some revelations about what it means to be 'pro-choice' and realize that my definition has always been severely limited. I assumed that the term referred only to reproductive health -- and to that end, I always felt that the pro-choicers got the short end of the stick when it came to categorization. Pro-choicers are obviously in favor of life and believe that the ability to choose is part of a self-determined life. And I do believe that name positioning is important -- there is a huge difference between 'global warming' and 'climate change' -- the latter not paralyzing people in fear...

But choice goes far beyond reproductive health. Choice is about not making a women's decision for her and proactively giving her the opportunity to be self-determined, believing that when a woman makes decisions in her own self-interest, her community and family will be better off. And there are many applications of this. Most recently this came to light in the fundraising world -- when a board member and I were trying to decide how much to ask (financially) of a potential donor. She was more inclined to ask for a lower amount given that the donor gives so much to the movement in addition to financial dollars. I was more inclined to ask for more becauseI I believe that the if she can't give at that level, she'll tell me so and give me what she can. The concepts of choice offered a third rationale -- its not our job to predefine a giving bracket for her -- in doing so, we never give her the choice to be a major donor. We are telling her its 'out of grasp.'

The same could be applied to many areas -- the level of transparency we use with employees when talking about staff development, providing clear and understandable health information to let parents choose whether or not vaccine are right for their children, etc. etc.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Superman was Superman first. He had to be Clark Kent to pay the bills. Not vice versa.

Why then do we think of our secret identities as our alter egos rather than owning our secret identities as our core identity?

Having an alter ego is about owning a secret passion -- a passion so deep that we long for its actualization in our daily lives. My alter ego is Eli The Chef. In a more perfect world, I would have invested my creativity in a culinary institute. But we don't live in a more perfect world and so I came online as EliTheChef about the same time Mari and I started having deep debates about identity and I started struggling for a sense of place.
Seven months later, I no longer feel that EliTheChef is an alter ego. I'm living the dichotomy in my virtual world. Mari's right. In a virtual world, I can be Elithechef, Eli the Global Foodie, and Eli the Executive Director of the Maine Women's Fund. Not one is more core than the other.

Any one else going the route of virtual schitzophrenia?

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

I'm officially a tri-blogger. It's funny how quickly it happened. I had agreed with Mari that managing multiple blogs was a scary/time consuming prospect and hadn't intended to be working on 3 blogs at once (as well as religiously following a host of others). But today the Maine Women's Fund launched E-quality Matters to bring our offline conversations about the future of the fund online. I've said it before and I will say it again. Maine is a big state. My hope is that a blog can help bring ideas, challenges, persepctives, and beliefs together in one place. This would be a huge coup for Fund that is hoping to become a 'statewide' fund.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

A little video montage (and great music!) from the Maine Women's Fund. I work with such creative folks. Enjoy!

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Whose job is it anyway?

I've been participating in a conversation at SSIR that begs the question -- who's responsibility is it to pay for social services? I've been dancing around this question for the last few years from my professional life to online conversations.

Last week I met with a leader in the homeless community -- who is dealing with the issue of homeless in Maine through the housing first model. This model was introduced to pop culture by Malcolm Gladwell, in his New Yorker article Million Dollar Murray. Interestingly enough the vast majority of people at a homeless shelter on a given night will only spend that one night at a shelter -- despite the fact that there are so many of them, they are not a costly group to serve. The major costs of homelessness are borne by 10% of the homeless population that are 'chronically homeless' -- they suffer from mental diseases, substance abuse, and a host of other health issues. They are expensive to treat because once a month they will end up in emergency care for hypothermia, cirrhosis, broken bones, etc. Emergency care is a very expensive way to care for these folks. Malcolm's Million Dollar Murray is one man who cost the city of Las Vegas over $1 million because of this care.

The Homeless first model prescribes dealing with these people on the front end to reduce the high end cost of dealing with them on the back end. A model has been established in Portland and seems to be working fairly well (an economic analysis is underway to determine if any efficiencies were really gained). A new model home is being developed to support the chronically female homeless who in addition to all the other problems are more vulnerable to violence and sexual assault.

Once this home is set up, it will take a $1 million/year to service the home. This is an economic burden for a nonprofit. Should the government pay the cost because the government would have paid the more expensive costs on the back end?

Monday, January 22, 2007

Today launches birthday week for ElitheChef. My funny fabulous friends here at the Maine Women's Fund were quick to catch on (to my not so subtle hints that I love to celebrate January 28th), and put together my birthday montage. Check it out, they have a sense of humor and know how to use it.

View this video montage created at One True Media
Happy Birthday Eli

PS -- The weather forecast called for sunshine today and, go figure, its been snowing since noon!

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Only in Maine... I feel bad for the guy -- but the headline sparked a case of the giggles anyway. One other landmark transition event -- the temperature this morning was a high of 7 degrees, and with complete disregard for my DC clothes attitude of dress to impress, I layered on the long underwear beneath cold weather gear :)

Worm digger rescued after foot freezes in muck

3:41 PMWESTPORT ISLAND - Rescue crews had to battle the cold on Wednesday to save a man along the banks of Westport Island.

They said the man, a worm digger, became stuck when his boot filled with water then froze.

The man's co-workers called for help, and Westport volunteer firefighters responded. They said that when they arrived, the unidentified man was showing signs of hypothermia.

Volunteer firefighter Rusty Robertson said, "He was shivering uncontrollably, but he was answering questions appropriately. So he had his faculties, but he was definitely showing signs of being out in the weather."

The man was taken to Maine Medical Center in Portland. There is no word on his condition, but firefighters said they didn't believe he will lose his foot.

Reader comments

Josh of Carrabassett Valley, ME
Jan 18, 2007 3:14 PM
Nice Headline...

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Today, I attended a panel discussion, at which the five largest foundations in Maine discussed growing philanthropic trends. I expected the conversation to focus on new philanthropic tools and mechanisms, growth rates, geographic representation, etc. Instead, the conversation was targeted at the recipients of philanthropic funds and ultimately their disfunction:

- There are too many nonprofits.
- They do not collaborate enough.
- They reinvent the wheel.
- The need to improve accountabiity and transparency.
- They need to stop head counting and start measuring actual change.

These are not unfamiliar points. I recognize them, and I even own having contributed to this conversation at some point in my life. But as I listened to the conversation, I felt uncomfortable with the tone -- nonprofits are the source of the innovation that we invest in. It is their passion and drive that constantly mend the tears of our social fabric. Yes, their proposals are the stuff of our files and email jams, but they are not the source of our problems.

As to there being too many of them. It does make life complicated for the consumer, i.e. the donor who sorts through message after message to find the one or two worthy of a donation. But in the end, isn't this quantity good for innovation, competition, volunteerism, and all the other stuff that social capital is made of?

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Super Dog, alias George, is settling in just fine to her new digs. Perhaps in part to beginning to dress like a Mainer. George's new attire includes:

Wonder Boots. Obviously a wardrobe essential for any web footed female. The ice and snow builds up quickly, making my partner a snoe shoeing obstacle as she stops mid-trail to knaw out the painful crustations.

Blaze Orange Reflective Super Cape. Capable of warding off hunters and speeding cars alike.

Side kick. Bullwinkle the Moose, courtesty of DCisME, stands watch as Super Dog naps. and naps. and naps some more.

John Updike wrote that "people who live in Maine need things like Pasta Makers." The quote went through my mind when I bought the wonder boots and the cape. Perhaps he was making light of the banality of yuppie life (which most Mainer's don't live). I don't think people in Maine desire or need things like pasta makers the way they desire or need things like long underwear. A good hat. Gortex boots. And the same goes for my dog.
a foodie's hell

I did indeed return to Natasha's for lunch the following day. Had a great half sandwich/soup bowl. Returned home and finished up some deli salads and the Caribbean soup.

Then died.

6 hours in food poisening hell. And too all those who know me, I will admit that perhaps my immune system is a bit weakened by the ladened stress lately. However, it was food poisening indeed.

4 days later and I can sip gingerale and nibble on crackers.

A foodie's hell is not bad restaurants, it is having no interest in food at all.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

a foodie's paradise

A moment now, to put all this world changing stuff aside, and focus on another true delight of Maine: The Food.


This morning I finished off the blueberry buckwheat pancakes that Scott and I had gorged on all weekend. At the health food store (no, not Whole Food, my friends, this former addict hasn’t stepped foot in a Whole Foods since leaving the District… the run of the mill Hannafords and Royal River Health Food is serving me just fine), I was amazed to find straight from the patch frozen blueberries that, despite any formal packaging, I bought and tested anyway. Um umm good. I still can’t believe that I had never really liked blueberries until I tasted Megan’s Mom’s Maine blueberry pie… blueberries don’t get better than those from Maine as I’m beginning to realize that the ½ inch diameter blueberries from Whole Foods are nuclear-waste scary, not intriguing.


This afternoon I lunched at Natasha’s – Portland owned and operated by none other than… Natasha! Natasha herself was running around the comfy farm/chic restaurant in a black Asian tunic which she made herself ‘for comfort.’ Natasha also owns Mim’s – a little bistro in old Port which makes a fabulous Haddock Chowder (I’ve begun to realize that chowders (chowda-z) are everywhere and I need not order it every time I see it on the menu.) My favorite thing about both menus is this. There are 3-4 soups on the lunch menu – each creative and yummy. Roasted tomato with feta crème fraiche and chives. Clam chowder with fennel, bacon, and potatoes. Butternut squash with apple chunks. And.. there are 3-4 salad selections. Roasted pumpkin with duck prociutto on a bed of greens. Pot sticker salad with sesame, oranges, and greens. For $9, you can get a bowl of any of the soups and half of any of the salads. That’s the best part. Today, however, because I’ve got another lunch meeting at Natasha’s tomorrow, I went with the fish tacos. Another thing I love about Maine. I LOVE FISH TACOS. They are all over the west coast and I’ve had them even in the eBay cafeteria. They are equally represented in Portland and I’ve had them more times since moving here than all my West coast trips. Today’s selection were wrapped in thin crispy flat bread, with apple slaw, wasabi cream, and roasted habanera salsa. Oh dear heaven… so good!


And last but not least my random fine this evening. Days start early in Maine (to the extent that I’ve had a lunch meeting start as early as 11:45… back in the District, Dana would still be on her second breakfast at that time). Usually they end earlier too and I head home to Super Dog. Only this evening, a meeting ran late and I was hustling to get out of the office at 6:30 to make it home. With no food in the house, I swung by a take out place on my way home and found the crème de la crème of soups. Caribbean chicken and sweet potato. The broth was somehow addictive in its spicyness. The chicken was tender and soft. The tomatoes were chunky. I think it is the best soup I have ever had (a hard second to that French Onion soup I had at TGIF– unknowingly sick with Pneumonia and having spent the day outside to watch Clinton’s bitter cold inauguration – that soup tasted damn good.)


Finding something this good random locations is what defines a foodie’s paradise.