Politicizing Everything

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I thought after November, my social media would be decluttered of the endless political posts. As it turns out, the election was just the beginning. Somehow everyone on Facebook, Twitter and even mainstream news channels feels the need to politicize everything.

For example: Apparently Beyonce is pregnant with twins. Great. Go Queen Bey.

I am honestly indifferent to the fact that some singer I feel ambivalent about is having twins. To me, that is not national news. But not only has Beyonce’s pregnancy become national news, it has become a breeding ground for more political posts, like this one:

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There are more black people inside Beyonce right now than in Trump’s cabinet.

Oh, really? Are we calling them “people” now? I thought they were just fetuses. 

Technically they are just fetuses, but that doesn’t change the fact that Trump is a racist bigot.

Trump has multiple minorities in his cabinet, including Ben Carson and Nikki Haley. And let’s not forget that Republicans ran a black man and two Hispanics, whereas Democrats ran two old, white people – exactly what the left accused the right of being.

I thought we were talking about the inane topic of Beyonce’s pregnancy. Why did this turn into a political discussion?!?!?!?!

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Super Bowl ads used to be a source of humor and joy, filled with heartwarming commercials of lost puppies finding their owners, hilarious nods to raw masculinity, and adorable clips of children who believe in magic.

This year, the Super Bowl commercials were thinly-veiled (or, at times, overt) commentaries on feminism, immigration and Trump himself. Not only were the once-enjoyable ads politically laced, but Lady Gaga’s halftime show has been somehow called a triumph for the LGTBQ community, despite the fact that she did not come out and make the strong political statement she’d alluded to (for which I am thankful).

Can we go back to a day without political booby-traps at every turn? I’d like to be able to go shopping without being bombarded with news about Nordstrom dropping Ivanka Trump’s line. I’d like to be able to go to work without facing questions about my view on evil “Big Oil”. I never thought I’d long for the days when I missed all of the engagement pictures and pregnancy announcements on my Facebook newsfeed, but congratulations, world. You have pushed me over the edge… Bring back the Clydesdales, and bring back the baby pictures!!!

Authentically Aurora

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Lessons in Teaching

teacher-crush

I’ve started substitute teaching every other Friday while I finish up my teaching certification, and I already feel like I have some battle scars. Little kids say adorable things, but young adults say deplorable things.

A few weeks ago, I observed a 9th grade math class. I started talking to one of the boys near my desk in the brief moments before the bell rang. I don’t remember what we discussed, but I must have made some kind of impression because thirty seconds later, he asked me, “Are you sure you want to be a teacher? You seem too smart to be a teacher.”

It’s exactly this stereotype of teaching being a “less than” career option that made God have to spend 7 years humbling me in Corporate America before I would consider investing in young lives through teaching.

In another classroom, one of the boys called out in the middle of a lesson, “Did you just graduate from college? You look like you’re still in high school!” They thought I was 21 and were shocked to learn I am 29. Me too, kid. Me, too.

Evidently the physical appearance of a mere 5 year age gap was acceptable because, armed with the knowledge of my ancient-ness, one of the sophomore running backs promptly invited me to his Homecoming football game later that night. I politely declined.

Then last week, my 8th grade math class found out that I already participated in early voting and wanted to know which presidential candidate I voted for. I decided it was wisest not to answer. Unfortunately, this meant speculation from the students.

A chunky Hispanic boy called out, “I bet she voted for Hillary because she’s a woman!”

A skinny African American boy countered loudly, “No, I bet she voted for Trump because she’s white!”

Telling the story to a friend later, I commented that I’m glad their political views will mature as they age to consist of more than simply a basis in race and gender. Then I realized, to my horror and dismay, that not much about their political views will change in the next thirty years. Just look at our adult population.

Authentically Aurora

Clinton’s Incredible Health

incredible [inˈkredəb(ə)l]- (adj.) not credible; without credence; not to be believed

My office building has a Starbucks in the lobby, and yesterday while waiting for my coffee, I passively watched the morning news on a nearby TV screen. Representative Steny Hoyer was being interviewed on NBC, and because of the noise level in the coffee shop, subtitles were turned on.

clinton-healthAlthough uninterested at first, I soon read that Rep. Hoyer (D) was being questioned about the state of Hillary Clinton’s health. This again? What about the real issues? 

I do not wish ill on Hillary. As Libertarian presidential nominee Gary Johnson said, “Look, I hope she gets well, and I hope this doesn’t linger. Pneumonia is a really serious thing, but you know what, running for president, that’ll do it to you.” If she really is sick, I hope she gets better. And if she’s not, I hope she stops fabricating fictional news to distract from the real issues.

Focusing my attention on the TV screen, I could not hear what Rep. Hoyer was saying, but I read the subtitles and laughed out loud when I saw these words: “…the results of a full physical examination by incredible medical professionals…”

He went on to say how strong and healthy Clinton is; that voters have no reason to be concerned. As a Democratic Representative, I have to wonder how carefully he chose his words. He wants the full medical report to be shared with voters – physical exam results from incredible medical professionals.

incredible [inˈkredəb(ə)l]- (adj.) not credible; without credence; not to be believed

Whether Hillary is facing serious health issues or not, I have no doubt that she is in the hands of some incredible medical professionals who can churn out whatever physical results best suit her campaign.

I love America. We really do have some incredible politicians.

Authentically Aurora

Paris – Day 2

IMG_5639.jpgRachel and I started our second day in Paris with a mid-morning brunch at Le Tourville near Ecole Militaire. I ordered a Croque Monsieur and cafe au lait; then watched people hurrying through the morning rain from the safety of my covered awning.

While Rachel made use of the cafe’s Wi-fi connection, I met a nice German couple from Stuttgart and also made friends with our waiter, Leandre. He taught me some new phrases (“C’est bon”) and invited us to join him that evening at Hobo Club discotek.

Due to the EuroCup, Champs de Mars was closed to the public, but we were able to at least walk by, and in the process, we also passed right by the base of the Eiffel Tower. Circling back to Ecole Militaire, we found Rue Cler and enjoyed its Open Air Market despite the drizzling rain. Rachel bought raspberries, I got blueberries, and we strolled in the rain eating our bite-sized fruit.

IMG_5672.jpgAround the corner, we stumbled upon LeNotre. The little bakery specialized in macaroons, and although I have never liked macaroons in the US, I decided to try some, and they were the best macaroons I’ve ever had! Throughout the rest of the trip, Rachel and I ate a lot of macaroons, but no one – not even the famous Laduree – came close to LeNotre’s macaroons: soft and flavorful with just the right amount of chewiness.

While eating my strawberry hibiscus and dark chocolate macaroons, I accompanied Rachel to a bookstore where she bought a children’s book in French for her nephew. She has decided to buy him a book in every country she visits. He won’t be able to read them, but she thinks someday he will appreciate having a collection of children’s books in other languages. Time will tell.

In the afternoon, we made our way to Rue du Commerce, a street of boutiques where the locals shop. I got a really cute coral pencil skirt with scalloped edging. Afterward in the Metro, we got stuck behind a Polish football fan whose RATP card wouldn’t work, so Rachel gave him one of hers.

IMG_5743.jpg“Where you from?” he asked us, wondering at the kindness of strangers. When we told him America, he invited us for beers and to join them in watching the soccer match. I told him we were on our way to a cafe instead. “Cafe?! No, no no,” he said to me. “Cafe bad. Beer good!” the boisterous Polski declared with a grin before running off with his friends singing a song in Polish at the top of his lungs.

Back at Rue Cler (quickly becoming one of our favorite hideaways), Rachel and I each ordered cafe au lait and split a scrumptious raspberry tart at Le Petit Cler. Although the maitre d’ was outrageously rude, the food was delicious, and we made a lot of new friends:

  • 3 British soccer fans took a liking to us and poured us some champagne when I joked that, “obviously,” I was pulling for Britain in the EuroCup.
  • 2 Welsh guys in their 40s, one of whom (Garreth) took a liking to me and had a great, long conversation about politics (e.g. effect of the legal drinking age of 21 in the US and decline of the pub scene in Britain) as well as religion. Garreth just started reading his childhood bible about two months ago and invited us to the Half Penny Pub when he left. We got invited for drinks by nearly everyone we met!
  • 2 young, fashionable women were seated next to us at Le Petit Cler, and when I heard one of them speak, I picked up her American accent. Daria, as she soon introduced herself, turned out to be from my hometown, and she’d met Agathe – her French companion – when they both attended Fashion School in London.

IMG_5755.jpgRachel and I hit it off so well with Daria and Agathe that we all walked down the block to Cafe Central where Agathe insisted we all try the famous Berthillon gelato. I ordered the nut flavor, and it was delicious (similar to Nutella)! After we all exchanged contact information (yay for new friends!), we said good night (“bonne nuit”).

Our Metro line 6 skipped over our Passy stop, so Rachel and I got off at Trocadero and walked through the picturesque Palais de Chaillot – lit up at night – to get home to our shared full-sized bed and porta-shower at the top of our seven flights of stairs. I found that our temporary “home sweet home” made my actual home all the sweeter. C’est bon.

Authentically Aurora

La Douceur du Foyer

Flowers from SethI just got home from Paris last night, greeted at the airport by Seth’s smiling face. He’d offered to pick me up and left work early to do so, showing up looking handsome in a blue-and-white plaid button-down tucked into khaki slacks. He wrapped me in a hug and then, from behind his back, pulled a beautiful bouquet of sunflowers dotted with tiny purple daisies. My favorite.

He insisted on carrying my luggage, kissed me sweetly when we were alone in the elevator, and made dinner for me while I showered at home, washing off more than 15 hours of travel. Other than my daddy, I’ve never had a man meet me at the airport with flowers – and certainly not cook dinner for me as well. Seth makes me feel like a princess.

I’m still processing everything I saw and experienced during my whirlwind of a trip to Paris, but in the meantime, my travel-fogged brain has been musing over a couple of things.

I got sick my first day in Paris, and I am not sure if it’s because:

  1. I was stuck in a petri dish of an airplane for ten hours with coughers and sneezers,
  2. My body subconsciously wanted my French to sound more authentic (i.e. more nasal-y), or
  3. I am allergic to socialism.

With the EuroCup going on, Rachel and I made a lot of new friends – British, Welsh, Polish and German, but no French. I was disappointed to discover that Parisians were just as rude as all the stereotypes. I’m wondering if this is because:

  1. They’re bitter about only being back-to-back World War Champs because of American rescue,
  2. They have stale baguettes stuck up their butts, or
  3. They are living under the stench of European socialism.

In the 18 hours I have been back in America, I have already experienced some reverse culture shock. Most notably:

  1. When someone passed me on the street this morning, I surprised myself by automatically clutching my purse closer to my side, wary of pickpockets.
  2. I walked past two women talking in the office and heard one begin her sentence, “We pardoned…” and was stunned to realize that my mind heard, “Oui, pardon!” I think I need to purge my brain of the last week of French speaking.
  3. I passed by a TV screen declaring Hillary is picking up votes. Not that I’m exactly a Trump supporter, but I’d thought I was escaping socialism when I came home and was disheartened to realize that  – in actuality – perhaps the difference in culture is not quite as significant as I’d hoped. Regardless, I am beyond thankful to be back home in the Land of the Free & Home of the Brave.

Yay ‘Merica.

thatcher-socialism

Authentically Aurora

Mouths of Babes

Cherry LipsPeople love to be outraged. The public loves a scandal, and individuals are always looking for opportunities to be offended. As a general populace, we live for rallying behind causes, speaking our disgust of the latest societal indignation at every turn and posting impassioned commentary on social media whenever possible.

But how many people turn their words into action? Are we an impassioned people for nothing more than the sake of our own amusement? Is it simply entertaining to discuss the latest humanitarian crisis or political affront? How many of us are legitimately invested in putting action to our outrage?

In an effort to be a woman of action – a woman who seeks to genuinely make an impact in the areas where my heart is stirred – I have recently gotten involved with a local organization that aids refugees in our city with learning English, navigating the citizenship process, and ultimately finding sustainable jobs by which they can support their families.

Over the past couple of months, I have developed a welcome packet for refugees in our city, outlining a number of 1-12 week training programs that equip graduates with various nationally recognized certificates that will allow them to qualify for different jobs in our city. Some careers included are more technical and some are more service-oriented, but regardless of the job category, I have ensured that I outlined not only the time requirement but also the cost of the program as well as the anticipated annual income of each of the career paths listed.

The director of the organization, a 30-something named Justin, reached out to me a couple of weeks ago and invited me over for dinner with his wife and two children. “You’ve done so much work for our organization,” he told me, “But I’ve never even met you in person! Please come over for dinner as our way of thanking you. Our family would love to get to know you.”

So I went. Justin’s wife made a delicious sweet potato and black bean chili (seriously, one of the most delicious things I’ve ever tasted), and after a fun dinner of getting to know each other, we moved into the living room where Justin and his wife started telling me some of the amazing success stories from their organization’s efforts this year. While his parents talked, four-year-old Josiah (the elder of Justin’s two sons) climbed up into my lap on the couch. Surprised but pleased, I stroked his soft, baby-fine hair while I listened to his parents.

In the middle of one of his dad’s stories, Josiah suddenly crawled out of my lap, turned around to face me, and interrupted his dad mid-sentence.

“Do you got a lie?” The four-year-old was looking directly at me, brow furrowed.

“Excuse me, what?” I wasn’t quite sure what he was asking or how to respond to his sudden question.

“Do you GOT a LIE?” Josiah asked with emphasis, putting his tiny hands on either side of my face to look deeply into my eyes.

Slightly concerned, I glanced at his dad, and Justin translated for me. “He’s asking you if you’re believing a lie.”

“Oh. No. I don’t think I’m believing any lies, Josiah.” I directed my answer to the young boy. “What lie to you think I’m believing?”

At this point, Josiah had lost interest, turning away from me to play with a blue light saber he found on the living room floor. Between swishing noises he made with his mouth, Josiah responded to my question in his high-pitched voice, “That God won’t provide.”

My eyes widened in shock. What kind of four-year-old makes that kind of comment?!

Justin, less shocked than I was at his son’s declaration, prodded him further. “What does Aurora not think God will provide for her?”

Josiah continued running around the living room, waving his light saber around and making accompanying sword-fighting noises with his pursed lips. He didn’t even look up when his tiny voice spoke the words of truth: “A husband.”

I nearly fell off the couch. My eyes bugged out, staring at Josiah and then his dad. Justin got up from his chair, went to a bookshelf and picked up a small black notebook and a pen. He scribbled away in his notebook, detailing yet another story to tell Josiah when his son got older.

As Justin bent over this journal of sorts, he asked his son another question. “And why is that a lie, Josiah?”

Josiah looked up at me this time when he answered. “Because He will.”

Goosebumps raced up and down my arms. Trying to take it all in, I glanced at Josiah’s mom; then back at Justin when he directed his next question to me. “Do you receive that, Aurora? Do you believe God will provide you with a husband?”

“I do,” I told him, and the words echoed in my mind like a wedding vow; a foreshadowing of things to come; of something spoken and promised and sealed.

In that moment, the lights went out. I looked around, wondering what in the world was happening now, but by the moonlight I spotted Josiah in the kitchen by the light switch. His mom asked him, “Josiah, why are you turning out the lights?”

“Because it’s time to anoint her.”

I gave up on being shocked. This child was other-wordly.

Justin just chucked. Apparently this was normal behavior for his son. “Okay, get the oil.” And then, to me, “Are you okay with this?” I just nodded.

So Josiah reappeared in the living room with a small glass bowl of oil while his mom lit some candles around the room. Josiah handed me his blue light saber, now lit up in the blackness, and he told me it could be my own personal candle while he prayed for me.

Josiah silently dipped his thumb in the oil, spread the oil in a horizontal line across my forehead, and – at his dad’s prompting – said a quick prayer that God would heal my heart and that I would trust God’s provision for a husband. And just like that, the light saber was snatched out of my hand, and the swooshing noises started again as Josiah decided it was time to play with his little brother, the two of them dancing around the carpet in a mock battle.

I was astonished by how quickly Josiah switched from solemn speaker of truth to rambunctious little boy. He is a special child, and although I am still processing all that took place that unexpected evening, I felt touched to have gotten a glimpse of the Holy Spirit’s working in that young boy. His parents are doing what they can to step into the hurt and chaos of the refugee crisis, and Josiah himself is, in his own way, also doing what he can – in ways he may not even understand yet – to bring hope and healing.

“O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens. Out of the mouth of babies and infants, you have established strength because of your foes, to still the enemy and the avenger. When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?” -Psalm 8

Authentically Aurora

Sweet Potato Black Bean Chili Recipe

Redefining STEM

STEM education

I hear about STEM all the time: Science, Technology, Engineering & Math education. As someone who works for a major oil company and also volunteers in the local school system, I feel constantly bombarded by rhetoric about pushing STEM education, particularly for young girls (who society ignorantly thinks are focused entirely on frivolities).

Our elementary and junior high students are the makers of either our future economic prosperity or hardship, so I can understand why so many individuals in both government and industry want STEM education raised as a national priority. But I am a proponent of small government and, still further, I don’t think a laser focus on STEM education will result in the desired outcome. If the desired outcome is a thriving economy, I believe in providing a well-rounded education, allowing for a natural synthesis of science and liberal arts in young minds, and then equipping people to do what they are passionate about.

America was built on creativity, passion, ingenuity and independence. More than forcing children into STEM careers, we should equip them to do what they love. Pushing students into engineering, if that’s not what interests them, is not the secret to building a great economy. They will end up frustrated and burned out, leaving for a different career path or, worse still, staying for the money, becoming a liability to their employer because their driving force is not intrinsic but financial.

Although less than a fifth of high school students report as being interested in STEM careers, I believe the situation is not as dire as some imagine. I have an engineering degree, but I never use anything I learned in school. My day job does not require me to do differential equations or engineering physics calculations. Could I figure out how to solve these complex math problems? Yes. But would I enjoy it? Probably not. Am I still able to do a good job working for a major oil company? Yes.

The girls in my Sunday school class constantly amaze me. This week, we talked about the bible’s most famous set of best friends: David and Jonathan. During craft time, my 1st and 2nd graders decorated large gold stars cut out of construction paper, writing kind notes to their best friends on the stars.

Earlier in the morning, Abigail – a sweet, quiet bookworm in the group – had been telling me about a children’s book she’s writing and illustrating. It’s about a unicorn who was once a fairy. I asked Abigail about her favorite subject in school. I wasn’t surprised at her answer: English. She wrinkled her nose when I told her that I love math and am an engineer. But I’ve seen in Abigail the makings of a brilliant engineer, despite her dislike of math.

While all of the other girls dug through bins of markers and stickers to decorate their stars, Abigail folded in four arms of her star to the center, taping them in place. Then she folded the fifth arm of the star into the center, tucking it into the pocket created by the four other points of the star. On a separate piece of paper, she wrote a note to her friend, which she tucked into her “star pocket”.

When everyone was finished, we hung the golden stars on the blackboard. I smiled to myself, seeing Abigail’s imaginative little “star pocket” standing out among all of the other stars stretched out along the blackboard. I almost took a picture so that I could caption it, “Dare to be different.”

After the other girls saw Abigail’s “star pocket”, they all wanted her to teach them how to make one, too. So I watched petite little Abigail lead the other elementary school girls in making pockets, too. Abigail is a leader, but she’s not a showy leader. She marches to the beat of her own drum. She displays a quiet confidence that draws others to her. The makings of greatness are written into the core of her being, but it’s not the result of a great STEM education. The intangibles that will make Abigail great are the result of natural giftings and great parenting.

Abigail doesn’t like math. She likes English. But she is constantly shining with inventiveness and creativity. And that –more than excellent math skills – is what we need in our future scientists and engineers.

Authentically Aurora