2011 in Review

At the start of this year, I wrote a list of goals for 2011. Now that the year is coming to a close I wanted to take a moment to reflect on how I did and how I can improve for next time. I'll just put the headings on this post, but you can still read the full list with notes.

  • Read 56 books. Hahahaha. Whoops. According to Goodreads, I only read 15 books to completion this year. And about half of those were children's books for works. Again, whoops. I did an awful lot of living this year those so I'm OK with this outcome. The pile on my night stand is huge though! Gotta keep up appearances ya know.
  • Lose 30 pounds. I proud to say that I lost 10 pounds and kept it off too! I've been hanging out in the low 180s for most of this year. The smaller I get, the harder the weight loss so in my book a good week is when I stay the same size. And even though I've stayed the same weight most of this year, my body composition has changed tons. Regular-ish yoga has given me some sexy arms.
  • Become a full-time student. YES!!!!! Starting August 2011, I'm a full-time student at the Community College of Denver. I love, love, love being back and look forward to being challenged more in the future.
  • Respond to any communication (email, phone, fb, etc.) in a timely manner. I would like to say that I did better in this category but I think I probably maintained the status quo. And I have no good way to measure this one either (Shame on you, Kaleena! INVST taught you better! Measurable goals...) So no. Better luck next time.
  • Find ways to like my job again. Weeeeeellll. Again, no. Education in the U.S. is terrible and I don't know what to do about it or where to begin. My job daily felt hopeless and while I grew a lot, I don't think education in East Saint Louis is any better as a result of my limited efforts. I did have countless enjoyable moments in my job in 2011, however. 
  • Blog more about life and less about crap I think is interesting. YES! Few posts this year, but high quality ones, IMHO ;) My English 101 class at CCD helped in this department by helping my confidence as a writing grow. (Shhhhh... don't tell, but I kinda like writing right now) I would still like to blog more and frequently have 75% of a really awesome post about some cool event I've attended but skip out on the final polishing and the post lives forever in drafts.
  • More alternative transportation. Ohmygoodness. YES! I'm all over this one. Near the end of my time in STL I frequently posted prior to events, "Who wants to carpool?!" and although I hate heat and humidity starting in about April I regularly biked the two miles to the gym and home. Now that I'm living in the heart of Denver with a full bus pass I rarely drive. My rule that I love to break is: <2 miles, walk; 2-6 miles, bike; 6+, bus/carpool/don't go. Since my trip odometer broke in my car I log my mileage so I can keep track of gas mileage and love calculating how long it's been since my last fill-up.
Stay tuned this week for my goals for 2012!

And my favorite "year in review" articles I've seen so far:

TL/DR: 2011 was a fantastic year and I'm proud of my accomplishments

Gmail Labels and Filters

In honour of the new year and fresh starts and whatnot I deleted all my gmail labels and filters and started from scratch. I'm terribly proud of the results needed to share:

I used nested labels for the first time and like them so far! The "KEEP!" label is for junk like airline frequent flyer numbers and library card numbers and cell phone serial numbers. The rest is pretty self-explanatory.

I also love the easter-egg-y color scheme. I need some purple in there though. Pretty!

I'm not done yet and likely need more labels. What am I missing/forgetting?

**update** The nested labels look great on my Android too and are denoted by a "/" following the larger heading i.e. Money/ENT


All I want for Christmas is YOU!

I LOLed over and over again. This was one of my brother David's favorite songs early in his naval career. Thanks mom for sharing!!



Opt In Pretty Please

Dear Representative Crisanta Duran,
Dear Senator Pat Steadman,

There are few things I hate more than waste: of time, of money and most especially of resources. Every Wednesday, I find a large stack of brochures of mostly grocery stores advertisements in my mailbox. This huge stack of unwanted paper goes promptly into the recycling bin and try as I might, I cannot get the ad agency, Redplum, to remove my apartment from their mailing list.

I am not the only one who does not wish to receive these ads. My apartment complex has about 200 units full of mostly 20- and 30-something young professionals and the last place we are going to look for a good deal on seedless grapes is in a paper advertisement. This is seen by the full trash can in the lobby next to the apartment’s mailboxes every Wednesday night and Thursday morning. (I’ve even started a tradition of emptying the entirety of the lobby trash into the recycling a couple times a week since we produce so much recyclable paper.)

This pesky, weekly packet is only part of the problem. I will also automatically receive a four-inch thick phone book which will also be promptly thrown into the recycling as well. When I need to look up a phone number or address I use the Internet and get the answer instantly with no need to thumb through a 1000+ page pile of waste.

This is important to me for a couple reasons. First, I care about the waste that all this unwanted mail is producing. While recycling helps offset the costs to our precious natural resources, it should come second to avoiding the use of those resources in the first place. Second, I care about the nuisance all this extra waste brings to so many people: Our postwoman, Juanita, who has to carry these advertisements for every mailbox on her route as well as stuff these advertisements into our too-small mailboxes; Our custodian, Manuel, who has to frequently empty the heavy lobby trash that is exclusively full of discarded advertisements; And finally, it is a nuisance to me. I spend time transferring the “trash” into the recycling, making phone calls to put an end to this unwanted mail and generally feeling guilty that I am not doing more.

Neither the United States Postal Service nor the advertisement agencies and phone book companies have any incentive to change this system. Both the producers and the deliverers derive financial gain from this waste. It is only we, the consumers, of this waste that can change the system. I have recently made several phones calls to opt-out and even then, there really is not a way to fully opt-out because passing the message from the customer service representative who took my call to the courier who is told to place a phone book in front of every door is a tricky endeavour.

As a first step, I have posted signs with instructions for how to be removed from the most commonly received bulk mailings near the mailboxes in the lobby of my apartment complex. I included pull-off tabs that will direct my neighbors to either a website or a phone number to call. I also included a list where my neighbors can simply add their name and apartment number and I will do the time-consuming part for them. Hopefully this will help send the message to the advertisement agency that “We don’t want this garbage!”

Ultimately, I would like to see a bill in the Colorado Legislature that requires a “by request only” (or frequently called “opt-in”) system for all free, paper advertising that arrives at my doorstep automatically. This has to be done with a change to public policy since the major stakeholders, the producers and the deliverers, have no incentive for change.

But what of the elderly, low-income or internetless? Even my parents still regularly use a phone book. (Although they are quickly catching up and realizing that the Internet can give them faster and more accurate information.) With an opt-in system, those that still want free grocery store ads and phone books can still receive them. They would just have to seek out those free deliveries. I would recommend a post card, with return postage pre-paid, to every address. Mail back the postcard and your free phone book will arrive on your doorstep as requested. Do nothing and your stoop remains garbage free. This would cut down on thousands of pounds of paper waste that is going straight to the recycling, or worse, the landfill.

Similar bills have passed successfully in other municipalities including San Francisco, CA and Seattle, WA.  I think Colorado is primed and ready to become the leader in the “opt-in” movement.

Thank you for your time, public service and consideration.


Kaleena Menke
Resident, State House District 5 and State Senate District 31

(Click here and fill out the form if you would like to stop receiving Redplum's packet each week)


Standing in the Wings: The Mirage of Political Extremism

I see it everywhere and I am guilty of it myself. “Don’t read that. It is the liberal newspaper.” “Don’t listen to that. It is the conservative cable news show.” Regardless of your political bent, tuning out opposing viewpoints is not doing anyone any good. It is creating a false dichotomy that we all fall into one of two camps: very conservative or very liberal.

We tend to look at the past with rose-colored glasses and think the time in which we live is uniquely challenging. When comparing current times to the past, I usually remind people that “these are not unique times.”  However,  I do not think that is the case this time. This is novel. In the 2010 election, we elected a congress full of people unwilling to compromise. With “Don’t raise taxes!” as their battle cry, we are stuck in a gridlock with neither side willing to compromise. In an interview with The Daily Show, Tom Brokaw says “There is more polarization than any time I’ve ever seen it and I’ve checked with my friends in Washington and many of them feel the same about our institutions.”

Our favorite social networking sites are not helping either. Sites like facebook and twitter are customizing the content that we see to show people and links that likely align with our personal political beliefs (and consequentially are hiding the content that we will likely disagree with).

The Internet allows the otherwise unheard crazies in the extreme polls to gather together and be heard. This creates the impression that the “unheard crazies” are a larger group than they really are. On both fiscal and social political issues, we still fall into a nice bell curve with few people in the extreme poles and many people in the middle or slightly to the left or right of middle. In reality, we are not “standing in the wings.” However, with the amplification of those in extreme poles, we are led to believe that we are more polarized than is accurate.

Whether I want my content to be customized or not, it is customized. Most of the time, this customized content is advantageous to me. For instance, when I search for “nuggets” I appreciate that Google is smart enough to give me results for the Denver Nuggets basketball team rather than results about gold nuggets. However, when it comes to how I access sources of news and political information, I would prefer that results to be untarnished. If I look up “2011 Election Results” for instance, Google knows that I am white, in my-mid 20s, college-educated, liberal and live in Denver. Google then tailors the results it gives me to my specific demographic.

All this means is that my political viewpoints are constantly being reinforced by my peers and news sources rather than respectfully challenged. We are losing the skill of civil discourse. We are losing the ability to speak with those whose opinions differ from our own. When I am surrounded by people and ideas that agree with me, I have no need to defend my own stances nor challenge those who disagree with me. “This phenomenon is not exclusive to either liberals or conservatives; each seems susceptible to a group’s polarization effects. It is in our nature to utilize the advances of technology to further narrow down our viewing and reading choices to suit our personalities and beliefs.”

What is the solution? An easy place to start is to seek out news sources that historically differ politically from your own. For “fun” I enjoy listening to conservative talk radio sometimes while driving and forcing myself to come up with rebuttals to what the radio hosts are saying. For my day-to-day news, I also strive to seek my news from sources as close to the political middle as possible. While digesting the news, I recognize the bias a news source may have based on who owns it and what they have to gain by portraying the news in a certain light.

Although I think my political bent is the correct one (as we all do) I also recognize that in order for change to happen we need to work together and compromise. We can form temporary coalitions on specific issues where we agree and then form new coalitions when we disagree. Let us bring back the conversation and move from a political binary back into what we really are: a political spectrum.


Happy Election Day?!

I was so confused when I saw "Election Day" on my calendar today. Why was I confused? Because election day was last Tuesday! Duh!

Then I logged onto facebook and saw numerous posts from my friends about election day including "I voted" stickers. Hooray for my friends exercising their civic right and responsibility by voting! But wait. I still thought election day was last Tuesday.

Thankfully I had another calendar item on today's agenda to help clear things up. Lunch with Lawmakers with Colorado State Representative Lois Court. During the Q&A portion of the lunch I asked her, "Why was election day last Tuesday for Colorado and this Tuesday for everywhere else?"

She answered, "TABOR", with a groan. I thought she was teasing me because we had spent the last several questions talking about the Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR) and how it is ruining Colorado. How could a bill about taxes be related to the timing of the election? I looked at her skeptically while she explained in addition to ruining Colorado, TABOR also has an added quirk for odd/off election years. Rather than following the "first Tuesday after the first Monday in November" standard, Colorado's election day is on the "first Tuesday in November of odd-numbered years."

I wonder if leaving out the "after the first Monday" was just an oversight as it will not come up again until the year 2033.

Red Scare

(And now with a new (old) look! I tried the fancy dynamic templates for awhile. It's fun and pretty but ultimately slow and not as functional. Unfortunately I thought I had saved the old template, but no. That would be too smart. Please stand by while I work out the kinks.)

So this guy has been floating around on facebook for awhile, but I wanted to post here because it's a good one:

Can we be done with the red scare pretty please? It's been over 50 years... Also, motivation by fear is a crappy way to govern.

E Pluribus Unum

Oh! And the Daily Show had a funny clip on the subject. Jobs? No. Let's renew the U.S. motto.


Are white people smarter than black people?

(I wrote this post one year ago. Please see About East Saint Louis for more information.)

Today Vivian, one of the educational advocates...one of the white educational advocates, told me about a conversation she had with one of our students:

Jamal is a 4th-grade student that excels in reading and language arts and struggles in math. He keeps mostly to himself and I've frequently made it a game to try to get him to smile. He has several other siblings that go to the after-school center and often gets lots in his family since he talks so little. Jamal was getting especially frustrated with his homework and kept telling Vivian how hard his homework was. Vivian continued to encourage him to keep trying and Jamal quietly asked her, "Are white people just smarter than black people?"

Obviously, Vivian answered with a resounding "of course not!" among other things. I'm saddened that I live in a world where child could even think of a question like that. But from his perspective, how could he not? Jamal lives in a community where the white people have the good jobs and come to "help" the black people. Where race and class are intimately intertwined. Where he can only dream of a post-racial world. Where his future is seemingly sealed by his circumstances.

We have so far to go.


You Know You Live in Colorado Springs When...

Maybe you have seen it. It is a green and white, 6 ft by 12 ft sign along Interstate 25 on the way to Colorado Springs. It is the same green and white as all the other official highway signs indicating upcoming rest stops or city centers, only this sign is letting you know that Focus on the Family is ahead. It reads simply, “Focus on the Family Welcome Center Next Exit.”

Focus on the Family is a non-profit religious organization headquartered in Colorado Springs. They claim to be an organization “dedicated to helping families thrive,” however, their political activism opposes abortion, gay rights, and comprehensive sex education. They also have have discriminatory hiring practices and will not consider hiring Catholic applicants as they are the “wrong flavor” of Christian. Whether or not you agree with the organization’s mission and purpose, however, is of no consequence. The majority of Colorado Springs residents actually support Focus on the Family’s mission. I personally oppose the majority of Focus on the Family’s core beliefs. But, even if my personal beliefs allied perfectly with this organization, I still do not think taxpayers should be funding this highway sign.

While Colorado Springs city taxpayers are struggling to keep street lights on because of budget shortfalls, taxpayers (myself included) are also paying to build and maintain this highway sign. “... the 81-acre campus in Colorado Springs is a bona fide tourist attraction, drawing up to 250,000 visitors a year.” Yes, the ministry is a popular tourist attraction in Colorado Springs, but does that mean that I should be bearing the cost of advertising that tourist attraction? With an annual operating budget of 120 Million, Focus on the Family can and should afford to pay for their own sign and not rely on state funds.

In my most recent drive to Colorado Springs, I kept my eye out for other highway signs similar to Focus on the Family’s sign and found none. I saw plenty of signs advertising other private tourist attractions, but these signs were different. They came in the form of billboards that were offset from the official highway signs. Even though there are countless tourist attractions in the Pike’s Peak region, the sign for Focus on the Family is the only one in the same style as the official signs. Not even the Flying W Ranch, another religious-based tourist attraction, had a publicly funded sign along the interstate.

You do not see highway signs for other churches or faith-based organizations, so what makes Focus on the Family different? In the state of Colorado, private organizations can apply for highway signs by proving that they are a tourist attraction. According to the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT), “Privately owned businesses wishing to participate must derive the major portion of their income from visitors not residing in the immediate area.” Focus on the Family certainly qualifies with its large number of out of state visitors per CDOT’s rules, but I think the rules should be changed. Not only are private religious organizations getting free advertising, they are also getting free assistance with the development of these advertisements. After an organization gets approval for a “Tourist Oriented Directional Sign” they then also have access to “creative assistance” in the form of “designing of the business logo” at no charge.

As an atheist, I am most bothered by the lack of separation of church and state with regards to this sign. The establishment clause of the US Constitution states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” By publicly funding advertisements for a private religious organization are we not “establishing” a religion by putting an official government voice behind a specific religious group? The sign is not the only blurred line between church and state. Even if their sign were not publicly funded, Focus on the Family also receives government perks through their tax-exempt status. Not only do I want my publicly funded highway signs to remain secular, I also want my publicly funded community colleges, universities, libraries, and post offices to remain secular too.

This sign has even been included on a “Top 100 - You know you live in Colorado Springs when...” list under “You’ve never thought twice about why Focus on the Family has its own highway sign.” Why does Focus on the Family have its own highway sign? Sometimes it is hard to notice the absurdity in the status quo but it is time to stop providing free advertising to private religious organizations.


Development and the Politics of Empowerment

(I wrote this post one year ago. Please see About East Saint Louis for more information.)

I just finished my first class through the International Institute of Sustainable Development called "Development and the Politics of Empowerment". Here's my final paper/reflections for it. The writing is pretty uninspired, but I'm impressed with myself that I got it done.

The prompt:
In order to complete the course, participants MUST produce a brief (1-2 page) reflection paper on the material presented. The paper will be broken into two parts, and can be very casual. The first will discuss how your development project already has a political focus/perspective and what perspective that is. The second part will focus on how and why politics should or should not be more greatly incorporated into your particular development project.

If you are not yet working in the field, please select a development organization and using their website and your knowledge of it, please discuss the organization's perception of development and how it may differ from other organizations. How is this organization implicitly taking a political stance? Additionally, include your views on development prior to this course and how they have changed, if at all.
The paper:

I am currently working for The Griffin Center in East Saint Louis, IL. The Griffin Center is a non-profit organization in East Saint Louis that provides after-school programming to youth to help break the cycle of intergenerational poverty. I would consider this a “development organization” in that we are working to create better circumstances for future generations by focusing on the children of the community. Each of the three after-school centers that we run are located in different public housing developments throughout the city. We currently have about 400 children enrolled in our programs throughout the city.

The Griffin Center has partnerships with several organizations that each require political relationships to effectively work together.

  1. The Griffin Center and East Saint Louis Housing Authority: Each of our centers are located in the community center of the public housing offices. In exchange for providing free programming to the children of the residents of the public housing, The Griffin Center does not pay rent or utilities.
  2. The Griffin Center and
    1. Americorps
    2. AARP (American Association of Retired Peoples)
    3. SIUE (Southern Illinois University Edwardsville)
    4. PITW (Put Illinois to Work) Each of the organizations listed above provides subsidized workers to The Griffin Center. More than half of The Griffin Center’s staff comes from one of these organizations. However, along with the “free” workers come hassles as each organization has separate rules on attendance, time cards, dress code, etc.
  3. The Griffin Center and East Saint Louis School District 189: One of the reasons that The Griffin Center is so vital is because not only are the children coming from severely disadvantaged backgrounds, the children also belong to a failing school district. Out of the 20 schools in the district, 12 of them are not meeting the Adequate Yearly Progress
  4. The Griffin Center and other non-profits/aide organizations that provide services to the residents of the housing developments: The Griffin Center focuses on the children in the housing developments. So much of the success of a child depends on the success of the parents and that is where The Griffin Center falls short. We rely on numerous organizations to help families with job placement assistance, nutrition, and access to health care.
To me, politics of development is all about creating and maintaining mutually beneficial relationships. In order for The Griffin Center to succeed, we depend on each of the groups listed above and they depend on us as well. Frequent meetings take place for the purpose of maintaining these relationships.

The political relationship that I think could be most improved is working with the local school district. Unfortunately, corruption exists at all levels within the school district. I have an idealized version how government can and should work and I am saddened to find that even on this small scale the corruption is so rampant. I think the relationship with the school district could be improved by identifying school board members that desire positive change and linking them with concerned citizens that are not yet apathetic towards the possibility of change within East Saint Louis.

One way the politics in this community affects me personally is through race. I am white working a city that is 99% African American. In all that I do, I remind myself that I am viewing the city through very different lens. I’ve approached the issue of race by treading lightly with openness and a desire to learn while remembering the white privilege that I carry. “Life-long learning as an ally means…Choosing to keep confronting your own privilege. Understanding that the personal is political—meaning that all of our choices either work to support social justice or detract from it. Being conscious takes effort.” (http://www.colorado.edu/communitystudies/resources/ally.html)

Politics should absolutely be more incorporated in our organization. We cannot single-handily change the status quo, but instead must work together to build coalitions towards positive change.


Make Bike Not Car

As I pull up to Brooklyn’s At the Pepsi Center I find a few hundred more bikes than I was expecting. I thought I would be joining a hundred or so other bikers, but there are at least 500 cruisers ready to ride through the streets of downtown Denver. Bikes are chained to every parking meter, tree, and inanimate object as far as the eye can see. I end up double parking and locking my bike in front of a stranger’s bike because it is the only spot I can find.  I only found out about Denver Cruisers a few nights ago and I am just getting in under the radar as this is the last ride of the season.

Each week has a theme and the theme for tonight’s ride, “Ski Bums & Snow Bunnies”, proves to be an entertaining one. As I am not a skier, my plan was to simply don matching hat, gloves, and mittens. I am not the only person who had this plan. Except for a few exotic costumes, just about everyone is sporting winter clothing in some form. For late September in Colorado, this could have been perfect, but the high was in the 80s today and at 8:00 PM the temperature is still in the high 70s. I quickly lose the hat, but the scarf stays.

With drink in tow, I put on my approachable face and go make some friends. After mingling for an hour or so, I hear Queen’s “Bicycle Race” playing over the loudspeakers. We all start dancing and singing along for the only part we all know. “I want to ride my bicycle, I want to ride my bike!” Unknown to me, this is the universal sign that it is go time. One of the organizers announces what everyone already knows, “We ride in five minutes.”

The hardest part is starting. Getting 500+ bikers all moving in the same direction while obeying traffic laws is trying my patience but I finally hit the pavement and get out onto Auraria Parkway. We have police escorts for the first couple intersections but after that we are on our own. The pace is only slightly more than a crawl for the whole ride and I keep having to downshift to stay upright. The four-mile ride that would normally take 20 minutes takes us about an hour but no one seems to notice. Spontaneous dance parties break out at most red lights and a cacophony of “bell choirs” from bike bells and horns make frequent appearances too. Finally the ride concludes at Skylark Lounge where my new-found friends and I continue the drinking, socializing, and dancing. Even though people beg me to stay longer, I finally leave the party at 11:30 PM. (It is a school night after all.)

I was wholeheartedly inspired by the whole evening’s events and cannot wait to do it again. While the purpose of the ride is vague, the fun I had is not. For me, the worst part of the evening was the slow speed of the actual ride but even that proved to be positive with a chance for more mingling. With so many bikes packed into a small space, bumping into other bikers was inevitable. That proved to be fun too as you apologize, shakes hands, and make yet another new friend.

My favorite part of the night was the congenial attitude of everyone I encountered. Each person I met was eager to learn about me and I them in exchange. Sometimes being the new person in sea of regulars is scary but the attendees of the Denver Cruisers made it downright easy. Even though I arrived alone, I had no trouble at all meeting new people.

Interested in jumping in on a bike ride next year? The Denver Cruiser Ride meets Wednesdays at 7:00 PM weekly from mid-May through the end of September. Sign up for an email reminder so you can know when they are starting again for 2012.


Almost Dateless for Junior Prom

Two weeks before junior prom and I still do not have a date. The is true for three of my closest gal-pals too. After much discussion, we finally decide to take matters into our own hands and start forming a plan.

The four of us are taking an intensive calculus class that meets every day for an hour and a half. There are about 20 people in the class and after spending the better part of a year together, we have grown pretty close. It doesn’t take long to divy up who we will choose. We quickly list the men in the class and eliminate the ineligible ones: Senior (not Junior), in a relationships, unattractive, too nerdy, etc. We end up with a list of about 5 guys. Then we each pick the guy we’re going to ask out. After a few days of planning, the big Thursday morning finally arrives.

Maggie (who intends to go stag) rallies our picks by the nook where my group of friends typically congregates. After lining the four men up in the appropriate order, she cues us to enter. We march in single file--signs in tow--until we are each standing in front of our respective picks. After glancing from left to right we flip our signs that each have one word on them: PROM: - BE - MY - DATE?

After some uncomfortable laughter from the boys three of us got a “yes” along with grins from ear to ear all around. None of our matches lasted past prom night but made for a memorable evening and an even more memorable story.

Girls from Left to Right: Ashley, Kaleena, Megan, Sarah, and Maggie


Summer Camp Beyond Belief

One by one each camper takes turns roasting a marshmallow over the campfire. For some it is their first time. It is an unusually cold June in Clarksville, OH so the campfire is fantastically warming. The counselors stand by and occasionally offer a guiding hand to the first-timers while simultaneously reminding the big kids not to play in the fire.

Camp Quest is a traditional summer camp with a slight twist: it is for children of freethinking parents. Who are freethinkers? Tons of labels fall under the heading of “freethinker” including Atheist, Humanist, or Agnostic but a freethinker is ultimately someone who holds a naturalistic (rather than a supernatural) world view. In addition to all the usual summer camp activities (swimming, team games, archery, and canoeing) Camp Quest also spends time exploring the mind through critical thinking, scientific exploration, philosophy, and comparative religion.  Fellow camp counselor and future camp director, Chuck Wolber, tells me, “Camp Quest provides the opportunity for inquisitive children to explore the boundaries of their minds.”

I first became aware of this camp when I was sharing my current profession (working for an after-school program for kids living in the public housing projects) with Camp Quest Ohio Director, August Brunsman, at a conference we were both attending. I could see his ears perk up when I mentioned that I worked with kids. “Kaleena?” he asked gingerly, “would you be willing to join my staff as a camp counselor this summer?” I told him I would think about it but completely forgot until I received a nagging email in my inbox a couple weeks later. With my “just say yes” attitude towards life I said “Yes!” and jumped in feet first to an incredible and unforgettable week.

Early on during the camp session, each cabin was tasked with creating a skit that would debut on the final night of camp. My cabin was full of 10-12 year old girls, which turned out to be a fun age for creating skits, as they came up with all sorts of imaginative scenarios. Our prompt, “How would the world be different if the majority of the population was non-religious?” (as opposed to religious as it currently is) generated some fascinating discussions among my young campers. As we watched the skits the final night, my fellow counselors and I were astounded to find that nearly all of the cabins included gay rights issues as the primary focus of their skits. These kids are not only smart but are also excited about becoming engaged in their communities for real social change.

Executive Director, Amanda Metskas, tells me her story of how she fell into her job working with Camp Quest, Incorporated--the umbrella organization to the dozen (and growing) individual chapters sprinkled across the country and around the globe.
I first found out about Camp Quest when my partner invited me to dinner with founders Edwin and Helen Kagin. Edwin signed me up to be volunteer camp counselor that night. After working as a camp counselor for several years at the Camp Quest in Ohio, I joined the board for Camp Quest, Inc. in 2004. I became president of the board in 2005 and then in 2007 proposed adding a paid position to the non-profit. I filled that position in 2008. With my degrees in International Relations, Political Science, and Psychology, I’ve never done anything like this, but it has turned out to be a perfect fit for me.
As the sole paid staff member for Camp Quest, Metskas spends her days as the jack-of-all-trades by fundraising for the organization as well as updating and coordinating the chapter organizations. She serves as secretary, treasurer, public relations manager, and webmaster all rolled into one.

When I asked her what her favorite part of the job was, she answered “Easy. Playing with the kids. They are amazing. I love watching how they work together and I love providing a safe environment for the campers to have a safe place to just be kids. This is a place that tell kids, ‘It is OK to question everything.’” This strongly paralleled to my own experience with Camp Quest. During my week with these extraordinary kids I heard stories of them being chastised and bullied repeatedly again by their peers back home for being different and for daring to question the status quo. One camper (age 11) even told me, “I love Camp Quest because for one week of the year I get to just be me.” As a first-time counselor, the lasting relationships the campers had formed through attending camp year-after-year were obvious, and the same was true of the tightly knit staff--most of whom had started as campers at this 15-year-old camp themselves.

The final morning of camp is a bitter-sweet one. The campers are excited to see their families, but sad to leave their new friends as well as the safe haven of camp. One parent tells Metskas, “Oh great, I hate this part. We dread the weeks after camp because our daughter mopes around the house wishing she were back at camp. Can we somehow skip to next year? Or better yet, can you have Camp Quest year-round?”

I cannot wait to go back next year and as the season is changing to fall, June of 2012 seems impossibly far away.


Returning to My Yoga Practice

It has been several months since I have practiced yoga and even longer since I practiced regularly. Tonight I am taking a class at CorePower Yoga on Broadway. When I walk into the studio, I am instantly hit with oppressive heat and humidity. “Wait. This is a heated yoga class?”, I ask myself and after deciding to stay and brave the heat proceed to find some floor space just big enough for my two foot by six foot mat in the already full room. The only other time I have been in a heated yoga class was several years ago and I barely survived the class. The room for that class was heated to a wimpy 80 degrees while this class will be 92 degrees. The hardwood floor in the studio combined with my thinner-than-average yoga mat make me acutely aware of my broken tailbone when I am sitting and the hours I spent dancing in high-heel shoes over the weekend when I’m standing.

I am already sweating at the start of the class from my two-mile bike ride and it only gets worse. The heat and humidity are supposed to be cleansing for the body but they just make feel agitated. As we flow through our sun salutations I am sweating to the point that sweat is dripping from my body onto my mat. This makes my mat slippery and the positions hard to hold. Miraculously I had a handkerchief in my backpack that proves to be an effective sweat rag to mop up my drippy face. I am not alone. Everyone seems to be struggling and can not wait for the “core” portion of the class where we get to lay on the floor and focus on our core muscles (and simultaneously get a small break).

I try to keep my eyes on my own mat as I have been told to do over and over again in previous classes but I can not help but judge the other people in the room and know they are judging me too. I am the largest person in the room but it is obvious to me that I am also one of the most flexible and strongest too. There are just a handful of men out of the 30 or so students taking the class and every one of them is shirtless. I like inventing stories about the other students. Every studio has a different personality and the feeling I get from this one is corporate, rich and white. I wonder if I will be asked to leave since I am not wearing the latest apparel.

The woman on the mat next to mine keeps staring and smiling throughout the class. It is not until the end of the class that she finally talks to me and reminds me how we know each other. We met a few weeks ago while I was apartment hunting and she was one of my potential new roommates. We deem each other new found “yoga buddies” and I leave wondering who I’ll bump into next while humming “It’s a small world after all”.


Go the F**k to Sleep

(NSFW! Especially the youtube video)

I first heard of this book when Samuel L. Jackson’s reading of it went viral. I watched the video over and over again laughing hysterically each time and passed it on to every person, especially parents, who I thought would appreciate it. Go the Fuck to Sleep is written as a children’s book only it is actually for adults. It contains colorful pictures of happy children at bedtime along with rhyming phrases full of foul language encouraging the children to “Lie the f**k down, my darling, and sleep.” I have even found myself using “now GtFtS” (acronym for the book title) as my final sign-off for conversations that go late into the night.

Imagine my surprise when at the Tivoli I saw a poster with the tell-tale cover of the book announcing the appearance of the author, Adam Mansbach. In a tri-institutional event on August 31, 2011, Mansbach spoke primarily on the creative process. He started with a bit of background on the luck that made his latest book so popular which included an accidental leaking of the the full text, including pictures, of the book. Other publishers assumed this “accident” was really an intentional marketing ploy but it was really just luck that proved that our new “freemium” economy works as seen by the explosion in popularity of Go the F**k to Sleep as well as increased sales of all of his past books.

Mansbach spoke about his upbringing mentioning that he came from a literary background that valued words and books deeply. He spent his youth writing hip-hop lyrics about eurocentricity, police brutality, institutional racism and class warfare at the height of rap music’s political apex. I loved his belief that “art should be about making the world a better place.”

His “steps” for the creative process turned out to be just a collection of euphemisms. (In other words, I liked the first half better than the second half.) Here are the steps for Mansbach’s creative process: 1. Put in the work 2. Improvisation, Play and Creativity 3. Paradox and Parameters 4. Accept failure and embarrassment 5. Community 6. Coffee. He started with four steps but by the time he finished talking, he finally landed on six.

After hearing Mansbach speak, I am excited to add one of his past books, Angry Black White Boy, to my “to-read” list. When asked whether he was going to write subsequent books in a similar style as Go the F**k to Sleep he answered quite simply, “Nah. Somehow ‘Eat Your G**d*** Veggies’ just doesn’t have the same ring.” (I think he should write it. I would read it!) Either way, I think I will follow his advice and grab some g**d*** broccoli.


Stuff White People Like

(I wrote this post one year ago. Please see About East Saint Louis for more information.)

Stuff White People Like
(not the really one...just one I think should be added to the list)

#268763 Gmail

Today I asked my coworkers to write down their names, phone number and email addresses so I could make a roster. Including myself there are 15 educational advocates. When the list made it around the table and finally back to me, I quickly scanned the list to see which of my coworkers were google users (very important to know, if you ask me). Three of my coworkers listed gmail address and, you guessed it, the three people that listed a gmail address are also the only three white people I work with.


I'm a city girl

It has taken me a long time to learn this, but I'm a city girl. I romanticize small-town living every time I'm visiting relatives but when push comes to shove, cities are the place for me. I love walking/biking to get around. I love the diversity. The culture. The access to lots of cool and free events. The people of all shapes, sizes and colors in a small space forced to interact. I love saying hello to strangers and taking note of who responds and who ignores. St. Louis was my first taste of urban living and I loved it. Now that I'm living in the heart of Denver the "city girl" in me is confirmed. I can't wait to test drive a "real" city like Chicago or New York.


3 months later...

(Note I wrote this 17Jul2011, but scheduled it to be posted the day I'm leaving. All this "goodbye" nonsense was making me sad and seemed a little premature.)

Funny. I was just rereading my last blog post. From April. Where I wrote about making St. Louis my new semi-permanent home. Times have changed. After looking at school options here in St. Louis and not finding any that fit, I've decided to move to Denver, Colorado to go back to school.

The plan is Civil Engineering at University of Colorado at Denver. (Same school system as before, but different city) I'm still interested in engineering in developing countries. (I stay "still" as I've been giving this answer for a couple years now...I think that's a good sign)

Things I will miss about St. Louis:
  • The Griffin Center: Thanks for a great place to work. More than anything I love my coworkers that supported me and always kept me laughing. (Even if they were mostly laughing at me and my crazy white-girl shenanigans.) I can't believe I wont have a 25 cent sale nearby to update my wardrobe periodically. P.S. I can dance goshdarnit! You just aren't appreciating my "unique" style ;) And thanks Americorps ESL for making this adventure financially feasible.
  • Skeptical Society of St. Louis: Great people. Great conversations. Great drinks. Great memories. Mike? You're doing a fantastic job!
  • The Ethical Society: Funny. I waited to join the ethical society until I thought I was staying so I could make a real commitment to this community and just this morning I had to tell them I was moving away. I've only been a member for two months. Whoops! Thank you for engaging my brain in a loving community. I'm sad I wont have one to attend in Denver. Deed before Creed!
Yup. Just got added to the welcome board at the Ethical Society
  • Countless New Experiences: Hopefully I'll continue this trend for the rest of my life, but St. Louis has brought lots of "newness" to my life. Too many things to list. And those of you close to me can ponder a bit and chuckle ;)
  • Long-time Family Friends--Diane, Jeff and Karen: Thank you for taking me under your wing. For being my home away from home. For inviting me over for supper. For gently questioning what was in store for my future. For letting me invite myself over for supper. For supporting me in every way. I'm lucky that my parents made such good friends and I'm lucky that friendship has continued with me!
  • New Friends: You each hold a special place in my heart! By far the hardest part about deciding to move away was you. Please keep in touch and know that you are loved.
If you're reading this on the Friday it was posted, I'm in the middle of a 14 hour drive and could likely use your company. Feel free to give me a call!


Sold My Clothes Today

...and I wont be doing that again. Too much time and humiliation for only $10. I'll donate it all next time and then get the good feelings that come with donating. Out of 60 items, they bought 7. (I estimated about a third was worth buying. Apparently I overestimated...) My guess for pricing was spot on though: $2 for dresses, $1 for pants and $.50 for shirts but then she rounded down when all said and done and there is no room for bargaining as they can easily just buy from the next person that walks in the door with bags of clothes.

Well, I guess I learned something and now know that it's definitely not worth it.

(Nicely, I finally bought a pair of shorts at the thrift store next door, Twice Blessed, for $3. Yay for having shorts that actually fit me!!)

Results of My Hanger Trick

A few months ago I posted about hanging all my hangers backwards until I wore what was on the hanger and then hung it correctly the next time. I'm a huge fan. My deadline was June 1 to go through and purge what I hadn't worn but I completely forgot (should have made a google calendar event plus reminder!) I had about 12 shirts that I hadn't worn since March and those were easy choices to discard.

Well, last night my friend, Lauren, filled her roll as stand-in sister super well by helping me go through all of my clothing and get rid of the clothes that were too big or just didn't look so hot. I say "sister" because this job requires a lot of honesty to be able to tell your friend, "No. you look terrible in that. Get rid of it." (Lauren, I'm so glad we're friends)

Here's what I'm getting rid of:
  • 5 Dresses
  • 4 Skirts
  • 10 Pants
  • 2 Shorts
  • 1 Jacket
  • 6 Sleeveless Shirts
  • 24 Short-sleeve Shirts
  • 7 Long-sleeve Shirts
Visual of the Carnage. As Lauren said, "Take no prisoners!!"
Yay! Instead of doing the usual of donating the clothes to a non-profit consignment shop, I'm going to be a bit greedy and have an appointment tomorrow with Refabulous, a local thrift store that has really fantastic stuff. I'm getting rid of some decent stuff (especially the dresses--they've only been worn once or twice, if that...) and maybe I can get a few bucks out of it. I've never done this before, but will report in later on how that goes.

Ahhh...It feels good to rid of unneeded junk!


Putting Down New Roots

I have no idea what my future brings and probably never will. I'm trying get better at having some sort of a 6-month, 1 year and 2 year plan in the works. Always open for change but a plan nonetheless. It's nice to have something to tell people when they ask the inevitable, "What's next?" I've also been realizing that I've been forced into making lots of decisions in the past through inaction. I hear of some really super cool program that I would be perfect for and then neglect to submit the application before the deadline. I want to be proactive again!

One of the big scary steps I took last week that I'm proud of is completing the FAFSA. I thought it was going to be big and scary but one of my supervisors has been working as my accountability buddy and gently nagging me to take steps towards my future. She told me it would take less than an hour and she was right. It only took about 20 minutes from start to finish and I hate myself a little bit when I think about all the mental energy and time I wasted thinking about it!!!! Argh! (As I do with lots and lots of things I dread doing)

Things to work on:
  • Follow through. Doing things when I say I'm going to do them.
  • Overcoming Fear. Yeah--No idea how to do this one. I'm afraid.

HAH! This post started in my head of some of the cool things I'm doing in STL now that I'm considering staying longer than originally planned, but it seems my brain had different ideas. I'll write more on that next time :)

Spoiler Alert! (Drumroll please..........) The big plan for the fall? Community college! I hope to try a full-load of 15 credit hours on for size and then go from there.

Although. There is this little bit of wisdom too:
"Besides the noble art of getting things done, there is the noble art of leaving things undone. The wisdom of life consists in the elimination of non-essentials." -Lin Yutang


Fantastic Fuschia

I've had an amazing few weeks and although I haven't taken the time to blog about it, this picture that I made with oil pastels Friday night sums it up quite nicely:

(This one is definitely worth a click-through for full-size)


Cleaning out the Closet

At the Griffin Center where I work, we have a monthly "25 cent sale". It's basically a giant garage sale where everything costs a quarter. Each month I manage to acquire 5-10 new clothing items which has been super fun to have a regular infusion of fun new clothes. It's been especially helpful since my body size has been changing and I've been able to get "new" clothes to keep up with the changes.

The one HUGE downfall to all this near-free clothing is my bulging closet. I keep adding and adding and not removing enough and even ran out of hangers.

Somewhere around the start of the new year a read a blog post with "50 ways to declutter your life" or something equally generic-sounding. (Unfortunately I can't remember where I saw the post and kind find it again, but it was on something like zenhabits or mnmlist...) I only tried one of the tips and I really, really like it!

Hang all your hangers in reverse and then once you wear something, hang it up in the correct orientation the next time.

See how a good half of them are backwards? I'm going to set a deadline of June 1 to wear it or get rid of it and with the hangers I have an easy way to keep track. This is also a fun way to force myself to try new shirts rather than getting stuck in the same 8 favorite shirts rut.


CR-48 Chrome OS Notebook - 1st Review

Guess what? I came inside from the shoveling snow on Thursday and found a little present from the tooth google fairy! A free laptop! Sooooooo pretty. Google is beta testing their new Chrome OS with thousands of people and now I'm one of them.

I think I'll post a few of these after I've used this laptop for different lengths of time to share my impressions. I've had this laptop for 2 days now (got it Thursday afternoon)

  • fast start-up time!!!!!!! Definitely my favorite feature.
  • light weight laptop, but still feels full-size with the full keyboard and widescreen display (that doesn't have pixels eaten up by extraneous taskbars)
  • the keyboard is super comfy. I think I may like it better than my desktop's wireless keyboard.
  • sleek and sexy and label-less.
  • google chat is always on top, but still easily minimizable.
  • the screen works ;) (if you know anything about my last laptop and its infamous "sweet spot" that's been trying to die on me for ages now you'll understand why I appreciate this "feature" so much)
  • two-finger scrolling works really well on the trackpad
  • *amazing* battery life. I wish the battery indicator had a time estimate though rather than just the 3/4 full, 1/2 full picture.
  • LOTS of handy shortcuts that are easily findable using: CTRL + ALT + ?
  • slow. But the pilot program is really to test the software, not the hardware so it makes sense that google would put the cheapest processor that they could get by with inside. likewise, the speakers are pretty crappy
  • no netflix :(
  • the video feature on google chat is super glitchy. I've tired it 4 times now with my sister and each time have had a major problem. But I haven't tried a skype app yet (nor have I looked to see if such a thing exists)
  • sometimes it seems to freeze up. And I don't know if it's just the trackpad or the whole 'puter. And I don't know how to fix it. It seems to fix itself in less than 1 minute though.
  • can't change the picture for the person listed as "owner". When you turn on the laptop for the very first time, it asks you to take a picture to be used as your account picture. I did a quick snap-shot of my unshowered, snowed-in self assuming I could change it later, but nope, I'm stuck with it.
  • no delete button. this is really messing up because I use "delete" far more frequently than backspace and relearning that has been interesting
  • I just took some pictures of my cr-48 to put in the post and uploading them was far more difficult than I expected: I thought I could just plug in with a USB and something would pop-up. Then I tried putting the SD card directly in. (Hilariously I darn near lost the dummy card in the process because it has quite the spring-loaded eject) Now I'm trying Picnik, google's web-based photo editor and found the files on the camera but now still wont upload one of them. I'm giving up for now and will try again tomorrow.
That's all for now! Maybe in another week I'll come up with a few more interesting tidbits and observations.


Team Kaleena Update - 3rd Week

I got off to a rough start and have been mildly sick for a few weeks now. I even gained a few pounds and went over my start weight. gross.

I finally went to the doctor on Monday and found out I have a sinus infection so I've now started antibiotics and will hopefully be getting better for soon. (And hopefully I'll get actually better unlike the last few weeks where I thought I was getting better only to get sick again a few days later.)

But some exciting good news! I got a membership to the YMCA and love it! They have a pretty impressive schedule for group exercise and I've already tried several fun classes. My favorite way to exercise is outside, but with the cold and darkness that just hasn't worked in the winter.

After some healthy eating and lots of exercise over the weekend (including Bhangra dancing with Lauren, and free yoga with pop music) I'm now back to my start weight and also down a whole percentage point in body fat! (I have a fancy scale) So, although I have a net loss of zero :( I'm still in a better place than I was two weeks ago :)

I met a women Monday night who biked to our house at night. I'm super impressed. I keep thinking I'll wait till it's warmer to start biking again but if she can do it, then so can I. Also, I have several friends that live within 2 miles of me and that is a totally easy distance via bike. (Note to self: replace tube in tire so that I can use my bike again...)

So, things are looking good at this point and I'm still going to kick Ben's butt.

Also, t-shirts are in progress for you 5 lucky winners.

Don't forget! Early (aka cheaper) registration for the SpeRUNking ends Jan 30th. I've already registered and can't wait!

And if you wanna follow updates via facebook, click to like team Kaleena below.

Team Kaleena | Promote Your Page Too


2 Bare Arms

No, I didn't use the wrong "bear" (Or, I suppose I used the wrong one intentionally...) In my high-school civics class, we had mnemonics to remember the bill of rights and to remember the second amendment we were supposed to think of sleeveless arms.

Heck, I'd wear sleeveless dresses frequently too if I had her sexy arms.

I had a snow day today which was loverly. Unexpected days off really are fantastic and didn't do much except catch up on my hulu queue. Thanks Saturday Night Live for making my day with this gem!

"And yes, the founding fathers wanted you to have the right to bear arms but the guys who wrote that would pee through all 8 layers of their pants if they saw what guns are now."

Grrrr. I hate guns. I hate that guns are allowed per the constitution. I hate that we've amended the constitution many times but somehow still see the constitution as infallible.


Goals for 2011

Looking forward to this year, goals for 2011:
  • Read 56 books. 1 per week, must be at least 100 pages to count. I kinda had this goal for last year, but only made it to 36 last year. I think 20 more is totally doable. If you're interested, I track them on goodreads.
  • Lose 30 pounds. Currently at 190. I don't know what a good "healthy" weight is for me so I'm shooting for 160 and then will reassess.
  • Become a full-time student. This one is probably the hardest and scariest to accomplish for so many reasons...
  • Respond to any communication (email, phone, fb, etc.) in a timely manner. No more than 48 hours, aim for less than 24 hours. Even if the response is "I don't know yet, I'll let you know in x amount of time"
  • Find ways to like my job again.
    • Work on getting good people elected to the school board. And see if I can incorporate this work into my "day-job" so I'm not overworking myself.
    • Create to-do lists with specific action items for the next day. I seem to spend quite a bit of time floundering to figure out what to do next since much of my work is nebulous. "Make education better..."
  • Blog more about life and less about crap I think is interesting (or maybe just find a better balance between the two) I find my sister's "about life" posts super interesting and imagine my typical post is pretty boring-ish.
  • More alternative transportation. Moving to STL will help tons with this as friends, gym, grocery, library and post office are all within a few miles. Use my bike! More exercise and good for the earth too! I used to do it in Boulder all the time, even when it was cold and can easily do it here with the cold too.
I love a good "year in review" article or video and here are a few of my favorites: Warning! You can waste quite a bit of time on the following!