In Defense of Taylor Swift…

In Defense of Taylor Swift…

If you’ve read my blog before or know me personally, you know that one of my biggest passions is Africa. In fact, my interest in the continent shaped the trajectory of my adult life. I studied Africa and African languages at university, and following graduation, I went onto have a fulfilling career analyzing African politics. Earlier this year, I moved on to a different line of work, and I would be lying if I said a day had gone by when I didn’t miss my previous job. I often find myself daydreaming of my past travels to East Africa, wondering when—not if—I’ll make it there again.

If you are a reader of my blog, you probably also know that I am a HUGE Taylor Swift fan. I’ve seen her in concert on her last three tours. I blogged about taking my stepdaughters to see her Red Tour. My stepkids even wrote her letters asking her to sing at our wedding. (They were bummed when she didn’t respond, but we forgive you, Tay Tay.) Imagine my surprise when I learned that Taylor Swift’s latest music video for her song Wildest Dreams was set in Africa! Two of my favorite things in one place—fantastic!

Unfortunately, that wasn’t my initial reaction. I first learned of the video when a friend of mine posted this NPR article on Facebook. Admittedly, I sighed and thought, Oh no, Taylor. I hope this isn’t as atrocious as it sounds. I like you so much. How could you have offended something I hold so near and dear to my heart?

I watched the video, and I didn’t have a problem with it. I actually (dare I say?) enjoyed it. The video, shot in a very “Old Hollywood,” style, portrays two 1950s actors having a relationship while filming a movie in Africa. The video has been criticized for romanticizing colonial Africa and not representing a full picture of the continent. While I certainly want to be sensitive to the authors’ backgrounds and perspectives, I think they are taking away from the good intentions Swift had and making the video into something it’s not. Swift happens to be white, and she is portraying an actress in a love story with a white man on the set of a period film. Sure, it would have been nice to see some scenes with Africans, but considering the era in which it is set, they probably wouldn’t have been portrayed in the best light, if they wanted to be historically accurate.

In their NPR article, Rutabingwa and Arinaitwe criticize Swift for focusing on the waterfalls, mountains, and majestic animals rather than the technological and leadership renaissance currently taking place in Africa. Somehow I think a song whose lyrics are about a love story doesn’t really lend itself to a music video depicting the technology boom in Africa, but what do I know? Swift’s use of Africa’s beautiful landscape and wildlife for her background does not take away from all of the other wonderful, positive developments occurring in Africa today.

When topics like this start trending, I start to think that we as a society are so busy looking for ways to be offended that we fail to appreciate, or even recognize, the good when it happens. Swift’s video brings attention to the continent and may even attract more tourism—or it could have at least, before it was twisted into something ugly and racist. According to the World Bank, the number of tourists arriving in Sub-Saharan Africa has grown over 300 percent since 1990, and tourism remains one of the largest and fastest growing sectors of the world economy. That tourism often includes safaris as well as various cultural events.

During a time when issues like Cecil the Lion are trending (whether you deem this an issue worth trending or not), a video that shows some of Africa’s beauty with proceeds going to African parks should be welcomed. This doesn’t mean that there aren’t other causes that you may feel are more important. This was Swift’s call, and she chose a cause in which she believes. She didn’t need to choose one at all.

I also realize that animals represent only SOME of the beauty on the continent. However, it’s the amazing, diverse, and loving people with whom I’ve connected that kept me going back to Africa. I hope that Swift was able to meet some of those amazing people while she was there filming.

Toward the end of their article, Rutabingwa and Arinaitwe say Swift “packages our continent as the backdrop for her romantic songs devoid of any African person or storyline, and she sets the video in a time when the people depicted by Swift and her co-stars killed, dehumanized and traumatized millions of Africans. That is beyond problematic.”

Yes, because every white person who went to Africa in the 1950s—especially movie stars that were shooting a film—killed, dehumanized, and traumatized millions of Africans. Way to generalize.

The purpose of Swift’s video was not to give a present day look at the most important issues on the continent nor was it to glamorize the brutal treatment of Africans during colonial rule. It is a period piece about a love story with a beautiful backdrop. Plain and simple.

Moving On

Selfie in my African garb ;)

Selfie in my African garb😉

Today is a day that I will never forget. I am moving on from a career that has shaped my entire adult life. In some ways, it was a difficult decision to make, but in other ways, it was the easiest decision of my life. As many of you know, RM and I have been living separately since we’ve met and even since we’ve married. We spend a TON of hours on the road—he put 40,000 miles on his car last year alone. Not only have we HATED living apart, our current jobs require frequent relocation, oftentimes overseas. Our time in the Seattle area was set to be up this year.

We’ve decided together that it’s time to put down roots for our family, so today is my last day at my current job. RM also has a new job. No more distance. No more moving.

While I may be closing the door on this career, I’m so excited for the one I am about to begin. I feel incredibly thankful that I’m able to put my family first while also continuing to develop professionally.

I made a video to encapsulate how I’m feeling today. Thank you to everyone who has been a part of this journey!  Click here to see the video!


Frankly Speaking…

IMG_1634Over the Thanksgiving holiday, RM and I had the opportunity to visit the famous Frank Lloyd Wright house, Fallingwater in Pennsylvania. I’ve wanted to visit Fallingwater for years, but I never made it there—until now.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with Fallingwater, Frank designed the home for the Kaufmann family—owners of the department store—in 1935 and finished the home in 1937. It was designated an historic landmark in 1966 and was listed on Smithsonian’s list of 28 places to see before you die in 2008.

The timing of our visit was especially perfect because I recently finished the historical fiction book, Loving Frank, which tells the story of Frank’s love affair with Mamah Borthwick. If you haven’t read the book and you don’t want the ending spoiled, then you shouldn’t read further OR Google anything about Mamah Borthwick. I really do think the book is best experienced if you don’t know how it ends. That’s the spoiler alert, folks. Read on at your own risk!

Loving Frank tells the story of the scandalous love affair between Frank and Mamah Borthwick (Mamah Cheney at the time), the wife of one of Frank’s clients, from 1907-1914. Not much is known about Mamah, so the author hinges the story on a handful factual events and information, largely creating a work of fiction told from Mamah’s point of view. Together, Mamah and Frank leave their spouses and children for Europe but eventually have to come back to reality, only to find that their reputations have been tarnished in Chicago society. Frank returns to his family, mostly due to the fact that his wife Catherine will not grant him a divorce.

Mamah, on the other hand, is steadfast in her decision to leave her marriage and views it as a form of feminist liberation, convincing herself that she will be happier with Frank, and by extension, her kids will be happier as well. What Mamah finds as she slowly gives up her own intellectual pursuits and becomes more engulfed in her romance with Frank, is that she has sacrificed her relationship with her children, almost to the point that it is irreparable. The author does a fantastic job of painting the picture of a woman who slowly starts to feel the regret of choosing the instant gratification and tempting passion of a love affair over her maternal love for her children.

The Golden Standard

The Golden Standard

In 1914, Mamah finally begins to rebuild her relationship with her children while they are visiting the home Frank built for her in Wisconsin when her and her children are brutally murdered by their cook. A tragic end that I certainly did not see coming!

While I didn’t agree with Mamah’s or Frank’s choice to leave their families, I couldn’t help but feel compassion for them. They found happiness in each other and had a way of making the other come alive. Who doesn’t want to feel that way? Interestingly, I found the ending of this book strikingly different from the story we often read in books today and increasingly in our culture. For example, I would argue that books-turned-movies, Eat Pray Love and Wild, encourage the same type of “feminist liberation,” Mamah was searching for in the early 1900s. Yet in these modern stories, everything magically works out for the better in the end. The women find happiness after leaving their husbands to pursue their own interests. We all applaud and admire them for it. We give them book deals, million dollar movie deals, and Golden Globe nominations for the actresses portraying them. Is it possible that after more than a hundred years women are still searching for the same things, just with a different backdrop? And at what cost? Would we feel the same way if it were men who left their wives in pursuit of liberation and being true to one’s self? Would we applaud them or would we call them jerks?

If Mamah were alive today, would she tell us that she would have chosen differently? Maybe. Maybe not. Part of me hopes she would for the sake of her children and husband, but if I’m honest, the other part of me loves her romance with Frank—eccentric, self-centered, talented Frank. –And we all love a good tragedy, don’t we?

As RM and I walked the grounds of Fallingwater, I imagined Frank walking those grounds, so many years ago.  Did he think of Mamah as he designed the home?  Did he miss her?  Or was Mamah merely a distant memory, as he went on to marry two other women after Catherine finally granted him a divorce in 1922.  At the time of Fallingwater, Frank was married to his third and final wife, with whom he stayed married until he died in 1959.

Have you read Loving Frank? If so, I’d love to hear your thoughts. Do you think Mamah ultimately regrets her choice to leave her family for Frank? Should she have chosen differently? How do you think women’s approaches to marriage and love affairs have changed (or haven’t changed) over the past 100 years?  Did Mamah and Frank really love each other or was this lust?  How has learning of Frank’s multiple affairs and marriages following Mamah’s death impacted your view of his relationship with and feelings toward Mamah?

The Comeback

Hello. Hi there. It’s me. It’s been a little while, hasn’t it? My apologies! We’ve been a little busy over the past several months. Here’s what you’ve missed…

We bought a house. A real, grown-up house! Can you believe it?

We renovated said house. In THREE weeks. Apart from having lice for several weeks last year, this might have been the most stressful time period we’ve been through as a family! We all spent hours—no, days scraping FIVE layers of wallpaper off the walls before we painted. That’s one layer of wallpaper for each decade, in case you were wondering. The kids worked hard, and we are so proud of them. Don’t worry—we weren’t using them for child labor, not officially anyway😉 #2 worked so hard that we rewarded him with a trip to iFly to indoor skydive! It was a great way to further enforce with the kids, “when you work hard at things in life, you will be rewarded.”

Moving to the new house meant saying good-bye to friends with whom we had spent the previous year building relationships, which was sad, but it also meant we would say “hello!” to lots of new friends in the Snoqualmie Valley. As a bonus, the “old” friends aren’t that far away, so we can still see them, just not quite as often.

The kids love our new home, and RM and I couldn’t be happier with it as well.  It is the perfect mix of cottage and cabin with a wonderful view of the mountains. It’s been fun to combine all of our things to make a cozy, warm home for our family.  The list of things we still need to finish seems to be never-ending, but I’ve been told that will always be the case.  “Welcome to home ownership,” they say😉

We’re so excited to spend our first Christmas here! I’ll be updating the blog as we celebrate the holidays. Stay tuned!

How Marrying a Single Dad Has Impacted My View of Father’s Day

IMG_1372This year, Father’s Day means more to me than it ever has before. You see—this year, I am married to a man who is HANDS DOWN the most wonderful father I’ve ever known. You’ve probably heard that before, but it clearly wasn’t true until now. Obviously.

Never in my wildest dreams did I picture myself ending up with a divorced man with three kids, but I have to tell you—I wouldn’t have it any other way. Sure, our life is often pretty complicated as we have several schedules to coordinate and regular interactions with a woman with whom at one point in time he was in love and began a family. Ouch—that one hurts to think about. However, with those complications comes the incredible blessing of being with a man I have more respect for than I could even remotely begin to explain to you.

One of the first things RM talked about when we met was his kids. His cubicle at work was decorated with photos of them and pictures they had drawn for him. His face lit up when he talked about them. Even though I knew that dating a man with kids was a HUGE deal and wasn’t sure it was something I was prepared to take on, I couldn’t help but be drawn to his positive and sweet spirit (not to mention his dashing good looks), and so much of that had to do with seeing what kind of dad he was.

There is a reason why women hit on men with babies at the grocery store and can’t help but say “aw!” It ignites something biological in us. I’m going to go pre-historic for a moment and say, that at a certain level, our cave woman is looking for that provider. We want to know that a man will be a good father. That he’s going to stick around. So often when we’re dating, we have to imagine what kind of father the man would be. Well, lucky me; I didn’t have to imagine it. I was able to see it firsthand.

You’re probably wondering at this point—what are the things about RM that make him such a wonderful father? Well, here it goes…

He makes a concerted effort to show each of the kids attention and ensure they feel loved.

He has developed a relationship of trust with them, in which if he says the words, “I promise,” the kids understand that is the real deal. Daddy doesn’t break promises, and neither do they.

He teaches them life lessons like what it means to build credit, how to manage money, and how to compromise and solve problems amongst themselves.

He gets up early every Saturday morning to make the kids a special breakfast. And if I’m still sleeping, he serves me breakfast in bed.

He teaches them about the Gospel and encourages them to pray.

He doesn’t expect me to jump in and do everything for the kids, like I’ve heard so many men do to their new wives/stepmoms of their children. He allows me to be as involved as I want to be and respects that sometimes I need time to myself.

He teaches the kids survival skills. They know everything from how to start a fire to how to fend off an attacker.

He knows the exact balance of when to tell them to buck up and when to let them cry on his shoulder (even when they’re not really hurt).

He rarely raises his voice, and if he does, the kids almost always listen immediately. (Okay, sometimes they have to go to their rooms.)

Despite being pulled in several directions, he gives 110 percent to ensure everyone’s needs (including mine) are met—even if that means putting 40,000 miles on his car in only a few months.

He encourages the kids to play outside, and in the past two years, I’ve only seen the kids play a video game ONE time at our house. That was two weeks ago, and it was a really old version of Pac Man.😉

While he sometimes puts movies on for the kids for the long drives, the majority of the time, he prefers to talk to them to hear about what’s going on in their lives and spend quality time with them.

I could go on, but I’m guessing you get the picture. So why am I writing this? Well, I have a confession to make. I’ve been racking my brain over what to give RM for Father’s Day, but I’ve realized it’s this. I need him to know that even though there are times when I get frustrated or tell him that I need more time sans kids, I am more grateful for the father that he is than I’ll ever be able to relay or show in some gift I pick up from the store.

RM, I am so proud to call you my husband. Happy Father’s Day.

The End of the Post-Wedding Binge

This was me last month…


… hitting a goal I had set for myself in early November of last year to run at least 3 times a week until 1 March, followed by my first 5k on 15 March.

This has been me since the race and our subsequent wedding on 22 March…


It began with the maxi pain au chocolat in Paris

profiteroles in Paris

and then profiteroles…

nutella spaghetti in Vienna... yes, there IS such a thing, and it is amazing!

and nutella spaghetti… yes, there IS such a thing, and it is amazing!

... countless soft pretzels... can't go to an Easter market without one... or several!

… countless soft pretzels… can’t go to an Easter market without one… or several!

Let's not forget the nutella waffle

Let’s not forget the nutella waffle

... or the McFlurries... yes plural...

… or the McFlurries… yes plural…

foreign McFlurries are the best, after all.

Foreign McFlurries are the best, after all.

It’s time though, friends.  The Post-Wedding Binge has GOT TO STOP.  The fact that I had met my running goal and that I no longer had to worry about looking thin and beautiful in photos that I’ll look at for the REST OF MY LIFE, meant that I could let go a bit.  Take a break from running.  Indulge.  Reward myself.  Unfortunately, that has gotten a bit, well, out of control.  I’ve literally only run about 3 times since that 5k.  However, I’ve decided that I refuse to fall into the “getting comfortable,” married slump, and it’s time to get back to the grind.  Sure, I don’t want to be one of those people who gets married and then lets themselves go (especially when we haven’t even reached the two month mark!) but in addition to that, when I’m running, I feel better.  It keeps me sane.  It makes me happier.  The days are longer in Seattle now, and there’s even a good amount of sunshine.  If I ran through the winter, there’s no excuse now.  Let’s do this.

P.S.  There should be a post sometime soon about how I vow to give up sugar.  I know it needs to happen.  I’m just not ready.  So there.