Archives for posts with tag: beauty

I read a fantastic book about octopus intelligence last year. In The Soul of the Octopus, (which is a great read, by the way), the author describes an octopus’ nervous system as extremely decentralized. Not feeling obligated to keep all their thinking surrounded by bone, a good portion of their cognitive activity actually goes on in their limbs. They essentially have nine brains. This means that two of their arms could be figuring out what you’re made of, two could be getting ready to scoot in the opposite direction, and one could be sneaking into your pocket for something to eat, all at once. And the octopus has no trouble concentrating on all of these tasks simultaneously, because each arm is basically doing its own thing.

When I first became a coordinator and realized what it entailed, my first thought was, I really wish I were an octopus. Nine brains would come in really handy, most days.


So I started looking around me. I know I’m not the only person in the world who is responsible for keeping track of many different people engaged in learning about many different processes in many different spaces. There are corporations with millions of employees out there, government agencies that track billions of dollars, scientists who examine complex ecosystems for tiny changes over time. So I knew I could figure this out.

And I tried a lot of different things. I worked different systems with my Google calendar. I tried Evernote, and pursued the Getting Things Done method doggedly for two months. I gave Asana a go. And they were all great, but all left me with two major issues:

  1. There were too many things in too many different places. The categories were supposed to be helpful, but they ended up making things too complicated.
  2. In the end, I don’t want to stare at my phone all day. I do better with paper, but all the planners I saw ran into problem #1 again with the overly rigid structure.

That’s when I discovered bullet journaling.

So yes, this is a post about my organizational methods as a coordinator. Not because I think the whole universe should find my daily schedule fascinating, but because I really wish I could have read a blog post just like this a year ago. To the future coordinators out there, welcome. We have a lot to chat about.

What ISN’T bullet journaling?

A lot of what you see online when you search for “bullet journal” or “bujo” isn’t necessarily bullet journaling. Whimsical calligraphy. Thematic monthly spreads. Sparkles and washi tape. All that is extra stuff that artsy people like to put in their journals because they’re artsy. Don’t worry about that for now, you can always bust out the crayons later if you feel so moved.

What is bullet journaling?

At its heart, bullet journaling is a system for rapid logging. Think about all the stuff you might want to write down during the day: Important meetings, tasks to be done, notes from phone calls, interesting ideas, information to look up when you have more time, topics to discuss with others. Instead of having a planner for events, a pad for to-dos, a diary for thoughts and reflections, and a random sticky note for that odd thought you had while in the middle of lunch, you put it all in one place.

In chronological order.

Totally jumbled together.

(I know, this sounds ridiculous. Stay with me.)

But it’s called bullet journaling, because each different type of information has a different bullet point next to it, indicating what it is. And you keep a key. There’s a traditional set to get you started, but most people end up changing and customizing them based on their own needs after a while. Here’s mine:


Yes, the “delegated” indicator should be closer to the top of the list. That’s life!

What does this look like on a daily basis?



Daily Log

You might be thinking it looks like a bit of a mess. It’s not perfectly printed in cute, even boxes. My Saturday takes up half a page, while my Sunday is quite short. The page starts on Friday. My handwriting is nothing more than adequate. There are smudges, and earlier logs are bleeding through.

But I can see at a glance when Feast was, and that I needed to plan a reflection, make a phone call, and roast a bunch of vegetables. I tracked what books I finished reading, pondered my sister’s birthday gift (I got her earrings that were little silver rhinoceroses, she loved them), and noted a meaningful hashtag. I also apparently missed doing laundry. Oops.

Now, there are other parts to bullet journaling that make it feasible as an organizational method. I’m not going to get into the Future Log or monthly logs, but the Bullet Journal website has great explanations for all this. The best part is, you don’t need any fancy equipment. You can do it with a 99 cent composition notebook and a free ballpoint pen you got from an insurance agent.

It’s a framework, within which there is the flexibility to adapt to individual conditions and needs and for creative expression as desired. Sound familiar?

Bonus stuff.

The other great thing about bullet journaling is that, since I’m carrying it everywhere and referencing it regularly, it’s also a great place for me to keep track of other things.

I have a habit tracker, where I make sure I remember to do things like floss, take at least 8,000 steps, and say my obligatory prayer.

I track the books that I’ve read in a month, because I like seeing them in one place.

I have a page for story ideas, and another page for things I’m thankful for.

I keep my skills of accompaniment close at hand, since I reference them all the time:


I also keep a list of the capacities I’m hoping to develop at the cluster level, handily color-coordinated (more on that in another post):


And sometimes, when I’m working on memorizing something and have a little extra space, I’ll even bust out my nearly-nonexistent artistic skills and try to pretty things up.

Path of Service

It’s not exactly Pinteresting, but my journal has saved me so much stress and anxiety. And that’s totally beautiful, in its own way.


“Bahá’u’lláh has drawn the circle of unity …”


It’s apparently Look for Circles Day. As someone who was very proud of her elementary school photo essay titled “Triangles Around Berea,” this idea appeals to me. So what could I do but assemble a Pinterest board of some circles that mean the most to me?

shrine of Baha'u'llah

Besides the obvious symbolism of unity and eternity, the circle motif is lovely to look at in its symmetry. If you’ve got a young child at home, go ahead and take a moment to find some of the circles? Or just enjoy adult moment of looking at beautiful architecture.

I hope you enjoy a well-rounded day!

I love how the more I work in the community, the more it becomes a process of mutual sharing. Sharing a song with the youth in a study circle is so much lovelier when they teach me one in return. A gift of my time visiting a neighbor in her home is quite literally sweetened by the tea she serves me. A word in English traded for a word in Spanish, or in Nepali, or maybe just a loving smile.

It sounds so selfish, I know. We’re taught that we should give selflessly, without regard for reward. But I can’t help the feeling that what I’m experiencing isn’t something as petty as tit-for-tat, it’s an emerging environment of equality. We’re just neighbors. Collaborators. Friends. There are no martyrs here.

So I know a prayer in Sanskrit now. I’ve learned to make chatpate from a group of middle school girls and to make origami flowers from a talented boy who used to curse at me in the street. I hoard a collection of construction paper cards that say “I love u Mis Cat” and “Thank you for being a awesome friend.” I’ve been invited to saints’ days and birthdays and dinners and festivals. And I’ve come to understand, most people love the opportunity to share what they have. Knowledge. Art. Stories. Passion. Faith. It brings people joy the same way it does for me. Silly not to have known it all along, eh? But I’m so much richer for having discovered it now.

Celebrating Holi with the some fabulous youth.

Celebrating Holi with the some fabulous youth.

letter b

It’s easy to think of beauty as an extra, something nice but unimportant, when you’re doing meaningful work. But an ugly solution is only ever a band-aid, because it doesn’t inspire. The effort ends with the initiators.

I can’t work with young people without some kind of art. For some reason, the concept of learning + effort = improved results comes naturally to people when the goal in question is beauty, moreso than for science, or community, or anything else. Once they have the experience, it’s easy to point to it as evidence that it could work in other areas of their lives as well.

Whether we’re talking about 5-year-old children with coloring pages, junior youth personalizing their workbook covers with Sharpie markers, youth writing poetry, or adults copying quotations in calligraphy, there is a willingness to strive for beauty that seems to exist in everyone, regardless of skill.

It would be foolish to ignore this gift in the name of efficiency. Where were you planning on getting so efficiently, anyway? And why would you want to stay once you’ve arrived in an ugly place?

photo credit: chrisinplymouth via photopin cc

I first discovered author Nnedi Okorafor as I was skimming the science fiction shelf at the Lakewood Public Library a couple of months ago. I saw her name printed in bold letters on the spine of a yellow hardcover and stopped in my tracks. Nigerian sci-fi? I thought, I’m totally reading that. I grabbed it off the shelf without even bothering to read the jacket. That novel, Who Fears Death, was somewhere between science fiction and fantasy, and altogether gorgeous. It’s rare to find a book that deals with such dark themes without being cynical. Who Fears Death blew it away.

Later, I found out that Okorafor had also written a few young adult novels. If you know me, you understand that this made me CRAZY excited. I’m such a sucker for YA lit!

So I went back to the library and picked up Akata Witch. Now, in addition to having a passion for good writing (which I knew Okorafor would deliver), I also spend a LOT of time volunteering with middle school students. So when I read young adult fiction, I’m not only hoping to get sucked in, I’m hunting for books I can recommend. I’m looking for lessons to ease my young friends’ transition into adulthood. As you might guess, Akata Witch definitely delivers. Here are four important messages I gleaned from this (really great) novel.

1. Sexism, racism, and prejudice are alive and well in the world, but individuals can make a difference.

Main character Sunny is called the derogatory term akata by her classmates at school because although she has two Nigerian parents, she was born in the United States. Once she discovers her magical nature and enters into Leopard society, prejudice doesn’t simply disappear. Some look down on her for being a free agent, one without Leopard parents. Others don’t want to play soccer with her because she’s a girl. Even her friends bicker about which tribe or nation has the strongest juju. Those with magic haven’t necessarily grown out of their outdated prejudices. But Sunny, and others in her world, are able to make small dents in assumptions and injustice, just as in the real world.

2. Knowledge is its own reward.

Currency in the Leopard world is chittim, metal rods that appear whenever one has learned something important. Sometimes, chittim fall when you have worked a new kind of magic for the first time. Other times, they might come when you use the knowledge you have to ask a wise question. While Lamb (non-magical) money can be earned by cheating or stealing, a Leopard person can only become rich through knowledge and understanding.

It’s important to note that Okorafor makes the distinction between intelligence and character. While some seek knowledge for the good of all, others seek it for their own ends. While you can’t fool chittim into raining down on you through dishonesty, the knowledge you have gained is still a tool, which some might choose to use in dishonest ways.

3. The world will go on without you … but your life is still important.

This is a tough lesson for Sunny to swallow. She and her friends are regularly sent out into serious danger by their teachers and elders. They are not the first Leopard people to attempt to stop an evil from occurring. Others have died in the attempt. And if Sunny and her friends die, others will be sent after them and the world will spin on. No one is so privileged that this is not so. And yet … each person has the chance. To make a difference. To learn. To teach. To contribute to the world. Your death is simply one of those contributions. It’s a strange balance, one that Sunny finally comes to grip with as she stands to face mortality on her own terms.

4. Your imperfections are your gifts.

This stood out to me as one of the most important lessons in Akata Witch, simply because it’s rarely articulated in novels at all, much less young adult books. In Leopard society, individuals all have a natural ability. This ability is often closely tied to a trait that makes the person unusual or unique, often viewed by Lamb society as an imperfection. Sunny, an albino, can become invisible. Sugar Cream, who can turn into a snake, has severe S-shaped scoliosis. Imagine having parents like Orlu’s, who became very excited when they learned their son was dyslexic, because they knew he would have a wonderful and unique ability. Wouldn’t that change how you thought of your own worst faults?

While fantasizing about what my natural ability would be (of course I did this, wouldn’t you?), it suddenly occured to me that this is true in our world as well. While my ligament disorder hasn’t allowed me to work magic, it has given me spiritual powers. Because of the pain I deal with, I am more compassionate. Because of my inability to run, I am more patient. My physical limitations as a teen drove me to books, which in turn gave me a gift for the written language. (And there’s always the great party trick of being able to turn my hand 360 degrees!) No, we don’t live in a world where people with skin rashes can control the weather and those who are abnormally tall can read the future in the stars, but each of our weaknesses has the possibility of growing into a strength, if we let it.

This Friday, youth, children, and adults gathered to practice their choreography for Parade the Circle, an arts-based event in Cleveland. The group’s theme is “Unity of Religion,” and they’ve put together some magnificent large-scale props, inspired by many quotations like this one:

The utterance of God is a lamp, whose light is these words: Ye are the fruits of one tree, and the leaves of one branch. Deal ye one with another with the utmost love and harmony, with friendliness and fellowship. He Who is the Day Star of Truth beareth Me witness! So powerful is the light of unity that it can illuminate the whole earth.

The religious symbols embedded in each branch of their tree were made to have a stained glass effect. The idea is to show the beauty in the variety of colors and designs, while the source of the light is the same.

I can’t wait until next week, when we’ll get to see the group take their message to the world.

The Gaps in Us

The God of my dream has narrow hands—
He is a violinist, perhaps,
or a scholar who never sleeps.
This God slips His fingers into spiderweb cracks
in sidewalks, plaster, linoleum floors,
memories, teacups, clay,
in between the ribs at odds in my chest.
The bones should feel stranger, I think,
as God lifts us up by the gaps in us.

Most people don’t know I’m participating in Project 333 this year. For those who haven’t heard of it and don’t feel like following the link, it’s an exercise in simplicity: For three months, limit your wardrobe to 33 items. This doesn’t include things like underwear, pajamas, wedding rings, and clothing you only wear while working out or playing sports, but does include shoes, coats, and jewelry. I’ve been going for a few weeks now, and here’s the most interesting result:

Nobody’s noticed.

Nobody’s noticed that I have one pair of jeans, one pair of black dress pants, one long black dress skirt. Nobody’s noticed that I wear the same two pairs of shoes and the same two scarves everywhere I go. Nobody’s walked up to me and said, “Hey, I noticed you only seem to own one pair of earrings! What’s up with that?”

It’s pretty fun.

My clothes fit in one dresser drawer.

I never worry for long about what to wear.

I’m always comfortable. (There’s no room for non-comfy items in my limited wardrobe.)

I never have to hunt for my clothes anymore, although I still have difficulty finding matching socks.

Surprisingly, I never get bored. Because the clothes I have are my favorites. I get to wear my favorite sweater twice a week: hooray!

I thought it would be difficult to plan for both professional and personal life. Because I am SUPER casual by nature (Hoodies! Jeans! Clogs!), and sometimes I need to look like a grown up. But a pair of comfy black slacks goes with six different shirts and sweaters for a professional look, or even with (gasp!) my favorite hoodie. And all those shirts go with jeans. Or a skirt. And I’ve actually gotten used to the idea of wearing fabric other than denim on my bottom half, even if I’m staying home. (Leggings underneath for warmth. This is Cleveland, people.)

An unexpected side effect is that I’ve become more confident with my appearance. My husband and I were invited out with some of his friends, and my first instinct was to ask, “What should I wear?” but then I realized that the outfits I was panicking over weren’t even in my current list of clothes. So I relaxed, put on my one pair of jeans and a professional-and-attractive shirt, my earrings, and black flats. I spent 5 minutes rather than 30 getting ready, which meant that I didn’t have time to get cranky about the way I looked. As a result, I had a much better time than I often do in similar situations. Totally unexpected.

Of course, I have to be a little more careful about timing my laundry now. It takes about 24 hours for heavy items to dry on our rack, so I found myself at one point with no dry pants at all! (Thank goodness I included a long skirt in my 33.) So far, though, the positives have outweighed the negatives. We’ll see how things develop when (if?) the weather turns before April.

Today is Day 2 of my 31 Days of Community project.

I did a lot of things today (the dishes, the laundry, the floors, the toilet … it was one of those days) but my community-building exercise for today is that I am attending a reception for a local artist. Time to get off the internet now, because it’s starting soon.

Have a happy weekend!

Today I took a field trip to the Allen Memorial Art Museum. Or, to be more specific, Mrs. Peter’s second-grade class took a field trip to the museum, and I tagged along. I wasn’t exactly sure how an hour in the art museum was going to go over with a bunch of 7-year-olds, but I was interested to find out.

It was even more interesting than I imagined. Our guide, Lucy, had the class hang up their coats, then led them into the gallery. She sat them down on the floor in front of this painting:

I was a little surprised at the choice of a religious work for a public school class of very young kids. How was she going to explain this to them?

Revelation of the day: she didn’t. After asking them to examine the painting for a moment, she said, “So tell me what you see here.”

“It’s a bunch of guys, and they’re having a party.”

“So what do you see that makes you think they’re having a party?”

“They’re eating food, and they’re wearing hats.”

“So you think they’re having a party because they’re eating and wearing these … hats? Good. What else do you notice?”

“They’re eating different kinds of bread.”

“Can you point to where you see different kinds of bread?”

“There, and over there, and that round one over there.”

“So you see they’re eating different kinds of bread. Good. What else?”

“The animal on the table is a ess … essc … estinct creature.”

“This animal here? What do you see that makes you think this is an extinct creature?”

“It looks weird. It’s not like a normal animal.”

“Okay, so you think it’s an extinct creature because it looks different from a normal animal? Good. What else?”

She never contradicted their statements, even when they contradicted one another. Again, “What do you see that makes you think that?” Again, “What else?”

They noticed that none of the men were wearing shoes. They noticed that the windows were open, and they noticed the trees and the building outside. A girl noticed that they were eating healthy food, like bread and vegetables, which earned a pleased response from Mrs. Peters. One boy noticed the fancy robes, and thought that the men were kings from different countries who were having a feast together. Another thought that one of the men was sleeping, because his eyes were closed.

And when there were no more observations forthcoming, Lucy had all the kids stand up, form a single-file line, and move on. They looked at three more paintings this same way. Never did she offer any explanation to the children. All she did was encourage them to look closely at art and articulate why they thought the way they did about each piece.

Sometimes they invented stories, like a painting they decided involved three children who had been bugging their mother to buy them a dog forever, and they finally found one and fed it donuts to make it want to stay with them. (What do you see that makes you think they were bugging their mother for a dog?” “Her face looks annoyed.”) Sometimes they brought in ideas from their lives, like when they thought a painting looked like a maypole dance, or people getting on a ride at Cedar Point (both, hilariously, interpretations of the same painting).

18 kids, four paintings, one hour, and almost zero problems. And one lesson in helping children see and think without the knowledge and stories of adults getting in the way. Thanks, Lucy. It was a fabulous morning, and one I won’t soon forget.