My dog taught me many lessons, but this one was the hardest

A few weeks ago I lost one my of best friends, a ten year old chihuahua named Taco. I loved her very much and I still miss her.

For as long as I can remember, Taco had always been my partner in crime, the beans in my chili pie, the Sideshow Mel in my evil comedy act. When we were together we ruled the world; we even teamed up to raise money for a cancer society fundraiser.

Taco and I donned bald caps to raise money for the Be Bold, Be Bald fundraising campaign in September 2013.

Taco and I donned bald caps to raise money for the Be Bold, Be Bald fundraising campaign in September 2013.

Taco was never really my dog. She was a family dog that my grandmother brought home from the pound when I was in high school. But it was clear to everyone in the family that I was her ultimate favorite person in the world. She was my little furry soulmate. We shared the same birthday — hers was September 29 and mine September 28 — and the same love for great cheese, deli meat, and naps.

Taco and I reenacting an illustration we found online.

Taco and I reenacting an illustration of people napping that we found online.

For a long time I wasn’t in a position to take care of my own dog. I was constantly moving from country to country, house to house, and Taco always lived with my large family in the same house. On Friday evenings we would venture out to Fairfax County to pick her up, and she would faithfully wait for me by the steps.

Alastair feeding Taco popcorn before we left Tia Liza's house for the weekend.

Alastair feeding Taco popcorn before we left Tia Liza’s house for the weekend

Our relationship became a little more complicated when my husband Alastair and I felt financially stable enough to have a dog of our own. But as we reached this point in our life, my grandma and grandpa moved out of the family house — and this changed everything.

For years grandma and grandpa lived with Tia Liza in the family house, but decided to buy a smaller house in Cambridge, Maryland, and took Taco to live with them. Cambridge is about three hours away from Northern Virginia, so the move meant significantly less Taco-Angie time on the weekend. But Taco was happy in her new house in Cambridge and grandma was happy with Taco.

For weeks we went to visit grandma, grandpa, and Taco in Cambridge. We even took Taco to her first trip to the beach, which she hated. But, hey, it was a fun adventure and she really enjoyed seeing the ocean for the first time.

Taco loved seeing the ocean but hated the heat, sand, and lack of a comfy couch.

Taco loved seeing the ocean but hated the heat, sand, and lack of a comfy couch.

Spending some quality Taco-Angie time on the boardwalk in Ocean City, Maryland.

Spending some quality Taco-Angie time on the boardwalk in Ocean City, Maryland

After going back and forth for months, we finally realized that grandma and Taco were perfect for each other and decided to get a new puppy.

Arthur and Taco met for the first time at my birthday party last September.

Arthur and Taco met for the first time at my birthday party last September.

Despite our best efforts to introduce Taco to Arthur, you could tell that Taco’s little heart was broken. And so was mine. As much as I loved Arthur, he was not Taco and I knew that she had always wanted to live with us. Furthermore, this was a complicated situation that I couldn’t communicate to her.

“I’m so sorry, Taco. I love you and I wish you were mine,” I’d cry as my grandma would take Taco out of my arms just before I’d leave Cambridge.

As a family we weren’t sure how Taco would handle the situation. As the weeks progressed she became closer to grandma and expected to see me less frequently on the weekends. According to grandma, Taco became very sad and missed me and Alastair. I missed her too. Taco was never a healthy dog, she always had arthritis and a terrible heart murmur. Over the winter it progressively got worse.

Taco taking a nap in our old apartment in Alexandria.

Taco taking a nap in our old apartment in Alexandria

The last weekend I spent with Taco, we went on a trip to Mount Vernon. I can remember a group of school kids bombarding Alastair and I at the entrance to the house asking if they could carry Taco. As they picked her up and passed her around, you could see how tiny and frail she had become. Her thin rib bones were prominently sticking out of her side more than ever before and her breathing was labored. She couldn’t walk around the whole house, so I had to carry her most of the way in my arms.

My grandma didn’t tell me this was going to be Taco’s last weekend before she put her down, she was too kind to tell me, and I’m grateful for that. What I remember the most about our last day is how loving Taco was being towards me. She didn’t mind that I was taking care of a new dog, that I had stopped coming to visit her in Cambridge as often as I used to, or that it was abominably hot that day in March. She was just happy to be along for the ride. Even though I still felt terrible for adopting Arthur, she forgave me and loved me anyway. A true best friend until the end, her final gift to me was forgiveness.

Our dogs and cats only have a short amount of time with us. I feel very fortunate that I was able to spend a majority of that time together with my best friend. We have so many wonderful memories together. She is certainly missed.

Taco and I walking around Anacostia Park.

Taco and I walking around Anacostia Park

Alastair and Taco walking around in Eastern Market.

Alastair and Taco walking around Eastern Market

Snuggling on a brisk spring day

Snuggling on a brisk spring day

The three of us on a road trip adventure to Cambridge.

The three of us on a road trip adventure to Cambridge

Taco begs to be picked up while on a walk in Meadow Wood Stable Park.

Taco begging to be picked up during our walk around Meadow Wood Stable Park

I drive an old Toyota Camry. Here’s what it says about me.

“Is that your car making all that noise?” my cousin asked as we drove through an otherwise silent upper-class neighborhood. It was. I wasn’t going to admit it but my catalytic converter cover had been dragging on the ground for weeks. “Yep. It’s been doing that,” I said hinting that I had no plan to fix it anytime soon.

A few months prior to that I had replaced all of my brakes and—I just looked today—my brake light is back on again.

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Owning a sixteen-year-old car isn’t cheap but I also think it isn’t a terrible investment either. For instance I bought my junker for $2,000 and have probably put in about $350 in repairs since I bought her in January 2014. She’s incurred a few “custom” dents since I bought her and she has some missing paint here or there, but I know I could resell her for a few hundred dollars less than I bought her if I needed to.

I don’t need a new car—but I’m not going to lie—I do dream about it. I imagine myself driving on the highway going over 60 mph without the car shaking, or being able to bring my car back to the garage to be fixed under a full warranty: the dream! But, hey, at least I don’t have to worry about getting dings on my doors, dog hair on my seats, or bugs on the windshield.

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There are some advantages of owning a super-used car too. For instance, my car is usually a good candidate for carpooling to the beach or transporting my friends’ medium-sized gross things. I may still hold my breath during annual car inspections, but I’ve never let it stop me from turning up my radio and taking a long road trip.

And some days, I think, I even enjoy the bumpy ride.

Update: I have since purchased a 2016 Honda Fit. It turns out that I enjoy road trips too much to be stranded on one. Owning a new car is pretty amazing, but I don’t think I would’ve enjoyed my Fit as much as I do if I had never driven my old 1999 Toyota Camry.

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Are you good enough for your new job?

On Friday I started my new job as Digital News Intern at National Geographic. At first I thought I wasn’t ready for such a large responsibility. But I know I’m good enough for my job and so are you, here’s why:

Great Opportunities are Uncomfortable

A few months ago, I was sitting in a classroom in London, England when Emma Barnett, women’s editor at The Daily Telegraph, said that great opportunities are uncomfortable. Barnett had just pitched an idea to start a women’s section for a predominately conservative British male newspaper. The paper had accepted her proposal and she was quickly growing her resources as the new leading editor of the women’s section.

“A big part of journalism is rejection,” she said. “The best ideas will make you feel a little uncomfortable.”

Modern journalism, especially print journalism, is changing. As a result, the publications that are getting ahead of the curve are the ones to put forth the most interesting information in a way that the public will enjoy it. Therefore, my new job as Digital News Intern is the perfect opportunity to feel a little uncomfortable. It’s my job to come up with new ideas. Many of my ideas may be rejected, but it will be worth it to create successful digital projects.

Learning is a Privilege

Dan Vergano, senior writer and editor at National Geographic, sits behind me in the office. He has more than 14-years of experience writing science stories for USA Today. Not to blow on his horn here, but he has more knowledge about science journalism in his pinky finger than I do in my entire collection of journalism notes.

The whole point of being an intern is to glean from seasoned professionals. Otherwise we’d have young doctors peeking at their notebooks during surgery and new lawyers watching My Cousin Vinny in the hallways of courthouses.

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I signed-up for three months of work experience. They chose me because there was something in my internship application that sparked their interest. It’s a honor to work alongside the best in the industry. As described perfectly by Tanya Basu, the News Apprentice before me, “At first you’ll feel like you are miles behind everyone else; you are supposed to, just keep on going.” (Thank you, Tanya.)

Having a Vision

The day before I started as the new Digital News Intern, I decided to walk around the National Geographic Museum. The main exhibit is “Women of Vision”—a collection of photography and stories from successful Geographic women photographers. It changed my outlook on my life and role as a journalist.

The “Women of Vision” gallery tells an often overlooked story about women that are giving their lives to write and take photos of other people around the world. They have endured so much pain to get where they are today, as are the people they are photographing.

This is something I had prepared myself for while I was studying International Journalism at City University. But, after standing face-to-face with a job that could potentially put me in this position, I am now both happy to make this type of sacrifice to become a storyteller and scared that I might lose the opportunity to do this before I ever begin.

I’ve realized that either way this opportunity has taught me something about myself: I want to tell stories and I want to tell them well. Before coming to this realization, I had a vision of what this job wanted from me. Now I’ve realized that I also needed to have a clear vision of what I’d like to achieve from it.

I have the chance to learn from this career opportunity, and although the internship and all that it encompasses can be harrowing at times, I’ve never been so happy to feel uncomfortable.

3 quick tips for folks on long trips

A few personal reflections from a 6,000-mile journey.

Map of the my travels. Original map by Nicolas Raymond.

Photos from London to San Francisco. Original map by Nicolas Raymond.

Exactly one month ago today, I left the comfort of my studio apartment in London, England to film an interview in San Francisco, California. Now I’m six-thousand miles away from home and I’ve learned a few things about living on the road.

1. Know Your Limits

Let’s get one thing straight: I love traveling. But by the end of week two, I was physically, mentally and financially burned out. In the beginning of my trip, I was exhilarated to be in a new place and I wanted to see everything. You need to remember not to schedule your long vacation the same way you would a short vacation. Cushion your schedule with plenty of downtime to ensure you’ll have enough strength for week three.

2. Find the Locals

City centers are for short trip tourists. It’s exciting to visit the high street, but if you’re staying somewhere for longer than a few days, try asking locals (waitresses, bartenders, shop owners, etc.) where they go on their days off. You’ll save yourself some money and see the real city culture.

3. Don’t Pack Too Much

The week before a long trip, the task of writing a packing list can be intimidating. You can’t imagine being away for a full month without your favorite book, or something heavy and unlikely to be used more than once. Airlines these days are charging an arm and a leg for check-in bags. Take exactly what you need (a pair of jeans, a sweater, a tablet, walking shoes) without overloading your luggage. This way you won’t forget anything valuable and you won’t spend the next month of your life lugging around The Lord of the Rings trilogyTrust me. You’ll be happy you didn’t.

These are just a few thoughts from a weary traveller. Of all the trips I’ve taken, this one has been the most memorable yet. Take tons of pictures and enjoy the open road!

Peckforton Castle in Cheshire, England

Peckforton Castle in Cheshire, England

Inside Peckforton Castle in Cheshire, England

Inside Peckforton Castle in Cheshire, England

Sitting on a riverbank in London, England

Government Plaza in Minneapolis, Minnesota

Government Plaza in Minneapolis, Minnesota

Top of Lombard Street in San Francisco, California

Top of Lombard Street in San Francisco, California

The view over San Francisco

The view over San Francisco, California

Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, California

Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, California

Who are the 16% of Britons that still don’t go online?

Photo by Flickr user hdzimmermann

Photo by Flickr user hdzimmermann

According to a UK broadband provider, more than 81 percent of households access the internet at least once a week. The National Statistics Office supports this data, suggesting that 16% of the population, or 7.63 million adults, have never used the internet.

Who are these offline Britons – and how are they living without the worldwide web?

One of them is the current BBC Time Lord, Matt Smith. In an interview with The Sun, the Who star admitted that he refuses to use the internet. “I don’t want anything to do with the outside world”, he says. “My dad says I should get myself sorted.”

His dad might just be right. Time Lords should have access to the outside world. And Mr Smith is a minority in his class and age group.

Statistics from Pew Internet show that most non-users earn less than $30,000 a year (£19,880), haven’t completed A-levels, or are retired citizens.

A majority of non-users said they avoid the internet because there was no reason to access it outside of work and home, and it was too expensive.

James McPherson, 65, barrister in Brighton, has never used a computer and he doesn’t see a point to starting now.

“There’s nothing on the internet that I need everyday”, says Mr McPherson. “And if there was, I’m sure I could get my wife or kids to access it for me.”

Some people simply don’t see the point in using the internet; however, the British government and broadband providers disagree. They are investing millions of pounds to provide even more coverage around the UK.

Britain is already one of the top five economies for broadband in the EU. Providers like BT have announced new plans to make the internet available to 100,000 new homes a week in 2013.

More internet access might not be the right solution to get the 7.63 million non-users to saddle up with their computer screens. But with the trend leaning towards higher internet usage, it looks like Doctor Who will need to stay in the TARDIS if he wants to keep the outside world from coming in.

Is the quality of American news declining?

According to a new study from the Pew Research Center, the American news industry may be failing to meet the needs of the modern audience.

The study published by the Pew Research Center outlined the problems in the industry; such as substantial job cuts in newspaper offices and fewer reports on hard news stories.

In response to the report, several journalists published their views on current state of the news. Paul Raeburn at Huffington Post and Matthew Yglesias at Slate both argued that the American news industry is in better condition than ever before.

They suggest the advancement of the internet has made it possible for vast amounts of information to be available for journalists to produce content quickly.

The truth about trust

photoUnfortunately, I have to disagree with the argument that the availability of information has improved the state of our media.

The data from the Pew Research Center clearly shows that the number of jobs in newspapers has declined by 30 percent, which means the number of cubicles filled with journalists is at the same low level it was at in 1978.

In an age of increasing information and staff reduction, it’s evident that more pressure is being put on journalists to constantly churn out news information.

But this is only one example in a long list of reasons why the quality of American journalism is declining.

What I’d like to focus on is that this isn’t a new argument. Many different academic and industry voices have suggested that the quality of American news is declining. They were just using different names for the same point.

For example, take a look at the graph (above) from Gallup. It shows the massive decline in American trust of the media since the 1970’s. An updated graph from the same poll (below) shows an even higher number of people that don’t trust the mainstream media.

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Trust in the media is especially low on presidential election years. When the media whips into a frenzy and attempts to provide coverage of the most expensive publicity campaign in the world.

The point is that “declining trust in the media” and “decreasing standards” aren’t two separate issues. They are both indications that the American news industry is in the same boat, and perhaps even worse off, than that of the global news industry.

News needs a push

Pew Center of Research and Gallup are both examples of how the news industry – and the perception of the news industry – is changing in the digital age.

The problem that has not been addressed by the industry is: How do we make news relevant and challenging again?

As an American journalist studying with contemporaries from all over the world, I receive criticism for writing too often on press releases, wire copy and entertainment stories.

As a suggestion, what we need to do as an industry is take a step back from the barrage of online information and find the issues that matter to the people.

Until then, we’ll have to face the fact that American news is losing touch with its audience – and start getting more comfortable with the job cuts.

British film fans brace the cold to see their favorite stars

The British Academy of Film and Television Awards (BAFTA) celebrated the successes of film industry last Sunday. And despite some of the financial challenges the film industry faced in 2012, it was obvious that British film has a growing base of dedicated film fans to support it.

Hundreds of people stood in the freezing sleet and rain to watch British actors on the BAFTA red carpet.

When we arrived at Covent Garden around 7:30am the line was already wrapped around the building twice. According to the website, 7:00am – 8:00am is when participants should arrive to receive wristbands for the red carpet.

But most people knew better. Fans in the front of the line had been sitting outside for two days. They brought blankets, tents and handwarmers. Their perserverance earned them a front row seat on the red carpet.

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Read the full blog post on Argonon Connect.