Wednesday, December 29, 2010

In Review

2010 was a wild ride. I learned a lot about the world, myself and how the two of us might proceed together in the future. I looked over my list of destinations visited over the past twelve months and remember each trip with great memories. I've had the opportunity to check off a couple of bucket list items (snorkel, go to Africa), make some mistakes (really should've followed the advice of a tent repair kit), visit old friends (blog winner weekend and visiting people on work trips) and make some new ones (conferences, volunteering, getting stuck places). Best of all the "streak" has reached 28 consecutive months of travel, with the first three months of 2011 already confirmed. All in all it's been a wonderful year! My sincere thanks to those of you still reading along or to those of you who are new! Cheers!

Where I Went In 2010*:
Seattle/Portland, OR
Nashville
Utah
Reno/Tahoe
Michigan
San Jose
Madagascar
New Jersey
Miami
NYC
Raleigh/Durham (2)
Orange County/LA/Pasadena
D.C.
Atlanta
Houston
Lanai, Hawaii
South Portland, ME

*Entire states/countries listed meant that I visited enough places and cities that I feel like I saw it all in those places.

Monday, December 27, 2010

No Regrets

For anyone who knows me, they would probably say that I am a bit stubborn, impatient and unreserved. I don't want to say that I always act first and ask for forgiveness later, but sometimes that's the case. In an effort to truly live my life feeling like I have always made the most of it, I have made decisions to do things at the last minute, try things without knowing what I am really doing and act like a sponge - ready to soak it all in. I'm not exactly sure where all this comes from but I am always deeply affected when I hear people say things like "I've always wanted to ________" or "I'll never get to _________" or something along those lines. I feel like I need to talk them into trying or doing ________ before it's too late. Life is precious and limited.

As you know, if you've been following along, I really love Africa, in general. I have always wanted to go there, learn about it, read about it and somehow be part of it. So a few months back when my friend Kathi said she was going to Liberia, I asked if I could go too, not really having any clue what we were going to do there besides something about fistula clinics. So, this morning I took Kathi out for coffee to discuss what I am really in for. Kathi told me about the time she spent in Liberia as a missionary's kid and shared some mementos and photos from her time there. We talked about the history of the country and all the possibilities that lie within such a resilient, battered place. It sounds like we are going to go where we are needed most to gather information for our next trip in 2012.

Some of the areas we will be exploring will include not only the fistula clinics, but organizing well-baby clinics, working with a teacher who is working to reintegrate child soldiers, visit orphanages, work in the villages and other projects identified by Kathi's friend Emile. He is also arranging for us to meet some people, go to the beach and the market, etc. Even though we will go not knowing exactly what to expect - I think that will make the time there more meaningful, as the things we do get involved with will be identified by in insider, instead of us deciding. We will gather information and ideas to then plan and collect a team of people to return in January of 2012.

If you want to help we will be getting lists of things to bring with us on both trips. The first list we got includes a lot of items not practical to bring over - a bus, solar power or internet access - but a lot of things are manageable like school supplies, teacher instruction supplies, library supplies, hand tools, sports equipment and medical supplies. If you are interested in sending something along to Liberia just let me know!

In our conversation this morning, Kathi also mentioned the spontaneous nature of the Liberian people and said that they will often ask foreigners to speak or share a bible verse, so I will at least go prepared with that. I think it's going to be an experience like no other.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Wishes Granted

As a follow up to my post about my favorite travel toys, I had some updates. I received a couple of the items on my wishlist for Christmas: the water purifier, a headlamp (on my Amazon wishlist) and the waterproof stuff sacks. I also got a surprise gift from Brian - a Kindle! I am very excited at the prospect of carrying the tiny e-book around over lugging library books everywhere but it will be a slight adjustment too - especially paying for the books. I think it will be an ideal thing for longer trips where I don't dare bring library books for fear of losing them or losing the convenience of leaving books I am done with to lighten my load. I think the best thing about all the gifts that I got is that I feel supported by my family to keep on traveling!

I have the next week off of work, as a Christmas bonus, and I have a lot of things to do to get ready for my trip to Liberia. I just started reading This Child Will Be Great which is a memoir written by Africa's first female president, and the current president of Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. So far, it is a great combination of Liberian history and her own personal rise to power. I look forward to reading the rest of it!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Seen It All?

As most of you know, I am not the luckiest flier ever. Often delayed, I have my share of travel mishaps, delays and unplanned mini-trips courtesy of the airlines. What I experienced this evening is fairly bizarre, based on a series of events I thought I might share as I sit in my parents guest room, never having left.

1. Got to the airport with clear skies.

2. It started snowing like mad ten minutes later.

3. Got seated next to a Portland Pirates player. Was quickly reminded of why I stopped dating hockey players in college when I had to explain that working for a non-profit didn't mean I didn't make any money.

4. Was told before take-off that the snow would make it hard to fly so 21 people and their bags needed to get off and we would get $400 in travel vouchers.

5. Got booked on flight for next day and received said vouchers despite the flight being canceled right before I rebooked. (Never got something when weather was involved, and it was Delta!)

6. Tried to get a cab but was told none were running.

7. Called my parents for a ride, but multiple accidents had everyone stranded so I waited two hours.

8. Had crazy lady yell at me while I tried to explain there were no cabs to my dad. She started cussing and yelling that they were coming and I just had to wait a beeping minute. She was still waiting when my dad came.

9. Lent my phone to a lady who didn't have one a few times who turned out to be a jewelry designer who asked for my address so she could mail me one of her pieces.

10. Left the airport and ended up where I started.
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A Shore Thing

Today we went to three of my favorite places in Maine. The first was "the rapids" - really called Limington Falls, but it's a mighty river so the first name was fitting. My grandfather - aka Bumpa - used to take my brother and I there in the summer and let us swim in the river while adequately warning us repeatedly that people drown there every summer. I was mostly too scared to venture too far into the river but it was always nice to cool off a little.

The second place is Prout's Neck where Winslow Homer's studio is. A great view full of huge, beautiful beach homes.

The third place is my most favorite, Kettle Cove. I've always liked that it is a park you didn't have to pay to enter with a view of all the lobster boats, and some traps (pictured here). Hiking trails and boardwalks run all around and there are beaches on both sides of the parking lot. Best of all it rarely seems crowded. The best part, to all who have been there, is the Kettle Cove ice cream place right down the road that serves peanut butter Oreo ice cream, but alas, only in the summer.
Kettle Cove

P.S. Thanks to my mom for the blog title.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

There's Just Something About Home

It's been awhile since I was last in Maine, almost one year to the day, but I am back. It's funny how the more time goes by, and the older I get, things that were once familiar seem so far away. Many of my friends and colleagues tease me about how often I talk about the great state of Maine, but coming back here I remember exactly why. There is just something totally different about this state for me than any other state. Flying in and seeing the coast all snuggled in ice and the boats all wrapped in plastic for the winter, I get the feeling of returning to all the things I loved growing up.
My mom's sour cream crescents, magic cookie bars and Oakhurst's eggnog.
 I mostly dig all the food that you can't get anywhere else: whoopie pies (not the fake ones popping up across the country but the ones that come from a recipe that's been around for generations), Oakhurst eggnog, lobster rolls, Amato's Italian sandwiches (which I mostly just have with cheese and tomatoes, salt, pepper and oil - so I know it's not the real deal but it's still good), needhams (which I usually get at Amato's and love telling non-Mainers about how they are made with potatoes), double cheese pizza from Angelone's and many of my mom's favorite recipes.

I love catching up with family and friends, although I usually start to feel sad that I can't see people more often and feel that I am relegated to fill them in on the three or four most current anecdotes about my life while giving them the same twenty minutes to fill me in on theirs. It makes me realize how fast time goes by when I see some people only once a year if I am lucky and so much happens during the in between times. I am glad that we can keep up easier than we used to through Facebook, e-mail and them checking in on my blog. Thanks for doing that everyone and I hope to see you soon!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Best Ever!

About a year ago, I blogged about one of the greatest gifts I had ever received here. As the holidays roll around I always think about what would be the perfect gifts for the special people in my life. I sometimes do okay but usually give things that will be forgotten - gift cards, practical items, food, jewelry, etc. Maybe if I was as creative as I would like to be if I had some time to dig in I would come up with some better ideas. Or if I had lots of spare cash I would take more people on adventures we could share in.

In the past month I have been lucky enough to have received two awesome travel-related gifts from friends. I thought I would share them with you here because that way I can stop trying to think of ways to share them with people in passing, like, OMG, I just got this awesome gift and I need to tell you about it right now! Or, you need to come over for dinner (one, because I like dinner guests and two, so I can show you these neat gifts I just got). I thought sharing them might help you think of ways you can give gifts to your loved ones that they will cherish for years to come.
My friend Kristen kept telling me that I needed to scrapbook my photos from Madagascar. She was trying to help me figure out a way to incorporate the small journal that I wrote in everyday. The solution was a small scrapbook she made plus this cool little trunk that holds it, the journal and a bunch of small keepsakes like currency, stones, ticket stubs and cards people sent me while I was there.
If you've ever done a work holiday party where gifts are exchanged, you probably never imagine getting anything that A) you like or B) is really thoughtful. I was pleasantly surprised when I opened this journal up to find that it was both. One of my co-workers filled this journal full of prompts, ideas for reflection, little envelopes to insert flora or recipes into from the locals for my upcoming Liberian adventure. So cool!
In other news, I think our passports are bound for the Liberian Embassy for our visas and I have a doctor's appointment set for more malarial meds and a check-up. I leave for Maine the day after tomorrow to spend some time with my family. Stay warm wherever you are in the world!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

A Book of Memories

At one of my bridal showers, many years ago (about ten if you can believe it), one of the elderly ladies [aptly named Bunny Foss - what a great old lady name] in my church gave me this guest book. I remember thinking, "um, okay, this is not something I will ever use," but the thought was nice. I started thinking more about it on our honeymoon in Ireland, where stayed at some of the same places that Brian had been with his family and we found entries from years ago from his grandparents signing into the B&B guest books. It was fun to see who else and from where other people had come and stayed at the same places, especially the people we were related to.

As we returned home, drove from Maine to California to our first home and got settled in, we started having guests. I decided to put the book out and ask people to sign it, hoping for the usual - name, date, where hailing from, etc. What I have gotten since is a collection of little stories of things done with each guest, heartfelt thanks and compliments about Brian's cooking, the things we did together, etc. Not everyone signs it, so I don't have 100% representation of history but it's a gift that meant more to me than I thought it ever would. So maybe if you are traveling this holiday season and you have to find a little extra gift for your host(s) maybe find a little book to give.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Sing-Along Jeep

In my haste to wrap-up our trip to Hawaii and move on to "Blog Winner Weekend", I neglected to share with you the video of our sing-along Jeep. Undoubtedly, I found it funnier than you will but you get to see some of the island, bonus!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

7 Wonders of Kansas City: A Blog Winner Weekend

Here, in order of appearance, are the 7 Wonders of Kansas City that were partaken in for blog winner weekend. (Note: there are a million other random and fun things to do here, these are just 7 of them)

1. Vegan BBQ. First stop was lunch and here is the Pulled Jack [Jack fruit] BBQ at FuD, which was truly delicious.
2. Clark's Point. "Views of Kansas, Missouri, and the area's complex waterway system still amaze visitors; educational panels about the expedition — along with a bronze statue depicting the two explorers with their guide Sacajawea and dog Seaman — are other highlights of the spot." ~ from 10BEST.com
3. Airline History Museum. Okay, we went here because we thought Santa and some Star Wars fans were going to be there but that was a few weeks ago so we just took the regular tour. We learned a bunch of things about the beginnings of the airline industry, which we both utilize frequently, so it was pretty interesting.
4. Steeple of Light. At this Frank Lloyd Wright-designed church, three beams of light shine up in the air and can be seen from 10 miles away.
5. The Plaza Holiday Lights. As seen on many a holiday lights around the U.S. television shows, the Plaza lights are a sight to see, so we did. The Plaza's architecture, influenced heavily by Seville, Spain, is normally fun to look at, but add lights = even better.
6. Roasterie Cafe. Joel with his soy hazelnut latte. If we had time we would've checked out my favorite tour in Kansas City at the Roasterie, but we had to opt for the new Leawood cafe instead. A nice place for a good conversation and a beverage.
7. The "You're Not In Kansas Anymore" Badge. This activity involved driving into Kansas and checking into Foursquare and then driving out of Kansas and checking into some other state in Foursquare. Not an easy badge to get for non-Kansas City residents!
So, that's it. The quick recap of a 28 hour adventure (counting sleeping time too). We had a good time catching up and checking out some new things. My sincere thanks to Joel for being a willing and fun participant. I am looking forward to the next contest already!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Bottle It Up

Vacation, no matter where you go, is just a magical thing. If done properly, it can energize and reinvigorate you body, mind and spirit. The trick is always coming back to “real life” and taking some of the freshness with you. I always try to think of how to do this too late and always vow to try to do a better job next time. I always like to bring back coffee beans (to recreate the vacation joe), an article of clothing and/or jewelry (to remind me of where I was when I bought it) and some photo inspiration (see beach chair below). 
Every place I visit reminds me a little bit of places I have been before. Powerful memories of meals, funny mishaps and scenery seen before flood my mind as I experience a new place. It’s weird that my brain feels a need to compare or find the familiar in unknown surroundings. It's a little like deja vu I guess. All I know is I have been very blessed to have had the opportunities to venture out into the world a little bit and that I will definitely be back for more very soon.
The resort from the beach.
Mr. Koi wanted to say goodbye - I think he really wanted me to feed him, which of course reminded me of Rufus, but I don't think he reads my blog.
I think the true success of a vacation is how excited you are to return home and put on your regular life again. With the holidays already in full swing, things are definitely happening that I am excited to get back to. Brian requested a "vacation from his vacation" this morning, I think I can probably figure out a way to make that happen in the near future. I'm nice like that. ;)