24 July 2017

Obsessed with vintage leather...

9:27 AM

My latest purchase—or as my husband would say “what you get for the girl who has everything”—is yet another beautiful leather bag. I just learned today that this is completely impractical for bike commuting. However, my inventor’s mind has come up with the biking-tote-harness…more on that later.

This is an extra-large, unfinished cow hide bag...note the raw edged. It’s got a single interior side pocket and a snap to hold the bag together when it’s overstuffed. Beautiful, utilitarian, natural. Just like me

But seriously, this bag is:

  • Komalc Genuine Soft Buffalo Leather, $119.00
  • Interior pocket for Laptop / cell phones / keys / wallet 
  • Size in inches 18.5 (W)x 13.25( H) x 3.5 ( D) Fits up to a 17 inch laptop 
  • Bonus: I biked to work today in a white linen top, and 85% humidity, there was not color transfer from bag to blouse!

I have a few bags that are similarly finished:

18 July 2017

2017 Trip to the Farm

8:09 AM

 This year’s retreat was earlier than usual, and our visit to Northland Sheep Dairy was long overdue. We visit the farming sect of the family only once a year, and each time, being intheir presence rejuvenates us and recharges the batteries!!! While our region of the mid-Atlantic has been hazy, hot, humid, and dry, the Marathon New York region has been lately sloshing with rain.

Firefighter of the year...so proud of this guy!
This meant that the gathering of hay has been preempted for other things. Like baking, milking, and entertaining the visiting guests (that's us). So, we didn’t get to help with bailing and tossing into the new barn. Our first bit of fantastic news was that brother, farmer, climber, mule skinner, and fireman Donn, was just awarded Fire Fighter of the Year.

Oh My Gawd, the New Barn
(view 360 google map)

Check out the Google Maps 360 image of the barn (interior)...it's so cool
Last fall, our family farmers—with the help of several friends and the Amish farmers in the community, built a traditional Amish-style barn on the property, featuring the historic Ohio Truss system. Brother-in-law, Donn has worked with the Amish in the area in building (something like) 15 barns in the past, and this was his turn. This is how their society works; everyone helps everyone else, and when it’s your turn, everyone turns up!

There are no written/drawn plans for these barns...amazing
 During the build, there were dozens of sub-15-year old boys balanced in the eaves, placing and hammering the roof supports. I had to take a full 360 photograph of the interior. More news, there is a beautiful and effective new sheep dog, Lacie, to help out Jack—the veteran—with his herding duties. She is a sweetie.

We happy-houred with the farmers, dined out in Cortland, helped in berry pie production, and lunched with my good friend, Baltimore ex-pat, by way of California and New York—and current Cornell doctoral student, Jayme. Plus, she’s a beautiful, spirited, funny, adorable, passionate, and just goddamn awesome woman. She led us to tacos and beer on a 4 hour visit with her and her doggie in Ithaca.

As usual, the place has the most expressive sunrises and dramatic fog banks that roll into the valleys.

In past years we've chased the ducks, and helped to herd...with the help of the working dogs and professional farmers, of course. We even helped out with the haying (making hay). This was the most grueling and rigorous work I'd ever done, and it's amazing to see the moving pieces that go into making farm life work. There's a routine, and rhythm to everything that goes on... without this rhythm, things don't work. We got to see this particularly during this trip. We helped--or attempted to help move the small flock of goats and rams from the upper field to a paddock. It went smoothly.

The animals followed hubby and I happily, and then at the last minute, as we were nearing the finish line, they all turned toward the adjacent woods.

After much barking and farmers cajoling (and even some attempted food bribery) the animals had to be placed back in the original field. They'd try the move again, the next day.

Our contribution to the berry pie...picking and eating

There was quite a bit of this (cocktails are just out of frame)

These two have the BEST kitchen for cooking and entertaining (and selfies)
Until next year...

Lacie, the sheep dog.

Hubby fell absolutely in love with their newest working dog, Lacie... I warned him that Daisy might be less than nonplussed if she got a whiff of another sweet pup on our clothes.  

Check out our past Trips to Northland Sheep Dairy:

29 June 2017

If you have more bikes than people...

11:10 AM

What to do when your house has more bikes than people?

Get a vertical standing bike rack. It saves on floor space, and makes you look like less of a slob--at least, that's been our experience. We have a stable of 6 bikes, five of which reside in the house with us. While one stays in the basement.

This light-weight bike rack has moved around between the front room and living room in our current house (3 years) and our last apartment (2 years). It's fairly easy to install (since we've long since mislaid the instructions) and does not move once it's up.

It's an inexpensive vertical, bike rack has served us well for several years and we’re looking forward to several more. To be frank, we have even gotten a new bike since the rack allows for slightly more indoor storage space.

26 June 2017

Seeking & Finding My Dream Job

Just over five years ago I decided to leave the comfortable, challenging, well-paid job that I enjoyed to start prepping for the job that I wanted. It was a step away from the familiar non-profit sector and back in the direction of higher education.

I fell in love with higher ed while a student and paid participant in the process. Graduate assistantships, student jobs, and on-campus civic engagement of every sort gave me an insider view that many students miss.

To be honest, my post-secondary student career was a wholly non-traditional one. In just under 10 years my list of schools was as long as a common criminal’s rap sheet. I’d been everywhere and studied almost everything before completing two degrees in graphic design: Biology, English, Fashion Design, Fine Art, Art history, History, and Photography (that’s most of them).

Image Source
In one brief stint as a Nutrition and Dietetics major—I was then employed working with people afflicted with HIV/AIDS and wanted to be part of the solution to the epidemic—I spent nearly two semesters at a Historically Black [College or] University (HBCU). It was the worst administrative experience of my life. While I excelled in my academic courses, from Biology and nutrition, to Literature, English, and History, every interaction with school administration was a hindrance.

The Paperwork Logjam Cycle

Image Source:Pixbay
The administration, in being unable to read my hand-written undergraduate application place me in the Fine Arts Major, even though I wrote in Nutrition and Dietetics on my hand-filled form. I spent my entire 1.5 semesters at the school attempting to chase down the two deans needed to sign off on my change of major. At the time, the rule was that the dean of each school had to sign off on a change-of-major form, although I never chose art as a major, and this was an error made by the admissions office. So I spent weeks emailing to schedule an appointment with no reply. Whenever I visited the fine arts department, for the signature, the doors were locked and I could not gain entrance to the appropriate offices.

I spent a day a week, for close to seven months ping-ponging back and forth between the admissions office secretary to the art school with no joy.

Internship Woes

Dietetics majors who want to become licensed practitioners must complete a 6mos to 1-year-long, full time (unpaid) internship. I decided that to get a jump on my field and to learn more about specializations I would choose to intern each summer until the time of my mandatory posting. I found a Bio-Chem summer research post at a prestigious regional institute and began my application process—this was at the start of my 2nd semester.

By this time I had had at 2 courses in my major (one taught by our dean and another by a long-standing assistant professor), as well as Biology and bio-chemistry with an accomplished researcher in the science department…the thing that distinguished him in my mind was that he kept applying pressure for me to switch majors and apply my analytical mind to his field of science. I never did. Instead I reached out to these three people, all of whom I had already impressed in the classroom—for recommendations for the summer internship. Three were needed and who better than these professors who had seen what I can do in the classroom? Bio-man came through aces…writing my praiseful note with haste.

However, in the department where I thought I’d distinguished myself (being the only student to garner an A in both challenging courses, and the one who participated in the discussions of health and wellness both in and out of the class with my professors) there were crickets. Both profs claimed a willingness to write the recco, and both let me down. I gave them a three-week deadline while knowing that the actual deadline for applying to the internship was 4 weeks. Still, each week when I arrived in their office suite I got excuses. On the last day before the (real) mailing deadline, a Friday (I decided I’d need to hand –deliver my application, an inconvenience, but worth it if I was selected), the dean of my program sat across from me in her office and uttered these words, “why don’t you write the recommendation and I’ll sign it for you,” Well…. Hmm… I was speechless. If that was the general protocol I could have done that 4 weeks prior and submitted an early internship application.

Making that move led me to a polar opposite educational experience.
At UB, I felt supported & became engaged, &interned often. I'm still
engaged in the community life of the school where I completed my
Bachelors and Masters degrees.
Baltimore's Mt Vernon, near my alma mater.
That afternoon I chose to walk home and think about my life choices. The 4 mile trek gave me ample time to assess what had just happened to me and to come up with a plan. Four blocks from my apartment I walked in to the University of Baltimore and completed an undergraduate admissions application, before heading home. I never returned to the HBCU. I undoubtedly failed the 4 classes in which I was enrolled at the time.

From that day on I never had a good thing to say about the school that drove me away. If ever I heard someone talk of the school my two-cents was what they got…and it was an earful...that it was a terrible place doing a disservice to young black people who want an education...doing their enrolled students an unforgivable injustice, etc. My conversation about the place was always 100% positively negative!

Above are two of the major incidents, far from the majority of things that made for a challenging school experience. These are a few others:
English 101 lecturer was a recent graduate of said HBCU, he began his first lecture by asking us what we thought Tupac meant my lyrics in a hip-hop song (of which I’d never heard or listened to—or wanted to know anything about). I figured that if this young man—who spoke comfortably in the local vernacular wanted to teach the urban version of Freshman Comp, he would do well not having me in his class…

(Being not versed in Hip-Hop culture, I didn't’ know that Tupac Shakur was a popular rapper who came from the Baltimore, and I certainly didn’t know lyrics to any of his chart-topping hits)

I dropped that class in favor of another one in which my peer students were so far behind in basic grammar and punctuation that it was impossible for me to understand content when peer-reviewing papers (and the new prof loved having us peer review everything). I got the reputation of being mean…

In an effort to bring the majority of students up to college-level achievement, the university took the surprising step of mandating 4 levels of general education English/Writing courses. Completion of these did not culminate in graduation unless every student also sat and passed an additional exam. As an avid writer, reader, and lover of language I was appalled at this, and was upset to learn that I could not sit that exam early...

Everyone in my world history class (bar 3, myself and my study group) cheated on every single test quiz, and exam. No one was ever caught or reprimanded, and oddly enough none but us three got As in the course… In applying to join the student newspaper–literally, a dozen times—no replies were given to either my emails or phone calls…

As a matter of fact, whenever I called or emailed any administrative department I was either transferred twice then hung-up-on, or placed on hold for 20 minutes, AND my messages were never responded to, period.

Then about five years ago, I actually heard myself for the first time. Disparaging a place that honed the talents of people like Dr. Charles Drew. Disparaging the place that thousands of young people choose every year based on an historical relevance and family tradition. Disparaging the place was doing nothing to solve any problem or make any positive change. Not even in my head where I had compartmentalized the terrible experience of the school and only trotted it out on special occasions. If I really wanted to rail against the injustice, then I needed to be at the place, making an actual difference for the students.

Instead of a nay-sayer I needed to become a yay-sayer for the students at the institution and be that person who answered their emails, their phone calls, their questions when they found no one else who’d take the time.

Not only could I become an asset to the students, but also to the university as a whole; using my expertise and ingenuity garnered from a lifetime in the nonprofit sector, offering them any piece of my skill and experience to enhance the university.

The Die was Cast

So, that’s how it happened. I made the decision to seek out employment where a younger me would not spend her undergraduate career. The post at this HBCU became an obsession for me. In half-a-decade, I read the job postings, and kept an eye on university news as well as the Higher Education Commission annual statistics on public and private universities. I combed through reports and bookmarked news of promising achievement. If I wanted to become a useful part of the community then I’d need to know what I was getting into.

What I found was that between my undergraduate experimentation and today, the school was making strides to right its wrongs, without my intervention. The place was on a trajectory that didn’t need me as the catalyst. The new university president had implemented simple reforms like:

+ customer service training for new and long-time staff,

+ town hall meetings to speak and listen with students,

+ an emphasis on raising the research profile of the school.

All of these things proved effective and are restoring the century-plus-old institution to it’s glory. I literally can’t read about higher ed innovation and accomplishment without seeing the name of my current employer or its president. When I ask students and staffers about the challenges of being here today, they give diverse, thought-provoking answers; never do they simply site administrative roadblocks when trying to complete basic tasks.

Today, I sit in my office—nearing a year in my tenure—and feel that everyday I’m making a more positive experience for students and my professional peers. But the groundwork was laid years before I turned up.

To be sure, the gains made by the school were astronomical. Many staffers, openly show their love of student achievement, passion to grow the prestige and reputation of this historically black university, always with a nod to their place in history. My ire and desire brought me to my dream job, and it’s better than I’d hoped it could be.

I came to the university to be an asset for the students, and I’m not the only one. Loving my job at my first HBCU.

(Plus it's an excellent place to work!)

18 May 2017

Costa Rica VI: Coming Home

7:20 AM
Puerto Viejo de Talamanca... you will be missed... hasta luego

It's funny, the same people who were polite enough to wear deodorant a week ago are now so relaxed that they eschew any artificial fragrance for the 5-hour unconditioned return bus ride back to San Jose. The hot bus smells sour after just one hour. It’s such a beautiful ride that I notice the smells only peripherally.

When we leave the town of Cahuita, the sun is beating down through the windows and everyone is still in the heat. We are sloths. However, a cooling storm moves in as we begin to climb toward the mountains surrounding San Jose and Alajuela--the final destination for many of us on the bus.

After 3 hours we enter the cloud forest nearing San Jose. Mere hours ago, we left the lowest points in the country, on the southern Caribbean coast and are now so high up in the mountains that we drive through clouds.

Well, the photos taken from the bus were pointless, this is the same location from dozens of kilometers away:

The highway runs through the mountains, up in the clouds

The 2-lane highway is bordered on either side by nearly 90 degree mountain face that disappears upwards. Trees, flowers, and rocks cling to the face and it’s climbed by unexpected waterfalls. If it were less dangerous to travel this road, there might be hoards of cyclists testing their lung capacity and endurance on it… Intermittent waterfalls cascade down it….waterfalls on the highway!!!!!

But sadly there are white crosses every 20 km or so, where some pedestrian biker or driver lost their life. This is not the place for a languorous stroll.

the view from our 5th floor window in Hotel President, San Jose

Five hours and we’re back in San Jose. A short ride to the hotel and meal and then we are on our way to the two airplanes that will take us home to the USA.

And back at home