Wednesday, December 16, 2009

I'm Starting a Kiva Microlending Team

A few years ago I decided instead of gift cards or trinkets, that I would give people a $25 Kiva credit to make a microloan for Christmas. I gave a credit to myself as well :-). I had heard of microlending group Kiva on Oprah of all place but was tuned in to microlending when I did a play that featured Noble Peace Prize winner and Microlending Father Mohammed Yunis.

Honestly, back in December 2007 I made a loan and haven’t thought about Kiva a whole lot since. About a year and a half later my loan was paid back in full and I could donate again… but somehow, I never got around to it, until today.

I’d love to give more this Christmas, but frankly I have been donating far too much to lawyers lately and just don’t have the cash to spare. So I went back to Kiva to get a little donation fix with my $25 credit. I made a loan to a mom in El Salvador who needed to buy staples to stock her grocery store. I like the idea of giving to grocery stores because (as people in certain parts of DC know all too well) having a well-stocked grocery store near your home really gives a certain sense of calm and peace that basic needs can be met. A grocery store really serves the whole community.

Anyway, when I logged back in I noticed something truly magical. Of the 10 gifts I gave, 9 people made loans. And of the $250 I spent on the gift certificates... Ready for this? Over 25 loans have been made!! Those 10 gifts were more than doubled. The loans were paid back and re-gifted over and over. WOW! Even more interesting, I loved seeing where my friends gave because their choices were so reflective of them as people.

  • My foodie friend Heidi gave to a restaurant in Uganda. Her sister lives part of the year in Uganda and god knows if Heidi can give to a restaurant she will!
  • Ever-practical Evan gave to an auto repair shop in Lebanon. There aren’t many men to give to on Kiva but he found one! And having seen Evan’s last car, I know he knows the power of a good mechanic.
  • My friend Jenny who has not 1, but 2 smart phones gave to a cell phone store in Paraguay. How perfect!
  • My old boss Susan's funky, artsy, college-aged daughter (who has made about a dozen loans) gave to a consignment clothing store in Bosnia.
  • Ricky, whose got some African roots and a wife with pretty fabulous hair gave to a beauty salon in Ghana.
  • And Fred, my most generous and giving friend, has made loans on every continent but the one that touched me the most was a loan to a mom in Nicaragua who needed a loan to "buy construction materials to change the roof of her house, which is in bad condition." Having had a leaky ceiling for about a year, I know Fred knows what it means to have a solid roof over his head.

All the loans have been repaid or are in process!

Kiva has this new thing called “Teams” and just for fun, I'm starting one. I want to see what kind of an impact my initial Christmas gift in 2007 can make in the world. Thanking of lending through Kiva? Well then I want to recruit you to my lending team, Angela's Angels. If you join my lending team, we can work together to alleviate poverty. Once you're a part of the team, you can choose to have a future loan on Kiva "count" towards our team's impact. The loan is still yours, and repayments still come to you - but you can also choose to have the loan show up in our team's collective portfolio, so our team's overall impact will grow!

Merry Christmas


Wednesday, November 18, 2009

I was asked to speak at a WEAVE fundraiser. Here's what I said:

Here is how I knew I wasn’t a victim of domestic violence:
  • I’m educated on the topic. In college, I studied domestic violence and raised thousands of dollars for WEAVE, My Sister’s Place, and House of Ruth.
  • I am physically and emotionally very strong.
  • I have a PhD and a successful career.
  • After my husband threw a Brita pitcher full of water at my head, he told me it was no big deal.After my husband threatened to kill me, we went to a therapist and he explained to her and me that he’d never hurt me and never would.
  • When my husband had a fit of rage at another therapists office, our therapist told me it was time to leave because he had another couple coming in, but if I felt unsafe I should wait a few minutes in the bathroom for my husband to calm down.
  • When my husband slammed me against the wall, wouldn’t let me move, and yelled “Call the f’ing police you manipulative bitch”, our nanny and her husband were right there. (How bad could it have been?)
  • When I’d tell people I fear for my safety and that’s why I asked my husband to move out they would say (and I’m not kidding) “but you are so much bigger than him, you could just sit on him.” (I got that on at least 3 occasions).
  • When I went a lawyer about what to do next and she told me to go home and make nice because I didn’t really have a very good case. She said the best thing I could do was provoke him to hit me again and then call the police to improve my chances.

I knew I wasn’t a victim of domestic violence, but I started checking terms on google like “How do I know if I am a victim of domestic violence” and “Signs of domestic violence.”

I knew I wasn’t a victim of domestic violence, but one cold, January day about a year ago, I dropped my son at daycare, pulled into a CVS parking lot and made a call that would change my life. I called WEAVE.

“I have a crazy question,” I said, hearing the jangling in my voice as my vocal chords shattered like breakaway glass with every word. “I just, I’m not sure who to ask for, I just want to know if my, um, my situation qualifies… qualifies as domestic violence. I don’t think my situation counts but I’d just like to check, in case I’m missing something. Is there someone I could talk to?”

And there was.

Later that night, I went to a free legal clinic. In the lobby there was a Japanese mother and daughter. The daughter was 9, very precocious and chatty. Her mom was beautifully dressed in designer clothes, didn’t speak a word of English, and didn’t have a US passport. Her daughter told me she went to boarding school in California. I wondered what might have brought them to this legal clinic. Next to me was a woman who reminded me of my mother. She had a wedding ring, short, salt and pepper hair, and looked like she worked on 17th and K.

“This is who comes to a free legal clinic?” I thought. My laptop, blackberry and I somehow fit in.

I waited a few minutes and then met with a lawyer named Tracy. I told her my situation and then asked my question… “Do I qualify? Does this count as domestic violence? I’ve talked to a lot of people and the jury is split but I’m sure I don’t I mean I’m sorry to have wasted your – ”

She cut me off. “This is a guy that is all about control. Have you seen the cycle of violence?” I hadn’t and she showed me. “With guys like this, the good times can be good, and that’s why it’s easy to get confused.” She pulled out a huge photocopied book and plunked it on the crowded desk. “Here’s the statute she said. Read it yourself.”

How had I missed it?

5 ½ years after he threw the pitcher. 2 ½ years after he threatened to tie me up, cover me with lighter fluid and set me and our house on fire. 3 months after he first physically hurt me. I was scooped up in the arms of WEAVE and carried to the starting line of my journey to wholeness. A journey in which I’ve had to give up everything I thought I knew about domestic violence and start over. The first step was letting go of the idea domestic violence happens to other people. The second, was fully accepting it happened to me. And if WEAVE weren’t around, I believe it would have escalated even further.

And that’s why I’m here tonight, to share my story and to help make sure WEAVE will be there to give someone else the support and confidence they need to let go of what they know and start accepting what is.

I am a victim of domestic violence, but I am not weak. WEAVE just helped me connect to my strength, get safe, and move on. I can’t imagine how much longer that would have taken without them and every day I look in my little boys eyes and know we are safe, I am grateful to all WEAVE has done for us.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

WEAVE saved my life.

Please help save WEAVE.

I'm a successful executive. For years (2 to be exact) my husband threatened to kill me and to steal my child. Eventually he started physically hurting me as well. When I'd had enough, I went to a lawyer. The answers I got were long, complicated, expensive, and included a lot of concessions I wasn't willing to make.

I remembered donating to WEAVE once as part of a production of the Vagina Monologues. I never thought I would need to call them. I didn't think WEAVE services were for people like me. Frankly, I wasn't aware that strong, smart successful people could be victims of domestic violence. It had become achingly clear, however, that I was wrong.

Shaking and hiding in my car in a CVS parking lot, I called WEAVE. That phone call was like grabbing on to a lifeboat when you are drowning in a wide ocean of fear and uncertainty.

In days, I had met with an incredibly helpful lawyer for free, had filed a restraining order at the court house, and got sole temporary custody of my son. A WEAVE volunteer sat with me through all the court proceedings and called me periodically to check in on me.

I felt guilty using their services because I felt like my abuse was so minor compared to the other people I met while working with WEAVE. But repeatedly they told me that I was a victim and they were determined to help -- that domestic abuse might come in degrees, but their services didn't.

I promised myself when it was all over I would donate $100 a month to WEAVE. It's not all over. I hadn't started donating. And now I am riddled with guilt for not supporting the organization that saved me sooner.

Please help save WEAVE.

For more - see this article in the Washington Post:

Friday, September 11, 2009

Basil the Cat: RIP

5/23/2003 - 9/11/2009

Basil was 16+ and had a full life. He lived in Alexandria, Washington DC, Connecticut, Arlington, and Reston. He was mostly an indoor cat but in the last year got to check off 'spend time outside' from his bucket list.

He was not a huge fan of toddlers but was never aggressive with them (just aloof). He loved garlic, tobacco, and coffee breath. He also loved bumping his chin into your knee while you were sitting on the toilet. He did not like bathroom doors to be closed. His happiest years were 2003-2005 when he fell madly in love with Rachan (my ex) but before we were distracted by Jesse.

The night before he passed, he was playing and purring. He was never sick. He died peacefully and looked like he was sleeping though my guess is he his heart stopped as he had a moderate heart murmur.

Basil got me through some dark scary days in my 20s when I was very lonely. I remember one day after a particularly rough break-up, holding Basil and crying hysterically for hours until his fur was soaked, but he didn't leave my side. He always seemed to know when you needed him to be around and he'd saddle right up beside you.

In the passed few years, between having a kid, moving 4 times, and getting a divorce, Basil dropped down a few rungs as a priority in my life. In fact, the script had flipped and he had started needing me more than I needed him. I don't think he enjoyed the change and I know he is at peace now that the fight for my attention is finally over. And I think he knows, in his own way, he actually did win.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Relapse is part of the Treatment

I heard this interview on NPR I think where the guy being interviewed was saying that he was an alcoholic. It took him years to recover and it didn't happen until he accepted that relapse is part of the treatment. Maybe it was Diane Rehm or This American Life on podcast. Anyway, the line struck me. What if RELAPSE was a good thing? Or at least not a bad one. What if RELAPSE itself was a necessary part of the journey. What if it's required? It was a comforting thought but I worried it was weak or selfish or indulgent.

I made a mental note to blog on it but promptly dropped the idea. Until I read Brooke Castillo's blog today and then it all slipped together. She wrote:

For a while, your pattern may look like this:

Get the hang of it
See the cool result in your life
Screw it all up completely by checking out
Get the hang of it (again)

This time when I gained weight back it didn't feel like evidence that I suck. But it sure was interesting. This time I was willing to do it again and again and again. Willing to participate in my life instead of, as my friend Jen says, sitting back with a bucket of popcorn and watching the movie that has become my life.

So my relapse is part of my treatment. This isn't weak - because it takes a lot of strength to stay engaged and connected, especially in the face of what could be considered failure. It isn't selfish - because I know I give the best of myself when I take care of myself first. And it sure isn't indulgent because welcoming relapse as a part of the treatment, while more gentle than other approaches, is more likely to bring more positive results.

But most of all relapse just is. It's a part of my journey. A journey on which I am committed to keeping my eyes and my heart open.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

How things work out

It's funny how things work out with weight loss. Or any big challenge, I guess. You are working really hard and not getting results and someone suggests you stop trying so hard. That's really an infuriating suggestion because of the thought "If I don't continue to try hard, I will not succeed." It's a Bodhi tree like mystery which your busy brain rejects loudly. But then, like a geometry problem you step away from, the answer arrives at your door - all unassuming - and smacks you over the head with a sort of sweet, "how the heck did you miss that?"

I started working with Brooke Castillo, weight loss coach, in April 2007. I had a 1-year-old baby and had not lost most of the 85 lbs. I gained while pregnant. In 8 months, from April to November, I lost over 70 lbs. with Brooke, going from 296 (!) to about 220. My goal was to be 149 lbs by December 2009. In December 2007, stepped up my work outs often working out twice a day and burning upwards of 1500 calories a day! And I was committed to losing weight by eating when I was hungry and stopping when I was full. I never counted a calorie. But once increased my exercise, I stopped losing weight.

All that exercise made me hungry! I worked out through the holidays but I probably ate too much. Then I got pneumonia and bronchitis, but I kept working out. I completed 3 triathlons. I was more fit than ever and while I stopped losing weight, I did drop another dress size to a size 16. I was told by my trainer I was gaining muscle and not to worry.

I went to a weight loss retreat and realized, all my muscle wasn't the problem. I was simply eating too much. Brooke coached me about planning joy eats and only having one small serving of high fat food a day. IMPOSSIBLE I proclaimed. We had done this "plan your joy" routine before. There was simply no way for me to plan to eat a brownie and that that was going to stop me from eating a cookie if someone brought them into the office.

And then we did an exercise where I saw clearly that the problem was my incapacity to try harder. The story I told my self was I was working harder than anyone could work. And I had a lot of evidence this was true. And if this wasn't enough, then I quit.

And so I did. From November 07 to July 08 I maintained 220 lbs. But when I got back from the retreat, I quit. Six months later, I ballooned back up to 290! Little by little the pounds piled back on but my attitude remained strong. This was a conscious life choice and not the result of negative thinking. It was the result of thinking. Period. And the thought was this, "I would rather be fat than work this hard."

And low and behold that reality was created! (My thoughts are powerful that way.)

There was magic in that decision. A magic to create my own destiny. A magic to create my own body. A magic to chose my future. But it's not a 1-way magic.

So now I find myself wanting another baby.

My divorce is still in process. I am flat broke. I can live in this fat body, but it has a really big downside. It won't ovulate. Which means I can't make another baby. With no money for fertility treatments and no legal possibility of adoption until the divorce is final, the only way for me to make a baby is with known donor sperm (got it!) and working ovaries.

I've got to lose 50 lbs to get my ovaries in order. I'd like to lose more than that. And the clock is ticking. I'm 36.

So I asked myself a question that Brooke asked me once: "What can you do?"

Weight loss surgery.
- Not covered by insurance

Jenny Craig.
- Ditto on the money

Starve myself.
- Never happen

Plan healthy meals?
.... hmmm.... I COULD do this one.

And so for the past 2 weeks I have been planning my meals, logging my food, exercising (of course!) and losing weight - down 8 lbs so far.

This process of packaging a weeks worth of meals and snacks on Sunday has made it as easy to stick to my own plan as it was to stick to Jenny Craig (but it's a lot cheaper.) Still until today I felt like I was on a diet. Lose enough weight to have a baby and then deal with life as a fat person again.

But today something hit me. Back when I was plateaued at 220 lbs., my biggest problem was eating too much. I said I was eating 1800 calories but that's what my target was. I actually never measured calories and I stopped journaling my food. In retrospect I was probably eating more than 1800 calories and I was eating a lot of non-fuel foods. What I never really did, was take full responsibility for what I ate. In fact, I claimed (thought, believed, decided) what I ate was out of my control. I took control of exercise, but I wanted the food piece of the equasion to come together on its own. Our accountant having chocolate in his office and our new CEO having lunch catered every day was interfering with my plan.

The secret to losing weight, it turns out, isn't eating less and exercising more. The secret is asking yourself: "What CAN I do to take care of myself despite the obstacles life is guaranteed to throw my way?" The answer always leads to eating less and exercising more, but it won't feel like a chore. It will feel like Christmas.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Enough is Enough - STARVE-A-THON

I'm sick of watching this genocide in Darfur year after year and doing nothing about it. An estimated 2.7 million people have been displaced and more than 400,000 have been killed since 2003. Not since the Rwandan genocide of 1994 has the world seen such a calculated campaign of displacement, starvation, rape and mass slaughter. Recently, most of the humanitarian aid groups were expelled and Sudanese aid organizations forcibly closed. This has created increasingly precarious conditions for the internally-displaced camp dwellers.

That's why I'm going on a hunger strike.

I am joining Richard Branson, Mia Farrow, Jon Foreman of Switchfoot and 4.7 million Darfuris who are fasting without option. I'll fast 1 day for every $500 I raise to Save Darfur. You can contribute on your own at (and forward me the receipt).

If you have any questions about why I am doing this - ask me - or visit I also think you'll find Richard Branson's video about his fast enlightening.

Thanks for your support,

p.s. I think one of the most powerful ways to truly understand what it is like to be Darfuri in the face of possible attack by Janjaweed militias is to play the VIDEO GAME Darfur is Dying.