One Day Until the Vote on Scottish Independence

Places

Edinburgh

Tomorrow Scotland faces a monumental vote which will decide whether Scotland remains part of the United Kingdom or splits to become independent, leaving the Kingdom a little less united.

On the one hand, I have no right to say what is best for a country where I do not live, on the other, Scotland is one of my favorite places and I care about its future. I first visited Scotland during a semester abroad in college. Many of my fellow English Majors were determined to go to London, but I wanted to try something a little different. I knew nothing about Scotland, save for a beautiful glossy brochure advertising the University of Edinburgh, and that somewhere in my ancestry there were Scots roots. So I applied for a visa, filled out the necessary paper work for my college, packed a suitcase and hopped a plane. What ensued were some of the most exciting a stimulating months of my life.

Scotland is a beautiful country, with a long, rugged history, mysterious rain-drenched landscapes, and friendly, passionate people. I was instantly enamored and have made many subsequent trips back to Edinburgh, St. Andrews, Glasglow, Inverness and the Highlands.

Coincidentally, I timed my first stay in Scotland for the 300th anniversary of unification with England. (The Kingdom of England including Wales and the Kingdom of Scotland unified in 1707, although the countries had shared a monarchy since James VI of Scotland become James I of England in 1603). In 2007, there was a palpable desire toward independence, that at the time seemed unlikely to come to fruition. Street graffiti declared ‘Scottish not British’ and Scotland was already operating with its own parliament.

As an American it is interesting to watch another country contemplate separation from the United Kingdom. (Sure, when we did it the situation was colonization, and globalization wasn’t what it is today, but it still draws a curious parallel.) Could September 18th become Scotland’s version of our July 4th? Any time there is upheaval in country partnerships there are always people on both sides of the debate, because both sides have valid concerns and aspirations. I do not know what the right answer is for Scotland or the United Kingdom. If Scotland votes Yes it will fulfill a national dream that until now appeared unattainable. However, the repercussions will be many and are sure to create a tangle of consequences, some currently unforeseen. And yet, voting No, is saying no to a real chance to implement a long-time desire for independence. The question is a truly politically, culturally and historically complex query.

Until recent weeks the United Kingdom and the world were certain that the No votes would prevail, but now, with less than a day until the vote, it is too close to call. As Scottish poet Robert Burns said, “there is no such uncertainty as a sure thing.”

The world will just have to wait and see what Scotland decides.

A Station by Any Other Name … On Re-Naming Philly’s Transportation Stops

Out & About

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We all know, or at least Shakespeare has lead us to believe, that a rose by any other name would smell as sweet … but would it smell as nostalgic? That is a question drifting around Philadelphia these days, where several transportation spots are slated to be renamed.

The station formerly known as Market East will soon be re-named Jefferson Station. The change comes after Jefferson Hospital inked a deal with Titan (advertising for Septa).  SEPTA’s tight budget is no secret, and certainly bargaining with the naming rights of stations is a way to approach this fiscal issue. Press coverage, including some releases by Septa itself, have focused largely on Jefferson’s recent push to become more visible in the Philly healthcare market. Naming the closest station after the hospital can help cut confusion for arriving patients, and solidify Jefferson’s brand presence in the area. Seems like a win-win for both institutions.

However, the name deal is only for a few years, with an option to renew. So after five years, what happens to the name? Will it go back to being the bland but currently accepted Market East? Will Jefferson Hospital renew and continue the name in perpetuity? Will another school/company/organization take over the name-option and re-name the station something else entirely?

This is not the first SEPTA station to gain a new moniker – At&t station (formerly Pattison) is a relatively new addition to the southern end of the Broad Street line. Many cities also keep with the tradition of re-naming streets or plazas after famous figures. In fact, it was recently announced the 30th Street Station will be renamed in honor of William H. Gray III. That seemed to cause a fair amount of consternation as well. Not because the honor isn’t well deserved, but because 30th Street has always been, well, 30th Street.

With this flurry of renaming train stations, should we even consider whether there are downsides? After all, in a free market even names have a value and why not allow SEPTA to cash in on that value. (I’m all for improvements to the Philly subway system!) But in a city as historically rich as Philadelphia, carving names of landmarks (even just transportation stations) into five year deals seems disjointed. Maybe I’m just old fashioned at heart, but I’m imagining touring Philly with my future kids telling them “And this used to be Market East…”

If the venture proves successful, and with the At&t deal coming to a close, and the new deal with Jefferson about to begin, it appears that if SEPTA finds the prospect successful, we will have to wait and see if all SEPTA stops will have sponsorship in the future.

Or maybe people will just stick with saying the old names, no matter what the station signs say.

Sweaters, Sweaters Everywhere

Career Cares, Style

I try to style my work wardrobe to lean more Marnie from Girls and less Emma from Glee.  However, there is nothing, and I mean NOTHING, that looks both as cute, and as professional as the perfect cardigan. Like the classic LBD, or those impeccable heels, a great cardigan is a professional closet requisite.  I have been in search of the cardigan for years.

J Crew’s jackie cardigan was my top contender for some time.  I bought an olive green version on Michigan Ave., in Chicago while shopping with a friend one crisp October afternoon.  That was around four years ago, and although I’ve worn it unceasingly to work since, and the cuffs are beginning to show the wear, it still hangs in my closet and I can’t seem to get rid of it.  It should be noted, that I also purchased a full cotton version of a j crew cardigan, however it stretched after a few wears and now looks loose and baggy in places.

Next, I tried to replicate my love for the jackie with a deep purple cotton and wool blend cardigan from Gap.  Although it was a cute sweater, after a  few washes it just did not hold its shape like the j crew version.  It appears appealing when buttoned over a blouse, but does not have that classic adorable cardigan shape I’m after.

Well, I’ve recently found the next great cardigan!  I was walking through the mall when a rack of colorful sleeves and buttons caught my eye.  Halogen brand has a great line of cardigans in a myriad of colors (they also have some delectable skirts as well).  The only down side for this busy girl, is that they need to be hand washed.* They are made of rayon, so they are very light weight and hold their shape wonderfully over any shirt, top or blouse.  The saturated, deep colors really make them pop, so it’s easy to throw one on over those plain black trouser pants and basic white shirt.  I now have five in different colors!

I didn’t think that I could devote an entire post to sweaters, but with fall coming sooner than I’d like, it’s almost time to dig out the cooler wardrobe. Sigh.

* This can be done with a little woolite in your bathroom sink.

And they all lived happily ever after in his home town … When the Bachelorette Moves for Love

House & Home, Personal Space, Women Stuff

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Everyone should have a secret or two. Here is one of mine, sometimes I watch the Bachelor/Bachelorette. Not regularly, and usually not an entire episode, but over the years I’ve probably seen my fair share of glittery dresses, accusations of fakery and loooong pauses before roses are doled out. It’s fun, its full of drama and even though the point is to find a life partner/bestfriend/soulmate in a few short months on national television, it all looks a bit like a vacation. Sure, there are tears and triumphant declarations of love, but the same sentiments are expressed so often on the show, a show where few couples have actually made it, that it is hard to take everything seriously.

These Bachelor/ette shows have faced a certain amount of (often deserved) criticism over the years. Many of the viewers probably do not pay much attention to it – after all, it is the viewing equivalent of eating cupcakes, no matter how many times they remind us that it is serious for those involved! However, there is one conversation that gets me every time. And it always comes up, usually around home-town weeks when the contestants suitors take the Bachelorette home to meet the family. This trip sparks the inevitable conversation about where the blissful pair will live after everyone else is sent packing. And it usually goes something along the lines of:

Guy:    Hey, do you think you can handle moving to (my town) after we get engaged?

Girl:     Absolutely/Sure/Yes/Probably/I think so

Why is the woman always moving?! At first I thought maybe whoever is the Bachelor/Bachelorette gets to stay in their town, and any contestant that ‘wins’ moves? Not so. (See Ashley & JP). Then I thought maybe whoever has the strongest family ties in one place stays? No. (See Emily & Brad, she moved with her daughter). Perhaps whoever has the most settled career? (This season Andi talked over moving to Iowa, but I’m guessing she didn’t have an attorney’s license in that state yet).

I do not know any of these people, so perhaps they all had great reasons for making the moving decisions that they did. I’m not judging individual couples for their decisions – do what works – but thinking over the seasons I’ve seen, there is a pattern. And of course someone will have to move – if you throw together two dozen single people from across the country, they are bound to be from geographically diverse locations. I also haven’t seen every season (whew) so maybe there was a guy who moved for the girl, I’m just saying it doesn’t happen often on this show.

Here is the thing about last night’s Bachelorette finale, it is the first one that circumvented the entire issue of who will move, and where, and why, and when. (Actually, maybe it isn’t the first, but I’m not a reality tv historian, so…) Andi and her beloved are actually from the same city, as was mentioned on the show.  This led to a lot of sneaking around in wigs, and secret dates over the last few weeks, because even though they are engaged they had to maintain radio silence for ABC. This is either cute, or giving you flashbacks to that 11th grade boyfriend your parents didn’t like. The point is, she chose someone from her home town, so no one had to move. That will probably make it easier in the long run. It will also evades the first big, real decision that most Bachelor/ette couples face after the cameras are off.

Maybe it’s a coincidence. Perhaps I just happened to watch every season where its the woman packing her suitcases at the end, as they ride into the sunset. Kidding aside, I don’t know why the shows end this way – maybe ABC only casts women who dislike their home cities, maybe women on the Bachelorette are more willing to compromise, or maybe they feel like they are expected to?

Something to think about next season.

 

Plagiarism ~ Wrong but also a Nuanced Concept

Writing & Creativity

The other day I came across an interesting article by Jessica Lahey, in The Atlantic, entitled “What a plagiarizing 12 Year Old has in Common with a US Senator.” The article addresses the recent controversy surrounding Ph.D. candidate Zack Jud, sixth grader Lauren Arrington, and research involving lionfish. The thrust of the piece explains that when children make missteps, it is up to the adults surrounding them to point out the error, explain the reasoning and redirect the child toward accuracy and integrity.

When I was young, very young, I copied some illustrations from a picture book. My six or seven year-old drawing ability was not on par with the illustrator of the book, but I tried my best to copy the adorable hamster cartoons. They were depicted engaged in various activities like jumping rope, cooking and lounging at the beach. Pleased with my results I shared my drawings with my mom’s friend, an artist.  I recall her telling me how creative the pictures were, and although I did not know why, her compliments felt somewhat sour.

As a youngster, I had not yet learned the complexity or even the concept of plagiarism. I loved drawing and took a few children’s level art classes where I often copied lines drawn by a teacher, or was encouraged to mimic the shapes and shades of famous works with my own colored pencils. I used many images for drawing practice – family photos, magazine ads, National Geographic spreads. Children learn by watching and imitating. In copying anything I enjoyed, including book illustrations, I was simply trying to understand how to make something that I admired. But eventually comes an awaking to the ideas of personal creativity, ownership of ideas, and credit.

I later understood my discomfort with the praise I received for “my” hamster drawings. I had copied the illustrations as a means to improve my technical abilities, while the friend instead praised the idea behind the drawings, which was not my own. I discerned the difference when I read a book about Helen Keller detailing the controversy surrounding “The Frost King” a published story written by a young Keller, but later revealed to be strikingly similar to “Frost Fairies” by Margaret Canby. I suddenly understood – ideas can belong to people, and taking someone’s idea is like taking their car or dog.

As a senior in college, a fellow English major and I gave a small talk about plagiarism to teachers at a local high school. The internet was fast becoming students’ research tool of choice and Wikipedia was catching on, so the teachers wanted to be able to keep pace. If students were going to google research topics, the school was going to google their final term papers right back. We focused our presentation on how to detect planned, intentional, internet-based plagiarism. We did not consider why eleventh graders might be stealing writings about the battle of Belmont, or appropriating lines of E.E. Cummings – only how to catch them. There was also little discussion of why plagiarism is such a threat to integrity, especially in young adults who are presented with new ideas daily, and are learning to differentiate for themselves, and others, the distinction between their own work and another’s.

I agree with Ms. Lahey, and others, including Jud himself, who have written or spoken recently about this lionfish research debacle, that parents have the responsibility to teach this concept to their kids (as well as a myriad of other things we expect them to learn as they reach maturity). Throw teachers in there too, because they often uncover the indiscretion and dole out the penalty.  But just how should this lesson be conveyed to children?

We all agree that a person’s ideas are her own, and that taking those ideas for profit, or holding them out as your own without credit to the source, is wrong. We have copious amounts of intellectual property law to back this up. It is a black and white concept that appears easy to explain: plagiarism is like stealing and stealing is wrong. Here is something to consider though, if you unpack the idea of using unoriginal work, many gradations of gray are revealed.

For instance, in a law firm, the phrase “don’t reinvent the wheel” is often invoked. Meaning, if Fred down the hall wrote a motion on the same topic last week, why not use Fred’s motion and just make a few edits? The lawyer does not then footnote his motion attributing any turns of phrase to Fred. However, when it comes to referencing statues, regulations or case law, lawyers carefully and specifically cite each reference. The critical legal information is cited, but the common practice of sharing work within an office abrogates the need to credit Fred, even though motion number two borrowed entire paragraphs of Fred’s writing. This method prioritizes time-saving and presenting the best argument, over protection of any one person’s creativity in their work within a firm. On the other hand, such a practice would be completely unacceptable for a final paper in a college course.

Other arenas where using another’s work or ideas is objectionable are academia, invention and writing, among others. We all know that there are many themes that have been written about time and time again – man v. nature for instance. It is acceptable to write an original story with this theme, but wrong to copy words from The Old Man and the Sea. And then there are new works that are retellings of prior works – My Fair Lady and Pygmalion, as an example.

As children grow into adults, immersing themselves in different environments as they learn – academic, a specific profession, a field of work – they experience context based norms for crediting others work. As copyright law shows, it is possible for several people to have the same or very similar idea separately, yet we also want to protect ideas and the people who have them and develop them first. It’s a tricky concept for kids (and perhaps even some adults) but it is important that we all learn to respect the work of others, and use it to grow, but not as our own.

 

 

 

 

 

3 things from a 5K

Feeling Fit

 

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Remember a few months ago I wrote about signing myself up for a 5K run … No? Well, here is a reminder. Anyway, I completed the race and figured out a few things along the way.

  1. Cute Shoes Matter.
  2. Having a Buddy Helps.
  3. My Time is Good Enough.

In other words, I wore an old pair of sneakers because I was afraid to buy new ones just before a race. Bad move. I got a blister from my old (supposedly broken in) shoes. They just were not the right ones for this road run. I now have a new pair of adorable shoes that are much more comfortable.

I also convinced a friend to sign up for the run too. It was more fun to have someone to run with, and someone to help you keep a steadier pace. Also great to have a brunch buddy who is also sweaty for after the run!

Last thing, the run was chip-timed. I spent more time than I should admit looking up finish results from years past. Checking finish times for ladies in my age group against my own pace. I should not have done this. Sure you don’t want to sign up for a race that only caters to professional runners if you are a newbie, but this was a Saturday morning charity race. Next time I will worry more about beating my own pace and letting the other numbers go.

Confronting my Writing Consternation

Personal Space

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Yesterday I scooped up my laptop, grabbed a floppy sun hat and headed for the roof deck of my building. This was the day!I was going to start outlining the story that’s been percolating for a few weeks. I found a deck chair in the shade, facing the river, where I kicked off my shoes, opened my laptop, created a new doc and… nothing.

What is my problem? I was an English major in college, so I’m able to string a few words together. I even took creative writing courses! I wrote articles for my school newspaper, so I’m not afraid to have people read the words I’ve written. I also have a job that requires quite a bit of writing. So why is it that when I turn to story or essay writing I choke?

Instead of writing chapter one, I sat on my roof, watching the sky fade grey and contemplating this conundrum. And my conclusions are this … my writer’s block is fear based. Writing an article or drafting a document at work allows me to hide behind form, convention, and facts. The information is prescribed, I just need to make it flow. However, fiction is a wide open space waiting to be cultivated into anything. And that is where the problems starts and also the questions… Do I have a right to tell a story like this? Does this character seem to resemble my friend? Will people assume this is how I actually feel about said issues, when it is really just a character’s perspective? Is the plot too subtle? Too boring? Too poorly written?

Somehow in the last few years I’ve lost my writing nerve. It may take a bit of work, but my writing will turn out pretty boring unless I start taking a few risks.

So here’s hoping I get it back.

 

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From Litter to Climate Change ~ We have to Care to Help

Green

The other day, a balmy Sunday afternoon, I witnessed a child commit a crime. He was about nine years old, walking his bike down the sidewalk, and struggling to open a candy bar. He paused momentarily, outside the shop window where I stood, and succeeded in freeing the chocolate. Then, casually, oh so casually, he dropped the wrapper on the ground and walked away.

I was stunned.

Growing up, littering was akin to larceny in my household. You just did not throw trash on the ground. Ever. However, when it comes to sullying our surroundings, humans are pretty fickle bunch. Even in our increasingly environmentally conscious world, littering is commonplace. While not a glamorous infraction (just ask Arlo Guthrie), it does have serious implications – environmental, aesthetic and budgetary. According to Keep America Beautiful, Inc., cleanup for litter in the United States costs nearly $11.5 billion every year. Just to put that amount in context, a Forbes contributor estimated that Brazil spent $11 billion on World Cup preparations. It costs the equivalent of one World Cup, every year, just to keep American streets free of cigarette butts, plastic bags and soda cans. That is a lot of litter.

Much of litter cleanup costs are born by businesses, but we are increasingly relying on volunteers and litter remediation efforts. Several large cities are advocating changes and new attitudes in the management of litter. These efforts include both public service initiatives to motivate, and harsher penalties to deter. Back in 2009 Philadelphia replaced many of its traditional city trash receptacles with large solar compactor cans. The UnlitterUs campaign for cleaner streets also pushes businesses, schools and individuals to form litter-free zones in area communities. Last year Chicago increased littering penalties, making the infraction worth a $1,500 fine with possible vehicle impoundment. It is enough to give the most hardened litterbug pause.

These clean-up campaigns appear to be making some headway, but a critical question is why we have such a considerable litter problem at all? The National Waste & Recycling Association reports that, while studies show most people considering littering to be wrong, 81% of observed instances of littering are intentional. The organization attributes this to a lack of “personal responsibility” and “belief that someone else will pick up after them.” Clearly when it comes to litter, the adage, you break it you buy it, does not apply.

Perhaps this mentality is indicative of our collective attitude toward other environmental issues. Instead of creating a joint feeling of responsibility for the environment, green issues in our nation cause a political fracas. We debate whether or not effects on the climate are actually real. We debate whether or not people cause them. We start to agree that maybe they are, and maybe we do … but then start to debate the merits of doing anything about it. Where is our feeling of responsibility? According to the EPA, America falls behind only China when it comes to generating carbon emissions. Yet, there has been no clear national stance on the major climate issues facing our country and the world. Until now.

Recently, climate and environmental issues were brought to the national stage like never before, by the White House’s Climate Action Plan. The President’s announcement is important on two fronts. First, it acknowledges America’s contribution to the damage being wrought upon our planet. Second, it recognizes that no one else will deal with our environmental messes. With this plan, the administration is essentially saying that, although America does contribute vastly to the pollution that is littering our planet and wreaking havoc on the climate, we are not going to sit around hoping that someone else will eventually come along to clean things up.

There is much debate about the future environmental, economic and health related consequences of the fledgling plan. The results will depend on how states decide to reach the new goals. A lot of groups are throwing around a lot of statistics, and it may be a while before we know if any of these numbers are valid. What we do know now, however, is that our nation has taken a major step. And the President is not stopping at climate change. This week he announced that protection will be extended to additional thousands of square miles of ocean in the south central Pacific. This expands an area of protection established by President George W. Bush, under the Antiquities Act. Although the area is not currently threatened from an environmental standpoint, this pre-emptive measure shows foresight and care for the planet of tomorrow, not just the convenience of today.

Recent headlines promise a shift in mindset toward environmental issues. It is becoming a national dialogue and, importantly, being worked into current policy and future planning for our country. That nine-year old litterbug has already learned that dropping trash on the street feels like it has zero consequences. When he bikes past the same corner a few days later, the wrapper appears to be gone. But it is still out there somewhere, floating down a creek, or wrapped around stalks of meadow grasses. Until recently it has been too easy to think of planet pollution in the same way. Hopefully, the recent realizations about climate change have awoken our country to this concept, that any pollution we put out into the world has lasting ramifications.

Because who else will clean up after us?

Fish Tacos for Tuesday

Food, Kitchen Owl

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Tuesday is a tricky dinner day.  Since it falls in the awkward beginning-middle of the week, my criteria is usually 1) What is quick? 2) What is easy? 3) What did I buy over the weekend that needs to be used up asap? This week I had vegetables, fish and a spring in my step because the weather has been so deliciously warm.  I was inspired to make something summery and something that my husband would love. (I usually save the more interesting, flavorful exciting complicated dishes for weekends, and do old standbys during the week, but this Tuesday I was up for a new dish).  What do you make with pepper, mango, avocados and fish? Fish Tacos!

This is a great recipe for people who don’t like measuring. In fact, I won’t give you any measurements at all, just estimates, and trust me, it will still turn out great!

Take one Mango and one Avocado and chop into small pieces. Add juice of a Lime, a splash of Olive Oil, dash of Salt, dash of Black Pepper, sprinkle of Red Pepper Flakes.  Dice 1/2 a Red Onion and 1/2 a Red Bell Pepper. Salsa done!

Next take the Fish (mahi mahi, pollock, or tilapia all would work) and cut into 1 inch cubes. Roll in Corn Meal and pan fry in olive oil about 5-7 minutes, until flaky.  You can add some pepper or other spices to the fish for a bit of kick if you like.

Then just slap it all together in a taco shell, with maybe some lettuce for crunch and it will taste great. This will definitely go into my dinner repertoire as a crowd (crowd of two, at least) pleaser! Yay Tuesday!

Coffee Shop Office

Career Cares, Food, Places

What is the best environment for doing work? Do you prefer the staid silence of the library, the beeping-ringing-rushing of an office, the coziness of your own home?  Everyone has an atmosphere that promotes the intersection of their own concentration and creativity.
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For me it’s a coffee shop.  When I focus on a project, I enjoy action around me, but not involving me.  There is music, there are people.  Being at a coffee shop makes me feel like I’m connected to the world, not locked away all day in a room with my computer.  Yet, I can still convert all the music and chatter into background noise while I write or plan or organize.

Obviously I’m not the first person to discover the creative power of the coffee shop.  Visit a cafe on any given day, and it is usually full of readers, writers or students with laptops and books scattered over the table tops. Coffee shops and cafes also have a historical presence as homes of great thinkers and literary scholars.

My love of coffee shops began while living in Edinburgh.  I began to study at a coffee shop, the Elephant House, on the George IV bridge.  The same cafe known for where J.K. Rowling wrote the first books of a certain popular series about british wizards.  Sitting at a table in the back room, overlooking the Edinburgh castle and graveyard below, I can certainly see how she was inspired!

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Here are some of my favorite coffee shops in Philly:

  • Chapterhouse – 9th & Bainbridge
  • L’Aube – 17th & Wallace
  • Ray’s Cafe – 9th & Cherry
  • Cafe Ole – 3rd & Quarry