Archive | September 2013

Happy Adoption Day Max!

Max Bday 4
A couple of weeks ago marked Max’s first full year with our family! We had some friends over to celebrate the little guy in our new digs in Quito.

Max Bday 1
We were so happy that our new neighbors could come (the parents of Max’s new girlfriend!) as well as three fellow Omnibus 107 Volunteers who happened to be in town: **Clare**, **Nikki**, and **Alex**. We enjoyed Mexican food and good conversation.

Max Bday 5
The part that Max liked the best, though, was eating his very own “pupcakes.” The rest of us had regular cupcakes while Max feasted on his own special variety (see the recipe here).

Max Bday 3
Max had a wonderful time at his party and didn’t mind his party crown too much at all.

Max Bday 2
After eating Mexican food and several pupcakes, Max was tuckered out. Three cheers for Maximiliano Botas!

My Secret Life

Big News!

You may have noticed that I have been a bit quiet for the past few months. That’s because I have been living a lie. I have been carrying on a secret life…the secret life of a pregnant woman! That’s right. I am preggers, with child, in a family way, expecting, and knocked up. I have a bun in the oven and I am eating for two. However you say it – it’s true!

While this is very happy news for my family it has meant a lot of changes for me and Paul. First of all, we have had to move from our Peace Corps site on the coast to Quito, the capital, to be closer to the approved hospital and away from the risk of contracting Malaria.

Once we found out (about two months ago at this point) we had to immediately pack up our belongings and say farewell to our host family, counterparts, and friends. It was a very tearful adios and since I can’t take Malaria meds anymore, it really was good-bye for me. I won’t be returning to the coast, not even to visit, until I have given birth.

To answer a few common questions:

1. Yes, Peace Corps allows pregnant volunteers to continue to serve at least through the first trimester.

The Peace Corps pregnancy policies have changed over the years – from a very liberal policy in the early years to a very strict one up until recently. I have heard stories of female volunteers being “Medically Separated” (basically a technical term meaning you had to leave the Peace Corps for medical reasons beyond your control) immediately, no questions asked. Now, the policy is to make a determination about the volunteer’s service on a case by case basis. Volunteers can serve during the first trimester but beyond that it depends on the volunteer. This means asking the volunteer what they want to do, making sure that adequate medical care is available, and removing the volunteer from any site that might be harmful to her health or the health of the baby. Hence, our move.

For me, it is important that I can continue to serve even if some of the projects I am still working on are a 14 hour bus-ride away. I have a new counterpart in Quito (more on that in future posts) but Paul is going to travel once a month back to the coast to keep up with our work there.

2. No, I will not be delivering here in Ecuador.

Paul and I made the decision that we would like to deliver in Boston near our families. I have an excellent doctor there and it will be such a comfort to be close to our family and friends for the final trimester and delivery. I am due the first week in April, coincidentally the official date of our Close of Service so I will be able to fly back Stateside in early January.

Everyone at our Peace Corps office has been so accommodating and supportive of us and we couldn’t feel more fortunate for this. We have been granted an “Early Close of Service” so we can officially complete our Peace Corps Service and also leave early.

3. No, we are not going to find out the sex of the child.

Paul is excited about the idea of a surprise and as much as it will be challenging for me, I’d like to be able to give him this.

4. Yes, we have a few names picked out already but are open to suggestions.

No guarantees we’re going to like the suggestions but you’re welcome to share your favorite names!

5. I’m feeling great, thanks for asking!

While I was very nauseas in the beginning I am feeling a lot better now. Besides hating certain smells (keep that garlic and those olives away from me!) I am just a lot more tired. Paul read somewhere that being pregnant is like climbing Mt. Everest every day. Not sure if that’s exactly true but it sure feels like it sometimes!

6. After staying in a hostal for a few weeks we found a great apartment.

Any city apartment would feel luxurious compared to where we used to live but our new digs are actually amazing. Max not only has a yard to play in now but he also found a girlfriend in the neighbor’s dog. Good thing they are both fixed or we would have another pregnancy to deal with before we knew it!

It’s a 2 bedroom so there’s room for guests and for a project room that is getting a lot of use right now. We live close to a park that has concerts and a farmer’s market and we’re not far from the major bus lines. What could be better?

7. Yes, Paul is the father : )

So, that’s the big news. Now I can start sharing the projects I have been working on lately from hand-made baby accoutrements to the graphic design and communications work I am doing with my new counterpart. So, stay tuned for all that.

As Paul likes to say, we came to Ecuador as two people and we’re leaving as a family of four with Max and baby on the way.

So, from our growing family to yours – enjoy!


Recommended Reading: Five Constraints That Help Me Innovate


By Sina Mossayeb

Innovation is often considered an optimistic venture, but what is it that actually makes it possible? Although it may come as a surprise, it’s the constraints you encounter. Constraints get a bad rap—at first they seem to be a nagging annoyance. But in my work as a systems designer at IDEO, I’ve found that they’ve become a great ally.

A kite flies because of pressure dynamics in the air, but the string facilitates that condition. Cut the string and it will crash. In other words, constraints can be guides. Here are five guiding “strings” I use in my work in the innovation and design space.

1. I can’t imitate forever.
The great thing about imitation is the power of emulation—the desire to equal or excel. By doing what the “master” does, you learn and improve. It is a very effective tool for refining something that is already known. The downside of imitation, by its very nature, is that it cannot be innovative.

The minute you break from imitation, like improving on it, you have started to innovate. So once you’ve got the strokes—the wax on, wax off—let go of imitation and keep the spirit of emulation, the drive to excel. If you want to improve on something or make something new, you’ll need to tweak, shift away from, or disrupt the status quo by going beyond the existing model.

2. I can’t know everything.
I am always surprised by how many people approach us and say they want to discover an innovative solution to a problem, but they come with the solution in hand for us to design. It doesn’t work that way. Innovation requires not knowing—because you can’t—what the right answer is at the outset.

You might have a freakin’ awesome guess based on a heap of data showing likeliness to succeed, but if you’re looking for innovation you just don’t know—it hasn’t been done before. As a colleague of mine at IDEO reminds me, “sometimes when you start trying to address a problem, you don’t even know what are the right questions to ask.”

Embrace uncertainty and start with small experiments to explore. You know all the cliché examples—the Wright Brothers and Thomas Edison—but there are new ones emerging all the time, like Uber disrupting the transportation industry, or Safaricom connecting more people with health care through telecom in Kenya. The one thing they have in common is an insatiable posture of learning. Innovators are pioneers, and pioneers have a very different mindset than those treading beaten paths. When you’re trying out new stuff, you’re bound to be wrong or even screw up sometimes. Try not to be discouraged by small failures. Instead, see it as a data point for iteration that’ll help you explore new ground.

3. I can’t focus all the time.
There are lots of studies that show the benefit of focus. I remember being on a project where we looked at dozens of outstandingly successful projects, like the Mars Rover Sojourner, the filmAvatar, NASCAR championship races, Navy SEALs missions, the iPhone 1, and others. All of these projects exemplified a laser-like focus that didn’t verge on, but leaped past the line of reasonability. But to think that their innovation came from focus alone is misleading.

Letting go of focus for a period of time allows other images and ideas to enter. Often, only then does the breakthrough concept—or the answer that will help further develop the idea—emerge. For the Mars Rover, looking to other ways of cheaply manufacturing parts outside the organizational structure allowed innovation to happen. For Avatar, it was looking at other technology that could help tell a story. For Apple’s iPhone, it was forgetting everything they knew about what a phone was.

Innovation requires inspiration. Inspiration doesn’t just come out of nowhere. It just seems that way because it’s usually out of our focus. I harvest inspiration in every way I can: reading, people watching, site visits, conversations, vacations, movies, etc. Usually, that requires me to pause what I’m immediately working on to allow new provocations and ideas to enter my view. Try scheduling “unfocused time” to allow for inspiration to enter your work.

4. I can’t listen to everyone.
This is probably the hardest constraint. As a design thinker, I wholeheartedly believe in informing my work by knowing the people I’m designing for. I have lots of interaction and conversations, and observe them in their everyday environments. I consult with colleagues and experts to further enrich my perspective. After all, if I want to make something new for my specific design challenge, there’s probably a good reason it hasn’t been done before: Someone didn’t think of it (maybe), or people didn’t think it was a good idea—or that it could be done.

When listening to people, in addition to all the juicy, good stuff, I also get crummy advice, distracting inputs, and worst of all, heaps of discouragement. The innovator works within this constraint and becomes better for it. They build the “muscles” of hearing everyone out, but listening to those that help push the purpose forward—whether it’s criticism or praise—sifting the gems from the rough. If you don’t work in a collaborative environment, set up your own. Create your own personal council—friends, family, and coworkers, and why not make use of your Twitter and LinkedIn network, too—of advisers.

5. I can’t be perfect.
Perfection, if there is such a thing, is the outcome of innate being, or, for the rest of us, refining. That means there is something to refine. And while you may find new answers through the refinement process, the minute you reach what you think is perfect, no newness is required. So, when you add something “new” to the “perfect,” you’ve made it imperfect.

Getting it “perfect” is not an act of artisanship, because the true artisan remains in a state of perfecting. Looking for new ways of refining is core to that. Some call this “incremental innovation.” I’m reminded of the 85-year-old Sushi master Jiro Ono with his 10-seat, three-star Michelin-rated restaurant in Japan, who still dreams of crafting the perfect sushi roll after decades of making them. Don’t lose the aspiration and practice of perfecting, but detach yourself from a “perfect” outcome.

Of course, each of these five constraints, in their inverse, is also necessary at various stages of innovation. You have to give the kite some slack to fly higher. I certainly imitate things out there in the world when I’m learning at the outset. No doubt, I ultimately want to succeed, desiring to effectively solve a problem or create a new opportunity. I always aspire to infuse into my work a standard of quality that I’ll be proud of decades later. And of course the hallmark of an innovator is the fluid shifting between seeing the bigger picture(s) and then zooming in to drive the idea forward. Yet, just as I learn more from my failures than my successes, I also find that my constraints help me innovate more than my freedoms. Constraints are my ally, not my foe.

Embrace constraints not as a negative condition but as a guide for growth and innovation. Don’t be quick to cut the strings, nor obsess over the spool. Rather, focus on the flight of the kite, and how you can serve it.

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