Here’s to Morgan & Todd

Lots of people change the trajectory of our lives – teachers, parents, children, bosses – but it’s rare we can focus on one moment where our lives are altered for the better because of someone else’s actions.

It’s not hard for me to remember how Morgan Miller changed my world in Jackson, Mississippi for the better. Five years ago, through a dinner invitation to a mexican restaurant, Morgan tied me to some of the most valuable, important friendships of my adult life. That night, with chips, salsa, huge mugs of beer and margaritas, I started to put together my own Jackson family. Today, Morgan and those friends are the reason that no matter where Tom and I are – Boston, Vermont (or in Tom’s case this week, South Africa) – we want to be back in JXN.

This weekend those friends will come together to celebrate the marriage of Morgan and Todd – two of the most important people in our Jackson lives. Maybe it’s because Tom is out of the country and I’ve communicated more with my dogScreenshot 2016-03-14 18.34.35s this week than human beings, but I’ve been particularly reflective on what Morgan and Todd have meant to us over the five years since that dinner at the mexican restaurant.

It’s not just because we can consistently count on Todd for a high quality magic trick, fancy napkin folding, or a quick, dry comment. Or because we know Morgan is always ready to provide yoga guidance, talk Gilmore Girls and tornados, or open up her endless supply of fingernail polish for you to try.

It’s not just because we can count on them to stand by our side during a session in the wedding photo booth. Or to make others laugh by appearing in unexpected places.

All of these quirky, endearing characteristics about them are things we treasure. Our lives, whether in Jackson or outside of it, have moved along in concert with their’s. When Morgan and Todd got their first dog, Copper, we weren’t too far behind with a pup of our own. Morgan and Todd’s leap into dog number two started the soft and incessant pressure I put on Tom that led to our own second dog. We have seen each other get married, move from place to place, start carriers, change carriers, and become semi-responsible adults.

Throughout all these changes, we’ve also looked to Morgan and Todd as another couple building a life together filled with love, compromises, and respect for one another’s individuality. Morgan and I are both married to native Mississippians. We came to Mississippi523548_10100979484162708_1773149968_n without deep roots and built community, lives, and careers more meaningful than I ever anticipated. I’ve found Morgan’s ability to adapt to and enjoy a world very different from her Philadelphia/Atlantic City roots quite remarkable. Her feeling of connection to Mississippi (and its stellar potential partners in Todd and Tom) affirmed my own sense of pull to the place and still does. It’s not that Morgan is my only friend that fuels these sense of commitment to the place, but she and Todd are certainly central to it.

Sometimes we are lucky enough to see two people we love build a life together. And sometimes we are lucky to be a part of it as it happens. I can’t wait to be back in Jackson and a more active part of the world Todd and Morgan are building together. But for now, I’ll settle for a weekend to celebrate them and all they have given to us.

Here’s to Morgan & Todd.

Advertisements

A Thank You and Reflection for Veteran’s Day

Over the last few months as I have transitioned away from being a graduate student, I have thought about my time at the Kennedy School. And – while many students shaped my experience – three, in particular, left a mark on me.

At first it may seem a bit odd to group these three men together, because in many ways they are quite different from one another, but Will, Caleb and Dave were the three members of the US Army in my smaller cohort of students. Often, they were  first to class – strategically positioned in the back row – secretly, or not so secretly, judging all of us for not having our act together well enough to get to class on time.

I was drawn to each of them for things that were distinct from their service – Caleb for his value on family and his faith, Dave for his fascination and frustration with the political balance at the school (and our shared love of trying new beers), and Will for the value he placed on cultivating friendship and sharing a meal around a table together.

IMG_6699Each of these men left a mark on my heart in some way – though, they will laugh at my civilian ways and perspective and perhaps my mushy way of putting it. But even more importantly, they were my first close connection to active duty servicemen and servicewomen in a long while. And, as Will reminded me last Veteran’s Day, that connection with veterans and active duty members of the military may be more important now than ever before. I’m incredibly proud to know each of them, and knowing that they serve our nation through the Armed Forces gives me greater faith in our military and the future leaders of this country.

I’m grateful for Caleb, Dave, Will and the many other members of our military this Veteran’s Day.

To close, I’ll share an excerpt from a letter I sent on Will’s behalf last spring, and I hope it shows what an important role he – and other members of our military – play in inspiring my own drive to serve in a civilian role:

“I’ve been reflecting on the past two years as my time at the Kennedy School draws to a close. While there are many classes and people who have shaped my experience here, Will is one of the few classmates who has both shaped my worldview and become a friend whom my husband, Tom, and I will keep for life.

The entirety of Will’s career has been dedicated to serving our nation. After graduating from West Point, Will served two tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan and took on additional responsibilities as a Company Executive Officer—and later an Intelligence Officer and Company Commander—at Fort Carson in Colorado.

Will’s sense of civic responsibility and leadership, however, extend beyond active duty. During his time at HKS, Will has worked to build stronger civilian-army relationships and has advocated on behalf of our nation’s servicemen and women. Last Veteran’s Day he authored an op-ed in the Boston Herald calling on all our citizens to engage in deeper conversations with military members. He wrote: “Our country shares a moral responsibility for what we have done in Iraq and Afghanistan, for good and bad. The weight should not be something that our veterans carry alone—sharing this load is the greatest thanks we can give them.”

[…] Will has also pushed me to think more deeply about my own commitment to this country and how I might fully—and successfully— lead a life of public service. I am proud to call him a fellow soon-to-be HKS alum, a fellow world citizen, and, most importantly, a friend. Will’s generosity and kindness has meant much to my family these past two years, and we are better for knowing him.

——-

Happy Veteran’s Day.

A New Route in Vermont

Walking the poodle – it’s something we do almost every day, and since we recently moved to Vermont, we needed to map out a new daily route.

Walks here are very different than in Somerville. Instead of navigating cars, stoplights and crosswalks, we now adjust our path for deer and haggard, cheerful hikers on the Appalachian Trail (which runs down our road). It’s hard to imagine two places with more different than the Boston metro and Norwich, Vermont – where we now live and where Tom starts Dartmouth’s MBA program in T-minus 9 days. We live in a large, converted barn, next door to a home built in 1805…on a street filled with homes situated on lots the size that Boston residents can only dream of.

More updates to come soon, but for now, here are some shots from our walking route. It features barns, omens of the winter soon to come (read: wood piles), and fields full of green. It takes us 25 minutes to do the loop from our house down Hopson Road and through Main Street, Norwich. Charlie the poodle and I will soon be on our own to do the route when Tom starts orientation this Monday.

So, come visitors and join us on our walks before the weather hides the green and covers us with snow! And finally, we got a new neighbor today. Her name is Nell, and she is an 8-week-old black lab. Charlie, Tom and I are smitten as are her owners.

Screenshot 2015-08-28 21.21.03

More to come!

Ralph Otis Welker (1928-2015)

“Leave the world better than you found it.” In many ways, it is a simple concept, but it is also a way of living that requires intentional, consistent action to fulfill. In different ways our grandfather left the members of our family “better than he found us.” And I’d like to share how his values and passions live on in us with the hope that it helps explain the exceptional example he set and the deep love we feel for him.View More: http://taraparkerphotography.pass.us/theallins

Mark, Our Dad

One of grandpa’s lasting gifts to our family is the furniture he built. We have tables, side tables, buffets, jewelry boxes, bird houses and, perhaps most importantly to me, a six room, two story doll house complete with electrical wiring, matching upholstery and miniature yogurts in a small, wooden fridge.

Grandpa illustrated love through building things for his family. But not just any things. He was intolerant of subpar quality—a trait I suspect he got from his own father—and he wanted only the best in the furniture he constructed—which is why he ordered his kits from Bartley and spent hours on each piece in his garage on Woodbrook Drive.

Today, his son Mark, our dad, has inherited and carried on that same love of building. He shows love through the things he creates for others. When I was moving away after college, dad spent several days with me building adirondack chairs for my new home. He built mom bookshelves with only a magazine image on hand, and, today, volunteers with the Shepherd’s Center in Winston-Salem—traveling to the homes of the elderly and helping them with home improvement projects.

Our grandfather took pride in what he built and conveyed his love and appreciation for others through what he constructed. What wasn’t always said with words was articulated through the energy and deliberateness through which he created things for others. That tradition and way of showing love now lives on in our own dad. And some day, when Emily and I have enough money for a circular saw, a workbench and a garage, we hope he passes it on to us as well.

Mike, Our Uncle

While grandpa had the hands for building, he also had the eyes and the head for numbers. And not just any numbers—money and investments. This interest flooded the heart and life of his son Mike as well, but I’ll come back to Mike.

Grandpa’s love for numbers started early in his life. He majored in economics at Guilford College and went on to build a career with Jefferson Pilot Insurance Company here in Greensboro, eventually becoming the company’s treasurer. He also loved his stocks and monitored the stock market closely. I can remember watching the stock ticker scroll on the bottom of the TV after the closing bell while Grandpa instructed me on which company abbreviations to look out for.

Next to finances, grandpa deeply believed in the value of higher education. In his 80s, he could still recall his professors at Guilford College and the subjects they taught. He also believed in supporting the education of his children and grandchildren. He saw both of his sons and two of his granddaughters graduate from UNC Chapel Hill, and when his granddaughters got master’s degrees, he asked questions about our coursework and challenged us to consider how we would apply what we’d learned toward a better world.IMG_1697

That interest and passion for finance and higher education has made it into each of us in some way. But without question, it is most the part of our Uncle Mike. Mike took both further than any of us by earning his PhD in Accounting and becoming an accounting professor. Like our grandfather, both Mike and Mark believe in supporting others in their path through higher education. When you listen to Mike talk about his students, you can feel that he cares deeply about their learning and engagement, and makes a great effort to have classroom learning apply to the current accounting world. Through Mike, I can see two of our grandfather’s great passions living on and spreading into the lives of others outside our family.

Emily

Emily took on the education values of our grandfather, but hasn’t spent enough years as a working woman to fully develop her appreciation for his investment prowess. However, neither of these are what she takes most fully from our grandfather. Emily, while the youngest in our family, may have the fullest heart and deepest love for others. My grandfather filled her with his love and pride for our family.

I experienced the way my grandfather loved his family in many ways. He and my grandmother together created an example of how two people live their lives together, supporting one another and those around them. Since marrying my husband, Tom, two years ago, grandpa has emphasized one idea to both of us regularly: Be patient with one another. For Tom, it was to be patient with me when I was in graduate school. For me, it was to be patient with Tom as he transitioned to a new life for my graduate school journey.

Patience has become an ideal I hold close to my heart and make an effort to exercise daily. And patience as a message in a relationship, I think, spans beyond just a simple idea. Patience also means to appreciate the sacrifices others are making for you. Patience means to appreciate the effort of a loved one even if they don’t get it right the first, or second, or third time (Tom’s habit of leaving dirty socks on the floor comes to mind). Patience lifts up the idea that people can change or that a situation can improve and, with that, patience brings hope. And that is one of the great lessons about family that my grandfather has given to me.

filename-1The relevance of my grandfather’s reflections on relationships and family have also not been lost on Emily. Over the last several years, my grandfather and Emily have formed, what I find to be, a beautiful and special connection. That a man born in the 1920s and his granddaughter born in 1990 could be such kindred spirits is something to be treasured. Together they explored the inner workings of the I-Pad and its apps, so that grandpa could send us pictures of his car or plants and email with us about our days. Emily met his friends and dinner table group at Friends Home, and in return, Grandpa rode with her to Durham to explore her new home.

Together, they developed a friendship and a mutual appreciation for one another that exceeds most granddaughter-grandfather bonds. I know that Emily will someday seek to share that love and those memories with her own children and grandchildren (and hopefully mine too). And in that way, grandpa will teach our future family members about the richness that comes from connecting with your loved ones.

Sandi, Our Mom

If Emily and grandpa connected through their value of family, mom and grandpa connected in their love of having family together around one table. In a different way than the rest of our family, mom and grandpa shared a distinct, often unspoken bond. She loved a reason for a well done holiday meal, and grandpa loved to be that reason.

At each holiday there were special treats mom would prepare just because grandpa was joining us. Warm apple cider with cinnamon, orange peel and clove for Thanksgiving, rack of lamb for Easter, and maybe some sweeter than normal wine at Christmas. At the end of our family meals he would share his appreciation for how good her cooking was, and later in life he would tease her that he “could not get anything nearly as good at Friends Home.” The delight he took in her effort and meals gave me pride and happiness for my mom, as I’m sure it did for her as well.

He delighted in what she shared with him, and she was glad to have an appreciative audience (especially when her normal audience was two teenage girls). They were quite the dynamic holiday duo, and the special things he loved are foods I will forever associate with both grandpa and my mom. Cider, pumpkin pie, and rack of lamb will be things we continue to fix, so he will be a part of our holidays in spirit. And as new family members join the Welker ranks, the tradition of mom preparing dishes that she knows they enjoy lives on… most recently in the Spinach Madeline she fixes for my husband, Tom.

—–

And so while grandpa cannot be with us here today, I feel him closely through each of member of my family: In dad’s expression of love through doing and building, in Mike’s love of teaching and accounting, in Emily’s tight hold of our family and its tradition, and in my Mom’s love of preparing the things that others love. He left each of member of my family better than he found them, and, in that way, he is all around me and will continue to be for many years to come.

Reflections on #HarvardinJacksonMS

It has been about two weeks since 20 Harvard grad students stepped off a plane in Jackson, Mississippi. For many (and by many I mean all but two), it was their first time in the state or even the Deep South. Six years earlier I had set foot in Mississippi for the first time as well. Since then, I have adopted Mississippi as my own, and I treasured being with my friends from the Harvard community as they discovered the place Tom and I now call home.

16389444495_458da949b4_z

Over the last week, friends from Jackson and Cambridge have asked me about the trip. The answer I’ve settled on is that the week was like getting married again. Every day. For a week. We had such a full schedule. I was completely exhausted by the end. After the fellows left, Tom tucked me in on Friday evening at about 7:30pm.

But I also left the week with a feeling of deep gratitude. That gratitude was for the fellows and their constant enthusiasm for Jackson and its people. That gratitude was for Tom’s family and our friends who went out of their way to help with breakfasts, gift bags, group spaces, and much more. And that gratitude was for all the leaders in Jackson that spent time with our group and shared their passions, their struggles, and their unyielding requests that every single Harvard fellow move to Jackson after they complete their schooling.

It was one of the fullest weeks of my life and one I will not forget. Our wonderfully charismatic photographer, Tom Fitzsimmons, captured the week, and below are some of my favorite images from each stop along the way. Our meetings focused on Mississippi health, education, and racial justice. I hope this is not the last group that Tom (Allin) and I get to share a tour of Jackson with, but I have a feeling it may be one of the most memorable. We remain grateful to everyone involved. Here is a recap of the week in images…

Day #1 Dinner at Parlor Market

16389447625_08eca5dfd5_z16389469005_ba95a77902_z16363468806_5fb580451b_z

Day #2 Breakfast at the Allins home with Bishop Ronnie Crudup (New Horizon Church) and Ann Phelps (Saint Andrews)

15767155344_a7c0c8c663_z

16387864631_02061592ae_z

16203708797_ccfd8f2bb4_z

Day #2 UMMC with the Jamie Bardwell (Women’s Foundation of MS) and Dr. Michelle Owens (UMMC)

16202199140_5ddab51949_z 16201974238_57cc3c2163_z 16203382689_db048a0cc8_z

Day #2 Driving Tour of Jackson by Tom Allin

10940638_10153096858337193_1004664700291987124_n

16203703647_3cf6a915f4_z

Day #2 Lunch at Hal and Mal’s with Malcolm White (MS Development Authority)

16389596875_b83ab87033_z 16203702497_398619017a_z

Day #2 Clarion Ledger with Jerry Mitchell (Investigative Reporter)

15769582523_2be8e03d2f_z 16389591505_8217821a06_z 15767142174_978c482509_z

Day #2 Medicaid and Medicaid Expansion with Dr. David Dzielak (MS Division of Medicaid)

16388668632_761f551956_z 16363614286_de8425abfc_z

Day #3 Education in MS with Rachel Canter (Mississippi First)

16203941187_ddba9d7ce9_z 16203939797_07a7008599_z

Day #3 Education in MS, Part 2 with Babak Mostaghimi (MS Center for Education Innovation)

16388911582_b3628f50d3_z 15769815403_66bd3e079c_z

Day #3 Lunch at Two Sisters Kitchen

16388081801_47347ba329_z

Day # 3 Medicaid Expansion with Corey Wiggins (MS Economic Policy Center)

16202193128_3d0b8c7799_z 16389821335_3da6af2356_z

Day #3 Community Development with Bill Bynum (Hope Enterprise Corporation)

15767369444_3b13b73a34_z

Day #3 Cocktails at Apothecary, Pig ear sandwiches, and pizza at Sal and Mookies

15767365464_b8436f0235_z 16388901162_95e030cfd4_z 16389810365_f7f3617434_z

Day #4 Mississippi Center for Justice with Beth Orlansky, Courtney Choi, Linda Rigsby, and Paheadra Robinson

16363928346_8832d02470_z 16388157931_a165b40a53_z

Day #4 Barksdale Reading Institute with Michael Cormack and Kelly Butler

16389899055_b9d6fe00c1_z  16389895185_ef1b5a7833_z 15769883393_01cdb2c3a6_z

Day #4 Mississippi NAACP with Derrick Johnson (President)

16203670979_0cb685f13b_z 15767437804_7d53bc80c0_z

Day #4 Obesity in MS at UMMC with Dr. John Hall and Dr. Kenneth Vick (UMMC)

15769872393_1b1fefb5b0_z 16203663059_11a5ccfb98_z

Day #4 Human Rights Campaign with Rob Hill and HRC Staff and Supporters

16388962522_0279f75680_z 16202476320_83e207709a_z 1939653_10102543046156938_6093118821626712942_n

Day #4 Closing Reception at the MS Museum of Art

16203648719_1a10bee23f_z

 

We had a blast and can’t wait for more experiences to file under the #HarvardinJacksonMS hashtag.

Poodle and Our Park Make The Paper

As part of a column writing class I’m taking this semester, I’ve written several op-eds on different topics (from Wikipedia to technical education). My favorite is a piece on our local park and the importance of parks for building our community here in Somerville. You can read the piece here. But pieces are always better with a visual, so here are a few of my favorites of Charlie, our park and our friends over the last year.

Holding on to Fall

Hold on to your hats folks because it has been a blustery start to November in Boston! Luckily, my sister, Emily, came to visit last weekend when it was not cold enough to need gloves or snow boots. We took full advantage of our fall weekend with trips to the dog park with Charlie, an afternoon of beer flights at Harpoon Brewery, and some good eatin’ at Sportello in downtown Boston.

We also nerded out in true Welker fashion with a visit to Harvard’s Natural History Museum. We checked out their mineral hall, their extensive collection of glass flowers, and lots and lots of bugs. I walked around most of the time in the mineral hall asking Emily things like “What’s the difference between Sulfur and a Sulfide?” which we really needed my dad to answer (such is the life of being the daughters of a chemistry professor). The museum is completely fantastic and as I’ve said before, I would recommend it for a good morning indoors if you live in Cambridge.

Emily is an awesome guest because she also knows how to have fun by laying low. We walked around the corner to Savenor’s for some lamb and made a tasty shepard’s pie for dinner one night. We also teamed up to try to stop the spread of pretend epidemics through multiple late-night rounds of the board game Pandemic.

I’m glad Emily escaped Boston before the cold weather hit and even more glad she came to visit.

After Emily’s visit, it was time to get ready for our Halloween preparations. I went “all out” with a carved cat pumpkin and a bowl of m&m’s and KitKats. We had an Allin household record of **one** trick-or-treater – a super cute, five-year-old version of Bumble Bee the Transformer, complete with transforming moves to show us.

I met another sensational 5-year-old this week when John Kim, a fellow student in my master’s program, invited us for dinner at his apartment. John’s youngest son had me counting Halloween candy, playing video games and chatting about nerf guns from the second I walked in the door. John and his wife, both from South Korea, fixed a full spread for us and several other students. The meal was topped off with soju that he brought to share with friends here in Cambridge.

Last but not least, it has been a semester of writing for me at the Kennedy School. I’ve been busy editing articles and selecting associate editors as the editor-in-chief of the Kennedy School Review, a student-runScreenshot 2014-11-02 20.48.04 policy journal here at HKS. Occasionally, I get to do some fun writing of my own, and I did a little piece on one of our favorite restaurants, Kirkland Tap & Trotter, for the school’s newspaper. You can read it here if you’d like!

Until Next Time,

Sarah