D.C. Pride

22 06 2017

Back in November, my wife and I were shocked by the results of the U.S. election. We felt numbed and despaired over what would happen in this alternate reality that we must now call our future. When the plans for the Womens March on Washington emerged, we had a brief discussion and decided that, one way or another, we had to be there. ww3

 

Flash forward to January. Shortly after our new POTUS was officially sworn in, there were 7 busloads of invigorated women (and a handful of wonderfully feminist men) departing from a parking lot in Indianapolis Friday evening, . We road through the night, marched with a million other women, then got back on those buses Saturday night to ride home, too energized to sleep. 16143153_10212060536858928_8363833951619441822_n

 

The ensuing response from the 45th administration was comical. Clearly, we had made an impression. Our numbers, as well as our voices, were heard around the world. It felt empowering, in a time of great despair, to know that I WAS THERE. I felt like I was part of history, and no matter how much hot air he blew trying to claim we weren’t, the new president clearly saw us as a powerful force.

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Upon our return to home, I worked hard to maintain a balance of vigilant activism, and healing self-care. It wasn’t easy. This president proceeded to launch a relentless twitterstorm of daily lies, distractions, smoke and mirrors to overwhelm and obfuscate the barrage of controversial bills he pursued. It quickly became clear to me, that we needed to do more to make our voices heard.

 

In this new era of so-called ‘fake news,’ ‘alternate facts’, and a shocking roll back of transparency in our federal administration, we are scared about what secret dealings may be underway. If #45 is good at anything, it’s being secretive, lacking loyalty, and flip-flopping to appease whomever he wants something from. So, despite some supporters’ claims that he was ‘pro-LGBT,’ our community is appalled by the horribly anti-LGBT people he has put into powerful positions.

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Our very own governor of Indiana (aka VP Pence), made headlines in 2015 with his rushed decision to try to institutionalize a religious freedom to discriminate (RFRA), before the business communities outcry forced him to repeal the anti-LGBT law. Our state lost over $60Million in business due to Pence’s irresponsible insistence on pushing his own personal anti-LGBT religious agenda onto our state. No matter what this POTUS thinks personally, he is clearly willing to throw us under the bus if it helps him get something else that he wants. He has no moral scruples.

 

So, I checked my balance of airline miles, and booked us a flight back to D.C., to march with our LGBTA brothers and sisters.

If ever there was a year to celebrate LGBT Pride in our nation’s capitol, this is it.

While Indianapolis has a (surprisingly) amazing pride celebration every year, I expected D.C. Pride would be bigger, especially this year. Not surprisingly, everywhere we went, we met other people who had the same idea we did. Seattle, Mexico City, Detroit, Toronto- we flew in from everywhere to show our strength!! We all showed up in force, flooding and overwhelming the city over several days of festivities, so that #45 could not deny our numbers. Everywhere you walk in D.C., rainbow flags outnumber even American flags, as an otherwise very proud community made itself even more visible. Allies, like our friends who put us up in their guest room for free, also proudly displayed their freshly purchased rainbow gear.

dc pride

Thank you.

Thank you to all our allies, who proudly celebrate with us every Pride, every day, every year; who shed tears and shared hugs when our community suffered the most deadly mass shooting in history; who walk us home when we don’t feel safe; who refuse to ignore overheard homophobic comments; and who stand up to strangers to tell them that it’s not okay to use ‘gay’ as a derogatory adverb.

Thank you to Washington D.C. Your community warms my heart. It makes me feel good knowing that #45 is literally surrounded by LGBT pride, and that our former homophobic governor has to dodge rainbows on every street corner!

Thank you to my LGBTQA brothers and sisters, who were brave enough to out yourselves, to normalize our existence by simply being unapologetically you, to defy the estimations of how many of us there truly are, and who, above all else, demonstrate on a daily basis that we are simply human, just like anyone else. We are still a minority facing intensive legal and personal discrimination, though it’s getting easier, especially in large cities like Indianapolis or Washington D.C. Our visibility is key to our acceptance.

Especially, a huge thank you to my beloved trans folks, for whom the fight is ten times harder; who need our support more than anyone; who teach me constantly how I can improve, to be more aware, to be more considerate, to keep adjusting my language, to be a better ally, and a better human.

Thank you to the rest of you, especially in smaller towns and communities, who don’t personally know any LGBTQA people (that you are aware of), who might be uncomfortable and have questions, but who are willing to learn how to be, what to say (or not), and how to embrace & support people who are different than you in some ways, but just like you in even more ways.

 

Together, we are winning.

If you build LGBT inclusion, we will come out.

 

 

 

 

 





Summer Solstice

21 06 2017

Lately I’ve felt like I’ve been burning the candle at both ends, constantly finding myself at the end of the night with an unfinished list and chatter on my mind. The world continues to get more chaotic, and respites seem fewer and farther between. The need for self-care is far greater now than ever before, yet we struggle to disconnect ourselves long enough to truly recover from the daily atrocities that surround us. To be indifferent is not the answer, but sometimes we need to ignore and forget, if only for a little while.

Or maybe the answer is not dis-connecting, but re-connecting.

Nature often reminds us of our insignificance. Despite all the human-related news and technologies, we are still struck down by flash floods and volcanoes. We are still stuck on this never-ending rotational orb, through darkness, and light, day in and day out.

When I feel overwhelmed, I shift my scale. Instead of focusing on the immensity of it all, stop to look closer to your own two feet. While I may not take enough stock in the little things that bring us joy and beauty every day, today is a big opportunity.

Today is the tipping point. The longest day of the year. Make it count. I rose to the sunrise and was inspired to write. Thank you, universe, for reminding me of what is important.

 

“Summer Solstice”

She  tiptoed through the night

Mottled with inky darkness and human light,

Languidly climbing to the precipice

Of spring and summer.

For 6 long months, she traversed.

She focused on this moment,

When she would find equilibrium

For one brief but beautiful second.

She paused there, at the top,

Darkness all around her,

As a pinpoint of light begins to appear.

It rapidly explodes into a scene

Rivaling Tambora in Indonesia.

Epic eruption, decimating the weight of

A thousand hours of struggle.

Silhouettes of trees, dappled with flames,

Sunlight strewn through them like lava.

She inhales deeply,

Absorbing the dawn,

Filling her lungs with vermillion blaze.

Hovering under ominous clouds,

Foreboding of nebulous worries,

She knows the climb back down will still be difficult.

She takes one drousy, prolonged blink,

Opens her bleary eyes,

And begins her journey.

~KRW

6.21.17

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Trapped in a Cage

19 06 2015

flamingoToday is a very special day. Today, I celebrate 35 years on planet earth. (Prior to that, I lived on Jupiter.) But seriously, I have grown to love and respect this planet, enough to dedicate my career to protecting it. For the same reasons, I chose to be vegetarian at age 11, to protect all the beautiful, diverse forms of life that we are blessed to have calling this place “home.” It is this diversity that drives me to want to travel, to see strange and foreign lands with mystical trees and unusual creatures. It’s the same reason why many people go to the zoo.

The zoo has always been a perplexing issue for me to come to terms with. On the one hand, I have vivid memories as a kid of seeing first hand some of these strange and foreign creatures from the safety of my mom’s skirt-side. To peer into the eyes of a baboon and realize, “he sees me… he recognizes me… he is LIKE ME,” was mind-blowing. Being able to recognize the traits of ourselves in these non-human beings makes one ponder about our connections and our choices.

dumboOne of my earliest memories of the zoo was actually bitter-sweet. It was a typical hot day in the south. I was maybe 5 years old. We had already seen the penguins and lions and giraffes. We were finally heading to see the largest of all the zoo creatures- the elephant exhibit. I had read about these magnificent animals in books and seen cartoon characters on TV, but never seen one in real life. We walked up to the exhibit, and a crowd of people was swarming. Nobody was smiling, but I could not understand why.

angriffI watched, as I got closer, but there were no elephants visible. Instead, there was a zoo worker standing there with a garden hose, feverishly trying to wash away a large stain of red from the grey concrete floor. I watched as the clear water intertwined with the red liquid, streaming past large chunks of broken watermelon. I overheard the adults talking about what had happened. Apparently, one of the elephants was performing her daily tricks, when she unexpectedly reared up and attacked her handler. It was horrifying. The trainer was killed instantly.

Today, I was at a work meeting that turned into a non-work meeting. I was all set to talk with the energy manager at the Indianapolis Zoo about their efficiency projects, but he was swamped with a broken ozone machine, and, as it turned out, could not meet with me. Instead, he let my wife and I get a free pass into the zoo, since it was my birthday and all. I’d never seen the public side of the zoo before, only the endless labyrinth of water piped behind the scenes to the numerous aquatic displays.

Bethany and I were ushered through the gate and set free to roam, without a map. It was barely 10:30 in the morning, but the air already felt like soup. We wandered from exhibit to exhibit, each one re-igniting my childhood awe and wonder. “The stingrays have so much personality!” I exclaimed, as several of them paused on the other side of the glass and stared me down inquisitively. They obviously have awareness of the fact that we are here, watching them. As we got near the center of the park I found a map and got my bearings. It’s really not that big of a place, which is typical for older, urban zoos. This makes it challenging to meet modern day standards for humane zoo habitats.

orangutan bldgWhen I looked up, I saw the signature steel columns soaring into the sky, which I recognized as the brand new International Orangutan Center. I had read and heard a lot about this new construction, and was curious to see it. We walked up to the modern building, which is encircled by an unusual trapeze-eque contraption of ropes, platforms, and ladders, as well as an aerial track for guests to ride and view the orangutans up in the air. Fascinating design, I thought. Bethany insisted that we should ride the gondolas, since, “It’s your birthday!” They were still running the buckets empty as part of their safety check, so we had to wait to board. It was hot, so we decided to go check out the inside of the exhibit while we waited.

The building- while stunning- left my stomach feeling empty once I stepped inside. There is a spacious area of interactive displays and creative avenues to get visitors to donate money to plant trees in Bornea. Well-crafted videos talked about how the orangutans can perform brilliantly at tasks like brushing their own teeth, or various intelligence tests. Yet, when I pressed my face against the second story glass overlook, what I saw was a pathetic display of hay with wilted lettuce rotting in the middle of the otherwise empty floor. I saw two orangutans sitting still in separate corners. Each one had a face that, upon closer inspection, showed no signs of happiness. They stared back at me, inches away from my own eyes, and all I could feel was sorrow. They are intelligent, sentient beings. Here they are, with no trees to climb. No plants to pick leaves from. No bugs to inspect. Nothing but hay. Sure, they could go climb outside, but man-made steel columns are no replacement for the tactile nature of tree bark.

zoo rideWe didn’t stay long inside the display. We returned to the outside, only to find that it had grown even hotter. “The breeze on the ride will feel refreshing,” we decided, so we went back to ride the gondola. The ticket booth was closed at the bottom of the ramp, so we wandered up to the front of the line. Bethany had to go to another location to buy our tickets, while I waited in line in the shade. During that time, several families got to skip ahead of me.

A lovely, interracial family with three kids under five walked up behind me. As they approached I heard her say to her husband, “If we get stuck in this thing, you’re sleeping… in the playground.” He smiled and shook his head and replied, “Why would you even say that?!?”

I watched as they got ushered past me, only to be told, “I’m sorry, only 4 persons per car. You’ll have to split up.” The mom was nonplussed and agreed to take the babe in arms separately. Just then Bethany reappeared with our tickets in hand. We got loaded up in our own shiny green gondola just minutes after this family, and then off we went! It was slow-moving, but the breeze was fantastic! Once we got up to the top, we were 50 feet in the air and had a glorious view of both the zoo and the downtown skyline. I snapped lots of photos with my camera, and relaxed in the comfort of the cool air against my sweaty skin. We circled the orangutan complex (none of the animals were outside), and then started descending to the platform below.

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As we got closer, our gondola stopped, and we waited in the queue of families waiting to disembark. It seemed like it took forever, but it also felt that way when they were loading people on earlier. No rush here, for sure. We chatted more about plans for what to see next before we had to leave. We waited. I spotted an orangutan climbing up to the tall platform! We waited. We talked about what food to make for my birthday party tomorrow. We waited. Finally, I looked up and realized that NONE of the gondolas were moving. Not even the ones in the air. That’s when we realized that this was not normal operating procedures. A zoo worker approached our car hesitantly to explain the situation.

zoo ride failureWe were the lucky ones. Our gondola was frozen in place just 10 feet above the ground. We were trapped for just over half an hour, and able to joke with others stuck nearby. We shouted over to the mom and asked, “So WHO is sleeping in the playground tonight???” She laughed (he smiled nervously). They were finally able to unload us after 6 additional staff conferred with each other and a variety of ladders were rushed to the scene.

I was relieved that we were not trapped higher up. Three other cars were UP in the air, with no clue what was happening. News helicopters started circling the area as fire engines drove through the crowds to rescue those who remained stuck. “You know, I love my life,” I whispered to my wife. “Even when things go wrong, they go wrong in the best possible way.”

The irony here, however, is what really sticks with me, and why I am writing this. There we all were, humans trapped in cages, high in the air. We could not escape. We could not be free. We were stuck there, a spectacle to behold. For just a few short hours, the families trapped higher up felt a little bit like zoo animals. They could not communicate their needs. They could not hide. For all intents and purposes, they were there to be observed and sensationalized. For me, this experience reinforced my dismay at the Orangutan Center. These creatures deserve more. The need our love and respect. We are not so different.
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Nevertheless, I still remain unsure how I feel about zoos. Yes, there are good zoos. There are bad zoos. But even the worst zoo can still open the eyes of a child who may grow to be a change agent for planet earth. I know that seeing those animals up close as a child changed my life. That is likely part of why I decided to become vegetarian at age 11. No, it’s not fair to those animals, but if they are rescued and cannot be released back into the wild, they serve a very important purpose to inspire compassion in future generations. Do I support trapping animals in cages for human entertainment? No. But education? Maybe.





Introverted in Indy

11 08 2014

One year ago this month, I kissed my wife goodbye, packed up my car, and drove to a strange city to start a new job in sustainability. The introvert in me cringed at the thought of having to leave behind my rich tapestry of friends back in Michigan. I had found a community that, for the first time in my life, really felt like “home.” Ypsilanti was so good to me, that I was terrified to leave.

 

Unfortunately, I had no choice. My job was miserable. I was miserable. I came home each day exhausted from the toxic environment and the anxiety-inducing daily commute to Detroit and back on I-94. I knew that I could not stay at that job without becoming a withered shell of myself, no matter how much of a sanctuary my home and community created for me. Work is such a huge part of our lives, that I knew enough to prioritize finding a better fit. I just did not expect to find that fit in Indiana.

 

After being selected as a finalist for several great jobs located closer to home, but not getting the position, I expanded my search. I was very strict about what type of job I would take. If it meant relocating, I would only consider it for a dream job that I would be passionate about. Life is too short for a bad fit. Then I was approached for this sustainability position with Purdue.

 

10492426_677134702369157_7868290351175616890_nBefore I even agreed to come down for my final interview, I did my homework. I checked the stats on Indianapolis, searched for quality of life indicators that are important to me, and, well, I was impressed. In fact, on a number of aspects, Indy compared well to Austin, another favorite city of mine. The only thing I did not expect, was that when I drove down to interview and spend the weekend experiencing the city, it felt way further south than Indiana.

 

As Bethany & I walked the streets of downtown Indy, I heard southern twangs- some subtle, some strong- reminiscent of my childhood in Durant, Oklahoma. People here carried themselves with that same southern hospitality. Perfect strangers were polite! They held doors, smiled as we passed, and struck up casual conversations. When they learned we were from Michigan, folks leaped at the chance to tell us all the great things about their city, and why we should move here. In fact, one of our dear friends, Cindy, met us that very first Friday night as we were sampling wine in a cellar below a liquor store just three blocks from her town home. Most importantly, we walked holding hands, being ourselves, and were encountered with nothing but love from this city. So, I took the job.

 

Those first 3 months of living here alone were hard. I spent a lot of time driving back to Michigan on weekends. I was overwhelmed learning a new state, new job, house hunting, and trying to make new friends. I pushed myself- hard- to get out and meet people. I stretched my limits beyond what 23-year-old-introvert-me could have ever imagined.

 

10390266_797115186967272_2213055492363398838_nI became engaged in the fight for equal marriage in Indiana. I joined every relevant sustainability group I could find. I joined Meetup, and forced myself to go out by myself to strike up conversations with strangers who shared interests. I walked the streets of Fountain Square every night after work, observing my new community, and stopping to introduce myself to neighbors. People were really nice once I explained that I was new and just moved here!

 

1013708_589810657768229_313667675_nHere’s a perfect example of what it’s like as a natural introvert. One day, there was a big rally after work to celebrate a marriage equality victory and grow support. It was cold, and dark, and I wanted to just go home, but I didn’t. I made myself go downtown. I stood in a large crowd, filled with groups of friends and happy couples, but I was painfully alone. I had no one to share with, and could not find anyone to talk to easily. I wanted to hide in the corner. After the rally, people were supposedly gathering at the local gay bar, Metro. I texted Bethany and debated going. She urged me to celebrate on my own. I wished she was there with me. After sitting in my car for 10 minutes, I finally worked up the courage to go to a bar alone. It was practically empty. Instead of turning around and leaving, I walked up to the bar, and fumbled for an excuse to say something to the happy couple next to me. The victory was sweet, but my fear was bitter. Not only did I survive, but I actually had a very nice conversation with the folks next to me. It’s just overcoming that first hurdle and the lump in my throat that never goes away as an introvert.

 

970541_538055309610431_930777581_nThis does not come easy or natural to me. I work very hard to make friends and acquaintances. I come home from work and all I want to do is work in my garden, or curl up with the pets and work on my art or writing while listening to music. Instead, I push myself to go out to numerous events, and later return exhausted and drained. This is the definition of an introvert, in my book. Being around lots of people is EXHAUSTING for me, but for Bethany it is ENTHRALLING! It was a relief, when Bethany would come to visit me. We would go out at restaurants and she couldn’t resist telling someone she liked their necklace, and then asked if they lived nearby, and then explained that we are new to the area. She leaves with a few new friends every single time we go out! She makes it looks SO easy. That’s part of why I love her so much, and why we balance each other out.

 

I’ve worked hard over the past 10 years to learn how to make small talk without seeming awkward. I remember being annoyed at the meaningless drivel that is ‘small talk.’ “Get to the point!” I would think. I didn’t want to invest my time and energy in a conversation that did not result in something. As I began working, I realized that this was impacting my professional networking. All the successful people around me were loquacious, charming, and funny. And thus began my mission to become extrovert-esque.

 

It’s interesting to realize, now that I’ve been here one year, that most of my new Indiana friends think I’m an extrovert. They never knew me before, and all they really see of me is when I am ‘on.’  If I am an introvert, why am I so outgoing, and cheerful, and why do I pull other introverts out on the dance floor? That’s easy for me to answer… despite the hard work, it pays off! I have FUN when I pretend I’m an extrovert.

I live more.

I smile more.

I laugh more.

I dance more!1554378_695642937185000_99580933321624744_n

I’m more youthful, and active.

I no longer worry about what other people will think of me, because, I learned this amazing secret: If you live life with a smile, your joy shines through, and nothing else matters.

 

I used to be terrified of dancing in public. I was horrified that others would be looking at me, and judging me. In grad school, I was blessed to meet my dear friend, Raina. She danced without a care, flailing about with impossibly silly gestures, and having a blast! Only then, one the dance floor in Austin with her, did I finally feel safe enough to get out there and dance, knowing that, surely, SHE was the one people would be distracted by, and I could dance under the radar. Now, I make myself the center of attention to make other people feel more comfortable. That is a gift that others gave to me in my introverted 20s, and now I want to share that gift with others.

 

I have a perfect extroverted role model who now lives with me again in this new city we call home. Bethany impresses me constantly with her lack of hesitation to reach out and be vulnerable. I, too, have learned to take social risks, and I am rich in social dividends.


291833_388583231224307_1058986565_nSo, yes, I am an introvert. If you give me a choice between going out to a party or inviting a couple of friends over for a glass of wine and a game of Carcassonne, I’ll pick my home 9 times out of 10. Just because I get exhausted when I’m too social, doesn’t mean I don’t also love it. It just means that I need to have more balance and moderation than an extrovert. Right now, in this new place, I’m really enjoying the balance.





Spanish Hugs

24 03 2014

Recently we hosted a young, international family in our home in Indianapolis. What ensued was a brief, but beautiful series of interactions, with rich cultural exchange.

 

catalan spain mapThe woman, Maria, booked one night to stay with us, explaining that her husband had been gifted a single ticket to go see a basketball game in the Circle City (Indy), and they would be driving over from Cincinnati, Ohio for the event. She also mentioned that they are a Spanish couple, with their 17 month old daughter, visiting the U.S. on a one year teacher exchange. Because it was only a one night booking, I did not spend too much time going back and forth via email to get to know them first. I simply clicked “pre-approve” for their selected date.

 

I had another guest checking out that Friday, and so I asked Maria if we could arrange a later arrival time. She agreed to meet me at 5pm, so that I could get home in time to change the sheets and vacuum before they got there. We’ve only been hosting in our new house for about a month, so I’ve been extra careful to have everything just perfect for our guests’ arrivals. The pillows were plumped, the guidebook was open to a list of local restaurants, and a bottle of filtered water waited for them on the window ledge, along with two blue glasses, and a little blue plastic cup for their toddler. The dogs were outside playing, and I was ready to greet them.

 

I saw them pull up, driving sloooowly the wrong way past our house. Then they saw my little 2-seater hybrid parked in front and decided this was surely the right place. They parked their car, unpacked their things, and slowly approached the front porch. They were a little unsure, because they are new to AirBnB. It’s a weird concept to pay to go stay with strangers in a strange city, at first. But they never regretted it.

 

Maria and her husband, Elliot, warmed up quickly as I welcomed them inside. They started to remove their shoes on the porch, and I ushered them in to remove them in the entry instead. I took their bag and showed them to their room.  She carried her daughter on her hip, and her smile was framed by a clearly European haircut- squarely shaping her face with a flat cut of short bangs, with wisps heading straight down in front of her ears. Her husband had a thin frame, with a casual but tidy appearance, sparkling eyes, and soft, curly hair. After a quick tour of the house, they made themselves right at home, plopping down on the large, pea green and lemon-colored area rug in the foyer. It was clearly the softest spot to let Tatiana stumble around, since the floors were bamboo and ceramic tile. I stood a few feet away, leaning into the white-painted opening to the kitchen, and we continued our conversation.

 

They’ve been in extreme culture shock where they landed in Cincinnati, she explained. He teaches science (in Spanish) in an underprivileged school in the poorest part of the city. Ironically, they are renting a house in the rich, white suburbs. The disparity was starker than they expected, and the behavior of the suburbanites blew their minds.

ohio schools“I would not have believed this if I had not seen it myself,” Maria exclaimed, “they all have to get in their cars just to buy bread!” We talked at great length about suburbia, and the link to the poor inner city schools, about mass transit, and the upsurgence of urban dwellers like us. I tried to do justice in explaining that not every city’s bus system was broken, about how I used to love riding the bus in Ypsilanti or Austin. But here, it is broken.

 

Elliott had an option to stay here for up to three years. They would have considered it if not for the dire situation at the school. He is not allowed to greet his elementary students with hugs and kisses, like he does back home in Spain; that is forbidden in the U.S. public schools, for fear of molestation and abuse. Meanwhile, the children struggle to learn, with grumbling bellies, and anger management issues, but he is not allowed to stop teaching science in order to explain simple life skills, like conflict resolution. His principal is so focused on test scores, he cannot fathom letting his teachers take on the extra problems of hunger, poor role models, and abuse.childhood_obesity_2

 

For Maria, the worst part has been the feeling of isolation. As we were talking about the sense of community that we cherish in Fountain Square (and in Ypsilanti before that), a knock came at the door. It was my friend and nearby neighbor, Jerry, who was dropping off his keys for me to watch his dog and borrow his truck. He was on his way out of town for a weekend trip to Chicago with his wife, but stood briefly to exchange a little Spanish with our Spaniard guests. After just a couple of minutes, he turned to leave, and then reached forward to give me a hug. I wished him a safe trip, closed the door, and turned back to my new guests to revive our great conversation.

 

Maria stared at me, mouth agape, with a corner smile and look of surprise. I cocked my head to one side, questioning her expression. “What is it?” I asked.

“This… this is the first time we have seen this since we have been in the U.S.!” she exclaimed.

“Seen what?” I asked, even more confused.

FREE_HUGS,_in_Hibiyakoen,_Tokyo_Prefecture“To touch another person! We do not see anybody do this here. And for us, this is so normal, to hug and kiss and be close!” she explained.

Wow. My forehead wrinkled in a look of pity. These poor people have not had a simple HUG in all the months that they have been living here! That is so sad!! This is something I take so fundamentally for granted. I surround myself with people who love to hug. I had to learn how to hug when I was 14, because I grew up in a family that never expressed love, and I could never imagine going back to a world without hugs! No wonder they were in culture shock.

 

I wished that I could have plucked them from Cincinnati and transplanted them to my neighborhood. I wished I had more than one day, to show them all the wonderful people I know, and to prove that the stereotypes were just that. I wanted them to see that, while it’s true that we drive our cars way too much, and lock ourselves inside boxes with busy schedules, there ARE people who reject this American lifestyle. I wanted to walk to the market with them and introduce them to my favorite tea guy; to sit in the park and make friends from strangers; to have wine and conversation late into the night with neighbors; but all I had was a few hours with these beautiful souls.


I_Need_HugWe had a wonderful time getting to know each other during their one night stay. They left the next morning around 9:30 am, but not before we had some more rich discussion about our opposing cultural norms. I wished them well, and asked them to please reach out to us with any questions about Indy, or Michigan, before their last road trip in June. I made some wonderful new friends that day, whom I may never see again. As they stood there, waiting to open the front door and be on their way, I smiled and gave them each a big, long, loving hug. Elliot was surprised by the closeness of our embrace, as it seemed so ‘un-American’ to him. Maria let out an audible sigh, and held me for a full thirty seconds.

 

It felt great to be the unofficial hug ambassador on behalf of my country. Send all the Spaniards you’ve got. I’ll hug each and every one of them.





Snowmageddon, Indy style

10 01 2014

When I moved 5 hours southwest from Ypsilanti, Michigan to Indianapolis, Indiana, people told me I would be enjoying milder winters. What a bunch of hooey! You may have been able to fool people twenty years ago with the power of persuasion, but this is the age of information. It’s the same darn weather. Period.

In this modern era, I am armed with information at my fingertips. I hold in my pocket the wonders of NetAtmo, which feeds me real time weather readings both inside and outside of my home, which I contrast with iPhone weather apps for any city I choose to virtually explore, and, finally, the coup de gras, I got myself the Nest. No, this is not for the birds. It’s a high-tech thermostat that reads your daily patterns and adjusts the temperature automatically in anticipation of your next move. It programs itself, so even dummies with big pocketbooks can reap the energy savings. You might say I’m in a constant game of chess with my house.

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When the forecast first showed glints of a one foot snowfall on the way, I was prepared. I noticed that this recently purchased house was nowhere near as well insulated as our beloved home in Ypsi. The furnace is electric- it still makes me cringe to say this out loud- and can barely keep up once the temps dip into the single digits.

photo 5Bethany and I battened down the hatches- almost literally. We geared up, headlamps at the ready, climbed below the wooden floor joists, and disappeared into the nether regions of our crawl space. Bethany tediously wrapped the main trunks of our ductwork, which was exposed to the un-insulated crawl space air. While great for the feral cat community, heating our crawl space was not in our budget. I maneuvered 4×8 sheets of rigid insulation at $20 a pop, cutting and trimming with a tetris’d efficiency so as to make the most of each sheet. I lined the furnace room with the pink sheets, and used foil tape and spray foam to seal up the rim joists and furnace air leaks. As we both grew weary, I passed the last sheets of insulation into the crawl space, where Bethany placed them carefully against the cold exterior knee walls. It wasn’t much, but better than nothing.

Above ground, we still had work to do. In an attempt to prevent too much of our precious heat from escaping, I cut the remaining rigid insulation to fit the windows. Slowly, one by one, the house grew dark as the ample daylight disappeared behind the pink sheets. It felt like we were really hunkering down for the storm of the century. It was too cold to apply further measures, like adding more weatherstripping around doors, so we stuffed towels into cracks along the floor. I had already finished caulking around all the doors and windows to ensure no air came in around the wood trim. We dug out the candles, got the faucets on a slow drip to prevent the pipes from freezing, and then we sat down and waited.photo 4

It wasn’t the 12 inches of snow that was the big deal. We actually went out and had a long, stunning, albeit wet, walk in the storm on Sunday. It was a heavy, wet snow, that required three rounds of shoveling to keep up. That night, however, the snow tapered off and the winds picked up. The polar vortex had arrived.

Temperatures plummeted to negative digits faster than I would have imagined possible. It was a high of -6F on Monday, and a low of -16F, with wind chills nearing forty degrees below zero. The news spoke of nothing else, but the treacherous risk of venturing out in temps that could lead to frostbite in just ten minutes.

I watched from my phone as the Nest reported the house temperature creeping lower and lower with each hour. We had oil filled space heaters in our bedrooms, but everything else was at the mercy of the measly electric furnace. The city banned all non-emergency travel, and businesses were closed everywhere. My work sent out an email clarifying that, we too, were not allowed to come to the office, and must work from home to be safe.

photo 2photo 3I am an energy efficiency specialist, which means I have access to fantastic gadgets via work! Monday morning, energy toys at my ready, I wasted no time seeing what the real situation was. I pointed my temperature gun at the tiled kitchen floor. There is one corner where I swear they placed the cabinets directly over a gaping hole to the crawl space, such is the rush of cold air when you open the corner cupboard. The digital readout stimulated my scientific mind with real data, and I couldn’t help but keep checking to see the cold creeping into the kitchen. It was like watching a train wreck. What started out as 54 degrees Fahrenheit the night before was down to 39 by the morning. It kept declining, until I could almost see my breath in there. The overall house temperature declined less rapidly, but never left its nadir of 48 degrees until Wednesday morning.

photo 3For three days we were trapped in this frigid frame of a house. I can only imagine what would have happened if we had lost power. We baked everything we could think of, in an effort to fill the kitchen with warm, sweet, electric oven air. We drank tea nonstop, and then recoiled into our bedrooms to recover from standing on the cold kitchen floor.  Only one window remained exposed, in an otherwise dark and dreary place without time. Occasionally, I moved the sheet of foam from our bedroom window to peak out into the world and make sure it was still there. The white snow blinded me, and I retreated back into the darkness like a creature from a late night novel.

When the forecast finally gave birth to a small respite from the arctic blast, the entire Midwest cheered at the beautiful sight of a large black oval on our temperature gauges. Zero degrees has never looked so good.

photo 1As Wednesday arrived, and zero degrees came and went, we were more than ready to be rid of our cabin fever. The pipes, two of which had frozen, took another day to thaw out and flow once more. We could finally wash dishes in the kitchen sink again! The toilet flushed without pans of water! The little things that we take for granted were appreciated immensely on that day. The roads were still treacherous, but people ventured back into work.

So, Indiana, you thought you could scare a Michigan girl. This may have been the coldest, snowiest storm since before I was born, but you can’t keep a Michigander down. I’ve taken road trips to northern Michigan in February. In a Honda Insight Hybrid. You’ll never win this one, Indiana, so just can the tough talk and show me what you’ve got in store for spring.