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.

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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!

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

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!

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.

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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.

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

Accidental parade participant and an Indigenous history lesson

Last summer before we left Seattle, I was a member of the Seattle Public Schools (SPS) Ethnic Studies Task Force which formed due to a resolution by the NAACP (after a long history of inequality within the district). The task force consisted of a dynamic group of educators, community members, and students determined to eliminate institutional racism in SPS. Implementing ethnic studies is just one step towards achieving this huge goal. However, the impact of a culturally relevant curriculum is well documented. When the curriculum reflects students’ life experiences they are more engaged in their learning and academic and critical thinking skills improve. They also build self-esteem.
One of the big push backs heard frequently about ethnic studies is, “What about white students?”

Research demonstrates ethnic studies benefits all students (regardless of ethnic background) because it contributes to greater cultural awareness and promotes equality.

During the task force meetings, my son’s school experience haunted me. My daughter benefited from attending some progressive forward thinking student-centered schools. She thrived – as did her self-confidence, curiosity, and love of learning about and trying new things. Although my son had a few great teachers, overall his schools tended to be more regimented, stale, and mainstream. The focus was on teaching to succeed on standardized tests and compliance. Not surprisingly, his level of engagement was dropping quickly. The curriculum was not culturally relevant or personally meaningful. Two things we know are critical for students to be excited about learning. Much of what we discussed during the task force meetings helped me decide that taking my son on the road would benefit him tremendously. My son was not thriving, getting excited about learning, developing his strengths, or connecting with his culture within SPS. Since middle school is a critical developmental period, I did not want to risk him becoming further disengaged from learning! So, we took the leap and dove into student-centered and culturally relevant learning – 100% of the time! First stop, Mexico! My son now gets to learn about a part of his heritage every day (we will get to the others in time)!

As a research scientist and educator, I love planning! However, I challenged myself to live a more relaxed lifestyle while on the road. We basically live day to day now. We will pick a spot of interest and head out with no set agenda, ready to greet what we meet. In Mexico, it seems there is frequently a surprise waiting. Last Sunday, we headed out to Mezcala Island (aka El Presidio) in Lake Chapala. We read there were ruins of an old fort and ancient tree on the Island. I jump at the chance to be out on the water, so between a boat ride and cool things to explore I was excited to check it out. From our last post, you already know the drive out to Mezcala is dramatic and bumpy. Once you make the turn towards the village, the roads quickly narrow. We came to an intersection and guessed at the way to the dock where we’d catch a boat to the island. We saw flashing lights ahead and the road seemed blocked off, we tried to back up and turn around, but a local passed us and got behind the police vehicle. We assumed they had more information than us and decided to follow. Why not? The cars started moving again, we could see horses up in front…the next thing we knew we were in a parade with no way to turn out! You can imagine the look on the faces of the locals as we drove the parade route. Ever feel like you are being looked at strangely? Well, this time we knew for sure we were not just being self-conscious!

Children to the rescue! A boy around eight years old asked us if we were going to the malecón. “Sí”, we responded. He pointed ahead and said “derecho”. Got it, we just need to go a few more blocks and then turn right. But that meant a few more blocks of being in the parade!! As you can imagine, the children thought this situation was hilarious and they ran along the van instructing us about where to turn. They continued offering guidance until we arrived in a parking area. We were incredibly thankful for our young guides and that the local people found our predicament humorous, not disrespectful. As we got out of the van, we were greeted by a man that runs shuttle boats out to the Island. We walked about a block down the road with him and he explained that it was a very important day. November 25th marks the day of resistance for the Indigenous people that held the Spaniards from over taking Mezcala Island from 1812-1816. Apparently, we had just been a part of the resistance celebration parade!
Mezcala Boat blog
Within a few moments, our shuttle boat was ready for departure. Our young guides eagerly helped us board the boat. I admit I was a little relieved when the boat’s Capitan offered us life jackets – the lake was choppy and the boat had very low sides. The two young metro police that were also catching a ride also took the life jackets. Maybe, I wasn’t being paranoid after all? When traveling, I am frequently amused by how often I really have no idea what is going on. My Spanish is such that I can “get by” and know the jest of the conversations but the details are often lost on me. We approached a boat anchored offshore, for a moment I thought we might have to try to get ourselves from the boat we were on and into the other one! Instead, the man who had walked us down to the dock stepped into the other boat and said “good-bye”. Guess, he wasn’t our guide after all. The Capitan then turned the boat, picked up the pace a little, and headed towards the island. Although incredibly young looking, he exuded confidence and I relaxed a bit and enjoyed the short ride. Along the way, we saw Great White Egrets, Mexican ducks, and beautifully awkward White Pelicans.
Mezcala Tree blog
From the very first steps, you begin to realize that Mezcala Island is an extraordinary place. We were the first boat to arrive that morning, so it was extremely quiet on the island. I immediately began to feel contemplative and calm. El Árbol de la Vida (Tree of Life) stands gracefully above a statue of the Virgin of San Juan de los Lagos. I haven’t been able to locate an accurate age of the tree but locals gave us a range of 300 years to 1000s, so let’s just say it is impressive and very old. After an easy climb to the top of the hill, the fortress, chapel and soldier’s quarters came into view. As we wandered, I kept thinking I smelled food but there were no restaurants on the island and we didn’t see anyone else. However, there were some backpacks and cooking gear near a large tree in the middle of the fortress (also used historically as a prison). Although it seemed we had just arrived, the timer went off and the hour we paid our Capitan to wait was almost over. We were not close to being ready to leave, so my husband ran down to ask if we could stay an extra hour. Luckily, this was possible. As we continued to explore the island, a man in his twenties came up and started talking with us. He spoke some English but most of the conversation was in Spanish. He spoke slowly and used lots of gestures to help us understand, as he shared with us the history of the island and his tribe (Coca). It was during this conversation that we began to understand how fortunate we were to have decided to head to the island on November 25th. José said that many indigenous people would be arriving on the island for lunch and to celebrate thier culture and the resistance. He told us he had once moved away but is so happy to be back on the island – the land of his ancestors. Now, we understood why the backpacks and cooking gear were in the fortress. A festival was about to happen!
Mezcala Fort blog
José asked us to walk over to a circle on the ground under a large tree. He said it was very special and that Indigenous people held ceremony at this location. He asked me to raise my hands to the sky and feel the power. I followed his lead and let the energy from the sun come into my fingertips and then I washed it along my body down to the earth. We repeated this together 3-4 times, he glanced over occasionally to see if I was still following his lead. The ritual was so familiar, it reminded me of those I experienced with Indigenous people in the US. I felt calm and connected. Reminded again that although we come from different cultures and are born on different land, we really are similar in so many ways. José asked if I felt the power, I responded, “Sí” and he began to share the story of the resistance.

Perhaps, the most famous part of the story was the four-year period where the Indigenous people fought off the Spanish army and navy. The Indigenous people created underwater barriers that destroyed the unsuspecting Spaniards’ boats. While the boats were sinking, the Indigenous people launched rocks to ensure the invader’s defeat. The Spaniards were embarrassed by being decimated by the Indigenous people, whom they outnumbered by several thousands! As he told the story, our new friend’s pride for his people’s resilience and creativity shone brightly on his face. After four long years, he told us, the people on the island began suffering from illness and eventually a surrender was negotiated. However, because of the long history of defeat, the Spanish authorities agreed that the Indigenous people would have amnesty, assistance in rebuilding their villages, and be awarded seed and livestock. The Spaniards honored this agreement, which was very rare! We were told that this success helped inspire others to continue the resistance, which ultimately contributed to Mexican independence.
Mezcala Soldiers Quarters blog
José then invited us for a tour of the fort and to stay for the celebration. Unfortunately, it was time to return to our boat so we had to decline. We promised to return and he told us to look for him and he would tell us more about the Coca people. At this point in the conversation, he switched to mostly English and told us that it was important to him to know the history of his people and now he just wants to share it with others. On the drive back to town, my son and I had a long conversation about colonization. We compared and contrasted colonization in the United States to that which occurred in Mexico. Although our goal is to be as organic in our learning as possible we do create a framework to keep us on task. Since November is Native Heritage month, we already read and discussed colonization in the US at length. We talked about how US history continues to play out related to current events like the Dakota Access Pipeline and land grabs from tribal people. My son became curious about how colonization happened in Mexico, wanting to know more about the Coca people, and his own Mexican heritage. Instead of being “forced” to learn Spanish or being “bored” by it, my son listened attentively while José talked because he was interested and wanted to understand. And all of this learning occurred on a Sunday, which wasn’t even a day we do “school”. It is pretty spectacular to have the luxury of time, so teachable moments aren’t wasted and deep reflection is possible.

As part of our roadschooling, my son keeps a travel log. It provides him a framework for digesting what he learns and observes during our adventures. His travel log incorporates history (including from Indigenous and women’s perspectives) and life science. I also encourage him to go deeper and explore any aspects that are particularly interesting to him. Through this process, I can see clearly how his schooling taught him to only answer the questions asked in the prescribed format. I am still waiting for the day that my son is so excited by a new topic that I can’t pull him away, but we are only a few months into the journey and he must unlearn the 7 years of conditioning that taught him to fill in the worksheet, answer the test questions, and just get it done. However, I already see a change in the depth of the conversations we have and in our relationship.

How do you incorporate ethnic studies into your home- or world-schooling?

Teachers in public/private schools – How do you incorporate ethnic studies (regardless of if it has been officially implemented in your school)?

The sountrack to life is loud!

Fond memories were born while sitting under our cherry tree in Seattle, sipping a little whiskey, telling stories, eating, and laughing. Beneath our tree, we planned trips, cried tears of sadness and joy, and even married each other! I cannot even guess at the number of hours we spent in the shadows of that magnificent tree. Oddly during most of those hours, we were the only people in our neighborhood out in the yard. I would get so excited on the rare occasions I heard someone else entertaining outside, laughing, or practicing an instrument. Why were people inside their houses even when the weather was perfect? The young guy that lived behind us had a grill on his back porch and a large backyard. When grilling, he’d open the door quickly, peek at his meat, and go back inside (presumably to watch his enormous TV, which we could see plainly through our upstairs window). When his meat was ready, he’d hurriedly grab it and return to his house. I never once saw him so much as enjoy a cup of coffee sitting on his back deck or playing ball with his dog in the yard. Even when he had friends over, during the awesome summers in Seattle, they’d all stay inside. This behavior seemed commonplace throughout our neighborhood. I found it incredibly bizarre. During our long evenings under our tree, sirens were the most frequent sound heard outside of our yard. City life!

cherry tree

In stark contrast, every night seems to be a celebration in San Juan Cosala! Sitting on the porch I can hear live bands, roosters crowing, the braying of burros, announcements on loud speakers, the whinnying of horses, an endless chorus of dogs barking, church bells, and mucho cohetes! Occasionally, I can even hear a cow. I love it! These are the sounds of living. I hear freedom and families. Freedom to express yourself. You like music? Then by all means… play it and play it LOUD! Invite your neighbors over. Sit, share stories, laugh. Why should the sound of laughter or music be bothersome? Why is it actually banned after 10 pm in so many places in the US? “It is 10 pm; everyone must go to bed. No more fun, laughter, or music for you.” I love that here as I crawl into bed accordions, trumpets, and drums soothe me to sleep. I admit that the drummer in me cannot resist the music’s allure and sometimes I have head back outside to get a better listen. I soak in the power of the music and on an especially lucky night catch a shooting star or lightning off in the distance. At first, I thought that all the noise might keep me awake but since it is almost constant it has become a beautiful soundtrack to our lives.

Last weekend we had the honor of experiencing Dia de los Muertos festivals in Ajijic and Ixtlahuacán de los Membrillos. The festivals went into the night and the music blared. Beyond the stunning costumes and incredible dancing, I was struck by all the families gathered together – from wee ones just born to teetering elders. Seeing the multi-generational families together reminded me of my childhood when my family lived closer together and we gathered on a regular basis. For many of us in the US, this sense of community no longer exists. Families, like my own, are spread all over the globe. In our cities, we often don’t know our neighbors. Educators are taught that one of the primary goals to teach youth is “independent living.” People look down upon young adults that choose to live with their parents, grandparents, or with groups of friends. We are conditioned to think living alone (or with a partner), not knowing your neighbors, staying inside, and living quietly is “normal” and healthy. Not only does it not seem normal, it seems oppressive and isolating. So many of the youth I have worked with experience anxiety, depression, and addiction. They are desperately seeking connection!!!! Yet, our culture looks down on the things that connect people. We can resist this!

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I propose we encourage people to build community again and to make some damn noise. Don’t be dissuaded from living with your parents, grandparents, or friends. As my grandfather always said, it makes way more sense to pull our resources together and thrive than for each one of us to be struggling on our own. There is integrity in helping each other out, not turning our backs on the young, struggling, or elderly. For most of human history, we have lived in multigenerational housing – it is a farce to think that the current system is better. All we have to do is look at the number of people that experience social isolation and/or the skyrocketing numbers of people that are homeless. Build community: Go outside, tell your neighbor a story, play an instrument or your favorite music, look at the sky, invite friends over, and laugh.

Isolation is quiet, living is loud!

You know what they say? If it’s too loud you’re too old!

So, since it seems everyone wants to stay young,

you might as well turn up the volume!

 

Photo credits: Stan Reed Photography

Why are you doing this?

When I started telling people that we were selling our house and moving out of the US, the first question was “Why”. Why would you leave Seattle, a city that you have moved back to three times? Why would you choose another country over the US? Why now? And why would you take your son out of school? Sometimes, I engaged in a lengthy conversation and explained how we had made our decision. Other times, I responded with “I promise to explain in on the blog”. So this post is for those of you that have not received an answer or new people we have met that are curious about why this came to be.

Let me start by saying, I love Seattle. Seattle has been good to me over the years and will always hold a piece of my heart. Seattle is home. I first moved to Seattle in 1989 with about 100 dollars to my name. Friends talked me into moving there because jobs were plentiful and paid well and housing was cheap. Back then, living in Seattle was easy. The city was bursting at the seams with creativity, passion, and originality. I found a job within a few days and for the first time in my adult life, I had money to burn after paying for my necessities. Now the cost of living is prohibitive and artists and other creative types are leaving the city in droves. For many of us, we need multiple jobs to just squeak by. And the traffic, the city just wasn’t ready for the influx of techies and planning decisions thus far have not eased the growing pains. As the cost of homes continued to reach ridiculous levels, it seemed for once it was time to be an opportunist and cash out. My city no longer afforded the quality of life it previously promised and leaving had the potential of giving me more time with my son, time to travel, and time to pursue other passions. Staying, meant working 60-80 hours a week at multiple jobs and not being able to be fully present as my son soars through the teen years. After weighing the options, the right path became clear. And since my current research project was ending and I didn’t receive funding to start a new one, I decided instead of feeling like all was lost… I would embrace it as an opportunity to try something radically different!

Leaving the US made sense for so many reasons. Quality of life is at the top of the list. My mother has lived in Mexico on and off for quite a few years and has been encouraging me to head south of the border as well. She started sending pictures of houses for rent close to where she was living. For less than the cost of a studio apartment in many areas of Seattle, I have a gorgeous home, lake view, maid service and a gardener! I feel privileged beyond my wildest dreams. (The thought of having hired help goes against my working class & DIY roots but I’ll save that for another post). In contrast, my salary as an academic living in Seattle barely paid the bills and I lived very modestly! It was not sustainable. Leaving the US has already provided a higher quality of life and best of all TIME! I can focus on my health, my son’s education, writing, and playing music. It has been years since I had time! I have often said that music and art are what makes us truly human, but I had to stuff my own creativity into the back of the closet so I could pursue the money necessary to merely get by. Our short time on earth was not meant to be spent making money and paying bills. About 20 years ago, my boss at the time told me “no one ever dies, wishing they had spent more time at the office.” He was absolutely right! And since life also offers no guarantees, it doesn’t seem wise to wait for retirement to live the life you want. Time and time again, I have witnessed that life can be cut short and I don’t want to take the chance of kicking off before I get to really live.

As for my taking my son out of public school, all the reasons will unveil themselves over time within the posts on this blog. As an educator that focuses on preparing youth for the transition to adulthood, I endlessly study adolescent development, best educational practices, and interventions that are the most effective. I studied at one of the best schools in the US for this field. I have trained teachers, school counselors & psychologists, chemical dependency counselors and social workers. I have observed in well over 100 schools. We know how kids learn best. We know how to keep kids engaged in learning. We know how to help improve kids quality of life, self-esteem, and social/emotional health. As a nation, we do not do it! Educators often tell me how trapped they feel within the system. Many have their students’ best interests at heart, but the system they work within doesn’t allow them the flexibility to meet kids where they are. I saw my son become increasingly disengaged from school. We know middle school is a pivot point, that can have a dramatic impact on the rest of the child’s educational experience. As an educator (and first-generation college student) the last thing I want is for my son to be turned off from learning. But even worse, I saw his schooling was taken a toll on his self-esteem. I have worked with far too many youths and young adults that suffered from the narratives others created about them. I could not let that be my son’s experience. So now, I put myself to task and will utilize all I have been taught so that my son’s education is personally meaningful and culturally relevant. Volumes of research support this approach and although I cannot immediately change the entire US school system, I can change my son’s educational experience.

So there you have it, in a nutshell. The answer to why we left our home, city, and community we love. Like so many immigrants before us, we are searching for a better quality of life.

Photo credit: My incredibly talented daughter, Nox, took this shot!