Monday, January 11, 2016

Recommendations (2015)

Walking to work: folks, driving alone in a car to the office is not my style. I hope I never have to do it. I'm so grateful for my 10-15 minute walk, spent listening to some favorite tunes or the NPR One app, during which I feel morally superior to all drivers everywhere.

Sewing Your Own Pillowcases: it's remarkable how a couple of pillows make my apartment seem infinitely homier. Thanks to sister Megan for recommending this simple pattern that even those of us with limited sewing skills can successfully decipher.

Hormone Horoscope: womyn everywhere, you are one free download away from this handy little app. It shares information about typical hormone levels throughout your monthly cycle and ties them to emotional and cognitive functioning. I've never paid much attention to this for myself, but it was a good year to start tuning in. Of course loneliness and fear are big parts of making a major life change, but tying some of the more despairing moments to those low-estrogen times of month are helpful reminders that I'll likely be happy again sooner rather than later.

The Katy Trail: the longest Rails-to-Trails trail in the country is perfect for a multi-day bike tour. I hear it's also a great route on which to find good eating and drinking along the Missouri River, though my three-day 225 mile ride didn't allow time for a lot of leisurely stopping along the way.

Spokane, Washington: I didn't know when I moved here, but Spokane doesn't have the greatest reputation in the Pacific Northwest. It's a small city in a very white, conservative part of a liberal state. I also didn't know that it has a vibrant and growing arts scene, a cool downtown, some fantastic local businesses, and an increasingly progressive political flavor. If you need some more evidence that Spokane should definitely be on my list of recommendations, check out this Tumblr: Spokane Doesn't Suck.

Going for it: the phrase "we've just got this one life" has been echoing in my head for the last year and a half or so. In ways yet unprecedented in my life, 2015 has been all about living into that sentiment: recognizing that time is limited and some chances won't come again and I can't wait to start x, y, or z until I'm more prepared. I ended a long relationship and dealt with the torrent of associated emotions; I took a new job in a new field in a new city in a new state; I made friends with amazing people and deepened friendships with other amazing people, did some online dating, found the most progressive church in Spokane and started worming my way into the community there. And more. Lots more. This framed card sits on my bookshelf at home. I think it's inspiring. Here's to going for it in 2016!

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Near Nature, Near Perfect: One

I work a lot of evenings and weekends, but my workplace culture doesn't have well-integrated practices around flex time. I don't believe in taking a rigid view on hours worked per week, and as an exempt, salaried employee I can't. I do believe in setting boundaries and practicing self-care. In that spirit, after working Sunday, I blocked Thursday afternoon off on my calendar.

One of the things that drew me to Spokane was it's motto: "Near Nature, Near Perfect." Indeed, it's near nature in ways that I only dreamed of in Chicago. However, it's December. It's very gray here. The sun sets before 4:00 pm. It's been raining on and off for days. Spokane has been feeling less perfect and farther from nature than it did back in sunny September. It seemed like the time was right to get outside.

After lunch on Thursday I drove thirty minutes to Liberty Lake, put my rain jacket on, stuck a few granola bars in my pocket, and set out, sure the rain would stop and naively hopeful that the sun might make an appearance. An hour and a half later, I'd made it to the waterfall...

...but it was still sprinkling and the daylight was receding quickly. Instead of completing the eight-mile loop I'd planned I made a responsible, safe and very difficult choice to turn around. I'll be back soon.

Lessons learned: winter hikes are an absolute must. I need to invest in some gear, starting with a head lamp and a better rain coat. Weekday afternoons are a perfect time to get out of the office, and everyone should do it.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013


As a new year begins, a few recommendations from my 2013. In no particular order: 

1. And the Mountains Echoed, Khaled Hosseini's latest novel. See previous blog post for my gushing reflections. 

2. Houseplants. In addition to providing a lovely, natural, eco-friendly way to decorate, my ever-growing collection of houseplants are currently filtering the air in my polluted, industrial, heavily-trafficked Chicago neighborhood. I'm now soliciting tips for re-potting.

3. Fitness Blender. During last year's long, cold winter my quest for an indoor workout option led me to this website. Professional trainers Daniel and Kelli have created a range of workout videos that range from intense interval training to yoga-inspired stretching routines to kickboxing. Do an eight-week workout program like Jason and I did last spring, select a video that works a certain part of your body, or sort by time or difficulty level. The options are vast, and the interval format keeps things interesting. The only downside is if you're concerned about disturbing the downstairs neighbors with the inevitable pounding that comes when squat jumps, high knees, etc. are part of the workout. 

4. Vermicomposting. For those of us without abundant yard space or citywide composting, this is a great way to take care of food scraps. Put a bunch of red wigglers in a cheap plastic tub (or an expensive store-bought layered bin), feed them weekly, and create an easy-to-maintain smell-free source of nutrition for indoor and outdoor plants. 

5. HAIM. I admit that I was hesitant when Jason first introduced me to this new band. After a few listens, though, I was hooked. Disclaimer: I have no idea what their lyrics say. I just think they have a fun sound

6. Grace. Now that I work for the Lutherans, I'm trying to give and receive this more often. 

7. Autumn Cheesecake. Yum. 

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

My Dating Reading Life

With the full onset of a Chicago winter my fair-weather biking has given way to bus riding. In the nearly hour-long commute to my office I’ve had abundant time for reading, a favorite pastime of mine. I am more caught up on my Time subscription, yes, but in recent weeks my focus has turned to my true literary love, the contemporary novel.

Last week I dove headfirst into Khaled Hosseini’s latest, And the Mountains Echoed. Having read his other bestselling, widely acclaimed novels (The Kite Runner, A Thousand Splendid Suns) I knew I was in for a compelling experience. Compelling, indeed. The interwoven plot lines combined with an engaging exploration of family relationships—biological and chosen, loving and harsh, present and absent—to pull me into the developmental trajectories of a rich cast of characters. Hosseini engages immigrant life, the ugly realities of war, and systems of oppression that extend across generations in this significant work of fiction.

After finishing the book on Friday night I felt aimless, not quite sure what to do next or how to spend my time. My other typical activities (ahem, TV watching) paled in comparison to the plot lines that occupied my brain. All day Saturday I felt lost, like some important piece of my world was missing. I woke up Sunday morning still thinking about the characters and the interwoven plot lines. Instead of getting ready for church I spent time diagramming the ways that each chapter connected with the next.

Sunday evening, still feeling lost, I tried to find another book to read to distract me, to fill the void that Hosseini’s novel left. I picked a short paperback called The Reluctant Fundamentalist. Thanks to a snowy two-hour commute home on Monday night I finished the novel in two days. It was a quick read, and the ending—oh the ending…

As I finished the last paragraph, though, I felt like I’d just ended a rebound relationship. I cared about the book and its characters, and I enjoyed my time with it. Yet, it was not true love, not like And the Mountains Echoed. It served a purpose for a time, but I won’t wake up thinking about it or carry it with me as I go about my day.

I’m not one of those people who believes in finding “the one” when it comes to romance. I’m not one of those people who believes in finding “the one” when it comes to books, either. However, And the Mountains Echoed was certainly “a one,” and I’m now on an active search for another “one,” another reading experience that pulls me in and holds me tight, that connects at some deep place inside of me.

As I continued to disentangle myself from my Hosseini-inspired daze I pulled another book off the shelf, this one Mindy Kaling’s comedic memoir-ish story. In my short time reading on the train, I realized this book was more like that guy I went on a blind date with once: nice enough, with a lot to offer someone...who is not me. 

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Job 3: Holy Fallout

(written August 2013)

I am sitting in the Argo Tea on the first floor of the Willis Tower watching the Facebook likes and comments role in. I just posted a job update: “My long, disorienting, discouraging job search has turned into meaningful employment: Chicago/Milwaukee Regional Director for Lutheran Volunteer Corps, starting August 1. I couldn't be more excited!” The likes are up to 31 and counting, and it feels good. In these moments it is easy to forget the stress and strain of the last few months.

A few Tuesday mornings ago I waited for a call from Lutheran Volunteer Corps. At 8:30 am they were going to tell me whether I got the job or didn’t get the job, either sending me dancing through my apartment or collapsing onto my bed in tears. I woke up before six that day and did my best to pass the time: a morning run, a healthy breakfast, some piano playing. As my anxiety grew I grabbed the poetry book I’ve been reading: The Gift by Hafiz. Picking up where I’d left off I stumbled across a piece entitled “There Could Be Holy Fallout.”

Call it serendipity or divine intervention, it was a Word with a capital “W.” As the clock ticked closer to 8:30 and my nerves were stretched as thin as they could be I read:

Sit down, my dear,
Take a few deep breaths,
Think about a loyal friend.
Where is your music,
Your pet, a brush?

Surely one who has lasted as long as you
Knows some avenue or place inside
That can give a sweet respite.

If you cannot slay your panic,
Then say within
As convincingly as you can,
“It is all God’s will!”

The poem ends by claiming that “it looks like Holy fallout,” and now—knowing the outcome of that phone call—I couldn’t agree more. But if the outcome hadn’t been that, the poem still offers hope through its suggestion that the reader has all of the resources she needs. Surely one who has lasted as long as you knows some avenue or place inside that can give a sweet respite. Indeed. May all those who search know sweet respite and holy fallout.   

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Job 2: Not This Time, Maybe Next Time

Though I’m posting this blog entry after having been hired, I wrote this post during the summer of 2013 during a discouraging time in my job search.

The two-year-old that I babysit for is a complete delight, and every now and then she teaches me something important. One day during lunch I was working really hard to get her to eat her tortellini. She didn’t want it and wasn’t about to be fooled by my coaxing. Instead she put on a serious face and told me, “not this time, maybe next time.” The only thing I could do was laugh and laugh.

When her mom got home I relayed the story and found out that this was a phrase from the family’s potty training book. The book tells stories of successes and close calls in a toddler’s efforts to learn to use the toilet. Its healthy, shame-free approach asserts that it’s okay to miss an opportunity to use the potty. If you don’t make it this time, you can do it next time.


I had a job interview recently for a fantastic position recruiting and coordinating volunteers and serving in administrative and supervisory roles in a refugee resettlement program. My experience working in resettlement and my degrees and my skills and my interests and my commitments and my passion for multicultural settings made me a great fit. I used my connections – someone knew someone at the organization and put in a recommendation – to make sure that my application materials were noticed. The interview went fine, and I had a great connection with the interviewer who was impressed with my experience and knowledge.

After I didn’t hear anything for a week, my hopes started to sink. After a week and a half I began mentally and emotionally disentangling myself from the role. I quit planning a new schedule and quit brainstorming program development ideas. After two weeks, I received my rejection letter and it was over.

Another difficult job search experience to add to the rest, and this one hit particularly hard because it seemed so promising. One morning as I was feeling discouraged and trying to recognize and honor the disappointment of another crushed hope, this phrase popped into my head: not this time, maybe next time. A helpful lesson from a two-year-old turned into a helpful mantra as the search continues.  

Job 1: The Search

Though I’m posting this blog entry after having been hired, I wrote this post during the spring of 2013 in the midst of my job search questions and frustrations.

I have seldom been as disoriented as during my extended job search. I’ve done all those things that one is supposed to do: I tailor each cover letter and resume to reflect skills and experience relevant to the opening. I network by phone and in person, meeting people who may be able to offer advice or connect me to organizations and managers who could hire me. I look broadly and apply widely, keeping an open mind and trying to be flexible.

Still, nothing. So discouragement creeps in. Then hopelessness. I can’t catch that vision that I used to have, that passion to work with people for social change. Instead I ask,
Was it worth it to go to graduate school? Why did I choose seminary? Was Chicago the wrong decision?

I think of all the things I should have done. I should have gone into a STEM field where there is a shortage of women instead of into helping professions where the market is saturated. I should have chosen my internships more strategically, picking opportunities that could lead to employment rather than opportunities that fit my interests. I should have done a part-time program so I could work full-time while I studied. I should have… I should have… I should have…

I struggle to fight off the negative self-talk as internal voices say that I am not good enough, I am not kind enough, I am not smart enough. If I were, I would get an interview. If I were, someone would hire me.

And so, the search continues.