Words of wisdom: Pick the right audience to suck in front of

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I’m currently reading Tim Ferriss’ new book, Tools of Titans: The Tactics, Routines, and Habits of Billionaires, Icons, and World-Class Performers. In it, one of the titans is Tracy DiNunzio, founder and CEO of Tradesy. She says, ‘Pick the right audience to suck in front of’, meaning if you are going out looking for investors make your first 10 meetings with people you don’t really want funding from because you’re probably going to suck in the beginning. Wait until after the first 10 pitches to book you’re A list. So, in that vein, I had my first media interviews last week and there couldn’t have been a safer place to do them considering I’m in China and there is almost no chance that anyone I know would see them. It was a great experience and I’m glad that the person meant to do the interviews just happened to be on vacation so I could fill in for her.

China Daily Interview

Beijing Local News Broadcast

Tracy DiNunzio also says, ‘When you complain, nobody wants to help you’. She was born with spina bifida, which frankly gives her something huge to complain about. For a long time, she complained about it and it made her very bitter.   She decided to put herself on a ‘complaining diet’ where she wouldn’t let herself say or even think anything negative. That small change (which is really a big change) let her move her life in a better direction. Pretty cool. I’m going to give it a shot.

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A walk in the park

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Quite literally. Today I went to Jingshan Park. I took the subway and then walked a little more than a half mile to the park entrance through a residential neighborhood with windy alleyways. It’s surprising how quiet it gets when you are just minutes away from the main roads. It’s kind of nice.

The park itself was beautiful.  Very well-kept and maintained. There’s even an entrance fee, which is interesting. It’s only 2 yuan, but still fascinating. There were lots of families of all ages and groups of people singing and having a good old time outdoors. At the top of a hill overlooking the Forbidden City is a pavilion with a huge beautiful Buddha statue. You weren’t allowed to take pictures, but it was cool. People come there to pray and give offerings. He was surrounded by gifts and fresh fruit.

I walked down to the Forbidden City and cruised around the side streets and was reminded of why I don’t like walking around that area. There are a lot of beggars and pesky merchants – clearly because there are a lot of tourists, but I hate having to fend them off.

I did have one travel fail today and it was very annoying. From the Forbidden City, I wanted to go to the Pearl Market so I could buy Declan some new silk pajamas. Anyway, I entered the subway, waited in a long line for tickets, and then couldn’t get the darn machine to work. My ticket costs 4 yuan, but the machine only took 5’s and didn’t give change. It was quite the problem, so I bailed and went back above ground to establish a Plan B. First, I ate a Quest bar, which I’m glad I packed a bunch of for this trip. They’ve come in handy and stopped me from becoming HALT (hungry, angry, lonely, tired) on a handful of occasions so far. The bar took the edge off my H + A, and I started walking to the Pearl Market. That is, until I found an Ofo! Yes, I biked the rest of the way there and it was way better than taking the subway. Win-Win!

I got the kids some new PJs and mama a new scarf and headed back to the hotel to eat dumplings and do some work. 👩🏼‍💻

My day trip to see the clay army

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Oh yeah – I’m in the throes of a Dillman Wild Goose Chase (DWGC©), the magnitude of which I have not experienced in quite some time. The DWGC© is so commonplace in my family that Ben has coined the term, which generally refers to any hair-brained idea I have that turns into a massive cluster in some way, shape or form. In fact, this might be the biggest one yet. I’m in China and procrastinated on making weekend plans and chintzed out on a tour guide, so by the time I made up my mind to take a day trip to Xi’an to see the famed terracotta warriors, all the tours were sold out. I had already purchased my flight and committed to going by that point, so I figured how hard could it be to do on my own. And so the goose chase begins!

I landed in Xi’an and immediately noticed eyes on me. A little Chinese girl pointed at me and her mother blushed and waved – we are in major no-blondes territory. Between my blonde hair and big nose, little Chinese kids don’t know what to make of me. It’s actually pretty cute. Mission #1: Get to the terracotta warriors site. So I found my way to the handy tourist information stand at the airport (thank god!!!) and realized they didn’t speak any English (noooooooo!). They pointed me to a bus ticket stand and told me to get off at Lin Tong. Great. Then my bus ticket says go to bus terminal 3 and the lady pointed me to bus terminal 8. I tried to tell her where I was going and she assured me that bus 8 was the right one. Oh, and I had a McDonald’s sausage mcmuffin at the airport for breakfast. I haven’t eaten McDonald’s food in like 20 years and I go ahead and break my vow in China where the food standards and meat quality are even more questionable than in the US?!

Alright – so far, so good. Leap of faith. The bus went to Lin Tong (whew!) but that still left me about 6 miles from the Terracotta Warriors. There were taxis waiting at the bus terminal so I hopped in one. Duo shou? (how much?). San shi (30 RMB, which is less than $5). Sold. It’s always helpful to learn numbers in another language! The taxis in China are notorious for ripping people off so I always try to get the price before I get in one.

I arrive at the museum and a handy-dandy English-speaking tour guide solicits me for a personal tour. Given the alternative of walking around by myself and not knowing a thing about the place, I decide to go for it. It was like $20 for the entrance ticket and $30 for the tour. At this point, I’m still doing the mental math and feeling pretty good because the all-inclusive tour I chintzed out on was about $250. So we entered the first ‘pit’ and she gives me a little backstory.

Apparently, Emperor Qin Shi Huang was the first emperor to unify China and create a centralized empire under what is now known as the Qin Dynasty. He did so by subjugating his enemy states and forcing them to build an army of clay soldiers to be buried with him when he dies. A little odd, but to each his own. It is estimated that the three pits containing the Terracotta Army held more than 8,000 soldiers, 130 chariots with 520 horses and 150 cavalry horses and that over 700,000 people were forced to dig the site and build his strange little army. Qin’s tomb is in plain sight because it was an above-ground structure 40+ meters tall, but it wasn’t until 1974 when a farmer was digging in his backyard that he came upon the terracotta army. Most of it was damaged and destroying, but archeologists puzzled pieces back together and recreated the scenes.

So that was great and on the way out (because no tourist site would be complete without a tourist trap), my guide conveniently led me to a jade factory. I’ve avoided buying jade on my trips to China mostly out of fear of being ripped off, and really had no intention of changing my mind on this trip, but I wanted a jade bracelet and figured now was as good a time as any. The sales people come at you hard – It’s an heirloom! You only need one for your whole life! It makes you healthy! I bartered and got the price down by a 1/3rd so I probably only mildly overpaid and who knows I may have even gotten a deal. Either way, what’s done is done! Yolo, right?!

So, my guide pointed me to a city bus that would take me back to downtown Xi’an. Another leap of faith but it worked and from there I navigated myself to the closest Starbucks for a much-needed phone-charge and latte! It’s amazing that I barely needed to pack anything for all this travel – but I’d be lost without my phone. So, I relaxed for an hour and read President Xi’s report from the recently completed 19th Party Congress. It’s an interesting read and I agree with many (but not all!) of his points. The way he talks about progress and innovation is light years ahead of the old rhetoric coming out of our backwards-looking president.

So, I left Starbucks and hopped on an OFO bikeshare bike toward my destination of the old city wall. I love bikeshares. Are they dangerous? Most likely, but it’s such a common place thing here that it doesn’t feel like it…most of the time. Anyway, the city wall is about 8.5 miles long, 15 meters wide, and 12 meters tall and it surrounds the old city. It was built about 200 BC and has been perfectly restored. You can pay a fee to go up and walk or bike around it. I walked for a bit and exited at the south gate not having enough time to go all the way around.

I hopped back on a bike and rode straight across town to the North gate. I wish I could describe the intensity of the city – so massive, so many people, bikes and scooters and city buses weaving in and out of lanes. Pure chaos, but somehow in an organized fashion. It was a great way to see some of the streets and neighborhoods. One street would have nothing but flower shops, the next street rows and rows of neon-letter sign shops, the next one lined with Chinese calligraphy art shops. It’s just awesome. The only other thing I really hoped to accomplish that day was a walk through the Muslim quarter which is supposed to have great street food and shopping stalls, but that wasn’t in the cards. I didn’t want to push my luck on time so I hailed a cab (which was easier than I expected) and headed back to the airport. The only other thing I really missed out on was a good food experience. I ended up grabbing a subpar noodle soup at the airport and a Ritter Sport chocolate bar (also subpar – probably sitting there forever since no one in china eats chocolate).

Did I miss some of the sights I would have seen on a fully guided tour? Sure. But I got a lot of real life experiences in turn. I was in the mix rather than an outsider looking in. And people are nice. This has been my experience everywhere I travel – especially when I’m by myself. People are willing to help.   Thank god for google translate. I had a handful of ‘conversations’ using my phone and google translate just typing back and forth and nobody seemed to mind at all. I have blonde hair and it gets noticed here – mostly by kids with no inhibitions, but it’s still cute. I got to see tons of people roam the streets, and happened upon multiple scenes of old people singing and playing strange instruments in the park, a tennis-size court filled with ping pong tables, and ride a bike in a crazy bus lane with more bikers than the Tour de France. It was great.

I was POOPED by the time I landed back in Beijing, but made it back to my hotel in one piece. Hooray for adventures and the infamous DWGC©.

We are evolved to solve problems

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So, my son had a birthday party at the Museum of Flight over the weekend and I was excited to go since we’ve never been and I heard great things about it.  We got to a tour a supersonic Concorde jet, Air Force 1 from Nixon/Eisenhower/JFK days, a few jumbo passenger jets, and the cabin of a space shuttle.  Picture me trying to explain black boxes, aerodynamics, take-off, and gravity to a 4- and a 6-year old.

One of the signs that jumped out at me as the kids were running all over the place was a quote by JFK in the space exhibit.  He said, “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.”  It reminded me of a speech Bill Gates gave a couple weeks ago at the UN Goalkeepers Event.  In his speech, he says we are evolved to solve problems.  He says, ‘If you want to improve the world you’ve gotta be a little pissed off.  That’s why these problems get solved….There’s so much anger – the inequality is unacceptable.’  It also reminds me of my favorite MLK Jr quote, “Let us realize the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”  And of course, something that Elon Musk said when an interviewer asked him why he is trying to put a man on Mars.  His response was something like ‘so the future isn’t so depressing.’  We are talking about visionaries – people that look beyond the here and now and can envision something entirely different – whether it’s putting a man on the moon, Mars, or some other kind of virtual reality.

I really love this perspective.  It’s not about taking the easy route, or giving up when times get tough, it’s about fighting and continuing to fight to keep moving forward.  In my life, I know for sure that if I’m not moving forward, I’m rolling backward.  I can’t just rest on my laurels and expect to stay in the status quo.  I inevitably start slipping backward – back into bad habits, laziness, etc.  Similarly, one could say Newton’s law of motion applies to progress in society.  It (progress) will remain in motion unless acted upon by force – in this case, the force is the media, the mass shootings, terrorists, Trump, KKK, etc.   Hopefully, these times that feel like we are turning back the clock or backsliding on hard-fought progress are just a blip or a minor setback.  Despite it all, there is still progress.  And frankly, if we look beyond the United States, there is real progress happening in the world (lower # of people living in poverty or dying from preventable diseases or dying during childbirth, lower infant mortality rates, etc).

Bill Gates references Steven Pinker’s book The Better Angels of Our Nature quite a bit.  In it, the author looks at homicide, war, genocide, and terrorism. And found in all cases, the long-term historical trend is absolutely downward, though there are ups and downs and wiggles and spikes.  Right now perhaps we just happen to be in one of those spikes.  With the increased frequency of shooting sprees and terrorist attacks, it definitely doesn’t feel like we are living in safer times.  But then again, my generation (and those younger) hasn’t experienced world wars, military drafts, rations, etc.

On that note, I bought Hillary’s book today.  I wasn’t going to read it for fear of rehashing the past, but I’ve been listening to a lot of her interviews and think she might have a strong message for women and girls.  Plus, if that woman has the strength to continue pushing on after what she has been through, then the least I could do is read her book.  I purposely avoid intense emotions at all costs – my mental health is fragile enough as it is – I don’t like provoking negative emotions when they so easily come on their own with no effort on my part.  But maybe the book will have the opposite effect – will keep you posted.

The Unpaid Job Men Still Don’t Understand

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I just dropped my kids off at their school(s) and traffic is heinous so I’m sitting in my car in a random parking lot typing away on my laptop.  No sense inching my way into work in this traffic.   I could leave in 45 minutes and still get there at the same time once traffic dies down (hopefully!).

So, this is week 4 for Kindergarten and it’s hard to say how it is going.  As a parent, I constantly wonder if I’m making the right choices for my kids and try to ensure they are adjusting to changes.  The school sent out a list of extracurricular after-school activities so I enrolled Delaney in Little Coders and Piano lessons.  She was stoked about the piano lessons – a little less enthused about the coding class.  On the first day of Little Coders, she apparently freaked out, did not want to be there, and ended up in the school office.  So, that night I asked her about it.  And I also sat down with her and logged into Scratch, an MIT website that allows kids to create their own little coding projects with basic commands and functions.  We created a project that animates her name and she had a lot of fun doing it.  But as I was working with her on it, it dawned on me that a pre-requisite for coding might be reading.  (No shit, Sherlock). There is no way she’d be able to follow the instructions and read the commands without help at this point.

I am wondering whether it is worth continuing the class.   Maybe I should ask to go and observe the next class?  It’s hard to say if that would be helpful or just a deterrent for her to pay attention.  The instructor reassured me that they designed the course for all ages and for the little ones it is more an emphasis on letters, numbers, and colors.

This also gets to the question of how much do I push my daughter into things that might not be her natural inclination to pursue versus just let nature take its course?  Here is what I know.  The second I refresh my facebook or twitter feed there is guaranteed to be an article about the lack of women in the STEM field.  I am getting societal messages all day long that we need to do more to get women into coding/engineering/etc jobs.  And yes I am the curator of those feeds so those messages are a direct result of the people/news outlets I chose to follow. As a concerned citizen with a daughter, I feel a responsibility to at least pique her interests in these subjects and encourage them.  Yeah, her natural inclination may be to pursue a career as a princess or a ballerina, but what if I help her uncover a love for computers or math or science?  So, there is a lot weighing on this decision.  Haha!!!  God, I’m glad I put this in writing so I can see how intense (and draining!) my thought process is.

I read a great article about this very topic over the weekend.  The author termed the concept ‘Emotional labor’.  It is a great piece and completely captures the dynamics of my household.  Emotional labor is the unpaid job men still don’t understand.  I don’t think my husband would ever understand.  And more so, he is completely unsympathetic to the concept since in his mind I just make things harder than they really are.  Emotion labor duties include remembering everyone’s birthdays, carrying the entire school handbook and dietary guidelines in my head, making school lunches, updating the calendar to include everyone’s schedules (nearly impossible chore given my husband’s swing shift schedule…), lining up babysitters and backup care for (way too infrequent) date nights and business trips, keeping track of what food and house items are running low, making appointments, tidying up constantly, and the never-ending ‘hell that is laundry’.  I would also add to that list ‘picking out and enrolling kids in extracurricular activities’!!  Ahhh!

The author goes on to say that men find it is extremely difficult to hear or understand the concept of emotional labor.  So, I can take some comfort that I’m not alone.  ‘Even having a conversation about the imbalance of emotional labor becomes emotional labor.’  Anytime I ask my husband for help around the house, he simply points to the last big job he did in the yard and says, ‘it’s not like you helped me with that.’  Like now we are even.  Or my favorite argument is that he covers the household when I am on business travel (~4 x year!) so he’s essentially got a free pass for all the time that I am home.  He doesn’t mention the amount of pre-work I do before every trip to make sure he is covered and has sitters so he can rest, workout, and not be overwhelmed by the kids.  Look, I’m not saying he does nothing, he does a lot.  But, so do I and most of it goes unrecognized and unrewarded.  And it is physically and mentally exhausting.

The concluding point in all of this is that our kids are watching our dynamics all the time and will be forming their role identities based largely on what they see.  Is it an egalitarian household?  Are there deep gender inequalities?  Do girls become engineers?  Or do only boys like to tinker on projects?  Why should I continue to push my daughter – so she can end up working full-time, maybe getting paid 85 cents on the dollar compared to her male counterpart, and then still bear the burden of the additional emotional labor that comes with the job?  Progress is hard.  And I know I say that coming from a very lucky position in that I don’t experience many of the hardships most of the women on this planet do.  Today’s reminder, in case you could sense my doubt, is that giving up is not an option.  And I suppose that means giving up on Little Coders too.  😊<<<<
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Do you remember your first slumber party?

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Mine was for a girl named Casey.  We were in elementary school – 5th grade maybe.  There was a gaggle of girls spread out in sleeping bags covering every inch of the floor.  I don’t remember what we ate or what games we played.  I do remember waking up in the middle of the night and finding a group of girls looting through everyone’s bags.  They stole one girl’s undies, soaked them in water, then put them in the freezer.  They stole another’s and shamelessly made fun of her for having stains in them.  They got mine, but luckily I woke up before they had a chance to do anything with them.  I remember sitting around talking earlier in the evening and one of the girls saying ‘There are 2 people in this room that don’t like me’.   I looked around for the guilty parties until I locked eyes with my best friend who silently whispered, ‘It’s us’.   Huh?  Up until that moment, I had no idea I didn’t like the other girl.  It was news to me, but so it goes being an adolescent girl.

Last night I hosted my daughter’s first slumber party.  She just turned 6 and started kindergarten two weeks ago.  I wanted to keep the party small since this was also a first for me as a parent so I only invited her 3 closest friends.  They were friends from preschool but unfortunately, they are all going to different elementary schools in West Seattle so who even knows how often they will get to see each other anymore.  I felt slightly guilty for not inviting more, but in hindsight, I’m so glad I didn’t.

Ben was concerned about the girls being mean to Declan (and rightly so – they were picking on him within 15 minutes), so the boys took off and went to see the Lego Ninjago movie.  In the 2 hours that they were gone, we painted suncatchers, made homemade pizza, painted nails, ate ice cream, sang Happy Birthday (I had to sing it 4 times because each of the girls wanted to make pretend it was their birthday and blow out the candle!), put on pajamas, brushed teeth, and read a couple books.

We started a movie and then the first kid fell asleep…..then the 2nd…..I was feeling pretty good but should have known the last two were going to give me a run for my money…especially since my kid was one of them.  I periodically shushed them and every now and then went down to see what they were up to.  I would wait around the corner and eavesdrop to hear what little girls talk about when no grown-ups are present.  Things like, ‘Delaney, do you want to fall asleep holding hands?’ or ‘Delaney, I want you to get in my sleeping bag with me’.  Awwwww!  We all dozed off at some point around 11pm and at 4:45am I heard 8 little feet walking up the stairs.  ‘Delaney’s mom!  We’re scared.  We can’t sleep’.  I tried every trick in the book to get them back to sleep but it wasn’t happening.  I finally gave up and put on Trolls.

There were a few tears, a couple little meltdowns, and 3 band-aids (kids are clumsy!), but all said a fun time was had by all.  One of them kept saying, ‘This is the best birthday party every – it’s better than my party was’.  So funny.  As a parent, I often wonder how my kids get along with others, how she treats others.  Is she kind?  Is she mean?  Is she a good friend?  Watching the girls interact was so sweet.  They’re still tiny little humans, but they are at such a great age.  The freezing undies bit is years away (i hope!).  They all know more than I think they know and they are so funny and interesting.  They may not remember last night as their first slumber party, but I will.  And now I have a newfound empathy for all the parents who lost sleep everytime I slept at their house as a kid.

Dunkirk

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One benefit to cutting our camping trip short but still taking the day off work is that we finally got to see Dunkirk yesterday.   We saw it at the Pacific Science Center IMAX which had a massive screen and ridiculously loud speakers.

Dunkirk is a movie of little dialogue and honestly when there was dialogue I had to keep asking Ben what they were saying – either bad hearing or thick Brit accents made it hard to understand.  It was visually mesmerizing and the music by Hans Zimmer forced your senses to be fully engaged.  There were some great scenes, like toward the end when the soldiers are boarding a train back home and an old man, handing out food to the soldiers, says ‘Good job, lads’ to which Harry Styles replies, ‘All we did was survive’.  This was not about winning – it was about staying alive.   It’s a movie about defeat and retreat and facing terrible odds by being outnumbered and outpowered and a desire above all else to just go home.  Christopher Nolan captures the fear and heightened sense of it all with a perfect ensemble including Cillian Murphy, Tom Hardy, Harry Styles and a gripping break-out performance by Fionn Whitehead.   Honestly, every actor’s performance was stellar.

The premise of the story is that hundreds of civilian ships were requisitioned by the British Navy to rescue soldiers stuck on the shores of Dunkirk in France.  Mark Rylance plays the part of one of the civilians called to duty who is joined by his son and his son’s friend.  They’re dressed in jumpers, vests, and tweed pants, and they are crossing the English Channel with bombers and destroyers in their path.  It’s pretty crazy.

I came across an interview with Mark Rylance where he says, “the message of the film is that anyone can make a difference. Your actions as a civilian are so important and not inconsequential.  Anyone can make a difference. In the case of Dunkirk, thousands of civilians with their pleasure boats saved 340,000 men. I think it’s a big lie that the tyrants in society say that civilian actions don’t make any difference. It makes a difference in how you vote, in what you buy, or what you do with your life. We all can make a difference and I hope the film will encourage people to do so.”

I love this perspective.  It can feel overwhelming sometimes when you think about HUGE problems and how to be part of the solution.  I recently read an interview with Peter Singer (whose book, The Most Good You Can Do, is on the backburner in my Kindle unfinished) and he answered a question about how he considers his carbon footprint by saying he chooses not to eat meat.  And that one of his biggest disappointments is that the majority of the world is still eating meat.  I mean, that is one little choice that can have a huge impact.  A study recently found that if everyone ate beans instead of beef, the U.S. could almost meet its greenhouse-gas emission goals by 2020.   It said, ‘even if nothing about our energy infrastructure or transportation system changed—and even if people kept eating chicken and pork and eggs and cheese—this one dietary change [not eating beef] could achieve somewhere between 46 and 74 percent of the reductions needed to meet the target.’  Sometimes we look so hard and think the solution to a complex problem must be equally as complex when maybe it doesn’t.  It can be as simple and as individual as what you choose to eat, buy, wear, etc.  There’s a great scene in Episode 8 of Ozark, the new Netflix drama starring Jason Bateman, where he says ‘any decision made, big or small, has an impact around the world.’  So, today I leave you with that nugget – go see Dunkirk and stop eating cows.

Say yes!

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Always last minute.  On a whim, we decided to take a few more days off to enjoy what’s left of the Seattle summer.  The days are already getting shorter and fall is in the air.  We found a campsite available at Pacific Beach State Park right on the coast.

Funny enough, right after we booked the site, our neighbors invited us out on their sailboat for the day.  You can’t pass up that kind of invitation, so I said yes and figured we’d head to the coast after we got back (knowing we’d be pitching a tent in the dark!).  So, we sailed to Blake Island, a small island across from West Seattle accessible only by boat.  It was sunny and clear – the perfect (rare) Seattle day.  We anchored, SUP’d around the cove and hiked around the island with the kids, and then motored home to pack the car and head to the beach.

The only other time we’ve been out to the coast was via Port Townsend –> Hurricane Ridge –> Lake Crescent –> Hoh Rainforest –> Forks –> Rialto & Ruby Beach.  It was a HIKE!  Turns out, if you cut to the chase, Pacific Beach is ~140 miles and only a little over 2 hours drive.  Not bad at all.  The drive out was smooth sailing (haha).  I was searching for new podcasts to listen to and came across Locked Up Abroad.  We listened to the episode about the guy from Midnight Express that got locked up in Turkey.  Then, to lighten the mood a bit, we listened to an episode of Song Exploder.   Each episode features a different song and they get the musicians to break it down piece by piece and talk about how it came to be.  Of course, I picked the Phoenix episode.  LOVE!

So, camping is pretty cool, and it’s a cheap and easy way to see a lot of cool places, but sailing is WAY cooler.  I told Ben I would buy a sailboat any day over a Vanagon.   It’d be great.  The kids were naturals on the boat.  No seasickness or anything.  Delaney did fall off the dingy into the cold water after we were anchored, but she had her floaty-coaty on so she was good.   Plus, Trevor had her up and out of the water in the blink of an eye.  When she realized she was safe, the look of fear/shock turned instantly to pure joy.  So cute.

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Sunset on the Pacific

Pacific Beach State Park is next to a teeny-town (non-existent?) town and the beach is sparse.  There are sand dollars everywhere, but I couldn’t find one that wasn’t broken.  Boo.  There was a huge sandbar most of the day and Dede played in the water like crazy.  I thought about putting my step counter on her because she was running non-stop for hours.  Ben and I ended the day at 21k steps (~8 miles) so she had to be at least twice that.

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The Rad Wagon in all of its glory

We rode our bikes up to the one and only restaurant in town for dinner.  Ben reached a new pinnacle of existence on this trip.  He now has a milk crate mounted on the Rad Wagon so he can tote the dog as well as the two kids on his bike.  Too funny.  The restaurant/bar was quite the scene.  You could smell the musty old cigarette smell as you approached the door.  It smelled like an old motel room if you know what I mean.  The waitress was a bit of a mystery to me.  I couldn’t tell her age – maybe 40’s, maybe older and quite overweight.  But her makeup was done and she had long, straight, dyed-red hair down past her butt and a cute festive tunic.  You could tell she put some effort into her appearance.  There was a friendly guy at the counter watching the Mariners game on TV; he comes there every Monday night for their meatloaf special.  And another couple arrived soon after to watch the rest of the game.  I think it was an older man and his mom, but it could have been his partner, who knows.  So I ordered, and Ben waited outside with the kids and dog.  We sat there watching the M’s vs Orioles as the M’s held tight but eventually lost in the 9th inning.  We talked about the weather and the end of summer.  When the food came up I brought it outside and went back in to pay.  If I take a step back from my rushed and hurried pace of life, I don’t mind that the waitress filled drinks, restocked the cups, and putzed around before ringing up my bill.  Everyone was nice enough and what’s the rush anyway?

I grew up in a small town but lived in cities for more than half my life since going away to college (20+ years ago now).  Cities come with hassles like traffic, impersonal services, and unfriendly people, but I’m now accustomed to those things.  For a long time, I would get impatient and frustrated at the lack of options and pace of life when visiting small towns.  Holy fuck.  Visiting my in-laws in rural Virginia would drive me bonkers.  The one and only coffee shop in town had the most random hours, the ice cream shop runs out of ice cream by 2 pm on a hot day, and there’s no traffic but almost everything is a 45+ minute drive.  BUT, small towns are great for kids to run around, get dirty, and just be a kid.  City or country, more and more, I find myself relating to other people in ways that I would not have been able to in the past.  Maybe it’s being a parent and relating to other parents, or maybe I’m just more curious about others where I used to be a self-centered a-hole.  🙂  who knows?

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A worthwhile detour on our way home.

Anyway, we woke up to rain today so decided to pack it in a day early and head home.  I walked the beach one last time in search of a sand dollar to no avail.   Maybe next time….It’s sunny and 90 degrees back in Seattle.  Happy to be home.

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A picture Delaney took of me writing this blog post.

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Delaney & Ben – 5 years ago on the Oregon Coast. Time flies!!!

It’s a little smoky, eh?

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Summer vacation – finally!!!!!!!!!!   I need it.  I want it.  I’ve been looking forward to it for so long and we almost had to bag the whole thing thanks to the worst wildfire season Canada has seen in 60 years.  Prior to leaving, Ben assessed the situation and determined we wouldn’t be in harm’s way so we packed the car and headed for the border.

You’ve got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em, know when to walk away, and know when to run…

Ah, I remember days’ past of well-planned trips, detailed agendas, and perfectly-executed plans.  These days there are too many variables (namely variable X, Delaney, variable Y, Declan, and Variably Z, Ben) and not enough time or energy for details.  For example, one day we ambitiously set out for an 8-km hike on Whistler’s Trail.  Within 5 minutes of the hike, I got my first mosquito bite.  The mozzies are NASTY here!  And everywhere!  And completely immune, if not actually attracted, to OFF!  I put on Ben’s rain coat to cover up and moved on.  Then, a few minutes later, Decky started complaining that he wanted to go back to the campsite.  Oh, and then there was the constant threat of bears so as we walked we all sung out loud and made noises so we wouldn’t sneak up on a bear and end up like Leo in Revenant.  And to top it all off, there was the smoke.  The air is gray today and you can smell the smoke in the air.   The little voice in my head said it was probably not good exercise weather.  So finally, Ben and I both agreed to call it quits and go for Plan B.    We went to Lake Annette – crystal clear water and a sandy beach with lots of kids and families.  Much better!  The air was still gray but there was a strong wind keeping the mozzies away and the kids had fun.

Packing into the stream of life

The drive from Banff to Jasper is known for its legendary views of mountain peaks, ice fields, and countless waterfalls.  Literally, there’s a scenic viewpoint every 5k…and we pulled off into each one.  Ben was shocked and amazed at each one (Like Clark Griswold, “Look, kids, it’s Big Ben!”).  I admired the beauty and really it is stunning, but when 200-kilometers turns into an 8-hour drive my interest starts to fade.  Well, it wasn’t really 8 hours, we had a detour at Lake Louise where Ben disappeared on his paddle board for a couple hours while I chased the kids and tried not to be too much of a killjoy as they played on the big, rocky waterfront.

At one point, I looked up and could see Ben’s silhouette shrink in the distance.  I was like Johnny Utah on the Australian shores watching Bodhi ride off into the 50-year storm to catch the wave of a lifetime.  He’s not coming back…. When he finally did return from his epic SUP, I tried my best to again not be a kill joy.  I often ask myself why he does the things he does.  I mean, it’s not enough to paddle and putz around on the water for a half-hour like most normal people…he must go clear across the largest glacier lake in North America.

Another case in point, the other day we were relaxing at the campsite when I look up and find Ben doing target practice by chucking a huge hatchet into an old tree stump.  He was showing Delaney, albeit unsuccessfully, how to properly throw a camping hatchet.  She’s 5, for the love of God!  When I asked him what goes through his mind when he models that kind of behavior for the kids, his response (after a thoughtful pause) was, “Fun.  Fun.  Fun.”  It’s one simple motivating principle that guides most of his decision-making.  I guess it could be worse.

Banff is a beautiful national park with killer mountain views.  But there was one thing we didn’t account for when packing for this trip and that was the weather.  We all packed like we were going on a summer vacation – because we were – only to find out a cold front was coming through resulting in low’s in the 30’s at night and chilly during the day.  Suffice it to say we were all living in the same ‘cold’ outfit we packed just in case but hoped we wouldn’t need (well, except for Ben, who was geared up for any type of outdoor weather experience).  It did warm up to about 70 on Tuesday and we rode the bikes on the Banff Legacy Trail to the town of Canmore (about 17 km).  Everywhere we go on our bikes we always get attention.  Mine is green with purple tires, and Ben has the Rad Wagon. 

We bit the bullet before the trip and got a bike rack and hitch installed on the car so we could bring the bikes.  Best decision ever.  And after owning my mountain bike for 7 years, I finally rode it on a single-track trail…which would have been eventful, but to top it off I struggling to keep up with Ben who was hauling ass with the 2 kids on the Rad Wagon along a narrow windy path at full speed.  Honestly, every now and then, I think, ‘Hmmm, I wonder what other parents would do if they were in my shoes?’.  But then I think back to my childhood and the shenanigans my dad and uncles used to get up to when we were little kids and I think, ‘yep, this is normal’.

l’afrique francophone

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And, that’s a wrap!  One week trip to the French-speaking country of Senegal in the bag.  A fascinating first experience and I’m so grateful for every bit of it.  I met a bunch of people and got to see quite a few things.  My one regret is that I didn’t get to see more or interact with the local community at all.  For one, I don’t speak French so there was a bit of a language gap.  But there was also the safety factor.  Senegal is relatively safe, but I didn’t want to find out exactly how safe by testing my limits.

On our last day, we had some time to kill before our flight so we took a ferry to Gorée Island.  It’s a small island a few kilometers off the coast of Dakar.  It has a bunch of shops and restaurants and a lot of people trying to scrape together a livelihood by selling trinkets to tourists.   But it also has la Maison des Esclaves with its infamous Door of No Return.  The building is a museum and memorial to the Atlantic slave trade and was said to be the final exit point of slaves from Africa. 

Though there is some debate on the number of slaves that were trafficked through Gorée Island, it is estimated that 15+ million men, women, and children were sold into slavery.  About a third of which went to Brazil, another 1/3 to the Islands, and then the remainder to several other places.  The Door of No Return opens to the ocean where presumably the slaves were made to board a ship and never to return home again.

One of the signs in the museum told of how the slave trade plagued Africa’s economy, livelihood, prosperity, and agriculture (at least that is what I loosely translated from the sign that was in French).  And, I can’t even begin to fathom the horror of being separated from your family and children, and then the unimaginable life that followed as a slave in a foreign country.  Unspeakable.  And to think that human trafficking still happens today (Unfun fact:  There are approximately 20 to 30 million slaves in the world today. According to the U.S. State Department, 600,000 to 800,000 people are trafficked across international borders every year, of which 80% are female and half are children.).  I also read The Handmaid’s Tale on my last long flight which paints a dystopic future where women are forced into slavery and assigned to bear children for elite couples in a totalitarian society.  So gross and repulsive.  Not sure I can even watch the series after reading the book.

Anyway, back to Africa.  We spent a fair amount of time with some people from USAID who were at the meetings we sponsored.  What an interesting bunch.  Voluntarily signing up to live and work in Africa takes a special kind of personality.  I don’t think I could do it.   The infrastructure is shoddy at best and governance, politics, and corruption are daunting issues that need to be dealt with.   Yet if you are willing to forego the creature comforts of western society (and for me that includes consistent access to water, power, wifi, and amazon prime) and put up with potential dysentery, malaria, mozzie bites, and other weird infections, then Africa seems like it could be an exciting testbed with unlimited opportunities for growth and development.  One of the aid workers was a bit odd and twitchy, but very bright and fun to talk to.  A NYC-native whose been in Africa since 2010.  He’s working on some interesting financing deals that I really want to learn more about.

I’ll admit I had very little understanding of ‘Africa’ when I started working in Global Development about a year ago.  I naively (and ignorantly) pictured the continent of Africa like the United States, with a bunch of different states that make up one big ‘Africa’.  Not the case.  Each country in Africa is a country unto its own.  A more appropriate comparison would be to the European Union whereby France and Germany are neighboring countries, but distinct and different in every possible way.  Likewise, each African country has its own governance, whether it be an elected President or a self-appointed dictator.  And this disjointedness allows some countries to advance faster than others but makes it hard for the continent to progress as a collective.

Another thing we noted as we drove to some of the sites is the amount of Chinese development in Africa.  It was evident even in Senegal where you’d see big construction projects underway and signs in Chinese.  A recent McKinsey Report estimates the presence of 10,000 Chinese companies working in Africa.  They are by a long shot Africa’s largest development partner, which has many benefits but has also caused some real concerns.

Another couple we spent time with was from a Venture Capital type firm that’s been investing in different ‘waste to energy’ technologies.  I’ll admit I was a little judgey up front (wrongly as usual).  They just struck me as the VC-‘oh look it’s a shiny new object and if I discover it before anyone else it will make me a billionaire’-type.  You know the type, right?!  Well, after chatting with them, it turns out they were a lot more down to earth than that.  I keep getting reminders that life and people are a lot more fun when you are open to new possibilities rather than locked into judgments and criticisms.

So, this morning we bid farewell and started the long journey home.  I am getting giddy and punchy from all the travel minus the sleep.  But I successfully dodged malaria and food poisoning.  Yippee!  And now it’s time for vacation!  Canada, here we come!  That makes 4 continents and 5 countries  (US, Canada, China, France, and Senegal) in the last month.  So rad!!!