Give the Gift of Opportunity this Holiday Season

festive snow xmasFor almost twenty years, I have directly served and advocated for children and families living in poverty throughout the US. I have watched parents struggle to simply meet the basic needs of their families. With other educators, I spent years discussing the “achievement gap.” Then awareness grew and we realized that this conversation placed the blame for low performance in schools on the students!! It ignored the structures within the educational, social, and political systems that created the conditions of oppression, which create barriers to success. More recently, the conversation has switched to the “opportunity gap.” This is a step in the right direction, however, frequently people are still not ready (or unwilling) to go deeper into this extremely emotional and complicated issue. Shamefully, in the US, it seems instead of working to improve educational equity for students of color, sexual/gender minorities, students with disabilities, and girls we are taking huge steps backward! Unfortunately, the problems of inequity and lack of opportunity are not isolated to the US.

People all over the world experience similar barriers due to poverty and lack of access to opportunities. Lack of opportunity to explore interests, uncover talents, or build social capital are all barriers to people reaching their potential. The inequity can also lead to poor health outcomes and higher rates of mortality. The more we unite and work together, the sooner we can remedy this inequity. With this in mind, and in in the spirit of the season of giving – we ask you to consider giving a gift of opportunity!

Experiences and opportunities can be life changing!!!

This year won’t you join us in giving opportunities

to those who could benefit tremendously from them?

We have carefully cultivated a list of non-profit organizations that we know do great work! We know people who work with, volunteer at, or have received services from all these organizations.

To make the donations stretch a little further, we will contribute one dollar for the first 500 donations received! We will distribute the money between the organizations. Comment on the event page and tell us who you donated to. You do not need to tell us the amount! Every donation counts, please don’t hesitate if you can give just a little!! We wish you all peace, health, and happiness in 2018!

A few of our favorite non-profits

Connecther elevates the status of women and girls everywhere.
Connecther invests in women leaders who are creating sustainable impact in their local communities and provides a platform for youth to tell their stories about critical issues facing women and girls through the Girls Impact the World Film Festival.” Connecther was founded on a few major principles (a), Women and girls suffer disproportionately from poverty, conflict, oppression and war, (b) By working to advance women and girls globally, communities will be elevated since women give back significantly to their families & communities, (c) We need to highlight & invest in women leaders from developing world communities to help scale their efforts. For every woman leader we invest in, multiple more are created, (d) Encouraging women’s access to space and voice is crucial. Connecther provides a platform for women & girls to tell their own stories.  Donate @ https://www.connecther.org/donate/index#cart

It Takes a Village Lakeside. Animals deserve opportunity too. This organization helps the street dogs of Mexico by providing medical care, spaying and neutering, locating “forever homes” and caring for ones that cannot be rehomed. You can read more about them in the story, Loving the Street Dogs of Mexico Donate @ https://www.facebook.com/ItTakesAVillageLakeside/?ref=br_rs

LGBTQ Community Center of New Orleans is dedicated to combating homophobia, transphobia, racism, and misogyny by supporting community-driven projects and organizations in the greater New Orleans area. They also assist homeless youth. Donate @  http://lgbtccneworleans.org/donate/

MamaBaby Haiti is a non-profit birth center and health clinic located in Northern Haiti. They provide a safe place for Haitian women to receive compassionate and respectful FREE prenatal, birth, postpartum, and gynecological care at the hands of skilled Haitian midwives. This care decreases their risk of dying from pregnancy and birth. Haiti has the highest infant and maternal mortality rate in the Western Hemisphere. In 2017, their Haitian midwives attended, 6,766 prenatal appointments, 587 births, 1006 postpartum visits, and 108 family planning appointments. Donate @ http://www.mamababyhaiti.org/donate/

Northwest Youth Corps Since 1984, Northwest Youth Corps “offers a challenging education and job-training experience that helps youth and young adults from diverse backgrounds develop the skills they need to lead full and productive lives”. They serve over 1,000 youth across a four-state region in the Pacific NW.
Donate @ http://www.nwyouthcorps.org/m/donate

Jazz4Kids & Jazz Scholars at Seattle Reparatory Jazz Orchestra(SRJO)
Music is powerful! Learning an instrument can help build self-esteem and self-determination. Low-income and minority students often do not have the same access to instruments or lessons as children from families with more resources. The Jazz Scholars program works to provide the opportunity of music to youth that might not otherwise have access to it. Jazz4Kids provides children and youth a rare opportunity to hear jazz performed live in a concert hall. Donate @ https://www.srjo.org/donate

Artist Trust Since 1986, Artist Trust has been supporting artists in Washington State. Donations to Artist Trust fund over $350,000 in grants to artists of all disciplines and thriving creative communities; produce 70+ programs annually on topics that ensure viable, sustainable careers for emerging and working artists; host low-barrier, responsive community events on topics from affordable housing and work space for artists to knowing your rights as an activist artist; pay fair wages to partners and teaching artists; and provide career opportunities for artists to connect with each other, as well as donors, collectors, and curators. Donate @ https://artisttrust.org/index.php/show-your-support/donate-now

Safe Place provides housing, healing, and support for individuals and families affected by domestic violence, sexual assault, and exploitation. The also promote safe and healthy relationships. Their services focus on both prevention and intervention. They are located in Austin, TX, USA. Donate @ http://www.safeaustin.org/safeplace/

White Bird Clinic  “is a collective environment organized to enable people to gain control of their social, emotional, and physical well-being through direct service, education, and community.” They offer Medical and Dental Clinics, Drug and Alcohol Treatment, and Crisis Intervention Services, Case Management, and Counseling. The majority of their services are also available to teens. Their mobile crisis clinic runs 24/7!” White Bird is located in Eugene, Oregon. USA Donate @ http://whitebirdclinic.org/donate/

Ava Snow Baby

Advertisements

Lessons learned from a year of family travel

01 Washington Coast 2017

Walking through our house for the last time, I felt excitement and trepidation. We were leaving the US with only a vague sketch of a plan – we would visit my mom in Mexico, I would finish my research project, and apply for a new faculty position. The position I landed would dictate where we would go next. I was open to where that would be and confident that with my education and research background an extraordinary opportunity awaited. What I didn’t anticipate was that even with a PhD and decades of experience, no job offer would come.

A false promise

As a first-generation college student from a working-class family,  I believed the promise I had been told. Education would guarantee constant employment and a higher quality of life. A doctoral degree was like a magic pathway out of poverty. I learned there was a caveat! At this point in time, careers in higher education are no longer guaranteed to even pay a living wage. Many positions are temporary or contract with no benefits. The competition for full-time tenure-line faculty positions is fierce. There are now more people with PhDs than positions requiring them. Perhaps, if I wasn’t as selective about where we want to live, I could have landed a position. However, one thing I have learned this year is that quality of life matters. Just having a job and merely surviving isn’t living.

Unexpectedly falling in love

14 Fisherman on Lake Patzcuaro 2018

The next surprise was that I love México. I was reluctant to visit my in Ajijic because no one in my family likes heat and constant sunshine. Not surprising since the pacific northwest is where we call “home.” However, while we wandered around México, we came across Pátzcuaro, a Pueblo Magico, high in the mountains where summer days rarely surpass 70 degrees, and it rains daily. The lush green landscape and cloudy skies remind us of Oregon and Washington. Yet, Pátzcuaro is also inimitably Méxican. The area has a rich history and unique artesian villages nearby. There is also a large Indigenous population, which has ironically helped me reconnect with my Indigenous roots.

13 Summer Solstice Ihuatzio 2018

As I type this, I hear a sound collage of my favorite rooster belting out his distinctive song mixed with music from a car radio, and an occasional church bell. I love being surrounded by a culture where hugs and kisses are a standard greeting, public affection isn’t shamed, and young people offer their arms to elders as they walk through the plaza.

17 Blue Corn of Corupo 2018

Of course, like any place else, México has social problems. However, I do not feel the anger spewing out of the drivers and people walking down the streets like I did in Seattle. The more money that came into Seattle, the more angry and entitled people seemed. Often as I walked to my office, I was nearly run down in the crosswalk (frequently by BMWs). Sometimes the driver would honk at me, even though I had the right of way and was in the crosswalk! I often thought, “If money was supposed to make you happy why were the people in their fancy cars so damn angry?”

In our new town, there doesn’t seem to be the pride of busyness like there is in the US. I previously received praise because I worked so much. It frequently took weeks for me to find time on my calendar to have dinner with a friend. In stark contrast, people here take time to be with their loved ones.

16 Cantoya Fest opening night 2018

The pace is slower. I have time to think. And time to sip my morning coffee while absorbing the beauty of the mist covered mountains outside my window – instead of pouring my coffee into a to-go container and drinking it while battling traffic on my way to work. When I think of where we should go next, I cannot think of any place I’d rather be.

11 Tzintzuntzan Yuccata 2018

A change of plans

We met a lot of other family travelers over the last year. When my dream faculty position didn’t materialize, I contemplated staying on the road and continuing the adventure. Maybe we should head to Europe? We could ship the van over and fly the dogs. We’d have to hustle to keep the money coming in. Lots of people do it though and generously shared their success stories with us. It seemed doable.

The more I thought about leaving México, the less I wanted to. Why? What else do I need to see? What makes my family happy? When are we at our best?

04 Pink Coral Sand Dunes 2017

When I moved into my last house in Seattle, it was supposed to be our “forever home.” I had moved 46 times in my life. I lived in every US state that I wanted to live in. I moved for adventure, education, and jobs. However, mostly I moved out of economic necessity. I was ready to settle down, nest and make a permanent home. When that was no longer possible, I made the best of it and worked hard to tap into my adventurous spirit. I had never heard the term “slow traveling” until this year. Since I have never lived in the same town for more than 5 consecutive years, I guess you could say I have always been slow traveling!

08 Oregon Coast 2018

Traveling full time turned out to be exhausting. Although being on the road with dogs is doable it added to our expenses. We also have special dogs. Our German Shepherd is a terrified rescue who doesn’t do well with other dogs. Our Basset Hound is becoming a grumpy old man who can’t keep up on hikes. Both are happiest when they have their own yard and comfy beds. They are family. Leaving them behind is not an option for us.

Communication is key

We also learned that whatever unaddressed issues you have as a family will be magnified 1000x when you are living on the road. When you are consumed by the daily grind, you can hide your issues and emotions. Often American families spend so little time together you don’t even notice what is going on with each other.

And now we are together 24 hours a day/ 7 days a week (no exaggeration).

One of our biggest mistakes was not talking about what traveling full time would mean for us as a family and how we would all get our needs met while on the road. I think we thought it would just work itself out. That has been far from the case. As it turns out, we each need incredibly different things to be happy. This wasn’t as noticeable previously because so much of our time was consumed by what we had to do. Work. School. Sleep. Repeat.

Stan and I routinely worked over 60 hours a week each. Now, we are learning how to be together all the time and what we want to do now that we have time to do it. It has been a steep learning curve. We haven’t completely figured out this new life, but I have confidence that we will.

12 Pink Coral Sand Dunes 2nd visit 2018

Road Schooling

The best part of this radical new way of living is having time and space. As an educator and advocate for student-centered, culturally relevant, and personally meaningful education, I feel privileged to be able to provide this for my son. The other night we went out to watch a metal band (my choice, not his). While listening to the band my son shared that being homeschooled allowed him time to figure out what he was interested in. He reflected that in a traditional school they tell you exactly what to learn and when to learn it.

“You don’t have the opportunity to figure out what you like or to explore topics that are interesting to you.”

Then he told me the six topics he would like to focus on next. I was so excited! I am surprised I didn’t start jumping up and down. This is EXACTLY what we (academics) teach about how to keep students engaged in their learning. We have known this for decades, but our approach to educating students hasn’t incorporated this basic idea – make school meaningful, culturally relevant, and interesting! My son was disengaged from school before we left Seattle. Due to his experiences in the traditional school system, he did not believe learning was fun. A primary goal of mine was to ignite his passion again and help him find something he loved and wanted to learn more about. So, although my education did not land me my dream job (yet) I am thrilled that my own son is benefitting from it.

Next Steps

10 The 400 steps to the top rim of a dead volcano in Patzcuaro

What’s next? We don’t really know. It has been a year of tremendous growth and uncertainty. There are days that I long for Seattle, being part of a research institute, and our friends. I remind myself that I actually want to return to Seattle circa 1995 and it no longer exists. We love Michoacán and have been embraced by the community here. We have been invited to be of service to the community. I have never lived anywhere where so many people have asked me to stay.

Perhaps this is my “forever home?” I really cannot say. For now, we will continue to accept opportunities as they present themselves and be open to living a life we never imagined!

We hope you continue to follow our journey, where ever it takes us.

Learning with Laughter

A few years ago, I was hired to teach a graduate level research course. I told the assistant dean, “I will make it fun too.”

He responded, “No need to go that far?”

I asked, “Why can’t learning difficult subjects be fun?”

He looked at me quizzically but didn’t give an answer. No wonder so many students think learning is boring. It seems deeply embedded in our psyches that it is not supposed to be fun and our educational system is set up to reinforce those sentiments.

Send in the clowns!

A Day Of Peace in Tzurumutaro 4

My family had the honor of attending a one-day peacebuilding workshop in the small village of Tzuramútaro in Michoacán, México. The workshop was led by Nano Lara la La and German of La Bufon SOS.ial. Their mission is to “entertain and help improve the quality of life for children and their families in communities of México’s trauma, natural disaster, and conflict zones. Through artistic workshops and clown shows La Bufon use[s] fun and laughter to improve the emotional and physical state of the children in these communities.”

In the workshop children are taught how they can tap into their Creativity, Compassion, and Courage to better handle frustration and conflict. What makes the workshop so outstanding is that the children have FUN while learning how to handle difficult emotions. Nano explained that since they arrive as clowns the children don’t feel the hierarchy of the traditional teacher/student relationship. This creates a safe environment where children freely express themselves.

Finding the strengths of the class clown

Nano and German were adept at identifying the children who were more precocious and would often receive the label of having “behavioral challenges” in a traditional school setting. The rambunctious children were seen as an asset to the group. Nano and German understood that these children could be counted on to lead in the physical activities because they were not afraid to seem a little silly in front of their peers. They craved the attention of their peers!!

While this “class clown” behavior often gets children in trouble at school, it was appreciated here. Therefore, there was no need for the behavior to escalate before the children received the attention desired. Instead, the attention seeking behavior was channeled to benefit the individual child and the rest of the group. This is a beautiful example of how you can redirect potential negative attention seeking behavior. (More information about helping children get their needs for attention met in a positive way can be found by clicking here)

I was fascinated by how the clowns skillfully utilized a strengths-based approach to working with children they had just met. Teachers often struggle with this and instead of utilizing student differences to the benefit of creating a positive learning environment they get into power struggles with children who are “misbehaving.” This ends up taking away valuable teaching time, can have a negative effect on the student’s self-esteem, and the student may become even more resistant to the material the teacher is presenting. In addition, the extra time given by the teacher to deliver consequences may inadvertently reward the behavior.

For many children, negative attention is better than no attention at all.  

Instead of going down that path, the “rowdy” children helped pave the way to silliness for the rest of us. And trust me, as a research scientist this was definitely a stretch out of my comfort zone. It is easy for me to understand how the children that were more reluctant to participate needed someone else to be set the stage for silliness. With children leading the way, I could not sit on the sidelines. I did NOT want to be the “bad” example.

A Day Of Peace in Tzurumutaro 1

Our day of Conflict Transformation

The day began with games that served as “ice-breakers” to help us all relax and become comfortable as a group. It also helped get the “wiggles” out before the children were expected to sit down and focus. I was impressed with how this fits so perfectly with what “we” (academics) know about how children learn best. I also noted how it is in stark contrast to how we actually teach in most schools.

A Day Of Peace in Tzurumutaro

The games incorporated:

Courage – Who is willing to stand up in front of everyone, be ridiculous or make mistakes?

Creativity – Can you play ping pong without a net or ball? Including sound effects?

A Day Of Peace in Tzurumutaro

Nano then led a discussion about Compassion. Allowing space for the children to provide their own definitions and time for them to work in teams to write about how they used compassion in their lives.

A Day Of Peace in Tzurumutaro 5

For some children, the tasks of sitting and writing were more challenging, but they received support from Nano, German, and volunteers. This enabled all children to feel successful.

A Day Of Peace in Tzurumutaro

After the structured learning period, where the children were more likely to experience strong emotions, we went back to fun and games. Nano explained that it was important for the children to leave the day feeling good. To this end, Nano and German invited us all to try our luck walking the tightrope. Then, they performed for us – putting smiles on our faces and filling the air with laughter.

A Day Of Peace in Tzurumutaro 4

Traveling clowns creating a Culture of Peace

Our one-day session was only a teaser of the weeklong workshop they generally provide.  La Bufon S.O.S ial has been traveling around México and Columbia with the intention of creating a Culture of Peace.

I had the opportunity to drop in on another workshop they were giving in Pátzcuaro. This time the youth were older and therefore some of the projects were more complicated. I only got to spend about a half-hour with the youth but they were excited to show me what they were working on. I saw in them confidence, pride, and joy. I look forward to learning more from La Bufon SOS.ial about how we can build a more peaceful world and bring joy to children while we are teaching.

You can also learn more about their incredible work by following them on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/labufonsosial/ or on the Children’s Space Theatre website!

10 Favorite things about Ajijic, Mexico

After spending over four months near Lake Chapala, it is time to move on. We will definitely be back but we can’t leave without giving a shout out to the places, restaurants, and small businesses we will miss the most. If you visit Ajijic, we hope you enjoy our favorites as much as we did!

Restaurants.

Restaurant Las Gaviotas

Las Gaviotas RestaurantGrab a table right next to the lake and enjoy watching herons and pelicans enjoy their dinner – as you enjoy yours. Favorite eats here include the Fish or Shrimp Ceviche and the Queso con Chorizo! This was also one of the few restaurants lakeside that served salsa spicy enough to please our family! We preferred to go in the late afternoon to avoid crowds, but if you are looking for a more festive environment you might prefer going for dinner.

Smokehouse

The Head Chef at The Smoke HouseSmokehouse serves up the most tender and tasty brisket I have ever had! The hamburgers are the best in the area (according to my teen, so it must be true). The ribs fall from the bone to the delight of your anxiously awaiting taste buds. The sides are delicious and include favorites from North of the Border – onion rings, coleslaw, and potato salad. Daily specials, including all you can eat ribs on Thursdays, are not to be missed. The large patio is dog- friendly! (The street dogs also know this is a great place to get some dinner)

Tepetate

Tepetate PianHeading out for Thai food might not be the first thing that comes to mind when you’re in Ajijic, but Tepetate offers some of the most authentic Thai food I have had outside of Thailand. The restaurant features all the classic dishes like Phad Thai, a variety of Curries, and Coconut Shrimp. The owner is from Bangkok and the spiciness goes from 1-10.

Small businesses.

Productos de Cabra Galo de Allende

Galo de Allende Goat FarmWe cannot speak highly enough of our friends Juan Diego and Laura – and the amazing products they produce. Their goat milk, yogurt (greek and regular), and soaps are some of the reasons it was hard to say farewell to Ajijic. You can find them at the Tuesday organic market and the Wednesday Ajijic market. Laura and Juan Diego also give tours of their goat farm. Read about our visit to their farm here!

Coffee from Veracruz

Francisco CoffeeMy mother tipped us off about amazing coffee from Vera Cruz sold out of a truck on the Carretera (aka- the main drag in Ajijic). If you see this truck, stop immediately. Not only is this some of the outstanding coffee you’ll ever have, Francisco is incredibly kind. His family grows the coffee and he drives back and forth to Vera Cruz to sell it directly to the consumer. No corporations involved! He will even hand grind the coffee for you if you don’t have your own grinder. We bought 3 kilos when we left for our trip back to Seattle! We can’t wait to serve it to our discerning friends (if we don’t drink it all during the road trip).

Happy Life (Chocolates)

Chocolate plus helping youth! What is not to love? The owner, Margarita Llona, is a former Montessori teacher who is devoted to empowering youth by teaching them business skills through a one-on-one mentoring program. We especially love her peanut butter cups and nut butters! Her products are made without sugar or oil. You can find her at several markets around Ajijic (often next to Productos de Cabra Galo de Allende).

Relaxation.

Jocotepec Malecón

Jocotepec Malecon.jpgThere are many places to stroll around Lake Chapala, but the malecón in Jocotepec is our favorite. The nearby park offers plenty of trees that provide an escape from the sun, gorgeous indigenous inspired sculptures, a playground and a skatepark. This is also a great place for bird watching. Definitely a favorite spot for locals as well. There wasn’t a time we visited when families weren’t enjoying its beauty. There are even a few vendors serving cool drinks and snacks.

Balneario Spa & Thermal Bath

Spa Balneario.jpgThe thermal baths exceeded our expectations. The grounds are beautifully maintained and the baths overlook the lake. The staff monitor how many people go into each tub, to ensure a relaxing experience. Depending on the package you purchase you will have access to 4 or 6 tubs. The thermal mineral water hot tubs provide a variety of hydrotherapies (e.g., flowers, apple cider vinegar, salt, coffee, or even wine). The two special baths rotate the type of hydrotherapies available (making multiple trips worthwhile). You end your experience by slathering yourself with therapeutic mud and then one final soak. You can also enjoy steam and ozone rooms. Or for an additional charge –  a massage, facial, or pedicure. Your admission fee also gives you access to the heated pools and several other hot tubs making it possible to spend an entire day unwinding and being pampered.

 

Day Trips.

Mezcala Island

Mezcala IslandAfter a 30-minute boat ride from Mezcala, you arrive at a peaceful island steeped in history. The island is famous for when Indigenous people held the Spaniards from overtaking it for four years (1812-1816). Depending on which boat captains are available, you can pay for a guided island tour or your boat captain will wait while you explore (usually 1 hour of waiting is included and the fare negotiated is round-trip). It is helpful to understand some Spanish or hire a local guide for this experience. This was a highlight of our time in Ajijic. We were in a parade and got quite the history lesson.

Mazamitla ­

MazamitlaMazamitla, a  Pueblo Mágico, is about an hour and a half drive from Ajijic. The road, although winding through the mountains, is in great condition. And the drive is worth it. Upon arrival, you feel as if you were transported to an alpine village in Europe. The contrast in the type vegetation and architecture is substantial. It is also a great day trip if you need a break from the heat. There are plenty of shops and restaurants in the village. There are also numerous tour companies that will take you up into the mountains, if you are seeking adventure. On the way back down you can stop and pick up some water buffalo for dinner from a small roadside shop. Who knew there were water buffalo in Mexico?

 

 

 

 

I trained to be an educator, not a sharpshooter

Academic Preparation.

I am rare in that I am an accidental academic. I never aspired to hold a Ph.D. or to have a fancy title. However, I loved being part of a research team and after years of doing just that I had an opportunity to attend graduate school. I chose the special education program because I believed it would give me additional tools to serve some of the most marginalized people within our society. I wanted to be as effective as possible in helping youth who were struggling as they moved towards adulthood.

My program at the University of Oregon promised I would, “Learn from the best researchers in the field of special education” and prepare me for:

  • Research and teaching positions in higher education
  • Policymaking positions in state and federal government
  • Consultation positions in professional education

Notice it does NOT mention that it would prepare me to take down an active shooter! The idea that as educators we must be ready to go into combat in our classrooms is shameful to our nation and absurd.

Both as an adjunct faculty member and a research scientist at universities in Seattle, I was provided information to prepare in case of an active shooter event. The universities provided us with some basic tips and a link to a 5:55  minute video “Run. Hide. Fight. ® Surviving an Active Shooter Event

Think about that for a minute!

Before I could teach at the university level or apply for my own federal research grants, I had to study for over NINE years (post high-school). And although, I like to believe that some of my work has saved people’s lives it certainly isn’t as immediately evident as preventing a mass shooter from killing my students!

Considering how many years I spent learning to conduct a research study, write an academic paper, and design a course – How in the hell would a 6-minute video or a few hours in a workshop prepare me to manage an active shooter situation?

Active shooter realities.

My brother is a combat veteran, although I do not know all the details, I know that over a 20-year period his training was intensive and ongoing. I also know I would never receive that level of training as an educator. Matt Martin, combat veteran, describes exceedingly well why arming teachers is an “asinine idea.” Matt describes how even the best-trained individuals may not be able to react as trained when bullets are flying. He shares his own experience of being shot in combat and the medic freezing. He further puts things in perspective by reporting a statistic from the FBI – police officers who engaged the shooter were wounded or killed in 46.7 percent of the incidents!

How am I, as an educator, supposed to take down an active shooter if police officers who train constantly for these situations are wounded or killed damn near half the time?

Even if I did have the “correct training” there are many reasons to not pull out a gun during an active shooter situation. The carnage at Umpqua Community college is case in point. John Parker, a 36-year-old Army veteran, was on campus (in the veteran’s center) and had his gun with him during the shooting. He and several other students did not respond to the situation because (a) the shooter could have killed them (b) law enforcement was already on the scene and could have mistaken them for a shooter (or thought there were multiple shooters).

In hindsight, he says, “If we would have run across the field, we would have been targets. We made a good choice at the time” It should also be noted that Umpqua College is NOT a gun free zone. There goes that argument as well.

This tragedy hit especially close to home as my daughter has several friends that attended Umpqua Community College and heartbreakingly one of her friend’s mom was among those killed that day.

Family discussions about being shot at school.

My daughter was attending and I was teaching at universities in Seattle when the Umpqua shooting occurred. After every school shooting (mind-boggling that that is plural), I had to help my children process and feel safe (or brave?) enough to go back to school.

I thought of all the youth that my colleagues and I served in schools where high poverty, violence, and trauma permeated their existence. My mind raced with questions. How could we expect students to focus on their studies and excel academically when they were afraid of being shot during their school day? These students already suffer disproportionally because of poverty, institutional racism, and inadequate school funding. Add to this a fear of being shot at school, how can we not see that these factors directly impact their learning? And why is the safety of children not a top priority in the US?

students-in-high-poverty-schools

All of this intensified after the Umpqua shooting. It was too close to home. I was a single mom – what if I was killed while teaching? Who would take care of my children? When I was young, I took a lot of risks and moved through areas/situations that weren’t exactly safe. Now my kids needed me and my choices prioritized my safety and their well-being.

It was absurd that I had to ask myself if teaching at the university level in the US was too big of a risk.

That term I had a student that tried to bully me into increasing his grade. He emailed obsessively, talked to me about it after almost every class, and stopped by my office. What if he snaps? I thought.

Funding.

While dealing with all this worry of safety, I was also struggling to make ends meet financially. Like many other “adjuncts my position was always temporary, low paid, and without benefits. The university I worked for was adamant about keeping the unions out so that we did not have the bargaining power to remedy the situation.

Also, like many of my peers, I worked multiple jobs to support my family. To keep my research position, I was required to fully fund my myself. Combined – this situation is very stressful. Repeatedly we are told these conditions are necessary because of “the lack of funding.”

Lack of funding in K-12 schools is also the reason routinely given for why class sizes are so large; there are so few school counselors and nurses; there aren’t enough textbooks (or current ones in the classrooms); specialized instruction isn’t possible; art, music and PE programs are eliminated; ethnic studies programs aren’t feasible; and teacher pay is low. Yet now, the 45th president of the US, says there should be pay bonuses for teachers who carry guns to class!!

There is funding for that?

Priorities.

The real issue isn’t whether the US has the money to fully fund education. The real issue is priorities. The absurdity of arming teachers and providing pay bonuses for them exemplifies this perfectly. It isn’t a matter of not having enough money, it is an issue of who gets the money. The US allocates over 50% of its budget on the military and only 6% on education. Additionally, the gun industry invests huge amounts of money to influence US government officials. According to the Center for Responsive Politics during the 2016 election, the NRA and its affiliates spent a record $54m to secure Republican control of the White House and Congress, including at least $30.3m to help elect Donald Trump.  In addition, the US is the top arms exporters in the world, accounting for 33% of the world’s arms exports (Stockholm Peace Research, 2017). In the fiscal year 2017, US arms sales reached $41.93 billion an increase of 25% from the previous year.

US budget

Step out of the way and let the youth lead.

We have failed our children and youth. The adults in the US have not prioritized the education or safety of the children. The youth are pissed. They are finding their voices. The youth are ready to lead. We must not get in their way.

We must instead ask them how we can help and what they need from us. We must be their strongest allies.

We are the past and they are the future.

We have left them with a hell of a mess to sort out. It is time we get out of their way. Support them as they rise up!  Let them lead the way.

This requires a monumental shift in our mindset from adults as the experts to adults as youth allies.

Join us in this work ­– Allies for Teens and Young Adults

Art on the shores of Lake Chapala, Mexico

Living on the shores of Lake Chapala stirred a love of art, unlike anything I previously experienced. Generally, I am attracted to words and sound. I read and listen to music voraciously. While I always appreciated the visual arts, I did not go out of my way to discover new forms or to understand the process of creating the pieces. However, my husband and daughter are visual artists and have taught me to pause, look deeper, and see more than I could in the past.

And then we moved to Mexico! I already described the soundtrack of Mexico; I will let the images speak for themselves.

Street Art

Art infuses every place you look in Mexico ­– sidewalks, doors, windows, alleyways, and even on trees. In comparison, much of the rest of the world seems afraid of color.

Guadalahara St ArtAjijic St Art 4Ajijic Tree SculptureAjijic St Art 3Ajijic DoorAjijic St ArtAjijic St Art 2

Working artists

Along Lake Chapala, there is not a shortage of art shows. They are often advertised on flyers around town, Facebook events, or you may just happen upon one by walking around town. There are also many galleries where you can pop in and talk to the artists while they work.

Feria Maestros del Arte, Chapala, Mexico

Feria Maestros del Arte is a non-profit that hosts an annual an event to showcase some of the most amazing folk artists from Mexico. On this occasion, we couldn’t resist temptation. We bought two pieces of art, even though we have no permanent home in which to display them. Both pieces are now traveling around with us!

Chapala Art Show purchase

Isabel Mendoza’s follows a traditional straw art form developed by her grandfather. You can visit her studio in Guadalajara! Or contact her directly at mendoza.isabel71@yahoo.com.mx

Chapala Art Show

Miguel Fabián Pedro from Oaxaca. He is a 4th generation potter. His work is inspired by the Mesoamerican cultures of the Mixtecs and Zapotec.

Artist at work

While walking along the cobblestone streets of Ajijic, I caught a glimpse of magical colorful beauty. When I peeked into his studio Efran Gonazalez graciously invited us in, even though he was preparing for a huge show in Austin, Texas.

Artist At Work

Efran working on a painting of his daughter. He said this is the first time she has modeled for him.

Artists Work In Progress

This was my favorite piece. It captures the feeling of market day perfectly. And makes me wish I had a wall to put it on!

Artists Studio

More pieces getting ready to head to Austin for the big show!

Sculptures

Malecòn in Jocotepac

The malecòn in Jocotepac is a lovely way to spend a few hours. Families take full advantage of the shade trees, grills, and even the exercise equipment that is scattered throughout the adjacent park. As you stroll through the park we were also surprised by incredible sculptures many inspired by the Indigenous culture of the area.

Aztec ArtAztec HeadAjijic Malecon

Chapala

Chapala also offers a beautiful malecón, great spots to eat, and of course more art. I found this sculpture particularly mesmerizing.

Chapala Malecon

Museums

Although a little north of Lake Chapala, I cannot exclude the museums and art found in Guadalajara. There is so much to absorb, it would take days if not weeks to take it all. Here are a few favorites from the Museum of Arts: University of Guadalajara.

 

Dome

Jose Clemente Orozco is credited for the Mexican Mural Renaissance (along with Diego Rivera and David Alfaro Siqueiros). This dome is a stunning example of his work!

Gudalahara Musem Art

Unfortunately, I did not note the name of this artist. But the museum features many contemporary artists. I am fascinated by seeing the contrasts and similarities between the ancient art, folk art, and modern art in Mexico.

 

What else can I say about the art of Mexico? Besides – VIVA MEXICO! I am in love!

 

Women’s March 2018: We still have work to do!

Women's March 2018 Ajijic Mexico 1

We cannot stay silent

Last year, while many of my friends and co-workers marched in Seattle I sat out. This was mostly due to the hopelessness I felt about the state of the world and my lack of faith that protesting would change anything. I made excuses; I have been protesting, marching, and battling injustice wherever I spot it since at least 1984. More likely, since the day I could speak? I’ll have to ask my mom about that one. Although I have helped make positive changes for people at the individual level – my involvement in large-scale movements hasn’t brought about world peace or equality like I naively hoped for in my youth. Over the last few decades, I have seen the rich get richer, the poor get poorer, and mass shootings in the US become a common occurrence. And then, against all odds and reason, a misogynistic reality TV show host/terrible businessman became the most powerful person in the world! Marching last year seemed futile ­– the train was out of the station and what could possibly stop it?

However, over the last year, I watched in utter disbelief as the US slid steadily backward. Police brutality, racism, and misogyny crawled out from its slimy hidden underground bunker to be warmly embraced and fueled by the current US administration. Almost every day of 2017, my heart was ripped open by another tragic and completely preventable evil. Charleena Lyles, age 30, shot in her Seattle home by white police officers after she called them for help! She was pregnant and several children were present at the time of the shooting. All too frequently, someone shared a desperate plea for help finding a daughter, mother, sister, cousin. Day after day! Why is there so much silence around Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls? How many mothers cried themselves to sleep each night because they lost their children to gun violence? 15,578 deaths due to gun violence (excluding suicide) and 345 mass shootings in 2017.

Additionally, there is now an outright assault on women’s rights. How can there still be a debate about if women deserve equal pay for equal work? There is no logical explanation for anything but equal pay for equal work. The inequality is blatant and outright misogyny. The ways the current administration has attacked women is beyond the scope of this post, but make no mistake there is a war against women in the US. (see also 100 days, 100 Ways the trump administration is harming women and families)

Although for my own mental health and well-being, I have tried to distance myself from American politics. The words of Dr. Martin Luther King still swirl within my head regularly –  “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter”.

Women’s March of Ajijic

While strolling through the colorful streets of the village, I began seeing signs about the Women’s March of Ajijic. The call to join in solidarity with the women of Ajijic, Mexico was not something I could tune out. I could not remain silent this year as women around the world march; the concerns are literally life and death. I felt pulled to know what issues the local women were tackling and more importantly how could I be of service? I envisioned local, Canadian, and American women of all ages marching down the cobblestone streets from the plaza to the malecón. The event brought my family together in a beautiful way – my mom sewed hats and volunteered, my son participated in the march, and my husband became the official photographer of the event and will be submitting photos to the Women’s March on Washington Archives Project.

As we drove to the plaza, my thoughts turned to friends across the US that were marching in Washington, DC, Eugene, Oregon, and Seattle, Washington. I felt the power of the rising tide of women coming together to lift each other up. It is time! The resistance is growing. United we are so much stronger! I felt inspired. As we turned the corner to the plaza, I couldn’t help but notice Mexican women were not the majority of people who had gathered. I spoke briefly to a person on the organizing team and she shared that there was a lot of effort to invite and include local women. I wondered, Why, were they not at the event? Did they want to come? Did they feel their concerns are not represented by this movement? Was it because English was the primary language on the promotional materials? Did this make local people feel the event was Euro-American centered?

There were some local women present and one asked to speak before the march, she shared information about a local group that spends time in the high schools teaching about healthy relationships and birth control. As the interpreter said, “this is huge” in Mexico! And I will add – very bold. I am anxiously awaiting the organizer’s post that will give more information about this group. I hope I can help in some way before I must leave Mexico.

Always a researcher…I paid close attention to the signs others carried. I wanted to understand the issues people feel so passionately about they are driven to march.

Women's March 2018 Ajijic Mexico 6

Women's March 2018 Ajijic Mexico 5

Many of the people that marched are retirees from Canada or the US. They talked about living through the civil rights movement and their deep concern about how the US is moving into the past. Women who blazed pathways during their careers, so women of my generation had more access to opportunities, shared their frustration. Many protestors focused their anger at #45 through their signs, t-shirts, and chanting. Perhaps, for some, this march is a way to continue the resistance against the US administration from afar. Others may be just visiting Mexico; therefore, they are still fully invested in what is happening at “home.” The stakes are high, for sure.

What happens in the US – good or bad unfortunately impacts the world.

Women's March 2018 Ajijic Mexico 2

Women's March 2018 Ajijic Mexico 9

Divided we will remain the oppressed

As we marched, my mom’s friend shared her experience of raising a “bi-racial” child in Arizona in a time when there were very few African Americans in Phoenix. I shared my own experiences of raising multi-ethnic children. We discussed overt and covert racism, and we discussed how easy it is for people that have not shared the experience of racism to dismiss it. We talked about the division we still see in so many of the movements. My own experience of racism is complicated; my children and I are light skinned, therefore presumed “white.” I shared with my new friend how frequently people have made racially/ethnically disparaging comments in my presence because they thought it was “safe” to do so. I cringe as I listen to them backpedal when I disclose my or my children’s ethnic backgrounds. I make the choice to “go there” in the discussion or not. I am also aware of the privilege light skin has for us in these instances.

All racism is unacceptable; I also realize we do not have the same experience of racism as our friends with darker skin and I can choose to confront it in the moment or not. Sometimes I am drained and just don’t have the energy to fight that day. Friends with dark skin remind me they never get a day off from this hard work. They do not have the luxury of saying, I am too tired I don’t want to worry about racism and hatred today. My teachers about race, equity, and community organizing are some of the most badass Native American, African American, Mexican and Transpeople, you could ever hope to meet. They do not mince words; we frequently engage in extremely difficult conversations. There have been tears, we grow, we learn. This work is hard.

After the march, I opened Facebook wanting to see photos of the marches my friends attended. I craved that lifted, warm fuzzy feeling, and inspiration from today’s events that I had hoped to get. My friend, who is a woman of color, marched in Eugene, Oregon one of the “most progressive” cities in the US. She held a “Black Lives Matter” sign. A white woman behind her shared her opinion that she “hates identity politics: and wishes we would all “just collaborate” and believes in “nurture not nature”. Wait, what? Didn’t we come together today as women because of our shared values as a marginalized group, basically the definition of identity politics? This kind of thinking fuels the division that allows the continued oppression of all women. Often people who want to help, do so without the awareness of the harm they perpetuate. One of the speakers today, in Ajijic, touted the United States “250-year history of freedom!” Again, I say wait, what? Did she forget about SLAVERY! While this may be perceived as a small misstep for a person of the majority group, it is an erasure of the experience of whole populations. The comment made about my friend’s sign is another perfect example. The dominant message is clear ­– your cause (and therefore your existence) is not valid and you are not part of the conversation. You are “other” and your cause should be discussed elsewhere.

At the march in Vancouver, BC, a woman was bold enough to bring hate to the event. She carried a large sign attacking and attempting to delegitimize transwomen. She even tries to protect her hate speech by proclaiming “truth is not hate.” I cannot even fathom why a person would choose to come to a gathering meant to empower women and then choose to beat other women down. An error in the approach or when trying to help happens … we are all learning. We all make mistakes during our activism and advocacy attempts, but to make the conscious decision, put time into creating a hateful sign, transporting hate to the march, and brazenly standing before thousands of women denouncing other women? This is unconscionable. And it reminds me, we have a hell of a lot of work to do.

I am not ending this day feeling inspired and like all was right with the world. I feel tremendous sadness about the division and hatred in the world today. I also know it is not time to rest. It is time to dig in. I cannot be silent, nor can I choose to be uninvolved. If change is going to happen we all need to commit to fighting injustice every day – not just during events. And we need to start now!

How can we become better advocates and allies?

  • We need to become true allies and rise against oppression everywhere, not only when it directly impacts us, our family, or our social circle.
  • We need to center and listen to the oppressed.
  • We need to be ready to engage in difficult conversations and realize that even when we are “trying to help” we may make mistakes or cause harm.
  • When our mistakes are unveiled, we need to stop defending them and instead say, “I hear you. How can I do better?”
  • We need to learn from our mistakes and grow – only then will we become better allies and advocates.
  • We need to decolonize our thinking, education, and “our helping”.
  • We need to make the commitment right now to embrace equality for all humans!
  • We need to choose love over hate
  • We need to have compassion for everyone
  • We need treat each other with kindness

The time is now!

quote-dominator-culture-has-tried-to-keep-us-all-afraid-to-make-us-choose-safety-instead-of-bell-hooks-41-25-16

Unite! Rise! Resist!

Kindness in Action

FB_IMG_1508278055322I spent a lot of time this week thinking about kindness. During brunch, last weekend with a group of Americans and Canadians living in Mexico, we talked about how much we appreciate the small acts of kindness we experience here. A child passing by on the street makes eye contact and says “Buenas tardes.” A teenager offers their seat on the bus or even helps an elder down the stairs! We shared our experiences of being warmly welcomed as immigrants! We also talked about the hatred spewing constantly from the Whitehouse and we talked about the need for more compassion and kindness in the world. I shared how my beloved Seattle had changed, and how little compassion for others I felt or saw there anymore. In a city now bursting with money, it feels angrier. Despite the mindboggling amount of wealth, King County has the third largest homeless population in the US! Shockingly, most people seem to believe this is just “the way things are” or even worse the way they are supposed to be. The majority walk past the people who are homeless but refuse to see them. However, some people choose kindness. These are the stories that need to be shared.

Please digest the powerful words of Shelli Kountz – written in tribute and describing kindness in action. I hope these words are a call to action. We need a kindness revolution.

yellow rose

Today a man died at the store where I serve coffee and snax.

His name was Tomas and he was homeless.

I first saw him a year or so ago perched on a well visited ‘get high’ wall behind a gas station. He didn’t seem to be too invested in the local traffic of users and other broken types, just posted up drinking beer all day. The regulars seem to let him have it. I said “Hi” a few times before he authentically responded and his eyes were very warm despite having the desperate gloss of broken vision. He would wave or nod once he realized I was always going to be passing him because I too called this little intersection home. I asked him to hold the free parking spots that were so coveted and he would always gesture assuredly … even though he only actually got up once to hold the spot.

He had powers I suppose; I always managed to get the spot even when my car was around the corner.

This summer it got so hot in Seattle, much higher than the norm and one day he was just sitting there, full sun, sweating terribly.  I asked him if he had any water (he did not) and chided him to stay hydrated. I told him he could fill up at the Co-op, also part of our little intersection, for 50 cents if he had a container. He didn’t ­– so I grabbed one of mine and told him I would bring him some later. I did. I told him I would fill it up for him anytime because I had to get some as well. That became our pattern for a few weeks and one day he asked me to show him. We walked down to the co-op and went to the back where the purifier stood for all to access. I showed him the machine and said just come fill up anytime and I’ll pay for it. I told my friend/coworkers from the Co-op what I would be doing and they said “cool”.  As the weather shifted, I tried to convince him to come into my store and get some coffee but he always just nodded politely until one day he joined me crossing the street. I brought him in, took him to the coffee service, handed him some snax, told him to chill – “just help yourself”. I made it clear that he could come in anytime and do the same; he started to show up and enjoy the hospitality. He was always kind about it and even got to try some demos I was testing. He liked the demos and the cheeses… I always offered him the special cheeses we would open for the crew.

He was a mutterer but he would raise his eyebrows and pop his glossy eyes when the cheese was really good. He knew food!

Soon he was picking up an occasional banana, grabbing some coffee, and routinely enjoying the welcoming space. This had been our pattern for many moons but today he suffered an attack and literally perished on the bench at our front door. The EMTs tried but to no avail. As I arrived at work a co-worker happened to catch me before I entered and told me the news. He knew I cared for Tomas because he saw me do it and knew I would be upset. I was deeply saddened and cried from the shock. But I pulled it together and went in and there he lay in front of our time clock, all covered up in white, with about 5 syringes next to him – the adrenaline did not help, I suppose.

I was the only one who knew his name was Tomas

I told the EMTs the little I knew about his health. Gout for sure possibly diabetic… Then I asked if I could be with him for a moment but the EMT paused so I said, “Please, I’m probably one of the only people that can be…” I didn’t know I would say that but each word ran as truth thru me and I knelt down and placed a hand on his still warm heart. I patted his pot belly a little and told him he was a very nice man. I touched his head and blessed his freedom, his opportunity to rest. Long story, but please remember that we are each others keepers and I am so glad he felt welcome enough to be there when his Spirit left. He could’ve just been one of many who dies on the streets but he wasn’t today. He was someplace where he was welcome and cared for on a nice bench, not some neglected wall behind a gas station.

And all it took was a little water offered on a hot day.

Positively spinning in 2017!

I woke up, on a working farm in Borgarnes, Iceland, to the sound of an incoming text. My daughter was back in the states so I reached for my phone immediately. “He won!” I replied, “What?” Surely, she was joking! I woke up Stan. He also thought it was a joke and frantically grabbed his phone. We were in a state of shock. What did this mean? What was in store for the U.S. in 2017? How bad would it be? We sat in stillness as it sunk in; then we determinedly resolved it would not impact the rest of our time in Iceland. We walked in silence over to get breakfast at the café where we were staying. There was a stillness there as well. Over the rest of the trip, many Icelanders expressed sadness and worry for us. Luckily, they instinctively knew we were not ok with the outcome of the election. On the fight back to the US, we tried very hard to not ask “what if”.

New Year’s Eve has always been one of my favorite holidays. It is cathartic – a celebration of letting go and a time to embrace possibility. However, I felt trepidation about 2017. I had no idea what was going to happen, but I suspected it wasn’t going to be good. After the inauguration, like most Americans I know, as soon as my eyes opened in the morning I reached for my phone. I had to know what 45 had done while I slept. Within a matter of weeks, we were all exhausted. The onslaught of bad news, absurdity, lies, and spewing of hatred wreaked havoc on our spirits. I spent a lot of time consoling others, but freaking out when no one was looking. Then I said, “Enough.” I had to find a way to navigate this hostile administration while still moving forward and finding some enjoyment in life.

With that in mind and after countless conversations as a family, we decided to make radical changes in our lives hoping they would provide the opportunity to experience joy within the uncertainty. The year was still hard and as we watch the US backslide towards a country that cares even less for those that need it most – my heart continued to break. I hope I live to see the day that people unite and truly take care of each other. Until then, we must also find a way to take care of ourselves and our families so we can remember there is still beauty in the world. In 2017, I embarked on a mission to make time to find and embrace beauty. Amazing that since I set that intention – we did indeed find tremendous beauty. Here are few of the highlights!

1) Walking in a Winter Wonderland
I received a small grant to present my research at the University of Iceland! This allowed us to return to Iceland and further explore the country we love so much. Being snow lovers, a day spent wandering snowy fields was perfect. Followed up by an amazing meal at one of our favorite restaurants in the whole world – Tryggvaskáli

Iceland Clouds

Southwest Iceland    February 2017

2) Taking a Break from City Life ­
One of the best parts of living in Seattle is the closeness of the mountains, alpine lakes, and waterfalls. Teneriffe Falls is one of my favorite day hikes. The sound of the water pounding down the mountain helps relieve the stress of city life. The hike is moderate and you can push yourself to the top (13.8 miles round trip) or just find a good spot along the way to picnic and relax.

Teneriffe Falls, Washington

Teneriffe Falls, Washington, USA      April 2017

3) Scouting out Scandinavia
Again, I was honored to present my research abroad. This time at the University of Örebro. Since we were in the area, it was the perfect opportunity to explore a little of Scandinavia. I absolutely fell in love with Stockholm (especially the Chokladbollar). We will certainly be going back.

Stockholm Sweden Gamla Stan

Stockholm, Sweden    May 2017

4) Viewing the Vast Vigeland Sculpture Garden
Oslo welcomed us with a rare heat wave. We were completely unprepared for the heat and returned to Seattle with a tan! Not sure anyone at our jobs believed we actually went to Scandinavia on the trip. So, here’s a great picture to prove it!

Gustav Vigeland Monolith

Vigeland Sculpture Garden, Oslo, Norway  May 2017

5) Wedding Day ­
Marrying your best friend under the cherry tree in your backyard is highly recommended. Our dear friend (and amazing musician), Simon Henneman officiated our “Shredding Wedding” through song ­– Pink Floyd Narrow Way Pt III. We were surrounded by our closest friends and Ava (our GSD) even stood by our sides during the ceremony!

Wedding Day

Seattle, Washington, USA  July 2017

6) Sunset Strolls Along the Beach
Grayland was one of my stomping grounds in the early 90s, I hadn’t been back since. It was a bittersweet reunion and farewell. The sunsets, kite flying, and seafood on this part of the Washington coast are remarkable. The dogs loved beach time for sure!

Washington Coast Sunset

Grayland, Washington, USA   August 2017

7) Farm Livin’ is the Life for Me
Nothing quite prepares you for the moment that your child is ready to fly solo. You spend years preparing them so they can succeed and then one day it is time for them to go. I don’t think we could have found a better place for our last weekend together before we left for Mexico and my daughter literally flew off on her own (to the UK). We spent her baby years on a remote ranch in the mountains; it seemed oddly fitting to launch her into adulthood from the middle of nowhere!

Family Portrait 2017

Onalaska, Washington, USA   August 2017

8) Wowed at White Pocket
We were tipped off about White Pocket by our waitress our first night in Kanab, Utah. Her face beamed and her enthusiasm was contagious as she described hiking there. It is truly one of our highlights of the year. I think I used the word stunning more on that hike than I have in my entire life (Love it so much I also wrote about it here ).

White Pocket walk

Vermillion Cliffs National Monument, Arizona, US   September 2017

9) Zealously Ziplining
When you are traveling the world with two adventure seekers you get talked into things! It took them days to convince me that I would miss out if I didn’t go along with them. I’ll be honest, I almost chickened out. Finally, I committed. It was a blast. I’d do it again!

Zip Line Kanab

Kanab, Utah, USA    September 2017

10) Honored by Big Horn Sheep
After several days of being in crowded National Parks, we almost skipped Zion. Our journey was about natural beauty, not crowds of people. However, we were so close and didn’t know if we’d ever visit the area again so we decided to go for just a few hours. It was worth battling the traffic and crowds. Standing a few feet away from Big Horn Sheep is an awesome and humbling experience!

Big Horn Sheep

Zion National Park, Utah, USA    September 2017

11) Dazzled by Dia De Los Muertos
The relationship to death in Mexico is refreshing compared to what we experience in the US. Instead of ignoring or hiding it, death is represented in art everywhere. Skulls and skeletons are found in high-end galleries and murals that line the streets. Dia de Los Muertos is a magical celebration of life that brings families together to beautifully honor their ancestors. Experiencing the music, art, dancing, and alters was a privilege we will never forget.

Catrina

Ixtlahuacan de los Membrillos, Jalisco, Mexico   October 2017

12) Thanksgiving with Mom
If you had told me at the beginning of 2017, that I’d eat Thanksgiving dinner with my mom on the shores of Lake Chapala I would have laughed – impossible! I could not be more thankful for the opportunity to spend this time with my mom. Through my work with teens and young adults, I have repeatedly seen how they suffer because their moms don’t support them in who they are. My mom may not have understood my crazy punk rock antics or life choices, but she always accepted them and let me be me. I am truly thankful for that – so thanksgiving with her was perfect!

Thanksgiving Dinner with Mom

Ajijic, Jalisco, Mexico    November 2017

So that’s a wrap! This list doesn’t even scratch the surface of what we experienced in 2017, but reviewing the beauty we found along the way makes heading into 2018 feel a little more doable. The current administration, in the US, has already assaulted almost every community my family and friends belong to (or the communities of those I served for decades). I fear what this administration is capable of in 2018. I also know I will never be able to remain silent in the face of injustice. I will continue to advocate and fight for what is right. I recommit each day to do as little harm as possible, but I also need to replenish my reserves so compassion fatigue doesn’t leave me incapable of being of service. Therefore, I also re-commit to finding beauty in 2018! I will choose love over hate and continue to grab opportunities!

Thanks for going on this journey with us. May 2018 be the year that we unite like never before!

Peace, Health, and Happiness to all!

 

What is an Evidence-Based Practice and Why should you care?

I first heard the phrase “evidence-based” about fifteen years ago, when I was working as a doula and parent educator in Austin, TX. One of the OBGyns wore a button with the phrase, “I practice evidence-based medicine.” When I asked him about it and he said he practices medicine based on the most current scientific information available, I naively asked: “Don’t all doctors?” He said, “no, they do not”! He was on a mission to change this! He lectured, wrote, and talked to anyone that would listen to him about the necessity for this change. Over the next few years, I provided prenatal and/or postpartum support to over 1000 women (as a doula, childbirth or parent educator). Hearing the birth stories and witnessing the poor birth outcomes many experienced, it became crystal clear that indeed we have a problem in the US and evidence-based medicine is not being implemented. The US currently has one of the highest rates of maternal deaths in the world and our rates are rising! We aren’t doing great in the area of infant mortality either. In the CDC’s own report (quick get it while it is still available); the US ranked 26th out of 29 of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries in infant mortality. With the awareness that many other countries are doing significantly better than we are, it is also clear that it is not because we don’t have the knowledge or resources to assist women and babies so they thrive (or even live!). Choices are being made! This is just one example of the importance of demanding evidence-based medicine.

Table1 EBP

Infant Mortality Rates of OECD countries (Source: www.cdc.gov)

Now, imagine the unthinkable. One of your loved ones needs medical attention requiring immediate and life-saving surgery. Would you want a surgeon that uses the techniques that have the most research behind their success and ability to save your loved one’s life? Or would you go with the surgeon that you’ve known for a long-time, that prefers to operate the way they “have always done it”– even if that means the chance of your loved one dying is higher? Is that a chance you would take? These may seem like obvious examples, because they are high stakes and the risk/outcomes are immediate. However, evidence-based practices (or EBPs) are important in many fields besides medicine. As an educator and research scientist, along with my colleagues, I have worked tirelessly to change the culture around EBPs in schools, community service agencies, and at the legislative level to help bring awareness about why they should be standard practice!

Evidence-based-practices help people reach their highest potential and save lives!!

Simply put, evidence-based practices are those services, interventions, strategies, and/or programs that have strong scientific evidence that they produce the desired outcome. One study alone is not enough for a practice to become “evidence-based,” studies are replicated, programs/practices are implemented skillfully, and they are evaluated. Practices do not become “evidence-based” because one person or one team thinks they are “great” or they have a “feeling” about the potential. If you would like to learn more about how to incorporate EBPs into your work, it is likely your professional organization offers training or can help you find resources. There are also learning communities online that focus on implementing EBPs.

So now that you know a little about EBPs and why they matter. Are you concerned, that the Trump administration has forbidden the terms “evidence-based” (and “science-based”) from use in official documents? The CDC is being encouraged to use the language that the “CDC bases its recommendations on science in consideration with community standards and wishes,” what happens when the “community standards and wishes” are based in fallacy, racism, sexism, and/or ignorance? Think back to the scenario of your loved one needing surgery would you want the surgeon operating out of vague “standards and wishes” that your loved one comes through the surgery? Or do you want them to rely on methods that are scientifically proven?

We have seen mounting and blatant disregard for science within this administration. Refusal to believe in climate change – willfully ignoring 15,000 scientists from 184 countries! This is a glaring example of how information does not lead to a change in belief. (See also:Why facts don’t change our minds). This level of disconnect between scientific fact is unnerving when it occurs within the average person, but when it is the MO of arguably the most powerful person on the planet we should be extremely alarmed! Turning away from science in this part of human history is reckless and extremely dangerous! At no point in time has it been more critical for humans to make scientifically sound decisions! The future truly is at stake.

Webcomic_xkcd_-_Wikipedian_protester

And on that heavy note, I’ll share my mantra that gets me through this incredibly dark time ­– I cannot single-handedly make everything in the world better but I can do my very best to not cause harm. I will continue to use evidence-based practices when working with youth and families and if funding for research continues, I will continue to conduct studies to generate new EBPs. A small step I’ve taken today was to create a handout about EBPs to share with other educators (You can download it here). For those not familiar with EBPs, I hope I have given you enough information for you to understand why removing the language of “evidence-based” is dangerous. If not, feel free to begin a respectful discussion in the comments.