Sunday, January 31, 2016

What's Going On: Christine Pendo Mugando Lo on Everydayness -Especially Equity, Race, and Community.

This weekend was a chance to steal some lasting amazement from the best climbing athletes in the nation in the midst of one of the best climbing communities out there. I was proud to be part of our national and local climbing community this weekend. But while I spend a wealth of my time around kids, educators, and climbers, I think I can carefully say we walk through each others lives like white noise -- quick greetings, light laughter, a half-hearted spot, maybe an exchange of ideas. Nothing too deep or very committing. And it's not that I need or want to know everyone deeply -- there are just certain people I'm drawn to know a lil better. That's the truth for Christine Pendo Muganda Lo, who I knew would offer insights across the spectrum of matters related to identity, equity, education, and relationships. I have a lot of favorite parts to her write-up, but I love her perspective on equity, race, and community. Enjoy!  

Background: Where you're from, family, birthday, marriage, education
I grew up in Illinois in the suburbs of Chicago. I come from a biracial, multicultural family: my mother was raised on a subsistence farm in a Pennsylvania Dutch community, while my father was born and raised in Tanzania, the son of a diplomat. I was born August of 1987, the middle of three sisters. My parents are both educators, and decided to homeschool my two sisters and me the entire way through high school. In college, I doubled-majored in mathematics and Spanish -- two languages I loved, but had no idea how to incorporate into my future career path. After college, I moved to Wisconsin for graduate school, I spent six years at UW Madison and completed a PhD in Population Health, Infectious Disease Epidemiology. I met Justin in Madison, in my grad program, actually, and we developed a deep friendship over climbing, running, faith, and general grad school battles. I married Justin earlier this year :)

How would you describe yourself as a child?

I was the stereotypical middle child. I enjoyed challenging my parents, and their rules. I loved any creative outlet, I was a quick-thinker and a master negotiator.

Do you think characteristics or temperament or interests as a child inform your passion(s) today? Definitely. I saw in my own life how easily is it for gifts such as creativity and quick-thinking to morph into something selfish and hurtful. As a child, I didn’t always use my “powers” for good. As a result of my own experience, I now love challenging youth to identify how their giftings may be used for positive or negative outcomes, so that they can make more informed choices about their actions.

What is a favorite memory as a child/adolescent?
During the summers, my sisters and I would spend days working on my grandparents' farm in
Pennsylvania. For anyone, but especially for a city kid, there is an incredibly rewarding feeling that follows putting in a full day of manual labor and seeing a literal harvest as a result.

What is a story you remember?
Because my sisters and I were homeschooled, my parents crafted their own academic calendar for our education. I remember being in middle school when I found out that the “other kids” had vacation all summer long. I can’t say I was delighted to learn how “extra” education had been “gifted” to me. ;)

Do you have a favorite or strong memory of school?
My parents created a lot of space for hands on learning in our educational experience. I remember being very interested in animal biology as a kid, especially bird embryology; I read every book I could find about birds, eggs, imprinting, etc. My mom bought me an incubator and found a few chicken and duck farmers, and then let me loose. I hatched chickens, bantam chickens (mini chickens), ducks, and miniature ducks over the course of numerous summers. Later, my mom encouraged me to share my excitement with younger kids in our homeschool group, so as a highschool student, I created a 10-week curriculum, and taught 3rd and 4th graders about the science of embryology and helped the class care for 24 incubating duck eggs. It was a blast.

Who else in life has influenced you?
My two grandmas and my great grandma. During time spent together in the U.S. and in Africa, these women have done a beautiful job of modeling the value of family and of hard work. They are incredible, strong, and inspiring women. I’m thankful to be part of their legacy.

What do you think we can do to encourage and support equity personally and professionally?
Refuse to become lazy in our thoughts and speech. If you encounter something that feels even a tiny bit “off,” process it fully. Write it down. Talk about it with someone you trust. Use the most precise language you can. Brainstorm and try to make connections to identify the root of the unfairness that you sensed. It is easy to let things slide, but if you consistently challenge those comments or actions (either your own, or observed), you gain in two ways:
  1. You sharpen your ability to sense inequities, even those subtle issues that we may have accepted as “normal.”
  2. You learn how to better communicate your feelings about situations, and you learn to find common ground in these exchanges with others, so that conversations can be fruitful.

Does race and ethnicity matter to you? Why? What challenges you and/or others?
This is a newer passion of mine. Every part of a person’s identity matters.

On an individual-level, it is simply unjust that one may become unsafe, uncared for, or unacknowledged because the piece of their identity that is a minority, is perceived more strongly than the whole of EVERY piece of their identity, the sum of which makes them human.

On a societal-level, when a piece of a person’s identity is ignored or discriminated against, society becomes more and more homogeneous, and as a result, we all lose out. Without differences, we can not learn from each other, and that makes social growth very difficult. A society with no room for the “other” will have an increasingly normative voice and with no alternate voice to offer challenge, it will become increasingly easy to make mistakes.

In what ways do you believe a community can foster equity and acceptance?
I think a big step is to refuse to ignore problems. As uncomfortable as it is, we have to acknowledge and diagnose problems before can make steps toward improvement.

Advice regarding personal conversations about race and equity issues?
Listen first. Be humble and teachable. Be ready to forgive -- race and equity are hard issues and we are guaranteed to misstep as we try to understand each other. Remember that if someone explains their feelings to you, those perceptions are real and ought to be treated as such, even if you (and many others) may see the world differently.

Which aspects of your job do you enjoy? Feel challenged by?
I am trained as an infectious disease epidemiologist, but currently working as data analyst in health informatics. My job offers me the opportunity to keep learning new statistical and data management tools, which is really great. I have the chance to work on many different types of data and I am becoming much more versatile as an analyst.

I feel most challenged by being so far removed from the public health impact. I use data to describe problems, but in my current position  I am not able to design interventions to address these problems. I challenge myself to find productive ways to redirect my skills in this new setting.

What lessons has your work life taught you?
Create space for your passions and skills, they will open doors for you to have broader impact.

What did you imagine you'd be doing today?
Chasing infectious disease outbreaks around the world and making a huge public health impact.

What is/are your passion(s)?
Connecting with people and building relationships.

What makes you stop and go “Wow!”
New babies. It’s incredible that such a tiny tiny package can hold so much potential. WOW.

Short term goal related to your passions?
One of my goals for this year is to become the strongest I’ve ever been, physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.
High point in Life:
THIS season. I've FINALLY developed enough self-confidence to be unapologetically me, and appreciate differences without needing to make comparisons.

Turning point in Life:
Finishing graduate school. I am now convinced that I can be disciplined enough to achieve big, hard things.

What are 15 things that make you uniquely YOU?
  1. I love to read parenting blogs. I have no children, but I can’t get enough of discussion surrounding attitudes, boundaries, trust, growth, etc – I try to apply what I learn to myself.  
  2. For the life of me, I can’t keep the letters ‘v’ and ‘f’ straight; I confuse the two in both written and spoken English.
  3. I love pasta.
  4. One day, I’d like to become an expert in something.
  5. Fall of 2014 is missing from my memory due to a concussion.
  6. I do not enjoy board games.
  7. Relationship building is one of my favorite things to ponder.
  8. I am not particularly brave, but I love trying new things.
  9. My identity is tied closely to my interracial, intercultural roots.
  10. I love sowing into our future through children and youth.
  11. I have really big hair.
  12. Cardigans!
  13. Empathy is probably my strongest  personality trait
  14. I have goals to become more articulate, self-confident, and responsible.
  15. I like bright colors.

Favorite sayings/remarks?

“Tuko pamoja” It’s a Swahili saying that can’t quite be translated to English because it’s so cultural, but it means “we are together” and it captures the idea that we rely on each other, that coming together as a society is the only way to move forward. It is the opposite of individualism and it reminds us that we have responsibility to care for one another. “Tuko pamoja”

Significant advice someone gave to you?
“Try thinking about it” -- my dad
*After reading Christine's interview a few times through, I think who she is comes down to Tuko pamoja. I love that Swahili saying.  Thank you so much Christine - I know more about you today than I did yesterday!  

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Anticipation Matters

One of my favorite things about this week was anticipation, an element I firmly believe plays a hand in motivation. With a week that is hard to summarize into pat statements like I had a good week! Or, It went by so fast ... what mine came down to was:

Every day I anticipated something positive.

And it was. We were off on Monday to celebrate Civil Rights Day, so my kids and I baked our annual birthday cake for Martin Luther King, listened to I Have a Dream and they topped it off with their version of Top Chef Jr by creating new foods from recipe books. They had been awaiting that time together for days. 

A hot ongoing thread of conversation and inquiry in my classroom is equity. This week the essential question centered around outdoor recreation and nature. We formulated the question: Who's left out? Why? How can we help change the faces that most often appear in outdoor recreational activities? These guided our study of James Mills, an author, journalist, and media producer right here in Madison, WI. He wrote the book The Adventure Gap, helped produce the movie 5.14 about Kai Lightner, spoke on Ted Talks Madison, and is a reporter for Madison newspapers. Those are just a few of his roles. What impressed me was how my students interacted with the build-up before his class presentation on Friday. I mean, they read a biography, perused his website, read excerpts from his book, and developed several deep questions to ask him. The learning was engaging and my students were all about the anticipation of James Mills' visit. You'll have to ask him about it, or ask my students, but let me just say, it was freaking awesome. James is accessible and real, and dropped historical and honest gems. Anticipation matters to young people and I believe James measured up to their high expectations. 

Yesterday I went to Adventure Rock for a climbing competition. I've deemed it my annual Try Hard event to raise my psych for getting stronger, more focused, and have more fun climbing. Those folks who build-up Quick on the Draw #qotd know how to run a super fun comp. The vibe is all about fun, and the theme of fun coupled with try hard sets a really positive scene. I'm proud of Jamie Lauer Katie Lawler, and Audrey Biemeret who all represented age variances and incredible climbing focus! It was fun to be part of this annual anticipation, an event that leads up to bouldering nationals right here in Madison. The by-product was spending all day with my ever supportive husband who pretty much played the role of squire and chauffeur, with a beer as our final destination. 

Get out there you all -- build some anticipation!

Friday, January 15, 2016

What's Going On: Chris Eggert on Everydayness and Passion

One purpose of my multi-authored blog is to share in the power of personal narratives. I've known Chris Eggert for several years as a super strong rock climber, and I'm really psyched that he accepted my challenge to help build this archive of human experiences. For those wondering how others pursue their potential, you'll appreciate Chris' realistic expression of balancing his life with family, career, and passions.  It's one thing to know someone as a climber, but to know pieces of their history and everydayness, really adds depth to who they are as a person. I enjoyed interacting with Chris through these questions, and know him better today than I did the day before. Enjoy!

Just the Basics: where you're from, family, birthday, marriage, education?

I’m from Twin Cities mostly, after spending a couple years living on an Air Force base in California when I was little.  I’m the middle child of 3, and that’s supposed to mean something about my personality I’m sure.  I’m a Virgo which apparently also makes me  practical, modest, and quiet yet persuasive.  I married Cari whom I met at Loyola medical school  in Chicago.  Traveling, camping, canoeing, fishing, and hiking make us tick in sync.  We have 2 boys, ages 5 and 10 and moved to Madison about 8 years ago after carefully looking all over the country for places that had both good schools and great rock climbing nearby.  

How would you describe yourself as a child?  I questioned authority freely, but was able to toe the line for the most part.  I was also a bit of a slow thinker.   I was in soccer for several years as a kid before I started to wonder why I was in it.  I really never enjoyed it all that much.  I remember asking my mom if I really had to be in soccer again one summer.  I think she was surprised to hear me ask since she assumed I was in it because I enjoyed it. After that I became sort of stubborn and wanted to know WHY I had to do  things, it wasn’t good enough to just say that I needed to do them.  I suppose this attitude persists to today.  

Do you think characteristics or temperament or interests as a child inform your passion(s) today?  Definitely being outdoors as much as i was influenced my adult choices.  Additionally, a slow plodding pace through life eventually lead to discovering climbing as a pursuit that I really enjoy and have been doing for 13-14 years now, and recently rediscovering my love of cross country ski racing.  I skied on the XC ski team in high school but it’s a hard sport to dabble in if you race.  You’re either all in or you’re not doing it.  Now that I think about it, that’s part of my difficulty with all my passions.  I don’t like to do them half way, despite the necessary nature of compromise that permeates any personal pursuit when you are married with kids.  

What is a favorite memory as a child/adolescent? Any memory where I was outside.  I have vivid memories of hiking, skiing, and snowshoeing at our lake cabin.  Still feels like home when I get the scent of a pine forest.  My parents took us canoe camping in Canada every year growing up.  We weren’t allowed to bring a walkman or any other electronics.  Being unplugged for a couple weeks at a time nowadays is heaven.  I dropped my cell phone in a hot tub on vacation last year  - best vacation ever.  My kids are now calling that “going old school” on vacation - no electronic devices.  

What is a story you remember? When I was 18 or 19, I  ran out of money in the Sao Paulo bus station in Brazil.  I just miscalculated the amount of money I had.  Of course this was 25 years ago, long before cell phones and easy access to credit cards.  So, I did what I had seen others doing: I asked others for money to get where I was going.  It was an incredibly humbling experience.  It took a long time to get enough to get a ticket out of there.  You never know how others ended up at a point in their lives, so when you see someone asking for money or help that could be you next week.  I’ve been very lucky on this journey around the sun; I acknowledge that every day, and try to instill that thankfulness in my kids as well.  A funny ending to that story -- I was finally in line to buy a ticket with all my spare change, and I ended up right behind a guy I knew, who said “you should have just asked me for some money!”.  

Tell me about your education -- do you have a favorite or strong memory of school? Can you tell me about a teacher who influenced you?  Ralph Leischner was a professor in medical school that I really admired.  He taught our pathology course and also was one of my small group physician mentors.  He was perhaps the smartest and most humble teacher, while also being very sure of his convictions.  He nailed me on the head once by saying I was “respectfully irreverent”.  You could never walk away from meeting with him and not be awed and feel better than when you started.  I wanted to be like him and enjoy my job as much as he clearly did, and not lose sight of what motivated him to be a physician in the first place.   I miss him.  

Who else in life has influenced you?  Two coaches have really struck chords in my life.  First was my cross country ski coach in high school, John Strand.  He was able to connect differently to each person on the team, pick out what they needed to do to improve, and encourage them to get it done.  Not only that but he still does the Birkie every year - I hope I can do that at his age.  Ray Obermiller was my college swim coach.  He was an incredible man, able to walk the very fine line between coach, teacher, friend, and mentor to anyone who walked through the door.  I was not a very fast swimmer but that never seemed to matter to Obie.  He believed that I could be, and that was enough to improve.  The common thread was inclusiveness and belief that someone could achieve something that even they weren’t sure they could.  That’s powerful.  

What do you think we can do to encourage and support equity personally and professionally?  If by equity you mean treating everyone with respect and dignity, I think that starts young.  We ought to be teaching kids that everyone is the same despite how we look, where we came from, or where we happen to be at that moment.  When I was in about 4th or 5th grade, a friend of mine said to me “you had that black lady for a 1st grade teacher didn’t you?”  I had to stop and think about that before I could answer.  It had never crossed my mind that her skin color was different from mine, she was just my teacher.  Until you tell kids that someone is different, they just accept that person for who they are.  

In what ways does community influence you and your decisions personally and professionally?  I think of community as a woven tapestry, and each of us is a thread running through it.  But this tapestry is constantly changing as our life circumstances change.  I think we surround ourselves with people who share similar interests and goals, and as those change, our thread through the tapestry moves to touch different lives.  Sometimes I feel that I take more away from the tapestry than I give, and sometimes I feel that my thread is holding part of it together.  Every decision you make has some influence on someone else, and that in part should guide how you make your decision.  Who is your thread supporting?  Who is supporting you?  

In what ways did your family influence your own family values and traditions?  I think the best or most useful advice I got from my parents was that hard work pays off.  

What challenges do you experience as a parent?  I wasn’t convinced I would be a very good parent, but as it turns out it’s a lot more fun than it seems like it would be.  I struggle a little with the line between being a friend and a parent, as well as the usual battle of selfish pursuits versus parenting time.  Somehow we make it work, but some weeks I’m not sure how it will work until it’s over.  My parents definitely let me fail (a lot) to learn lessons the hard way.  This is something I know I will have to allow to happen, but I’m not looking forward to it.  

Questions your kids and wife have -- what do you think they’d want to know about you? I hope they see me as genuine, honest, and hard working.  As long as everyone tries their hardest the outcome doesn’t matter and I want my kids to understand that.  

How are your kid(s) like you? Or your wife?  I think our older child is more like my wife’s personality with my lack of a sense of danger or any type of fear, while our younger one questions every rule (like me) but has a very healthy fear of danger, or a sense of self preservation (more like my wife).  So they each inherited a bit of both of us, just kind of opposites.  It will be interesting to see how these characteristics evolve over time.  

Which aspects of your job do you enjoy? Feel challenged by?  I’m a physician - specifically I care for patients with kidney disease.  The people I take care of often came from very different backgrounds than me and or have very different values and perceptions of health.  My main challenge is how to communicate effectively to help change the things I can change, while attempting to carefully and empathetically manage the things I can’t change.  

What lessons has your work life taught you?  Every day upright and healthy is a gift.  

What did you imagine you'd be doing today?  I can’t imagine doing anything else.  I didn’t mean to blindly follow in my dad’s footsteps.  In fact I really tried to follow other career paths.  I just couldn’t get all that interested in anything else.  

What is/are your passion(s)?  When the snow is fast I feel like I am flying when I cross country ski.  A couple years ago I started competing in biathlon, which is cross country ski racing with sharpshooting stages mixed in.  It was something I always wanted to try and got hooked immediately.  My other personal passion is rock climbing.  I love the companionship, the places it takes me, and the fact that during a hard climb, absolutely nothing invades my thoughts.  It commands an intense focus that won’t be broken by anything else.  These pursuits are really perfect compliments to each other, seasonally.  I suppose I could climb ice as is the fashion around here, but that just sounds miserable.  

What makes you stop and go “Wow!”  A beautiful sunrise, seeing mountains again after a period of time without, and watching a bird of prey in flight.  I was skiing through the woods in northern Minnesota a couple weeks ago and a great grey owl swooped at me.  He then landed on a branch maybe 10 feet from me and we had a staring contest, until I moved to get my phone to snap a photo.  “Wow”.  

Short term goal related to your passions (athletics, training, or hobby )?  Someday I’d like to break back into wave 1 in the Birkie.  It might be a couple years before that happens.  

How do you incorporate your family/kids into your passions?  I try not to push them.  I figure if they see how much I enjoy something, they will at least want to try it (and they do).  But the minute it becomes a chore or a forced activity they will want to stop.  So I let them decide.  

High point in Life:  Wedding, kid’s births.  A random weekday off with my wife.  

Turning point in Life:  Failing to get accepted to medical school the first time around.  I applied late and didn’t take it seriously.  Lesson learned.  

What scares you?  Global warming and Donald Trump.  

What are 20 things you are grateful for? My wife and kids (that’s three), cross country skis, rocks to climb, canoes, meteor showers, cadbury cream eggs, coffee, friends, V8 motors, my kidneys (that’s two), a job I don’t hate, clean tap water, flush toilets, a furnace and A/C, the capacity to heal, and the southwest.  

*I love this picture of Chris and his family - it captures the spirit of his life and loves!  

Monday, January 4, 2016

Blog Break-through

It's time to break the blog break.  I've mostly been writing for (and with) an audience of young adolescents or with my own family. We keep a little poetry/narrative book and every so often on the kids' after school To Do list, I'll require a piece of writing in The Book. Here's John-Pio's last entry:

These little gems make me think about what I want to do differently or better. I think resolutions are purposeful but I also think goals can be uplifting, especially if you're like me and list the same ones year after year. Moving into 2016 I have a few I'm focusing on: 

1) Honor others stories. This means honor others quips, too. During a group run last Sunday, the best one was this interaction between my two friends Annie and Barb: "Annie isn't it great! We're in our 60's and don't have to care about blowing snot rockets?" That was punctuated by descriptive advice and telltale signs that tell me snot rockets are a mark of experience - so much, that there's even a video in Runner's World about it.  Seriously though, stories challenge us to transform and examine our views and attitudes about life and relationships and ourselves. In my Chamorro family, we tell stories to have conversations - not lingering confrontations, and we tell those stories to build bridges and learn our history no matter how loaded they might be.  If you aren't telling yours or haven't heard a few in awhile, ask for one. Or tell one.

2) Have conversations about racial anxiety.  Lets start with Ta-Nehisi Coates who is author of The Beautiful Struggle, and Between the World and Me.  If you're not reading it, or haven't read it, or don't know anything about those books or him, now is the time.

I would be remiss if I did not include a fitness focus. My goal since September has been to keep a running base so I can do 10+ miles whenever I want. So far so good. Days are getting longer and the sky cleared for this beauty today ...