31 December 2016

Money money money

I've been listening to a great podcast called Death, Sex, and Money recently and it's inspired me to both think about and talk about these topics more. They are so integral to our lives and yet so taboo!

Today's blog is about financial integration!

Hooray for home ownership!

Okay, I'm not really a homeowner, but my partner is and I'm doing everything I can to share those responsibilities.
We agreed that since K put in the downpayment on the loan, I would make an equal contribution and be added to the deed and loan. So I am purchasing the furniture and then will make a payment on the loan capital equal to K's downpayment minus said furniture.
I really like having such open financial discussions - it helps us both feel positive and clear on our mutual and individual responsibilities. I highly recommend a frank, regular money chat with your partner (or boo as some people prefer).

This podcast, Death, Sex, and Money is produced by WNYC Studios and hosted by Anna Sale and covers the "big questions and hard choices that are often left out of polite conversation." Every episode is beautiful and tough and touching and leaves me feeling both a little awkward and relieved at the topics covered.
It's definitely been a learning process. I never tried to consolidate finances with a partner before. It feels like a huge step - a big commitment to one another. K was worried about taking on my student loans; I was worried about her different spending habits.

Once we talked about it, we found some easy and effective solutions. Because I had the chance to save up while I was in Beirut, I was happy to keep my student loans to myself and not lump them into family debt. And to deal with spending habits, we agreed to create a joint account for the house, food, bills, and vacations, then individual accounts for our personal spending - makeup, clothing, gifts, computers, snowboarding equipment, books, etc.
We haven't implemented the plan yet - I've only gotten one paycheck so far so starting up a joint account didn't make sense yet! But I know that with the dialogue we've already started; we are in a great place to set ourselves up for 2017.

In fact, just last night I made a big move and paid off one of my student loans! Only one to go now :)

17 December 2016

I'm back!

I was not successful with my goal to post every day in November but I did learn a lot.

1. I discovered that I have something to write about every day.

I thought that this was going to be the hardest part - finding a topic to talk about every day. But in fact, and especially with the low minimum word count, I found that I didn't get to the pre-planned topics. Instead, I wrote about what had happened during my day, things that I was thinking about, news, etc. I was surprised by the fun and discovery of my every day life and delighted that I had thoughts to share about it.

2. I realized that I really need to take more time editing before I post.

This was partly a side-effect of the low bar I set when I decided to blog every day. My minimum word count meant that as soon as I met that count, I felt finished. Even if I was in the middle of a thought or hadn't carefully explained the experience or story. When I re-read some of the posts I was disappointed in their abrupt endings, poor layout, and bad readability

3. I decided that blogging every day is unnecessary.

I'm not trying to sell something to you. In fact, the number of daily emails that I get from sellers makes me quite certain that sending content *new* *you've got to see this* *everyone on your block has one, why don't you* every single day doesn't actually work from a marketing point of view. Plus, if you're a subscriber, you don't really want to see my blog popping up in your email every day - we all have email overload. Consistency but not overkill is what I'd like to have.

4. I need to set a specific time of day to write.

Too often, I would get to the end of the day and realize that I hadn't written anything; hadn't even thought about a topic. This stressed me out at the end of the day and ultimately reduced the quality of writing too.

5. I would like to spend more time on the aesthetic of my blog.

I focused just on the content and didn't create a look for the blog. Most of the 'also read' blogs are years out of date. Just in general, I need to update what the blog looks like and links to in order to make it a happy place with fun and interesting ideas to explore.

So I've decided:

I'd like to set a new goal of updating once per week, I'm aiming for Tuesdays. I'm keeping the word minimum to 200, but with a goal of at least 500.  I don't have many subscribers just yet, but hopefully once I'm consistent, I will find like-minded people who are interested in what I'm saying.

In truth though, I think what I really want out of this blog is a record and a memory of the beauty and fascination of life and all the amazing things I get to experience.  I'd like to be able to look back and find joy in memories made clearer because I put the time into writing about them.

Listening to: Best of Star Wars playlist on Spotify
Feeling ⛸⛸⛸ - This freezing rain makes me ice skate on my back porch!

01 December 2016

Rabbit rabbit rabbit

Happy December 1st!

Can't believe it's already December.
My big news is that I started my new job on Monday!!!

I will be coordinating, monitoring, and doing strategic planning for assistance programs in Morocco and Algeria.
I am so excited and happy about the opportunity. The team is great, the work is interesting, and I feel that as soon as I get my feet under me, I'll be able to make a solid contribution.

In the mean time, I'm reading and listening and having meetings and asking questions.

Also, I'm doing all the important mundane tasks like adjusting my desk chair so that it doesn't tip me backwards when I sit down in it. I'm setting up hanging files to keep the reference documents I'd like to have a hard copy of. I'm running around getting badges and computer logins.


It feels so nice to have a job again.
Don't get me wrong - I know that at some point I will be tired of being in the office and wish for a vacation - but for now, it is great to have somewhere to be everyday. To get out of the house for a purpose, not just a whim. Doing 10,000 steps a day is a breeze when I'm working. When I was at home, sometimes getting 5,000 steps was a struggle! (Alphabetizing the spice drawer just doesn't require walking around very much)

23 November 2016

having a hard time doing once a day!

Having a hard time recently keeping up with the once a day posts that I promised. It will be a relief to go to once a week starting in December.
I'm planning to do updates on Tuesdays - fresh from the weekend, but enough time to write up on Monday and edit on Tuesday. One thing that has definitely been lacking in this once-a-day stream of consciousness writing has been any kind of editing.

I usually write it once, spellcheck it, and post it immediately.
It's quick, relatively painless, and often ends up being pointless.

I found that I stopped right at the 200 word mark and didn't finish a complete thought, didn't take the time to fully explain or explore the topic that I introduced.

Hopefully going with a weekly post at 500 word minimum will help a lot with that particular phenomenon.

One thing that was interesting and I didn't expect is just how much I have to talk about!

There's always something interesting, or at least interesting to me - it may not be my own life, but perhaps a news story or a new podcast that I've gotten into. In fact, it has sometimes been difficult to choose one thing to write about!

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving - and that's really exciting in so many ways :) gobble gobble

21 November 2016

Flu shot

I got a flu shot today!

That's about the most exciting thing in my whole day. I've been feeling a bit down and low energy and couldn't even get myself outside for a run. The cold certainly contributed, but it's still a little worrying.

Another thing I did today was buy a new pair of jeans, in a size larger than I'm currently wearing. I just need to realize that I am too big for my britches. haha. I will be very glad to have them but the process of buying them was put off, delayed, and painful because I've been trying to take weight off so I can get a size smaller, not larger.

It's days like today that I have to remind myself, sometimes verbally and out loud that I need to treat myself and speak to myself in the same way that I speak to my best friends and my sisters. This inner monologue that only finds fault and lack is mean. I would never be so mean to anyone I called a friend; there is no need to be mean to myself. Taking the words out of my head and into a new context really helps. I can look at the words from an outside perspective and recognize their negative impact. And then consciously make the choice to use other words.

I learned some of this from my therapist and realize how wonderful and life-giving it was to have someone actually be that external voice to give me perspective and tools.

It doesn't always work, and when it does, it doesn't always stick. But if I'm going to hold others accountable for being kind, using appropriate vocabulary, promoting those who are vulnerable, then I certainly need to hold myself accountable.

20 November 2016

musing about theatre

Back in DC!

It was a beautiful whirlwind of a trip to California. I was so happy to be able to see two of my siblings perform - one at his music residency, and one in a college production. In fact, C had the opportunity to play a much bigger part than she originally had because her friend fell ill and wasn't able to perform this week. So C stepped in at the last minute to learn the lines and blocking.

She did a wonderful job with an interesting part in a totally bizarre and thought-provoking piece of theatre called Mr. Burns, a Post-Electric Play

***spoiler alert***

If you are not familiar with the show and would rather not know the details before seeing it, you should probably skip this entry.

Wikipedia does a commendable job of summarizing the play in a comprehensible way:
"Shortly after an unspecified apocalyptic event, a group of survivors gather together and begin to attempt to recount the episode "Cape Feare" of the television show The Simpsons. The second act picks up with the same group seven years later, who have now formed a theatrical troupe that specializes in performing Simpsons episodes, with commercials and all. The final act is set an additional 75 years in the future. The same episode of The Simpsons, now a familiar mythos, has been reworked into a musical pageant, with the story, characters, and morals repurposed to fit the artistic and dramatic needs of a culture still reeling from destruction of civilization and the near-extinction of humanity decades earlier."

I found the production itself occasionally hard to watch and follow. Partly because a large part of the dialogue was written out verbatim from an improvised exercise where actors tried to recount the Cape Feare episode. It involves a lot of thinking patterns that are inherent to speech but don't necessarily translate as well when put into another actor's mouth and then performed on stage.

That said, the themes that the play explores - loss, loneliness, entertainment, how we find meaning when the things that we rely on daily are gone - are profound and disturbing. At its best, I would say that this production explores the importance of narrative. As one reviewer of a Chicago production said, the play "tells us that the worse things get, the more we need our stories." And not just the stories, but the pieces that surround and enhance our stories - like music, and even commercials. 

18 November 2016

Being LGBTQ at Notre Dame

I participated in a positive art project to support LGBTQ young people today. If you are in L.A. and would be interested in learning more and getting involved - comment, message, or email me and I'll get you in contact.

I'm being deliberately vague about the project in order to protect the creativity and intellectual property of this idea and I don't want to jump ahead of the launch!

Doing the project made me think about my experience when I first came out as a young LGBTQ person. I was at Notre Dame, an excellent school. Great academics, strong student focus, but also a pervasive macho culture and very conservative social values.

The editor of the alumni magazine asked me to write about my experience as an LGBTQ student at Notre Dame. It was scary - trying to represent a huge diversity of experience with just my own voice - and to do so in a format that would reach an audience that was potentially very hostile.

The writing process itself was very cathartic as I had the chance to look back and reflect on the experiences that shaped my coming out. (I'd also like to say that my article is very rambling and not great writing, so forgive my 21-year-old self if you choose to read it!)

The response...

Well, it was as expected.
Alumni wrote in saying that I should never have been admitted to the university. That I should choose celibacy. That they were withdrawing all financial support to the university because it chose to admit me and feature my story.*

On the other hand, the issue, which included several articles about LGBTQ concerns, received a first place gold medal award from the Council for Advancement and Support of Education for its special issue.

I believe that my four years at Notre Dame, a conservative midwestern college, made me into the LGBTQ feminist activist that I am. Being forced to define and defend my identity shaped my values and priorities. It led me to choose education and a career path where I could provide support for people seeking recognition and justice.

I hope that the four years in the Trump administration will serve as a similar catalyst for activists, youthful or experienced, to take up their values and push for them. It won't be easy, many people will push back, but let's take this as a wake up call.

*When I went back to the comments section in order add a link to this blog post, I was genuinely surprised by the number of positive comments I found. I had forgotten about the positive and affirming comments and only retained the negative ones. I am so glad that I looked up the comment feed again. There are still many comments that are frightening (for example, the Navy man who was "lost at sea" after aberrant homosexual behavior) but they do seem more balanced than I'd originally felt.

17 November 2016

my brother the resident artist

Last night I finally got the chance to see my brother perform at the Vampire Lounge, where he is the resident artist on Wednesday nights. He and a friend with a cello entertain the crowds sipping the "blood of the vine" from about 9pm to 11pm.

M, that's my brother, is a very talented musician. And just like Malcolm Gladwell suggests, he's put in those 10,000 to get where he is now. He not only sings, plays guitar, bass, piano, and drums, but also has taught himself to produce, mix, and edit the music he creates. It's so impressive how dedication and sheer time put in can yield such wonderful rewards.

Last night he brought along two guitars, a ukelele, and a keyboard. My favorite songs were his collaborations with the cellist. With the anchoring notes from the cello counterbalancing M's tenor voice, the sound flowed over us fluidly and was mesmerizing. I can see why a vampire-themed bar would love to have his music fill the space.

It also made me think about my own music and how I miss making it. I've decided to try to join the choir at the UU church and see where I go from there.

Plus... we're going to make a Lindgren family holiday album ... coming soon to a soundcloud near you.

To hear some of M's music that he plays at the Vampire Lounge, check out this youtube playlist, and this live recording , and this one that includes both ukelele and cello!

16 November 2016

Making music in California

I'm in California!

I booked a last minute trip out to California since I'm only funemployed for another 2 weeks and probably won't make it out here again until May for my sister's graduation.

As my Dad and I talked while we were waiting for my bag to show up I realized it has been nearly two years since I've been to California! The last time I was here was for Christmas 2014. I've seen my family in the interim - at cousin's weddings, packing up my house, and in Paris, of course.

But I hadn't actually been back to the house where I grew up in 23 months. It still feels like home :)
I love the wooden porch facing the park, the lovely wood floors, the walls filled with art and photographs. Even the smell of the linen closet is the same.

Best of all, I had the chance to hang out with B and M all day and we decided to lay down some tracks for Christmas songs! I learned a piano riff for Rockin' around the Christmas Tree and we've got that recorded. And tonight I'm off to the Vampire Lounge to see M play - he's the resident artist on Wednesday nights.

14 November 2016

Why I'm wearing a safety pin

In the wake of the vote in favor of the United kingdom leaving the European Union (infamously known as Brexit), many of my friends in Scotland began wearing safety pins visibly on their tops. Their safety pin was a symbol of solidarity with immigrants who faced a terrifying wave of vocal discrimination after the vote. Some people took the vote as justification, validation of their feelings that immigrants didn't /don't belong in the U.K. and therefore they felt safe making their xenophobic feelings vocal, visible and even physical. The idea behind wearing the safety pin now is that I pledge to stand up for people being targeted by racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic words and acts. Especially in the wake of the election of Donald Trump as the American President given his divisive and deplorable rhetoric. I appreciate the importance of a visible symbol and hope that seeing this symbol will give comfort to people being targeted. More importantly and more likely I hope that wearing the safety pin will start conversations and give me the opportunity to inspire other people to also stand up and take action against intolerance. I have read several articles written by both people of color and white people about the insufficiency of wearing a safety pin. I agree completely, and encourage you to read those opinions as well.

Ijeoma Oluo makes a real and important criticism of choosing a symbolic act rather than actual action in her article.
"All that energy that I had hoped would go toward real-life action in support of marginalized populations who have been fighting this system alone for far too long was diverted to a symbol that most people wouldn’t even notice."

Christopher Keelty offers ideas and challenges people to find more productive ways to show solidarity than just putting on a safety pin in his piece
"We aren’t going to congratulate ourselves on it, we’re not going to wear some stupid symbolic badge that says “Hey, I’m a good white person” so other white people will congratulate us on how woke we are. "

I will continue to wear a safety pin as a symbol but I will not let it replace the actual work that I have committed to. My safety pin means nothing if I do not call people out on intolerant acts and statements.
If I see someone being targeted, I will step in.
If I hear a racial slur, I will speak up.
I will actively increase the number of voices of people of color that I regularly listen to - I will seek out blogs and twitter accounts that offer me new perspectives.
I will question myself on my actions and not just my intentions and take criticism with an open heart.

13 November 2016

Supermoon and contemplating order out of chaos

Journey of the Universe describes the evolution and unfolding of life on Earth as being “nested” in the larger processes that preceded and accompanied it. Trace the formation of the human back through Earth processes. How does this shape your understanding of the human story?

One of the things that most captured my attention and surprise in this week's readings and videos was the creation of the moon. They described how the moon was created because of the collision of a Mars-sized body into the Earth. Being molten, the Earth absorbed the vast majority of the body but a ring of lava formed around the Earth. This ring eventually cooled into a ball that we now call the moon.

And now, the Earth and life on earth is so dependent on the moon. Its influence on our oceans and bodies of water create a mutable edge between dry and wet, between sea life and land life. The moon reminds us of how much change can exist even in stability.

When I lived in Togo, the moon was a much more important part of my life. I lived in a village with no electricity - the silver light of the full moon meant that I could go enjoy the night market in the center of the village without worrying about stumbling home. It extended the day for those three days every month, giving us more work, play, study time before sleep.

Tonight is a supermoon. The moon orbits the Earth in an oval pattern which means that sometimes, the moon is carried much closer to the Earth than we are used to. A supermoon occurs when a full moon coincides with that close orbit. It means that to our eyes, the moon looks 30% bigger than it normally does. It's pretty magical. I remember one supermoon in high school that was so bright and gorgeous that my friends and I laid out in a grassy field just watching it for hours. (If you are in the Americas, you should look for the supermoon tonight)

I think that the formation of the human is fascinating to consider in the process of the formation of the moon. The destruction of the colliding "planetisimals" was the spark for the creation of the moon. There was no plan, but there was opportunity. It is similar for the creation of humans. There was no plan to create humans, but there was opportunity. Out of the chaos emerged patterns. In difficult circumstances, some life forms thrived and others did not. Eventually, the patterns brought forth humans.

12 November 2016

Artomatic 2016

Today K and I had a delightful suburban adventure. We decided to go out to an art festival called Artomatic. It's an annual festival that runs on the weekends through November into early December. It seems to be a place where anyone can display their art - in fact we saw at least two exhibition panels with art from local middle schools!

But before I get ahead of myself - on our way out of town, we realized we were too hungry to wait until we arrived at Park Potomac so I did a quick scan of restaurants along our route (there's this new feature on Google maps that is awesome) - and we chose to stop at Mrs. K's Restaurant and Barrel Bar. It is an adorable stone house that used to be a tollhouse in Montgomery County, Maryland. It was converted to Mrs. K's Tollhouse Restaurant in 1930. In fact, hanging in the lobby is a newpaper article from 1941 praising the colonial dress of the wait staff and delicious food :)

Our waiter did not wear colonial dress, but had a lovely little blue bowtie. The food, however, certainly lives up to the reputation. We had the Saturday two-course brunch - we both chose the Maryland crab soup for appetizer and I had succulent and spicy shrimp and andouille sausage with grits as my main course. It was such a delightful indulgence and set us up well on our path to the art fair.

K and I have been thinking about art for our home but had not yet picked out anything together, so this was our first opportunity. We discussed a couple of ideas - nothing too figurative, prefer colors that will match/enhance the color scheme of white blue and tan in our living room, etc.

Instead, we bought a gorgeous rainbow cityscape by Jay Yirenkyi!!!!

When we turned the corner and saw the piece, we both gasped. We knew instantly that it was the right piece for us and immediately emailed the artist. But then we pushed ourselves to continue walking around and look at the rest of the show. We took our time and sat down to discuss whether we were ready to make the investment and ultimately, made that choice and went to paypal! We won't get the piece until after the show closes in December but in the meantime, we met an artist named Cheryl Ann Bearrs who was so enthusiastic and warm that we were inspired to pick up a couple of her beautiful abstract pieces for our dining room.

There were a lot of beautiful pieces throughout the Artomatic - and because the show is uncurated, there is a huge variety of art, style, personality. If you're in the DC/Maryland area - go check it out!


11 November 2016

Happy Veteran's Day

Today is a very special day. It's an opportunity to say thank you and recognize the sacrifice, honor, and service of the veterans of armed forces. I personally have at least six family members who have served or are currently serving in the armed forces. It has been a huge influence on me personally and on the way that I perceive patriotism and service to country.  I'd also like to recognize the wives and families of veterans. You make just as many sacrifices and earn as much honor in my opinion.

Thank you for your service.

I have also served at an Embassy - and let me just give a quick Happy Birthday! to the Marine Corps - and worked with defense attaches and Marine security guards. Their professionalism, motivation, and job knowledge has always impressed me. I had the opportunity to help the MSGs at Embassy Beirut settle into the community by getting them out to meet youth, serve as real-life examples of Americans to the high school and middle school students that I worked with through our education and sports programs. Their diversity, loyalty and friendliness - not to mention their athletic ability - made a huge impression on the students. Some of these students are from areas in Lebanon where leaders are openly anti-America. This was the first chance to meet an American in person, not just see the hyperbole of reality television.
At the Independence Day celebration

Thank you for your service, not only protecting us but also reaching out and changing stereotypes.

Today is also an opportunity to seriously consider how we treat veterans of military service. It is an opportunity to consider how often we need to send men and women into danger. An opportunity to think about the consequences to the health, mental and physical, of war on entire generations of Americans.  And how much we invest to bring them back to health. It is so important to protect and defend the rights and recovery of those who have protected and defended us.

10 November 2016

Writing for other purposes...

I've been working on a writing project all day today that's separate from the blog, so I'm going to go ahead and cross-post it. This is a preview of an article that I am writing for State Magazine about one of the Ambassador's Fund for Cultural Preservation grants that I managed while I was in Lebanon.

On a bright sunny day in October, I was surprised by a brisk wind as I stepped out of the car in the Jabal Moussa bioreserve. We walked along a pressed-dirt path to the start of the cultural trail and as I turned the corner, the valley opened up below me - gold dust, green leaves, white stone. It was almost dazzling under the direct sun and I had not even reached the first astonishing piece of cultural heritage along this ancient Roman Road in the middle of Lebanon, the small country located at the intersection of the Mediterranean sea routes and the Arabian Peninsula.

Jabal Moussa, roughly translated as Moses’ Mountain, and its surroundings were designated as a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO in 2009 as part of the Man and Biosphere (MAB) program. In the Man and Biosphere program, Jabal Moussa protection combines human livelihood improvement and nature conservation by integrating natural sciences with education in social science and economics. The mountain has exceptionally rich biodiversity with at least 728 flora species, 25 mammal species, and more than 137 migratory and soaring bird species.  In 2012, the mountain was designated a Global Important Bird Area (IBA). And the valley of Nahr Ibrahim, also known as the Valley of Adonis, bordering Jabal Moussa to the North, is on the tentative list of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites. 

Jabal Moussa’s location and biodiversity meant that it was an important path and crossroads for ancient human civilizations. Jabal Moussa and the Valley of Adonis contain evidence of human history starting from the Middle Paleolithic. According to Dr. Myrna Semaan Haber, a Fulbright Scholar who studies biodiversity and conservation, “All civilization times are depicted in the valley allowing a complete sequence of human history.”  In 2015, Embassy Beirut was proud to grant funding from the Ambassador’s Fund for Cultural Preservation (AFCP) to the Association for the Protection of Jabal Moussa to preserve and protect important cultural heritage within the bioreserve. On that day in October, I toured the site to prepare for the Ambassador’s inauguration of the newly developed cultural trail as the final step in the grant.

09 November 2016

So surprised

Last night was very hard. I went through all of the stages of grief multiple times.

I was so incredibly, jaw-droppingly, mind-overcomingly surprised.

That is a problem.

How could I have been so out of touch with what 50% of Americans were thinking?
Frankly, I was surprised that it was even close in the lead up to the election. I still believe that Donald J. Trump is the least deserving candidate that I have ever seen. He makes Paul Ryan and Ted Cruz look reasonable. Just the other day, I was watching the documentary about Hamilton and saw Paul Ryan's contribution and I was so impressed with his intelligence and articulate speech.

I mourned most of today. I spent the day alone in the house listening to Rage Against the Machine and puttering about cleaning the bathroom and taking out the trash. It was a way for me to take back some agency, clean up some mess.

I am not yet ready to gird my loins and get out and be an activist, but I'm doing some self-care in order to get there.

Part of what I'm going to do is educate myself. I want to understand what went into the choice to vote for Donald J. Trump. Was it about change? Was it about hating Hillary Clinton? Was it about hating President Obama? Was it really about absolutely loving Donald J. Trump and his policies? (I find the last one the hardest to believe because he had no clear and consistent policy standpoints - but that's from my perspective, maybe others perceived differently?)

I really appreciate Tim Urban's blog "It's Going to be Okay" on Wait But Why and I recommend that you read it. He has taken more energy and time to put his thoughts together on the why, how and what's next.

08 November 2016

Not a post about the elections

I won’t write about the elections in this blog except to say - GET OUT AND VOTE! - instead I will respond to one of the prompts from JOTU course:

Does the discovery that we live in a constantly expanding universe change the way that you think about life on Earth? What questions does it raise for you?

Some of the science that is explored in this course has really blown my mind. I particularly liked Brian Swimme’s raisin bread metaphor to understand the universe expansion. According to Hubble and other scientists’ measurements, the universe is constantly expanding. In fact, every single point of the universe is the center of that expansion.

Think about that - each one of us, each planet, each star, actually is the center of the universe.

But how does that work exactly? Swimme’s metaphor helps us to understand: imagine that you or the planet Saturn are a raisin in an unrisen, unbaked loaf of bread. As the loaf rises and bakes, it expands. From the perspective of a single raisin, every other raisin is moving away, expanding away from the raisin. No matter which raisin you are, the other raisins are expanding away.

It is an interesting philosophical point as well. Think of all the controversy about changing the idea of the Earth as the center of the universe. Galileo, Copernicus, many other early astronomers faced derision, expulsion, and even execution because of their ideas that challenged the religious and powerful thought of the time. It is still true that the Sun does not revolve around the Earth, however based on this idea of expansion, it appears that we could actually say that the Earth is the center of the universe.

It also places the individual human contemplating these ideas in the center of the universe. What a concept! Recognizing how tiny we are while at the same time discovering our centrality.

Listening to: Spotify’s playlist Rock your Rights

By the way, I link frequently to Wikipedia. I think it’s a great resource, and I make annual donations to the Wikimedia foundation. I hope you will consider making a donation too!

07 November 2016

Phone banking

I should be posting a response to a Journey of the Universe prompt but I’ll put that off until tomorrow morning and instead tell you about my adventures working the phone bank for Hillary for America!

This morning, I drove K into work (there’s a Metro SafeTrack thing going on right now that has closed several of the metro stations between home and work). Of course, it’s Monday morning and with Metro closed, there are at least double the number of cars on the street as normal. What takes 20 minutes in zero traffic, took more than double this morning. Ugh.

On the bright side, I didn’t have to jump right back into traffic - I parked at K’s work and just crossed the street to the Phoenix Park Hotel to join in the phone banks.

Having done some house calls on Saturday, I was feeling more confident about picking up the phone but still nervous. What made it so much easier for me was that this is the Get out the Vote time - I’m only calling people who are registered Democrats and expected to vote for Hillary. My role is to remind them to get to the polls, inform them about what they need to bring, where to go, and help them make a plan.

The set up was minimal - I checked in, had a quick training and then set up my personal laptop, brought out my personal cell phone, and started dialling the numbers that came up on the program. I’d expected a fancier set up with coffee, snacks, stickers, etc. I was honestly pretty glad to see that they were saving resources and relying on volunteers. It felt really genuine.

We were calling folks in North Carolina today. I made my way through 75 names in just the 90 minutes that I was there. Of course, the majority went to voicemail, so I only actually spoke to about 5 people.

One of the numbers I dialed picked up after the first ring but no one said anything. I said “Hello?” paused and “hello” again. Then I went quiet and realized I could hear someone making a presentation about cell membranes. Oops! Must have called someone in the middle of class and they accidentally picked up in order to stop the ringing.

The people I did speak to were great: The woman who was undecided but grateful to know her polling place; The excitement in the voice of a mother who said she and her sons were going to vote together tomorrow; The young man who said he’d already voted.

There was a nice diversity in the volunteers - an older woman who came in just after me and had a beautiful speaking voice struck up great conversations as she worked through the script. A young man behind me had a British accent and smiled so big whenever a call got through. A black man around my age sitting across from me was in charge of troubleshooting, working with callers to resolve their specific registration concerns. A woman my age who brought coffee in a large mason jar that she explained was wrapped in the sock that her grandmother knit for her but was too big for her foot.

It felt so good to be a part of the group. And even better to see the large group of people just arriving as I left. I hope that they continue to be successful and reach out to empower people to place their vote.

06 November 2016


Get out the vote!

In case you hadn’t noticed, there’s an election on Tuesday. This election includes presidential candidates, of course, but there are also many state and local representatives and policies that we each have an opportunity to consider and weigh in on.

I’m a registered voter in Northern Virginia because that is my most recent official address in the United States. (I just missed the deadline to register to vote in the District of Columbia so I’m sticking with my Virginia address for this election.) I spent a couple of hours today previewing the ballot that I will see on Tuesday. You can do that too - just got to vote411.org and put in your address for personalized election information.

When you put in your address, the website will provide you with the address of your polling place, what you need to bring to vote (in Virginia, I need a photo ID), how to check whether you are registered to vote, and finally: a list of what races will be on your ballot.

There are 10 races on my ballot that include the presidential race, a congressional representative race, two constitutional amendments, the county board of supervisors, and school board, several local budget initiatives like selling bonds to build school and public transit infrastructure.

The website is great because it provides links to the candidates’ websites, link to the local government’s budget justification and explanation, and information from both the proponents and opponents of the amendments, etc.

For example, the Tax Relief Constitutional Amendment:

It’s non-partisan and informative. And it will help me keep my time at the actual ballot box pretty short because I’ve already reviewed the information and made my choices.

I made my choice for President many months ago. I support Hillary Clinton for President. I believe that she is intelligent, compassionate, experienced, and has proven her good judgment and readiness for the office. I will be very proud to cast my vote for her.

K and I volunteered as part of her “ground team” yesterday - canvassing local neighborhoods to help people make a plan to get to the polls. This is a huge opportunity and I want everyone to get out and vote. Even if we disagree about policies and candidates - I want your vote to be counted.  Take this opportunity to practice democracy rather than just benefit from it.

I have lived in Togo and in Lebanon where democracy is much shakier than in the United States. But the only way that we can ensure that democracy will continue to be strong is through our full participation. Voting, volunteering, speaking up about policies we like and don’t like, keeping our politicians accountable not just during the campaign but throughout their tenure.

Go Vote!

05 November 2016

Before the Flood

(oops! I missed a day already! but this post is twice as long as my minimum word count so that should help make up for it)

K and I watched a new documentary called “Before the Flood”. It was put together by Leonard DiCaprio and is currently streaming on the National Geographic channel and on YouTube.

It’s a documentary with a very clear message about climate change, humanity’s role in climate change, and practical ways that we can make changes in our daily lives and in our national policies in order to mitigate some of the changes.

In 2014, Leonardo DiCaprio was designated as a United Nations Messenger of Peace with a special focus on climate change.

As the UN website states:
“Messengers of Peace are individuals who possess widely recognized talents in the fields of art, film, literature, music and sports, helping to raise worldwide awareness of the Organization’s ideals and activities. Through their public appearances, contacts with the international media and humanitarian work, they expand public understanding of how the United Nations helps to improve the lives of people everywhere.”

The United Nations often appoints celebrities as messengers or unofficial ambassadors for particular causes. It is a time-proven way of bringing attention to an issue the the Secretary General has identified as important. Particularly if that issue is facing opposition and is in need of popular support to make a change. Angelina Jolie is another example, she was a Goodwill Ambassador on refugee issues for eleven years, from 2001 to 2012. In 2012, she was given the new position of Special Envoy for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Her frequent visits and vocal support for refugees and displaced people has arguably made a large difference in public understanding and sympathy for these populations.

Before watching this documentary, I was not aware that Leonardo DiCaprio was involved in climate change issues. His involvement in the documentary seemed a bit forced and like simply a publicity stunt. But one that I was willing to check out because I believe in the importance of bringing the issue to the public eye.

However, watching the documentary and learning more about his background, I discovered that he has been involved in environmental protection for many years! The Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation was formed in 1998 and has the mission:

The Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation is dedicated to the long-term health and wellbeing of all Earth’s inhabitants. Through collaborative partnerships, we support innovative projects that protect vulnerable wildlife from extinction, while restoring balance to threatened ecosystems and communities.

The documentary was well done in that it certainly pushed the crisis and consequences of our current state but also provided some concrete ways to make a difference on an individual level and then practical policies to advocate for on a national level.

K and I decided immediately to:
  1. Change our energy provider to a renewable energy source
  2. Cut down on our beef consumption - with a goal of only one meal per week
  3. Look for the possibility of buying a hybrid car (we’re currently in the market for a car, so this is a great criterion to add)

On the larger scale, many of the interviewees in the documentary spoke about the importance of public opinion - once public opinion strongly supports a move to environmentally friendly policies, our leaders will pursue them.

03 November 2016

Reflection on the beginning of the universe

"The first moments of the universe are a great blossoming of astounding creativity. Reflect on the beginning of the universe and its relationship to the world in which we live today. What part of this story of our universe’s emergence evokes awe or wonder in you?" from Journey of the Universe coursera MOOC

Honestly, the part that most astounds me is how we, as humans, were able to craft and test theories so profound about the beginning of the universe. The depth of inquiry and expertise at mathematics evoke such wonder in me. As someone who tends to participate in academics on the literature and language side, I am awestruck by even the questions. How is it that human intellect can observe enough to begin asking these questions. And then learn and know enough to devise methods to find those answers.

The first interview I had after submitting my resignation was with the National Science Foundation. They had an open position as a public affairs specialist. I was very excited about the opportunity and had a wonderful conversation with the hiring manager and another team mate. As we talked, I believe that I was able to meet all of their interests except on one front: I didn’t have a science background. I didn’t even really have a demonstrable interest in science.

They explained that although the job didn’t require an experience in science, they found that the people who really succeed and enjoy their positions at the NSF are people who have always been fascinated by science, who keep up to date on new discoveries, who have side hobbies on scientific topics.

I know now that I could have given several great answers to their “interest in science” question:
  • Work on sexual and reproductive health - I have five years’ experience!
  • Interest in nutrition and food production - working with rice producers in Togo
  • Climate change and environmental protection - did you know that I once had a singing gig on radio to promote recycling when I was a kid? Plus work on environmental protection in Togo
  • Investment in girls’ education, particularly in STEM fields. Admittedly, my role was to promote other womens’ interest in science, rather than my own but I set priorities for scholarships, grants, and exchange opportunities that focused on building up women’s participation in STEM fields.

Me (far left) with the TechWomen alumni who put together a Hands-On STEM project encouraging young high school students to mentor middle school students. (Notice my working gear earrings?!?) Album
What I’m trying to say is that I am very interested in science but I haven’t studied it; I do not have the deep knowledge to know how to ask these questions about the origins of the universe. But I love learning about it and I’m so happy to expand my understanding, albeit superficially!

I’ll end with a fantastic quote from Vera Rubin, an American astronomer who helped prove the existence of dark matter.

"In a spiral galaxy, the ratio of dark-to-light matter is about a factor of ten. That's probably a good number for the ratio of our ignorance-to-knowledge. We're out of kindergarten, but only in about third grade."

02 November 2016

I love learning

I love learning.
It makes me so happy. I love to improve myself, learn a new skill, get new knowledge, even if it means that I’ve been wrong before.

This is part of why I’ve loved participating in MOOCs. Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) were an important part of my work in Lebanon. Each semester, we selected a MOOC on a topic that is relevant to our audiences and then publicized the course, invited participants to fill out an application for why they wanted to join, and recruited an alumni or other expert to facilitate a live discussion to enhance the online material.

It was great - we did topics like Journalism for Social Change, Entrepreneurship, American Government, and of course, several topics to enhance English language teaching. By combining the online content with an in-person discussion, we were able to achieve much higher rates of completion for the MOOC and serve our additional purpose of building a network of engaged Lebanese. It served several goals on our part - first of all, to build the skills of Lebanese people in these areas, and second to promote American universities. Because, of course, all of the courses we chose were created by American universities. It was a great opportunity to expose Lebanese to lesser-known public or small universities and colleges that they might not have considered previously.

But our audience was not just university students, it included many adults who were interested in working on their English skills and re-engaging with learning.

There is no reason we should not continue learning well after university.

Since I’ve been at home, I have enrolled in three Coursera courses, but I’ve decided to focus on just one for the moment, so that I can really enjoy it (and take care of all the other chores and joys of life).

my MOOC companion, Ripken
I’m taking the Journey of the Universe course. It’s an integrated theological-ecological-cosmological approach to looking at the origin of the universe and how humanity has shaped our identity based on our understanding of our origin. I love it.

I’m going to use some of the discussion topics from the course as prompts for my blogging this month.

Here’s the first one:
The first moments of the universe are a great blossoming of astounding creativity. Reflect on the beginning of the universe and its relationship to the world in which we live today. What part of this story of our universe’s emergence evokes awe or wonder in you?

What would your answer be?

I’ll post mine tomorrow for November 3!