About Paula Kiger

Wife of one, Mom of two, Friend of many.

To be a kid again

To be a kid again

Again

What wish would you make for a child who has come to mean something significant to you if the two of you were having to take your leave of each other after spending a year together, working closely?

One of my favorite young actresses, Cate Elefante, just finished her time as part of the Les Misérables US Tour. I have followed Cate since I saw her as “Little Lulu” in Waitress (December 2016). She and her family share generously on social media about her experiences. This has been nice, because I love all things Broadway, and it is fascinating to get a bit of a behind-the-scenes glimpse at how things work on a national tour.

Cate shared on Instagram the backstage festivities among the cast as she closed out her time. There is a point where Maggie Elizabeth May* is giving Cate a speech (it’s the fourth frame at this link). I saw this brief speech on July 28 when it was first posted, and I have thought about it so often since then.

“Most of these people have dreamed of being in this show since we were your age, but if we had a chance to do it all over again, and had a wish to be granted, we wouldn’t wish for one more show. We would wish to be a kid again. And that’s what you get to do and all of you guys get to go do. You get to go home to your garden, and your family, and your school, and your house, and you get to play the best role of all. We will have you forever in our hearts, Cate, but oh my dear girl. Go be a kid, and promise us to never grow up.”

I so envy people with acting and vocal chops. That’s partially because I love performing, and performing tends to attract audiences more when done by people who are good at it.

Although I envy people in theatre for their talent and their opportunities to perform so often, the other part of that life I’m drawn to is the togetherness and sense of unity. Of course I am sure there are dysfunctional casts/crews, everywhere from the 3rd grade end-of-year performance to the most popular shows on Broadway and the variations in between, but I think they are the exception.

Although I can’t equate my experiences as an extra and volunteer for FSU Film with theater, I suspect there are many commonalities. The sense of unity, the spirit of “let’s get this done,” the almost palpable love of the craft of making art is something I have rarely felt in other environments.

I did work with quite a few child actors in my time at the film school. I saw some truly remarkable talent. I don’t know that any of those kids stayed with it, but I often weighed in my mind what tradeoffs they were experiencing. Absences from school, being held to a strict work ethic, the pressure of being directed, breaks in routine. At what point did the attempt to reach the next level of acting success start to erode the benefits of a “normal” childhood?

I appreciate the adult actress acknowledging the tradeoff Cate and her family had made. The first time I watched the speech, I wondered what her finale was going to be. Would it be “I know you’re going to make it big someday”? “I wouldn’t be surprised to see you win a Tony when you grow up”? “Acting will never let you down”?

No. She reminded her that childhood is a precious gift. A gift that most adults who take to the stage nightly quite possibly would want to experience again.

When each of us adults is faced with life “on my own,” there are those moments when the lightness of being a kid again beckons.

Welcome to this week’s Five Minute Friday. Our instructions, via creator Kate Motaung: “Write for five minutes on the word of the week. This is meant to be a free write, which means: no editing, no over-thinking, no worrying about perfect grammar or punctuation.” (But I can’t resist spell checking, as you can imagine.) 

*If I have misidentified Maggie Elizabeth May, I apologize and hope someone will clarify. Thanks, prosopagnosia, for these little blogging speedbumps.

A Scientist Swallowed His Research and More: SmartBrief July 2019

Was July supposed to be a relaxing summer month? If so, I missed out on the relaxing. (I did sneak in a quick trip to Tampa to see Hugh Jackman in concert, though. What a treat to see such a consummate artist and spend time with a friend.)

July 2019 SmartBrief wrapup
A favorite image from my visit to Tampa.

I spent the rest of the month working as usual (and praying for our house to sell so I can afford to spend some time at a more laid-back pace during some future summer).

It’s a good thing I love working. July, as in all the other months, did not disappoint. We also created “best of” issues for the July 5 holiday. That was a fun project, and I’ll share a link to each one.

National Association of Social Workers

It’s no secret that homelessness is a chronic problem for many communities. The National Alliance to End Homelessness says 17 out of every 10,000 people in the US “were experiencing homelessness on a single night in 2018.” In the NASW newsletter, we shared the story of safe parking lots. Run by a nonprofit, these facilities on the west coast provide a safe place to sleep and access to social workers who help people living in their cars find stable housing. (As this post explains, the legality of sleeping in your car in public varies. The safe parking lots provide more stability and, as mentioned, case management that may help people find more permanent accommodations.)

I appreciate the creativity involved in this solution, and the effort to be respectful to the homeless people. Veterans are among this group, and they especially deserve respect and help.

This is the NASW July 5 “best of” issue.

Sigma Xi, the Scientific Research Honorary

A scientist reached conclusions regarding the possibility that Florida’s Tamiami Foundation demonstrates evidence of an ancient meteorite strike. He and his team reached this conclusion, because fossilized clams dating back to that period contained “tiny, silica-rich glass spheres” that most likely were created as the result of a meteorite.

Although the story was interesting enough, there were two things about it that stuck out to me and elevated it to my monthly roundup. First, the scientist said he had 83 of the glass beads and “just kept them sitting around in a box for more than a decade.” It seems as though this theme arises often in scientific writing. A fossil was in a museum for decades, then someone took a new look at it and discovered a species or made some other riveting discovery. Sometimes it just takes new eyes to make a discovery.

The second thing that resulted in a double-take from me about this story was the scientist’s description of how a paintbrush moistened with saliva is the perfect implement for picking these tiny beads up. (Can you see where this story is going?) “I did accidentally eat a couple of them,” he said. Bon appetit. Don’t eat your evidence!

This is the Sigma Xi July 5 “best of” issue.

BoardSource

All of us are imperfect at best. I admire people who make the effort to reexamine their own choices and to make choices that are more fair and accepting. Northwest Area Foundation President and CEO Kevin Walker writes about a story he used to tell from a humorous standpoint about a time he was detained briefly by Canadian border officers after a momentary decision that led him to be on Canadian property without going through proper procedures. Would he have been treated the same if he “were a person of color? An immigrant? A tribal member from Turtle Mountain instead of an executive from St. Paul?” Please read this important story to find out his conclusion. I have also added a link to my We have to talk about white privilege post, as I do with the pieces I find that speak to the topic of white privilege in a powerful way.

This is the BoardSource July 5 “best of” issue.

International City/County Management Association

The top story for ICMA in July was this July 8 entry about the $5,000 reward police offered for information regarding John Wooner, the McFarland, Calif., city manager who was missing. Wooner’s body was found July 28, submerged in the Kern River in his city-issued car.

I can see why this story was so compelling to readers. He had been missing since May 14 by the time we shared the story. There were concrete details (such as the fact that his last known stop was at his estranged father’s grave) and other squishier pieces of the story (had he been engaged in malfeasance?). From an editorial standpoint, I am torn regarding whether it makes sense to include an item about his body being found or if that’s more feeding a curiosity than giving readers closure. Mostly, I acknowledge that he has a family left with questions and grief. What a difficult summer they must have endured.

This is the ICMA July 5 “best of” issue.

UN Wire

I love El Salvador. Therefore, a story about a woman charged with murder after giving birth to a baby (who was either born dead or died after being born — the story is a bit unclear about this) she says was conceived during a rape. The story goes on to say that women who miscarried have been routinely charged with murder.

A dense story with much to consider, but this one left me sad and questioning.

UN Wire did not have a July 5 “best of” issue.

Reserve Officers Association

Stacy Pearsall is a veteran. She has a goal; she plans to take 7,500 pictures of veterans, covering all 50 states, by Veterans Day of this year. She started the project in 2007 as she recovered from a combat injury. “I want people to realize that in every uniform is a human being with a heart and a soul, people they love, history and baggage,” she says.

I love this story, and I especially enjoyed reading about Pearsall’s service dog, Charlie.

ROA did not have a July 5 “best of” issue.

National Emergency Number Association

I wrote in my June wrapup about the 911 SAVES Act, a piece of nonpartisan legislation that proposes to reclassify dispatchers from “administrative support” (a federal clerical designation) to “protective service.” This stands to make a big difference for dispatchers in several significant ways. The Act passed the House and is on to the Senate.

I have worked with this topic for almost a year now; I am convinced this Act is a necessary change and I hope it passes.

While I’m on the topic of NENA, here’s a story of why our town is so great (almost always). I love being able to experience the things I write about, not just read about them. I decided to do an Editor’s Desk video about the 911 SAVES Act. I contacted the director of the Tallahassee/Leon County Consolidated Dispatch Center to ask about making the video there so the background looked more realistic. I heard back from him within 24 hours, and within a few days got a tour of our center and got all my questions answered. The director even said, “here — make it in my office so it’s quiet enough.” I could not have asked for a more generous interaction. The video is still in the works, but here’s a screenshot. I *really* appreciate the gentleman walking by with EMS on the back of his shirt. It’s as if I planned it that way!

July 2019 SmartBrief wrapup

NENA did not have a July 5 “best of” issue.

While You Were Working

I had the opportunity to “drive the ‘While You Were Working'” bus for a week in July when our editor, Sean, was out. Because WYWW has a different vibe than almost every other SmartBrief newsletter, it is simultaneously thrilling (because we have more flexibility) and scary (because editing without guardrails feels so risky). It certainly helped that my week coincided with the Apollo 11 50th Anniversary (YAY SPACE).

I have a hard time choosing a favorite story from that week. The July 19 issue was fun in many ways. We shared that crazy “Cats” trailer that had everyone agog. My colleague, Cathy, debunked the idea that astronauts ate “space ice cream.” We covered joyineering (it’s a thing, at least for one father and daughter). And to cap off the Apollo 11 celebrations, I shared this memory of visiting the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building. Every astronaut who has lifted off from Kennedy Space Center walked through this door. I’m so grateful to NASA Social for the opportunity to visit and learn.

July 2019 SmartBrief wrapup

This is the WYWW July 5 “best of” issue.

Leadership

I had an opportunity to edit SmartBrief on Leadership for a couple weeks in July. This is my favorite brief to edit as a fill-in (and the most nerve-wracking). Although I do have favorite stories, I want to share something different — a feature we have added. I don’t know if it will always appear, but #FridayReads is a pet Twitter habit of mine, so I want to share!

In last Friday’s issue, for example, you’ll see the last item (except for the quote) is “What are you reading today?” Clicking on the item takes you directly to the tweet, and you can share what you are reading. I enjoyed thinking through the small details of adding something that looks so simple, but there are always steps in the process to check off the list, such as whether the image that has been chosen is a fit, who is going to update a nonevergreen item for future uses, and more.

If you don’t subscribe to our leadership newsletter already, please feel free to do so by visiting this link.

July 2019 SmartBrief wrapup

This is the Leadership July 5 “best of” issue.

Here’s another reason July was not “slow”

SmartBrief closed out the month of July with some big news. The company was acquired by Future plc. Learn more about the acquisition in this release.

How you, too, could stay busy with SmartBrief

I invite you to peruse this list of openings (3 are in DC, 1 is DC or remote depending on the candidate and there’s a part-time position). I wrote in more detail about my experience as a SmartBrief employee here, which may help answer any questions you have. As always, I’m happy to answer questions and provide more information about the process.

Here are the advertised open positions as of 8/8/19:

If you are interested in applying, please list me as your referrer (for the full-time positions) or email me so we can discuss further.

To Recap

To subscribe to one (or more) SmartBrief newsletters, including the “end of the work day” While You Were Working, for which I am a contributing editor, click here.

If you aren’t in a subscribing mood, you can still keep up with us on FacebookSmartBrief TwitterLeadership SmartBrief TwitterLinkedIn and SmartBrief Instagram along with Life at SmartBrief Instagram. (There’s also a SmartBrief feature at The Muse.)

Here’s to finding news (and career opportunities) that keep you informed, even when life is busy.

*Note: My opinions about the stories are my personal viewpoint; they do not reflect an endorsement by my employer.

Flash Fiction: Late-night Snack

Late-night snack

MIDDLE:

It felt like he had been asleep for hours. Ben rolled over, looked at the clock on his phone, and realized it had only been half an hour. Would sleep come again? He contemplated checking on the kids, remembered he had a monitor that would take care of that. He thought about reading a book, decided not to engage his brain that much.

A snack was always an option. Why did it seem to make sense to grate fresh parmesan at 11:30 p.m.? What happened to the days when dreams carried him until the sun broke through his window? The idea of freshly-grated parmesan would not let him alone, though. Is that what it comes to as one approaches middle age, he wondered?

Slip out of bed. Question his rationale. Open the refrigerator door. Grate cheese. Steal a few slivers. Dinner tomorrow night — which seemed a very long way away — would be pizza, clearly. As tiny feet approach, realize that the opportunity to sneak parmesan wisps with your kid may turn out to be the beginning of a favorite story.

***

This story was a response to the SITS Girls prompt, “Flash Fiction: Write a short story about a clock.” I’m also linking it up with this week’s Five Minute Friday, which had “middle” as its prompt.

I was also inspired by MicroFlashFic on Twitter, which I strongly encourage you to follow. Three stories a day, and I am often astounded at how much one author can pack into a tweet. The truth of today’s blog is that I couldn’t decide what to write about. I wrote about a heavy topic, abortion rights, last week, and I was eager to lighten things up.

I was trying to fit in the “middle” idea. I had read an article recently about team-building exercises. It described how a team came together more effectively by a structured exercise that involved pairs of team members answering progressively more self-disclosing questions (rather than something like mountain biking). I decided to use the 36 questions, find the “middle” group, and let a random number generator choose what I would answer. Believe me, when I got “How close and warm is your family? Do you feel your childhood was happier than most other people’s?” I knew I had not landed on “light.” That has to wait for another Sunday (or never).

I still wavered when I toyed with a flash fiction piece. I definitely have wandered farther and farther away from fiction as my writing has evolved. I had poked around the Curious Cat of the @MicroFlashFic creator, though, and was reminded: “The surest way to make yourself more imaginative is to make creation compulsory” and that “creativity is a muscle.”

It’s true, so I took five minutes to leave my real world behind and try to enter someone else’s.

<<This may be a good time to say I created a Curious Cat account. Not sure I’ll keep it, because goodness I have enough to keep up with already, but we’ll see. Here’s the link to my profile. Ask me something there so I don’t have a naked account!>>

Five Minute Friday Name

Abortion rights: 5 minutes, 3 choices, 1 result

A 19-item bulleted list containing fun things Margot has to look forward to, such as the prom and a trip to Hawaii.

The list is what appears on the whiteboard in Margot’s room in the film “Five Minutes” by Darby Wilson.

Margot’s list of important things rapidly shrinks to the one result she’ll find out after making a trip to the drugstore for a test, waiting five minutes and mulling three options.

It’s difficult to discuss further without spoilers, so here’s the 13-minute film.

Do our own stories matter when discussing abortion rights?

I saw a meme in May after multiple states had passed the heartbeat bills mentioned in the credits of this film. I wish I could find it, but its point was “Don’t assume your personal experience gives you any more or less credibility when you are telling me your opinion about this.” It was said in a catchier way than that, and had some colorful graphics, but hopefully you get the point.

*self disclosure warning ahead*

I don’t disagree with that meme in theory. Someone would probably take my advice to hydrate well and use sunscreen if the weather was hitting this week’s heat wave temps whether I could sign an affidavit confirming I had been dehydrated or sunburnt before.

It’s different, though, when the topic is abortion rights. I have had sex with one person in my entire lifetime. I didn’t have sex at all until I was 25. We used protection every. single. time. until we were trying to conceive.

I guess that could lead you to ask what I could possibly know about the fear Margot expresses in this film. I suppose it could make you doubt my knowledge base about the array of relationships, choices, temptations, mistakes, options, dysfunctions and satisfactions in the world.

While I don’t expect my children (who are now in their 20s) to make the same choices I did, it matters to me that my personal choices were centered around my individual conviction (which is one person’s opinion, not what I would ever impose on anyone else) that intercourse is as much about our minds and hearts as it is about mechanics. (It’s also, in my case, about how much of myself I give away emotionally; I know I am incapable of separating emotions from my intimacy choices. I didn’t want to put myself in the position of breaking my own heart.)

I also believe life begins at conception. I am sure it did for the two children I lost. But that doesn’t change how I feel about every woman’s right to choose to have an abortion.

While I believe the history I bring to any discussion I have about abortion rights matters, I also believe wholeheartedly that no woman’s life narrative takes away their right to make this legal choice, in a way that is affordable, safe and protective of their dignity.

The complex reasons behind abortion

First and foremost, abortion is still legal. If you are in a state that restricts abortion access, here are resources to help.

A study found “almost four” reasons, when the mean is calculated, leading women to decide to have abortions.

The top reasons include being unprepared financially, an unplanned pregnancy, relationship issues and the need to focus on existing children. The other reasons, and an analysis, are here.

In addition, reproductive coercion, which the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists defines as ” behavior intended to maintain power and control in a relationship related to reproductive health by someone who is, was, or wishes to be involved in an intimate or dating relationship with an adult or adolescent,” is a thing. Women or adolescents who have need abortions for a pregnancy related to reproductive coercion should be able to get them. Here’s more information about reproductive coercion.

Why I advocate to keep abortion legal and accessible

A few months ago, the University of Alabama returned $26.5 million Hugh Culverhouse Jr. (who is not a Democrat or Republican) had donated. Alabama asserts the returned donation (and the removal of Culverhouse’s name from the law school’s facade) were related to inappropriate interference on his part in university matters. Culverhouse says it’s because of his stance on abortion and his objection to a bill passed in Alabama that makes it a criminal act to have an abortion.

I am not in a position to figure out why Alabama made its choice to remove Culverhouse’s name, but I agree with him that “taking away a woman’s right to make decisions about her own body isn’t about politics … it’s an act of oppression.”

In closing

I don’t have to have chosen an abortion myself to support another woman. I don’t have to have experienced any of the four primary reasons women choose abortion. I explained by telephone how to use a condom to countless men over the first few years of the AIDS crisis without having any experience of sex between men (obviously) or how to use a condom. Hopefully, I helped them make choices that would keep them alive.

A wise Episcopalian priest once said to me (about an entirely different topic that was the most pressing issue in the national church at that time), “I am personally very conservative on this, but it’s my job to shepherd this flock through finding their way and making up their minds.” I wish I could convey his tone of voice, his intellect, his ability to separate the two things in a respectful manner at that moment.

In the case of abortion rights (and me), it all comes down to respect for the other individual, understanding that life is never one size fits all, empathy and respect for the law.

Abortion rights

A Few Notes about “Five Minutes”:

Becks Edelstein directed the film.

Megan Walsh was the cinematographer and editor.

Darby Wilson wrote it, in addition to playing Margot.

If the film inspires you to act, Darby suggests you donate (and/or volunteer) to Planned Parenthood or the American Civil Liberties Union.

The Eyes Don’t Always Have It

“Eye contact is a powerful force.” John Millen says this in Why eye contact matters so much.

Millen has a point. He explains the importance of making eye contact (for American culture) in presentations and face-to-face meetings. He also provides tips for improving eye contact skills, such as maintaining eye contact until you finish making your point.

Millen does caution against assuming all cultures value eye contact the same way. Eye contact in China is construed as anger, for example.

If I could sit down and talk about this article with Millen, these are the other considerations I would encourage him to make, however.

Other skills besides eye contact should factor heavily in hiring/promotions

Discussing people on the autism spectrum is a bit fraught, because every person with autism experiences life from a very individual perspective. However, eye contact is frequently an area where they may behave differently than neurotypical people. One study said, “first-hand reports suggest that simply avoiding to attend to the eyes of others is one common strategy [to avoid discomfort].”

Terra Vance of The Aspergian compiled comments from several people on the spectrum regarding their thoughts about not making eye contact. Here’s an example:

Because it’s as comfortable as pushing two polarised magnets together. – Shay from Portland, Ore.

Having difficulty making eye contact does not take away all of the other capabilities that make these people excellent workers.

In 2019, eye contact is potentially divisive

Watch the video of this 2015 traffic stop in Ohio:

John Felton, the Ohio motorist in the video, was driving to his mother’s house when he was pulled over by a police officer. Although the officer’s reason for pulling Felton over was that he did not apply his turn signal early enough, the officer went on to say his reason was really, “Because you made direct eye contact with me, and you held on to it while I was passing you.”

The CNN report says the two end up going to mediation rather than a hearing. I wonder how that turned out.

Besides Fenton’s situation, eye contact is often interpreted in different ways by different groups.

Writing for Facing History and Ourselves, Binna Kandola says a failure to make eye contact is a “micro-incivility” that makes a person “[feel] invisible and excludes them from the group.”

On the flip side (or at least a different angle), the National Review contends, contrary to Oxford University’s opinion, that eye contact (or lack thereof) shouldn’t be viewed through the lens of racism. “Talking to someone who won’t look at you is an experience that everyone in the world has had, regardless of race, and arbitrarily assigning racial motivations to something so universal isn’t going to help anyone,” writes Katherine Timpf.

Why putting too much emphasis on eye contact matters

Millen’s points were valid and useful. Like I said, the conversation needs to be extended to acknowledge the neurological factors that influence why we do or do not make eye contact, as well as the differences in how people of various races interpret eye contact expectations, especially in the US.

I am married to someone who doesn’t make eye contact especially well (yet has been successful professionally). My son wasn’t big on it as a kid; the expectations of educators and other adults that he do so seemed to place an undue burden on him. As a faceblind person, I have had my share of being misunderstood as aloof or forgetful because I failed to immediately recognize someone who had every reason (based on our past history) to think I would.

We understand more now about human behavior and the way the brain functions than we ever did before. We should use that understanding to bring more people into the fold of our organizations rather than close our eyes to their potential.

Beyond eye contact

Five Minute Friday: TAKE

Five Minute Friday Take

TAKE:

My children had birthdays recently. My daughter turned 23, and my son turned 20. Just like that, NO MORE TEENAGERS IN THE FAMILY.

This milestone felt so big to me. Not in a bad way, but in a reflective way.

The days between June 26, 1996 and July 1, 2019 were excruciatingly long. The years, as the saying goes, were breathtakingly short.

What does it take to make a young adult?

I put on “The Things We’ve Handed Down” by Marc Cohn to play for my five minutes of writing about being the parent of two non-teenager young adults. It’s the song we used on Tenley’s birth announcement.

Will you laugh just like your mother
Will you sigh like your old man 
Will some things skip a generation 
Like I’ve heard they often can 

I see the things we’ve handed down in our children, of course. So many times, though, I don’t think we handed them something but they came into the world with qualities that don’t come from anything we did or from any DNA we contributed to the process.

It’s hard as a parent not to worry about the wounds we’ve created. As I’ve said here on my blog often, I wonder sometimes what I did in overcompensating for the things I grappled with that will create my kid’s material for the therapist’s couch.

Ultimately I come down to: I did it all out of unconditional love. I don’t know if there’s anything else we can give a child besides that.

I suppose it’ll take a lifetime (theirs) to know.

Happy birthday(s), Tenley and Wayne.

Five Minute Friday Take

Welcome to this week’s Five Minute Friday. Our instructions, via creator Kate Motaung: “Write for five minutes on the word of the week. This is meant to be a free write, which means: no editing, no over-thinking, no worrying about perfect grammar or punctuation.” (But I can’t resist spell checking, as you can imagine.) 

June news developments that made me say “WOW”

When Hugh Jackman sang the opening notes of “You Will Be Found” at his show in Tampa Friday night, I knew I was about to experience one of my favorite moments of the evening. When he was joined by the Gay Men’s Chorus of Tampa Bay, I had the added thrill of knowing no one — in any other city where this show is performed — would see exactly this show. Although I’m not local to Tampa, I appreciated my fellow Floridians being a part of the show, especially fellow Floridians so supportive of causes that are important to me.

As I’m looking for a thread among my favorite SmartBrief stories from June, I am thinking about my experience at the show Friday night. It mattered that the organizers involved local people. It probably would have been easier to secure some more “generic” singers … someone to vocalize the lyrics and complement Hugh. But these people meant something to me.

The stories we choose at SmartBrief (and the way we introduce them to readers) should mean something. They should make them feel “Wow, I’m glad I opened this newsletter. I’ll not see this combination, presented in this way, anywhere else.

With that thought, here are my favorites from June:

BoardSource

What performer earns a pre-concert standing ovation before they’ve even played a note? In the 6/3/19 issue of the BoardSource newsletter, we shared a story about measures the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra is taking to deal with a massive budget shortfall. For example, the season is being cut from 52 weeks to 40 and the summer series was canceled.

The orchestra’s musicians have been protesting these cutbacks. According to this article, they received a pre-performance standing ovation, “a three-minute standing ovation at intermission and a one-minute ovation” that preceded an encore.

This is the announcement shared by Brian Prechtl, co-chairman of the BSO players (preceded by part of that pre-concert standing ovation).

The orchestra also added an unscheduled performance of “Nimrod,” which evokes loss, by Elgar. You can see a performance of “Nimrod” (not the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra’s, unfortunately) by visiting this link.

Sigma Xi, the Scientific Research Honor Society

I had a boss once (who is still a friend) whose philosophy was, “you can have any title you want. Titles are easy to give out.” Not to put words in her mouth, but I knew her and her management style well enough to know that the point was two-fold: 1) Titles are free … it doesn’t cost anything to give someone pretty much any title and 2) Your work product gives you more status than your title.

However, she never met Linda Lee, who is (wait for it) an environmental fate chemist. How great of a title is that?!

Linda Lee came to my attention because she was quoted in a 6/5/19 article about the possibility that per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) used in biodegradable materials may leach into compost. Once that compost is used by human beings, the PFAS could end up in our bodies and potentially create health hazards.

Admittedly, we talk often about PFAS at our house because of Wayne’s responsibilities at Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection. The term “environmental fate chemist,” however, has never come up. It seems so aspirational … that someone who goes into that field plans to make a difference. I’m betting my boss would have said, “sure fine call yourself an environmental fate chemist.” I’m glad Linda Lee is doing the work she is doing; all of our fates may depend on the work she is doing.

Reserve Officers Association

This article from the 6/10/19 Reserve Officers Association newsletter could be interpreted as a straightforward description of how National Guard members and reservists collaborated with local contractors in Hawaii to build a STEM building at a Girl Scout camp.

Although it is straightforward, National Guard member 1st Lt. Emelia Brooks, who was the mission-officer-in-charge, discussed how meaningful it was to be a leader on the project and a role model for girls and young women. She’s an environmental engineer, and she is usually in the minority as a woman at the workplace. She said her daughters think it’s cool to see their mom at the helm of this project.

“Representation is everything,” she said. She’s right.

June 2019 SmartBrief wrapup

1st Lt. Emelia Brooks, 138th Fighter Wing, Air National Guard and mission officer in charge of the Camp Paumalu, Innovative Readiness Training project FY 2019, oversees the construction of the project May 22 at Camp Paumalu Girl Scout Camp, Hawaii. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Louis Vega Jr.)

National Emergency Number Association

While we’re on the topic of Hawaii-based stories, let’s discuss this incredible story from the 6/27/19 NENA newsletter. You might remember the story of Amanda Eller, a hiker who got lost while hiking in Hawaii and was found after 17 days.

Searchers were able to be much more effective by using a digital map developed with GPS data to make sure they didn’t duplicate efforts and cover territory they had already covered.

“We never would have pushed out if we hadn’t searched the reasonable area first. There’s no reason to start reaching further and further out of the box if we hadn’t completely searched the box ,” said volunteer search leader Chris Bergquist.

Bergquist’s statement could also be a life metaphor BUT I digress! Thanks to technology, Eller was found and other people’s lives may be saved because someone put the research time into developing the tools to make it happen.

UN Wire

This story about obstetric violence faced by women in Mexico from the 6/17/19 UN Wire newsletter was downright depressing. There are very few examples from the story I can even quote here due to their grisly and inhumane nature. Women (and girls) who died during childbirth, were rendered infertile due to cruel practices, who had to labor with absolutely no pain relief are the examples given. Indigenous women and poor women are especially subject to the human rights violations.

There must be a way to do better.

The International City/County Management Association

I’m sure this is only the tip of the iceberg for this story. In the 6/21/19 ICMA newsletter, we shared the Philadelphia City Council’s initial response to Facebook posts by more than 300 of its officers that contained violent and racist content. The posts were discovered as part of the Plain View Project, which works on the rationale that such posts “could erode civilian trust and confidence in police, and we hope police departments will investigate and address them immediately.”

This type of thing must be such a moment of truth for a city council and city staff. It’s an opportunity to lead, and protect residents from inappropriate behavior on the part of law enforcement. The opposite, of course, could also happen (and undoubtedly has in many municipalities). I hope for the sake of the citizens of Philadelphia that the council chooses the former.

Note: I’m not going to share any screen shots from the database (it’s too sad and I’m not sure what the permissions are). I will say one post I saw was enough to make me click out: “Its [sic] a good day for a choke hold.”

Smart Cities

I wish I could give the “favorite story” nod to this story from the 6/26/19 issue about the Tallahassee/Leon County GIS  program that has completely digitalized the disaster recovery process since Hurricane Michael last year. I do love my home team, but there’s already the possibility of a tropical depression or tropical storm developing in the Gulf of Mexico, and I refuse to give the darn weather gods any ideas about testing out all these digital disaster recovery tools. No, just no!

Therefore, all hail the Creative Village in Orange County with its 5G internet connections and other gee whiz smart city components featured in the 6/28 issue. I honestly thought “maybe we should move there” as I was reading the article and editing the summary. Mayor Dyer piqued my interest with “incredible quality of life.”

National Association of Social Workers

I saved the story that was so personally gripping for last (and that’s saying a lot given the obstetrical violence and racist law enforcement posts above).

In the 6/7/19 NASW newsletter, we shared a public service announcement created by students at Rockford High School in Illinois. The mayor asked the students to make the PSA after seeing them recite “I Got Flowers Today,” a poem about domestic violence.

Watch it for yourself; it doesn’t need my words:

Note: If you’re in Tallahassee and in danger, please contact Refuge House. If you live elsewhere and need help for a situation where you are in danger, please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233).

June 2019 SmartBrief wrapup

Helping be a part of making people say, “wow” about their news

I invite you to peruse this list of openings (most are in DC, a couple are in NYC and there’s a part-time remote position). I wrote in more detail about my experience as a SmartBrief employee here, which may help answer any questions you have. As always, I’m happy to answer questions and provide more information about the process.

Here are the advertised open positions as of 7/7/19:

If you are interested in applying, please list me as your referrer (for the full-time positions) or email me so we can discuss further.

To Recap

To subscribe to one (or more) SmartBrief newsletters, including the “end of the work day” While You Were Working, for which I am a contributing editor, click here.

If you aren’t in a subscribing mood, you can still keep up with us on FacebookSmartBrief TwitterLeadership SmartBrief TwitterLinkedIn and SmartBrief Instagram and Life at SmartBrief Instagram. (There’s also a SmartBrief feature at The Muse.)

Here’s to finding news (and career opportunities) that wow you!

*Note: My opinions about the stories are my personal viewpoint; they do not reflect an endorsement by my employer.

Ration Challenge 2019: How Eating Less Taught Me More

My week participating in the 2019 Ration Challenge has come to an end. Here’s a look at the experience overall:

To recap, I participated in the Church World Service Ration Challenge, where participants eat the equivalent rations to a Syrian refugee for a week. The goal is to raise funds to support refugees, to raise awareness and to have a more personal experience of what refugees’ lives are like.

The Ration Challenge Food

This is what I was provided to eat over the course of the week:

15 oz. of rice (and I was permitted to buy 3 lb., 3 oz. more)

6 oz. of lentils

3 oz. of dried chickpeas

a 15.5 oz. can of kidney beans

a 3.75 oz. tin of sardines

I was permitted to buy 14 oz. of plain flour

I “earned” the right to use salt by sponsoring myself

I “earned” the right to use one spice through my fundraising efforts (I used garlic powder on the lentils the last day)

I “earned” 6 oz. of vegetables through fundraising (I used baby carrots because they were easy to spread out)

I “earned” 4 oz. of protein through fundraising (I had an egg)

I “earned” 7 teabags by promoting the challenge through email and social media

This is slightly rough math, but the calorie count of this ration week added up to about 3235 calories, an average of 462.14 a day.

This is me unboxing the rations.

These are my observations, having done the challenge, then returned to “regular” eating.

The things you think you’ll miss most may not be the hardest to do without.

As I wrote here, the Ration Challenge captured my imagination so quickly when I read about it on social media that I signed up right away without reading the fine print. The “fine print” included the elimination of coffee, sugar and alcohol. WHOA. I also suspected that this may not end up being a bad thing for my health and my crazily fluctuating energy levels.

I never got the dreaded “no-coffee” headache. I’m sure the tea bag I started each day with (and reused since I only got one per day) helped. Pre RC, I usually had two cups of coffee by 9:30, at which point I started on Diet Cokes (in my defense, my day does start pretty early!). I also felt desperately tired by the time my deadlines ended each day and needed a midday nap. Oddly enough, my energy felt so much more even-keeled during this period. I haven’t returned to coffee or Diet Coke. Not that I won’t ever, but this was eye-opening in a way I didn’t anticipate.

Likewise for sugar and alcohol. I may have “missed” them in a “that would be nice” kind of way, but I wasn’t preoccupied by their absence.

Wasteful habits are so easy to slip into.

My wasteful habits (which probably reflect those of many in our US culture) were much more obvious to me throughout the week. Leveling off a cup of flour, it’s second nature to toss the little bit that ends up on the paper towel. Rice grains that skittered across the counter suddenly mattered.

Besides the food waste, other types of waste were more apparent. Tear off half a paper towel to rest my spoon on while cooking. Grab another half paper towel to have if I need to deal with a small spill while eating. Snacks in a paper bowl. Plastic zipper bags used for storage and then discarded although they are barely dirty.

Wasteful habits are about more than food. According to the Mother Nature Network, “Discarded paper accounts for whopping one-quarter of landfill waste and releases significant amounts of methane (a greenhouse gas) as it rots.” I am sure this is an area where I’ll make progress rather than achieving perfection, but I am reminded to try.

Having plenty of clean water is its own kind of wealth.

The Ration Challenge week involved lots of clean water. Clean water to cook rice/lentils/chickpeas/flatbreads and brew tea. Clean water to wash my dishes and hands so I could have a sanitary cooking area. A clean place to deal with personal toileting needs so I didn’t get exposed to dirty water and its dangers. Gallons and gallons of clean water to drink to keep from being hungry. Refreshing ice to cool the water down and chew on to keep from being bored.

I don’t know much about the water situation in camps in Jordan, but I know there are tremendous challenges. This article notes:

Population growth in Jordan has reduced the average amount of fresh water available for each person to less than 150 cubic metres annually, much lower than the 500 cubic metres that mark water scarcity by United Nations estimates. The average water availability for United States citizens, in comparison, is more than 9,000 cubic metres a year.

Al Jazeera

Cooking is fun (but time consuming)!

I don’t mean this in a “Whee! Cooking is a blast” way. I am sure for the refugees in the camps in Jordan, “fun” is not the first word they would use. I had become disconnected, though, from the simple satisfaction of planning/measuring/cooking/tasting my food. Wayne, to his credit, does most of the cooking around here. He does it well, and I get to enjoy lots of delicious dishes. But I have always liked cooking, and this week reminded me of the enjoyment in the process.

The week reminded me how much I enjoy cooking, but it also reminded me how time consuming it is. Most nights, I would have to set aside a block of time to prepare rice for the next day and figure out what I could use from the limited rations to stretch out the next day’s food choices.

Many of us have a warped view of weight.

Think about this a second. I pay a company $45 a month to go to a place to help me figure out how to eat less (and move more) so I can weigh less.

Weight Watchers (which now technically calls itself “WW”) has proven itself to be an effective partner in achieving a healthy lifestyle for decades. I have participated on and off since I was 18. I was ecstatic to weigh in with a 5.2 pound loss for the week, but of course that was specific to the week.

What if the things our minds do to us about weight weren’t as bizarre as they are and I could spend that $45 on helping refugees (or some other worthy cause) instead?

Food scarcity is a danger on many levels.

I know it sounds obvious to say “food scarcity is dangerous.” But the value of trying to experience at least a bit of it myself made me think more deeply than I had before (and educate myself more).

I definitely became more aware of what a thin margin there is between subsistence and being on the brink of physical decline. I, of course, could have taken a break and consumed some electrolyte fluid or in some other way dealt with the effects of such a low-calorie life, but that’s not the case for refugees. Several participants chose to withdraw from the food part of the challenge and provide moral support instead, because the foods typical to refugee nutrition wrecked havoc with their blood sugar levels.

As Church World Service explained to us, the rations we got came as close as they could to approximating the same ration packages they distribute in the camps (with the obvious logistical challenges of dealing with a widespread group of individual volunteers).

The “real” CWS ration packs contain a month’s supply for a family of six, with the foods essentially the same as those we received. The difference, CWS explains, is “there isn’t enough money to give ration packs to everyone who needs them. Sometimes we can only provide 100 packs in a camp that needs thousands. Packs get shared, and many go without (committees of volunteer refugees help to identify the people in their community most in need, and priority is given to them).

This is what a “real” ration pack looks like:

2019 Ration Challenge Wrap-Up

The most accurate chroniclers of the refugee experience are the refugees themselves.

Maybe I am sounding repetitive, but I totally *get* fully doing this challenge is only a glimpse into the hardships faced by refugees. There were several people in our Ration Challenge Facebook group who either are former refugees, or who have worked directly with refugees. And their experiences matter most. My fellow challenge participant, Tonia, shared a picture of her fiance, Khalid, a Syrian refugee. This is Khalid:

2019 Ration Challenge Wrap-Up

Khalid

And this is Tonia’s message relaying his sentiments/story:

This challenge is very personal for me. This is my fiance Khalid. This is a picture of him sending thanks to everyone doing the challenge. He is a Syrian refugee. His home was bombed in 2012 in Al Rastan, Syria in the providence of Homs. One of his brothers was killed. Another one is in prison and the family hasn’t heard or seen him six years. Khalid had to have his left arm and hand rebuilt after he was injured by the bombing. He was lucky though as he made it to Turkey. He faces issues there as a refugee not being able to find much work being disabled plus he is now a man without a country. He cannot leave Turkey with just his refugee status and he cannot return to Syria. He wanted me to tell all of you “Very Thank You” for all that you are doing to help his fellow Syrians. He is very grateful that there are so many of us willing to help.”

People are so generous.

The US version of the Ration Challenge has raised $356,401, enough to feed 1,827 refugees for a year. The Australian version raised $2,222,245 enough to feed 8,108 refugees for a year. In New Zealand, participants raised $348,541, enough to feed 1,169 refugees for a year. And in the UK, the amount raised was £819,489, enough to feed 5,321 refugees for a year.

I raised $634.14, and I am beyond grateful. I appreciate, too, the shares socially, the encouragement, the people who simply asked, “What is this about?” They all matter; they all add to a snowball of hope that is going to turn into an avalanche of compassion.

A look back.

My pictures are pretty one-dimensional (how do you feel about lots of rice photos?), but here are a few memories from the week.

2019 Ration Challenge Wrap-Up

Because I made tea rather than coffee over the course of the week, many of my cups now have permanent tea stains.

2019 Ration Challenge Wrap-Up

I like the stain. It reminds me that an experience like this is meant to stay with me and not be rinsed away.

The Ration Challenge page stays open through sometime in August, so if you’re still interested in donating, here’s the link. If you think you may be interested in doing the challenge yourself next year, I highly encourage it and I’m happy to answer any questions you have. (You can also sign up here to get alerts from CWS to know when there are opportunities to call/email/text your government officials.)

2019 Ration Challenge Wrap-Up

Why in the world do you watch that?

WORLD:

I suppose this isn’t such a “closet secret” now that I am writing about it here (and I’ve written about it elsewhere), but my inexplicable junk TV go-to is “Keeping Up With the Kardashians.”

I realize most of you who know me will ask, “WHY IN THE WORLD?”

I don’t understand it myself, but here’s my quick explanation (not fact-checked by the way, just plucked out of my head).

I wish I could drop tons of money on a party for the most frivolous of reasons. Have a good hair day? Line up the caterer, STAT.

I wish I had that kind of platform. (And I am not discounting this blog and my social media presence, which I’ve cultivated for a decade now into a bit of a platform.) But a “get people like Alice Marie Johnson out of prison and meet Van Jones and truly give other people in need of #JusticeReform options and hope” kind of platform.

I wish, when someone was asking me a mundane question such as “do you prefer French dressing or thousand island” that I had full wardrobe and makeup for the vignette where I answer.

I wish I didn’t have to worry about money (or choose to) in the way I do.

Although I disagree with most of what they do (how they dress, how they conduct themselves, the excess of it all), there are a few things that show their ultimate humanity.

Their trip to Armenia and efforts to raise genocide awareness come to mind.

Kim’s desire to become an attorney (ridiculed as it is … what if she DOES and she DOES make a difference?)

*** end of five minutes ***

I often think of Kim’s second marriage (I think it lasted 71 days) and the THREE Vera Wang gowns she wore throughout the ceremony and reception. I think of how many people that money could have fed, how much is truly could have done. (My recent week doing the #RationChallenge makes that even more of a prominent question in my head, but it’s her money — I’m as irritated at the snubbed nose at the sanctity of marriage as I am about the money.)

I often think of the rather unsavory road that led to the Kris/Robert marriage in the first place. Who knew that could end up being a launching pad for an “empire”?

I also know I would hate the constant public attention. It drives me a little nuts when they complain about the pressure of the public scrutiny, because without it they would be just another extended family in California. (I do, however, feel for their little kids who have literally never known a life outside the cameras and weren’t given a choice.)

Besides the platform part and its potential to help causes with just the dial of a phone or the swipe of a credit card, I realize I have all I need even if I don’t have all I want.

I probably need to remind myself that platforms don’t have to be Kardashian-level public to be effective. Perhaps it’s not a matter so much of keeping up as it is of keeping on (doing what I’m doing).

Five Minute Friday World
Five Minute Friday Question

Welcome to this week’s Five Minute Friday. Our instructions, via creator Kate Motaung: “Write for five minutes on the word of the week. This is meant to be a free write, which means: no editing, no over-thinking, no worrying about perfect grammar or punctuation.” (But I can’t resist spell checking, as you can imagine.) 

Five Minute Friday: Question

Five Minute Friday Question

QUESTION:

Let’s talk about the questions we should ask to avoid getting into debt.

Knowing the prompt this week was “question,” I’ve been thinking since Thursday about what I would say.

I don’t want to overshare, and it’s a tad ironic that I am writing this when I am five hours away from ending the Ration Challenge, when I tried to understand what a refugee deals with (while also raising awareness and funds for the work of Church World Service).

But I have learned to write the thing that bubbles up the most, and here it is.

I would not face some of the financial worries I face in midlife if I had asked better questions years ago. (Again, my financial worries are minor relative to the survival challenges many people face, but they are my responsibility and responsibility is my deal.)

I wish I had asked in my early 20s when I took out that first credit card, “Is this necessary? Do you really know how it all compounds and adds up?”

I wish at several points in our dating, marriage, raising a family and midlife, I had asked more pointed questions about our choices. (And I am not laying blame here — we are both responsible, but I can only retroactively change one person’s choices — even if I only do that in my head.)

I wish I had asked more “what if’s.” What if someone gets laid off (which has happened to my husband twice? What is someone gets so sick they need almost constant care (which happened with my father-in-law)? What happens if a major issue arises with the house?

What if you sit at your desk one day and say, “I can’t do this one more day“? (Happened to me. Fortunately my current situation is a 180 degree opposite.)

Had I asked those questions then, it would be so much easier for the current questions to include, “Where will the next vacation be?” or “How much more can I give to a favorite cause?” than “How am I going to get out of this debt?”

Five Minute Friday Name
Five Minute Friday Question

Welcome to this week’s Five Minute Friday. Our instructions, via creator Kate Motaung: “Write for five minutes on the word of the week. This is meant to be a free write, which means: no editing, no over-thinking, no worrying about perfect grammar or punctuation.” (But I can’t resist spell checking, as you can imagine.)