Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Travel Mentor

Mentors are great - some help kids read, others give people life skills and the best ones can tell you you're wrong to your face when talking about an issue in a relationship (for example). I have had the privilege of having money mentors, work mentors, life mentors and best of all - a travel mentor. I have mentioned him a couple of times in the blog before, but I wanted to share a little info about him here and invite you to read a blog entry he just wrote for my work blog.

So, my travel mentor is my boss, David. He has traveled to 93 countries and manages to even swing working vacations - right now he's in Bermuda golfing and checking e-mail like you never knew he was gone. (I really need to start doing that too. The vacationing, not the golfing per se.) The best thing about a travel mentor is that he gives me advice about places he's been but also encourages me to have my own adventures and go outside of my comfort zone along the way.

He has lots of books and great pictures to share when you want to talk about a place. I like the miniature flags he has on a shelf in his dining room from every country he has been to. I think that's a way better thing to collect than spoons or shot glasses (sorry spoon and shot glass collectors - you're my number 2 and number 3 great travel collectibles respectively).

David just went back to the village in Kenya where he volunteered for six weeks as a college student, a few years before starting the Youth Volunteer Corps (where I work). His blog entry talks about the trips and the life he's lived in between the two. Check it out here. And here's to finding mentors for whatever you're looking for!

Monday, March 28, 2011

International Flurry

The blog was hopping this weekend. Just wanted to say 'hi' and 'thanks' to all my international visitors over the last few days! Global friends make the world a better place as we all start to see eye to eye - or at least start to understand things from someone else's perspective. If you're out there in the world looking for a host in the U.S. - I'm up for it!

To that end, where would you go if you could travel anywhere and where is the best place you've ever been?

I can even start us off: would like to go to - Fiji, best place so far - Argentina

Your turn...if you choose Kansas City, let's talk!

Friday, March 25, 2011

A CNN Glympse

At SXSW, CNN had a photo booth of sorts set up for people to get their picture taken with nine items in their pockets or purse. The Persona project was started three years ago by Jason Travis, an Atlanta-based photographer, and explores the idea of how we use our possession to define ourselves. If you want to read more about the project check out this article. Here is my photo:

I couldn't make this *larger, without running over my right-hand tool bar, but I think you can figure out most of the items. I am glad I had so many orange things in my purse (camera, iPod, snack crackers and Blogger chip clip that I got for Brian from a vendor booth). Harder to see are my sunglasses in the bottom right. I wonder what they would say this says about me?

*If you want to see this in giant format check it out here.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Way to Make It Pay

If you travel often, you know that there is always a better deal to be had out there. Lately I have noticed a couple of trends that I thought I would share with you, my lovely readers:
  1. Go to the source. While I still love sites like Kayak.com, the best deals are often found on the direct airline or hotel's website. Sometimes if you call a hotel directly they will give you and even better deal. It costs them to compete on the Expedia's of the world and that is passed onto you.
  2. Be a Grandma. I feel a little weird booking a nice hotel using a AAA/AARP discount but hey, that's what it's there for. I diligently pay my annual membership to AAA and since Brian's van died a few years back we haven't gotten much in the way of value out of it (besides peace of mind of course).
  3. Book now! With global instability and gas prices fluctuating like crazy, decent prices are becoming harder to find. Fees are all over the place as airlines are trying to make up for losses from another slow year so as travelers start thinking of summer rates rise too. If you find a fare you can stomach, pull the trigger.
  4. Be reasonable. This is for myself, perhaps more than you, but sometimes adjusting your expectations is necessary. As I had blogged at the beginning of the new year, I want to take Brian to Sedona for our 10 year anniversary. As I looked at the budget, that now includes paying for grad school out of pocket, I realized that it is just not practical to stay at the hotel I wanted to book that costs three times as much as another very nice looking alternative. So I just booked the cheaper one. We'll have the same view and as Brian pointed out tonight - having a really nice hotel room in Hawaii didn't change the fact that he was sick the whole time.
  5. Use them. If you hoard frequent flier miles with dreams of one day flying the world - good luck to you. I seriously think airlines track the average balances of customers and when you are at the right level - BAM! - new guidelines for free tickets. Even you Southwest (I was one credit away)! If you see a flight you can use a free ticket for now, I would say to use it. I have rarely regretted using them, even for cheap tickets, because I knew it was better to get something for free than nothing.
  6. Drive it. Both Brian and I took a lot of road trips as kids and sometimes when you have the itch to go somewhere, but are broke, driving can be a lot cheaper. Living in Kansas City, we are lucky to be close to a lot of great places in a half to full day of driving easy. Chicago, Nashville, St. Louis, Colorado. If you don't have a lot of money consider your ride - or even better, taking a friend who can split the gas.
So, that's my rant for the evening. I was booking our trip to Sedona and thought I would share some of my thoughts. Also, very exciting news for *The Streak - I am now booked to reach 36 months (with trips through August).

*The streak is the number of consecutive months I have traveled without a break in between. This is where the addiction comes in. I know I will have to break it someday and that some people think I might have a problem, but I think I have it under control. Although when I went to Maine in December, I called my mom to tell her that I was coming for her birthday and she said, "I knew you were going to call and tell me that because you had no trips planned for December." Hmm...they're on to me...

Monday, March 21, 2011

Swag Summary

Being at two conferences (South by Southwest Interactive and the Nonprofit Technology Conference) over the past 10 days has left me with a ton of information, ideas, contacts and lots of free goodies. Since I got so many things I will just highlight some of my favorites:
As I had mentioned in a previous post I picked up a ton of shirts, 7 to be exact. My favorite one is on the top and is the only woman's sized, soft one in the bunch. The rest I will be giving away to co-workers and friends.
One of the conference vendors at NTC had an old-fashioned candy store set up that you could raid whenever you wanted to - so I did and here is what was left today.
In an effort to be more green, SXSW made an effort to limit the amount of swag people got at the conference and instead had virtual swag that you could request if you wanted it. This journal was one of the virtual items and it had arrived by the time I came home. Best of all it was from a company here in Kansas City. It is really cute and will provide me the perfect place to write down my random ideas.
Who doesn't love a free good book? The only downside for me was that I read the middle two. The Blue Sweater was on my Madagascar reading list and I read Switch in preparation for the second conference. If you're interested in either just comment and I will arrange to ship one or both to you.
By far the most valuable and useful item I received - on the sidewalk outside the convention center - was this Powerpad. It holds enough juice to power my phone or iPod twice. Very tiny and sleek.
Items not pictured but worth noting: 5 tote bags (the best one from Peeps), 2 water bottles, one dose of 5-hour energy (still a little scared to drink it), 12 stickers that were too cool to throw away and a fancy sampler pack of 6 50mL bottles of wine from the tastingroom.com. And there you have it, the plentiful and the notable.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Introducing - Sweezy

I am not quite done with my recap post of all the swag from SXSW and the NTC - I had to buy an additional suitcase after all - so you'll get that in a day or two. In the meantime, I totally forgot that I promised one of the seniors at the Lott Carey Mission School that I would share this video with the world when I got home. Lawrence, aka Sweezy, is an aspiring rapper.

His dad lives in the U.S. and works hard to support his family back in Liberia. Emile, Lott Carey's principal, said he wished that Lawrence was as dedicated to his school work as he is to recording his first album, which Lawrence says he's been working on everyday after school. He wasn't shy to give me a sample (pardon all the 'n' words) and said the world would be hearing a lot more from him soon. Check it out:

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Drinks of D.C.

Sometimes when I go grocery shopping I buy more liquids than any other items, and no it's not all alcohol, so it was no big surprise that as I thought about what to blog about my trip from D.C. (which went by in a blur) that I only had only taken pictures of beverages. Here they are:
Being in D.C. for St. Paddy's Day wasn't that exciting, as we were in workshops all day but Jessica and I went to an Irish pub for her first Irish car bomb to celebrate. I really hate getting them in plastic cups since the shot floats around and doesn't get mixed in but it was still tasty! We went to a pub called James Hoban's Irish Restaurant. It got good reviews but the band was playing "I'm Proud to Be an American", etc. so it didn't feel very Irish.
This little coffee shop was within walking distance of the Washington Hilton where I was staying. The mocha was delish!
*Not pictured: A yummy pineapple mojito that I had at Circa with my dinner in Dupont circle. I ate there in September and came back for one of these drinks.
These were not the most delicious margaritas, as they were a bit too salty, but I liked the glasses and we had the nicest waitress ever. (From Haydee's Restaurant)
At a networking event at the Russia House I tried my first Russian beer, called Baltika. Even better, it was free!
Well, that's it. Besides being inside listening to speakers most of the day, I didn't really do or see much more of D.C. on this trip. I am going to review the conference swag I got over the past week on the blog tomorrow - so stay tuned. Thanks for checking in!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Twitter-mania


I always prided myself on being a geek. Following tech trends and platforms, being an early adopter, etc. When someone asked me for my Twitter handle at a party the other night I was stumped. I was reminded of when R.I.T. boys would ask for your ICQ #.

Anyways, in a business setting LinkedIn has worked before but I guess I still have some work to do before I am really a full blown nerd. I signed up for Twitter yesterday (@jenntbeard) and am now trying to figure it out while hopefully adding something to the noise.

Saw this art at the Google party the other night and really liked it. I love how there are always new ideas about old things like work. I think if we tweaked all normal experiences slightly we could recapture joy. Like I am sitting in the Austin airport listening to some awesome sounding live band and feeling lucky. Hope you're enjoying your day too.
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Monday, March 14, 2011

South by Blur

So it's mid-day #4 and it's been a lot of fun. There's been a lot of great non-profit content. I have enough free t-shirts to clothe a small nation, have networked with Fulbright and pimped out Brian's programming skills to potential freelancers. I've managed to get enough sleep so far and get every other meal or drink for free.

I love the vibe at this conference. People are friendly, although constantly tethered to technology, and you can get a beer with a cupcake for breakfast. (Not that I've done that, but still) The weather has been great and I am drawing energy and inspiration from just being around here. Two more days to go. Thanks for checking in.
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Saturday, March 12, 2011

SXSW Day 1

Awesome multi-bike dinosaur at yummy Indian restaurant, G'Raj Mahal.
Magic box of anise candies for pallet cleansing.
Important safety information about crowd surfing at Emo's.
My super conference buddy Jessica spinning it with DJ Rana, the iPad DJ.
Yesterday was a fun beginning of what promises to be a great week. I attended two panels, met up with a friend, made some new friends and attended two nightlife events. I even made it to bed at a reasonable time - gotta pace myself as I get older.

Here are a few photo highlights from the day.
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Thursday, March 10, 2011

Hot N Cold

You've got to love a new packing challenge, right?  If you pack often it gets kind of stale. You throw out the list you used to use and check off diligently, because you have memorized how many pairs of underwear you need for a five day trip. As I get ready for back-to-back trips to Austin (6 days) and D.C. (4 days) I have arrived at a packing dilemma - two totally different climates, two opposite conference vibes and one suitcase. Not wanting to schlep my whole closet around, I came up with the following solutions (and a few more not pictured) in an ode to another of my favorite magazine-esque features:

Austin's outfit on the left and the items to be added in D.C. (jacket, tights and boots)
So this is the D.C. version of this outfit. I am not sure I will be brave enough to actually wear these leg warmers out in public. They have been hiding in my closet with their original tags for about four years now. I will lose all the warm gear and pare this down to just the tank dress with some gladiator sandals.
I didn't realize until I started packing how many of my clothes are black, white, gray and olive green. Weird - am I really that boring? Anyway - this shirt is colorful, so that will make another appearance in the D.C. outfit to the left. I may also stick with the skirt and wear some textured tights with it later - bonus, three outfits!
That's all for now, I should probably get some rest before an early flight tomorrow and a schedule of unlimited and unending conference fun. Thanks for bearing with a new type of blog post and hope you have a great week!

Monday, March 7, 2011

Pieces of Me

Do you ever feel like you leave parts of yourself behind when you leave a place? Or feel that the people in your life are all holding onto a small section of you? I think sometimes, especially when I am away from home for awhile, this happens to me. I become acutely aware of the strain on my connections to others and myself.

This isn't all bad - it can be reassuring to know that you are not forgotten when you aren't physically present. Being a military brat and having my own adventures in moving around, have helped me have lots of practice with this. Sadly, most of the time, when enough time has passed, you all just move on and forget the majority of people you were once connected to.

I was sitting in church yesterday and my mind was wandering, sorry Dan, to all the people that I wanted to be sure to catch before everyone had rushed out of the building. Some of them were small conversations that needed to be had, items that I wanted to return to people and deeper conversations that would require setting up a time to meet and talk at a later date. My mind was, annoyingly, even strategizing where to stand, who to talk to first, etc.

In the pursuit of more experiences, knowledge and planning for the future I am realizing the potential casualties of my endeavors. I have friends that are going through hard times that I could be there for more if I had more time for them. I am constantly presented with opportunities to serve others in meaningful ways. As my interests expand, so do the options for spending my time on things. I also need to realize that it is not my job alone to care for everyone, every need or attend every event - which is hard for me to grapple with at times.

Lately, in a pursuit of having more time for things that matter, I have given up things like the habit of shopping for leisure - it is limited now to only necessities, which will help me save more money for things like grad school. I have been cutting back on television for years but sometimes that can creep back in - even without cable.

At the end of the day I guess we all need to figure out how to parcel out our days and make sure we have balance in time spent on ourselves, on the people we care about and in addressing the needs in the world around us. Although urgency can be helpful at times, I am finding that I can't enjoy the small moments in between when I am trying to make all moments monumental. I'm slowly getting there. Thanks for checking in!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Reflections

During the trip I kept a journal, as I have started getting in the habit of doing on trips where I expect to have some thought or another worth remembering much later on. The act of even writing things down can connect thoughts together and allow me to understand more about what is happening than just by experience alone. I used my trusty new journal to keep things organized - my needs assessment lists, daily log of things we did, list of memorable people, pictures I attempted to draw and then a list of ongoing reflections. I wrote them down as they came and thought I would share them, in all their randomness, here.
  1. Though there is strong evidence of destruction and ruin after the war, you can get a glimpse of what used to be here.
  2. It's odd that there are almost no older people or people with disabilities around. A lot were killed during the war - either through being left behind when fleeing villages or full out extermination in the case of the disabled.
  3. People are fairly open to talking about the war, the government, the upcoming elections and problems they see in their community.
  4. The generosity of the people is humbling.
  5. The bugs weren't as bad as I was expecting but I'm sure that will be different during the rainy season.
  6. There are so many evident and identifiable needs that it feels overwhelming at times. I think the best place to start is with one small step.
  7. Learning Liberian English would be helpful - if only they made an audible translation dictionary for that (as it is written the same but spoken differently).
  8. Everyone seemed happy to see us - even the ladies across the street yelling "HEY, White Lady! I want some chop!" through our kitchen window.
  9. This is a really awesome place, I will definitely be back here.
Some more photos at random...
My bed. Didn't end up needing the net.
The nursery school class at Lott Carey. The girls were singing a song about shaking their hips and the boys were giggling about it.
The T.H.I.N.K. cosmetology students crafted this lovely side ponytail for me - complete with hot oil treatment to begin!
Street view.
Face-painting galore!
Tired out after a long day of school.

    Tuesday, March 1, 2011

    A Few of My Favorite Things

    I am so excited to finally have the time and bandwidth to post some photos from Liberia. I thought I might start with the things I liked most about my trip. Enjoy!
    I loved the overall spirit of rebuilding, progress and current politics in power. This quote captured all three.
    The kids at the orphanage.
    How church was a pageant of beautiful dresses and head-wraps.
    How everyone made us feel welcomed.
    The drama that the fistula survivors put on for us at the rehab center.
    What's not to love about the ability to do this?
    Being on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean.
    Our team (L-R: Dr. John, Ashley, me, Nurse Penny, one of the social workers, Kpana, from the Fistula Project and Kathi). Also, the celebration dinner we had before this picture was taken.
    Being at the beach in February!
    Emile - our host for the trip. Thanks for everything!
     Okay, so that was more than a few, but there were so many things to love! I am excited at the prospect of going back and learning even more. Onto the next adventure...