Podcasts I STILL Can’t Stop Listening To

My days of long commutes are done (I hope), but I started listening to podcasts last year and I can’t freakin’ stop. You guys, I listen to 24 podcasts!

Between menial work tasks and endless chores at home, I mostly manage to keep up. Here’s what I’m loving the most recently.

My Favorite Murder

My Favorite Murder podcastWho says learning about murder can’t be funny? Every week “murderinos” Karen and Georgia read about murders — new or old, solved and unsolved, it’s all fair game. They also post “mini-sodes” where they read emails from listeners who talk about their hometown murders. Every episode is hysterical, despite the macabre subject matter. With a motto like, “Stay sexy and don’t get murdered!” what’s not to love?

The Popcast with Knox and Jamie

The Popcast podcastAlso known as the podcast with “the wheezy guy and the lady who hates everything.” This Southern lady and gentleman talk about all aspects of pop culture, from television shows to things people need to chill out about (looking at you, Pumpkin Spice Lattes). They are so funny, and Jamie’s accent in particular makes me feel right at home.

Lore

Lore podcastHost Aaron Mahnke shares the truth — or the theories — behind the scary stories we tell around the campfire. Episodes have titles like “Going Viral,” “Quarantine,” and “Within the Walls.” They’re creepy, well-researched, and make you take a closer look at the people around you. Plus the music is spot-on.

2 Dope Queens

2 Dope Queens podcastComedians Phoebe Robinson and Jessica Williams host a show featuring female comedians, comedians of color, and LGBT comedians. Not only is everyone funny, they also share different perspectives on life.

Twice Removed

Twice Removed podcastHost A.J. Jacobs meets with a celebrity guest and tells them about interesting people in their family tree. At the end of the episode, Jacobs introduces them to a “mystery relative” they didn’t know they had. It’s fascinating to learn about people’s history, and then be surprised by the mystery relative. The show is between seasons right now, but the first season is up on iTunes and is well worth a listen.

What podcasts have you hooked lately? What should I add to my list?

Want to change the world? Educate a girl.

2016 is almost over, and with it my reading challenges. Normally this is when I look at how I’ve done with the year’s reading, and gloat a bit about completing the challenges. But this year it’s different — this year, one of my challenges helped me find a new calling.

Let’s back up

A little over a year ago I was surfing around Netflix, looking for something to watch on a night when I had nothing else to do. In the documentary section I found Girl Rising. It follows nine girls living in places like Nepal, Cambodia, and Haiti as they stand up for their right to an education and freedom.

Girl Rising opened my eyes to some pretty horrifying statistics:

  • 65 million girls are out of school globally.
  • In a single year, an estimated 150 million girls were victims of sexual violence.
  • In developing countries, the number one cause of death for girls 15-19 is childbirth.

It made me so mad. I loved school so much, and couldn’t imagine how horrible it would have been to not be able to attend just because I was a girl. Everything I am is the result of what I have read and learned, and it infuriated me that so many girls were being left behind.

Especially when I learned things like:

  • A girl with an extra year of education can earn 20% more as an adult.
  • 10% fewer girls under the age of 17 would become pregnant in sub-Saharan Africa and South and West Asia if they had a primary education.
  • If India enrolled 1% more girls in secondary school, its GDP would rise by $5.5 billion.

I wanted to do something, but I didn’t know where to start. I asked a friend of mine who works for Child Legacy International (they do some amazing things, please check them out!) if she knew of any organizations that focused on girls’ education.

That’s when I learned about Camfed. Their mission — to educate girls in some of the world’s poorest regions — is critical to making the world a better place for everyone.

But you know how it goes. You read an article or watch a documentary that gets you all fired up, you follow an organization on Twitter and you sign up for their newsletter…and then you never put your money where your mouth is. And that’s where this story almost ended.

First steps with the Charity Reading Challenge

In late 2015 I learned about the Charity Reading Challenge, in which participants pledge to donate a certain amount per book they read to the charity of their choice.

I liked the idea that my reading could help fund another girl’s education. So I pledged to donate $2 for every book I read in 2016 to Camfed. I signed up and started reading, glad that I’d found a way to give a little to a good cause.

But fate wasn’t done with me yet.

A heartbreaking email

In early September I got an email from Camfed that broke my heart.

Every September we face one of our most difficult decisions. We have to draw a line between the girls who will go to school and those who will not – we simply do not have the resources to help every child who needs support

We are facing a crisis that will condemn even more girls to a life of exclusion. A reduction in funding due to recent global uncertainty has pushed 3,500 more girls below that line.

I imagined what it would be like for those girls to hear that they wouldn’t be able to continue — or start — their education. What would it be like to see your brother head off to school while you have to stay home? What if not going to school meant being married off to a stranger because you are a burden on your family’s resources?

When I visited Camfed’s website, I read that $240 can send a girl to school for a full year.

$240. That’s less than my monthly car payment. I donated that night.

Since then I’ve imagined over and over someone from Camfed telling a girl in Ghana or Malawi or Tanzania or Zambia or Zimbabwe that she will be able to go to school this year. How did she react? What’s her name? Her favorite subject? What does she want to be when she grows up?

Then I remembered that the company I work for matches charitable donations — I’ve submitted that paperwork already, which means two girls get to go to school.

Just getting started

I’m still planning to donate $2 to Camfed for every book I read this year, but that won’t be the end of this adventure. I’ve found something that ignites my passion, that makes me want to participate in something bigger than myself.

I don’t know exactly what that participation looks like yet, but I do know that it includes others. If you’re passionate about girls’ education and empowerment, or think you could be, I encourage you to:

  • Read Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn’s Half the Sky. Take at least one of the actions they list at the end.
  • Read more about Camfed and the other organizations Kristof and WuDunn describe.
  • Consider donating to Camfed so they can meet their goal of educating 1 million girls by 2020.

Today is Thanksgiving. This year I have more than ever to be thankful for. I’ve found a calling, a cause, and I hope you’ll join me in this fight.

Update: Donations from people in September and October got 343 more girls above the line and into school. So badass.

Scare Yourself Silly with These Spooky October Reads

October is a bizarre time of the year, especially in America. It’s a weird mix of history, the occult, slutty costumes, and candy corn. The weather is finally starting to cool off, which means winter isn’t far behind. As the world turns colder, humans draw closer to their hearths and homes. Wrapped up in the winter’s silence, our minds are free to dwell on the things that go bump in the night, the things that may be just outside our windows…

Now is the time to read dark things, frightening things that make you question the world, its inhabitants, and even yourself. Any of these books is a good place to start.

The Seeker

Aine Cahill arrives in Concord, Massachusetts in search of the truth about her ancestor. The more she digs for the truth, the faster her world unravels. There are old, evil things lurking in the forests, things that Aine slowly realizes have been with her since childhood. This one kept me up at night.

The Woman in Black

A young solicitor arrives in a remote village to settle a client’s affairs. There he is terrified by a ghostly figure in black. He’s determined to discharge his duties, but he has no idea of the horrors in store for him. This book is atmospheric in the extreme — the house itself is the best character — managed to terrify me without using a single jump scare.

Heart-Shaped Box

Judas Coyne loves the macabre, so when he’s given the chance to buy a “haunted” suit he does so gleefully. But it turns out the suit is truly haunted…and its ghost has a score to settle with Judas. This book was too scary for me, but if you enjoy being absolutely paralyzed with fright, this could be the book for you.

The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher

Sometimes true things are the scariest of all. The big house a little way out of town is locked up for the night, the 12 inhabitants asleep in their beds. In the morning one of them, a four year-old, is dead. A London detective nearly destroys his life uncovering the truth — but we may never know the whole story. I’m just as obsessed with this book as I am with author Kate Summerscale’s other book, The Wicked Boy.

Trekking Through The Undiscovered Country With My Dad

Star Trek bathing suitIn the 1991 film City Slickers Billy Crystal’s character says, “…when I was about 18 and my dad and I couldn’t communicate about anything at all, we could still talk about baseball.” For me and my dad, it was Star Trek.

As a kid, I took in the original series, bits and pieces of The Next Generation, and the films. By the time I was in middle school, Dad had taught me the Star Trek lessons he considers most important:

  • Spock is the most interesting character;
  • Kirk is the best captain (with Picard as close second);
  • The even-numbered films are the only ones worth watching; and
  • Strong friendships can get you through anything.

I’ve lost count of the number of times we watched the movies together, but I do know that we watched The Undiscovered Country the most. It’s got the best setting (crazy ice planet), the best supporting characters (Iman as the shape-shifting Chameloid), and the most irritating villain known to man (seriously, no one quotes Shakespeare that much).

The film pits Captain Kirk against the Klingons, who blame him and Dr. McCoy for the death of their chancellor. The pair is sent to a penal colony from which they must escape in time to thwart another Klingon assassination. Shenanigans ensue.

Oscar-winning material it ain’t, but for me that was never the point. The Undiscovered Country was a silly-but-serious movie my dad and I could watch together and then talk about. It gave us a framework for talking about bigger things, like the value of friendship, of planning, of intelligence and humility.

My dad and I are logical like Spock, but hot-headed and stubborn like Kirk. The Star Trek movies gave us insight into each other’s personalities and helped us understand each other’s perspectives. They helped us talk when all it seemed we could do was fight.

I’ve watched later series and movies with my husband, but I always find myself texting my dad about the latest plot twist. I take a picture of my television with The Undiscovered Country playing for the billionth time and text it to him along with, “Guess the movie!”

Star Trek has helped me in countless ways as I journey through my own undiscovered country. Kirk bashes around in my brain, pushing me to speak out and be brave; Spock sits quietly nearby, reminding me that my anxiety is something I must control so that it does not control me.

And in my mind’s eye, I see my father, explaining what a Chameloid is and giving me a fake Vulcan nerve pinch. I remember conversations we’ve had and jokes we’ve shared. I pop in the DVD yet again and send him a text: “Three guesses what I’m watching today. I love you!”

The Importance of #AnxietyGirl

The last 12 months have been the worst of my life. But they’ve also been the most liberating. I lost my job, went on unemployment, moved to a new town for a new job that was almost immediately dissolved, and spent the next six months searching for yet another new job. My savings took a big hit, and now I’m too far away to see the therapist I really liked.

I also learned that going on unemployment is not shameful. I applied to so many jobs (around 170 since last April) that writing resumes and cover letters became as easy as breathing. Even interviews lost most of their terror. I learned I can book movers, stand my ground with stupid apartment complex managers, and drive myself through downtown Austin during evening rush hour.

Through some of my favorite people — Jenny Lawson, Wil Wheaton, Linz DeFranco — I learned that anxiety lies to me. It tells me I’m a bad employee, a bad wife, a failure, that I constantly disappoint those around me.

I learned that one of the best ways to fight anxiety is to be open about it. I’ve started blogging more about it, and using #anxietygirl in some of my tweets and Facebook posts. Some things I’ve shared:

  • It’s incredible how fast I can go from being okay to hating every single thing about myself. ‪#‎anxietygirl‬
  • What I hate most about being ‪#‎anxietygirl‬ is how my anxiety saps all of my energy. I’m sitting on the sofa, exhausted and paralyzed by all the things I know I have to do before bed. And this is one of my good days.
  • Things only I think when about to meet strangers: “Damn it, I should have looked at my small talk flash cards!” ‪#‎anxietygirl‬
  • When the prospect of attending a social event full of strangers in a few days makes you have to stop what you’re doing now and meditate. ‪#‎anxietygirl‬

I don’t post these things to gain sympathy. I post them because 40 million people in the US have an anxiety disorder, but only about a third receive treatment.

I want my friends who count among those 40 million to know that they are not alone; I want those who don’t have anxiety disorders to understand a bit better what’s happening in my brain.

Being more open is scary — it might mean that some people will think less of me, or that I could face prejudice at work.

But I’m tired of hiding, of pretending that I don’t have to fight my brain every day for who gets to control my feelings. I’m being honest, I’m using my anxiety against itself, and I’m better off for it.

Anxiety girl