Monday, June 5, 2017

Getting Involved: Joining the League of Women Voters

Like many of you, the morning of November 9, 2016, I awoke with a burning desire to do something. 

So, I donated to the causes I felt were most under threat and I called and sent postcards to my leaders and I signed petitions and I marched in January... but still, wasn't there something more I could do, I wondered. 

The morning after the Women's March, I went in search.

That's when I found the League of Women Voters, a non-partisan political organization dedicated to improving our democracy through education and issues-based advocacy. 

The LWV was formed in 1920 as part of the Suffrage Movement. They focus on voter registration, holding candidate forums, educating the public on the pros and cons of proposed legislation, and advocating for the issues that align with the League's mission and that matter most to the public. 

This weekend, I attended my first LWV Convention, where I learned so much more about the rich and very impressive history of the League and the work it has done over the last century. This group of amazing people, some of whom have been with the league for more than 50 years, is dedicated to serving communities, building bridges across political divides, improving democracy, and organizing from a grassroots level. 

I wanted to find a way to be active in my community and to offer my time and energy in service toward an important cause. I am so grateful that I found the LWV, and I am honored and humbled to be part of their organization and to be involved in the work they do. Oh, and, they LOVE when new members join. 

Here are a few photos from the convention:

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Hair Donation: Know your Stuff

13 inches of ponytail today! Previously, I've been a big supporter of Locks of Love and promoted their non-profit each time I've donated my hair; however, I wanted to do some research on hair donation agencies, since recently I’ve heard a thing or two that made me wonder if Locks of Love was the best recipient. I know many of you have mailed in your daughter's locks, which is why I want to share with you what I discovered in my research:

1.     Locks of Love: they are “a public non-profit organization that provides hairpieces to financially disadvantaged children under age 21 suffering from long-term medical hair loss from any diagnosis.” What this means is that Locks of Love can charge for the hairpieces they construct from donated hair if the child’s family earns more than X amount (note, I tried to find out what the family would need to earn annually to receive the hairpiece for free, but I couldn’t find anything other than LofL requires a tax return as part of the application process). Details: must have 10” of non-gray, non-damaged hair (note, chemically treated is okay, just so long as the hair isn’t damaged).

2.     Wigs for Kids: this is a non-profit organization that makes “custom-made Hair Replacements” free of charge to families of children suffering from hair loss. Details: must have 12” of non-chemically treated and non-gray hair.

3.     Wigs 4 Kids: basically Wigs for Kids but for the region of Michigan. There are a few other regionally specific organizations, including Children with Hair Loss (Michigan) and Angel Hair for Kids (Canada).

4.     Pantene Beautiful Lengths Campaign: their organization accepts hair donations to create wigs for women fighting cancer. They work with the American Cancer Society. Details: must have 8” of non-chemically treated hair that is no more than 5% gray.

Special thanks to Lee Groh at Jolie Salon in Danville for my new hairdo! 

Sunday, January 22, 2017

My Best Reading from 2016

“Life being very short, and the quiet hours of it few, we ought to waste none of them in reading valueless books.”  -John Ruskin

“Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely. The real safeguard of democracy, therefore, is education.”  -Franklin D Roosevelt

As is my annual tradition, I’m sharing a list of my favorite books based on my reading from last year, just in case any of you have resolved to read more and need some recommendations. This year marked a change in pace in my reading opportunities, since I was finally free to read for pleasure and leisure after graduation.

And this year’s list is more timely than ever before because we know we must respond to the call to citizenry if our great country is to progress and because we know that a democracy only works well if we citizens are educating ourselves.

As always, I welcome the opportunity to talk about these books with any willing participants.

P.S. There is a common thread among these books. Many of them I picked up to read after having listened to interviews with the authors on Krista Tippett’s radio show “On Being,” with which I am obsessed. I’ve provided links to those interviews, just in case you’re interested in learning more from these inspiring humans.

Lit by Mary Karr
A memoir about a writer/academic whose life falls apart and then gets rebuilt. It’s about alcoholism, spirituality, healing, religion, family dysfunction, and second chances. And if that description doesn’t sell you, Karr is a hilarious and vibrant writer, full of surprises, wit, and humor. This memoir is a page-turner; I was fully engrossed the entire way through. (Listen to her interview here)

Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer
As we know, protecting our environment and changing the way we treat and interact with nature is a critical conversation in today’s world. Kimmerer, a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, shares what she’s learned from her ancestors’ wisdom combined with her expertise as a scientist and professor of botany. Her thoughtful and intricately woven narrative calls us to action—to listen to and learn from our most ancient teachers, plants and animals. She implores readers to embrace nature’s generosity and to give the gift we have to offer back—this is what it means to live reciprocally with nature. Her book offers the recipe for survival for all of us on this planet. (Listen to her interview here)

Eat the Yolks by Liz Wolfe
Yes, it’s a book about food and diet, but it offers a perspective that may shock you. Wolfe tells readers to eat the yolks (yay!), but she also explores and debunks other myths related to “nutrition” that spread over time. Advocating for head-to-tail eating practices, Wolfe brings to light in a humorous way some of what we’ve unlearned over the decades, encouraging us to listen to our bodies and question the practices that have been handed down to us as gospel.

Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck
Dweck, a famous psychologist at Stanford University, reveals the secret to success—it all depends on your mindset. A fixed mindset vs. a growth mindset. She explains the danger behind praising “intelligence” and “talents” (things that imply natural ability and thus lean toward a “fixed” mindset) and instead encourages motivation strategies (things that acknowledge hard work, determination, effort, and practice, thus instilling a “growth” mindset). Mindset is especially valuable for educators, parents, coaches, leaders, managers, or anyone whose work involves encouraging and inspiring others to reach their potential.

Into the Magic Shop: A Neurosurgeon’s Quest to Discover the Mysteries of the Brain and the Secrets of the Heart by James R. Doty
Doty, another famous professor at Stanford University, is not only a neurosurgeon, but also the founding director of the Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education. This biographical account explains how an encounter in a magic shop as a young boy changed the course of Doty’s life forever. An inspiring, gripping story that may just change your life forever, too! (Listen to his interview here).

No God But God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam by Reza Aslan
Before reading this book, I knew the basics about Islam, but I picked up Aslan’s book because I wanted to really understand Islam—the fastest-growing world religion that is so often distorted in US media and pop culture. In No God But God, Aslan explains the history of Islam and in doing so challenges the dangerous mentality (what he calls the “clash of civilizations”) that has caused so much misinformation and misunderstanding to circulate about Islam in the Western world. He also offers a forward-looking view of Islam and the ways in which its reformation can and should shape the world. An important book for anyone who needs to learn more about Islam—ahem—that probably means you. (Listen to his interview here)

Inferno by Dante
Since I vaguely remember reading Inferno in high school, I decided to audit a course called “The Dante Seminar” during my last semester in graduate school. Full of symbolism, numerology, spirituality, beauty, horror, salvation, and graphic imagery, Inferno offers something for every reader. Be sure to get a version that offers the Italian meter next to the English translation (you’ll want to try reading some of the lines in Italian aloud, so you hear the melodic meter and rhymes). Of course, you can continue on with Purgatorio and Paradiso if you want to complete all of La Commedia, but Inferno is by far the most engaging of the three sections.

Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude by Ross Gay
I had the good fortune to meet this talented poet last year when he won the Kingsley Tufts Poetry Prize at Claremont Graduate University. Reading his verse was a soulful experience. Full of spiritual insight, grace, love, gardening, and, of course, unabashed gratitude, Gay’s collection of poetry offers something to uplift the spirit and rejuvenate hope. Just read one poem a day, and see if you don’t start noticing the beauty in everything.

Friday, November 4, 2016

An Incident at a Coffee Shop

As I sat writing at the Starbucks nearest campus during my two-hour break between classes (as a lecturer, I don’t have access to my office on Fridays… but that’s another story), I was startled at the sound of a woman shrieking, of coffee spilling, of tables being knocked over, and of a commotion of men running out the side door.

“He stole my purse!” she yelled.

The woman had left her purse unattended on a table while she went to pick up her coffee from the counter. In the meantime, a young man grabbed her purse and made a run for it. Fortunately, several guests saw him run and took action immediately.

As happens in the heat of a commotion, we who were still inside the café huddled near the windows to see how things would unfold.

The man sitting next to me happened to be a Marine (as I learned from his bag, which he left unattended, along with his laptop and phone, to chase the man down). Along with a few other men, he outran the purse-thief in time to retrieve the woman’s belongings and detain the culprit until the police arrived.

When the Marine returned the stolen bag to the woman, we all let out a cheer, overjoyed that the injustice had been set right. As usually happens after a breach to our social contract, the room united in a way I have never seen before. We all started sharing our thoughts with one another (the “what were you doing at the time of the incident” reports). We wanted to share our personal experiences.

Most of these people, like me, are Friday-morning regulars, yet this was the first time I have seen any of us speak to one another. And even still as I write this, many of them are still engaged in conversation, apprising newcomers of the recent events (and the woman bought the Marine a gift card as a gesture of gratitude). We talked about how trusting we’ve been of leaving our laptops unattended to use the facilities. We talked about Leo DiCaprio’s documentary “Before the Flood” (available for free on Youtube until November 7th). And an older man, whom I’ve seen sitting alone every Friday and whom I’ve secretly wanted to make conversation with for weeks now, asked me what happened.

My point is this—injustice has the power to unite. In a matter of minutes, we transformed from strangers occupying the same space (separate and alone) to a community of friendly Friday coffee drinkers, vowing to protect one another’s belongings for all the Fridays to come. The moral of the story isn’t to relentlessly guard your purse for fear of one misguided youth. Rather, the moral is to hold confidence in the goodness of those around you. We depend on each other, and we must work together to build trust, community, and faith in humanity.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

An Update

I’ve moved from sunny Southern California to temperate Northern California. It’s been just over a month since we made the almost-400-mile trek from Claremont, and it is starting to feel like home here.

So far, I’ve done a terrible job at keeping my promise to post more frequently on social media (a promise made to try and minimize feelings of distance). But, as a result of my delay, I have lots of news to report!

We are all settled in our new apartment in Castro Valley. Samson relishes his time sunbathing on the patio and napping on our new bed. In terms of renovations, we managed to remove some weed-like grass, replacing it with hibiscus and gardenia bushes, and we’re trying our hand at nurturing some seeds into plants. So the patio is a place we all like to spend time. 

Our roommate, Dillon, is not only great with Samson, but he also a) installed a projector that makes in-home film-watching more like being in a theater, b) willingly joins Z and me for game night, and c) frequently entertains us with his mad musician skills. Here are some photos of our place (along with a game of "Where's Samson"):

I’ve adjusted pretty well to my long commute to work at CSU Stanislaus (an hour and twenty minutes one way… the good news is that I go against the flow of traffic). I’m making excellent use of audio books, making calls home, and listening to my favorite podcast, “On Being.” Even though it is only week four, I am already super impressed by how bright my students are and how friendly and welcoming my colleagues have been. I’m smitten with the campus in general, aside from how far away it is!

Zachariah is adjusting very well to law school. He was accepted to his top picks for the Student-Initiated Legal Services Projects (“Tenants Rights Workshop” and “Political Empowerment and Election Project”). He’s already made a slew of friends (whom we had over for dinner the other night in our first attempt to entertain in our new home). And, perhaps the most impressive feat, he manages to stay on top of his crazy study load (I honestly cannot believe how much homework he has on a weekly basis!). And, sustainability-enthusiast that he is, he also sold his motorcycle and bought a collapsible bicycle, so he can take the BART (local public transit) to/from school (I think he looks great in that helmet). Here are some photos of our office area (aka where Z has taken up permanent residence) and his mode of transportation:

In addition to the new friends we’ve made, we are very lucky to have a handful of old friends in the Bay Area to keep us socially alive, which has made our transition much easier!

We haven’t been able to get out too much to go exploring, but we make a point to dine out once a week and we’ve even gone into the city for a show. I’ve made a habit of visiting the farmer’s market every weekend and have volunteered to do yoga for senior citizens at the local community center, and Z is hoping to join a softball team. So slowly but surely we’re becoming part of our new community.

And definitely my favorite bit of news to share—I am now a yoga instructor at Castro Valley Yoga, where I teach three classes per week. I am completely overjoyed at the opportunity to practice yoga in my new community. I’m learning a lot, and I’m excited to keep learning more as I continue onward with this yoga journey. So many blessings have come from this practice, and I feel very honored to grow at this new yoga home.

The one thing that makes it difficult to adjust is being so far from our family and friends, so I am hoping to have some visitors very soon (ahem!). Missing you all very much and sending lots of love your way until we meet again.