Halley Knigge (Griffin)

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Real Armaweddin’


[The Huffington Post, Dec. 8, 2012]

There aren’t a lot of how-tos for planning a wedding at the end of the world.

My fiancé and I chose the theme early on, and for the past eight months, we’ve been making it up as we go along.

Like many of my most brilliant ideas, this one started out as a “Wouldn’t it be funny if …”

That’s how I ended up with a dog named Grandma Moses, chalk art of a great white shark on my dining room wall, and yes, an apocalypse-themed wedding scheduled for Dec. 22, 2012 — the day after the world (or just the Mayan calendar) is supposed to end.

It’s no great secret that my fiancé and I are not the most traditional of couples. He’s an artist, and I’m, well, I have a lot of notions about “things that would be funny.”

Don’t get me wrong — we like pretty things too, and wrote off a good number of our early ideas with my 85-year-old grandmother in mind. The reception in the abandoned warehouse, for one. “Road Warrior” dress code, for another.

Chuck also poo-pooed my idea of a dried and dusty bouquet. Because, hello, flowers are not going to survive Armageddon with the Twinkies and the cockroaches.

“I want you to still look pretty at our wedding,” he said. On second thought, I realized that I, too, would like to look pretty at our wedding.

So a new phase of planning was born. We would reference the apocalypse at every occasion, but try to avoid the literal.

We’re planning an apocalypse-themed party, after all. Not the apocalypse itself.

“What are your wedding colors?” asked the caterer, my bridesmaids, the florist. I’m not sure any of them really anticipated the answer.

Fire and brimstone, naturally.

We scheduled our engagement photos for a Sunday in August. Earlier in the summer, I’d procured two civilian-issue gas masks on Amazon.com, which we toted along to our photo shoot in the park. We took some pretty photos first. For my grandmother. Then our sport of a photographer sweet-talked a sunbather into donning one of the masks, and the real fun began.

My fiancé drew our save-the-dates. Me, Chuck and our dog Grandma Moses in our best wedding attire, with a backdrop of oozing volcanos. Our invitations feature a bride and groom walking away from a mushroom cloud. The hashtag is #ARMAWEDDIN.

“Are you disappointed that it’s not, you know, a normal wedding?” friends asked my fiancé’s mother. “It doesn’t matter to me,” she told them. “It’s all about Halley and Chuck, and this is who they are.”

Yes, we’re a bit kooky — I’ve learned (courtesy of Pinterest) that I fall into the category of “offbeat bride” — but here’s a secret I’ve learned in my eight months of Armaweddin’ planning. Wedding planning is so fun and easy when the theme is “end of the world.” It’s just like planning a really big, really expensive theme party.

Chair sashes? Pfft. Like anyone’s going to have time to grab those when the world’s ending anyway. And when a wedding craft doesn’t turn out as planned? No big deal — that just makes it all the more apocalyptic.

Our dinner will be grilled cheese, soups and stews. Comfort food, for a post-apocalyptic world. I’ll walk down the aisle to a pretty string quartet version of R.E.M.’s “It’s the End of the World As We Know It.” The flowers will be crazy, spiky, fiery.

“Is it safe to say ‘quirky?'” the florist asked tentatively, nervous to offend. I’d just finished describing an elegant calla lily bouquet I’d seen at a recent wedding and told her to please make mine the opposite of that.

Our wedding centerpieces were designed around the theme of “things you’d forage for after the apocalypse.” I think “quirky” is a safe description. Drippy, red and orange tapered candles in wine bottles painted matte black, clustered on mirrored tiles a girlfriend and I spent a morning distressing with muriatic acid.

My dress is the real deal. Ivory lace with a chapel-length train and its fair share of bling. That’s a little girl fantasy I wasn’t willing to let go of. Chuck and his groomsmen have slate gray suits with black shirts. We briefly entertained wilder fantasies, but couldn’t quite fathom how we’d explain leather and shotguns to our future grandchildren.

I’m not yet sure how we’ll explain the Fallout-esque bottle caps strewn around the room, or the survival tool favors with the radioactive diamond ring symbol Chuck designed, but we have a few decades to hammer out those details.

For now, all that matters is that later this month we’ll be facing down the apocalypse together, and there’s no one I’d rather have by my side. It’ll be the end of the world as we know it — and I feel fine.

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Hotel in Seattle’s French sister city lets you live life of hamster

KOMO News, CNN.com, April 19, 2012]

We’d had the reservation for nine months when April 2 finally rolled around.

Terrified of repeating my mistakes in late, lackadaisical booking of summer 2010 and missing my chance to live like a hamster two Europe trips in a row, I’d frantically emailed the proprietor of La Villa Hamster the same day we booked this year’s tickets to France.

A rodenty night for two in April 2012? Booked in July 2011? No problem. My bimonthly email confirmations were overkill, perhaps, but set my mind at ease.

I’d been dreaming of a trip to the famed hamster hotel for years. And by years, I mean ever since this November 2009 Guardian article first caught my eye.

The vision was realized by Un Coin Chez Soi, a company that hosts a variety of offbeat guest rooms, with themes like school, Captain Nemo’s voyage, and, of course, hamster, throughout the city of Nantes. (An otherwise average Bretagne city, Nantes is known mainly for being the birthplace of Lu cookies. It’s also one of Seattle’s 21 sister cities and regular host to a University of Washington study abroad program.)

The arrival

It wasn’t particularly simple to make a one-night detour to Nantes as we made our way from Italy back to Paris, but I was bound and determined to finally have my night in the hamster hotel – and my patient fiancé Chuck knew better than to argue.

We arrived in Nantes on a Monday afternoon, busing our way to the city center and dragging wheeled suitcases through winding cobblestone streets (even better than the Shake Weight, I tell you). All we had was an address and a printed email with cryptic French instructions.

On your left when you enter the courtyard, you will find a small crevice in the wall, containing a small lockbox. Enter the following code to find the key to the Villa Hamster. When you depart, simply leave the 109 euro on the counter, and return the key to the lockbox.

We knew we were on the right track when the lockbox popped open to reveal a key simply labeled “Hamster.” A few steps into the courtyard, and we found ourselves facing a nondescript door with a small red sticker of a hamster over the handle. Bingo.

La vie hamster

From the moment we stepped through the door, the villa was more hamstery than we had ever imagined – right down to the musty hamster smell. We immediately donned the furry hamster headdresses, opting not to touch the hamster tail belts that were also provided for us.

A human-sized exercise wheel fills most of the room, strategically locking and becoming a bench to maximize space.

Next to the wheel is a ladder extending up a bed that hangs suspended over the room. A plastic headboard filled with sawdust and a pile of blankets with the instructions “faites votre lit comme un hamster,” or “make your bed like a hamster.”

Sawdust, cages and hamster toys decorate the rest of the tiny studio, which also features a corner water trough so you can drink like a hamster.

A sprinkle of sawdust splays out from the sawdust wall behind the toilet, dusting the plunger, toilet brush and scrubber with delicate shavings.

A frightening piece of hamster art in the corner features a giant, metal rodent face with two LED as eyes.

The villa is centrally located and fully equipped with a kitchenette, so hamster-loving guests could conceivably live there for weeks.

We spent a good portion of the evening mulling over the perfect farewell message to add to the chalkboard wall, already covered with chalk illustrations of hamsters and scrawled messages from visitors all over the world.

“Vive la vie hamster!” declared one.

“I don’t know whether to use the sawdust or the toilet,” wondered another guest, giving Chuck and I pause while we considered the potential sources of the villa’s musty scent.

In the end, we opted for simplicity – and then promptly forgot what we’d chosen. Surely it was poignant, whatever it was.

One night was more than enough hamster for us, but now we’re haunted by the question: “what next?” A night in the Jules Undersea Lodge? Zip-lining through the tree tops at the Treehouse Tresort?

For now, we’ll just keep dreaming in hamster.

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UI cuts big check for ‘Chief Inspiration Officer’:

Deans, faculty disagree on value, necessity of independent contractor’s work

[Moscow-Pullman Daily News, Moscow, Idaho, May 30, 2009]

May 30–Magaly Rodriguez lives in Minnesota and occasionally travels to the University of Idaho to serve as an independent consultant and “Chief Inspiration Officer.” The UI pays her $12,500 a month for her services, according to public records obtained by the Daily News.

Rodriguez is held on retainer by the UI, on a nine-month appointment that expires in June. The contract totals $112,500 and was signed during the same academic year that state holdbacks forced the UI to cut about $3.8 million from its budget.

She spends anywhere from zero to 10 days in Moscow per month, according to the contract between Rodriguez and the UI.

Deans and other administrators say the retainer with Rodriguez and consulting company Volentum is well worth the money spent, but the faculty who have participated in their workshops tell a different story.

While one dean praised the calming effect of the sessions, a professor likened them to “being sedated.” Provost Doug Baker said Rodriguez’s consulting is one tool in adopting the university’s strategic plan. He said she is “absolutely” worth the money.

“She’s helping us reshape our culture,” Baker said.

Rodriguez said she helps do that by building “global peacemaking communities,” and she claims to have coined the term “peacemaking.”

“If you want to know kind of really what I do, I’m interested in building communities,” she said in a phone interview Friday.

College of Science Dean Scott Wood called on Volentum’s services this February, when the university was considering the elimination of its undergraduate degrees in physics. Rodriguez stepped in to facilitate a two-day workshop that ultimately helped save the program.

“We obviously got to a resolution,” Wood said. “I’m not convinced we would have gotten there without Magaly’s help.” He said he’d bring her back “in a heartbeat.” But physics professor Francesca Sammarruca wrote in an e-mail that she felt the workshop focused mainly on sharing feelings and resolving personal conflicts, while the problem facing the physics department did not arise from interpersonal conflicts.

“When I heard of a workshop with a professional facilitator, I was expecting a roundtable with a neutral moderator (who is knowledgeable in physics, science, and institutional planning). That would have been a format appropriate to the circumstances,” she wrote.

“The point is that her services cannot help with problems such as ours. The problem arose from a hasty decision. That decision needed to be discussed openly and thoroughly between the people involved in a (moderated) professional meeting, and at a much lower cost.”

Such retainer is “outrageous,” Sammarruca wrote, especially when everyone is being told to save money and resources where they can.

“That kind of money can support (seven) graduate students each month,” she wrote. “That’s a way to really help a department.”

Rodriguez’s travel, lodging and meal expenses are paid for by the university, but deducted from the $12,500 she receives monthly. In fact, she takes home more pay during the months when she does not visit the university in person, and consults with administrators via telephone instead.

Baker has employed Rodriguez on an independent consulting basis for more than a year. She and Volentum have signed one-time contracts for amounts from $10,000 to $15,500 for workshops that took place prior to the start of her retainer contract.

The $12,500 isn’t the sole cost each month. For each workshop there also are refreshments to be purchased and equipment to be rented. One day’s lunch at a workshop for deans and administrators in May 2008 cost the UI $1,078.74.

But Baker said it is typical for a university to spend this kind of money on independent consultants.

“I think the university brings in that expertise on a variety of things,” he said. “You sometimes want to have (someone) on retainer for a period of time, and you do that to bring expertise that you don’t have.” Baker said he does not yet know whether the contract with Volentum will be renewed after June. That decision will depend on the university’s budgetary capabilities.

Patricia Hartzell has been through about three Volentum workshops with the department of microbiology, molecular biology and biochemistry.

“I’m really perplexed as to what (administrators) thought the outcome would be, how it would change our life. Because it didn’t,” said Hartzell, a professor in the department. “I think they think they were successful.”

Many other faculty members interviewed for this story declined to be quoted, citing “fear of retaliation.” Although they did not want their names used, their stories were the same. The consensus among them is Rodriguez is “a lovely person,” and is good at what she does. They question, however, her necessity to the university.

Faculty both on and off the record agree on another point: they feel patronized, and said the real issues are being swept under the carpet.

“The workshop reminded me of the “I’m OK, you’re OK,” workshops back in the 1970s. It focuses on improved relations, rather than solving problems,” computer science professor Paul Oman wrote in an e-mail.

“The department members get along better, but we still have the same fundamental problems because all we do is agree to disagree rather than move in one direction for the good of the department.”

Licensed psychologist W. Rand Walker said the field has advanced significantly farther than the Volentum materials that he has reviewed.

“It is reminiscent of techniques that were developed in the 1960s by Carl Rogers and other humanistic psychologists,” said Walker, who has published materials on communication and therapeutic techniques.

“It is also the same techniques that are used in ‘Natural Helpers’ programs that are used with junior high school students.” Walker said the role consultants play in a university setting is important and shouldn’t be diminished.

“There are legitimate places for this, but you don’t pay $112,000 for it,” he said.

The computer science department had its first Volentum workshop in early 2008. Minutes from a faculty meeting last March summarize departmental reactions to the two-day retreat.

“While there appeared to be a general consensus that the retreat was beneficial, there were considerable mixed reactions to the specifics of the retreat,” read the minutes.

Specific comments reflect positively on the communication tools taught by Rodriguez, but include questions such as “Now what?” and “Can we address the real problems without her?”

Faculty in numerous departments that have participated in Volentum workshops have said they feel the same way.

“I thought and I still think that she is a very nice woman and what she says is good information,” Hartzell said. “But I don’t think it solved our problems.”

Baker, however, believes most people have enjoyed and benefitted from their experiences with Rodriguez.

“I suspect you do have some sample bias,” he said. “My assessment is she’s done a pretty successful job.”