Open 25 hours

There is a store I encountered as I walked Saturday in Buenos Aires, a pharmacy that is open all the time. Usually we see an “open 24 hours” sign. But what is the meaning of 25 hours?

It got my attention attention right away. I only have 24 hours in a day, how can they give us 25?

Chain of drugstores in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

I started contemplating time, and that fact that we only have 24 hours in a day. What if we could manufacture another hour, and we had an extra hour? Those of us who cope with twice annual time changes, may experience this once a year, when we gain that extra hour in the fall. But we trade that hour in the Spring, when we lose it, and mess up our circadian rhythms… They don’t do that shit here. Enlightened, perhaps. Not sure, I am biased on that one.

So why 25 hours? I think the underlying message is: we strive to go beyond. We strive to give you more than your “share” of what you expect. Or at least that is how I choose to interpret it.

I love this beautiful ambition of the Argentinian people, a quintessential American trait, to dare to try for more. They want to go beyond, and they push the boundaries of what is possible right now, they want to achieve more than your expectations. There is a sense of ambition, creativity and magic that I feel when I visit South America. I also feel this in Mexico, but it is distinctly different, I realize. Perhaps because Mexico sits in the shadow of the United States, and many people aspire to go to “el norte” there is a different sense of expectation of one’s lot in life.

cafe and croissant
Cafe con leche y medialuna – brunch on Saturday.

Y’all know that I have an ongoing romance with Mexico. She is part of me, that nation. But I feel similar love for the people of Argentina as well. Sure, they can be a little snobby about their wine, their steak and their coffee. They are not wrong! They are delicious!

A colleague/physician and his wife took me out for dinner on Friday. I’m embarrassed to admit I am never this generous with my personal time on “date night” with work-related guests. That’s a part of the Latino culture, generous hospitality, and I am deeply grateful to have been “embedded” here since I started traveling for work ~9 years ago. We had a marvelous time, and despite my introvert self sometimes balking at these sorts of invitations, I am so glad I accepted.

Maybe it was a “hail mary” pass to me, since I have already confessed to that colleague that I plan to leave the team in 3-6 months. Or maybe it was a joy to invite me into his “family,” since we have known each other for over 10 years. He and his wife had their first grandchild almost a year ago, and they recently reunited after a 6-year separation. He has always treated me as a daughter figure. Even though he has made decisions that resulted in bad consequences for our team at times, I know he meant no harm.

olympics obelisk
Isn’t it funny how many cities have their phallic symbols? This obelisk was taken near the symbol of the Youth Olympic Games which will take place here in October 2018.

His team is sometimes afraid to say no to him, or to tell the whole truth of a situation. They may fear the consequence of standing up for themselves, or maybe since he is a physician, there is extra deference. I get it. This takes courage! A lot of courage, especially when it is your boss who doesn’t get it. I practice this myself also.

We may try to manufacture an extra hour to get something done, but the optimism is not enough. It is at best a valiant attempt to meet the challenge, do our best under the circumstances. At worst, it is a cover for what is lacking in our skills, intentions or capacity. Then the best thing to do is surrender to the truth of the situation, and find a way out.

It is not easy, to stop meeting those demands, striving for more. But we must wake up to the reality that human beings have limits, and that striving must be balanced with rest. Yang (active) energy requires yin (restful) energy to regenerate.

There are only 24 hours in a day. A third of them I will sleep, and the rest I will spend on what is important to me, including time to recharge and reflect. 25 hours is a nice fantasy, but we have enough hours every day to do what is necessary. If we stay present to our life, we have exactly what we need.




Class is not about money

I realized recently that I grew up on the poor side of town. I did not grow up poor, mind you. I grew up with lots of love, a wonderful family and in a safe neighborhood in a small town. But I always thought of our lifestyle as “middle class.”

My family always had enough to eat, we never went without any basic necessities, clothing, health care or even luxuries like television and eventually a microwave. My sis and I shared a bedroom until I moved to the basement in high school so I could wake up earlier to run in the early pre-dawn hours.

But social class and income class are not the same thing. Both my parents had college degrees. Mom chose to stay home and raise her daughters until we were in middle and high school, when she went back to work part-time, as a substitute teacher. I just assumed that meant we were middle class.

My Dad was a teacher and a leader in the local community. All of the parents of the students he taught in the bilingual program treated him as a respected professional in our small town. Of course, some administrators and teachers were not as respectful. He had his share of good principals and a few racist.

middle class
CNN money: what is middle class anyway?

Recently my mother-in-law called herself “working class.” I was shocked. She has a master’s degree and she and her husband bought and sold homes together a few times during their history. So I always considered her middle class. But she considered herself working class. Probably it was more about her upbringing (to her) than any type of income category.

In contrast, my parents never bought a home. Not quite enough income from a teacher’s salary. We had the advantage of summers at Grandma’s house in Bemidji. So we did not go without space to enjoy ourselves in the summer, on a lake in Minnesota, no less. It was a long drive from Southern Wisconsin, but we had the picnic lunches that my Mom made, and there were rest areas for potty breaks. It was a blessing for us. We read books all, swam in the lake nearly every day, and there was plenty of introvert re-charge time.

bucky badger.JPG
Bucky Badger

By income standards, we probably would have been considered working class, or perhaps slightly less. In comparison to families with two working parents, mine were certainly not as well-off financially. But I always had what I needed. I always had a couple of new school outfits to start the year. There were a lot of farm kids in my school, so all of us had pretty similar income, or so I imagined.



Juarez, Mexico’s Murder Valley

I relied heavily on need-based financial aid for a private college, but being 2nd in my class in high school, I qualified for it. I won’t say I didn’t work hard for that.  It may have helped that my name belied my half-Mexican origin. But I was born in Wisconsin, not Juarez. Therein, by the grace of god, lies the difference. 

Why was I born here? Because my Mom fell in love with her guitar teacher when she studied in Mexico. And he fell in love with a Minnesotan woman, despite her mother serving as a chaperone on most of their dates. Why did I have the opportunities I have today? Because my family worked hard, and made sacrifices for me, so I could grow up healthy and happy.

I started thinking about people who use racism and class-ism to divide people. Take ahem… our Harasser-in-Chief. No matter how much money he makes, or pretends to make, he will always have NO class.

You know why? Because class, true class, is about how you treat people. It is about your character.

love and money
Photo credit link – Boston Globe

My father always treated the cooks and the janitors in his school as respectfully as he treated the other teachers. I learned to treat people as equals, not as superior or inferior due to their education or social status. I am really proud that both my Mom and Dad taught me that the measure of a good person is in how kindly you treat others.

To be a classy person is to realize that it is not about what you have, or what you do. There is honor in ALL work, and there is compassion for those who may not have work right now. There is a belief that ALL people are worthy of human dignity, no matter their skin color, creed, religion, or national origin. America was founded on these principles, that all people were created equal, which is why I am still proud to call this home.




Take me to Regions Hospital

When I arrived home from my trip on Thursday night I started having abdominal pain and nausea. I attributed it to something I may have eaten in Mexico, and did not think much of it until the next morning when I still felt crappy. Hubby texted me in the morning to tell me I should see a doctor. I had canceled my calls and meetings for the day, and just collapsed on the couch to rest. By noon I was thinking: this is not good.

Regions Hospital

I have a fairly high pain tolerance but not wanting to get up off the couch because of the pain and because I still felt nauseated was a warning sign. I texted hubby and asked if he could drive me to the doctor. He left work immediately and drive me to Regions Hospital in St. Paul. From the moment I walked into the emergency room (around 2:15 in the afternoon) until I checked out an hour ago, the care was excellent.

Every nurse, physician, surgeon, PCA, CT tech and all other staff who attended to us were friendly, professional and kind. They explained everything they were doing, the tests, what they indicated, and how long things would take. Once a diagnosis of appendicitis was confirmed, they explained the procedure to me, and asked if I had questions.

Later, when I was scheduled for surgery that same night, other residents, and health care professionals (HCPs in my world of clinical research) asked me to explain what I understood would happen in my own words. As someone who reviews informed consent documents as part of my work as a clinical researcher, I really appreciated how much they checked my understanding at various points in the process.

I was prepped for surgery starting around 8:15 and then taken in around 9 p.m. My husband tells me the surgeon came out a little before 10 p.m. to let him know the status of the surgery. Fortunately it was a laparoscopic appendectomy with only three small incisions (about an inch long each). The appendix was intact, so the procedure was standard and without complications.

regions waiting room

I woke up around 11 p.m. and the people around me told me everything went well. They planned to keep me overnight for observation, so my husband said goodbye and let me know he would return in the morning. A couple of times during the night a nurse checked my vitals and blood pressure, but for the most part I was able to rest and sleep. I woke up around 7:30 a.m. as the hospital staff were switching shifts, and my care team introduced themselves.

I was able to order coffee, which I had not wanted the day before (another sign something was off for sure – I love my coffee first thing). Around 9:30 I had some breakfast which I was able to order from the patient menu (like room service!).  Having fasted for ~40 hours, I was happy to feel hungry again, a sign of healing.

I am so grateful to have high quality healthcare and good health insurance coverage so I did not worry about that during the process. Also, the entire health care team was amazing, without exception. There must have been 15-20 people who interacted with us over the course of the ~21 hour period we were at the hospital. If you are in the St. Paul, Minnesota area, and you have a choice of hospitals I recommend Regions without exception.

The woman in the bed next to me while I was in recovery did not speak English, but the nurses and doctors accessed their on-call translation service, which was a little box like a phone where the translator could speak and listen to the patient in Spanish. Later, when her family arrived, someone in the family helped to translate, but I really liked knowing that service was available to remove any barriers to excellent care.

Now I shall stay home and take it very easy over the next few days. My hubby is already off to the grocery store and pharmacy to pick up a few things. He is a good man. I am glad I finally listened to him when he said ” you can’t mess with this shit” and drove me directly to a hospital. While I was waiting for surgery, I let my sister know the situation. She is an RN, and she explained to my parents what was going on.

My father almost died from a burst appendix about 45 years ago. While my case was less severe, it was an excellent reminder that good health and access to excellent care are so important, and such blessings. I realize the privilege of having good care comes from an employer that pays for ~80% of the cost of premiums, and a philosophy that employees deserve good benefits.

I will write more on my views of health care policy in the future. For now, I will put the laptop away, get out some books, sit and drink so tea with my kitties and give thanks. The healing journey continues.



The Medici Effect

Today I will get to hear a keynote speech from Frans Johansson, author of The Medici Effect: What Elephants and Epidemics can Teach Us About Innovation. This is part of our our company’s annual Science and Technology conference, a three-day event that brings together our scientists and technical experts to share their work with each other. I am excited because I read the book only a year ago at the recommendation of our VP for Corporate Science and Technology (my director’s boss). It is about how the best, most ground-breaking ideas come from people working at the “intersection” of diverse fields. He presents some compelling examples of cases where new knowledge or new inventions or new concepts were born based on combining frameworks from different disciplines.

Medici Effect

Yesterday I gave a presentation at a “Lunch and Learn” session on Meaningful Innovation. A colleague and I had worked together to design and organize an “Innovation Jam” for our clinical research colleagues around the globe in order to solve problems in geographies outside the U.S. We had perceived a disconnect between a very Minnesota-centric and top-down approach to our global evidence summit, and really wanted to turn that on its head. All of that effort culminated into a 1.5 day event a year ago just after Labor Day, when we pulled together this Medici-like gathering of people from 7 different geographies and many disciplines across the company. We applied the Design Thinking methodology in order to get some of the best ideas and best thinking around solving problem identified by our geography customers.

That turned out to be one of the most rewarding experiences in my professional career. We had received sponsorship and support from the VP for Clinical and Technical Communications, along with my Director. By the end of the event, we had come up with 7 different solutions to problems faced by our geographies, along with some simple prototypes for how to design those solutions. In the months that followed, we narrowed down to one project to work on, with limited budget available. Employees that were passionate about the idea rallied around it, we recruited a project leader, and in only 5 months from the idea selection, we had a “product” in beta testing in India, the geography that prompted the solution.

What we did was an example of the Medici Effect – taking advantage of that intersection of geographies, disciplines, diverse fields and ideas. There were about 55 very smart people involved in the 1.5 day event, and they had an intense but rewarding experience of coming together to address needs that had previously been neglected. This is what people mean when they say “Diversity drives innovation.” It is true – if we all stayed in our same, homogeneous groups, without talking with people different from us, we might never conceive of that new idea, that new inspiration that moves us forward technologically. This is why Trump’s notion of the “good old days” by which I understand he means white dominance, will never be the key to keeping America economically vital.

It is through uniting diverse voices, experiences and backgrounds that we are strong as a nation. While it is true that sometimes this is challenging, and creates discomfort, we are better for it. Neuroscience has shown that people produce the best results and make the best decisions not when they are in an atmosphere of total comfort, but rather when they are slightly outside their comfort zone. I will write more about this phenomenon in a future post, because there is great research I would love to delve into further.

I think this is one reason that blogs and the internet provide the next great intersection of ideas, and have already generated a sort of Medici Effect in terms of innovation. By interacting, sharing ideas, different “takes” on what we read and observe and think about we bring the best out of each other. We also can inflame the worst intentions. But it is a matter of selection, and I believe those great ideas will continue to bubble to the top, because that is what we ultimately seek as humans: better solutions to our problems. We know we are in this together, on this small planet. So let’s get together and bring our best thinking to whatever we are most passionate to solve. Thanks for reading, and for contributing in your own way to this ongoing conversation about what is most meaningful to us.

On taking media breaks

I do not think humans are adequately evolved to process the emotional fatigue of social media and a constant 24 x 7 news cycle. In the wake of the latest mass shooting in this country in Las Vegas which occurred yesterday, I am mindfully listening to some news sources, but I am very consciously limiting my consumption to small doses. I choose to turn off my social media notifications rather than constantly getting drawn in . I have done this since last November post-election, because I realized that while I believe staying informed is a good idea, it can be exhausting and unproductive to be hyper-connected. I no longer check facebook every day, and I am grateful not to be as distracted, or pulled away from things that are more important to me.

Media overload

With news of hurricanes, earthquakes, mass shootings, political nonsense and your average day in which we lose some beloved performer or actor, it can seem like bad news dominates. But this is not true. It is one reason I no longer watch television news – “if it bleeds, it leads” is one of the guidelines for local headline news. By coming up with an attention-grabbing headline, news outlets can exploit our negativity bias, our brain’s default toward those things that may be dangerous or fear-provoking. I will say more in a future post about the biological basis for this phenomenon, but for now, it is good to just be aware of it.

When we realize that we cannot change anything by constantly worrying and ruminating about these terrible events, maybe we can take a step back, breathe and acknowledge that some time way from the incoming flood of news is okay. It is necessary and it is healthy to stay present in this moment and to perhaps take a moment to be grateful for our relative safety, for some small joy in our day that can help put things into perspective. Undoubtedly we will all face some speculation about recent events, and I expect I will do the same.

But I am turning toward the positive events, people, and qualities in my life so that I can keep some steady ground beneath me as I consider how to interpret and decide how or whether to factor these events into my life. It is difficult but necessary to do this, and I know my meditation practice has helped. By letting go of what we cannot control, we focus on what we can do. I am not saying to ignore what is happening in the world, by any means. I am just asking you consider if stepping back may help you gain some valuable emotional distance to be able to consider what possible actions will serve you and your loved ones best in the present and the future.



She moves (in mysterious ways)

My sweetie and I went to the U2 concert this past Friday night. It was an awesome experience, despite the acoustics of the US Bank stadium, which were a bit lacking for such a concert. (Fortunately he was prepared and gave me earplugs in advance which cut down significantly on the musical distortion of the speakers.) What fascinated me most were the visual elements added to the show, the imagery used and the political elements of his message.

From September 8, 2017 concert

Granted, Bono’s music has always contained an element of social critique (many artists I respect have this in common) but this was more than I expected. For me, it was a welcome addition to what I had expected would just be an entertaining night of rock and roll.

Bono commented that he had been one the “dreamers” in this country, the immigrants who want nothing more than to participate in the ideals of America, the freedoms we have come to enjoy, the opportunities that draw people here. In light of this week’s news on the President’s announcement regarding the intention to replace the Deferred Action for Child Arrivals program, we know what this commentary intended to convey. The faces used in the videos were diverse in age, national origin, race, and gender. The montage of the women painting the U.S. flag while at the same time showing a woman in a flag bikini with a lasso to me conveyed the contradictions in our national symbolism. There is complexity and messiness in a land of 50 states unified by an idea, by a commitment to a set of ideals, some of which have been challenged in our recent political milieu.

The concert also featured a historical compilation of women and faces of our history. Bono commented on the necessity for women to rise up, with the men that are in their lives as well, and to claim the power that they rightfully have. While I am paraphrasing his words, the impact they had on me was visceral. Here is a feminist artist, using the power of his stature and popularity to speak on issues that matter to him, and to so many of us. The video background had a quote about the power of the people not being in the hands of the people in power.  It is all true, and something we forget at times, when our major media trains all of our eyes on the troll-elect and the legislators that fight with him. Granted, we must pay attention but we lose sight of where the real power is, in every day people and every day acts of bravery and conscience that we all face.

As a feminist I believe in equality of the sexes in political, economic and social terms. I know that as women, we must stand up for these principles. But I know that we are not alone in this, men and women but stand up, must insist that we can do better. This country can do better. Or as Paul Wellstone loved to point out: “we all do better when all do better.” This is more true today than ever, when our globally-connected world makes sure that the fact of humankind and indeed the planet is ever more dependent on acting in harmony and acting out of mutual, rather than self-centered interest.

It troubles me that so many women, so many immigrants, so many people of color, so many who do not fit the “norm” of the dominant culture do not feel safe. On the flip side, I try mightily to empathize with a white family in middle America that sees their schools and infrastructure crumbling, and at the same time sees many more brown faces in their communities, they feel insecure. They do not know what is happening in their world. While they may not see that their schools would possibly close without these young immigrants arriving, or that many of the jobs these families are doing are helping to bolster the fragile economies of their towns, they are also struggling. When I read Hillbilly Elegy by JD Vance last year, it really helped me see this more clearly. Both political parties in this country have ignored for far too long the needs of working-class Americans.

What if we challenge the idea that it is “us against them?” What if we strove to find the commonalities between people? What if we emphasized the shared goals we all have for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness? In what ways might we come together toward a better world, toward a country where people did not have to fear the future, but instead could see how our unity is our strength?

To me, what feminism brings is a way to acknowledge the value of ALL people, of all contributions and all that is precious in this world. It is in the process of inclusion and inviting more balanced representation in our political discourse and politics that we transcend the limits of our current reality. We challenge the limits of our imagination when we consider what is possible, and work together toward a better future. She moves in mysterious ways, and indeed, she (America) moves us to consider how we might be a part of re-imagining some better world that serves us, instead of dividing us.