Entering a Different World

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I ask your patience as I unfold this story of our journey.  I’m going to go slowly and while telling you the story about the project and the incredible women we met I’ll be working through some thoughts on my own responsibilities to this world and about my path.  I feel a lot of anxiety about writing this down; I’m afraid I won’t be able to express the profound effect this experience had on me.  I realize right now that I’m talking about me me me, but that is what happened; we went to Uganda to give, but received so much more than we ever could have imagined.  I get so emotional every time I start to think of it.  That’s good.  I want to continue to feel that emotion and be pushed into action.

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In the weeks prior to leaving for Africa, I started to have reoccurring dreams about my need to be giving of myself to the community, whether that be this small community I live in or the world community.  Before moving to Utah, I worked in the domestic violence field as a women’s advocate.  I’ve done volunteer work regularly  since my children were small.  That is until I came to Utah.  I’ve done very little since being here.  I’m embarrassed to say that I’ve been here for almost 10 years.  That is 10 years of selfish, ego driven behavior.

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As we left here, I really didn’t know what to expect.  I knew what the project was, and I’d read a little bit about Uganda and the history, but that was it.  I wanted to go as a blank slate.  I didn’t want any preconceived notions of what to expect; I wanted to form my own opinions. It was important to me to approach this journey with a wide open mind and heart.  Sponge mind.  I wanted to soak up everything and experience every single moment and smoke-filled breath to the fullest. I’ll probably show you way more pictures than you want to see, and many of these aren’t really very good from a technical aspect, but they will help me to relate the noise, the smell, the frenetic atmosphere.

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After 20 some hours on a plane – I don’t even know how many, nor do I want to know – we arrived in Entebbe late in the evening, around 10:30 I guess.  This was the beginning of my losing track of time.  We hurried through customs, got our visas, and fetched our two apiece contico boxes full of knitting supplies and hygiene kits from baggage claim.  Four of us flew from Salt Lake City; we joined another member, the most adventurous spirit of the group, in Entebbe.  We all met Gabriel, our first new friend and intrepid driver, piled into his van with our luggage piled on top and drove on the left hand side of the road, through screaming, careening traffic to Kampala, our first stop.

I have no photos of this first night, only memories of speeding past squiggly neon lights, music, honking cars, people walking everywhere, the acrid air burning my nose and eyes, and our first near-death experience as drunken headlights zoomed toward us on our side of the road, with my sweetheart sitting in the front seat.  The look on his face here echoes the same, incredulous “are we really here?” that I was thinking.

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In Kampala, we stayed at the Speke hotel.  Our room was beautiful with 12 foot ceilings, tile floor, dark wood, the colonial style a stark reminder of the west’s involvement there, and a reminder to me of what I did not want to participate in.  But the shower was hot and the water pressure strong to wash off the travel dust; we knew it might be the last hot shower we’d have for a couple weeks.  We fell into bed to dream about what the next day might bring.

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After breakfast, we piled back in the van and headed south toward Masaka.  We began to get a glimpse of the world of contrasts that we had entered.  Here in the capital city of Kampala there were tall buildings with storks perched on top, new cars sharing the road with women balancing bananas on their heads.

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As we drove away from the city, we changed from paved road to the ubiquitous red soil that would be our companion for the next two weeks.  The built landscape changed from high rise buildings to smaller structures, market stands, and shacks.

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This is just a gratuitous funny picture.

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Before the trip, we probably were in a bit of denial about our relative safety.  We absolutely denied any danger when speaking to friends and family.  Upon arrival though, it started to sink in just what the political environment was like.  The Kenya attack had happened just a short time before we left, and we started receiving emails from the department of state’s Smart Traveler Program telling us of a possible attack planned for Kampala.  While reassuring friends and family that we were safely away from the threat, we still contemplated the reality of the situation.
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My eyes are still filled with the green expanse of the countryside.  The earth is so big in Uganda, the horizon so far away.

Our first day in Masaka we just got settled in, we made our first visit to the hospital and met doctors and nuns.  Our real adventure began the next day.  I’ll be back on Friday to tell you more.

Home Again

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We are home again.  It feels like I’ve lived seven lifetimes since I was last on this page.  And now to make sense of it all.

I’ve uploaded all of my photos to the computer.  As I sort through them, I will start to tell the story of our journey and what we learned: about Uganda, the women we were working with, and about ourselves and our place in this world.  Craig actually was the major photographer on this trip.  I did take some photos, but I found that when I switched into the role of photographer, it took me outside of the experience.  I realized that I much preferred being right there in the middle of this circle of women.  When I did pull out the camera, the women stopped being themselves and went into posing mode, so I couldn’t get any candid shots.  I decided it was best to leave that to Craig, and he did it well.

I have so much to think about now.  Before going on this trip, I was already reevaluating my life path.  Now, post this incredible experience, some things about that life path have become so much more clear, yet at the same time there are even more questions to answer.  My biggest fear is slipping back into apathy and my tendency to get lost inside my head or in the daily rush through life.  The biggest thing this trip has taught me is that I have to get outside myself.

For now I will unpack my suitcases, wash the red Uganda earth out of my clothes, restock the refrigerator, and wake up my kefir.  I will be back with the first photos on Wednesday.   In the meantime, be sure to check out Craig’s posts over on The Fistula Project’s Facebook page.

Art Journaling Therapy and Depression

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I’ve been a bad blogger lately.  The truth is I’ve been struggling with depression since early August.  While depression is something I’ve battled all my life, usually it comes in much shorter spurts.  Usually it comes in late winter when I’ve been buried under a Utah inversion, never in autumn, my favorite time of year!  This bout has been tough.  First I came down with a horrible summer cold, then my cat got sick.  The next thing I knew, I was in a deep dark funk and couldn’t pull myself out.   I feel like I’ve finally turned a corner though and just in time!  I was going to be very angry at myself if I was depressed the entire time we were in Uganda!  I have hope;  I’ve had five days of feeling good and even managed to feel happy and positive while sitting in traffic today.
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One thing that has really helped me, is I’ve been using art to work through the darkness.  Awhile back I talked about wanting to do art journaling again.  I start most days in the studio allowing myself to just play with pretty colors and old paper.
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I’ve been very drawn to Halloween imagery.  All of these archetypes represent a shadow side; through these symbols I’ve been able to work through my own darkness.
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Just allowing myself to play, creating work that is only for me, is not only fun, it’s freeing.  My creative juices are flowing strongly.  This is definitely a practice that I am going to keep up.
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This is probably the last blog post for awhile.  We leave for Uganda on Monday.   Thank you to everyone who has donated or made a shop purchase to help support our volunteer work.  We appreciate you so very much.  It warms my heart to know that there are such wonderful, caring people in this world:)

While in Uganda, I will be posting to my Facebook page – hopefully every day.  The hotel does have wi-fi, so cross your fingers that all will go well.  If I am able to, I will post here.  I will most certainly be bringing back lots of photos and stories to tell!

Bread and Bullets

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Or is that Gluten and Guns.

I know I’ve been skimpy on the blog posts lately; I just feel that unless I really have something to say, I shouldn’t waste our time.  Today I thought I did have something to say.  Then I heard about the DC shooting and thought, “how can I be blogging about bread when people are being shot and killed?”  Then I thought about how people are being shot and killed every day; what makes today any different?  Because it’s in the US and we’re still not used to that happening here on the scale that it has been the last several years?

I’m here with my blog post.

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I wanted to talk about diet and health, specifically the diet and health experiences of my household.  Up until Saturday, I had been gluten free for just over two years.  That was when my naturopath told me I had Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, which is an auto-immune disease triggered by gluten.  At the time, I pretty much accepted that I would live out my life without ever eating bread again.  Just in case, I held onto all of my baking cookbooks.  In the back of my mind I had a hope that some day there would be a cure or discovery that would allow me to bake bread again.

Several months ago, I started seeing references to the GAPS diet all over the place, so I started doing some research.  The GAPS diet is a gut healing eating program that includes lots of cultured, probiotic foods like yogurt, kefir, and sauerkraut, fresh fruits and vegetables, and healthy pastured meat and chicken.  No grains of any sort are allowed; neither are potatoes or sweet potatoes, and the only sweetener allowed is honey.  After generally one to two years on the program, one is supposed to be able to transition back to a diet that includes healthy grains, potatoes and uncultured dairy products.  The claim is that it can heal food allergies and auto-immune diseases as well as a host of other ailments.  We talked it over and decided to give it a try.

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We started in February and it’s been really easy to stick to.  We certainly never go hungry.  It is a lot of work, as I have to create every single meal from scratch.  There is no running out for take out on the nights I am too tired to cook.  I cook anyway.  It’s not a weight loss diet, yet both of us have lost a lot of weight.  I’ve lost about 32 pounds since the beginning of the year, and Craig has lost a whopping 45 since February!  I attribute the weight loss to the probiotics and also to the high amounts of omega 3s and low amounts of omega 6s we get, but that’s a different story that I won’t get into now.  I’m here to talk about bread.

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It’s early.  It’s only been seven months on the diet.  I didn’t want to wait.  We’re going on this trip to Uganda soon, and stopping in Amsterdam on the way back.  I didn’t want to have to explain a gluten free diet across a language barrier.  And frankly, I want to eat a famous Dutch sandwich in Amsterdam.   So I wanted to do a test and see what happened if I ate bread.  I’ve been reading about how bread created properly, the old fashioned way with sourdough to start the digestive process, shouldn’t cause problems.

One of the things I missed most about bread was the ritual of baking it.  I’m not a religious person; I find my spirituality in the cycles of nature.  Baking bread was a spiritual practice for me; it contained the natural elements of air, water, fire, and earth.  That is what I missed way more than eating it.

After a lot of reading and studying, I sent away for some special organic really truly 100% whole grain flour from California.  I made my sourdough starter from scratch, using the yeasties in the air and on my hands and the wheat.  I named her Zelda.  She’s beautiful and bubbly, has a great personality.  That first day, when I opened the flour sacks, I was scared!  Was I doing the right thing?  Was I killing myself?  Am I crazy????

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After a week, I baked bread.  It was wonderful to touch that dough again, to feel it in my hands, to watch the alchemy of the elements come together to make food.  Being unpracticed, I was worried about the quality of the final product, but it worked.  The process of actually turning the starter into bread took an entire day.  The night before, I soaked the flour, then on baking day the bread went through long hours of bulk fermenting and rising.  I finally baked it at about 9 o’clock on Saturday night.  After it came out of the oven I let it cool for awhile.  Then we sat down at the table with the bread and lots of butter (that’s another things about this diet – it promotes the eating of large quantities of animal fats).  That first bite!  What hit me first was not so much the flavor but the texture.  My teeth remembered the feel of biting into thick chewy crust.  It was wonderful.

Now I’m still trying to decide if this is ok.  As with many things, I think I was expecting something dramatic to happen.  If it was a bad choice I would double over in pain.  No.  We’ve eaten a lot of that bread since Saturday night.  I’ve really not had any digestive issues, although every slight twinge I feel in my gut I think it might be the bread.  Over the past two years, whenever I would accidentally come into contact with gluten, I had very specific reactions.  I had digestive upset and weirdly my ankles and fingers would swell.  I also would feel groggy and lethargic.  I have been feeling that off and on.  I am a little foggy brained today.  There are other things that could be attributed to, and it’s been happening off and on since the first day I opened the flour sacks.  Which was also the first day we started our oral typhoid vaccine.  My timing on this wasn’t well thought out.  I think I will hide the flour deep in some plastic bags, put the starter to sleep, thoroughly cleanse my kitchen of all trace of flour and see what happens.

I’m curious, has anyone out there had any experience with eating gluten after being gluten free?  With healing food allergies?  I’d really love to hear from you and about your experiences.

The Dangers of Too Much Inspiration

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I was digging around in my studio this week.  I pulled out some old, old, art journals and altered books and had one of those ah-ha moments.  I’ve always been a big fan of writing in books, especially cookbooks, so making the leap to drawing and gluing things in books was a natural progression.  The first altered book I made was about 10 years ago, before I knew it was a thing, and before I knew what a blog was.  The first one was a gift to my sweetheart.  Then after some major upheaval in my life I started using altered books as art therapy journals.  I got over the upheaval, had some more, life mellowed out again, and I kept up my art journal/altered book practice.  For awhile.

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Fast forward a couple years.  I started looking at magazines like Somerset Studio.  I discovered blogs and all the craftiness out there.  The more I looked at this “inspiration” the less I was able to creatively, and satisfactorily engage in this kind of art play myself.  Where I used to just sit at my desk with some paint, glue, and paper, and create in a very organic, intuitive way, now I didn’t know what to do.  I didn’t know how to do it “right”.

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Prior to this freezing up, I used to make little mini collages almost daily.  That stopped.  It all stopped.  Now, I’ve been sitting at my desk for days trying to do a new page in one of the altered books and I spend more time just staring at it than I do creating imagery.

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When I first sat down to play on Monday, I felt a thrill come over me that I haven’t experienced in ages.  Then after awhile I started making excuses to get up and go do this and that.  I’m trying to push through, but it is rather painful.  I feel so blank inside.  I’m floundering.

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I want to make this a daily practice again.  One without so much outside stimulation.  I think I can get there, to remember how to find what is uniquely inside of me, to put that on the page.   I keep telling myself that nobody has to see this but me.  If I don’t like the page I can do another.  And another….until it starts to flow again.

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Back on the Path

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I’m back, after a couple days in the mountains and several more spent contemplating my path.  It was so good for my brain and spirit to unplug a little from the computer and technology.  I realized that I was really suffering from information overload as well as losing my path.  So while I didn’t unplug completely last week, my time spent on the computer was only a tenth or less of what it usually is.  I don’t want to go back to being plugged in all day.

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I have a tendency to get so wrapped up in my work that I lose sight of what is most important to me.  Even work you love is still work.  There has to be time left in the day to spend just being and playing, and being and playing with the ones you love.

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I started reconnecting with myself last week too.  My sense of self is another thing I lose track of.  I get to a point where I don’t know if I’m doing this or that thing for me or because I think it’s expected of me.  I’m seeking true authenticity of self, dirty camping hair, wrinkles and all!

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Last week I allowed myself to just do what felt right for me in the moment.  I remembered how much I love to putter around the house.  I puttered in the kitchen; I puttered in my studio and my garden; I puttered in the basement, searching through boxes.  It felt so freeing to let go of all expectations, either from within or without, and just float through the days.  I got so much more done when I wasn’t concerned with what I “had” to get done.

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So now I’m back, but like I said, I’m not going back to being plugged in all day!  I’m going to try very hard to stay true to myself and my right path.  I admit I am a very domestic, crafty, homey person, and that is what I will continue to share on here.

I have puttering to do, so I’ll see you back here on Wednesday with more photos of our glamping trip:)

Following My Path

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I know I’ve been absent from the page a lot lately.  I’m busy with projects and with pondering my path.  I feel like I haven’t been following quite the right path, not my path.  I found this quote the other day and it really spoke to me.  I’ve decided that I need to spend some time evaluating if my actions are all in line with my values.  For that reason, I’ve decided to take a short time off from blogging I’ll be back in a couple weeks, hopefully refreshed and with a clear view of what it is I’m wanting to do here and in my daily life.

In the meantime, I had a very last minute idea for a present I want to make for someone dear.  I’m madly trying to finish it today to give tomorrow.  Silly me!  So I’d better be off!

I’ll see you in a couple weeks:)

Let’s Talk About the Weather

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Weather is one of those small talk topics we resort to when talking to strangers or people to whom we have nothing to say.

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We are often admonished against talking about the weather, by claims that is is banal and unintellectual.

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I am one of those weird people who enjoys talking about and hearing you talk about the weather.

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Weather fascinates me. (as do giant bunnies in the sky)

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I have a theory about weather chat.  I come from a family where speaking about the weather is sort of a cultural norm.  I believe this is because the weather was critical to my farming ancestors’ means of subsistence.   I think this is true for families who still farm or whose livelihood depends on being out in the weather or who just a generation or so ago were still farming.

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In families who have taken to more indoor work over the past couple generations, the weather isn’t as important to making a living.

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I also believe that it is time to start talking about the weather again. As we witness more and more drastic climate change, and experience more severe weather systems like Hurricane Sandy and the recent devastating tornadoes over Oklahoma, weather is going to re-stake its place in our daily conversations.

These photos were all taken of the sky during a storm over Fort Collins, Colorado while I was there. Prior to taking these pics it had been hailing. After I put the camera away, if I’m remembering things in the correct order, the sky started getting that icky green that signals tornadoes, the rain was lashing down and the wind blowing like crazy. Then finally huge lightening in several directions. (See, I told you I like to talk about the weather!)

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My son, who was a little farther south in Longmont that night, sent me this photo that he took with his phone. I’m rather thankful that he didn’t send it until after the storm was over. I was already getting pretty edgy over the green sky. I think if I had seen this I would have had a panic attack or gotten in the car and driven down there to rescue him. He’s 27. As it is, he told me that while there were tornadoes sighted down there, none touched down. For this I am grateful:)

How is the weather in your neck of the woods today?

Strength and Grace

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I changed my mind about what I wanted to blog about today.  I was going to do a cheater post and just show you some pics of Rose the six-toed cat.  Then I read this blog post over on DesignSponge.  I decided instead of talking about my cat, I wanted to talk about how much I admire Grace Bonney.  And I’ll throw some pics of Rose in there just to break up the text;)

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Grace came out today to the internet community.  That took some major ovaries.  It’s scary enough to come out to friends and family.  She came out to the whole world, and that could affect her business.  She took that risk.

I know it’s risky.  As an LGBT ally, I took a small risk, and I believe that it cost me.  Back in March when everyone was changing their Facebook profile photos in support of gay marriage.  I changed mine too.  I changed it on my Facebook business page.  I was warned that it could hurt my business.  I knew I would lose some followers, because I was aware that there were quite a few whose politics were different from my own.  I don’t typically like to mix politics with my business, but this is an issue of basic human rights that I feel strongly about.  I also don’t feel that I can really call myself an ally if I’m only supportive as long as it doesn’t hurt me.

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I left that profile pic up until I started to see other people changing theirs, then I decided to go back to my regular photo.  I kept that one until mid-April when I read an article about an Etsy seller that refused to sell her product to a couple getting married….. because they were gay.   That angered me.  I know that people have the right to sell to whoever they want;  I just don’t understand how someone else’s happiness is going to hurt a complete stranger.  So I decided to crochet heart garlands with the equal sign in them.  My heart didn’t come out quite like I wanted.  I knew that it was going to take me some time to perfect it (I still haven’t), and I didn’t want to wait.  I was worked up then and had to act.  So I snapped a pic of the heart and photoshopped it into my profile pic and posted it on Facebook.  I used this same photo as my Etsy avi.

If I look at my shop stats for the year, my daily visitors hit a peak in March and then started plummeting.  There are other factors that could have contributed to this, but I really do believe this is the biggest factor.  I spoke out for equal rights.  I dared to think that all humans have the same right to happiness.  Yes, I do sound bitter, because I am.

I do admire Grace for what she did today.  It took such courage and strength of character to open up to the blogging community.  I hope that she doesn’t lose blog readers because of this choice, in fact I hope she gains readers.  Why don’t the five of you still reading this blog pop over there and show her some support?