Category Archives: General Happiness

What is your purpose?

Really? Why are we here? What are we doing?

I’ve known for a long time that my purpose here is to be a light and resource for people. A person who connects people to other people or information that helps them find happiness or health or connections to whatever they’re seeking.

But I haven’t always been faithful to that purpose. True to myself. Haven’t always felt worthy of the time and effort to develop myself in this way. Anyway, it’s weird to think about purpose…Like, did I really have to go through the pain of being surrendered? Couldn’t I have fulfilled this purpose without having gone through all that? Or not? I’ve lived in this self-sabotaging thinking for a long time. I’m not smart enough to make a difference. I didn’t study the right things to make a difference. I’m not a good enough writer. I’m not good at anything! Doubt, worry, and fear have occupied many moments in my mind, and this past fall, I decided I was done with it.

I joined a part-workshop, part-class kind of program that focuses on personal development and growth. I’m learning all kinds of amazing things, but something I heard last month really hit me. It related to being alive on purpose and taking up space on purpose. Seriously? I started crying after hearing this. I don’t know if non-adoptees feel this way, but I’ve always felt like I needed to justify my existence. I called my dear friend, who is also adopted and introduced me to this group (…in fact, she and I have technically known each other since we were babies), right after this profound moment. We cried together and after some discussion, she blessed with me these kind words, “You’re like a bridge that connects people.” YES! That’s exactly how I feel! And it felt super validating for her to reflect that back to me. That conversation was part of what convinced me to start writing this blog again. And thus fulfilling my purpose.

Anyway, I’m excited to write more about recent epiphanies and manifestations as a result of this mindset group. And how this new knowledge applies to grief and being adopted. Stay tuned for that!

Has Hell frozen over? Whatever, who cares!

I HAVE A JOB!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I’m so damn excited!!!!!  I get to use my brain every day!  I’m gonna be writing narratives for urban renewal grants, working on EPA reports, and proofreading Iowa city codes.  And guess what?  My boss treats me like an adult!  A competent, real adult!  You might not think it was such a big deal, but trust me, it’s not a given.  I am excited to work hard and earn the amazing benefits she’s giving me.  I’m excited to be part of helping citizens of my beloved state get services they need.  I’m excited for using my degree finally!  I think I’ll just wish I’d have paid more attention in Semantics…..Phonology isn’t so helpful now.  haha

The whole thing came about really organically and really quickly.  I saw my new boss while working for another local company.  She asked what I was up to, I told her, and she took my email address.  I ended up emailing her my resume and references.  Another week later she came back into the store, and we met up last week for an interview!  I started yesterday and already have responsibilities and questions and research to do!

I was quite nervous yesterday morning and had to give myself a little pep talk!  Just because things didn’t work out the last time I had a(n almost) real job, doesn’t mean things won’t work out this time!   The last job couldn’t keep a person like me around for more than a couple years, but this place has employees who’ve been there for about 30 years!  That’s really saying something!  I get a key this time around, which is cool.  I told my boss it’d be more likely that I would be the last to leave, as opposed to being the first one there.  haha  She’s encouraged me to volunteer so I’m excited to keep working at the Gardens in my town on Friday mornings.  She’s encouraged me to be on a Chamber committee!  So long as I’m trusted to get my work done.  Deal.

I’m excited to be an adult again.  Someone who can pay some bills.  Save some money.  Visit friends.  Visit my birthfamily.  Buy a bigger bed.  Treat my mom to something fun.  Treat my friends.  And generally pass on the kindness that has been shown to me by so many friends and family.  No, money doesn’t buy happiness, but it does buy a peace of mind.  A confidence.  Independence.  And I can’t wait 🙂

“Is this Heaven?” “No, this is Iowa.” – Field of Dreams, 1989

Ah, my beloved state, Iowa.

This post is prompted by my outside work as of late.  Last, last weekend we had 70 degree weather, just gorgeous.  Three days later we had a snowstorm that dumped 7-14 inches of snow on us!  And it was only 20-30 something degrees out!  Laaaame.  Now we’re back in the 60-70s which is lovely.  And the snow is mostly gone.  So this week I took it upon myself to resume clearing leaves and sticks from our front yard.

As I raked up dead grass and leaves, I realized that my shoes were holding me back!  I kicked off my Keens and wiggled my toes in the grass.  The setting sun warmed my shoulders and I had the thought, Ah, it’s finally feeling like Spring.  I paused my hard work for a moment to listen to the birds in the trees.  Bluejays, robins, sparrows, mourning doves, and a red-tailed hawk.  I tried call-and-response with the hawk; I think maybe it responded.  We’ll pretend it did.  Cool story about the hawks – Mom and Dad said we never really had hawks in the woods around our house until I came back from living on the reservation.  It’s cool because I was named on the reservation and part of my name is Hawk.  I’ll write more about that year soon.

Well actually it was during that year that I realized how much I love Iowa.  I had always felt so ready to get out of the state.  Even in college it felt too conservative.  Too rural.  Too homogenous.  But moving to North Dakota for a year was a shock.  I hadn’t believed that there were states more conservative than Iowa.  States I’d very strongly dislike more than Iowa.  Turns out, yup.  There are.  Since that year in ND, I’ve also lived in Indiana and Wisconsin.  And yet I keep returning to Iowa.  I’ve kept my Iowa license and plates and voting registration.  Somehow I just can’t let go of my statehood.  Sure I can always be an Iowan at heart, but the outward expression of it is important to me (and maybe subconsciously I knew I’d keep returning).

This state has some great things going for it.  Beautiful landscapes – hills and rivers near Des Moines (deh-MOYN, by the way, for those of you who can’t pronounce it…), bluffs near Decorah and the Mississippi River, flat plains in North Iowa, such variety!  Good, hardworking people live here.  People that truly mean well and will go out of their way to help.  Diverse cultures in the cities, small as they are compared to Chicago, LA, or New York City.  I believe Cedar Rapids has the first/oldest mosque in the US.  Marriage equality.  Smoke-free public places.  A progressive oasis in the middle of the country.

So back to the grass.  Driving around the past two weeks I’ve been amazed at how green the area around my hometown is.  Maybe I’ve been living in cities the past few years where the lawns just don’t get so green.  The color, more green than Crayola can manage, just stuns me.  Thank goodness for growing up in the country.  Now if only we didn’t live SE of a local cattle man…

Will you tell us about one of your adventures, Angela?

Oh yes, I’d be happy to.  One of my favorite adventures occurred last summer when I went to Guatemala for a couple weeks.  It had been a couple years since I went abroad, and I was super excited about it!  Turned out that Guatemala is one of the most beautiful places I’ve been!

Remember how I’ve said working in Milwaukee didn’t work out?  Guatemala is related to the job to which I am referring.  Being out of the office to travel was the part I loved though.  Anyway, my former coworker did a fantastic job planning our trip, working with a tour company to develop the schedule and book hotels for everyone; I went to Guatemala with eight adoptive families from the US and Canada to guide them through exploring their birth country.

Just in case you weren’t aware, Guatemala is a smallish country in Central America next to Mexico and El Salvador.  The country has kind of a big roundish bottom area and a rectangle at the top.  The bottom half is super mountainous and the top half is a subtropical rainforest.  Guatemala City, the capital city, is in the bottom half of Guatemala, almost in the center.

G City is a fairly urban place with wide avenues and lots of statues.  Diverse economic conditions around the hills and valleys of the city.  Just like Bogotá, Colombia, you could be driving past nice buildings, round the hillside and see a shanty town.  It occurred to me that it may have been the first time some of the families on the trip had ever seen such poverty.  And it’s an interesting thought for adoptees to think, “That could have been me.”  All part of visiting the birth country I guess.  (Perhaps I will dedicate an entire post to homeland travel later, as you’ll notice comments about it are basically absent in this post.)  We saw a couple great museums and ate some deeeelish food!  I’d recommend Kakao for fantastic Guatemalan food (kak’ik, jocón, pepián, tamales, etc).  Some of us went to the zoo, which was totally awesome, captivated animals aside.  After a few days we loaded up the bus and carried on.

Peace Statue GC

A peace statue in Guatemala City

We headed to Panajachel, a ways west of G City on Lake Atitlán.  The road to Pana was very cuuurvy, definitely a good day for Dramamine.  I was excited to see the volcanoes that line the lake and see more of rural Guatemala.  We had an ace of a bus driver; he managed a big tour bus in very very very narrow rural streets.  Once you get out of the big city where there is a mix of people; most people in Central Guatemala are Maya.  My Anthro Sense (similar to Spidey Sense) was tingling all over.  There are over 20 languages spoken in Guatemala by over 20 different Spanish descendent and indigenous groups.  In case you’re wondering, Maya refers to the people, while Mayan refers to the languages.  Our female guide, who became a great friend, explained that you can tell what town or area of Guatemala a Maya woman is from by the pattern on her skirt.  How fascinating!!  I’d never been to a country where people still dressed traditionally.  I mean, in China, most people wore very Western clothes, hardly anyone wore the beautiful silk garments in daily life.  And on the Native American reservation, the only time anyone wore leather and beading was to perform at a powwow.  *Sorry for the blur in the photo below!

Maya woman from Solola

Maya woman from Solola…I think.

So as we entered the Atitlán valley we stopped to try something absolutely crazy – one of the most memorable activities of the trip was zip-lining at Reserva Atitlán!!  I knew I had to do it.  Face my fear of, well, dying, and just do it.  Most of the kids and a lot of the parents on the trip decided to take the plunge too.  The rest of the group continued up the mountain on a hike.  The guides pointed out a spider monkey and a coati as we scaled the mountain to the jump-off point.  I was almost last in line because I wanted to “let” the kids all go first.  Ha.  Anyway, they strapped me in (we’d donned harnesses at the bottom of the mountain) and explained how to stop.  Here’s the scene: I’m standing on a wooden platform.  The cable above me stretches out into the void.  Haha.  I am hooked to the cable and staring out across the tops of the trees to the landing site eight seconds away on the side of another mountain.  The guide man says, Okay, go!  A million things flash through my mind but one thing I remember thinking was, “Don’t swear too loud, there are little kids on the other side!”

There were eight zip-line cables that took us down the mountain.  The first few that were over the canopy were the most exciting, but it was still fun to go zooming through the trees on the last ones.  It was one of the days you remember how alive you are and how much fun that is.

The rest of our time in Pana included shopping and boating to a couple little tiny towns around the lake.  The first town we toured was San Pedro La Laguna, where we visited an artist’s studio and gallery and a women’s textile cooperative.  Both were fantastic examples of people using their talents and native knowledge of their area to provide for their families.  Generally I believe that people should stay true to themselves.  Like, these people should be careful not to be exploited or depend too heavily on tourist groups for their income, but at the same time, no one is really coercing them to do so.  They own their own business or share their income with the group they work with.  So I guess I should just relax.

Naturally dyed fibers near Lake Atitlan

Naturally dyed fibers near Lake Atitlán

Our last group stop in Guatemala was Antigua, a Spanish colonial town not far away from G City.  Antigua has a gorgeous town plaza, cute cafes, lots of good restaurants, and great scenery.  The town is nestled between a few mountains and volcanoes.

Antigua, Guatemala

Antigua, Guatemala from Sky Cafe

Green is everywhere – trees, grass, mountains!  And speaking of green, I wanted to share information about an amazing organization – As Green As It Gets. Here’s their mission, pulled from their website –

“AGAIG provides coffee farmers and local businesses with training and support that enable them to create profitable, marketable products, thereby allowing them to improve their quality of life and help their communities in an environmentally and economically sustainable way.

Our goal, at its simplest, is to help those in poverty by enabling them to increase their income by engaging in well-paying economic activity. This activity is most beneficial when it is environmentally and economically sustainable – viable in the long-term without damaging to the environment. It should also be mindful of the community’s needs and give back through better-paying jobs or access to services and infrastructure.”

Two coffee farmers gave our group tours of their plots of land, and we planted a few coffee trees with them.  Each guide took us to his home.  Our guide’s home was a humble place but very nice at the same time.  He showed us how he sorts and cleans the beans.  Then his wife and daughter roasted the beans and ground them for us to sample as brewed coffee.  His family made a delicious meal for us too.  The kids even got to help make the tortillas!

Making tortillas in Ciudad Vieja

Farmer’s family making tortillas in Ciudad Vieja

What struck me most about Guatemala were the people.  If anyone needs a lesson in resiliency, they need to go to Guatemala.  The country was ripped apart by a bloody civil war, which was actually in the news recently.

The people have forged ahead though.  They’re creating cooperatives and schools to share information and goods.  Women are collecting and weaving these amazing textiles of fibers dyed naturally.  Families are farming.  People are conscious of their environment and thinking about sustainability.  It’s a beautiful thing.  Chapines (plural for chapin, a person from Guatemala as they call themselves) are tough.

My other favorite place was an afterschool program in Jocotenango, just north of Antigua, called Los Patojos (The Youngsters).  The school’s creator, Juan Pablo Romero Fuentes, grew up in Joco and knew that young people needed a safe place to learn and express themselves.  The kids learn all kinds of study skills, art, break-dancing, and other awesome things!  their current project is developing the field across the road from the center into a soccer field.

A Los Patojos kid doing something fancy

Neither group asked me to promote them, but please consider checking out their websites, Liking them on Facebook, or making a donation to each group!  I’m passionate about helping people help themselves.  Chapines already know how to help themselves; they’re already geniuses about their country, but sometimes a little word of mouth is really helpful.

After twelve days, the trip was officially over and a few families chose to return to the US.  The rest of us, about five families and yours truly, journeyed on to Flores, Guatemala to visit Tikal.  Quick archaeology/history lesson: The ancient city of Tikal was inhabited for a several hundred years before it was abruptly abandoned about a thousand years ago.  The ancient Maya left behind tons of artifacts and magnificent temples.  Currently, excavations are still underway (to some extent because exposing the limestone speeds its deterioration) but only about 10 percent of the entire city has actually been uncovered.  Our group stayed at the Jungle Lodge in the Tikal park.  It was totally awesome!  The bugs were supersized which was really creepy, but we saw spider monkeys playing in the trees above us while we swam in the pool. *Okay so the photo below was taking at a wildlife rehab center, and it’s a howler monkey, but you get the point.  MONKEYS!!!

Howler monkey in Tikal area

Howler monkey in Tikal area

Carlos, our fantastic guide, finagled a deal that got us a van ride into the park, which NEVER happens.  At this point we were all exhausted, and the intense heat/humidity zapped all our energy, so we were extreeeemely grateful for the ride.  Anyway, we walked up a bazillion stairs to the top of Temple IV.  Talk about a view!

tikal panorama

View of Tikal temples from Temple IV

It’s pretty humbling to be in the presence of the Ancients.  I know our guide explained how archaeologists think the Maya constructed the temples, but I’ve forgotten now.  However they did it, it’s amazing.  The stones are massive, as big as cars.  And the Maya were particularly good with science.  They built their main plaza with acoustics in mind.  If you stand in the middle of the plaza and clap, you can hear it echo around the basin.  It’s said to sound like the call of a quetzal, a gorgeous little green and red bird that graces the Guatemalan money named for it (quetzales).  It’s pretty rare to actually see a quetzal, but we did see a rare parrot!  And more monkeys.  Okay I’ll be extra honest, I really couldn’t wait to go to Tikal because I really, truly, super duper wanted to see a monkey in the wild.  I took Primate Behavior in college, in Iowa, where the only native primates are us.  And we’re not really native to Iowa anyway!

I truly loved my 17 days in Guatemala.  I’d go back in a heartbeat.  Someday I’ll go there to volunteer at Los Patojos I think.  Stay with my friend and her husband in Antigua and work for food in their pastry shop!  Soak up the sun in the cool mountain air.  What a life!

What’s hot off the presses today?

I check CNN for the news report every day.  When I’m not annoyed as hell that they print      typos, sometimes I’m excited about the stories they cover.  Today is one of those good days!  Linguists at the University of Hawaii at Manoa have started to document Hawaiian Sign Language.  I was skeptical after reading the headline since they mentioned shaka, the pinky and thumb out wiggle sign, that President Obama has been photographed doing.  One sign doesn’t a language make.  But they saved themselves by explaining later that deaf Hawaiians have developed a language that the signs are 80% distinct from American Sign Language.  THAT really might make the language distinct from a dialect!  Hooray!  So exciting when languages are documented and we can learn  more about the nature of language. Especially when it’s a sign language!

Why do you care, Angela, you ask?  Well my history with all of this is that I worked in Purdue’s Sign Language Linguistics Lab with Dr. Diane Brentari, a world renowned sign language linguist.  Diane literally wrote the book on sign language linguistics.  I took ASL from two fantastic Deaf instructors at Purdue.  I’ve learned to love and respect Deaf culture and the language its members use.  I love the creativity of ASL.  I like the flexibility of the syntax.  I like the challenge sign language presents to traditional spoken language linguistics.

I’d like to make the most of this post.  There are lots of misconceptions about sign language.  Here are some fun facts:

1. There are TONS of different sign languages.  Basically each country has their own SL.  Yeah, okay there is International Sign Language, but I’ve been told it’s basically just used at conferences and as a way to bridge all the different languages.  Kind of a lingua franca.  Not really something people use in their everyday lives.

2.  Sign languages are NOT just spoken languages signed.  SLs have their own structure (syntax) and pieces that are kinda like sounds and syllables (phonology).  There may be  borrowings from spoken language into signed language, but SLs are organic, created by their users (who may never have heard a sound in their lives).  My advisor, Dr. Brentari, is in the middle of a fantastic project, about the contact and possible overlap between signed language and spoken language gesture.  Very very very cool stuff.  …So there is Signed English, but that’s used in schools by interpreters who….well I don’t actually know why.  Maybe they don’t understand that ASL is a real language or they don’t respect it?  I dunno.  Go for ASL.  Just do it.

3. American Sign Language is more closely related to French Sign Language than British Sign Language.  Why?  Wouldn’t it be closer to BSL b/c we got our spoken language (English) from the British?  Nope!  Mr. Gallaudet, the guy who collaborated with the American deaf community, had learned French Sign Language and started the first university dedicated to educating people who were deaf.  BSL and ASL are so different that signers can’t understand each other….at first.  I say “at first” because it seems easier for deaf people who use different SL to communicate than for speakers who speak different languages.  What?!

It’s true.  At least that’s what happened to me.  On my way to Guatemala last summer I had the most amazing experience.  I was sitting in the airport, waiting to board the plane, when some hand movements caught my eye.  I watched for a few minutes and realized that yes, this younger man was signing with an older man, not just gesturing.  I couldn’t quite understand what they were signing, so I figured that it wasn’t ASL, but a different sign language!  Cool!  I made my way over to them to introduce myself somehow.  Through signing the two different languages we used, we figured out that the young man was the son of the older man, and they were going to Guatemala to visit family.  The young man was Deaf and his father was hearing.  By speaking Spanish to the father, I found out that they lived in Sweden, but had family in Guatemala.  The son and I were able to carry on a simple conversation through different signs and a lot of smiling.  Truly one of my favorite sign language experiences.

Below is the link to the CNN story on Hawaiian Sign Language.  If you have any questions about sign language, I can direct you to other links and information.  Thanks for reading and I hope you’ve come away enlightened!

May a reader request information about something? Will you look it up?

Of course!  I’ll do my best to research your question and get you an answer!

One question that came up during a conversation with several adoptive parents once was about glasses for their Korean born children.  Ah hah!  I said, I just saw that a friend posted something on Facebook about glasses for Asian faces.  Why would an Asian face matter you ask?  Because the shape of many Asian faces doesn’t really support most glasses frames.  The bridge of a person’s nose, ya know, the sticky outty part that nose pieces rest on, is flatter on many Asian faces.  So glasses just sliiiide right down a person’s nose.  So here’s the link!  I can’t actually endorse the product since I haven’t tried it, but here’s the information for you all to make your own judgments.

It makes sense though right?  I’m trying to think of other products targeted toward a certain group.  The first thing that comes to mind are oils and special shampoos for African-type hair that can dry out quickly with mainstream products.

What else is there?  Leave a comment if you think of something!

Who’s happy? Colombia’s happy!

WiN-Gallup International just posted the results of their “End of Year Survey: Global Barometer of Hope and Happiness 2013.”

And what do you know – Colombians are the happiest of the 50-something countries polled!  I’m a social scientist and I haven’t checked their method or data, but I’m willing to take this one at face value 🙂  Check out the report at the link below.

Click to access 38.pdf

A friend and I talked about how this past summer, while a group of us were in Colombia, a bus driver was shot (but not killed) and passengers were forced to hand over money to a robber.  A Colombian my friend spoke to said, “Oh yeah, that happens a lot here.”  “Aren’t you scared?” asked my friend.  “Sure, so we cherish every day we have with our families.  That’s why we have so much fun, because you never know what could happen!” replied our Colombian friend.

As someone who struggles with anxiety, I admire and appreciate that I come from a land of people who know the value of living in the moment.  I will try to adopt their cool and realistic perspective…