Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Christmas Came Early

A BIG BIG BIG Thank You to Andrea De Vries and the International Alliance for Child Literacy!
Thanks to the IACL for donating 300lbs of books to EHSM this holiday season!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

A Time of Thanks and Giving

     As quickly approaches, and as everyone updates their status to outline their Thanksgiving holiday plans, I cannot help but feel longing and sadness.  It feels like so long ago that I was pulling all-nighters finishing the second set of midterms and preparing to take the train 5 hours north along the Hudson (How, I miss that time on the train!), back to Troy. It always marked the first time home since the start of the school year and that random trip home during the summer over co-op (crazy Drexel schedule). It was the light at the end of the “grueling Fall Term tunnel”. Thanksgiving meant falling leaves, chilly weather, the sweet smells of home, leftovers, love, relaxation and rejuvenation before finals in two weeks.
Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, much more so than Christmas. Thanksgiving was like a haven in the midst of the chaos of exams, endless calculations, never-ending experiments, and responsibility.  Whenever I returned home I could revert back to my pre-semi-adult ways of spending the day in my pajamas, eating a home cooked breakfast and if I could get away with it, not doing my own dishes. (In retrospect, the responsibilities of college life are hardly the real thing.) 
Even as my brothers and I grew older and grew apart in distance, it was the one holiday that we all still celebrated together.  As my brothers moved away, Christmas became less of a family tradition and more of a hit or miss holiday. Even towards the end of high school, when my middle brother was still in college and my oldest brother was recently out of college, moved out, grown up, the magic of Christmas was lost.  No one woke up early on Christmas morning, if they were even home at all.  It soon became like any other day, but with presents (most of which I already knew of, because I picked them out).  Tree decorating even seemed to become a chore.  My dad lost interest; so cutting down the tree was left to my mom and me in recent years (although we did have many good times trying to cut down 8ft trees by ourselves, and stuffing it in the car).  I can remember following my dad, trekking through the snow, knee deep, and still falling, in search of the perfect tree. In recent years there have been times when we didn’t get a tree until 2 days before Christmas Eve. I long for those times! Decorating used to be a family affair; with my dad putting on the lights, and my mom, me and brothers putting on the ornaments while eating fresh baked sugar cookies shaped like Santa, Rudolph, trees, and angels, while we sipped my dad’s infamous Eggnog, and the soft sounds of Christmas music playing in the background. 
            Thanksgiving still held onto its magic. Nothing had changed in the 24 years of my existence.  I think there was only one year when things took a turn for the worst.  My oldest brother, and now wife, said they could not make it.  My mom and I were devastated.  This would have been the first year that not all of us would be together.  Yet, as we sat down to eat turkey, my moms amazing mashed potatoes, cranberry apple stuffing, sweet potato deliciousness, etc., my brother and his wife walked in, much to everyone’s surprise.  What a relief that was, and a cruel joke! In the end, all was well.

            I knew when I applied for the Peace Corps back in 2009 that I would miss important events-weddings, holidays, etc.  but when that dream seemed so far away, so intangible, it didn’t really matter that I might potentially be missing out.  Now that it is here, it kind of sucks.  I think what makes it worse, is that not only am I not able to make it home for Thanksgiving this year, neither of my brothers will be able to make it either.  This marks the first time in over 30 years that my mom will not be cooking Thanksgiving dinner.  After so much work over the years, she’s probably a little relieved, but I know deep down that it breaks her heart too.  In a matter of a short year, she went from having a full house on this momentous (who knew that monumentous isn’t a word?) holiday to no one.  Of course she still has my grandparents and my uncle, but it’s “not the same without my kids.” They even contemplated going out to eat instead.  Oh the blasphemy!
            I am sad to be spending this Thanksgiving just like any other day of the year. I long to be 7 years old again when everything was easy as my mom’s/Mary’s apple pie.
            In the spirit of a Pelletier Thanksgiving I will try to spread that warmth and love. At a time of thanks and giving: Thanks for being amazing Mom, Dad, Justin and Carmen, Coty, Gram and Pop, lastly, but far from least, Uncle Dave; I cant and wont even attempt to make my mom’s/Mary’s apple pie, instead I’m thinking of giving my neighbors some home made pumpkin muffins.

Violate Your Expectations

In high school I had a teacher whose class I did not attend much.  However, when I did occasionally show up (often late, as it was first period of senior year), I could frequently hear her saying her famous motto.  Violate your expectations.  She taught English.  Oh the irony!
Although she did not touch my life in a profound way in terms of English, a love for Shakespeare, or whatever else it is that she taught us, I did come away with a very significant life lesson.  Constantly challenge yourself, your beliefs, your expectations.
I guess there are two points to this post, now that I think of it. 
The first (and unintended) point is that even if you aren’t changing lives the way you had hoped to, change is happening.  It may not be sudden and is probably very subtle. She may not have cultivated me into a literary genius (HA!), but she did give me a new perspective on life (which, in my opinion, may actually be more significant.)
I can hardly begin to count the times where I have uttered that same motto. Yet, I have never quoted Shakespeare.  She probably didn’t think that her motto was what was going to make a lasting impression in my mind. But, I guess if you hear things enough you learn by osmosis.  This is my new outlook for working with students in SVG.  I’ve realized I’m probably not going to change these students’ lives by teaching them to read (teaching someone to read is a lot more difficult than I thought. It also requires more than just simply knowing how to read yourself), or helping them to improve their reading/writing/comprehension skills through one hour a week sessions for approximately two years.  Some of these students need much more than that. But hopefully by repeatedly telling these students that they have potential and that they can do it, they will believe in themselves.  Maybe if I continually tell them that they are valued, appreciated, and their opinion matters, they will be confident and assertive.  Perhaps if I show them that I care and love them then they will show that same compassion and respect to others.  
The second point, and the one that I had originally deduced from revisiting that motto is that, every day I am constantly violating my expectations.  My entire idea of what the “Peace Corps experience” would be like has been shattered.  It was shattered before I even left the States, in fact. Everyday I am being challenged in what I believe in, what I expect of myself, what I expect of others.  And everyday I am violating those expectations.  Some are for the positive, and benefit everyone; and others are terribly troubling to me.  Either way, it is important to constantly be asking questions, challenging yourself in any and every way possible.
I will continue to try (I only say “try” because it is as difficult for me to teach reading as it is for them to learn it probably) to teach these wonderfully bright students how to read. All the while, chirping in their ears about goals, ambitions, potential, compassion, respect, the significance of preserving/conserving our environment!, and other important life lessons.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Forgive Me Mother Nature

Dear Mother Nature,

I know that I am always talking about sustainability, the preservation and conservation (do they mean the same thing?) of your precious resources, your beautiful landscapes, the rich diversity that this planet offers and of the harmful effects of pollution, etc.  I have a confession.  Please forgive me.  It is not sustainable nor responsible of me to take two showers a day, everyday.  But sometimes it is just necessary, honestly.  But what really makes me concerned, is not so much the water consumption, albeit exorbitant (a subjective word and probably really not that much water in comparison to other people.  I bet my two showers a day don’t add up to the amount of water you use for your one HOT shower a day). Anyways.  What really concerns me is that the drain to my shower just deposits right into my backyard.  So all my chemical-laden shampoo, conditioner and body wash just goes right into the backyard, into the ground, and subsequently my vegetable garden, and ultimately the water supply.  This is true for nearly every house in SVG.  What kind of effects is this having on the environment?  Could this be the reason for increasing prevalence of cancer and other diseases that are so prevalent nowadays? This really “vexes” me.  I think its time I invest in some biodegradable, eco friendly beauty products.  (I’ll also be taking donationsJ ).
So, please Mother Nature, forgive me for treating you so badly, so recklessly, and for being a hypocrite.

                                                      With the Utmost Respect,
Valarie Pelletier

PS: Its hard to believe that my backyard actually looks like this, despite all the chemicals I am polluting it with, not to mention god knows what else thats accumulating as a result of the runoff that gets deposited in my yard from neighbors up the hill from me.
This picture is literally taken from my bedroom window.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Words of Wisdom and Inspiration

CRD sent this very encouraging, inspiring, and thought provoking poem to me recently, as I was going through a bit of a rough patch.  I thought it was worth sharing.

by Max Ehrmann

Go placidly amid the noise and haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.

As far as possible without surrender
be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
and listen to others,
even the dull and the ignorant;
they too have their story.
Avoid loud and aggressive persons,
they are vexations to the spirit.

If you compare yourself with others,
you may become vain or bitter;
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.

Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.
Keep interested in your own career, however humble;
it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs;
for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
many persons strive for high ideals;
and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be yourself.
Especially, do not feign affection.
Neither be cynical about love;
for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment
it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years,
gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.

Beyond a wholesome discipline,
be gentle with yourself.
You are a child of the universe,
no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore be at peace with God,
whatever you conceive Him to be,
and whatever your labors and aspirations,
in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.

With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.
Be cheerful.
Strive to be happy.