Holiday Photos

It’s been a busy weekend, and I haven’t had much time for writing for the past few days. Three days in Ohio, a day out hiking in Milwaukee, and a ton of things to get caught up on now that I’m back.

I did get some great shots while I was out, so here are a few new photos for the collection.

Exploring Wisconsin – Deeply Rooted

A Camping Weekend

Last week, I had the opportunity to join some friends for a camping retreat in central Wisconsin. We met at a place I’d never heard of before: Deeply Rooted Community in Athens, WI.

About Deeply Rooted

Deeply Rooted is an intentional community in the woods of central Wisconsin. It’s completely off-grid, by which I mean there is no running water and the only electricity is provided through the use of solar panels. They do have a gas stove for cooking in the main lodge, but otherwise the place is completely rustic.

 

Things To Know Before You Go

For those interested in visiting Deeply Rooted, there are a few things you should know before making plans.

  1. DR community hosts several private events throughout the year, so check the website calendar to see when they are open to receiving visitors. You’ll need a reservation to visit.
  2. DR offers two types of accommodations. Visitors can bring a tent and camp on the land, or stay in the communal sleeping area on the second floor of the lodge. Think of a camp dormitory: you’ll be sleeping in your own bed in a large room full of other people in their own beds.
  3. You’ll need to be comfortable with using primitive facilities. DR offers no running water, but there are jugs of fresh water available for drinking and cleaning the kitchen area. If you want to take a shower, you’ll need to invest in a solar portable. This also means no plumbing. The DR community uses a composting outhouse.
  4. Prepare for it to be chilly, even in the summer. DR is far enough north that it gets quite cool at night. Those staying in the lodge will be kept warm by the large wood stove. Those outside will want to bundle up.
  5. The closest towns with amenities are Medford (20 minutes) and Wasau (30 minutes).

Discovering Why She Wants to Be a Doctor – A Student Story

Background

During my final semester in graduate school, I took a part-time position in the Writing Center at UWM. The WC gave undergraduate and graduate students the opportunity to work one-on-one with a trained writing coach.

The WC helped any student with any writing assignment. We coached freshmen with their first essays, assisted grad students with their theses and dissertations, and helped students with just about everything in-between. On occasion, students also came to us for guidance when it came to writing their resumes, cover letters, and other professional documents.

This is the story of one such student. A woman from the Middle East who was preparing to apply for medical school in the U.S.

Some Context

Before I get too far ahead of myself, I should provide a little context for this story. Although I have studied and written on a range of topics related to culture and language, I am by no means an expert on Middle Eastern societies or cultures. What I relate here is based on our conversation as well as some of my own meager research. I will paint with some very broad strokes.

Because of my background in international nonprofits, I was quite comfortable when it came to navigating cultural differences and collaborating with people whose backgrounds were strikingly different from my own. So it was not a big deal when I received my schedule for the day and saw that I was to work with this particular student. Little did I know this meeting would become one of the most important moments in my life.

A Student with a Dream

This woman was brilliant. She was a graduate student who grew up in a Muslim country in the Middle East, and English was her third language. She was completing her MS in Biology, preparing to apply for medical school, and wanted help writing her application cover letter.

The instructions for the cover letter read something along the lines of “tell us why you want to be a doctor.” She had written a three-page response but felt that she was faltering in her delivery and wanted help. She knew that this might be the most important thing she would ever write in terms of her career.

I looked over her draft and noticed immediately that her narrative was focused on her family. Among the reasons she listed for wanting to be a doctor, she noted that it would make her father proud, that it would bring honor to her mother, and that her family had worked very hard for her to receive an education and to be able to study abroad. All good insights, but none of them really answered the question why do you want to be a doctor?

Culture & Language

When it comes to language, we here in the U.S. tend to value a direct approach. We prioritize clarity, efficiency, and individualism. In other words, we want it short and sweet and to the point. Even further, when it comes to professional writing, we want to see the mark of the author in what we are reading.

But this is not the case in other cultures. Elsewhere in the world, individualism is eclipsed by the family or social unit. A person defines him or herself not by what they want, feel, or think as a person, but by their relationships and family history. This is especially true for women, who in some cultures continue to be defined by their relationships to fathers, brothers, and husbands. (That’s a whole different conversation, and one I will sidestep for the time being.) Back to the story.

For this student, answering the question “why do you want to be a doctor?” was a challenge. She’d grown up in a Muslim country, where women’s roles in society were often limited and in which it was considered poor form to dwell on oneself as an individual. She simply was not used to talking about her self in this capacity.

Learning to Say What You Already Know

In the role of a writing coach, much of my time was spent challenging students not to write, but to think. I would often encourage my clients to approach questions from multiple angles, to brainstorm ideas, and to try and get outside of their comfort zone. All of these strategies were in play in this situation. To add an additional complication, we were up against a tight deadline.

We met over three 1 hour sessions, during which time I gave her the fundamentals (reduce the letter to one page, aim for clarity, and get right to the point.) Once we’d covered the basics, it was time to try and figure out why she wanted to be a doctor. The sad truth is that she knew, she just didn’t know how to say it.

My approach was to challenge her to come up with as many reasons as she could to why she wanted to be a doctor. As she volunteered each one, I critiqued it for clarity and originality. You need something that sets you apart, I told her. She struggled.

Breakthrough

During our final session, we finally got to where we were going. We’d already spent two hours in previous sessions discarding her reasons for wanting to be a doctor. Yes, it would make her family proud. Yes, it would allow her to take care of people who need it most. Yes, she could make a good living. But these reasons were not going to get her into medical school.

We were about out of time, and I’d been pushing her pretty hard. She was clearly frustrated, and I was afraid at one point that she might even cry. So I eased up, told her to take a break, and then we’d put together our best strategy for getting this letter written.

Out of nowhere, she looked me in the eye (I think she was angry at this point) and told me something like this

I want to be a doctor because Muslim women in the U.S. deserve a female physician who is sensitive to our cultural needs for modesty and privacy.

Boom.

Out of nowhere, this woman who sat across the desk from me in a headscarf had her breakthrough moment. She was finally able to articulate a career motive that originated with her and could set her apart as a candidate for medical school.

I told her that if she built her letter on this idea, she was likely on her way to becoming a doctor.

Sometimes, all it takes for any of us is a little push. Just enough to get us out of our comfort zone so that we can deal with our obstacles on their terms.

Summertime

Winter in Milwaukee may be horrific, but summer here is absolutely perfect.

I miss the drawn out, gentle unfolding of springtime in the South, but I’m also a big fan of the energy and suddenness of the season here in Wisconsin. Nature knows she has to move quickly in order to take advantage of the short warm season, so things here happen fast. Get ready for MKE summertime madness. (Thanks, Lana Del Rey!)

My schedule is pretty flexible right now (looking for a job, hello!) but that gives me plenty of time to observe this firecracker of a season. Every single day brings a dramatic change in the amount of flowers and green that we see, the diversity of colors, and the number of people in shorts!

I am particularly tickled by how pale the folks of European ancestry appear as they try to dress for warmer weather (myself included).

“Wisconsin Winter White” should be a Crayola color. We look like cave salamanders out there.

So I’ve taken a few photos to try and capture the burst of color here in Milwaukee. So many good things to come.

 

 

 

Day Trip – Kettle Moraine South

Just Southwest of Milwaukee

Not only was yesterday Earth Day, but it felt like the first real day of spring here in Southern Wisconsin. Abundant sunshine, temps above 50, and just about everyone was outside basking in the glory. Was I staying in or going to a movie on such a glorious day? Not on your life!

I convinced my partner in crime that today was the perfect day for some hiking or at least some quality outdoor time so we headed down to the Kettle Moraine Southern Unit.

The Kettle Moraine Southern unit is quite expansive: the various campgrounds and hiking trails are scattered over about a 10 mile area about 30 minutes southwest of Milwaukee. We’d been there before, but today we decided to visit a new area. We headed toward the Ottawa Lake Campround area, which is about the northern most area of the Southern Unit.

What to Know Before Going

Fees

The Wisconsin DNR requires all vehicles to purchase either a day pass ($8 – $15) or an annual pass ($28 for in-state plates, $38 for out-of-state plates). Annual passes are window decals that are good for any park in the WI system for the current calendar year. Some discounted passes are available for seniors. See complete details here.

Campsites

The Ottawa Lake Campground includes some gorgeous campsites, many of which are right beside the lake and include direct access to the water. There are sites for primitive camping as well as those equipped with RV hookups. Campsites on the easternmost side of the camping area are alarmingly close to HWY 67. Although a line of trees affords the sites some privacy, the noise from oncoming traffic can be a major distraction.

Facilities

You’ll have access to flush toilets and hot showers, a children’s playground, fishing pier, and plenty of evenly surfaced walking paths. Most of them are paved. Even on this early spring day, we saw people boating, fishing, and (surprisingly) swimming.

Highlights

What excited me the most about Ottawa Lake were the lakeside campsites and the amphitheater/beach area. This facility is comfortable and very family-friendly. For those who want to enjoy the comforts of hot showers, paved walking trails, and easy accessibility to fishing, then this is the place for you.

Those seeking more challenging hikes and other adventures can hop on one of the many adjacent trails or take a quick drive to another part of the  state forest system. The southern unit is close enough for excursions to both Madison and Milwaukee, and there are a number of small villages in the area.

NOTE: Pay attention to the speed limit signs in the surrounding areas. Speed limits change frequently, range from 15 – 55 mph, and there are a number of well-planned speed traps around the Southern unit.

Earth Day Resolutions

Most of us are probably familiar with the New Year’s tradition of deciding on a resolution for the coming months. A new diet. Joining a gym. Quitting an unhealthy habit. That sort of thing.

But what about resolutions for Earth Day?

Regardless of our political leanings, I’ll venture to say that most of us want to keep our planet and environments healthy. If not for ourselves, then hopefully for the generations who will come after us.

Even people who find climate change science unconvincing can be concerned with the immediate and long term effects of pollution, our collective reliance on single-use plastics, and the alarming rate of deforestation.

The problems can be overwhelming. News reports and scientific data often paint a picture that evokes a sense of hopelessness and powerlessness.

But it doesn’t have to be so.

I’m a big believer in the wisdom that small changes can have a big impact if they we are consistent in their implementation. So, what would happen if everyone made a new choice for the coming year? A resolution to alter our behavior in practical, manageable ways for the good of our environment and the health of our planet?

In order to put my money where my mouth is, here are my three resolutions for this Earth Day:

  1. Stop using plastic straws. Disposable plastic straws are a huge source of pollution, and there are countries and cities around the world which are already moving towards banning them. Here’s one of many news stories describing the problem.
  2. Stop using disposable shopping bags. I already have reusable grocery bags, but I am not consistent in using them. I have a terrible time remembering to bring them with me to the store. Or, more often, I make an unplanned stop for groceries and the reusable bags are at home. Paper is a better but imperfect alternative, but at least paper bags are biodegradable. Here’s a post about a few ways to remember your reusable bags, and here’s a link to information about why reusable bags are important.
  3. Eat a low-meat dietIt sometimes catches people by surprise to learn that meat consumption has a negative effect on the environment. I won’t delve into all the details here, but as a quick overview the meat industry requires massive use of pesticides and contributes to deforestation as farmers clear land for their livestock. A more thorough analysis can be found here.

So that’s it. If I can manage to keep these habits for the next year, (and hopefully convert them into lifetime habits in the process) I will feel like I’ve made a small but significant dent in one of the biggest challenges facing our environment.

Other ideas? Feel free to comment and let me know what you’re planning to do for Earth Day 2018.