Startup Cities and Adventures in Central America

The past 6 months have been full of adventures. I’ll play catch-up a bit now, in order to document a few highlights of the past year.

Some of the Startup Cities weekend participants


Last July was the Startup Cities Weekend, at Universidad Francisco Marroquín. It was my own first time in Guatemala city, and it was a brilliant occasion for my first introduction to Central America. The weekend conference at UFM brought together a group of movers, thinkers, and shakers on the startup city front lines all over the world.

In a nutshell, startup cities are about spurring social, political, and economic change through new, innovative, and competing jurisdictions. They can be seen as the next generation of the 20th century idea of special economic zones; they are clean slates for experimenting with accessible law, radical government transparency, and new technologies. I have long been an advocate of Land Value Tax, and have been working hard to ensure it will be included in new jurisdictions. Startup cities can and will emerge in host countries all over the world, and the most actively interested in their potential has been Honduras, who passed ZEDE legislation last year to allow for the creation of such regions.



Urban Planning session

Brainstorming session on Urban Planning strategies for startup cities

Speaking to Spencer Heath MacCallum, who published “The Enterprise of Community.”

Cezar was the youngest startup cities weekend participant

With my new friend, originally from Russia, who moved to Guatemala from Canada with her husband to work on the startup city!

with our friend Magatte Wade, a great speaker and entrepreneur

brunch in the hotel with Cezar

After the weekend, some of our crew went on to Honduras.

Gabriel and Jon of Elevator Cities

Honduras, here we come!

flying into Tegucigalpa, Honduras

Most of my first time in Honduras was for meetings, and I was staying in an apartment in a gated community, (for safety reasons,) where I could take cezar to restaurants, the movie theatre, an amusement park, and a mall. Unfortunately I was not able to explore as much as I would have liked on that trip, but did get the chance to visit a few small towns and rural areas.

A roadside food business run by a woman and her family that we stopped at. I tried corn pancakes and pudding. Both very good– a hint of cinnamon.

Young men crafting handbags in the back of a leather goods store.

Kids’ soccer game in a park

A cabbage trail on the hillside

I also spent time later on exploring areas most stricken by poverty and pollution, which really gave me an appreciation for just how important the Honduran ZEDEs are for increasing access to opportunities for those desperately want and need them. I came away with a renewed sense of appreciation, and also excitement to spend more time in Guatemala and Honduras in the year to come.

Gender-reversed fiction: The Godmother

I have never gotten into the book, The Godfather by Mario Puzo, and have found the movies difficult to relate to. Likely because men are having all the fun, and I’m not a man. Last night I decided to try a different strategy. Gender Reversal. I adapted Chapter 1&2, more to come perhaps, and thought it was both entertaining and thought-provoking:



Book One

Chapter 1

Behind every great fortune there is a crime – Balzac

Amelia Bonasera sat in New York Criminal Court Number 3 and waited for justice; vengeance on the women who had so cruelly hurt her son, who had tried to dishonor him.

The judge, a formidably heavy-featured woman, rolled up the sleeves of her black robe as if to physically chastise the two young women standing before the bench. Her face was cold with majestic contempt. But there was something false in all this that Amelia Bonasera sensed but did not yet understand.

“You acted like the worst kind of degenerates,” the judge said harshly. Yes, yes, thought Amelia Bonasera. Animals. Animals. The two young women, glossy hair crew cut, scrubbed clean-cut faces composed into humble contrition, bowed their heads in submission.

The judge went on. “You acted like wild beasts in a jungle and you are fortunate you did not sexually molest that poor boy or I’d put you behind bars for twenty years.” The judge paused, her eyes beneath impressively thick brows flickered slyly toward the sallow-faced Amelia Bonasera, then lowered to a stack of probation reports before her. She frowned and shrugged as if convinced against her own natural desire. She spoke again.

“But because of your youth, your clean records, because of your fine families, and because the law in its majesty does not seek vengeance, I hereby sentence you to three years’ confinement to the penitentiary. Sentence to be suspended.”

Only forty years of professional mourning kept the overwhelming frustration and hatred from showing on Amelia Bonasera’s face. Her beautiful young son was still in the hospital with his broken jaw wired together; and now these two animales went free? It had all been a farce. She watched the happy parents cluster around their darling daughters. Oh, they were all happy now, they were smiling now.

The black bile, sourly bitter, rose in Bonasera’s throat, overflowed through tightly clenched teeth. She used her white linen pocket handkerchief and held it against her lips. She was standing so when the two young women strode freely up the aisle, confident and cool-eyed, smiling, not giving her so much as a glance. She let them pass without saying a word, pressing the fresh linen against her mouth.

The parents of the animales were coming by now, two women and two men her age but more American in their dress. They glanced at her, shamefaced, yet in their eyes was an odd, triumphant defiance.

Out of control, Bonasera leaned forward toward the aisle and shouted hoarsely, “You will weep as I have wept– I will make you weep as your children make me weep”– the linen at her eyes now. The defense attorneys bringing up the rear swept their clients forward in a tight little band, enveloping the two young women, who had started back down the aisle as if to protect their parents. A huge bailiff moved quickly to block the row in which Bonasera stood. But it was not necessary.

All her years in America, Amelia Bonasera had trusted in law and order. And she had prospered thereby. Now, though her brain smoked with hatred, though wild visions of buying a gun and killing the two young women jangled the very bones of her skull, Bonasera turned to her still uncomprehending husband and explained to him, “They have made fools of us.” She paused and then made her decision, no longer fearing the cost. “For justice we must go on our knees to Donna Corleone.”

Continue reading →

Friendship and Jealousy

Making casual friends isn’t hard but for some reason forging deeper connections can be.

(I’m going to give you something a little meatier today since the feature of my last post was Ziggy’s deli meats.)

I don’t like shallow friendships, where the only actionable mandate is comparing each other’s lives, collecting gossip fodder, or whatever other narcissistic reason one might have for maintaining loose connections that don’t dare tread deeper waters.

Looking at my own Inner Circle, there have been not just tears and laughter, which are easy even with strangers, but also anger, ranting, the revelation of doubt, and ugliness. Inner Circles shouldn’t be a Circle Jerk (click if you don’t know,) but they should sometimes include humping.

Yes, I’ve humped some of my friends, and now I’ve blogged about it.

Some people you meet and you know right away they have their switch turned ON.  Alive, kicking, present, multi-faceted, sensitive, ruthless, and sometimes the Elephants in the Room. My people!

I have been making a conscious effort to nurture more of these relationships. There are so many people that have stood out to me, with whom I intuited a connection with; yet, for whatever reason (age, timing, social convention,) I was too afraid to actually make it with. Or too comfortable with my lot to be the one to make the effort.

And sometimes, the strongest, unspoken connections are also the most volatile.
Continue reading →

School Lunch Ideas

This is my first year packing school lunches.

We try to keep grain-free and mostly unprocessed, so that eliminates the easy costco toss-and-go type snack foods.

Protein is a must in every lunch.

Everything gets prepared the night before, since mornings are too hectic. Extras get put in the fridge for easy access for the two-year-old.

Continue reading →

Extended Breastfeeding

By most standards, I am an extended breastfeeder.

My eldest still nursed sometimes at 5 years old, (by then it was not often,) and my nearly 2 year old is still going strong.

Perhaps because of this, I often get asked for my views on when a child should wean.
Continue reading →

Teaching Kids About Death

I find it frustrating to see people sugar-coat the concept of death for children.

Death is painful concept, and it might be comforting to tell ourselves stories about seeing our loved ones again in an after-life, to romanticize the losses we’ve endured and the one that others will face on our behalf, but ultimately they are better served by knowing that after our youth we begin to physically and mentally degenerate and ultimately cease to be.

If children can be taught the reality as we witness it, instead of tales of heaven and angels we have been told ourselves, then we have a fair shot of understanding our physical interplay with the environment; learning how to save lives, extend or regain physical health, and ultimately have a greater positive effect with the wisdom and knowledge that we accumulate over what is currently a short and tumultuous lifetime, before we disappear from society and influence and degenerate into a romantic memories.

When my children ask about dying I want them to know that they can learn how to help themselves and others extend or regain their health if they are willing to devote serious time to pursuing science and understanding how things work. As for the process of deterioration that we have been taught to think of as natural and part of the ‘circle of life?’ That too can be re-defined if we are willing to devote ourselves to learning. There are many life forms that live longer than we do, including some that are functionally immortal. There is much to learn here.

I find the urgent reality to be more hopeful than any wishful-thinking tales of an afterlife. Let’s learn to save more people in THIS life. I reject the mythology that has us perpetually looking for comfort in the next.

5 tips for successful breastfeeding

Breastfeeding your child helps ensure their optimal development, and offers many positive effects for you as well. Here are 5 simple strategies that will help your breastfeeding relationship get off to a great start:

1. Build your support system.

If you have a partner or family nearby, ensure they are educated as to why this is so important to you and your baby (KellyMom and Dr. Sears are must-haves for your bookmarks,) and have them help you in any way they can.

Whether or not you have the support of those around you, join an online community of moms who have experience and expertise. Some of the Facebook communities that I find helpful are: Dispelling Breastfeeding Myths, and Natural Parent Magazine.

Many pregnancy and baby forums, like also have groups specifically dedicated to breastfeeding. The social nature of these groups also ensures you have a relatively anonymous place to vent and ask questions you may not feel comfortable talking to your friends and family about.

2. Keep your baby close.

Plan to be holding or wearing your baby most of the day in the first months. Having the baby in-arms will make it easier to nurse on demand and become aware of her cues. Wearing your baby is the most practical way to meet her needs and yet still be able to go about your daily life. The Moby Wrap is a great product for newborns and infants, and is both comfortable and beautiful. Youtube has great video tutorials for how to wear and nurse your baby in different holds.

Nightime is a peak time for breastfeeding, so rather than worry about losing sleep to nightfeedings, maximize your comfort and convenience by cosleeping. Easy access to the breast at night means you are less likely to need to physically get out of bed for feeds, and before long, will be able to remain asleep when your baby becomes accustomed to helping herself. I always sleep topless for this reason, though in the early months I was prone to leaking and soaking the bed, so I always had extra layers underneath us. I plan to write more about strategies for successful cosleeping in the future.

3. Don’t have formula. 

When you are going through challenges, a bottle of formula can be tempting and seem harmless. However, in the early months, missing feeds will make it more difficult to establish a supply, since your body responds to the demand. Nipple-preference is another problem for babies who develop a preference for the fast-flow of the bottles. To avoid these problems, Put the baby to your breast as soon as possible after birth, and allow her to suckle as often as she likes thereafter. By keeping formula out of the house, you minimize temptation, and can focus on meeting the challenges with your baby and getting to the next stage. (It gets easier, and the early challenges are so worth it!) If you are worried about intake, you can monitor your baby’s weight gain with your doctor. Remember, it takes up to a week for your milk to come in, so early weight loss is normal and expected. Barring rare situations, this is not a reason to supplement.

Don’t listen to anyone who says you must put the baby on a schedule or nurse at set intervals. Remember that barriers to successful nursing for many of us are largely psychological ones, so this is when to call on your support system to encourage you and help you not to feel alone or overwhelmed.

4. Get comfortable nursing in public.

If you don’t want to feel trapped at home, you will before long want to venture out with your baby, and you will likely need to nurse her at least once if you are planning to be out for more than an hour. Again, this is where having a support network will come in handy. When you realize how many other new parents have faced the same apprehension about baring their breasts in public, it will be easier to conquer any fear and do what needs to be done.

There are plenty of outspoken advocates of normalizing public breastfeeding to look to for support and inspiration, and I try to be one myself. I don’t wear a cover since I believe it is important that more young people see people nursing in public. That, and I found the cover to be a hassle.

If you don’t wish to be an iconoclast, there are plenty of stylish and discreet nursing covers that will offer you and your baby some privacy. I find it helpful to nurse while wearing the baby in the sling, wrap, or ergo carrier, which is a discreet and hands-free option.

5. Be patient. Zen. 

Many people think that since breastfeeding is ‘natural’ that it is easy and shouldn’t be a learning process. While it certainly becomes easy once you make it past the hurdles, in the beginning it can extremely challenging, both physically and emotionally.

I am a supporter of extended nursing, which is nursing past the age of 2, so I found it helpful not to think too much about time frames or expectations, and instead focus on strengthening my relationship with my baby and body each day, and relax into the process.

I also love Baby-Led Weaning, which means your baby learns to self-feed herself solid food at her own pace, usually sometime after 6 months (mine were over a year before they showed any real interest,) and it takes the pressure off you to introduce solids at any specific time.

The benefits of breastfeeding and reasons why a long nursing relationship is so worthwhile deserves a full post of its own. I hope you find some of these strategies helpful for yourself or in supporting other new parents.

Have you experienced any breastfeeding barriers or have tips to share?  Leave a comment or join the discussion on facebook!

5 ways local libraries can remain relevant

Public libraries were once revolutionary. In times of information scarcity, libraries were the original file-sharing networks that gave people access to books without having to buy them. The librarian’s function as facilitator and curator of knowledge is one that remains more relevant than ever, in different capacities.

DOK Library. +


Faced with the challenge to remain relevant in the post-internet world, many libraries are going digital. In addition to this trend, local and grade school libraries have the opportunity to evolve their role in local communities in order to  build skill-sets, encourage local projects and host new learning opportunities for children. Without further ado, here are some things libraries could adopt:


  1. Provide e-readers and tablets for educational use. Tablets can be stored in protective and durable cases, and can be programmed to only run certain applications. Many children do not have access to expensive devices and applications at home, so libraries are a logical non-profit entity to facilitate the availability of these devices for all.
  2. New and renovated libraries should include a public Hackerspace. (I was in a hackerspace when I saw their rule was “Be Excellent to each other,” which was when I decided NeoParent’s slogan should be, “Be Excellent to the next generation.”)
  3. Non-fiction literature should have a strong focus on involving children in their local community. Examples of locally focused learning include: regional geography/gardening, wiki-groups, social issues, clubs, and local governance issues. Lack of accessibility and accountability to the entire community has long been an issue in local-level politics, and libraries have the opportunity to serve as public information access hubs so that people can gather and come up with local solutions.
  4. Public office space. This one is for adults, but I wanted to include it anyways. For people seeking self-employment online, having a free place to go and work is a huge value if they are either homeless or lack adequate workspace at home. Current public computers often offer extreme time limitations, with no privacy or opportunity to make phone calls. Having a public, work-friendly cubical-style computer lab, with Skype and expensive software access could potentially add a lot of value to the community.
  5. Operate more like Community Schools. I am on the board for a non-profit community school society, which provides educational activities, events, and classes that the public can register for, usually for free, outside of school hours. All classes have a literacy component, and seek to make learning multi-sensory and enjoyable for kids. For example, a cooking class for kids includes learning proportions and basic math calculations. For older kids there are things like homework clubs and self-esteem workshops. I recently learned that our local library is hosting a baby sign-language course. I envision that school libraries in particular could support before-school breakfast clubs by distributing morning newspapers for discussion. I would also like to see more libraries host public courses for graphic design, robotics (and/or makerspaces), and science, as well as host salons (not the hair kind,) to give platform to social issues.

Libraries have potential to create value as community-learning spaces and continue to provide an important service of curation and literacy support for children. It is my vision to see local and school libraries become innovative hives that support these values and allow more people the opportunity to gain new skills and connect with their community.

What else would you like to see in your library? Are there other ways in which community-based learning could be re-imagined? Leave us a comment here or join the discussion on our Facebook!

Diaper-free by 9 months

Today I was sent an interesting study on elimination communication. When toilet training begins at birth, the need for diapers is usually eliminated by 9 months.

baby peeing in the street (c)

Researchers at Sahlgrenska Academy, University of Gothenburg, followed 47 Vietnamese mothers for two years to study their potty training procedure, which begins at birth and generally eliminates the need for diapers by nine months of age. The technique is based on learning to be sensitive to when the baby needs to urinate.

“The woman then makes a special whistling sound to remind her baby,” Anna-Lena Hellström says. “The whistling method starts at birth and serves as an increasingly powerful means of communication as time goes on.” (source)


I have never used this technique on my babies since we were constantly out and about, and live in a colder climate where bundling is usually necessary. We use cloth diapers, though Cezar is 14 months old now, and loves to take his off whenever possible. I have been using an adapted version of this technique for him, and make a noise when he eliminates, and immediately place him over the toilet. He is not doing it himself quite yet. Too bad our culture isn’t accepting of babies peeing in the streets! ;)

The Importance of Touch

New Research Focuses on the Power of Physical Contact, via NY Times: “In recent years some researchers have begun to focus on a different, often more subtle kind of wordless communication: physical contact. Momentary touches, they say — whether an exuberant high five, a warm hand on the shoulder, or a creepy touch to the arm — can communicate an even wider range of emotion than gestures or expressions, and sometimes do so more quickly and accurately than words.

The evidence that such messages can lead to clear, almost immediate changes in how people think and behave is accumulating fast. Students who received a supportive touch on the back or arm from a teacher were nearly twice as likely to volunteer in class as those who did not, studies have found. A sympathetic touch from a doctor leaves people with the impression that the visit lasted twice as long, compared with estimates from people who were untouched. Research by Tiffany Field of the Touch Research Institute in Miami has found that a massage from a loved one can not only ease pain but also soothe depression and strengthen a relationship.”


A common parenting tendency to attempt to modify children’s behavior primarily with our voices, followed up by physical intervention when this fails. Touch is rarely proactive, and is often negative.
Earlier today, my 14 month-old Cezar had climbed onto the table and was putting my necklace into a cup of cold tea. Preoccupied myself, I called out to him to please stop, worried he would spill on the plethora of electronics in the vicinity. He paused and looked at me, undoubtedly made curious by my stern and animated reaction. I called out to him again. Not breaking eye contact, he slowly lowered the necklace back into the tea.  Sheepish about my own lazy and incredibly futile method, I went and retrieved the cup. He of course protested and became even more upset when I took him off the table.

I know I am not alone in practicing this sort of ineffective pattern of communication; in fact, I received a question last week from a woman who was at her wits end with her toddler, whom she said “doesn’t listen to anything I say! In fact, she seems to deliberately do the opposite just to get a reaction!”

I find it interesting that we treat verbal cues as though they are imbued with magical properties that should change the behavior of children as though the utterances were literally spells or incantations. Why do we assume that spoken language is or should be the most effective way of prompting kids?  One thing I’ve noticed is that many of us seem wary of using physical guidance or instruction until all attempts at verbal persuasion have been exhausted and frustration has set in. This sets up the subsequent physical interaction to be negative since it comes in the form of intervention, rather than proactivity.

Back to my Cezar. In that typical situation, it would have been more effective for me to have gone over to him the instant I took notice, and provided assistance on what he was trying to do. If he was curious about the liquid in the cup,  I might have brough over a spoon and guiding his hand with it to show him how to stir slowly without spilling. If it was too hot, I could have showed him how to put his hand near the surface to test for heat. I could have also done a separate demonstration on how to put the necklace on himself carefully, and away from the tea. The rule of thumb here is that they are curious, and there is almost always a way to address that curiosity safely; it just requires some hands-on assistance, rather than shouting crude commands.  Physical interaction should be supportive and proactive, and the verbal cues should be supplementary and explanatory. This method is also most likely to be safe long-term since the lessons learned from exploration are more effective than ones learned from directives or intimidation.

Here are some tips I’m using to help me become better at non-verbal communication:

  • Move closer. Don’t let your voice be the first thing on the scene.
  • Instead of “shhh-ing” a crying child or asking “are you okay?” Simply use touch and your physical presence to send a message of security and comfort. Often there is no need to say anything anyways.
  • In any situation where you might say “Stop that!” or “Put that down!” consider how you can use a positive non-verbal approach to solve the problem. It might be initiating an activity together, or giving a hand with something, or simply exploring the breakable object with them until their curiosity is satisfied.

Language is wonderful, and I strive to provide full commentary and explanations along side hands-on learning. However, the need for touch and positive physical interaction is primary to human wellbeing, and is an oft-neglected component of childhood socialization. Rather than outsource comfort and stimulation to external objects, we need to rediscover the real source of those physical needs.

Do you have any tips on how to use more non-verbal communication? Share them in a comment!