Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Library Streak In Review (Sneak Peek of #oneword2013)

I have spent 19 of the last 26 days, in some capacity, at the library. As someone who is not presently a student, that may seem exorbitant, even weird. I'm sure it is.

But I learned a lot about myself in the process of establishing this streak. The routine of making time for the library each day is something that I really need. I'm learning more and more that I benefit from the regimented nature of such a routine.

It allowed me to explore the city of Boston in an unconventional way (I went to 6 different libraries over the course of the streak). It allowed me to focus more attention on reading and writing- we just cancelled cable at my house, and to have a way to find a substitute for the mindless time that I spent in front of our TV has been rewarding. It provided a quiet space that I don't have at my apartment to do things like study for the GRE and finish doctoral program applications. And perhaps most importantly, I found the introvert's ideal: a way to be alone, while still with people. It is a social endeavor for me to be able to be among people at the library (I did get to speak to new people while I was there) while at the same time focusing on what is generally a solitary endeavor.

Between my time at the library, and other evaluations of what I'd like 2013 to be, I've determined what I want my #oneword2013 to be:


I'm going to dedicate more time to writing in 2013. A goal that I have is to work toward more published articles, and spending 2013 collaborating with colleagues, researching, and recording my thoughts will help me do this. I love spending time writing notes and letters to friends, and want to make more time for that in the new year. I also want to do more blogging, and committing myself to reflective writing- not, as many have noted, listing or bulleting, but really writing. When I was younger, I spent more time writing to express myself, process my feelings, and understand myself. I've spent far less time doing that over the past several years, and notice the lack of focus that has resulted. I want to commit to writing more to contribute knowledge, to connect with friends, and to understand myself.


Who else is doing a #oneword this year? What is it? And how can I support you in living it?


Pondering Privilege: The Journey Toward SNAP Challenge 2013

Happy Boxing Day, y'all.
Well, now that the hubbub of Christmas is nearly over, I am left with just under a week before the SNAP Challenge begins. I'm still excited about the prospect of it, feeling more prepared for it, and am so encouraged by the support that many friends have given me- both morally through tips on previous blog/social media posts, and through donations to my Crowdrise site.

Another element that I have encountered in this process has been challenge. And let me be clear: I LOVE that. I've long been someone who desires a break from monolithic thinking, and if someone sees a crack in logic I'm using, I'm happy to debate it with him or her. So I was pleased, if slightly uncomfortable (which is good!) when a friend of a friend claimed to not understand the point of what I was doing. His argument? To try and carry on a normal life while doing something so inconsistent with the remainder of my surroundings (gainful employment, other needs fulfilled, even in the position to partake in activities of excess like half marathons and work potlucks) wouldn't help anyone.

After thinking about it for a while and responding to the person in question, I came to my own understanding on what he was saying. I agree and disagree. I agree, there is an element of privilege associated with the very decision to undertake something like this. Further, to isolate hunger from other elements of poverty is unreasonable. I agree with that as well.

But the goal of this is to experience something a little more personal, rather than showing the world "I can eat less and still be okay!" I realize that I have access to things in a position of privilege that most don't have. I have planned test menus and gone to the grocery store to see how much they would cost. How did I plan? Pinterest, online flyers, and a smartphone. How did I get there? Public transportation, subsidized in part by my employer. All luxuries that may not be at the disposal of someone on food stamps. I don't deny that there is a level of privilege innate to be participating in this self-imposed challenge.

Feast in the Great Hall? Who wouldn't love that?
However, I don't think that takes away its value. For my part, there are some things that have been difficult for me to come by. Food has never been one of those. Simply put, I don't know what that's like. But as a strong advocate for food security, I want to. I want to be able to help people who don't know where their next meal comes from not from a sense that it's unfortunate, but with an understanding that it is difficult. I may not be able to understand other symptoms of poverty, and I accept that. But when I think about the range of human needs, food is a basic one, nearly the most basic. I want to make a change in the world surrounding this basic need, and it can only start with me. I don't expect to move mountains over the course of 30 days. I can advocate for a cause, I can learn more about it, and I can come to an understanding of the cause that I support. And I can come away from this with an appreciation for what I have.

That final point, appreciation, spurred me to finally put fingers to keys on this long-anticipated post after a compilation from one of my new daily sources of "news", Buzzfeed. Often a source for a laugh in a quiet part of a workday or discussion with a group of friends, it was a source of frustration this morning as I read "People Who Didn't Get What They Wanted for Christmas". I won't excerpt it here, but suffice it to say that the flippancy with which these people (teenagers, granted) treated the holiday horrified me. Similarly, I'm particularly rankled by post-Christmas sales this year. What better way to cap off a day in which many have acquired stuff, but with more stuff? This is not the place for me to rail against the capitalist tilt that the holiday has taken, and I won't. But what I will say is that being able to have food on the table multiple times a day, without fail or worry, is its own gift. And by the end of January 2013, I hope to have a more real appreciation for that gift. I hope you'll continue to follow along.

Previous Posts:

The Pantry Problem

Oh SNAP! Introducing SNAP Challenge 2013

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Road Toward SNAP Challenge 2013: The Pantry Problem

As I continue to prepare for the SNAP Challenge that awaits me January 1st, I started contemplating how much preparation that could realistically entail. That is to say, what is to become of what's in the house once I start?
My accountabili-buddy in any number of other avenues, Jessi Robinson, confirmed what I already knew as I pondered the question:

I was talking to my wife about this; she is a Social Worker & most of her clients are on SNAP. Something to keep in mind as one does this is that most people who don't need food assistance also have pantries--people who DO have food assistance typically can't afford to create a pantry to pull from, which winds up hurting them over time (I can always have rice with a meal because I always have rice on hand & can afford a larger hit when it runs out). SNAP recipients usually can't afford the hit for a big bag of rice that will last for longer than a given month because they have to eat it during that month. Creating a pantry is difficult if one doesn't properly think it through beforehand.

So the question is, what do I allow myself to start with? What do I tuck away for the month of January? And what do I spend the next several weeks feverishly trying to finish?

Ultimately, I decided that I am prepared to start with salt, pepper, and a can of vegetable cooking spray. Anything else that I decide I "need", will have to fit within the confines of the budget. So staples like oatmeal, rice, or even spices like garlic powder will not enter into the equation unless I introduce them. I can't make this completely real (more on that in a future post), but I am open to coming as close as I can.
What other challenges should I be considering? Anything I'm leaving out?

Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Road Toward SNAP Challenge 2013: "HOW will you do it?"

Good morning everyone!
As I start the journey toward January and the SNAP Challenge, I have already gotten a few questions- the most common being "HOW will you do it?" To be completely honest, I don't have all the answers. I think my answer, as with most things I set my mind to, is "I just will."

That being said, for those concerned that the month will be a series of fainting spells a la the Victorian Era, I want you to know that I'm putting some thought into it! Here are a few resources that I will undoubtedly turn to for inspiration and guidance as I move through January.

Poor Girl Eats Well: this is a seemingly sad name for a blog, but there is one resource in particular that interests me on this site. The $25 Shopping Cart offers strategies, recipes and advice for doing your grocery shopping on this amount, and serve 1-2 people for 10 days. Whoa!

The link that I've included details her $25 trip to Trader Joe's, but she has successfully accomplished this at a number of other stores. I look forward to looking over her trips, seeing what I should remember and what will be out of my reach for the month.

50 Healthy Foods Under $1 a Pound: I don't want a challenge such as this to derail me from my normally healthy eating patterns, especially because money concerns are frequently cited as an obstacle for healthy eating. As I mentioned in a previous post, I will be in training for a half-marathon during this time and also have dietary restrictions. So this takes a great deal of care on my part.

I was pleased to see some foods I already frequently eat and really enjoy (apples, bananas, eggs, lentils, spinach, rice, yogurt) are on this list, and am counting on making those staples of this experiment. I will be posting recipes, so stay tuned!

31 Things You Can Freeze to Save Time and Money: One of the biggest concerns I already have, and will have to pay especially close attention to over the course of the month, is losing food to waste and spoilage. This post details 31 things that freeze well for preservation. This was educational for me (I can freeze pasta? Word? Doing it!) I plan to make liberal use of my freezer to make sure that I don't waste things that could go bad, and I am eager to try as many tips on this page as possible.

Any other advice to offer? Tips to share? I am taking any and all advice :) 

Previous Posts:

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Oh, SNAP! Introducing SNAP Challenge 2013

About 6 months ago, I reached out to my friends and family and asked them to support a cause I am extremely supportive of, combating food insecurity in America. I was so lucky to have many friends, colleagues and supporters donate over $500 to Run 10 Feed 10, and I thank you all for that.

I want to do more to advance the cause of fighting food insecurity this year, but I wondered: how?

The answer came in the form of a challenge embarked upon by Newark Mayor Cory Booker. 

The full story can be found here, but the bottom line is this: troubled by the concerns brought to him about so many Newark residents unable to be certain where their next meal was coming from, he spent a week living on the cash equivalent of food stamps: $29.73. Although it was only seven days, his struggle was apparent. He spoke openly about his struggles wasting food, living without his daily cup of coffee, and his hunger. 

This is not what I'll be eating, Scout's honor!
He has inspired me to do the same, this time for a month. For the month of January, I will be living on the cash equivalent of food stamps: $29.73 a week. As someone who food shops recreationally, who thinks nothing of buying food if I can't find any, and as someone who has dietary restrictions that sometimes make shopping expensive, I'm prepared to live the lifestyle of someone far less fortunate for a while.

There will be challenges, to be sure. I'll be in training for a half marathon during the month; my sister will be with me for part of it, causing me to feed 2 people on that amount; and there is a high likelihood that we will have a staff cook-off during the month, which I will prepare food for. This will not be an easy undertaking, but I'm ready to take it on.

How can you help? As with my last endeavor, I will be raising money on Crowdrise, and the link can be found here:

The proceeds of this experiment of mine (which will be chronicled on this blog) will go toward the Greater Boston Food Bank, to help them supplement the meager and often uncertain lifestyle of many Boston residents. 

I speak a lot about caring for those who don't have enough to eat, for those who struggle to provide food on a consistent basis. But I've been lucky enough to not know what that feels like. I'd like to take time learning about how it feels so that I can truly appreciate all that I have. And I truly hope that you'll help me raise some money in the process :)

Stay tuned over the next six weeks to see my journey!

Monday, December 3, 2012

The Library Streak

As many of you know, I am a runner. Not a particularly fast or skilled one, but a determined and dedicated one. Yet, this year I am choosing not to participate in the Runner's World Run Streak. Designed to maintain healthy habits during a time of year where it is otherwise challenging to be healthy, it requires one mile a day from the runner each day between Black Friday and Christmas. But not for me. Not this year.

Why? Because I'm adopting a new streak. The library streak. From December 1st until Christmas (or Christmas Eve, depending on when they close for the holiday), I plan to spend part of each day at the library. Be it a campus library (mine or another school in the area), the neighborhood library, or the main library downtown (where I spent my first two days, and have LOVED the atmosphere), I'm spending some of each day surrounded by books.

The reasons for this are many. First and foremost, the library gives me the space, time and concentration to study for the upcoming GRE (December 11th, folks, and there will be MUCH partying when I'm done!). After that, it'll allow me to dedicate time to a few articles and other written pieces that I'm itching to work on. But most of all, it'll give me a sense of academic discipline that I miss when I'm not in school, one that I'll need should I be accepted to school in the fall. Moreover, I have free access to books. Books, for me, are a serious money suck. For someone with aspirations of a Beauty and the Beast style library and nowhere near the income to accommodate such wishes, a library is the safest place to be- all the trappings of Belle's library without the severe financial commitment.

And lastly, it brings me to a place I haven't spent enough quality time in since I was a child. As a lifetime avid reader, the library became home to me when I needed a book to read for vacation but didn't own it. It was a place to explore, to learn, to be quiet and thoughtful in a place made for just that. I've missed that. So I'm coming back. Thus far, it has accepted me.

As I wrap up day 3 of the library streak, I leave you with another ringing endorsement of the library system :)

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Re-Inspiration, Two Ways

I'll be the first to admit it, I Tweet a lot. Perhaps more than I should. I don't think I've reached the point of "eating this", "wishing I could eat that", "headed to the bathroom!" tweeting. But admittedly, it's my default place to go for information, entertainment, and inspiration.

But at times, we can find that our go-to sources of inspiration are not getting the job done. Why? Likely because they're the go-to place. The default, the constant source. I believe that for something to be inspiring, it has to be different. And while the "Excellence is a habit" or "Impossible says 'I'm possible" quotes are inspiring at times, they can't get the job done every day. So what's a girl to do?

Over the weekend, I noticed a few practices that re-energized me. I'd like to share them for those seeking inspiration, new thought, or a break from the day-to-day.

Seek Inspiration at the Bookstore. Of all of the places I could be considered "dangerous if unsupervised with a credit card", bookstores would top the list. I always want to read something, and it doesn't matter how many books are ahead in the queue- if I see a book I want, I'll buy it. But yesterday, after a day of studying, I found myself at Barnes and Noble with no agenda but to wander. And wander I did. But I started paying attention to where I lingered. My body went on auto-pilot to the business section, without me realizing what was happening (I'm being completely serious- I've never been to the business section in this store, and just ended up there as though on auto-pilot.). Stands to reason, as I've been finding a lot of inspiration for my work in the business section. Sensing a pattern, I just let myself continue to wander, making note of where I naturally stopped. Humor, Biography, Music and Performing Arts, Cooking. All of these are industries and vocations where I typically seek inspiration- I like to use humor and theater strategies for retreats to get students energized, borrow from the management theories in restaurants to evoke efficiency, and look to the lives of others to learn what has been done and what could be done.

The next time you're in a bookstore, just let your mind go, and see where it takes your body. Chances are, you could find your next flash of genius there.

Follow People Who Do Something You Don't. Now stay with me here.
I have grown to love Twitter, Facebook, and other social media for the ability to connect and interact with fellow student affairs professionals and aspiring members of the field. However, I find that there are some days that, through no fault of anyone, I need to hear something else. References are constantly made to us working within an "echo chamber". I absolutely see it, and sometimes believe it.

I was searching through influencers on LinkedIn this morning, selecting who I want to follow. It occurred that there are few, if any, influencers who work in higher education. And you know what? I'm okay with that. While I think it would be good for some of the professionals in our field to apply for the position of influencer, I'm also aware that it's good to be influenced by those who do something different than what we do. As I said when commenting on a post I found there the other day, "there may be problems in our industry, that have already been solved in another. How will we know if we don't ask?" For me, the quickest way to break free from the muddled mass of recycled, even exhausted topics of conversation is to look somewhere different and start a completely different conversation.

Where do you go for inspiration when the standby sources aren't getting it done?