Monday, March 30, 2009

How do you spend your money?

I've recently resigned myself to the fact that you can no longer find a decent pair of shoes for under $22 dollars. When even Target and Payless have prices outside of the $15 range, you might as well pay a little extra for something that will last longer and not exacerbate your knee problems. Ok, Target's shoes can be pretty good, but Payless is just not worth it. My recent examples: the business-like pumps whose heels wore down to a slant after only a semester of Sunday church outings, and the cute flats I bought in October whose fabric is already coming unglued. My $50 black Sketchers pseudo-sneakers, on the other hand, are well-worn but still wearable 3 years after purchase.

I've decided that my little footwear analysis justifies splurging on some supportive shoes for grad school. The Winterthur fellows told us that museum tours mean being on your feet a lot, so I'm trying to strategize accordingly without breaking my "living simply" budget.

Why can't governments be choosy about their spending? For instance, today marks the beginning of Metrolink service cutbacks in St. Louis. Fortunately for me, this only means more waiting around on train platforms. My afternoon 60 North bus line no longer exists. Luckily there is another bus route nearby that will now run more frequently. I only have to adjust my commute a bit, but some people have lost their way to work. Bus travel is already difficult and even expensive for NFNF moms, but these cuts have made it even harder for them to make ends meet.

While I understand that times are tough and we might need to make the trains run less often, I also feel like the whole affair was handled poorly. Back in November, a referendum gave voters the unfortunate choice between expanding or contracting transportation services. Of course St Louis County residents vetoed the idea. They didn't want more tax dollars to go toward something they use only for sports events. Outrage at wasteful Metro spending in the past blinded some voters to the fact that good public transportation helps city residents lead productive lives. If "city people" can't take a bus to work, they're more likely to stay on government assistance. Usable public transportation is a worthwhile investment.

Oh wait, look, the feds are willing to pay for local needs sometimes. Today I discovered a grant
"to control, reduce the spread of, and/or prevent invasion and establishment of noxious weeds on public lands within the Boise District using the most economical, appropriate, and effective weed control methods available. This funding will allow the counties to treat BLM lands at the same time as private, state, and/or Federal lands thereby increasing the potential for successfully controlling or containing the entire weed infestation."
At least we're keeping Idaho's ragweed and crabgrass under control.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Another manic Friday

Here's some welcome news:A Study in England concludes that doodling helps you pay attention
I should show this to the Nicest Boss in the World to justify the epic drawings I've been making in meetings lately. Somehow the Yellow Brick Road became a fire breathing dragon, and then I moved on portraits of a jelly-bean jar. We've had many of these meetings with the head honchos lately, eagerly trying to get our hands on some of those bazillion stimulus dollars about to flood the economy. Of course, everyone and their non-profit brother is going to be trying the same thing. All I can say for sure is that federal grant applications are long, intimidating, and confusing. My brain would explode if it weren't for doodles.

Having a creative outlet, like this blog, really does keep me sane, especially on crazy days like today. I like to gripe about the days when the office is a flurry of activity and anxiety, but I really do love it too. It really makes me feel useful. This week has been a circus of phone calls and epic printing jobs as we prepare for the big annual auction on Sunday. To top things off Nicest Boss in the World and I sent out a local grant app today. This one wasn't long, but it was tedious. Normally I enjoy playing detective for data, but not when it is in categories we don't follow closely.

Oh yeah, and I just learned there are 4 (!!) potential future social work interns visiting this afternoon. If they want to see a non-profit in full action, this is it.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Allies Against Wheat

It's always a weird experience meeting other gluten-free people. At first, there is the initial excitement of someone who understands your food issues. After a while, though, you realize they don't share all of your opinions/favorite recipies, and they are very stubborn about their favorites. I'm realizing there is a spectrum of GF living, and I, as always, hover somewhere in the middle.

On the far right we have Nurse Jan, who always shares baked goods with me when she's in the office - zucchini bread, oatmeal chocolate chip cookies, cupcakes with fudge icing. She's also really, really intense about her GF-ness, avoiding things I would never consider dangerous. "Oh yeah I'm hardcore. I make my own vanilla!" Besides insisting on homemade BBQ sauce, salad dressing, and sausages, she also avoids cocao processed with alkali. Huh? In all my research I have never heard of alkali poisoning anyone's innards.

On the other hand there is the GF Winterthur fellow I met over interview weekend. She was very sweet and supplied me with pretzels and ginger snaps from Trader Joe's. One of the other Fellows is her GF watchdog/food buddy. She'll eat the icing off a cupcake or caviar off a cracker and hand it to her friend. I'll be honest, I would never do such a thing. What about stray crumbs? Yikes!!! (Ok maybe for the caviar. But just once.)

But then again, I cheat sometimes too. Fast food is my downfall. Of course I would never touch a hamburger bun again, but I put a blind eye to the fillers that are probably lurking in my crunchy taco. Or the battered onion rings that were probably in the same oil vat as my fries. I've had to draw the line, though, at beer-battered fries in Irish pubs. I love those places, but eating there is super hard. Everything is basted in Guiness, and a bowl of iceberg lettuce is hardly bar food.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Finding more patrons

Well, it's official. None of my other potential graduate programs worked out, so I will be a Winterthur Fellow next year! After making it through interview weekend, I am not sad about my other rejections. Instead, I'm relieved to be wondering no longer about what happens next. I can finally start planning ahead!

I've decided that I need a patron saint for my master's program. Here in STL I'm connected to a whole crowd of historic figures, most of them Vincentian in one way or another. There's Vincent de Paul, his colleague Louise de Marillac, visionary Daughter of Charity Catherine Laboure, Elizabeth Seton the first American Vincentian, and of course Louis himself. A "cloud of witnesses" indeed.

So who is the patron saint of museum studies? After doing some research I found there is not even an official patron of historians. Our best bet is St. Bede the Venerable, who chronicled early British history. I'm rather partial to that idea since he was the namesake for my Williamsburg parish. (That's him behind the baptismal font lid.)

Yesterday was the feast of a more obscure Briton: martyr Nicholas Owen. He was a Jesuit laybrother who assisted priests during the Elizabethan persecution, designing and building elaborate hiding places for them in homes. Like most, he was eventually captured, tortured, and gruesomely killed. To me, the Jesuit English martyrs have always been rock stars, both learned and courageous. If one of them was also a clever architect, then we need to be friends. I think he would approve of my fascination with historic buildings.

So. St. Bede and St. Nicholas Owen, pray for us!

Friday, March 20, 2009

Two Literary Ladies

Yesterday I ran across an article in the religious journal First Things about the troubling character of Susan Pevensie in the Narnia books. At first, she is a rather sympathetic character. I always identified with her role as the sensible older sister. Her final fate, though, exiled from Narnia for her teenage silliness, always leaves a bad taste in reader's mouths. Her 180-switch in personality and values seems so abrupt and unfair, especially since it's written as a final footnote we never saw coming.
Matthew Alderman's article is unlikely to sway The Golden Compass author Phillip Pullman's opinion that "the author of The Four Loves was an underdeveloped asexual freak bent on keeping his readers in a kiddie time-warp sealed away from the great god Sex."Still, Alderman does present some insight into the dangers of frivolity such as Susan's.
Susan is set to become not a real adult, but a perpetual teenager locked into “the silliest time of one’s life.” She is a child’s caricature of adulthood. “I wish she would grow up!” cries Polly.
"The problem is not that Su’s world was, say, the world of Gidget, but that it could become what Sex and the City looks like in the unflattering light of reality. A never-ending quest for party invitations looks awfully flimsy when stacked up against the deeds of Narnia’s own strong-willed women—like Susan herself, once."
If I were Aslan, I probably wouldn't want Carrie Bradshaw interfering with my magical medieval king land either. You know her shoes wouldn't hold up on a mountain hike or horseback ride.

Speaking of mountains, I just finished reading the story of another young woman who travels to a distant land. Catherine Marshall's Christy is a somewhat fictionalized account of her mother's time teaching poor children in Appalachia. The book is often marketed as an Evangelical tale of inspiration, but it's also the story of one frivolous girl's journey into adulthood. When she arrives in Cutter Gap, TN, Christy must put aside cute shoes and tea parties to face the harsh realities of rural poverty. She learns to love her students; they can be smelly and unruly, but they are also smart, earnest, and in need of love. Fueds, hunger, and disease present real physical challenges, but there are spiritual issues to grapple with as well. As she works in Cutter Gap, Christy deals with questions about theology, morality, sexuality, and friendship.

Of course, my volunteer life is a lot cushier than a remote mountian community, but much of Christy's experience resonated with me. Like her, I have wondered where to draw the line between faith sharing and judgemental preaching. I am discovering that my adult life will not exactly mirror that of my parents. Every day I realize that I have more to learn about the people I serve, and that there are more ways I should open my heart to them. Service is a continual lesson in humility - the more you do it, the more you realize you can't do it without God's help.

Monday, March 16, 2009

You never know what your fortune cookie will say

Yesterday the VSC house went to P.F. Changs to celebrate New Yorker volunteer's birthday. She and her boyfriend eat there nearly once a week, so they know the entire staff. I can't blame the "creepy-eyed" manager for saying hello every time they come in - they are such an adorably nerdy couple it reaffirms all our faltering faith in true love.
My gluten-free shrimp with lobster sauce was delicious, and I got double the fortune in my cookie.

Everywhere you choose to go, friendly faces will greet you.
Many pleasurable and memorable adventures are in store for you!

Those were definitely true this weekend, from the Creighton students who slept on our floors to the Winterthur fellows who drove us around. Nowhere did I count my blessings more than when I returned to the NFNF office. Everyone welcomed me back and wanted to hear how the interviews went. Even if they don't understand or care about material culture, they were excited for me. It felt like home.

The adventure continued because..I got in to Winterthur!! I am still shocked. Getting the news was such a fun experience - I broke the news to my freshman roommate in real time over Gmail chat. (She got in to Winterthur as well!) Then I ran to the break room, where the NFNF girls greeted me with hugs and shrieks of joy. All day I got to share the good news with yet another co-worker. The office manager said she is "as proud as if my own kid got into grad school." How fortunate I am to be part of the NFNF family.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

An Emotional Tire Swing of a Weekend

Behold the "extensive grounds" and "happily situated" Winterthur museum and estate. Even in cold gray weather it's an impressive setting. The 7 (or is it 9?) story house houses early American furniture, rugs, art, and tableware by the truckload. Henry Francis Dupont collected it all after he got bitten by the antiques bug.

Needless to say, arriving there after a day of intense grant writing about poor people was serious culture shock. When I heard the other interviewees nerd-out over silver marks and ceramics, I felt in way over my head. I did my best to tread water, selling myself as the plucky church architecture enthusiast with lots of raw talent and love for museums. In interviews, I was pleased to realize that I have the makings of a good writer and educator. I wanted to start giving museum tours that minute. Whether Winterthur and I are right for each other remains to be seen, though.

On the postive side, everyone there is wonderfully friendly and kind. The faculty were nothing if not encouraging. They spent hours getting to know everyone, including a "speed dating" swanky dinner at a country club where they rotate tables at the change of every course. The current students, or Fellows, were also amazing. With snacks, coloring pages, play-doh, and tours through the museum, they kept us from going insane. Each class has a great sense of fun and comraderie. They also wear lots of cardigans and and old-fashioned-looking jewelry - my kind of wardrobe!

It was so wonderful to be back in the land where a person's favorite Founding Father is not only a legitimate conversation topic, it tells a lot about a person. (Luckily most of us agreed that Thomas Jefferson was a jerk who would toolishly own a Snuggie were he alive today.) It was exhilarating to proudly proclaim myself a Virginian and an historian.

On the other hand, there were many, many moments when things did not feel right. Unlike some of my peers, I did not gaze upon acres of furniture and feel that this was my calling in life. I do not currently give a care about metal curating or ships anchors or needlepoint or china patterns. Does all that stuff really matter to anyone? The beauty-loving and social-justice-loving halves of me were at war. It was jarring to finally visit a place I had revered for so long, and not immediately feel at home.

They call me with their decision tomorrow, so we'll see what God's will is for this one.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Studying "Stuff" for a Living

Tomorrow I'm heading to Delaware to interview for the Winterthur Program in American Material Culture. (Historians like long wordy titles.) Here are some of the things you can study there:

"Gee whiz, don't you just love Flemish bond?" those brick students seem to be saying. At "history camp" last summer we got high schoolers to feel that way, I kid you not.

Obviously, I'm excited and nervous about the chance of attending such a great museum studies program. If it can help me learn to better get teenagers pumped about dead people's belongings, then I am all for it. Still, it's going to take some mental gymnastics to switch from today's grant proposal mayhem back to all the public history papers I wrote in college.


It's already been a stressful day at work, so I am going to distract myself with some links of interesting stuff.
First, Barbie turned 50 this week. I owned a few growing up, including my aunts' 1970's Skipper and a Wedding Day Midge who frequently lost her head after a neck injury. Here are some fun commemorative pieces about an iconic plastic pop-culture.
The Onion's Best-selling Barbies
Memories of a Muslim Barbie
The sad saga of Ken

If toy-time doesn't de-stress you, how about some comfort food?
Here's some interesting criticism of the recent "organic and local" mantra.
I agree that such food is pricey and impractical for many Americans. Just frozen veggies or an apple a day would be a big improvement to many NFNF clients' diets. Whether your food is nutritious is a bigger deal than where you got it.

In light of that, I'm excited to see that First Lady Michelle Obama is promoting fresh, healthy food that's also realistic for families. I especially like that she'll eat both organic carrots and Five Guys burgers, a D.C.-area institution. That cream-less creamed spinach sounds delish, too.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

"I'm just talkin' 'bout two lonely people tryin' to reach a little understanding" ~ Toby Keith

The other day I continued my habit of "Old Movie Sunday" and re-watched An Affair to Remember. It never fails to warm my heart - and inspire my brain to analyze. **Spoilers ahead, so if you haven't already learned the ending from Sleepless in Seattle, leave now.*** What makes this film so much more watchable than most chick-flicks today?

The plot is straightforward, and reminds me of a happier-ending Romeo and Juliet. The first act is a comedy of manners as boy and girl woo with witty banter. Unfortunately, previous social connections forbid their union. The second act turns tragic as the girl seems felled by disaster. Luckily this Juliet is still conscious and able to carry on a conversation when her man finds her. And Ken-doll Paris is surprisingly obliging even after he learns his kept woman has fallen for someone else.

Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr's star-crossed romance is remarkably chaste - the titular "affair" consists mostly of long gazes and fervent handclasps. Kerr keeps playboy Grant at arm's length, guarding her cabin door and enforcing a strict curfew. All these boundaries just tease our emotions into passion and longing. The camera taunts us with a lingering but out-of-frame first kiss. Fleeting displays of affection remind viewers of the imminent separation that will dominate Act 2. The fact that our couple doesn't spend their ocean voyage romping in bed maintains the romantic tension and makes their story that much more bittersweet.

I'll admit, some parts of Act II are a treacly time-capsule. I want to gag when Kerr teaches precocious at-risk youth to belt out tunes about obeying your conscience. The step-solo by the token African-American kids is what puts me over the top.

Deborah Kerr lives in a world dominated by men, and she makes some earnest but clumsy attempts at feminism. Her journey from wearing diamonds to struggling as a schoolmarm reminded me of Jane Eyre somehow, especially how she avoids the love of her life until she comes to her senses about how much they need each other. Kerr is sick of male egos, and so avoids them by insisting on footing her own medical bills.

Still, her independence is a little myopic. Ken doll is not the violently jealous man she makes him out to be. Cary Grant is more hurt by her secrecy than he would ever be over the source of her medical coverage. Like the heroine of The Millstone, Kerr must realize that if a liberated woman "asked more favors of people, I would find them more kind."

The film also resonated with me as a look at 1950s medical access. Effective treatment is something only for the wealthy. Stigmas accompany any disability. No one in the film actually utters the word "crippled" or "paralyzed." Kerr's injuries are cleverly kept secret until we see a theater usher bring out her *gasp!* wheelchair. Friends do treat Kerr with compassion and respect, but she's also an object of hush-hush pity.

Ok, enough social commentary. Why do I love this movie? Because love saves its main characters. When they meet, they are smart, funny, and bored with their glamorous lifestyles. They realize that "we'd be fools to let happiness pass us by." They work hard to make their relationship viable, making career changes and eventually taming their pride. They fight rationally, and then they reconcile.
That' s how it should work. It's much more emotionally satisfying than someone chasing their crush through an airport for an "oh wait, I actually do love you!" public make-out session.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Big Picture

Google Maps and I have become pretty tight this year. With the VSC house set as my base, online maps have been indispensable for figuring out directions and just generally getting my bearings in a new place. For the first time, I actually understand compass directions and can figure out detours. Every now and then it's good to zoom out and see the entire street grid of St. Louis. It gives me a sense of what surrounds my house and office.

In grant writing it also helps to "zoom out" your focus sometimes. The other day I printed out some recent minority health statistics and was reminded all over again why we do what we do.

Of the African-American women who get pregnant in St. Louis, 25% don't get sufficient prenatal care, compared to 6% of white women. 14.8% percent of those women will deliver underweight babies. For every 1000 African-American babies born, about 16 will not see their first birthdays (three times more than white infants.)
Compared to white people in Missouri, the number of African-Americans with STDs or gunshot wounds is astronomical. So are statistics for homicide, HIV/AIDS deaths, and ER visits related to mental illness.
My Lifetime movie starring "Eve the single mom" is coming along nicely. I am actually enjoying the creative/editing process on this one, seeing how other people relate it to the big picture. One meeting with the Nicest Boss in the World turned into a deep discussion on poverty, violence, sexual abuse, the objectification of women in rap music, all the problems in the world, etc etc. Maybe I think too much about things sometimes!

Monday, March 2, 2009

The weird world of meetings

I have a love/hate relationship with meetings. On the plus side, they provide a nice field trip out of the office, or at the very least my cubicle. They use up time in my day. Sometimes they are even interesting.

Last week I had two very nice meetings related to our Healthy Start program. First, I met a great graphic designer who had wonderful ideas for publishing our client photo project. Then, I got to take notes on a whiteboard during the general meeting, which is more fun than sitting awkwardly. It's always interesting to observe the motley crew of nurses and administrators and clients and stray SLU students writing papers about us for class. There is also free food and cute babies to pass around.

Afterwards, I screwed up my courage and told two of our client photographers that I loved their work. One was receptive to my compliments, the other shy. Again, I was reminded of how I need to get over myself and reach out to people. I doubt either client was skeptical of my social work credentials or suspicious of me as a middle-class white girl.

On the other hand, most other meetings leave me feeling very confused and useless. Good thing Intern #4 comes along so I am not the only newbie. Today's public health coalition meeting was good for people watching but bad for understanding what was going on. When I start to blank out, I'm always glad that I'm not in that Mel Gibson movie where he can read women's thoughts. What would happen if I had a visual thought bubble that revealed my musing about groceries, Facebook, and the weekend?

Intern #4 and I did get our share of the conversation eventually. We also realized that everyone else wasn't having profound thoughts either. We were asked if we were clinic auditors, and later someone thought we were the Dept of Health high school interns. Do we really look too young to have college degrees? We don't carry American Eagle totes like the real teen interns, and I'd like to think we act professionally. Weird.