My Friends Make Stuff: Three New Books to Check Out

I’ve been meaning to share about these books for a while—each deserves its own post—but in the spirit of #WorldsOkayest, here’s one quick post that introduces all of them to you. Check them out and give these writers some love!

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First is Patrice Gopo’s All the Colors We Will See: Reflections on Barriers, Brokenness, and Finding Our Way. I met Patrice at a writers’ workshop in the summer of 2017 and was blown away by her wonderful writing. These essays explore issues of identity, race, and immigration, which makes them super zeitgeisty, but with such beautiful prose that the book feels timeless. Patrice is the daughter of Jamaican immigrants, who grew up in Alaska, spent some time in South Africa, married a man from Nigeria, and now lives in the American South (Charlotte).

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Second is Kevin Cloud’s God and Hamilton: Spiritual Themes from the Life of Alexander Hamilton and the Broadway Musical He Inspired. Kevin moves thematically through Hamilton’s life and looks at major events through the lens of big themes such as grace, sin, forgiveness, etc. He weaves together aspects of the musical with vignettes from Ron Chernow’s book. (Sadly, copyright issues prevent him from quoting from the musical directly… though you can sing the songs in your head for free as you read!) Anyone who’s been intrigued by Hamilton, not just because the mega-blockbuster musical is catchy and brilliant, but also because his story has such deep resonance, will want to pick up this one. And if you’re a preacher toying with the idea of some Hamilton sermons—and really, why not?—this one’s essential.

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Third is Grandpa’s Tent, a lovely picture book by friends and fellow clergywomen Mary Davila and Sarah Kinney Gaventa. This book explores death and dying in a thoughtful yet age-appropriate way, as a young girl comes to terms with her beloved grandfather’s illness, death, and memorial service (which can be a scary and confusing ritual for young children to witness). The illustrations by Paul Shaffer are warm and distinctive, and I love that the family happens to be bi-racial and not a thing is said about it—representation matters; kudos for that. My children are out of the age range for picture books, but this one will stay on my shelf, because you never know when you’ll have a little one in your life who needs these compassionate words.

What are you reading these days?

The Power of 2%

Sometimes, the coach needs some coaching of her own.

During my training to become a ministry and leadership coach, I remember learning about 2% shifts—those small changes that can make a big difference down the road. It’s like prying open a stuck window, just an inch or two. It doesn’t seem like much, but it’s enough to give you leverage to heave it open further. Plus, you get a peek of what’s on the other side, and sometimes that glimpse is vision enough to inspire you to deeper action. 

But it’s one thing to know something intellectually, and another thing to internalize it enough to do it.

Like many of you—and I know this is true because you tell me—I have felt utterly saturated with news, information, and commentary. The constant onslaught of 24-7 news, much of it negative, has left many of us feeling weary, depleted, maybe even helpless and despairing. As Bilbo laments in The Fellowship of the Ring, "I feel thin, sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread.” (Can I get an Amen?)

Meanwhile, with three children, a spouse, a calendar plump with speaking engagements, and a growing coaching practice, I’ve been gravitating to a spirituality of motion. Quiet, still spaces are in short supply; instead I try to be attentive to the flow of the Spirit amid my activity. It works, for the most part, but has felt insufficient of late. A trusted friend recently suggested 5 minutes of silence each day. I have to admit, I shrugged at the suggestion. It seemed way too small a practice to make any difference. What’s 5 minutes amid 1,440 daily minutes of perpetual motion? (OK, I do sleep for some of those 1,440 minutes. Still.)

But my friend rarely steers me wrong, so I downloaded the Insight Timer app, picked out a couple of chime sounds that I liked, set it for 5 minutes, and breathed. 

I skipped a couple of days after that, and then I did it again. And again the next day. And over the next couple of weeks, a few more times. I decided to sprinkle a few of Insight Timer’s guided meditations into my practice. In the spirit of #WorldsOkayest, I’ll admit I’m tending to these brief silences maybe 30% of my days. And I'm stuck in the 6-10 minute range; it's all I can manage.

And still, it has made a difference. I can’t explain it. Five minutes is so small, you see. But I feel ever-so-slightly more alive, more grounded. More alive means I’m awake to my life in a more satisfying way, though I have a long way to go. More grounded means I’m able to read the headlines of the day, however dismaying they may be, with greater peace, and a more abiding sense of defiant hope and faith that bad news will never the final news.

A 2% shift. A pried-open window.

As if on cue, a friend posted this short video of Mr. Rogers talking about the gift of a deep, quiet, unhurried breath. Perfect:

I wonder what 2% shift you are being called toward? I would love to hear about it. Maybe we can encourage one another!

Onward,
MaryAnn

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Ten for Tuesday--Court Preachers, Obesity, New Life and More

In the spirit of #WorldsOkayest, today’s Ten for Tuesday has only nine links. Because I like alliteration more than I like accuracy.

“GARBAGE ART”

A series of galleries are featuring art created with items of trash and junk. I love that—the ultimate improv.

 John Richard Edwards (Onondaga),  Mile-marker post  / Photo by Paul Morigi/AP Images for the National Museum of the American Indian.

John Richard Edwards (Onondaga), Mile-marker post / Photo by Paul Morigi/AP Images for the National Museum of the American Indian.

Anyone want to do an art pilgrimage with me?

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EVERYTHING YOU KNOW ABOUT OBESITY IS WRONG

Long but worthwhile article.

Years from now, we will look back in horror at the counterproductive ways we addressed the obesity epidemic and the barbaric ways we treated fat people—long after we knew there was a better path.

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CHICAGO’S MARATHON WHISPERER

Denise Sauriol, who’s the team trainer for Chicago Lights and other charity teams for this weekend’s Chicago Marathon, is an amazing athlete with an incredible personal story of comeback after being hit by a car on the way to the start line of a race. This weekend will be her 100th marathon.

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Denise Sauriol

By the way, you can still donate to my fundraising efforts on behalf of Chicago Lights here.

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MARTIN NEIMOLLER, BEFORE THE NAZIS CAME FOR HIM

Many of us know the famous passage, “First they came for the Communists, and I did not speak out…” written by Pastor Niemöller. Did you know that he was a supporter of Hitler in the early years, and had a change of heart?

Speaking of apologists…

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COURT PREACHERS

Will Willimon, on Franklin Graham and his disgusting apologetics of Donald Trump:

It’s my conviction that the preachers who have sacrificed so much in order to gain a seat at the king’s banquet will soon discover that they have done grave damage to evangelicalism, to say nothing of the harm they have done to the profession of gospel preaching. When the time came for evangelicals to stand up and say, “No!” they had lost the theological ability even to know that there was something worth saying, “No” to.

Will Franklin Graham and his ilk have a change of heart as Niemöller did? We’ll see.

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MY RAPIST APOLOGIZED

This one left me speechless. Just read it.

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TWO-YEAR-OLD BOY GETS AN EARLY CHRISTMAS

He is gravely ill and his entire neighborhood is helping him celebrate:

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VOYAGES IN SOUND

An erupting volcano, a forest in Madagascar… amazing recordings of the Earth doing the things Earth does. Amazing.

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A FOREST, REBORN AFTER A FIRE

I’ve always loved Fantasia 2000, especially the Firebird Suite, a story of destruction and rebirth. Here’s a recounting of the real-life version.

This photo:

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Yes. Yes. Yes.

Onward in courage, friends.

Ten for Tuesday

Hello friends!

I’m in Montreat, NC this week, leading a retreat for pastors in Western North Carolina presbytery. So here’s a verrrrry quick roundup of links that have inspired, amused, challenged and interested me:

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RUNNING, ON THE WAY TO PERSONAL RECOVERY

A great profile of Back on My Feet, a great organization that uses running to support people transitioning away from homelessness and substance abuse.

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A TUNISIAN GRAVEDIGGER GIVES DIGNITY TO MIGRANTS

Fight back with beauty:

“I found their bodies washed up on the beach, the child next to the woman,” Marzoug said, after spreading fresh flowers over the graves. “Perhaps, she was his mother. So out of consideration for her, I decided to bury them next to each other.”

Even as the European Union tightens its rules to prevent migrants from reaching its borders, thousands keep boarding rickety boats in search of a better life. And many still drown in the Mediterranean Sea, their bloated bodies ending up on the shores of North Africa with no family members to claim them.

Marzoug gives the migrants in death what they failed to receive in life: a recognition of their worth.

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ANGER AND GRIEF

Love this—shared by a friend. Sorry I don’t know the source!

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A SIMPLE PRACTICE TO START THE DAY

Thanks to my friend Jan for this!

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A SPIDER’S LESSON ABOUT LOSS AND RESILIENCE

Love this meditation on overcoming adversity.

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HOW FACEBOOK SAVED TWO LIVES

A man and his travel companion had a motor vehicle accident in Bali—his Facebook post helped rescue workers find them, thanks to the intervention of friends half a world away.

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TRUMP RALLY, BOT-STYLE

Hilarious… and the best “I forced a bot to watch over 1,000 hours” meme I’ve seen.

“I forced a bot to watch over 1,000 hours of Trump rallies and then asked it to write a Trump rally of its own. Here is the first page.”

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ROBOT-PROOF JOBS

Careers that will be relatively immune from automation.

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EAGLE-OWL

I love owls, and this incredible slow-motion video!

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HOW ONE PRIEST RESPONDED TO THE SEXUAL ABUSE SCANDAL

Authenticity and empathy.

The Comparison Trap

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On a recent Saturday I had the chance to fill in for a running coach friend, overseeing a training group she’s been leading. These were mostly new runners, some of whom are training for their first 5K or 10K, out for their weekend group run and looking for guidance and encouragement. I mainly coach individuals, so it was great (and a little daunting) to stretch my skills and try something new. 

I ended up sticking with the brand-new runners—as in, this was their second week of training: run 90 seconds, walk 2 minutes, repeat for 25 minutes. It was gratifying to go at their pace, remembering a time when that was really, reallydifficult for me—as it was for them that day—and reflecting on just how far I’ve come. (Marathon #4 in four weeks!) Who knows where this process will lead them, but it was joyous to contemplate what’s ahead of them, and hold out hope that they will gain as much strength and empowerment from their journey as I have from mine. Or, perhaps, that they tap into that strength and empowerment in other ways.

The next day, those lofty happy feelings came crashing back to earth when I read a Facebook humblebrag from another runner who ran her very first 5K the day before… and placed in her age group.

Sigh. 

After almost eight years of running, I’ve seen great personal progress, but remain stubbornly on the slow side of average. And on my good days, I’ve made my peace with it. Talk to a runner long enough, and pace will usually come up in conversation, but often it’s the least interesting part of a run. How you felt, what you saw, the peace of mind, the pleasure of putting one foot in front of the other, or even pushing yourself—these are the measures of a good run. Getting out there is what matters most... and if you’d told the seventh grade me, who gasped and seethed her way through the mile in PE class, that one day she would voluntarily do mile repeats at the track—at 5 a.m.—you would have gotten a big eye roll.

On my worse days, though, the comparison trap grabs me in its sharp, unforgiving jaws, holding me in place as the voices of Not Enough ring out: You’ve been at this for so long. Why aren’t you faster? You’re not a real runner.

Later that same weekend, my 10 year old, James, decided to put together one of the Raingutter Regatta boat kits we had left over from Cub Scouts. Margaret, always up for arts and crafts, joined him. Now, what you need to know about James is that he always opts out of the Raingutter Regatta. Hard to say exactly why, but I think our tender-hearted kid, who marches to a different drummer, doesn’t really care for this event, in which children go head to head in competition for the best boat, along with all the trash-talking that goes with it (however good-natured that chiding might be). 

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So I was touched by this spontaneous act of creation. It wasn’t about designing the best boat and winning the race. It was simply about having some fun on a Sunday afternoon: no evaluation, no benchmarks. 

Our world has an abundant supply of yardsticks, and no end of volunteers to wield them with perverse glee. Some of us are better at disregarding those evaluations than others, and social media sure doesn’t help. I don’t blame the new runner who dominated her age group; she should be happy and proud! My reaction wasn’t about her; it was about me: a sign that I need some self-care, some perspective, some kindness toward myself. Goals are great, but radical self-acceptance is some of the best fuel out there to help achieve them. (And if you don’t achieve them, you’re still beloved of God. Whew!)

Yesterday this Anne Lamott quote came my way: “Expectations are resentments under construction.” The comparison trap is most potent in an atmosphere of scarcity: for one person to win, another must lose; their good fortune is my misfortune. But the trap also snaps tight around us when our expectations are out of whack—when we’re too focused on “should,” when we grasp at unattainable and punishing ideals rather than loving what is.

You are a wonderful work in progress… and you are already who you are meant to be, right now. And so am I.

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Ten for Tuesday

Away we go!

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Tony Basil, Still Dancing at 74

I love this video of a gorgeous, feisty, still-got-it '80s pop wonder. Hey Mickey!

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The 2018 Texas State Fair Food Finalists

Wow, do I miss going to the fair... but reading these annual menus are as close as I can get these days. Favorite: 

 Layers of moist chiffon orange cake, dairy-fresh whipped cream, and citrusy orange preserves are lightly blended to form a refreshing custard-like filling. The mixture is spooned into flaky puff pastry dough, folded turnover style, and sealed with a pastry crimper. The pastry is quickly fried into little crescent-shaped pillows of citrus bliss and then lightly dusted with powdered sugar.

Layers of moist chiffon orange cake, dairy-fresh whipped cream, and citrusy orange preserves are lightly blended to form a refreshing custard-like filling. The mixture is spooned into flaky puff pastry dough, folded turnover style, and sealed with a pastry crimper. The pastry is quickly fried into little crescent-shaped pillows of citrus bliss and then lightly dusted with powdered sugar.

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The Political Power of Aretha Franklin

The blossoming of “Respect” into one of the most important songs that an American has ever sung is a reflection of how, unintentionally, blackness and womanhood becomes fodder for public debate and examination. We don’t mean to be political, but our skin is. Our bodies are. Even our voices. Franklin, taken by pancreatic cancer Thursday morning at the age of 76, was singular in that she contained our multitudes unlike any singer before her — both in her songs and in her skill. Her music spoke to the demand for equality along gender and racial lines simultaneously, knowing that one freedom could not exist without the other. 

Bonus Link: Pop Culture Happy Hour's reflection on the Queen was wonderful.

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Donald Trump Fact Check

News you can use... sigh.

The Toronto Star is keeping track of every false claim U.S. President Donald Trump has made since his inauguration on Jan. 20, 2017. Why? Historians say there has never been such a constant liar in the Oval Office. We think dishonesty should be challenged. We think inaccurate information should be corrected. And we think the sheer frequency of Trump’s inaccuracy is a central story of his presidency.

Current tally: 2436

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Stephen Colbert on the 'Extraordinary' Steps It Took to Get a Diverse Writers Room

Speaking with Sopan Deb for a TimesTalks conversation, Colbert was asked about the overall lack of diversity in the writers rooms of comedy programs — as the writing staffs have long been dominated by white men. Colbert replied that he had been “frustrated” by a seeming inability to find diverse talents for his previous show, until he realized that “the usual process” wouldn’t help him get an “unusual room.” He told the Times:

“It wasn’t until we said, no please, don’t send us anyone but women. Because we would say, you know it’s very important, we want writers of color, we want women, and you would get 150 packets and there would be eight women. And we’re like, ‘God, that’s so frustrating.’ Until I said no, only women, and then I got 87 women.”

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Raising My Child in a Doomed World

An article that says what I've long fretted over... the imminent climate crisis.

When my daughter was born I felt a love and connection I’d never felt before: a surge of tenderness harrowing in its intensity. I knew that I would kill for her, die for her, sacrifice anything for her, and while those feelings have become more bearable since the first delirious days after her birth, they have not abated. And when I think of the future she’s doomed to live out, the future we’ve created, I’m filled with rage and sorrow.

...I can’t protect my daughter from the future and I can’t even promise her a better life. All I can do is teach her: teach her how to care, how to be kind and how to live within the limits of nature’s grace. I can teach her to be tough but resilient, adaptable and prudent, because she’s going to have to struggle for what she needs. But I also need to teach her to fight for what’s right, because none of us is in this alone.

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Beer deliverymen talk man out of jumping off bridge — by offering him a 12-pack of Coors Light

The headline isn't quite right. The deliveryman offered to have a beer with the man. He offered him community. Communion, even.

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What is Barbershop Therapy?

Barbers in the South are training as first responders to assist the men in their chairs with their mental health concerns. Love it.

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Argentine Police Officer Promoted After Breast-Feeding Neglected Baby

The officer, Celeste Ayala, was among a team of officers who took six siblings into state custody in La Plata, a municipality near Buenos Aires, on Aug. 14, because they were in dismal condition at home.

The youngest, who was about seven months old, was crying furiously. Ms. Ayala, who is breast-feeding a daughter 16 months old, said she sought permission from the hospital staff to breast-feed the baby.

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“I didn’t doubt it for a second,” she told the Argentine television show “Cronica.” “So I pulled out my breast and he became calm.”

Cristian Ritondo, the minister of security for the Province of Buenos Aires, met with Ms. Ayala last week to inform her that she was being promoted to sergeant.

“We wanted to thank her in person for that spontaneous gesture of love that managed to quiet the baby’s crying,” he said on Twitter. “This is the police force we are proud of, the police force we want.”

Fight back with beauty!

Use Your Talent, Cast Your Patronus

Over the summer my kids hosted a Harry Potter movie marathon. They chose their four favorite films (out of the eight total) and invited friends over for themed food, decorations and fun. 

I happened to catch what is probably my favorite moment from the entire series, in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Near the end of the story, at a moment of extreme peril, Harry looks into the distance and sees what he thinks is his deceased father casting a spell that helps save Harry’s life.

Through the quirks of time travel, he and Hermione are later able to go back to that same spot. They find a good vantage point from which to watch, where Harry crouches with anticipation of his father’s arrival. He watches, as if viewing a play, as a group of sinister wraiths called dementors swirls over him and his godfather, Sirius Black. (Yes, there are “two” Harry Potters. It’s time travel; don’t try to figure it out.) 

And he waits for a glimpse of his father. He watches Sirius’s life (and his own) slipping away under the dementors’ attack, and he waits. Any minute now. My father will be here to save the day.
 

Finally Hermione says quietly, “Harry. Nobody’s coming.” And that’s when Harry realizes—there will be no hero galloping to the rescue. HE was the one he saw casting the spell. It’s up to him. So he steps up and conjures the life-saving patronus, a spell he'd been struggling with for a year.

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He explains to Hermione later in the story, he knew he could do it, because... well, he’d already done it. 

But I believe he also knew he could do it, because he had to do it. There was no other option.

Whether it’s news of another mass shooting, or reports that there are still some 700 children who have not been reunited with their parents at the border, or a wistful feeling at the death of John McCain and wondering where the principled leaders in Washington are, things can seem quite grim. Or maybe the wistfulness is more localized—broken relationships, fear and uncertainty, sadness that things aren’t “the way they used to be.” 

The thing is, though... nobody’s coming, folks. It’s up to us, whatever “it” might be. So we curse the darkness and cast our spell, whatever that looks like. But we cannot wait for someone else. We're it. One of my running mantras is, “If it’s to be, it’s up to me.” (It applies to more than just running.) 

But, like Harry, we know that we have the strength to survive this terrible threat, because people just like us have done it before, and we don’t do it alone.I’ve long loved the old Margaret Mead quote, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.” And for those of us who identify as Christian, Teresa of Avila nuances this point even further:
Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good...

Recently I heard my colleague Jim Atwood offer remarks at the Presbyterian Writers Guild luncheon, where he received this year’s Distinguished Writer Award.

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Jim has spent some 30 years writing and advocating for more sensible gun laws; it has become his life’s work. In his reflection, he talked about the parable of the talents, the story told by Jesus in which a landowner gives three servants varying amounts of money, called talents. 

Jim looked around him and saw people with what he considered to be five talents and two talents, and kept waiting for one of them to lend their gifts to the issue of gun violence. Their writing gifts were so much greater than his, he said. They had a larger audience, more influence. He waited and waited… and finally realized that he needed to stop waiting for someone else to pick up the cause that he felt so convicted about. 

He stepped out in faith and conjured his “patronus.” He used his talent to say what he believed, and to be a voice of conscience in the church, and beyond. 

...Somebody oughta. 
That somebody is probably you.

Onward,
MaryAnn

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Ten for Tuesday

Back from an amazing vacation in Colorado, so let's get right to it, shall we? (Note: more than ten this week!)

LIVING BETTER

Wisdom for people with...

...imposter syndrome?

...FOBO? (fear of better options)

...more books than you could ever read? (Raising hand)

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NEVERTHELESS SHE PERSISTED

Women being awesome, including:

The first female duo working together in a pit crew in a NASCAR race, including the first African-American woman in a pit crew. (What took so long?) 

- The women driving the digital revolution... in the Arab world.

- Artist-philanthropist Carrie Mae Weems, who gave away millions to artists anonymously, until now.

- Serena Williams, whose trick for facing negativity is to be too busy for it. Darn right. (This being from Elle magazine, there's also some stuff in there about beauty products, so be advised if that's not your thang.)

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THINGS THAT MAKE YOU GO HMM

How America uses its land: an interactive tool. tl;dr -- there's a lot of cattle involved.

And how about a little law of unintended consequences?

For hotel guests who care more about saving water and electricity than they do about clean towels and a freshly scrubbed tub, opting out of housekeeping seems like the right thing to do. The incentives offered to some of those who decline cleaning services — rewards points, restaurant discounts, even having a tree planted — make it even more enticing.

But the housekeepers who would otherwise be cleaning these rooms, many of them immigrants, say the increasingly popular programs are cutting into their livelihoods by reducing their hours, making their schedules more erratic, and — ironically — making their jobs harder. That’s because rooms that go without housekeeping for several days are often a wreck — trash piled up, shower doors coated in gunk, crumbs in the carpet, and hair everywhere.

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FIGHT BACK WITH BEAUTY

A restaurant takes on the opioid crisis one worker at a time.

Preschoolers left a note on an abandoned tree... and people responded. As my brother likes to say, "People can be so dope sometimes." 

The road to Maccu Picchu starts at 385 pounds. A wonderful travel essay that's about more than travel. 

Finally, did you know that improv can help with anxiety? (And hey, there's a book for that.)

Have a great week!