Cherry Blossom Season, 2018

I’ve lived in DC for 7.5 years, and it never gets old.00100dPORTRAIT_00100_BURST20180412190115802_COVER

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I think this was our fourth year making the pilgrimage together. 1523581546157

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Some Snaps from Kathmandu

I went to Kathmandu, Nepal for a week for work. 00000IMG_00000_BURST20180407124625186_COVER

I spent most of that time in a hotel. Here’s the view from our conference room.Maker:S,Date:2017-8-15,Ver:6,Lens:Kan03,Act:Lar02,E-Y

And here I am with two coworkers on a quick walkabout before our work event began. The event involved lots of looking at flip charts.

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Crossing the street was a little terrifying. There are no streetlights or stop signs. You just go.Maker:S,Date:2017-8-15,Ver:6,Lens:Kan03,Act:Lar02,E-Y

There were beautiful things to see around every corner. Even the currency was beautiful.

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Kathmandu is still recovering from the 2015 earthquake. There were piles of rubble and constructing taking place everywhere you looked.

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And signs of growth in unexpected places.

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The old mixed with the new.

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Colorful things to take home.

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We took a cooking class at the Nepali Cooking School. Five stars!!

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Our teachers were infectiously joyful. While we waited for our daal to cook, they taught us a hilarious song and then told us that it was written to entertain tourists. Well, it did.

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The first step in our cooking process was buying veggies from the market. We walked there and took a rickshaw back.

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We made daal bhat, chapati, and aloo chop.

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We also went on a fantastic free walking tour from the center of Kathmandu to what is known as “the monkey temple” on a hill outside of the city.

We happened upon this Buddhist ceremony in a courtyard. (I got permission to take this photo). The five men seated on the ground are wearing colors representing earth, air, fire, water, and space.

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The statue in this courtyard altar represented fertility.

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There were Hindu and Buddhist altars throughout the city, and it was common to see someone stop to visit, leaving flower petals behind.

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I learned that Buddhism is rooted in Hinduism, and practitioners of each faith have tremendous respect for each others’ traditions. Temples of each religion could often be found in the same courtyard, or on opposite corners of an intersection.Maker:S,Date:2017-8-15,Ver:6,Lens:Kan03,Act:Lar02,E-Y

Temple visitors walk clockwise around, spinning these prayer cylinders as they go. There are prayers written on the inside and outside.

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Our guide pointed out that these mannequins are wearing traditional Nepali attire.

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In one area of the city, there is a concentration of ceremonial bead shops.

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See the temple on the top of the hill in the middle of the image below? That’s where we were headed.

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We crossed a very dirty river that is the destination of the cremated remains of Kathmandu residents.

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Pictured below are the steep steps we ascended to the top of Swayambhunath Stupa, the Monkey Temple.

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Our guide, Shiva, showed us where a monastery slid down the hill during the 2015 earthquake.

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Though it was an overcast day, the view was worth the hike.

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And the monkeys were cute!

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It’s good luck to land a coin in the brass basin below the Buddha statue. On my third try, I did it! Missing my connecting flight home and spending 24 hours in Dubai didn’t feel very lucky, though…

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I hope to visit again someday.

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Happy Third Anniversary to Us!


1516767675112To practice visual note taking, I drew some of my favorite memories (and some not-so-favorite, because you take the good with the bad!) of our third year of marriage.

Some are inside jokes. (Hehe!)

Our two-week trip to Italy, Alex’s new job, and seeing the total solar eclipse are definitely the big highlights that come to mind when I think back on the year.

But I also really appreciate a new family tradition we started this year. Every night before we go to bed, we say three things we appreciate about each other from that day. We try to make it a mix of things the other person has done and qualities they demonstrated.

For example:

  1. You made a delicious dinner AND washed the dishes.
  2. You were patient with me when I was grouchy about XXXX.
  3. You were a good friend to XXXX today.

Happy Third Anniversary to Us!

Third Anniversary

 

Things I’m Bringing Home from Werk It, A Women’s Podcast Festival

Image: Molly Webster shares one of three types of storyboards used by her team at Radiolab to outline podcast episodes. Credit: Amy Leo.

This blog was originally published by my employer, Dexis Consulting Group, on Monday, October 9th.

I’m in a room with over 600 women podcasters. Before us, our heroines in headphones share their craft. I’m taking copious notes to bring home to the podcast series I’m producing for USAID Learning Lab. And I’m noticing that some of the lessons I’m learning transcend podcasting to apply to my broader role as a strategic communications consultant to USAID.

Werk It, a women’s podcasting conference, was launched by WNYC in 2015 to expand women’s voices in podcasting. At the time, research showed that only 20% of all podcasts in the iTunes top 100 chart were hosted by women. Two years later, that number is 33%. WNYC’s mission is to get to 50% by providing opportunities for women to learn new skills and make professional contacts in podcasting.

Completely self-taught, I came to Werk It to learn from the best and meet others who are dipping their toes in this still nascent industry. I’ve distilled my reflections into three key takeaways:

Know (and revisit!) your audience

In the digital age, it’s not enough to design with your intended audience in mind. With the myriad of data collection and communications tools at your disposal, it’s possible (and necessary!) to learn about, and adapt to, the needs of your audience, continuously.

Manoush-Zomorodi-1On the high end of the engagement spectrum, Manoush Zomorodi of WNYC’s Note to Self, led listeners through experiments designed to help them reassess their technology habits, unplug, and jump-start their creativity. She asked listeners for feedback on their experience and received thousands of responses via voicemail and email.

In the international development context, USAID calls this cycle of continuous learning collaborating, learning and adapting. It has been shown to help USAID staff and partners achieve better development outcomes, and it can help consultants produce work that meets actual needs. It also makes constituents feel heard, increasing the likelihood that they’ll stick around.

Be direct about what you want, but leave space for others

In the Q&A following Lisa Chow’s session on the art and craft of interviewing, several women asked how to get that compelling sound bite from an interview that is not going as expected. Chow’s universal response was “why don’t you just tell your interviewee what you’re looking for?” As a fangirl of Chow’s reporting on Gimlet Media’s StartUp podcast, I’ve heard the fruit of this direct approach. It also saves time and energy and helps subjects feel more comfortable being interviewed.

ep-3On other hand, Chow suggested leaving a beat between a subject’s answer and your next question. Having learned this technique later in her career, she lamented the insights she has missed by not giving subjects the time and space to dig deep within themselves for answers.

In any professional relationship, there’s a time to be direct about what you want, and there’s a time to leave room. For example, agreeing upon key decision points at the outset of a meeting can help participants manage their time effectively. And creating space for silence can draw out deeper reflections, especially from introverts.

Just DO it!

With all creative endeavors, the best way to get started is to just create and iterate. To the many women still swimming in the idea stage of their podcasts, Werk It speakers consistently said “just do it!”

I can attest from my experience with the USAID Learning Lab podcast that iterating is the best way to learn. There’s no manual for podcasting; we’re all still figuring it out.

stanfordsea2.jpgSo, when shipping out into the uncharted waters of podcasting, or any professional endeavor, remember the tools of your trade. Make feedback your guide, and ask for it often. When meeting with others, be direct about your objective, but leave space for the outcome to be different than you anticipate.

I left Werk It feeling equipped and inspired to grow the USAID Learning Lab podcast and strongly encourage professionals to invest in unconventional opportunities to develop their career. You’ll find that in the sea of learning as you go, you’re not alone!

Thirty Years Old

Lowland Hum released some B-Sides today, and a song called “Thirty Years Old” is among them.

I actually discovered this song on Spotify on my 30th birthday, somehow. Daniel told me that he wrote it shortly after his thirtieth birthday, reflecting on some of the things he was thinking about at that time.

Reading between the lines of the lyrics, I can relate to his reflections.

Listen:

To Move, or not to Move? My Eternal Question.

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Welcome to our home.

When we got married about two-and-a-half years ago, Alex and I moved into a 450-square-foot apartment in an up-and-coming neighborhood in Northwest Washington, DC.

It’s the original tiny house and lacks a dishwasher, garbage disposal, washer/dryer, and central air. We’ve dealt with three bed bug infestations, the first just weeks before our wedding. Most mornings we wake up at 6:15 AM to our neighbor’s dog barking, or her owner shouting at her even more loudly to stop barking. Our kitchen is home to a breed of (thankfully) small cockroaches.

During the first walkthrough, our landlord explained that the scuffed hardwood floors would be refinished before we moved in. On moving day we discovered that they been covered with matte-finish deck paint, which is impossible to keep clean.

Shortly after moving into the building we complained to management about a foul odor in the hallway. After it persisted for several weeks I went on a sniffing mission to discover the source… a festering pile of poop (from an animal, we hope?) in a stairwell.

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A snowy day in 2016.

So, why have we stayed? I ask myself this question every few months and search frantically on Craigslist for a new home. But after two and a half years, we still haven’t moved. My patient coworkers have listened to me rant on and on about this question, which reflects how much I think about it, which is a lot.

Here are the positives: since moving into building, two other couples we’re friends with have joined us, one right next door. We assemble for impromptu nightcaps, water each others’ plants while we’re on vacation, share clothes, tools, and more, and watched all of the Presidential debates together. Though weeks go by, sometimes, without getting together, its always good to know they’re there. And, they keep extra sets of our keys, which is helpful because I lock myself out… often.

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Our picnic was rained out so we improvised inside.

Our building is three blocks from the metro and two from the grocery store. While yes, we still do drive to the grocery store sometimes (too much to carry!)… the proximity is helpful for forgotten items, cravings, snow days, and simply saving time.

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My window box herb garden in the beginning of summer 2016.

While our windows are north-facing, there’s enough sunlight to sustain my herb garden, which is currently thriving for the third year in a row.

Alex and I have a lot of hobbies, and hobbies come with supplies. My sewing machine and collection of fabric are tucked in my closet and under the couch, respectively. Our camping equipment lives in a milk crate in the entryway closet and our sleeping bags are perched high in the bedroom closet. Alex’s bartending supplies are on display in the living room. Our bedroom is home to four (!) musical instruments. Our books are stacked on custom-built shelves in the hallway. We’ve found places for all of the things we most enjoy having, and the limitation of space has kept us from consuming things we don’t truly need.

And, importantly, our rent is below market rate. Far below market rate, actually, which makes the opportunity cost of moving very high. Rent control is a blessing for the conscious, but a curse if you’re just using it to save up and move up.

Because moving is a lot of work, and the opportunity cost is high, my list of musts for another home is long. I want all of the conveniences: a dishwasher, garbage disposal, washer/dryer and central air, and I also want hardwood floors, lots of light, outdoor space (or deep windowsills, at least), more closet space. But one-bedroom apartments with these features cost about $700-$900 more per month than what we’re paying now. This is what I mean by opportunity cost: it’s high.

Last weekend, we looked at a giant one-bedroom apartment a block from where we live now. It had all of the conveniences, but the floors were bad. We were on the fence about it for several days. At one point I said to Alex “what if we move there and then something even better comes along?” He responded: “It won’t if you stop looking at Craigslist.”

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It took nearly an entire Saturday to attach these shelves to our plaster walls (thanks Alex!).

I am so restless sometimes, even when life is good. I’m spending my time well, I think, but my phone tells me what else I could be doing, where else I could be, what else I could own. In an interview on the Freakonomics podcast, actor, comedian, and astute social critic Aziz Ansari shared that he once found himself browsing Google for information about what toothbrush to buy. Stepping back and realizing how unnecessary this was, he joked “I’ve never heard anyone say ‘You know how he died? He chose the wrong toothbrush!'” Via the internet, we have access to more information than ever before. But is it helpful? I have a strong desire to make a home, but I can’t decide where. There are too many options. My wheels are spinning.

This spring I took it upon myself to sow flower seeds in the planters in front of our building. The planters had been filled with just dirt and garbage for as long as we’d lived there. So I didn’t know how to feel when, just as my seeds were sending up promising green shoots, I came home to discover them uprooted and replaced by an ornamental tree surrounded by struggling annuals. I suppose my landlord finally took it upon himself to beautify our stoop. It was bittersweet.

Below us, in the same 450 square feet, lives a family of four: a mom, dad, 5 year old girl and 16 year old boy. So, sometimes I feel that my desire to move comes from a feeling of entitlement. I don’t need more. My home is enough.

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Cozy times on the couch in my cozy little home (before the built-in shelves).

But let me know if you hear of any affordable one-bedroom apartments that fit my description…

 

The Collection’s Listen to the River was Worth the Wait

The first time I heard The Collection’s music, I thought my heart was going to explode. I’m always listening for lyrics, but it wasn’t David Wimbish’s earnest songwriting that resonated with me, it was the image of him turning his group of talented musician-friends into an orchestra.

When The Collection toured their first full-length album, Ars Moriendi, the then thirteen-piece band wedged their van and trailer full of instruments into a DC parking space and covered every inch of the first floor of my house with sleeping bags. I don’t know how we had enough sheets and blankets for all of them. We have hosted many memorable shows in that house, but if I could go back in time to experience one of them again, it would be that night.

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That time I found myself in The Collection’s band photo and then on the cover of a Greensboro, NC arts magazine.

In a world in which it is more common to communicate via technology than face-to-face, Wimbish brings friends together to create music with him and spend weeks at a time in the confined space of a tour van. It’s really everyone’s fantasy at 23: “let’s all quit our jobs and tour the country together as band!” From what I observed while hosting The Collection, they did it with grace and great enjoyment, like a group of kids on a mission trip but without the need for chaperones. When asked how they were able to get along so well, it was clear that they shared deep love for each other. This made their music feel all the more real—the passion exuded in the music continued into their visibly grace-filled behavior toward each other.

While The Collection’s first EP drew primarily on biblical themes with poetic honesty and earnest hope, Ars Moriendi reflected on the untimely deaths of friends and carried heavy questions about salvation. Listen to the River was recorded after Wimbish “found his faith and courage left at the bottom of a spiritual well.” The album’s liner notes explain:

Listen To The River is the story of the rope that he used to climb out, one that’s strands were made of great spiritual writers, from Rumi and Kahlil Gibran to Herman Hesse and Lao Tse. The process that followed was a re-examination and reorientation of both his spirituality, and his marriage to member Mira Joy after mutually deciding to divorce last year, ultimately leading to an album created together, hoping to honor the past while accepting the present.

I can’t imagine the tension of going through a co-creation process with an ex-spouse. But The Collection’s music has always embraced tension, just listen to the introduction to Fever

“I was singing by the river, waiting for my troubles to be gone
and you were coming through the speakers, sliding down my ears and played their drums”

or The Art of Dying

“Death sits inside his office as we wait for the verdict
he speaks our fate with a nervous tick; do we get the cure or the sickness?
and when we die, what will it be – a graveyard grave, or a golden fleece?
And will we fight or will we flee?
Will you still have faith in me?”

And this, perhaps, is what tugs at my heart so strongly: to end a relationship and still be attached, be plagued with trouble yet feel close to God, to wonder about the afterlife after watching peers die. Wimbish writes challenging questions into his songs and chews on them with strings and woodwinds and perfectly timed percussion.

Listen to the River holds this tension too, but there’s evidence of some settling in. And the thirteen-piece band has been stripped down to seven, resulting in a meeker sound.

“There are so many people
They float like the lashes that fall from my eyes
I know between them, they believe everything
So I don’t have to be right” – So Many People

Now contending with the complexities of his mid-twenties and asking big questions about faith and existence, Wimbish continues to turn harsh realities and lack of certainty into honest, reflective songs. And he continues to involve a wide circle of musician-friends, resulting in a co-creation process that speaks more volumes of hope than lyrics ever can.