Friday, October 17, 2014


"To steal ideas from one person is plagiarism; to steal from many is research.”
― Steven Wright

I recently began applying for jobs, and I've gotten pretty good at it. I have gone through all the motions, from meeting with a career counselor, to networking myself through everyone I know (and may know) thanks to LinkedIn. I have applied for too many jobs to count, but I'm getting responses. Over the past four weeks I have averaged four interviews every week. I'm talking about all kinds of interviews, from informational to in-person.

This is a very time consuming process, mostly because each interaction requires scheduling, research, and time. I take each interview pretty seriously. Until I don't. Because, inevitably, something in the process will rub me the wrong way. No longer being interested in the position, not being able to come to a consensus on salary, or not wanting to work with the staff are all very solid reasons not to take a job. I have used all these reasons to withdraw my candidacy from consideration. But I have also come across one more reason to run away from any given job opportunity. And that is when I'm given too much homework.

I know it has been a few years since I've set out to seek full time employment, but since when has it been okay for employers to take advantage of candidates? I am actually shocked at the amount of work I have been asked to complete throughout various stages of interviewing.

Two recent instances have stuck in my craw. The first was an interview granted with a wonderful educational organization. Before I even spoke to anyone about this position, I was sent a letter (in the mail) with two items. One was a parking pass for my scheduled interview date and time. And the second was a request to give a one-hour presentation to a board of representatives at the organization. The presentation topic? A complete proposal for a multi-year $250,000 grant, based on the type of programming the organization runs. But I didn't know what type of programs the organization runs. It's not apparent on their non-existent website. I hadn't even spoken with anyone at the organization about the position, let alone what would be beneficial to it. I was extremely frustrated.

But that's not what upset me the most. The most ridiculous part of this assignment was for me to do the work for the organization. If I were to write an incredible multi-year grant proposal under any other circumstances, I would be appropriately compensated. Actually, I have been compensated for this type of work for over ten years now. I am not going to give away my secret grant-writing formula for free, no matter how much I want the job. In the end, I called the organization, left a voice-mail, and bowed out of the interview process. Mostly because I don't want to write grants full time, so it's clearly not the right position nor the best fit organization for me. But also because I was not going to do the work they inappropriately asked of me.

The second homework assignment I received recently was to plan an event for an organization I had been currently interviewing with. I understand the idea of raising the expectations for a candidate in a second round of interviews. But asking me to present my complete event proposal for an event that will be happening early next year is just an absolute abuse of power. Again, asking for all my ideas and taking them to plan an event is not an ethical way to work. It's not how I work. And I wouldn't work for an organization that treated others this way.

What is acceptable is the following: arrive at said interview with a few concrete ideas to discuss, Then, the organization hires me, and I complete said ideas. Sounds like a pretty awesome plan. On the other hand, for me to present to the organization's entire staff for over an hour, lay out how I'd secure each vendor and contact each vendor for an upcoming event is the very definition of work. Again, I'd expect to be compensated. This is true event planning/consulting work. And it is usually accompanied by a large amount of monetary compensation. 

In the end, I wanted the position at this second organization, so I did the work. I presented my event plan, complete with budget templates and event checklists. But the truth is that my heart wasn't in the proposal. No longer did I hope for a job offer at this organization. The idea of free labor is what I expected to provide over twelve years ago when I was an intern. A decade later, I've got two degrees and a world of experience.

Let me make sure I am clear about one thing: I am not saying every time I use my skill set, I should be compensated. I'm not saying that at all. Anyone who knows me knows that I use my knowledge, experience, and passion for good. I am currently writing grants, raising money, designing websites, planning events, and even training a student on the grant-writing process, all for free. I am a volunteer. I am happy to help. But there is a very distinct line for me between being a volunteer and being taken advantage of. When I'm working, there is the expectation of monetary compensation. When I am volunteering, I receive a reward of the non-monetary kind. And that works for me. But I'm not talking about the volunteer part of my life. I'm talking about my livelihood, the money I use to pay my rent, and eat, and pay the internet bill so I can afford to post this blog online.

Plus, it's not an all or nothing job interview homework mentality I'm holding. For instance, I am not against skill set exercises. One company asked me to complete a data merge and collate said data, drawing conclusions based on the data. This exercise took 20 minutes and I was happy to do it. Apparently my Excel skills passed the test, because I was asked to come in for a second interview. Score!

But what surprised me about this data collation activity was the simplicity of the exercise. Granted, I needed to use equations across multiple spreadsheets, but in the event that I wasn't sure how to do this, I could have always used Google. It is common practice for most people I know; if you don't know something, or need to fix something, or have a general question about how anything works, you get on your computer (or phone, or tablet) and Google it. Then you have your answer. I suppose a better test of my skills as a potential employee would have been to ask me, "if we asked you to create pivot tables in an Excel document and you don't know how, what would you do?" I could quickly answer, "I'd Google the question and teach myself the answer." There you go. Clearly I can learn anything I don't know how to do. I am industrious. I will make an awesome employee.

I have used this tactic before. Haven't we all? During a phone interview I actually said I knew how to create pivot tables. The night before I went in to the in-person interview, knowing I'd have to speak specifically on the pivot table topic, possibly even tested on it, I taught myself pivot tables. I know how to use the internet, as skill which will, no doubt, help me secure my next full time gig. In the meantime, just don't ask me to solve your company's issues for free. You'll have to hire me first.

Here is Forbes Magazine's approach to job interview homework:

Thursday, October 2, 2014

read on

“Lovers of print are simply confusing the plate for the food.” 
― Douglas Adams

I've been long overdue for a post about digital books. I don't know why I haven't written about this hot topic yet. Digital books, e-books, i-books. Whatever you want to call them, they are now an integral part of my everyday life.

So why have I been avoiding the topic? Because I don't have any hard set opinions on which is better. 

Here is where I'm coming from (and what I'm debating).

1. I am completely undecided about digital books vs actual books. Because I read both. I know this may be hard to believe, but I currently have two hardcover books checked out from the public library, along with an audio book (which I refer to as a "cd on tape"), and at least a dozen e-books on my iPad (by way of the Kindle app). Yep, I've got books in all formats. So which is my preferred method? I still don't know. I read them all, with no major problems. +0

2. I do not believe there are any long range studies that conclude without a doubt anything about the use of e-books. How can there be? The internet/e-book world hasn't been around long. I'm not saying I don't see any studies posted. I do. It's just that every week a new study comes out, typically contradicting last week's study. How about we hold off on any e-book "conclusions" until significance has been taking into consideration? +0

3. The data does show, however, that reading online does not damage your eyes. I heard this rumor throughout college, as my classmates found themselves needing glasses more and more. This is not the fault of reading on computer screens. This is a result of aging and lots of reading in less than ideal circumstances (too close, not enough light). And I speak from experience: in the fifteen years that I have been reading 8+ hours a day on screens of all shapes and sizes, my eyesight has never gotten any worse. I will need "reading glasses" in a few years, but that's from the decrease in elasticity in the crystalline lens in my eyes, not from a lifetime of reading online. +1 digital reading.

4. I had a horrible first experience reading online. It was in the form of the GRE exam I took my senior year of college. I didn't know until I went to register for the test, but the only way the test could be taken was on a computer. Not a huge deal for the vocabulary section, but a horrific way to attempt to answer the questions about the passage. This was over a decade ago; reading online was not interactive at all. You couldn't touch the screen, let alone highlight a word, see the whole passage alongside the questions, or go back to the passage. You had no choice but to read the passage as it was printed on the screen, half at a time, and then answer the questions on a new page. No exceptions. No underlining, no going back, no fun. It turned me off to reading online for a long long time. +1 actual reading. 

5. The book writing and publishing industry seems to be doing okay with the mass switch to digital books/reading. Unlike the music industry, it's a lot harder to pirate copy a book than a song. I have yet to unlawfully obtain a digital book. It's not a battle I see being waged. If anything, we are seeing more books because of digital publishing. Case and point: Fifty Shades of Grey. Sigh. Not a selling point for digital books. +1 actual books.

Is this what the library is starting to look like?

In summary, the digital world has yet to win me over. But it's not because it's bad for me or my eyes. It's more a behavior change. I mean, eventually my computer went from my desktop, to my lap, to my hand. It appears books are following this same course. I have found that e-books travel well. Although computers/phones/tablets eventually run out of power. And they are hard to take to the beach. And I can't exactly read them in the bath. But they're portable. And they contain entire libraries of books in one single click. So, I'll give digital reading another go around. But for now, nothing beats turning the pages of an actual book.

Final count: 
Actual books/reading: 2 points
Digital books/reading: 1 point

Conclusion: Reading always wins

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

ojo rojo

My last morning in Mexico I woke up with tears in my eye. After wiping them away, they quickly returned. I ran to the bathroom to see what I knew was inevitable; an eye infection. Was my eye going to be red, pink, or white? It was white. Phew, I thought, at least I won't stop traffic with my clearly infected eye. Plus, there was still time to wait before officially declaring myself with pink eye, since it wasn't puffy or pink.

I have had conjunctivitis (pink eye) in more countries than I care to count. If you are not prone to eye infections, they can be scary entities. Many people don't like touching their eyes. And an eye infection scares the sh#* out of them.

I am no such person. I've been getting eye infections my whole life. I've also worn contacts (on and off) since middle school. Sticking my fingers in my eyes is common practice for me. I have been known to put a contact back in during the most precarious of situations. Because, believe it or not, the most dangerous place for me to be in is the one where I have no way of seeing. Without prescriptive lenses, I can't see. I'm not exaggerating. My prescription is in the negative double digits and I have never met a person with worse eyesight than mine. I can't even read the clock on my nightstand without lenses.

What the world looks like to me without corrective lenses.

So what does one do when she finds herself with an eye infection in a foreign land? Oh yeah, to make matters more complicated, I was on a small island off the Caribbean coast of Mexico.

I casually went down to my hotel lobby and told the lovely desk agent, "Umm... fijense que estan infectados algunos ojos." (Translation: Umm, I think some eyes might be infected). She quickly told me about a doctor with morning hours, whose office could be found above a pharmacy three blocks away. She gave me good directions (rare in Mexico), and I headed out.

I found the pharmacy, but I was too early. Doctor hours didn't begin until 10am. I had two hours to kill. No problem, I'd be back. But just out of curiosity, I asked the pharmacist how much the doctor visit would cost me. $35 pesos ($3). Yep, $3 to see a doctor without an appointment. I would definitely be back.

This incident reminded me of one particularly silly bout with pink eye while in Peace Corps training. As I mentioned, I have gotten pink eye about once a year my entire life. Sometimes it's bacterial and sometimes it's viral. I used to get pink eye so frequently, I'd travel with my own bottle of sulfa drops - a miracle cure, depending on the type of pink eye you've got.

I had pink eye during field-based training in Danlί, Honduras. One thing we like to tout about the Peace Corps is the free health insurance. So, I was taken one morning via Peace Corps white van to a doctor's office. The Peace Corps staff member with me thought my "ojo rojo" (red eye) was hilarious and everyone else was pretty much freaked out. I was calm. Another bout of pink eye. Would it be bacterial or viral this time? This particular bout of pink eye left my eye red, puffy, and oozing pus. I know, gross. But it was quickly treated.

Honestly, the worst part about pink eye in a tropical climate is not being able to wear contacts. During my normal life in perpetually cold San Francisco, I can wear my glasses every day. But when I want to swim, or even run a long distance, glasses just don't cut it. And I'm not about to go without. So I put in my handy contacts. And I'm good to go. Until I'm not. Because inevitably, I will get an eye infection. I know I will. And I do.

So why didn't I get LASIK all those years ago? Somewhere in between all that travel, everyday life, and eye infections, my eyesight was still getting worse (along with my pesky astigmatism). My eyesight has since tapered off, but now the years are numbered before I'll need reading glasses too. I know many LASIK candidates who wear glasses for driving now. A few years without glasses? I didn't necessarily need that.

Plus, glasses have become a part of who I am. They are me. Just like having brown hair and brown eyes, I wear glasses. It took me many years to be okay with wearing glasses in public (I worshipped my contact lenses for the 10 years I wore them). And I'll still wear them when playing sports. But I've become okay with wearing glasses. And I've noticed many women have as well. No girl had glasses in middle school. Everyone was getting contacts. But now, I have several friends and even an aunt who got married wearing glasses. After all, we don't expect men to get contacts, even for their weddings. So why should women have to?

The answer is we don't. Despite ridiculous websites like this one, a Wikihow entitled, "how to look good in glasses (for women)." Totally absurd. Just wear your glasses. You'll not only look good, you'll also see well. It's win-win.

I am proud of my decision to wear glasses, even if I'll never be able to wake up and see clearly without them. Even if it means sleeping with a watch to be able to read the time while in bed, or wearing glasses in the shower so I can see where I'm walking (and also find the shampoo). And yes, my glasses break. And contacts dry out my eyes. And my eyes get infected. And I'll never have cool sunglasses (I have prescription ones, but because my prescription is so strong, the lenses are in super small frames which looks silly). But, I'll look like me. And that's what makes me the happiest.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014


During my last trip to Mexico I had the privilege of attending a traditional cultural event: a Quinceañera. Having been to many bar/bat mitzvahs (including my own), I figured I knew a little something about teenage coming of age parties. But having never been to any party in Mexico, let alone a large party in a small Mayan village, I guess I really did not know what I was getting into.

Here are the logistics of a modern day Yucatec party.
1. Party starts at 11pm. And everyone attends (including babies, children, families, grandparents, and even dogs).
2. Dinner is served at midnight. There is nothing to drink except Coca-Cola. Nothing else.
3. Dancing (and music so loud your ears can't stop ringing) gets going around 1am.
4. Party ends anywhere from 6am to 8am.

I left the party at 2am, having to drive half an hour home via dusty dirt roads. I was the first person to leave the party. Eating dinner at midnight left me feeling icky and itching to get home to bed.

Being a novice in regards to Mexican party rules, I was warned ahead of time, "these parties are hard to handle if someone is not used to the hours." So in a sense I knew ahead of time about the late hours. But there was absolutely was no way I was going to miss attending this once in a lifetime Mexican cultural experience.

But did I mention the actual event started at 7:30pm with a Catholic Mass? Oh yeah, I went to that too (to take pictures for the family).

Family photo with the Priest

I also consider myself extremely blessed to have been welcomed in to such an important milestone for this humble and religious family. I haven't known the family long, but they immediately invited me in and treated me like an extended member of the family. This is typical of the Yucatec hospitality I have come to know and love.

But almost nothing else about this 
quinceañera was typical. Beforehand, I decided to read a little about the significance of a 15th year party for a girl. I assumed the importance was because turning 15 indicates the girl is ready to marry. Turns out I was correct. Not too difficult to figure out. And, fortunately, no longer a modern day practice.

I found a lot more about quinceañeras that I didn't know. A quince, "constitutes a ceremony on a girl’s fifteenth birthday to mark her passage to womanhood, to give thanks to God for his blessings, and to present a young woman to the community."
1 Sounds about right. There's more. "The young woman’s fifteenth birthday begins with a Misa de acción de gracias, or mass to give thanks for a completed childhood."1 Check. Next, "around the celebrant are seated her damas (maids of honor) and chambelanes (escorts)."1 Check. But then, traditionally, "the festejada, or adolescent woman celebrating the birthday, is seated at the foot of the church altar resplendent in an elaborate pink or white formal dress."1 Did I see this? No. Pecque wore a turquoise dress.

Pecque and her attendants post-mass

At the Quinceañera I was frequently asked, "do you have this kind of party in the U.S.?" My answer was always, "Yes. There are quinceañeras in the U.S. But we also have additional types of similar coming of age celebrations, depending on the culture. And some people even celebrate the 16th birthday more as a custom than a religious celebration."

Which led me to think about Pecque's turquoise dress. "The origins of [the Quinceañeraare shrouded in the history of the Mexican people. As with so many things Mexican, it combines both Spanish-Catholic traditions with a rich indigenous heritage."1 But there was nothing Maya nor Yucatec about this party. 

For example, men in the Yucatan typically (and often) wear shirts called guayaberas. Women wear white dresses with embroidered flowers called huipils

Lucy in a huipil and her escort in a quayabera              Young Pecque in a huipil with her sister Lucia in a huipil

Five years ago, at her sister Lucia's Quinceañera, Pecque's sister wore a huipil. So did 10-year-old Pecque. Lucia had a traditional Quince, which consisted of a Catholic Mass, family photos, and a small reception on site at the church.

What Pecque had last month was a glamourous party. And not a traditional quinceañera. 

Pecques' attendants, cakes, and gifts

Not traditionally Mexican. Nor Mayan. "Every region in Mexico [has] added their own local traditions and customs to the European-derived balls. Regional and local traditions as well as the economic status of the celebrating family exert an influence on the ceremony, determining the atmosphere of the religious service and the party."1

But this not a wealthy family. They do not travel, don't wear new clothes, don't needlessly spend money. In other words, I have no idea how they could afford this celebration. It was an expensive affair; one in which the tiny little town of Ixil (try to find it on a map) found its inhabitants out dancing at the municipal building until 6am. What was this humble family trying to prove? That they could throw an expensive party for their town? It was a fun event, but at what price?

The morning after Pecque's quinceañera, the sun rose; everyone packed up and went home. And Pecque awoke to find herself no longer the center of attention. Her turquoise shoes, turquoise dress, and turquoise eye shadow were now gone. But at least I was there to take the pictures.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014


I haven't felt well for a long time. So long now that I don't remember what living without pain feels like. After months of increasingly frequent episodes of acute pain, along with a lot of free time on my hands, I finally decided to do something. What I mean is, against my natural instincts, I went to the doctor.

And that's how I ended up with an unclear diagnosis: probable fructose malabsorption, lactose intolerance, gluten intolerance (Celiac), and irritable bowel syndrome. The all encompassing term to describe my digestive system ailments is that I have a "functional gastrointestinal disorder" or FGID for short.

What I mean by unclear diagnosis is that, despite pretty definitive testing methodology, my food intolerances are each on their own continuum. I am somewhere on the spectrum for what I can tolerate (for example, I'm very low on the Celiac spectrum). According to my team of GI doctors, the understanding, and subsequent diagnosis, of digestive disorders is relatively new in the gastrointestinal world and these doctors (specialists) are still learning what it all means.

What it means to me is the difference between living life to its fullest, and not being able to leave my home or even sleep most nights. My intolerances have become debilitating, to say the least. And I still don't really understand them quite yet. At the beginning of this journey I had a feeling I'd be working with a GI for the long haul. And, true to form, I am. I'm working with three amazing GIs, have taken five tests (more to come), and, of course, spend every day reading about every possible condition on the internet. WebMD is a good, if not insanely dangerous, companion, since my medical training consists of being the daughter of a doctor (meaning not very solid).

My lactulose hydrogen breath test.
Used to diagnose small intestinal bacteria overgrowth (SIBO)

Unless you've been living under a rock, you know that there are a million stories going around the internet about how humans should avoid gluten, stay away from dairy, and eat like cavemen. Despite being an avid learner, reader, and internet browser, I am not a food fad subscriber. 
The thought that I may have to cut out entire portions of a certain type of food I love to eat is scary for me. I don't typically discriminate against food.

But I am now on a diet. Or at least I will be shortly. Once we know where the pain is coming from. First up, my small intestine. I'm finishing round one of a high dose antibiotic treatment. Xifaxan, the antibiotic of choice, targets my gut specifically. Whatever bad bacteria has infiltrated itself into my small intestine, its days are numbered. Xifaxan will kill the bad bacteria, keep the good. Pretty powerful stuff. 

Except that I can't get Xifaxan. After weeks of back and forth with doctors, pharmacies, and insurance companies (in at least two countries) Xifaxan is out of my price range (approx. $2K for the 42 pills I need to complete a two week regimen). Instead, I'm on a much harsher all encompassing antibiotic; Cipro. A travelers go-to miracle drug, its job is easy; kill all the bad bacteria in my gut.

But, it doesn't end there. I'm currently also using elimination diets to find out which specific foods I can and cannot tolerate. Almost everyone I meet has a suggestion for what I should eliminate from my diet. I hear a lot of, "you can't eat dairy, right?" and "if you tested positive for Celiac (which I did), then you can't have any gluten." But only I know what exactly I can and cannot eat. Because my gut is also not a food fad subscriber.

Once the bad bacteria is gone from my small intestine, it will be time to rebuild the good bacteria and manage the stomach pain (by watching what I eat). So, fad or no fad, I will be living a low FODMAP diet. 

FODMAP stands for "Fermentable, Oligo-, Di-, Mono-saccharides and Polyols." I realize that's a lot of vocabulary, but it really means that simply restricting FODMAPs from a diet has been found to have a beneficial effect for sufferers of irritable bowel syndrome, SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth), and FGID. That's me in a nutshell.

FODMAPS are a group of short-chain carbohydrates that are not very well absorbed in the gut (small intestine). These carbohydrates are easily fermented and cause fluid to enter the large bowel. Reducing the total amount of these fermentable sugars may improve IBS symptoms.


The low FODMAP diet list was provided to my by my doctor. It doesn't look like any fad diet I've ever seen. But that's because it isn't a fad. It's a lifestyle prescribed for me by a team of specialists.

What am I supposed to eat for the rest of my life? According to the low FODMAP plan, I can eat spinach, plain chicken, white bread, white rice, and potatoes. Ugh. Fortunately, over time I can introduce new foods into my diet to see if I can tolerate them or not. It's like learning to eat all over again.

I will admit that when I started to look into this diet plan I had no idea where to start. I needed a list of foods to eat. And a list of foods not to eat. And I needed it to be all encompassing. Should I eat any sugar at all? How will I know if what I'm eating is made from glucose, fructose, lactose, galactose, or sucrose? It has been overwhelming, to say the least. At least there's an app out specifically explaining the diet plan. 

I've also been thinking a lot. For example, if I choose not to go on a low FODMAP diet plan, will the bad bacteria come back? What about even if I do stick to the plan? And am I doing myself long-term harm by having eaten off the charts before?

To help answer some of my questions I have armed myself with books, websites, and of course my incredible team of doctors. My goal is simple: to live pain free. I think I'm on the road to learning how its done. But I'm a long way from having any clear diagnosis. 

In my immediate future are more tests; more watching and waiting and elimination diets. And possibly antibiotics. And when its finally time to get down to diagnosis, I'll have to undergo a small intestinal biopsy performed with an esophagogastroduodenoscopy (EGD). I'll spare you the details, but tissue samples will to be taken from the cell wall of my duodenum and varying parts of my small and large intestines and colon.

All I have to say is bring it on. I know it may sound a little backward to say I have to limit my fruit, vegetable, and wheat intake, but trust me that I do. I just want to get through the day without being in constant pain. And I also suspect that keeping my stomach healthy will contribute to my overall health and longevity. I'm in this for the long haul.

For more up to date research, including Xifaxan (Rifaximin) for treating SIBO and IBS, as well as more information about a low FODMAP diet, check out this article recently published in Health.