La Viajera (The Woman Traveler)


Note: A few months ago I posted a story called The Traveler. The experiences in the article were mine, but I wrote the traveler as a man. A friend that has traveled with me around the world questioned this and challenged me to write a second piece as a woman traveler. What a fun challenge it has been! Here she is, La Viajera.

The sun emerges between passing clouds and transforms la viajera’s auburn hair into a fiery red. The wind carries her hair in nonsensical patterns of dancing flames. She does not try to contain it. She lifts her face to the sun and her heart to the sky. A smile rises from her chest and gently appears on her lips.

La viajera sees a clearing along the path where a large flat rock juts over the river, beckoning for her to rest. She sits and quickly tugs off her hiking boots, peels away her socks, and plunges her feet into the icy river. The pristine waters of Patagonia rush around the contours of her feet and between her toes. Cold penetrates her bones and provides relief against the miles of trails la viajera has covered today. A thundering roar catches her attention and she turns with just enough time to see a glacier calving upstream.

Her legs are depleted, but her soul is replenished. She feels the energy of the earth and the glory of being alive in the world. Here, thousands of miles south of her home and surrounded by unfamiliar landscapes, she is free.

She lays back on the rock. The warmth of the boulder seeps into her body while the icy water continues to barrel past her feet. She relaxes fully into the sunshine, breathing it in and radiating the light back out into the world around her.

This feeling of freedom and connection isn’t new for la viajera. It bubbled up when she explored a temple in Angkor Wat with a friend. A rickshaw driver waited somewhere on the other side of the temple, but he was patient and there was no hurry. They turned among ruins of sculptures and tumbling walls towards whatever captured their fancy. Curiosity drove their path forward.

And again when she cycled along one-lane farm roads through endless vineyards in Provence. La viajera got lost more times than she could count in that afternoon of biking, but it didn’t matter. The kindness of strangers and multifaceted communication of English, French, gestures and smiles reminded her of what is good in this world.

And the many times she packed up her Honda Civic and left for a week, a month, a year. The exhilaration of unknown destinations flooded every corner of her body as she drove away from home. Excitement, fear, and wonder merged to form an addictive elixir streaming through her veins. The open road temporarily satisfied this yearning, but it’s only a matter of time before the hunger for new lands flares up and demands attention.

But la viajera is not thinking about that today. Right now she is laying in the sun on a rock next to a river, eyes closed and heart beating in tune with the pulse of the earth beneath her.

The Traveler

Travel Photos

The traveler has a recognizable look. Hair in need of a trim, beard long enough that is doesn’t have to be shaved. The traveler wears a t-shirt, perhaps from a local brewery picked up in a small town along the way. Never one from Machu Picchu or the Eiffel Tower, although the traveler has certainly been to both of those places. His khaki’s hang on his hips, looking threadbare and comfortable; they could easily be slept in if needed. Well-worn but supportive sandals adorn the traveler’s feet; the type of shoes that would be equally comfortable hiking in Utah or meandering through Rome.

The backpack is a telltale sign of the traveler. But not just any pack. The traveler’s pack is frayed at the edge. The straps hang loosely from years of gravity pulling them towards the Earth. A carabineer dangles from one of those straps, ready to secure a water bottle, roll of duct tape, or a bag of snacks for the bus ride. The fabric, no matter the original color, is tinged with brown, the product of riding down dirt roads and through rainstorms on the roof of a bus.

When the traveler is faced with a delay in his travel plans, he calmly finds the quietest corner of the bus station, sets down his pack and uses it as a chair back, seat cushion, or pillow, depending on his preference that moment. He pulls out a worn paperback, maybe The Alchemist or Siddhartha, and reads in that corner, able to simultaneously blend in and ignore all of his surroundings. Hours may pass, but the traveler doesn’t get frustrated; it’s all part of the journey.

If the traveler finds himself in trouble, perhaps unexpectedly caught an airport in an unfamiliar city in the middle of the night, there’s no need for concern. He simply looks around for the other travelers and asks what they are planning to do. Together they ride in a $2 taxi to the only hostel in the city that still has available beds. The travelers share a room for the night, unconcerned with sleeping next to strangers. In the morning they may part ways or perhaps they will continue on together, for a day, a week, a month. No need to plan, the traveler take each day as it comes, making decisions along the way.

If you’re on the road and happen to see the traveler, buy him a beer and ask him for a story. You will hear about the teenage boy that appeared in the dunes while he was camel trekking in the Thar Desert in India or the woman in Honduras that invited him to eat with her family and taught him to make tortillas. It will be well worth the few dollars you spent on the beer. Maybe you will continue your vacation to the Holiday Inn and sit by the fenced-in pool. Or maybe his stories will inspire you to buy a backpack, grow a beard, and become a traveler yourself.

Life Lessons From a Taxi Driver

International portraits

I emerged from the airport terminal into brisk February air and accelerated my pace towards the open trunk of a minivan in the taxi queue. “Taxi?” the exceptionally tall driver asked rhetorically as I approached the van.

“Yes” I confirmed, lifting my suitcase into the trunk.

I climbed through the side door of the minivan and placed my backpack on the floor between the cargo seats. I sunk into the chair and took a deep breath to release the hurried pace of the airport. The soft scent of mint in the van seeped into my senses and triggered memories of a long-past trip to Morocco.

“Where to?”

“I live off 94 and Hennepin/Lyndale exit.” The door slid closed beside me and we pulled away from the airport. I instinctively reached for my phone. “How was your flight?” the driver asked as I texted my Mom to let her know I was back in Minnesota.

“Easy. We even landed early! There were 10 minutes of bad turbulence – one jolt was so bad that everyone gasped – but other than that everything was good.”

I opened Facebook and started to scroll. “Where did you go?” I looked up from the phone, fighting between the urge to be polite and the desire to stay in my own little world. Politeness won.  I turned off the screen and set the phone in my lap.

“I was in Florida visiting my parents. It was really nice – good weather, relaxing. It was great to get some sunshine and warm air! Although it feels pretty good here tonight. I’m hoping that the really cold weather is done for the winter.” My words echoed the common desire of every Minnesotan for an early spring.

I took a closer look at the man driving me home. Most of the taxi drivers I’d encountered in Minnesota were from Somalia or Ethiopia, but it was clear he wasn’t from eastern Africa. His perfect English was accented, so I knew he had started his life elsewhere. Intrigue over this man’s story quickly prevailed over the pull of my Facebook page. “Where are you from originally?

“Turkey.” His tone was warm and invited further conversation.

“I’ve never been, but I would love to visit Turkey! Where in Turkey are you from?” The country was near the top of my travel list.

“A small town near the coast 200 miles from Istanbul. We own a big house there and used to raise Arabian horses.” I had a vision of this broad man riding an equally broad horse in the Turkish countryside with a large white Mediterranean-style mansion in the background. My curiosity was piqued.

“What made you move to Minnesota?”

We veered right onto 35W and headed north towards downtown Minneapolis. “My brother is a doctor at the University of Minnesota and we came here 11 years ago for our kid’s education.”

Quite a selfless act to move to the other side of the world for your children’s education. I wondered what other sacrifices he had made.

“My oldest son is a professor at the University of Arizona,” he continued with pride in his voice. “My daughter is also in college and my youngest son studies soft computer engineering at the University of Minnesota.”

I noted his first mistake with English since starting the conversation. “Software engineering! That’s a great field.”

“Yes. My wife and I will be going back to Turkey when he is finished with school.” His resolution was clear.

“Do you like it here?” The Minneapolis skyline came into view through the windshield.

“Oh’ yes,” he assured me. “Minneapolis is a beautiful city. Clean and very friendly people.”

“Good. I’m glad that people have been nice to you.” I was relieved to hear his experience in my home state had been positive.

“Oh’ yes,” he repeated. “Beautiful people here.”

“Sometimes I think Minnesotans can be hard to get to know.”

“Well, all people are just people. They become your friends; your family.” His words lodged squarely in my heart. Goosebumps spread down my arms.

“I think you’re right. All people are just people. No matter where you are in the world.”

Our conversation turned mundane as we drove the last mile to my condo. I asked his favorite Turkish food. He responded that it was kebab and lamented the fact that there wasn’t anywhere in the Twin Cities to buy good kebab.

He stopped in front of my condo and took my suitcase from the trunk. We exchanged the suitcase for taxi payment. The tip I included didn’t come close to covering the worth of the ride.

The taxi driver and I were as different as you might imagine. Gender, age, nationality, profession, and probably a thousand other factors separated us. We may have been one Turk and one American, but, as he said, all people are just people. Connected by the simple state of being human.


Redhead collage


Anne Shirley was the redheaded heroine of my childhood. She hated her titian hair and longed for the raven color of her bosom friend Diana, but I was envious of it. Her red hair was synonymous with accepting a dare to walk the ridgepole of a roof, tying for first place on the entrance exam to Queens College, and talking herself out of every possible awkward situation. She was outspoken, smart, ambitious, and she married the fictional man of my dreams, Gilbert Blythe. I wanted to be just like her, but, sadly, my natural hair color was plain brown – as far from fiery as you could get.

Have you ever heard a successful writer say she always knew she would grow up to write? Or a teacher who could look back and think of times she patiently helped kids her own age learn how to read? I had the same sentiments about being a redhead. On the outside I was your average brunette, but on the inside I was a raging ginger.


I studied abroad in southern Spain for a semester in college. The mixed southern European and north African blood that inhabited Seville produced olive skin, brown eyes, and dark hair. I had a different look. People had to shield their eyes from the reflection of the sun off my gleaming white body if I dared to bare my arms on a warm winter day. Freckles spanned the bridge of my nose, covered my arms shoulder to fingertip, and multiplied in droves during a single afternoon at the beach. Anyone walking down the street in Seville immediately knew that I was an outsider.

During Easter break that semester I visited a friend studying in Ireland. I walked off the plane in Dublin, took one look around at the ruddy skin and auburn heads surrounding me, and thought I have found my people! I pictured myself wandering out on the moor, walking among the actual heather flowers that are my namesake, sheep grazing in the distance, hair blowing in the wind. My brown hair was magically transformed into a dark red, complementing the vibrant green hues of the countryside. Only with this slight alteration was the picturesque scene complete.


I found my first gray hair in high school. By college friends commented on the surprisingly large number of silver strands woven within my still brown hair. At 27 my 80-plus year old grandfather commented that I should start dying my hair. That was all I needed to hear. The white streaks were dyed immediately to match the original average brown color.

Over the next few years I started asking the hairdresser to slowly add a little “warmth” to my hair. It evolved from a true brown to a mixture of hues, the perceived color dependent on the light. Then, three years ago, after seven long years of spending too much time and money to have my hair professionally dyed, I picked up a box of Garnier’s Medium Golden Brown Mahogany from the shelves at Target. I followed the instructions and 30 minutes later I was a true redhead for the first time in my life. The yearning that had been simmering inside of me all those years was finally expressed to the world!


I’ve learned that red hair provokes regular commentary. A co-worker jokingly observed that I could be his granddaughter’s mother because of our matching locks. A doctor gave me a lecture about using sunscreen because my skin must burn easily “with all that red hair.” Strangers make references to my hair color at least once a week. They are positive comments casually slung into the conversation, but this never happened when I was a brunette. No doctor ever warned me to use sunscreen because of all the brown hair crowning my head.


Two years ago I started working at a financial services company. One of the first compliance tasks was getting my fingerprints taken for the FBI. During the intake the administrator recorded my physical description. She looked me over. “Caucasian, blue eyes, red hair” she stated out loud as she entered the information into the computer.

“Wait.” I interjected. “I don’t really have red hair.”

“It doesn’t matter what it was originally, if it looks red now, that’s what we put into the computer.”

I smiled. If my red hair was on record with the FBI, then it must be real. My childhood dream had finally come true. I was officially a raging ginger.

Embracing Writer’s Block

Magnetic Poetry

“Often, in this poetry, we steal words, gather kindling, twist newspaper, circle rocks, and wait for the flame.” Sherman Alexie

I laid on my bed, journal open to a blank page, pen in my hand, ready to write. I waited for the words I knew were inside of me to come out. Nothing happened. Like Sherman Alexie in the quote above, I gathered kindling and twisted newspaper, but still, no flame. After several minutes of frustration staring at the empty page, I realized that this inability to find the words was the flame. The dizzying lexicon bouncing around in my mind was the sentiment to capture. I embraced the feeling and this little poem emerged.

Words fumbling,

Knocking against one another,

Never finding each other long enough,

To build a sentence.

The story is swirling,

Searching for structure,

In the dizzying lexicon.

Instead of fighting the frustration, I needed to embrace my thoughts and emotions with curiosity and create from what I felt inside. Expression came with little effort once my mindset shifted. The flame burned with ease. This is often the case. And if that doesn’t work, I close the journal, go to sleep, and try again tomorrow 🙂

The Punky Brewster Generation

Punky Brewster costume

To celebrate my thirty-fifth birthday I held a throwback party. Everyone was instructed to come dressed as a favorite character from childhood. An array of notable fictional figures from the Eighties showed up – Magnum PI, Maverick, the Hamburglur, Karate Kid, Mr. Rogers – even a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle.

Me? I was Punky Brewster. There was no question that she was my favorite. She was everything I wanted to be at six years old – quirky, outspoken, optimistic, creative, funny, and downright colorful. Her mismatched socks and sunshine hair binders spoke to me. She didn’t want to be a ballerina or a princess when she grew up; her goal was to be an astronaut. In the wake of the Challenger explosion, my clearest memories are not of the disaster itself, but the dismay that Punky felt when the shuttle fell. Punky gave permission to a generation of young girls to look, act, and want to be different.

A 26-year-old co-worker asked me about my birthday party the following week. I enthusiastically told her that I had been Punky Brewster. I received a blank stare in return. “You do know who Punky Brewster is, right?”

“I mean, I’ve heard of her, but I don’t really know who she is.”

I was surprised, shocked, appalled! I had assumed that Punky Brewster was an enduring cultural image, like The Brady Bunch. Everyone knows Marcia, Jan, and Cindy no matter when they were born. But I was wrong. Only the class of kids edged between Gen X and Gen Y, cuspers born in the late 70’s and early 80’s, identifies with Punky. For our mini-generation, Full House, My Two Dads, and the rest of the TGIF line-up consumed Friday nights. Saturday mornings meant The Muppet Babies, Pee-Wee’s Playhouse, Small Wonder, and Saved by the Bell (starring my first celebrity crush, Mark-Paul Gosselaar, aka Zach Morris). We watched The Real World on MTV before reality TV officially existed. We were influenced by a very specific set of television characters throughout our youth. And it all started when Punky Brewster debuted in 1985.

The Wonder Years premiered January 1988; four months before Punky took her final bow. It may have been set in the Sixties, but the emotions and awkward adolescent moments of Kevin, Paul, and Winnie were universal. My heart exploded at the end of the first episode when Kevin and Winnie kissed for the first time on a rock in the woods. Was it creepy that this moment came right after Winnie found out that her brother had been killed in Vietnam? Not in my eight-year-old mind. I wanted to be Winnie Cooper sitting on that rock, a pre-teen Kevin Arnold longing after me.

The Wonder Years continued for many seasons, but after a few years of will-they-or-won’t they between Kevin and Winnie, I grew bored and progressed to more exciting television. My Mom decided that Beverly Hills 90210 was too mature for my 12-year-old eyes, but in my greatest act of defiance to date, I watched it every week on the black and white television in my room. I saved my weekly allowance and meager babysitting earning for months to purchase that television. Knowing I was breaking the rules, I would close the door and turn down the volume to a practically inaudible level so that I wouldn’t make my mom suspicious. Week after week I listened to the extreme drama of Brenda, Dylan, and Kelly as they navigated sex, school, and diet pills. Despite my addiction to this soap opera, I viewed the characters from afar. The chaotic lives of rich teenagers in southern California never made the emotional dent of other shows.

That would come in ninth grade with My So-Called Life. The same girls that idolized Punky Brewster sat down every week to empathize with Angela Chase as she fell for Jordan Catalano. When he finally decided to date Angela halfway through the first and only season, Jordan fulfilled the dreams of freshman girls across the nation. It was suddenly possible that the hot, creative, cool guy could notice me! How much time did I waste in high school waiting for that fantasy to come true?

We seared with agony when Angela’s best friend Rayanne slept with Jordan after Angela decided she wasn’t ready to have sex. I felt Angela’s pain so completely that I wrote a poem about the betrayal and turned it in for an English assignment! (See below for that stellar piece of work.)

Despite its short tenure, My So-Called Life defined early high school for me. I even have a magazine clipping at the front of my photo album from these years that says “My So-Called Life. You Know How It Feels.” And I did know how it felt. We all did.

My So-Called Life

A few years later we took sides between Dawson and Pacey in the WB classic, Dawson’s Creek. There was no Team Dawson or Team Pacey, but everyone had a clear opinion on who should end up with Joey, the tomboy next door. Who can forget when Dawson ran around Capeside in a desperate search for Joey when he finally realized that he had feelings for his best friend? We all had a Dawson in our life that we were waiting to make that same realization. I watched Dawson’s Creek religiously for years. I would even record it on my VCR in the dorm so that my roommates and I could watch it together after we finished studying.

Then we became real adults. The cusper girls were no longer a target demographic for advertisers and we lost the shows and characters that defined our early years. We would soon fit into the sect of early to middle age women that watched Grey’s Anatomy. And while I watched that show with enthusiasm for many years, it will never be a part of who I am. That will be left to Winnie Cooper. And Angela Chase. And especially Punky Brewster.


Betrayal (written in 1995 after an episode of My So-Called Life)

Sometimes she does things

That nearly bring you to an end

She tears at all your insides

But she was supposed to be your friend


She didn’t know she’d hurt you,

She saw only her own pain,

Even with your tearful expression,

She thought only of her disdain.


For a while you’ll live in silence,

Only understanding your own brain

She’ll never think twice about you

So you’ll live with your thoughts and pain


But then one day she finally knows

What she has done to you

Now it’s her turn to live in the tears and pain

That she has put you through


One day you’ll get the courage

To ask for the truth through her lie

You’ll stare her in the face and ask

Why did you do it, why?

Start From Your Position of Impact

My ears perked up. I wrote the words in capital letters in my notebook and drew a large box around them.



Dave Stangis, a Corporate Responsibility Leader for Campbell Soup Company, made this statement at the Net Impact Conference in 2014. I decided to attend the conference because of an ongoing interest in the environment and international development. I was toying with the idea of moving from my established career in human resources into corporate social responsibility.

It quickly became a non-decision. Prior to attending the Net Impact Conference I felt that I needed a job title to make a real difference. I learned, however, that many people driving change were experts in something completely unrelated to sustainability or community relations. They were supply chain managers, engineers, and entrepreneurs that layered sustainability on top of their expertise to create an impact in an area where they had influence.

Last week I heard a story on NPR about Carmen Bachmann, a professor of tax and finance in Germany. She saw that the 6,000 refugees living in shelters in her town spent most of their time just sitting and waiting. Carmen felt this was a waste of human capital; a loss for the individuals that couldn’t use their knowledge and a loss for society that wouldn’t benefit from their work. She called the unemployment office and discovered there were no jobs available for highly skilled workers in science and academia. She thought to herself, “My contribution to this problem is what my profession is. I know the special need for the people who have an academic background and I thought, this is what I can contribute.” In other words, Carmen Bachmann decided to act from her position of impact. Carmen worked with a grad student to build a website that matches refugees with a science background to jobs in academia. The website had a slow start, but after Carmen visited shelters and made personal connections with refugees, people began to sign up. Now over 100 refugees have registered on the site and European Union officials have asked Carmen to speak about her work.

I cried as I listened to this story in my car. I cried again while replaying it in Spyhouse Coffee to write this post. I shed tears partly for the stories of the refugees that had held respected positions in their home countries and were now waiting to be recognized and utilized in a new country. I also cried from inspiration. Carmen Bachmann is an ordinary person. Is she solving the refugee crisis? No. But instead of being overwhelmed and paralyzed by the enormity of the crisis as a whole, she looked at what she could influence, how her skills and connections could make a difference, and she acted. Imagine the total impact if everyone behaved in the same way as Carmen.

Perhaps you already know your position of impact and are affecting positive change in your community. If so, I would love to hear your stories. If you’re reading this post and wondering what difference you can make, reflect and ask yourself:

  • What skills and talents do I bring to the table?
  • What are my connections to people and organizations in my community? Who is within my sphere of influence?
  • What causes or organizations align with my values? What am I motivated to work on?

I believe your position of impact comes from the overlap of these three areas: skills, connections, and values. Determine this sweet spot for you and then look for – or create – opportunities to act.Position of ImpactThis perspective has shifted how I pursue community service. For years I volunteered with kids programs in organizations like Big Brothers Big Sisters, Perspectives, and CLUES. They are doing excellent work in the Twin Cities and were great experiences for me, but I knew I had skills that many nonprofits couldn’t afford – someone to facilitate team development, coach employees, or provide an HR perspective. I also wanted to learn more about how I could connect employee development in my organization to community service. Exploring these overlapping areas led me to a meeting with HandsOn Twin Cities, an organization that seeks to increase the impact of volunteerism through working with individuals, companies, and nonprofits. I joined the Board at HandsOn six months ago and it has already been a great opportunity to utilize my skills and experiences to help the organization achieve their mission. Additionally, I connected with members of the community relations team at my company to co-create a leadership development program for individuals that lead our employee networks and community councils. I will never invent a life-saving vaccine, provide pro-bono legal work, or donate billions of dollars to anything. My position of impact is with people – developing and training others so they can fully utilize their talents to build and transform their teams and communities.

Your position of impact may be entirely unrelated to your occupation. I now know that I want my writing to reach someone or something beyond myself. I reflected while composing this post and realized that I have already been doing this for many years. In high school I wrote an absurdly long letter to the editor of the local newspaper speaking out against moving to a four-period school day (it happened anyway). As a college intern for the Wisconsin Public Interest Research Group (WISPIRG) I volunteered to write an article about the history of Earth Day and opportunities for involvement in local Earth Day events. To my surprise it was published in the Wisconsin State Journal. I had no degree, title, or experience that qualified me to write an op-ed in a newspaper. But my connections to WISPIRG, a personal value to protect the environment, and a little skill in writing allowed it to happen. If only one person participated in Earth Day events because of that article, there was impact. If one of you considers your position of impact and takes action after reading this post, there will be change.

We are limited in our time and energy. Acting from our strengths and values guarantees that we can make the greatest difference with our resources. Start from your position of impact and the battle is already halfway won.

Winning at Winter

Snowy morning in Loring Park

It’s the time of year when my daily walk to work is a source of pride and competition. Who is going to win – me or the Minnesota winter? King Boreas or Vulcanus Rex?* There are days that I concede easily, disqualify myself without a second thought. When the National Weather Service describes the temperature as dangerously cold and any exposed skin is liable to freeze in under a minute, I’m fine with taking the bus.

But let’s face it – as much as we like to complain about the cold, most days do not include a wind chill warning. These are the days when the competition is a fair fight. I start these mornings waking up five minutes earlier than other seasons to allow for the extra preparation time. I execute the first portion of my routine in a typical fashion – shower, dry my hair, put on make-up. Getting Dressed: Act One is fairly normal. I put on a heavy-knit black and white striped dress and pull fleece-lined leggings over my legs (okay, maybe wearing fleece-lined anything to work inside isn’t entirely normal). Black ankle boots with a chunky heel are placed in my backpack to wear once I arrive.

Breakfast is next, usually eggs or oatmeal. It’s always something hearty and warm to prepare me for the approaching 40 minutes outside. Occasionally I think it will be a timesaving measure to pack a smoothie to consume at work. Then I arrive at my desk to find the smoothie too cold to drink or freezing to the point that the top of my Nalgene adheres to the bottle and I have to run it under warm water to access my breakfast.

After eating is Getting Dressed: Act Two. The order is critical. First I pull black wind pants with vertical white track stripes over the leggings and under the dress. Then I tug a gator over my head, trying not catch my earrings or destroy my hair in the process. Next I slip on short, furry black boots if the sidewalks are dry; gray Merrill hiking boots if I’ll be trudging through snow. The wind pants cascade over the tops of the boots, ensuring total protection. The next layer is the main event; often the only article of clothing that people living outside of the Midwest require to stay warm in the winter – the coat. I love my coat. It reaches to the mid-thighs and zips all the way to my chin where the velvety lining hugs the gator close to my neck. I raise the hood and snap it in place over the zipper; a third tier between my skin and the impending air. I adjust the elastic around the hood, pulling it tighter as the temperature decreases and wind increases until my peripheral vision is completely blocked and I have to swivel my entire body to check for cars as I cross the street. On the coldest days I pull the gator over my chin and mouth so that only my eyes and nose protrude from the depths of down and fleece. Many co-workers have commented on the sheer beauty of this layered look. I think it’s the wind pants under the dress that really takes it to the next level.

I swish through the back door of my condo and enter the basement. I lock the door, clip the keys in my backpack and then proceed to the final step, putting on my mittens. It is imperative to wait to put on mittens until any activities requiring small motor coordination are complete.

I open the back door and emerge into the dawn. On warmer days the sky is filled with a thick layer of gray clouds providing insulation for the city. On cold mornings the sky is crystal clear, a few stars still shining in the west while the eastern horizon brightens with a sun that will bring no warmth. My asthmatic lungs quickly reject this dramatic change in temperature and I cough, my face pressing into the tight straps of my hood with each convulsion. My nose runs immediately. I sniff and my nostrils stick together, freezing momentarily before body heat takes over and my breathing canal opens again.

I ascend the half flight of cement stairs from the building, careful to avoid the patch of ice that pools at the bottom of the stairs on the occasional day above freezing. I march through icy ruts in the alley towards the bus stop two blocks away on Hennepin Avenue. This is the test. Once I take a left on Hennepin towards downtown there is no turning back. Several elements factor into my decision. Does the coughing continue or do my lungs adjust to the 40-70 degree temperature plunge they just encountered? How quickly does the cold air seep through my wind pants and fleece leggings? Does the slightest breeze against the four square inches of skin exposed on my face inflict pain and incite cursing? If the answer is yes to any of these questions, then I head towards the unheated shelter of the bus stop and hope that one will be along shortly.

If the answer is no, or if I’m feeling particularly stubborn, then I endure the walk. Many times, I even it enjoy it. I see the sun rising through glasses that are intermittently fogged by the warm breath rising from inside of my gator. The light catches the snow, creating golden waves and shadows through Loring Park. Squirrels bury their noses in the snow attempting to find a stash of acorns and chickadees flutter spastically to stay warm. I pass by people with dogs, other walking commuters, even the occasional biker. We exchange a knowing glance, eyes smiling at each other because our mouths are hidden behind fleece and wool. Today we have won. King Boreas defeats Vulcanus Rex. The Minnesotan rises above the Minnesota winter.

Spoon and Cherry in the Sculpture Garden

*King Boreas is the son of Greek gods that presides over St. Paul, Minnesota and declared it his own winter playground. Vulcanus Rex is the god of fire and against all festivities celebrating winter. To represent this dispute we hold the Winter Carnival each February, a festival complete with ice sculptures, medallion hunt, and outdoor torchlight parade. King Boreas and the Queen of the Snows preside over the Carnival along with a number of other royalty. Thousands attend the events every year, showing that many other Minnesotans have also risen above the Minnesota winter. Click here for the full story.

The Women’s March

Women's March Minnesota

Until yesterday I had never participated in a political march. Although I have always had strong opinions, the thought of protesting made me a little uncomfortable. But I was devastated by the results of the election. I tried to understand the millions of votes cast for Trump, but I just couldn’t get there. I felt like I didn’t know my own country anymore. I was powerless against the outcome of the election, but participating in the Women’s March Minnesota was something I could control. I could show up and be counted. And if enough peopled showed up to be counted, at least our new president would know that he was going to have a force to reckon with throughout his term.

I marched with my friend Alix, her mom and aunt, and a few of her friends. We started on the roof of a parking ramp overlooking thousands of people gathered at St. Paul College. The massive parking lot and lawn below us was a sea of pink hats and positive energy. Signs ranged from inspiring (I am no longer accepting the things I cannot change. I am changing the things I cannot accept) to clever (Thou shalt not touch thy neighbor’s uterus. Fallopians 2:28 – one of my favorites!) to downright angry (It’s 2017. I can’t believe we still have to protest this shit).

Women's March Minnesota

“Together we are powerful. Organized we are unstoppable.” Senator Patricia Torres Ray

We made our way to the crowd below and eventually starting marching slowly towards the Capitol. Occasionally someone would start a chant – “What does democracy look like? This is what democracy looks like.” A member of our group pointed out that we Minnesotans were a little passive in our ability to shout. And it was true. I felt awkward yelling out those words, even though I believed them.

The crowd walked faster as the road widened. It felt like there was a huge mass of people ahead of us, but as we marched it became clear that we were relatively close to the front. The moving sea that had started in the parking lot at St. Paul College continued to rise and overflow, with people still squeezing in from every possible corner. This was the America I thought I’d lost.

Women's March Minnesota

“We must not quit. This is the beginning.” US Representative Betty McCollum

Our group of seven separated when we arrived at the Capitol. Three people wanted to try and find a spot on the steps. I stayed with Alix and her family and we found a place next to a fence and open area where we could hear and partially see the speakers.

For the next two hours I stood, feet in the melting snow, and listened to Ilhan Omar, our nation’s first Somali-American legislator, state senator Patricia Torres Ray, CEO of Planned Parenthood Minnesota Sarah Stoesz, US Congresswoman Betty McCollum, and explorer and activist Ann Bancroft, among many others. The speakers were both hopeful and frustrated. They inspired a call to action. I yelled with a little more volume and confidence as the afternoon wore on.

I watched a woman climb the statue of former Minnesota governor Floyd B. Olson and stretch a pink knit hat over his head. She then sat back-to-back with Floyd holding a Black Lives Matter sign. Later someone poked a hole in their Stay Nasty poster and hung it on Floyd’s thumb.

Women's March Minnesota

“This is the moment to true our moral compass…Be the vision you see ahead of yourself.” Ann Bancroft

Alix and her family decided to leave and I was still enjoying the speakers, so I stayed at the rally alone. I occasionally received texts and saw Facebook posts from friends in the crowd, delayed in their arrival due to the sheer number of people overwhelming the local cell towers.

My hands were numb by the end of Ann Bancroft’s speech and I could see the lines at the light rail station beginning to form from where I stood in the snow. I decided to miss the last speakers and joined the crowds waiting for the Green Line. I made it to the platform in 15 minutes. The next train arrived a few minutes later, but marchers inside the train were already pressed into every available space. Instead of expressing irritation, when the doors opened everyone standing on the platform began to cheer. Marchers inside the train followed suit, shouting and raising their signs yet again.

Metro Transit had planned ahead for the large crowds and just five minutes later a relatively empty train pulled into the station.  We all piled in, crammed body to body for the 45-minute ride to Minneapolis.

I got off the light rail at Hennepin Avenue and 5th Street in downtown Minneapolis and sprinted towards the 6E bus that would take me home. I missed it by just seconds. I knew it would be another 15 minutes before my next bus appeared. A man waiting at the bus stop looked at my sign. “Revolution? What’s that about?”

“The Women’s March in St. Paul!”

“Women are taking over,” he stated in a surprisingly light-hearted tone. “Women are in all the positions of power in Minnesota.”

I racked my brain. “What women? Amy Klobuchar?” She was the only one that immediately came to mind.

But he was thinking a little more personally. “All the bosses are women. I’ve had all lady bosses. They were stressed. They were emotional. I’ve got to find myself a male boss next.”

I didn’t know how to respond. Part of me was thinking Know your audience! Clearly a woman coming from the Women’s March is not going to agree with you on this! Another part of me wanted to bite back at his comments. But I didn’t want to end my day of hope in an argument with a stranger at a bus stop. Instead, I just stopped talking.

A minute or two later he spoke again. “I kind of like Trump.” By this time a few other marchers from the light rail had also gathered at the bus stop. Their ears perked at his comment.

“What do you like about him?” I tried to remain open despite the frustration rising in my chest.

“He was great on The Apprentice!”

“But as our president?”

“He just became our president yesterday, he hasn’t made any decisions yet. You have to give him a chance!”

Another marcher jumped in, “One day was enough of a chance!”

I questioned him further. “What do you think about what he’s said in all of his tweets?”

“I don’t know about any of them.”

At that moment his bus pulled up and he disappeared. This is why I marched, I thought to myself. An hour earlier I had been surrounded by tens of thousands of like-minded individuals and here I was faced with the reminder that there are just as many people who believed that overly emotional women were taking over the world and supported Trump because of his performance on The Apprentice.

My bus arrived soon thereafter. As I climbed the stairs and scanned my transit pass, the driver looked at my sign, smiled, cheerily pumped his fists, and said “Today’s the day!”

I smiled back. Yes, it was the day. But not just one day. It’s tomorrow, and the day after that, and the day after that. It’s the day we call our legislators to tell them what we will not tolerate. It’s the day we go back to the polls in the mid-term elections and vote for change. It’s how we teach our children to respect differences and show empathy. It’s the conversations we have with those that see the world differently from us and try to understand their point of view. It was not just one day. It’s every day.

Women's March Minnesota

A Paris Sunset

Paris Sunset

I had visited Paris twice before; once as a 10-year-old on my first trip outside of the US and a second time as a college student after completing a semester in Spain. Both were whirlwind tours of the highlights – the Louvre, Musee D’Orsay, Eiffel Tour, Notre Dame, Sacre Coeur. This weekend, 13 years after my last visit, I had to no itinerary. My plan was simple – walk and wander.

I arrived in Paris at 4:30 pm on an October Friday and enacted the plan immediately. I dropped my suitcase in a worn room in a tired, but perfectly situated hotel in St. Germain du Pres and headed back out to the streets, camera in hand. The skies were gray, but the air was unseasonably balmy.   My jeans and casual burgundy suit jacket were too warm for the humidity hanging in the atmosphere and I began to sweat as I crossed the Seine towards Ile de St Louis. Autumn travelers crowded the narrow streets of the tiny island, licking ice cream cones and applauding street performers. I weaved through the crowds, pausing occasionally to snap a photo, no particular destination in mind.

I found my way to the right bank of the Seine and turned left in the direction of the Louvre. I walked along the surprisingly quiet sidewalk, the Seine flowing peacefully below to my left and the high wall of the Tuileries on my right. I enjoyed the movement after sitting all day at work and two hours on the train.

I glanced down the Seine through an opening in the trees that lined the sidewalk. I looked west, towards the Eiffel Tower in the distance, and saw a distinct break in the clouds along the western horizon. The walk and wander plan was immediately put on hold and I had a sudden and clear destination – make it to a bridge where I had a chance to see the sunset with a clear view of the Eiffel Tower. I quickly consulted my map, counted the bridges until the turn in the river that would afford me a view, and started to run. Three bridges to Pont Alexandre III. The running shoes I had unfashionably paired with my jeans and blazer now served me well. I clutched my purse tightly against my midsection to avoid jostling the Canon camera inside. The light sweat I had broken earlier began to stream down my face. I passed a few pedestrians, but I didn’t pause long enough to look at their faces and know whether they were bothered or confused by my sprint. I was focused only on making it to the bridge.

After several minutes of running along the Quai de Tuileries the road veered left and I knew I was close to my destination. I arrived at the Pont Alexandre III just in time to see the sun emerge from the clouds, its bright rays reaching out towards the top of the Eiffel Tower.

I paused for a moment to catch my breath and wipe the sweat from my forehead. I snapped a few pictures to capture the moment just in case the lighting unexpectedly deteriorated, but everything in the sky told me the show was just beginning.

After digitally preserving the scene, my eyes moved away from the sun and towards my fellow revelers. A young Parisian man leaned against the ledge of the bridge, as if he couldn’t be bothered to turn around and witness the sunset. He wore a fitted green jacket and tight cuffed beige pants, the kind of outfit that would be immediately recognizable as European anywhere in the US, where men prefer an extra inch or two in the circumference of their clothing. His right foot stood firmly on the ground and his left rested on the inside edge of a skateboard turned on its side. The cigarette that hung in his outstretched hand completed the picture.

An Asian woman stood to his right dressed for the season and not the weather in a beige trench coat and burgundy scarf. She snapped photos of herself in the sunset with the aide of a selfie stick, undoubtedly searching for the perfect Facebook profile pic or jealousy-inducing Snapchat to her friends at home. She delivered pose after pose – smiling, gazing dreamily towards the camera, head turned slightly in one direction, then the other. She even flaunted duck lips. I was so amused by this scene that I started taking photos of her. She didn’t notice.

Another man dressed head to toe in dark gray and carrying what can only be described as a purse spread out a large map along the railing of the bridge. He stared at it, perhaps planning his dinner location or plotting the way back to his hotel after the sunset was complete.

I transferred my attention westward as the sun sank closer to the horizon and adjusted the white balance on my camera to prepare for the perfect moment ahead. The empty spaces on the bridge filled with accumulating onlookers that had paused their evening plans to enjoy the show. Thick clouds hung eastward from Eiffel Tower, but there was a half circle of clear sky perfectly positioned above the Seine that created a frame for the live film unfolding before us. The sun flamed in orange, the fiery backlight accentuating the crisp profile of the Pont des Invalides in the foreground and the Eiffel Tower in the distance. A long barge of tourists glided under the bridge below me and added another texture of silhouette to the scene.

The rippled waters of the Seine flickered fuchsia and orange as the sun traversed the horizon. Wisps of clouds painted gold, mauve, and ginger streaks across the sky where the sun had just passed. I adjusted the aperture on my camera several times with the hope of capturing at least one photo that would accurately reflect the landscape around me.

The colors faded quickly after the sun disappeared. I tucked my camera back into my purse and enjoyed a few minutes taking in the view without my lens. I left the bridge and turned back in the direction of the Louvre with the sky still bright in the early dusk. The relatively short run became a rather long walk back to my hotel. The air chilled and I was grateful for the blazer that had caused me to sweat earlier. I considered tomorrow and wondered what surprises my walk and wander plan might reveal, but the city did not need to do anything else to impress. Three hours into the weekend and my trip to Paris was complete.