We Ran A Half Marathon!

Originally posted 5/6/19

Hello!

Paul and I ran the Eau Claire Half-Marathon yesterday in Eau Claire, Wisconsin (about 90 minutes east of the twin cities). It was a beautiful day for a race, with part sun, part showers (right around mile 9 for me, it felt great!).

I'm so happy we were able to do this! It's been a goal of mine to run a half-marathon for the last couple of years. Between getting the flu (complete with 101 degree fever!) two days before the last race I signed up for, finding time to train with school and work, a sprained ankle a few months ago, and struggling to find commitment to go with my motivation, it was a long road to even get me to the starting line of the race yesterday. I'm so glad I did!

When we were training, we realized quickly that Paul and I prefer different paces, so we made the decision that to be most comfortable, we wouldn't try to run together. While running by myself, I had a lot of time to think about life, and I made some new friends along the way! I'm glad I got to run at my own speed. (march to the beat of my own drum?). Not every moment of the race was awesome; there is a giant hill right around the end of mile 2 that was AWFUL, and my knees were starting to hurt around mile 8. But I'm so glad I was able to run this race and accomplish my goal!

For those wondering, Paul finished in 2:17, and I finished in 2:51.

Diet Tech Diaries: My Favorite Patients

Originally posted 4/11/19

Hello!

Obviously, I'm referencing real patients, so I've changed identifying details about them to protect their private health information. The heart of the story is here, just not the exact details. The thoughts and opinions expressed in this article are my own and do not reflect those of Children’s Minnesota. 

Working at Children's has taught me a lot about clinical nutrition, given me a healthy dose of customer service experience, and even made me brush up on my math skills. Because a good chunk of my job involves answering room service calls, I talk to patients and parents from all over the hospital.

I love getting to know the patients and their parents, even through short, superficial room service calls. Once I had a patient, a young toddler, insist upon ordering his own food over the phone. His mother "helped" him order, by telling him (and me) each item. Our conversation went something like this.

ME: What would you like?

MOM: Tell her you want broccoli.

HIM: BAH-KLEE!!!

MOM: And that you want some french fries with ketchup.

HIM: KETCHUP!!!

ME: *giggling*

MOM: *giggling*

Though not every patient is as energetic as that little boy, I've had so many of these joyful interactions with patients. Some kids are in the hospital for long periods of time and I come to know their orders by heart, and they are as individual as the kids themselves. One teen, for example, frequently orders ingredients to make a DIY frappuccino: 1 coffee, 3 sugars, 2 chocolate ice creams. Or the young patient who knows his order by heart and can say it all in one breath, very quickly. (It's a good thing I have his order memorized, because he often speaks too quickly for me to understand!)

My favorite patient is one I've gotten to know over the past several months. They are a teen with a chronic illness, and they've been in and out of the hospital several times since I began working last summer. This patient first became memorable to me because of what they order for dinner: a grilled turkey and cheddar cheese sandwich.

This isn't really all that unique of an order, but for whatever reason, it stuck in my head the first time they ordered it. On my next shift, they called room service again, and I jokingly asked if they wanted the same thing as before.

The patient was very pleased to have been remembered. I worked multiple evenings in a row, and each night they would call, we would say hello, and I would offer what I could now safely assume was their favorite sandwich. It wasn't always what they wanted to eat that night, but it laid down the foundation for them quickly becoming my "favorite" patient.

When they were discharged, I was happy, obviously, that they were well enough to go home. But a little part of me was disappointed--the little interactions I'd become used to were now put on hold while my patient remained well enough to be out of the hospital and living their own life. Now, when I see their name pop up on my screen, I'm again disappointed, because that means that they're back in the hospital, likely in pain or not feeling well. But there's a little part of me that's excited, too, because they are my favorite patient. Complicated, I know.

I've never met this patient in person; I don't know what they look like, or anything about them, other than their favorite sandwich. But getting to know them, as well as so many of the other patients here, and being such a tiny part of their care experience has been amazing. There are SO many people involved in the health-care process, and everyone from the doctors to the diet techs to the nursing assistants to the people who work in the gift-shop and those that empty the trashes have important roles to play. Kids are pretty darn special, and I feel very lucky to be one of the people that gets to take care of them.

I'm Going To Graduate School!

Originally posted 2/21/19

Hello!

Per the title of this post, I was recently accepted to the University of Minnesota's Coordinated Master's Program in Public Health Nutrition! I'm so happy and proud to be able to announce it to the world, shout it from the rooftops, post it to the blog, etc.

What is a Coordinated Master's Program? 

To become a dietitian, as has been my plan for a while now, I need to complete my undergraduate degree in dietetics, followed by completing an accredited internship. Some internships are didactic, meaning that they are independent of an educational program and are to be completed after DPD coursework has been completed.

Other programs are coordinated, meaning that educational coursework and supervised internship hours are scheduled to happen concurrently within the scope of the program. Most coordinated programs that exist are Masters of Science in Nutrition programs, but there are a few, like mine, that are coordinated with Masters of Public Health programs.

How long will it take me to graduate? 

I will start at the University of Minnesota in the Fall of 2019, and I will complete six semesters (Fall, Spring, and Summer), before graduating at the end of Summer 2021. During the Fall and Spring, my internship hours will be scheduled alongside coursework in Public Health Nutrition. I get to take courses in community nutrition interventions, global and lifespan nutrition, bio-statistics, and more! In the summers, I'll be doing full-time internship hours at different locations to gain supervised practice experience in clinical and community nutrition settings.

When I graduate at the end of Summer 2021, I will receive my Masters of Public Health (MPH) degree. I will also be eligible to sit the certification exam to become a registered dietitian, because throughout the course of the program, I will have completed the 1200 supervised practice hours required of a dietetic internship.

What is Public Health?

I could write a whole bunch about what public health is, but this video does a much better job of explaining!

Why Public Health?

For the last 2 years at St. Kate's, I've been doing a lot of on-campus work related to food insecurity in university students, focused on our campus food shelf and community gardening. For some reason, I had never before associated the work I was doing with an interest in public health, though food insecurity is DEFINITELY a public health topic. Even as a college senior, I still have a lot to learn! One of my professors literally had to tell me, "Natalie, I can see that you have a large interest in public health, I think you would do really well in a public health nutrition field."

My application process

In the conversation where my professor told me that Public Health was my area of interest, she also recommended that I apply to the Coordinated Master's Program at UMN. I'd heard of the program before, but was a little unsure about MORE school. But, after researching the program, doing some soul searching, and thinking more about my interest in public health, I decided to apply.

The requirements of graduate programs will vary by school, but the UMN School of Public Health uses SOPHAS (School of Public Health Application System) to coordinate its applications. I was required to submit official transcripts, take the GRE and submit my official scores, submit a personal statement and resume, fill out a survey form, ask for letters of recommendation, and probably a couple of other things too. It was a laborious process, but I had a lot of support! So many friends, family, and professors looked over my personal statement and resume to offer suggestions.

I was really nervous about applying to a graduate program, because I was nervous about not being good enough to get in. Throughout the process of writing (and rewriting and rewriting) my personal statement, I got to do a lot of reflecting about the experiences I've had and things I've accomplished since I got to college. My advisers and professors were all encouraging and kept telling me that a strong personal statement must clearly articulate all of the reasons why I am an excellent candidate for the program. As I wrote, I started to really believe and internalize what I was saying about myself. I am "dynamic" "enthusiastic" "passionate", etc. Through writing, I gained confidence in knowing that even if I didn't get in, I'd be a strong and well-rounded candidate for other programs.

I'm so happy and thankful that I was accepted! Graduate school wasn't even on my radar until last fall, but I am so excited to follow this new path after I graduate this May!

Diet Tech Diaries: Working on the Holiday

Originally posted 12/25/18

Disclaimer: My views and opinions are my own and not that of Children’s Minnesota. 

Hello!

Anyone who has worked a food service or a retail job has likely, at some point, been scheduled to work on a holiday. Whether that's New Years, Thanksgiving, Valentine's Day, or any others, it can be difficult to be at work instead of relaxing at home. I found that I resented working the holidays when I was a food service employee. I resented that the business I worked for felt that the best way to make money was to stay open on special days like Easter, at the expense of pulling employees away from spending time with family or enjoying a day off.

As a health-care employee, my perspective has shifted.

When I gave my winter and holiday work availability, I knew there was a good chance that I'd be scheduled to work on a day that I'd rather not. When I saw that I was on-board for a shift on Christmas day, it wasn't a surprise, but it was a little disappointing. Given the choice, of course, I'd rather spend the holidays in my pajamas, with my family, eating tasty food and enjoying conversations and time together.

But the patients I'm serving don't get that choice. They don't get to be home on Christmas, carefree and relaxed. If they're sick enough to be in the hospital on Christmas, that likely means they won't be feeling well, or that they might be in pain. And what a difficult time of year it is for parents and families of sick children--torn between other family and work obligations while trying to help their child have a good holiday in a hospital bed.

When I think about the privilege that I have to be healthy and to be able to travel to see and spend time with my family, I find I can't quite complain anymore. I'm scheduled to work in the afternoon, so I will get to spend the morning with my family, having the relaxing Christmas that I want. I'm not the first person to be scheduled on Christmas, and I'm certainly not going to be the only person working that day. The doctors, nurses, other health professionals, food service workers, receptionists, maintenance staff--there will hundreds of people working with me on Christmas Day.

And I love my job! I don't love every second of every shift, but I love what I get to do, and I love that I get to work to serve the kiddos. To borrow from Children's: They're the most amazing people on earth! So why not bring that attitude and that passion into work on a day where joy might be hard to find?

Like every other person who is scheduled to work on Christmas, the job I'm doing is a job that must be done: my patients on specialty formulas need those formulas for nourishment. My patients ordering room service need that food too. My patient records need to be updated and organized. Elsewhere in the hospital, patients need medications, they need to be bathed, they need extra care when something goes wrong. Food needs to be prepared, floors need to be cleaned, and so forth. Going into work with a miserable, self-pitying attitude isn't going to change the fact that I'll be at work. It's not going to get rid of the work that needs to be done. Coming into work acting like the Grinch is certainly not going to make me feel better. Making like Ebeneezer Scrooge is not going to spread Christmas cheer or glad tidings.

So on Christmas afternoon, I'll slide into my scrubs, maybe throw a Christmas sweater on top, and head over to the hospital to serve my patients and their families--joyfully.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays everyone! 

Serving Humbly

Originally posted 11/26/18

Serving Humbly: A Reflection on Working to Respect the Dignity of Others While Serving

In the Twin Cities area, there are a large number of indigenous people who are homeless. Currently, around 300 of them are living in an encampment off of Highway 55/Hiawatha Avenue and Franklin Avenue in Minneapolis. The geographical location has prompted many to call it the Hiawatha Franklin encampment, but it is also called “The Wall of Forgotten Natives”, a testament to how political processes on the city, state, and federal levels have failed to support their indigenous populations.

A St. Kate’s Masters of Holistic Health Studies student, Carmelita Sharpback, herself an indigenous person, heard about the Hiawatha encampment and wanted to help. Carmelita visited the camp to learn about the needs of the people there, intending to return later with blankets for warmth. She was told that the residents of the camp had plenty of blankets, but that hot meals were always needed.

That’s where the St. Kate’s Food Justice Coalition came in. The FJC is an on-campus student organization, which I am the president of, whose mission is to educate students about food insecurity while engaging them in solutions that benefit their peers and the greater community. Carmelita’s idea sprang to life: Organize ingredient donations and student volunteers to prepare and serve a hot meal at the Hiawatha encampment. She, two other students, and I were the team leaders for this project. Leading an event like this was a hands-on test of my knowledge of previous coursework in food service management, several semesters of experience in public speaking, and project management.

On Tuesday, October 23rd, at 3:30pm, our team of volunteers gathered to chop nearly 40 pounds of fresh produce, open dozens of cans, and begin preparing our chosen meal: vegan chili. After cooking, we packed the chili into insulated containers and loaded up the vehicles, and off we went. We arrived just after sunset, so the night air was quickly cooling. The people we served were excited to see us arrive with food and very appreciative of the hot meal on the chilly night. We made over 350 servings of chili, and when we were getting ready to leave, we were able to leave our leftovers at the camp so others could eat them later.

It was an enjoyable evening; everything went relatively smoothly and we did what we came to do. I find joy in serving others, and that’s definitely what we did! It’s been hard to come up with words to describe the experience we had serving at the camp. Most of the time, when I write about experiences I’ve had, I’m able to frame it positively and show how much fun it was to go and do and learn about whatever. But with this project, preparing this hot meal for the homeless encampment, it felt disrespectful to try and give it the same spin.

Unlike field trips or other experiences, this project was not done for ourselves, we didn’t do it for publicity, or attention, or to come in and “save” the people there. We learned that the people living in the camp were in need of a hot meal, we had the resources to provide them with one, and so we did. When my fellow team leaders I spoke to our volunteers about the project, we gave it this frame: The people living at the camp are living in the camp because they are homeless. Our government has failed to support them, and they do not have anywhere else that they can go. We are entering their home, so we will respect their space and their privacy as we enter. We are here because we support them and we know that they need a hot meal, and that’s what we are here to provide.

Since then, I’ve been working to bring the same level of humility into other areas of my life. Whether that’s serving students through the campus food shelf or doing case studies for my nutrition courses, I’ve taken to heart the idea that Carmelita so easily adopted: when wanting to do good for another person, it is important to ask what it is they need, rather than assuming what they need is something that I want to do. The encampment’s request for a hot meal turned into a project that I’m proud to have been a part of and will continue to reflect on for a long time to come.

RD2B: Navigating Requests for Nutrition Advice

Originally posted 10/14/18

Hello!

As a 4th year nutrition and dietetics student, I'm amazed at the breadth of knowledge I've gained through my classes and extracurriculars. I'm also humbled at the amount of information available in my field of study that I've yet to come across. There's always more to learn, and even when I think I'm proficient in a topic, there is new research that is constantly coming out.

And I LOVE to talk about my field of study! Nutrition is one of my absolute favorite topics! I love talking about articles I've read, research papers or assignments I'm working on, or experiences I've had at my jobs.

Because I am a current nutrition student, and in the future will be a licensed health-care practitioner, I frequently find myself pressed for nutrition advice from friends, acquaintances, and even strangers. And as much as I love answering questions, it's taken me several years to figure out how to navigate this area of my education I'm in, where I know a decent amount, but I'm not an expert, nor am I a licensed professional.

Here are the top three guiding ideas that help me know when to speak and what to say when people approach me with questions about nutrition.

I do not know everything; therefore, I'm not sure is always an acceptable answer. 

One of my professors has a saying. Whenever my peers or I ask her questions in class, she responds, without fail, "Well, it depends,"

My professor (Hi, Holly, if you're reading this!), has been one of the best role models I've ever had for the humility that must come with any health-care profession. Dietitians all go through a standardized educational curriculum via our profession's requirements. I've taken coursework in community nutrition, food service management, education and counseling, and medical nutrition therapy, and more. In order to become a registered dietitian, I must pass a proficiency exam to prove that I am knowledgeable in all of those areas.

BUT...nutrition is a huge area of study. It is impossible to know all that there is to know, and impossible to remember all that you've ever learned. If someone asks me a question, and I have no idea, or I don't think I can answer the question in a way that will be positive and constructive, I'm not afraid to say "I'm not sure,"

I am not a licensed professional; I cannot prescribe, diagnose, or treat

When people ask me "I'm tired all the time, what can I eat to fix that?" or "Whenever I eat milk, I feel sick,", I need to remember that I am not a professional yet. I am in the midst of my education, but I do not have any licensure to allow me to practice nutrition. It takes a lot to swallow my pride when someone asks me a question about something, even something I feel I have a solid base of knowledge in, I have to remember that I cannot provide medical nutrition advice.

This link here does a good job of explaining the concept of what a non-licensed professional can say to clients or patients regarding nutrition care. But as an example: say someone asks me: "I'm tired all the time, what can I eat to fix that?"

"Well, it depends..." is usually my first response. From there, I might reference basic information that is easily available and applicable to the general public, "Eating plenty of fruits and vegetables, staying hydrated, getting enough exercise, and working hard to get 8 hours of sleep can usually help with increasing energy levels,"

From there, depending on how well I know the person, I might add what they can do to seek additional resources if I haven't answered their question or if they are concerned that something is wrong, "Sometimes fatigue can be related to a nutritional deficiency or another health problem. If you're concerned with how tired you are feeling, I'd recommend speaking to a doctor,"

Obviously, I know from my studies that fatigue can be related to anemia, B12 deficiency, or other issues not related to nutrition, like a thyroid problem or mental illness. But that's not my place to speculate, especially because I don't want someone to think that my saying "iron deficiency anemia could cause fatigue" means that they are anemic, because anemia has to be diagnosed by a health-care professional.

I love finding online resources and articles for people who ask me questions! If someone asks me about eating a well-balanced diet with celiac disease, I'm happy to find credible information online for the person while recommending that they speak to a professional if they have additional questions or they're looking to make a change or receive a treatment or diagnosis for a problem.

I am a coworker, peer, friend, or family member first

One of the most difficult areas to navigate when discussing nutrition is determining if the person I'm speaking to is looking for my advice about their situation, or if we're just having a casual conversation.

Sometimes it's obvious: When someone asks "My mom just got diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. What can I cook for her when she comes over on Friday?" it's fairly obvious that they're looking for me to provide them with information.

But sometimes it's less obvious. Imagine chatting with a friend, and they bring up that they've never liked drinking milk, and they're considering going vegan, and they're hoping to start running because they've heard that's good for them. And they tried tofu for the first time and they thought it was really gross, and nothing that tastes that bad can possibly be good for them.

If I'm engaged in the conversation and paying attention to what they're saying, I realize quickly that they are not asking for my advice as a nutrition student, even though we're talking about nutrition topics. They're updating me on new developments in their life because I am an important person to them.

It is so important to realize when people are asking for my advice and when they are not. Even if I mean well, nothing is more off-putting than receiving unwanted advice.

By listening and paying attention to what people are saying when they are talking to me,  it's much easier to not only engage in conversation with them but also determine whether they are talking to me as a friend or as someone who wants my advice (from personal experience, usually they are NOT asking for my advice).

I enjoy sharing the things I've learned throughout my education, and I can't wait to continue to grow. Thank you for reading! See you soon!

 

What I Did This Summer: Dietetic Technician

Originally posted 9/23/18

Hello! 

Welcome to the final installment! It's taken 5 weeks to get through my work and volunteer experiences this summer, and I'm so thankful for all of the opportunities I've had to grow and learn.

What I Did This Summer: Dietetic Technician, Children's Minnesota

What is Children's Minnesota? 

Children's Minnesota is one of the largest independent pediatric health-care systems in the country. Located in the twin cities, there are two hospitals, one in Minneapolis and one in St. Paul, and several clinics located nearby suburbs. Children's provides medical care and services to kiddos from brand-new micro-preemies all the way up to older teens.

As a fun fact, during my week volunteering with Camp Needlepoint, I met a Registered Dietitian who also works for Children's. At some point this semester, I'm going to be able to shadow her thanks to our shared employer. This connection and others I've made over the summer is definitely one of the best things that's happened in the last few months; I've met so many interesting and engaging people and been able to learn about many aspects of working in nutrition and health-care that I hadn't thought much about before. 

What is a Dietetic Technician? 

At Children's, the Dietetic Technicians, a team of about 7 full-time and part-time employees, including myself, work under the supervision of the registered dietitians to ensure that patients are receiving the nutrition care that they need while staying at the hospital. This involves prescreening and rescreening patients for nutritional concerns, communicating with nurses to clarify orders and answer questions, and preparing and delivering specialty formulas for patients who require them.

Unlike my other summer experiences, this one isn't over just because school started. I anticipate continuing to work as a Diet Tech at Children's for at least another nine months while I prepare to graduate from college. I've been working part-time and feel like I've found a good balance between working and focusing on my academics.

I should note here that though my position at Children's is called "Dietetic Technician", I am not an NDTR, which is a Nutrition and Dietetic Technician, Registered. An NDTR is a certified dietetic technician who has received a nationally-recognized credential from the Commission on Dietetic Registration, our accrediting organization. Though I am not an NDTR, from what I understand of the position and scope of practice, NDTRs perform some of the same tasks I do. 

What do I do? 

I've been working the afternoon/evening shift at work due to my availability, so recently I haven't been doing the nutrition screenings I mentioned above, as that is a Morning Diet Tech duty. When I arrive at work, I assist with getting the day's formulas prepared, organized on a rolling cart, double checked for accuracy against the medical records, and delivered to the basement walk-in cooler, where someone else will deliver them to the patient floors. The Mid-Day Diet Tech leaves about 45 minutes after I arrive, and then I work solo for the remainder of my shift.

If new formula orders or modifications to existing orders arrive after we've already made the formulas and delivered the cart, I'll write a new recipe (I'll talk more about that in a future post), and deliver the new formula to the patient's floor via tube system. This might not happen during my shift at all, or I might end up making half a dozen new formulas to tube up.

Another duty of the Diet Tech position at Children's Minneapolis is to answer room service calls for both the St. Paul and Minneapolis campuses. Drawing on my experience working in food service settings in the past, this is one of the less technical aspects of my job. I chat with nurses and parents of patients over the phone to order meals and snacks as requested. Sometimes kiddos will call me directly to order for themselves-- it's always a treat to chat with them (:

Sometimes, nurses will call to clarify a diet question or a formula question. Sometimes a nurse needs a carbohydrate count for a meal their patient ordered, and sometimes they need a recipe for a formula-concentrate ratio. Most of the questions are simple for me to find the answer to, but if not, I will consult a dietitian before returning their call. 

What have I learned? 

I've already gained a ton of experience working in a clinical setting since I began work in June. No two shifts are the same, and I'm constantly learning about new formulas, patient diagnoses, and the way nutrition care processes happen in a clinical setting. 

We use a particular medical database for our patients' medical records, as well as a point-of-service software system for inputting room service orders. Though it's likely that if I work in a clinical setting later in my career, I'll use different brands of software, it's helpful to be introduced to these and be able to navigate them smoothly.

If I'm trying to make a new formula for one patient while also answering room service calls from others, it can get a bit hectic when I'm by myself. I have gotten much better at productive multitasking and prioritizing recently, thanks to this job. 

Children's Minnesota color-codes their staff by the color of scrubs they wear--nurses get one color, doctors get another, respiratory/pharmacy/radiology, etc, each gets their own color. My department, the clinical nutrition services department, wear khaki colored scrub pants. Not a super exciting shade, I suppose, but I think it's pretty neat that I get to wear scrubs. It helps to get me into a "work" state of mind when I put them on before my shift. 

Something else I've learned is how to calculate formula recipes for specialty formula orders, which I think I'll do a separate blog post about, because it's so fun and interesting, and takes a bit of time to explain. 

It was a lot of fun reflecting on my summer experiences though this series! I hope to continue writing about my experiences both in and out of the classroom! 

What I Did This Summer: Community Garden Technician

Originally posted 9/16/18

Hello! 

Today's blog post: What I Did This Summer: Community Garden Technician

What is the St. Kate's Community Garden?

The St. Kate's Community Garden was begun in April 2017 by the Food Justice Coalition, an on-campus student organization. Right around that time, I was introduced to the two presidents of the Food Justice Coalition both outgoing seniors, who told me about their work with the garden. They were desperately looking for someone to take over the FJC. It didn't take much convincing, honestly, for me to realize that community gardening was something I could learn to become passionate about. 

Though the summer and fall of 2017, the St. Kate's Community Garden produced 40 pounds of produce! 

Fast forward to Spring 2018, and I was able to get a spring position as a student worker with the Assistantship Mentoring Program. My mentor, Christina, and I decided together that my main focus would be to build awareness around Food Justice issues on campus, specifically the garden. I had such a fun semester doing that, and we planted in the spring for the 2018 season! 

And then, the biology department offered to sponsor a summer job position, the Community Garden Technician position, so that the community garden would be cared for over the summer. 

What was my role?

My role, essentially, was to make sure the garden was cared for over the summer. I wanted to engage students on campus, so I sent out several emails looking for interested volunteers to water the garden, and from there I set up a watering schedule for my team. I took my turns on the watering schedule as well.

One of our biggest projects for the summer was to expand our garden! We received money from the Student Senate to build a new garden bed, as well as to do some upkeep, purchase additional supplies, and more. I ordered supplies, coordinated pickup and delivery, and was heavily involved in actually building the garden and putting in the plants!

The St. Kate's Food Shelf met once per month this summer, so I would do garden harvests and deliver the produce to the food shelf. 

Something else I did this summer was harvest produce and then walk around to the various departments and offices and distribute it to students and staff members. It was a really fun way to meet people and a fantastic way to show off our beautiful vegetables and herbs. 

What did I learn?

I learned an awful lot about caring for a garden--watering, weeding, sunlight, and more! 

I learned the hard way that TWO tomatillo plants are needed to produce fruit, which was disappointing, considering how beautiful and big our ONE tomatillo plant got all by itself. 

I learned that warm, sunny weather and rain are two of the best things for any happy garden. 

I learned that winter squash vines are HUGE! 

It is incredibly rewarding to walk past the garden every day and see how big and beautiful everything is, and know that I helped to get it there. More importantly, it's rewarding to know that the produce (36 pounds and counting!) is going to feed students through the St. Kate's food shelf, as well as feed students through group harvesting and cooking projects, now that the academic year is in session. 

The final installment in the "What I Did This Summer" series, coming soon to a blog near you! 

What I Did This Summer: WIC Farmer’s Market Nutrition Program Volunteer

Originally posted 9/9/18

Hello!

Summer has been so exciting! I feel so lucky that I was able to choose so many experiences to immerse myself in this summer--all of them related to my favorite topic: nutrition!

Up today: What I Did This Summer: WIC Farmer’s Market Nutrition Program Volunteer

When thinking about what I wanted to do this summer, and more specifically, what I wanted to get out of my summer, I started thinking about volunteering with an organization so that I could learn more about my future profession while serving others. Many organizations rely on volunteers to best serve their clients, and volunteers are able to use their skills to give back to their community. Everyone wins! Not only is volunteering a great way to spend your time and learn new skills, it’s a great way to meet and connect with possible future friends, coworkers, bosses. When looking at a resume, volunteer experience related to your desired career can be a fantastic addition.

With all of that in mind, I decided to volunteer with Hennepin County WIC, in Minneapolis. They were looking for summer volunteers to spend 3-10 hours per week working with clients to set them up with Farmer’s Market Nutrition Program (FMNP) vouchers. The application process was simple and the human resources person who helped me manage my paperwork (emergency contact information, background check, getting my ID badge, etc) was super helpful.

What is WIC? 

WIC stands for "Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children". The federal WIC program provides grant money for states to support low-income pregnant, breastfeeding, and non-breastfeeding mothers and their children up to age 5. They provide lactation and nutritional support to moms, as well as support to young children to help them grow up healthy and strong. Part of WIC includes a grant for the Farmer's Market Nutrition Program, designed to give WIC and WIC-eligible families access to fresh, affordable produce grown locally and sold at farmer's markets.

What did I do?

I signed up to volunteer from 12-4pm on Tuesdays. I would arrive, head up to the WIC offices, and get my station set up with my assigned computer, as well as grabbing a notepad of blank FMNP vouchers. After logging in, I’d send a message to my coworkers, who included community health workers, lactation consultants, and other professionals, that I had arrived and was ready to accept any English-speaking clients who needed FMNP vouchers. The community health workers who worked in my offices would see the clients and their children first, then send them to me, usually their last “step” before leaving.  

I would issue the vouchers to the client. After that, I would walk the clients through how and where to use the vouchers, including the limitations on what they could purchase. The FMNP vouchers are specific to regional produce and do not allow clients to purchase imported produce, like bananas or mangos, nor do they allow items like baked goods, jams, or cheeses. The clients could ask me questions about the process, and they also received a booklet with additional information, such as the locations of authorized markets around the twin cities area. If my client had kids with them, I had a sheet of fruit and vegetable themed stickers that I would give to the children. When we were finished with the appointment, I would walk my client to the elevators and wish them a good rest of the day.

In a typical afternoon, a FMNP appointment with me would take about 5 minutes, and I saw anywhere from 8-15 clients in an afternoon. If I was proficient in another language, particularly Spanish or Somali, I probably would have seen more clients. Sometimes the office was busy, but I only saw a few clients because of the language difference, and other times it would be a quiet day in the office but most of the clients would be English speaking and I would see them. Every Tuesday was a little bit different.

I had a decent amount of down time, which I used to work on wedding planning details, homework for the summer class I was taking, or just goofing off on my phone. My coworkers were super friendly, and I had some pretty good discussions with them, and with the security guard who did rounds on our floor in the later afternoon. My desk was in a fairly central location, and it was interesting to hear bits and pieces of different clients’ stories. 

What did I learn? 

I've never worked in a community nutrition setting like this one before, and I learned a lot through listening to my coworkers talk about clients, WIC eligibility, and more. I really enjoyed interacting with my clients. I also learned more about how our WIC office operated, how clients are seen and how often, and more technical details like that. When I was in training, I observed a couple of follow-up appointments and I learned about different criteria for WIC clients that determines the amount and type of food they’re allowed to purchase on the vouchers. For example, a woman who is breastfeeding receives more food for herself than a woman who is formula feeding, because of the nutrient requirements recommended for lactation.

I learned a bit about working with clients who weren’t interested in working with me. For many clients, especially the ones with kids, their appointment with me was their last stop before leaving. I did my best to give my clients the information they needed without wasting their time, but some of them were very eager to get on their way. That was frustrating at times, but it was all part of the job. 

Stay tuned: a new episode of "What I Did This Summer" is coming soon to a blog near you.

 

What I Did This Summer: Camp Needlepoint Dietetic Intern

Originally posted 9/2/18

Hello!

Welcome back to another episode of "What I Did This Summer"!

Today's topic? What I Did This Summer: Camp Needlepoint Nutrition Intern

What is Camp Needlepoint?

Camp Needlepoint is a summer camp run by the American Diabetes Association. Children ages 8-16 with Type 1 Diabetes can come and attend overnight camp, enjoying all kinds of exciting camp activities and meeting new friends while being supervised by a medical staff to help them manage their diabetes. There is also a day-camp version of Needlepoint called Camp Daypoint, for younger campers who aren't ready to be away from home at night.

What is Type 1 Diabetes? 

In a healthy person, carbohydrates (breads, starches, sugars, fruits, vegetables) are broken down into glucose molecules, which circulate in the blood (blood glucose) and are carried into cells by insulin, a hormone produced in the pancreas, an organ. Our cells need glucose to function.

In a person with Type 1 Diabetes, their pancreas no longer produces insulin. They need to give themselves insulin in order to make sure this process happens. If they give themselves too much or too little insulin, their blood glucose level (blood sugar level) can be too low or too high, which can make them sick, or even kill them. To prevent this, Type 1 Diabetics check their blood sugar levels multiple times a day and count the number of carbohydrates they are eating, to make sure their blood sugar stays within a healthy range.

Several factors can affect blood sugar levels: stress, exercise, illness, puberty, the type of carbohydrate (a vegetable versus a sugar packet), and what the carbohydrate is served with. Anecdotally, some people with Type 1 Diabetes find that pizza, with all of the fat and protein from the cheese and toppings, tends to throw off their blood sugar.

What was my role? 

Carol Brunzell, the lead dietitian for the camp, organizes a team of dietetics and nutrition students in their junior or senior year of college to come and intern at camp while learning about Type 1 Diabetes. The Nutrition Interns assist with carbohydrate counting at meals, serve the campers with Celiac Disease, a disease that requires them to be gluten-free, prepare and serve snack for the entire camp, and attend educational sessions with the Dietitians and medical staff.

What did I do? 

A typical camp day looks something like this:

6:30am: Wake up, get ready for the day.

7:00am: Shadow the med staff for morning rounds. Every day, the campers check their blood sugar first thing decide how many carbs they want to eat for breakfast, something I helped a lot of younger campers with. They meet with their medical staff member, a doctor or a nurse, and decide how much insulin they need to give themselves to cover breakfast and correct for their morning blood sugar level.

7:45am: Head to the dining hall and prepare plates for my 3 celiac campers.

8:00am: Breakfast for all!

9:00am: The interns prepared afternoon snack for the entire camp. We put snacks into bags with labels for each cabin and placed them on a cart to be grabbed by counselors later in the day.

10:00am: We'd either do an education session with the RDs and Med Staff, or we would be given the morning off. One morning I joined several campers in making friendship bracelets, another morning I drove into Hudson, WI, to walk along the river.

12:15pm: Return for lunch prep. Depending on the meal, we occasionally had to count out individual pretzels or potato chips, to ensure that we were giving campers the number of carbohydrates that they were dosing insulin for. This was tedious but necessary.

12:30pm: Lunch time!

1:30pm: Another educational session with the RDs and Med Staff.

2:30pm: We were given the afternoons off. One afternoon, I was able to go horseback riding! Another afternoon, all of us interns went into Hudson, walked around downtown, and got coffee together.

5:15pm: Dinner prep! At 15 minutes before every meal, the dinner bell would ring. This allowed cabins to gather with their medical staff, check their blood sugars, and dose their insulin for dinner. The camp's schedule is designed to allow campers to do this as a way to help them form good habits and make it easier for med staff to keep track of their campers.

5:30pm: Dinner time!

6:30pm: We usually had a bit of free time after dinner, where we could choose to join in the camp evening activity, usually a big game such as Capture the Flag.

[caption id="attachment_1808" align="alignnone" width="300"] Playing volleyball with one of my fellow interns, Emily.[/caption]

7:45pm: Return to the kitchen to prepare evening snack for the entire camp. We'd dish up the snacks and arrange them on trays, prepare the cereal and milk station, and make large coolers full of sugar-free lemonade, or "bug juice".

8:30pm: Snack time!

9:00pm: Clean up the dining hall from snack. Wipe down the counters, wrap up leftover snacks, sweep the floors, etc.

10:00pm: Head back to the cabins and get ready for bed!

What did I learn? 

I learned SO MUCH about Type 1 Diabetes during my week at Camp Needlepoint!

At the beginning of the week, the RDs assigned each of us an Insulin-to-Carbohydrate ratio and a Correction dosage. We counted our carbs at every meal, just like the campers do. While we interns ate our meals, the RDs would give us a blood sugar, and we would have to calculate the insulin dose we'd need to correct the blood sugar and cover the carbs we'd eaten.

On our first morning at camp, all of the interns learned how to check our own blood sugars using "one-timer" sharps and a glucose meter. Though I have 5 piercings and a tattoo, I was very nervous about this experience! It was very easy to check my own blood sugar. A quick, tiny little poke with the one-timer and the meter read me my blood glucose level in about 5 seconds.

The interns got to ask questions of the doctors and dietitians about Type 1 Diabetes, and they were all really receptive to us and had great answers and experiences. I had many conversations throughout the week and I'm grateful for the opportunity to learn from all of them.

On my last afternoon at camp, I got to try out the Omnipod Insulin Pump with help from a nurse. I filled the pump with "insulin" (sterile saline) and cleaned the back of my upper arm with an alcohol wipe. The Omnipod can go wherever there is enough subcutaneous fat: the hips, thighs, stomach, and lower back are good places as well. Then, I programmed the PDM, which controls the pump, and then placed the pump into my arm! I was also nervous about this, but when the tiny (tiny) plastic catheter went in, it was pretty non-painful.

The Onmipod can stay in for about 3 days, or until it runs out of insulin, so I left mine in from Thursday afternoon through Saturday morning, to get an idea of what it's like for someone with Type 1 Diabetes who has to wear one constantly. It didn't hurt at all, and I would forget that I was wearing it most of the time until my hand brushed it or I leaned against it. Showering with it was easy and the water didn't loosen the adhesive at all. The adhesive was very sticky, so when I peeled it off on Saturday I used some vegetable oil to loosen it.

I have a much greater appreciation and understanding of Type 1 Diabetes now that camp is over. It made me realize that Type 1, like any disease, is complex and unique to each individual who has it. I'll always have more to learn when it comes to dietetics, and I can't wait to dive into my Medical Nutrition Therapy class in the fall. I enjoyed staying curious and open to new ideas while at camp, and, schedule permitting, I would love to come back in the future and work the camp again!

Stay tuned! Another episode of "What I Did This Summer" is coming soon to a blog near you.

What I Did This Summer: Madison Scouts Nutrition Specialist

Originally posted 8/26/18

Hello!

Summer has been so exciting! I feel so lucky that I was able to choose so many experiences to immerse myself in this summer--all of them related to my favorite topic: nutrition! Now that we've reached the end of August and the start of the semester is just around the corner, I thought I'd spend time on my blog talking about what I've been up to as a way to remember what I've been doing and to reflect on what I've learned.

First up? What I Did This Summer: Madison Scouts Nutrition Specialist

Who are the Madison Scouts?

Since December 2016, I’ve been the Nutrition Intern for Forward Performing Arts, Inc., a non-profit based out of Madison, WI, that focuses on teaching performance and leadership skills to youth involved in their sponsored activities. I’ve worked exclusively with their Drum Corps, the Madison Scouts. A Drum Corps, or a Drum and Bugle Corps, is a performing marching ensemble. There are over 2 dozen world class and open class drum corps all over the U.S. and a few groups that perform internationally

What is my role?

Being a nutrition intern, I enjoy being a resource for both the members and staff of the Madison Scouts. This spring, the food manager, corps director, and I sat down to review the summer menu, and I suggested changes for a more balanced menu with more variety.

Members also sometimes ask me nutrition questions or want to discuss specific wellness goals. I enjoy having conversations with them, giving them information or suggestions for how to meet the goals that they’ve set for themselves. The members, primarily between the ages of 15-22, never fail to impress me with their motivation to achieve success. In the spring, I attend their Spring skills camps and give wellness talks to the whole group of them (154 members!).

What did I do this summer?

This summer, most of the work I did involved food prep and service for 200 members, staff, and volunteers. The Madison Scouts spend one month of their summer doing spring training at a summer camp in rural Indiana, and we take over the camp kitchen there, but once we get on the road, we do all of our cooking out of a semi-trailer outfitted as a kitchen.

I spent a total of 9 days with the Madison Scouts this summer, 5 days at the end of May and 4 days at the end of June. A typical rehearsal (non-traveling) day with the Madison Scouts Kitchen Crew looks something like this:

5:15am: Wake up, throw on clothes, brush teeth, head into kitchen.

5:30am: Start breakfast. We served eggs or a "hot" breakfast every other day, and the days in between are muffin, bagel, biscuit, etc., days. Making food for 200 people takes a lot of coordination and teamwork. We had a pretty incredible crew working with us, anywhere between 3-6 people. 

6:30am: Make coffee for the staff. This is arguably the most important job we do.

7:00am: Breakfast time! The guys start coming through the line, so we greet them, refill containers and grab more milk and fruit as needed, and get a start on dishes. We also keep an eye on the coffee maker and make more as needed for the staff who drink it. 

8:00am: Clean up from breakfast, eat, take a short break before starting lunch prep.

11:30am: Lunch!

12:30pm: Eat lunch, clean up lunch.

1:15pm: Break! This is typically shower time, nap-time, relax time, etc. If we get a food order in that afternoon, we more or less forego our nap time in favor of restocking and reorganizing the food truck.

2:00pm: Start Dinner prep.

4:00pm: Dinner time!

5:00pm: Eat Dinner, clean up dinner.

5:45pm: We get more of a break now. Again. We can shower, we can nap, we can get other things done, whatever.

9:00pm: Start snack prep. Snack is typically pretty simple, which is nice. Anything from nachos, corndogs, trail-mix, PB&Js, etc.

10:00pm: Snack!

11:00pm: Clean up from snack.

11:30pm: Get ready for bed and fall asleep ASAP, so we can wake up and do it again tomorrow!

This was what I spent 9 days of my summer doing! Along the way, I got to see some of the performances that the Madison Scouts did on tour and had several great conversations with members and staff. Through traveling with the scouts, I've been to over a dozen different states! 

What did I learn?

Working with the Madison Scouts Kitchen Crew this summer has taught me to be patient and flexible. Some days, the weather disrupts our meal plans or travel plans, or other unexpected things happen. Once, Chicken Parmesan was for dinner and we discovered with 90 minutes to meal-time that we didn’t have any chicken breasts.

When you’re feeding 200 people, you’ve just got to get a move on. After panicking for a brief moment, I discovered that while we had no chicken breasts, we did have several boxes of precooked, diced chicken. So we stirred together the diced chicken with marinara sauce and a bunch of spices, melted cheese over the top, and told the guys they could scoop the chicken sauce over pasta.

And I got a lot of compliments that day about how tasty dinner was, and that they hoped they’d be having it again. Go figure.

I’ve also gained a lot of relevant experience working in a kitchen--following recipes, food prep, serving, proper temperatures for food, etc. While I’m pretty sure I don’t want to spend my career working in food service, I know these experiences are valuable to being a well-rounded and thoughtful future dietitian.

Stay tuned for another episode of "What I Did This Summer", coming soon to a blog near you.

Life Update

Originally posted 6/8/18

Hello!

It's been quite a while since I've posted anything on the blog, and that's because I've been working on so many other projects!

Recently, I was hired as the Community Garden Technician for the St. Kate's community garden. I started working with the garden last fall, and it has quickly become one of my biggest passions! I had no idea how much I loved gardening until I got involved and I enjoy getting to work on garden programming and engaging students on campus in garden-related activities.

I was recently hired to work as a Dietetic Technician at Children's Hospital in Minneapolis. I haven't officially started yet, but I'm excited about this new job experience! I'll be doing a variety of clinical nutrition tasks in a hospital setting and hopefully learning a LOT!

On May 26th, at a nature center in our hometown, my partner-in-crime of four and a half years, Paul, asked me to marry him, and I said yes! What a busy and exciting few weeks it has been since then as we begin to set our plans.

I have one more year of school before I graduate with a degree in dietetics from St. Catherine University. Hopefully, the next year will be busy, a little crazy, and full of new experiences and chances to learn about one of my favorite topics: Nutrition!

I'm not sure what this blog will become, but I'm hoping to keep it going and I love getting to write about recipes, nutrition, and my life on here! Thanks a bunch to everyone who has supported me in the last few years that I've had this blog. See you soon (:

Watering, Weeding, Waiting: We're All In The Same Garden

Originally posted 4/18/18

Hello!

I've been so busy with classes and with my job as project assistant that I haven't gotten around to doing a lot of food blogging lately. I did, however, want to share something that I recently did. I was asked, in my capacity as the student president of the St. Kate's Food Justice Coalition, to lead a reflection at the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet's 11th Day Peace Prayer on April 11th. The theme for the prayer service was "Caring for God's Creation", and the readings, from Laudato Si and others, were centered around the sacredness of food and of the idea of food justice. I really enjoyed writing and giving this reflection, and the congregation seemed to enjoy it as well.

Watering, Weeding, Waiting: We’re All In The Same Garden

By Natalie Nation, presented on April 11, 2018

Growing up, one of my favorite books was The Carrot Seed, by Ruth Krauss. In this book, a young boy planted a carrot seed, and he watered, and he weeded, and he waited. All the while, his parents and siblings were telling him “It won’t come up”. They said this again and again to the little boy, but he never wavered. He watered, he weeded, and he waited. And eventually, as many children’s books go, he grew a big carrot, so big, in fact, that he could barely pull it up out of the ground. He had succeeded. Because he watered, weeded, and waited, eventually, he won.

All of us, especially those who work in social justice, are familiar with this idea. We have so many ideas and so much passion. And yet, we know that the steps to success, the planting of the seed, the watering, weeding, and waiting, are tiresome. There are many voices in our lives telling us or showing us through the media that our ideas “won’t come up”. For one reason, or another, we hear through many different channels, that our ideas are too small, too big, too expensive, or that the problem we’re trying to solve isn’t a problem worth paying attention to. We’re told again and again while we work that our ideas “won’t come up”.

In thinking about our theme for tonight, “Care for creation”, let us think about the environment, the people who live in it, and also the unique intersection that arises: food justice. Our hearts all go out for the injustices that our brothers and sisters face. Let us focus on the issue of food insecurity. Food insecurity is a problem--people are struggling to feed themselves and their families. A lot of us have different ideas on how to address food insecurity. Food shelves, community gardens, policy and infrastructure changes, and more. All of these ideas fall somewhere in one of the two “feet” of love in action: charitable works, where we meet people’s immediate needs, or social justice, which addresses issues on larger community and legislative levels.

We have the issue, food insecurity, and we have the ideas, charity and justice, and we have the people who want to solve the problem. Let’s picture this scenario with a metaphor: Imagine the issue of food insecurity as an empty garden plot--empty of food, of course. This empty garden has all of us eager gardeners who want to fill the garden with nourishing food--we want to solve the problem of food insecurity in our communities, both local or global. We gardeners all have our own ideas for how to tackle the issue.

In order to fill the metaphorical garden, we need to plant seeds--we need our ideas and solutions to take root. We need some gardeners to water, to weed, and to wait in this garden for these ideas to grow and produce fruit. These are the people running the food shelves, creating programming, taking surveys to research hunger in vulnerable populations. This is the “charity” foot and is critical to meeting people’s immediate needs. We also need gardeners to place our tomato cages, to lay down mulch, to hang up the scarecrow, and to build a fence around this garden as it grows to protect it from pests. These are the people going to legislators and corporations, writing policies and building infrastructures, tackling the “justice” foot.

This garden metaphor is meant to represent the idea that though there are many gardeners, each with their own tasks, they are all working in the same garden together. In exactly the same way, we gardeners, we advocates, we social justice warriors, sometimes need to take a step back and remember that we too, are all working in the same garden, on the same issue, and we all believe it should be solved. Once we remember that, it can be easier for us to help each other with some of the more difficult parts. As our young boy in the children’s book knows, it can be incredibly difficult to water, and weed, and wait. When one gardener is on their hands and knees, pulling weeds while waiting on their spinach to grow, it can be incredibly frustrating for them to see that someone else’s spinach is already ripe for the picking. But what if one of the spinach gardeners comes over, kneels beside them in the dirt, and starts pulling weeds alongside, encouraging them all the while. Or, when the tomato vines don’t produce enough, the eggplant gardeners can offer a few of their fruits to make up the difference. When a rabbit sneaks in through a hole in the fence, all of the gardeners can work together to patch it up.

If we take a moment to think about our own lives, we might consider turning our ideas and projects into seeds in a garden. What stage are we in? Are we just planting the seeds? Are we weeding? Are we harvesting? There is a good chance that we have multiple efforts happening at once, and each of them is at a different stage. And that’s alright. We are all gardeners in the same garden. Together, we water, we weed, we wait, and eventually, we will win.

Day 23 and 24, Cape Town to Home

Originally posted 1/25/18

Hello!

The ride home was long and exhausting. We had 5 separate flights and about 8 hours worth of layovers, but everyone's spirits were high, especially when we finally landed in St. Paul after 35 hours of traveling. I'm somewhat jetlagged (have been up since 4am) but am very happy to be home to start getting ready for Spring Semester.

Studying abroad is something I'd always wanted to do but never thought I actually would. This trip was a whirlwind of new experiences: my first time out of the country, my first time using foreign currency, going on a game drive, learning about the apartheid, sightseeing in an unfamiliar city. Twenty-four days wasn't nearly long enough to see everything there is to see in the places we went. I feel as though I got a snapshot of Johannesburg, Windhoek, Swakopmund, and Cape Town, but I know there's so much more to those places than just what I experienced. I tried new foods, tried (and failed) to learn a few words in a new language, bargained with vendors for good prices, walked barefoot on the beach, and more.

My favorite things about South Africa and Namibia: 

The beaches in Swakopmund and Cape Town. I love love love the beach and the ocean, despite how easily I sunburn, and getting to spend time in the sun on the sand was one of the highlights of my trip.

The foods: creamed spinach, snack foods (Dairy Milk "wholenut" candy bars, and Safari Mango Fruit Rolls, specifically), fat cakes, fresh fruit, and all of the delicious vegetable dishes I ate.

Our fearless CGEE study abroad leader Albertina, our van drivers Jonas and Moeketsi, and my host family, Mahgotso, Timothy, Nkuli, and Ayanda

My favorite places we visited: The Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden, the Apartheid Museum, and Erindi Game Preserve. Though all of the places we went were meaningful, these 3 places in particular were my favorites.

My less-favorite things about South Africa and Namibia

Paying for public restrooms in Namibia, and the lack of clean, well-supplied public restrooms in a lot of places.

Struggling to understand people with thicker South African/Namibian accents, and feeling silly when having to ask them to repeat themselves 2 (3,4) times. This got easier as the days went by, but the first week or so especially, it was a struggle.

The many, many long, crowded van rides we took to get all the places we needed to be. We traveled on a lot of dirt roads in Namibia, which wasn't super comfortable

Lack of well-rounded, nutritious vegetarian meal options. The diet patterns in South Africa and Namibia are very meat-heavy, so it was difficult to find options other than salad or rice and vegetables.

Things I miss already about South Africa and Namibia

The weather! It was so warm and beautiful pretty much everywhere we went! Coming back to Minnesota was very difficult and quite chilly.

The sunshine: I got to spend time outside everyday, something that definitely doesn't happen in Minnesota in January. I hope I have enough Vitamin D stored up to last me until Spring!

The other girls in my class: it was great getting to know 19 other young women and our 3 professors, and letting them get to know me. A couple of them I'd met beforehand, but most were complete strangers. I made new friends, got to know a few girls who live in my apartment building, and developed an appreciation for spending 24 straight days in an all-women's environment.

All of the things on my "favorites" list!

What I want people to know about South Africa and Namibia

My experience as a student and tourist on this trip taught me more than I'd ever expected to know. I'm looking forward to telling my family and friends about what I learned and the places I went, but I'd be doing an injustice to both of these countries if I didn't also say this: South Africa and Namibia are big, beautiful places with complex histories, cultures,  languages, and millions of people, all individual and unique. The things I learned and experienced in three weeks are not anywhere close to everything there is to know. I could have spent months in just one of the places I visited and still had more to learn. This is true about any and every place, all over the world.

Something I've been grappling with is how to talk about my travels to South Africa and Namibia without unintentionally perpetuating stereotypes that people might already have about "Africa". Africa as a continent has 54 countries, people of every color, and many, many languages, religions, and cultural traditions.

One of the preparatory materials we reviewed for this class was a Ted Talk by Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie called "The Danger of a Single Story". In it, she talks about how we can't assume that one story we hear about another person or place is all there is to know. In her words, "The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.” If all anyone knows about South Africa or Namibia is a single story that I've told them, then my challenge is to encourage them to take my words with a grain of salt, and explore new knowledge and new worlds for themselves.

Thanks to those who have been reading my travel blogs! I wrote these just as much for you as I did for me. I look forward to returning to writing about food and recipes in the near future.

Stay tuned!

Day 22, Cape Town

Originally posted 1/23/18

Hello!

Our first speaker of the day was Alan Storey, a Methodist minister. He spoke to our group very eloquently about white privilege, dignity, and community. He even gave us a call to action about fighting inequality: to start with ourselves. I think everyone here would agree that Alan was one of the best speakers we had on the trip.

In the afternoon, we went to Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was kept in prison for 18 of his 27 years. We took a ferry to get there and received a tour from a former political prisoner who had actually been kept on the island in the 1980s. The tour was informative and educational, and after everything else we've learned about, this field trip was the perfect way to end the trip.

Our final day in Cape Town was one of the best, in my opinion. It seems impossible to believe how quickly these 3 weeks went by, and that I'll be home in less than 48 hours.

Day 21, Cape Town

Originally posted 1/22/18

Hello!

Today we went to the University of Western Cape to visit to their Apartheid Archives. It was interesting to hear the reasonings and the usefulness of collecting documentation from the Apartheid Era to keep records of that history. I found the propaganda: signage, pictures, etc, especially fascinating.

Afterwards, we went to one of Cape Town's Townships, Lunga, and learned about the Apartheid laws in place that had made it difficult for black people and people of mixed race to navigate the area. Many of the laws in place prevented people from being in certain areas or holding job permits without proper identification, which included the documentation of whether they were "white", "black" "coloured" (a word here used colloquially to mean "mixed race". In America it would be considered offensive to use this term, but not in Southern Africa), or "other".

We enjoyed lunch at a beautiful restaurant and were treated to the musical stylings of a South African percussion ensemble. The food was incredibly good. I jokingly complain about the amount of rice and vegetables I eat here, since that's often all that's available for the vegetarian option, but folks, these were the best rice and vegetables I have eaten all trip. And I've eaten a lot.

In the afternoon, we visited a community health center that focuses on pregnant women and mothers of young children. The Mentor Mothers of the program provide support for women and educate them in ways to feed and play with their young children to give them a better chance at a healthy life. It was awesome to see things I've learned about in my nutrition classes being put to work in real-life settings, where they make a difference for actual women.

In the evening, we attended a dinner theatre performance at the Rockwell Dinner Theatre. Both the food and the performance were equally spectacular. I could have sat and listened all evening, if given the opportunity.

Tomorrow is our last full day on the ground in Cape Town, and we've got an exciting day planned. Stay tuned!

Day 20, Cape Town

Originally posted 1/21/18

Hello!

Today we started the day by driving out to Cape Point and enjoying the beautiful mountains, valleys, and ocean view that one of the southern most parts of Africa has to offer. Lunch was at a restaurant right near the beach. I ordered Vegetarian Risotto, and I had a delicious strawberry ice cream parfait for dessert.

Afterwards, we went to see Penguins!

Folks, I've been waiting for this day since we left America on January 2nd. I love penguins so much! There were so many little penguins hopping around and swimming and hanging out. My day was pretty much made.

There are lots of restaurants around where we're staying, and Jackie and I are happy to go on mini-adventures to try them out.

Tomorrow is a much more "academic" day, and I'm looking forward to it. Stay tuned!

Day 19, Cape Town

Hello!

Our free day started with moving to our final housing accommodation, a guesthouse sponsored by a church. It's pretty cozy here, and we'll be staying until we fly home on the 24th.

Jackie and I decided to use our free day to go to the Kirstenbusch Botanical Garden just outside Cape Town. It's a beautiful place, and pretty much everywhere you turn, there's something amazing to look at. We bought lunch in town to take with us, so we enjoyed a nice picnic lunch there. Aside from being very windy, it was a perfect day for walking around outside.

The bus route we took to the Garden only travels in one direction, so we hopped back on to follow the route to our next destination. It was absolutely insane--the road it follows goes right along the coast, so we saw white-capped waves crashing against the rocks, sandy beaches, gorgeous hotels and apartment buildings, and even a couple of seals!

In the afternoon, we went to Victoria Wharf, near where we were yesterday for our free morning. It's a popular tourist place with lots of shopping opportunities, street performers, and gorgeous views of both Table Mountain and the ocean. I got some coffee-flavored Gelato. Folks, it was delicious.

Though my day was pretty amazing all around, one of the highlights was going to a vegan restaurant called Plant Cafe for dinner and drinks. I ordered vegan Mac and Cheese, and Jackie got Avo and Mango tacos. We finished our day with a little more shopping and then some dessert at a different restaurant (Apple Crumble Cheesecake and Chocolate Ganache Tart), before heading back to the guesthouse for the night.

The only negative that I am left with at the end of the day is that, despite applying and reapplying liberal amounts of sunscreen every two hours, I am somewhat sunburned on my shoulders, neck, and sternum. I resigned myself to my toasty fate, and lathered up in Aloe Vera gel.

Tomorrow we're headed to Cape Point for a rather touristy group day. We're likely going to see penguins, and I'm very, very excited. Stay tuned!

Day 18, Cape Town

Originally posted 1/19/18

Hello!

We were going to go to Robbin Island today, but it's very windy here in Cape Town, so the ferry over was cancelled. Our excursion has been rescheduled for Tuesday. In the mean time, we had a free morning today to wander around Cape Town near the water front, taking pictures and shopping. We drove to the top of Signal Hill, which is right next to Table Mountain. Both are incredibly gorgeous.

In the afternoon, we visited two museums: the District Six Museum, and the Slave Lodge Museum. District Six was an area of Cape Town where black people were forcibly removed from their homes due to Apartheid laws. There are several townships similar to Soweto, Katutura, and Mondesa, around Cape Town where they moved to, and I believe we'll be visiting one of them in a few days.

The slave lodge Museum is centered around the African slave trade in Cape Town. I'd never realized before we came here, but America was not the only colony to keep slaves. The Dutch, who settled a large portion of Southern Africa, were as successful as they were at establishing Cape Town and other large cities because they figured out how to use and exploit slaves and the slave trade.

Dinner was on our own tonight, and me and my crew found a restaurant that had veggie burgers. It was one of the best meals I've had here so far. As I've mentioned, vegetarians are not common here, and the culture here is pretty meat-centered, so today's dinner find was a true gem.

Tomorrow is our free day! Stay tuned!

Day 17, Windhoek to Cape Town

Originally posted 1/18/18

Hello!

It was a leisurely morning we spent in Windhoek, packing and eating an early lunch before getting on the road. Jamila, Sarah, Eveline, and Donna, the ladies at the guesthouse, took excellent care of us while we were there, and we all wished we could have stayed a few more days. It was so difficult to say goodbye to Namibia!

The airport in Windhoek is tiny! Thankfully, they had a bistro, and I ordered a tasty chocolate milkshake. Not only was the airport small, but our plane to Cape Town was itty bitty! There was one aisle, with one chair on inside and two on the other. I had both an aisle seat and a window seat at the same time! It was a relatively short and smooth flight, around 90 minutes, and we landed at Cape Town in high spirits.

We're staying at a hostel for two nights here in Cape Town before we move on to our final accommodation. It's a pretty quirky little place near a trendy area of downtown.

We all ate at a Malaysian restaurant for dinner. I had a vegetarian samosa, a couple of mysterious fried appetizers whose names I did not learn, saffron rice, vegetarian curry, and some lovely ice cream and fruit for dessert. It was delicious!

Tomorrow, we're headed out to visit several important historical landmarks in and around Cape Town. Stay tuned!