Press Play

Sometimes in life we have to hit the pause button. Particularly being a fairly ambitious, wannabe overachieving twenty-something American, my life tends to move pretty quickly with very little time left to just, well, live. I am a constant planner, obsessively planning things just for fun: vacations, parties, lessons. I don’t cope well with doing nothing. Then something happens that makes us stop in our tracks and remember that it is ok to just stand still for a while.

Rewind to a little over a month ago. I, having just now felt comfortable with my job duties decided it was time to extend my responsibilities. I wanted to get involved in my community and in local politics. I joined a couple of organizations and before I knew it I was set to be the coordinator for all of the colleges and universities in San Antonio for a particular candidate for governor. I was back to my NYC mode: constantly checking emails, voicemails, Twitter updates, Facebook posts, everything. I would get home from working a full day at the center and spend another four to five hours researching and doing work for my new political role. This is the kind of stuff I lived for.

Then my Grams got diagnosed with cancer.

It is still kind of weird to say it out loud. Even though we have received promising news from the doctors, it wasn’t that difficult to decide that I should slow down a little and enjoy life and just press pause for a minute. I stepped down from my college coordinator role and (as you may or may not have noticed) stopped writing for a while. I didn’t want to think about my life, didn’t want to analyze it, I just wanted to live it. I wanted to be free to take care of my Grams if she would need it. I wanted to be available to my family should I need to step up my personal responsibilities. I didn’t want to have to rearrange my “schedule” to spend time with my Grams. My mom flew in from DC to come back home indefinitely while all of this is going on and I wanted to be near and spend time with my family.

So that is where I have been for the past six to eight weeks. Contrary to popular belief, I have not spent the last month and a half mourning the end of my favorite show Lost (though I do get kind of sad on Tuesday nights when I flip to ABC and realize it is not coming on). This is the first time I have written in a long time and it feels good to be back.¬†I feel now that it is ok for me to write again, even if I don’t have a specific agenda in mind. I feel encouraged that (according to wordpress anyway) that people have still stopped by to check in and see if I had updated my blog lately. Thanks guys, I appreciate that.

This break was much needed, but I am ready to press play.

PS: Last week, my mom, dad, uncle and grandfather celebrated Grams’ 69th birthday with delicious¬†barbecue, cake and ice cream. The next day she got her latest test results back that gave us the green light for a promising surgery (most often with her form of cancer, by the time it is detected it is inoperable and incurable). Grams is doing well and is scheduled for surgery on July 27th. ūüôā

Who knew the SBOE was so good at Photoshop?

The decisions made by the SBOE are reprehensible. ¬†This isn’t about politics, this is about educating our future generation. We are crippling young Texans when we do not equip them with the education to compete nationally or globally for college and the workforce. If the future workforce of Texas is unprepared, our future economy will suffer the consequences. If we do not provide the intellectual capital to compete on a global scale, we will see our more prepared competitors step up to the plate.

You cannot change history in hopes of stalling the future. In fact, if you spin, omit or lie about history to younger generations, you handicap the future of our state. The SBOE photoshopped their way through history: blurring lines here, fixing blemishes there in hopes of presenting our—dare I say, flawed national history as some sort of picture perfect Stepford nation.

The truth of the matter is that we are not perfect. A great nation yes, but an imperfect one nonetheless. How can we expect to form a more perfect union if we refuse to accept the mistakes of our past? How can we even consider ourselves a union when we choose to omit the patriotic efforts of those with a different skin tone than our own? How can we move forward as a country if we choose to spend time playing games of semantics instead of coming to terms with the flaws in capitalism and working to overcome them?

I would love to send my future children to public schools and lucky for me, there may still be hope for them. We have a choice to make, we can stay quiet and accept the status quo, accept the stereotypes associated with Texas education (in case you aren’t familiar, our state isn’t exactly looked at as a beacon of knowledge and intelligence) or we can stand up. We can speak up, raise our hands and say “I don’t think so!” We can raise our hands by casting our ballots. Not just in the big leagues, but on the local levels, get to know the members of your local school board. Know the names on your ballots, know what commitment they will make to the education of future Texans and hold them accountable.

Book Report

I love a good book. I just wrapped up The Global Achievement Gap: Why even our best schools don’t teach the new survival skills our children need–and what we can do about it by Tony Wagner.

The notion of the racial achievement gap and the achievement gaps between rich suburban kids and kids from inner cities is pretty much common knowledge (while the causes of said gaps and how to fix them are widely debated). This book though has nothing to do with those educational fails. This book, as the title suggests, lays out why even the best of the best from the US are still not good enough when you compare us with countries around the world competing for a place in the global economy.

The author is co-director of the Change leadership Group at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and besides having worked as an educator himself, he acts as a consultant to schools, districts and foundations on education reform. In the book he speaks to corporate CEOs and college and university leaders in hopes of discovering what essential knowledge high school graduates need in order to succeed in post-secondary education and/or the workforce. What he found time and time again, was that content knowledge took a back seat to essential skills and the consensus was that a majority of American high school graduates (including those from prestigious private college preparatory schools) were severely lacking those skills.

I won’t give a full-on book report, but I will list some highlights (stats, quotes, points) that I took notes on (yes, I am a note taker when I read). These are things that spoke to me when I was reading and the sorts of topics that I think would make for an interesting¬†dialogue. I don’t know about you, but I really enjoy a good intellectual, political or ideological discussion over some food and/or drinks. It is a way to challenge yourself and your beliefs and in some instances, create a passion and desire for activism. Open dialogue, in my opinion, is an anecdote for apathy.

So here are some of the highlights!

Wagner discovered that employers and colleges alike are looking for employees and students with Seven Survival Skills. These skills, he believes, are what the school of the 21st century should have as the foundation of all curriculum and instruction. If the content being taught does not lead to the acquisition of these skills, that school is not preparing their graduates to be competitive in the global community. They are:

U.S. high school graduation rate: 70%. Denmark: 96%. Japan: 93%. Poland: 92%. Italy: 79%.

40% of all students who enter college must take remedial courses.

  1. Critical Thinking and Problem Solving
  2. Collaboration Across Networks and Leading by Influence
  3. Agility and Adaptability
  4. Initiative and Entrepreneurialism
  5. Effective Oral and Written Communication Skills
  6. Accessing and Analyzing Information
  7. Curiosity and Imagination

“What goes on in classrooms today, is the same stuff as fifty years ago, and that is just not going to cut it.”

Thomas Jefferson is said to be the first to declare that literacy is the key to citizenship.

“Kids are learning to read but not learning how to think or care about what they read, nor are they learning to clearly communicate ideas orally and in writing.”

The NEW 3 Rs: Rigor, Relevance, and Relationships

“‘Navigation’ may well be the main form of literacy for the 21st century.” John Seely Brown, author, Growing Up Digital

“Having a choice of schools is critically important.”

And perhaps the most important question the author posed came in the conclusion. It seemed fitting to conclude with this thought as it is this question that is the prologue to education reform (in my humble opinion):

What does it mean to be an educated adult in the 21st century?

So if you are looking for a good book, you know which one I am going to recommend. ūüôā

Weekend Bathroom Makeover Completed!

I wanted to finish my bathroom makeover by the time my mom came in to town from Fairfax, Virginia. You know, sort of a “Surprise! I’m living in your house while you are in Virginia and I re-did the bathroom!” As you may or may not remember, I finally decided on a paint color. That was the hard part! I knew exactly what I wanted, I just had to find the exact color that matched my inspiration. I wanted a relaxed beachy spa feel without being beached themed. I absolutely love theme parties, any excuse to wear a cut off sweatshirt and leggings while listening to the best of the 80s is fine by me. I do not however love themed decor. This isn’t Disneyworld, we don’t need to take a trip to “Underwaterland” or “Texasland” or any other “land”. Those who cannot tell the difference between inspired and themed, are often left with bathrooms that have palm tree motifs and seahorse figurines.

Anywho, I had a very, very small budget so the changes were small but achieved exactly what I set out to do. I do consider it a work in progress though as there are some additional changes I want to make including getting new electrical plate covers and changing the knobs on the main and linen closet doors. I didn’t take any “before” pictures (like a dummy) but I did take some “pre-makeover” pictures. If it helps, the previous decor was just as bad as the dirty drop cloth and blue painters tape.

…tape up, now for the paint…

…and, VOILA!

Ah I’m so excited! I am just thrilled that it didn’t turn into a complete disaster or that I didn’t completely ruin my parent’s house or seriously injure myself in the process!

So if you are wondering: the paint color is Mint Whisper from Valspar. It is a kitchen and bath formula, a semigloss I think, I just told the lovely employees at Lowe’s that I was painting a small bathroom and needed something durable that didn’t make my walls look like someone rubbed Vaseline on them. The “artwork” is all homespun stuff. The picture above the porcelain throne is a photograph of my feet in the sand which I took on vacation a few years ago put in a frame I purchased from Target ¬†about 3 years ago. That same picture used to be in my kitchen in my old apartment and served as the inspiration for the entire bathroom re-do. The wood crates were found in the garage that used to hold gift sets from Bath & Body Works many, many years ago (SO glad my mom and grams keep this kind of stuff for “future craft projects”). I used an old salsa jar (Clint’s Texas Salsa if you must know–the only salsa that matters) to house my Q-tips and another glass jar from the garage to house the cotton balls. I have a lovely chocolate brown shower curtain that is M.I.A. so while I continue the search, I got a fresh white shower curtain liner from Target for about $2 (and I like the white so much I may just keep it and make some white DIY shower curtains later on). The hand towel is new also (on sale for $3 from Target). I really wanted all new soft white towels for myself but didn’t have the budget for it. I figure if I put out a crisp fresh “guest towel” (I feel so grown up!) no one will know that I am using super un-cute forest green towels (casualties from the previous decor scheme)…except that now you all know…oops.

The picture on the sink is actually art: it is a photograph taken by my friend Amanda back in college. It is a photo of me, well, the back of my head/neck and my earring. I like that she has the ability to see art in the everyday sort of things and I love having something beautiful that is personal and done by someone I actually know! The other piece of “art” is a homespun idea. My mother got me a small wood framed mirror from Ikea for about $3 and I had it for about 6 months, before I knew exactly where to put it and what to do with it. The wood was unfinished so it was a totally blank canvas. I covered up the mirror with a photo from a magazine that I cut out and put in my inspiration binder for bathroom ideas. Then I walked around the backyard and picked up sticks from our weeping willow and hot glued them around the frame (and got burned several times in the process). I thought about staining the frame first, but I kind of liked the idea of having different colors of wood, it looked a little less finished, more organic, more relaxed. I like it because it brings in the whole beach inspiration again and also incorporated natural elements without being over the top.

So there you have it, my first home makeover project and it was a success!

9 by Design

I was SO excited about the premiere of the new Bravo show, 9 by Design. I will admit that my must-see tv roster has greatly declined over the past several years. I really just don’t watch that much tv (besides Lost) but when I do, I enjoy watching either super nerdy stuff like National Geographic, Travel Channel or design shows on HGTV. Whereas I used to spend hours watching television, I now prefer to spend the same number of hours reading books and magazines at bookstores and libraries. One such book I recently enjoyed was Downtown Chic by Robert and Cortney Novogratz and when I found out they were getting their own show, I couldn’t wait for the premiere.

You see, the Novogratz are awesome. They buy houses, totally re-do them and transform the most undesirable buildings into amazing family homes for them and their seven (yes, seven) kids. Their previous home (they just recently moved into new digs on the West side of Manhattan) was an abandoned gun shop in NYC that they turned into an amazing townhome complete with a rooftop ¬†basketball court with a dome (because you shouldn’t have to worry about basketballs going over the fence and onto the street below). Now I know that they aren’t the first fiscally superior couple to renovate their homes, but it is their sense of style and creativity that made me like their design aesthetic. They mix high, low, modern, vintage, art and rummage and create a comfortable family atmosphere that is uniquely representative of them. And that is what good design (and style) is (in my humble opinion): it is an outward, creative reflection of you.

Whether you are into architecture and/or interior design or not, you gotta check out their new house overlooking the Hudson River.

Putting the Fab in Pre-Fab

I am kind of obsessed right now with modern architecture, design and art. Through my internet hunting I have come across a bunch of innovative, and surprisingly appealing pre-fab houses. Now don’t get it twisted, these aren’t your grandmothers pre-fab houses. Long gone are the bland designs of old school Sears pre-fab homes or the cheap, trashy stigma associated with mobile homes. The first time I really became familiar with the new generation of pre-fab houses was at an exhibit at MoMA in New York while I was a PR intern. While that opening night was an awesome, overall only one of the pre-fab houses looked like a place where someone could comfortably live. The other two were more like concept homes than a potential residence. But these houses I found online, I actually want to live in. Shockingly well-priced (especially when you factor in the savings on energy costs and the low maintenance of the building materials) and surprisingly warm and inviting, I can totally see pre-fab houses popping up more rapidly in progressive cities like Austin over the next ten years. The followng pictures are from Austin based modular design firm Ma.

Ma is a modular home design firm out of Austin. It is actually a subsidiary of a larger firm, KRDB which has amazing modern custom homes which typically cost more than the pre-fab homes of Ma. I love how the homes have large expanses of glass and take advantage of outdoor space. The homes are just so light and airy, contrary to what many people think of when they hear “modern design”.

If you are just as obsessed as I am now, check out http://www.mamodular.com/.

Crave: Retro Inspired Bicycle

So I have this fantasy of riding through the streets of Paris on a bicycle, wearing nautical horizontal stripes and a beret with a fresh baguette sticking out of the front basket. But in reality, I live in Texas where tee shirts and flip flops are considered fashion staples and tortillas replace bread.

One of the great things about living in San Antonio though is the fact that I am so close to adorable surrounding cities like New Braunfels, Wimberly and Gruene with picturesque town centers and adorable antique shops. These are perfect places for spending the afternoon exploring on a bicycle.

I have my sights set on this super cute vintage looking bike from Huffy. Once this is in my possession, I will swap out the nautical stripes and beret for a floral dress and straw hat. *Sigh* I feel a new fantasy coming along…summer breeze, makes me feel fine, blowing through the jasmine in my miiiind.