Let the Planting Begin! Or not.


For me, this year’s gardening season had officially begun.  I had sun.  I had 60 degree plus weather.  It felt like spring.  Even though it was before the calendar officially rang in spring, I was ready to get a jump on the end of winter and leap optimistically into spring.  So I kicked it off with a trip to the nursery to pick up packets of seeds and buy a beautifully designed and written book on growing, harvesting and cooking.

Then off to the community garden plot to pull off the plastic from the cold frame that was protecting my lettuce, swiss chard and kale that I had been over-wintering since the fall.

Spring was in the air. I could feel it. I could smell it.  I could hear the birds chirping in the morning. I was in ether of spring fever. Nothing could stop my joy. I grabbed my new iPad Mini and found a gardening app to help me with my seed planting schedule. The old notebook method be damned. My recently purchased packets were carefully organized according to cool weather seeds and warm weather seeds. Peas and parsley seeds were jumping out of my hands ready for planting.

Well. That was two weeks ago.

Now there is a forecast for snow for this weekend.   We are talking 20-30 degrees at night and up to 40 degrees by day.  The cold frame plastic is back on. Well, only after I kindly requested (forced) my husband to put it back on.

Okay, I knew better.  I always know better.  I do this every winter/spring. But spring (and hope) springs eternal.


Calvin’s Seeds of Wisdom #22


Calvin:  I feel so empowered.  No wonder they wear these things. Who wouldn’t wear one if they would feel like this???

Calvin proclaimed this as he was wearing his new traditional Yemeni knife and belt around his waist. During my visit to Yemen, it was not uncommon to see men adorned in traditional dress including the knife and belt. (During my trip to Sana’a, I bought one in the old city.  A nice kid about the size of Calvin agreed to try it on so it could be “fitted” for Calvin, who is nine years old.  A bit too young by Yemeni standards for a Janbiya. Some teens sport them in Yemen.)

The knife, or dagger, is called a Janbiya.  It is curved and enclosed in a sheath.  Men in Yemen wear it as an accessory.

Calvin proudly wore his Janbiya to a few dinner parties and stood tall with the knowledge that he was carrying on a tradition from an amazing country.

Mom Meets Minecraft


Now that my 9-year-old son Calvin has learned how to type and use word prediction software, he has been doing his writing projects on a computer. (It has also given his parents a break from “scribing” his writing homework as we had been doing last school year due to his dyslexia.)

minecraft-windows-378084He has also discovered Minecraft.  In its very basic form, Minecraft is a computer program that allows players to build things using textured cubes in a 3D world. An article in a gaming magazine says about Minecraft: “But most impressive of all are the creations themselves: stupefying feats of digital engineering created from simple low-res cubes.”      http://www.pcgamer.com/2011/02/15/10-incredible-minecraft-creations/

My house that Calvin built in Minecraft

In addition to creating elaborate and intricate worlds, Calvin has also created for me a custom home glass block roof. (This has become my mental “happy place” where I visualize being teleported to whenever the need arises during a busy day :))

Sadly, a persistent, yet well-meaning, ogre named Dad plagued his worlds. You see, we only had one computer powerful enough to handle the heavy processing load such imaginative worlds demand, what with their functioning roller-coasters, transporters, pig powered justice-system and giant golden sheep.  And that one computer is Dad’s.

Golden Sheep and surrounding world Calvin built.

Golden Sheep and surrounding world Calvin built.

And while he tried to accommodate Calvin’s world-building needs, as a writer with deadlines, the Ogre…er…Dad, could sometime get grumpy to find his office chair serving as a chariot in the online melees that often ensued in Minecraft.  The challenge for this mother lay in how to appease the benevolent Ogre and the angelic child, simultaneously.

It seemed easy enough.  Get a new computer.  As an Apple family to the core, considering bringing a PC into our home was no easy task.  But since the space faring, building games and other programs Calvin was venturing into were available mostly on PCs, we decided one PC wouldn’t knock over the Apple cart.

While in Germany a few months back, Calvin’s Opa generously offered Calvin his old computer.  This has worked really well for the most part, but it tended to “lag” when playing Minecraft and other games.

So being the obsessive researcher that I am, I began to look into why.  One thing led to another and next thing I knew, I was knee deep into the world of Minecraft and the world of people who adore it.  I was excited to find that I could go to a website and find what type of computational power it would take to make Minecraft work optimally.  This is what I learned:

Recommended Requirements:

  • •         CPU : Intel Pentium D or AMD Athlon 64 (K8) 2.6 GHz
  • •         RAM : 4GB
  • •         GPU : GeForce 6xxx or ATI Radeon 9xxx and up with OpenGL 2 Support (Excluding Integrated Chipsets)
  • •         HDD : 150MB

Well.  That was about as useful to me as if someone were speaking Martian.

9_logoThen I stumbled upon an on-line Minecraft forum.  As a veteran of gardening forums and “mommy-boards” where you post questions and exchange ideas, I am well accustomed to the wealth of tips, creative ideas and problems solving help available in such communities. So I signed up to become a member of http://www.minecraftforum.net

I didn’t think much of it, really.  I came up with a user name and password.  Then I struggled to figure out which of the many forum topics I should post under.  Again, much of the terminology was a bit Martian to me and I had troubles navigating where my question would fit.

So I found a generic one called question and answer.  That seemed okay to me.  So I explained that I was a mom, had a 9 year old who loved Minecraft and asked if anyone could suggest what type of PC to buy and where?  I needed one that would run Minecraft without lagging and then would also be an all around computer for school and Internet use.

Then I waited.  No immediate replies. Then I felt that awkward period where you wonder if you did something wrong and was getting shunned by the community.  You know, kind of the modern-day version of not knowing the community rules or lingo and then the existing community members rolling their eyes and figuring you are just too stupid to try to teach.

My bedroom in my Minecraft house.

My bedroom in my Minecraft house.

So I went to bed.  The next morning, I checked my query and I had a slew of replies.  My dejection the night before went to elation, as I was “worthy” of getting advice. I quickly found out that I had in fact technically posted under the wrong forum topic but by a twist of fate, it ended up being the perfect forum topic to make that mistake.  I had posted on the Q and A forum topic geared for people who have questions or technical problems about the entire website itself.

But the people who answered my question were a few former moderators and other members with a lot of experience. So I was getting some really top-level advice.  They apparently took pity on my mom-computer-ignorant-self and answered my question.

I was asked a few questions about what the computer would be used for and my budget.  The responders were commenting and replying to each other as they put their heads together to answer me.

One person suggesting that my son and I build the computer ourselves.  He said that would be best as no “big box” store could provide a custom configuration to fit our needs.  More importantly, he suggested that it would be a bonding experience with my son.  Well, that sounded kind of cool.  So I replied that this sounded like a great idea (not letting on that I was petrified at the thought but figured Calvin and his dad could figure it out with me just smiling and providing appropriate bonding support, whatever that might be.)

Next thing I knew, I was getting even more help.  They began to post ideas on configurations, debating with each other about it. Then, one of responders actually went onto another website called http://www.pcpartpicker.com and created a computer for me with each part priced out from the cheapest source and all I had to do was go in and order each part.

Motherboard. My favorite component of course.  Mother.  Board.

Motherboard. My favorite component of course. Mother. Board.

Then one person posted tutorial videos that we could follow when building the computer.  Then another gave a bunch of do’s and don’ts and suggestions on building your first computer without blowing it up or getting electrocuted.

Then another person suggested a tweak to the original configuration that had been recommended as it included capacity that we probably did not really need since my son was into building type games and not the video games that require more of something else. They all decided this change in configuration would save us money.

All this help from the forum’s volunteer members was extraordinary.  So I thanked them again profusely and said I would order the computer components they came up with.

All in all, there were about eight or more people involved in this process that was completed entirely on-line through the forum with everyone posting over a period of about two days.

Art wall that Calvin created in my Minecraft house he built for me.

Art wall that Calvin created in my Minecraft house he built for me.

Naturally, I was curious about these very kind and high-level experts who made up this cool, smart and totally kind and helpful community.  As I clicked on each of their individual profiles, I was blown away. I had been dealing mostly with kids.  One was a 14 year old from Ireland, another, a 14 year old from the UK.  Another was an 18 year old from New York and a yet another was a 17 year old from Finland.  The oldest of the bunch was 22 years old and has his own computer programming business that he is working to get off the ground.

They were articulate, open and friendly. I particularly loved one part of the back and forth where they digressed into a techie discussion that I could not begin to follow. One reminded the group that they may scare of the OP (original poster: me) so they should take care to keep things in my zone.  And they did.  The high level of discussion and courtesy they gave to each other as they debated (and sometimes disagreed with) could be a model for many of us adults these days. They were all working toward a purpose (helping this non-tech mom of a 9 year old get a computer for her son). They kept their eye on solving a problem and did so together, with respect to each other and me.

With kids like this in the world, I have hope for a peaceful world.

So the computer components are ordered……a few have already arrived, so let the building begin!

Peace on Earth


On this Christmas Eve, as I reflect back over the past year, a whirlwind of images and feelings come up.  It has been an intense year of travel to countries dealing with violent conflict or war, political instability, and economic disparity. Then in my own country, we witnessed a divisive election year, a politically polarized society, ugly rhetoric against people of different races or religious beliefs, and a series of mass shootings including at an elementary school, movie theater, shopping mall and place of worship.

We are a world at conflict on the individual, community and nation state levels.  We see actors on the world stage who use fear to control people and foster hate and division, pitting one against another.  Religion, ethnicity, race, gender, country of origin, are all inflammatory fodder for stirring up emotions of fear and in turn — hate.  It’s been far too common to find individuals and leaders using violence for their own agenda and pushing the fear-mongering and hate-mongering buttons to manipulate and coax people into doing their bidding.

A survey of the headlines over the past year is enough to make even the most optimistic, despair.  We barely have time to acknowledge one tragedy, when another one is on its heels, followed by another after that.

But if you look beyond the headlines and politics, struggles for power and control, you still can find those who relentlessly hold tight to the vision of peace and justice and work tirelessly for a better world.  It is through their sheer determination and effort that there is ample reason for hope.


Don’t complicate the transition (in arabic). Graffiti I came across while driving around in Misurata, Libya. May 2012

During my travels in Libya, I met people in Benghazi, Misurata, Tripoli and Zawia who took my colleagues and me into their lives and homes.  They shared their hopes and dreams for a new, peaceful Libya, free of dictatorship, violence and extremism. I received numerous messages of sincere regret and sorrow immediately after US Ambassador Chris Stevens and three of his colleagues were killed in a terrorist attack in Benghazi. They wanted America to know that these horrible acts were not representative of the vast majority of Libyans. They took to the streets by the tens of thousands to demonstrate as much.


Choosing our fish to take to a restaurant for grilling in Taiz, Yemen, June 2012

While in Yemen, I traveled to Sana’a and Taiz, meeting amazing young women and men who, despite guns being trained on them as they marched, took to the streets to demand a positive government responsive to the people.  “The youth are Yemen’s hope and future as we have just created a mess,” was a sentiment I heard twice, once from a retired army general and then again from a retired political leader — both frustrated with the slow pace of change and battles for power raging across Yemen and fueling violence and instability.

While in Burma/Myanmar and reiterated during subsequent visits to the US by representatives from Burma/Myanmar, I was surprised by the openness of those I met in the government, who, despite having been isolated for many years under the former repressive military regime, were anxious to get caught up on developments related to good governance, rule of law and conflict resolution.  Each meeting turned into an invigorating and open discussion of ideas, as we discussed what other countries in transition experience and the challenges they face.

Aung San Suu Kyi with me and Suzanne Di Maggio at USIP event,  Washington, DC, September 2012 (Photo Credit:    )

Aung San Suu Kyi with me and Suzanne Di Maggio at USIP event, Washington, DC, September 2012 (Photo Credit: Asia Society/Joshua Roberts )

In Iraq, I had the honor to meet with dedicated civil society representatives who were earnestly organizing dialogues with police to find ways to solve justice and security challenges facing their communities.  In the absence of effective central governance, the citizens and police decided to keep things local and seek common ground and work together.

Buddhist monk in Boudhanath.  Kathmandu, Nepal. October 2012.

Buddhist monk in Boudhanath. Kathmandu, Nepal. October 2012.

While in Nepal, I surveyed the past six years from when I first arrived at the tail end of popular protests that resulted in the King stepping down and re-instating the political process.  Despite a very rough period of political instability and violence after the King’s ouster, and the all too familiar charade of political actors stirring violence for their own ends, Nepal managed to end its ten-year civil war, quell ethnic, religious and communal violence and move tentatively forward.

Then in my own country, despite the politics of division, the elections resulted in the re-election of the president.  The issue of economic inequality has come to the mainstream and is being openly discussed.  The horrific epidemic of gun violence has stirred up a movement demanding action to address its root causes.

So as this year draws to an a close, I want to focus on the people and their determined actions that have resulted in cultivating peace against seemingly insurmountable forces and odds, rather than giving way to the divisions and violence so many attempt to sew.

If there is one universal lesson my travels have revealed, it’s that when each of us owns our own power and makes a determined stand on principles of fairness, equality and justice, then even the most powerful who employ the formidable levers of division, intimidation, violence and coercion — become powerless. Further, while fomenting divisions can sow violence, building unity and understanding can be powerful steps toward creating a lasting and resilient peace. 


Trust: An Essential Ingredient in Building Peace, Justice and Security

Outside the Martyrs Museum in Misurata, Libya

“Peace is more than just the absence of conflict. Peace is the presence of mutually respectful relationships among individuals and groups. Those relationships enable disputes to be handled with tact, understanding, and a recognition that everyone shares some common interests. At the heart of those relationships is trust.”

I am cross-posting below a piece on my trip to Libya that was posted today on the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) website:  http://www.usip.org/in-the-field/trust-essential-ingredient-in-building-peace-justice-and-security

Trust: An Essential Ingredient in Building Peace, Justice and Security

November 5, 2012, In the Field by Colette Rausch

“Why are you here? What interest does the United States Institute of Peace have with Libya?”

Full of uncertainty, suspicion, and even a little fear, the questioner spoke for some of the Libyan participants at a workshop in the battle-scarred city of Misurata. It was June 2012, and my colleagues and I had come there from USIP’s headquarters in the heart of Washington, DC, to facilitate a workshop on justice and security. We had just introduced our Libyan hosts to the packed two-day agenda that we had planned for them, and we were all taking a short coffee break before getting down to business.

But then, as the presenters and participants congregated in small groups—little islands of familiar faces nervously scanning the unfamiliar faces on other islands—one man caught my eye, walked quickly over to me, and asked with transparent concern, “Why are you here?”

We had an agenda, participants, and even refreshments—but, evidently, we did not have trust.

Peace and Trust
Peace is more than just the absence of conflict. Peace is the presence of mutually respectful relationships among individuals and groups. Those relationships enable disputes to be handled with tact, understanding, and a recognition that everyone shares some common interests. At the heart of those relationships is trust.

Trust cannot be coerced, delivered, or manufactured. It develops through a process of collective engagement and through a commitment to a common purpose. Where that process is brand new and where that purpose is vague or open to question, trust does not come easily. Which brings us back to Misurata.

A Proud City 
In the battle between Colonel Gaddafi’s regime and the revolutionary fighters determined to topple it, Misurata was strategically invaluable. Gaddafi knew that if his forces held the city known as Libya’s “business capital” and home to a thriving deep-sea port, he would deny the rebels access both to other parts of the country and to resources from the outside world. Most of the population of Misurata, however, supported the rebels. Gaddafi’s troops bombarded neighborhoods in Misurata, slaughtered hundreds of innocent civilians, and cut off the water supply. But after a four-month-long fight, the rebels, with NATO support, finally ejected the regime’s troops from most of the city in May 2011.

Misurata, Libya

Bloodied but proud of their role in defeating Gaddafi’s war machine, the people of Misurata have since demonstrated an unswerving commitment to rebuilding their city and to playing a leading role in renewing Libya as a free country that provides security, justice and the rule of law to all its people.

In February 2012, I visited Misurata with my colleague Vivienne O’Connor to scout out the potential needs and challenges facing Libya in its post-Gaddafi transition. After Vivienne and I returned to the United States, we began working with our local partners to organize a workshop on the difficulties of transitioning from an authoritarian society to one based on the rule of law. The participants would include lawyers, judges, local council representatives, business people, civil society representatives and Thuwar (revolution fighters) who were now running the city’s prisons.

In June, a small group of us traveled to Misurata to facilitate the workshop, which was entitled “Rule of law, Justice and Security for a New Libya.” We were eager to share our experiences in transitional societies, but we had no thought of insisting that our hosts slavishly follow our recommendations on fostering the rule of law—indeed, we weren’t going to make any recommendations.

One of the things that sets USIP’s Rule of Law Center apart from similar organizations is that, when we enter a post-conflict society, we ask, “How can we help you? What is it you would like from us?” We do not declare, “This is what you need to do.” We learned long ago that local people must make their own decisions about how to develop security and justice in their own country. If there are areas where our experience and expertise can be of use, we are happy to share them but we never force them upon others. After all, our experience and expertise come from listening to just such people. When we go to a transitional society, we talk about case studies and comparative practices; the locals tell us the problems they face and the lessons they have learned. It is a collaborative process that pivots around shared trust. Any solutions that materialize as a result of our collaboration will be homegrown and tailored specifically to the needs of the local population.

Tripoli Street, Misurata, Libya

Unfortunately, while we knew we had no thought of dictating solutions, not all of our Libyan hosts did not. And their skepticism and suspicion were articulated by that one question, “Why are you here?”

Tough Questions
Superficially, the question might have seemed to an outsider to be no more than a polite inquiry. Just below the surface, however, lay uncertainty and mistrust. Those sentiments can roil every workshop, especially if they are not identified and brought to the surface. In Misurata, we were fortunate that they surfaced at the outset. They weren’t shared by everyone in the room, but more than a few felt this way, and we couldn’t afford to ignore those feelings. We had to tackle them there and then if the workshop was not to become a meaningless voyage through bullet points and procedures, an empty academic exercise. If we could answer that question “Why are you here?” (and the numerous other questions underlying it), we might connect on a much deeper level, one built on trust, mutual respect, and personal accountability.

With that in mind, we set our scheduled discussion aside. Once the coffee break ended, we reconvened the workshop, but we spent the next few hours inviting and answering questions. We stressed that we would answer anything; nothing was off the table, nothing was too sensitive to answer. Had we set some conditions, we would have invited further skepticism from participants.

Their queries came in quick secession, some in direct, even blunt language, while others were more nuanced. Libyan tradition insists on extreme politeness to guests, and no one was rude, but everyone wanted honest answers to their honest questions.

Those questions covered a lot of ground, and revealed a lot about unhappy past experiences, fears for the future, and uncertainty about the present.

Some questioners were wary of our connection to the U.S. government. “How can USIP be truly independent if it also takes money from the U.S. government?” asked one person. “How can you talk about justice,” asked another, “when the United States still runs the Guantanamo camp?”

Some questions indicated a lack of exposure to organizations such as USIP. Confusion or bemusement about what we do and why we do it sparked suspicion: “Why do you come to Libya and spend money organizing this workshop for us?” “What do you get out of this?”

Meanwhile, other questions betrayed far too much exposure to international organizations! We heard many stories about foreigners coming to Libya to ask about people’s most desperate needs and dearest dreams, and then leaving Libya, never to be heard from again. We heard several other stories about how various international nongovernmental organizations and others had descended on Libya, scratched the surface, appointed themselves as experts on the country, and published articles that bore little resemblance to reality on the ground for the average Libyan.

The participants recalled how they had opened their doors to the media and candidly explained the challenges Libyans face, only to have some members of the press use that information to paint a distorted portrait of post-revolution Libya, one full of real problems but devoid of the equally real optimism that is so much in evidence in Misurata. The Libyans had felt betrayed—not so much because the reports were critical but because they were inaccurate or one-sided. One official said that he had given a foreign journalist “access to everything” because the official and his colleagues were eager for help and to learn and abide by international standards. But when the journalist’s report came out, the official felt like he had been “hit in the stomach,” because the article presented things in a very negative light without explaining the challenges facing Libya in its transition.

The most pointed questions came from a man who had fought on the front lines against Gaddafi’s forces. He arrived at the workshop wearing camouflage and a facial expression that made me shudder to think about what he had witnessed on the battlefield. It turned out that he had been a businessman and had never imagined that he would pick up a weapon. He had decided, however, that he had no other choice when confronted by the brutality of Gaddafi’s attack and the imminent threat to the lives of his family, friends and community.

Photos of some of the people of Misurata who were killed during the flghting

Graffiti along the road outside Misurata heading back to Tripoli

Participants relayed their frustrations with the outside world, which seemed to expect perfection from the very beginning of the new Libya. They admitted, too, that after 42 years of dictatorship, Libyans were feeling their way through the transition to democracy and would inevitably stumble from time to time. Gaddafi’s own summary execution at the hands of a lone vigilante showed just how difficult it is to apply the rule of law when tensions are so high, emotions are still raw, and everything is still in flux.

At the same time, the participants wanted Libya to be seen as a country that is moving beyond the Gaddafi era and toward a democratic future. Several questioners asked how the West and the international community as a whole view Libya.

Honest Answers
We took each question, and did our best to provide answers that were not only honest but also full. We offered contextual background, explained how USIP operates, related personal experiences, and acknowledged geopolitical realities.

After two hours or more of this sometimes difficult and delicate but always enlightening and sincere exchange, one could feel the tension in the workshop begin to subside, the air begin to clear. When every question had been answered, we moved naturally into the rest of the workshop. The workshop was on ‘Rule of law, Justice and Security for a New Libya.” It brought together 20 representatives from the legal community (prosecutors, judges and lawyers) and civil society. The workshop involved capacity development and facilitated dialogue. Presentation topics included “Justice and Security and the Rule of Law,” “Justice and Security Challenges in States in Transition,” and “Building Justice, Security & the Rule of Law: Examples of Successful Initiatives from Other Countries” (with a specific emphasis on how civil society can actively engage in promoting the rule of law in tandem with government efforts). For the facilitated dialogue component, the participants were asked a series of questions on the challenges and solutions to justice and security issues in Libya. They then broke into groups to discuss these and presented their findings in a plenary session.

Misurata, Libya

Over the rest of that day and throughout the next one, many potentially useful ideas and opinions were exchanged. Participants shared their thoughts freely, with little or none of the caution and apprehension they had displayed at the outset of the workshop.

In Misurata, we went some way toward bridging the gulf that had divided us. We did not bridge it completely or permanently; we could hardly expect to establish an enduringly close rapport in just two days. Trust takes longer to flourish, and it needs to be nurtured. But we laid a foundation that was able to support two days of discussions and learning and to nourish hopes of further sharing in the future.

In the end, none of that progress would have been possible had one participant not asked the question that brought into stark relief the importance of building the one thing that is often the hardest to come by following violent conflict: trust.

Explore Further

Calvin’s Seeds of Wisdom #21 (and Soaring with Learning Challenges)

What a difference a year makes.  Last year at this time, my then 8 year old son Calvin was at one of our public schools that we knew from the beginning was not a good fit.  It took about a month but then thanks to a number of our amazing public school officials, we were fortunate enough to be able to move him to another public school that fit him and his “learning style” from day one.

Our county has a unique cutting edge program for children who are “Twice Exceptional.”  Calvin and his peers are both highly gifted with exceptional abilities as well as having learning disabilities.  So Calvin was selected to join a class of children who are “Gifted and Talented” or GT as that term is defined by our state and county, as well as having a designated learning disability or LD. It is termed the GT/LD program.  Calvin was in second grade at the time and the GT/LD program was a combined class of 3rd, 4th and 5th graders so Calvin was moved up from second grade to third grade so he could join.  In Calvin’s case, on the LD front, it is dyslexia and this made learning to read a major challenge. He also struggles with hand-writing. (We learned that Apple creator Steve Jobs had a similar profile as do many inventive and creative people.)

Here is a link to a site that discusses the Twice Exceptional or GT/LD program in our county. http://www.montgomeryschoolsmd.org/uploadedFiles/curriculum/enriched/programs/gtld/2010%20Twice%20Exceptional%20Students-At%20A%20Glance.pdf

(Although no child ever fits neatly into one category and I have generally rebelled against labels, I have found over the past year that finally being able to access information and services through these designations has been liberating for Calvin and us, his parents.)

Like many of his peers, Calvin’s spark for learning was beginning to dim, together with his confidence, when he found himself struggling with reading and writing when other children in the class managed these skills with apparent ease.

Soon the focus at school became on remediation, focusing on the “problem” only and not him as a whole child with both strengths and challenges.  In the process, Calvin’s ability to understand and absorb complex concepts and above-grade level material was lost in ineffective teaching methods by well meaning teachers. As parents, it was painful to watch and not understand the special education system, educational jargon and what options we had available to us.  The learning curve for us was excruciatingly steep but we were fortunate to eventually meet people who provided to us the keys to understanding what was happening.

Now that Calvin benefits from an advanced curriculum that is challenging and meets his intellectual curiosity and thirst for knowledge, together with strategies to help him with his learning challenges (the use of technology including keyboarding and voice recognition software, books on tape, a scribe) and a talented reading teacher, Calvin is soaring, thriving and enjoys school again.

How did we know the first school was not a good fit?  Well, in addition to the daily tears and Calvin’s mantra that he just does not fit in at the school, in true Calvin fashion and in his dry sense of humor, here is what Calvin reported to us about the old school……

–They were talking about gravity and I already know all about it.  So I did not learn anything new.

–Me: “How was the classroom part?  Calvin: “It was okay.  Well, actually, it is worse than when I got strep throat.”

–“The snack is terrible and you can’t bring your own.”

–“The lunch is all chemicals and the drink is not even real juice.  It is colored water with artificial flavors.   It isn’t even healthy food.  They gave us candy!  We got smarties with sugar.”

–“The lunchroom is so crowded that everyone has to sit shoulder to shoulder and it is too crowded.  I can’t stand that.”

–“The playground is terrible and small. Why can’t they cut out the huge parking lot and make the playground better for the kids?  It’s a ghastly playground.”

–“It is old and I don’t like it.”

–“The room and halls are boring. What they have on the walls are uninspiring and uninteresting.”

–“I feel like it is a work camp.  A prison.  They have big metal fences instead of low wood fences outside.  It is like we are prisoners.”

–“I want to take over the Public Address system and play the song, “We don’t need no education.  We don’t need no mind control.”

Fast forward to this year.  In addition to Calvin happily running out to the bus that picks him up in the morning and coming home in the afternoon with lots of great stories about the day’s adventures, here is what Calvin likes about his new school:

–“I like that the halls are filled with the art that students have made.”

–“The playground is open and the only thing that prevents kids from going outside the playground are some trees unlike the old school that had nothing but asphalt.  At my new school the vast majority of the playground is a large field.”

–At my new school, they teach to my learning style and I am learning a lot.”

–“The lunch room is less crowded.”

Meeting Daw Aung San Suu Kyi

(Me and Suzanne DiMaggio co-moderating the Q and A session. Photo Courtesy of Asia Society/Joshua Roberts)

It was such an honor to meet Daw Aung San Suu Kyi last week and co-moderate the question and answer session that followed her remarks at the United States Institute of Peace (USIP). She is an inspirational woman who epitomizes the strength of peace, tolerance and dignity.  I was most struck by her comment that it is when we seek to help others, that we have the chance to help ourselves.  In essence, she was saying that when we endeavor to help others, it gives us the opportunity to shine a mirror and reflect upon ourselves, and where we can strive to improve ourselves, in the process.

I am cross-posting below an article from the USIP website on the event and our work in Burma/Myanmar.  The full link is: http://www.usip.org/publications/burmamyanmar-democracy-activist-daw-aung-san-suu-kyi-calls-us-support-easing-sanctions-

Burma/Myanmar Democracy Activist Daw Aung San Suu Kyi Calls for U.S. Support, Easing of Sanctions at USIP

September 2012 | News Feature by Thomas Omestad

September 18, 2012

(From left to right: Me, Suzanne Di Maggio, Jim Marshall, Aung San Suu Kyi, Hillary Clinton, Henrietta Fore & Tom Freston)

Longtime democracy champion Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, appearing at the U.S. Institute of Peace (USIP) on September 18 at the beginning of a 17-day visit to the United States, called for continuing U.S. support on behalf of the Southeast Asian nation’s transition to democracy and for a further easing of the U.S. economic sanctions that remain in place following decades of military dictatorship.

“I do not think that we need to cling on to sanctions unnecessarily, because I want our people to be responsible for their own destiny and not to depend too much on external props,” she told an audience in USIP’s Carlucci Auditorium and watching on the web. Burma, also known as Myanmar, will need external support from its friends, she said, but “in the end, we have to build our own democracy for ourselves.”

Suu Kyi, who is now a member of Burma’s parliament and chair of the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD), thanked Americans, “who have stood by us through our hard years of struggle for democracy,” and sketched out the challenges remaining to “rebuild our nation in a democratic mold.” She cited as reform priorities establishing the rule of law across Burma’s executive, legislative and judicial branches; ending the country’s ethnic conflicts with a commitment to mutual respect and human rights; and instituting amendments to Burma’s constitution.

The event was jointly sponsored by USIP and the Asia Society, the lead partner in USIP’s initial efforts to assist Burma in its political transition. The Institute is working with the Asia Society and the Blue Moon Fund to share information and experiences on issues identified by Burmese related to the rule of law, religion and peacemaking, democratic governance, conflict resolution and the capacity of Burma’s media to promote conflict-sensitive approaches.

Suu Kyi was welcomed by USIP’s new president, Jim Marshall, and by Henrietta Fore, the Asia Society’s co-chair. She also accepted the 2011 Global Vision Award from the Asia Society after her address at USIP.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who met with Suu Kyi at the State Department earlier in the day, called the event “an extraordinary, auspicious occasion” and introduced Suu Kyi as “someone who has represented the struggle for freedom and democracy, for human rights and opportunity, not only in her own country but seen as such around the world.” Suu Kyi spent most of the past two decades—until late 2010—under house arrest as the leader of Burma’s leading democratic opposition party. “Suu Kyi’s courage and moral leadership never wavered,” Clinton said.

The secretary of state noted that Burma’s government under President Thein Sein has released hundreds of prisoners of conscience (including some this week), legalized opposition parties, reduced restrictions on the press and on freedom of assembly, expanded workers’ rights and negotiated ceasefires in some of the country’s ethnic conflicts. The United States has already begun easing sanctions and allowed American companies to invest in Burma. However, she also noted that political prisoners remain, ethnic violence continues and “some military contacts with North Korea persist.” The reforms are “still a work in progress,” she cautioned, while describing ongoing consultations with the Burmese government and others allowing the United States to “provide the help and support that is necessary and appropriate.”

Suu Kyi acknowledged the difficulties that remain. “We are not yet at the end of our struggle but we are getting there,” she said.

A Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Suu Kyi reviewed decades of Burmese-U.S. relations that eroded dramatically after Burma’s military established dictatorial rule in 1962. Her NLD was allowed to vie for seats in parliamentary by-elections in April, and the party won 43 of the 45 seats that were up for election. She credited Thein with prompting the country’s political changes: “I believe that he is keen on democratic reforms, but how the executive goes about implementing these reforms is what we have to watch” she said. Burma and the United States need to continue working “to establish a strong, healthy relationship,” she said, adding, “Now, it is time for you to be friends with our whole country…to be able to help us realize our aspirations.”

Suu Kyi made reference to the dissatisfaction some opposition activists felt with her decision to lead the NLD into parliament and ty to work within the existing political system. “We’re finding our way,” she said. “We are beginning to learn the art of compromise, give and take, the achievement of consensus.”

She focused particular attention on Burma’s need to establish the rule of law and to peacefully address the ethnic conflicts that have seized parts of the country for years. “Without rule of law, you cannot have the kind of economic reforms that will lift our people out of poverty,” she said. On the longstanding communal tensions in such areas as the states of Rakhine and Kachin, Suu Kyi said the opposition did not seek to capitalize politically but urged that respect for human rights and rule of law were essential to “build up ethnic harmony in our country.”

USIP this year has hosted Track II-style dialogue sessions on Burma’s political transition out of authoritarianism with representatives of the Myanmar Development Resources Institute (MDRI), senior advisers to Burmese President Thein and U.S. experts. Institute specialists in the areas of rule of law, inter-religious coexistence and media development have also met in Burma with Burmese in and out of government to assess where USIP might provide democratic transition assistance, and its Academy for International Conflict Management and Peacebuilding has started training Burmese specialists participating in courses on governance, building institutional capacity, economic reconstruction and addressing societal trauma from conflicts.

Suu Kyi’s trip will include meetings with other U.S. officials and lawmakers, journalists, university audiences and Burmese American communities. In addition to Washington, D.C., she is scheduled to visit New York, Kentucky, Indiana and California. On September 19 at the U.S. Capitol, she will receive the Congressional Gold Medal. It was awarded to her in absentia in 2008.

Explore Further

Here is the event announcement:

(Link: http://www.usip.org/events/burmamyanmar-in-transition-conversation-aung-san-suu-kyi)

Burma/Myanmar in Transition: A Discussion with Aung San Suu Kyi

After decades of stagnation under military rule, Burma/Myanmar finds itself in a particularly fluid and fragile transition. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has been at the fore of her country’s transition, helping reshape its political development path.

Aung San Suu Kyi returned to Burma/Myanmar from Britain in 1988 to care for her mother. Shortly after, she became leader of the largest uprising in Burma/Myanmar’s history. In 1990, Suu Kyi’s party, National League for Democracy (NLD), won Burma/Myanmar’s first free elections in 30 years by a landslide. The country’s military junta refused to cede power, and Suu Kyi was forced into house arrest for nearly 15 years. During this time, she remained the Chairperson and General Secretary of the NLD and continued to push for justice and sound rule of law. She was awarded the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought in 1990 and the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991. In 2011, a new, quasi-civilian government took power and boldly began to implement democratic reforms, which continue today. This April, Aung San Suu Kyi was elected into Burma/Myanmar’s parliament and continues her work to transform her country into a just and democratic state.

In her first visit to the United States in more than 20 years and her first public event, the United States Institute of Peace and the Asia Society were honored to host Daw Aung San Suu Kyi for an engaging discussion on the democratic transition in Burma/Myanmar, the challenges that lie ahead, and the potential for a promising future.


  • Aung San Suu Kyifeatured speaker
    Member of Parliament, Burma
    Chairperson and General Secretary, National League for Democracy
  • Hillary Rodham Clintonintroductory remarks
    Secretary of State
    United States Department of State
  • Jim Marshallopening remarks
    United States Institute of Peace
  • Henrietta Foreopening remarks
    Asia Society
  • Tom Frestonpresenter of Asia Society Global Vision Award
    Asia Society
  • Suzanne DiMaggioco-moderator
    Vice President, Global Policy Programs
    Asia Society
  • Colette Rauschco-moderator
    Director, Rule of Law Center
    United States Institute of Peace

Explore Further

Start Date:

September 18, 2012 – 12:30pm

End Date:

September 18, 2012 – 1:30pm


United States Institute of Peace
2301 Constitution Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20037

Practitioner’s Toolkit for Justice and Security Dialogues

Peace Dove amidst the back drop of destruction in downtown Zawia, Libya

Here is a piece from USIP’s website on our Justice and Security Dialogue work. I am cross-posting it here.  This is the original link:


USIP to Develop Practitioner’s Toolkit for Justice and Security Dialogues

Photo courtesy of Shobhakar Budhathoki
(Photo courtesy of Shobhakar Budhathoki)

August 6, 2012

The U.S. Institute of Peace (USIP) will draw on its innovative effort to sponsor dialogue between security agencies and civil society in Nepal and Iraq to develop a new “toolkit” to help practitioners in the field run similar programs in Iraq and other transitional or post-conflict countries.

The new effort is funded by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor and USIP itself. It will bring together specialists for working meetings this fall to identify the contours of a practical, how-to toolkit, including training and other videos and a justice and security manual laying out methods for conducting such dialogues. Those elements of the toolkit are to be completed and translated into Arabic by next summer, when they could be used for further programming in Iraq and elsewhere.

USIP’s dialogue efforts in Nepal, which began in 2006 and continues today, are meant to help bridge a gulf of mistrust between civilian police and the justice and security sectors, on one hand, and civil society and local communities, on the other. That mistrust, aggravated by many years of political and other conflict in the Himalayan nation, has hampered Nepal’s ability to provide security and justice, and deepened tensions in ways that have hindered economic development and good governance.

A similar dynamic has played out in Iraq and other countries that have suffered from conflicts and experienced jarring political transformations.

Just one example of the impact of justice and security dialogues in Nepal is when USIP established a forum for dialogues to build trust between police and civil society and to address challenges to security and the rule of law in Biratnagar, Nepal. Following two dialogues that examined why youth seemed to be increasingly participating in lawless and violent activities and what young people could do to reverse the trend, participants agreed to a nine-point Birat Youth Declaration and promised to work with the Nepal Police and civil society to strengthen security and the rule of law.

After a year, the impact was dramatic. According to the Nepal Police, in the district of Morang violent demonstrations carried out by youths fell more than 80 percent because of USIP’s involvement.

The future toolkit will also draw on the experience of USIP’s rule of law work to date in Iraq, Yemen, Sudan and South Sudan. USIP specialists say it will help identify and sustain the best elements of justice and security dialogues for use in other settings in the future. Yet, they also caution that justice and security dialogues must be tailored to the specific context of a country and its dynamics: No one size fits all.

Justice and security dialogues are a critical tool to help build a positive and collaborative relationship between the community and the various justice and security stakeholders in transitional or post-conflict countries, says Colette Rausch, director of the Institute’s Rule of Law Center. “The complex challenges of our world can only be resolved when people come together to understand and overcome differences, build trust and work together to solve problems,” she says.


Calvin’s Seeds of Wisdom #20

Calvin after playing laser tag in the rain at his 9th Birthday party.


It was my first few days back home from a trip overseas for work.  A trip on the heels of a number of trips over the past few months.

I noticed that shoes were not coming off at the door.  Then drawers were being opened and left open.  Lights were being left on after leaving a room. Requests for soda were being made. (We NEVER drink soda….) 

Me:  What??!!    I go away and everyone forgets all the rules??!!

Calvin:  Yes.  And loving every last minute of it………

Pickling from Iraq to the United States

Pickle shop in Erbil, Iraq

I was in Erbil, Iraq earlier this week for a two-day conference to meet with our Iraqi colleagues and share experiences and lessons from their work on a rule of law program being implemented in different parts of Iraq. Erbil has really developed economically over the past few years and the security has improved. When my luggage was lost in transit, I went to a new mall to pick up something to wear for the next day’s conference. I was amazed at the Family Mall, complete with shops of every variety, children’s rides (including a train that weaves through the mall) and restaurants.

After the two-day conference was over, a few of us took a walk around Erbil to see the Citadel (currently undergoing an archaeological renovation), the Mudhafaria Minaret (36 meters high), Minaret Park (a beautiful family-filled park with water features, topiaries, statues of historical figures) and the covered market. (A photo slideshow of these sites is set forth below.)

It was just outside the covered market that we came upon a shop of pickles. They pickled olives, cucumbers and other vegetables. The shopkeepers kindly offered us a taste of a pickled cucumber.

The cucumber variety is one that is long and thin. We came across vendors of such varieties along our tour.

This discussion of pickles brings me back to the United States and how I have spent countless hours over the past few weeks pickling in order to keep up with the cucumber and green bean harvest from our community garden plot and patio container garden at home. I have become fascinated (maybe bordering on obsessive, I admit) with various ways to pickle (hot water bath, fermenting in a barrel or clay jar, refrigeration pickling) as well as combinations of pickling spices. I just had a conversation last night with my brother Ingfried from Germany who uses terragon (must be the French variety, he says) and it goes particularly well with pickling onions and garlic.  I will try that when I harvest my onions soon.

So in the meantime, here are a few recipes that I have been using to pickle green beans, cucumbers and peppers.  An alternative, if you plan to use the pickled items in the short-term (within the month or two), there is no need to prepare them in a hot water bath.  Just simply stick them in the refrigerator, wait about a week or two (depending upon your taste), and enjoy them as “refrigerator pickles.”  As for the green beans, this year I decided to not blanch or “pre-cook” the green beans before canning them.  I will see how they compare when I open them up this winter.

Pickled Green Beans


  • 2 pounds fresh green beans, rinsed and trimmed
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 8 sprigs fresh dill weed
  • 4 teaspoons salt
  • 2 1/2 cups white vinegar
  • 2 1/2 cups water


  1. Cut green beans to fit inside pint canning jars.
  2. Place green beans in a steamer over 1 inch of boiling water, and cover. Cook until tender but still firm, for 3 minutes. Plunge beans into ice water. Drain well.
  3. Pack the beans into four hot, sterilized pint jars. Place 1 clove garlic and 2 sprigs dill weed in each jar, against the glass. Add 1 teaspoon of salt to each jar.
  4. In a large saucepan over high heat, bring vinegar and water to a boil. Pour over beans.
  5. Fit the jars with lids and rings and process for 10 minutes in a boiling water bath.

Pickled Cucumbers or Peppers


  • 2 – 1/2 cups cider vinegar
  • 2 – 1/2 cups water
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup sea salt
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 1 – 1/2 teaspoons mustard seed
  • 1 – 1/2  teaspoons celery seeds
  • 1 – 1/2 teaspoons coriander seed
  • 3 teaspoons dill seed
  • 3 sprigs of fresh dill


  1. Combine the vinegar, water, sugar and salt in a stainless steel saucepan. Bring to boil over medium heat, stirring to dissolve the salt and sugar.  Reduce heat and keep to a soft boil.
  2. Put  1 garlic clove, 1 sprig of fresh dill, 1 teaspoon dill seed and 1/2 teaspoon each of the mustard seed, celery seed, coriander seed and dill seed into each of three hot and sterilized pint jars.
  3. Pack cucumbers (or peppers) into the three jars. (I used three medium-sized cucumbers.)
  4. Pour the hot pickling liquid into the jars, leaving 1/2 inch headspace.  Remover air bubbles, adding more liquid if need be to get it back to 1/2 inch headspace.
  5. Wipe the rim; center the lid on the jar; screw the outer band to a fingertip-tightness.
  6. Process the filled jars in boiling water of a hot water canning pot for 15 minutes with the canning lid on. Remove canning lid.  Leave in for 5 minutes more.
  7. Cool and store on a wire rack.

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