Thursday, August 21, 2014

IWHHR: Week 6 (Women in War and Refugee Settings)

During the summer of 2014, I am taking an online course in Global Health from Stanford University taught by Anne Firth Murray entitled, "International Women's Health and Human Rights" (IWHHR). I will be posting my reflective writing assignments from each week's course of study. All writings can be found under the tag IWHHRDetails on the course can be found here.
If you are interested in taking this or another course, you can find a listing of the online courses offered by Stanford here. From economics to cryptography, courses are added each semester.


It is clear that violence against women increases during conflict and post-conflict periods. In the context of the video interview with Zainab Bangura, do you think that it is inevitable that conflict will result in increased violence against women? Do you think that anything short of eliminating war will eliminate the problem of violence against women in conflict and refugee circumstances? Is peace possible?

Zainab Bangura, of Sierra Leone, is the current Under-Secretary-General, Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict. In her interview she discussed the concept of command and control. If rape (as a weapon of warfare) is commanded, it can be controlled. Based on her interview, it is not inevitable that conflict will result in increased violence against women.

Ms. Bangura spoke of interventions and conversations she has had with military personnel. These men are human. Certainly, there are some monsters who will just commit rape and violence no matter what. But the majority of these men, she believes, are true human beings and have a conscience which can be appealed to. She spoke with them about the injustice that is done against women. By asking them what they would do if this woman was their mother or their sister or their daughter, she was able to put into perspective the great atrocity that is occurring to women.

As is often said, and something with which I completely agree, education is the key. Men are people too. Despite the fact that they are the perpetrators of the vast majority of sexual violence in war and refugee settings, they are still people. If we can educate the military or other group leaders that rape is a crime and how it can completely destroy a woman and her family, then I believe many of these men will stand up for what is right. The leaders need to not only believe that rape is a crime, but they need to be prepared and dedicated enough to swiftly investigate and prosecute these crimes so that others will begin to learn and accept that it is a crime and should not happen. This is how the culture will change.

Ultimately, education and gender equality are what is needed to highlight rape as a war crime and begin the process to eliminate the problem of violence against women in conflict and refugee circumstances. "If you don't respect your women, you can't protect them during conflict," Ms. Bangura stated. Elimination is possible. Peace is possible. The military and leadership who took her advice in the DRC drastically reduced the rate of rape by the following year when they went back into battle. Not only were the perpetrators held responsible, so was the commander. So the commander had an invested interest in ensuring that his soldiers knew, understood, and followed his orders NOT to commit rape or any other type of gender-based violence during warfare.

Elimination or at least drastically reduced rates of gender-based violence is possible. Peace is always possible. With buy-in from powerful leaders, peace can be brought about.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

IWHHR: Week 5 (Violence Against Women)

During the summer of 2014, I am taking an online course in Global Health from Stanford University taught by Anne Firth Murray entitled, "International Women's Health and Human Rights" (IWHHR). I will be posting my reflective writing assignments from each week's course of study. All writings can be found under the tag IWHHRDetails on the course can be found here.
If you are interested in taking this or another course, you can find a listing of the online courses offered by Stanford here. From economics to cryptography, courses are added each semester.


Do you think that violence is a “natural” part of being human?  If so, why do you think this? If not, why do you think violence, particularly against women, is so prevalent? Please write a response in three to five thoughtful paragraphs.

The question, "what is natural?" must be defined before answering whether or not violence is a natural part of being human. Natural, as defined by Merriam Webster means:

: existing in nature and not made or caused by people : coming from nature
: usual or expected
: implanted or being as if implanted by nature : seemingly inborn

Still with this definition, I find it difficult to answer this question. I think we are born with certain tendencies and characteristics, both positive and negative which we either have to overcome to let it subside (negative or harmful tendency) or disappear or nurture to develop more fully (positive or beneficial tendency). The tendency to be violent is a characteristic which is inborn, but is only developed or brought out by cultural traditions and expectations.

Certainly, as an adult the tendency to get angry is natural, but how we choose to channel that anger is just that, a choice. Our choices as young people and into adulthood, however, are largely dependent on what we have seen in our families and what we have been taught. Violence is one way to react to the feeling of anger but there are many other ways to handle that anger, but other options must be illustrated and taught. Think of a two-year old child who has difficulty sharing a toy. Often that child's reaction is to bite or hit the child who has taken his or her toy or has the toy that he or she wants. In my experience, this type of violent reaction is more common than not for a small child and children must be taught  or learn other ways to react or channel their anger in a non-violent manner.

That being said, there are culturally acceptable ways to channel that anger, which are often gender-based. Unfortunately, violence is acceptable in some cultures as a way to express anger, whether that is violence against people in general, women or intimate partners, children, or simply against property. I have observed that allowing violent reactions is more acceptable for boys than it is for girls. Many of us have heard the phrase, "boys will be boys." Unfortunately, this school of thought perpetuates the notion that violence is an acceptable form of expressing one's anger with no thought to the other person or their physical rights.

With regard to sexual violence, I think it is somewhat an extension of violence due to anger, but I believe this type of violence is learned and is not innate or natural, depending on the reason for the violence, which is debatable and likely, different in every situation. But it is the same in that other options to channel their feelings (anger, desire for power, hatred, etc.) must be introduced, taught, and practiced. Most people do and act the way they have been taught, the way they have observed relationships function throughout their lives. If they have never seen another way, they will not know how to do something different until it is introduced to them. Until they have been taught.

Our responsibility as adults, as parents, and as influential members of our communities is to help make other non-violent options known and understood. We can act as examples. We can teach children or other adults who still struggle with this tendency before they find themselves in a potentially violent anger situation, what options they have to deal with the anger. If the tools are not given to individuals to deal with their anger in the heads, they may resort to physical violence. Tools can include learning how to soothe oneself, learning to take a step back from the situation and wait while the anger in one's mind subsides, learning to channel that anger into something else physical like running or boxing. All of these tools take practice before they are fully effective and if they are introduced at a young age, an individual has a much better chance of ridding him or herself of the natural tendency toward violence and empower him or herself with the greater emotional and mental capacity of rising above.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

IWHHR: Week 4 (Reproductive Health)

During the summer of 2014, I am taking an online course in Global Health from Stanford University taught by Anne Firth Murray entitled, "International Women's Health and Human Rights" (IWHHR). I will be posting my reflective writing assignments from each week's course of study. All writings can be found under the tag IWHHRDetails on the course can be found here.
If you are interested in taking this or another course, you can find a listing of the online courses offered by Stanford here. From economics to cryptography, courses are added each semester.


How do the themes and issues raised in the short film, "Why Did Mrs. X Die?" correspond to the conditions in your country? Do you know anyone who has experienced or dealt with these conditions? 

"Mrs. X didn't only die of a hemorrhage. She also died of social injustice." 

The remake of the short animated film "Why Did Mrs. X Die?" is a great teaching tool for women in poor areas of the world. I was impressed with the information and the way it was presented. The music and the drawings are pleasing to the ear and eye and drew me into her story.

Mrs. X encountered so many barriers along her path of pregnancy keeping her from getting the help she needed to have a health pregnancy and deliver a healthy baby. These barriers: lack of doctor visits, lack of access to midwives and doctors, lack of blood, lack of transportation to the hospital, illiteracy and lack of education, poverty, living in a remote village, gender inequality causing women to be the last to receive food are all barriers to a healthy pregnancy

Mrs. X could be any woman in any country, but most likely from a poor or remote area. I do not know anyone, personally, who has met ALL of these barriers, but I have known women who find themselves pregnant without the finances or insurance that would enable them to visit the doctor regularly and get the care they need during pregnancy.

This movie was an eye-opener for me to all the things that I take for granted living in the United States. Opportunity for education, employment, and medical access is fairly universal. Certainly there are inequities, but I feel for the most part you can find what you need and find a way to get it. Now, this may not be the case for those in the poorest of circumstances in the U.S., but the chance to overcome the barriers presented in the film seems far more attainable in the U.S. than it might in other developing countries.

Enlightening it was to think that these barriers actually started when she was just a child before she even thought about having babies of her own. Education. Gender equality in family. The more I hear about stories like the story of Mrs. X, the more I realize how privileged and blessed I have been to grow up where I did and with the family I did. This makes me grateful and in return, makes me want to help and reach out. As the narrator of the film said, "It is up to all of us, no matter where we live, who we are, or what we do to help remove these barriers for Mrs. X and the millions of pregnant women like her." Dr. Mahmoud Fathalla said this is a call to action for all who care.

I care.

Saturday, August 09, 2014

IWHHR: Group Meeting - Individual Reflection #1

During the summer of 2014, I am taking an online course in Global Health from Stanford University taught by Anne Firth Murray entitled, "International Women's Health and Human Rights" (IWHHR). I will be posting my reflective writing assignments from each week's course of study. All writings can be found under the tag IWHHRDetails on the course can be found here.
If you are interested in taking this or another course, you can find a listing of the online courses offered by Stanford here. From economics to cryptography, courses are added each semester.

International Women’s Health & Human Rights
Week 1 Discussion Guide:
Women’s Rights

Photo from our text, From Outrage to Courage by Anne Firth Murray
Themes from the Week
• The status of females
• Women’s Rights = Human Rights
• Giving reality to human rights
• Negative Rights: (civil rights) and Positive Rights (socio-economic rights)
• UDHR, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
Part I. Introduction and Initial Response
Take a moment to write down: Why are you interested in taking this course? What do you hope to gain from it? Then, when everyone is ready, please share these ideas with your group.
Next, please discuss your personal reactions to the readings and/or videos from Week 1 on Women’s Human Rights. Describe one new idea or fact that you learned from the course this week.
Part II. Topical Discussion Questions to consider with your group. We have left space for you to write down some of your thoughts on the subject as you meet with your group.
1. What does it mean to be born female in different parts of the world?
• Consider places such as Brazil, China, Egypt, India, Kenya, the United States, or any other country of interest, including your own.
• What are the barriers and burdens that women (not men) experience?
• What are some reasons these barriers and burdens exist?
2. Recall the conversation on human rights with Professor Helen Stacy. Think about and discuss the differences between negative rights and positive rights.
3. Consider your own country and women’s rights. What is the condition of negative (civil) rights in your country? What about positive (socio-economic) rights?
4. Can human rights norms be broadly adopted and/or enforced? Consider them at the local, national, and international levels. If your answer is “yes,” how can they be given reality? Who are involved and what are some of the challenges? If your answer is “no,” then how can these rights still be promoted? (Please refer to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights if you think it is relevant to your response to these questions.)
5. Discuss the CEDAW treaty. What does the acronym stand for? How does it pertain to your country? Has your country ratified CEDAW and/or has it placed any reservations on the treaty? Why do you think it has placed reservations?

During our discussion this morning, it was apparent that we were from various backgrounds and came into it with different experiences. This made our conversation all the richer. We discussed women's rights as human rights through the context of our own experiences in our families, our communities, and the two different countries where we are from. The other women in my group open my eyes to experiences and stereotypes they have encountered in their lives as women of color. Another woman shared with us her views about what it means to be a woman in her country of St. Lucia and even the differences between living in the capital as she does and living in the rural areas. We talked a lot about how it comes down to how we were raised and the type of education that happens within each family. The family is the fundamental unit of society. Though governments have the power to impose laws about human rights (hopefully in our favor), the action happens at the smallest of levels. First the family, then the school, the workplace, the community, the city, the state, the country and so forth. We followed Discussion Toolkit from Week One. It was a fruitful discussion (two hours) and really helped us all to get more excited about the class and be accountable for our learning so we have something to bring to the group. Group work has always been difficult for me. The timing, the planning, the scheduling, the equal load share. But it's always rewarding when done right.

IWHHR: Week 3B (Childhood & Adolescence: HIV/AIDS)

During the summer of 2014, I am taking an online course in Global Health from Stanford University taught by Anne Firth Murray entitled, "International Women's Health and Human Rights" (IWHHR). I will be posting my reflective writing assignments from each week's course of study. All writings can be found under the tag IWHHRDetails on the course can be found here.
If you are interested in taking this or another course, you can find a listing of the online courses offered by Stanford here. From economics to cryptography, courses are added each semester.


Dr. Gene Richardson speaks about how reliance on medical technology can undermine the introduction of social interventions that may be relevant in preventing or treating HIV/AIDS.  Describe two or three social/non-medical interventions that you think might be effective in preventing or treating HIV/AIDS.  Write three to five thoughtful paragraphs about these possible interventions.

This week I learned that gender inequality plays a huge role in the HIV epidemic. Girls are more than twice as likely to contract the disease for both social and physiological reasons. Social interventions to combat gender inequality are relevant in treating and preventing HIV/AIDS by the same principle that participating in a sports team or taking up running (social intervention) can help one's overall physical health and possibly eliminate the need to take a blood pressure medication (the bio-medical intervention). Treating the root of the problem instead of just the symptoms.

The first social intervention that comes to mind immediately is educating young people (both boys and girls). Education, alone, increases the chances that young children and adolescents will be in the classroom instead of vulnerable on the streets where they are more likely to become involved in unsafe sex practices and drug use, which we know increase the odds of contracting HIV.

Eradicating school fees, so that all children and adolescents have equal access to attend school would be another social intervention that would be relevant.

Also, the type of education and learning also makes a difference. Education about the disease specifically, as illustrated in the videos distributed by TeachAIDS, will help young people know what HIV is and how to be careful not to contract it. Also teaching healthy communication styles to empower girls to ask for what they deserve. Both boys and girls (and men and women) would benefit greatly, in all cultures, from healthy communication practices.

Other interventions include banning things like child marriage and FGM/C. These would help to get girl children to remain in school and in a less vulnerable position to contract HIV/AIDS. I was surprised to learn in this week's readings and videos that one of the most vulnerable places for an adolescent girl to be in to contract HIV/AIDS is marriage due to the practice of husbands continuing to have multiple partners, which is socially acceptable and encouraged in many poorer countries, and the inability to negotiate safe sex with condoms, and the inability to say no to sex with their husbands due to cultural/social expectations.

The effects of FGM/C on girls' school attendance, psychological health, and physical health are all factors making her more vulnerable to situations where should would contract HIV.

Social interventions may have a greater holistic effect in preventing HIV/AIDS and decreasing its prevalence than bio-medical interventions such as preventative cocktails, which are often given to high-risk individuals in some sub-Saharan African countries, as well as India. Instead of just treating the HIV virus after it is acquired (bio-medically with medication and other healthcare), preventing women and girls from being in the situation to contract the disease by implementing other social interventions as mentioned above will have a greater effect on decreasing the number of HIV/AIDS cases. Combining these social and bio-medical efforts will help both those who are vulnerable and at risk to potentially contract the disease, as well as those who have already been diagnosed.

Sunday, August 03, 2014

IWHHR: Week 3A (Childhood and Adolescence: Female Genital Cutting / Mutilation)

During the summer of 2014, I am taking an online course in Global Health from Stanford University taught by Anne Firth Murray entitled, "International Women's Health and Human Rights" (IWHHR). I will be posting my reflective writing assignments from each week's course of study. All writings can be found under the tag IWHHRDetails on the course can be found here.
If you are interested in taking this or another course, you can find a listing of the online courses offered by Stanford here. From economics to cryptography, courses are added each semester.


Consider the different terminologies used for the cutting of female genitalia, as discussed in the text, "From Outrage to Courage" and write three to five thoughtful paragraphs about the implications of the different terminologies:
  • Female Genital Cutting
  • Female Genital Mutilation
  • Female Circumcision

I have always been a staunch believer in the fact that you can say anything to anyone, but how you say it will alter the outcome of how it is received. Execution matters. Words and terminology matter.

At one point in my reading during this unit, I thought about the fact that calling this practice "mutilation" could be very harmful for a victim of the act to live with. To feel as though you have been mutilated, to be told you're a victim of a mutilation and no longer whole could have lifelong psychological effects. And, indeed, we know that FGM/C causes lifelong adverse psychological effects on many, if not all who are subjected to the practice.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has officially adopted the term "female genital mutilation" to identify the practice. However, we know that "female circumcision and "female genital cutting" are also used just as often to describe the practice.

Female circumcision is a term that is a little misleading, since its comparison to male circumcision is inevitable. In fact, female genital cutting is very different than male circumcision. The only way the terms could be equivalent would be if when males are circumcised, they are entirely or partially dismembered and their penises suffer mutilation that cannot ever be repaired. I will not be making an argument for or against male circumcision, but it only involves cutting away the foreskin from the tip of the penis and none of the actual sexual organs are harmed. This not the case with female circumcision, so the term is hardly equitable. Also, the term circumcision also brings with it a level of validity and appropriateness since male circumcision is widely practiced and typically does not cause major physical and psychological health concerns for the rest of that male's life. It's an easier term to handle for some because it does not immediately bring to mind the horror that the terms mutilation and cutting do.

Despite the possible psychological effects that the term female genital mutilation may impose on those have undergone the practice, I think this term combined with cutting is the most accurate and keeps on the forefront of our minds the tragic horror that is this practice. Education is key in decreasing and eventually eradicating this practice which is deeply entrenched in the cultural traditions of the people who perpetuate it.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

IWHHR: Week 2 (Education)

During the summer of 2014, I am taking an online course in Global Health from Stanford University taught by Anne Firth Murray entitled, "International Women's Health and Human Rights" (IWHHR). I will be posting my reflective writing assignments from each week's course of study. All writings can be found under the tag IWHHRDetails on the course can be found here.
If you are interested in taking this or another course, you can find a listing of the online courses offered by Stanford here. From economics to cryptography, courses are added each semester.


Please read through the list of United Nations Millennium Goals (available here), and then draft three to five thoughtful paragraphs about the following topic:
Which goals relate directly to girls’ education? Which goals are dependent on educating girls for their fulfillment?
You can find out more details about the Millennium Goals and get current information on the status of achieving them at

The Millennium Development Goals
Goal 1 Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
• Reduce by half the proportion of people whose income is less than $1 a day
• Reduce by half the proportion of people who suffer from hunger
Goal 2 Achieve universal primary education
• Ensure that all boys and girls complete a full course of primary schooling
Goal 3 Promote gender equality and empower women
• Eliminate gender disparity in primary and secondary education preferably by 2005, and in all levels of education no later than 2015
Goal 4 Reduce child mortality
• Reduce by two thirds the mortality of children under five
Goal 5 Improve maternal health
• Reduce maternal mortality by three quarters
Goal 6 Combat HIV and AIDS, malaria and other diseases
• Halt and reverse the spread of HIV and AIDS
• Halt and reverse the incidence of malaria and other major diseases
Goal 7 Ensure environmental sustainability
• Integrate principles of sustainable development into country policies and programmes; reverse the loss of environmental resources
• Halve the proportion of people without access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation
• Improve the lives of at least 100 million slum-dwellers by 2020
Goal 8 Develop a global partnership for development
• Develop further an open, rule-based, predictable, nondiscriminatory trading and financial system
• Address special needs of the least developed countries, landlocked countries and small island developing states

Interestingly, ALL eight of the United Nations Millennium Goals directly relate to girls' education. Had you asked me this questions prior to all of the readings and videos this week, I'm not sure I would have been able to answer the same way. I now know that sending a girl to school and educating her actually fulfills each of these goals on an individual level for that girl. Obviously, the goals are intended to be set forth on a global perspective, but it certainly starts with just one girl.

Every aspect of a girl's life (life itself, potential for poverty and hunger, maternal health, potential for contracting diseases such as HIV, malaria, etc.,) and really the community as a whole is affected by whether or not she (and other girls) are sent to school and properly educated so they can act for themselves and begin to give back to their families and communities. Once you've educated a girl and once she also begins to earn money, the majority of that money and teaching go back into her raising her children and bettering the community as a whole. This positively affects the next generation of girls AND boys. Education is really thought of as the "magic" key or the silver bullet to propelling communities forward to be more pleasant, prosperous, and cohesive.

Since all eight of the U.N. Millennium Development Goals are directly related to girls' education, it seems that all of them require educating girls for their fulfillment. I would especially point out Goal 2 - Achieve universal primary education as requiring that girls be educated in order to be fulfilled. While educating girls makes an enormous impact, it seems that the remaining goals also include other factors that are required for their fulfillment. But Goal 2 cannot be achieved AT ALL unless girls are sent to school.

Educating girls not only helps to fulfill these development goals and benefits communities, the environment, and so forth. It is a basic human right and it's the right thing to do.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

IWHHR: Week 1 (Women's Rights = Human Rights)

During the summer of 2014, I am taking an online course in Global Health from Stanford University taught by Anne Firth Murray entitled, "International Women's Health and Human Rights" (IWHHR). I will be posting my reflective writing assignments from each week's course of study. All writings can be found under the tag IWHHR. Details on the course can be found here.

If you are interested in taking this or another course, you can find a listing of the online courses offered by Stanford here. From economics to cryptography, courses are added each semester.


Please go to Annex I: The Beijing Declaration (link). Read the Beijing Declaration (pages 2-5), a document that emerged from the 4th United Nations Conference on Women, held in Beijing in 1995.
Almost every country in the world has signed on to this Declaration. As you read through it, take note of two or three of the commitments in this document that interest you.
What surprises you? Do you think the commitments are realistic? Do you have any other reactions? Please comment upon them in three to five thoughtful paragraphs.
As I have begun this course, I have become acutely aware that I am not an expert in this field of social justice and human rights, and I am also very much a product of my upbringing in the sense that my views on women's role, the rights of women, and the realities of life as a woman are largely colored by my religious, socioeconomic, geographic, and familial backgrounds. That being said, my parents raised me with and continue to in engage me in a very open-minded environment, where learning was and is encouraged and looking at a particular situation or issue from a different point-of-view was and is commonplace.

In the U.S. media, stories of wars, rumors of wars, beatings, rapes, and an all-around lack of peace abound. The 18th commitment of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, which is the result of the 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women, states:
We are convinced that... 18. Local, national, regional and global peace is attainable and is inextricably linked with the advancement of women, who are a fundamental force for leadership, conflict resolution and the promotion of lasting peace at all levels; 
Women are a powerful, fundamental force for leadership. Countries won't have women in leadership until women want to be in leadership. According to the "World's Women and Girls 2011 Datasheet" issued by the Population Reference Bureau, Rwanda, a small country emerging from civil war only in the mid-1990s, has a parliament occupied by 56% women, making it the only country in the world to have a female majority in the national parliament. Contrast that with my country, The United States, thought of to be a leader in the world has a mere 17% women in national government. Large bodies are slow to change and often get stuck in the rut of the past. Women will occupy more seats in government when women begin running for office, when women want more of a say.

Inserting women leaders into governments, at an equal rate as men, and allowing them to make and influence decisions alongside men during times of warfare, as well as times of peace, would drastically change the tenor of international conversations and thus, conflicts and war.

Another thought is that women will have a more equal role in leadership and conflict resolution not only when they want it for themselves, but when men also want it for them. The Beijing Declaration also states:
We are determined to... 25. Encourage men to participate fully in all actions towards equality; 
When men are as interested in women's human rights as women are, more forward movement will occur. The mere fact that our class, with a topic and title such as "International Women's Health and Human Rights" (emphasis) appears to be made up primarily of women (based on a glancing at the names listed in the Piazza discussion forum) is disheartening when looking at it through the context of the United Nations commitments to action listed in the Beijing Declaration. Where are the men? Why are they noticeably absent from anything that specifically has women in the title? How will the goals and commitments be accomplished if men do not even want to learn, participate in, and support the actions and efforts being made in the direction toward the 9th commitment stated in the Declaration:
We reaffirm our commitment to... 9. Ensure the full implementation of the human rights of women and of the girl child as an inalienable, integral and indivisible part of all human rights and fundamental freedoms;
All of these commitments listed in the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action are ideals. At first reading, the commitments seem grand and unattainable for billions of people trying to work together across the world. Certainly they have not yet been met worldwide, nearly 20 years after this document was written. However, these commitments are goals. And goals are nothing if not grand and do not give cause to reach further than thought possible. As governments, countries, workplaces, service groups, churches, schools, and families begin to take heed to these goals, these grand ideas will start small and be spread to all with whom each equality-minded person interacts.

Friday, July 04, 2014

Hike (okay, Nature Walk) to Silver Lake in Big Cottonwood Canyon.

"Wandering re-establishes the original harmony which
once existed between man and the universe."
~Anatole France

Silver Lake, Big Cottonwood Canyon, Utah
photo by me

The fourth of July seemed an appropriate day to get outside and appreciate our country's rocks and rills and purple mountain majesties. KDJ and I took a drive up into Big Cottonwood Canyon and strolled around Silver Lake. It's an easy 30 minute walk around the lake, but it's just beautiful.

Silver Lake, Big Cottonwood Canyon, Utah
photo by me

Often, since it's so easy and accessible for all ages, there are many people, especially families with little kids. This holiday was pretty crowded, more than I like, but the scenery still provided the serenity I was looking for.

KDJ and I at Silver Lake, Big Cottonwood Canyon, Utah
photo by me

As we walked around the lake, KDJ and I decided to name all the reasons it's great to get out and hike:
  • Vitamin D
  • Endorphins
  • Clouds
  • People
  • Trees
  • Beautiful scenery
Silver Lake, Big Cottonwood Canyon, Utah
photo by me

After we left the Silver Lake area, we took the turn off to Guardsman's Pass. It takes you up over the mountains into Summit County and you end up coming out in Park City. The view, as you can see, is rather spectacular.

Guardsman Pass, Utah
photo by me

Guardsman Pass, Utah
photo by me

Guardsman Pass, Utah
photo by me

I'd like to take the drive on Guardsman Pass again in September to see the autumn leaves. My goal is to make it to Cecret Lake and Ensign Peak again this season, along with Temple Quarry Trail, Donut Falls, and...

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Three-day Fast.

"The philosophy of fasting calls upon us to know ourselves, to master ourselves, and to discipline ourselves the better to free ourselves. To fast is to identify our dependencies, and free ourselves from them."
~Tariq Ramadan

Utah County (point of the mountain)
taken from the Frontrunner train

On Wednesday evening I started a three-day fast. What? Why would you do that? Well, a couple of reasons. One, I was going to be fasting for 12 hours anyway in preparation to get my blood drawn for my yearly physical. Two, my mom has talked to me about the benefits of long-term fasting for my health and resetting my system. And three, I read this article about the immune system benefits of a three-day fast. As you know, I have had my share of health problems and illnesses over the past two and a half years (has it been that long?) and the idea of resetting my immune system was appealing.

But three days?!? Oh my. That's a long time. I'm not very good and certainly not regular in fasting for 24 hours, which is a customary practice in the Mormon Church once a month on the first Sunday of the month. I was not sure I could make it. I knew I could expect physical and mental discomforts, but I also felt that it would be a good opportunity for personal reflection regarding my eating habits, determining my motivations when it comes to food and how much of that is mental, and figuring out ways to combat my mental relationship with food.

Day One: Actually not too bad. On a normal day, I drink a lot of water, so I knew that wouldn't be a problem. In fact, I added about 30 ounces to my normal intake. Although on a regular day I eat breakfast by 9am, this time it didn't bother me. I had my water. I was good. By lunch time, I was a little hungry and I was smelling the goods my co-workers were having for lunch in their offices. I went downstairs to my car with my water bottle and took a nap. (Sleep is my other self-medication.) After lunch, I was a little uneasy at my desk, since usually I eat a piece of fruit or a sweet treat to get through the afternoon. But I knew I was getting my blood-work done that afternoon, so I powered through and took hope in leaving at 4pm to get that done. Interestingly, after my blood-work, as I got into the car, was the hardest moment. Typically when I'm fasting for blood-work, I have a little something to eat right after I'm done. This time however, I suddenly felt like I was starving myself. It's okay. Though I considered going shopping that night to keep my mind off of eating, I decided to go straight home so I wouldn't have the temptation of any food places. Since I wasn't eating dinner, I went up to my room and began blogging -- I have a lot of catching up to do. At about 7:30pm, I heard KDJ downstairs preparing her dinner and then within minutes I smelled the lovely smell of tacos. But I was okay because at that point I was proud I'd made it past the 24 hours mark. But don't get me wrong... being online there are food enticements everywhere! I began thinking of all the food I could make next week, when I will be easing my way back into eating. But let's be truthful... none of the food I'm thinking about is going to "ease" me back into eating. Four-cheese lasagna, sushi, cherry cobbler?

Also, right at about 7:30 or 8pm, my stomach started growling for the first time that I noticed all day.

Day Two:

I am now constantly thinking of all the yummy food items I could make. One pot pasta. Lemon blueberry cake. Phở. (Ooh, pho would be a good way to ease into eating again.) Pizza.

Right now I'm feeling irritable and a bit angry. I'm also feeling a bit light-headed. Every time I refill my water in the break room (today I'm already at 64 ounces), I get really sad that I can't fill up a mini dixie cup with snacks. There are three snack jars in the break room that are typically filled with things like nuts, or trail mix, or dried fruit. Today, I wish I could be snacking on yogurt-covered raisins. Or are they craisins? I don't know, but I'm starving myself, so I can't have them. This is ridiculous.

It's funny how I feel unsure of what to do next at every turn when I can't eat something. It's funny because it's not like I'm constantly eating on normal days, but maybe I am grazing a lot or something. Like last night when I didn't even want to be downstairs because I couldn't eat, so what was the point? I just stayed up in my room. Drinking my water.

Tonight, I happen to know that KDJ is planning to make black bean and mango salad. I want some so badly. Yum.

Day Three:

Well, interestingly, Day Three is easier than Day Two was. I guess I also know that I'm going to be eating dinner tonight too. That may help. I've already planned it. Phở. Yum. I can hardly wait it sounds so delicious. If you've never had it, you must try it.

I guess the thing I've noticed most in the last three days is how much of my life involves food. Social gatherings, sitting at my desk at work. I just think about food a lot. My relationship with food is complicated, I've noticed. Apparently, I eat out of habit, boredom, stress, anxiety, depression. Often, I found myself going to the fridge and just opening it up.

Water is my best good friend.

This has been an enlightening experience, which I plan to do again. Focusing on the spiritual and mental side of it has been interesting and I'd like to do that again. Interestingly, I've lost about 10 pounds. I'm sure it will come back as soon as I have the cycle of food in me, but it's nice to see that it can come off. Challenging myself and making myself come to terms with myself (if that makes sense). Maybe in a month or two. Maybe I'll be able to be more mentally controlled this time. Practice makes perfect, right?

But for now, I'll look forward to my delicious phở dinner tonight. Maybe I'll even get some Vietnamese fresh spring rolls. Delish.


Saturday, June 21, 2014

A Bowl Full of Cherries.

"Happiness can be found in the smallest of things. Make it your passion to transform everyday routines into meaningful rituals."

Several years ago, (and I mean several), my mom and I were reading some personality book or quiz or something. I can't even recall. But what I do remember is that the description it gave for me included a line that said due to my realistic nature, I probably don't even really understand the phrase, "life is just a bowl full of cherries." Let's face it. They nailed it. My brain just doesn't get it. Could be in part due to the fact that I never really liked cherries much growing up, so I didn't understand the draw. I never really liked any pit fruits for that matter. But as I've gotten older, and really since Mom and Stephen have had cherry trees in the yard, cherries have grown on me. And eating around the pit and spitting it out doesn't bother me like it used to.

This year the cherry trees in Mom's yard were full of fruit and for some reason the birds stayed away long enough for us to pick about fifty pounds of cherries.

We just kept picking and picking and picking. They were everywhere. I think we managed to get everything within a short ladder's reach. The higher fruit would have to be left for the birds.

Still not really sure what the bowl full of cherries quote is supposed to actually mean, but I sure did enjoy the serenity provided by picking and eating a few cherries myself.


Thursday, January 16, 2014

On to Riquewihr, France.

"A good snapshot stops a moment from running away."
~Eudora Welty

From Colmar, we drove north to Riquewihr, where we found yet another charming old town. Vineyards seemed to surround the city, blanketing the countryside. They were rather mesmerizing to me.

Riquewihr was largely untouched during World War II and is surrounded by medieval fortifications. Although the city looks, more or less, the same as it did in the 16th century I was told, we did see several things that probably would not have made an appearance back then.

Confetti lined the cobblestone sidewalks hinting at the joyful celebration which must have welcomed in the new year just two days before.

Just inside on the main street, we found a sad sight. We learned that the lights on a Christmas tree (or maybe candles in the house burning until late in the night, I can't remember) ignited one of the historic homes on fire and the older woman who lived there was not able to escape. She had died before the fire, which consumed 90% of her home and spilled into the adjacent home, was finally extinguished. A tragic loss of life, as well as a piece of history.

The demolished house stood between the bright blue one and the yellowish one to its left. You can see how the roof of the blue one was damaged.

Despite the tragedy and the solemn mood we felt in town, we were still able to see the quaintness of the community, which entices visitors all throughout the year.

And of course we couldn't leave without macaroons. Yum. Orange flavored, regular almond, and chocolate. And yes, the picture below tells the tale of our impatience... we each had one before we even got back into the car! They were SO good.

On our way home to Germany from Riquewihr while still in France, we stopped at a chocolate shop, Chocolaterie du Vignoble - Daniel STOFFEL.

Photo found here.

Photo found here.
Seriously, so much chocolate. Not that I'm complaining...

The overcast day was really beautiful to me because the clouds still had shape and the views were just spectacular.

Fred and Linda surprised us with a different (than their normal) route home, which included a ferry ride across the Rhine. Yes, we were driving. That meant that we drove our car onto the ferry, which only held three cars at a time and floated across the Rhine as the final snippets of daylight could be seen.

What a beautiful day and a beautiful night sky to end our day.

Tomorrow, is Rothenburg. Beautiful, quaint Rothenburg.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

A Day Trip to Colmar.

"Within our dreams and aspirations we find our opportunities."
~Sue Atchley Ebaugh

France! I'd never been to France before this trip. The drive from Stuttgart across the Rhein (Rhine) River to Colmar, on Friday, January 3rd, was really beautiful. I didn't take any pictures in the car that day, but the rolling hills and fields were beautiful. Colmar is the birthplace of Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi, the French sculptor who designed the Statue of Liberty. They even have their own replica of the Lady on the middle of a roundabout leading into the city.

Photo found here
It was a little odd to see a replica of Lady Liberty so far away from home, although it's obviously fitting. Certainly more fitting than seeing her in Las Vegas along the strip. Also, she stands as a symbol of hope, liberty, peace, and hope for continued good relationship between our two countries.

As we entered the town square, we came upon a statue of General Jean Rapp, a French Army general during the French Revolutionary Wars and Napoleonic Wars. General Rapp, apparently was born the son of the janitor of the town-hall of Colmar. Talk about working your way up the ranks. He started his education with the idea that he would be a clergyman, but soon found he was better suited to being in the military. Interesting, right?

Although I missed the real hustle and bustle of the Weihnachtsmarkts, the traditional French and German Christmas markets, most of Colmar was still decorated for the season. Apparently in both France and Germany, the decorations stay up through January 6th, Three Kings Day. So I definitely got a taste of the markets.

Christmas decorations were still up, but the crowns were out to celebrate Three Kings Day.

I loved the trees which were decorated simply in red balls. Next year, I will remember this and decorate my tree outside on my front lawn.

I love walking into churches in Europe, so we went inside this one as well. St. Martin's Catholic Church of Colmar. There were a few things that caught my eye: the nativity scene, a wooden sculpture of the Mother Mary holding the crucified Jesus, and the array of candles lit and waiting to be lit. Linda and I decided, after reading the prayer and plea to Heavenly Father, that we had to light a candle that day. And we did. There was something special about that candle in that church that day. That magical feeling I had while flying through the rainbow-filled clouds into Paris was alive in that church.

My candle is second from the left.

Linda knew exactly where to find the home, which was the birthplace of Bartholdi. The museum was not open that day, but there was a nice sculpture in the courtyard outside the home.

The sculpture, Statue des grands soutiens du monde, represents the three great supports of the world: labor (hold a hammer and an arm full of books), justice (holding a scale), and patriotism (holding a flag). I like how all three characters are on an equal plain. Not one is greater than the other. All three support the world.

Hansi's drawings are all over this part of France. I love the little faces and the colors in the drawings.

To end our tour of Colmar, we walked through the covered market, where we found cheeses, breads, nuts, fruits, and of course, pretzels.

Linda and Fred.

Despite the cold of winter, all the streets were teeming with colorfully painted buildings, one of my favorite things about Colmar. And though there was no real snow on the ground, you can see they made up for that by decorating with cotton quilt batting, you know... to remind you it was winter.

For the record, that was 60 pictures. You know, if you were counting.

Next up: same day, but on to Riquewihr, France.