Friday, November 21, 2008

Oh, happy happy Africa....

It's done. I bought my ticket. I got the shots. I am going to Africa in January. I will be there on my 44th birthday.

What it is not:

It is not a safari. It is not about zebras and elephants. It is not a tourist thing. I won't be on a guided tour with a bunch of other Americans or Europeans, oohing and ahhing over the mud mosque of Dogon or Timbuktu. I might even leave the big camera at home.

What it is:

Experiencing West Africa from the inside. Today, we learned about the personal hygiene. We will eat, sleep, drink, play drums. We will spend time with friends, new and old. We will go to weddings, funerals, circumcision rituals and baptisms. We will be taught how to eat with Muslims and what is considered polite and what is rude. We will dance.

I feel a great sense of privilege and adventure. I feel grateful beyond words at this opportunity. Oh, joy.

Oh, Africa.

Allons y!

Tuesday, November 04, 2008


Last Sunday my friend Phil came to drumming class and was excited that his friend Jon was going to join us, but he never showed up. Phil kept trying to reach him, and a couple days later finally talked to a co-worker who told him that Jon had committed suicide. He left 2 children younger than my boys. I have felt sick about it all week.

This morning, I got an email from an old friend I found on facebook. He told me that his younger brother had died by suicide a few years ago. I have been crying about it all day. Nguyen and I were really close to his family when we were in college and first married. In fact, Michael, the older brother, introduced Nguyen and I. We swapped out our volkswagen engine in their garage when they lived in RI. In 1991 we spent New Year's eve in Germany with them. It all came rushing back as I read the email this morning. Even though we haven't been in touch for awhile, you never really stop feeling like you know someone, do you? You never really stop feeling like a member of the family. So to hear about Ben, who was so sweet and gentle, is completely breaking my heart. I am heartbroken for him. I am grief stricken for his parents and his brothers.

God only knows what drives people to this. God only knows.

Lord, it is a broken world. There is so much pain. I pray that you sooth the hearts of those who grieve. Blessed are they that mourn, Lord.

Today Jon and Ben and their families are in my prayers.

Saturday, November 01, 2008


We love our new dog! He is a mutt from Newfoundland... and I swear the Newfoundland mutts are the best in the world. Something about that cold, damp climate makes for great temperaments.

When Ziggy got here last Saturday, he was completely untrained. He didn't come when he was called. He wouldn't sit unless you were actually holding a piece of food. He didn't know how to walk on a leash without pulling your arm off. He was, in other words, a complete blank slate.

Luckily, because he was very well loved (if completely undisciplined) by his previous owner, he isn't filled with bizarre little traumas and anxieties. He is just a sweet, lovable goofball.

With our last dog, we used a traditional training method that used negative correction combined with reward to get the behavior you wanted. It was a combination of snapping a choke chain with offering treats. Frankly, it had it's limitations. Sadie, our old dog, was dog aggressive and no amount of leash popping seemed to help her get over that.

So, with Ziggy, we have been trying something new: positive reinforcement only. No corrections with the collar, just using a clicker to identify success and then offering a treat. I have been working with him all week, and in just this short amount of time, he now can walk on a loose leash, he sits on command and is learning to lie down and come when called. It is awesome!

What is so wonderful about this is that it starts to develop a real relationship between the human and the dog. It becomes an issue of communication, rather than punishment. I forces me to think about what behavior I do want, rather than what I don't. For example, he jumps up on people to greet them. I want him to sit.... so when he sits, I reward him with lots of praise and petting. Now, he drops almost immediately because he knows that that is how he gets greeted.

It is interesting to approach a relationship from the positive rather than negative. I bet it works with humans, too!