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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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!

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.

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

What happens when you follow your dream and live your passion?

Spending even five minutes reading world “news” these days can be soul crushing and make you feel like goodness in the world is gone. But then you meet people that move through the world in a way that gives you hope. One of the best parts of traveling is chance encounters with people you’d never have met if you stayed in your own city, country, and comfort zone. Since we began staying near Lake Chapala in Mexico, we have fallen in love with the most delicious chipotle goat cheese we have ever tasted! The flavor is undeniably impeccable; so much so that when I ran out of crackers I had to find something else to put it on. I tried it on tortilla chips. Amazing! When I ran out of them, I may have just licked it off the knife. Each week, I look forward to going to the market and renewing our supply. As I relayed my love of their product to the vendor, she mentioned that they gave tours of their farm. I knew I wanted to go. I have always adored goats. Back in my punk rock, volunteering on a reservation days, I even had a goat named Darby Crash! I wasn’t sure if my family would be as enthusiastic as I was, especially at the prospect of doing some milking! However, I am fortunate that my family is generally game to take any adventure with me that I can come up with. The next time we saw the vendors, Juan Diego and Laura, we told them we were in and that we couldn’t wait to visit their farm.

Goat
Juan Diego had told us that the tour of the farm also included treats! As it turned out, the best treat was getting to know them. We met Juan Diego and Laura in Ajijic and followed them out to the ranch. The drive from Ajijic to Mezcala is excitingly beautiful and bumpy. Mexico is notorious for its unmarked speed bumps, topes, and although we encountered some along the way, we mostly encountered what I called inverted topes, essentially huge potholes. It was impressive watching the cars in front of us navigate the potholes effortlessly by weaving from one side of the road to the other. The scenery along the roadside is unlike any I have seen, to the right the mountain has flowering trees all the way to the top, to the left a stunning view of Lake Chapala and the historic Mezcala Island. Much sooner than expected, we arrived at the ranch. Along with a few other tourists visiting the ranch that day, we were welcomed with fresh fruit, goat yogurt, and granola. After enjoying our delicious snack, Juan Diego instructed us to wash our hands before feeding the goats to protect them from our human germs. The goats’ favorite snacks were the leaves of the plum trees growing all around the ranch. They gently ate from our hands and some were super affectionate and loved being petted… others not so much.
Laura_and_goatsAfter feeding, Laura freed the goats from the pens to wander among us as we climbed up the hillside. At the top, Juan Diego introduced us to their “office” ­– large rocks for sitting, a small fire pit, and a magnificent view. Juan Diego started sharing the story of how the Galo de Allende farm came to be. He found the property while hiking and knew it was the perfect place to raise goats. He was already a cheese maker and for many reasons the next logical step was to raise their own goats, which would offer them a fresh supply of milk. What struck me the most during the conversation was how intentional Juan Diego and Laura are about their place in the community and the natural environment. Buying land is generally not an option in Mezcala if you are an outsider. Juan Diego, along with his mother, had to meet with the village elders and convince them their intentions were good, they would not harm the land, and they would contribute in a positive way to the community. These are the very values that permeated endless conversations I had in the US Pacific Northwest in the 90s. Many of us had a shared vision of how things could be. But instead of sustainable community development, I watched corporate greed completely destroy the areas I loved.

Allende_officeWhen I went to the Galo de Allende ranch, I hadn’t expected to see a successful business model that was actively focused on giving the best care available to the animals, protecting the land, and providing jobs for a community that has an extremely high rate of poverty. As if that isn’t all amazing enough, it was also incredibly inspiring to meet people that had forsaken the traditional modern lifestyle to go back to small batch cheese making and ranching. A huge part of my work over the past fifteen plus years is coaching youth and young adults to find and follow their dreams. To the depths of my heart and soul, I believe that quality of life is more important than making a bunch of money, fitting into the status quo, or doing what is expected by the current measures of many societies. As Laura and Juan Diego talk about their plans for the future and how they got to where they are; their eyes sparkle and their smiles widen. Their gentleness, intentionality, happiness, and generosity are contagious. I wonder how much more peaceful the world would be if more people followed their dreams and lived their passion? I am not sure if they realize it yet, but Juan Diego and Laura are an inspiration to others. I am honored they shared their dream, ranch, and delicious food with my family! If you happen to find yourself near Lake Chapala, look them up (https://www.facebook.com/galodeallende) … you will be glad you did.

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

Discomforting privilege and a warm welcome to Mexico

I lived in poverty or scrapped by barely making it from pay check to pay check for most of my adult life. I lost everything multiple times and had to rebuild. For years, my daughter thought we ate rice and beans almost daily because it was part of her cultura. She didn’t know until years later that it was all we could afford. In Seattle, I worked hard to make ends meet. I did ok and was relieved that when the bills came I could actually pay them. My family’s lifestyle was incredibly modest; all our furniture was second hand as were the majority of our clothes. Our house needed many repairs but it was home and I loved it. As a single mom, I felt extremely fortunate that I was able to buy a house in one of the most expensive cities in the US. Every day, I passed by people struggling with homelessness and living in tent cities. I also knew that if I lost my job and didn’t find another within a few weeks we could very easily end up on the streets too. There was no nest egg, rich family members, or trust fund to turn to in time of need.

Luckily the housing market in Seattle is absurd and for once in my life, I was at the right place at the right time. Selling the house gave us options beyond my wildest dreams and as soon as we crossed into Mexico our privileged position screamed loudly. After years of struggling to just get by, I gave myself permission to live in luxury for a few months. I cannot begin to describe how uncomfortable I feel living in a gated community above the town where so many people live in poverty. I feel and I am separated from the poor like never before. People tell me that my good fortune was because I worked really hard. Although it is true I worked my ass off to obtain my PhD, if the real estate market hadn’t exploded I would have continued to live pay check to pay check for many years to come (the pay in my field is not great)! It really is by chance that I have this opportunity.

Now, I am trying to find my place in this very weird and uncomfortable position of privilege. Like many of the rich areas in the US, empty houses surround me. Some of the owners come only for vacation; others not at all. The disparity is mind boggling. I do not for a moment believe that I deserve to live in luxury and others deserve to live in poverty. I understand the structures that created and maintain the disparity in the US, now I want to understand the systems here. I also want to make sure that I am doing everything possible to not cause further damage. Although I am painfully aware that I cannot single handedly solve injustice, I make the commitment to at the very least not cause harm. I am a guest in Mexico and I want to experience all the beauty and culture it offers. I also want to be of service and am looking to connect where my skills can be the most useful.

Unfortunately, many gringos here don’t seem to have the same approach. On online forums and in interactions I observe the same entitled behavior and racism that I saw north of the border (NOB). Especially on the online forums there seems to be a general overtone of superiority and an us vs them mentality. People are constantly writing comments about how locals are short changing them and trying to scam them. These comments are made with little to no evidence that their assumptions are correct. I am not saying that bad things can’t happen or that dishonest people don’t exist in MX, I am just saying that everything that people worry about happening here definitely happens in the US too. Gringos also get frantic searching for the same brands as home, like “tide pods” (yes, really!). C’mon on people, you were adventurous enough to move to MX how about trying a different kind of detergent? They also bring with them their harried way of being in the world. Horn honking, huffing and puffing when waiting in line… What is that all about? Most of these folks are retired. Where the hell do they have to be that they can’t stand in line a few extra minutes for dirt cheap organic veggies bought directly from the grower?

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In stark contrast, the locals are extremely kind and welcoming. Everywhere I go, smiles and “Buenos Dias” or “Hola” greet me. I have not once felt unsafe or unwelcome. As an educator that works mostly with youth, I am blown away every time a teen looks me in the eye, smiles, and says “Buenos Tardes” as they walk by. That certainly wasn’t the teen behavior I saw in Seattle; friendly teenagers that WANT to talk to adults? Wow! And the children… they are often eager to try out any English words they know. Their smiles melt my heart. The vendors at the markets we frequent are also incredible. Today, we even got hugs and kisses from our favorite baker! These delightful interactions make getting our groceries fun, instead of being another chore on the to do list. Even when I visit communities that people from NOB don’t often frequent and I struggle trying to speak Spanish, people always respond with patience and kindness. Never once has anyone said, “SPEAK SPANISH, you are in Mexico” or shouted at me to go back where I came from. What if in the US “foreigners” were welcome the way my family has been here? I think the people of Mexico have a lot to teach those of us from NOB. I look forward to learning all I can during my time here.

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!