Friday, December 21, 2012


A windy November storm knocked down our arbor. It is surprising to see it upended after more than twenty years.  

This amazing hunk of metal (steering gear?) smashed through my car’s front grill on the freeway the other day. My reaction to both incidents is a short breath of dismay and then gratitude that the damage is so minimal.

And then the fallen arbor's vine yielded this delightful surprise. I’d suspected we had a family of birds living there last spring.  I can see that so much hard work went into gathering materials and weaving this nest.  What a miracle of nature.  I put it on our Christmas Tree.

Monday, December 17, 2012

NGO Site Visit Yangon, Burma - Proximity

In Yangon we visited Proximity, an NGO that's been working in Burma since 2003. The neighborhood feels familiar with embassies and homes surrounded by low walls, trees, and flowers. Even the stairway up to their office is reminiscent of other site visits Ive been lucky enough to make in Manila, Delhi, and Karachi. The unfamiliar part of the experience is having no business there other than being a better informed tourist.

We met founders Debbie and Jim Taylor. We also heard from Alisa Murphy who is part of a steady stream of Stanford Design school grads who have interned with Proximity and returned to work there.

 Proximity is a social enterprise that recovers the cost of producing their products by charging for them. They rely on donors for R&D and their policy work. Their products are about getting, storing and delivering water. Think treadle pumps. They are designed in a collaborative process with users. The goal is "extra affordability". Purchases are supported by a loan program.

They put their mission succinctly. Get more money into the pockets of our customers so they can pay for things like food, healthcare and education.  We do that by creating affordable products that farmers can use to dramatically increase productivity, which means greater profits and far more income harvest after harvest.

With their simple innovations small farmers are able to double or triple their income. They grow one rice crop in the wet season, and with better water management tools they can grow vegetables in the dry season. There are usually enough veggies for their family and some to sell in local markets. With the additional income they purchase other food and cover school costs.

We were lucky enough to also hear from David Dapice, a Tufts/Harvard economist who concisely shared information that provides great context for our travels. Data is hard to get. UN data is considered inaccurate. Rice crop yields are published by the government and he can get a reality check on the data from Proximity's people on the ground.  I wonder what they would say about the government data re 41 per cent contraceptive prevalence rate.

 The people on the ground are salaried salespeople and agents. Agents market the products by planting test plots demonstrating the benefits of the product by growing more rice, peanuts, sesame or pulses. Agent "centers install and maintain the tools. I like social benefit projects that tap into profit motivation to meet their goals. I think that paying entrepreneurial people to do the work is not only more sustainable, it is more dignified and empowering. Janani's work to distribute contraceptives and family planning services in Bihar and Jharkhand, India taught me this.

They shared with us the challenges of involving users in their design process which progresses from needs to ideas to prototype. The co-designers who have been raised in a culture of respect, rote educated, in a society where disagreeing is disrespectful and in some arenas dangerous. It was nice to hear that products are built locally, of local components.

Group travel is a mixed bag of course. You can see solo tourist groan when even just half of us we show up at a peaceful temple. Traveling with this Stanford Alumni Association group of forty-four has really nice benefits like this visit to Proximity. 

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

First Day in Yangon - a great experience

The four of us headed out to the market along a narrow tree lined street alive with pedestrians, food vendors and depending on the block - sellers of ice, videos, books or clothes. I noticed Sheree behind me telling a longyi clad gentleman that we are from the USA. He explained that he is a teacher and that a branch of his school is down the block in a building that is over 100 years old and is slated to be torn down. He pointed out the brightly painted sign on the slightly mildewed taupe building. He was on the way into school from his bus commute and invited to come see it. We climbed a narrow wooden stair/ladder and slid through a narrow passageway where we encountered a classroom with 30 or so young men and women studying chemistry for an exam. He introduced a young woman who has two months to learn English before she heads for a job in Singapore. He ushered us up front and asked us to tell them to study hard and why English might be useful for their future. He then asked us to teach them some current slang. Out came their notebooks. That is how I found myself up on a wooden platform, marker in hand, progressing from "cool" to "slamming".

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Home Town Yoga

I fell in love with this time of night as an undergrad. It took my breath away as I biked back to the dorm at the end of the day. This was the view that greeted me as I left Ocean Stretch class at Ocean Yoga, my home town studio. Dark blue sky and black trees still take my breath away.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Ketchum Yoga

In Ketchum, Idaho Richard Odum teaches morning classes at the Wood River YMCA. The Y is new and beautiful. The class had a nice flow with Richard's self described "chatter" linking our moves to daily life and animal behavior (ours and other species). It was a a perfect warm up, joint lubrication, and brain wake up for an active day in Sun Valley. 

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Corn Palace

There is plenty of room in South Dakota for miles of billboards announcing roadside attractions. I am of course leery of the promised joys, "Souvenirs! T-Rex! Gourmet coffee! Reptile Zoo!" Yet we pulled over for the "World's Only Corn Palace!" in Mitchell, South Dakota.

We loved it.
Somehow downtown Mitchell has stayed alive and their exposition center, the Corn Palace is right downtown. It is used for all sorts of things like flu shots, volleyball and the upcoming Pheasant Banquet. Every year at harvest time a committee determines a theme for murals made of corn all around the outside of the building. They are wonderful in a that natural  Rose Parade way. We were greeted by friendly volunteers who explained that corn grows in 12 different colors. All they asked is that we sign the guest book.

George McGovern was born in and returned to Mitchell. I heard him speak when he ran for President in 1972. The local papers are reporting that he is in the last days of his life.  I'm happy the he was able to look forward to these murals every autumn as he approached ninety.
When I showed up in my yellow Corn Palace sweatshirt last night I learned from my nephew that Stephen Colbert did an eight minute piece on it on October 18. It's at 4:48. Tongue in cheek, but a tribute never the less. It has a some nice old photos.

Monday, October 15, 2012

South Dakota Yoga

In Sioux Falls I got a chance to go The Dharma Room for a yoga basics class. 

Just finding the studio in a new town feels like an accomplishment. I was helped out by the fact that Sioux City is a pretty good grid with numbered streets. The little mall has two sets of doors. The extra doors and breezeway must be important in December when the mean temperature is 23 degrees.
I got a friendly reception from Jill Johnson who had us all introduce ourselves, a tradition I've missed in yoga classes.  Every move we made felt good after the drive from Topeka, Kansas. Our route touched Nebraska, Missouri, and Iowa. Classmates wished me nice trip out to the "hills". It was fun to pick up a bit of local vernacular as we head to Mount Rushmore. This is the nice sunset that greeted me as I left.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Arizona Yoga Two

Sheree suggested we leave Kingman AZ early enough to catch yoga in Flagstaff about two and half hours east. We found the Yoga Experience in an old brick building in downtown Flagstaff.

The waiting crowd was friendly and explained the protocol to me.  I could tell they were regulars and that the session was likely to be more than "Yoga Basics". 

The open window and the view of the San Francisco Peaks was invigorating.

Teacher Laura did get us into some challenging moves I haven't been exposed to, but she talked about "playing around", and made it fun. There were some beautiful grey haired ladies who were very inspiring. 

I left feeling light as a feather.

Arizona Yoga One

I didn't get to do a class at True North Yoga in Kingman AZ, but I had a really nice experience there. When I arrived at the wonderful big old building, I found a gym downstairs-  music pounding, smiles, and endorphins flowing. I was directed up metal outdoor stairs and waited, taking in the blue sky.

It was fun checking out the neighborhood from up high and wondering "could I live here?" It's game I play a lot travelling.

Yoga was cancelled because the teacher had run a triathlon the previous day - something all her regulars knew of course. The woman who was helping me was very nice and was disappointed for me. I've figured out that her name is Anna Shuffler. Anna explained to me that she bought the building, previously an Odd Fellows Hall and is slowly fixing it up. She opened up the yoga studio just so I could see it.

Wonderful floor, light and windows.

 I was struck by her work to bring the past into a useful present  because we have been travelling along a lot of old Route 66. New Highway 40 bypassed the towns on Route 66 and they are mostly gone or going. And there is cool architecture and signs that could be preserved. I am so happy the Odd Fellows Hall in Kingman is getting another chance.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Yoga Journey

Be quiet so I can listen
Be still so I can feel

I was so happy to find this courtyard in San Luis Obispo.  We are on a road trip and Smiling Dog Yoga was perfect for our first stop.

The studio had beautiful light and the teacher explained some yoga concepts, thoughtfully prepared -  complete with white board.

Yoga is my new enthusiasm. Yoga came into my life when a physician suggested it to M. as part of her rehab from a brain injury. I joined her at our local family gym in Pacifica. There are people who look like me in these classes. I even run into people I know. I loved the temporary replacement teacher who arrived in a bright multicolored beanie, announced that yoga is supposed to be fun, and went on to make it fun. It's a gym so these classes include the clanging of weight machines while we are getting centered. I want to giggle when this happens.

A friend in Truckee recommended a wonderful studio where I found Walter who twinkles with support. It's a pretty professional setting but still an encouraging place. The mountain crowd is fit. I am pretty sure most class members run triathlons between classes. What I like about Bill's classes are his explicit instructions, muscle by muscle. And he laughs.

In addition to the gym in Pacifica I've discovered a studio in town with Dawn's class where we get to chant. And I like to listen to and try to follow Ron's specific directions in stretch class.

All this yoga surprises me because I used to think that yoga was too achievement oriented for me.  I found it overly serious and intimidating.  I got grim satisfaction when I read in the NY Times magazine that yoga injuries were on the rise. In 2012 modifications for ability level are encouraged and humor is allowed. I'm hooked. 

Monday, February 13, 2012

Exploring with an Expert

Last week I was lucky enough to spend hours with someone who really knows how to take her time. I got the opportunity to pitch in on a couple of days of day care for family in Virginia. The little one and I had a luxurious expanse of hours while the kindergartner and first grader disappeared on a yellow school bus until 4:15. Our wandering reminded me of wandering in London, but with the enhancement of adagissimo pace. 

So this is retirement. The gift of a well of patience that comes from letting go of business. 

Monday, January 23, 2012

Shiva: God of Transformation and Destruction

Shiva popped up on my Hindu God of the week application. I was tickled because I have been reading about disruption. One of those "what is new is old" moments. 

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Is Floating Effortless?

I see this phase of my life as rife with opportunity to EXPLORE, so I decided to mind map “Now You See It” by Cathy N. Davidson. I thought the book was about our “brains on the internet” and it has also turned out to be about 21st century education which connects to my volunteer work.

I am not the most reflective person so sometimes I find out what I think, and how I feel, when asked.  A theme I heard over the holidays is that while I am having a terrific time, I am perplexed by not having my calendar and email telling me what to do at every moment.  I bought “Now You See It” because it talks about being “stimulus dependent”. That sounds just like the condition I was describing and it is always fun to be able to name an experience.

“18 Minutes: Find Your Focus, Master Distraction, and Get the Right Things Done” by Peter Bregman is my other bit of 2012 nonfiction. I am sorting through his advice about setting goals, organizing your to-do list and calendar by goal, and allowing only 20 mintues a day for “non-goal” activities.

When asked by my friend Beth Kanter about my goals for the year (she blogged about the book and her response to it) Muhammad Ali’s phrase “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee” came to mind.  

Floating like a butterfly – The first moment I saw the potential of not being anyone’s employee came on a sunny summer day walking around London. I started to wander, selecting streets that looked interesting without keeping track of which direction I was walking. I had a map, guidebook and tube fare tucked away as a safety net. I wasn’t looking for a monument, museum or bookstore. I found out what it feels like to float. I loved how floating lead to unexpected moments of beauty.

Stinging like a bee – When I do commit to something I want to do it well, e.g. my volunteer work.

I’ve already been teased about writing goals when what I want to do is float. But I think having goals is a way to make sure I DO float. One perceptive board member asked me what I was going to do once I had cleaned out the garage. I’ve sometimes joked that I am a closet homemaker, and there are a lot of deferred home projects that along with volunteer work, could use up all my time. But I have this amazing opportunity. I knocked myself off of my familiar life path. I have unstructured time for the first time since I was about 14 years old.  This is a chance to do things I have never done. A chance to EXPLORE.

EXPLORE. I’ve decided that reading fiction and nonfiction is part of exploring.  Travel is the ideal context for exploration.  We have a trip to Papua New Guinea coming up, and to do it with the “sting” I am looking for I want to read the books our guides have suggested.

Going all the way with the principles in “Eighteen Minutes” would have me schedule time for reading. I’m not ready to go that far yet, but I’ve targeted 45 minutes fiction, 45 minutes nonfiction a day. I am also going to incorporate the daily moment of reflection he suggests. At the end of the day I ask myself.

“How did the day go? What success did I experience? What challenges did I endure?”

“What did I learn today? About myself? About others? What will I do differently based on what I learned?”

I want to ask myself – did I float?