Archive for the ‘Activism’ Category

Random Stuff About My Life

The Post Which Never Was

Back in March I began to write a very long and detailed post about volunteering to be in an NIH study.  It was good, and I was going to finish it and post the whole thing today, but I realized that my memory of the study (which took place in January) is now pretty vague.  So instead of giving you a detailed description, I’m going to have to summarize.

NIH is a cool place to visit
As in oddly scary security screening (although everyone was friendly and polite) giant fishtanks, gorgeous displays, and everyone willing and interested in explaining the science.
They like me there
They appreciate interested and engaged volunteers. I absolutely felt like the favorite volunteer ever!
They like knitting there
There was a lot of waiting around. I figured out how to knit with a tube stuck in me, and a number of people watched. One of the doctors was a knitter, so she kept me thinking about ‘name the famous male knit designers’ instead of the invasive sample she was taking.
There was not fun stuff too
Invasive samples are not fun. Being intubated and having blood taken every few hours is not fun. Fasting and being pumped full of sucrose is not fun. No matter how polite everyone is, and how interested you are in the process, there are going to be not fun parts in human experimentation.

The particular study I was in had to do with the effects of antiinflammatories on metabolic syndrome.  In particular, how antiinflammatory medicine affects the calcium ion channels reaction to insulin in fatty tissue in patients with metabolic syndrome.  I ended up as a healthy control, so they just took one fat biopsy.  Thanks to this study I now know that I don’t have metabolic syndrome, and a little bit more about how my body works.

I may well volunteer for another study, because it was cool.

Looking for Work

Over the past three weeks I’ve put in ten job applications and had four interviews at three different places.  Two phone interviews, one in person interview and one video interview over a phone app.  I’ve got a spreadsheet to track (because I’m that kind of geek).  I have one good interview suit (which I’ve used) and a number of less good but still acceptable options to wear for second interviews.

The three positions I’ve interviewed for are (in chronological order):

  1. Administrative/front office (interview with placement agency)
  2. Regulatory Affairs Assistant
  3. Help Desk

I never thought I’d be interested in any sort of regulatory work, but, honestly, this job would be really exciting.  I wouldn’t be enthused about that commute, though.  Of course, if Steve gets a job near there (and it’s possible) that makes it all come together nicely.

The help desk position is the one which had the video interview.  I’d be providing applications support, and I know that I can handle the job.    It was an odd experience, but it makes sense for this particular company (they produce video content) and it’s only round one.  I hope I make it to round two, because I’d prefer a more interactive interview.

So that’s it, almost.  Except that I do have a literal fridge cleaning recipe.  I made this on Friday, when I realized that there was a cup of home made chicken broth which I had better use up or throw out.  Here’s what I threw together:

Fridge Cleaning Soup Recipe

1 cup homemade broth

1 cob corn

2 baby carrots

2 T quinoa (this is what I used, it was way too much.  2t probably better).

Heat broth over medium heat.  While it’s warming, put the carrot cob in the microwave (husk and all) for one minute. Remove from microwave.  Cut off stem end and squeeze cob out (corn is cooked and cob is shucked all at once).  Cut kernels from cob and discard cob.  Chop up baby carrots.  Add corn, quinoa and carrots to broth and simmer for five minutes.  Remove from stove and eat.

Clean Fridge soup


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In yesterday’s post I told you that Abby would introduce you to a scholar if you donate to the Michelle Sylvester Scholarship fund. Since she was still in the Peace Corps Regional House when I let her  know I had she was able to reply right away to tell me who my $20 would be sending to school for a year.  Here’s what she had to say:

This is Aminata Sow!

Aminata speaks Pulaar and lives in a compound with 30 other people – including her cousin, Hawa Ba, who is also an MSS recipient this year. Aminata is a great student, she’s very outspoken in class and is an active member of the English Club. In the future, Aminata wants to grow up to be a flight attendant. She likes math, and wants people who live in other countries to know that Senegal is a very peaceful country, that values “solidarity”. Whenever I stop by her village on my bike, Aminata always insists that I come by to see her family and have some tea.

I feel like I know this girl already. (And I asked Abby to tell her “No ngoolu daa”, which the Interwebs tells me is “Hello” in Pulaar) Notice that there’s no age given?  That’s because, apparently, not all Senegalese keep track of things like age.  I don’t think that’s particular to girls, but it may be.

If you’re interested in donating to the scholarship fund, you can use this form.  The directions say “*Under “Please use this box if you want to send a message of encouragement to this project’s volunteer” please enter “MSS Fund” followed by any encouragement you would like to pass along to the Volunteer”.  If you give her you email address and tell her you would like the bio of your scholar, she’d be glad to send you one.  Or if you leave a comment here with contact info I would be glad to send it along.  Just know that she doesn’t get to the Regional House every weekend, so you might wait a little while for your bio (but it will come).

If you’d like to find out ore about what it’s like to be a Peace Corps Volunteer in Senegal, you can visit Abby’s blog, or her friend Emily’s “slightly more socially conscious” blog.

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I received an email from Abby today, about the Gender and Development fund she’s representing.  I want to share part of the email with you:

Anyway, I’m just writing because the gender and development organization that I’m a part of is sponsoring scholarships for 9 girls from my local middle school – girls attendance in schools drops off exponentially after primary school so there is a HUGE gender gap in school attendance. In my village, not a single one of the girls goes to middle school. Schools here aren’t free, so the Peace Corps has a Michelle Sylvester Scholarship fund (she’s an old volunteer who started the program back in the 90s). Each girl gets 10 mille, which is the equivalent of $20 per girl to go to school and get school supplies for one extra year. Our fundraising efforts are REALLY behind this year, and each volunteer only needed to raise $180 ($20 per girl, 9 girls total). I always feel really weird writing fundraising e-mails (especially because, due to how the grant is set up, I have actually no idea who has donated money), but if you wouldn’t mind sending this on to other people who may donate -in your offices or book clubs or whatever, that would be really awesome! And if you’ve already donated, THANK YOU! I love you all so much, and I wish I had a way to thank you more for everything.

*Under “Please use this box if you want to send a message of encouragement to this project’s volunteer” please enter “MSS Fund” followed by any encouragement you would like to pass along to the Volunteer.

Please consider donating.  If you like, leave a message here, and if you attach your email address Abby said she’d send a bio of the girl you’re funding.  I’ve funded one, and will share the bio here if she says it’s ok.


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About the City

Perhaps I should have posted this last week, while the pictures were still on the news.  I think it just took me a while to process, and to be ready to write about it.  It’s still hard to write about it, but now at least I have some links if you want to help.

IMG_1829The last time I was in Old Ellicott City (Main Street, where the flood was truly devastating) was on July 9.  Dottie had given me my choice of local ghost tours for my birthday.1. It was a really nice evening.

The part of Ellicott City I go to (or drive through) more often is nothing like this.  It’s on US 40 and has an entirely different kind of vibe.  There’s definitely a kitschy sort of charm to it as well.2

Old Town Elliott CIty is (or was, and hopefully will be) something else.  There is definitely a lot of touristy stuff to it.  There’s also a lot of character.  It was initially built in the late 18th century, though I don’t think any of that architecture survived to be threatened by the flood.

Main Street pd

Here’s a photo in the public domain, taken 2 June, 2006

Steve, Dottie and I were all safe at home on the 30th.  Steve had been thinking of going to see our friend Aaron Fuller (who sings with Midnite Run) but the show was cancelled due to the rain. Our friend Dave Pratt (who plays harmonica for the Soul Island Rebels) had a show in Ellicott City that night, but it was on Rte. 40, so higher ground. Our friend Steve Wilson (who podcast listeners might recognize from Prometheus Radio Theatre) was at the Judges Bench that night.  When he realized how bad things were getting he drove his car through a foot or more of water to park it at higher ground.  (The consensus is that he was a very lucky idiot).


How to  donate/volunteer

Here are a few of the funds and resources I have found.  I don’t know all of the individuals behind them, and I don’t know any of the well, but as far as I an tell the individual campaigners are who they say they are.3 The general funds are organizations which have been around for a while. I collected several of these links myself before finding the WJZ-TV list, which also includes fundraisers.

American Red Cross Greater Chesapeake Region
County Executive Alan Kittleman requests that cash donations go through the Red Cross.
Community Action Council of Howard County
Accepting food donations
Ellicott City Partnership
Is accepting donations and coordinating volunteer efforts
Keep Ellicott City Working
A Facebook page designed to recruit people who lost their livelihood during the flood find jobs
Preservation Maryland
A fund to help restore and rebuild the historic structures
All Time Toys
The owner was part of a historic rescue caught on video during the flood. His GoFundMe is already fully funded.
This has been one of my favorite stores for over 20 years. I bought the necklace I wore at my wedding there (or in the now defunct Discoveries shop which was at the Columbia Mall at the time). Dottie had a part time job there while she was in High School. Both girls shopped for prom dresses there. It’s pretty much at the bottom of the street.
I’ve eaten there a couple of times for the girls’ French class school field trips, and once for a special anniversary dinner. It’s amazing cuisine.
Sweet Elizabeth Jane
This has been one of the girls’ favorite stores, and it’s likely that, failing this campaign, it will be gone forever.
This is not one of the stores I frequented, but I have seen it pop up many times on my friends FB pages in the past week. A shop for actual vinyl records.
Cacao Lane
This restaurant has been in EC for as long as I’ve been going there (a lot longer, actually). It’s hard to imagine the city without it.
Phoenix Emporium
One of the many great local bars in the city. Also at the low end of the street.
Bean Hollow
This one doesn’t say ‘verified’, but I got the link from the Bean Hollow Facebook page, so I’m pretty sure about it. This is the coffee shop both girls adopted as an after school hangout. It’s also a place that Steve and I enjoy. It’s quirky without being off putting, and the coffee, tea, pastries and sandwiches have always been delicious.

So that’s it. If you have other donation links or stories, please share them in the comments. I’d love to hear everyone’s stories.

1a) My birthday was in March, but the plan was always to take the tour in the summer. b) I think it probably says something about the area that there are many ghost tours to choose from, especially as tourism is not one of the key industries in the state. (back)


Enchanted Forest

The Enchanted Forest, which deserves a blog post of it’s own.  Photographed by Ron on March 28, 2015, used with by permission with a C BY-NC-ND 2.0 license.


3I’ve added a short comment on each of these, often about my personal relationship to the businesses. Not because I expect that to influence you, particularly, but just to express how this has impacted my personal story. Because that’s what a blog is for.(back)



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Happy Thanksgiving

A happy holiday wish to all of my fellow countrymen.

Dottie is home for the holiday, and Abby plans to call or Facetime from Senegal (assuming the Senegalese phone network and/or the Peace Corps Training Center’s wifi network cooperate).  We will be having dinner with Steve’s family today, and lunch with mine tomorrow.

Tomorrow is also ‘buy nothing’ day in our household.  This is a tradition we’ve been following for about fifteen years.  I think we’ve broken it twice – once, years ago,  because we would have run out of gas otherwise, once last year because Dottie needed antibiotics.  Not a bad record at all.

Of course, this year some retailers are joining in, starting with REI.  Here’s a list for your approval.

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Governor Hogan Letter

Posted today via USPS.  I do not expect a reply from the governor, but your comments are welcomed.

Governor Hogan,

I am writing to you today about your public request that the federal government not send Syrian refugees to Maryland in the interests of safety. I want you to understand that your request itself makes me feel less safe.

My great grandparents on my mothers side are what we today would call ‘economic refugees’. They were Jews who came to this great country in search of a better life. They came to Ellis Island, and my grandmother grew up in New York City, surrounded by other Jewish immigrants. They were not ‘safe’ people. My grandmother used to tell stories of her childhood. There was a particular member of a Jewish gang who used to make it very clear to her that if anyone bothered her or her parents, she should go to him. He did not make her feel safe either.

So I acknowledge that people fleeing harsh regimes and coming to our country will include trouble makers, and even criminals. That’s not the point.

The point is that I’ve spent my entire life in Maryland, as has my husband. We live in one of the most diverse school districts in Howard County. The elementary school where our children went had children who had been born in countries all over the world. Children whose parents spoke over a hundred different languages, and who came from at least forty different countries. I have never been afraid of these children, or their families. They are a vital, and celebrated, part of our community.

Please bear in mind that, while it is possible that some of the terrorists who took part of that horrible attack on Paris, it is known that many of them were French citizens. Citizens so alienated from their own country that they did this hateful thing.

Today as I was walking past the high school my children attended, I saw a young woman wearing a headscarf, t-shirt and bluejeans. I couldn’t claim to know her precise ethnicity, but she is presumably of middle eastern origin. She was in a group of peers, all laughing and being comfortable together. Her friends clearly don’t fear her, nor she them. I wonder if she has any brothers, the high school years are such a vulnerable age for boys. I wonder if her parents are as comfortable with American culture. I wonder where her extended family is, and whether they might some day reach out to this girls parents for a safe haven. I wonder if the parents will be forced to turn them away.

Governor Hogan, this is why your ‘request’ makes me feel unsafe. It is a message to muslim immigrants that they are not wanted. It also feeds into the “Great Satan” propaganda of islamic extremists. They say that America makes war on Islam. When you say you deny refugees entry to our state, it feels as though you are feeding hatred, both the hatred of the jihadists abroad, who will take any excuse to hate America more, and the hatred of bigots at home, who feel that anyone with brown skin is inherently unclean and unsafe.

Remember how, after 9/11, we all said that if we let the terrorists force us to change the way we live, then we let them win? I feel as though you’ve just told them that, in Maryland, they’ve won.

Please rethink your position, and take a stand for principle and courage. Let Maryland take as many refugees as we can, and let them know that, once they make it here, they’re home.


Lise Mendel

Also, I’ve heard that politicians are swayed by numbers more than eloquence.  Even if you’re not confident in your ability to be convincing, please write anyone who represents you who has been making similar pronouncements.

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In case you haven’t heard, the National Zoo will be closing the Invertebrate Exhibit tomorrow.  It’s almost certainly a ‘done deal’, although you can sign the petition at Change.org to express your concerns (I did).

What the News Has Been Saying

The announcement was made Tuesday (though someone said Monday).  Animals will be found other homes, either in other parts of the zoo (such as the rainforest exhibit) or at other institutions. No animals will be harmed.  The five animal keepers who are employed at the house will be assigned to other parts of the zoo (which is understaffed).  There will eventually (probably) be a biodiversity exhibit and many of these exhibits will be restored then.


I get that the hall needed to be revamped, and that the $5 million cost of renovation will instead go to making other exhibits more humane.  I get that there are hard choices that had to be made, and that I would probably be distressed by any choices that they made.  I just really, really wanted to take one last trip there to say “Goodbye”, which I did on Thursday (18 June).


So I Went to Say Goodbye

As always, the exhibit was full of visitors and FONZ volunteers.  Many of the visitors, like us, had come for one last goodbye.  Some seemed unaware that the exhibit was closing, which is not surprising, as there had been a total and complete news blackout about it up until the announcement.  I can understand that.  The Zoo, and the Smithsonian, must have anticipated that people would be irate, would attempt to organize and protest, and I’m sure they just wanted to avoid an uproar.  The decision can’t have been easy, and anything they chose to cut would have been controversial.  I’m sure they just wanted to be able to concentrate on what would be best for the animals.


While I was there I spoke to several of the volunteers, and I learned something which, rather than allowing me a sense of closure and acceptance, really changed the focus of my discontent.

What the News Has Not Been Saying

The story the volunteers told was not touched upon in the news coverage.  The thing is, the staff, and the volunteers, were told about the closure just barely before the news media.  They were told on Monday that the exhibit would be closed on Sunday.   Certainly, there had been rumors, and speculation, for months.  There was no training session for new volunteers when one would normally have been expected.  The giant octopus, who had lived for an exceptionally long time after she laid eggs, was not replaced once she passed.  There were plenty of signs and hints, but no official word.


The Smithsonian press release (linked above) does say that permanent employees will be reassigned.  There is mention of what happens to researchers or volunteers. I, personally, find this unconscionable and undefendable behavior from some of the few institutions which have maintained my trust for years.

comb jelliesIt’s very hard for me to find myself being this critical of the Smithsonian.  It’s even harder for my Mother, who has been a Smithsonian supporter for as long as I can remember, she’s already decided not to renew her  FONZ membership, and is considering letting her Smithsonian Associate membership expire as well.

Obviously, this is an emotional issue for me, and I’m probably rambling. I feel betrayed.  I trust that the zoo is honestly trying to do the best it can for the animals it cares for, but I cannot say that I trust that they are making the same effort for the individual humans they employ, or who help out of the goodness of their heart.  It just seems to me that they were so afraid of the public outcry which closing any exhibit would bring, they rushed to make it a fait accompli, and betrayed their own people in the process.

I want to see the Smithsonian treating it’s people better, even if it means they take a public relations hit in doing so.  I think they made the calculation that by rushing this through so fast, the population as a whole would just blink and move on without really seeing it.



I’m afraid they’re right.

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