4 Reasons Why Our Planet Desperately Needs Women Leaders

8 03 2018

It’s International Women’s Day, and a perfect time to declare women as the solution to our planet’s woes!

When I wake up in the morning, I am driven by one thing, and one thing only. I want a better future. Not just for myself, but for my community, my country, and our planet. I am passionate about Sustainability, which is the delicate balance of improving People, Planet, and Profit: The Triple Bottom Line.

 

KellyWeger-FINAL-1As a sustainability specialist, I am all too familiar with the historical state of imbalance of these three critical aspects of the equation. We focus far too heavily on Profit, at the expense of People and Planet. The scales are starting to tip, but there is still much work to do in order to achieve a truly sustainable future.

The Triple Bottom Line: People, Planet, and Profit 

 

Assuming that our economy has a pretty good handle on how to make a profit, I choose to focus my efforts on the remaining two-thirds: Planet and People. Together, finding a balanced way to improve and promote these aspects, will also naturally yield greater profits. I’ve seen this time and time again in my consulting work, saving hundreds of thousands of dollars for dozens of companies, and it can work for you too.

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Here’s the thing. We have so many different uniquely narrow passions, with extremely taxing battles to fight, that we tend to become myopic in our approach. A Social Worker is mired in emotionally draining efforts to literally save lives on a daily basis. An Architect is neck deep in detailed technological advances and complex interactions that can make or break a good building design. A Trans Equality Advocate is swimming against the tide of public opinion to simply dispel myths that plague and endanger hundreds of thousands of Americans. An Atmospheric Scientist is struggling to share decades of verified changes to our planet to fuel positive policy and personal behavioral changes.

map1_Tagxedo_comEach fight is absolutely critical to our community’s future success, yet they lack a sense of interconnectedness that is inherent to their separate paths. Each one of these individuals is fighting for the same thing. Sustainability. They are failing to unite in this common goal.

 

The term sustainability is broad, intentionally so. It is often defined “as the ability to meet our society’s current needs, while still allowing future generations to meet their own needs.”

Basically, let’s provide a positive future for our grandchildren by being aware of the long term ramifications of our choices today.

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We have already seen cycles of unsustainable living, and their devastating impacts on People, Planet and Profit:

  • _90804563_d3e69c4d-f914-4ce4-9aac-1242b91af58dExcessive water use leads to decreased water tables, which leads to droughts, which leads to wildfires, which pollutes clean air, destroys homes and habitats, which negatively impacts humans and animals. Leaving people homeless, with expensive and lengthy cleanup.
  • Unchecked development with impermeable surfaces means there is less open land for rainwater to soak into, which increases stormwater runoff, which rapidly transfers oils and contaminants into the gutters, which overwhelms and floods systems, streets, and our basements. New infrastructure investments cost us millions.
  • Rapid consumerism leads to a throw-away society, where people purchase cheap items, use them once, then discard them, which means they go to a large garbage pile and get buried for the foreseeable future. Then they purchase the same item again, which consumes an enormous amount of raw materials and creates greenhouse gases in the production and transportation of that item every single time you buy it. Air pollution leads to atmospheric warming and increased  instability.

What if I told you that the solution to solving our sustainability dilemma lies in one particular focus?

The answer is women.

 

101445447-160002665It is no secret that women are still working in inequitable positions compared to their male equals. They get paid less. They are expected to be the one to leave the workforce when a couple chooses to start a family. They are increasingly starting small businesses, but fail to grow enough to hire employees. They are far less likely to be in leadership positions. Women make up just 4.5% of CEOs in Fortune 500. Women are TWICE as likely to live in poverty by age 75, because they aren’t able to put as much money into retirement. Women are at far greater risk of becoming homeless. So… what?

 

Why should we all care about empowering and advancing women in careers? If you care about our sustainable future, then you are deeply invested in women- or you should be, starting now.

 

DollarsCompanies make more money. By having at least 30% of leadership positions held by women, or the “C-suite,” companies add an average of 6% to net profit margin. Getting more women on boards also means that you end up with more women in leadership, known as the “pipeline effect.” 

 

So where does that magical 6% profit boost come from? Much as in nature, where mono-cultured crops develop major problems with devastating infestations of pests, diversity in the workforce also yields better resiliency and better products. Men and women have different values, and women tend to be more holistic, think more broadly, be more attuned to environmental and social concerns. They aren’t as likely to be focused on short term gains at the expense of long term failures. Where men take bigger risks and fail faster, women are more thoughtful and strategic about risks. The two balance each other out in a way that benefits the company overall. 

 

7398240996_bfc467485b_b1. Women care more. 

According to one study’s author, Lehigh University professor Corinne Post, “(Women) think about themselves usually in relation to others. Whereas men – either born or developed – see themselves more independently, as standing apart from others. For individuals who see themselves as more connected to others, it becomes natural to think about the implications for others.” Women have more empathy and concern for the well being of others.

 

getty_rf_photo_of_woman_reading_label2. Women dig deeper.

Women are also less likely to have a sense of stubborn arrogance that can sometimes plague successful men. With their greater sense of accurate self-awareness and humility, women also tend to ask more questions and come more prepared to make an informed decision, which, in turn, tends to increase male preparedness over time as well. So, a board room filled with women and men benefits from overall better researched decisions. 

 

rainforest-woman-NATUREWOMAN05173. Women listen internally.

At an individual level, women are far more likely to be in tune with their bodies and minds. The best cure for stress is to pause and be intentional. Those who listen internally develop a better appreciation and love for the healing power of nature. You’ve experienced the physical relieve of escaping a long week with a quiet walk in the woods, or working with plants outdoors. Those who choose to be still long enough to reconnect with nature, are far more invested in protecting and restoring our natural environment.

 

Woman Giving Money4. Women give more.

Did you know that supporting small, women-owned businesses has a much greater positive affect on those around them? Women are far more likely to spread their profits among their employees, which can improve the overall stability of employment in that area. Instead of just one family doing better, every family connected to a woman-owned business tends to see an improvement in quality of life and financial stability over time. But many small women-owned companies struggle with funding to grow, and have difficulty overcoming this hurdle to grow their business and its positive impacts.

 

Women can improve the future for People, Planet, and Profit. Women often have a natural desire to nurture and protect other people, and our environment. If more women in business are given the support they need to succeed, it will not only improve the lives of people in their community, but it will likely improve the stability of neighborhoods and cities, create new passion for cleaning up our environment, and add jobs and income to our economy. Women truly are the key to the next jump in our Triple Bottom Line.

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Where do we start? First, we need more women on boards. Second, we need more women CEOs. Third, we need more equal opportunities for women in the workplace, and to enforce zero tolerance for sexual harassment and discrimination. Fourth, girls need to be educated and empowered. According to Worldbank, “Better educated women tend to be healthier, participate more in the formal labor market, earn higher incomes, have fewer children, marry at a later age, and enable better health care and education for their children, should they choose to become mothers. All these factors combined can help lift households, communities, and nations out of poverty.”

 

On a personal note: This is why I felt driven to co-found WomIN’s Fest. Our mission is to support, empower, and inspire women and girls for a better future. Through the next generation of women, we can achieve a more sustainable future for everyone. white-1342988_960_720

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Father’s Day

18 06 2018

I posted earlier on social media about my best wishes to all the great fathers out there today. This day, the day before my birthday, is the almost 38th anniversary of the day that I entered into this crazy world as the best Father’s Day present ever given to a man by his beloved wife. The first daughter, after two sons. The period to end their nuclear quest for a quintessential American family. After this day, they had satisfied the quota for kids, and they were done.

 

On this day, I mourn the loss of my father. Not the physical man- who, as far as I know, still exists in some shell of his former self- but the man who was the father I knew. That man disappeared long before he abandoned myself, my two adult brothers, and his ex-wife.

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After escaping a scorching afternoon with a heat index above 100F, I relaxed with my wife and our pets to watch some feel-good movie in our home. I forgot for a few hours that today was anything different from any other Sunday. And then I checked my phone. Friends and family posted the most beautiful comments about how much my dad was missing out by choosing to forget that we ever existed. Their words, so well-intentioned, caused unexpected waves of emotion to well up inside my eyes, like high tide in my soul, foaming over my eyelashes like tiny hermit crabs scrambling, wide-eyed, for safety.

 

“That was cold-blooded,” she said, referring to the stark end of the movie we had just finished. I was already on the other side of the wall, and although I heard her clearly, my mind was fogged by the flood of emotions overwhelming my brain. “Cold?” I thought, like the man who packed up his third wife, two new children, precious paraphernalia from his glory days, and fled the state with enough money to start over someplace where nobody would judge him. Where we would never find him.

 

Today, I hope that the man who shared his DNA with me was able to find some joy. I hope that, despite his sadly sore ego, he could find the strength to convincingly tell his tiny daughters that he loved their Father’s Day presents. I hope that his young, Malaysian wife’s eyes shone at him without despair or resentment, even though the rich American life she bought into still has not come to fruition. I hope that he feels truly like the “World’s Best Dad,” even though his first three children have no idea where their father is today. In my father’s eyes, he has a clean slate. Tomorrow I turn 38.

 

My father is now 73 or 74, with two children in elementary school. I do not know my half-sisters. I mourn for their inevitable loss, because I have already lost my father as a young adult, but they will likely suffer this loss as children. This father’s day, I wish for all to never know the loss of a father, for as long as possible.





Sweden

13 06 2018

About six years ago, a dear friend of mine moved to Sweden. It was quite a departure from her life in San Antonio, Texas, where she had moved after we graduated Architecture school together in Austin. In fact, winter in Austin was just slightly cooler than summer in Stockholm, where she now calls home.

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For years, I had been meaning to prioritize heading there to see her and her husband, Carl. It just kept being pushed to the back burner for more adventurous trips that aligned better with our travel matrix. You see, as an avid traveler, with a modest budget, I can only make it so many places in a given year. Usually I try to travel to places that are higher on my list, which is a pretty simple assessment.

 

Top Travel Priorities =

  1. Places at risk of disappearing due to climate change (already checked off the Maldives, Glacier National Park, and the Everglades)
  2. Places that require very long travel times (Asia, Australia, very remote islands, etc.), which are easier to handle while my body is young, and will be more painful if I wait until I’m older to explore.
  3. Once-in-a-lifetime events and cheap deals that are too good to pass up. (Solar Eclipse in Paducah, KY is a local example, or visiting a friend in the Peace Corp in Ouagadougou, which I regret missing out on)

 

So, when I heard an interview last fall on NPR about silly-cheap flights to the Nordic regions, I had to explore. Apparently, Norwegian Air was offering round trip flights for as little as a few hundred bucks, which was less than half of my first European travel back in 2001! Online I went to explore the possibility.

 

At first, it seemed too good to be true! $400 to fly to see Raina and Carl? Totally worth it! As I worked my way through the airline’s website, however, I was nickeled and dimed to death, with add-ons for so many ridiculous things that mainstream airlines like Delta or American Airlines don’t pester customers with. Eventually, I made it to the final page, with the “no-turning-back” button staring me down. As I prepared to click to book the flight, I was accostsed with yet another pop up. “Want to pay with credit card?” It taunted, “That’ll  just be another $33 fee!” This was the last straw.

I opened another tab and did a quick search. Turkish Airlines, which we had flown last year to Sri Lanka, was all-inclusive, and just about $500. It was worth it to know I had an assigned seat, room for my luggage, and even free drinks on the flight! Plus- BONUS- I had enough reward points from my credit card hobby to buy both our tickets without spending a dime!!

 

Thus, our trip was booked! Free flight, free accommodations (thanks to Raina and Carl for putting us up in their office/spare room!), so we just had to pay for meals, entertainment, and local transportation. My wife and I were very much looking forward to a different kind of vacation, with the ease and comfort of knowing locals, and a cultural experience more like our own than different.

 

What I discovered, was a bit surprising. This is very much my personal experience, which reflects my own travel history moreso than Sweden’s generous offerings.arctic circle

 

Sweden is north.

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Really far north. Like, “further-up-than-most-of-the-country-of-Canada” north. Which means the sun plays tricks with your body, by doing things like making the sky light at 3am (or 10am, depending on the time of year). While it technically rose at 4:30am, the sky begins to glow for hours before and after the official existence of the sun in the sky. This seemed like no biggie, but after tacking up extra curtains, wearing an eyemask (thank you for the freebie, Turkish Airline!), and covering my head with a pillow, the sun was no match for my body’s incessant alignment to the cycles of the sun. I slept well every second or third day, which made it tougher to fully enjoy our daily excursions.

Sweden is soooo easy.

Never in a million years did I expect this to come out of my mouth, but our vacation was almost TOO easy for me. I didn’t realize how much I enjoy the challenge of learning a new language, adapting to other countries’ cultures, and the challenges of figuring out how things work. This is definitely a sensation that has evolved over years of traveling to less and less developed parts of the world. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a lazy day where I can relax, order a beverage in my native tongue, and not have a care in the world. But I also (apparently) really enjoy the challenges of foreign travel. Maybe it just makes for better stories.

There’s no language barrier.

In Stockholm, as in many large European cities, everybody speaks English. Here, it’s partly because they have free college education as citizens. Even when we tried speaking Swedish, people responded to us in English, which, as a language lover, was sometimes disappointing. Clearly, I’m privileged as a native English speaker, but it was also beautiful to see so many other visitors from countries all over the world speaking in their native language, and then switching to English (instead of Swedish) to order a meal.

 

Cars not required.

Our friends and hosts, Raina and Carl, do not own a car. They live and work in a place where they can either walk, bike, or take the metro every single day. Even when we wanted to escape to the country, we could do so by simply taking one of many ferries out through the archipelago to a remote island, knowing that there was a regular schedule to allow us to return home at regular intervals. Never once did I feel ‘stuck’ without a car, because their transportation system is so interconnected, frequent, and redundant, that at almost any point we had multiple options of how we wanted to get home.

Stockholm was inviting.

This city is extremely clean, feels very safe, and most importantly, it has good urban design.

 

As an Architect, I relish in discovering the dichotomy of ancient ruins, historically preserved buildings, and modern infill. Yet, unlike other major European cities I’ve been to, Stockholm feels much more preserved. It’s not that there is no modern design, but that the scale is kept in check with historic neighbors. There is not a ‘downtown’ filled with skyscrapers, in fact,  there are seldom any buildings taller than the predominant 5-8 stories. Instead, new construction is respectful, and typically built no higher than the tallest neighbor, which is often a church steeple from 400 years ago. The city has maintained a human scale, where you feel like you still matter. This makes it feel like a much smaller city than Indianapolis, despite having 50% more residents.

 

The density of the built environment n Stockholm is much more consistent, versus the skyscraper cluster that transitions into single family homes in less than a mile of downtown Indy. Single family homes are rare in Stockholm, and our friends owned a flat in a 4 or 5 story apartment building with a beautiful courtyard filled with bicycle parking.

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People MOVE here.

I’m not talking about immigration, although they DO have an unbelievable program that paid for Raina to take a year of intensive language courses specific to her field of expertise so that she could be a fully productive member of their society.

 

No, I’m taking about how people get around. I mentioned the mass transit, and referenced the bikes, but it really is amazing to see just how little cars are used here. It took me a few days to put my finger on it, but when I did, it was truly eye opening. After spending endless hours walking the cobblestone streets of the chain of islands that make up Stockholm, we sat at an outdoor cafe, joined by others willing to brave the chilly 61F temps to celebrate winter’s passing.

 

31403986_2000446300037984_1177753822146862086_nWith a glass of wine in hand, we sat and watched the boats pass by, the regular trains over bridges, and the abundance of pedestrians. I started watching more closely to observe the footwear of those who clearly were walking to or from work. What I noticed was starkly contrasting to what I would see back home. Unlike the business professionals in Indy, the very stylish Swedes made one small concession. They wore comfortable shoes. Think about this. Not a single woman walked past us wearing high heels. They were just too impractical! Instead, women wore sneakers- all of them! They might have fancier shoes at work to change into, but nobody was judged for wearing logical shoes on their walk to work. And you can see the difference in how fit everyone is!

 

There’s room to breathe.

One of the very unique aspects of Stockholm is that is is made up of a series of islands. Each island is connected via numerous bridges and tunnels, and many waterfronts are also lined with public parks and trails for biking and walking. While many of these parks are narrow strips of green, the interstitial space between the islands effectively functions like additional park space. No matter how dense the buildings are, you are seldom more than a 15 minute walk to a waterfront, which functions as a ‘release’ from the density. It gives your mind and body space to breathe, and enough visual distance for beautiful vistas that encourage you to slow down and enjoy the view.

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People Matter.

Hands down, the most fascinating thing to me about our experience in Sweden was the culture.  It left me so impressed, I can imagine why people want to live here, despite the dayless winters and nightless summers.

 

Taxes are high, and they have the social support system to prove it. For example, I saw more men pushing baby strollers on any given day than I have seen in the US in any given year. Swedes get 14 months paid leave when they have a baby! They also value work-life balance. When you work overtime, it gets banked as extra vacation time, on top of the 4 weeks of standard vacation folks already get. And your boss expects you to actually take all that vacation time!

 

Lastly, I have one word for you. FICA (pronounced “Fee-kuh”). Fica is a national concept that every employee, EVERYWHERE, takes a mid-morning break, where it’s practically mandatory for you to leave your desk, grab a coffee, and socialize with your coworkers for 15-25 minutes. Then, in mid-afternoon, you do it again. We actually went to Raina’s architecture firm to witness a Fica, and it was surreal. They even play ping-pong like socialists. Everyone grabbed a paddle, walks in a circle around the table, and takes one turn to hit the ball before continuing forward to make room for the next player. It felt like I was in a commune (but in a good way, and much cleaner). I’ve now taken it upon myself (as a person who eats lunch at my desk while working) to embrace this concept of Fica and bring it back to Indianapolis.

All-in-all, we had a very enjoyable experience. I didn’t even get into the specific sites and attractions Sweden offers, but that’s what your ‘big box’ travel sites are for! If you’re looking for a nice entry to oversees travel, I highly recommend it. Or if you just want an easy place to wander, you’ll never feel lost in Sweden. Say “Hi!” to Raina and Carl for us!





Hitting the Road Instead of the Books (p3)

11 06 2018

(See Part 1 & Part 2)

The early days of the big road trip required a bit of adjusting, as I learned how to live (not just camp out for a couple of days) inside my Volkswagen Bus with another human being. We spent a lot of time strategizing how to maximize our storage in ever nook and cranny, while leaving enough space to not feel claustrophobic. The original Westfalia conversion was designed with some smart features, like a dining table that folds down flat against the wall, a narrow closet and pantry along the opposite wall, and a cargo net above the mattress for pillows and blankets. Most importantly, the rear bench seat folds out into the bed, and is surprisingly comfortable and functional!

At night, when I parked the bus in the campsite, we developed a fairly quick process to migrate stuff from the back of the bus to the driver’s seat, to make room for preparing dinner. I was a lousy cook, but thankfully Jamie was far more experienced than I. Still, given our limited space for food storage, and few kitchen tools- a single burner, one pot, and one pan- our repertoire was pretty limited. We ate a lot of boxed mac n’ cheese. A LOT. I’m surprised my skin didn’t turn orange, given the high quality of ingredients we were consuming.

mac-and-cheese

One night, we pulled into a campground on a chilly evening just as dusk settled. Jamie stepped out to the picnic table and got to work boiling water for another riveting round of mac n’ cheese while I rearranged the bus for sleeping. When I poked my head out to check on dinner, I was greeted by an unexpected stranger!

A rustling the dark preceded a flash of orange, as he lept onto the picnic table to greet us. This incredibly friendly orange cat began brushing his giant head against my outstretched hand,  and quickly warmed his way into our hearts. As the frost began to settle, we worried about this cat being left out in the cold. I debated letting him sleep in the bus with us, but was concerned about fleas. Our bleeding hearts got the best of us, so we decided on a compromise. I opened up the door and called out, “Here kitty, kitty!” He bounded onto the wooden table like he already knew what I was about to do. As I set down the bowl of leftover mac and cheese, our new friend wasted no time lapping up his hard earned treat.

(Note: In order to protect their identity, images of the cat and the KOA are portrayed by actors)

Good deed done for the day, I snuggled into my puffy Kmart sleeping bag, grateful for a warm meal in my belly and residual heat from the engine compartment below our feet. I dozed off into dreaming about what great adventures lie ahead.

 

[Thump-THUMP]

I woke from my slumber, confused and sleepy.

[Tap.. tap… tap] A tinny sound appeared to move over my head.

Now I knew I wasn’t dreaming. Wide awake, I wrestled my arms from my sleeping bag to poke Jamie from his sleep. “Did you hear that??” I whispered.

“Hrmm?” he came to.

“There was a sound outside. I think something is on top of the bus!” I whispered more urgently. My heart was bounding. Here we are, in a strange state, in a strange campground, with just a handful of other campers. What kind of Fargo nightmare was out there?!?

We both paused and listened intensely. I heard another loud thump, but this time it sounded heavier, more like wood. I sat up and lifted the curtain up 2 inches, and peaked out the side window. There, on the picnic table, stood our little friend. He sat there, staring at me. “I think he wants more food!” I hissed. Then he leaped up onto the roof of the bus, pacing from front to back.

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I’m not sure how long that cat was up there, but he was pretty persistent. I think he worked for the mafia. Eventually, sometime before sunrise, he gave up and left us alone. I definitely did not sleep well that night, and I decided that maybe feeding feral animals outside our vehicle was not the smartest idea. This trip was already fulfilling its destiny by teaching me valuable life lessons!

 

 

 





June on a Trampoline

3 06 2018

Dappled June days

Sprinkle across my page,

As would-be trees blow past,

Dancing with thin leaves and debris.

Lazing at the intersection of two fronts,

I enjoy the warmth of the sun

With the cool of the breeze,

A pleasure that brings me to supine.

I could lay here for hours

Watching shadows dance with anonymity.

A cabaret of nature at her finest,

Sultry, twisted, and alluring.

The “swish-swish” of the leaves blowing above

While I lay suspended in mid-air.

My every movement echoes on fabric

Like waves across a taut lake.

I float as if one of those seed pods,

Breeze encircling my golden body,

Feeling rife with potentials of spring,

And truly part of the season.

 

~KRW

6.3.12





Turkey: The Architecture of Terror

17 04 2018

I’m getting ready to fly back through Istanbul for the second time in just over a year. This time, however, I have no plans to step foot outside the airport.

 

I wasn’t looking to visit Turkey again, but after chasing a ‘cheap airfare rabbit’ down a dead-end hole with Norwegian Air, I decided to look elsewhere for a cheap flight to Sweden. To my surprise, Turkish Airline was comparably cheap- around $500 round-trip! Bonus points because I actually accrued miles with them last year, and was able to buy my flight for free using other credit card points. So… Turkey is is then!

 

Last year, we flew through Istanbul en route to Sri Lanka, with a hefty 8 hour layover in both directions. Better yet, Turkish Airline offered a free tour bus for anyone with a layover of more than 6 hours! We could safely explore a few highlights in a group, with a tour guide and even two meals provided. I was excited about the opportunity to explore Turkey for the first time. As a young Architect student, I had studied Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque, and was thrilled to finally experience these ancient architectural marvels in real life!

On the day of our departure from Chicago, a massive snowstorm was rolling in. While we were incredibly lucky not to be cancelled, it did leave us stranded on the tarmac for 3 hours until we could be deiced. We couldn’t watch any of the in-air entertainment yet, so I decided to catch up on email and social media. When I powered my phone back up, Facebook started exploding with concerned messages. “Are you two okay??” friends asked. Geez, it’s just a snowstorm, I thought. As I read on, however, I learned that this was not their concern. Apparently there had been a bombing in Istanbul at the stadium. It was chaos as the news was breaking, and friends and family knew only that we were supposed to be there, but were unsure of the exact timing. I spent the next hour assuring everyone that we were safely delayed. We were not counted among the 44 dead and 155 injured.

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This near miss certainly did not go unappreciated. Timing is everything, and clearly we were grateful for our 6 inches of snow and counting. Our flight delay did, however, carve into our layover, making the planned excursion impossible. I had mixed feelings, as a renewed sense of security concern washed over our plans to experience this famous city. After all, it was just 6 months earlier that the airport itself had suffered a terrorist attack. Is it wise to still consider exploring the city, after all that has happened there? We knew we at least had one more chance on the way home, and we would call it then.

 

After enjoying a successful conference and a couple weeks of vacation in Sri Lanka, we were renewed in our excitement to see Istanbul. Our flight arrived early, around 6am, so we headed to the VIP lounge (thank you, credit card perks!) to get breakfast and relax until the tour departure. We knew that we would have to get a visa, which supposedly was a quick and easy process. They lied. It was a nightmare! We spent 3 hours running all over, getting conflicting information, and watching the same visa guy treat everyone like wanted criminals. We missed our tour bus. Eventually, after spending way more money than we expected, we escaped the airport and took the metro into the city. This was my only chance, and I refused to let it slip through my fingers!

 

It was just above freezing, dreary, and drizzling. Bethany had lost her winter coat on the trip, so I gave her mine. We wrapped our heads in silk scarves to draw less attention to ourselves, and tried to blend in, knowing that being American was one thing, but being two American women- and lesbians, no less- was a whole separate level of risk.

 

Hagia Sophia WAS amazing, though not as mind-blowing without sunshine streaming in the windows to make the dome appear to float. There is no heat (it was built in 537 AD), and I was frozen to my bones after an hour. The rain had turned to sleet, and the inches-deep puddles were starting to ice over in shallower spots. We couldn’t bear the thought of taking off our rain-soaked shoes to step inside the cold, stone floors of the Blue Mosque, so that was the end of it.

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Just days after our return back home, Istanbul suffered yet another horrific attack, book-ending our trip in the most terrible manner. This pretty much settled it. No matter how much I desired to immerse myself in this ancient city, to go back and enjoy summer evenings strolling through sidewalk cafes, spending days-on-end losing myself in its architecture… Istanbul has lost all appeal to me… for now. So, next time I’m there, I won’t wonder what I’m missing, or expend energy calculating the mental stress of taking a risk being a tourist in dangerous times, or feel like a boring traveler for not getting outside of the airport. Instead, I will enjoy my free drinks in the airport lounge, and spend my layover hours practicing pronunciation with my new Swedish language app.

 

 





Hitting the Road Instead of the Books (p2)

9 04 2018

“If you could go anywhere in this great big world now, where’d ya like ta go ta?”

“… I want to see the BIGGEST ball of TWINE in Minnesota!!!”

 

(Read Part 1)

My best friend and high school sweetheart, Jamie, decided to join me on this epic journey. When I asked him if it was okay to include him in this writing, he whole-heartedly agreed, with the caveat that I refer to him as “the type of beauty that you don’t even notice until you look away and find that everything else is grey and lacks luster because your eyes have forever been ruined by perfection.” (Happy, Jeremiah?) In truth, I loved his heart more than anything else. As a young man, he was fiercely loyal, compassionate, and caring. His long hair, spiky Doc Martens, and handmade chain mail bracelet were a nice touch too.

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As a modern day renaissance man, Jamie was a perfect companion for a road trip. While I had taken a few semesters of high school shop classes, and learned basic auto repair, he did it for a living, and was a whiz at diagnosing unexpected mechanical failures (which, with a VW Bus, was inevitable on a cross-country road trip). I do blame Jamie for getting me hooked on Weird Al’s music, however.

 

maxresdefaultI partly blame Mr. Yankovic for my near-obsession with seeing all the World’s Largest things. The fateful book, “Roadside America” didn’t help things any, either. I poured over the pages, my eyes filled with awe at the low-resolution, black and white photos of things so bizarre, I simply couldn’t NOT go see them! I never even knew there was a Spam Museum, nor did I eat spam, in fact, I’d been vegetarian since the age of eleven, but… c’mon, aren’t you curious???

 

Knowing that this would be the theme for my big adventure out West, I fully embraced this new life of kitschy oddities. That’s when I had the brilliant idea… to kidnap Ms. Gwendolyn and take her with me.

 

I didn’t know who Gwen actually would be, but I knew that she would have the time of her life! Her ceramic life, that is. You see, Gwen was a 2 foot tall ceramic goose that I stole from the lawn of a stranger in Lake Orion, Michigan. Honestly, she wasn’t my first choice. (Shhh.. don’t tell her). You see, in 1998, in this particular midwest suburban town, it was shockingly difficult to find people with lawn ornaments! I thought it would be so easy to find a cute, plastic garden gnome (by the way, my idea existed waaaaay before the movie Amelie was ever filmed). But after driving around in search of a victim, I was left with extremely sparse options. Then I saw Gwendolyn. She was standing there, next to another ceramic goose, and the setting sun glistened off her dewy concrete eyes. I knew she was ‘the one’ instantly, but I wish I had known how heavy she was going to be before I ran out of the car to snatch her.

 

Gwendolyn was a plain looking goose. She was mostly white, with some grey. Her feathered body was molded with little divots, not unlike a golf ball. She was hollow inside, which helped to reduce the load capacity of my under-powered, over-packed VW. I named her Gwendolyn, because she wanted to start fresh, with a whole new life. I wrote down the address of the house from whence she fled, and off we went.

Gwen was gleeful about her new adventure! The first night, we stopped at a campground listed in our thick book of campgrounds across America. It was a trailer park/ campground, and it was late when we pulled up. The gate to the campground was closed, and I didn’t know what I was going to do. It was dark, I was nowhere near any other towns, and I didn’t have the energy to stare at the atlas with a flashlight trying to reroute to someplace another hour down the road. Thankfully, a local living in the trailer park rolled up, opened up the gate before us, and said, “Just be outta here by 6am and you won’t have to pay!” “Uh… okay. Thanks!” I replied, nervous that I was going to get myself in trouble by sneaking in there after hours.

 

I found an empty site, got myself all situated, and started a small campfire. Gwen wanted to celebrate her freedom with a fire-roasted marshmallow, so I found her a stick with a Y-shape at one end, and whittled it down so she could roast her own, while balancing the stick atop her chest. She was a natural!

 

The next morning, we packed up our things under the darkness of cheap flashlights, and headed out. First night on the road? $0. What a great start to this adventure!!

 

(Read Part 3)





Hitting the Road Instead of the Books (p1)

24 03 2018

Nobody thought I would actually do it. I was 15 when I decided that this was my plan. I’d just bought my very first car- a 1969 Volkswagen Bus for $2,800- and was saving up every dollar I earned to fix him up. The interior seats were a mustard yellow vinyl that reminded me of baby puke, but stickier in the summer heat with no A/C. The flooring was tattered and torn from 26 years of good times. The interior cabinetry- an original Westfalia conversion- was in surprisingly good shape, save for a few peeled back corners of the vinyl corner trim that had aged from white to creme-colored.

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I knew that this vehicle was the key to my escape, and I cherished every rusted inch of it. I borrowed some money from my parents to get the body sanded and repainted right away. The patchy, multiple shades of white paint that were on it were okay, but this bus had only moved to Michigan 2 years earlier, and I knew it needed a fresh coat of protection from the harsh, salty roads. I knew exactly what I wanted: brilliant, cobalt blue, with glittery heavy metal flake on the bottom, with snow white on top. (As it turns out, I couldn’t afford heavy metal flake, but I think he turned out gorgeous nevertheless).

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Over that first year we were together, I painstakingly removed all the wood paneling that graced the ceiling and walls of this camper. I salvaged the pieces I could, cut new ones where I couldn’t, and then stained them all a warm cherry color, replete with 7 coats of clear varnish. (My driveway and I saw a lot of each other that summer.) I bought a rusted out parts bus to scab materials from. An older woman helped me to sew all new curtains, which I then tie-dyed shades of cerulean blue, lime green, and a hint of purple. My own mother helped me to rip out all that nasty yellow vinyl and sew brand new upholstery for the rear seats and fold-out bed cushions. I picked a dark blue fabric with a black chevron pattern, to match the new paint job and help hide stains.

 

Before I knew it, I tossed my graduation cap into the air, starting dog-earring my brand new copy of “Roadside America,” and spent hours every week pouring over the atlas, thinking about the best routes to take. I had no cell phone. There was no such thing as wifi. It was just me and those books, calculating approximate travel time between towns. I made mixed tapes of my favorite road songs, and learned every word to Weird Al Yankovic’s “Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota” by heart.

Finally, the time had come. My friends were all packing up to head off to college or ‘real’ full-time adult jobs. My own summer job was winding down, and my wallet was growing thick. I had no credit cards, and had to carefully plan exactly how much money I would need to take this trip. There was no ‘Plan B’ if I ran out too soon. There were only intermittent payphones and an ashtray full of quarters.

 

I didn’t yet know if I wanted to go to college for Art or Architecture, so I picked a school with excellent programs for both. The only thing I knew for certain, was that this trip was absolutely going to happen, and was part of my destiny. With my admission to the University of Michigan officially deferred, I packed up my things in my beloved VW Bus, and prepared to hit the road. College would just have to wait until the next semester.

(Read Part 2…)

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