when Liberia gets you down

I am not one of those people who joins in posting things like the ubiquitous “I love my life!” on my facebook status. I feel like the people who actually know you well will probably already know whether you love your life or not, and the people who don’t know probably don’t need to find out via 4 words on facebook.

But let’s suppose, hypothetically for a moment, that you were spending part of your Saturday doing research on Liberia, which can often be at its best utterly disheartening.  The country that was started by free slaves has had a serious spate of bad luck in recent years that has culminated in civil war/drought/famine/disease/and other terrible things (are you wondering how this started with facebook? Yeah I’ll get there in a minute). Being someone who cannot watch sad commercials without being melancholy for an hour, research on Liberia makes me feel seriously depressed (if hypothetically speaking, I were the one researching Liberia).

If you were this hypothetical researcher you might be sitting at a coffee shop mentally bemoaning the fact that people thousands of miles away have such bleak prospects. Reading about cases like these used to make me feel a deep sense of guilt that I lived such a privileged existence when others struggled to get clean water. This problem persisted until I realized that my guilt wasn’t going to help them (let’s be real here, my power to help the situation is extremely limited) and would only keep me from appreciating the things I do have in my life. This is not advocating for ignoring the world’s problems, but only recognizing what it is within your power to accomplish.

But if you were our hypothetical researcher you might reflect on the situation and realize that you are currently sitting at your favorite coffee shop on a beautiful day and earlier you had handmade ice cream on a farm! and tonight you are making cheese fondue with one of your favorite people in the world and this might lead you to 2 conclusions: 1) You should probably go running later and 2) you have a pretty awesome life.

This conclusion might inspire you get on facebook and write something like the aforementioned status that will be “liked” by approximately 7 facebook friends and include a comment from your sister questioning your sanity.

Or you could get on your blog and write it instead.


1 week, 1 day, and 4 interviews until…

spring break! Not to sound redundant (or like I’m 18 years old) but I’m really looking forward to a break. Not because I have any exciting travel plans, or that I’ll be a year away from going to Paris! (maybe you’ve heard) but I’m really looking forward to catching up with old friends. This spring break will mean seeing a friend I haven’t seen in over a year, another that I haven’t seen in months but it feels like a year (hi TA!), former neighbors (the best), and a friend who is pregnant and due in May (the first of our group to have a baby, which means I should probably get to work on that blanket).

I’ve noticed it’s a symptom of your 20s to wake up one day and realize your friends are no longer 10 minutes away but have been flung instead to the far corners of the country (or in my case, California, Florida, and South Carolina which really isn’t that far away but seems it). I’m really looking forward to catching up with a few of them, and possibly getting started on that baby blanket (step 1: learning how to use my sewing machine).

As a side note, I’m packing away most of my sweaters today. Seriously North Carolina, I think I love you.

post-publication amendment: I neglected to mention that I am also very excited that I will get to see my sister and my furry grey niece over spring break (just to clarify, she’s a cat, not a child with a skin condition).

spring fever and garden envy

One thing I really like about my newly adopted state of North Carolina is the weather. It’s been in the 70s here recently and winter was surprisingly tame, at least compared to what I’m used to. Recognizing that there are few things less exciting than discussions about the weather, I have to say that all this warm air has given me garden envy. A lot of the blogs I read are overflowing with who’s planting what, debates about the best heirloom seeds and seed catalogs, and best times to plant. I’m short on gardening experience, but last year I did live in a house where I had space to garden outside. As a novice gardener I thought it would be brilliant to grow lots of things in pots, mostly because I thought it looked cool and I could bring everything in when the weather was cold at night. My “gardening” resulted in a handful of beans, a few herbs, and the picture below.

It was a learning experience.

new camera/being a grown up

Despite the title of this post I am not officially declaring myself as a grown up just yet. I’m pretty sure in order to qualify you can’t have made any calls to your mom in the last year requesting directions for how to boil eggs. I have instead, made progress on the path to growing up by purchasing my first ever (used) DSLR! (After typing this I realized I had no idea what that stood for. Wikipedia tells me it’s “digital single-lens reflex” camera). I don’t mean that buying a camera makes you a grown up, but all the people I know who are serious about their picture taking own DSLRs. And they’re grown ups. It can’t be a coincidence.

To celebrate this exciting event I’m sharing with you one of the first ever pictures taken with the new camera (the very first was of my cat, but her eyes are glowing green and it’s a little disturbing). The presence of the shadow tells you I obviously have no idea how to turn off the flash, but it’s a work in progress.

happy valentine’s day, and an unrelated tangent

Happy Valentine’s Day! I hope you get to spend it doing something awesome, like eating chocolate covered strawberries (my favorite thing in the world) or your personal equivalent.

Permit me a moment to move away from Valentine’s Day to talk about something that is pretty important to me. Last week House Appropriations Chair Hal Rogers proposed eliminating funding for Americorps as one of several cost-saving solutions. For those of you who don’t know, Americorps places volunteers with organizations to work towards the goal of alleviating poverty in the U.S. Shirley Sagawa has an article about it here. Volunteers are often placed with organizations that typically couldn’t afford to hire an additional staff person, but greatly benefit from it.  These volunteers aren’t paid a salary, but receive a living allowance that puts them at poverty level in order to better understand the lives of those they’re trying to help. Upon completion of service, they can also receive a small education award.

I spent last year volunteering in West Virginia as an Americorps VISTA. I worked for an affordable housing non-profit and got to see first hand the incredible work they do every day. It was an amazing personal and professional experience. My boss was a great mentor, and I learned the struggles of trying to make it on very little money (a skill that would be useful for just about everyone, I think). I’ll be the first to admit that Americorps isn’t always the most efficient program, but the great work it does certainly outweighs its negatives.

Cutting the program’s funding would mean not only the loss of thousands of jobs, but also the loss of a resource for many worthy organizations nationwide and ultimately of many opportunities for the nation’s impoverished.

I can think of no better ending for this piece than to quote Sagawa from her article in the Huffington Post:

“And it will have lasting consequences for our country if we turn away the time and talent of those willing, but not able, to serve. That’s something all of us should appreciate, whatever our ideology.”

paris on my mind

I can’t help it. Ever since I decided that I’m going to Paris next year it’s become a bit of an obsession. This picture is from a spring break trip that featured a chocolate Eiffel Tower. At the time I thought it was both funny and sad, because it only reminded me that I hadn’t been yet. And now that’s changing! Yay for goals! Yay for Paris!

sage advice from mark twain, or, paris!

There is a quote, commonly attributed to Mark Twain (I think), that goes “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than the ones you did…” Mark Twain is a smart guy, but regardless of whether he actually said that or not I’ve decided to embrace that sentiment. I’m going to Paris. Not now, nor any time soon actually. Not until next March. But I’ve decided I’m going and for now that will suffice. I’ve always wanted to go, and just assumed I would since for years I was convinced my destiny was to be a French teacher. Incorrect assumptions about the future aside, I have a small window left in which to take advantage of that wonderful concept known as “spring break.” I also feel the need to be true to my 18 year old self, who was wrong about teaching but not about traveling. This also means a new reason to make lots of lists! It’s a good day.