Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Dag, Writing my Butt Off

I realized today that I have blogged my booty off this month! I posted 24 of 30 days this month! I feel very, very accomplished. It wasn't until about a week or so ago that I realized I was really on a roll and then it was like a challenge to myself to finish off the month strong. One thing that helps is that Blogger lets you schedule blogs for future dates so it's not like I actually have to write a blog every single day. If I have some down time and am feeling particularly "writey" (like chatty but for writing!) I can write a few posts and schedule them for a few days in advance and that way if stuff gets busy I can still provide new content for my dear readers. So I know it's not a major post, but just thought I should take note of it.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Wannabe Winos

Ange and I have been trying to be wine appreciators for most of our relationship. Sadly we're both forgetful as hell when it comes to actually drinking wine. We will buy some wine for one reason or another and it will sit around F O R E V E R because we forget to actually drink it! Whenever we do drink a glass or two of wine we like it and it usually goes well with what we are drinking, which is why we continue to be wannabe winos.

Now this is not to say that we are wine enthusiasts and can tell the difference between a "good" wine and a "bad/cheap" wine. In fact, we don't really care if the wine is expensive or not. Sometimes we'll spend $5 on a bottle, sometimes $15. It's rare to go over $20 and we'd need a really good reason to do so. Sam's Club has a surprising array of wine choices, although they tend to have more "fancy" stuff that comes from abroad than anything else. We try and support Indiana Wineries as much as possible, followed by other US brands and rarely something that has taken a long voyage over the ocean. Just another part of our local eating quest.

Now this is not to say we are going to become wine enthusiasts and start going to wine classes or anything. We just like to drink wine every once in a while. Maybe it seems weird to want to cultivate a wine drinking habit since we are not really in to the "stuff" that goes with wine drinking, but that's ok with us. Partially it's because I don't really care about that stuff; I don't want wine-drinking to be a hobby, just something "fun" to spice up an evening every once in a while. Another reason that I'm not way into it is that I come from a family with a history of alcoholism. Not that I'm afraid that I'm going to become an alcoholic because clearly we are NOT in danger of becoming alcoholics since we more often than not forget to drink the wine. But I think when you've seen some of the really nasty sides of alcoholism you tend to seriously downplay the excitement of alcohol. I've never been a big drinker and have never experienced the "thrill" of drinking that many people do (in the US anyway). It's not that I don't drink and haven't drank to excess before but it's just not a big part of my life. So making a bottle of wine the focal point of an evening is unlikely to happen.

Anyway, Ange and I DID remember to have a bottle of wine this weekend and it was nice and it made me think about this blog. So cheers!

Monday, September 28, 2009

And then we cry?

Sometime earlier this summer my mom bought me a Chicken Soup for Pet Lover's Soul book at a garage sale. In case you didn't know, I'm totally a sucker for the Chicken Soup series. Something about sad/cute/sappy stories just get me. And clearly you know I love animals. So Chicken Soup about pets? Forget about it.

Like many things, I threw it in my backseat and kind of forgot about it. One Saturday Ange and I were driving to the Zionsville Farmer's Market and I for some random reason picked it up and was like "Hey, let's have a little read aloud on our way to the market!" Totally bad idea.

I start reading the very first story in the book and I only get a few pages in before I start sniffling. Ange is a little teary eyed but not as much as me. As the story progresses I start crying so much I can't even finish reading. Ange is dying to know the end of the story but I just couldn't do it. So she pulls off into a parking lot to finish the story and as she struggles to finish the story we're both crying our eyeballs out. The story was about a developmentally handicap boy who is homeless and rescues a dog. There are a ton of other little parts of the story that make it even sadder/sweeter but that basically sums it up.

So we're sitting in this parking lot, crying our heads off, and trying to pull it together so we can get to the Farmer's Market without it looking like we just got in a knock down drag out fight. After we finally pulled ourselves together we decided we should NOT read Chicken Soup for Pets in the car ever again, particularly if we'd like to not crash or sit on the side of the road like weirdos, and we are two of the most tender-hearted people on the planet. So ridiculous!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

True Story: I Was Majorly Afraid of the Dark

I really, really used to be afraid of the dark. Not when I was two, not when I was five, but until I was about 16 years old. I have a WILDLY overactive imagination and unfortunately was exposed to semi-scary movies as a child and I kid you not I really thought Gremlins were real until I was well into my teens. Ok, maybe I didn't really think they were real, but I thought the possibility of them being real was high. I thought that doing a few things would keep them away: sleeping with the closest closed, keeping my body covered by blankets or sheets at all times--particularly my feet, and sleeping with my door open and the hall light on AND a nightlight on in my room. When I saw Child's Play for the first time I had to banish my talking doll Pamela to the closet (that of course was closed at night so neither Pamela or The Gremlins would get me).

Mostly I was afraid of the dark because I didn't know what would be lurking in the dark. I felt like if I could see what was going on then whatever might want to get me was not going to get me. Nice logic huh? My fear of the dark was reinforced by my loving but also neurotic father. He did not like for us to sleep with our doors closed because he was afraid the house would catch on fire and we wouldn't hear the smoke alarm and would die in our sleep (he had a traumatic experience as a boy related to sleeping and fire). I remember being a kid and going to sleepovers and always being terrified when it was time to turn out all the lights. Gradually I convinced myself that Gremlins or talking dolls, or whatever else wasn't going to get me in a room full of other girls.

As I went into high school I realized that I needed to get over this fear and started trying to sleep with my door closed. At first I slept with the door closed and a nightlight on in the room. Then I gradually phased out the nightlight. It actually took a great period of time. First, my dad tried to thwart the process. He'd wait until he thought I was asleep and then he'd open the door (so I'd hear the smoke alarm), but usually I was not asleep or it would wake me up. So I had to tell my dad to knock it off. He did. After time I finally got over the fear and I haven't looked back since. Now that I think of it, that was some pretty good self-guided re-framing. At the time I was doing it just so I wouldn't be embarrassed that I had to go off to college with a night light.

The even funnier part now is that I loathe sleeping if there are any lights on at all. As anyone I've shared a hotel room with during a conference can tell you, or as my dear sweet lover can tell you, I go to great lengths to cover up annoying lights that blink or shine, like my DVD player power button, or when the curtains are parted just a crack. I'd prefer to sleep in the pitch black. Weird huh?

Saturday, September 26, 2009

I bit my tongue!

One of the greatest moments in sister history has been recorded for posterity (although I'm not sure where the tape is at the moment). The fact that it is recorded makes the whole thing even better. If I could find the tape and figure out how to turn it into a digital file it would soooo be worth posting. Hilarious!

So remember the Talk Boy? Made infinitely more famous by Home Alone 2?

Well Leslie got one for Christmas one year and one of the big bonuses from our point of view is that it had a little switch that allowed you to synthesize your voice. You could record it on normal and hit the switch and it would make your voice slower and deeper or you could record it on slow and then play it on normal speed and you'd sound like a chipmunk. So of course we spent hours recording ridiculous things; Leslie and Hilary spent considerably more time than me. They used to make up weird shows and interview each other. One of the most famous was "The Three Quarters of an Inch Show" (who knows what they did for that show...measure things maybe?" and "Dweebs and Geeks....Of California." I'm telling you, we're all weirdos. Some of our favorite family phrases (besides "And then we die?") come from the Talk Boy tapes. For instance "wacko y wacko" which was used to describe one of the character's behavior on "Dweebs and Geeks...of California." The definition literally was "when something is so funny you laugh and your head falls off." To which the reply is always " head's falling off." (Sisters, we really need to find the tape!). Another phrase is "And when he drives, he always crashes," which described the older brother's character.

So besides the ridiculous "shows" they recorded, the single funniest recording I've ever heard occurred on a random day at Grandma's house. Leslie starts off the tape singing Green Day and talking about how bored she is, which is hilarious alone, and then you hear Leslie asking Hilary to "name something you want to do" and then Hilary shrieking and crying at the top of her lungs. Now, Leslie's never been a very sensitive child, but the conversation that ensues is just golden.

Leslie: What did you do?
Hilary: Wahhhhhhhhhhhhhh
Leslie: What. Did. You. Doooo?
Hilary: (garbled) I bit my tongue!
Leslie: You bit your tongue?
Hilary: Wahhhhhhhhhhhhh
Leslie: Why did you do that?
Hilary: I was jumping off the slide.
Leslie: You're fine.
Hilary: Wahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh
Leslie: Oh shut up
Hilary: Wahhhhhhhhhhhhhh
Leslie: Ugh, SHUT UP
Hilary: EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE, Wahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh
Leslie: WELL, you shouldn't have been jumping down from there!
Hilary: Wahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh
Leslie: Ugh, I hit my nose and I didn't cry forever!
Hilary: Wahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh
Leslie: Ugh, well, you know you shouldn't be jumping down from there and it's your own fault!
Hilary: Wahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh
Leslie: Oh wah. Booooo hoooooo.
Hilary: EEEEEEEEE. Wahhhhhhhhhhhhhh
Leslie: Hehe! Cry for the live audience, right here on Talk Boy!
Hilary: Wahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh
Leslie: Thank you for your needs!

What I didn't mention is that this is all set on the chipmunk speed. So she's taunting Hilary with this tiny squeeky voice which makes it even more hilarious. Clearly Leslie was destined to be an elementary school teacher. Such sympathy.

It's cases like this where Hilary likes to remind us that we were jerks and that is why she gets grumpy easily.

And you know what we say to that?

WAHHHH, I hit my nose and I didn't cry forever!

Friday, September 25, 2009

You're gonna die...

In the spirit of the sister blog, I thought I'd immediately recount one of my all time favorite sister stories. The story actually doesn't really have anything to do with me or Hilary, but it does show Leslie in her shining glory.

In 1988 my parents rudely decided that they would be moving back to Indiana and therefore kill our glory days of sunshine in dear California. In preparation for the move they helped bring up the topic so we could all have lovely family discussions about the move and hopefully the transition would go smooth. Leslie was a little over 3 when this all was occurring and she also recently had been introduced to the concept of death and dying. Like many children she became fascinated by the topic, and actually began to be a little obsessive about it. Like a good mother my mom would discuss it with her and help clarify the concept while at the same time reassuring her in a simple child's explanation that only old people die so she didn't need to worry. But after several months of the death obsession my mom was both worried about her obsession and a little tired of the same conversation over and over. She discussed the matter with the pediatrician who reassured her that it was natural and that her obsession probably stemmed from feelings about the big move. He assured her she would grow out of it eventually and to just continue as she was doing. So she did.

My grandma thought my mom was dramatizing the situation more than it needed to, even though my mom tried to explain how creepy it was to have the little harbinger of death following her everywhere she went. Then one day we were all riding in the car singing happy children's songs (we sing a lot in our family) and enjoying a nice sunny California afternoon, when all of a sudden my dear sister pipes up with "'re gonna die." Now this was nothing new to my mom but it did startle my grandma. My mom gave her an "I told you it was creepy" look. And my grandma did her best to be positive and reaffirming "Yes Leslie, everyone dies." To which Leslie replies "But you're gonna die first cause your OLD," which sent my mom into a fit of giggles. Then my grandma grasped what my mom had been trying to tell her.

So what put an end to it? Was it my mom's patience and loving understanding of her child's fears?

Hell no!

One day when we were discussing the move that was now right around the corner my mom was talking to Leslie and saying "Daddy is going to go get a BIG truck and we're going to put all of your toys and clothes in boxes and put them in the big truck. And then we're going to drive and drive and drive and then stay the night in a hotel and then get up in the morning and drive and drive and drive and then stay the night in a hotel again and then get up the next morning and drive and drive and drive and then we'll be in Indiana!"

And Leslie says "And then we die?"

And my mom just loses her shit at the point and shrieks "WE'RE NOT GOING TO DIE! QUIT TALKING ABOUT DYING!!!" which promptly scares Leslie right out of that phase.

Apparently not all children can be coddled through obsessions. Sometimes you just need to freak out on them and that will do just fine.

And of course, because we are hilarious, one of our key phrases that still lives on to this day is "And then we die?" Even Ange has taken up the habit and sometimes I'll be like "And then we can go to the Farmer's Market and get some stuff" to which Ange will say "And then we die?" and we'll both crack up.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Sister Power!

If you are a frequent reader you've probably noticed that my sisters come up often in my blog posts. And that's because we're all besties. I always think it's funny when people comment about how close my sisters and I are, mainly because I couldn't imagine it any other way. That's not to say I can't imagine a world where other people don't adore their sisters or brothers because neither one of my parents are close to their sisters or brothers (and actively dislike their siblings in some cases), and in fact, I see more non-adoring siblings than adoring ones. But for me personally, I can't imagine what my life would be like without them. Even though I am the oldest and technically lived without any siblings for 4 and a half years of my life, I can't remember my life without sisters. Mostly it's because I have a crappy memory, but when I look back at my childhood most of my favorite memories (and certainly the funniest ones) involve them. I would not be who I am without my sisters, and probably even more so, without being the oldest sister. I can't say for sure how each of us would be different if we weren't born into the birth order we were, but I think where we were born into relation with each other has really shaped who were are as people.

Some of the things I like best about having sisters are the following:
  • I almost always have someone to hang out with. This has been changed somewhat recently by Leslie getting married and Hilary moving away to Michigan for vet school, but we still make time for each other whenever we can. And even when we aren't face-to-face we are still involved with each other's lives via phone, texts, emails, Facebook, etc.
  • I have a shared history with my sisters. Whether it is recounting old stories that are hilarious or being able to communicate in some shorthand kind of way it's nice to know that I don't always have to explain everything to them because they just "get it."
  • It doesn't matter what we do we always have fun. Whether we are watching a movie, going to Target, having study tables, or just staring at each other and laughing (in a good way!) I never feel like I'd rather be somewhere else. Even when one of us is crabby we can usually find a way to get out of the mood and still have fun. When I have to leave the company of my sisters I almost always feel a little sad. And if my sisters are hanging out without me I feel extra sad because I know they are having so much fun.
  • I know my sisters and I love and appreciate each other no matter what. Even if we make fun of each other or don't always agree on issues, I know that we love each other despite all of those other things. I don't think there is anything that my sisters could do that would make me love them any less and I feel like we are supportive of each other through good times and bad.
I think one of the most important things that other people need to know about us is that you better not try and divide and conquer us. I'm just going to put it out there: we're damn fierce as a trio. You aren't just going up against one of us, you are going up against three of us. I will karate chop you in the throat if you mess with one of my sisters.

Although not oppositional the next point is semi-related: I think that one of the things that our respective partners have to know is that you don't just get one of us with your relationship, you get all of us. I know that was one of the hardest adjustments for Clint when he married Leslie. He didn't realize the extent to which he was getting a wife AND two sister in laws. The relationship he has with his sister is no where near similar to ours so he didn't expect the degree that he would be intertwined with us. Ange learned and adapted more quickly than Clint, but I think it was still somewhat of a shock to the system in the beginning. Hilary likes to try and hide her romantic partners from us, but I think once she realizes that the benefits of having nosy ned sisters far outweighs the negatives she'll come around. She just hasn't met anyone we think is good enough for her yet, so hiding the losers away is fine. When she's met "the one" I think she'll realize that one of the qualities he exhibits will be a love of her AND her family. I can say this because I am the oldest sister and therefore the wisest :)

Anyway, hopefully this gave you a little more insight to my relationship with my sisters. I think I'm going to start posting some funny sister stories in the near future so hopefully you will enjoy them as much as I do.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Oooh, cool technology

I was flipping through some blogs and on the blog of a girl I went to high school with I saw this cool link to Prevention magazine's website and this neat-o techno app they have so I just had to try it.

The Weight Loss Simulator lets you put in your stats and change a little bit of appearance info in so you can see what your body looks like at current size and what it would look like at your goal weight. Of course it doesn't look exactly like me, but still cool and close enough to get an idea.

So here is the current, overweight me:
And here is me at my goal weight:
Ahhh...much better! I liked the visual representation. Maybe it will be a good motivator. It was fun to play with anyway!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Just call me Fat Fatty

Sad day for me. I went to the gyno for my annual check up yesterday and was reminded about how overweight I am about 85 times in 35 minutes. I mean, clearly I am aware that I need to lose weight, but I didn't expect to be so accosted by my gyno. I mean, it makes sense. I don't see my family practice physician on a regular basis...I probably haven't been to see him in about 2 years and the last time was just for renewing my migraine prescription. So she was just doing her job. I'm not mad at her, but I just didn't expect it and I would have been more mentally prepared if I had.

I've been meaning to renew my quest for personal health, and just haven't gotten serious about it. It's really hard for me to lose weight and I have to be pretty obsessive about it if I want to see serious change. I lost about 35 pounds about 4 years ago but I felt like I developed a very unhealthy relationship with food and working out and when I broke my foot (due to over zealous working out) I laid off it for a while. But I know that I need to lose weight and although it isn't harming my health at the moment, it will eventually so I need to get serious about it. I guess it comes down to either being unhealthy overall or having an unhealthy obsessive relationship with food and exercise. I think I'll choose the later. It seems the least damaging in the long run. Hopefully I can try and do it better this time, but we'll see.

And I'm totally kidding about Fat Fatty. I actually have a very positive self-image. I know I'm overweight and I need to work on it, but by no means is my self worth determined by the number of the scale. And I know that I don't need to be a stick woman and that Fat does not automatically equal unhealthy, but there is a difference between being pleasantly plump and obese. There is lots of research that supports that being very overweight is terrible for your health, particularly in the long run, so that is what my goal is based on. Getting down to a manageable weight that I feel comfortable with. I know I'll never be stick-stickly and I am definitely ok with that.

I had already scheduled a physical activity date with Alexis for Monday, so that was a good step forward anyway. I decided to call my mom and see if she wanted to join us. We swam for a little over 30 minutes. We decided that we'll swim on Mondays and Wednesdays, and I'll try and figure out some other activities the other days of the week (while appropriately scheduling rest for my body).

I also re-downloaded Diet & Exercise Assistant which is like an "app" for Palms (I just checked their website and apparently they have it for iphone and computers as well). It's a really good program that helps you track your calories and such. I bought it previously when I embarked on my last lifestyle change. I stopped using it when I realized that I was getting a little out of control with the whole thing. But I am gonna try it again and hopefully do a better job this time.

My goal is to try and lose 30 lbs. by the end of the year. That's 2 lbs. a week. It's a big goal but I figure if I don't challenge myself then I won't be as successful. I'd rather fail while working hard towards a big goal, then surpass a dumb goal. I can re-evaluate when needed. I'll be sure to keep you updated with my progress!

Monday, September 21, 2009


I was hanging out with my mom and sister the other day and we were trying to find a movie to watch, which is always difficult because we have such a wide variety of tastes. Getting two of us to agree is hard enough, but all three often takes a ton of negotiation. After we went through all of Leslie & Clint's movies and were underwhelmed by our choices we flipped through the On-Demand and finally just to regular old cable trying to find something. As we were flipping through we suddenly saw Outbreak, which used to be one of our favs. Leslie and I have seen it many, many times and spent much of our childhood shrieking "EBOLA ZAIRE! It's airborne!!!" We're spazzy like that.

So we settled in to watch Outbreak which we haven't seen in a while. It was just as good as I remembered it. I would say I probably haven't seen it in at least 5 years. Probably not since I have gotten my MPH. I never really realized it, but Outbreak definitely helped fuel my interest in public health. If you've never seen the movie, it's basically an action flick about public health. It centers around an outbreak of an emerging disease albeit with some grand Hollywood stuff thrown in. It's mostly epidemiology focused, which is not my focus, but it still was so interesting to me in terms of health related issues. It's interesting to think that even minor pop-culture related things can have an impact on your life. All I have left to say is...

"EBOLA ZAIRE! It's airborne!!!"

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Very Good Essay on Africa

I saw a link to this really awesome article on one of my acquaintance's Facebook pages about Africa. I think it is a wonderful article and it really sums up stereotypes about Africa, not just about in literature which is what the essay is about, but overall perceptions that many people hold in general. Not much else to say. Read it. Enjoy it. Think about it.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Going to the Chapel...

Ange's mom Debbie got married today, and naturally we were in attendance. It was a very small, private, casual only, about 15 people. It was scheduled for 9:30am in Bedford, IN which means we had to get up veryyyy early to make it on time. The wedding was very cozy and lovely and since it was a simple affair the entire ceremony was only about 7 or 8 minutes long. We all then went down into the basement of the church to have a little reception. Debbie's new husband Dave's family helped out with most of the food and decorating which was really simple but cute. Of course we forgot our cameras so we don't have any photos, so you'll just have to trust me on this one.

The cutest part was that Dave & Debbie had told the people fixing the food that I was a vegetarian so they made sure there were lots of veggie options for me and made sure to let me know. It was so sweet that they thought about ME on their wedding day. Like I mentioned before, being a vegetarian is something personal that I don't try to push on anyone, and that includes letting people know that they don't need to go out of their way to accommodate me and my eating habits. I can always find something to eat so I don't worry about eating whenever we're at a party situation. It's funny because everyone else usually worries about it way more than I do. My stepdad is notorious for this. Anytime eating comes up he's always like "WELL YOU'RE GONNA WANT SOMETHING VEGETARIAN" as if vegetarian food only comes in certain strange places. I've never been to a restaurant where there isn't some kind of option that I can work with. I know that he's just trying to be helpful but I really just want to be like "IT WILL BE OK SPAZZO!" Of course I don't, and instead try and explain how it's ok and that is not an issue. But back on track, it was really sweet of them to think of me and to make sure I had plenty of options at the reception.

After chowing down on the yumminess and taking lots of pictures we hopped back in the car so we could get back home in time to take a quick nap before Ange had to scamper off to work. Overall, it was a beautiful day spent with a beautiful couple. Congrats Debbie & Dave!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Mooing & Validation

So I have a confession to make. We don't actually have 5 dogs. We have 4 dogs and a cow. Our grumpy Dukey is secretly a cow dressed in dog's clothing. He has this habit of mooing. Sometimes he moos when his hips hurt, sometimes he moos when he's grumpy, and sometimes, like a baby who cries all the time, we have no idea why he is mooing and we have to try and guess why he's mooing. I think most of the time he just wants attention because if I give him hugs and shower him with attention about what's the matter he stops mooing.

A few months ago, the vet put Duke on a prescription pain medication for his bad hips. We'd been giving him aspirin but the effectiveness seemed to wear off after a while so we moved on to the next step. Since there are 3 adults in the house and we all have varied schedules we had to work out a schedule to make sure he didn't get overdosed with pain meds. When Ange and I are out of town Brian (my/our roommate) is in charge of the pain meds. When I am in town then I take care of it. Since I typically get up earlier than Ange I usually give Duke his meds before I leave for work or whatever. But his pain meds require him to eat or he'll get a little tummy ache. Most mornings he eats right after coming in from the morning potty break and I can give him his pill. But some mornings he likes to just crash out on one of the dog beds in the living room or go back into the bedroom and crash with Ange. On those days I usually leave Ange a note or send her a text message so she can give him his pill. This morning she was awake trying to win us a free trip to the Caribbean to see Dave Matthews Band from WTTS so she was laying in bed when I told her to give Duke his pill whenever he got around to eating. This increases the likelihood that she may forget to give him his pill. Because it isn't her regular duty on occasion she's forgotten (but not usually).

So this afternoon when I got home from work I was unloading and loading the dishwasher and I noticed that Duke was mooing a lot so I sent Ange a quick text:
Me: Did you give Duke his pill? He's mooing a lot and I didn't know if it was a pain moo or a dork moo.
Ange: Definitely a dork moo because I gave him his pill before I left for work.
I giggled and smiled when I looked at our text conversation, because A) it was completely silly and B) I thought about how it indicated that we are really becoming a family. Warning: I'm about to get all PhD dorky on you, but it's the way I am thinking right now so deal with it. A big part of my qualitative research methods focus on meaning making particularly in contexts of relationships. As I was giggling over our text conversation it naturally made me think about how Ange and I had created a shared space with common meaning and a particular language that no one else may fully understand or might think was strange. This to me is family. It makes me think about my "birth" family and how my sisters and my parents and I have these funny little quotes and actions that only we understand and how it might look really strange to the outside world, but to us it is normal and even charming to us as a family. I've seen my sister and her husband do this and I was always worried that I wouldn't have anyone to do the same with. I'm so glad that I have found Ange and we have created this same family ourselves and I'm really excited to continue building on what we have already established and look forward to expanding our family in the future.

Because my brain is spazzy and stream of consciousness like it made me think of an incident earlier this week that also made me smile for a similar reason. I came home to my mom's house after school one day and I saw that she had ordered a print of Ange and me from our Portland vacay getaway. She had it sitting on one of her black frames that had been hanging empty on the wall for several months. She slowly had been filling them up, first with pictures of my sisters and I, then with Dale and her friends, and some old pictures of her and her friends in college. She also added a picture of Clint and Leslie from last year's fall photo shoot. The fact that she had on her own printed a picture of Ange and I to put on her wall meant a lot to me.

Although I am completely comfortable being in a same-sex relationship I can't say that it is always the easiest thing in the world, mostly because of the outside world and society's constraints and expectations. Even when I know I'm in a safe and secure environment there is sometimes that little bit of apprehension that creeps in whenever I have to go into a new social situation and "come out" all over again. There is always that risk that someone is going to be horrible and do something heinous, and while it really doesn't bother me so much, it bothers me if someone would dare try and hurt Ange's feelings. She's much more sensitive than I am, and since I am very protective of her, anything that would possibly make her feel bad or uncomfortable makes me want to punch someone in their eye. So any time there is something really positive it makes it even a million times better. When you are used to being on edge because your relationship is not always accepted it's really nice when your relationship is validated in such positive ways.

In the past, I've only dated one person serious enough to bring to family functions and introduce as my partner. But overwhelmingly everyone hated her and so there were never any warm and fuzzy moments when she was around. Now that Ange is around things are very different. She is wonderful and likable and everyone gets along great with her. Every time I go visit my dad and stepmom or my aunt and grandma one of the first things they ask is "Where's Ange?" (well not if she's with me obviously--but when she's at work). It's nice to know that she is expected and even missed! When we were moving Hilary to MSU my dad said "Does Ange have to work that weekend? She can come and we can have a real family vacation!" It was so cute it made me just want to hug him to death. It makes me hopeful for the future and eases anxiety about when we decide to have children and how they will be accepted into our respective families.Our lives may not always be easy, but with loving and supportive families it will much easier to weather the times when people are being rude and demeaning to our family.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

"Luck is when preparation meets opportunity"

So I've been doing a lot of concept mapping this semester. I have one class that requires me to make a new concept map every week, and another class that it just helps to keep a concept map because it pertains to my overall research agenda. So as I was thinking of this blogs, a quasi-concept map just popped into my head. And now that I've just bored half of you talking about concept maps, I'll try and continue.

I've talked a lot about some of the life lessons I've learned and how people are often saying "You're so lucky!" to me about opportunities I've been fortunate to enjoy, so I thought it was appropriate to take a "big picture" view at my life up to this point.

So I set about concept mapping my (professional) life hitting the highlights and major points where I think that educationally and professionally I've seen intersections of hard work and what I am calling "God/Luck/Fate/What-have-you" or "G/L/F/W" for all of my readers from every belief orientation.

Take a gander:

Now this was really interesting to me on a variety of levels.

I first thought about doing it in response to the many, many people who are always telling me how lucky I am and how I've had so many great opportunities. I know that I have had some fantastic opportunities and there is a great amount of G/L/F/W that has come into my life, but like that great saying, "Luck is when preparation meets opportunity" I didn't just stumble into these awesome opportunities, I had to work really hard! Not that I am taking offense to anyone who has told me that, because that would silly since the people who say it are my friends and loved ones, but to me it feels just a little bit cheapened to NOT mention how much time and effort I've put in to make all of this happen.

But as I worked on my concept map I noticed something else. I noticed how three people really stood out as being absolutely essential in shaping my life. Before I go on and on about these three people, I have to of course say my parents and the rest of my family have had a big hand in shaping my life as well, but as someone said to me during a conversation on orientation "ice breaker" activities, isn't that what families are supposed to do? Sure, some people have families that totally suck and I'm sorry for those people, but in my concept of what a family is, your family is your number one cheering section. I'd be ranting about my unsupportive family if I had one, but since I don't, just be assured that they are a constant in the background and I have already and will continue to write more and more about my spectacular family (and my wonderful partner!) as my blog chugs along. So as I was working on my concept map I realized that three people have really been instrumental in shaping my life and they probably don't even realize it.

When I taught Stress Prevention & Management last year we talked about eustress and distress and how without sufficient eustress in your life you also fail to thrive because you aren't being challenged enough. Emil Nagengast is probably the first person that I met outside of my safe and cozy confines growing up in Indiana that challenged me to be a better person and put enough eustress in my life to push me to pursue goals I never thought I'd even dreamed of having. He has impacted me so profoundly that I can truly, truly say that my life would be completely different if I had not met him when I did. I've tried to tell him this on many occasions and I know he knows that I have this huge place in my heart for him, but I don't think words can really describe how grateful I am to have met him.

Another person that has greatly impacted me has been Michael Reece, my current advisor. In some ways Michael reminds me of Emil, but they are actually very different in a lot of ways too. Michael challenges me to think about research and my career in new and exciting ways. I think Michael has had an impact on me in a more indirect way than Emil and mainly it is because of their differences in personality. A lot of what I have learned from Michael has been through observation and modeling rather than direct advising and heart-to-heart conversations (which is not something we do). Michael has created the perfect space for hardworking and driven young professionals like myself to thrive and grow as researchers. I haven't yet told Michael how much of an impact he's had on me and that's mostly because I still work for him and A) both he and I hate ass-kissing and I think that any mention of how great he is would appear to be such, B) he isn't really touchy feely and would probably blow it off although secretly I think he'd enjoy hearing it...which leads me to C) he has a big enough ego already, so I'll just have to hold off on it and pepper it in every once in a while once I am graduated.

Finally, there is Mercy Obeime. Like Emil I find it hard to put into words how much this woman means to me and my life. There is a very large (and informal) "Mercy Obeime Fan Club" out there and sometimes it is so amazing to me that I can call her one of my very best friends in the whole world. It's like I am the President of the Fan Club or something. People sometimes are practically dying to get into contact with her and have her attention for a mere 5 minutes and it is a rare day when I don't talk to her via phone, email or in person. The funny thing is, she is normal and down-to-earth and wickedly funny so I forget that she's pretty much a local celebrity until I see someone going gaga over her at some public event. I guess that is how people who really are friends with celebrities feel, although I have to imagine it is slightly different because I think most celebrities are a little narcissistic and self-involved and Mercy is not AT ALL like that. Mercy has given me access to some of the most life-changing events in my life, has showed me indirectly how to be a very classy professional woman, how to live your life according to your values and dreams in a quiet yet passionate way, and overall has been an awesome friend. This short snippet doesn't do her justice, but I just can't seem to improve it right now.

This was a good exercise for me personally. It helped me to appreciate even more how well my life is shaping up. I think that when you are in the midst of something (like pursuing a PhD) you get bogged down in the everyday hassles of life so it was really good to take a step back and reflect. I'm really happy with my life and I hope I continue to stay blessed!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Next 2 Years of My Life (or so)

I sometimes forget to tell people things. Mostly it's because if I tell my sister a story more than once she screams at me and tells me that I'm always telling her the same story. SO sometimes I forget to tell people things because I'm afraid I already told them and because they aren't my sister they'll politely listen while in their head thinking "I ALREADY HEARD THIS LADY!" So this is my effort to keep everyone in the loop with my near future plans so hopefully nothing will be a surprise when it happens and you can't say I didn't tell you. Ok? Good.

So currently I am in my second and final year of course work for my PhD. I went for a year part-time before transitioning to full time last year. Our program is a 3 year PhD program where you do two years of course work and then spend one year working on your dissertation start to finish. So in theory my half year should have put me a little ahead and I could be taking it easy, but since workaholic mania runs in my family, I am instead taking more credits than average rather than less. Go figure. I can't help it! I like to learn! That is why I am getting a PhD.

So I will be all done with my classes after next spring (2010). I will then take and pass my qualifying exams (notice the positive thinking!) sometime in May or June. Hopefully by then I will have successfully written a proposal for and secured funding for my dissertation research. I will then present my Dissertation Proposal to my committee for approval, and in July I will be jetting off to Nigeria for 6 months.

Yes I said Nigeria, and yes I said 6 months, and no I am not crazy. I have a minor in African studies and my primary research interests lie in Africa-related issues around sexuality so I could not even pretend to call myself an African researcher if I had not "done my time" in Africa. Since I am most familiar and comfortable with Nigeria, and most of my interests lie in Nigeria specifically, I naturally will be doing my research in Nigeria. With this summer's fortunate meeting of the M's it also makes me feel even more comfortable about this quest and I hope to be enmeshed within the Benin City & the University community.

I will be in Nigeria from approximately right after 4th of July to right before Christmas. Since I get to control my research I also get to control when I go and return. I don't like missing holidays with my family, so other than Thanksgiving and my sister and father's birthdays I will miss minimal stuff. I will be in Benin working on my research and doing on-going analysis while there. After I return home I will spend the Spring Semester 2011 finishing my analysis and writing for my dissertation and then finally successfully defending my dissertation and becoming Dr. Briggs sometime in May 2011.

In the midst of all of the above I will also be looking for a job for after graduation. I will be setting my sights primarily on medium sized universities where I can have an emphasis on research. I'll be looking at large and small universities as well, and maybe even some non-academic positions but I hope to work at somewhere not too big and not too small and have lots of freedom to work on my research as I wish. We'll see how that goes. As far as location, I am not opposed to staying in Indiana completely, but I don't think that the outlook is good for job prospects. There are not many universities in Indiana that do sex-related research besides IU. It's not to say that if there were positions available I wouldn't apply, but the reality is, the chances are slim. Outside of Indiana I am focusing on the West Coast primarily and a few select locations on the East Coast and in the South. The rest of the country kind of sucks because it is either A) way too cold or B) way too far from a beach. Warmth and ocean access are two of my highest priorities. We'll see how it goes.

After that the picture starts to get a little fuzzy. I'm trying to take it a few months at a time and readjust as necessary. If there is a major change of course, you'll hear it here first!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Do U <3 Technology? LOL Me 2!

Through my two trips to Africa this summer I've fallen even more in love with technology than I already was. I am by no means a huge techno-geek...I mean I don't write code or need to have the latest and greatest gadget out there, but I have a deep appreciation and fondness for the advancements that modern technology has brought to us mere humans.

While some like to lament the loss of romantic ideals of yester-year, I have little time to live in the past because I'm too busy marveling at the present and future. Where some cry for the loss of process and caring of letter writing and cherishing the feel of newsprint in your fingers, I am celebrating the fact that I can communicate with a person in the middle-of-nowhere rural Africa by simply picking up my phone or turning on my computer. Sure it is nice to think about "the way things used to be" but I think it's even nicer to think about the tremendous advances that have been achieved because of technology. I am firmly Darwinist in this regard. If letter writing and newspapers don't' survive then it's because they couldn't keep up. Survival of the fittest man. While those things may have been nice, we shouldn't keep them around just so we can be quaint. If they have a purpose and can keep up with the times, then great. If not, see you later alligator.

Some of the greatest advances in development have happened because of technology. One of the first real uses of microcredit financing stemmed from financing. Women in rural villages were given small loans so that they could buy cell phones and pre-paid credit and then turned around and became the communication hub for their villages, thereby connecting their village to the outside world and making money to support their families in the process. Economic development plus gender empowerment for women all because of a cell phone. How can you bemoan the spread of technology when stories such as this are so amazing?

Think of all the people that can stay in touch because of technology. When people leave a village they can have better contact with their home communities and hopefully keep in better touch with their roots. Some of the projects we have going on in Nigeria with TMF would not be possible if we didn't have cell phones and email. We can be in touch and help provide healthcare services to people as if we were right around the corner. If we can't be there to help in person all we have to do is make a few calls or send a few emails and the care is there. Am I willing to give up the tactile experience of a letter for something this fantastic? You bet!

I think as technology evolves we need to evolve our views of meaning-making and connection. If you thought that the experience of a letter was so fantastic, surely you can an email just as good. If not, think of ways that you can supplement the email, maybe with a surprise gift or something. It's not emails that are to blame, but perhaps your lack of effort and creative thinking about ways to re-create the feelings and experience that you felt in writing and sending that letter.

I have lots more to say about technology but these thoughts go off in tangential ways so I will save them for subsequent blog posts. For now, I'll say, thanks for reading my technology driven blog post :)

Sunday, September 13, 2009

A Short Essay on Philanthropy

I have been thinking about this blog for some time. My call to action was an article featured recently in the Indianapolis Star which focused on the growing "problem" of panhandling at busy intersections of the city. (**Edit: the Indy Star article appears to have been removed, so here is something similar from WRTV albeit without the idiotic commentary) I have many, many thoughts on philanthropy as I am engaged in a gamut of philanthropic activities so this short essay is by no means exhaustive; it is merely a brief statement that I think is very current and relevant in these trying economic times.

Basically, it boils down to this. I think charity begins in your heart, and that it should be given without conditions and with full faith and goodwill. I will say, this applies mostly to small personal charity rather than larger corporate giving and the like. Clearly when we are talking about funds that reach the millions and billions of dollars there needs to be some oversight to ensure that charities and philanthropic organizations are making the best uses of their funds. But since most of us do not give in the millions and rather than in the dollars and cents I think the best outlook is the one I listed above.

While reading the above article in the Star I broke my personal promise and looked at the comments that you can leave on the articles. I've mentioned this before, but I really feel like that is the most unnecessary feature in online news media. I really don't care what "the common man" thinks about any given topic and I usually regret when I take a gander at them. Of course that was the case this time as well. Looking at the comments from my fellow Hoosiers I was struck by how mean and nasty some people are. It went from mundane comments like "Those bum should get jobs instead of standing on the side of the road begging for my hard earned American dollars!" to really ridiculous claims like "I've seen those lying wastes of society go from begging on the corner to walking to the nearby parking lot and getting in a brand new suped up SUV!" I very much doubt that that incident occurred, but was rather some made up claim to try and counter the "bleeding hearts" that dared defend these "bums." IndyStar commentators signify the very worst in our society and near cease to amaze me with how hateful people can be.

I have a little cubby on the left side of my car in between my window and steering wheel. I try and always keep a couple dollar bills stashed in the compartment in case I pull up next to a panhandler. Now in my case whenever I have pulled up next to a panhandler in my opinion they look like they could use a hand. I've never seen anyone who looks like they are getting ready to get into ANY car, much less some imagined fancy SUV. Sometimes I glance at their sign, but it doesn't really matter to me what their story is. Vet, mother of 3, homeless, down on their luck, I don't care. I can't think of anything more dehumanizing than standing on the side of the road and begging for money. I think it has to take an extremely humble person who's willing to lose all dignity to do that. I'm sure they get more hateful looks and shout outs than they do caring people. I try and pass them a buck or two if I am close enough that it is safe for them to walk up to my car. Sometimes I have to pull out change if I haven't restocked my dollar bills and I always feel bad about it. I usually apologize. I have never encountered anyone who has been rude to me. I am always encountered with somber eyes and usually a big "Thank You" and "God Bless." I never say anything more than a "You're welcome." I don't feel like I need to ask them any questions or give them any advice. What they do with the money is their business. Do I believe that every dollar I've given has gone to something "worthwhile" (money, rent, etc.) instead of something wasteful (alcohol, drugs, etc.)? No. Do I care? No. Do I hope that in some small way my few dollars have made their life easier and maybe a little less hard for a short bit? You bet. I can't even begin to imagine what their life is like. I don't know their history, their current issues, or anything at all about them except that there they are standing there next to my car. Even if they never think of me and my measly dollars again, I hope that just for a minute they realize that someone cares enough about them to not judge them, roll down their window and stick a few dollars into their hand. That might not seem like much, but I know that during times when I've felt down or when things have felt wretched it is the little signs of humanity that mean the most.

I believe that we should all strive to live as charitably and judgment free as possible. None of us are perfect and there will always been someone around to try and tell you who you are and what you are doing is wrong. Instead I would like to try and find the best in everyone and do things that I feel will build people up instead of bring them down. I give because I hope it will help someone out. If you don't feel like you can give because you do not want to encourage their behavior then that's fine too. Make your own choices. My choice is to do what I feel in my heart is the best option for me. I'm not doing anything heroic or life changing, but I do feel like I'm doing some small thing on behalf of humanity that matters.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Tornado Alley

Confession: I am terrified of tornadoes. Horrendously frightened. I blame my parents, naturally.

I grew up on the sunny beaches of California. Occasional earthquake, but those aren't so bad. And major ones occur much less frequently. Tornadoes on the other hand...happen often. And are all bad.

When I was jarred from my childhood paradise and plopped down into the lovely state of Indiana I was unprepared for much of the culture shock that was to greet me that first year. Besides being the new kid, I didn't have a lovely Hoosier accent, I had a slightly different vocabulary for many common words, and was raised in a much more liberal home and therefore saw the world differently than most of my peers. I was able to deal with those differences rather easily because my parents also raised me to be a bad-ass self confident child. The one thing that no one mentioned during this entire move was the dreadful natural weather event called "The Tornado."

So imagine my surprise/shock/horror when shortly after arriving in Indiana I was at school like a normal 3rd grader when all of the sudden there were these terrible sirens and the Principal came over the loud speaker to announce to the teacher's that we all needed to hastily move into the hallway and cover our heads in the standard tornado drill manner.

We then had to stay in that position for what seemed like HOURS. I can't give a good estimate because A) I tend to exaggerate when scared/overwhelmed anyway and B) I was 8 and a half. Long story short, a tornado passed extremely close to my school and pretty much could have killed us all. Not the best start for my new life in Indiana. Of course I was terrified and went screaming home where I'm sure my parents did their best to console me, but the damage was already done.

Whenever I hear those damn sirens it sends ripples of panic through my body. This sucks since the tornado sirens are tested every Friday at 11 am. Even though I know that they will go off at 11 am, every week, without fail for a brief second I am terrified. One time I was in a different state and their fire house used the same siren to alert their volunteer fire fighters. I nearly died when I heard it going off.

One of the things I was always really worried about is that I wouldn't wake up in time if there were a tornado nearby and I would wake up in the midst of it of it to see my dogs and everything else flying away. I don't know that I would actually ever sleep through a tornado especially since my body is programmed to panic mode, but still I worried. Then a few years ago they started coming out with affordable weather radios for your house. One day my mother and I were at Costco and as we were browsing around I spotted a super awesome weather alert radio that I knew I just HAD to have. Luckily it was right before my birthday and I begged my mom to make it my birthday present. After sighing and making fun of me she actually did buy it. Since I'm lazy and don't feel like getting my camera I did a little Google search and found one almost exactly like it. The only difference is that mine is bright yellow!

Yes it has a built in TV, a regular radio, the NOAA weather band, and a flashlight. It has an AC adapter, can run off of batteries AND has a hand crank in case you are without power for a very extended period of time. What more could you want??? Oh wait, any time the Weather Service issues a storm warning it sets off a loud alarm to alert you. Then you just flip on the switch and it connects you right to Norad Weather Forecast. I love that radio more than most of the rest of my possessions. I sleep with it right next to my bed. It makes me feel a billion times safer.

Which is not to say that I still do freak the hell out like a complete spastico. But at least I feel like I have a little bit of a safety net.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

On Being a Vegetarian

So I've been meaning to write a post on this topic for a while, but with TMF activities, work, school, etc. I just haven't had the time. In August I celebrated my 2 year anniversary of being a vegetarian. I was having a conversation with my sister and she told me that my brother-in-law had secretly thought I would fail within a year of embarking on my quest. They had recently had a conversation about it which is why she mentioned it.

I thought that was hilarious as A). I don't usually fail at anything I feel strongly about and B). I thought it was clear how strongly I felt about being a vegetarian. But the more I thought about it, I guess I could see how it may appear that I don't feel strongly about it. As I mentioned in my previous post about food, I think food choices and eating are very personal. By very personal I don't mean that I don't talk about it at all, since I do devote plenty of blog space to my and Ange's eating and food shopping habits, but I feel like if you come to my blog then you can choose to read about it or not. It's not like I am in your face telling you how I think you should eat or what I think about your food choices. Which is unfortunately how a lot of vegetarians or vegans choose to live their lives. Which makes me mad. It gives other people who want to make animal-friendly choices a bad name. I know that when I say I'm a vegetarian a lot of people roll their eyes and think "Oh she's one of those flaky, PETA fur-haters" and I totally am not. In fact, I generally loathe PETA. I think they are extremists and hate that they are the face for many veggie issues.

I actually wanted to become a vegetarian long, long ago. I think I was about 14 or 15. Now the one thing you have to know about my father is that a). he doesn't like shenanigans and b). you need to have a well prepared argument before going into battle with him. So when I was thinking about becoming a vegetarian I went to the library, checked out some books about it, prepared a nice researched argument. The other thing you have to know about my father is that he exercises he veto power swiftly and sometimes without merit. I didn't get a fair hearing, but like the Supreme Court there is no appealing the Gordo decision. So that was the end of that attempt.

I pondered the idea off and on for a while, and finally two years ago, right before I left for Nigeria I decided to take the plunge. It was a good time to start as I never ate meat in Nigeria anyway. Unlike in the US where we do a very good job of disguising our food from the source where it came, in Nigeria you can very much tell where the food came from. I realized that if it made me squeamish to know I was eating an animal that was probably a sign. So I made the switch and was on my way. You would think I might remember my last non-veg meal, but I don't. I think part of it was that it was a really last minute whim and part of it was that even though I had been eating meat, it wasn't a major part of my life. I lived partially vegetarian without much effort, eating mostly hamburgers and chicken, with the occasional meal of ribs or bacon.

In the two years that I've been vegetarian I've only eaten meat once and it was very much by accident. Long story short, an African friend of mine invited me over last minute for dinner, I didn't remind him that I didn't eat meat, and after he and his wife slaved over the stove I didn't have the heart to tell them I couldn't eat their ground beef stew. I ate it and was sick for the whole next day!

One of the most common questions I get asked is whether or not I miss meat. In general, no. I am happy being a vegetarian, and I wouldn't change that for any reason. However, I do have to say that the smell of bacon, especially this all-natural kind Ange has been buying at the Farmer's Market, smells delicious. It smells good, but I don't have the desire to eat it. The one and only thing I actually miss are pork ribs. Seeing them makes my mouth water. I don't miss them so much I want to eat them, but my God I do miss them. I think part of the problem is that they have no veggie substitute that comes close. Veggie burgers are reasonable facsimiles of hamburgers, veggie sausage is pretty comparable, but there is no replacing a rib. Morningstar Farms has a product that they claim are like riblets, but sadly they do not even come close. I'll just have to realize that they will probably forever be my temptation.

The other question I get is "Why?" People usually present an option "Is it a health thing or a animal lover thing?" and my usual response is both plus more. First and foremost is that I am an animal NUT. I love animals and I can't bear to eat them. I want to kiss them not grind them up and put them on bread. Secondly, I love the earth and the environment and being a vegetarian is good for the planet. Some people like to argue about this, but I don't feel like arguing about it, so check out this resource and make your own choice about it. Finally, I do feel like there are some good health benefits about eat vegetarian. I don't reap all of them because I still eat too much crap, but no one is perfect and there is still room for me to do better.

I'm really lucky to have people around me who do support me and my eating habits. Even my dad who was so resistant before always makes sure he keeps some veggie burgers on hand in case I need something when I'm over. And more than anything, my wonderful, loving partner supports my decision to be a veggie, and I am equally supportive of her decision to not be. Since she does almost all of the cooking she goes out of her way to make food friendly for me, which means she eats mostly vegetarian for many of her meals. If she's cooking for herself or we're out to eat she usually eats meat, but often she just eats what I eat. Just another reason she's the best.

So here's to year 3 of being a vegetarian!

Monday, September 7, 2009

The Picky Pants Family...

So if you've ever eaten with me, you've probably commented or at least noticed that I'm a little picky about my food. The funny thing is, I come from a family of the most picky eaters in the world and I'm pretty much considered the "renegade" food eater in my family. I'll try most things, and there are very few things I don't like.

I know it may seem hard to believe for some of you, but trust me, until you've eaten a meal with my family you've not seen anything. Both my mom and my sister top the charts when it comes to picky eaters. My mom has only a slight advantage over my sister, but not by much. My mom and sister like about 10 things each...maybe 15 for my mom. They like hot dogs, bologna, cereal, hamburgers, mac and cheese, and boneless, skinless chicken breast. You may think I am joking, but really, I am not. There are a few other things here and there but that's pretty much it. My sister does not like a single condiment out there with the exception of bbq sauce but only if it's been grilled on to the boneless skinless chicken breast, and that's only an occasional thing. No ketchup you say? Correct, she hates ketchup. Not even mustard or mayo? She'd rather die. My mom at least eats ketchup & mustard. Between the two of them I think they only like 1 veggie: corn. My mom likes potatoes, but again, Leslie would rather pass out cold then even think about eating a potato product with the rare exception of PLAIN potato chips.

Having grown up with them, it really doesn't phase me anymore. But it's also because of them that when someone calls ME picky I nearly lose it. I know it's all relational, but seriously, I like mostly anything!

The thing that really kills me is trying to go out to eat as a family. Leslie & my mom are the worst. Every time we say "Where are we going to eat?" they say "Oh wherever" or "You choose" as if they like to eat anywhere except for AppleBee's, Chili's, O'Charleys, Cracker Barrell, or Olive Garden. It's like HELLO??? You two are the ones who don't like anything. Why would you a) pretend like you don't care or b) act like the rest of us have some free choice where we want to go??? So my usual answer is something like "Oh, how about some Thai food?" which usually gets them to pick something. I accept the fact that when I go out to eat with them, we are going to go to some commercial restaurant and they are going to eat a hamburger or chicken fingers and I'll try and find something palatable to eat. Even if I think their eating habits are extreme, whatever, it's their choice and they can eat whatever they want. Just stop making us play the silly "Where are we going to eat?" game!

However, that brings me to the fact that I'm incredibly sympathetic to other people's food issues. I always try and be sensitive to other people, because even though it drives me crazy that my mom and sister are so picky, I know how hard it is for them to have to deal with the constant barrage of comments about their eating and how annoying it is to constantly hear about how picky they are. I think eating habits are very personal, just like religion and politics. In a future blog I'm going to talk about being a vegetarian and my personal thoughts around it. Although I'll go into depth about this in that blog post, the one thing I hate about many vegetarians is that they are constantly trying to make other people feel bad about eating meat. That annoys me to death.

In college my friends and I came up with a saying "Make your own choices" which was kind of our mantra throughout college and it worked really well. Even as good of friends as we were (and are still) there were still many differences in our beliefs, behaviors and thoughts about a variety of topics. "Make your own choices" was our version of "let's agree to disagree" with even less jerkiness. And that's pretty much the way I feel about food. I might not like what you eat, you may not like what I eat, but hey, make your own choices and stop harassing others about theirs. So that's my spiel. Try and remember this post the next time you want to harass someone about their food and/or eating habits. Some people find it very annoying and are tired of hearing it over and over. Make your own choices man!

Saturday, September 5, 2009

We're going to Africa!!!

As you know, I went to Senegal & The Gambia this past summer with my former prof/mentor/advisor Emil Nagengast and some crazy kids from Juniata College. I had a blast and think that Emil & I worked well together as a team. It was lightly alluded to that I may be asked to act as a team leader/faculty sponsor for the trip again. I mentioned it to Ange who pretty much said "YOU CAN'T LEAVE ME AGAIN SO SOON!" In addition, I will be doing my dissertation research in Nigeria next year which will mean I will be living in Nigeria for about 6 months. We flirted with the possibility of her coming with me on the Sene-Gambia trip if asked, but since no concrete offers had been made, we didn't delve too much into the topic.

So about a month or so ago, Emil sent me an email to see if I would be interested. There were some logistics to work out so it wasn't 100%, but he wanted to see if I was on board should everything work out. I said I was, but that Ange wasn't going to let me go without her and would it be possible for her to tag along? He said he didn't think it would be a problem, again, we could work out the details regarding additional cost, etc. but that basically if I was a go, she was a go. We were both brimming with anticipation, but trying to not get too excited just in case it didn't happen.

Well we finally got a hard confirmation that everything is a go! And now we're dying with excitement! I won't say who, but someone who may be a Sally Sensitive did get a little teary eyed over the news!

So we will be off to Senegal & The Gambia on December 30th and will return on January 14th. It's in the winter and slightly shorter due to Emil being on sabbatical in The Gambia for the spring semester. We'll all go together, and then I'll bring them back while he stays and waits for his family and the spring semester students to join him.

Also, did I mention we are flying through Madrid and that we have like a 10 hour layover? Which means we get to explore Madrid for a few hours between flights! How awesome is that??? We are just over the moon about this whole trip! Not only do I get to go back to Africa this year, but Ange gets to have her first international experience with me by her side! Awesome!

And I always feel like adding...this is why I've been working my butt off for so many years. Sometimes people say "Ooooh! You're so lucky!" and while I do admit that I *feel* lucky, it has taken a lot more than luck to get where I am. I busted my butt through school my whole life, went after opportunities like a crazy person, and volunteered and networked and did all that I could to get myself into the position I am now. So morale of the story to anyone out there who still has life in's not too late! You can still work hard and achieve awesome, fun, cool things! Whether you are in college or much later, you can still work hard to improve your life circumstances so that you can do cool things too. You just need to be determined and work really hard. Just another Life Lesson brought to you by Lindsay. Enjoy!

Friday, September 4, 2009

Portland: The Highs & Lows

Since I've given an overview of the trip and highlighted some of our favorite parts, I thought I'd give a thumbs up-thumbs down report of Portland plus a few travel tips in case you want to visit:

  • Beautiful weather--the weather was GORGEOUS the entire time we were there. It wasn't too hot and it wasn't too cold. It was sunny and lovely every day. It is a good idea to wear layers because you can go from slightly cool in the morning to nice and warm in the afternoon. We both had backpacks which were great because we could toss our long sleeves in them as the day warmed up.
  • Great public transportation & easy accessibility--the TriMet rocks. You can go so many places. One thing you may want to consider is whether or not to actually buy a pass. We didn't realize that many of the routes are free, and even if they aren't, no one checks your ticket. We never once showed our $22.50 a piece week passes that purchased. We felt good about supporting public transport, but it was still a bummer that we didn't really get our money's worth for the passes.
  • Lots of things to do--We hit the highlights and as you can tell we were pretty busy! 4 full days was perfect to get the highlights. If we wanted to get "more local" then we may have to stay longer. Any shorter and we would have felt jipped.
  • Beautiful Town--whether we were in the heart of downtown or driving around the state, the entire place was beautiful. Great architecture, very clean, etc. Visually you will be satisfied!
  • Bad food, hard to find good food--One of the things we were MOST excited about was all the good food Portland supposedly has. We read several blogs and articles raving about the emphasis on local, organic, good-for-you food. Well wherever it was, we didn't find it. Most of our meals were disappointing. We really wanted to try and find some good restaurants, but we usually just ended up in the first thing we could find after walking and walking for 20-30 minutes. If you are really intent on good food, I would take really good notes of places you want to go and making sure you have good directions on how to get there. We tried to find a few places and got hopelessly lost, but weren't really intent on going any particular place so that probably contributed to why we got crap food the whole time.
  • Lots of bums--There are tons of homeless, jobless young people. It's one thing to be homeless because you have really hit bad luck, or you have mental issues or substance abuse issues, but the majority of the homeless in Portland are 20-30 somethings. People who are perfectly capable of being productive. They looked like they just wanted to hang out with their friends, smoking cloves and playing guitar. You can't walk a block without being hit up for money. It got old really fast. Even worse was the number of homeless that had pets. I really wanted to punch them in the head. It's one thing to make the choice to be homeless, it is completely another to make a dog live like that. There were many dogs eating leftovers passed on as donations. I'm sure they don't receive proper vet care and they have to sleep outside on a leash 24-7. Of course you know I love animals so that really got to me. Practice your walk and ignore before you go. You'll need it.
Overall, even though the food wasn't what we expected and we were harassed a lot by bums, we give Portland a double-thumbs up. We'd definitely go back to visit, and it's now on our list of top places to check out when I'm looking for a job!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Portland's Saturday Market

Ange did the most research before we headed to Portland. Actually, I really didn't do any. Ange sent me some links but between Africa, work and Mercy Foundation activities I was just too busy to do much looking. Ange heard about the Portland Saturday Market and since we are on a major Farmer's Market kick we wanted to check out Portland's Market, which is pretty well known.

It was the first thing we did in Portland after checking into our hotel. The one word I would use to describe it is overwhelming. It is HUGE. There are probably 200 vendors selling a range of things from clothes, food, house items, art and other random things. We wandered around for a couple hours, snacking on various goodies, looking at the booths and buying Ange a snazzy "Local Tastes Better" veggie shirt.

Although we were overwhelmed by the size and activity of the market, I think it is definitely something you should check out if you are in town. It's open both Saturday and Sunday so there is plenty of time to check it out. The food was slightly disappointing. It wasn't terrible, but definitely wasn't that great. The best thing we had was an elephant ear! We thought that was pretty funny being from the land o' fried food. It was a great experience and if you are looking for some cool shopping you'll be all set.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

On The Road: Columbia River Gorge, Mount St. Helens, Astoria & Seaside

Our third day in Portland we decided to rent a car and explore the Pacific Northwest. We had looked on a map and saw that Mount St. Helens was only about an hour and a half away and neither one of us had ever seen a volcano so we thought we should take the opportunity to explore it! We also wanted to visit some of the very pretty and well-known waterfalls in the Columbia River Gorge and of course, how could we be near the Pacific and not visit the beach? So we checked out Google maps and mapped out a reasonable schedule to hit all three places.

We woke up bright and shiny early, got our showers, packed our bags for the day with plenty of supplies (towels, hiking shoes, flip flops, light jackets, etc.) and walked our two short blocks to Hertz to pick up our sporty car.

Our first stop was the Columbia River Gorge. It was so gorgeous! We first hiked/walked on a paved path around Wahkeena Falls. They were lovely and since it was early we avoided most of the crowds. The paths were paved and not too steep so it would be a good "hike" for just about anyone.

After that we hit Multnomah Falls which is the tallest waterfall in Oregon. It's was much more touristy than Wahkeena which wasn't the greatest, but the falls were awesome so that was a good trade off. It also had a very easy walking path so it would be a good place for non-serious hikers to explore. Below is just one of the shots from Multnomah.

After the Falls we set our GPS to Mount St. Helens and were off! We realized that Portland is much closer to the Washington-Oregon state line than we thought. We drove and drove and finally got to the Mount St. Helen's Visitor's Center. That's when we realized that the actual volcano is an additional hour and a half from the Visitor's Center. Oops. Well we had already made great time that day and thought it would be a waste if we came all that way and didn't see the volcano so we journeyed on. And we had the rental all night so who cared if we got back late?

There were lots of really cool little pull off places along the road to the summit so we got to see the volcano from a ton of viewpoints. Here's a shot of our cute little car at one of the stops.

The closer we got to the volcano the more excited we got! It was cool to see all the lava flow areas, and the way that 30 years later, nothing is still growing in the lava path. Here's a nice shot of my cutie with the mountain in the background.

Washington has done a great job of repopulating the area with wildlife and flora. They have a great sustainable forestry program and all the way up the drive there are little signs with what kind of trees are there, when they were planted, etc. Of course we couldn't get any really good shots of them because either there was no place to pull off or the trees were blocking good shots of the signs. We got this quick shot just to remind us of it.

When we finally got to the top of the mountain, we found out that we were supposed to pay $8 each to go to the observation platform. Well we had already seen the mountain from a billion angles and since we're cheap we decided to skip the platform and snuck our way just to the lower observation deck to take a quick shot. If you were going to spend more time there it would be worth it to hear info from the rangers and possibly hike around the mountain, but since we were just there to take a quick looksee we didn't want to expend $16. We high-tailed it out of there and drove back down the mountainside.

We stopped at the bottom of the mountain right before the highway to check out some souvenirs and grab a quick bite to eat. We chatted up the locals and decided that we'd drive along the river through Astoria and end in Seaside.

Our excitement was building since we are both fanatical ocean lovers. We made an impromptu stop in Astoria when we caught our first glimpse of ocean! We hopped out of the car amidst many Kindergarten Cop jokes and lifted our noses up to smell the sea air. Here's Ange soaking it all up.

We spent about 20 minutes in Astoria, although there are some cute little hotels and the town looked like it could be a nice overnight stop for tourists, and jumped in the car and pointed ourselves to the beach!

We finally got to Seaside around 6. We jumped out of the car and skipped our way down to the beach. We were sooooo excited! It was our first time to a beach together and we soaked up the love and happiness together. Here is the shot of us entering the Pacific Ocean together for the first time. It was FREEZING! I'd guess the water was around 65 degrees. Really, really cold.

There were lots of people on the beach, including lots of people with dogs. Of course we loved that being the crazy dog ladies we are. We even saw a German Shepard that looked like our little Stoney-boy!

There were some stoners that joined us on the beach. We knew they were stoners because A. we saw them smoking a joint when they were out in the water (see pic below) and B. no one but a stoner would have went out to their chests in that water if they weren't stoned. Seriously, I was a little fearful that they were going to get hypothermia and die.

We had so much fun walking around in the ocean and digging around in the sand. We just enjoyed ourselves and loved being in love at the beach! Ange was splashing around a bit and I snapped a quick one of her.

We decided to wait out the sunset because neither one of us had ever really watched a sunset on the beach, and for sure not with each other! It was awesome. Our last lovey-dovey shot at the beach below.

We headed out to dinner, which sadly, was the only disappointing part of the day. We happened to pick the crappiest seafood restaurant in the entire town. Oh well, the rest of the day was great so we just focused on that. We drove back through the longest, darkest mountain path ever. Finally got back to Hertz at 11:45. Walked back to the hotel and crashed into bed. Good times :)