Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Vulnerability and Bravery: (Swimming) Lessons

By Laura S. Logan

I’m honored to have been asked to contribute to this blog. Lynne’s Brave Project is a source of inspiration and comfort to me. Although I am not engaged in a “Brave Project” per se, I am engaged in a process of deliberate personal and professional development. To that end, one of my goals this summer was to learn how to swim.

Why swimming?
I’m an overweight 50-year-old college professor who spends a good bit of time sitting at a desk or hunched over books to read and stacks of papers to grade. One of my goals was to find a form of exercise I’d enjoy. Swimming is good exercise and I thought it would be fun or relaxing. It’s also a form of exercise that’s easy on the body, relatively. I wanted to exercise but I wasn’t keen on taking my large sedentary body out for a run – yet I wanted something more than walking. I also wanted to do something that would require me to leave the house, wear some kind of exercise gear, and otherwise take deliberate and unfamiliar action aimed at improving my physical health and managing my stress. Finally, I selected swimming because I wanted to learn something new to me, to be a student and have a teacher. In the college classroom, I am the teacher. To some extent, I wanted to place myself in the position of my students. Each semester, I ask students to learn new material, to push themselves to think more critically, to see more of the world’s complications, to imagine more sustainable and equitable ways of addressing the world’s challenges – and to display not only what they know and what they are learning but also what they do not know, what they are still learning, and what they don’t understand. As someone with years of college education, I know firsthand that being a student is often an exercise in frustration and vulnerability. I suspected learning how to swim would put me in touch with those feelings, would foster even more empathy for my students. I wanted to be not only a learner but a vulnerable learner. So I decided to learn how to swim.

What did I learn?
My first couple of lessons were focused on getting comfortable in the water and learning how to submerge and breathe without panicking when I got water up my nose. But there were many lessons unrelated to the pool. For instance, I never played sports in school and had little experience with a locker room or exercise facility. Although others may find these things easy to navigate, it was challenging to figure out what to bring with me, how to dress when I left the house, and how to carry a wet swimming suit home without drenching my car seat. I learned those things largely through trial and error. On my first day of swimming lessons, I wore my bathrobe home because that seemed like a good idea (it wasn’t). I received more than one surprised glance from other swimmers and early morning exercisers as I dripped home in my wet suit and my overly large, floor-length bathrobe. More than once, the lessons outside the pool prompted me to imagine what it must be like to leave home and come to college, to learn not only how to think critically in my sociology courses but do so while figuring out how to navigate the new environment of the college campus. I felt a sense of awe about and appreciation for my first year students, especially.

As I mentioned, my first swimming lesson goal was to get comfortable in the water and learn how to submerge and breathe without panicking when I got water up my nose. Once I learned how to blow bubbles, which I do at the start of each lesson, my instructor asked me to show her what I do know about swimming. I laughingly (nervously) told her that I knew how not to sink but she had me show her how I do not sink and then she told me that I was doing a stroke very close to the breaststroke so that’s where we began. I learned that we sometimes know more than we know we know.

I learned the breaststroke first, which requires thinking about how I use my arms and legs at the same time. Whew! Thinking about how my body moves in this way was so new to me! It’s quite the challenge! Through the lesson and my practice sessions, I can now comfortably (if not also gracefully) do the breaststroke. I have also learned how to do the flutter kick and freestyle swim, and I am working on the backstroke. Here’s something interesting about the flutter kick. It starts at the hip, not the knee. I didn’t know that. But it makes a world of difference in how efficiently and quickly the body moves through water. If one kicks from the knee, the body is working hard and moving relatively slowly. If one kicks from the hip, the body is working hard but moving relatively quickly.  To the untrained or unobservant eye, both ways of kicking look the same. There’s more than one lesson here. What must it be like for my students who know how to complete a paper but who do not know how to do so without inordinate and exhausting hours of labor? Metaphorically, are my students doing the flutter kick from the hip or from the knee, I wondered. I vowed to be more observant and make sure I was as good a teacher for them as my swimming teacher was for me.

I’m still working on breathing while swimming, which is surprisingly difficult for me. I’m not used to thinking about breathing. I just breathe, right? In some ways, swimming is a somewhat meditative practice because I don’t think about anything except my breathing and my body movements. I don’t think about what I need to do that day, or what I look like, or about the long list of people I will see and think about that day. I don’t even think about others in the pool. I am more in the moment while swimming that I can recall being at any time in my life. Yet each lesson and each practice session builds me into a better swimmer, connecting those moments that seem so singular at the time. I am simultaneously swimming and learning how to swim. I wonder if my students see themselves as learners who are becoming learners, if they are immersed in moments of learning but also aware of how they are building knowledge and skills moment by moment.

Final Thoughts
I don’t know all the ways that these lessons will ultimately benefit me personally or professionally but this experience has been about pushing myself beyond my own boundaries as well as some boundaries that are imposed by external social and structural forces. Ultimately, my swimming lessons are about learning. Necessarily, they are also about trying and failing. I can’t even count how many times I’ve sucked water into my nose or mouth; or how many times I swim a crooked lap; or how many times I fail to pause long enough to glide when I am supposed to do so; or how many times I forget to kick from the hip. So much beautiful failure accompanies my lessons, my practice, and my learning.

In the earliest days of my lessons, I thought often about how hard it was, about how much I hated water in my nose, how frustrating it was to try to coordinate my legs and arms only to forget one or the other as I fumbled across the seemingly never-ending expanse of the pool. I admit that I silently grumbled about the list of things to remember as I dashed from the house each morning and that sometimes I didn’t want to go to the pool at all. Am I brave? I’ve never thought of myself that way but reflecting on my life as a leaner and my recent experience with my swimming lessons, I have come to at least one conclusion. To learn is to be vulnerable, and to deliberately learn despite being vulnerable might well be the very definition of bravery. For me, this means we are all brave because we are all learning something. As I prepare to greet students this week, I will look upon them with new eyes. I will see their courage.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Be Brave! Guest post by Jason Rushing

It's been so encouraging to have friends who have embarked on their own Brave projects after learning of mine.  Today's post is written by my dear friend Jason Rushing, a technology integration specialist at Humann Elementary School in Lincoln. Jason, thanks for your incredible support of me and my project, and for your heartfelt dedication to growing your "littles" into amazing bigs.  You. Rock.  I pinky swear.  :)
I encourage you to follow Jason's blog:  Create. Connect. Inspire. to learn about some great tech tools and get a glimpse of an awesome teacher in action.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Be Brave!

Be Brave

The new rule in my classroom.  Be Brave.  
Dream.     Create.      Dare.      Risk.      Plan.       Build.

Be. Brave! 

Last week was the start of school in my district.  I spend the first rotation (five days of 27 different classes) going over expectations, rules, and procedures.  Over the years, my rules haven’t changed much, so my “littles” (a.k.a. Students) were surprised when I said I had a new one for them.  Can you imagine the reaction I got when I said my new rule was “Be Brave”?  Exactly what you thought — silence.  Confused silence.  So — I asked them to give me the definition of the word brave.  

I got some great answers:  To not be afraid.  To be strong.  To be powerful.  Merida from “Brave” was Brave!  Yah, but so was Elsa from “Frozen”!  My grandpa is brave — he fought in a war.  

I loved the answers I was getting.  But then — one of my more vocal students asked “What does being brave have to do with Computer class”?  This question was followed by a few gasps and even more giggles.

This is the answer I had in my head:  Over the years I have seen kids (and many adults) become complacent in their lives.  We have become list makers and checkers.  Our mantra is to do what’s on the list and nothing more.  I blame that on time.  We are all so busy with everything life throws at us.  I know that there isn’t nearly enough time in my day to get everything I want to get done even STARTED — let alone finished.  It’s got to be the same for our kids who are going to school all day and then seem to have another days worth of activities filling their night.  Soccer, dance, piano, homework, art class, taekwondo, church….the list can go on forever.  It’s so easy for us to not stretch ourselves beyond what we have to do.  I also blame this on the fact that our kids are being tested and tested and tested……and tested again.  Many students are so “test stressed” that school isn’t fun.  It’s not a place where they feel they CAN make a mistake…. a place where they can be brave and explore and question….a place that will allow them to find not just the quickest answer — but maybe the most creative or FUN answer.  

This is the answer I gave to the class:  Because I want you all to NOT be afraid to try your hardest.  Because I want you go beyond what is expected and do the extraordinary.  Because I want you to not be afraid to try — even if you fail — because that is how we learn.  Because thinking outside the box is FUN!  Because coloring outside the lines is even MORE fun!  Because I believe in you.  Because I know you can do remarkable and wonderful and amazing things if YOU believe in yourself and are Brave.  

Eyes were wide open everywhere.  Smiles on all the faces.  Not a peep in room.  They listened to my words….but more importantly, I think they HEARD what I said.  

One of my “littles” said we should pinky swear to all be Brave.  So we did.  A pinky swear is serious business.  We will be brave in my classroom this year.

NOTE:  The inspiration for this new rule came from a dear friend of mine who is challenging herself to do some amazing things.  She calls it the Brave Project.  I think she is a pretty amazing person already — but I can’t wait to see how wonderful she is after she experiences and conquers all the challenges she sets before herself, and becomes even more brave than she already is.  I believe in you, Lynne!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Volunteering in Bali - Q & A, Part 2

What do you do there when you aren't teaching?
Every Sunday, photos of volunteers enjoying
Bali are posted to the Facebook page.
As teachers everywhere know, there is a lot of prep time required outside of class, so I'll likely be preparing lessons.  I also hope to be taking lots of classes myself on topics like batik, silversmithing, local cooking, yoga, snorkeling, etc. that are offered in Ubud. Bali is a worldwide tourist destination with amazing natural beauty and wonderful things to do, and volunteers have the opportunity to travel around the island on the weekends.  From my research, Bali seems similar to Hawaii, and I loved visiting there.  (Even though I was only there for 4 nights!) I also hope to visit and learn from local schools through Katie who just began teaching in Bali and is a friend of Scott Foster, my friend who taught at Waverly High School before he left to teach in Cairo, Egypt for the past 5 years. Scott has already been a great help to me as I plan the travel portions of the trip, and Katie has sent me a note that she is located about 45 minutes from Ubud, and when I arrive she would love to go explore the island with me. Patsy (the past volunteer I have chatted with via Facebook) recommends hanging out in a rooster-free hotel with hot water on the weekends, too. 

What if you get sick there?
It turns out that there are four Blue Cross/Blue Shield preferred providers on Bali. Huh. Never would have thought that! So, not only do they have healthcare available, it's even in-network. And I bought travel insurance to cover any additional costs, or other travel emergencies such as lost luggage, theft, travel delays, etc.

What will you eat there?
Patsy told me the fruits and juices are amazing. From the program web site, here is a run down of other food:  

* Breakfast is provided each day as part of your home stay

  • eg. Breakfast option :
  • Pancake
  • Tomato or vegetable omelet
  • Toast bread
  • Scramble egg
  • eg. Drink option :
  • Fruit juice
  • Fresh fruit
  • Tea or coffee 

* Lunch and dinner can been purchased for Rp 20,000 (approx $2.00 or 1.50 euros) per meal with drinks from your home stay or nearby balinese eateries. Lunch consists: fried rice or fried noodle or gado gado (vegetarian) or noodle soup + juice (depending on the season) 
* Dinner consists: rice + saté chicken or deep fried chicken / rice + deep fried fish or fish saté or gado gado

Yum! That gado gado salad looks wonderful!

What immunizations do you need to travel there?
Once I bought my plane ticket, I called my doctor to schedule a visit to plan ahead for this trip and she referred me to the UNL health center where they have a travel medicine clinic  (Who knew?!) I met with Szuhua, the main care provider there, in July. She ran a report for me of the potential diseases I could encounter in Bali, and we set up a schedule for me to receive all of the suggested vaccines to prevent getting any of the major illnesses. So far, I've had a tetanus (Tdap) booster, two doses Hepatitis A and B and one dose of Japanese Encephalitis. Also on the list are Thyphoid fever, more Japanese Encephalitis and Pre-rabies (dang those rabid monkeys!). With the travel medicine clinic housed in a University health center, I think I have set a new record for coming in to see Szuhua before a trip as she blinked a few extra times when I told her I wouldn't be leaving for 8 months from the first visit. I don't think most UNL students who visit her plan quite that far ahead. 
Even with the challenges of the culture, volunteers post 
often about their love of the program and the plac
Mosquitos carry the most potential for spreading disease while I'm there, and Szuhua has both a lotion mosquito repellent and a substance to treat your clothing that she keeps on display on her desk because she recommends them so commonly. I'll be buying several of bottles of both. Dengue Fever, carried by mosquitos, is probably my biggest concern. You can't be immunized against it, and it's not uncommon. While it can make you very ill, it is not considered life threatening as long as you seek medical care, and I will have the 4 BCBS providers addresses memorized by the time I leave. I will also take along whatever treatment my doctor here recommends.

How does this impact your work at ESU 6?
Have I mentioned that I have one of the best jobs in the world?  Toby and the leadership team at ESU 6 believe this project has great potential to positively impact our teachers and school leaders, and they have supported the project from its inception. I am so grateful to work at such a great place, with wonderful colleagues. I will still be on contract with ESU 6 while I am in Bali, and I will be staying in touch with our schools via email, and assisting them with their tech professional development needs the best I can from afar. I will be available via email and video conference. I will also be blogging to share the experience with anyone who is interested in it, and I will be speaking at our schools about the project as requested.

Typically, I have about 2-3 weeks of non-contract days each year that I don't take due to the demands of the work at ESU 6 and the volunteer work I do for ed tech groups and conferences. This year, I may also use some of those days while in Bali to travel and experience the culture there.

Will you still be teaching your online UNL grad courses that you teach each spring?
At this point, I still plan to teach those two courses in the spring semester, but that has not been finalized.

What do your friends and family think about this trip?
So far, the few who know about it have been supportive despite their own fears about me traveling alone to a far away place. They know I love adventure and learning, and think it's a great opportunity to do both. I imagine they share my concerns over getting to and from Bali, but agree that those concerns aren't reason enough not to go.

Is it safe there?
I have researched this issue extensively and believe it is very safe there. The only concern I ever see mentioned centers around drinking some weird local alcohol that can poison you or make you vulnerable for crimes, so I plan to stick with those juices that Patsy assured me are amazing. You can read more about the safety of the region on the Lonely Planet site.

Will you be able to stay in touch with people at home while there?
Apparently hot showers aren't widespread where I'll be staying, but wi-fi is. Imagine that! I will have wifi at my home stay, and at school. I can also visit internet cafes for web access. There is a 13-hour time difference, so you might get to hear from me right after dinner, while I am just getting up and ready for my day.

How are you getting to Bali?  
There is no US airline that flies all the way from the US to Bali, so I am choosing to fly on Qatar Airways. I fly from Omaha to Dallas on American Airlines, then on Qatar Airways from Dallas to Doha, Qatar, where I will stay overnight near the airport due to a long layover. Then Doha to Bali.  Nearly 40 hours of travel time and crossing the international date line. Qatar is a small country in the middle east, and it is also the richest country in the world. It has one of a handful of 5 star rated airlines in the world for safety, reliability and service. 

Since this is the Brave Project afterall, and I don't like to fly and tend to get quite airsick, why not include a flight that is ranked as the 6th longest flight in the world? Sigh. Let's just hope they have more than one of those tiny bottles of wine on board. (This article from US News uses Houston as the US point, but I'll be flying into and out of Dallas.)  

6. Doha to Houston on Qatar Airways (Tie)

  • Miles: 8,047
  • Scheduled Duration: 16 Hours 15 Minutes
Qatar Airways operates a marathon flight route between sunny Doha, Qatar, and humid Houston, Texas. Flying westward to the United States, the journey usually takes just over 16 hours. Economy passengers receive an amenity kit with an eye mask, toothbrush, and even socks to make them feel more at home. They can also follow the "Fly Healthy, Fly Fit" guide and perform some relaxation techniques onboard, such as deep breathing and stretching. While they're not sleeping or dining, travelers can view hundreds of films on their personal 10.6-inch TV screen.

You are flying through the Middle East?  On a Middle Eastern airline? Are you sure that's a good idea? 

Okay.  Deep breath here.

For what it's worth, I did not choose Qatar Airways because it would be the scariest option I could find. The cost was most reasonable, the reviews of the airline are stellar, and there are 3 extra inches of leg room in coach. If you aren't 6 feet tall, you might not realize how important leg room is on flights. 16 hour flights. I have spent a lot of flights with someone who insists on fully reclining their seat in front of me, even when there is nowhere I can move my knees.  Each coach seat also has both electrical and USB plugs at each seat. I consulted with family friend Andy, a pilot who has also lived in the Middle East, and he assures me it will be a fabulous experience and that he would not hesitate to travel to Bali on Qatar with his family. I also chatted with Shawn and Scott, both Americans who live in Cairo, and posted a question about Qatar Airlines on the VP Bali Volunteer FB page, where a young woman who also plans to volunteer consulted her dad who is a pilot, and all recommended Qatar as an outstanding airline. 

Qatar Airways also offers a great option for passengers with a layover longer than 8 hours that includes entry visa, transportation, meals and accommodation at a nearby hotel to allow you to get some reset.  I plan to take advantage of that option as well since I will have likely been up for about 24 hours or more once I land in Doha. (And I gotta tell you, the service I've had over the years on Delta and United doesn't compare to what I've seen offered by Qatar Airlines. If they follow through with everything promised, and I believe they will, you'll probably want to sign up for your Qatar Airways frequent flier card too!)

I checked with Andy again after the Malaysian passenger jet was shot down when I saw that the flight path for my Dallas to Doha segment was scheduled to fly over the Ukraine. Andy again reassured me that it would be safe. He knows my parents and how sad they would be if I get blown up, so I believe him. Also, the web site for Qatar Airways has added a statement that they will no longer be flying over the Ukraine.  

I am also paying close attention to the ebola outbreaks in the world. As you see via the travel alert link on Qatar Airways' web site, they are also closely monitoring the ebola virus situation. Also, ebola is not transferred through air. 

I have also been continuously monitoring travel alerts through the US Department of State, and would absolutely follow any warnings posted there.

I know this travel plan portion of the trip feels a bit risky. But during the week the Malaysian aircraft was destroyed, 2 people, in separate accidents, died on a freeway I drive every time I go into the office in Milford. As Kevin says, if it's your time, it's your time. 

WHAT?  You aren't even scared?
Yes, I'm scared. A little bit. And sometimes a lot. Remember that this whole project is about being brave, though. To me, part of being brave is to make informed decisions based on the most accurate, logical information you can find, rather than on all of the what ifs you can think of.  (And trust me, I've thought of them all!) 

To be fair, at the time I booked the flight, the world was a bit calmer. No planes had recently been shot out of the sky, no new explosion of violence had flared up enroute to Bali. So I have been paying very close attention to everything.  And sending lots of "please reassure me" texts to my friends who knew about this part of the Brave Project from the start. They don't want anything to happen to me either, and they trust my decision making skills even if they aren't comfortable with international travel. They still think this is a good idea - okay, in full disclosure one sent me a text assuring me I can still find adventure and fun in the good ol' USA and a few others have gently asked if I am paying attention to world events as I move forward with this project. And I am. Kevin is confident that it is safe for me to travel. I also have mighty prayer warriors through this whole project, and that helps calm my fears.

Bottom line:  While I have purchased my ticket, it is mostly refundable right up until the scheduled departure date. I also have travel insurance to cover other costs I would incur if I need to cancel the trip. I will not go if there are valid reasons to stay home. And I will change airlines if I believe it is warranted. To be honest, flying across those large expanses of ocean scares me as much as flying into the middle east via the Ukraine. I have always been afraid of flying, especially over oceans. But I do it anyway, because I know it is not a rational fear.

If you have questions or concerns that I haven't addressed here, please let me know and I will add them.  

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Volunteering in Bali - Q&A, Part 1

Why did you choose to travel somewhere internationally to volunteer as part of your Catalyst Grant?
I love to travel and experience new cultures, although most of my travel experiences over the past 20 years have been for work or trekking around with Olivia's Girl Scout troop. The catalyst grant is a rare opportunity, so it seemed like now is a good time to stretch into something new.  However, I am also happiest when I am both learning and teaching, so I wanted to find an experience where I could do both for this part of the project. 

Why are you going to Bali?  Couldn't you just go somewhere here in the US?
Hmmm.  Well....

I am going to Bali for a few practical reasons, and some that are more abstract. First, it's a reputable program with reasonable costs where I can use the skills and experience I have as an educator to perhaps contribute something worthwhile to children and teachers there. But also because it's got so many factors that make it out of my comfort zone. Many of those things are similar to the primitive camping concerns from when I went to the Star Party. Bugs, heat, rain, isolation, primitive facilities. But also the distance from home, being the same age as the parents of most other volunteers there, having to share my space with a room mate who is likely younger than my children and would probably prefer not to room with a mom while on adventure to Bali, language barriers, cultural differences, etc. It's just full of adventurous challenge! (See how I'm practicing how I frame things?  Listed things that worry me, called it all something more exciting and added an exclamation point.  And now we're got a whole list of awesome!  There's a life lesson there, my friends!)

Anyway, thanks in part to the Catalyst grant, I am embracing the challenge of taking on this sort of adventure at a time of life when most women in similar life circumstances to mine wouldn't consider it. When I would have never considered it even a year ago. (Ironically, the funds from the Catalyst grant have shown me that funding is not the reason I haven't done things like this.  The cost of this trip is much less than most vacations, and most people I know could easily save up for it in a fairly short time if they wanted to pursue something similar.) The project will no doubt bring challenges I haven't even thought about yet, and working through those challenges will help me continue to grow as a person, and encourage others to do so as well through posts about the experience to the blog.

Keep in mind, too, that while spending a month volunteering in another country seems like a major stretch to some of you (including me), many people reading this probably wonder why it even counts as a brave project. Those of you who work in education do understand how rare of an opportunity it is to be able to do something like this during the school year. It's also important to point out that the costs of this program were extremely reasonable compared with other programs I found elsewhere in the world.

Of course I am always thankful for friends like Kelly who assure me that should I change my mind and choose to just stay home and volunteer at Matt Talbott kitchen, that's fine too.  :)

Where is Bali?
Far away from here!  I had to look it up as I knew it was an island in Southeast Asia, but that's about all.  It's northwest of Australia, and southwest of the Philippine Islands.  My flight itinerary shows it to be over 12,000 miles, one way, from home. It's one of the most visited islands in the country of Indonesia and a popular vacation destination for Australians and people from all around the world. (Said the woman whose last vacation outside of the Star Party was to Omaha.)

How did you find out about this program?
Blame Google. Somehow searching for volunteer opportunities in Ireland (where I have always wanted to go, so I ruled it out as too comfortable for the Brave Project), led me to opportunities in South Africa, Morocco, Thailand, and eventually this one with Volunteer Programs-Bali, Indonesia.

Bali was only vaguely familiar to me.  Probably in part from reading the book Eat, Pray, Love a few years ago for book club. The only other reason I have ever even heard of Bali was from when I performed in the chorus of South Pacific in college and one featured number was "Bali High." But I didn't put that Bali together with this Bali until after I started researching everything this is to know about Bali. I did not specifically search out Bali volunteering options, as visiting southeast Asia has definitely never been on my radar. I am not a fan of tropical heat, long flights across oceans, or being 12,000 miles from home for so long. 

What will you do there?  
I will be teaching computer skills and English to students in a program near the city of Ubud, Bali called Program WG.  I will teach Monday - Thursday and be free to travel in Bali on the weekends. 

Volunteers teaching in a classroom at Program WG
Do you have a lot of travel experience?
Do 48 solo trips to various airports in Georgia and South Carolina to teach weekend grad courses over the past 15 years count? Probably not, but during those trips I've managed through myriad canceled flights, odd hotels, stolen wallets, food poisoning, and one tornado siren (near the Charlotte airport, just as I was checking in.  As the warnings went off I asked the front desk attendant what the tornado shelter plan was. His response:  "Duuuuck, M'am."  Hmmm.) I even drove through one forest fire in the middle of the night on the way to my first teaching assignment. I also travel a lot for conferences through my work at ESU 6, and I traveled to Canada with Kevin for our 20th anniversary.  After high school, I traveled to Germany and Sweden with my family, and later went to England with friends and family for a great trip.  So, while I have fairly extensive travel experience, not much of it is international experience.

What's involved with traveling to Bali?  (Do you need a passport?)
You need a passport with at least 6 months left on it to enter the country.  Mine has about 5 years.  You also need a special social visa that you get through the Indonesian Embassy in the US. You supply a list of credentials to the embassy that basically shows you have work to do there, and don't plan to stay long term, and you are granted a 60-day visa.  You can't apply for this until 90 days before you are to arrive, so I will have everything ready to submit on that day.  

I will also need a visa from Qatar just to leave the airport to stay overnight in a hotel vs. sitting in a chair for a 9 hour layover in the airport. Entering and exiting countries is a highly controlled process - even if you are just staying for a few hours.  You might be asking yourself why I would need to stay overnight in Qatar.  More info on that tomorrow.

When are you going? 
I am scheduled to leave on February 11 and I will be home on March 15.

Where will you stay?
I will be staying in a "home stay" which seems very similar to the living conditions of home-hosted exchange students here. (And I always wanted to be an exchange student when I was younger but didn't want to miss high school, and exchanges in college were fairly rare in the late '80s.) You can see images from the home stay location here.  Scroll down.  It's not the primitive looking hut in the page banner.  It has a western style bathroom right off my room, so it's a far cry above primitive camping, and I already survived that, right?  :)

How do you know this is a reputable program?
I look forward to exploring Bali and neighboring
islands during my free time.
I have investigated it through every way possible.  I follow both the public Facebook page for VP Bali, as well as the private one for accepted volunteers only. I have had many emails back and forth with the program director. I have researched them online. I have corresponded with a past volunteer Patsy, who I found through Facebook. She assures me it will be a fabulous experience except for the cold showers and the roosters that wander the home stay area. I decided I could deal with those two things for a month.

Up Next:  Q & A, Part 2 

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Catalyst Challenge Preview: Big Adventure Awaits!

One thing I have already discovered through developing the Brave Project is that challenges and adventures come in all shapes and sizes. And some require more advance planning than others. 

As I developed my Catalyst grant portion of the Brave Project, I discovered that most of the challenges I wanted to undertake cost very little, but rather focus on overcoming fears, stretching into new experiences, or taking time to focus on developing new knowledge and skills outside my comfort zone.

So I fired up a search engine and got busy looking for options that would honor the Brave challenge aspect of the project, yet also celebrate the gift of the Catalyst grant to pursue an opportunity I would not have considered without it.

And I found one!  A great big, wonderful, awesome, sometimes scary, amazing one!

I'll be traveling 12,000 miles (one way) from home to Ubud, Bali in Indonesia to teach technology skills and English from mid-February to mid-March of next year. While I'll be volunteer teaching Monday-Thursday each week, I have the weekends to explore the island, enjoy the beautiful landscape and jump into as many of these recommended experiences in Bali as possible.  I will be staying near Ubud (pronounced Uh bood, I believe), which is the cultural capital of the island.

I'm really excited to experience a new culture and hopefully be able to have some positive impact on the other teachers, volunteers and students there. While I know that traveling alone and being away from home that long will have its challenges, I am really looking forward to volunteering in Bali. But I am stressed about getting there, for reasons I will mention in another post. In truth, this will be the only thing on the list that causes more anxiety than the singing class. But this is the Brave Project, right?  Right? 

While the trip is a long time off, I wanted to share information about it now for several reasons. Some of you have incredible travel expertise, and might have information I should know now to help have a great experience. Some of you have health or medical expertise, and might be aware of issues I should know about. Some of you are experts at teaching English as a second language to young children and could steer me toward resources. Some of you pray a lot, and I would appreciate if you add this trip to your list. Some of you will see me over the next few months and may wonder why I seem a bit distracted. Now you know.  :) Some of you might have some great ideas for how I could connect students and teachers there with students and teachers here, and we can get the details arranged in advance. Some of you might just appreciate some time to settle into the idea that I'll be away from home or the office for a while so we can plan for the time I'll be away.

There have been a lot of details to work out, with many more to come. I'm especially grateful for Toby and the leadership team at ESU 6 who are not only allowing me to take on this experience during the school year, but encouraging it.  

I've tried to put together a collection of questions and answers about the trip to help explain the project and why I'm doing it, and I'll post that soon.  If you have questions, please let me know, and I'll add your question and my answer to the post. 

As you can see, there is a lot "you need to know" about
preparing to travel to Bali!
The trip is several months away, so I am trying not to worry about it right now. (Some of you who have been working through this planning stage with me for the past many weeks are probably rolling your eyes now because you know I started out worrying about this approximately 34 times each day as I was finalizing the details, but I have tapered down to just a couple of texts about rabid monkeys and exploding planes over the past couple of weeks.)

I hope that starting the Torch Singer 101 class soon will distract me from thinking about this trip for a while! (In between immunizations to prevent Typhoid fever, Rabies, Japanese encephalitis, Hepatitis A & B, and Tetanus and Pertussis that is!)

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Catalyst Challenge 2: What's Next

In my earlier post The Birth of the Brave Project, I identified some recent experiences that led me to develop the Brave Project that is chronicled through this blog. The actual plan, crafted over Sunday morning cup of tea and 8 thoughtful hours in front of a computer, focuses on two areas: 1) What experiences could I pursue that would cause me to feel afraid or uncertain but, in doing so, would be likely to help me grow and learn both personally and professionally? and 2) What challenges would also give me the opportunity to contribute something to the lives and learning of others?  The result was a list of 10 challenges that fit either one or both of those criteria.  

Which brings me to . . .

Catalyst Challenge 2:  Torch Singer 101 

In September and October, I will be taking a class in Lincoln called Torch Singer 101, which culminates in a live show with backup band, stage lights and real microphones at the Zen Lounge in Lincoln.
Singing a duet with co-lead Chris Pippert 
in the musical "Everybody's All-American." 1984.

How Torch Singer 101 Made the Challenge List

I used to be able to sing pretty well.  All-state choir, leads in high school musicals, superiors on solos at district music contest, special music at church, etc.  I spent any free time I had during the school day hanging out in the music room singing songs from Fame and Flashdance with Susan Hall (now Susan Nelson-Knox), and loving every minute of it. This isn't earth shattering news to those of you who knew me when I was younger.

Those of you who met me after college might have your eyebrows raised wondering how you don't know that I sing.  That's because I don't sing anymore, mostly due to a medication that changed my voice and prompted an everlasting wave of singing insecurity.

If this is the best group photo we could find, the 
yearbook photo budget must have been pretty tight.

When I was 22, it was discovered first that I had an ovarian cyst that needed to be surgically removed, and then that it was caused by severe endometriosis.  With help from friends Lori and her sister Terri, who was doing her residency at the Mayo Clinic, I was admitted there for surgery and follow-up treatment. In my pre-surgery visit, Dr. Webb, who was one of the world's best surgeons for endometriosis, asked me if I was an opera singer. Ummm, no.  "Because the treatment might have an impact on your voice." Well, I'm not sure I really understood the impact of what he was describing, but even if I had understood it, I would have proceeded anyway.
When I opened my yearbook, this fell out of it.  I had completely 
forgotten that I had a voice scholarship in college.

After surgery at Mayo, for which I will always be grateful as I believe the expertise of the physicians there have a great deal to do with me being able to eventually do my part to produce those amazing humans you know as Olivia and Eric, I was treated for most of the next year with a drug called Danazol, which unfortunately includes these published side effects, among others: weight gain, deepening of the voice or changes in pitch (sometimes irreversible), acne and mood changes.

Yes, all you parents of teens out there who just read that list - I was about to be thrust into a weird synthetic puberty for the better part of the next year. Boy Howdy was that fun! 


At first, after the surgery and treatment, nothing was noticeable with my voice.  But one day, I opened my mouth to sing in church and Peter Brady's voice came out.  Remember that episode where Greg wrote a new song and was convinced all of the kids could make it big if they recorded it, so good ol' Mike gave them advances on their allowances to pay for the recording, but suddenly Peter's voice started to change?  And of course the deposit was non-refundable! What's a do-gooder family to do since they don't want to leave out their brother?  So Greg churned out a catchy new number, "When It's Time to Change, You've Got to Rearrange" for the Brady 6 that gave Peter a solo.  

Yep, that's what I sounded like.  Peter Brady in puberty. 

So I eventually stopped trying to sing, because the notes still sounded right in my head but they never made it out of my mouth sounding quite the same way. I was horrified. All of you who have music as an important part of your life can imagine the empty space it leaves when it's not there any more. But I had lots of work to do, babies to raise, classes to teach, a Ph.D. to finish. So life marched noisily on, with the singing of others as background music.

But I've always missed being able to sing, too.

Emily, the amazing voice teacher Olivia had in high school, tried her best to get me to work with her to get a workable version of my voice back, and she was confident I could do it.  But I had a long list of reasons why I couldn't do it:  I was too busy at work.  I was spending a lot of money on the kids' lessons for voice, piano, bass guitar, etc. I was still working on my Ph.D. I had laundry to fold. But mostly, I was just too afraid to sing in front of anyone because I didn't want to be embarrassed.  So I passed by the opportunity. Once you have done something well, it's hard to start over when you know it's just not going to go as well as it used to.  After that Peter Brady voice day in church, I stopped singing. Have never tried karaoke.  No singing in the shower.  No singing in the car. Mouthing the words during the national anthem. You get the idea. And still, I really missed it.

So . . . .a few years ago when I saw that a new Torch Singer 101 class was being offered in Lincoln, I thought it sounded interesting but doubted I could ever do it. For 6 weeks, students who are not singers but would like to pretend they are for one night, meet at the home of the teacher, who is a professional jazz singer, to practice up for the 2 numbers each person will perform in front of a live crowd at the Zen Lounge in downtown Lincoln. Apparently lots of folks have "lounge singer" on their bucket lists. Who knew?!

So what could be harder than standing in front of a crowd to sing 2 songs when you can't really sing any more?  Not much!  LOL! So it's on the list.  

Honestly, it's one of the two challenges I've set up for myself that has me most anxious.  I've been to the show put on by the spring class, which was indeed performed by folks who aren't going to be the next American Idol, but who all survived the show still smiling, and were greeted by the kindest, more supportive crowd I've ever experienced. So I mailed in my registration for the fall class last week and anticipate the first class in September.  There you have it.  My family - all of whom have great voices, (Olivia even teaches voice) seem to think it will all go fine. That just because my voice is not soprano any more, doesn't mean I can't still sing. Olivia is even culling Youtube for Songs for Women With Low Register Voices (probably not what she put into her search box, but that's what she is looking for!) to help me choose what to sing. (My first choice is Gladys Knight's Midnight Train to Georgia, but I don't think we're allowed to have any Pips, and it wouldn't be the same without Pips!)

In my view, the worst case scenario is that I'll either be frozen in stage fright or sound like Peter Brady. Best case scenario is that I'll sound like Johnny Cash.  :)

If I live through it, we will have proof that you can't actually die from embarrassment.


What activities or interests have you enjoyed at other stages of life that would be worth exploring again?  Or what have you always wanted to try but were too afraid of embarrassment to give it a shot?

What challenges do you have now to keep you from those interests and activities, and what steps can you take today to work around those challenges?

PHOTO bonus:

To find a photo from my past singing life, I pulled my yearbooks off the shelf for the first time in 20+ years.  Those of you who know my current flashy fashion sense won't be surprised to know that I wore the same suit and favorite silk bow for Homecoming, Senior Pictures and to portray a middle-aged Dean of Students in the school musical. Classic.