Justice anywhere...

15 years.

I’ve been traveling to and from Oaxaca, Mexico for 15 years.

My first trip was on a college whim. A pastor came to my campus wanting to organize a service trip to a children’s home.

I’d never heard of Oaxaca, I’d never been on a service trip, and I’d never spent any time in a children’s home, so I went. I thought it would be a great experience. 

That first trip, I met dozens of children that have changed my life, one in particular, named Gabriela. 

Yes - Gaby and I have known each other for 15 years.

15 years.

One year into my volunteer trips, I met another volunteer named Bryan...

You all know the story.

Gaby, Bryan and I have essentially grown into adults, together. 

Bryan, as you may know, is the President and Founder of Simply Smiles. 

Gaby is now the Program Manager of Oaxacan Operations for Simply Smiles.

 

.....

 

The three of us just spent a week providing a health clinic for people living in the southernmost region of Oaxaca, Mexico, in a town called Santa Maria Tepexipana.

2,504 people stood in line waiting for us to administer a life-changing and life-saving drug to cure intestinal parasites. You can read all of the science, and facts, here. Bryan did a great job breaking everything down so that you can understand the process as well as the ‘why’ behind the process.

 

The process is important, and so are the facts:

  • 2,504 people were treated
  • 12 tons of food were distributed 
  • information on college scholarships was passed out to each family
  • educational pamphlets on how to prevent infection were given and explained to each family
  • plans were made to build over a dozen new latrines

 

The facts are wonderful.

 

.....

 

In addition to sharing the facts, I want to try and describe what this all feels like.

While standing behind the medication table, and looking into the trusting eyes of countless children and families, I realized that what Simply Smiles is doing is creating opportunity.

Some of these children will take it, and some won’t.

Some of these parents will take it, and some won’t.

Our job isn’t to make sure that everyone takes every opportunity.

Our job is to make sure that opportunity is always there for those that want it. 

This village may be the birthplace of the next Steve Jobs, or of the next Bob Dylan, or of the next Nelson Mandela. We’ll never know, until we can assure that they are provided with opportunity.

I’ve always known that everyone’s path is different. 

What I’m learning as I get older is, this difference is a good thing.

These children won’t all go to college. They won’t all go through high school. In fact, the majority of them won’t even make it to middle school.

That doesn’t mean that they don’t deserve the opportunity to go.

They deserve opportunity as much as they deserve to be healthy, and as much as they deserve to have enough food to eat.

 

…..

 

When standing in front of thousands of desperate parents who simply can’t feed their children, your heart breaks from the weight of fear and anxious uncertainty.

Your heart breaks for the grandmother who walked for six hours in the sweltering heat, just to make sure that her sick granddaughter would have a chance to see the doctor.

Your heart breaks for the child who understands that this is her last year of school, because once she’s 10, she’ll have to work in the coffee fields with her family.

Your heart breaks for the father who tried to get help for his sick child, traveling for a day, just to wait for three hours outside of an administrative office of a non-profit, and then be turned away.

These stories. These people. They’ll break your heart.

And then…

In the crowd there’s a little boy.

I met Rigoberto 7 years ago when Bryan and I first visited this village. He was pretty freaked out by us (we were the first white people he’d ever seen) and he was incredibly shy. He was born with no right arm, and at the time that we met him he was suffering from malnutrition and severe intestinal parasitic infection.

We saw him in line, just two days ago, with a huge smile on his face, waiting to greet us. He plays soccer at school, is incredibly fast and strong, and looks for Bryan every time we visit.

Seeing him made me realize, these stories are real too. And they’re just as true.

You're inspired by the illiterate parents who have heard Gaby’s story, and then ask how they can help assure that their child goes to college. 

You're inspired by the mother who walks 9 hours round trip to sell bananas in the town square to ensure that her children have the proper school uniforms.

You're inspired by the 8 year old girl who helps translate conversations into Spanish for me when a family arrives that only speaks Zapotec…she hangs around the medical table all day because one day she’d like to be a doctor.

These stories. These people. They’ll make your heart soar.

 

…..

 

The world is so small.

It’s amazing to me that I can be in this village by nighttime if I leave that morning from New York City.

It’s also amazing to me that I could have just as easily been born a child in Santa Maria Tepexipana. 

These two thoughts are present in my mind and heart often.

And so…

Because the world is so small and so connected, these people are my neighbors. 

Because the world is so small and so connected, I have the good fortune of calling many of the folks of Santa Maria Tepexipana my friends. 

And because they’re my friends, I’ll do all that I can to help them.

 

…..

 

Injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere.

This paraphrase of what Dr. King wrote in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail in 1963, sadly, I believe is true. Dr. King wrote these words so many years ago, and they’re just as relevant now as they were then.

For my optimistic brain, this idea that injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere, is a little much for me to handle.

I get bogged down in the thought that I’ll never be able to do enough.

But a few years ago, while thinking through this idea, I realized that if that’s true, then the opposite must also be true.

Justice anywhere is justice everywhere.

Yes, justice anywhere is justice everywhere.

What Simply Smiles did this week, and what I got to witness and be a part of, was contribute to a just world. 

Justice.

Justice in the form of healthcare to over 2,500 people. 

Justice in the form of food to hundreds upon hundreds of families. 

Justice in the form of scholarships to children seeking out opportunities.

That is justice.

And I truly believe that the justice in this corner of the planet  made our entire world a little more just.

 

…..

 

15 years.

15 years worth of fighting for justice. 

And every little bit of justice brings us closer the world that we want to see.

 

…..

 

Rigoberto (in the center) with Bryan, his brothers and me in 2009.

Rigoberto (in the center) with Bryan, his brothers and me in 2009.

Rigoberto and Bryan in 2016.

Rigoberto and Bryan in 2016.

Embrace the wobble

I love yoga so much.

I really got into yoga about a year or two ago, and I’m so happy to have it as a part of my life. 

Being a little crunched for time the last few months between awesome tour & travel, Chip’s health, getting started on my newest studio project, and buying a new car, I missed out on yoga for a while.

I brought yoga with me on a lot of the trips - most notably, while I was in Nicaragua, and I even took a class with my mom when I was out in Wisconsin, but I hadn’t been to my class for a while.

And I LOVE my class with my teacher. It’s this communal experience where everyone is super focused (or else you fall down) and super sweaty (did I mention, it’s hot yoga?), so nobody’s judging anybody.

The reason I love this challenging class is because it’s so hot, so hard, and so great, that I can literally think of nothing else.

I have to focus.

I have to be in the moment.

Being present and being in the moment, is a life skill that I’m working on. (I’ve learned a bit about it from Chip, but still have some room for improvement.)

So today - I set my alarm, made it to my class, sweat it out, and had a great time…being.

During one of the balance poses, my/our teacher (I shouldn’t be selfish), Caroline, said to us…

“Embrace the wobble.”

I giggled, because I love it.

Embrace the wobble.

It’s even fun to say! (Try it - it might give you a laugh…)

She told us not to give ourselves a hard time, or be disappointed when we’re trying to balance and find ourselves a little wobbly. Instead, focus on the fact that the wobble is your body’s effort to recenter.

I don’t need to spell out the metaphor for you on this one - but think about how great it would be to embrace the wobble.

Embrace the wobble.

Instead of getting frustrated when I don’t practice enough, when I don’t sing enough, when I don’t have enough shows, when I feel like my songs aren’t good enough - my new plan is to embrace the wobble. 

My new plan is to take all of these thoughts as lessons instead of failures, and allow them to help me recenter. 

 

 

Realign. 

Refocus. 

Embrace the wobble.

 

 

Have a beautiful, wobbly day,

Kristen

 

 

 

 

Two weeks ago... Part 3 a.k.a. In conclusion

Ok - so by now, you've heard the saga of Chip and the Corolla.

A few weeks ago, I felt like I was having a rough day. If you haven't read Part 1 or Part 2 of this blog yet, it will help put this all into context.

With that - I know that we're all busy, so I'll sum it up to say, my dog had to have surgery to remove a cancerous tumor, and my car died. On the same day. And I love them both.

Today's post is about what happened just after these events...

In the minutes following, I hopped on a train to Brooklyn, and started working on a new CD.

Yep. A little bit weepy, and a lot stressed-out, I went to work. Because that's what you do.

You have a rough day? You go to work.

You have a great day? You go to work. 

My friend, Chris, is producing my next CD, and is a dog lover. (We're working at his new studio, which is beautiful, and I'll be sure to show videos and photos next time.) So, he totally understood that I was upset.

I arrived at the studio, trying to hold it all together, and told Chris what was going on.

He paused, gave me a sad smile, and said, 'Ok, so...let's make some f***ing great music.' 

That did it. It broke the sad and scared spell.

I laughed, he laughed, and we did.

We went to work.

And the songs that we worked on sound amazing. And I can't wait for you to hear them.

So here's the thing. 

Sometimes sad, unfortunate or scary things happen.

Your dog has cancer.

Your car dies.

And then there's a silver lining.

The surgery that you hoped would work, saved your dog. You realize how much you've learned from your dog, and you're grateful.

You got a new beautiful car. You think back on the hundreds of thousands of miles that your other car supported you through, and you're grateful.

And at the end of each day, whether it's a great day or a terrible one, I make music. With people that I know, like and trust. It's my job, and it is awesome.

Coming to this realization, after my emotional roller coaster of dogs, cars and studios... I started laughing as I hopped into the shower the following morning.

Not like, crazy person laughing, just a chuckle.

Because I thought to myself: "Well, today is going to be better, and if it isn't...I'm sure it will be fine."

So there we have it.

Healthy dog.

New car.

And new understanding of how things are really never that bad.

One final thing...my first road trip ever in my Corolla, back in 2004 when it was brand new...I landed in Colorado.

And yesterday, I finished driving, and this morning, I'm typing to you on my first road trip in my new car...from Colorado.

Seems like this is all working out just fine.

 

 

 

Two weeks ago...(Part 2)

So - if you’ve read Part 1, you know that we’ve had a crazy few weeks with Chip.

And now, here’s Part 2…

As Bryan and I were dropping Chip off for his surgery (I was really nervous for him, and freaking out a little bit) my mechanic called. 

I had decided to drive for this three week tour through the midwest and Colorado, so that Chip could come with me. Bryan was going to be away for part of the time, and we didn’t feel comfortable asking anyone to take care of Chip with his medications, cone, potential surgical complications, etc.

Chip and I hitting the road together was the best option.

Chip and I are not new to the road trip. He’s been on many tours with me, and has come to a lot of gigs. 

Since my Corolla was 12 years old, with over 205,000 miles, and I was going to be adding another 4,000, I brought my car in to my mechanic for a once over. (Which I always do, and I love my mechanic...Southport Automotive, ask for Rich, tell them Kristen sent you…they’re awesome.)

You can probably guess where this is going.

Rich called me as I was walking out of the vet. I was pretty shaken up, and Bryan and I were discussing our options for Chip.

It wasn’t the perfect moment.

It was nowhere near the perfect moment (though when would be?) to find out that my car needed more repairs than it was worth. And that it wouldn’t make the trip. And in fact, he wasn’t even sure that it would make the trip to the dealer to buy a new car.

Not great news.

On the list of things that I love, my car was just below my dog. (And both are below Bryan and music…I’m not that crazy.)

But I LOVED my car.

I bought it after college. It was my first real adult expense, and I was so proud to have it.

It safely brought me to 2,000 shows, weathered storms, survived Chips teething puppy months, and I had a perfect Tetris-like understanding of how to maximize and pack trunk space.

With mere hours before I needed to leave, I went to buy a new car.

I’m not going to go into the boring details, I will just simply say this: My experience of buying a car as a (gasp) woman, was not great.

I was talked down to by two different salesmen, and it was suggested multiple times that I check in with my husband to make any decisions. I even heard the phrase, 'happy wife, happy life', used in jest.

This is another conversation, but when men speak in a condescending tone to women, what are they hoping will happen? That the woman will swoon with gratitude that the man has explained why it's important there are four tires on a vehicle?

I speak with snark, but really...REALLY...

Anyway, I kept my cool, I was polite, and got the heck out of there as quickly as possible.

*As a word to the wise for my friends who happen to suffer the terrible coincidence of being born female - speak clearly, and when necessary, speak sternly, and you’ll be fine.*

It all worked out.

The experience wasn’t negative enough to turn me away from Toyota forever, and so…I traded in my amazing, wonderful, irreplaceable Corolla (which I lovingly referred to as the ‘Rockin Rolla’) for a new, beautiful, nicest-car-I’ve-ever-owned, Rav4 Hybrid!

I bought the car, and the next day Chip and I packed up for our adventure.

So far… 

- It has a few thousand miles on it, it will soon have many more.

- It is very clean, and I’m trying so, so hard to keep it that way.

- It has that ‘new car smell’, which I actually hate, so I’ve been driving with the windows down and the sunroof open as much as possible. (That’s right…I have a sunroof...I’m fancy, y’all!)

And, I’ve taken my years of trunk-packing experience, and developed an organizational system for the back of my car that is quite incredible. In fact, it might end up being its own blog post one day.

The Corolla and I had a great run, and I’m looking forward to the next decade or so with my Rav!

This car has no idea what it’s in for…

The hubcap-less 'Rockin Rolla' on our last day.

The hubcap-less 'Rockin Rolla' on our last day.

The new tour bus!

The new tour bus!

 

 

 

 

Two weeks ago...(Part 1)

*Warning - if you’re going to start reading this post, please read it all the way through so you get the full story!*

I am a crazy dog person.

I am so smitten with my dog, I can’t even handle it sometimes. He makes me so, so happy.

I take him on the road with me, Bryan and I trade off taking him to our work spaces, he follows us from room to room when we’re at home, and he’s very very loved.

This dog has had some adventures, and a few misadventures…

- He’s been on multiple music tours, and has been to nearly as many states as any current presidential candidate.

- He has spent many summers on the Cheyenne River Reservation in LaPlant, South Dakota. He doesn’t help with construction, but he sure boosts morale!

- He sits in on music lessons, putting students at ease. It’s much easier to laugh at yourself after making a mistake when there’s a dog in the room.

- He ate a toy as a puppy, and had to have it cut out of his stomach. The vet said his stomach lining was so irritated that she couldn’t believe that he hadn’t been crying non-stop. This is when we discovered his high tolerance for pain.

- He busted into a friend’s closet and doubled his weight in just 20 minutes after finding their dog’s unattended bag of food. (That time the vet told us she had never seen a dog's ribcage ever spread out so widely...the next day he pooped 8 times.)

- He suffered a dislocated hip, broken leg and multiple lacerations after being hit by a car on the reservation. The next day, he gave all of the kids kisses as they signed his cast.

- And most recently, we found a tumor in Chip’s mouth.

And the tumor was cancerous.

After discussing our options (Chip is only 5, he’s strong, and he has a high pain tolerance) Bryan and I made a choice, and hoped that it was the right one.

Every pet owner has to make a decision sometimes, and it’s tricky. There are a lot of factors. Money, peace, and making sure that your animal doesn’t suffer. It’s hard to figure out how to justify causing your animal pain, hoping that it will be worth it.

We made our decision, and Chip had the tumor and part of his jaw bone removed.

He recovered well, his stitches are out, and with the exception of his tongue hanging out the side of his mouth once in a while, he looks exactly the same.

And then we started the waiting game.

The vet was optimistic that they had gotten it all, and we waited for test results.

For two weeks, we waited to find out if the cancer was gone, or if it had spread.

So for these two weeks, I've reflected on how much I love Chip, and how he has made me a better person.

Here are just a few lessons that I’ve learned from this special pup.

 

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1) Ignore time. 

Chip doesn’t understand time. He has no concept of it. Whether he stays home alone for 3 minutes or 3 hours, his reaction upon my return is always the same. Tail flailing as he greets me, he’s just glad that I’m there. 

He’s never waiting for the next thing, and he doesn’t dwell on the past. He lives in the moment. He takes each moment as it comes.

This dog is a zen master.

 

2) Be an optimist.

Chip always assumes the best is about to happen.

When meeting a new person - Chip assumes that he’s going to like him or her. He’s never suspicious. He doesn’t look for someone to be dishonest or hurtful, he just thinks that every person wants to be his friend. In fact, he’s quite certain of it.

In addition - 

He never gets food from the table. NEVER. However...

When I’m eating, he hangs out at my feet just in case something slips off my plate. It never does. But he’s there.

Waiting. Hoping. Prepared. 

Just. In. Case.

 

3) Enjoy eating.

Sticking with the topic of food - 

Have you ever seen a lab eat? Granted, Chip is a lab mutt, but he has that same quality.

He LOVES to eat.

It’s one of his great joys.

As an American woman, I don’t often give myself permission to LOVE eating.

It's hard wired in my brain. I either eat healthy food because I should, or I feel guilty about eating things that I shouldn’t have.

Imagine.

Just imagine how it would feel to really enjoy every single meal.

It's one of my new life goals.

 

4) Say I love you first, and say it often.

When it comes to Chip, he shows all of his cards.

He wears his heart on his sleeve...er...fur.

He doesn't hold back his affection, he doesn't play it cool. He's never waiting to see if the other person/dog/cat/squirrel feels the same way.

He takes a chance. He puts himself out there, not worrying about what comes back to him.

He loves first.

 

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So - with all of these thoughts running through my head the last few weeks, I have realized that no matter what, the way that I look at Chip has forever changed. And whatever time we have left together, I’ll make sure that I do my best to learn as many lessons as I can from him.

Two weeks ago we brought Chip to the vet. He came home swollen and groggy, and for two weeks we kept him in the cone, kept him from running and playing, kept him quiet and calm.

For two weeks we waited to hear the results.

And with tears in my eyes, I joyfully type these words to you - they got it.

They got it all.

Chip is now tumor and cancer free.

Chip’s pathology came back clean, and I get to enjoy these lessons, and more years with my pet.

I know that many of you have met and also love Chip, and I feel very confident reminding you - he loves you too.

And for those of you who don’t know him, well, he's quite certain that he loves you.

 

Here’s to many more years of learning from the least judgmental teacher I’ve ever had.

 

(P.S. Know any dog or animal lovers? Please share this post with them! And please comment below with any of your own pet stories!)

 

Chip two weeks ago...

Chip two weeks ago...

Chip today - posing for my latest music video!

Chip today - posing for my latest music video!