Berlin Spazieren Gehen

6 03 2018


While living  in Prague for the summer, for the first time in my life, I had foreign culture at my fingertips. On weekends, studio mates would plan quick excursions to neighboring countries. I had never been to any of them. With feverish abandon, I gobbled up every opportunity. Although our true purpose was to study the Architecture and develop our design skills, I was deeply afflicted by the travel bug that could not be denied.


Anywhere I was invited, I went. Some weekends we just went to the train station and found the cheapest ticket to anywhere.


An overnight train to Poland, switching trains in Warsaw to go to Krakow? Absolutely! My modest attempts at learning Czech actually paid dividends there, as I discovered that Polish language overlaps significantly with Czech, and I could still communicate the most basic needs. Krakow was a dull, dirty town, when we arrived at 4:30 in the morning to an empty station lit with orange lights. It felt appropriately depressing as a transition to go pay our respects and weep at the horrors of the Birkenau-Auschwitz holocaust death camp.

How about Hungary? Why not? Another weekend a fellow travel grrrl and I went together to Budapest. I studied the language book feverishly during our trip, struggling to make heads or tails of this unusually difficult language. The city, however, felt instantly familiar. I began to notice that most old European cities follow the same basic pattern of settling along a major river, infilling the river basin on one side with the old town, while across the river an elevated cliff was dominated by an old castle surveying the kingdom. We actually stayed inside the Citadel, overlooking the Danube as it gently embraced  the town square.

Berlin? Our studio professors organized an optional group trip to Berlin, where I had just explored intensely for 10 days a couple months prior. I loved Berlin, and was thrilled to go back to practice more of the only foreign language in which I actually could converse fluidly. Since most of my studio mates had never been before, they set off on a whirlwind tour of highlights, all of which I had not only seen, but studied immensely for a semester before traveling there.


Berlin_Eiermann_Memorial_ChurchAfter I revisited the few highlights that I enjoyed the most, I departed from the group to explore a bit more off the beaten path. It was thrilling and a bit scary to be completely on my own in a big city in another country! I walked the streets, already feeling fairly oriented in Berlin, and familiar with the major metro lines to traverse the city easily.


I wound up at a large open green space, a lovely respite from a long day of flanuering on foot. I found a park bench, and sat down to absorb the sounds of birds dsc03240chirping from the trees, and to watch the steady stream of locals moving thoughtlessly through their daily routines. An elderly man slowly walked towards my park bench and asked, in German, if he could sit next to me. I politely agreed with a smile, secretly thrilled to get to use my German.


We sat side by side, gazing contently, the only two people breathing in the moment. He started making some small talk, and quickly noticed my accent. “Wo kommen Sie her?” he inquired about my origins. I smiled, and he quickly followed up with “Russisch?” I couldn’t help but chuckle… “No,” I told him in German, “I am not Russian.” “Really? But you sound so Russian!” he exclaimed in disbelief. I had never heard that one before!


We had a lovely conversation, and after a few more minutes he said, “Wir sollen spazieren gehen,” which is a German phrase meaning we should take a stroll together, and talk while we walk. I loved the idea, but then I remembered that, however sweet this old man seemed to be, I was a single foreign woman, in an unknown location, talking to a stranger, and perhaps changing destinations would be ill advised. He continued to suggest this, and I felt bad declining. It felt like such a German thing to do, but, alas, I elected to be safe.


I often wonder what wondrous things this elderly man might have shown me on our walk, what stories he might have shared from his younger days. If he would have talked about the war, or the wall, and what life was like back then. He’s probably passed away by now, and I wonder if he ever thought twice about that Russian-sounding American young lady that he met at the park that day.


Hypnosis in Prague

22 02 2018


Nervous and excited, I waited in the airport for my second overseas trip of my life. Just 2 months earlier, I had my first foray into Europe. The taste of travel lingered on my lips, a pure, crystalline addiction so sweet that I instantly craved for more.


Before I knew it, I was granted a scholarship to study abroad for the summer, packing up my apartment, and fervently studying a Berlitz Czech language book. One year earlier, I didn’t even know what country Prague resided in.


Together with just over a dozen others, I landed in this strange city with smoke-filled accents and endlessly winding city streets that left me dazed and disoriented. Four of us shared an apartment up on the hillside, a short walk from the zoo. It was a quiet neighborhood, with a small corner grocery store and a large open green space close by. The ‘Letenska Plan’ park used to be home to a giant statue of Stalin’s head staring down at the city, but by the time I arrived his head had exploded and been replaced with a massive metronome sculpture. I quickly learned to stifle my awe at the seemingly mile-deep escalator to get to my metro stop, ‘Hradcanska.’ I fumbled to understand why I was the only one standing bag-less at the grocery store checkout, grateful for the stranger who pitied my naivety and gave me one of her bags. I taught myself how to order “voda bez bubbly” in order to get free tap water.

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In short order, my routine afforded me a quick familiarity with the city of Praha. I checked off the touristy things, like the 1400s era ‘Karlov Most’ (Charles Bridge), and dining in a below-grade, brick-arched cellar restaurant. I began to easily orient myself on crooked streets by the landmarks and proximity to the town square. I didn’t need a map most of the time, though I always kept one in my satchel just in case. We didn’t have cell phones yet, and I relied 100% on my rudimentary Czech language skills and the kindness of strangers.

One afternoon I was preparing to go into studio to work on my design project. I needed to sketch out a few more ideas before I could start building my model, so I decided to take advantage of the beautiful sunny weather and go sit at a park bench along a small riverside stretch of green. I stared out at the gently moving water, listening to the birds, with the murmurs of Czech-speaking crowds a fuzzy distance away, filtered by my English ears. I pulled out my sketchbook and pencils and began to draw the scenery before me. I felt so connected to this place, which inspired my artistic side. Dappled sunlight filtered through the trees and kissed my bare shoulders. I felt like my heart was bursting with joy and an unimaginable sense of contentment.

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After a little while, I sensed someone observing me. A young man in his twenties stepped closer and smiled. “You seem so at peace,” he beamed at me. I was caught of guard, but replied, “Oh? Yes, well it’s a gorgeous day!” He asked me about my artwork, and sat down at the other end of the bench to get a closer look. He seemed nice enough, asking innocent questions, and sharing a joyful attitude.


Then it got weird. He started cooing about how “pure” my soul was, about how he could see into it through my eyes. The creepiest part though, was not that I felt like I was being hit on, it was that I FELT like he was actually seeing inside my soul! Without my permission, yet without any physical contact, I felt completely violated. My head felt suddenly dizzy, buzzing with strange thoughts, like, maybe I was being hypnotized?!? Was I about to be abducted into a cult? I had no idea what was happening, but it freaked me out in a way I had never felt before.


While this man had technically done nothing illegal, I stammered an excuse about needing to get to class, and hastily left. Was I overreacting? What just happened? All I knew was that my eyes were streaming tears the entire way back to my studio, and my sobbing left me struggling to breathe. I had no idea why I felt so scared. I took a few minutes, back against a cold brick wall, to try to calm myself before entering our building. With bloodshot eyes, I tried to explain it to my female classmates, who comforted me, though I don’t really know what they thought of my story. I still don’t know what that was, but it certainly left an impact on me, all these years later.


You don’t have to have a reason. You don’t have to wait for something bad to happen. No matter what, always listen to your gut instincts. I hope that all women will learn to trust themselves more than some external logic when it comes to their own sense of safety.



A Gentle Reminder (Part Two)

18 12 2017




The first temple that we visited was in Chiang Mai, Thailand. It was a simple, neighborhood temple, one of dozens in the area. It wasn’t for tourists, and there were no signs in English, but the intensely brilliant colors and gold leaf coating the building drew us in. There were no monks there at the time, but there was a large tree trunk wrapped in giant swaths of colored fabric, and the base of the trunk was protected by a short wall, painted with colorful depictions of religious characters. It was topped with burning incense, candles, and several imperfect, white lotus blossoms that looked like they had fallen from a nearby tree after a squirrel took a bite. It was stunning, and yet completely commonplace.

The next temple we visited was a true destination- the Golden Temple. It was a breathtakingly beautiful complex with layers of intrigue. We slowly meandered up a steep set of stairs lined with little huts selling trinkets and items for offering to Buddha. At the very top, the temple unveiled itself, with four distinctly sculpted walls framing in the courtyard with ancient stories. I frequently stopped to admire the ornate architectural details and the gilded sculptures. And, yes, I DID bang the gong that hung from its own pagoda- it was taller than me!


There was a large area in the center for honoring Buddha, and rows of people seated on the cobblestone floor, praying. I watched Bethany make her offering and receive her blessing. I was nervous, because I am not Buddhist, and I didn’t want to offend. It reminded me of attending a Catholic mass as a 12 year old, with my best friend, and how disappointed I was when they told me I wasn’t allowed to take communion like everyone else because I was not baptized. As I watched the elderly monk lean forward and grasp her two hands in his, a smile never left his peaceful face, and I knew that, even if I faltered with the customs, my heart would be received with love.

images (2)As soon as the monk finished tying the knot on my wrist, he paused, closed his eyes one last time, and placed his palm over my pulse. Seconds later, we exchanged bows, and I got up to leave him seated on the stone. The monk’s presence was palpable. He filled the courtyard with a sense of love and calm, and when he directed that energy into me, I could genuinely feel it. The string on my wrist served as a simple reminder of this love and kindness that we all aspire to be vessels for.

By the time we made it to Cambodia, my wrist was graced with multiple strings of various colors, each one carrying not only a blessing, but a memory. It was not until Cambodia, however, that my heart filled with the most memorable encounter, with a most amazing monk.


424389_412929122123051_1929217999_nThey say that you can get ‘templed out’ in Asia. That was not the case for this grrrl! Having studied many of these ancient temples in architectural history classes over a decade earlier, it was a dream come true to get to see them in real life. Such is the case for Angkor Wat and Angkor Tom, the two most well-known temple ruins in Cambodia. (You’ll recognize them from Tomb Raiders and Indiana Jones movies). Little did I know, these are just two of dozens of temple ruins in the area! It was a feat to see as many as we could in just 3 days, without becoming so utterly exhausted and overheated that the adventure becomes a chore.

312484_412884435460853_1548089458_nWhile on a 2-day ‘slowboat’ down the Mekong River just a week earlier, another couple, traveling generally the opposite direction as us, had told us about their strategy for experiencing Siem Riep. Get up early, hire a tuk-tuk for the day, explore the temples, drink water and snack until the afternoon heat becomes unbearable, then go back to town for  good lunch with A/C, then go sit in the pool to relax and recover from the heat of the day. For just $24 a day, we stayed in a stunning 5 star hotel with an infinite pool, and did just that!

On our very last day, we had worked our way out to the far flung, less visited temple ruins. There was one, the story goes, that was actually designed by a woman. Unlike the more popular destination temples, which are being constantly maintained and rebuilt, these ones were truly crumbling into history. Walking through the temple, it felt like being on a disaster recover team. Every time I ducked under a threshold into a new space, I was in awe at how these massive and mesmerizingly beautiful columns were simply strewn about, fallen and broken. It seemed as if a herd of behemoth brontosauruses had been chased through here, massive tails thrashing about, toppling over everything in their path. The rooms with fully intact columns were far more rare here, yet even the scene of crumbling disaster was something to behold. The voluptuous female figures carved into the stone now rested horizontally, after a few thousand years of standing in perfection.

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As we reached the heart of the temple, we ascended to the top, climbing over stubborn weeds and ancient steps worn down from time. I stepped into a dark tower, following the trail of sandalwood whispering with the breeze. There, half in shadow, half in light, was a figure seated on the stone floor, leaning onto one extended arm. Wrapped in robes, the bright light reflected off the dingy white stones onto her dark, shaved head. Her face was as wrinkled as the ocean, and her eyes shined like stars. She must have been in her 80s or 90s, but her energy hit me like a heavyweight champion. Never had I felt such a powerful force emanating from a person! She was… indescribably awesome. The scene burned into my mind, and I was so thrilled to find this woman. It felt like our entire journey led us here.


As we boarded the plane in Thailand, I looked down at my wrist. The strings were powerful, but that last one was simply amazing.


One year ago, it felt like our country was crumbling. I started to wonder if, someday, thousands of years from now, they will uncover us deep in the jungle, and wonder what happened to our civilization. What led to their demise?

15697343_1397671346982152_6921785271375302890_nI was devastated and depressed, and the timing could not have been better for the trip we had planned to go to Sri Lanka. There, after wrapping up my conference, we immersed ourselves into the Sri Lankan culture and wilderness. It was there that I got up at 1am to hike the pilgrimage to the top of Sri Pada, to be at the temple on top of the world and watch the sun rise.

Today, one year later, I look down at the white string tied to my wrist, and I can remind myself that the sun always rises. There will always be a tomorrow. There is always hope.

IMG_4736 (1).JPGThis blessing may bring me luck, or it may not. But it serves its purpose. I am reminded daily that life is too short to focus on the negative. I need not want for anything. I am truly, completely blessed, and I work to keep reminding myself to share my love and light with others who may need it.



How to Choose Your Own Adventure: 6 Valuable Tips!

7 11 2017

It’s true, we love to travel. A LOT. But we would still love to travel even more than we do. Which begs the question we get asked often, “What’s your next trip?”


Believe it or not, we actually have SO many places that we want to visit, we need a spreadsheet to keep track of it all. And we are also armed with some very key strategies to help us choose, “Where to?”



For most people, planning vacation can be pretty easy. Pick a sunny beach in Florida and book a week in January. Done. Rinse and repeat. This is swell for those people, but this just doesn’t cut it for those of us with the insatiable Wanderlust bug. It can sometimes feel overwhelming, knowing that I won’t live long enough to see ALL the places I want to see before I die. So how do we choose?


We’re Not Getting Any Younger

Although I’m only 37 1/2, I’m very aware of the reality that, the older I get, the harder it’s going to be to travel. Some of the most vigorous hikes will become too challenging for my aching bones. Long flights will wreak havoc with my veins. It will take me longer to recover from the energy spent simply getting there.

Tip #1: Do the most difficult hiking now. Push your boundaries while your body is at its physical peak, before it declines too far. The older I get, the more I recognize my own mortality, which can cause doubt, and make you shy away from something you wouldn’t have thought twice about in your twenties.

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I can tell you know that I’ve enjoyed several life-changing hikes, and some of them were so physically intense, I doubt that I will ever attempt them again. Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park in Utah, USA is one not for the faint-hearted! At least that hike is only a couple of miles from the starting point. Havasupai in Arizona, USA was not just scary at one point, but also tested our endurance, with 34 miles logged in a 2-night trip.

15492141_1392043570878263_2220117331010704962_nTip #2: Fly as Far Away as Possible! While these longer flights can be tougher to afford when you are younger, your body will thank you for sticking closer to home in later decades. Recently, I spent over 50 hours traveling to Sri Lanka, and when I arrived, both of my ankles were noticably swollen! This has never happened to me before, and I didn’t realize that I wasn’t moving enough while flying. The swelling lasted for 24 hours, and was a bit scary and uncomfortable. This can also be a symptom of another serious risk, Deep Vein Thrombosis. The risk of thrombosis increases on longer flights, and gets worse with age, as well as many other factors (including birth control pills!). This may seem like a weird thing to think about when you are young, but, believe me, blood clots are a serious and deadly risk. This is why you see airline passengers standing and walking around for long periods of time on flights over 4 hours.

So, next on my long-distance list? New Zealand!

The Climate IS Changing… Faster Than You Think

When we add a new destination to our travel spreadsheet, a critical factor is climate change. There are some amazing places on this planet that I may not get to before they are irreversibly changed as a result of climate change. We prioritize these destinations based on the estimated risks.

Tip #3: Prioritize Places at Risk from Climate Change. This is not a hoax. In 2014 I decided to cross off Glacier National Park because I had read about the melting glaciers. I wanted to make it there before Glacier has no glaciers left to see. It was a last minute, 4 day trip, and was not nearly enough to explore all of the amazing sights and experiences to be had there. Now my goal is to make it back before 2020 for some back-country thru-hiking. 10426120_681178748631419_2884749765749576765_n

Here’s my own list of climate-change destinations that I’ve managed to check off:

  • Glacier National Park in Montana, USA. This is one of the most stunning, expansive parks in our country, with an incredible variety of visual decadence to explore! Experts believe we have until 2020 before the last of the monumental glaciers are gone forever.
  • Everglades National Park in Florida, USA. Sea levels are slowly rising, at different speeds across the globe. As the ocean starts to take back Florida and other coastal areas, the unique biodiversity harbored in the freshwater/seawater interchange will be devastated, causing extinction of numerous creatures.
  • The Maldives.  This chain of over 2,000 islands makes up a paradise country located closest to India.  The former president of the Maldives recognized the harsh reality that their entire country- no more than 4 feet above sea level- would eventually be completely lost to climate change. He fought to take the country to being Net Zero Energy to slow climate change, but was since removed from office after a coo. There’s a great documentary called The Island President that can catch you up on their plight.


Travel is Getting Riskier

Turkey, Istanbul, Haghia Sophia Mosque interiorIt’s a scary time in our world right now. The number of terror attacks had rapidly risen compared to just 10 years ago. I’ll be honest- it’s terrifying to think about. I don’t want to let terrorists win by becoming a fetal position shut-in, but I also take this risk seriously. When we booked our flight to Sri Lanka last year, I debated about whether or not to take the cheapest fare, which took us through Turkey, with an 8 hour layover in Istanbul. I researched heavily before deciding whether or not we would leave the airport to see some of the city while there. The day we flew out of Chicago, we were delayed 4 hours in a snowstorm, and my phone started blowing up with messages from friends on Facebook asking if we were okay. There had been a bombing in Istanbul that we had just missed.

While the optimist in me wants to hope that we will win the ‘war on terrorism’ globally, my gut tells me otherwise. I see such a rapid increase in radicalized groups and violent attacks, that I fear it will never be safe again to travel to some parts of the world. Would I love to see Pakistan? Sure! Do I think I will ever feel safe enough in my lifetime to go there? Nope. 2E81B6E900000578-0-This_table_documenting_the_increase_in_terror_attacks_in_recent_-a-67_14477001334622E893C6400000578-0-image-m-13_1447774752237

Tip #4: Don’t Ignore Political Shifts. If a country that is on your list appears to be getting less safe, pay attention! I wish I had gone to Egypt a decade ago, and don’t know if I’ll ever get to go now. I’m incredibly grateful that I got to visit Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, however briefly, but I don’t think I’ll ever go back. I’m actually flying through that same airport again next April, and have zero interest in leaving the airport next time, due to safety concerns. Before you book your flight, do your homework and know your risks. 

There are many amazing, world-renowned world heritage sites, but some of them are at risk due to wars. UNESCO catalogs all of the official World Heritage Sites, and color codes them to highlight ones at risk of being destroyed. If it’s safe to go there, don’t wait.

travel warning

Make a Plan, But Don’t Stick to It!

I’m all about research, spreadsheets, and lists, but I do not recommend you treat this as a commitment. In my Wanderlust spreadsheet, I collect links and jot down places I’ve never heard of when I read an article about someplace new. For those that I’m serious about, I actually put in a target year for traveling there, and sometimes I actually get there that year. Other times, it may get pushed back, or some new destination takes higher priority. And that’s okay. When my friend Raina moved to Sweden 7 years ago, it got added to my list, but I’m just now finally making it over there to see her!


Tip #5: Be Flexible, and Jump at New Opportunities! When your high school friend joins the Peace Corp and moves to Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso for 2-3 years… don’t be caught kicking yourself at her welcome back party because you never made it to visit her while she was there! Knowing someone in a foreign country is a perfect excuse to travel, and a great way to get a local experience!

Tip #6: Make Your Own Opportunities! If you have the travel bug, and you know this will be a lifelong need, don’t waste time wishing you could travel more… build the life you want! Do you have a dream job that would help you to travel? Apply relentlessly!

While I love my job, my travel is limited to the state of Indiana, so I only get to travel on my own time. But, I chose to combine career advancement and my love of travel, and started applying to present at international conferences. This strategy has taken me to Split, Croatia, Sao Paulo, Brazil, and Kandy, Sri Lanka! I go on my own dime, using vacation time, but now I can proudly list on my resume “International Speaker” for 3 very prestigious conferences in my field of expertise. Win-Win!

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Do you have a natural ‘break’ in life, like going back to school or moving across the country? Take advantage of it! I actually delayed starting college after high school so that I could travel the U.S. for 3 months, and it’s the best thing I could have ever done. I made that choice when I was a sophomore in high school, and started saving up for my epic graduation road trip.

Are there volunteer opportunities that you can get involved with and get to travel? Do it! There are a number of ways to give back while sharing another culture. Build a school with a community, dig a well in Africa, or raise money for a good cause through travel sports! My first trip to Hawaii was done for ‘free,’ by fundraising $4,500 for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society by running my first Marathon in Honolulu!

Bottom line, if you want to travel, there are a myriad of ways to achieve your goals. 

Don’t wait until it’s too late. Go grab the world by the mountaintops!

Remember, not all those who wander are lost.






Russian Roulette

1 11 2017


Shortly after the new administration took over our country, and after I marched on Washington DC, I attended a Women in Business conference. It’s an annual event that is inspiring and empowering, and the overnight format really allows you to have some deeper conversations that really help you to connect with other women. After spending a late night in the Platt 99 bar with Cindy Solomon buying rounds of drinks, I failed to sleep in, and stumbled downstairs to get breakfast.

In the hotel restaurant, I was seated at a two-top by myself, which I was perfectly content with, seeing as how my introverted self hadn’t had a moment alone in 24 hours (awake, that is). I ordered myself a glass of fresh-squeezed orange juice, then proceeded to go circumnavigate the buffet like a shark, quickly honing in on the roasted potatoes and bell peppers. With a perfect balance of indulgence and restraint, I sat back down to enjoy my plate of food, when I heard another woman call my name.


“Kelly!” her heavy Russian accent called out, “Would you like to join us?” I smiled and obliged, moving my things to her nearby table. The invitation came from a woman I had met at dinner the night before. She works as an executive assistant in another department and the same large institution I work for, and I learned all about her recent move from rural Indiana. She introduced me to a young woman, also Russian, also an executive assistant for a large company. Both were in a very relaxed state of exhaustion, and the younger woman was enjoying a bloody Mary with her meal.



Over the course of our breakfast, they were reminiscing about some of their Russian cultural heritage, excited to share with an outsider like me who is interested in culture. “Russian woman,” my colleague shared, “NEVER go outside without full face and hair done. It would be tragedy!” They both laughed. “Oh?” I questioned, “That’s actually a lot like how Southern women used to be in the U.S.! My aunt in Texas talked about how you wouldn’t even step outside to grab the newspaper without full makeup on.”

The conversation went on to share about how the younger woman’s American husband struggled to understand Russian habits. When they visited Russia, he innocently smiled and said hello to everyone they passed, while the local people glared back at him like he was an insane asylum escapee to be weary of. I shared my own observations about how people in cold climates tend to walk faster and smile less, because they are focusing on getting someplace above freezing, whereas southerners lollygag and pause for sweet conversations in the shade to prevent the inevitable perspiration. “But once you KNOW someone in Russia,” the younger woman continued, “they will welcome you with open arms, and they will feed you endless foods and drinks, and be incredibly friendly to you!” They both laughed and nodded in agreement, and insisted, “You really MUST come visit Russia!”

Russland, Moskau, Basiliuskathedrale

I smiled, as the thought perforated my mind. I do SO love getting invitations from people to visit a foreign country as a friend instead of as a tourist. But then reality flashed onto my frontal lobe, like a jolt of lightening. I hesitated how to delicately share the truth. “I’d love to see Russia someday, but it’s not very safe for me right now.” I hoped they would have a sudden realization and then nod in agreement and let it go. Instead, I got two very puzzled looks back.


_96558973_gayrusafp1may13I swallowed, realizing that I would have to spell it out. “Well, it’s illegal to be gay in Russia. I could be arrested and jailed if I go there.” Surely, now, they would feel sheepish about their ignorance and say something mildly apologetic before switching the subject, right?


“No, that’s not true,” one of them said confidently. “You heard some lies.”

olympics_are_gay_propaganda_2053775“Um, no, it’s the law in Russia. It was passed just before they hosted the 2014 Olympics. It was a really big deal because numerous athletes from other countries ended up not going to compete because they feared for their safety.”

“No, that is fake news. You heard a bad story from not good source.”

fake-news_bigNow I was a little annoyed at their insistence that what I was telling them was not factual. “No, it was not just one story. Every major news source reported the same thing. There are video clips of Russian officials talking about the new laws and the implications for LGBT Russians and visitors.”

“Really? It must have been a bad translation. Sometimes the American TV translates one things and the Russian says something totally different. In any case, you would be fine in Russia. Nobody cares.”

Okay, now I was beyond annoyed, but also curious. How could these two Russian expats, one in her 50s, one in her 20s, both completely deny a basic fact that is LAW in Russia?

130919083221-putin-protest-exlarge-169“That’s great that most people you know don’t care if someone is gay, but the fact is that the government has passed a law making it punishable to exhibit non-traditional behavior in front of minors, and I don’t really want to spend my money someplace that is so clearly against people like me. Hopefully someday things will change. I’d love to visit Russia before I die.”

Russia Gay Activists

Of courses, if I were to travel to Chechnya today, I can be caned and even punished by death for being gay. Today hundreds of gay men are being held at a secret prison- a la concentration camp- in Argun, where they are beaten and tortured. And if I exhibit any ‘gay propaganda’ or otherwise pro-gay behavior that happens to be in front of a minor, I can be arrested anywhere in Russia.  So, theoretically, simply talking about my wife in public can be grounds for my arrest, because it promotes “non-traditional” lifestyle. 

At this, they finally shrugged their shoulders and conceded.

So, with all the recent news about Russian influence on the U.S. election, I cannot help but wonder, is this what our future looks like? Will our media eventually become a watered down reflection of Putin-esque autocracy? Will Americans in the future insist that “there is no Muslim ban,” because that’s what the leader tells them, and thus that’s what they believe?




The unwavering loyalty of these women to an ‘alternate fact’ that they had no proof of, but is easily dis-proven, terrifies me. I see similar behavior in some of my fellow Americans. The leader says X, so X it must be! We do not question the leader! Right?



Or do we? Do we resist? Do we fight for the media? For independent journalism? The choice is clear for me. I like truth. I hope you like truth too. Regardless of whether the truth supports my values or not, I still don’t want to live a life of intention ignorance.

(If you’re curious about the history and evolution on Russia’s stance on gay rights, here’s a great article).






Curitiba by Night

25 10 2017

I’m worried about the place you are staying,” Sandra told us as we loaded our backpacks from the airport into her SUV. It’s not a safe part of downtown, and there is lots of drugs and crime.

Well, that wasn’t exactly what I wanted to hear as I arrived in a foreign city for the first time, ready to check into our AirBnB. Our friend, Sandra, was a well-dressed, 50-something Principal of an architecture firm, whom I had met a couple years earlier at a GreenBuild Conference in Philadelphia, and stayed in touch with via Facebook. Our host was much younger, in her late twenties, and renting out a room in her 2 bedroom flat in downtown Curitiba. She had good reviews, and I felt like she was honest that there might be some sketchier neighbors nearby, which did not surprise me for a downtown location in a major metropolis.


When I found out that I had been accepted to be an international speaker at GreenBuild Brasil, I immediately reached out to Sandra to let her know that I would be visiting her country for the first time. She offered to pick us up from the airport and show us around for the afternoon, as well as giving us a tour of her Architecture firm. She, too, would be speaking at the conference, but was thrilled that we were able to take a few extra days to come visit Curitiba before heading to Sao Paulo for the event itself. As a grad student, I had studied Curitiba for its groundbreaking push towards sustainable mass transit and green spaces nearly 40 years ago. I wanted to see how it had held up over time, and to experience the city first hand. Sandra was the perfect person to share the city’s history and Architectural highlights with us on our short stay.

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After our tour by car, with several stops and recommendations on what we should come back to see on our own, we drove back downtown. Up a narrow alley with nothing seeming to be open, there were four or five ‘street kids’ sitting on the sidewalk with nothing to do. They reminded me of some of my stoner friends in high school. Although it was daylight, we could see that this might get a little sketchy after dark. Sandra dropped us at the curb of the 16 story apartment building, and waited to be sure that we could get in through the locked gate. Our code worked, we waved goodbye and “See you in Sao Paulo!” before heading through the courtyard to find our way to our AirBnB.


We let ourselves into the flat where we were staying, greeted by a sweet guard kitty. We got settled, and started developing a plan for our remaining 2 1/2 days. Shortly after 6, our host came home from work and greeted us. Her English was stunning, which made sense once she told us that she is an editor. Her walls were lined with books, mostly in English, and stacks of classic albums. We hit is off right away, and she rattled off some places she thought we might enjoy. She had plans that night, but offered to have us join her for a party Saturday night, which we gleefully accepted.


At night, the streets came alive. What appeared to be abandoned storefronts opened up, twinkling with fervor, as locals lazily strolled in for a late afternoon capereina. Narrow alleys were laced with strings of lights, and echoed with laughter and the primal drumming of a street artist. We explored just a few blocks from our place, nervous about being targeted as tourists. Every place we stopped in was unique and atmospheric. Our Portuguese was not great, but it was hard to find people who spoke English, so we made due with simple phrases, crude translations, and gestures.

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When our host confirmed her plans to meet some friends out later, we were so happy to be able to join her. There was an afro-beats dance party at an arts collective about a mile away. It was just past the more populated areas we had already explored, and definitely not an area we felt comfortable walking to by ourselves- especially at night.


We all got dressed up and ready for a night out. Brazilians seemed to take going out fairly seriously, and dressing up was absolutely expected. I did the best I could with the few travel-friendly dressier items that I had packed. I was more concerned about being dressed comfortably so I could dance all night. Together, the three of us set off into the night to walk a little over a mile to our destination.


With our host’s confidence, we were able to really take in the night time experience. I peered into dark alleys, keeping my party in my peripheral vision. I stared into illuminated dive bars, traced the architectural details with my eyes, and inhaled the sundry scents of Curitiba. The event was apparently quite popular, with a line around the block of an ambiguous building. I would have never guessed what was inside.


The large hall was filled with beautiful, exotic Brazilians of every size, color, and style. Never have I seen a culture so truly varied and integrated! We almost fit in, except for our American dancing style. We samba’d and shimmied, and broke out into full on singing when Michael Jackson songs blasted through the crowds. We stayed up dancing until the wee hours of the morning, and walked home in comfortable exhaustion. It was exactly the kind of local experience that I seek out, and made Curitiba truly memorable.




14 09 2017


noun   /   health-rupt-cy    /    \ ˈhelth-(ˌ)rəp(t)-sē \

1the quality or state of being forced into bankruptcy due to one catastrophic healthcare incident places a large financial burden on a person or family without the actual capability of paying off the debt. 
2utter failure or impoverishment

Example: I literally live in fear of healthruptcy, and am losing sleep over the very real risk of this happening to me. And I actually have health insurance. 

health care bill

American Health Care is Broken

Today Bernie Sanders proposed an aggressively pro-access health care bill, that would expand medicaid to younger age brackets, utilizing a multi-year phase in of expanded coverage. Democrats who opposed similar bills just 8 years ago are now in support. This bill has as much a chance of being approved as Sperry Glacier has of surviving climate change past 2030.


What’s changed?

I’m not going to get into all the politics of why the new administration has failed to repeal the Affordable Care Act, or how the original passing of ACA was a massive compromise by Democrats to appease Republicans, or how- like most brand new programs- there were huge failures in the rolling out of the ACA. Regardless of all that history, the facts are clear. Americans are suffering from skyrocketing rates of Healthruptcy. And most of the rest of us are now stricken with Healthruptcyphobia. 


The American Dream…

The fact is, our insurance markets are out of control, which is slaughtering the American Dream. Health care costs, partly because of onerous reporting requirements, have skyrocketed higher than Space X. Most Americans are considered lucky to have ‘catastrophic’ coverage that requires them to pay the first $5,000-20,000 out of pocket before insurance even kicks in, and now, what used to be commonly covered by your employer, is now a new living expense for American families. Six percent of your gross income, on average, goes toward this. (Check back later this week for a separate post on how this has personally affected my family after a tragic car accident).

Or, in my case, I take 16% of my gross monthly income and set it aside for health care costs.

SIXTEEN PERCENT! That’s as much as I pay for housing!


The New Normal?

We are the only developed country in the world that does not provide universal health care. And you know what? It’s hard to be healthy, happy, or productive in life when you are constantly living in fear of healthruptcy. Every major study on happiness clearly shows that developed countries where people don’t live in fear of a healthruptcy have the happiest people in the world. (We could have another discussion on why poorer countries are also happier than developed countries, but that’s outside this scope of conversation). 


All the countries shown below in green provide free access to health care for all citizens, as a shared cost that all citizens contribute to through taxes:

map insuranceAnd you know what? Happy people also live longer! Win-win!!


…But it’s a flawed system!!

Will taxes go up? Absolutely. But will my taxes go up by more than that 16% of my gross income that I’m already paying? Doubtful. Especially once the market adjusts to reflect cost benefits of buying in bulk.

brexit-lemmingsAre there problems with universal health care? Sure! But they are nowhere near as dire as the healthruptcy cliff Americans are heading towards if we don’t move towards a better solution.

And, P.S., here’s the underlying reason why every other developed country already does this:


Would you walk past a child crying with a bloody knee? Would you not help a wounded soldier limp to safety? If you recognize that it’s for the betterment of society to pay taxes to educate our next generation, even when you don’t have kids yourself, then you understand what it means to be part of a community. To deny another living creature the basic ability to be free from pain and stay healthy is just not the right thing to do.


As Bernie said:

“Health care must be recognized as a right, not a privilege. Every man, woman and child in our country should be able to access the health care they need regardless of their income. The only long-term solution to America’s health care crisis is a single-payer national health care program.”
Sen. Bernie Sanders



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